Monday evening, May 3, 2006


Another day has slipped by, never to return.  I got to bed by about 10:30 last night, and I slept fairly well, getting up around 7, without too much time awake during the night.  I am not fully adjusted to British time, but it is getting closer.  My body is working on it, but isn’t quite there yet.


So, I had a nice ham and cheese sandwich for my breakfast, along with a very nice Mandarin orange.  It was a big sandwich, and I wasn’t hungry until almost 3.  I did some computer stuff and set out about 10 to go visit Minsmere, the premier birding reserve in this area.  One of the top sites in the country, everyone says.


I set out confidently, having looked at a map online, but soon realized that something had gone wrong.  I am located in the middle of farmland, with tiny roads and few signs.  I was trying to retrace my path of last evening, and I got to a point where I knew I hadn’t been before.  Even worse, I had gone off without my map.  So, I retraced my steps and went back and got my map, along with the map that showed me how to find my cottage.  With the maps in hand, I soon realized my mistake, but it was an interesting few minutes, as it seemed to me like things had changed since last night – definitely a paranoid feeling.


Time out.  I interrupt this narrative to report that I just bumped my head again, while going into the kitchen to get some more Scotch.  I have bumped my head a half dozen times, at least, in the 26 hours that I have been here.  The doorways are low, and there are low beams as well, in a couple of the rooms.  This afternoon I had the worst one – I still have an actual bump on the top of my head from that one, just like in a cartoon.  I go around hunched over, but I still keep managing to give myself a bang on the noggin every once in a while.  This cottage is really nicely fitted out, with tons of conveniences, but I still keep bumping my head, usually right on the top, as I am hunched over, just not quite enough, or I stand up too soon as I move around.  It isn’t a big deal, only an amusing deal, but I would rather learn not to do it.


Back to this morning, I found my way to Minsmere, once I had my maps, although it turned out later that there was a better way to go.  I am seeing lots of very tiny villages, with no stores and maybe a pub, but usually not.  There are churches from time to time, too.  This place is sure different from either the USA or Australia.


As I made my way to Minsmere, I had a strong feeling of how great it was, to be out here in the “wilds” of Suffolk, finding my way to a birding place.  This is what I love about my big trips – finding my way to various places, keeping an eye out for birds all the time.


Minsmere really is a wonderful reserve.  There are 8 bird hides (hides are structures in which birders can conceal themselves and look out of windows at the birds) and two trails, each about a mile and a half around.  Because it is so great, and because there are so many birders in the UK, it was quite crowded today, which is a Public Holiday, as you may remember, if you have been really paying attention and taking notes.  When I got there at about 10 o’clock, there were about 100 cars in the parking lot, and when I left at about 1:30, there were over 200.  That means there were maybe three hundred people there by the time I left, and people were still arriving in numbers when I was going out.


I signed in at the visitors center and wandered around a bit.  When I signed in, they gave me a list of birds that had been seen this morning, at various locations around the reserve – very handy.  I didn’t have to pay, as I joined the RSPB (Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds) before I left home.  I got a blue tag to attach to my bag, because I am a “member”, rather than a yellow tag indicating a visitor.  At least, I think that is what the blue tag indicated.  It made me feel special, at any rate, although most people there also had blue tags.


I managed to add four species to my trip and life lists.  Nothing special, but new to me.  Chiffchaff, Barnacle Goose, Coal Tit, and Little Grebe.  That brings me up to 90 species on the trip, and about 61 lifers.  I visited four of the seven hides, and I walked one of the two 1.5 mile loops.  It was very interesting to see the hides, which are very nice ones and quite large.  At one of them, the Bittern Hide, there were over 40 people there when I arrived, which is more than could get seats for decent viewing.  A large group left, and there were only about 18 left, so I got a seat, but when I left there were more than 30 again.  Definitely too many people for this old reclusive rambler.  There were so many people on the paths that I’m sure the birds were avoiding those parts of the reserve.  I plan to go back on Wednesday, and I expect it to be whole lot less crowded.


The weather is supposed to be better on Wednesday, too.  It was windy today, and very damn cold.  Maybe about 50 or the low 50’s.  It is supposed to be a few degrees warmer, with more sun, on Wednesday.


They have a nice tea shop there at Minsmere, and if it wasn’t so crowded, I would have gotten lunch there.  Maybe on Wednesday.  They don’t have a very extensive menu, but a baked potato with beef chili sounded good today.  I didn’t bother, though, because of the crowds, which included little kids. (Screaming little kids, of course, since that is what little kids do.  I think it is great that the kids get the chance to be there, but if I can arrange my visits so I miss them, that is a win-win situation, for us all.  They don’t have to put up with a glaring old fart, and I don’t have to put up with the little darlings.  Everybody wins.  I am looking forward to Wednesday.)


So, when I left about 1:30, I wanted to stop at what I am thinking about as “my store” – Waitrose, in Saxmundham, about 15 minutes down the road from here.  I picked up a load of good looking stuff.  Some canned things (soups, tuna, sardines, etc), to act as my “iron rations”, when I am caught without a good way to get a meal.  Some vegetable dishes for the next couple of nights.  Another entrée, for tomorrow night.  A little fruit.  Some whisky, wine and beer.  Some yogurt, butter, mayonnaise, and other essentials when self-catering.  I am well set up now, and I plan to taste the various things I got, in the hopes that I will have Waitrose stores along my route in the future.  They have great things for my Zone diet, if I ever want to get back “on-spreadsheet”, which I suspect will happen, maybe soon.  I got some grilled chicken breast, with salt and pepper, and some cooked bacon, and I had a very nice late lunch sandwich of chicken and bacon when I got “home”.   I probably should have added some cheese, but I didn’t think of it.


So, after my lunch, I decided to seriously try to get my cell phone working.  I had tried this morning, and had totally failed.  I ended up spending two frustrating hours attempting to add time to the phone, with a prepaid plan with Vodaphone, one of the major carriers over here, the one with the best coverage, supposedly.  I had bought a SIM card for Vodaphone, and I had been told that all I had to do was to go online to their site and I could add time to the phone, by using a credit card.  Simple, right?  Easy, right?  So it seemed to me, but it turned out not to be so.


I spent about two hours on it.  I had installed the SIM card into my phone (which I had bought 2 ½ years ago and used in Australia in 2008), and I finally found out my Vodaphone phone number, which comes with the SIM card.  They don’t just tell you the damn phone number, and I had to figure out how to find it by navigating a bunch of menus on my cell phone.  Everything about the whole process is set up to maximize profits for Vodaphone, and none of it is the slightest bit user-friendly, especially if you have never done it before and are cell phone ignorant, as I am.


I’ll skip all the painful details of all the steps I took, and all the dead-ends I pursued.  Eventually I found a way to do an online chat with a Vodaphone representative (who was probably in India, of course), and he tried to help me.  He couldn’t, but he switched me over to another person.  After a while it turned out that what I wanted to do was just not possible.  I wanted to add time to my phone using my credit card, and it finally turned out that Vodaphone won’t accept any credit or debit card that is not associated with a UK address.  If I didn’t have a credit or debit card with a UK address as the billing address, then I couldn’t buy time with it.  I can understand why they might have adopted that policy, with all the fraud there is out there, but it sure seems like one of the leading mobile phone companies in the UK ought to be able to take a non-UK credit card somehow.  Here I was, wanting to buy something from them, and they weren’t willing or able to sell it to me.  It took me two hours to find this out, too.  I went through endless online loops, trying and trying, and I usually got stuck when it wanted my address, and it wasn’t a UK address.


I guess I can work around it by finding a store that sells “vouchers” for time.  They told me that I don’t need a UK address to add time to my phone if I buy a voucher, so I will have to find a store that sells them.  There are lots of places to buy them, but I am really out in the sticks here, and it will mean doing at least half an hour of driving to find somewhere to buy one, not to mention the time to actually find a place that sells them, once I am in a town.  And, after today, I am not at all convinced that they won’t find another excuse to have it not work out.


So, that is my story for today.  Tomorrow I am supposed to meet a local birder, and he will show me around and we will see what we can find.  I will have to drive for about 25 minutes to meet him at 7:30 in the morning, so it will mean getting up pretty early, probably between 6 and 6:30.  It will be interesting to see what I see tomorrow, in terms of birds.  As of now, I don’t really feel much like heading out at 7 am, but it is a great opportunity for me, to be shown around by a local birder.  I’m sure I will enjoy it, and I will no doubt see birds that I would not see without his help.


It is time for me to get this up on the website, along with Photos03 and Photos04.  Then it will be time for dinner.  Life rolls on.