The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Yes, this silly little ditty (one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child) is apparently* by the very same Christopher Isherwood who wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1938) - the novels that were later adapted into the play I Am A Camera (1951) and the 1966 stage musical and cult 1972 film Cabaret. I was irresistably reminded of Isherwood’s nonsense poem when I encountered this beautiful cormorant stretching out his wings in the July sunshine as I walked by the Thames in Richmond last week. Incidentally, you might like to know that cormorants and shags (no sniggering at the back there!) are, although of the same avian family, two totally different types of bird – and there were no bears (with or without buns) to be seen anywhere, rather disappointingly…
*There is some debate over whether the poem is actually by Isherwood at all, but it is certainly widely attributed to him on most poetry websites and in pre-internet poetry collections (of the physical book kind) dating back over a number of decades that I have either personally seen or own.
Out for a pleasant walk by the Thames in the sunshine last Sunday, I turned a corner to find this gang of cheeky rodents – in fact, this lot weren’t the only grey squirrels in sight. Tempted by the remains of picnics and ice creams (as well as the seeds and buds of the many mature trees in the area), squirrels were bounding round everywhere I looked. As I walked through the shady green grounds of York House in Twickenham with my camera in my hand, they seemed to be edging ever closer to me, circling me as I strolled – their fear of humans almost non-existent after so many years of posing for photographs and being cute for scraps of food. It almost felt as if I were in the opening scenes of some weird, squirrelly horror movie, so I quickly pocketed my camera and left, breathing a sigh of relief…
I think I’ll stick with ducks in the future!
To absolutely no-one’s surprise, the controversial badger cull trial is in trouble. There appears to be confusion over how many badgers there actually are in the trial area to begin with, and the government’s targets for killing these beautiful creatures have not, it seems, been met – leading to an extension to this pilot cull being requested in order to do so. The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who is very much in favour of the cull, was asked about this in a BBC interview today:
BBC News Interviewer: What you describe there as success, the critics will argue has been a failure on all levels. You didn’t estimate the number of badgers in the area correctly in the first place, you haven’t reached the 70% target of killing badgers that you set yourself at the beginning of this and now the trial has to be extended. You’re moving the goalposts on all fronts.
Owen Paterson: No, that’s not right at all. The badgers moved the goalposts. We’re dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns.
BBC News Interviewer: Well, doesn’t that make the cull ridiculous in itself then?
Well, yes. Yes, it does. But the cull has always been ridiculous in itself. And Paterson is quite right when he points out that badgers are wild animals, although I’m not sure how that would make them responsible for changing the rules of football – let alone a basic human inability to count correctly or shoot straight. Indeed, I suspect the badgers are probably less on the wild side and more like absolutely livid over all this stupidity. So livid, in fact, that I like to think they’ve run away with the goalposts so poor Mr Paterson can’t play football…
Seems I wasn’t the only one amused by the possibilities of this mental image – over at usvsth3m.com, they’ve got a fun Owen Paterson’s Badger Penalty Shoot-Out game where you can try to get the ball past a group of sneaky goalpost-moving badgers. It’s not as easy as it looks – the badgers beat me every time!
Like a number of other countries, Britain is currently sweltering in the midst of a heatwave. It’s hard enough for humans to cope in the hot weather (personally, I hate it – when it’s freezing cold you can always put another jumper on, but in this heat you can’t take your skin off!), but imagine what it must be like for our wildlife, which has already been battered by the strange weather we’ve been having so far this year.
Fortunately, anyone can help keep an eye on our wildlife during this heatwave – and here’s some simple and really good advice on how to do just that from Val Osborne, who is the head of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ wildlife enquiries team:
While we all revel in an unusually sunny summer, our garden wildlife might not be having such a good time. The hot weather could be causing natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and hedgehogs could be left without anything to drink.
Turning your outside space into a home for nature by doing simple things like topping up your birdbath, creating a make-shift pond from a washing-up tub or putting down a saucer filled with water could offer a vital lifeline to some of our garden favourites that are already fighting against declines.
Some critters are going to need extra food too, as Osborne also notes:
When it’s particularly dry, worms tunnel right down into the soil, meaning they become out of reach to the wildlife that usually feasts on them, such as blackbirds, robins, hedgehogs and frogs.
If the hot, dry conditions carry on we may see wild plants start to die, meaning bees and butterflies will find it hard. If that happens, our gardens and the well-watered plants in them will become even more important to these insects.
You can find some more good advice on looking after wildlife in hot weather here.
Plus, if you have pets, there’s some great info from the Battersea Cats & Dogs Home on keeping them safe during a heatwave here.
Oh, and if you’re out and about, you can bring me back an ice lolly please!
Stay safe and stay cool…
Despite this week’s rain and a wind so gusty that I almost thought I was going to be blown away like the queue of nannies in Mary Poppins, it seems that spring has finally arrived – much to the relief of everyone, including this lovely dog. Happily sunbathing on a lounger atop a houseboat moored on the Grand Union Canal at Ladbroke Grove, he sat up to watch me go by – and posed rather beautifully when I got my camera out!
Cute, aren’t they? This magnificent seven live along the Grand Union Canal at Ladbroke Grove in west London, and are being beautifully looked after by mum and dad. In fact, when I passed them this evening, they were sat on the grass, all trying to wriggle under mum’s wing at once to keep warm! I couldn’t help but smile at the sight of these seven little signs that spring has finally arrived…
Digging though the Another Kind Of Mind media library, I came across some photographs I had uploaded over the summer and then promptly forgotten about, so I thought I would share them with you now (plus, we haven’t had any ducks round these parts for a while!). Most of these were taken along my favourite stretch of the Thames between Twickenham and Richmond in south-west London during the early summer of 2012.
Meet Sonny (above) and Tallulah (below), possibly the most chilled out Barn Owls in the world. I met them this afternoon at the Grow Heathrow open day in Sipson – they’d been brought along by a local owl rescue centre (which, I have to admit, I didn’t even know existed until today!) to meet everyone.
While the rest of the local area has spent the last few days at an absolutely chaotic stand-still due to the Olympic cycling, these sleepy pigeons – spotted on Richmond Bridge – have definitely got the right idea…
I’m a regular rummager of charity shop bookshelves – it really is amazing what you can discover gathering dust in forgotten corners. A recent bargain acquisition was Ed Glinert’s fascinating volume, The London Compendium, an engrossing guide to the hidden nooks and crannies of the capital. It’s one of those wonderful books that can be read cover to cover or, as I’ve been doing, dipped into at various points simply out of curiosity or personal interest.
And it was while dipping into the section on east London (an area that is currently in the news with the opening of the Olympic Games this week) that I discovered a remarkable story that I had never come across before. A story that I couldn’t resist sharing with you…
Meet Charles Jamrach, Victorian animal importer, exporter, breeder and retailer. And we’re not talking about kittens, hamsters and goldfish either – Jamrach’s Animal Emporium, on the East End’s then-infamous Ratcliffe Highway, was probably the only place in 19th century London where, almost unbelievably to our modern sensibilities, “the casual buyer could obtain, for instance, a lion, no questions asked”¹, as Glinert wryly puts it. Jamrach’s many customers included P.T. Barnum’s circus, London Zoo, various menageries and wealthy (and well-connected) individuals who wanted something more than just a moggie or a mutt.