Sunday, July 29, 2012

What the fork?!!

I would like to welcome overseas visitors who are in Britain for the Olympics, or who are following the games on TV. I would also like to dissociate myself completely from the image of Britain projected by the opening ceremony. Despite appearances, our Head of State does not leap out of helicopters, cockneys, whether lovable or not, do not all wear suits covered with pearl buttons, we have many other singers than just one geriatric beatle, and, not least, the typical Englishman is not at all like Mr Bloody Bean.
What really pisses me off, though, is that the proposal to build a Swift Tower (they got as far as a shortlist of five submitted designs, and beautiful they were too) was axed on grounds of cost. Kenneth Branagh's fee alone would have paid for it. Grrrrr.
Have a nice day.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Radish and diesel flavour, sir?

It can't wait till Friday, I need to get a grump off my chest right now. I like an occasional packet of crisps. The shelves are filled with crisps of all flavours, rat and smegma, spit and polish, radish and diesel, but it's almost impossible to find crisps which are potato-flavoured. I like an occasional croissant with my coffee. The shelves have chocolate croissants, almond croissants and for all I know rat and smegma flavoured croisssants, but it's very hard to find a plain honest straightforward croissant which is croissant-flavoured. I am sure you can multiply the examples of simple products that are flavoured to taste of something other than what they are made of. Why? What's the point or purpose? If I want cheese and onion flavour, I will eat a slice of cheese and an onion. The moment when I had to restrain myself from burning the shop to the ground was when I looked for coffee, and found that I could have vanilla-flavoured and another three thousand variety of flavoured coffee. Doesn't anyone drink coffee any more that has the taste of coffee? To avoid my arson urge, I left the shop, making sure I didn't look at the tea section on the way out.... I knew only too well what I would find there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another time, another place

I can't remember when young people dressed like this. Can you?

Mrs T is upset

Always one to speak her mind....
 I can't believe you've become a catholic, she writes, you seemed so normal, well, apart from being English, which isn't really your fault.
As a Primitive Methodist, I can't be doing with all that jiggery-popery and celebrate priests. No, give me Sunday in a nice cold chapel on a wet Welsh hiilside, a well-hung minister and a bit of gossip after, and I'll be as close to God as I need to be.

Blodwen Trellis, etc

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The launch

A perfect evening on Newmarket heath, just enough breeze to launch the Swifts into the air. The technique is to let them sit on your hand until they feel ready to fly. You NEVER throw them into the air, the decision to take off must be theirs alone.
The first one took off after a while and soared into the sky where it was immediately joined by another Swift which "came out of nowhere".
The second took a little longer to go, and in fact I handed it over to my colleague Bill, mainly because my arm was getting tired! When it did go, it quickly joined the first one.

The third and final one was very very slow, taking a long time to make its mind up. After all, once it takes off, it will probably remain airborne for at least ten months if not more. But it did go in the end, by which time there were no other Swifts in the sky. But eventually we saw it, almost out of sight now it was so distant, meet up with other Swifts.

And so, the three nestlings that might have died in the nest are now free-flying and, we like to think, happy to be alive. I can't tell you how good we all felt - Judith, Linda (Judith's friend), Bill and I - about the moment when all three had flown.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Another delicious bird

Have a go at this one then. No chance of getting one of these in my Haddenham garden, that's for sure.

A left footer, that's me

Those of you of a secular disposition might wish to skip this blog entry as it contains some metaphysics.

About three years ago, after a lifetime of dithering, I took the RCIA course and was received into the Catholic church. Background: all my father's family are Catholic, but my father broke with the faith so I was raised as a devout atheist. It wasn't an issue for me until I went to work in Italy, and later in Spain, where I found myself sneaking into Mass, pretending to be a stonemason examining the walls for fissures, but secretly absorbing what Archbishop Laud called "the beauty of holiness". It was a sneaky time, especially the bit towards the end when I sneaked (snook?) out while everyone else went forward to receive holy communion.

And now, after a lifetime of being first a fiery atheist and later an unconvincing agnostic, I am now a bad Catholic. Well, not bad exactly, but shaky - it's a scary business in some ways. I won't bore the tits off you by telling you what a source of strength and joy it is to me. Equally, I won't irritate you by telling you that I don't have a problem with what are for some people the sticking points of Catholicism: things like mariolatry (erroneously so-called), confession, divorce, birth control, abusive priests and the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals.

But I can tell you that there are some scary bits to it as far as I am concerned. For one thing, I can't easily remember chunks of the Gloria, the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds and some other responses, which means I have to carry a written crib with me. It gives me new respect for actors who have to memorise acres of stuff. And following the liturgy in general is far from a walk in the park. Alternative antiphons, special days (memorials, solemnities, holydays of obligation, etc), masses where the Gloria is said, masses where the Gloria is omitted, and so on - all these variations can loosen a lad's grip on reality, but it's all part of the deal. It reminds me of the first time I was required to referee a rugby match, a game whose rules were as mysterious to me as the rules of Basque grammar. I solved the problem of my incompetence by sticking like glue to a boisterous boy who shouted out every requirement "Line out!", "Scrum down!" etc (often with a choice expletive epithet to underline his judgment. Don't ask me the difference between a "line out" and a "fucking line out". In fact, don't even ask me what a line out is). So, I try to sit not too far away from our most knowledgeable parishioner, D, who carries a Missal the size of Milton Keynes, and who always knows EXACTLY what comes next - or should have come next if the celebrant makes a mistake, not that D would ever mutter "wrong fucking antiphon", I am quite sure.

Another problem for me is singing. I have a lusty voice, but it's in the basso profundo range, and it seems that all hymns are written in a key selected for the Queen of the Night and men with tiny testicles. So I don't so much sing as slither between baritone and falsetto. My dear late friend, Alf C, used to describe the range of the human voice as "from creak to squeak", and that perfectly describes the agonised noises that pass for my singing on Sunday mornings. I can always duck out by going to the Saturday evening Sunday Mass (that sounds a bit Irish. Appropriately?), which is not a sung mass, but dammit, saving your presence, Lord, I LIKE to sing, even squeakily-creakily.

That bird again

It is, as most of you worked out, a weaver. In fact the White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali), a common enough bird in parts of southern Africa. This picture of a treeful of their nests illustrates both their weavering abilities and their tendency to live colonially (perhaps an indelicate word in an African context). The most spectacular of which I have personal experience are the Buffalo Weavers, which build condominiums wherever they can find a suitable structure to support them. On a trip across the treeless Namibe desert some years ago, where the only structures were the electricity and telephone gantries alongside the single railway track, I noted with satisfaction that they had exploited this improbable source: a Buffalo Weaver colony on practically every one. Good on you, Buffies!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Swift chick development



OK, nothing miraculous about that, you might say, but it's a miracle as far as I am concerned, powered by Judith's skill and dedication.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


In the forties and fifties, our equivalent of a supermarket was the Coop, or, in full, the Cooperative Wholesale Society (CWS). It was just across the road from our house, and my mum used to go there once a week for her staple groceries. A bonus for her was the "divi", a percentage of the cost of sales given back to the customer at regular intervals. That divi bought for me, for example, my first grammar school blazer.
I often went with my mum to the Co op, partly to help carry the stuff home, but mostly to enjoy the "Cash Railway System", a mechanical marvel, suspended from the ceiling. It worked (I think) like this: the customer's money was put into the container, the shop assistant pulled the handle and the container shot along the rail and out of sight through a hole in the wall. Moments later it came back again with the customer's change.
Not only was it a spectacular piece of kit, the sort of mechanical gizmo that made a boy want to upgrade his Meccano set, but it also made a most satisfying whirring noise. My fascination with the cash railway machine (now, alas, long gone) was eventually replaced by a fascination with girls (now, alas, equally long gone). At least girls are still around, and if you know how to pull the chain, you can still get a result (they tell me). Look at this picture. Did you ever see anything quite so sexy?

Funny old game

It's a funny old summer, breeding all over the place, odd birds turning up where they shouldn't be, and familiar birds not being where they oughta be. If you get one of these on your lawn, do let someone know about it....

Thursday, July 12, 2012

She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy

I am beholden to my lovely fellow-blogger, Prairie Mary, for sending me this piece. Mary, I never realised until now that it's not buxom ladies on tractors that excite me, but the sexy machines themselves...
I am sure that my young farmer friend David H will be equally moved by the sentiments of this song, though I think he's a Massey Ferguson man rather than a John Deere man.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mrs T offers advice

It's heartening to see that my North Wales correspondent still keeps a weather eye on the pulse of world affairs.
 Dear Coffee Annan, she writes, do forgive my last letter, I was "overtired" as my late husband used to say after a second nightcap. 
I just want to express my profumbent gratification for all that you are doing in Syria to stop people being nasty to each other. That Mr Assad looks such a nice man for an Arab, and tall with it. I always thought dictators were shortarses with chips on their shoulders, but he seems to be long and thin. A diet of Welsh leek soup might improve his mood. Let me know if you need a recipe. 
Yours Blodwen Trellis, Mrs, widow, retd.

The triplets

The latest news from Judith is that the three nestlings are thriving. It is impossible to underestimate the skill and patience required to bring on Swift nestlings, so the next time Her Majesty is handing out OBE's, I know one candidate, bless her cotton socks.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

A worrying note from North Wales

Dear Mrs Scrote, she writes, I was faniscated by your renimiscences, as your village sounds a lot like mine, only we have an off-licence too, very connevient, and prolly the reason why I can't spell fascinated, reminiscence and convenient right now.
Yours ect

It's pimply sissing down

There's an old canard (appropriate word!) that people who live in the Fens have webbing between their toes. Given that this is the wettest Spring and early Summer since records began, I suspect it's going to come true. By the way, when DID records begin? The first year when someone decided to write everything down, there were nothing BUT "records", 
Apparently this endless series of swirling cyclones with attendant high winds and downpours is happening because  the jet stream, which normally sits (well, it doesn't sit exactly, but you know what I mean) well north of Iceland, is currently half way down Europe. How it slipped and how and when it will get back to its home in the frozen north are great unknowns, but the weather persons say we may have at least another two weeks of it. There are gale warnings and flood warnings a-plenty, and I check between my toes every morning just in case. I also watch the weather forecasts on telly more than I used to, the only consolation for the awful news being that there are some lovely smiley lasses doing them. If we're in for meteorological armageddon, I'm glad it's Carol Kirkwood and her nubile colleagues who are telling me about it.
And now, if you will excuse me, Old Duckfeet is just going out to check the swamp that used to be his back lawn. Oh, and this is Carol Kirkwood on a better day:

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Alf Currier

Alf Currier was an idiot. Literally, he was mentally defective. He was also physically handicapped, a misshapen body and one leg much shorter than the other, which gave him a rolling gait and the appearance of a disintegrating troll. His voice was gravelly, probably the result of smoking sixty or more Woodbines a day, and most of what he said was unintelligible. In all, Alf Currier was not a lovable fellow, and the fact that he never washed meant that you could smell him from a long way off. People tended to stay a long way off when Alf hove into view.
He was not without work, though. Through the kindness of Ernie Austin, owner of the village newsagent's and tobacconist's, Alf had a job delivering newspapers and other goods around the village for Ernie Austin. I also had a paper round, so I often bumped into Alf when he and I happened to return to the shop at the same time. For all his faults and deficiencies, Alf was a good man, well-disposed towards an indifferent humanity, and always had a ready smile and an incomprehensible growl for anyone who got close enough. He and I became mates in a way and I didn't mind the BO because I was a bit of a scruff myself.
Then, one day, or rather one night, Alf Currier set fire to himself. Not deliberately, he was drunk, he was smoking in bed, he fell asleep and the lighted cigarette slipped from his fingers and somehow the bedding caught fire.
I never knew where Alf originated from until he died, when it emerged that he was the illegitimate son of an old crone in the village called Hannah, who "did" for various ladies. Hannah was uglier than Alf, which in itself was quite an achievement. I liked Alf Currier and made a point of saying hello to Hannah the next time I passed her in the street. She didn't respond, but that was ok. I wasn't really saying hello to her, I was saying goodbye to her son.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The saga of Bert Rummins and her in the fur coat

I don't know if I should tell you about this, as it's a scandalous tale with all sorts of dark corners and innuendoes. Oh sod it, there's nothing on the telly and it's still raining.
In the list of Hadley's shops there is Bert Rummins's Ladies Dress Shop. I can vaguely remember him as a dapper well-dressed man with popping eyes and protruding ears that made him look like the picture of a robot that I had in a science book. I was too young to know it at the time but, although he was a married man, he was a real philanderer too. At the time his shop burned down (many of the shops in Hadley were wooden buildings), he was shagging a lady in a fur coat. Wait, I don't mean she was wearing a fur coat when he was shagging her, though she may have been (people can be very kinky - think of Sacher-Masoch), but that was what I heard people saying: things like "That Bert Rummins is having it away with that (supply a noun like "hussy"), you know, the hoity-toity one in the fur coat."
It wasn't the sex or the fur coat that excited me - at eight, you have other priorities - it was the fact that one night his shop caught fire and burned to the ground. The smouldering ruins were a spectacular sight in the days that followed. And then the rumours started, the obvious one being that his business was failing, so he had deliberately set fire to his own shop for the insurance. I knew better. He was a German spy (what else could he be with those robot eyes and ears?) and the secret service had got on to him. I did wonder fleetingly if the hoity-toity one in the fur coat was married and her husband had taken his revenge, but dismissed that on the grounds that he would have waited till Bert Rummins was in the shop before setting fire to it. At least that's what I would have done.

I remember, I remember...

You know how you get to thinking about the old days when it's raining and there's nothing on the telly.. OK, here goes. I reckon the population of my natal village in the 40s-50s was no more than 1600, and probably less. Now, think about this: with a population that small, we had (as far as I can recall) the following shops:

Barney Heenan's bakery and breadshop
A hardware store opposite (name escapes me)
Bateman's the Chemist
Gallier's the Butcher
The Post Office
Corfields grocery shop
Kearton's haberdashery
Another hardware and electrical store (name escapes me)
Mrs Gittens (a private initiative from her front room, selling toys)
Billy Potter the butcher
Quinn's haberdashery, specialising in wool
Jack Evans the greengrocer
The Coop, the nearest we had to a supermarket
Woodfin's shoeshop
Benbow's farm shop (milk and eggs)
Gilbert the barber
Walkers sweet shop and general store
Bert Rummins ladies' dress shop
Harris's bakery (marvellous cream cakes)
Another Harris' selling second hand bikes and other bric a brac
Ernie Austin newsagent and tobacconist
A shop next to Austin's selling children's clothes et sim
Bircher's garage
A radio shop also selling "accumulator" batteries.
Grately's, another butcher's shop
Cases' fish and chip shop
There were at least two other shops, but I can't remember the details. That's upward of thirty shops. How on earth did they all make a living? Of course there was no supermarket competition, and the nearest shopping centre was Wellington, some three miles away, which involved either a bus ride or a long walk there and back.
I think what is more amazing than the number of shops in Hadley is the fact that I can remember the names of most of them. Clearly nothing quite so important has happened in my life since then. Sad, really.

Busting out all over

This is the runt of the litter after another week of Judith's ministrations. He's a beauty, and now heavier than his siblings. Please take "he" as a generic term, because it's very possible that this hefty beauty is a female showing the boys what a girl can do when she puts her mind and metabolism to it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Herring Aid - the outcome

The hearing test produced the conclusion "Moderate hearing loss", with the subtext "What do you expect at your age, you old scrote?" As to solutions, there's a whole array of hearing aids that you can bung in or behind your ears, all of which, so weit ich weiss, do no more than amplify sound. They can't (as Mike&Ann pointed out) restore the lost frequencies. The effect of a hearing aid, then, is that you will hear everything within your frequency range, including things that were too quiet before - the rustling of your frock, the squeak of your boots, the farts of a passing bee and so on. Not exactly what I had in mind, so I am not going to go for the hearing aid solution after all. As a bonus, I will continue not to hear things I don't want to hear anyway, including the inanity of the phatic communion that passes for conversation these days. I will also continue not to hear what politicians are saying, and that can't be bad. 

There's always something....

Monday, July 02, 2012

After one week

Not brilliant pics, I'm afraid, but they do show that the three rescued Swift nestlings are making great progress. It's nice to have a good-news story amidst the gathering gloom. I will do my best to be at the "launch" when Judith releases them - that is always a heart-thumping moment.