Thursday, 17 November 2011

Whither FWAG, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group?

Formed in 1969 by a forward thinking group of farmers and conservationists, including Eric Carter, FWAG ( has done a huge amount to integrate profitable farming with farm conservation in the UK over the past 40 years.  It is disturbing to hear that the organisation is likely to go into administration, with the potential loss of many excellent county advisors and their highly respected Technical Director, Jim Egan.  I am working with Jim on the multi-partner Campaign for the Farmed Environment (  and  can vouch for the drive and professionalism that FWAG brings to the partnership.  I also worked with a predecessor of his, Richard Knight, who instigated comprehensive evidence and technical support for the county advisors on the ground.  It would a real shame if this experience and excellence was lost at a time when there is no real agricultural extension service in the UK, but the need for sustainable production is probably at its most acute ever.  Can individual county groups rally to the cause, in the format that FWAG began in the 1970s?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Bali 2

Our transfer to Ubud was booked for 11:30, so we had a leisurely breakfast, pack and final photo session before departure.  Our driver took us up into the hills to a delightful villa on a hill top with stunning views over a valley of rice paddies, forest patches, villages and up to low peaks.  We had a lovely lunch, brought up to us, sitting in an open verandah with the vista in front of us.  The garden was delightful, with many flowers and orchids.  Back in the Toyota, we headed towards Ubud – the roads are small and motorcycles plentiful, so you do not get anywhere fast!  Our driver was keen to show us the delights of craftware and we agreed to stop where they had woven materials.  We liked some of the trays etc. and selected some for a little bartering and came away happy.  Alila Ubud was no disappointment, located at the end of a bricked road through small rice paddies and palm trees. Our de luxe room has a huge bed and a separate open air shower room with a large stone bath big enough for both of us.  We booked in for dinner and for the following evening, which was a “Spice market”. 

The next morning, we were about to join the shuttle into Ubud, but it was full and we then were given an exlusive tour of the art and craft shops around Ubud.  Bartering is required, but there was a feeling of systematic money removal behind our visits that was unsettling.  The tourist industry is clearly the major industry here, but not at Manggis, where the feeling of calm was real.  That said, we were given some insight into the Hindu religious organisation and that of the village and individual family compound.  We visited a very smart art gallery and were very taken with some traditional views of Balinese village life – I ended up buying a large picture that might fit the bathroom (!!! and possibly paying more than we should – we will see).  We also received a sealed certificate of authenticity and the picture was professionally packaged, so we shouldn’t be disappointed.  We were dropped in Ubud centre later, at the hotel shuttle pick-up, and had a bite at a café.  It was fairly hot, but we braved Monkey Forest Road and did go in to the monkey forest, where there were lots of monkeys!  We then strolled back up the road, buying Sprite en route and then went into the market – full of craft and other stuff designed for the passing tourists.  There is an element of desperation here that doesn’t fit with the beauty of the landscape outside town and the supposed calm of the island.

We had arranged a driver for the second day, cousin of the manager who had accompanied us the day before.  Our pick-up was at 10:00 and we were soon off, first to an ATM, then to our first of two temples.  The temperature was climbing, but the walk down was fine, even if we were accosted regularly, first for sarongs – “best price” – then on our way back for craft items – “ein dollar; one dollar”.  The temple, Gunung Kwai, was cut from the rock, obviously very old with a stream running through it – a lovely location, with butterflies and greenery and tiny rice paddies in the valley bottom.  It was hot walking back up steep steps and we needed the air-conditioning.  However, it was only a short drive to the second temple – Tirta Empul – of the springs.  This was on the flat, but it was hot and Hilary was getting hotter.  We toured the temple, but did not go into the springs for an all-over wash – tempting, but we were not dressed for this.  On our way out, we were routed past the craft stalls again.  We might be used to the National Trust shop, but here you run the gauntlet of 40 or more stalls – one dollar; special price.  Back in the blue Toyota, our driver had some bottles of water part-frozen – a life saver for Hilary, who cooled down rapidly with these applied to her neck.  We then headed north and into the hills, where they grow mandarins and other fruit.  We were heading for the caldera of Batur and the village of Kintamani, where we stopped for a late lunch.  The views across the volcano, with lake Batur and the new peaks, 1, 2 and 3 (latest flow in 1963), were stunning.  We treated our driver, Wayan Suartana, to lunch – a buffet, which was good.  Then back to the Alila via another ATM(!) for tea and some R&R.  We enjoyed a swim and a bar supper, followed by a relatively early bed. 

After our tours of previous days, we will stay close to the hotel today.  After a fruit and semolina breakfast (!), we set off for a stroll along the brick road through the rice paddies to the road.  It is warm, but there is so much to see – egrets, butterflies, dragonflies, flowers, trees in flower.  We come to where the rice is being harvested, the cut stems are bashed into large baskets, so the seeds come off.  Where some of the rice has dried, two people are winnowing with baskets, tossing the rice and catching it.  Directed across the road, we realise that someone is at the top of a palm, harvesting leaves and coconuts! There are lots of runner ducks in the harvested rice – young ones being herded – mobile weed and pest control between the three harvests each year. A young family with two dogs (one with a missing front paw) greet us before heading off on their motorbike.  There are interesting rice weeds, mainly aquatics, including Azolla. Hilary spots homemade propeller-driven scarecrows that bang tins to scare off the birds, we guess.  We stroll back to the hotel to enjoy the warmth, read our books, catch up with writing and swim.  In two days, we will be wrapped up for warmth and back in the UK!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Bali 1

Woke around 8:00 a.m. for morning tea.  There were one or two people by the pool in the morning sun.  Strolled over the alfresco dinning room for a leisurely breakfast – fruit, juices, toast, Balinese omelette and pancakes. Then a stroll round the site and into costumes to rest by the pool – very well-designed and set out.  Towels on loungers under umbrellas and iced water served.  We had a free spa treatment booked for 1:00 p.m. and walked over to be greeted with cold ginger tea.  Decided on an hour’s Balinese massage each – oiled with their Signature scent and pummelled into a hazy daze to the sound of the waves washing in and out! 

Had a late lunch and signed in for the Satay dinner at 8:00 pm.  Took a cup of tea and cake back to our room and rested on our comfy verandah, where there is a big lounger for two overlooking the pool and lawns.  The weather changed during the late afternoon and we were treated to a tropical deluge, complete with thunder and lightning.  A romantic setting with the rain pouring down and streaming off the edge of the thatch, with us dry and warm. The rain eased during the evening, but we still needed an umbrella (provided) to stroll across to the candle-lit dining room.  A super supper, with the satays cooked for us on a barbecue. Then a coconut sorbet and a snakeskin fruit compote for pudding.  Our interest in the fruit was rewarded with an example and an explanation.  The fruit really has got a skin like a snake, with overlapping scales.  I have saved the stone inside and will try to germinate it – hopefully it doesn’t need to pass through a bat, monkey or elephant! 

Slept well and went for a swim in the sea before breakfast – took the mask and snorkel, but it is sandy here and not a lot to see. We enjoyed our breakfast and saved some crumbs for the fish in the lotus pools that surround the dining room – a bit of a feeding frenzy was created amongst the water lilies.  We had decided to pop into the local village, Candedasa, and took the hotel minibus at 1:00 p.m.  As we arrived, there was a big parade for a local temple just starting out from the market place by the beach – great colours and music that halted the traffic.  We walked up the one street, looking at different shops – spotted postcards and bought water and Sprite for the brandy.  You can tell there is not much money here, with much work “in progress” and broken pavements.  That said, every house has a shrine and most concerns had flower and food offerings on the pavement.  At the end of the village, we headed off down a lane to the beach, but were only strolling past little homes with bananas and pigs, as well as villas and hotels.  As we didn’t approach the beach, we turned round and made our way back, stopping at several shops with Bali products – the wood and woven grass items are lovely.  Stopped finally at a smart silver shop and browsed, while a light drizzle fell outside.  We found some nice filigree earrings and bartered for a lovely pair.  Then waited for the minibus which duly arrived – a couple of hours was enough.  Back to the hotel for tea, cakes and postcard writing – then some reading, a snooze, a final swim watching the odd bat between the palms and time for a B&S with the waves breaking in the background.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Singapore 7

With the tour at an end, Hilary and I set off to explore Singapore.  Our first port of call was the National Museum of Singapore.  This was a fine building with a colonial classic style front, but an modern and airy main area.  We had come to see the Musee d’Orsay exhibition of art and were not disappointed with some stunning pictures of the era from c. 1860 to the 1920’s.  One of the best was by a Brit, of a girl by the sea, with light on the sea to die for.  After that we headed for the Botanic Gardens, getting on at Dhoby Ghout and changing onto the Circle line.  We had a bite to eat at the café, then did the wonderful Orchid Gardens, then the Ginger garden, before strolling back via the Evolution garden – well done.  Bathed and changed for Raffles, going smart, so we could get into the bar for a good seat.  We both had the Singapore Sling Original, which slips down a treat, so you don’t notice the cost!  Then on to Chimjes and selected a nice tapas bar for supper and a beer.  Afterwards, we were joined by Kim, Mary-Anne, Grace, Tim and Vanessa, which was fun. 

The next morning, we were packing and after breakfast, we brought our cases down to the concierge to hold and checked out.  We were vaguely looking for electric tealights and walked up to the Bugis shopping area, but no luck.  Then walked south, past the Anglican cathedral and the Padang with the Singapore Cricket Club. Then on Marina Bay to see the Merlion spouting – lots of people about.  Had a cold drink and hailed a taxi to take us to the Marina Bay Sands hotel, which has the ship on top, the Sky Park.  We got a ticket to the bar and were able to navigate the spectacular viewing platform which forms the stern of the boat – fantastic views of Singapore.  Down the 57 stories in the lift, ears popping, and then another taxi ride back to the Carlton.  Collected our bags and got another taxi to Changi, arriving in plenty of time to check in, drop bags and have a bite before boarding nearly an hour late.  An uneventful flight, with supper served and a glass of wine.  We braved the visa queues in Denpasar, the luggage touts ($1 each) and found our driver and comfortable vehicle – cold towels and iced water, what a good sign.  It was a long drive, over an hour, with hundreds of motorcycles on the road, but worth it when we arrived after 11:00 p.m.  A lovely room, air-conditioned, a comfy verandah – and sleep.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Singapore 6

A quiet morning by the pool, catching a bit of sun and drying kit.  Preparations and down to meet for a 12:00 departure in the coach.  We were at the ground for 13:00 and ready for the off at 14:00, the Aussies playing Scotland in the other semi-final. We were playing on the top pitch and started with some good play, despite the midday heat.  We went 1-0 up and then 2-0, ending 2-1, despite another series of opportunities to score (yes, I shot wide on one) and a missed flick (not me).  Still, we got the right result and face Australia in tomorrow’s final.

The evening saw us back in the coach for the tournament dinner – held at the Hollandse Club with c. 500 people in attendance.  Good food, a couple of drinks, a few presentations and some great Bangra music.  However, we were away by 10:15 (after the Aussies), in preparation for the final game. 

Saturday dawned and after a late breakfast we again began preparations.  Only 16 players can be named and play in internationals, so two of us would be standing down.  I had offered for earlier games, angling for the finals, but at the ground, I was approached and given the bad news.  Felt absolutely gutted, but told the coach, and later the skipper that a) I would prepare as normal and b) they must concentrate on getting the squad ready.  There had been many fewer injuries than Hong Kong, a tribute to everyone’s fitness and PJ’s mantra on hamstrings, but three had fitness tests.  Shortly before the final gatherings, I was told to get my shinpads on and twigged I would play.  In the event, PJ was a big man and with a tweak that might have gone after 5 minutes play, he stood down. I could see he felt like I had.  Talk about a finely balanced contest – the Aussies went 1-0 up, I think from a short corner. Then Conrad made a sparkling run into the circle and roofed the ball – 1-1.   I came on at halftime and we continued to look for the opening.  At full time, we went into two periods of 5 minutes sudden death.  Our fitness was telling now and I and the skipper Kim, came very close to sliding in a cross, but too fast. So it was down to 5 penalty flicks – could they overcome the footballer’s inability to win?  With Webby in goal, there was always a good chance of a save, but the Aussies went ahead as we had two saved, then they slipped and it was down to Kim to step up and level it.  Yes!  Then into sudden death – first up, Nobby Stiles and in it went top right. The Aussie striker settled, but put it on the post - and we were winners, streaking across the pitch to mob Webby (of the quadruple heart bypass, so some care required!).  A great contest and not a great way to lose, but someone has to.  A gold medal for each of us, a large gold cup to go home in Kim’s hand luggage and a host of memories.  We came to win and achieved it.

The evening saw us have our own dinner, with everyone in attendance, bar Andrew K who was in the air back for an Ofsted inspection.  The ladies have been a fantastic support for us and all were wearing the gold medals. A great evening with Gilly in fine form with his speech, followed by the up-to-now secret fines committee of PJ and Tim.  No escape for anyone, including me for Turette’s in front of the NZ goal and Mike Rudd for parking his ship on top of three tower blocks, fines averaging $50. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Singapore 5

Phone call from 02920359001 at 02.39 – probably trying to flog 3, the mobile phone operator – I was not happy, as this is the third call I’ve had in Singapore.  They will be hearing from me, when I get home.  A bit later got a text from Hilary saying all going to plan and waiting to board at Schiphol, so replied to let her know she will need to fill in an immigration card on arrival.  The alarm went off at 05:45, in time for a quick shower, change and downstairs for a light breakfast.  The bus was ready for us and we were away for 06:20.  We were at the ground for 07:00 – time for final preparations, stretching and loading with liquids – it was still, hot and humid, so the sweat was running freely. Most of the girls arrived by cab a bit later and gave us great support from the touchline.  I was on at right mid/wing and forced three corners, Tim scoring from one to put is 1-0 up against the Kiwis.  We generally had good possession, while the Kiwis tried to hammer the ball through to the odd front runner.  The second half saw us control the game, with the Kiwis tiring.  A sweet passing move saw PJ score another peach of a goal and then Tim put the game out of reach.  Played a period at left mid/wing, then rested, and in the final moments a corner was conceded and then a flick.  Webby nearly saved, but we had to be content with a 3-1 victory.  That puts us second and we will play the Kiwis again tomorrow at 14:00 in the semi-finals.

Back at the hotel to pack up all my clobber.  Bruce and Andy have “volunteered” to put our kit through the washing machine – thank goodness, for the health and safety of all!  The staff will move it to our new double room this afternoon, while I collect Hilary from Changi Airport.  I’ll go on the MRT around 3:00 pm, as it takes about an hour and the plane arrives at 16:20. 

Got out to the airport at 15:45 – plane on time and Hilary texted from the Immigration queue – she was soon through, with her case, even though she had had to run through the terminal at Schiphol to catch her connection!  Great to see her here and welcome her to Singapore!  Hilary braved the MRT into town – and I got ribbed as a skinflint for not taking a taxi.  Supper in an excellent Tandori restaurant, preceded by a beer on Harbour Quay – then bed, ahead of the semi-finals!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Singapore 4

A rest day after the Aussies and did a bit of editing in the hotel to mid-afternoon. There was a fantastic thunderstorm at around 2:00 pm and a tropical deluge – good to be inside!  Then off to Little India for a walkabout – small shops and market – took the MRT south to Harbourside and looked out to Sentosa Island – a resort area.  The cable car trip to the island and back to a hill location looks good.  Perhaps Hilary and I can do it over the weekend.  Later joined up with some of the lads to visit the Raffles Long Bar for a proper Singapore Sling with peanut shells on the floor.  Just the one, as they are pricey! Off for supper at our local.

Tuesday – match day – Bill and I set ourselves the task of finding a Laundromat, so set off with bags of not too nice kit.  Alas, the one we had found online was shut and really a drycleaners, so strolling the streets and malls to no avail.  Back at the hotel, we tracked down a coin-op on floor 7 and Bill dried the kit beside the pool.  A late game v. Singapore at 20:00, which started late.  On the bus at 18:00, giving us good time to get there and prepare.  Tried out a new formation with PJ up front, as Tim’s calves are in a bad way.  We were galvanised to score after not netting against the Aussies and with some good first-time passing, PJ was on-song, ending with a hat trick and Kaka scoring a cracker.  Skins should also have been allowed a goal, as we dominated to win 4-0.  Back to the hotel by coach and some beers and food in the foodhall behind the hotel. 

Wednesday – another rest day – I have been working in the Wiley offices in Polaris Tower, near the One North MRT station, meeting my Production Editor, Ika Lestari.  It is great to put a face to a name – charming and efficient.  I have been plugged into the internet all day, catching up with emails, editing and this blog!  We have a very early game tomorrow against the Kiwis, starting at 08:00.  That means an 06:30 departure, which will probably have most of us feeling groggy.  No doubt we will be up for it from the whistle though, as there is a semi-final place we need. I guess that Hilary will be somewhere over Russia while we are playing.  It will be great to meet her off the plane later.