Sunday, 29 April 2018

The happiness of being a fan

I am a fan. A proper, fully-fledged, deeply uncool and overenthusiastic fan.
I get all excited  - during the trailer for the new Mary Poppins film I actually squealed out loud in the cinema because I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I have release dates for telly shows and books in my calendar. I fall in love with things at the drop of a hat.

Mark is not a fan. He likes stuff - sometimes he loves stuff. He has books, games, films and bands he really enjoys. He is measured in his enthusiasm, doesn't wig out in exuberant excitement.  This can make it awfully hard to buy him presents - who knows what he'd really like? - but it definitely makes him easy to live with. He's much steadier than I am.

But I do feel all non-fan people are missing out. There's something about that pure joy, throwing yourself into something and utterly loving it. Surrendering to the uncool, being the antithesis of cynical, being a bit absurd and really not minding at all.

My principle fangirl obsession at the moment is the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Since I first watched Moana, the glorious song You're Welcome (as performed by the most enthusiastic human on the planet, The Rock) has been one of my favourites. It's lyrically adept, full of charm, self-delusion, cheekiness and fun. In our house it's The Mum Summoner - Luke put it on YouTube loudly in the living room when I was messing about in the kitchen and he wanted my attention and as predicted I dropped everything and rushed into the room. Now they all do it.
I can't help it, You're Welcome makes me very happy. And it sure beats someone bellowing MUUUUUUUM to attract my attention.

Some months later my Very Excellent Mate Alison mentioned they had pre-registered for Hamilton tickets because her kids were obsessed with it. I was bemused - to me Hamilton is a declining steel city in Ontario and not exactly the thing shows are made of. (Except maybe a Canuck Full Monty, I guess.)  However, Alison's gang have outstanding taste and have introduced me to good things over the years so I thought I'd have a listen.  I didn't realise it was by the person who wrote The Mum Summoner. I knew nothing of the historical figure. That was 14 months ago.

"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman..." I was hooked from the opening line.

Not a week goes by that I don't play it.  (OK, it's nearly daily.)  Zach knows every single word of the 2.5 hour set, bless his ace self, and I know a hell of a lot.  I never get bored of it. I find new nuances, call-backs, witticisms, and clever touches each time. I still cry. I think Daveed Diggs is brilliant, Thomas Jefferson was a Grade-A asshole, Lin himself is clearly a genius and I'm with Angelica, I want Women in the sequel (Work!)
I have to actively remind myself to play other stuff because I know the rest of the house wants a bit of variety. Tom Petty and the Hamilton soundtrack is pretty much all I need. I'm almost afraid of seeing it live in October because I know and love the Broadway recording so well. But I'm also incredibly excited that we ARE seeing it eventually. 

I am also a massive fan of Springwatch. To the frustration of my offspring - who would rather watch paint dry - I watch every single second of every series. Sometimes I watch twice because there was a cool bit. I follow what else the presenters are up to, mark the transmission dates in my calendar so I don't miss anything.
I look up the places they visit.  It was Iolo waxing lyrical about the Farne Islands that had me desperate to go.  Seeing the nesting puffins and terns was so brilliant I still bounce on my toes when I think of our trip last June - absolutely glorious. 

Other telly I am a big fan of: The Wire and Game of Thrones, both of which I have watched all the way through numerous times. It's the complexity of the stories, I'm transfixed.  Because I go to the beginning each time a new series comes out I can nearly do Season 1 of GOT by heart. I am still angry that one of my very favourite characters didn't even exist in the books, making them even more turgid to read. Roz is AWESOME, damn it.

Then there's the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer which I re-read several times a year. I'm VERY good on obscure trivia from the Heyer world. I love the period language, the daft habit of naming people after towns, that the heroes having grey eyes and the heroines frequently wear celestial blue gowns with silver spider-gauze. I love that Lady of Quality and Black Sheep are basically the same novel and I enjoy both versions anyway.  I love that I'm on my third copy of Frederica because the earlier ones have fallen apart.

Being a fan, however you express it, is a force for good.  Conventions where you hang out with other fans, online discussion groups, reading and re-reading, watching and re-watching, singing at the top of your voice whether or not you're any good, allowing the stories to sweep you away or the music to become the soundtrack of your life - to hell with a cynical, bitter and depressing world. I fully recommend opening our arms and hearts to something that makes us properly happy. 

You're welcome.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Not my favourite day

I am a fortunate soul. I have a wonderful family, I know many amazing and inspiring people, we can afford (just about) for me to work for free at things that matter to me. I have far too many animals and a veg garden prone to flooding but that's OK.
And I love my city very much indeed.

However, sometimes it all goes a bit tits up. Yesterday was one of those days.

First of all - women, cross your legs. My apologies for this bit.
Today I had my 3-yearly cervical smear test. Like every woman in the country of screening age, I received the notification letter with a glum sigh. Yes, I know we have to do it, it's the smart course of action but still...
I procrastinated just long enough to side-step the Easter school holidays and scheduled it for first thing on a Monday. "get it over with first thing."
The speculum isn't exactly comfortable and I actively dread the noises they open it.
Unfortunately, the nurse was inexperienced.
(I did warn you to cross your legs)
She's a total poppet. She's warm, friendly, kind, well-meaning and has a terrific manner with patients. She has the sparkly blue eyes of an old Hollywood movie star. She's great at taking blood and doing inoculations. She's just not quite got the hang of cervical smears.
It took 8 goes.
I had to ask her to stop, I couldn't take it anymore.
She fetched an experienced nurse who sorted it - without pain - in 2 minutes.
Talking to one of my Very Excellent Mates afterwards, she'd had the same nurse with a similar result (fewer tries, more bleeding).
I thought that was the worst my week would be. Everything's on the up from that, surely.

After dropping Z's forgotten lunch at school and buying the approved summer uniform polo shirts at the shop down the road, I drove to work on my lovely Vespa.
The roads are generally quiet at that time of day but a combination of road works, building works and changed lane marking mean a couple of sections are more awkward than usual. This resulted in the cars in the lanes either side of me simultaneously deciding to be in my lane, which they did without indicating and seemingly without noticing me on my scooter. Cars in front and behind, and moving in from either side - adrenaline spike! Luckily the car behind blasted its horn and they both swerved back into their lanes. People tell me scooters are dangerous. My experience is that no, it's dozy car drivers that are dangerous.
After that burst of near death excitement I went to the marvellous Play Lab.
Play Lab is a pop-up play space in the centre of the city. It's brilliant and if you are local to Leeds do come ad see us. It's on New York street opposite the post office, on the road down Kirkgate Market that leads to the multi-story carpark and the bus station. We're there 10-4 every day, sometimes later as well.
We have an empty shop that we've filled with Lego, toys, pillows, hula hoops, craft bits and a visiting coffee shop. We've pompom makers, chalks, markers and paper, stuff for den building, plenty to mess about with. That's the drop-in-and-play bit, totally free.
Downstairs we run workshops and inventors clubs to get kids exploring what they can build and create.  It's flipping lovely.

I'm acting as a self-appointed intern at this community-based project. It was clear to me the founder, Emma Bearman, couldn't possibly manage all her plans with the workforce she had funding for, so I nominated myself. I do a few days a week - mostly just being there to welcome people, help kids with activities, do the odd errand, clear up and so on. Having an extra body to (wo)man the play space can be a help.  It's very rewarding, if occasionally very noisy!
After a 4.5 hour shift I locked up and headed across town to collect a book from Waterstone's. My arthritis hasn't been great, so I was walking awkwardly and was jostled a couple of times. I put that down to my clumsiness.
When I got to Waterstone's and went to pay, I discovered my wallet was missing. On the unlikely chance I'd left it at work, I went back to Play Lab and searched for it. No wallet. I'd definitely had it when I bought those school shirts. I definitely had it when I tucked it in my cotton shopping bag when I got to Play Lab, and tucked it out of sight in the back of the cubby under the motorbike jacket.
There wasn't a lot in it - frustrating things to replace like loyalty cards, membership cards, drivers licence, credit and debit cards, and a couple of gift vouchers. Things I'll now have to reset on all websites I buy from. Hoops to go through because I bought out Hamilton the musical tickets with that card and I need it to collect the tickets.
Oh, and two really nice commemorative £2 coins in the separate compartment for my coin collection
(I know, I know, coin collecting is lame. Don't judge me. I've had a rough day.)
I'd been pickpocketed on my way through town.
That pretty much broke me.
It was such a crappy thing to happen, with so little advantage to whomever stole the wallet. It had been a really lousy morning followed by a nerve-wracking commute, a lovely but draining shift with my bad knees and now lots of inconvenience and frustration, as well as costing me about £50 to replace things.
I sang fed up songs on my way home (thanks to Lily Allen and Belle and Sebastian for their excellent work in this field), felt thoroughly narked with the world and went to bed early feeling drained.
Monday the 16th can piss right off.
So here I am on Tuesday.
I have an open bouquet of daffodils on my kitchen counter., which is enough to brighten my day. Yes, living in a city means there is crime and it's damned annoying when it happens to you. However, living in the city also means there are amazing things like Play Lab, providing a warm and welcoming space for families. There are large bookshops like my lovely Waterstone's, and fun places to go like my beloved Everyman cinema. There are Kirkgate Market traders who call out and wave when I go by, friends to commiserate with when rotten things happen, and thousands of connections and intersections of communities that make life richer.
I'm shaking off yesterday and looking forward to tomorrow. There are rumours of sunshine.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Further Adventures in Yarn

Last month I went to the 5th Yarndale festival of all things woolly. If possible, it was better than the earlier years, as the logistics are managed with even more careful planning and the range of stalls on offer grows ever wider.

I felt a bit of a fraud, as I had entirely lost my crafting mojo in the crushing depression of last autumn and winter. I hadn't finished any of the projects I'd begun after last year's purchases, and they lurk in the other room, oppressing me with guilt whenever I see them. If I still had those things to finish, what business did I have shopping for new projects?

However, I hoped a nice wander around amongst the crafty women, surrounded by beautiful things in vivid colours would inspire me. If nothing else it would be a chance for my Very Excellent Mate Rachel to come for a visit.

I needn't have worried. A quiet train ride and chatty bus ride on the Yarndale Express built my excitement, as did the gloriously yarn-bombed show area. I love the bonkers souls who send in bunting, mandalas, flowers, sheep and hearts each year to turn an agricultural building into a Mecca of yarn and bright colours.  I did find my crocheted heart among the display somewhere.

There are so many people wearing their own creations; some are true works of art. Others resemble the output of fevered minds with access to too many colours, but at least they are happy. A sneaky game of "just because you can doesn't mean you should" keeps Rach and I entertained for hours. Crocheted granny square trousers were definitely a sartorial step too far.

I found loads of lovely things and small (ish) projects to try. I've had to crop the photo as there was a Christmas present amongst my purchases, so I can't show you absolutely everything.  I also held back from purchasing the *GREATEST* book of crochet patterns I've ever seen, the Toft book of crocheted people and costumes.  I knew I have no time to do that level of project just yet, but it was so brilliantly laid out I was sorely tempted.

I'm learning Corner to Corner crochet to to use one of the beautiful self-coloured yarns I couldn't resist. This proved to be a bit complicated - being left handed so having to reverse everything when I'm struggling to picture how it goes can sometimes send me into a tailspin, and I had to undo about a third of my work when I realised where I'd first gone wrong, making it bigger and bigger every row. Then I messed up the decreasing bit too much and had to redo another sizeable chunk, with fine yarn that snagged and broke. 

However, I think I've *finally* got a handle on it. The trick for a rectangular scarf is to chain 6 as you start a row from the top of the diagonal row and to slipstitch and chain three when you start a row from the bottom of the diagonal - increase as you go downhill, decrease as you go uphill, like riding a bike.

And here it is, modelled by its discerning owner:

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Some Diems Need To Be Carpe'd

the fairy-like elegance of the Arctic Tern

Much of the UK tracks the televisual seasons of the year by Strictly, talent shows or celebrities in a jungle. Those aren't really my sort of thing.
I count down the days to Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and, most especially, Springwatch.

Springwatch is one of those creations that is so much a part of BBC's culture it's like the Beeb distilled. It's earnest, a bit geeky, silly, incredibly local and yet also national, and is grounded in a will to educate and inspire. I love the presenters even when they drive me crazy, I love the stories that carry across from year to year (Monty the Osprey! Chris the Cuckoo!) and I especially love how excited it makes me about new species every time.

A while back, Iolo Williams reported from the Farne Islands. As well as the adorable puffins, it was the Arctic Terns that amazed me. They had put a tracker on a tern to see if their estimation of the distances he flew was accurate.  Not a chance - he flew 97,000km in a single year. What a champion.

I wanted to see them myself - what an incredible sight it was, those thousands of birds ad grey seals  coming to stay on these rocky islands. Last year we just didn't have the opportunity. This June, we grabbed a two day gap while Mark was still not working and went north.

The Farnes were everything I'd hoped - stunning, exciting, teeming with wildlife and lit up by warm summer sun.

It was only through help of my ace friends that I could seize the chance to abscond overnight and see this marvellous sight, and I am very grateful.  The trip will stay with me for the rest of my life.

The stacks - more birds nesting than is plausible 

Glossy, gorgeous guillemot and her brood

Arctic terns thought Mark was a well dodgy geezer

keeping a watchful eye for the thieving gulls

every dot is a returning puffin

Razorbills are very handsome

back on the mainland, looking over a beautiful sea

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Accentuate the positive

In July last year I started a list of happy and interesting things I'd like to do before January 1st 2020 - i.e. before the end of the year that Mark and I turn 50.  I have been thinking about other things I want to add to my list. This is about inspiring me, making me happy, stuff.  I'm not after a scary challenge but a "gosh I'm glad I did that!"  

Like the worst of list cheats I'm adding two things I've already done and can tick off instantly.  That isn't as audacious as it sounds - I mentioned it in the first draft of the list as something unattainable. Thanks to my amazing parents, it became attainable; they gave me a weekend in Tromso, Norway and I could fulfil a lifelong dream to see the aurora, and do whale-watching too. I'm astonishingly lucky.

Here's how my list of things to do stands so far:
  1. Go fishing  - Woo hoo! Did this at the end of last summer 
  2. See the Giant's Causeway I'm making plans, hope to do it either July or the Autumn.
  3. Try salsify and Jerusalem artichokes -  Still not tried them. They are in season in winter, so that's one for later.
  4. Go rock pooling Definitely a summer activity
  5. Sing in a choir - I admit, I bottled it. Was absolutely going to do it and panicked. I'm a wuss.
  6. Grow cut flowers Some setbacks here - slugs had my seedlings and Mark accidentally dumped a mound of compost on my freesia bulbs, but I have a few other irons in the fire.
  7. See live music  I did this! With mates and neighbours, we went to the OnRoundhay festival as a family and saw James. They were fantastic. Of course they were. 
  8. Visit Hadrian's Wall - Done!
  9. Spend all day at the movies - Not done this yet.
  10. Learn to apply make up properly Thanks to my fantastic mate Heather-in-London, I've got a makeup look that works for me. She gave me links to tutorials and product recommendations, and was so amazing and supportive. Heather is a beauty product guru, as well as one of the best parents and most thoughtful people I know. She's as generous with her knowledge as she is with her time (Apparently, I have sexy hooded eyes, like Lauren Bacall and Ava Gardiner. Go me!)
  11. See the Northern Lights - TICK! Best thing imaginable.
  12. Go whale-watching - Also TICK! A morning watching a pod of orca hunt for herring before a night chasing Aurora Borealis. What a day.
  13. Learn a new range of cooking - North African, Middle Eastern, Indian or Thai would be my thoughts but I'm flexible. I've learnt to make ramen recently and I want to expand to incorporate other dishes. NOT European food, though, because I understand the flavours of that already. Learning from Sabrina to make a curry was one of my favourite days, and it's time I tried to level up my culinary skills.
  14. Sew something I can wear - This is all about fear and ineptitude. One day I'll manage it. I'm such a wuss. I can't even cut into nice fabric. I have an almost-finished dress I was working on when I lost my job and I just couldn't face doing it again.
  15. See a new ballet company - I see New Adventures and Northern Ballet regularly, and English Ballet occasionally but Id like to experience another dance company. I may seek advice on that.
  16. Learn to play a song on an instrument - Even if it's Happy Birthday on the recorder, I want to play an actual song on something again. I have re-strung Mark's ukulele to make it left-handed and am thus far rubbish. I can only improve.
  17. Go Birdwatching on the Farne Islands - This is Springwatch's fault. I'd love to see in person the remarkable sea bird colonies they've shown me on the telly.
  18. Return to Paris - After the holiday from hell 9 years ago when Zach and Bonnie had a stomach bug and I was washing bedding and clothes every single day of the trip, I can't think of Paris without a shudder. Mark, who was NOT the one dealing with an exploding toddler morning and night, has incredibly fond memories of the holiday. I need to nice experience to banish the vile one.
  19. Cook a decent roast dinner - OK, this one is scary, because I don't cook or eat big slabs of meat and I think a roast dinner is all about the roast itself. However, I feel there is a veggie alternative out there I could work with, and surely it's not The Law that the vegetables are boring. It seems a skill all competent cooks here should have and I'd like to nail this one at some point.
  20. Build sandcastles - because it's fun yet I never do it anymore.
Here are a few photographs from the marvellous weekend in Tromso. I had no idea I could love a place plunging in darkness quite this much - I adored it from the moment we arrived. And two days before the solstice is a very dark time of year in the Arctic! The water, trees and mountains thrilled me to my core and I could have stayed forever. Except for the cost, obviously.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Eating Ramen here in my Pyjamas

Given how often we sang The Virtual Life here last year, you'd think I'd have made ramen before now. I mean, I LOVE ramen. Zach loves ramen. Mark would probably love it and even Miss B will noodles in soy sauce and miso. The Big Lad is never going to like them but if I can get 4 out of 5 of us eating something that's a gold medal in this house.

The online recipes I found initially had me retreating in fear. So many ingredients! So many I'd never heard of! And most crucially, instructions to make a stock over a day or two.
2 days making pork belly stock?
Not going to happen.
I don't even eat pork.
I asked my top mates Suzanne and Hannah for recipes and advice.  They are ramen-scoffing fiends, if anyone would have an easy recipe, they would.
As always, they came up trumps and my first attempt was pretty darned tasty. I picked bits and pieces from all their suggestions and made something I thought worked well.

I'm sure it won't pass as remotely authentic, but as a a family dinner it was delicious. Before I totally forget how I did it, I thought I'd write it up in case anyone else fancied a go (if there is anyone left who doesn't make them already - tell me I'm not the only noodle noob out there!)

The main components of the dish are the broth, the protein, the noodles and the toppings. Lots of recipes use chicken or pork belly in meaty stocks; I'm using salmon and a vegetable stock. A hint on the BBC website suggested using the stalks of the coriander along with a while fresh chilli pepper to infuse instant stock with more flavour and I think it was pretty successful. When I get a chance to pop into town I'll visit the Asian supermarket for some dash or kimchi to spice things up a bit, too.

Beginner's Ramen

1litre veg stock
bunch of fresh coriander
1-2 fresh chillies
1-5tbs soy sauce
1 tbs mirin
1 tbs fish sauce
1 bunch spring onions
4 cloves garlic finely grated or crushed
fresh ginger about half the size of your thumb, peeled and finely grated
large handful of mushrooms
2 salmon fillets
handful of frozen prawns (optional)
2 pak choy
chinese noodles
1/2 tsp bicarb

Bring the stock to the boil; add the stalks of the coriander and half to a whole chilli. Turn off heat, leave to infuse while you chop the other ingredients.

Finely chop the spring onions right up to the green parts. Put the green aside in a bowl. Chop the remaining fresh chilli and the coriander leaves, add to the bowl of toppings.
Toppings ready
Slice the mushrooms and fry on a medium heat with the white parts of the spring onion and the grated garlic and ginger.

Remove the coriander stalks and chilli from the stock. Stir in the mushroom mixture, soy sauce (depending how salty you like things), fish sauce, mirin and a cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes and taste - add chillies, sugar or soy sauce to taste. Keep it on a low heat ready to use.

I think the mushrooms added depth to the broth
Season the salmon and cook it skin side down for several minutes before turning it over to complete the last bit of cooking.

Cut the pak choy in quarters lengthwise. Put it and the noodles (usually 1 nest per person) in a pan of boiling water with the bicarb. Cook according to the packet instructions (usually 3 minutes). Drain.

Assemble the bowls with noodles first, the pak choy and salmon pieces divided equally, broth and finish with a scattering of the coriander, spring onion tips and fresh chilli to taste.  I decided at the last minute to add some cooked prawns I had in the freezer that just needed warming through in a mug of boiling water, so I added them at the same time as the salmon.  Not sure they were entirely necessary.

If you feel like going all out, add a halved ramen egg to each bowl.  These are soft boiled eggs marinated overnight in soy sauce, garlic and other nice things.  On Hannah's recommendation I used this recipe . I even had a go with some quail eggs; they were delicious but not soft boiled because they are so darned small it's hard to judge the timings.

Fool that I am, I was so flustered bringing everything together that I totally forgot the eggs I'd done the day before so we had them after like a snack. Really lovely!

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Having a quail of a time

For my birthday this year Mark bought me six Cortunix Quail hens - 3 dark Japanese, 3 lighter and larger Italian. We spent much of the two week easter holiday building them a home.
Being a keen fan of Thinking Things Through, I read everything I could find online about quail keeping so we could build them a good environment. This is what I learnt:

Quail are game birds rather than poultry. Their eggs have a higher protein proportion than hen eggs,  and as such require a much higher level of protein in their feed. They are ground-dwelling and they don't need perches, just deep litter/bedding to snuggle down in at night. They are fully grown by 6-9 weeks and will start to lay eggs from that age if conditions are right. They don't usually eggs in a nest box, just wherever they feel sheltered and private. They tend to bury their eggs, so some furtling about is required to find them.

The demanding fluff balls  need an awful lot of light to lay eggs regularly - at least 12 to 14 hours a day.  If kept outside, like mine, they need shelter from rain, places to hide if they feel threatened and most of all protection from predators like rats. Because they are only the size of a handful, that means choosing a very small mesh. I read so many reports of quail decapitated because a predator reached through the bars and grabbed them.
The darker birds are Japanese quail

Quail can fly, unlike chickens.  They stay on the ground normally but like all migratory birds, are capable of flying vast distances when needed. They jump vertically like a crazed mini Harrier Jet when startled, so need a roof over than they won't knock them out if they smack into it.

Our chickens have a lot of freedom, and we've gone to significant trouble to allow them that. The quail? Not quite the same. You can let quail free range if you really want to, but only the once.

Not much is known about quail behaviour, really. I read a study from 1997 that was very interesting, but less academic sources are pretty vague. There's plenty of anecdotal information from people who keep quail but that varies widely, and as far as I can tell that's down to how the quail are housed and the proportion of hens to cockerels.  I have all hens, so that sorts out the noise issue (quail hens make tiny little peeps and chirrups) and the fighting that some breeders reported.

Lots of people asked me if I'd be keeping the quail in with the hens. No, they have different needs, a different diet and the chooks will easily kill the quail if they perceive them as competitors for food or shelter. Some people keep quail in the bottom of aviaries with flying birds like finches or budgies, but not with chickens.

A huge number of people seem to keep them as little egg (or meat) factories, kept on wire mesh cages with no opportunity to engage in natural behaviour like foraging, dust bathing, and generally being messy balls of fluff who love to scratch away on the ground for food and fling dirt and bedding everywhere. Quail can lay from such a young age and reach their full size for meat at the same age, so as a means of producing some of your own meat, I guess they are a pretty easy way to go.  17 days to hatch, 6 weeks to grow, then table-ready.  Not really my style but fair enough.
A number of (mostly US-based) bloggers and forum members have expressed disgust at the concept of putting the quail on anything other than mesh - "They will be standing in their own faeces! That's cruel and disgusting!" I feel this view misunderstands the needs of the animal to behave in a natural way.  When managed well, deep litter systems are clean and environmentally responsible, and even shallow litter isn't mucky if you clean it regularly. It's basic pet care.
I guess that's the main difference - my quail are pets with lovely fringe benefit of eggs, not next month's dinner, so I can afford to get attached.

Our 6 quail hens have over 15 square foot to play in. Recommendations went from half a square foot in a production-based set up, to one square foot per bird. Plenty of hobbyists had larger spaces, naturally, but the guidelines were really quite tiny. We figured if we have the space, why not give it too them?

I couldn't find any plans or blueprints for quail housing that suited my intentions. Those I found were  wire cages or walk-in aviaries. So I thought about what I'd learnt and we started from scratch.

We thought a scrappy bit of border near the house would be an ideal place eventually, but our lovely next door neighbours are having a large extension at the moment on the other side of the fence. That meant we needed something that could be moved to a temporary location.
The frame
Quail don't require a nest nor roosting bars like chickens. They do, however, value a place to retreat to when cold, frightened or in awful weather. we interpreted that as a small version of a nest box with a door we could fully shut if we need to herd the quail in there while clearing the run out.

Gonzo helps Mark measure the shelter
To stop predators digging their way into the quail house, we put a sheet of mesh on the bottom of the frame as well as on the sides. I painted the timber before we assembled it fully because painting through mesh is a pain. I chose a lovely sage green in a wood stain that was pet-safe. It's worth pointing out not all wood treatments are OK for animals, so it's important to check.

Gonzo remained a keen participant

Stapling the mesh to the underside of the frame
Ideally we wanted a clear solid roof (strong enough to cope with a badly behaved cat landing on it) which is able to let light in and sloped to let the rain run off.  We used dual walled polycarbonate sheets, which were very easy to cut to size fit. We have some offcuts as well, which we can slot into the doors to provide additional shelter in winter.

The project took us most of the Easter holidays, with numerous days off for going to the wildlife park, the safari park, generally being out and about and actually celebrating my birthday as well. Rain stopped play on a few occasions and waiting between coats for the paint to dry slowed us down too. Still, in the end we had a luxury dwelling fit for the most discerning of birds.
A 5* dwelling

A Quail Palace

The Versailles des Cailles

Last bits to paint after resolving snagging issues
Ta Da!

To make their habitat more interesting for them they have a dust bath ares, some plant pots, branches, shelter and foliage. They seem very happy, and hop about with excitement when something new arrives.
How many quail can bathe at once?

They had a tendency to spill or lose their food, so holes drilled in a plastic container (and filed to make sure the edges were smooth) allows them access to food without wasting it and without taking up too much space. 
Gonzo is pretty sure we made it for his amusement

Yesterday I got 5 eggs from the 6 of them for the first time, taking me up to a total of 29 eggs so far.  We've had them hard boiled as snacks, marinated in soy sauce and garlic to eat with ramen, soft boiled to eat with the new season's asparagus and today I'm trying them pickled. Local pals, if you fancy trying some, give me a shout. It looks like we'll have plenty!
J x