Bird Attack!

We made a visit to John’s Pass on Thursday

This rustic edifice of wooden boardwalks lies somewhere north of St Pete’s beach at the end on the Gulf Highway. It was a bitterly cold day. (Apparently Florida is the only state in the USA not to have had snow at this time, and is experiencing its coldest weather ever. Even Hawaii had snow). We’d intended to see the pelicans, cranes, and other sea birds that normally congregate there, but it was just too cold and they were all sensibly hiding somewhere. But the hundreds of seagulls weren’t deterred. In fact having bought the only ice creams one stall-holder had sold that day, as we wandered along the jetty my friend’s ice cream was knocked out of her hand by one of the birds! And even though I held on to mine tightly it soon went the same way. We were surrounded by hungry seagulls and it felt like we were part of Hitchcock’s 1963 film. ‘The Birds’.

Earlier that morning we’d walked on to ‘Honeymoon Island’, normally a haven for Florida’s wildlife, but it was just too cold to walk far along the beach.

Then we drove to Tarpon Springs. This little Greek community seems to revolve around sponges. You see them everywhere. We had intended to take a boat trip out of the harbour to the sponge beds, but again the extremely cold weather meant that no boats were going out that day.

We called into an aquarium to see an alligator being fed, and to fondle the stingrays in a large water tank. I hadn’t realised alligators ate so little, and so infrequently. Apparently their main food consists of snails.

The previous day Mike and Kay Petryszak picked us up, together with Beth (one of our miniaturists colleagues from Durban in South Africa), to drive to Busch Gardens. This place caters for everyone with incredibly wild and wonderful roller-coaster rides for the daring, fun activities for the younger children, and wild animals to see in natural situations. A bright red steam train takes you around the park, stopping at exotic named stations on the way.

Amongst the many animals we saw – and close up too – were tigers, gorillas, giraffes, zebras, orang-utans, elephants, rhinos and kangaroos. The flamingos were especially beautiful.

Luckily it was another cold day with less than the normal amount of visitors or we would have spent ages in the queue to get in, as everyone had to line up and pass their ticket through a machine and then be fingerprinted in another machine (that seemed to malfunction most of the time).

I came back home a few days ago, (after a very bumpy flight which went on for hours) and am now busily painting an historical miniature to fulfil a commission I got whilst in Florida. And I’ve just unwrapped the superb book by Wes Siegrist. entitled “Modern Masters of Miniature Art in America”. As an elected member of the MAA, I qualified for a double-page spread.

On Thursday we were invited to dinner with Paul and Debbie together with Debbie’s mum and dad. (Paul’s 92 year old mother made the pie). Then we went on to see Rumpelstiltskin – the pantomime – at Woodcliffe Hall in Wargrave. Great fun, and fully sold out weeks ago for its entire run. The ‘baddies’ were spectacular, and the entire stage became a riot of colour with great scenery and magnificent costumes. We went home in a really good mood after we all sang ‘Super-cali-fragilistic-expialidocious’ during the finale.

Nigel O’Connor, the lockkeeper at Marsh Lock, is 60 years old (or will be on Tuesday) and I was invited to his ‘secret’ party on board the New Orleans last night. Val came with me, and after boarding the riverboat at about 7.30 we all assembled on the upper deck and slowly cruised down to the Salters landing stage near the River and Rowing Museum. Tracy had arranged for Nigel to be walking down the towpath exactly at that time to what he thought was to be a little curry dinner in Henley. When we spotted them (there were about 50 of us in the party) a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ rang out in the cold night’s air before they came aboard. Here’s Nigel.

Slowly cruising up and down the Henley reach for a couple of hours, all the guests were treated to a very nice curry dinner. (So Nigel got his curry dinner after all). It’s not too often that the New Orleans ventures out in the dark at this time of the year. It is a lovely sight, isn’t it?