Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cambs Heathland

Here's a conundrum for you. Heathland is now a rare and precious habitat in Britain. It is a good habitat for wildlife with a number of specialists that are a delight to see and hear, such as Woodlarks and Nightjars. Heathland requires a particular substrate, which is mostly absent from Cambridgeshire, although we do have a couple of very small patches which could support heathland. We could encourage heathland in these two tiny localities, but the question is: would it be a worthwhile investment of resources to do so?
It is well documented that habitat fragmentation is a prime cause of the decline of many species of flora and fauna (the San Diego canyons are a prime example of this), so the justification for restoring the two Cambs heathland patches would only be that it would be nice to have them in our county. Whether they would then attract the wildlife that is currently absent from the county is doubtful. But heathland IS pretty, so should we go ahead?
The heathland shown above is in the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire. Maybe we should redraw the county boundaries and pinch some of theirs.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mallards and morality

The behaviour of the ducks in my back garden has become more and more baffling. The pair - Mr and Mrs Always-together Mallard - seems to have disintegrated. At one point she was with FOUR males. Since then, she has disappeared, and I have the disturbing spectacle of Mr Mallard with another Drake, seemingly inseparable and very fond of each other.
Where is she? On eggs, or in a huff?
There is more than a hint of loose morals in my back garden. I wonder what the Vatican's take on this is likely to be.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A sartorial question

As always, I am happy to share my column with my North Wales correspondent.
Dear Mrs Erdogan, she writes, I see you have taken to wearing that burkha thing that ladies of your persuasion use to cover their faces. What I want to know is how do you manage to eat anything with a cloth over your mouth? Or is it your way of dieting? In Wales, we ladies cover up other bits, but for very different reasons.
Yours in sisterly sodilarity.
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, Retd.

Brain Failure

I just heard a definition of an optical illusion as a "brain failure". If you want to know more, and have a good laugh at the same time, click HERE.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Read and weep

The following is an article in the current issue of NATURE NEWS EGYPT. Read it and weep.

Bird Hunting in the Western Desert Oases: a Further Difficulty Migratory Birds Have to Face
By Sherif Baha El Din
Bird hunting is not well documented in the Western Desert of Egypt, but appears to have a long history and seems to be expanding dramatically. This hunt takes place specifically during autumn, starting in September and lasting till October, when bird migration south is at its height. The favorite target is the Golden Oriole, but nothing with two wings is spared. So many Golden Orioles are killed that some parts of the desert turn yellow from the feather of these birds. Hunting is usually done with air guns, but some shotguns are used. There is no systematic evaluation of this hunting, but it is likely that at least several tens of thousands of birds are killed, if not hundreds of thousands. Every child and man in the oases seems to be involved,
teachers leave their schools and workers take leave to go out to hunt birds. The best locations for bird hunting are under isolated trees in the middle of the desert, where the poor migrants land in their tens to rest on the few and obvious trees, to be shot by the hunters awaiting them below. The large Acacia trees between Bahariya Oasis and Wadi el-Rayan had tens of hunters in September 2009. Bird hunting overall seems to be intensifying throughout Egypt, including falcon catching. Enforcement of any regulations seems to be waning.
This is an important issue to consider and to decide what we can do about it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Swift Champions

On the north edge of Cambridge, there is a council-owned estate of six blocks of flats. Thanks to the efforts of the Cambridge City Council Biodiversity Officer, we have been able to provide accommodation for Swifts. Altogether we have provided 71 nest sites consisting of 50 single wooden boxes, 5 experimental pipe boxes and 4 cabinets, each with 4 nest cavities. They look magnificent, as indeed do the doughty Swift Champions you see in the photo above. The work was carried out under our supervision by a team of council workers. The machine they used was magnificent in its own right (see below).
All we need now are for the Swifts to appreciate our efforts on their behalf. Watch this space.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A j-o-k-e

I urgently needed a few days off work, but I knew the boss would not allow me to take leave. I thought that maybe if I acted 'crazy' then he would tell me to take a few days off.
So I hung upside down on the ceiling and made funny noises.
My co-worker asked me what I was doing. I told her that I was pretending to be a light bulb, so that the Boss would think I was crazy and give me a few days off.
A few minutes later the Boss came into the office and asked 'What are you doing?' I told him I was a light bulb.
He said, 'You are clearly stressed out. Go home and recuperate for a couple of days.'
I jumped down and walked out of the office.
When my co-worker followed me, the Boss asked her 'And where do you think you're going?'
She said, 'I'm going home too. I can't work in the dark.'

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trellis is astonished

Another deluge of letters from Mrs Trellis. This one is typical:
Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, I could hardly believe my ears when I read that you are a teetotaller. I had always had you pegged as a vicarious toper.
All my family, including my late husband, Mr Trellis, ascribe to the Rechabite creed, namely, leave the demon drink to those who have no morals, like papists, politicians and sundry other perverts. Excepting of course medicinal brandy, which always kept Mr Trellis's motor up and running, if you will pardon the expression..
Anyway, I am pleased that you have forsworn your wicked ways, or some of them at least. If you are ever in Llanfairpg, pop in and we can exchange peasantries over a pot of nettle-and-leek tea.

Crazy Jack Lockley

Opposite our house in Hadley, the little Shropshire village where I grew up, there was a farm lane. To the right was a path leading to the back of the nearby pub, the Green Dragon, run my a fierce lady called Nancy Lockley. Often, on sunny days, Nancy would wheel out an old man in his wheel chair, and set him up on the corner of the lane. I think he may have been her uncle or her grandfather, but all we children knew about him was that his name was Jack Lockley and that he was weird. He was wizened, had withered legs, and a scrunched up face. He appeared to have no teeth, so that his chin practically touched the tip of his nose. He was mostly silent, but if you got too close, he would mutter thickly and wave a skinny hand at you. The other thing that was memorable about Jack Lockley was that he had his penis out most of the time and would fondle it in that unselfconscious way that toddlers sometimes do. We children took it in our stride, it was just part of the village scene, not rude, not funny, just part of the phenomenon that was Crazy Jack Lockley.
One day, a sunny one, he wasn't there, and we never saw him again. Can you imagine what would happen to a Jack Lockley these days? He would be arrested or sectioned, or he would be taken into care, analysed and given a course of therapy, or worse. One thing is sure, he would not be left alone to enjoy his moment in the sun.

Berry bonanza

Many years ago, I and some colleagues went to a site near Bristol to ring Fieldfares that were feeding on the berries of Sea Buckthorn. You could smell the fermenting berries from some way off. Watching the birds, we realised that they were, quite literally, getting drunk: they often missed or overshot their perches, and tended to wobble or topple over when they did land on a perch.
I had forgotten about that unusual scene until the indefatigable Angit sent me THIS. As a teetotaller, I ought to disapprove, but, hell, as long as everyone is having fun.....

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Mongolian tugrik

Did I ever tell you about my encounter with the Mongolian tugrik? No, I thought not.
It occurred in the same year that I became involved with the Hungarian forint, the Polish zloty, the Vietnamese dong and the Romanian lei.
I can see that you are already ahead of me.
It was during the heady days when I was doing a regular round of various countries within the former Soviet bloc (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and, a couple of times, Romania). The company for which I was working put out a rule that all of us travelling overseas had to return any unused foreign currency, carefully listed, and to be put into some pot or other. Well, yes, I could see the point of coughing up any excess Deutschmarks or Swiss Francs, but these Soviet bloc currencies were worthless. So I and my fellow-traveller, Arthur B, came up with a wheeze. It hit us when we were standing in a bank in Karzinbarcika, a place in NE Hungary so obscure that it probably isn't even on the map. There on the wall was a chart showing foreign currency exchange rates, but, of course, the only currencies were the politically correct ones, ie, from communist regimes.
The Mongolian tugrik caught my eye, and the Vietnamese dong caught Arthur's, so we stocked up with them and assorted other currencies you have never heard of. Dropping that lot on the desk when we got back, notes with denominations in the 1000s and in total worth about the price of a Big Mac and a packet of Rennies, was a moment of great joy.
The company's system did not survive long. Neither, as it turned out, did the Soviet.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Taken at the flood...

Last week, torrential rain following on the snow melt caused flooding. This is a picture of the road at Earith* under water. Since then we have had fine cold weather and biting east winds, which have dried out the roads and the droves. It's just one damn thing after another.
And I love it!

*Earith is about three miles from where I live and is on one of the main routes out of my village.

If you don't know this website, start with THIS.
Amazing stuff.

Another Trellis moment

Our dear Mrs T relates a pretty incident:
Dear Harriet Harman, she writes, I really don't think you should run around naked smeared in goose fat, even though it would cover up your cellulose. I remember when Granny Prytherch ran past our house on her hundredth birthday, stark naked. I just caught a glimpse. "What was that?" I asked Mr Trellis, my late husband. "I don't know," he replied, "but it definitely needs ironing."

Choking on PC

This item from Sky News:

The male students, from the notorious Penguin drinking club at Hertford college, Oxford, are alleged to have drawn up a list assessing potential dates.
Their emails were posted around college overnight by an unknown whistleblower.
As well as derogatory commentary about female freshers, the posters revealed the club's humilitating rituals, which include forcing students to perform a naked streak, while smeared in goose fat and eating raw squid.
A university spokesman said the allegations were being taken very seriously and an investigation had been launched.
"The students have been temporarily suspended as part of that process but that is not to say that it is a punishment or a judgement against them at this stage," he said.

So what? What if female undergraduates produced the equivalent, rating male freshers? Of course, girls are too sensible to do that. Aren't they?

Damn political correctness! It is going to choke us to death if we are not careful.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Cracked pot

As a flawed vessel myself, I was very happy to receive the following from my dear friend B.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck.

One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

At the end of the long walks from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments.
But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream.
'I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.'

The old woman smiled, 'Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side?'
'That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.' For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.'

Each of us has our own unique flaw. But it's the cracks and flaws we each have that make our lives together so very interesting and rewarding.

You've just got to take each person for what they are and look for the good in them.

So, to all of my cracked pot friends, have a great day and remember to smell the flowers on your side of the path!
And send this to any or all of your Cracked Pot friends within 5 minutes and see what happens! Don't forget the Cracked Pot that sent it to you!!

Friday, March 05, 2010

A threnody from the Principality

Another letter from the indefatigable Mrs T.
Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, you never cease to befuggle me. It's Friday and there's not a single grumble from you. With all that's going on in the world - climax change, bilious earthquakes, swine flue and that - I was expecting an outburst.
If you're anything like me, you would at least have a rant about varicose veins. My late husband, Mr Trellis, used to enjoy tracing his finger up the fat vein on my right calf. He reckoned it was like a map of the River Nile, and he said that one day he was going to trace it to its source. Of course he would then fall asleep, poor man, overcome by his nightly medicinal brandy.

Hiromi Uehara

If you like pianistic pyrotechnics and a rollercoaster ride into pure beautiful jazz, here's a real treat for you: CLICK HERE.
My thanks to my good friend Jeff S for introducing me to this remarkable performer.
It's at moments like this that I incline to switch from evolution theory to intelligent design, but, as I have said before about wildlife, I don't really care how it got here, I'm just glad it's here. And I am definitely ecstatic about Hiromi Uehara.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Tense? Who? Me?

I have been trawling again through Toujours Tingo, the second volume of Adam Jacot de Boinod's collection of delicious words from other languages to describe phenomena that we experience too, but for which we don't have an exact word. Almost every one is quotable, but the one that caught my eye was
qaquablaabnaqtuq, an Inuit word meaning "to be tense because of an impending unpleasantness".
Those of you who are aware of my present situation can understand why this word resonates with me. Try saying it several times - it grows on you and, if you are lucky, reduces the tension in your neck muscles.