Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tosticated as a Triton?

My sharp-eyed friend, D, spotted a newt in my pond yesterday, the first of the year.
We have three species of newt in Britain:
- palmate newt
- common or smooth newt
- great crested newt
The little bewdy in my pond is a palmate newt, the smallest and commonest of the three, and is no doubt in there to breed.
For the record, it showed no signs of inebriation.....

Friday, April 25, 2008

Something untoward

Today while sitting at my table having my docky, or "partaking of a light midday colation" as we fen folk prefer to call it, I was distracted by a movement and a noise of tapping at my window. And there, clinging to the window frame, was a Tree Sparrow, one of very few that I have ever recorded in my garden. No doubt about it: chestnut cap, white nape and white cheeks with black patches, and there it was tapping at my window and moving its head in an inquiring manner. Well, I say "inquiring", but I have to be honest, I am not good at reading the facial expressions of Tree Sparrows - or of any other bird species for that matter.
Maybe it was disgusted by the Egg Mayonnaise I was eating. Presumably for him this was the equivalent of us watching Chief NdegeNdogo tucking into Scrambled Missionary on Toast.
Anyway, for the record: 25 April 2008, one Tree Sparrow, Haddenham.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Not knowing when to quit

When I first joined the Bournemouth language school in 1961, there were some very odd characters on the teaching staff, but I want to talk about one in particular, Guy Dean.
He was a large lumbering man with a fruity voice and an inclination to fussiness. In his day he had been very fit, doing a lot of hill-walking and so on, and he was also a very accomplished dancer (ballroom style).
By the time I met him he was well into his fifties, but still something of a hit with the young Swiss girls who constituted a large proportion of our students. At school dances and similar events, he danced the night away with one girl after another, and I quite envied him his energy and his boyish enthusiasm.
As the years went by, he became more lumbering, more pernickety, and somewhat more irritating to his colleagues (Not to me, I always liked him).
But he continued to "court" the girls at school parties and dances, until the Principal (a fiery lady called Paddy Bayley) told him bluntly that he was becoming a nuisance to the girls, and that he should start to "act his age". Of course he didn't, because he was still 21 years old inside, because he didn't know how to stop, because he couldn't see what the problem was.
I guess it's classic old scrote behaviour. Guy Dean is very much in my mind at the moment, because I fear I am running the risk of similar foolishness. Come on, Allsop! Get a grip! Act your age - if, that is, you can still remember what it is.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Emperor moths - part two

It's a bugger, obstetrics. I opened most of the cocoons. All except two were empty. The other two had chrysalises (chrysalides? not sure), which may or may not produce imagines.
In the meantime, a free-flying moth arrived in the garden, all fired up with testosterone, so I put him in the cage with Mrs Emp and in no time, they were going at it like knives.
I phoned Jon Clifton of Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies, who told me it can take up to a week before she lays her eggs.
So, think of me pacing the corridors of the maternity ward, waiting for news that mother and eggs are doing fine.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Emperor Moth Update

I tell you, mes potes, pregnancy really takes it out of me. My female Emperor Moth has a swollen abdomen that suggests at least a hundred offspring, but of course she won't release her eggs until they have been fertilised by a cooperative male.
The trick is to find that cooperative male.
So far, after three days, no sign of one.
What is it with males these days? Are they all running in the London marathon or watching the snooker? Maybe they have all joined Gay Moth Pride and turning their backs, so to speak, on females.
Whatever it is, I am really worried for Mrs Emp, sitting there, all maternal, all distended, waving her antennae and exuding pheremones. To no avail. Avail is what that grande dame needs a lot of right now. And me too.
I do have two emergent males, I mean, emerging from their coccoons, but they are making a poor job of it. One is almost out but not pumping, the other has just one wing out and seems to be stuck. Maybe I should try for a caesarean.


Prairie Mary's latest blog entry is entitled "The American Indian as Bricoleur". It set me to thinking, as all good blogs should. I think the English equivalent of "bricoleur" is "jack-of-all-trades". The completion is "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." Whatever I am tolerably good at, I am always aware of all the people who are much better at it than I am - birdwatching, playing piano, speaking a foreign language, whatever.
For a long time, this bothered me, I wanted to be outstandingly good at ONE thing, anything, as long as I was a master of it. But then, I thought, so Charlie X speaks perfect German, but then, that's the only foreign language he knows, whereas I, far less proficient in German than Charlie, also speak [insert languages]. Harry Y plays piano better than I do, but then, that's the only instrument he plays, whereas I also play [insert instruments]. Well, you can see what I mean.
I guess this makes me a "bricoleur".
What matters, though, is that I have learned to be contented to be a bricoleur: "jack-of-all-trades, master of none." The comedian Mick Miller said he left school with only two O Levels, in biology and metalwork, and went on: "So, if anyone has a cat that needs welding, I'm your man."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trellis makes a plea for decorum

Mrs Trellis is not slow to root out unhealthy elements in blogland.

To the Editor of Farmers' Weekly, she writes, Dear Sir or Madam, I really must protest. Naked ladies' bums are not a fit illustration for even the most interesting blog, not that yours is interesting.
What I mean is, children might see those naked buttocks, and who knows what effect that might have upon their impressionable minds? They could well grow up with a bum obsession. Heaven knows, they are already apt to poke about in their nether regions without any encouragement from you. Please try to find more suitable material, eg, views of Harlech Castle and the Menai Straits, etc. Maybe even some nice wildlife photography, like that David Duke of Attenborough does.
But please, no more backsides, even if they are "art". As we know, "art" is just posh people's excuse for a bit of visual how's-your-father. As the late Mr Trellis used to say: "I don't need to see sex every time I switch on the television. I get enough of that at home." He was referring, of course, to his budgerigars.
The way his budgies would go at it hammer and tongs, you would have thought they were Welsh. But even budgies would be a better subject for your blog than classical Greek posteriors: at least budgies' bums are covered with feathers.
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow, retired.

Triple whammy

Certain things come in threes, like London buses and the Three Graces. In this case, my triple whammy consists of three wonderful events in the last twenty-four hours:
A long lovely phone chat with Jeremy, which included five minutes or so with his eldest, Joseph, who at seven is more articulate than most adolescents. and interesting to boot. Joseph now has delicious traces of a Kiwi accent too, bless him.
While on Skype hoping for a chat with the Siren of Ankara, Bruninha, my adopted Brazilian granddaughter, came online and I had the pure joy of hearing her voice and her news and of being her avĂ´zinho again for a little while. She is hoping to come to Europe next year, and I vow I will find her, wherever she is.
To make a wonderful day perfect, I then had a message on my answerphone from Sarah telling me that she - and, of course, the three San Diegan munchkins - are coming to England for a fortnight this summer (5-19 August to be exact).
(This is another "trilogy in four parts") I should add a fourth piece of joy: Clare came round to pilfer some tadpoles from my pond and set them up in a small aquarium, which has to be in my shed as her own house appears to be a tadpole no-go area. We had so much fun making the aquarium, and my sharp-eyed little Zimbabwean pointed out all sorts of other aquatic life that I could hardly see. Aces!

What more could an Old Scrote ask for on a wet weekend in April?

Punny you should say that...

Exactly fifty years ago, I learned an Italian joke based on a pun. It's a bit rude, so don't ask your Italian grandmother for a translation. Italianophiles will, of course, have no problem with it.
There's a whole series of jokes about a mischievous boy called Pierino. In this case, Pierino is down in the courtyard playing with some girls. His mother, returning from shopping, has gone up to the apartment to find that the door is locked and Pierino, she assumes, has put the keys in his pocket. So she leans over the balcony and calls down to him in the courtyard below:
"Pierino! Le chiavi! Le chiavi!"
He looks up and replies:
"Mamma, le ho appena conosciute!"

You can see that I am desperate: I went birding this morning and saw nothing apart from my first Yellow Wagtail of the year, and now, in the afternoon, I can't work outside because it's raining. Just be grateful I don't know any pun-based jokes in Russian or Turkish.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


  • I have a habit - common among old scrotes living alone - of talking to myself, and even to my dog, not that she is alive any more.
More than that, I talk to myself in assorted voices - posh, demotic, idiotic, dramatic, most of them derived from the characters in the Goon Show, the wonderful corrupting influence of my adoloscence.
It also influenced all my mates of those wonderful years, and we all lapsed into Bluebottle or Eccles or Major Bloodnok or Moriarty or Min and Henry on the least excuse.
No harm in that. But I am still doing it fifty years on.

And a few moments ago, the thought struck me that I am probably the only one of the gang left. The names mean nothing to you, but everything to me, and I know that all of the following have gone: Chic Goode, Colin Goode, Dickie Bone, "Peche" Fisher, well, I won't go on.
I haven't heard of some of the others, so maybe they are still banging the rocks: "Ace" Attrill, "Hump" Trumper, "Flog" Ferrington. I hope so.
Or, if they are in Heaven, I just hope they are haranguing the angels in Goon Show voices.

But I tell you this:- Shirley Valentine talking to the Wall is normality incarnate compared to explaining to a deceased labrador that you know what time it is because you've "got it written down on a piece of paper."

Bouquets and brickbats

I want to embarrass some of my friends and colleagues by telling them how wonderful I think they are. Wouldn't that be just too cringe-making?
But what if I were called to join the Choir Invisibule in a minute from now? They would never know how I felt about them.
On the other hand, I might mortally offend other friends and colleagues by leaving them out of my shortlist of Wonderfuls. That would be unforgivable.
As you can see, it's a tricky business presenting bouquets. Brickbats are much easier. Maybe I should just stick to insulting Gordon Brown and the Archbishit of Canterbury.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Arthur "Two-sheds" Jackson

Well, that's done, and just in time before the return of the hailstorms.
I have repainted, or rather re-cuprinoled, my two garden sheds, that is, the large one, my "workshop" (haha), and the small one, the garden shed.
And what a colour! Virulent it is. It's the colour used by Clint Eastwood in High Plains Drifter when he painted the town red and renamed it Hell.
I didn't think "rich cedar" would come out like this. Garish. Infernal.
So now I guess my neighbours will rename ME, something like Two-Hellsheds Jackson.
I know sheds are not an interesting topic for a blog, but I just wanted you to be aware that when it comes to cock-ups (or should that be cocks-up?), I have no equal.
If you are wondering who Arthur Two-sheds Jackson is, click on his name.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Against the grain

Do you know anyone who wants a dismantled wardrobe, partly sawn in half, no fittings, buyer collects?
'Cos I don't want it.
The wood is unworkable. Even my electric saw wouldn't cut through it. And it's as heavy as lead. I can't use it.
And to think, instead of wrestling with this intractable material, I could have been down the fen checking for Dotterel, Hoopoe and Glossy Ibis.
So, tomorrow, I'm off to the timber merchant to get proper 12mm marine ply. It will cost un bras et une jambe, but as I always say, you can solve most problems by throwing money at them.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Lion, the Ditch and the Wardrobe

Yesterday, I trashed a wardrobe.
It was a good quality wardrobe made of wood not chipboard, and it came to pieces a treat with the help of mallet and jemmy. And some creative swearing.
It wasn't my wardrobe and whoever had owned it didn't want it any more because they had fly-tipped into a ditch down the fen.
It is now in my workshop. (Workshop! A festering shed full of junk, mouse droppings and bent gimlets). Anyway, with the resources at my disposal, I shall convert the disassembled wardrobe into two Barn Owl nestboxes. I might even leave the pegs in, so the birds will have somewhere to hang their voles.

The easy way to identify difficult birds

When it comes to identifying rare, unusual or difficult birds, they say there is no substitute for painstaking observation and rigorous attention to detail.
Tommyrot. balderdash and twaddle!
When it comes to identifying rare, unusual or difficult birds, there is no substitute for self-deception.
I give you now Allsop's Five Easy Steps to naming everything that crosses your path.
Do your birding in bad weather, either in very murky light or blindingly bright light. This way, plumage features can be manufactured at will, turning dark shades into light, brown into orange, and so on.
Always make sure you are upwind of your quarry. This way, there is no risk that you will hear its song, call or flight note.
High winds are good too, as they will explain any inconsistencies of flight, eg, a ponderous Crow transformed into a speeding falcon.
It is imperative to get only a fleeting glimpse of your quarry. Flying high overhead is good, as is diving into hedge, thicket or tall grass. The briefer your glimpse, the easier it is to go into self-deception mode.
If you have someone with you, and they dispute your identification after the bird has disappeared, don't panic. They were looking at a different bird. Easy-peasy.
Never consult a field guide - that way lies madness - but if you must, make full use of male/female adult/juvenile summer/winter differences, and of course races and subspecies. Oh yes, and "worn plumage" and "missing feathers" are useful dodges, as they can explain the absence of wingbars and other diagnostic features.

If none of the above solve your problem, there is one more step you can take in extremis, and that is not to see the bird at all. In this case, all you have to do is to identify its habitat, ie, even if it's not where it should be, you know where it should have been.

All this is because I have just come back from a wet and windy tour of the fen in search of Ring Ouzel, a passage bird through our area, a slim Blackbird with a white gorget, pale wing patches and furtive habits.
Did I find one?
Well, there was this bird that I caught a fleeting glimpse of as it flew over my head. Mind you, it was going like the clappers in the high wind, the light was bad (bad enough to supply pale wing patches!), but the habitat was spot on.
Pity I was upwind or I might have heard it call....

Why We Love Children

A big hug to Barbara Y for putting a smile on my face this gloomy Monday morning. Thanks, B, and best of luck today.

A nursery school pupil told his teacher he'd found a cat, but it was dead.
'How do you know that the cat was dead?' she asked her pupil.
'Because I pissed in its ear and it didn't move,' answered the child innocently.
'You did WHAT?' the teacher exclaimed in surprise.
'You know,' explained the boy, 'I leaned over and went 'Pssst' and it didn't move'
A small boy is sent to bed by his father.
Five minutes later.....'Da-ad.....'
'I'm thirsty. Can you bring a drink of water?'
'No, You had your chance. Lights out.'
Five minutes later: 'Da-aaaad.....'
'I'm THIRSTY. Can I have a drink of water??'
' I told you NO! If you ask again, I'll have to smack you!!'
Five minutes later......'Daaaa-aaaad.....'
'When you come in to smack me, can you bring a drink of water?'
A little girl asked her mother, 'Can I go outside and play with the boys?'
Her mother replied, 'No, you can't play with the boys, they're too rough.'
The little girl thought about it for a few moments and asked: 'If I can find a smooth one, can I play with him?'
One summer evening during a violent thunderstorm a mother was tucking her son into bed. She was about to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, 'Mummy, will you sleep with me tonight?'
The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug.
'I can't dear,' she said. 'I have to sleep in Daddy's room.'
A long silence was broken at last by his shaky little voice:
'The big sissy!'
It was that time, during the Sunday morning service, for the children's sermon. All the children were invited to come forward. One little girl was wearing a particularly pretty dress and, as she sat down, the minister leaned over and said:
'That is a very pretty dress. Is it your Easter Dress?'
The little girl replied, directly into the minister's clip-on microphone, 'Yes, and my Mum says it's a bitch to iron.'
One day the first grade teacher was reading the story of Chicken Little to her class. She came to the part of the story where Chicken Little tried to warn the farmer. She read, '.... and so Chicken Little went up to the farmer and said, 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling!'
The teacher paused then asked the class, 'And what do you think that farmer said?'
One little girl raised her hand and said, 'I think he said: 'Holy Shit! A talking chicken!''
The teacher was unable to teach for the next 10 minutes.
A little girl goes to the barber shop with her father. She stands next to the barber chair, while her dad gets his hair cut, eating a snack cake The barber says to her, 'Sweetheart, you're gonna get hair on your muffin.'
She says, 'Yes, I know, and I'm gonna get boobs too.'

Saturday, April 05, 2008

There's an aardvark in the refrigerator

In that strange short phrase, there is as scary a universe as you will find in a handful of dust. We are talking language learning here, and I want to take you back to a controversy that broke up friendships and ruined careers.
We are going to teach little Pierre to speak English. We want him to master the structure "Theres' a........... (+ prepositional phrase of place)."
This can be used by little Pierre in a zillion situations; all he has to do is to supply the words that matter to him. For example, "There's a riot in the Place de la Concorde", "There's a corrupt politician in the government", "There's a blue ridge round my heart, Virginia". Well, it's up to Pierre, it's what he wants to say that matters.
So, how do we inculcate (lovely word) the structure?
Two schools of thought emerged:
1 The utilitarian argument
Every example we give must be "useful", something relating to Pierre's everyday life and experience, eg, "There's a loaf on the table", "There's a car on the road".
2 The fantastical argument
Every example must be memorable, and the further from reality and the further into the ridiculous the better, eg, "There's an aardvark in the refrigerator".

Irreconcilable, these two schools of thought. A colleague of mine wrote an article in support of the second argument. The article was entitled: "My guinea pig died with its legs crossed."
It certainly caught everyone's attention, but it might have been a bit OTT. Mind you, an aardvark in the fridge is not exactly an everyday occurrence either.

War hero

Which reminds me, did I ever tell you of the time I was mistaken for a war hero?
This is a true story, I wouldn't romance about a thing like this.
Picture the scene. The year is 1959, I am 23, I have ventured into secondary teaching, I am teaching history to a class of 12 year old boys.
My first day, I introduce myself (writing my surname on the blackboard - if you don't know what a blackboard was, see me after class) so that they will get the requisite number of Ls and Ps.
And, inner flesh, as my lovely daughter would say, in a flash, a sprog's hand shoots up.
"Sir, are you the Captain Allsop who led the assault on Montecassino in the war?"
Or words to that effect. I was so gumplefoisted, I didn't really take in his words, just the drift.
Of course I came clean. You know me, I don't like to muddy the waters.
"There are some things I don't like to talk about," I said nobly."Turn to page 25 and find out why we won the Battle of Agincourt."
At least the little blighter hadn't asked me if I was with King Henry V for that little fracas.

Four-cheese pizza

I had a four-cheese pizza last night. Please don't be shocked. I had a nifty salad with it, so it's not all junk news.
Now, to be accurate, I had three-quarters of a pizza last night, and I found the other quarter about ten minutes ago.
As you know, I come from a generation that finds it impossible to waste food (There's a war on. Remember the starving millions in China, etc), so I couldn't throw it away. Well, I could have tossed it on to the back lawn where various sharp-toothed fauna would have made short work of it, but I didn't.
Instead, I ate it.
Bite by soggy bite.
And this is the weird part: it reminded me of the Battle of the Somme. This is no joke. Images of trenches and Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory flashed before my eyes.
I think I am in serious need of a holiday.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Oh that this too too solid flesh would melt.....

Well, standing around soliloquising isn't going to do it.
What I need is a diet which is not based on calorie counting.
I know anguish (angoscia, angustia) is a sure way of losing weight, but the trouble is I have nothing to be anguished about right now:
- my publisher has become reasonable
- the weather is improving
- my royalty cheques have been very respectable lately
- lovely women keep tapping on my front door (mostly collecting for charity, it's true, but I am not a proud man)
- my periwinkle is in prime condition.
I thought of having an anguished go at global warming, but I don't believe in it. Not deep down I don't.
Iran's uranium enrichment programme? Who're they going to bomb without bringing a whole rain of sh... back on themselves?
Mugabe? He's practically shagged out now anyway. Literally, from what I hear.
The US Presidential elections? Who gives a flying fandango?
No, there's really no cause for anguish, it seems.
So, calorie counting it is, then.
Goodbye potatoes, hello waistline.

The struggle definitely availedeth

My two traps caught a nice assortment of early Spring moths, of which the star performer was a Pine Beauty, a first for the garden.
Half an inch of full-blossomed pulchritude.
In Scotland, the Pine Beauty moth is a pest, but don't hold that against it. That's what you get - and deserve - for covering the landscape with conifer plantations.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Requiescat wherever

Mrs Trellis writes an epitaph

Dear Hughie Green,
she writes, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw you on the television box last night, and you dead these ten years or more! I don't know how those television people do it, but you can do anything with computers these days.
Anyway, I was always one of your greatest fans, even if, as I now learn, you were shagging everything in sight, you naughty boy.
You had such a lovely voice, and such a lovely head of hair, I fear I too might have succumbed to your charms, given half a chance.
But - forgive me for saying this - I thought you were really sad at the end, with your wife gone, your children gone, and even your lady friends walking out on you. I guess it was a good moment to die.
Anyway, if your wraith ever visits my little Welsh village, do call in and I will fillet a haddock in your honour. Never knock an opportunity, I say! Just my little joke.
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, no serious offer refused

Hughie Green

Last night, I watched a TV programme reconstructing the life of Hughie Green, a megastar show-host of the 60s and 70s.
What struck me most about him is that he became an old scrote while still young, and the world moved on, isolating him and embittering him, because, as is well known, old scrotes become set in their ways.
Poor old sod. Loved by millions he didn't know, and not loved by the people who did know him.
It's a bugger, life.

Begone dull shame!

Bugger shame! What do I need with shame at my stage of the game? (Ooh, that wicked assonance! And I didn't even intend it).
No, I am BACK! Both moth traps are set.
Come on, Fate, throw 'em at me - faded ones, little brown jobs, confusion species, moths out of season, moths new to science... See if I care.
And if I catch an Angle Shades, I will feed it a Brazil nut, or whatever they feed on.
You may be wondering what has brought on this resurgence of positive waves. Well, today, I finally washed my Land Rover and discovered that it is not fen-mud grey after all, but a fetching shade of lingerie blue. Like the knickers of a girl who once rejected me, but it's still a nice colour.
It doesn't take much to put the lead back in my cheeks and the colour in my pencil, I can tell you.

Stewed steak it is, then

The following note is for carnivores on bachelor status only.

My old mum, bless her, widowed many a long year, moved into sheltered accommodation and continued to look after herself. Talk about independent: Lancashire women are formidable, even when they are smiling at you.
Anyway, when cooking became too much of a chore (mainly because of her failing eyesight), she took short cuts, one of which was to buy tins of stewed steak. I didn't say anything, but I was, well, appalled would not be too strong a word.
Now that I am approaching my mother's status (I am on my own, with failing faculties but determined to stay independent) - I tried a tin of stewed steak from Tesco's.
Oh the guilt! Oh the shame!
It was quite delicious.
And then, the other night, I saw Delia Smith on one of her cookery programmes talking about "cheating at cookery", and recommending tinned stewed steak as a short cut. Bless the woman! She may not have Nigella's bosom, but she's all-round BIG as far as I am concerned.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The shame of it

I am ashamed. I am humiliated, I am damned.
It's a bad day for me, mes potes.
My lovely new friend D from Royston sent me a photo of a moth that had entered their conservatory the other afternoon.
Already the clues are piiling up: day flying, end of March.
And I am sent a photo of the moth perched on the end of a forefinger. Another clue: size.
Pluimage-wise, it is spectacular.
And I panic, because I do not immediately recognise it.
Eventually, after trawling through the WHOLE book, I give up and send it to my guru. Who is very kind but cannot believe I didn't know what it was.
And what it was is, after the hawkmoths, just about the best-known moth on the British list, even by those who do not possess Skinner traps. Even YOU, dear reader, know what it is, don't you?
I have no excuses, though, believe me, I have been struggling to find excuses.
It is SO awful, I can't tell you how awful, it is. It is like not recognising your feet when you start to put your socks on.
I think it is time I cancelled my subscription to the human race, not that it will be a great loss: it's the one subscription I pay that is not tax allowable.