My morning with the seals

Those who have already read Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café will have discovered that the café is positioned on a cliff top and there’s a 200-strong seal colony on the beach and rocks below. The seals feature in this first book in the series although not heavily, and they’ll feature more in the second book out in April – Summer Nights at The Starfish Café.

I’d already undertaken a lot of research into common and grey seals – the types found in the Yorkshire Coast waters – but I decided that a visit to our local Sealife Sanctuary (Scarborough) where they have resident seals and a seal hospital may well be in order. Then, when I spotted they did a seal experience, I couldn’t resist.

Sealife Centres are run by Merlin Entertainments and they have 12 sites around the UK and many more overseas. You can click here to find out more. The focus is on education and conservation.

We arrived this morning 75 minutes before the general admission time of 10am and it was quite lovely having the centre to ourselves for so long. Our guides for the duration were Minnie and Tiegan and they were friendly and knowledgeable as they took us round.

First stop was Harris the sea otter. Awww. His partner in crime passed away at the grand old age of 16 a few weeks back. They are preparing for another female to keep him company, but he seemed more than content swimming about and playing with his pebble. (Apologies that the photo isn’t great – he kept moving!)

The seal hospital had one admission: a seal pup called Buzzard (apparently all recent admissions have been named after birds). Buzzard, a girl pup, was found abandoned in South Bay with cuts and a swollen muzzle. She has healed nicely and should be moved into the next stage of rehabilitation next which is a small pool.

Because she was abandoned, she’ll be released into a colony of seals, very likely at Ravenscar up the coast which was where I got the inspiration for my Starfish Point colony.

Isn’t Buzzard gorgeous? Look at those big eyes! There is some water in the ‘sick bay’ but she apparently isn’t so keen on swimming yet so they haven’t filled it. She’ll get used to that in the next stage of her programme.

We moved round to the main pool where there are four resident seals called Mando, Pendle, Boo and Ed. None of these seals could be released back into the wild because there are reasons why they wouldn’t survive there such as they were reared in captivity at other facilities or have had injuries or bad experiences which mean they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves. They are, however, treated as though they are wild animals. They aren’t taught tricks and the staff don’t touch/handle them unless for medical reasons. They have a lovely pool and it gives them all the swimming space they need. In the wild, seals are known for lounging on rocks and beaches and not actually swimming very far.

We had a bucket of fish and all had a chance to feed them. Steven the Seagull is a regular visitor who tries (and sometimes succeeds) to get the fish first! You can see him swooping in at the top of the pic on the right!

Hubby captured a gorgeous pic of the munchkin and one of the seals through the underwater glass. He tried to capture something similar for me but he stood further back and caught my whole body in it. I actually look like a killer whale beached on the ledge so I’m not going to share that one!

There’s a section called Penguin Island were Humboldt penguins live. They’re endangered in their natural habitat (South America) so this is a breeding programme to ensure the survival of the species.

There weren’t many out of their beds when we went round but the newest chick was swimming while its dad watched from the doorway of its bedroom. Awww.

The only other one out and about was the only single penguin, Fred, who was on the noticeboard as ‘bad penguin of the month’. Apparently he’s got his eye on some of the other females and has been picking fights with their partners! Bad Fred!

Fred’s on the left grooming himself (it’s molting season so he’s looking a bit shabby just now) and the chick is the one on the right who managed to haul itself out of the pool right into where Fred had just evacuated his bowels. Yes, that is fresh penguin crap all over its chest!

I say ‘it’ rather than he or she for the chick because apparently you cannot tell what sex a penguin is from looking at it. When it’s older, a feather has to be sent off to an expert who will analyse it and confirm the sex. I did not know that!

There are several aquarium tanks with sharks, rays, fish, corals, seahorses, sea dragons, jelly fish and so on (not all in the same tank together, mind). They have an amazing jelly fish breeding programme and there was a new rainforest section which I’ve not visited before so that was lovely.

We were able to stroke some starfish and sea anemone and hold empty shark egg pouches and I managed to grab a quick starfish pic before we left in homage to The Starfish Café.

We were then dropped off for some breakfast and were free to wander round again at our leisure. We all loved our seal experience and would like to thank Minnie and Tiegan for the really great tour/helpful information. I bombarded them with research questions about seals although confess I didn’t tell them why I was asking. I meant to but I just didn’t see an opportunity to slip it in.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the pics. Apologies that WordPress seem to have stopped displaying the gallery ones (where there are 2 or more together) properly. I noticed this last week and thought it might sort itself out overnight but it appears not. Don’t have the technical expertise or time to resolve it just now but fingers crossed it will right itself.

Big seal-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where Christmas was different but hubby excelled himself

How was Christmas? Quieter than usual? Virtual hugs rather than face to face ones? Perhaps you were planning to go away and couldn’t. Or maybe it was your first Christmas without a loved one or a family pet. Sending love if it was.

It was our first Christmas without our beloved cat, Felix, who we lost in January. His absence was certainly felt over Christmas dinner when he’d normally have been up on his hind legs against my chair demanding turkey. I’ve rounded up a few pictures of him at previous Christmases. He wasn’t impressed with his Christmas hat and ended up wearing it as a beard! He loved to lie under the tree or with the Christmas bears. Bottom right is hunting out Christmas dinner with his sister and partner-in-crime, Pixie, who crossed the rainbow bridge several years earlier.

Aside from a Felix-shaped hole, our actual Christmas Day was no different (other than being the first year the munchkin didn’t believe in Santa – sob!) as it’s usually just the three of us first thing then a visit from hubby’s parents who live in the next village either from lunchtime (they’d normally rotate round their three children) or from late afternoon. This year, they were in our Christmas bubble, joined us for a lunchtime Christmas dinner and stayed into the evening.

What was significantly different for us this year was not seeing anyone else either side of the big day. We would normally see hubby’s sisters at some point around New Year – often a full family get together at one of their houses where the munchkin loves to see her four big boy cousins (all in their mid-late twenties now) – but we can’t do that. And we’d normally see my side of the family twice and we couldn’t do that either. They’re not too far away but they aren’t local like hubby’s family.

I have two brothers and they’re both married with two girls each so we’d typically drive across to the nearest town to my parents about a week before Christmas and the men would go on a pub crawl while my mum, my sisters-in-law and the five girls (this year aged 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) would have a lovely lunch then a wander round the shops. The second get together would be between Christmas and New Year (would have been Sunday just gone this year) where we all meet up at my parents’ house for gift exchanges and food.

As we couldn’t meet in person, we planned a family Zoom on Sunday instead. Only it didn’t work. None of us could dial into the meeting my younger brother had set up so he sent a new invite and, for some strange reason, my parents and two brothers could get in but we couldn’t. We tried everything including the usual switching off and on again but to no avail.

Christmas shopping was very different this year. I’d normally explore the high street and local shops in my hometown of Scarborough and also have a trip to York to visit the Christmas market and the lovely independent shops there but, like so many others, we had to mostly shop online.

Hubby is exceptionally hard to buy for. There’s never anything he wants so I usually end up getting him socks (yawn), a chocolate orange (yummy but dull) and a couple of photography books including Landscape Photographer of the Year (inspiring for him but not very inspired seeing as he gets it every year). We usually agree that we’ll go away for a weekend as a gift instead but that’s not something any of us can plan right now.

When I was ordering things for the munchkin, I added in a few bits I might like and passed them to him to wrap, although this is something I’ve done for several years now as he claims I’m hard to buy for when there are so many things I love: jewellery, books, hedgehogs, bears, owls, stationery, lighthouses, chocolate etc. etc. etc. However, he surpassed himself this year. He visited NotOnTheHighStreet and Etsy and bought me some really fabulous gifts. The boy done well!

Hedgehogs might have been a bit of a theme! I got a gorgeous pin brooch which I’ll add to my bag or purse, a small plush hog for my desk, some socks, a fab T-shirt and a diary.

I also got 3 new charms for my Troll Beads bracelet. A friend started the collection at the launch party of my debut novel with a leather bracelet and a book charm. I’ve since upgraded to a silver bracelet and bought a charm for each part of my writing journey and to represent each of my books.

I’d previously acquired suitable charms for all my books except the Hedgehog Hollow series and, although Troll Beads did have a hedgehog charm at one point, it had been discontinued in something like 2002 so I’d given up on ever having one unless they issued a new design.

I ordered myself a starfish charm (relevant to my 2021 Christmas book) and a lighthouse one (relevant to several of my stories and possibly a future book and acquired just in time as it has been discontinued too) but he came up trumps by finding a hedgehog charm. It’s not a Troll Bead but it does fit my bracelet perfectly.

One of the promises I made to myself and my family when I started writing full-time was that I’d finally get a work:life balance. Trying to fit writing around a full-time demanding day job made that impossible. It hasn’t quite worked out as planned, though. It has been difficult to break the habit of working evenings and weekends after doing this for well over a decade, particularly in a year when going out and about isn’t practical so I might as well stay at my desk and work.

I also feel guilty when I’m not working which is ridiculous but I know I’m not the only author who feels that way. We can put such immense pressure on ourselves sometimes.

Anyway, one of the things I want to get back into is drawing. It’s not a great talent of mine and I definitely can’t draw from imagination – absolutely need to copy something – but I quite enjoy it and I’d like to give it a go again. I used to enjoy drawing but haven’t actually picked up my sketch pad since I started college in 1988! So I choose some art paper, charcoal and chalk pencils and pastel pencils myself but hubby surprised me with a gorgeous lighthouse cross stitch kit; cross stitch being something I used to love doing before I had the munchkin. I also treated myself to a hedgehog one earlier in the year so I’m going to be busy! Just need to make some time to do it.

Another gift I chose for myself was a miniature Charlie Bear. Our local garden centre stocks them and the munchkin and I visited their fabulous Christmas display after school one day in early December (when it was pretty much empty). I always look at the Charlie Bear display. I have a few large Charlie Bears but I prefer the limited edition collectible ones. On the display were what looked like classic books with miniature bears sat on them. Each book was hollowed out and the bear stored inside.

This is the ‘Plush Hug Book Collection’ and I’ve since learned that they came out in 2019 and there are six in the collection. The garden centre had three on display. All the bears were gorgeous so it was a case of selecting the most appropriate book as the words on each were different. The green one featuring the panda is a ‘Guide to Snuggleability’ – awww – but what absolutely sold it to me was the caption on the back: All the best bears read books. Could there be a more perfect choice for an author who’s also an arctophile (collector/lover of teddy bears) with a book in her collection set partly in a teddy bear shop?

I’d chosen a heart-shaped necklace myself from one of my favourite shops in Scarborough – White Beach Designs – and a heart-shaped beaded clutch in the Accessorise sale that I plan to use the next time I can go to an RNA event (Romantic Novelists’ Association) but hubby surprised me with this gorgeous keyring. Aww. Isn’t he just the best? We met in July 2003 when I was 31 and he was 33. “If I had my life to live over again, I would find you sooner so that I could love you longer”

Another surprise gift was ‘baby Yoda’ aka ‘The Child’ aka – look away if you haven’t seen the most recent episodes of Season 2 of The Mandalorian where his true name is revealed – Grogu. He’s a plush version and he is absolutely adorable. I just need a Baby Groot now and my life will be complete!

And my final amazingly thoughtful surprise gift was this gorgeous scrapbook for my newspaper clippings. Isn’t it just divine in it’s purple-ness; my favourite colour?

So the hubby definitely did well and I have been thoroughly spoilt this year with some amazing gifts from him and the munchkin. Feeling a bit embarrassed about the socks and chocolate orange now! 😉

How was Christmas for you? Hope it went okay.

Big hugs
Jessica xx