Monthly Archives: April 2017

Hitler and the Avocets

“I cannot help thinking that if only Hitler had been an ornithologist he would have put off the war until the autumn migration was over.”

Manchester Guardian”Country Diaries” September 1939

I suppose most readers will already have a view on Hitler, and that it is unlikely to be based on the impact he had on European ornithology. However, as the quote shows, people are able to view major historic events and see them from a very different point of view. They may even find the energy to write to the papers about it.

It also shows that the consequences of major events can be far-reaching and quite significant, even if they don’t involve battles and the fall of governments.

In the case of the Second World War this included bombing my mother, training a new generation of naturalists, and flooding large parts of eastern England to defend against possible invasion.

Another, better known, example features the struggle with malaria. In the war this involved the wonder chemical DDT, which continued to be used in great quantities after the war as the answer to many problems. The inventor even got a Nobel Prize in 1948  “for his discovery of the high efficiency of DDT as a contact poison against several arthropods”. It was also highly effective at reducing the viability of birds’ eggs and nearly wiped several species out in the UK.

However, back to the flooded lands. As luck would have it, a party of Avocets drifted across the sea from Holland in 1947, and found conditions that suited them for breeding. At Havergate Island the army had accidentally breached the sea wall during training and at Minsmere the coastal area had been deliberately flooded as a defence against German landings.

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Avocets

 

At that point they had been extinct as breeders in the UK since 1842 due to the pressure from hunting, egg collectors and taxidermists. It seems to be a factor in the decline of rare birds, such as the Passenger Pigeon and Great Auk, that the rarer they became the more desirable the few survivors became to egg and skin collectors.

Gradually the Avocets consolidated their position, becoming the symbol of the RSPB along the way. From four pairs in 1947 we now have 1,500 pairs according to the latest figures.

For another example of how WW2 is contributing to wildlife, see this link.

I found this whilst looking up DDT. The mind boggles.

Thanks to Rodney Read and the Chatburn Village website for the well researched story of the bombing.

Shakespeare, St George and the Calcutta Light Horse

I have now managed 102 consecutive days of posting. It’s an example of habit taking over. You sometimes hear about it when athletes are interviewed on TV when the interviewer refers to dedication in training and the athlete responds that it’s just about establishing a habit.

That much is true: training is just a habit. However, I’m not trying to make it sound easy. The habit bit is easy, but simply turning up for training doesn’t guarantee success. That is where the dedication comes in. And the luck, the talent, the work ethic, the…

As I’ve said before, quantity is no guarantee of quality. It also means that I’ve resorted to posting at five past midnight just to ensure that I’m credited with a post for that day. It has also led to me writing things in advance and, as mentioned here, posting by accident. That was a simple button pushing error.

Here, I wrote a post and automatically pushed the button, which means I posted several times yesterday. If I’d pushed the button 15 minutes later it would have been OK, but I ended up posting just before midnight, so I posted three times yesterday and need something for today.

It’s St George’s Day today, and if Labour win the election it will be a public holiday, as will St David’s Day, St Patrick’s Day and St Andrew’s Day. That’s March 1st, March 17th, April 23rd and November 30th. I don’t know about you but I really don’t need days off in March and November. As for 23rd April, we already have Easter, which moves, May Day and Late Spring Bank Holiday  (which used to be Whitsun). That would be three Bank Holidays in 5 weeks. Well, it would be in England and Wales, it’s different in other parts of the UK.

Even more confusingly, whilst re-enacting the Battle of Dunbar, I found out that Haddington in Scotland also follows some English holidays.

It’s also the 99th Anniversary of the Zeebrugge Raid. It wasn’t necessarily a great strategic success, but it’s a good story. The Hundred Year’s War didn’t end particularly well but we still have Henry V.

There are some interesting sidelights on the raid. It was, for instance, the last time a VC Ballot was held. The VC is unique amongst British decorations in that if a unit performed in a particularly valorous manner the participants are allowed to vote on who they think should be awarded a VC. That way you limit the number given out, and they go to people who really deserve them.

One of the casualties of the raid was Wing Commander Frank Brock of the fireworks family. Amongst other things he invented the machinery to produce the smokescreen for the raid.

Another participant was Bill Grice. He lied about his age to join the Royal Navy and was Mentioned in Despatches for his part in the raid. Thirty years later took part in another daring raid with the Calcutta Light Horse. This link has more details – there’s a bit of a proofing issue with this article but it’s better than some of the others out there. The man who took his glass eye out before the action started was called Bill Manners. When volunteering he’d asked if the glass eye would be a problem. Grice said it hadn’t been a problem for Nelson…

There were no decorations for the 1943 raid, though Grice was played by David Niven in The Sea Wolves.

I’m already running on, and haven’t even started on Shakespeare’s Birthday or the likely consequences of having a public holiday on St George’s Day. I’ll have to cover them on another day.

 

 

Now, where was I?

Wales, I think.

We’d seen the kites, and we’d ended up eating at Burger King.

Next day we went across Anglesey to South Stack, where I reported unfavourably on the toilets.

The stiff note of reprimand I’d planned for Travelodge has still not been written because, like so many I have planned, I never quite get round to it. My indignation doesn’t last long, which is probably a good thing.

However, I do stand by my original view that a Little Chef (closes 8pm), a Burger King and a petrol station shop do not equate with the words “Guests can enjoy a variety of food and drink choices within easy walking distance from this hotel.”

The choice between Little Chef and Burger King in culinary terms (when you are looking for something nice because you are on holiday) is a bit like the choice between a cystoscopy and a colonoscopy. Obviously my recent hospital experiences have extended my range of comparisons, even if they haven’t done much for my temper.

The trip across was painless, though we did miss using the Menai Bridge. Once at South Stack a cheery volunteer explained what was available, and where to find the Choughs. We soon spotted one flying in and out of one of the sea caves where they were nesting, but it was a long way away and could easily have been a Jackdaw. They were a lot easier to see last time we were there, but that was later in the year.

Two Jackdaws hung about as we walked the cliff top, giving us plenty of false alarms, but we did manage to see plenty of Choughs too. They obligingly called as they flew over, a softer call than the crisper call of the Jackdaws, and more chuff than jack.

We got some good views of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and a Whinchat. Best views of the day were a selection of Stonechats that we saw in the field with the Iron Age hut circles. I wonder how it happened that 3,000 years ago someone thought “Let’s build houses on the most exposed and inhospitable corner of the wettest part of the UK.”

The bird photos were all poor but several flowers,lichen, a lizard and several buildings did stand still long enough for me to get some decent shots, despite the hazy light. It was just warm enough to wake the lizard but cool enough to keep it slow.

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Footprints of a dog

At some point a dog had stood in some wet cement by the roadside. Roadside grit has blown into the prints to give them some form. I was annoyed by missing all the bird photos so I took a photograph.

On the way back we used the Menai Bridge, which was more interesting than the other one.

Memoirs of a Book-Buying Man

I was a bit sluggish this morning, and ended up watching Saturday Kitchen. It featured the most over-the-top recipe I recall seeing. It was presented by John Torode this morning. I’ve no doubt he’s a good chef, but he’s not in my list of top presenters. Looking on the bright side, at least he didn’t have Greg Wallace with him. I still haven’t forgiven Wallace for the vegeburger recipe in this book. The book is a bit of a fraud really – it’s a spin-off from his series and it has his picture on the cover but it’s actually written by someone else.

Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man arrived this morning and I made a start. It’s easy reading and fifty pages soon slid by. It’s about 15 years since I last read it and I’m looking forwards to it. Fortunately Julia was out when it arrived.

After that I took a trip to the garden centre with one of the neighbours to help her pick up eight growbags and a bag of farmyard manure. It was a lovely day, and nice to be out in the open air, though it’s frustrating to see the lack of seeds and tools in what is essentially a massive garden-themed gift shop. It seems to be the way of things these days.

Fortunately I didn’t need any seeds or tools today so I just poked about in the plants and looked some Swedish Fire Logs. I’ve never seen them before though they have been around since Swedish troops used them in the Thirty Years War. That’s about 400 years ago. It seems unlikely they just thought of it then, I suspect that they knew about it way before that, but the image of soldiers camping in the snow with cloaks and plumed hats is probably more commercial than the thought of a smelly woodcutter hunched round a burning log.

After that I struggled round Sainsbury’s shopping for the evening. It didn’t quite go according to plan because there’s a group of House Sparrows in the corner of the car park. It’s very restful watching sparrows dust bathing.

The second unplanned aspect was the slipping of my leg bag as I walked round the shop becoming gradually more and more uncomfortable. Finally I had to make a temporary adjustment in the car park. It provided some relief, and restored my capacity to walk, but it could have led to all sorts of unfortunate consequences if I’d been observed.

That’s about it for now.  Time for more George Sherston.

 

 

The Ultimate Irony

Got up.

Changed bags.

Finished Richard Mabey book. Yes, 3.5 stars seems about right.

Had high fibre breakfast with fruit.

Watched the Peregrines on Notts TV. Can’t find a good link to post. You aren’t missing much.

Opened parcel. It’s a new book. Could be hard work.

Explained to Julia why I needed a new book.

Picked up prescriptions.

Photographed flowers.

Asked surgery receptionist very nicely if she could get details of one of my two hospital appointments next week. I lost the letter. Yes, two next week. With luck like that I should buy a lottery ticket.

Set off for Peterborough.

Stopped for Burger King lunch. Yes, it was bad planning.

Visited Father and Sister.

Sister told me she now has three books on decluttering. Yes, three. Hence the title of the post.

Had tea. It was veggie burgers. Menu planning has slipped a little in recent days.

Went home the country way.

Saw two Kites.

Watched TV.

Blogged.

It has not been my most interesting day.

The missing Whitby Photos

Do you remember around a month ago I lost a camera card? At the time I said it held some great photos of Whitby.

Well, I found the card. Unfortunately I found it while looking for another card which I dropped. I found the old one, but now I can’t find the one I dropped. To make things worse, the photos aren’t as good as I thought they were as the light was going and many of them are blurred. Added to that the composition and effects didn’t seem as good as I remembered.

It’s always the same isn’t it? As Shakespeare pointed out, old men remember with advantages. Or in sporting terms – the older I get, the better I was.

To add insult to injury I just posted a half-finished post – I just can’t get used to the Publish button being next to Post Settings.

I used several of the buttons for altering the camera settings as it was growing dark and it’s very tempting to add to the general Dracula feeling of the town by using the “dramatic” setting (though it really just darkens things).

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The new Whitby war memorial

The new memorial was erected in 2013 when people realised that there was no town war memorial, apart from the War Memorial Hospital, which had been demolished (though the original plaque was moved to the new hospital) and the memorial boards in the church. I think they really meant there was no place for them to hold a ceremony.

It is made from Norwegian green granite, which is significant as the local regiment (The Green Howards) served in the Norwegian campaign in 1940. The campaign lasted 62 days, which doesn’t seem long but, according to Wikipedia, was longer than any other nation resisted the Germans apart from the USSR.

This seems unfair on Norway as I’m pretty sure that the USSR started by dividing Poland up with the Germans, so their record of resistance is patchy.

Finally we have an attempt at an arty shot of crab pots and a portrait of Julia taken as an experiment.

 

I think I may stick to portraits and crab pots in future as pictures of War Memorials encourage thoughts of politics which is bad for my blood pressure.

A day in need of a title

Julia went to work tonight but, having read the post from earlier in the week, she left me with a number of instructions.

My afternoon therefore passed in blameless fashion, taking a trip to the shop, watching quizzes onTV, preparing a light evening meal and most definitely not taking canine countermeasures. Julia says if I do that again she will take away my irrigation equipment. I assume she means the bucket, but I’m taking no chances.

She is back now, and having eaten, we are now watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

It is graded PG, as in “some scenes may be unsuitable for small children”. As Julia said, we watched it as small children, and it didn’t do us any harm. Things were different in those days: we had toy guns, corporal punishment and polio too.

It’s the first time we’ve seen it in colour, as it was all black and white TV in those days. Seeing a T.H.R.U.S.H. agent in a powder blue kepi for the first time was a little strange.

As for the plots…

I quite like The Avengers and various other programmes from the time, though some of them (like the The Persuaders), do make me cringe at times. I’m afraid that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. has been disappointing. Shame really, as it used to be my favourite. I suppose tastes change and what was great when you were five is not so good when you close in on sixty. Apart from ice cream and butterflies, I’m still quite keen on them.