Category Archives: Animals

Istria – or Slovenia and Croatia to you and me.

I’ve just returned from a trip to the Istrian Peninsula – and learnt a lot!  The Peninsula looks like a triangular pennant suspended in the Adriatic just below Trieste.  A horizontal strip of land at the top of the triangle now forms part of Slovenia and the rest belongs to Croatia. Our visit included some of the towns along the West coast of Istria from  Portorož down to Pula, with its stunning amphitheatre,  at the southern tip of the triangle.

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So first  stop – Portorož (Port of Roses) This turned out to be an attractive strip of  hotels stretching in a ribbon along the seafront – no ‘beach’ as such, more pebbles and ladders straight down into the water – would bathers disappear without trace?  Well, no, the water only seemed to be waist deep in most places so perfectly safe, if a bit chilly!

Portorož has been established as a health spa since the late 19th century and boasts some fine architecture – one example of this is the Palace Hotel, built around 1912 in what was known then as the Austrian Riviera. It was extensively renovated around 2008 but retains its magnificent facade and is testimony to the popularity of the area as a health resort back in the day.  There is a real Art Deco vibe about the place and lots of magnificent black and white photographs on the hotel walls illustrate the grandeur of a bygone era, which inspired me to take some sepia photos on my walk along the sea front towards Piran.

Every hotel in Istria has a Wellness Centre, indeed Slovenians and Croatians place a lot of emphasis on healthy living. On our tour I struck lucky every time – my room was right next door to the Wellness Centre! This meant that, unlike other guests who had to make their way along endless hotel corridors and into and out of lifts dressed in their fluffy white hotel robes to get to these facilities, I only had to pop out of my room and round the corner and there it all was – the plunge pool, the sun terrace, the jacuzzi, the  salt water swimming pool and all the wondrous treatments on offer – like mud baths, Thai massage with myriad combinations of lovely infused oils, facials – etc!!

As a linguist I was also interested in trying to pick up some phrases in Slovenian and Croatian – and was encouraged by the fact that all the road signs were in Slovenian or Croatian first and then Italian, and sometimes German too.  As I speak Spanish, the hop over to Italian is not so far – but the next hop over to Slovenian proved more of a chasm – didn’t get much of a toe hold, although the girl welcoming us in to dinner tried to teach me a few things – ‘dobro jutro’ (good morning) ‘dobra večer’ (good evening) ‘volim te’ (I love you !! – that should come in handy!) ‘hvala ti’ (thank you)  ‘molim’ (please) ‘račun molim’ (the bill please) and on the hotel television I even caught an episode of Gardeners’ World with Monty Don dubbed in Croatian.  Even so, progress was slow!!

Back to being a tourist.

Piran is a small town at the top of the Istrian Peninsula. Its links with Italy through the salt trade are evident. On the walk into the town we came across some curious buildings which turned out to be disused salt warehouses, now being used as exhibition spaces and the like.  

Views out to sea from the city walls were beautiful and the town itself is very picturesque.

 

 

 

 

 

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We were taken on a trip to the salt pans and a museum where we learnt how the salt panners lived and worked.

           

         

Our next trip was to Groznjan, which is inland. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very good but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and sample some delicious truffles and mistletoe brandy – not sure about the brandy! We also learned that Istria has several symbols – one is the goat, one is the dolphin and ……the other will come to me in a second!

 

The climate as you go further south turns more Mediterranean, with lots of vineyards and olive trees and for the first week of our holiday the weather was pleasantly warm – around 25º. But things changed dramatically en route to our second destination of Poreč – in fact, there was a terrific storm and when we got to the hotel they were busy mopping up – leaks had sprung everywhere – outside the main entrance a little man in waterproofs was standing knee deep in water, pumping out and inside they were juggling guests whose rooms had water running down the walls – mops and buckets everywhere!

Built along the lines of a giant Butlins holiday camp – I don’t think these hotels will stand the test of time – more ‘Lego’ in construction – definitely the cheap and cheerful end of the market.  This conglomeration was built around several lagoons just outside the town of Poreč, which, once the hordes of weekend visitors had died down, felt much more welcoming. As luck would have it, the storm (which was bad enough to make the national television news) had abated by the next day and we were able to see a  medieval fair which they had postponed – so ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ as they say.

Pula, in the far south of the peninsula, boasts a magnificent amphitheatre, with the usual gruesome history of gladiators and blood and gore. Nowadays, the arena is used as an open air concert venue, attracting the greats of the musical world such as Andrea Bocelli, Norah Jones, Tom Jones and José Carreras.  Personally, I found the Roman artifacts in the museum below the arena every bit as interesting as the arena itself.

We barely had time to see Pula and even in late September, towards the end of the holiday season it was very busy. The Venetian influence is evident in its buildings and I loved the little alley ways down to the water’s edge which seemed to drop straight into the sea. Definitely a place to go back to.

    

To Bee Or Not To Bee

I’m not a scientist or a botanist, or an ornithologist, come to that, but one thing is clear even to me, a casual, lay observer – there are far fewer birds and bees around – a walk around my garden or the fields and hedgerows near home tell me that.

Years ago I had a dilapidated old garage at the bottom of the garden with a sagging flat tarpaulin roof – not so good for the car, but it made an excellent bird bath and I could sit upstairs and watch the antics of all sorts of birds as they splashed around and preened to their hearts’ content.  Now the garage has a new roof,  but it still collects enough water to form a 5 star bird bath – only thing is ……. the bathers are always pigeons or magpies – either they’ve seen off everything else or there IS nothing else!

 

I don’t want to sound alarmist but I saw this post from Greenpeace on Facebook the other day and it really makes you think.

Changes in agriculture have meant that farmers now go in for larger fields and less variety of crops – we no longer see the beautiful patchwork quilt of small fields that typified the English countryside – it’s not economically viable, but tearing up the hedgerows and planting vast swathes of rape or wheat – or, as in this area, potatoes – has had a drastic effect on the little creatures whose habitat we’ve destroyed- dormice, voles, small birds. And it also turns out these changes are detrimental to the health of pollinators.

    

Of course, most decisions come down to money – it makes financial sense to work bigger fields which have been sprayed with pesticide and fertilizer to yield more per acre. We, the customers, should be happy because our food is more plentiful and costs less.

But most people have now realised that this is short sighted.  There is a hidden cost and it could prove very expensive in the long run and – worse still – irreversible. The wild animal population  dies out either through loss of habitat or toxins in pesticides. The bee population is no exception. There is also in the bee world a phenomenon called CCD – or Honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. This is when the worker bees decide to just take off and leave the hive, never to return. No one single thing has been blamed for this phenomenon. No one is sure why they leave the queen in the nest, with enough food and some nurse bees to look after the other immature bees. It could be one of a number of things, for example,  disease, loss of forage, or habitat, adverse weather and/or intensive apiculture.

So ……..  what to do ?  Well, it turns out there’s a lot we can do, as individuals or organisations.  We aren’t all suddenly going to become bee keepers, but we can all build little oases into our gardens to give pollinators somewhere to thrive – little bee ‘hotels’ in a pile of wood, more areas left to grow wild, grass cut longer so that we don’t disturb nests, more flowering plants. Of course, if you do want to keep bees, either commercially, or just as a hobby so that you can collect some of that delicious honey to spread on your toast or sell at the local farmers’ market, there’s lots of advice from professional bodies like the Bee Farmers’  Association or the British Bee Keepers’ Association.

A bee’s physical appearance is a godsend for campaign organisers –  children love the stripy yellow and black jersey they wear, so designing a  logo for a ‘Save the Bee’ campaign which will engage children is ….well ……. child’s play!

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Lots of initiatives have been launched by any number of agencies – DEFRA, the National Trust, the Forestry Commission, the Soil Association, the RHS, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Wildlife Trust, even Waitrose,  have all succeeded in galvanizing volunteers, businesses and the public at large to join forces and save our bees before it’s too late. We humans always seem to leave it till the ‘impending disaster’ stage to actually do something – but do something we must!

I know one thing: If I was a bee I would be tempted by any of these hedgerow jewels:

     

      

Ah, here’s one!

bee

Another year, another River Carnival on the Wye.

The stretch of river that runs between Hereford Rowing Club and the Victoria Footbridge was once again the setting for the main attraction of the Hereford River Carnival –  the parade of a dozen or so colourful floats.  For reasons I am not privy to – but probably to do with access points along the bank – the floats first have to be towed upstream along the same stretch of river before they set off downstream again. There was nothing for it! The crews had to brave the water and it looked pretty cold!!  Then it was a case of just pulling against the current – and let’s face it – carnival floats aren’t usually built with good handling in mind! The more unwieldy the craft the more resistance it put up,  but the crews were having none of it! The river was not particularly high, but weather conditions weren’t ideal –  a wind had got up and rain clouds were gathering – again.

Amongst those organisations represented  were the Alzameimers Society (I’ve forgotten how to spell that) , Aspire, Harrison Clark Rickerbys, Hereford Food Bank, Hereford MIND, Newton Farm Community Association, the Sea Cadets, Strong Young Minds, Horizon Training, local health food shop, Fodders, Sheila’s Wheels,  and two local pubs, the Barrels (representing aforementioned Wye Valley Brewery) and the Vaga Tavern.

I positioned myself on the footbridge and watched as our water babies slogged slowly upstream to take their starting positions. It looked like hard work!

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The support dinghies and canoes were manned by members of CHAR (the River Wye Charity Raft Race organization) and local sea cadets  (always seems strange to me that a landlocked Midlands county, as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK, should have a unit of the sea cadets, but we do – I suppose water is water!) Anyway, they were out in force, expertly manoeuvering their kayaks and dinghies to escort, aid, and lend support and encouragement where needed.

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Ever get that sinking feeling?  A few sticky moments here for the castle.

The green and yellow craft below looked tiny in comparison with some, but maybe small is beautiful in these conditions.

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She hugged the bank and made her way quietly up to the start.

Then came  ‘the Fried Egg   (I’m assuming this was Hereford Food Bank)

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All the crews did whatever it took – towing, pushing, pulling, wading through the water tmentalHealthogether.shirleysWheelsThe efforts of the Wye Valley Brewery crew were nothing short of heroic  – I have to say the design of their float didn’t exactly help – It looked heavy with 4 barrels on a square platform – it was always going to be a handful!  barrels8Eventually they towed it under the footbridge on the first part of its journey upstream – our hero had hold of the rope attached to the support boat and manfully hung on!

Only a mile to go!

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Eventually he could hold on no longer and decided to attach the rope under the raft. Success! And applause from the crowd above! Away they went. Further upstream another snag – the brolly started to catch the breeze so they jettisoned that and at last disappeared into the distance.

barrels5When the floats finally started to reappear on their way back, as I looked down the length of the river it struck me that they were bunched a bit like horses in a  race – some hugging the near bank,

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some the opposite bank

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and some coming straight down the middle.

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Whether they were following instructions, or just being carried along by the current I don’t know. As they moved falteringly along, the escorts were still doing a grand job, weaving through the water, ever watchful, ever ready to move in , and giving much needed reassurance to our wobbly wayfarers.

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It was easy to see that coming downstream is a doddle compared to going up!

castle4 And relax!

cygnet2A cygnet in tow! Cute!

downstreamTime to tip our toes in!

downstream2 This is more like it!  Shame the sun’s not out! Could work on my tan!

swan I’m gonna get there first!

Now, you see that? It’s a stone pillar! Paddle round it! bridgeInSight Okay, boss!

intheWaterNot sure what’s happening here but I bet he’s glad of that wetsuit.

And – under we go……….

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All using the same technique – no collisions – and the end is in sight.

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For the trip back downstream the ‘Fried Egg’ has acquired a sharply dressed captain!underBridge

This wasn’t a race, but I believe there was a prize for the best float. I don’t know who won.  You be the judge. Here’s a reminder of the gallant participants in the 2016 Hereford River Carnival Parade.bananaMan

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Hark, when the night is falling, Hear, hear, the pipes are calling……..

We all have preconceptions of a place and its people before we go there, based on things we learned at school, television programmes, books we’ve read, sports we follow or even films we’ve watched.

Take Scotland. I’ve never been there but I know all about it ! How?

Well……………………………

at every New Year’s Eve party – even south of the border- I’ve linked hands with people and belted out a rousing chorus of ‘Auld Lang Syne , penned originally by Scottish poet Rabbie Burns, who died quite young but not before writing some of our best loved poems.

I’ve watched the film ‘Braveheart’ (three times!) It stars Mel Gibson. Who can forget his blue warpaint as he galloped across the Scottish countryside as William Wallace, the fearless leader of the Wars of Scottish Independence.

The real Wallace met a grisly end of course, hanged, drawn and quartered as he was, but let’s not dwell on that.

 

I’ve seen documentaries about the breathtaking Scottish landscape. Scotland is divided diagonally NE to SW into the Highlands and Lowlands. The Highlands lay claim to Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis – standing at 1,344 metres above sea level –  in global terms not much more than a hill – after all,  Mount Everest is 8,848 metres high , Mount Toubkal in the Atlas range measures 4,165, and even Spain easily beats it with Torre de Cerredo in the Picos de Europa at 2,650 metres  and Aneto in the Pyrennes at 3, 404 metres.

But what mountains anywhere all have in common is the exciting (not to say hare-brained!) range of winter sports that have grown up around them and Scotland has its fair share of those, and also the more sedate sport of curling – and they’re not half bad at it -remember the 2014 Winter Olympics ?  Eve Muirhead captained the Great Britain team to a bronze medal.

Highland Games – one of my earliest memories of anything Scottish is watching a TV programme (I was about 8 at the time). I was flabbergasted to see a huge bear of a man dressed in a skirt and vest, every muscle straining and every vein bulging as he hoisted the end of a tree trunk skyward and it fell with a crash – he was obviously delighted at the outcome but what was he doing?    I later learned that he was ‘tossing the caber’ – this was one of the Herculean tasks participants of the Highland Games were required to perform; at least this particular task was not just to show off the contestants’ strength – in lumber jacking they sometimes needed to toss logs across narrow chasms to cross them.

I’ve read that ……there’s lots of incredible wildlife up there – 70 % of Scotland’s population live in the Lowlands, leaving the Highlands to creatures like grouse (the capercaillie being the largest of them) red deer, which no longer have any natural predators and so numbers now require ‘managing’ by us humans (oh, no!) and all manner of sea birds such as gannet, puffin and the majestic white tailed eagle  – Mull is a good place to see those, I’m told.

 

And if you venture out onto the water you might see dolphins, seals, even basking sharks – and if you’re really lucky – there’s Nessie – the Loch Ness Monster.

I’ve worn a tartan kilt  and  – who hasn’t heard a rousing band of Scottish pipers at a military tattoo?   Immaculate down to the last detail, marching resolutely  in perfect time or marking time outside the gates to some castle or other, tartan kilts swaying, and sooner or later you know they’ll play the evocative  ‘Scotland the Brave’ whose stirring lyrics and haunting pipes would reduce anyone to tears, Scottish or not.

 

Scottish gastronomy – well, for me it’s porridge, haggis and whisky! I love porridge, can pass on the haggis, though I’m not averse to a bit of offal, but I don’t like whisky  – or know anything about it, even though it is legendary north of the border. I understand there are literally hundreds of distilleries in Scotland, although I’m not sure how many are still Scottish owned (like every other industry on these islands some distillery owners have been forced to close or sell out to foreign companies  –  I believe Bacardi has taken over some distilleries – is nothing sacred!!) I’m sure there’s more to Scottish cuisine than this (Italian fish ‘n’ chips, for example, if you see what I mean!) but nothing comes to mind.

But famous Scots, well, that’s a different story. I’ve already mentioned two – Rabbie Burns and William Wallace, but what about other popular heroes? There’s Stephen Hendry, snooker ace, Billy Connolly AKA The Big Yin, who played John Brown in the film Mrs. Brown opposite Judi Dench’s Queen Victoria.  The story goes that John Brown, who started off as a humble gillie and servant on the Balmoral estate, became a  source of great comfort to the Queen whilst she was grieving for her dear departed, Prince Albert. And a source of great DIScomfort to those around her as they deemed his friendship inappropriate. Connolly proved his worth as an actor in that film. Another literary figure was Sir Walter Scott, the historical novelist, who was a contemporary of Rabbie Burns, a few years younger. His works include ‘Ivanhoe’ – ring a bell? Set in the Middle Ages – knights, crusades and all that,  you know.

And what of the Scottish character. Anecdotally,  the Scots are said to be ‘careful with their money’. It’s also said that the Scottish accent is one of the most popular and that people more readily trust a Scot in business negotiations.  I don’t know enough Scots well enough to comment. My Spanish husband worked with lots and their accent proved impenetrable to him. On the occasions he could get someone else to interpret he said they had a great sense of humour.

My favourite Scot?  Well, at the moment I think it’s Paolo Nutini –

 

obviously, descended from Italian immigrants and didn’t fancy going into the family business. I’m assuming that’s his real name, of course, it could be Alistair Stewart, but that wouldn’t matter – I’d still like his songs.

For me it would be a shame if Scotland became independent, not for any clearly defined political reason – simply because I ascribe to the ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ philosophy – if the U.K. fragments into 4 small states it would be like a family of 4 separating  and not seeing each other again – all four members would be weaker and poorer in every way.

I’m looking forward to my trip to Scotland – I feel my education is sadly lacking !! Time to make amends.

 

Butterflies at Symonds Yat

What to do on a chilly, blustery Wednesday in April whilst waiting for  the British summer to arrive?

I know! A trip to the butterfly centre at Symonds Yat! Inside the butterfly house the atmosphere and temperature are carefully controlled and these beautiful creatures flit from plant to plant and chase each other around their tropical paradise.

The plants are not quite Kew Gardens dimensions but they set the scene

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purple   leaves

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     tangle1    tiger1

red2 trumpet4

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yellow    whiteStar

and whilst studying the plants you start to notice the brilliantly camouflaged butterflies settled motionless on them – difficult to tell the scale from these photos but these butterflies ranged in width, with wings outspread, from 2-3 inches to 5-6 inches.

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Here are a few of the images from my trip.

From velvety black to iridescent blue – I don’t know the names of these lovely butterflies but I’m sure the lepidopterists amongst you will.

black1 blue&black

blueCloseUp2      eye

orange&black2     silhouette

whiteSpotted   whiteSpotted5

whiteSpotted3    whiteSpotted7

 

Photographic A, B, C of 2014

 

I thought I’d round off the year with an a, b, c of photos from my archive:

A is for AC Cobra – a mean, sleek racing machine.

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B is for Bull – a Hereford White Face, emblematic breed from my native Herefordshire.

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C is for Cockerel – this is a composite image from shapes I was playing around with in Photoshop.

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D is for Dragon – we found this one in a park just on the outskirts of Barcelona.

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E is for Entrance – the entrance to the Boquería food market in Barcelona city centre – a mecca for all foodies.

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F is for Fire engine – this one is Norwegian – they seem to use them more for clearing the streets than tackling fires.

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G is for Graffiti – Barcelona has some fine examples of it.

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H is for Husky – this one lives in Tromso, Norway with his 299 kennel mates – a vociferous mob but very friendly.

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I is for Ikea – that well known purveyor of flat pack furniture.

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J is for Jalopy – this one being put through its paces in the  construction stages by my dad.

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K is for Kune kune pig – this breed has gained in popularity over recent years.

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L is for Lifeboat – slung overhead they make for an interesting photo.

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M is for May Fair – our annual fair invades the town for three days in early May to provide fun and entertainment.

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N is for Nativity – a traditional alternative in Spain to the Christmas tree – a lot of homes display a nativity scene.

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O is for Origami – my son has become adept at this after a trip to Japan – as you can see, this one is a bookmark shaped like a cat’s head.

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P is for Patch – a piebald horse I used to ride who is now contentedly retired.

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Q is for Quoits – a very competitive game on board ship !

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R is for Roulette – a rather more sedentary, but nonetheless exciting, game, played in the on board casino.

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S is for Sculpture and this is a beautiful, interactive one.

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T is for Tree – this one is at Shobdon Arches, Herefordshire.

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U is for Ural owl – this feisty youngster lived at Kington Owl Centre, Herefordshire.

 

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V is for Vegetable – the talented chef on our cruise ship created all sorts of beautiful vegetable animals and birds inspired by cartoon characters.

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W is for Windsurfers – there are always some off Barceloneta beach in Barcelona

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X is for Xmas starter – I was ready to throw in the towel trying to create this from a Gary Rhodes recipe – only 4 pages of instructions!!XmasStarter

Y is for Youth clinic – children learning to ride at an annual clinic in Monnington, Herefordshire.

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Z is for Ziggy – this beautiful animal, owned by friends of mine, was called Ziggy Stardust – sadly no longer around, but aptly named  -a prima donna!

Ziggy