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?!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Blowing hot and cold

I was right, it's the electrical unit in the CH Boiler that is on the blink. Well, it's on more than the blink, it's on fire: a contact was arc-ing and smoke was coming from it. So, the nice man from Shelford Services shut the system down and is going to get a replacement. One day soon.
In the meantime, while the days are glorious, ie, clear blue skies, the temperature plummets at night, which is why you won't recognise me after sunset as I turn into an Eskimo, layer upon layer to keep the Imperial Bones from cracking.
My computer problem? Don't ask. But it will get over, as my dear mother used to say, with the help of prayer and the PC Doctor from Thetford.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Trellis and Welsh leeks

Dear Prince Charles, she writes, knowing your interest in vegetation, I enclose a little bag of seeds which, should your Imperious Highness decide to plant them, could give you a show that would put your periwinkle to shame, begging Your Regal Pardon. They are only Welsh leeks, but they have a lovely head on them if you leave them to go to seed, which is where we are all going in the end. Haha, just my little joke.
I only make so bold because I think, despite your marriage to Princess Camelia Parket- Bowls, you probably still need something to keep your hands occupied.

Your loyal subject, etc
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, retd.

Woman on a tractor

Bless her, she even made me forget for a moment how bloody cold I am right now!

"Cap'n art thou sleeping thar below?"

As we cruise unheeding through this life, we wonder sometimes who is in charge. Is there a captain at the helm, or is he really "sleeping thar below"? I only ask this teleological question because my central heating boiler has broken down. It could be due to rust or age - two conditions that determine how I personally function these days - but it could be something more sinister, yet one more piece of circumstantial evidence that the Good Lord has given us up as a lost cause, and is working on something much less ambitious, such as a bacterium that can thrive in the extreme conditions of the Planet Saturn, and still observe the Sabbath.
I am not a demanding sort of child-of-God, I would settle for a new starter box in my Camray Wall-mounted Boiler. Really. It's just COLD that I can't cope with. Come on, God, be a good sport, switch it on again, and I promise to do more to the collection box in church next Sunday than flip the underside of it with my thumb. A good blast of heat has got to be worth a bob or two. It's only March, for God's sake. Well, for my sake, actually.

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

Further indications that Spring has arrived. My daffodils, grape hyacinths and white periwinkles are in flower in every corner of the garden; they have gone from dormant to riotous in a couple of days. In my pond, frogs have suddenly appeared. Through my scope, I watched three pairs "conjoined", if I may put it delicately, and several unattached frogs, males I suppose, trying to mount whatever seems mountable. Finally - not that I am particularly happy about this harbinger of work to come - my neighbour opposite, Alan, gave his lawn the first cut of the year yesterday afternoon.
You wanted to know about the moths, right? Right. About thirty of five species, all fairly uninteresting:- Common Quaker, Red Chestnut, Hebrew Character, Clouded Drab and one rather faded Dotted Border. At least their names are pretty. And now, if you will excuse me, I am going out into the Spring sunshine to cut up a military box...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday, blessed Sunday

Wow, today was the first day of Spring, at least in my backyard: hedge-to-hedge sunshine and not a cloud in sight (till late afternooon). The first Brimstone Butterfly of the year appeared, a male of course, showing off, the way males do. And a Small Tortoiseshell, just emerged from hibernation - I know that because it was still "rev-ving up", pumping blood back into its wingveins before taking flight. OK, no big deal, just two insects, but they are enough for me. Even my pacemaker skipped a beat.
And this is not the only reason my cup runneth over. I have now made six Barn Owl boxes from three military boxes, and four already have homes, with a fifth on a promise. Today I collected the last of the military boxes and, bless his cotton socks, the farmer promised me a sheet of 4' x 8' ply to make the fronts.
Damn, I am on such a high I have even set my mothtraps. Tomorrow at dawn, that's when we get the reality check.
Envoi: no Redpolls today, but my first Siskin of the year. Gives you a tremendous sense of something or other.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A calvity of redpolls

Well, it wasn't as dramatic as this, but this morning I had THREE Redpolls on a nyjer feeder. What intrigued me was that the first lone Redpoll actually drove off the Goldfinches, after which two more Redpolls turned up, one of which was an adult male in full dress uniform. I bet he's going to be a success with the ladies.

Right ON

Just look at this. Isn't it sexy? And its high pressure water jet can clean your patio, wash your vehicles, drive away vermin, and if all that fails to float your boat, you can always turn it on yourself and blow your wrinkles away.
So I bought one. And I set it up, following the Bedienungsanleitung - always makes things more exciting if you are doing them in a foreign language - and then.....
....pointed the nozzle at the patio and turned on the water....
....and a dribble emerged....
I can urinate with more force than this machine could, dammit. It definitely had a very enlarged prostate in my view.
So I packed it back in its box and forgot about it for a couple of weeks. Then today, I took it out again, and told it in a very stern voice that I was giving it "one last chance" before it was "auf dem Misthaufen damit!" - the rubbish heap for you, my lad.
And it worked! It worked beautifully! I cleaned patios and pathways and my Land Rover and three passing squirrels.
And it was a good feeling. Apart from the fact that mud had splashed over the walls and the windows of the house. Have you ever had a house infected with impetigo?
But trotzdem I was a happy bunny. But, as you do, I wondered why it hadn't worked the first time. What was different?
The difference was that, last time, I had turned on the water, but hadn't pressed the little button on the machine with the word ON inscribed in red letters on it.
Oh dear, one day, when I grow up, I will get things right first time.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Global Financial Crisis explained in a paragraph:

Linda is the proprietor of a bar. In order to increase sales, she decides to allow her loyal customers, most of whom are unemployed alcoholics, to drink now but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans). Word gets around and as a result increasing numbers of customers flood into Linda's bar. Taking advantage of her customers' freedom from immediate payment constraints, Linda increases her prices for wine and beer, the most-consumed beverages. Her sales volume increases massively. A young and dynamic customer service consultant at the local bank recognises these customer debts as valuable future assets and increases Linda's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for undue concern since he has the debts of the alcoholics as collateral. At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert bankers transform these customer assets into DRINKBONDS, ALKBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then traded on markets worldwide. No one really understands what these abbreviations mean and how the securities are guaranteed. Nevertheless, as their prices continuously climb, the securities become top-selling items. One day, although the prices are still climbing, a risk manager (subsequently of course fired due to his negativity) of the bank decides that the time has come to demand payment of the debts incurred by the drinkers at Linda's bar. However, they cannot pay back the debts. Linda cannot fulfil her loan obligations and claims bankruptcy. DRINKBOND and ALKBOND drop in price by 95 %. PUKEBOND performs better, stabilising in price after dropping by 80%. The suppliers of Linda's bar, having granted her generous payment-due dates and having invested in the securities are faced with a new situation. Her wine supplier claims bankruptcy, her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor. The bank is saved by the Government following dramatic round-the-clock consultations by leaders from the governing political parties (and vested interests). The funds required for this purpose are obtained by a tax levied on the non-drinkers.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Barn Owl box in situ

My thanks to my colleague Peter for sending me this pic of one of the boxes we put up yesterday. A very satisfying feeling to see a box that you've made being put to good use. Even more satisfying is when we visit the box in the summer and find a healthy brood of owlets in it. Inshallah.

"A nice cup of tea and a long sit down"

That was what my mother's usually said after a strenuous period of housework, shopping, gardening or whatever. Well, after two strenuous days on Barn Owl business, I am definitely in need of my mother's remedy. I have now made four boxes from two military boxes, and yesterday (Friday) Peter and I put up two of them in barns, one in Chettisham, one in Prickwillow. We also put up a box made by our colleague Dick N, made in fact out of offcuts. That went into a barn in Witchford.
Today I started by looking at some existing boxes in Witchford, not put up by us. They had not had Barn Owls breeding in them, and when I saw the boxes and their location, I wasn't surprised. Anyway, all that can be remedied. One of the boxes is the size of a small Wesleyan chapel with a Swiss chalet-style roof, you know, the kind that has a huge overhang to keep the snow off your boots. That big bogger is going to be wedged in an old pear tree across the field.
I then went to Dam Bank on Haddenham Fen to cut an access hole for Barn Owls in a barn where we installed a box a couple of years ago, in order to give the birds an alternative escape route if they are disturbed.
Then I went to Gall's Farm on North Fen where there is a box in an open barn, bred in only once. My mission was to see about putting a second box in a closed barn nearby. Having checked the closed barn - a roosting owl flew out, always a joy to see - and pronounced it very suitable, I went to check the existing box and found it on the ground half smashed. Why would anyone want to do that? It's just mindless vandalism. Anyway, I took the box home, repaired it and have just put it back on the beams. I discovered while struggling with it that I don't have the strength in my shoulders that I used to have, so it took me a long time, with several pauses to get my breath back, to push it ahead of me up the ladder and wriggle it into position.
And now I am having a nice cup of tea and a long sit down.

Friday Grump

Like most people, I have a current bank account. Like most people, I keep the minimum amount of money in it. Like other banks, mine pays interest on the money in current accounts. It is, of course, a measly sum, but that is not my grump. My current account earns, say, £10 a year in interest. I have to pay tax on that. But nor is that my grump.
My grump is that the bank is required by the Inland Revenue to deduct tax from the interest paid. So - and we are coming to my grump - instead of my declaring £10 to the IR as part of my annual income, I have to declare:
Gross: 10.00 Tax deducted: 2.00 Net: 8.00.
So, not only do I have to enter THREE amounts instead of ONE, but the real nonsense is that the IR already has this information. What a waste of my and everyone else's time.
OK, that's it till next Friday. Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The passing of Upper Left 5

Gone. After a long losing battle to save it, my dentist finally decided that Upper Left 5 had to come out. Another bit of the Old Scrote bites the dust, or in the case of UL5, doesn't bite anything any more.
I was really upset that it had to go. Until I saw it. Look at it. What an ugly bit of old ivory it is. Good riddance I say. Mind you, shards of tooth lay all over the place before the final extraction, so you are seeing only the shell of what, after all, has been doing good service in the imperial mouth for nigh on seventy years. I shouldn't be churlish. Oh well, Rest in Peace, old friend.

In June, inshallah, I will have a bridge fitted, a shiny epoxyresin tooth, and then you'd better watch out, T-bone steaks and the rest!

Spider spinning its web

My thanks to Angit for sending me this splendid animation. I will never knowingly destroy a spider's web again - well, except in the shed where I process my moths.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Trellis on birds

What a joy to hear from my NorthWalian correspondent again after all this time:

Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, I find your bird observances most interesting. I too put out food for the birds, mostly potato peelings as I cannot afford nigerian seed, etc. Still, if potato peelings were a good enough snack for the late Mr Trellis, they are good enough for throstles and the like, specially seeing how the eat WORMS without even washing them first.
I myself had a strange bird on my clothes line this morning. Judging from the way it was attacking the clothes-pegs, it must of been some kind of woodpecker. I tried to catch it by throwing my whalebone corset over it, but it got away, as birds tend to. If you are ever in North Wales, do call in and we can sit and watch my great tits over a nice cup of tea.
Yours truly
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow retd.

Another garden visitor

No, not the Goldfinch hogging the centre of the picture, but the little fellow standing on the tray bottom left. It's a Redpoll, and you can just about make out its pretty red "poll", ie the front part of the top of its head. Redpolls have become really scarce: this is the first I have had in the garden in maybe fifteen years.
What is intriguing is that it is feeding on nyjer seed, which is essentially Goldfinch food. Other species try to nibble the seed, but the feeding holes are much too small. Unless, it seems, you a finch with a small bill. Like a Goldfinch. Or a Redpoll. Can't wait to see my first Serin noshing the nyjer!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Garden visitors

When Mallards find your pond, it takes them very little time to "trash" it. But hell, they are so cute, why should I stop them? And it's not only the pond that attracts them: they wander round the garden, stopping under the feeders to pick up titbits (tidbits?), and even come sometimes to my back door as if checking out the aroma of percolating coffee. Surely not!

A public notice to my son, Jeremy

Winemaking kits have come a long way since my "Ribena" attempts at red wine making in the 1970's. I have done two Cabernet Sauvignons, and the tasting was very encouraging. Andy (my neighbour and oenological mentor) says that they just get better and better the longer you keep them (up to a year).
I now have a Shiraz on the go, and it's a very reassuring sound to hear the bubble-bubble-bubble as the yeast turns the sugar into alchohol.
I am telling you this because I think the first cru will be eminently drinkable at the time when you intend to visit the UK. Just one more reason for not postponing the trip.
PS You will notice that the wine-brewing process is being supervised by Rupert and friends, as well as by Kiki's bear.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Gail Trimble

She is a very bright third-year undergraduate at Corpus Christi, and was leader of their team in the TV quiz programme "University Challenge". Not only did her team win the final, but she answered more questions correctly than any other contestant in the history of the programme. Not only is she bright and knowledgeable, she is also very attractive, both physically and as a person. Since the victory, and her amazing performance, she has been the object of abuse and scorn. See this article for examples.
Why this vilification? I guess because people who are not as bright and attractive as she is feel that nobody should be better than themselves. In other words, because everyone cannot be clever, nobody should be clever, or at least, should ever show that they are clever.
Gail Trimble, you are stunning, you are amazing, I have lost my heart to you, and I want you to do me a favour: go on being clever, and go on showing that you are clever with the same demure and modest demeanour that you have shown throughout the programme. And your detractors can go to hell.


What you may not have noticed is that Kiki's Teddy is cuddling a huge red heart. In my family, we believe in cuddles. So there.

Boxing Day

Yesterday (Saturday 28 February) was springlike and encouraged me to get on with some joinery. I have been given four ex-military boxes made of ply, each one potentially convertible into two indoor Barn Owl boxes.

Step One
Cut the military box in half. Not easy because the wood is flimsy (3-ply plywood), and because of the hidden interior battens.

Step Two
Secure the first "half-box" with interior battens

Step Three
Spend rest of the day cutting and drilling and screwing to complete the batten work and to provide fronts for the two boxes.

As I had no Barn Owls readily available, I provided a couple of temporary residents: Rupert Bear, and a Teddy Bear, the latter given to me by my granddaughter Kiki "so you won't be lonely, grandpa".
Isn't that nice?!