Saturday, November 14, 2009

Argument settled

Un jour, une petite fille demande à sa mère : - Dis maman, comment ils sont nés les tout-premiers parents ?
- Et bien, lui répond sa maman, c'est Dieu qui a créé les premiers parents humains, Adam et Eve. Adam et Eve ont eu des enfants qui plus tard sont devenus parents à leur tour et ainsi de suite. C'est ainsi que s'est formée la famille humaine.
Deux jours plus tard, la fillette pose la même question à son père.
Celui-ci lui répond : - Tu vois, il y a des millions d'années, les singes ont évolué lentement jusqu'à devenir les êtres humains que nous sommes aujourd'hui.
La petite fille toute perplexe retourne aussitôt voir sa mère : - Maman ! Comment c'est possible que tu me dises que les premiers parents ont été créés par Dieu et que papa me dise que c'était des singes qui ont évolué ?
La mère lui répond avec un sourire : - C'est très simple ma chérie. Moi je t'ai parlé de ma famille et ton père te parlait de la sienne.

Friday, November 06, 2009


If you are looking for a nice aquatic home for a goldfish, you could use my kitchen floor. Yes, amici miei, the waste pipe from the washing machine has blocked again, cascading waste water all over the place. But don't worry, the Old Scrote is on the case, using a mixture of chemicals, hot water and curses to clear the blockage. Today I am going Barn Owling again, but on my return, I will again blast water through the pipe, fingers crossed. I hope to be able to report that I am flush with success. Groan.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

LA CIGALE ET LA FOURMI, nouvelle version

Sorry about the continuing silences - still battling with a problem or three. In the meantime, enjoy this delicious grump piece (with thanks as ever to Angit for sending it to me)


La fourmi travaille dur tout l'été dans la canicule
Elle construit sa maison et prépare ses provisions pour l'hiver.
La cigale pense que la fourmi est stupide, elle rit, danse et joue
Une fois l'hiver venu, la fourmi est au chaud et bien nourrie.
La cigale grelottante de froid n'a ni nourriture ni abri, et meurt de froid.



La fourmi travaille dur tout l'été dans la canicule.
Elle construit sa maison et prépare ses provisions pour l'hiver.
La cigale pense que la fourmi est stupide, elle rit, danse et joue tout l'été.
Une fois l'hiver venu, la fourmi est au chaud et bien nourrie.
La cigale grelottante de froid organise une conférence de presse et demande
pourquoi la fourmi a le droit d'être au chaud et bien nourrie tandis que les
autres, moins chanceux comme elle, ont froid et faim.
La télévision organise des émissions en direct qui montrent la cigale
grelottante de froid et qui passent des extraits vidéo de la fourmi bien au
chaud dans sa maison confortable avec une table pleine de provisions.
Les Français sont frappés que, dans un pays si riche, on laisse souffrir
Cette pauvre cigale tandis que d'autres vivent dans l'abondance.
Les associations contre la pauvreté manifestent devant la maison de la
Les journalistes organisent des interviews, demandant pourquoi la fourmi est
devenue riche sur le dos de la cigale et interpellent le gouvernement pour
augmenter les impôts de la fourmi afin qu'elle paie 'sa juste part'.
La CGT, Le Parti Communiste, la Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire , les Gay et
Lesbian Pride, organisent seat-ins et manifestations devant la maison de la fourmi.
Les fonctionnaires décident de faire une grève de La Elle
L'ancienne maison de la fourmi, devenue logement social pour la cigale, se
détériore car cette dernière n'a rien fait pour l'entretenir.
Des reproches sont faits au gouvernement pour le manque de moyens.
Une commission d'enquête est mise en place, ce qui coûtera 10 millions d'euros.
La cigale meurt d'une overdose.
Libération et L'Humanité commentent l'échec du gouvernement à redresser
sérieusement le problème des inégalités sociales.
La maison est squattée par un gang de cafards immigrés.
Les cafards organisent un trafic de marijuana et terrorisent la communauté...
Le gouvernement se félicite de la diversité multiculturelle de la France.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ou sont les pierres d'autan?

It has been a glorious autumn day - warm, light breeze, fluffy white clouds, welkin as blue as your eyes, and I've been standing in my garden pond for most of it. No, no photographs, it would be too humiliating.
Why, I hear you ask as you begin to wonder if there's anything on television that could tear you away from this blog, why has the Old Scrote been standing in his garden pond? Not only standing in it, dressed in greeen boiler suit and black wellingtons, but bending down and ferreting with his hands under the water. Looking for stones.
You see, mes chers potes, there used to be beautiful mango-shaped boulders around the edge of the pond, and in the chute of the waterfall (to make the cascade more interesting).
And now there are none. They are all in the pond. I am not one to point the accusing finger, but if I ever get to New Zealand, certain young persons had better watch out. In fact, the pond had become so eutrophic that it was effectively dead, so I was already in the process of cleaning it out when the Case of the Missing Boulders arose.
Tomorrow, if the Lord spares me - and the way I smell at the moment, I doubt if He wants me anywhere near Him just now - I will be back there trying to empty the pond of its oily black mud so that I can start afresh in the New Year.
It's good to have a plan.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

En vieillissant ...

Another little gem from the indefatigable Angit:-

Un monsieur âgé a un sérieux problème. Il est complètement sourd depuis plusieurs années. Il va voir son médecin qui lui prescrit un nouvel appareil auditif haut de gamme.
Au bout d'un mois, il retourne voir son médecin qui lui dit :
" Votre famille doit être contente de voir que vous entendez très bien ?"
L'homme répond :
" Oh, je n'ai pas encore dit à ma famille que j'avais un appareil. Je ne fais que m'asseoir et écouter les conversations.
J'ai déjà changé trois fois mon testament..."

Rum, sodomy and the lash....

I pinched this from Gavin Corder's blog. As I have missed several of my "Grumpy Old Man" Friday sessions, I thought I would make up for it with this:-

How would Nelson have fared if he had been subject to modern health and safety regulations?

"Order the signal to be sent, Hardy."
"Aye, aye sir."
"Hold on, that's not what I dictated to the signal officer. What's the meaning of this?"
"Sorry sir?"
"England expects every person to do his duty, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious persuasion or disability. What gobbledegook is this?"
"Admiralty policy, I'm afraid, sir. We're an equal opportunities employer now. We had the devil's own job getting 'England' past the censors, lest it be considered racist."
"Gadzooks, Hardy. Hand me my pipe and tobacco."
"Sorry sir. All naval vessels have been designated smoke-free working environments."
"In that case, break open the rum ration. Let us splice the main brace to steel the men before battle."
"The rum ration has been abolished, Admiral. It's part of the Government's policy on binge drinking."
"Good heavens, Hardy. I suppose we'd better get on with it. Full speed ahead."
"I think you'll find that there's a 4 knot speed limit in this stretch of water."
"Damn it man! We are on the eve of the greatest sea battle in history. We must advance with all dispatch. Report from the crow's nest, please."
"That won't be possible, sir."
"Health and Safety have closed the crow's nest, sir. No harness. And they said that rope ladder doesn't meet regulations. They won't let anyone up there until a proper scaffolding can be erected."
"Then get me the ship's carpenter without delay, Hardy."
"He's busy knocking up a wheelchair access to the fo'c'sle Admiral."
"Wheelchair access? I've never heard anything so absurd."
"Health and Safety again, sir. We have to provide a barrier-free environment for the differently abled."
"Differently abled? I've only one arm and one eye and I refuse even to hear mention of the word. I didn't rise to the rank of admiral by playing the disability card."
"Actually, sir, you did. The Royal Navy is under-represented in the areas of visual impairment and limb deficiency."
"Whatever next? Give me full sail. The salt spray beckons."
"A couple of problems there too, sir. Health and Safety won't let the crew up the rigging without crash helmets. And they don't want anyone breathing in too much salt - haven't you seen the adverts?"
"I've never heard such infamy. Break out the cannon and tell the men to stand by to engage the enemy."
"The men are a bit worried about shooting at anyone, Admiral."
"What? This is mutiny."
"It's not that, sir. It's just that they're afraid of being charged with murder if they actually kill anyone. There's a couple of legal aid lawyers on board, watching everyone like hawks."
"Then how are we to sink the Frenchies and the Spanish?"
"Actually, sir, we're not."
"We're not?"
"No, sir. The Frenchies and the Spanish are our European partners now. According to the Common Fisheries Policy, we shouldn't even be in this stretch of water. We could get hit with a claim for compensation."
"But you must hate a Frenchman as you hate the devil."
"I wouldn't let the ship's diversity co-ordinator hear you saying that sir. You'll be up on a disciplinary charge."
"You must consider every man an enemy who speaks ill of your King."
"Not any more, sir. We must be inclusive in this multicultural age. Now put on your Kevlar vest; it's the rules."
"Don't tell me - Health and Safety. Whatever happened to rum, sodomy and the lash?"
"As I explained, sir, rum is off the menu. And now there's a ban on corporal punishment."
"What about sodomy?"
"I believe it's to be encouraged, sir."
"In that case... kiss me, Hardy."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


My thanks, as ever, to Angit for directing me to the website. Go there, blowse yourself all over, and get with happy crap.

Friday, September 18, 2009


My rehabilitator friend, Deborah, faces the biggest challenge yet - to nurse a recently-fledged Nightjar back to health. It is apparently uninjured, but is seriously underweight and seems reluctant to take food. Deborah has tried various insects and insect mixes, and we finally came up with the idea of feeding live insects caught in a mothtrap. The bird still wouldn't voluntarily open its gape for the wriggling prey waved in front of it, but seemed pleased with the prey items once Deborah had forced its gape open. We still don't know if it will pull through, but in the meantime, I can tell you that it is a joyous experience and a privilege to have this bird sitting in the palm of your hand.
Nightjars, closely related to the American Nighthawks, are often known as "goatsuckers" from the age-old belief that their huge gaping bill was designed to enable them to suckle on sheep and goats after dark. I love the Turkish variant - çobanaldatan - which translates as "shepherd deceiver".

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A short sweet thread from the Cambirds group

In, Gavin P wrote:
A Hobby shotting over Cambourne yesterday evening was a nice surprise.

In, jake allsop wrote:
"shotting"? Either a vowel or a consonant has gone astray here, Gavin!

In, Richard B wrote:
Probably the vowel, given it was over Cambourne.

In, Mike N wrote:
Must've been a Wildvowel with all the gravel pits around... Sorry, I'll leave now ;-)

Cambourne, for those who don't know, is a modern development and considered soulless by many.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

From yesterdays Bristol Evening Post:

My thanks to Angit for the following:


Outside Bristol Zoo is the car park, with spaces for 150 cars and 8 coaches. It has been manned 6 days a week for 23 years by the same charming and very polite car park attendant with the ticket machine. The charges are £1.00 per car and £5.00 per coach.

On Monday 1 June, he did not turn up for work.

Bristol Zoo management phoned Bristol City Council to ask them to send a replacement parking attendant.
The Council said, No! "That car park is your responsibility."
The Zoo said, No! "The attendant was employed by the City Council... wasn't he?"
The Council said, No! "What attendant?"

Gone missing from his home is a man who has been taking daily the car park fees amounting to about £400.00 per day for the last 23 years...!

£2,400.00 a week…Tax Free!!

I was wondering how to supplement my meagre pension income.....

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Pallid Harrier

This bird is a mega-rarity in Britain, with only a handful of records of wandering birds. So, imagine our excitement when one was spotted on Haddenham fen a couple of days ago. I - and a few other local birders - had never seen one before, so it was bins and scopes to the ready, scan the fen, and finally locate it gliding and swooping in marvellous acrobatic flight. It's still in the general area, but I don't think I will go and find it again. I had my blood pressure checked this morning - 80 over 120, not bad for an old scrote - and I don't want to take any health risks where birds are concerned. Or women on tractors for that matter.

Cute kids, cute birds

We also took my Kiwi grandsons, Joseph and Matthew, with us on Barn Owl expeditions, and here they are holding owlets and looking slightly bemused, but I think they did enjoy themselves. Matthew above, Joe below.
You will gather from this that I have had visits this summer from both sides of the family. They've all gone back now, leaving me with poignant memories and an incontinent Zebra Finch for company. Ah well, that's the way it crumbles, cookiewise.

What's for dinner, dad?

When Peter W and I checked one of our Barn Owl boxes a week or so back, we found EIGHT prey items in the box, uneaten, not surprisingly as the young owls already had full bellies. Clearly the parents are experiened hunters. The rodents are of several species: wood mouse, field vole, common/pygmy shrew and water shrew. I leave you to sort out which is which.
Talking of owls, we took my eldest granddaughter, Sophie, with us on one or our expeditions, and here she is, proudly holding an owlet in her hands (It's ok, she is legally covered by our licences!).

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Spotted stripy bum

My spotted stripy bum (the free translation of its scientific name, Taeniopygia guttata) is cute, but definitely not cuddly. You can't tame zebra finches, you can't teach them to talk, they won't greet you with a smile, they won't fly up to you and give you a kiss on the ear. In fact, the nearest they get to recognising your very existence is to assail your eardrums with a shrill piping call accompanied by a quick poop on the furniture.
Why, then, I hear you ask, do you have the damn thing in your house? It's because it's real owner can't stand it. She was in her local pet shop when the owner said they were going to put the bird down because it had something wrong with its middle toe. So, D, being a soft-hearted lass, "rescued" it, and I eventually agreed to look after it for a while out of the kindess of my heart.
My son asked me recently if I intended to get another dog. The answer is no, but I am beginning to wonder if I could get a collar round stripy bum's neck and take her for walks on a short lead. The exercise would do me good, but I have to say, I don't like the idea of having to carry a poop scoop round the fields of Haddenham. So maybe not.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A little friend

I used to live alone. I don't mind alone, though I don't like lonely. Not to worry, I now share my house, and she's a little cracker. Voice a bit raucous and penetrating, and she has a tendency to do little poos everywhere. But I don't mind, a small price to pay for beauty, as Butch Cassidy said, though he was talking about a bank, not a defecating zebra finch. She's cute and feisty,. but she is not finger-tame - what female is? I am not sure how long I will keep her - I am looking after her for a friend - but while she's here, I am trying to enjoy her company. At least she's someone to talk to.

Friday, September 04, 2009

A note from North Wales

You, my dear friends, are not the only ones to get in touch. Mrs Trellis sent the following:

Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, well, dear, you HAVE been quiet lately! I am sorry to hear about your anus horribilis. My husband, the late Mr Trellis, suffered from the same complaint, bless him, but I don't want to go into the details. Suffice it to say that he would absent himself for about an hour every morning and would then reappear bent double. Still, his malady had one positive side-effect - he managed to read the whole of War and Peace during his morning absences. I remember him coming back one morning and saying "Well, I'm glad that's over!" I think he meant the War, but he was often vague about details.
Anyway, dear, I hope you will soon be back to your old self. To be honest, I haven't been feeling myself lately either, which makes for a very dull life.
Yours in sisterly solidarity
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow, retd.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Not dead yet!

One Christmas, the Queen described her year as her "annus horribilis". Well, mes chers potes, apart from the publication of the Golden Oriole book, which has been embarrassingly well received, I think this year is my annus horribilis. I won't bore you with the details, but I thought it was time I let you know that I am still here, still trying to bang the rocks despite the vagaries of fortune. Watch this space - I will be back, and in the meantime, my thanks to those of you who have messaged me enquiring about my health and prospects.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


He killed the noble Mudjokivis.
Of the skin he made him mittens,
Made them with the fur side inside,
Made them with the skin side outside.
He, to get the warm side inside,
Put the inside skin side outside.
He, to get the cold side outside,
Put the warm side fur side inside.
That's why he put the fur side inside,
Why he put the skin side outside,
Why he turned them inside outside.

With thanks to Peter W for reminding me of this spoof.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

It's my birthday on Friday!

A 72 year old guy loves fishing. He was sitting in his boat the otherday when he heard a voice say, 'Pick me up.'
He looked around and couldn't see anyone. He thought he was dreaming when he heard the voice say again,'Pick me up'
He looked in the water and there, floating on top, was a frog.
The man said, 'Are you talking to me?'
The frog said, 'Yes, I'm talking to you. Pick me up then kiss me and I'll turn into the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. I'll make sure that all your friends are envious and jealous because I will be your bride!'
The man looked at the frog for a short time, reached over, picked it up carefully, and placed it in his front breast pocket.
Then the frog said, 'What, are you nuts? Didn't you hear what I said? I said kiss me and I will be your beautiful bride.'
He opened his pocket, looked at the frog and said, 'Nah, at my age I'd rather have a talking frog.'

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pipe Dream

Swift nestboxes made of wood have the advantage that they are not expensive, something between 14-25 pounds. The disadvantage is that they don't last, subject as they are to the vagaries of our climate.
A durable box made of "woodcrete" is available if you are prepared to stump up about £57 or more (the Schwegler box).
So, we think we have come up with an ideal compromise: a durable box that costs no more than a wooden box. Click here for full details.
You start with offcuts of the pipe used for water mains. You cut these into 400mm lengths, cut an access hole in the side for the birds, put a plywood platform in the bottom of the pipe, plug the ends, paint appropriately, and there you are: a cheap but indestructible nest box for Swifts.
At least, we hope so. We have made twenty and are getting them erected in suitable locations to see how they fare, and how well the birds take to them.
If it works, we shall be heroes. If it doesn't, well, all we've lost is a few offcuts of pipe, a lot of elbow grease and our reputations. No big deal.

Acknowledgment: photo by Dick Newell

Friday, May 15, 2009

Ecology of Kestrels

To help a postgraduate student, Claudia, with her research, my colleague Peter and I took her to find occupied Kestrel boxes on Monday and Tuesday. Glorious weather, lots of things to see, good company, and thirteen occupied boxes to boot. On the way to one site, Peter stopped the vehicle to allow a female Lapwing escort her chick across the road. Claudia, bless her, managed to get this pic.
There's something about new birth that renews your faith in the universe.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sedge Warbler

This afternoon I parked up on North Fen, away from traffic and noise and problems, poured a coffee from my thermos and settled back to listen to a Sedge Warbler singing. A male, freshly arrived I imagine, and singing his heart out. They aren't much to look at, streaky brown things with a jaunty eyestripe, but when they are singing, often from an exposed perch, the bill opens wide and you can see right down their throat. He's a mimic is the male Sedge Warbler, and it's fun to pick out snatches of song from other species. I listened to him for about twenty minutes. It's not Grand Opera, but it's a sure way of lowering your blood pressure and taking your mind off your worries for a while.
The coffee, by the way, was awful, but it always is when I make it

Friday, May 08, 2009

Doctor, don't ask!

You have certain symptoms: hot flushes, dizziness, panic attacks, uncontrolled trembling, nausea.
So you go to the doctor, and he recommends a course of antidepressant medication.
You are grateful.
You pop the first pill, and then, idly curious, you read the accompanying leaflet, which contains a list of possible side effects. They include...
hot flushes, dizziness, panic attacks, uncontrolled trembling, nausea.
Am I missing something here?

The mills of God...

In 1996, I with others started a campaign to save Swift colonies in the United Kingdom. At the time it was not on the lists of birds of conservation concern, even though colonies were disappearing alarmingly as buildings were renovated. We canvassed the premier British birding organisation, the RSPB, using the argument that it was better to solve a problem rather than wait until it became a crisis. Today, some 13 years later, when the decline has reached crisis proportions. we (representatives of four amateur Swift organisations) had a meeting at the RSPB, where it was announced that Swift is now on the "amber" list of birds of conservation concern.
It's not only the mills of God that grind exceeding slow, but it looks like we've got good corn at last.

Treat in store

At five minutes and six seconds after 4 AM on the 8th of July this year, the time and date will be
04:05:06 07.08.09.
Isn't it nice to have something to look forward to?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Worst Slide Story

Here's a cartoon that is, to quote Angit who sent it to me, "brilliant and horribly accurate". Enjoy it.
If clicking on the word "cartoon" doesn't work, paste this url into your browser window:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Envy? Nah.

I am considering trying out some new emotions. Envy, I thought, that's one I never really got to grips with. I remember having a fleeting green moment when Prince Charles divorced Diana - my god, the sense of relief! - but apart from that, and a vague feeling that Dave Brubeck had more fingers on each hand than I do - the emotion of envy has passed me by. Jealousy I have always been good at, although, perversely, I have sometimes enjoyed the sensation that someone got the girl that I didn't. But envy, I have had to work hard to pump that into the Old Scrotal psyche.

Until today.
I put up a couple of Swift nestboxes for a nice lady in Huntingdon. She is very short, and seriously plump, and her husband, though taller, is equally abbondante. And what struck me was that this couple, who are old enough to have children and grandchildren, are unaffectedly happy with each other. You know, that kind of serenity that is almost palpable. Bless them, bless all couples who achieve this karma, despite the tribulations of life.
The only consolation I could give my self, perverse bugger that I am, was that in order to talk to me, she had to stand close to me and look up into my nostrils.
I will work on this envy thing, but I doubt if I will get far with it. It requires more energy than I am capable of right now, despite Metatone.


Today, I went to see my GP ("family doctor", for my transatlantic friends). His first reaction was a good one: "My goodness, we don't see you very often!" Well, I come from longlived stock, noted for its determination not to die till it has screwed the Inland Revenue and the Pension Company for the last penny. So, ok, whatever is wearing out is doing so slowly.
Now, to cut a long story short, he decided that the Old Scrote needs a course of antidepressants.
Damn, this is what happens when I neglect the release that my Friday "Grumpy Old Man" slot gives me. So, if you will forgive me, I am going to do a Friday slot today (Tuesday), with no disrespect to Sertraline Hydrochloride.
I get furious with those safety devices that prevent you from opening bottles of medecine, bleach, etc, without breaking a fingernail and pushing your blood pressure up the Richter Scale.
I am outraged that the government is considering fitting control devices to all cars so that we will automatically be forced to respect speed limits regardless of the exigencies of the road conditions.
I am appalled that ordinary people round the world are suffering as a result of the greed and the incompetence of the world's wunch of bankers.
I am disgusted that Gordon Brown has no clue which way his arse is facing.

Well, that's enough. I should let the Sertraline Hydrochloride kick in, make me serene, etc. Anyway, who can be depressed when John Higgins won the Snooker Championship? That guy is brilliant, has ice in his veins, a lovely family, and is as rich and successful as he deserves to be.
Bet he doesn't need the happy pills.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Bullfinch in colour!

Well, colour problem solved. Once I have sound too, I will yell in your direction. Promise.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barn Owl Chalet

You remember my telling you about the Barn Owl box the size of a Welsh chapel and with a Swiss-style overhanging roof? Well, here it is, in its new home in the fork of an ancient pear tree. If I were a Barn Owl, I would take my shoes and socks off and LEAP into it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bob Scott

Today I went to a memorial service at St Mary's Church, Buckden. I don't like funerals and I don't like memorial services, but this is not about me. This is about one of the giants of British ornithology, Bob Scott. One by one, we are losing our giants. I just hope the generations coming up can fill the shoes of the likes of Bob Scott. He was the best:- knowledgeable, energetic, charismatic, and he had the common touch, rare nowadays.
And you must forgive me if I have had a glass or two more than usual tonight:- I don't like losing old mates.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The garden in April

This spirea species is a wonderfully vigorous plant, so it's a pity that it flowers for such a short period. It was given to me years back by a green-fingered lady in the village, who told me not to prune it. "Just leave it alone", she said, reminiscent of a similar exhortation from my mother in a slightly different context.

Little Owl box

It seems that someone has at last cracked the mystery of how to make a simple but effective box for Little Owls. The picture shows a scaled down model that I just made (2/3 life size, with Kiki's mini-teddy to give an idea of scale). The fun bit was finding a way to cut the circular entrance hole. This involved the purchase of an attachment to my Bosch hammer drill from Mackays in Cambridge, a shop modelled on Aladdin's Cave.
My next project is to build a full scale box (about 30 cm each dimension) using offcuts of plywood retrieved from one of the farms we visited yesterday.
And here, for those who have never seen one, is a Little Owl. It was introduced into Britain from the Continent in the eighteenth century and is now well-established in all suitable habitats.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Goodness, where did the time go? Still no Wheatears, still no Ring Ousels, so bugger birds: I am going to tell you about Charlotte. Let me set the scene: old Central Heating Boiler finally giveth up the ghost, need for new CH Boiler emergeth. Man in posh suit arrives, assesses scene, sends estimate for new boiler, which I accept, given that I have no choice if I don't want to die of chilblains, or worse.
Technician arrives to install new boiler, turns out to be 20+ year old young woman called Charlotte. I make no comment, being not a reconstructed male, but at least a discreet one, and she gets down to the business. Next day, her two "helpers" arrive, a middle-aged guy called Chris, and an apprentice called Sam. And Charlotte is their boss. I LOVE IT!
Now, I have a new CH boiler system, everything is the dog's b..........s. And, as a bonus, Charllotte's partner, Martin, works for a farmer Ramsey way, so, thanks to Charlotte's intercession, today Peter and I went over there to put up a Barn Owl box, and to arrange to repair another to make it more effective.
I love Charlotte, not because she is a fine young woman, though that isn't a bad reason, but because she is a mensch. And we did something for Ramsey's Barn Owls into the bargain, thanks to her. I just hope young Martin realises what a wonderful partner he has.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

They're on their way!

My colleague Paul saw three Yellow Wagtails on the fen yesterday, one of the summer visitors that we all love to see. This is the first record for 2009. Other species due to arrive soon include Wheatear, Ring Ousel and Turtle Dove, as well as all the warblers. Today, I trolled round half the fen and found nothing, well, I did at least see two pairs of Lapwing looking as if they were going to breed. But if I don't find, say, a Wheatear soon, I might take up another hobby altogether. Flower arranging maybe.

Captain Webb

In 1875, Captain Matthew Webb, a native of Dawley (the village in Shropshire next my own natal village, and about which I have already written) was the first man to swim the English Channel. My daughter's current gentleman admirer, Mark, is going to attempt to do the same in mid-July this year. I do not intend to ask him WHY he wants to do this. I hope, though, that if or when he gets to the other side, success will not go to his head, as it did to Captain Webb's. That poor old bugger just kept looking for new challenges and finally died in 1883 trying to swim through the whirlpools below Niagara Falls.

Saturday, April 04, 2009


That stands for Barn Owl Conservation Network, and today I attended its annual Symposium. I learned a lot, met some old friends and colleagues, and raised my confusion about certain topics to a much higher level. The venue - Sheepdrove Farm somewhere west of Reading - was idyllic. The weather was just about perfect and thhe lunch was, erm, different: totally organic, a carroty soup followed by a fruity flan, washed down with apple juice (I think).
The presentations were in most cases excellent, by which I mean people spoke clearly, the technology worked (Powerpoint, of course) and lots of good information and thought-provoking ideas were put forward. Only one speaker mumbled, and only one overran her time.
All in all, a good day out, but I do have only one minor quibble. The person who designed the seats was clearly a dwarf with a bum the size of a hot-cross bun. My backside was in agony after about half and hour. But, let's face it, suffering has always been the price we seekers-after-truth have had to pay for enlightenment.

Trellis goes international

Dear Mrs Sarkozy, she writes, I had no idea you were a purveyor of duck recipes, you being French and more likely to eat raw meat and crushed frogs' legs and such. Thanks to the late Mr Trellis, I once experienced Peeking Duck, aptly named as its eyes followed you round the room as you poured gravy and orange peelings over it. I should have killed it first.
Anyway, I didnt really enjoy it, but my late hubby, bless him, thought it very erotic - is that the word? - and said that you could eat every part of a duck except the squeak. Or was that pigs?

Listen, dear, you eat what you fancy, and feed up that husband of yours - he looks really skinny to me, not a good advertisement for a country that prides itself on its gluttony.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Forever Amber

The lady from EAGA, whose name is in fact Amber, wrote to me again, this time telling me I qualified for the £300 discount on the cost of the installation of my new central heating boiler. Thank god I didn't return the four long-life light bulbs.
So, da guys are coming next Wednesday to fit the new boiler, and whatever it costs (which is a lot), it will be three hundred sovs below quote, thanks to Amber. Amber, I will remember you forever.
And if you guys understand THAT allusion, you must be as old as I am!

The course of true love....

You all know me for a romantic old scrote, and I apologise if I have involved you emotionally in the love affair of my pair of Mallard. But I can't keep this to myself. This morning, HE was in the garden, but SHE wasn't.
I panicked. A lover's tiff? Had she finally succumbed to the charms of that muscular male from the other day? Or, heaven forfend, had one of our local poachers had her on his plate with baby new potatoes and succulent garden peas?
I tell you, mes potes, this kind of thing really takes it out of me. It's worse than cholesterol. But just now, kissed by the rays of the late evening sun, there was MRS Mallard, calm as you like, but MR Mallard was not with her.
I know, or at least I hope, this means that she spent the day on eggs, while he noshed in my garden, and that he is now on incubation duty in order to relieve her so she can in her turn get something to eat.
I hope so. I really didn't like the peas-and-potatoes scenario.


I have started a series of photo albums in Facebook. If you want to take a peep, go HERE.
Or paste this url into your browser:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shed trash

You know my Land Rover, the one with the fancy bull-bars on the front, yes? Well, I park it down the side of the house just in front of my garden shed, yes? And my neighbour opposite, Sue, said "I am sure one day you are going to drive right into your shed", yes?
Silly woman.
And yesterday, returning from another successful erection, I climbed out of my Land Rover, my mind on the good bottle of wine I was going to open to celebrate another well-sited Barn Owl box.
And the Land Rover continued to roll. I had forgotten to put on the handbrake.
And it hit the garden shed.
And there was the sound of wood splintering.
And there was a great mess....
....which I have spent most of today putting right. The shed will never be the same again, but I effected a pretty cool repair. I took the photo above AFTER the repair, but you can still see some signs of the splintering, and you can certainly feel the MENACE of the vehicle.
My only problem now is how I will face Sue when she finds out I fulfilled her prediction and trashed my own garden shed.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Good ole boys

There's a couple of derelict barns on Dairy House Drove with evidence of roosting Barn Owls. There's another derelict barn about a klick away on Cross Drove that I have never visited, but looks promising. So, I stopped to chat with a good ole boy on a tractor, told him my mission and asked him if he knew who owned the Dairy House Drove barns.
"Oh, those belong to ole Keith L, But....", he says, pointing across the fen to the derelict Cross Drove barns, "that's where you ought to put your boxes.That's where the ole owl is."
He told me that they belonged to Graham M. "He's a good ole boy, he won't mind." So I checked and, yes, ideal with evidence of roosting Barn Owls. So I tracked down Graham M, and got his blessing to put up a box, which I did. Then I tracked down Keith L, who had sold his land and barns on to Nick E..., another good ole boy. So I tracked down Nick E, who said go ahead, which I did.
So two more military boxes have now found homes on Haddenham Fen with every chance that Barn Owls will breed in them. On top of that, I have made the acquaintance of two more good ole boys. Maybe one day someone will call me a "good ole boy", but I doubt it, as I am a newcomer, only been here 26 years.

Monday, March 30, 2009

More birds

There are four birds in this picture (taken from my kitchen window today). The tree is a moribund Rivers Plum tree, and the tangle of vegetation is a Clematis that will in due course produce a mass of white flowers. The first prize to the person who can find and identify the four birds is a whole day in my company. The second prize is two days in my company. Pray to God you don't come third!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mile of Pennies

Did I ever tell you about the Mile of Pennies, a money-raising charity stunt that took place in my natal Shropshire village of Hadley in about 1947? The idea was to create, literally, a mile of pennies on the pavement (sidewalk), people putting their pennies down and feeling good. We urchins were fascinated. A MILE of money at our feet, and we couldn't touch it! Ah, but wait. Un truc!
In the old money there were 12 pennies to a shilling, and there were intermediate coins worth threepence (the bronze "thrup'ny bit") and sixpence (the silver "tanner"), and of course the silver shilling at twelvepence. If someone put down, say, a tanner, they left six spaces representing six pennies before the next coin was laid. So, voila le truc: Deggy and Philip and me walked along the line of pennies, and every time we saw, say, a threepenny bit or a tanner or a shilling, we would put down a penny and surreptitiously pick up the coin of greater value.
But of course we were not surreptitious enough, and we were caught in flagrante delicto. A very indignant lady - the kind known to scousers as "her with the tin tits and the iron arse", ie large, corseted and vicious - grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and took me to my house, where she declared my crime to my father. I fully expected him to beat six kinds of sh.... out of me, but, to my surprise and my relief, he told the Battleship that is was HER fault for putting temptation in my way, and that she should get off his property before he set the gerbils on her.
Good old dad.
I glowed.
Then he clipped me round the ear.
And I glowed some more.

A light-hearted piece

Her Majesty's Government is very anxious for me to make a contribution to saving the planet. They have a scheme called EAGA (don't ask me what the letters stand for, but you can be sure that E is for Energy), whereby you can receive a grant of £300 towards the cost of any approved scheme that will improve the energy efficiency of your property. So, seeing that I am having a new Central Heating Boiler installed, I phoned EAGA and explained my situation. A very pleasant-sounding young woman called Deirdre, or it might have been Sandra, said yes, no problem, and she would initiate the procedure forthwith. Today, two prompt days later, EAGA has sent me four energy-saving light bulbs. Free. Free, it says, because I am over seventy. It seems that all you have to do is to show Deirdre, or WHFNI as I prefer to call her, a stick and she will cheerfully get hold of the wrong end of it.
They are nice bulbs, even though I can't use them because they do not fit inside my various lampshades. But I can hardly believe that they are worth £75 each. In fact they are very nice bulbs, a pleasing elongated shape that makes me think I could post them back to EAGA with a suggestion as to where they could stick them.

The front garden

The garden in front of the house also has its useful plants:
Pyrocantha, produces bird food in the form of red berries;
Hebe, formerly known as Veronica, great for insects and as cover for small birds;
Ceanothus, aka Californian Lilac, pretty when in bloom, purple-blue flowers attractive to butterflies, moths and other insects;
Penstemon, bell-shaped red flowers, great for bees and other insects;
Exotic grass, pretty feathery seedheads;
Buddleia, aka Butterfly Plant, amazing spikes of purple flowers, irresisitible to insects.
Forsythia (below) : short-lived but spectacular intense yellow flowers. This shrub was planted some thirty years ago and is now rather straggly, like its owner, but still manages a good show most years.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A sort of sunset

I have rabbited on before about the amazing skyscapes we enjoy in the Fens. The other evening, this late evening sky caught my eye. Not exactly beautiful, not exactly dramatic, but in its way, as striking as any I have seen. The blue of the clouds is genuine, not camera cheating.

Take a seat!

I bought this bench seat about five years ago, and my son Jeremy and his son Joseph helped me to assemble it. Since then it has festered through all kinds of weather. So, about a month ago, I completely dismantled it and set about "restoring" it. And here it is, restored. I know it's crap, but at least I have given it a new lease of life. Something I wouldn't mind myself.

Damn them!

I just, metaphorically speaking, threw a brick at my TV set. Well, I switched it off with a curse on my lips. It was occasioned by yet another of those items telling me what else is likely to kill me if I don't stop it RIGHT NOW. In this case, it was SALT. When it's not being salt, it's SUGAR, when it's not being SUGAR, it's RED MEAT, when it's not red meat, it's BACON SANDWICHES, when it's not ............. well, you get the picture.
Damn these people, damn them all. I had a phonecall last night from one of my dearest friends. She has a brain tumour and nine months to live. She doesn't drink, she doesn't smoke, she has always been very physically active. So, you bloody experts, tell me please what she has done wrong to end up with a brain tumour. Today I had an email telling me that one of the finest birding people I have ever known has passed away, after three months fighting prostate cancer. He was a very healthy active individual, always on the go, a good man of moderate habits. So, you bloody jeremiahs, tell me what he did wrong to end up this way.
Damn them all. And damn the media, who are never happier than when they are giving us another scare story.
Hey, mes potes, it IS Friday, my grump day!

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I am delighted with all the everyday birds that use my garden, but it's a special moment when something unusual turns up, like the Lesser Redpolls and the solitary Tree Sparrow the other day. And today, a single Brambling flew into the Rowan tree at the bottom of the garden, where all the Greenfinches and Chaffinches feed. It didn't stay long, though. I would like to know where it's going to find a better restaurant than mine, but it stayed long enough for me to shout "Brambling!" in the kind of shrill voice that sends the woodlice scurrying for cover.

A nimby moment

I don't quite know how to tell you this, but my back garden this afternoon was the scene of attempted adultery, or it may have been attempted rape, it's so hard to know what is in a duck's mind. The loving couple were waddling across the lawn towards the pond when a male interloper arrived. He looked large and menacing, and he tried to ingratiate himself with the female. I think she was flattered, but I am glad to say the interloper didn't have his evil way with her, at least not in my garden, because the three of them flew off squawking.
You know what they say: "Love is a fellow feeling; adultery is another fellow feeling". But not in my back yard, please.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Joy unconfined

I apologise to anyone who was disappointed that I didn't write my usual Friday "Grumpy Old Man" piece, but the truth is I have been having a lovely time. My Central Heating Boiler is well repaired, my desktop PC is fully recovered from its viral attack, my pair of Mallard are still in love and trashing my pond, and, to crown some good days, I received a chunky royalty cheque today for two books of mine that I actually thought were out of print.
As a bonus for a good weekend, I had my Hampshire birding mate, Martin, to stay. He's the one who has month lists and trip lists as well as year lists and life lists. The task was to see how many species he could clock up his visit to the Fens (and the North Norfolk Coast). And I was there to help him, well, egg him on anyway. The target was one hundred species, and I believe we got up to ninety something. Let's face it, in Costa Rica, you'd clock up a hundred in the first hour. But this is the East Anglian fens and this is the month of March, so it wasn't bad. We were let down by the fact that most of the summer migrants have not arrived yet, though we did get Chiffchaff and Garganey (see pic).
So, with all of this joy, how could I be grumpy?!