Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Bird in the Hand

Ferry Meadows Country Park offers the visitor great variety in terms of things to see and do.  There’s the Nene Valley Railway of course, but also boat trips, watersports, cycling, golf, horse riding and cycling to name but a few.  Another popular pastime is ornithology as the park is home to a wide variety of bird life.  Indeed, during several visits to the area I’ve dabbled a bit and tried to take some interesting pictures whilst waiting for the trains – although photographing birds requires a certain amount of skill of which I don’t have much, plus a great deal of patience of which I have none whatsoever.   However, I did manage to take the above photo, plus this rather nice, if blurred, shot of a robin last Christmas as my nether regions gradually froze to the texture of granite whilst I waited for the Santa Special steam train to arrive at Ferry Meadows station.  The bird had been ducking and diving around the platform, never staying still long enough for a photo, when it landed on the station nameboard and remained there long enough for this picture to be taken.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised to view this stunning example of another bird perched at exactly the same spot a few days ago.  A fine example of perkupus tittis blonditicus, otherwise known by the more common household name as the full-breasted robyn.  

As you probably know, this is a member of the tit family.

Although the robyn is a common enough species in the UK, it is highly unusual to find one that has shed its plumage so far inland – normally these birds tend to divest themselves at the seaside, or within the confines of their own nest.  Finding one at a railway station would almost be enough to provoke an outbreak of conversation on a London commuter train.

This particular example is clearly a young female - like so many of the migrating species, tits tend to head south.  And with this breed as they get older, that’s where they stay.  However, in recent years some celebrity birds have been known to be artificially enhanced – the keen ornithologist easily spots these as they swell to three times their natural size and in most cases the body becomes a distinctive shade of Essex orange.

Kerry Katona’s friends thought that her 28th boob job made her look a bit of a has-bean.

The breeding habits of the robyn are well known and documented, but vary slightly from region to region.  Between the ages of 16 and 22 (or 12 and 13 in Middlesborough), robyns flit between a variety of mates, usually on Saturday nights.  The mating ritual involves drinking large amounts of cheap alcohol known as polly-filler, followed by a sacred dance barefoot around a handbag with a pair of high heels discarded to one side.  This ritual tells the sharp eyed male that his chosen partner is well up for a bit; he then has to make his move quickly as the rest of the flock will also be observing the females from close quarters.  The lucky male will approach the unsuspecting female from the cover of strobe lighting, his advance going undetected thanks to the natural distraction provided by Agadoo at 195 decibels.  With a well-refined technique handed down through the generations he will begin the courtship with, “Fancy a shag, pet?”  The pair will then retire discreetly to consummate their coupling in a Vauxhall Corsa or round the back of Argos.  This may be followed by an invitation to visit the female nest for ‘coffee’, which the male instinctively understands to mean ‘more sex.’  The ritual ends the following morning when each of the pair awake and see each other sober for the very first time.  Frequently this comes as a shock and the male will make a hasty exit from the nest, hoping to avoid the heart rendering and plaintive cry from the female of, “Call me …”

10 p.m.

10 a.m.

Mating generally takes place between different flocks, and usually with a similar species unless a lucky bird discovers a vast quantity of polly-filler and loses many, if not all, of her inhibitions.  However, in Spalding mating often takes place between members of the same family unit, which explains rather a lot.  

“I want you up and dressed before your three-eyed webbed-foot 
Dad gets home, son - or there’s no pocket money this week.”

More information about the mating habits of birds may be gleaned online with some research – try Googling ‘tits’ and you’ll have a staggering 94,900,000 sites to chose from, or so my researcher tells me.  I had no idea that there was so much interest in the subject - we live and learn.

Okay, I’d best confess and make a clean breast of things here – I didn’t actually take this photo; I’m just not that lucky.  And even if I had spotted her, I’d have had problems with camera shake – and please, no comments about a tripod.  That’s just unnecessary.  The picture was published in a recent issue of Nuts magazine, and came to light when it was discovered down at the Nene Valley Railway offices and handed around with much glee.  Publicity is publicity after all, and it was gratifying that Lorraine, 23, from Leicester chose to visit Ferry Meadows to perk herself up a bit.  No one is quite sure when the picture was taken, although my researcher suggests it must have been quite a chilly day.  No, I don’t understand either.  I’ve obviously led a very sheltered life.  I doubt if it was on a day when trains were running – that would have been quite a boob on her part.  And it gives a whole new meaning to 'Thomas’s Big Adventure', although it does explain the big smile on his face.

All of Thomas’s Christmases came at once.  But what would he tell Annie and Clarabel?

So, Lorraine – if you choose to visit the NVR again, please drop in and say hello.  We’d be delighted to see you; not that there’s much of you we haven’t seen already.  As my mother taught me years ago – a bird in the hand is worth two with a bush.  Or something like that.

"So how was it for ewe?"

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fly Me To ... South Africa

We'll take more care of you.  But only during the World Cup

This interesting piece of news came my way via Reuters correspondents Rhys Jones and Stefano Ambrogi (Full story here).

'The union representing British Airways cabin crew said it was to ballot members on further industrial action that could disrupt summer holiday travel, as the last of three five-day strikes neared its end.

The latest strike is ending days before the start of the soccer World Cup in South Africa but BA said the action had not affected flights to the tournament.'

"Er, Fred - isn't that our flight to Johannesburg...?"

Well, that’s just fantastic news, isn’t it?  So if you’re planning to go to a wedding in Wellington; a funeral in Funchal; a beach in Barbados; a holiday in Honolulu; a party in Paris; business in Bremen or some jiggy-jiggy in Bora-Bora, British Airways won’t get you there because a militant trolley-dolly is having a day off.  But if you want to go and see Ingerland lose during a kickabout in South Africa – well, what do you know?  All flights proceeding as scheduled.  What an amazing coincidence.

I hope that Ingerland fans get their tickets and go to South Africa – better than them staying here and smashing up my local for one thing.  But they’d better get booked up sharpish, before all the seats are sold to BA staff on cut-price staff rates who have booked them all for themselves.  Personally I will be continuing to support Ryanair for my aviation requirements, even if it does cost me a pound to spend a penny.

Ryanair management soon discovered a unique method of recycling that 
enabled them to charge passengers twice for the same service ...

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Going Down ...

I spent a very hot and sunny morning down at Yarwell in Cambridgeshire in order to film some steam trains on The Nene Valley Railway.  It’s a lovely isolated location; formerly a quarry but now converted into a nature reserve with fishing lakes and countryside walks.  It’s quiet too – accessible only on foot or by the railway itself allows the area to maintain a degree of isolation from the noise and bustle of everyday life.

Having arrived by train, I’d taken the short but sweaty uphill hike to the top of the tunnel in order to get a classic train-entering-the-tunnel piece of filming done.  As there is an interval of two hours between trains at Yarwell, I’d brought along some essentials to keep me occupied.  Along with Jelly Babies and sausage rolls, I’d also packed a Jeffrey Archer novel plus some revision for a forthcoming Railway Trackside exam.  With the best of intentions, I decided to start with studying while I was still, by my standards, fresh.   I’d got as far as ‘Stopping a Train in an Emergency’, and checked to make sure that I wearing red boxer shorts should a landslide occur and find that Jenny Agutter wasn’t around.  I was, and she wasn’t.  

It was lucky that Bobbi hadn't worn her black G-string that day...

Of course, shortly after that I fell asleep in the hot sun, but thankfully was saved from turning into an orange WAG by virtue of a loud droning noise in the sky.  This turned out to be a light aircraft from nearby Sibson Airfield that deposited nine parachutists directly above me; a great photo opportunity.  Grabbing the camera I tried to follow them as they gracefully soared in downward loops and spirals – they were using directionally controlled canopy parachutes, not the nuns-in-WW2 type circular chutes I’ve seen in films.  Finding the parachutes to photograph them wasn’t easy, even though they were clearly visible to the naked eye.  There’s only one sky, but there’s a lot of it.  However, I got a few shots off as they descended and landed around ½ a mile away.

I can see your house from here .. who's that with your wife, Bill?

If you catch me, you can have me ...

Although not as much fun as watching Jenny Agutter whip her knickers off to surprise the driver on the locomotive, it was a pleasant diversion from the waiting around, and the timely alarm call did mean that I don’t look as though I’ve spent a week poolside in Benidorm.  For that I’m truly grateful.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

A Load of Balls

Whilst I’m well known for talking spherical objects on a regular basis, there is one type of ball that manages to avoid my radar at every possible opportunity – football.  I’d sooner disembowel myself with a cheesegrater then eat my own liver after marinating it in lawnmower oil and stir-frying it in the blood of a ostrich than sit through the purgatory of the forthcoming World Cup, and in particular, the fate of 'Ingerland'.  In short, I am not a fan.

The radio, television and newspapers are already on the build up to the endless wall-to-wall coverage that will permeate every aspect of life in the coming weeks; pontificating about the tears and tantrums occurring on the pitch by the overpaid, underworked prima donna players to the tears and tantrums of the overpaid, underworked, botoxed shopaholic WAGS off the field.  And then the tears, tantrums, drunk and violent escapades of the fans – if not at the event in person (but don't let me stop you from going - more out there means less over here) then spilling out of every pub and club in town that has a TV screen.  For the next few weeks, the lives of normal sane people trying to go about their daily business will be turned upside down.  There is no escape from the event that is essentially Subbuteo with a fake tan.

"Cocktail dress; Jimmy Choos; Max Factor; WKD's ... oh no, I forgot the bloody bread!"

TV schedules will be filled with endless coverage of play, followed by replays, followed by analysis (ie has-beens talking about how one man kicked the ball to another), followed by more replays followed by highlights.  Even if the TV companies deign to show a normal programme, it inevitably gets cancelled at the last minute when Borneo Brothel Bangers vs Spalding Inbreds goes into extra time because not one man in 22 can get a ball into a 30 foot hole within 90 minutes.  No wonder Cheryl Cole left Ashley.

There is no escape outside either; already the roads are full of cars and vans decorated with stickers and poorly mounted flags, some of which fly off at 70 mph straight into my windscreen on the A1.  Thanks for that, Peugeot driver.  Next time it’s you, not your flag that’s going under my truck. 

Another one bites the dust...

Even at home you’re not spared – as I delivered to the nether regions of some sink estate in Leicester today, I spied dozens of huge Ingerland flags draped from the upper floors of reclaimed council houses.  Pity they can't be colour coordinated to the sofa dumped in the front garden, or the Mk1 Astra abandoned on bricks in the drive, but you can't have everything.

So why will no one buy my house, then?

National Pride is the excuse given for all this bunting – what an absolute joke.  National Pride would be a Union Jack proudly flown all year round; not a St George Cross that only comes out  because there’s a kickabout going on in South Africa.  If you doubt me, ask anyone of these flag wavers if they can tell you the date of St George’s Day.  National Pride, my arse.

So I’m off to buy a cheesegrater and some lawn mower oil.  I’d also recommend that the good citizens of Grantham lock up their ostriches.  In the meantime, I’ll be following ‘Ingerland’ in my own way:

Cartoon by Dariush Radpour

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