Sunday, 31 May 2015

For the birds

Once upon a time there was a garden in the countryside that was visited daily by lots and lots of lovely little birds. There were all sorts of birds including chaffinches, bullfinches, greenfinches, thrushes, sparrows, and even the occasional woodpecker.
Then one day pigeons moved in to a nearby group of tall trees, and as the garden descended into a post-apocalyptic free-for-all, the nice little birds said "Fuck this for a game of soldiers, I'm off!".

Unlike other fairytales the above is true (although the nice little birds may not have been quite so blunt in their assessment of the situation) and of course it gave rise to half of this blog's title. Putting bird seed out become a war of determination and ingenuity between me and the pigeons. Obviously labelling the seed 'For nice birds only' wasn't going to work, so eventually I realised that a strategic  reduction of the pigeon population was the easiest course of action with the added benefit that I could enjoy eating the recently deceased for supper. Pan fried pigeon breasts with onion and a sprinkle of herbs - lovely.
Pigeons are wiley buggers and even putting vertical metal bars between the bird table base and the roof didn't completely resolve the problem, but in the end it wasn't just the pigeons that were causing trouble. Crows now started muscling in on the scene and even though they too are surprisingly tasty (a sort of cross between pork and duck) it became clear that the whole business of feeding the birds had to end.

Currently the now roofless bird table only plays host to a small stone gargoyle, and the pigeon suppers have all but stopped because most of the pigeons that stayed when the group of trees were reduced from about fifty feet to nearer twenty, are experienced enough to know that my garden is a no-fly zone.
That's not the end of the story though, because now there's an even bigger pest problem than the pigeons ever posed in the form of starlings. These little bastards are the feathered equivalent of a plane-load of typical British lager-louts on the piss in Ibiza, and must surely be amongst the most disagreeable birds on the planet. They disturb the peace with their horrid harsh squawking, descending en-masse on next door's bird feeder like a biblical plague.
It's an interesting observation that in general the birds that are unwanted in the garden like starlings, crows and pigeons all get around on the ground by walking, whereas the cute ones that you actually want to be good to tend to hop. Wonder if there's something in that? 
It must cost the old bloke next door a small fortune in fat balls, which are to starlings what catnip is to the average moggie, and I have to wonder why he does it. He goes out there two or three times a day to top up the feeder with seed, fat balls and bits of bread, and every visit is followed immediately by an influx of starlings and crows that decimate the provisions in no time at all, ensuring that our place is now ground zero for unwanted ornithological activity. I also don't understand why he keeps doing it all year round. Providing seed etc during the winter months when food is scarce seems like a good thing to do, but I can't help thinking that birds need to be encouraged to fend for themselves during the times when nature is providing for their needs - otherwise they'll surely end up becoming dependent on humans and not be able to pass on the skills of foraging to their young.

There's a couple of robins and a wren that have managed to remain in the area, cleaning up the odd bit of seed that the deluge of destruction has missed, but I do wonder how much longer they will hang around.
Maybe I'll invest in some sort of bird scarer that I can install in the corner of the garden right near the neighbour's bird feeder. It's either that or I make a spring-loaded life-size zombie that will pop up from behind his hedge when he goes near the feeder. One coronary later the starlings won't be getting an easy three square meals a day and they'll move on.
No, I mustn't have ideas like that - that's bad......

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bring on the pipe and slippers

Strange things are happening, and I must admit to being worried.
The other weekend I spent most of the time doing a spot of gardening - an activity previously only performed by the wife, with my biggest contributions being occasionally mowing the grass and waging a constant war on the impossibly numerous ant colonies.
That was the deal - she does the garden, I fix the cars. Suddenly I found myself taking a previously unheard of interest in plants, hanging baskets, and creating a little patch of Zen tranquility behind the shed. What's going on there?
The shed was new just a couple of years ago with the intention of being used as a motorcycle workshop, which was exactly what happened until everything went tits-up on the motorbike front. This left the shed being used just as storage for tools, bicycles and all those bits and pieces left over from DIY projects that you hang on to, convincing yourself that they "might come in handy one day" even though you know in the back of your mind that most will be thrown out next time the urge to purge comes along.
More recently however, much of the shed has been taken over with beer barrels, bottles, and  a new project of an N-gauge model railway.
My god, what's happening to me? Next thing you know I'll be buying a pair of slippers.... oh wait, I already did that last winter.... bugger.
So here's the situation: I'm a balding mid-forties bloke who own slippers, a flat cap and a cardigan, and enjoys photography, beer brewing, gardening and model railways. All that's missing is a pipe and a classic MG and I'll have all the ingredients to qualify as an official old fart.

How is this possible? It doesn't seem like five minutes since I was 19, hooning around the country roads on a two-stroke race-rep hooligan machine with my arse on fire without a care in the world beyond the question of when I would lose my cherry. Then in the blink of an eye I find myself twenty years married with a seventeen-year-old son and a very small mortgage. And slippers.
On the plus side, 18 months after the motorcycle gene being abruptly switched off, I feel that it is gradually being re-energised. Anyone who is a biker will understand this. Motorcycles become part of your DNA and can't be erased. With the boy now beginning his biking life and some very interesting new models arriving on the market I suspect it's only a matter of time before I find myself back in the saddle.
If nothing else, riding a bike is one way of delaying the imminent decline into unrecoverable old-fartness.

Suzuki GSX-S1000.
Gixxer Thou motor in a streetbike.
Bike porn.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Funland comes to Craggy Island

It's that time of year once again when Stretham celebrates its feast week. Well.... I say celebrates, but after living here for over ten years I've yet to discover anything at all worthy of celebration.
Feast week seems to consist of a handful of half-hearted attempts at fostering some sort of community spirit, culminating in a big 'event' on the village green today.
So will I be attending; showing my support for all the wonderous aspects of village life in Stretham? Errr... no. You see there are some villages in the surrounding area that have a lively and thriving community thing going on, with quiz nights, tribute bands, curry nights, beer festivals etc, but Stretham? Sod all.
There's a sort of mystical inner circle of people who's families have lived here since the dawn of civilisation and seem to wield all local power, a bit like that cloaked collective in the movie 'Hot Fuzz', and for everyone else the place is basically somewhere to park the car when you're not at work.

You might imagine then, that with local activities being so limited that I'd be whooping with joy and anticipation at the prospect of actually having something to do, but previous experience has stripped every last shred of hope that might otherwise be held of actually finding fun in Stretham.
About two years ago I decided to give it a go - to show my support, have a wander around what the flyers assured us would be an extravaganza of thrills, spills, and locally produced Pickled Pig cider.
What I found was a classic car show consisting of five cars, the oldest of which was a Jaguar XJS, and a dog show with about half a dozen entrants. I've never quite understood dog shows - Crufts appears to be nothing more than snooty individuals mincing about with equally snooty dogs before a judge spends a disturbing amount of time investigating the dog's bottoms. The Stretham feast dog show wouldn't even qualify as a Tesco Value version of Crufts, and as much as I like dogs I still failed to see any attraction in this so I moved on. I seem to recall there being some sort of five-a-side football competition going on, the obligatory bouncy castle, and numerous barbecues offering many and varied opportunities for fans of food poisoning.
The one stall that was doing a roaring trade was the beer tent, with an immense queue of blokes desperately looking for something to numb the experience of having to be there, while their wives gathered together to try and outdo each other about how wonderful their children are and who was going on the most expensive holiday.
The whole thing put me in mind of the episode of 'Father Ted' where Funland arrives on the island.
Been there, done it, didn't like it.
I know I'm a world-weary cynic, but I have tried - really I have - but I'm always left feeling empty with the whole scene of false smiles and forced pleasantries, knowing that the very next day the same people who were being all nicey-nicey will look straight through you as though you don't exist.

Instead, I've spent some time this weekend converting the corner of the garden behind the shed into a little zen retreat with a bench sheltered by a big laurel bush, a range of attractive bedding plants, and a chimnea. The perfect little sheltered hidey-hole to sit with a pint of homebrew and a good book, away from the madness of the world.
It's also about the only bit of garden that has yet to become an ant farm, but alas, it's only a matter of time before the little bastards move in and spoil that for me as well.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Light at the end of the tunnel

Just got home from hospital, having finally had the follow-up knee surgery that was originally due to take place in December last year.
Most of the metalwork has been removed, and a protruding piece of damaged cartilege has been trimmed back. Just got to wait for the healing process to do its thing and for the kneecap to not be floating about on a layer of fluid, going 'squelch' when I bend the leg.
With any luck, I'll be able to put this whole sorry episode behind me now and maybe even be able to walk a reasonable distance and get back to cycling.
Got a nice Trek road bike sat in the shed which I bought after getting rid of the motorbikes and only got a couple of months use out of before the knee pain brought that little pleasure to a halt. Hopefully I'll soon be able to get back on the old girl and put in some good mileage - especially as we'll be into Summer by the time the leg's ready to go.
Big hopes too that I'll be able to get back to my other great love of long walks in the countryside. Few things give me such pleasure as setting out with a bottle of water and an Ordnance Survey map - seeing the world from a different perspective than the usual view through a car windscreen, and being away from all the hysteria of modern life. Stumbling upon some remote village pub and stopping in for pint of local ale is always a welcome addition to the experience of course....
For the past 18 months life has been on hold, though luckily without being forced to listen to 'Greensleeves' on a perpetual loop. We haven't been able to book up any holidays or events because of me not being able to walk far or because it might clash with some appointment or other. If all goes according to plan, the last time I'll need to go to the hospital will be for a checkup at the fracture clinic in six weeks time when I'll hopefully be signed off completely - job done.
There's a distinct light at the end of the tunnel, and all I can hope for now is that some bugger doesn't turn it off.

Big shout to all the nurses out there - as I realised on previous hospital stays, these girls truly are angels. They work incredibly hard for long hours and inadequate pay, while dealing with all sorts of shit that most people would balk at. The wards are overworked, understaffed, and often badly run, but the nurses slog their guts out to make patients feel cared for and their needs provided for. The nurse that helped transport me to theater and sat with me for a couple of minutes until I was wheeled in still hadn't had a lunch break and this was after 4pm. I'd seen her rushing about since her shift started with her feet barely touching the floor, and I felt obliged to let her know how much I appreciated the work of her and her colleagues - especially as some bastard relative of a patient had shouted at one of the nurses the day before, reducing her to tears. Fair play to the doctor who came out and dressed down the thoughtless arrogant wanker in a very loud voice so everyone knew what a bullying arsehole he was.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Ashamed... but not THAT ashamed

Yesterday I got a phone call from Cancer Research. For a few years I made monthly donations which I was spurred on to doing when my mum died of pancreatic cancer in 2007. That was all fine and dandy until they started sending begging letters asking for the donations to be increased to a level I considered to be excessive. Sometimes they included a ballpoint pen with the letter which I found infuriating - you don't go asking for more money and then waste it on freebies!
Eventually, these letters pissed me off so much they had the reverse effect and I cancelled the direct debit altogether.
The man on the phone last night thanked me obsequiously for my previous donations, and when he finally removed his tongue from my arse he proceeded to try and entice me to take part in their new money-raising initiative. What this boiled down to was a lottery, where your donations would entitle you to so many entries into a monthly draw with significant prizes to be won.
"Would I be interested in this?" he asked. "No, I would not" I replied.
"We do have a lower donation level which gives you....." he began, when I interrupted with "It's not about the money, it's the entire concept I find distasteful. A charity exists to raise money, not to give it away." He went a bit quiet then thanked me for my time and hung up.

Later I got to thinking about how we have spent money over the past year, and how much of it was unnecessary. It turned out that we spent a shocking amount on stuff that wasn't strictly needed; things that were very much 'wants' rather 'needs'. Okay, a fair chunk of it has been to get the boy independently mobile, but even then he could get the bus or cycle instead. The rest has just been replacing things that weren't broken but we were just a bit bored with, and I hang my head in shame thinking of the good that money could have done if it had been put to better use.
Okay, it's my money and I earned it so it could be argued that it's entirely up to me where it goes, but when you fight so hard to not get caught up in the consumer machine and then realise how often you've allowed yourself to compromise such principles, it's hard to not feel guilty.
However, when you get charities trying to pull stunts like this latest thing from Cancer Research, it does make me think that the way to go would be to use my abilities to assist local charities and stop feeling ashamed of having bought an iPod.