Saturday, February 28, 2009

What is wrong with this photograph?

It shows the children's faces, thus making them identifiable. Such photos should only be taken showing the children from the back, or at least with their faces not visible.
The adult** is touching two of the children. No adult should touch children under any circumstances.
The adult is alone with the children. There must always be at least two adults when children are being accompanied.

These are not my rules; these are published rules for the guidance of Local Education Authorities and similar.
My friend Ruth is the head of a primary school. She cannot take a child in her car unless a second adult is present.
My friend Amy Bell is a primary school teacher, who loves to organise outdoor wildlife events for her classes. But transport is now a problem because parents are not allowed to give lifts to other than their own children.

Have we gone crazy, or what? We have created a society where mistrust and suspicion are the key virtues, where we all now have an unhealthy mindset, where normal relationships have been poisoned by those in authority who see sin in everything. A recent TV programme tested this by putting a child on its own in a shopping mall and then filmed the reactions of adult passers-by. The child was clearly distressed, but NOBODY offered to help it. Until finally some old scrote - and it would have been me if I had been there - went up to the child, took its hand and led it into a nearby store, from where they could make a phonecall for help.

I love children. If I think a child is hurt or in distress, I will go to its aid. I am telling you this so you can start planning your prison visits to me when I end up in the chokey for being a Dirty Old Man. Damn them all.

Envoi: I am very strict with myself these days: I only allow myself to be a Grumpy Old Man once a week.

**He is in fact a retired actor called Norman Wisdom, who has done wonderful things to help children in need. Bless him, surely a place has been reserved for him in Heaven.

Compare and contrast

I pinched this photo of an American Robin's nest and eggs off the net. To my eye, those look like Song Thrush's eggs (no speckling) in a Blackbird's nest (no mud lining).

American taking a bath

Meanwhile, in San Diego, my friend V is enjoying uninterrupted views of an American Robin making use of the birdbath in her garden (Thanks for the pix, V)
Apart from its coloration, it could be a Blackbird, but that's because it's a member of the same genus (Turdus spp). Its scientific name is Turdus migratorius.
Given its coloration, it's not surprising that early European settlers called it a "Robin", after our European Robin, which is in a different genus (Erithacus rubecula).
Not many people in Huntingdon know that.

Friday, February 27, 2009

A day of projects

A day of projects. At 7 a m, I was already out on Haddenham Fen, shivering, to share in a BBC radio and TV coverage of an unusual event. Most farmers uncover "bog oaks" when they plough their land, maybe one or two per acre. But local farmer John Derby must have been stunned when an acre of his land yielded up twenty or more bog oaks, and some big ones at that.
In the afternoon, I was at Worlington Parish Church, just inside the Suffolk border, to help with the installation of Swift nest boxes in the church belfry.
Tomorrow, I shall be making a couple of indoor Barn Owl boxes, using some amazing ex-military chests that a local farmer gave me.
All this activity is good for me. It diverts me from my baser instincts, eg, vandalising telephone kiosks, scrawling graffiti on walls and molesting dwarves on their birthdays. Yes, a man should have a hobby, specially if he's an Old Scrote.

Fen Sunsets

The fens are flat, flat, flat. They say that from some vantage points you can see the curvature of the earth when you look across the fens (7 miles to the horizon if you are 5'6"). One of the consolations for the lack of hills, mountains, forests, etc, is that we have spectacular sunsets. Here are two shots I took of the sunset on 23 February as I looked out of my kitchen window. starting pale and ending INTENSE. PS Happy Birthday, Angit!

Friday, February 20, 2009


On Wednesday, thanks to David H, who found them, we were able to scope two roosting Long-eared Owls, but my goodness, they were difficult to see, even from as close as thirty yards. That cryptic plumage is so effective. At one point, I commented "I've had better views", to which DH immediately responded "F.... off, Allsop, go and find your own!". Like Sid Perelman, I immediately yielded to that soft impeachment!
Maybe I will f.... off and find my own tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 2009, when the snow came

I finally uploaded (or is it downloaded?) the photos in my digital camera to my computer and have posted them to an album in Facebook. You can also access the album here (I hope) :
And now, if you will excuse me, I am going out to search for roosting Long-eared Owls. Wish me luck.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How to make Chicken Chow Mein


225g/8oz eggnoodles, 2 tbsp sesame oil, 100g/4oz chicken breast, skinned, 2½ tbsp finely chopped garlic, 50g/2oz mangetout, trimmed, 50g/2oz Parma ham or cooked ham, finely shredded, 2 tsp light soy sauce, 2 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry,
½ tsp salt, ½ tsp freshly ground white pepper, ½ tsp sugar, 3 tbsp finely chopped spring onions,
2 tsp sesame oil
For the marinade
2 tsp light soy sauce, 2 tsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry, 1 tsp sesame oil, ½ tsp salt,
½ tsp freshly ground white pepper


1. Cook the noodles by boiling them for 3-5 minutes in a pan of boiling water. Drain and plunge into cold water, drain again then toss with a little sesame oil.
2. Using a cleaver, slice the chicken breasts into fine shreds approximately 5cm (2 in) long.
3. To marinate the chicken, combine the chicken with the light soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
4. Mix well and leave to marinate for 20 minutes.
5. Heat a wok until it is very hot. Add one tablespoon of oil and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, add chicken shreds.
6. Stir-fry the mixture for about two minutes, then transfer to a plate.
7. Reheat the wok, and add remaining oil. Add the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds. Add the mangetout and ham and fry for one minute.
8. Add noodles, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine, salt and pepper, the sugar and spring onions and continue to stir-fry for two minutes.
9. Return chicken to noodle mixture.
10. Continue to fry for 3-4 minutes, until chicken is cooked.
11. Stir in sesame oil and give a few final stirs.
12. Turn onto warm serving platter and serve at once.

There is another way. Call Wong's, our local Chinese takeaway, and you can have the meal on your table in fifteen minutes. That's what I did last night. Magic.

Tired but happy

A sawn-off heron called a Little Egret (very similar to the American Snowy Egret) has been expanding its range northwards from continental Europe and has now reached my area. It is an elegant bird with long black legs and sexy yellow feet, always a treat to see.
In fact there have been 2-4 in Haddenham Fen for the last few months, seen and reported by assorted dog walkers and farm workers, but not seen by me or by my oppo Paul M. So, when Paul sent me a text message two days ago to say that he had finally seen one, ie, beating me to it, I sent the usual congratulatory message: "Well done, you bugger." The following day (yesterday), I saw TWO.
And today, I came upon a flock of 90 Whooper Swans (similar to the American Trumpeter Swan) grazing on a fen field. That's the largest flock ever recorded in the parish, so I feel justified in opening a bottle of the good stuff this evening. And sending Paul a terse text message.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday grump

It's Friday, we are snowbound again, so it's time for my weekly grump. But I promise it will be brief. Bacon sandwiches, a very British institution I imagine. I have one for breakfast about once a fortnight or less. An indulgence. And every time I make one - crispy unsmoked streaky bacon between two pieces of wholemeal bread - I remember the wozzick on the radio who gave his recipe for bacon sandwiches, which included the assertion "You MUST use white bread." If he had said "I prefer to use white bread", I wouldn't have had a problem. Where does he get the authority - the chutzpah? - to tell me I MUST use white bread? I hate white bread. By the way, the picture illustrates a wonderful variant, the BLT sandwich - bacon, lettuce and tomato.
While I am on, another culinary hate word for me is the word "just". Listen to the cookery pundits on TV and count the number of times they tell you "just add...", "just stir....", "just slice...". Are they trying to tell us how easy it is? Because, if it's that easy, why do we need these dweebs pontificating at us?
The exception to the previous paragraph is, of course, Nigella Lawson, who can just tell me anything she likes. It's not as if I am listening anyway.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The telesales monsters

The first call is usually around 4 in the afternoon. The next one two hours later. The first hint I have that THEY are at it again is the message on my phone display "Caller number withheld". So, I pick up the receiver, I hear a hubbub of voices, but I don't speak. There is a silence at the other end too, after which they put the phone down. The next call - same message on the phone display - is different. I hear a hubbub of voices in the background and the usual singsong female voice inquires "Mr Alllllsooppp?" Last evening, I was ready so I immediately went into frenetic mode:
"Oh my god, Alice! It's you! At last! Where have you been? I m not angry with you, but god, you gave us all a fright! Your partner has been tearing her hair out with worry. How could you?..."
By which time the other party has put the phone down. I know I can never win in this contest against the telesales monsters, but at least I can have a bit of fun sometimes.

Waxwings at last!

But the eagle-eyed amongst you will not be fooled. Yes, they are Cedar Waxwings, the North American cousin to our Bohemian Waxwing. My thanks to V for sending me this pic of two Cedar Waxwings in her garden in San Diego.
My chances of having a Waxwing in my garden are reduced to zero. During the cold snap, Blackbirds ate every single succulent red berry on my Guelder Rose. I doubt if it took them more than twenty minutes.
Oh well, onward and upward. As the snow melts and the rain pelts down and the spring tides push the River Ouse upstream, I am confident I will have a flock of Eider and Common Scoter on my pond before the week is out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Getting long in the tooth

I won't go on about my teeth, but another visit to my dentist today convinced me that I need a break from his Black and Decker drill and his tube of Polyfilla. Don't misunderstand me, he is a wonderful dentist, and his dental nurse, Penny, is a cracker.
No, it's the realisation that Upper Left Five, about which I have spoken ruefully before, will end up costing me the equivalent of a six-month holiday in the Seychelles, with no guarantee that the problem will then be solved. The worst of it is that Upper Left Five has had a deleterious effect on Upper Left Four, the premolar which was, until my last visit, keeping me safe from the Occlusal Disharmony that now plagues me. It's as if I have someone else's teeth in my mouth now.
I'd go for a total extraction and the fitting of dentures, but I am deterred by the story of the little girl who, seeing her grandfather's false teeth on his bedside table, remarked: "The Tooth Fairy is going to freak out when she sees this lot!"
Mind you, prodi miei, I still have a winning smile, crooked but endearingly insincere. Like a banker's, if you know what I mean.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Fretmarks SOS

Anyone who knows Fretmarks, I am really worried:- no posting to her blog since last October. If you have any news of her, please let me know.

New garden tick

When I was knee high to a woodlouse, I began collecting: marbles, milk bottle tops, cigarette cards, cigarette packets, car numbers.....
Later, the numbers from 1-10 in various languages, birds' eggs, photos of Esther Williams.....
The collecting habit dies hard, so you will not be surprised to hear that I have a list of birds seen in or from the garden. The big boys have lists around 120, mine is nearer 90, but whatever it is, it went up by one this morning:- a Goldcrest appeared briefly on the hebe just outside my back door. Right, you remembered:- Britain's smallest bird, but a big event for me.
Listen, I know it's pathetic - we males ARE pathetic - but birding is an obsession that keeps me out of mischief. Go figure, as my San Diegan friends would say.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Summer Blue Eyes

To our children, and probably to most people, we old scrotes are basically dessicated grumps with a tendency to flatulence, halitosis and falling asleep at table. I can live with that.
But once, many many years ago, I was young and lovely. I met a girl and fell in love at 9 in the morning, spent the day with her, and thought I would die when I waved her farewell at 7 in the evening.
Nothing like that had happened to me before, and nothing like that has happened to me since. Many many years later, I wrote a story called "Summer Blue Eyes" about the incident, reversing the roles so that I was the girl and my chance lover was a boy with summer blue eyes. It seemed less painful that way.
I will not write more, because I am sure my children are already embarrassed, like catching an old man in the act of changing the batteries in his hearing aid. But if you have not seen the movie, The Bridges of Madison County, please see it now.
I can't watch the end of it, because I don't want to be reminded of the moment when I said goodbye to my love with the summer blue eyes.
Sorry if I embarrassed you. I tell you what, why don't I fart and relieve the tension?

Jenny Wren

The smallest British bird after the Goldcrest and Firecrest is the Wren (the species called Winter Wren in America, but not in Haddenham). It is diminutive, a tiny ball of feathers with a cocked tail. It weighs about 9 grams. What is always striking about Wrens is how active they are. They are the shrews of the bird world, needing constant replenishment to maintain their energy levels. Imagine its heart, no bigger than an orange pip, beating away furiously. I like Wrens and I am glad they are able to get their share of the food that I put out for the birds in my garden. They suddenly appear, nip in among the bigger birds, steal a morsel and disappear again. Bless their cotton socks.
There you have it, a tiny bird, with an endearing dialect name, Jenny Wren, and a ridiculously polysyllabic scientific one, Troglodytes troglodytes. I wonder who thought that one up? Probably an ancestor of the silly buggers who want us to call our wren the "Winter Wren".

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Bucket List

Thanks to the recommendation of my lovely San Diegan friend, V, I bought and have watched a movie called "The Bucket List". The main protagonists find themselves next to each other in hospital beds, and both are terminally ill, in other words, it won't be long before they "kick the bucket". So, they concoct a "bucket list" of the things they want to do before they go.
It sounds morbid, but in fact it's one of the most life-affirming movies I have ever watched.
And now, if you will excuse me, I am off to write my bucket list. At the moment I don't have anyone to share with, so I am open to offers.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Trellis on Thatcher

Mrs Trellis rushes in as usual "where angels fear to tread".
Dear Carol Thatcher, she writes, I only just heard about your predicament. Personally I can't see what's wrong with calling a Long-eared Owl a golliwog, as long as you didn't say it within earshot of the poor bird. I think the person who informed on you is just jealous because nobody asked THEM to run the country the way you did. Mr Trellis, my late husband, always admired your legs, bless him, but wasn't too keen on the rest of you.


Oops, I was wrong. The snow has returned with a vengeance. This morning I looked out on a white landscape. About 4-5 inches of snow, with another 4 inches promised overnight. Wonderful. I cleared areas on the lawn so overflying birds would see patches of green, then placed tons of food on the green patches: bread, seeds, fat balls, apples. The spectacle has been breathtaking: Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Chaffinches, and oodles of Starlings, as well as the usual birds on and around the hanging feeders: Goldfinches, Blue and Great Tits, a brief appearance by Long-tailed Tits, and, as usual, opportunist Wrens and Dunnocks pinching what they could.
By half past one, I was ready to venture out in my Land Rover to see what the Fens had to offer. I got half-way round Aldreth Fen when I realised I didn't have my mobile phone (cellphone) with me. Not a day to find yourself stranded in a snowbound fen with a three-mile walk back to civilisation, so I returned home. Never mind, at least I had picked up a flock of about eighty Golden Plover (see pic above) , so close to the road that I couldn't focus my binoculars on the nearest ones.
Then I decided to tackle North Fen, got about a mile into it and was getting excited by a a mixed flock of birds feeding on a moreorless bare field when a lens fell out of my glasses. So I abandoned birding and drove back one-eyed to my optician's in Ely, where the lovely Mrs Barker did the repair in a minute. Bless her, she's much sexier than she thinks she is (Don't worry, I am not being libidinous; Old Scrotes notice these things).
As to birding, I was frustrated, but when I called on my friend D on the way home, he was able to provide me with several treats, including a tray of Long-eared Owl pellets, a first for me, and then a feeding flock of Yellowhammers that he had estimated at about a hundred. We played the usual silly game of wondering what rarity might be among them. I plumped for Cirl Bunting, D for Pine Bunting.
And so home to a warm house and a glass of the good stuff. It's gone vicious cold now, and I reckon the temperature's really going to plummet during the night. That and more snow should make tomorrow an interesting day.
Humanitarian note: I have covered my bay tree with a mesh cloth, and I have brought the brass monkey into the house. Let's face it, if his goolies go gelid, there's no hope for the rest of us.


I wish I'd said that.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Golliwog PS

It seems that Carol Thatcher made her remark not live on a TV show, but privately in the hospitality "green room" after the broadcast in the company of 2-3 other people who had been on the show. So, someone there snitched on her. Isn't that sad?

You did good, Charlie!

David Attenborough - there can't be many people in the civilised world who don't know who he is - did a TV programme on Charles Darwin recently. He received hate mail. I don't know what the problem is. I don't see any conflict at all between the Theory of Evolution and a belief in a Divine Creator.
The only conflict is between the theory of evolution and the story of creation as told in the book of Genesis, and that only if you take the story literally, like, literally seven days, literally Eve from Adam's rib, etc.

Leaving that stuff aside, why not have a Divine Creator who established the conditions for evolution to happen, and maybe intervened to make sure the butterflies were really beautiful, etc, geschweige denn the female bosom and red wine? It all makes sense to me.
Also, what the flying fish does it matter anyway? Life is beautiful. Nature is beautiful. "Every prospect pleases, and only man is vile", but you can't blame God for that.
So, if anyone would like to pay me £2000 per lecture plus expenses to explain why it is possible to believe in God AND Darwin, I will be happy to oblige.
And, while we are at it, for half that sum, I will explain how to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in one move as well, though, to be honest, it does involve full frontal lobotomies.

LEO, I love you

Every winter there is an influx of birds from the continental landmass, coming to Britain to get away from the really bad weather and to find the food which is missing on the home territory. Some are regular, like Fieldfares, Redwing and Starling, others are irregular, being abundant in some winters and scarce in others. Last winter, for example, we had lots of Bramblings, but very few this year. Conversely, Long-eared Owls were scarce last year, but there has been a real influx in the last month. LEOs (you gotta use the jargon if you want to appear cool) like to roost in dense hedges in an upright posture, often pressing themselves very close to the trunk, so, despite their spectacular appearance, they can be very hard to see. So, what you do is trawl along the hedgerows looking for splashings. Don't tell me I don't know shit.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Carol Bleep Thatcher

Did you know I was a pom? Well, I am a pom when I am not being a limey. Well, I am a pom or a limey when I am not being a honky. Well, I am a pom or a limey or a honky when I am not being a farang or a yabanci or a mzungu. And so on. And it doesn't bother or offend me one bit.

A very entertaining, well-educated and perceptive broadcaster called Carol Thatcher (see pic) has just been dropped by the BBC for using the term "golliwog" about a black tennis player. Even though she said it in jest, she has no right of appeal. She broke the rules of political correctness, and that's it for her - banished to Ultima Thule.

When a Californian friend of mine told me some years back that what we used to call "(Red) Indians" are now to be called "Native Americans", I suggested that the word "Aborigines" might be more appropriate (even though they were in fact immigrants across the land bridge which is now the Bering Straits). She was horrified. "Aborigine", which is from Latin "ab origine", is now a dirty word apparently.

I watched a programme on BBC on Sunday discussing the current "Celebration of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender" month (I may not have got the title of the celebration quite right: there are so many variations on the gender theme these days). One of the participants objected to being called "homosexual" - which he proudly was, by the way - on the grounds that it was "a Victorian coinage". He said he preferred to be called "gay", even though, meinetwegen, he looked wretchedly miserable.

The world has gone fucking mad. Censor that phrase if you want, but it expresses just how I feel right now.

Indulge me, it's at least a week since my last Grumpy Old Man outburst.

Is it the end of civilisation as we know it? Probably not.

The snow started during the night of Sunday, and fizzled out by mid-morning Monday. About an inch covered the ground in East Anglia, more in the South-east. The media spent the whole day describing the conditions as chaotic, catastrophic, and they even managed to wheel out pundits to predict dire effects on the credit squeeze and the value of sterling. In Kettering, a man slipped on the pavement and broke his glasses. By this morning (Tuesday), the snow has virtually disappeared. The media are now shifting their attention to the danger of icy patches on the roads.
It makes you proud to be British. No other race can turn an inconvenience into an apocalypse as quickly or as thoroughly as we can. It's what we are good at, doom and gloom. I bet the Book of Revelations was written by a Brit.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


What was the first word you spoke out loud after you woke up this morning? I bet it wasn't "Rabbits".
My parents told me, so my sister and I believed and acted upon the belief, that if your first word on the first of the month is "Rabbits!", you will have lots of luck. I have never come across this superstition anywhere else. Was it just another of my father's idiosyncratic beliefs, along with marxism and the curative properties of seaweed?
Anyway, I shouted "Rabbits" this morning, so I am all geared up for a run of good fortune.
Not that I am superstitious,
But it might just work.
You never know.
Fingers crossed.