Spring at the Minsmere Bird Reserve

In this post I thought I’d share how I spent some of that time I bought back from The Man today. It’s also a little bit about Suffolk, and I get to play with audio on here – most of these recordings are binaural giving the bst effect on headphones. The sun was out and I felt like a bit of Spring at the Minsmere bird reserve, on the Suffolk coast. It was free but if you aren’t a member of the RSPB then it will set you back £9.

I’d say even at that price it’s worth it – they have put in a lot of effort over the last few years to make the areas around the visitor centre and in particular the information and some of the events child-friendly, but the place is big enough to get away from all that too, since it is clustered around the visitor centre, cafe and shop.

View over the Scrape part of the reserve

In general spending time in Nature doesn’t cost you anything other than the cost of getting there, but they have worked hard to make this accessible and certainly if you’re coming from a distance it’s worth the price of entry because they have concentrated a lot here. I wasn’t after anything in particular, just a whiff of Spring and a load of birds, what’s not to like?

Spring seems to come earlier at Minsmere. At home there are still a few winter visitors like Redwings in the trees and very few birds singing, other than our indefatigable Robin. At Minsmere I was greeted almost immediately with a Chaffinch in full song, which is the first I’ve heard this year

The main feature of the reserve is the Scrape, which is a very shallow lake filled with brackish water. At the beginning of World War 2 the farmland around Minsmere was abandoned to the sea to make it more challenging for a German invasion of the East coast. These defences is still there in the form of anti-tank defences

Minsmere concrete cubes – anti-tank defences on the sand dunes facing the sea from 1940

The flooding helped more welcome invaders though, the iconic Avocet started breeding again in the flooded region in 1947, and they are still there

The Avocet, with its upswept bill-tip

It’s about a three-mile walk around the Scrape, and there’s a right racket from all the birds on the islands in the Scrape. Many of the gulls and waders breed there, though it’s the gulls that make most of the noise

Birds on an island in the Scrape

and this is a quiet time for them, they get a lot louder later on in the year! It wasn’t particularly windy today, but the sea sounded good with long rolling waves

the North Sea at Minsmere

If you arrive in the morning at Minsmere and the sun is shining, then it is worth going clockwise round the Scrape (ie first head off from the visitor centre via the reedbed of North Wall by following the signs to East Hide. That way you have the light behind you rather than in your face, and it sort of follows you round if you take your time. The furthest point in the sluice – in Summer it is a good place to see swallows. I had indeed enjoyed seeing them close up in previous years

but I hadn’t realised they nested inside the sluice! A lot of water goes through this, it’s a terribly noisy place to make a home, but they don’t seem to mind the row.

and on the way back I got to hear one of these guys – this loud sound is made by something the size of a sparrow, the Cetti’s Warbler

Minsmere is a welcoming place, they go out of their way to highlight interesting stuff and there were some volunteer guides posted near a couple of adders lurking in the undergrowth. It was a bit cold for them, but they were out of hibernation and coiled up, although in the drab winter skins, so the devil’s own job to spot. I didn’t feel totally good about being a couple of yards away from a venomous snake, but it was worth a gander at some coiled trouble with the trademark flickering forked tongue. It was a good end to a morning reminding myself of better ways to spend a day than going to work 😉

Minsmere is just off the A12, about 80 miles from London.  Visitors from London might like to stay at Southwold for a pleasant weekend break, which is only a little bit further up the A12.

Minsmere at the RSPB website and on Twitter. That’s about the first worthwhile use of Twitter that I’ve discovered, kind of fitting in the case of a bird reserve 😉


A tranquil Suffolk weekend away

This post is about something which is about as unfrugal as you can get, gratuitous travelling. Maybe it’s the mad dogs and Englishmen sort of thing and summer is breaking out…

The county of Suffolk is charming and pretty, and DGF and I though we might try going away at home so to speak. A long time ago she had stayed in a B&B in Southwold and was surprised at the number of weekenders from London who were up there, and also how well they seemed to know the county. We were trying to work out why, and came to the conclusion Suffolk is is quite a rural and tranquil county reasonably close to London and easy to get to from there. The relative isolation in the bulge of East Anglia such that nobody goes through it to get anywhere else, there are no motorways in the county for instance.

We haven’t been away for a fair old time, but the weather looked good and there’s no point in living in a beautiful county if you don’t make use of it every once in a while 🙂 So I thought I’d share some of the local treats.

We started off near Aldeburgh on Friday night with some fish and chips from Aldeburgh Fish and Chips. This place has a seriously good rep, because the fish is fresh.

Aldeburgh fish & chips, unfortunately eaten before I'd though to take a picture 🙂

You do have to put up with a fair old queue, this next photo was taken on a chilly December day and there was still a long line.

Aldeburgh Fish & Chips still has a queue on a cold December's day!

Then if was off to find a suitable spot to eat next to the long shingle beach with the roar of the sea as a background. The beach at Aldeburgh is very long, and though of course at the town itself there will be enough other people, but it was easy enough to find seclusion here. We went a little way along the coast road north of the town towards Thorpeness, past the Maggi Hambling shell sculpture to more isolated parts of the beach.

Our fish was very fine indeed. If you’re into self-catering instead and want really fresh fish then Aldeburgh beach is a good place to get it at one of the local fish stalls selling fresh fish just in

Fresh fish stall selling locally landed fish at Aldeburgh


Aldeburgh Beach

This area is a nature reserve and as the dawn broke there was birdsong against the crashing of the waves, including this flock of linnets that appeared in the gorse bushes on the landward side of the road.

[audio:http://simple-living-in-suffolk.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/110702-0714_linnet_aldeburgh_USER0005_hpf100.mp3|titles=Suffolk linnets]
Dawn breaking over the Aldeburgh coastline

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Early Retirement as opposed to Meaningful Work

I’ve rudely pinched much of the title from BripBlap’s Early Retirement or Meaningful Work? post. It makes for interesting reading, and his post contains many of the things people say about work – that good work does far more than pay the rent, it gives you a structure and meaning. Steve gives this concept its head in the last paragraph –

But I have realized that my real dream is not early retirement, as I often thought it was.  I dreamed of days of leisure.  I’ve had those days now, as I’ve been unemployed.  I don’t want leisure.  I want work with meaning.  My real dream is finding meaningful work, and it should be everyone’s dream.

Hmm, well I have to take issue with the last few words. Obviously if meaningful work is Steve’s dream, who am I to gain-say that, have at it, but there’s no reason it has to be everyone’s dream. Perhaps I am unusual in this, but I hear the distant drum of the Calvinist work ethic here, and I don’t like it.

Now for sure the initial impetus for me shooting for early retirement is that I find work sucks, both in what my own job has become specifically and what work has become in the post Thatcher-Reagan era. I have no personal experience of working pre Thatcher, but I saw the background radiation of the post-war employer/employee contract that preceded it in three of the four companies I have worked for, and the quality of my job has gradually degraded as it becomes more management-by-numbers rather than leadership by common sense. Indeed what has particularly changed over the last three decades is that managerialism has taken over from leadership, grinding out innovation and inspiration across the board. However, that’s a rant for a different day.

Early retirement, for me, is all about power. It’s not about meaning. Financial independence, for me, is about being able to meet my needs and a modicum of wants from resources that are mine and under my control. I want nobody to have power over my time, and I want to be at nobody’s beck and call.

The modern world of work is about debt slavery – borrow money for college, for a house, and while you are in hock you are owned by your job. I have served nearly my entire time with that, and I am buying my freedom, to be and to live according to the light of my own lamps, to chart a course guided by my own compass. Of course I will accommodate people or goals that are special to me, but the Company isn’t special to me. I work so that I get money, and I use some of that money to buy my freedom from debt slavery.

Having now eliminated all debts, the debt slavery I am now buying myself out of is the slavery of future incurred debts. Once I have my running costs and some spare I am safe from that.

Too many people conflate early retirement with not working. For me early retirement is not having to work. It is the freedom to do something, but to be able to flip the bird if anybody requires me to do something that conflicts with my own aims and desires in life. Freedom doesn’t have to be exercised – I might choose to go along with it if there is a greater good, but there shouldn’t be a coercive hold ‘do this or else we can make you lose your home’.

People get more awkward and cantankerous as they get older, because they accumulate power, and have seen stupid things lead to crap too many times before.You lose the starry-eyed belief that it is different this time, because it very rarely is. Many things have transformed the work environment over the years, but human nature has remained the same.

I have seen enough management initiatives, and TQM, MBWA, investing in people, corporate social responsibility, employee engagement (funnily never employer engagement) and similar claptrap to last me a lifetime. It’s all rubbish. What Western corporations are in dire need of at this time is competent leadership by top brass that actually gives a damn about the company, its customers and the people that work for it, rather than simply maximizing the size of their own remuneration package. We have never discovered a way of  linking pay to performance in a way that doesn’t produce pathological behaviour, particularly at the top. The recent financial crisis is merely the results of this pathology writ large, across many sectors. It is endemic in our large companies, and they can only continue to turn a profit by grinding out efficiency in the layers below senior management, increase in scale or reduce workforce costs by outsourcing etc.

And I’m tired of working in systems run by chancers, yes. But though retirement can mean not working, it doesn’t have to mean not working. I was at RSPB Minsmere recently – the welcome desk is staffed by volunteers, as is the shop and tea room. Looking at these people, I would say most were retired, and they include a fair proportion of early retirees, indeed some faces were younger than me.

I presume none of them had to be there, they chose to be there. They had early retirement and, by evidence of the fact that they were there, meaningful work. The two are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, I would say that if meaningful work is what you crave, there’s a lot to be said for early retirement – it opens up opportunities for meaningful work that you couldn’t otherwise afford to take, such as those RSPB positions.