Monday, January 31, 2011

Mystery building

Do you know what the purpose of this building is? I will give you a clue: it is in Thailand, but similar buildings can be found in other parts of SouthEast Asia. Well, that's not much of a clue, so I will give you another one: it's to do with spit.

Mrs Trellis talks politics

My North Walian correspondent seems a little annoyed:
Dear Sandra Palin, she writes, people on the telly keep saying awful rude things about you. I think it's just cos they're jealous of your looks and your money, or maybe cos you don't invite them to your famous Tea Parties. We get a lot of that sort of cattiness in my village, and I know for a fact that my neighbour across, Bridget Prytherch, told Myfanwy Pugh that I have a big bum. Which I do, me being an endophorm, but there's no need to be rude.
I suppose it's not your bum that people criticalise, more the fact that you're not right in the head. Personally I like a bit of nuttiness in a person, it makes them more interesting, though maybe not interesting enough to be the next president of the Untied States.
Your solidaritally
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, retd. Unaffiliated.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The marshlands of southern Iraq, a postscript

Following the amazing programme on BBC TV about the current efforts to restore the marshes, I got hold of a copy of "The Marsh Arabs", the classic account by the explorer/adventurer Wilfred Thesiger, who first visited the area in the 1950s and on several more occasions during the following decades. If you have a love of wild places and an interest in the people who inhabit them, please read it. Here is a taster:
One morning Falih and a cousin of his called Daud punted me towards the mainland. We soon left the qasab and emerged on to a waste of fallen bulrushes covering many square miles. The new growth was rising through the tumbled grey of last year's flags, but was not yet high enough to obstruct my view, even from the bottom of the canoe. The place was alive with birds. Snipe sprang into the air beside us and zigzagged away, and flocks of small waders swept past. Ruffs and godwits, curlews, redshanks and avocets, among other waders I could not identify, fed on patches of open mud. There were spoonbills, ibises and egrets, and grey and purple herons. Once we heard the far-off crying of geese. Harriers hunted low over the rushes, and the usual eagles circled overhead.
It will be a miracle if the marshes are restored to their former glory, so thank God for Dr Alwash and those who are working with him to bring that miracle about. Let's hope that the recent increase in the breeding population of the rare Marbled Teal is a harbinger.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Great Grey Shrike

A few of these magnificent "butcher birds" turn up in the UK each winter. I heard the other day that there are four in the New Forest, and one or two have been sporadically noted in Cambridgeshire. Look at that hooked beak, great for tearing flesh.
Its congener, the Red-backed Shrike, sadly no longer breeds in Britain, but the fact that it had a nickname - butcher bird, from its habit of storing food by creating "larders" of prey items impaled on thorns - tells us that it was once common.
Today I am going to Little Downham to help with the erection of a Barn Owl box on a pole, but if I can get away soon enough, I am going for a yomp round a part of Haddenham parish where one day I know I will find a Great Grey Shrike. Either that or this will be the twenty-fifth year that I don't.

Another Trellis salvo

Once again, sympathy streams from the Principality:
Dear Lady Parker-Bowels, she writes, I symphonise with your vermin problem. In my case, it's not ducks in my pond, not that I have a pond, but badgers at the bins. Most nights when it's cold, I am woken up by the sound of dustbin lids clattering on to the flagstones. You wouldn't think badgers could do that, but they can. And the mess! It's all very well your father-in-law, David, Duke of Attenborough, telling us to love Nature With A Capital N, but badgers get right up my dander. The way Mr Trellis, my late husband used to say "Live and let live" you'd've thought he was a buddhist (or is it buddleia? All these heathen religions are the same to me), but even he made an exception when badgers nibbled his cauliflowers. Can you tell me where you got your football from, I quite like the idea of lobbing something at these nocturnal marauders. Not a word to your pa-in-law, though: just our little secret.
Yours respectively
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, Widow, Retd.

Friday, January 28, 2011


Yesterday, Thursday, was Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah). Seeing that in my diary produced a flood of memories. I remembered a man called Bill, a huge florid-faced jolly chap who looked like he could have been a mercenary. And in fact he had been. I used to meet him regularly in the Fox Inn, my favourite watering hole in those days. Once he told me that he had been one of the British soldiers who liberated Belsen concentration camp in 1945, describing how his task was to drive one of the bulldozers that shovelled bodies into the burial pits. I remembered that yesterday.
I also remembered standing with Bill one evening, raising my glass and saying, a propos of nothing, that I was feeling good. At that precise moment, my wife-to-be came into the pub, whispered for me to come outside, and then told me she had taken a phonecall from my sister's brother-in-law to say that my sister had been found dead in her kitchen, her head in the gas oven. She had committed suicide.
Today is Friday, normally the day I reserve for being grumpy. But today I have no room for grumpiness. Today I have room only for gratitude that I have been spared the horrors of war, and that in my moments of despair I have been supported by loving family and friends. I pray that you reading this can say the same. Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Would you lepeat that, prease?

Here's a communication exercise for foreign learners of English. You put two students at either end of a table with a screen between them so that they can hear but not see each other. You give one a lorry made out of lego pieces, and you give the other student just the pieces. The task is for the one with the made-up lorry to instruct the other how to construct a lorry from the pieces he has in front of him. The first task is, of course, to invent terms to describe lego pieces. In setting up this exercise, the teacher simply says to the two victims that the task is to construct a lorry.
So, I used this communication exercise as a demonstration in a workshop I was doing in Japan. It was a total disaster, like those experiments in the chemistry laboratory where instead of a blinding phosphorescent flash, you get a damp phutt.
What went wrong? Two things, I suspect. First, the Japanese have a problem with the pronunciation of the sounds [l] and [r]. For them, these two sounds are allophones of a single phoneme, giving rise to all those hilarious jokes about the Magic Fruit, Gleek plicks, and so on. Secondly, most Japanese learn American English, so the word lorry - or lolly or rolly or rorry - is in any case unknown to them. For them, the vehicle is a truck.
Fortunately, time is a great healer of egg-stained faces.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Buckyballs to you, ducks!

Poor old pond! Last year, you will remember (if you are keeping the Alzheimer's at bay) that my pond was trashed by Mallards, but I figured that was a small price to pay for the joy of having a famliy of ducklings on my lawn. At the end of last year, I cleaned up the pond a bit, refilled it with water from the rain butt, trimmed the verges and restocked it with various aquatic plants, kindly provided by my darling friend, Barbara.
The ducks are back, chomping happily on the various aquatic plants kindly provided, etc.
What to do? I have decided - perhaps foolishly - to keep them away. Until I can put some netting over the pond, my only weapon is a brightly-coloured football that I hurl towards the pond every time they appear. It startles them and they fly off, a reproachful look in their eye (I am not imagining this!).
Did you know that the molecular structure of the isotope of Carbon, C60, also known as buckminsterfullerine, is made up of interlocking pentagons and hexagons, forming a sphere just like a football? If only I could explain this to the ducks, they might see the educational value and not feel so bad about being bombarded by a buckyball molecule every time they land on the pond.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Hot stuff

I went to Ely Cathedral last evening (Sunday) for a service. No, don't panic, I am not about to lapse into Anglicanism. The service was one of several held in various churches in Ely during the past week for Christian Unity. There were about 80 people at the service, representing Anglican, Methodist, Catholic and several Nonconformist churches (not sure which, they keep changing their names). And the Octagon Church Choir, who sang divinely. But then, you WOULD sing divinely in a cathedral, wouldn't you?
All good stuff, even though I didn't know any of the hymn tunes (too modern for my geriatric ears) and I lost my concentration during the sermon because my right knee was hurting (it still is). Wouldn't it be nice if all the denominations could meld into one?! Well, I am not sure it would. A united church might end up like the Anglican Church, all things to all men, so too diffuse to get a handle on things.
The Catholics from St Etheldreda's were there in good numbers and good voice. Nothing diffuse about the Left Footers. My favourite ecumenical story is of a lunch during an ecumenical conference. The Anglican bishop turned to the Catholic bishop sitting next to him and said: "As I look around this table, I feel great joy when I realise that we are all serving God in our various ways." "True," replied the Catholic bishop, "You in your way, and we in His."
You don't have to be a Catholic to enjoy that joke. Mind you, as Pope John Paul II said: "I, the Pope, am the biggest barrier to Christian unity."
By the way, the pagans and heathens among you should not demur from visiting Ely Cathedral:- the Victorian cast-iron stoves that heat the place are magnificent (see photo above).

God bless Azzam Alwash!

Among the heinous crimes that Saddam Hussein perpetrated was his decision to destroy the Marsh Arabs (mostly Shia Muslims) by draining the marshes in southern Iraq, a vast area between the Tigris and Euphrates that had been home to the marsh arabs for centuries.
That monstrous man turned one of the most beautiful sites in the world - reputed to be the original Eden - into an arid desert.
But, thanks to an amazing man called Azzam Alwash, the marshlands of southern Iraq are slowly being restored.
If you can access BBC i-player and if you want to be reassured that there are still good things happening in the world, click HERE. Or paste this url into your browser: Maybe one day, the marshlands will once again look as they did when the above picture was taken. Inshallah.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

St Fillan

Another piece of information you didn't know you didn't need:
Fillan, son of Feriach and St. Kentigerna, was also known as Foelan. He became a monk in his youth and accompanied his mother from Ireland to Scotland where he lived as a hermit near St. Andrew's monastery for many years, and then was elected abbot. He later resigned and resumed his eremitical life at Glendochart, Perthshire, where he built a church and was reknowned for his miracles. Various legends attribute the most extravagant miracles to him, such as the one in which he caused a wolf that had killed the ox he was using to drag materials to the church he was building to take the ox's place. Fillan died on January 19, which is his feast day.

Isn't that penultimate sentence a lulu?!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Monumental stupidity

Prime Minister David Cameron recently visited Gateshead in the northeast of England, and demanded that the the famous statue, The Angel of the North, should be removed because it is so ugly. Well, no, actually that didn't - and indeed never could - happen. As far as I know, our Prime Minister has no opinion about the statue, but if he has, he is entitled to it, in a private capacity, though, not in his capacity as PM.
But no such considerations apply to Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it seems. He has demanded that the statue erected by the good citizens of Kars in 2008 as a symbol of the rapprochement between Turkey and Armenia should be pulled down. Demanded, mind you. I am beginning to think that he sleeps with a copy of Mein Kampf under his pillow.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Les femmes s'adaptent à tout quand il le faut .....

Another gem from the indefatigable Angit:

Un homme et sa femme sont en train de souper dans un restaurant très chic. Une superbe jeune femme arrive dans le restaurant, va directement vers l'homme et lui donne un long et doux baiser.
Elle lui dit qu'elle le verra un peu plus tard et quitte le restaurant.
Sa femme le regarde avec des éclairs dans les yeux et lui demande:
- " Veux-tu bien me dire qui c'était ? "
- " Qui, elle ? " répond le mari " mais c'est ma maîtresse ! "
- " Ben, j'aurai tout vu, " lui répond la femme, " je demande le divorce !"
- " Écoute, je comprend ta réaction " , commence le mari, " mais il faut que tu réalises que si nous divorçons, tu n'auras plus de Voyages, plus de courses dans les boutiques à Paris, plus de vacances d'hiver sur les plages de la Barbade, plus d'été dans les Montagnes Rocheuses, plus de Porsche et de Jaguar, plus de club de yachting et de polo; mais c'est ta décision et je la respecte…

Au même moment, un ami du couple entre dans le restaurant avec une superbe femme au bras.
- " Qui est cette femme avec Jacques ? " demande la femme.
" C'est sa maîtresse . " répond le mari.
La femme répond alors :
" La nôtre est plus jolie ! "

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Animal voiceovers

I am sure everyone else on the planet has already seen this, but just in case you haven't, make sure you are sitting down when you watch it, preferably on a chair that you can't fall off.

Customer relations

I am indebted to my friend Malcolm R for sending me this gem:

For all Who Work With Rude Customers, isn't it a shame WE can't actually do this!

An award should go to the Virgin Airlines desk attendant in Sydney some months ago for being smart and funny, while making her point, when confronted with a passenger who probably deserved to fly as cargo.

A crowded Virgin flight was cancelled after Virgin's 767s had been withdrawn from service. A single attendant was re-booking a long line of inconvenienced travellers. Suddenly an angry passenger pushed his way to the desk. He slapped his ticket down on the counter and said, "I HAVE to be on this flight and it HAS to be FIRST CLASS".
The attendant replied, "I'm sorry, sir. I'll be happy to try to help you, but I've got to help these people first, and I'm sure we'll be able to work something out.."
The passenger was unimpressed. He asked loudly, so that the passengers behind him could hear,"DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO I AM?"
Without hesitating, the attendant smiled and grabbed her public address microphone:"May I have your attention please, may I have your attention please," she began - her voice heard clearly throughout the terminal.
"We have a passenger here at Desk 14 WHO DOES NOT KNOW WHO HE IS. If anyone can help him find his identity, please come to Desk 14."
With the folks behind him in line laughing hysterically, the man glared at the Virgin attendant, gritted his teeth and said,"F... You!"
Without flinching, she smiled and said, (I love this bit)"I'm sorry, sir, but you'll have to get in line for that too."

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Griffon Vulture in trouble

Now I KNOW that the world has gone mad. Just take a look at this.

Consumer research

Before you market a product, you need to know if it is what your customers really want. In this case, we are talking about Swifts and nest concaves, ie, a sort of hollowed out platform on which they can build their nest. We need to find out what size, what depth and which material are likely to be most popular. Of course it isn't easy asking a Swift what it prefers, well, it's easy to ask, but it's hell trying to interpret any answer that might be forthcoming.
So, we put four different designs of nest concave in a large box and went to see our rehabber, Deborah, and asked her to put her two captive Swifts in to see which they preferred. They didn't like any of them, judging by the speed at which they leapt out of them.
I didn't realise till now how difficult consumer research can be. Apart from anything else, the designs so far are just OUR idea of what might go. I suspect we might have produced the nest concave equivalent of the Ford Edsel.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fare enough

I've just been enjoying Katie Fuller's latest ringing photos, and was struck by this one in particular - an example of how ringers keep up their energy levels in the field.
My preference was always for tuna and onion sandwiches, while my colleague Mike Arnold swore by - and permanently smelled of - strong cheddar and marmite.
Our most exotic fare, however, was the iron rations we subsisted on when we were ringing Storm Petrels on Eilann nan Ron off the north coast of Sutherland: a lethal mix of dark chocolate and raisins, known affectionately as Jamaican-pintle-and-fartleberries.
Ah what it was to be young and flatulent!

Wot no Waxwings?

Indeed no. But as a compensation, I had two rather drab-looking Lesser Redpolls on one of the nyjer feeders yesterday afternoon.

Also, on my way to Ely across Grunty Fen, I spotted a Little Egret on the bank of a roadside dyke. Pure white in the grey gloom of a fen January. A gorgeous sight, and no VAT to pay for the privilege of seeing it.

Trellis down under

My north Wales correspondent never misses a trick:
Dear Kylie Minogue, she writes, so sorry to hear about your excessive flooding, dear. It's just one of the crosses we ladies have to bear.
I saw you on telly the other night, and I couldn't believe how scrawny you are. Also, you haven't got a bottom to speak of. My late husband, Mr Trellis, always said he liked them plump, and mine always seemed to comfort him in the wee small hours. Naughty man!
Still, you seem happy enough for an Australian. Is it true that you all wear corks? No wonder you're all bunged up! Just my little joke, dear.
Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow, retd.

Vodka and Tonic

From today, VAT will be charged at 20%. The press and the airwaves are full of moaning minnies railing against this increase.

Come on, people, get a grip! Don't you realise how much it costs to run that magnificent bureaucracy in Brussels? Thousands of well-paid, well-fed, pension-protected eurocrats, all dedicated to our welfare, all needing support. Not to mention expenses.

And, you VAT detractors, how do you think the European Parliament would survive if we didn't pour money into it? Do you want MEPs to work for a pittance. forgo all their perks, travel steerage, eat frugal, and retire with nothing more than an Old Age Pension after a lifetime dedicated to talking about what is good for us?

No, stout fellow Europeans, think of VAT as a small price to pay for all the benefits which flow from Brussels and Strasbourg. These benefits include......
.....erm, give me a minute, let me think......