Sunday, April 23, 2017

Counting down to my India vacation began a week ago

Yes, it is true. I am going to India for my 4th vacation since I came to the UK a year and five months ago. This time, I am staying there for a fortnight - and am really looking forward to spending quality time with my family. We also have a mini-holiday planned, and some great restaurants and food-binging to look forward to.

What have I been doing these last few weeks? In a line: working hard. To be honest, it has been a gruelling fortnight so far, and it is only the next few days that I will get a few "normal" 8-hour duties. I fly out on Thursday morning and hope to arrive in Mumbai late the same night.

Yesterday, I was on leave and went to pick up my friend Shabbir M's son Ahmed Ali from Blackpool North railway station. He had come to Blackpool on a small one-night holiday on my invitation. Ahmed Ali is a  tall, lanky boy almost as old as Inas. He is pursuing research in his chosen field of avian viruses with a company located near London.

We went on a walk to the town centre, where, on a roadside food and fun fair, we listened to a live band and had some Caribbean food - goat curry and brown rice. We walked around the area, even venturing near the Houndshill shopping centre before returning to the bus stand to go to my home within the hospital. After keeping our stuff, we started almost immediately for a walk to Stanley Park via the Golfing grounds behind the hospital.  I pointed out many sights inside the Park. We also had an ongoing bird-identification monologue from my side, which may have interested him a bit. 

Ahmed Ali with the mounted police near the Municipal Council building

For the record, the horse behind me is 16.3 hands tall and is 16 years old

Ahmed Ali in my lounge

With Ahmed Ali at the town centre

In Stanley Park
The home-made dinner

His phone battery ran out within half an hour of our being together earlier in the evening, so I took most of his pictures. We returned to the hospital for a bit and then went back to the town centre and the promenade. As we both held a one-day pass on Blackpool transport, we took a tram to Starr Gate - the southern terminal of the tramway. I believe he had a good time watching the sights. We returned to the Tower after a while and then by bus back home. 

For dinner, I had made chicken masala and rice, which we both partook of. We ended the day by sharing some stories. More on this in my next post. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Nearly three months on the rota

I am quite happy to share with you the ongoing rota of a senior house officer that I am currently a part of since the beginning of February 2017. I have learned so much and am continuing to do so. Yes, it is much longer work hours, but, also, it gives me a shot at improving my clinical skills and decision making. Too, I get paid an extra amount for doing what is called duty in unsocial hours such as weekends and nights. 

The rota is quite different from week to week. On some weeks, I do just about 48 hours, whereas, on others, I do over 56 hours of work per week. In the past few weeks, I have had an off only on weekends, with long work hours on all the weekdays. On Tuesday, although I wasn't working, I travelled to Manchester to attend a study workshop on Communication skills. It was quite rewarding. 

Cooking-wise, I do get a chance to experiment on the lighter weeks. On the heavier ones, I get by with what I have in my refrigerator or eat in the hospital restaurant if that is possible. Occasionally, I have skipped meals at the end of the day because I was too tired to cook something. I then end up having tea and biscuits or just fried eggs with bread. 

On my Manchester trip, I went to the Asian foods supermarket (Worldwide Foods) and bought some stuff to have over the coming week. Not much, though, as I am preparing to go to Mumbai for vacation. However, I did parcel a lamb biryani from a Pakistani restaurant called Spicy Mint and it is located just across the road from Worldwide Foods at Rusholme (which is just over the signal from the Central Manchester Hospitals where I attended the workshop.

I also visited Chennai Dosa with the intention to take away some cooked stuff from there as well as have some south Indian delicacies. It disappointed me completely. The onion utappa that I ordered was undercooked from inside but crispy brown from the outside. I decided to just have it rather than argue over it as I had limited time at my disposal. When I tried to order a lamb biryani from there (Spicy Mint was a second option that I went to as I couldn't get the biryani at Chennai Dosa), they told me they did not have it at that point of time. 

In any case, to return to the main subject: it was a very good workshop and I met with quite a few interesting people, including some consultants from the hospital. Food at the workshop was quite basic with sandwiches, tea, coffee and orange juice. 

I returned to Blackpool by half past nine. A very exhausting day indeed. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Birdsong for Beginners

I have introduced the subject to you, dear readers in my previous post.

I have always felt the need to understand how birds communicate with each other, and how this may help one as a birder to not just understand how they do so, but to also identify the bird from the way they call out in different situations. For a birder interested in learning more, knowing bird calls is as vital as knowing how to identify them visually. 

I had arrived early, and had already taken a few pictures of morning birds from the polygonal hide just inside the centre. One of the exciting things that happened while I was assembling my camera was a robin that flew to within a metre of me! It sat there, quietly waiting to see if I would offer it a crumb to eat. It was a very special moment for me. In fact, as I had a long lens, I had to step a few paces back to capture it before it fidgeted and flew away. 

The program was the second of four or five that the Leighton Moss RSPB Nature Reserve is conducting all through the spring and summer. Our guide this time was one Mr. Andy. We were six participants. We met in the Holt, the education room behind the visitor centre. Andy is a seasoned birder with a lot of experience in listening to birds. He took us down the path to the various wooded areas in the reserve where we stood and listened to birds. I am definite about a few bird calls after having listened to them repeatedly. These include the calls of the robin, the collared dove, the wood pigeon, the willow warbler, the Ceti warbler, the green woodpecker (it drums rather than calls) and a few others that I don't think I will remember: the reed warbler, the black cap, the red-shank, the  black bird and a few others.

I bought a 2-CD set from the shop, and will listen to the bird-calls over the next few months to try and memorise them. We even took a group photo at the end. Andy is right in the centre of the group.

After the program wound up,we all went to the cafe upstairs to partake of the snacks and coffee that was part of the fees we had paid for the program (£12 per RSPB member). I had a fried egg burger - they simply half-fried a couple of eggs and put them between the two halves of a burger bread) followed by a cafe latte. It was quite good, actually. Following this, the participants broke up. As my next train to Preston was over an hour away, I lingered on inside the visitor centre, browsing through books and other merchandise, trying out different binoculars (bins) and so on.

Finally, I left at half past twelve to catch a train from Silverdale station at 12:55. I arrived at Preston in a little less time than an hour, and caught the connecting train to Blackpool North, where I reached around three o'clock in the afternoon. I missed the bus to the hospital by a minute, and had to wait for over 30 minutes for the next one, so I went to the local Subway for a coffee. Eventually, I returned home by four p.m.

All in all, a very satisfying morning. Between the two days, I ended up spending over £110 for my experience.

Travelling to Arnside on the 15th of April to attend a program the next day at Leighton Moss: Birdsong for Beginners

At Leighton Moss RSPB Nature Reserve, they always have something or the other going on. During the months of spring and summer, they have a monthly program of familiarising bird lovers with listening to birdsongs. Well, they are using the word "songs" in a slightly loose way; actually, birds communicate with several different kinds of vocals that include the full-flavoured song, but also includes different kinds of bird calls such as the territory call, the alarm call, the no-reason call (which means we haven't yet figured out the reason) and the other inter-bird clucks and tweets that we know little about. 

To attend this early morning program, I had to travel to the neighbourhood an evening earlier. I stayed at a YHA (Youth Hostel Association)-affiliated private place called the Arnside Independent Hostel. Located on Red Hills road uphill of the Kent river, this place offered a lot of bells and whistles for the room, which, alas, was terrible. I paid £47 for a night's stay which is a check-in after 17:30 and a check-out at 10:00 the next morning. The room was about 50 sq. feet of carpet space with an attached shower (but no toilet) and a double bunk bed. It was not only too small but located beside a busy corridor that links their sitting room and restaurant to each other. 

Arnside Independent Hostel and Study Centre

Lovely view of the Kent river from the picnic area of the hostel

Their resident cat

The footpath that climbs down to the bank of the Kent river

A multi-site arrow pointer at the bank

View of the Kent river and the far bank

In the restaurant, I had a dinner of lamb tagine with rice. The lady cook informed me that a tagine is a Moroccan preparation that is made in the oven. The lamb is added to a gravy made from onions, spices and cooking oil. It sounded much like the way Indians and other south Asians cook their food. It tasted nice too!

After dinner, I went for a stroll down to the Kent river and a beach alongside it. Well, strictly speaking, it is not a beach but a river bank, but it had plenty of sand on it. The walk down to the river bank was quaint. It was a pedestrian footpath that plunged down 100 feet over a distance of about 300m or so. Down at the bank, there were a few people, some with kids. Others were simply going somewhere along the thin cemented pathway that bordered and ran parallel to the bank. It showed directions to Silverdale (the neighbouring city that actually has the Leighton Moss reserve), the town centre, the church, the market and the Arnside railway station!

I took in the fresh air, clicked a few pictures, and returned to the hostel to spend the night. I did sit for a while outside the hotel in the bracing night on one of the picnic tables laid out here. Thereafter, with nothing else to do, I even went to the sitting room to sit by the fireplace and read a few pages from a book. There were others in the room, and I joined them for a bit to discuss matters related to travelling as a tourist in the South Lake district (the area to which Arnside and Silverdale belong). In fact, I learned that the Arnside-Silverdale area is one of UK's AONBs (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

In any case, I woke up the next morning (Sunday, Easter) to travel by a private taxi that I had hired by telephone a few days earlier to Leighton Moss. The driver, a lady by the name of Mrs Jane, told me that she and her husband ran this taxi service. She charged me £10 to take me a distance of about 2.5 miles. However, I am not complaining since I had no other alternative but to hire a cab. 

Will write about the actual program in my next post.

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