Thursday, 30 July 2015

Five Things I Learned In Wales

1. Kingfishers are absolutely delightful in the wild. Technically I've seen one before; back during my college days there was a kingfisher haunting the lake in the centre of our college. But that little guy was almost unbelievably obese. Like, literally unbelievable, in the sense that the ludicrousness of its ability to fly far outstripped the old factoid about impossible bumblebees.

I've no idea what the little dude was eating - "laked" freshers, perhaps - but the ones we saw in Pembrokeshire were fighting fit, and entirely lovely. We spent over two hours watching them, and might have spent even longer had there not been a constant stream of visitors to the hide who somehow harboured the ludicrous impression that chatting loudly to each other somehow wouldn't scare the birds as long as they did it just outside the hide door.

Turds. Anyway, here's one of Fliss' pictures of one of the birds. We also saw an otter - a long-time goal for both of us - but it didn't stay above water long enough for us to get any snaps.

2. Pembroke Castle is a good choice for a day out. In better nick than many castles (it was only taken once in its entire history, and that only because humanity eventually got around to inventing cannons), so there's lots of turrets and levels and corridors to look around, as well as a rather nifty cavern underneath that's just about big and pretty enough to impress despite the pigeon infestation and discarded kebab boxes. There's also some interesting history to the place, from it being a base to plan Irish invasions and defences against the French to changing sides repeatedly during the civil war. There was also some dude named Strongbow heavily associated with the place, which amused me.  The centre of the castle is now a huge map of Wales, strewn with chess pieces, white and black (the English as the black ones, obvious), each one, naturally, a knight. Occasionally men dressed as squires will gather at the map to encourage children to bellow their defiance against the encroaching marcher lords. Jingoism as entertainment, basically, which I suppose is probably an art-form older than the castle itself.

3. Rocks are, of course, boring, but the locals did at least know a thing or two about putting them together in pleasing shapes. The upper stone in the picture below weighs somewhere in the region of sixteen tonnes.

And all because some guy died one time and wanted to be remembered. From a social justice perspective it's grotesque, a weathered, lonely reminder of the ludicrous excess of those who claim power and prove it by making their subjects bleed. It does have a striking beauty, though, the kind of beauty that, as with the pyramids, you can only acquire through a total disregard for human life. Ugh. Culture is complicated.

4. Rocks are, of course, boring, but the rocks that make up the cliffs of Cardigan Bay are among some of the least boring I've seen. Trapped between two outcrops of volcanic rock, the sedimentary rock in between has been squeezed like a stone zit, gradually creating a strange wave effect like the one I snapped below.

There's also this thing, which is - what the hell is this thing? It makes the Welsh coastline look like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle, which God had to abandon so as to make sure he had the time to make England perfect.  (I need to stop watching old Al Murray routines.)

There are some awesome little caves too, which were hard to take good pictures of because all the other people on the boat stood up at the same time we did, blocking shots. Selfish.

5. Speaking of Cardigan Bay, dolphins are arseholes. When you get close to them you can see they're covered in scars from fighting each other. They make the lives of the local harbour porpoises a living hell. They wait for birds to settle on the sea and then charge them from beneath. They're awful. Pretty though.

Still, as the major would say, I wouldn't give them the time of day. And I got the chance, too, when we met the dolphin emissaries during Watch the Skies 3 last Friday. That though is a story for another post.


darkman said...

Speaking as someone who has a small rock collection (mostly fossils and stone tools), rocks are not boring.

SpaceSquid said...

I'll agree fossils and stone tools are both ace, but that doesn't stop rocks from being boring any more than my interest of tall ships makes me give a shit about wood.

darkman said...

You like tall ships? Freak.

SpaceSquid said...

I love pretty much all navies, be they historical, modern, or sci-fi. I've no clue at all why, and given what they tend to be used for I shouldn't be at all keen. But much as I'm anti-war and look askance at those people who take an interest in the mechanisms by which it's waged, damn I loves me some fleets. Starship porn > all other porn.

darkman said...

You sound like my dad (except for the sci-fi thing).

SpaceSquid said...

I'm not entirely sure how I should take that...

SpaceSquid said...

(Fliss just pointed out that we had this exact same argument last year. Apparently we change no more than the rocks do.)

Garathon said...

This conversation brings to mind:

"It could see that - by some criteria - a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgement implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.”
― Iain M. Banks, Excession

darkman said...

(Fliss just pointed out that we had this exact same argument last year. Apparently we change no more than the rocks do.)
[ronperlmanvoice]Arguments, arguments never changes[/ronperlmanvoice]

SpaceSquid said...

That sums it up pretty well, Garathon; I know these things exist almost exclusively for purposes I find sickening, but there is a beauty in them. In my slight defence, though, it's not as though I find ships interesting ONLY when they're armed.

darkman, for some reason I initially read that as [ronburgandyvoice], and so read it with a rather different timbre than was intended.