Seasons, The

The Bluebells Are Late This Year

Bluebell flower heads

If you didn’t manage to see the bluebells over the bank holiday, you haven’t missed your chance, thanks to this year’s unusually cold April they are late this year. Here are some of the woods you can visit to see bluebells, the flower of Saint George.

I've stated where I've found that the wood has good access if you have poor mobility, but I haven't been to every wood on this list.

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Dreaming of a Bright Christmas

Lime Street Santa  OlneyThe big man himself, in Lime Street, Olney.

There are some very good Christmas lights displays on private houses across North Bucks, and I wanted to show you examples from as wide an area as possible. I had a plan. But the Tier 4 lockdown came, and I only managed to get a few, all quite close to me.

The first one I found is in Lime Street, Olney. It’s there to raise donations for Willen Hospice, and last year they raised over £1,600. It was a good one to start with.

Olney Xmas lightsLime Street, Olney.

The second one is in Vicarage Road, Winslow. I spotted this house as I drove through the town, and it’s just a few doors down from the house my grandparents lived in when I was a kid. They aren’t collecting for charity, but it’s still a fine display.

I had a look at my grandparent’s old house while I was there.

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How long is a day?

Sunset in Buckinghamshire

We all know how horrible and dark it is, this time of year. But it’s not all bad. The earliest sunset has already come and gone, and the evenings have slowly been getting lighter for several days, even though the days have been getting shorter.

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year.

From today, the sunrise will continue to get later until two or three days into the New Year, then the morning will start to get lighter. At last.

This little discrepancy with the shortest day and the sunrise and sunset times is due to the Earth’s orbit being elliptical rather than perfectly circular, so that a solar day (measured from the point where the sun is highest in the sky each day) isn’t always the same length and doesn’t always match up with the 24 hour clock.

Around the Summer and Winter solstices the solar day is over 24 hours, then at the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes, the solar day is less than 24 hours. But it all evens out in the end. The axial tilt of the Earth also makes a difference.

One month from now, the day will be over 51 minutes longer, and the sunset will be 38 minutes later. On the Summer Solstice, we will be getting over nine hours more daylight, a total of sixteen and three quarter hours. I can’t wait.

About 70 miles to our North, (and quite a few miles East) is Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast. On the Summer Solstice they’ll get a day that’s over eleven minutes longer than we get here. Those few miles North make a difference, but of course at this time of year they get shorter days instead.

Okay, great. Like every year, tomorrow we start the long slow climb into Summer. Meanwhile, for readers in the Southern hemisphere this will all make sense in just six months time…

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 I Has Beans

Shoes off pleaseShiny black boots, suede lace ups, sparkly ‘Frozen’ princess shoes; all have to be left in the entrance; this is a Japanese temple.

A few weeks ago I visited the Buddhist temple at Willen, to take the photo at the top of this post: When the nun Marta Anjusan found out that I’ve just turned sixty, she asked me if I was going to be there for the Bean Throwing Ceremony.

I was, because I knew that at last it was my chance to throw the beans.

Anyone whose age is divisible by twelve (born in the year of the pig) is given a bowl full of beans and sweets. When the lights are turned out and everyone starts chanting “good spirits in, bad spirits out”, we piggies throw the beans and sweets up in the air.

The children, who all have little demon masks and are holding paper sweetie bags, dart around on the floor gathering as many sweets and beans as they can.

I aimed the beans at different parts of the shrine room, so they all got a fair chance to gather their swag. A few years ago somebody I know was the right age to be a bean thrower, and he wasn’t throwing them all underhand like he was supposed to.

Instead he was whizzing them at certain targets, and he got me in the ear. I’ve been waiting all these years to get my revenge, but strangely he stayed well out of the way, in the corner behind me. Rats!

This wasn’t the only reason I wanted to throw the beans, of course. The last time it was the year of the pig I wasn’t a temple person; I'd missed my chance.

Buddhist nun with demon maskA nun with... er… a demon mask. I was roped into taking this photo.

At another of these ceremonies, I managed to get a clout round the ear from the wife of the Lord High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire. Bad timing on my part, I was taking photos and stood up just as she launched another handful into the eager crowd.

This ceremony is also called Setsubun, which means seasonal division in Japan, where this order of Buddhism is from. Sunday was the 3rd of February, and according to Japan’s old lunar calendar, it was the last day of winter.

The year of the pig is part of the Chinese zodiak, but it’s been happily embraced by Japanese culture. I’m told that us piggies are very stubborn and determined to go only in the direction we think is right.

Sums me up... Oink! Oink!

Setsubun group photoI was roped into taking this group photo too. I didn't think I was going to take any photos, but brought a camera anyway; you never know!

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On The Road in North Bucks

On Tuesday I went for a drive. I’d taken a car load of rubbish from my sheds to the tip, and thrown it all in the right bins. I had the camera, the sun was shining, it was October.

After a bit of a false start when I’d tried to photograph the Autumn colours but found I was too early, I set out across North Bucks. At Padbury I turned up into a small road I hadn’t been up for a while; it leads to Thornborough.

I was barely out of Padbury when I spotted my first good picture. I parked up on the verge in the first safe place I could find, and trekked back to take the first photo here.

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Blooming Stony

Stony in Bloom

Stony in Bloom volunteer Alan Box gives town flowers their last watering of the year, in the Market Square at Stony Stratford last week. This year the town won four awards from the Royal Horticultural Society's Britain in Bloom competition, including a Gold Award in the small town category.

Stony Stratford

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