Sid The Seagull part two: Tears

The end of the working day, home at last. I rang the doorbell, Jack, my wife, buzzed me in. I gently shouldered the outside door open and stepped inside the entrance hall; it was a wonderful feeling to leave the cold winter and the hum and din of traffic behind, it felt as if I was stepping from one world into another. At the top of the first flight of stairs, holding the front door of our flat open stood Jack, the light behind her silhouetted her image. That image will stay with me forever; it was an image that radiated warmth and welcome.
Jack watched me climb the dozen or so stairs until I was close enough for her to speak without raising her voice.
“What you got there, sweetheart?” She inquired, referring to the semi-organised assortment of clothes that I was carrying.
“It’s a Gull, a Herring Gull, and it looks as though he needs a little care and attention.”
“Bring him in, let’s have a look at him.”
Still holding the door open, Jack made room for me to pass. Our eyes met, but we didn’t speak, the expressions of concern etched on our faces spoke volumes.
I placed the make-shift bird nest down onto the carpet, in a place where it wasn’t going to get trodden on or accidentally kicked.
Jack, now kneeling in front of Sid’s hastily constructed recovery nest, started to unravel it carefully. Leaning over the arm of the sofa, I watched as Jack gently and caringly peeled back the last piece of the jumper, a sleeve, revealing Sid.
Sid looked the same as he did when last I saw him as if he’d fallen asleep. As if he was dead.
“It’s not looking good, sweetheart. Get me a cup of lukewarm sugar water and a deep spoon, please.” Said Jack.
I did as requested and then watched as Jack dripped a few drops of the sugar water onto Sid’s pink pointed tongue. It was heart-wrenching to see the feeble desperation with which he attempted to lap at the warm, sweet liquid.
Jack changed Sid’s bedding, making sure that he was clean and dry, then every hour she moistened inside of his beak with warm sugar water.
We spent the evening chatting about the moral issues involved with my actions, of which, there were many. The main concern was, were we prolonging the bird’s suffering. No, we weren’t, was the decisive answer. Sid was in that lovely place between life and death; he was beyond feeling any pain, nor did he care if he lived or died. How do I know? Because I’ve been in that beautiful warm place that I now call death’s waiting room! The natural will to survive, to hang onto that last remaining thread of life was now his only hope. Playing God is a role that I wouldn’t put on anyone intentionally or otherwise, but, as we all know, that time eventually comes and confronts us head-on, shredding our principles to pieces, and pulling our emotions from pillar to post. Are we meant to turn our heads, pretend we’ve not noticed, and shy away from deciding to help the helpless, whether it be a bird, dog or human-being? The long and short of the situation is that I interfered with nature; I played God. The consequences of which is, that Sid is now with us. We must give him every chance to live.
Days past, how many, I can’t remember, Sid’s condition remained the same, but we continued the routine of trickling droplets of warm sugar water onto his tongue. Every morning I expected the worse, the inevitable, to discover that that last thread had snapped. But no, his little tongue kept searching out the offered water, his swallowing was getting stronger. And then, one evening, entirely by accident, a small miracle happened!
We were using a small, blue plastic measuring spoon to transfer water from the glass to Sid’s beak. It was an elongated oval shape and held a tablespoon of liquid. Well, Jack held the spoon while I used my thumbnail to open Sid’s beak, but I accidentally dunked the tip of the beak into the water. What happened next amazed us both; there was a visible ripple on the surface of the water, Sid was drinking!
Sid was still panned out, his neck muscles too weak to support his head, which was rested against a fluffy towel.
Jack and I watched as Sid drank, it was a heartwarming moment, that’s for sure. We looked at each others smiling faces; our beaming smiles were broad, broad enough to get crumbs in our ears, broad as a Chesire Cats. Still smiling I looked down at Sid, it looked as though he was sleep drinking; then the drinking stopped, stilling the water’s surface and smoothing the snow-white feathers of Sid’s throat that had moved with each gulp.
The smiles vanished from our faces; Jack removed the tip of Sid’s beak from the spoon; then straightening her back, and looked at me. I looked at her, then we both looked at Sid. Experiencing and sharing the same emotions as each other, we both moistened our eyes with blinks, that prevented the brimming tears from escaping down our cheeks.
Before Jack could fold the towel over Sid’s body, the smiles returned to our faces. I thought that the corners of my mouth were going to meet on the back of my head. Sid had opened his eyes!
High fives didn’t exist back then but had they have done; I’m pretty sure the clap of our meeting palms would have resonated for miles around.
Below are a few recent photos of Jack, with little Smudge, and Kracker her favourite horse.

This is a recent photo of Jack together with little Smudge.Jack, with her little pal Smudge
Jack, doing a butterfly count
Jack, saddling Kracker up, ready for a plod

Part Three of Sid The Seagull will be available soon, stay tuned. Bye for now.

Sid the Seagull. Part one.

I started to write this post as a means of lifting my spirit and perking up my mood. I wasn’t depressed, I was just in one of those melancholy lows, you know the sort, the lows that go hand in hand with crappy weather.
The grey cloud of the January sky sank so low that only the nearest oaks were visible; everything beyond these was hidden by a claustrophobic cloak of depressing, damp mist. The weather really was that crappy. But, since that day, the weather, like my mood, as picked up. Ok, it’s not tropical out there; but the grey sky as lifted enough to give us a little more head-room, and I can see yonder woods. Yipee!
This change in weather conditions also encouraged a Blackbird and a Song Thrush to sing; hearing the songs of these two birds lifted my spirits, but not as high as the thought and memory of Sid lifted them.
As you know, there is no such species as a seagull. But for most of us, seagulls do exist and are a crucial factor in our memories’ of childhood holidays by the sea.
Jackie and I have cared for several sick or injured birds over the years; All are memorable, but Sid stands head and shoulders above all in our hearts and minds, he was a fighter and a character who won the hearts of all who met him.
Unfortunately, I have no photos of Sid, I have only these memories that I would now like to share with you.
Nottingham, England: The very thought of this City conjures up images of evil King John, the Sheriff Of Nottingham, and of course that hooded rascal Robin. But did you know that Nottingham was originally named Snotingham? Apparently so. The original settlement was named after the Saxon Chiefton Snot. It was William The Conqueror who later had the S removed. Centuries later, with the Castle in ruin, the myths and stories of chivalrous goings-on covered by the dust of time, I found myself in Nottingham, delivering a small generator to a customer. I was instructed by my Boss to stay local and collect the generator later that same day.  This arrangement suited me fine because I had my Dad was with me. He loved his days out on the road, and I loved having him with me. He would make bacon sandwiches the night before I picked him up. At the last possible moment, he would add a dash of brown sauce, then wrap them in a bread wrapper. There was something old school, very much Dad, very much home, about this simple offering that made it special. This little parcel of delight would be opened, and the contents, eaten cold later in the morning.
With the generator safely delivered, we found ourselves a quiet spot overlooking the River Trent and parked up. The cold dark water of the Trent flowed slowly through the semi-industrial sprawl of this historical city, Its surface rolled and churned as if simmering. Leafless trees lined the banks, some planted intentionally, others, self-sets, gaining a foothold wherever they could.
Daybreak, although grey and murky, brought detail to our chosen spot. We saw feral Pigeons take to the wing, rising from their roost into leaden grey gloomy sky. A steady passage of Black-Headed Gull’s slowly followed the river’s course, patrolling for food. Two Magpies hopped with intent, amongst the branches of a tree, also searching for food. Their chattering calls were clearly audible. Somewhere distant, unseen by us, a Storm Cock sang.
Unbeknown to us, we were parked next to a children’s play area. At this time of day, at this time of year, the chances of anyone turning up to play were slim, so we made comfy and settled in.
Dad and I sipped at our coffee and tucked into our bacon butties, even cold, they smelt good and tasted even better. We tickle-tackled about all and nothing, generally enjoying the moment and each others company.
There was a large paddling pool to our right,  empty, except for a few puddles of Winter rain, a collection of brown, brittle leaves, and a couple of empty crisp packets. A bitterly cold wind rippled the puddles of water. The leaves and litter, blown by the chilly wind, slid noisily across the turquoise coloured concrete floor as if the dead themselves were blowing them. The two Magpies now hopped and chattered excitedly on the paddling pool wall. In turn, One or the other would occasionally drop from sight, into the empty pool. Something had got their attention. I had to investigate.
I quickly briefed Dad as to what I was up to then exited the Landrover Discovery. Instantly, the bitter wind made my muscles tighten as I felt its rawness on my face. The two Magpies high-tailed it back into the nacked trees, scalding me with raucous calls, and bobbing their long tails in disapproval of my presence. I reached the paddling pool, a dog walker returning to her vehicle, opening the boot for her Springer Spaniel to jump in was the only sign of human life. I looked down into the paddling pool. I saw the body. I bunny-hopped the small wall into the empty pool and crouched next to the lifeless form. It was a Herring Gull! Dead or alive, I didn’t know, but early signs were not encouraging. Using my right hand to support the bird’s body weight and my left hand to support its head and neck I lifted him from the ice-cold puddle. He was colder than a block of ice, his feathers were soggy, and judging by the sharpness of his breast bone he’d been without food for some time. His eyes were closed, I couldn’t feel a heartbeat, he was lifeless. Was I too late? Was he dead? I used my thumbnail to prie open his beak, I needed to see the colour of the inside of his mouth. Had it been a grey/blue colour, this would have indicated shock, but, as it happens, it was pink, dangerously pale, but pink. It was while I was carrying out the preliminary checks that I saw his tongue move in an attempt to swallow. I allowed a few water droplets from my fingertips to enter his mouth. Feebly, his tongue moved in response to the life-giving liquid. He swallowed! He was alive!
Dad had been watching from the Discovery and had already prepared a recovery station using his jacket as the base and an old jumper as the inner wrap. From the sheltered side, I leaned into the Disco (Discovery) and placed the patient carefully onto the nest of soft, warm clothes, and gently wrapped him up.
We spent the rest of the day monitoring the bird, keeping him comfortable, and the bundle to make sure that it didn’t become damp.
We had found Sid.
We made the short journey home to Cannock. It was time to introduce the patient to my dear wife Jackie.
We didn’t live in a large country house with acres of rambling gardens, no, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment just off the town-centre. It was in front of the exterior door of this apartment, holding a bundle containing Sid that I now stood, waiting for Jack to buzz me in.
Well, that’s how we found him. If you are interested to discover more about Sid Watch this space.
Thank’s for reading.

THE TERKEL

Lizzy stood at the window; she smiled through the tears that now trickled freely down her cheek. She watched her young son, Gavin, her only child, as he ventured out along the garden path into the snowy Ceredigion morning. The sky was a deep winter blue, and the fresh, chilly wind blew the few stubborn clouds that marred the heavens towards the snow-capped ridge of distant hills. Two Red Kites circled slowly, searching for food; their rufous plumage, vibrant in the low winter sun. Ravens croaked.
She looked on with deep admiration at her child, amazed at how he was coping with the situation. But the child was starting to ask questions, awkward questions – questions she knew she would have to answer!
Lizzy had moved into the remote hillside cottage with Gavin to fulfil a dream. But the dream would never come true because her husband, Michael, was dead. He had been killed while on active service in Afghanistan earlier that year. Gavin didn’t know this, and he still expected his father home for Christmas, which was only two weeks away.
Young Gav was dressed for every eventuality, overdressed even, you know what mothers are like, right. His dayglow green bobble hat had ear muffs, that was pulled down and tied under his chin. His hands were protected from the cold by matching gloves, and on his feet, he wore little green wellies adorned with a pattern of yellow frogs.
Jess, the family dog, a mischievous little wire-haired terrier, ran about excitedly in the snow yapping playfully, obviously thrilled to be outside.
On reaching the small wooden gate that opened onto the lane, Gavin stopped and turned around. He saw the damage his progress along the path had done to the virgin snow. Jess was still hard at it racing around like a fruit cake, turning the icing smooth snow that covered the small lawn into a bombsite of tracks, scuffs, and impact marks. But it mattered not, the pattern of trails and furrows spelt out happiness, joy and excitement.
Gav unfastened his pocket and pulled out a blue and red walkie-talkie. Looking back at the cottage, he saw his mother stood looking through the living room window. She held a mug of tea cupped in both hands, its hot steam rising to warm her face and condense on the fragile pane of glass. With the tip of her finger, she drew a heart shape in the moisture. Gavin smiled, then raised the walkie-talkie to his ear. His thick woolly gloves made him fumble clumsily, but, within seconds, he managed to press the transmit button.
The sudden crackle of static made her start. She looked at the blue and red walkie-talkie that lay on the window sill. The tooth grinding crackle gave way to a voice, a tinny metallic sounding voice, but a voice that she recognised.
“Mommy, mommy, you there, mommy?”
She put down her drink, then picked up the radio.
“I’m here, sweetheart. Make sure you stay wrapped up and remember what mommy told you.”
She watched him nodding his head up and down in confirmation.
” OK mommy, and don’t you worry none, Jess is with me.”
Another crackle of static, then silence. Mother and son waved to each other, he, fast and excitedly, as only a seven-year-old knows how, she, only bent her fingers in a tata for now gesture. She watched him pass through the gate. Jess, realising he had gone, quite frolicking and scampered after him.
They were gone, only their footprints remained –  and deafening silence. Liz didn’t have time to blink before the tsunami of grief hit her. Now, with only her thoughts for company, the tears escaped her eye’s and flowed freely as she sobbed.
Gavin walked through the snow dragging his feet, occasionally kicking the white piles that gathered on the toes of his wellies at Jess.
Rabbits had been active, their footprints evident in the snow. They had run in front of the dry-stone wall before passing through the gateway, vanishing into the thorny briers. A shrill whistle pierced the air. Gav looked in its direction; sure enough, it was old Keiron the shepherd, with his two collies, Zak and Kip. The two Dogs ran, crouching so low to the ground that the fur on their bellies got matted with frozen snow, as they rounded up the small flock of ten sheep, obeying their masters whistled commands.
Jess was now on the scent of a rabbit. Gav, distracted by old Keiron’s whistling, hadn’t noticed her enter into the briers. Realising she’d gone, in a panicky voice, he called after her.
“JESS! JESS! HERE GIRL.” He yelled.
Gav stamped his feet to warm his toes, and also to express his growing frustration with Jess’s lack of obedience. The Wind had picked up a little and was turning.
A sudden burst of activity from within the Briers, an excited yelp, the snap of dead growth as thorns snagged the fur of the bolting Dog as if trying to hamper its pursuit. The snow that had settled on the spikey tendrils was shaken to the ground. The Rabbit, in full flight mode, appeared from the thicket, right in front of young Gav. It stopped! Big mistake; that split second was all it took for Jess to catch it up. The little terrier, no longer in playful pet mode, grabbed the Cwningen in her muzzle and gave it a frenzied shake.
With the chase over and the quarry motionless, Jess, headed enthusiastically back into the briers, leaving Gavin alone.
Old Keiron was gone, back up the hill to fetch more sheep probably. The Winter Wonderland now took on a menacing, threatening appearance. Grey freezing cloud rolled along the hilltops, slowly descending the slope, hiding its few sparse features in a clinging, freezing fog.
Gavin stood looking down at the lifeless rabbit, he wondered if it was dead. He’d never seen death before, the thought saddened him, numbed his emotions; time was frozen.
The sound of fluttering wings snapped him to his senses. A Raven had landed on the snow-capped dry-stone wall, its caw-caw was forced out of its large black bill by every muscle in its body; the rabbit twitched.
Galvanised by the movement, Gavin carefully picked up the Rabbit and placed it inside of his now unzipped coat. He could feel its form pressing against his ribs, it was still warm.
The crackle of static was loud and sudden, making Gav start, the voice that followed was full of concern.
” Gavin, the weather’s turning for the worse! Start making your way Home!”
” OK, Mom, I’m not far away, I’ll be with you soon. Love you.”
“Love you too, sweetheart. Straight Home, remember.”
“You got it, Mom, see you soon.”
Gavin tucked the Walkie-Talkie into his pocket, then looked around; murky grey cloud engulfed everything in a claustrophobic pea-souper. Crystals of frozen moisture glistened before his eyes, the wind, colder now, reddened his cheeks. He needed to move and fast. But, Jess would not break off the hunt and come out of the Briers. Gavin circled the thorny clump calling his dog’s name, to no avail, she ignored him. He started to cry. Gavin trudged around the Brier dribbling, the calling of his dog’s name became a pathetic sob. He tripped and fell. His head struck the covered rock. Unconcious, unmoving, he lay in the snow. The crimson stain spread slowly, the first flakes of snow started to fall, and the wind picked up. A sliver of snow settled on Gav’s upturned cheek, it didn’t melt.
Jess finally emerged, and on seeing Gav, she cowered towards him, as if afraid, stopping to sniff him before licking his face. He came too, he was weak and confused. Gav knew he needed shelter, so slowly, and painfully he dragged himself to the dry-stone wall and curled into the fetal position. The snow was now horizontal, the wind mocked him with its hideous howl as it searched out his vulnerable, exposed form. He draped his weak right arm over Jess’ back, and together they awaited the frozen end.
A blizzard now blew a whiteout, and the wind bit into little Gav without mercy.
He was losing consciousness when he felt the movement from inside of his coat. There was a warmth, no, a tolerable heat, as if someone had given him a hot water bottle, it felt beautiful.
Whatever was inside his coat now wriggled and squirmed in a determined effort to find freedom. Gavin mustered the strength to move his arms and find the zip. He wanted to keep the Rabbit inside of his coat, not only for its own safety but for its lifesaving warmth. Carefully, with numb fingers, Gav opened the zip, only an inch, that’s all he could manage in his weakened state. Through half-open eyes, his lashes frozen, he saw the golden glow of a mysterious, colourful vapour. It twisted and turned in a snake-like fashion from his coat and out into the near-Arctic conditions of Ceredigion.
The green, red, and golden vapour undisturbed by the wind turned around and around on itself to form a sphere. Unable to move, his eyes still half shut, Gavin watched. Had hyperthermia set in?
The orb changed from colour to colour as it held its position, spinning slowly on its access in front of the prone child. It was now a warm peach, now yellow, blue. It exploded! A supernova, the blast of which cleared the snow for yards around. The orb was gone. In its place now stood a bent old man dressed in a brown raggy robe. His head was covered, and his face was hidden inside a dark hood. In one hand he held a lantern, a glowing light, that even in daylight shone like the Sun; In the other, he held a wooden staff that supported his bent frame. The figure raised the staff and pointed it at Gavin (who had found the strength to pull poor Jess’s lifeless form into his side), and in a voice that came from the beginning of time itself, he spoke.
“I’m  The Terkel, not A Terkel, The Terkel, the last one. My kind, over time, has been hunted and persecuted until only I remain.”
Gavin’s teeth chattered. Speechless, he watched and listened.
Holding the lamp at arm’s length, The Terkel continued.
” By the laws of the hills, rocks, and the streams laid down by Pethannwy, the greatest Terkel that ever lived, I’m obliged to grant you a single wish.”
With his last word still hanging in the air, the old man disappeared, once more to became an orb. With tears freezing in his eyes, Gavin watched the orb float away, slowly fading out of sight into the whiteout. It was gone. The large, soggy flakes of snow, the size of 50p coins, once again started the task of covering his and weak little Jess’s bodies. He squinted through slits, he wanted to close his eyes and return to a warm, happy place. The sound of a calling voice, accompanied by the image of a man struggling through the snow kept him awake. The man, now only feet away from where Gavin and Jess lay, stopped, and called his name, elongating syllables with desperation.
” Gaaaaviiin!” Shouted the voice against the blizzard.
Now, his little frame completely covered in snow from the howling storm, and paralysed with cold, Gavin was hidden. He could see the man, but he was powerless to do anything to attract his attention. The man, cupping his hands around his mouth, called again.
“Gaaaviiin! Gaaaviiin!”
Just one more step forward, inches away, the man would step on or trip over Gavin’s body. But, on receiving no response to his calls, the man lowered his gloved hands, turned, and made ready to further brace the storm. Gavin’s heart sank. The man took the first step away from the ill-fated youngster.
When suddenly! A sound stopped him in his tracks. Static, it was static, followed by a women’s voice, calling the name Gavin.
The man turned to face the noise that was emitting from a small mound of snow. He dropped to his knees, and with exited desperation, he brushed away the snow to reveal the bright colours of Gavin’s attire. He pulled the limp, lifeless, form from the snow and cradled it to his chest, and rocked it to and fro. Gavin sensed the warmth, and with great effort, he managed to peek through his drowsy eyes into the face of his rescuer. The smile and words came quickly.
” You made it, Dad…”

Willoughby’s big day

The Rt Rev Willoughby Seymour Legg, his friends, called him Willy, exited the Manse in his usual manner, slowly and backward. Before he pulled the door shut behind him, he paused and looked up. A cock Sparrow chirped and hopped excitedly along the cast iron guttering, doing its utmost to impress half a dozen excited females. The Girl Spugs tweeted, bobbed, and shuffled from side to side, demonstrating their interest in the young hopefuls display. It was for Willoughby the sight and sound of home – Spring – and childhood;
A beaming smile of pleasure broadened on Willoughby’s aging face. Whistling the tune of Zipperdy Doo Dah, he twirled around swiftly, but gracefully. The crisp, sharp sound of his leather soles grating against the worn doorstep audible for only the briefest millisecond. Still standing on the step, confronted with the beauty of his garden, he raised his arms, palms to the Heavens and said aloud, “Thank you, Lord.” He stared in awe, letting the sight and sound of the season wash over him. A Blackbird, its plumage, black as jet, and its golden, dagger-like bill, sang from aloft the cascading lemon chains of Laburnum. Lilac blossoms, purple and white, reached out for the Sun, scenting the morning air with a fragrance so sweet that it was only equaled by the soothing melody of the Osle.
The sound of footfalls crunching on the gravel drive snapped the Reverend out of his mindset, it’s young Smurf the paper Lad.
“Morning, Vicar, Happy Birthday, I hear it’s your big day today.” Said Smurf pleasantly, as he pulled the copy of Bible Bashers monthly from his paper-bag and held it towards the Reverend.
“Ah, thanks, Smurf,” Willy took the magazine from Smurf, “I’ll read that later when Mrs. Prodder has cleaned up after the W.I Coffee Morning. And yes, you’ve heard correctly, it’s the big one today, I’m nervous but so excited, I can hardly wait. BUM BUM!” The Vicar responded. The BUM BUM was so loud, it spooked the birds, silencing the garden.

During early childhood, Willoughby had contracted BBS (Basil Brush Syndrome) and had suffered from it for the past 50 years. Now, at 60yrs of age, he would finally receive the cure for this sometimes amusing but embarrassing ailment.

The Reverend took hold of his push-bike that was propped against the wall and wheeled it down the drive. Once on the smooth tarmac of the footpath, he cocked his spindly leg over the old leather saddle, and in an unsteady wobble, he headed off towards the Village High Street. Still wobbling due to lack of momentum, he released his right hand from the handlebars and waved bye to Smurf. “Bye, Smurf, see you later. BUM BUM!” He shouted.
Now in full control of his bike, Willy bumped down from the pavement onto the road, careful not to do himself a mischief. The number 17 double-decker, driven by reg, who looked splendid in his navy driver uniform, pulled wide to pass Willoughby. Old Reg gently tapped on the horn button that was just under the steering wheel and onked a friendly hello to the Reverend on the bus’s horn.
” See ya tonight Rev,” hollowed Reg through the open window, over the noise of the engine. Willoughby wobbled slightly, but raised a hand in acknowledgment, then shouted BUM BUM at the top of his voice, then he returned his grip to the handlebars. Now on a slight descent with the wind blowing through his wispy grey hair, he removed his feet from the pedals and stretched out his legs. Then, with his heart full of joy and his lungs full of fresh air, he let out an enormously loud raspberry, followed by BUM BUM.

The Village Square was a hive of activity; the locals had banned vehicles from using it for the day. So now they milled about in their clicky groups, chin-wagging and laughing at each other’s jokes and comments, without the fear of being run over.
Children played tick, screaming and bawling with excitement as they ran, chasing each other between the food-laden trestles. The kids had already been eating home-made cake, jam around their mouths, and sticky fingers were proof of this.
Brightly colored bunting zig-zagged from one side of the square to the other, giving it a roofed appearance. The bunting and the loose edges of the tablecloths fluttered in the gentle breeze.
In front of the War Memorial, the local youth brass band stood, polishing and making final checks on their instruments.
There was an air of excited expectancy, and it touched everyone.

A gangly youth raced into the square, his segged boots slipping on the cobblestones as he cornered the bakery.
“HE’S COMING – HE’S COMING!” He shouted in between his deep breaths.
The waiting crowd hushed and turned to face the direction of the out of puff youth. Parents brought their children to order, and the members of the brass band shuffled into their respective positions.
Seconds after the youth, who everyone knew only by his nickname: Flagpole, the Reverend himself appeared.

As if possessed, Willoughby freewheeled at speed into the square. On seeing the carnival scene in front of him, he clasped both brake levers, and with a shuddering squeal of resistance from the rubber brake blocks, he came to a halt. Willy dismounted his faithful steed, Knackanippa; yep, that’s what the Reverend called his bike: Knackanippa. Apparently, the name came from an incident he had while lobster fishing off the Cornish coast. That’s according to Mrs. Pigeon, the gossipy old postmistress.
As he propped his bike against the bakery wall, the sound of applause, interspersed with the occasional whistle, filled his ears. Willoughby could feel his emotions, starting to bubble out of control. Happy that the bike wouldn’t fall over, Willoughby released it, stood straight, swallowed hard, then about turned.

His lips quivered, and his eyes welled with tears. There in front of him was the entire population of Hampton Chodwick, his parish for the last 30 years. A large, handmade banner hung from one side of the square across to the other, it read: Happy 60th Birthday Willy. The Reverend walked slowly towards the applauding, cheering crowd, tears rolled freely from his brimming eyes, his emotions were getting the better of him.
There opened a gap in the applauding crowd, and Willy, as if entering the mouth of a hungry monster, nodding his head in recognition and appreciation, walked into it. The mouth closed behind him, and willy disappeared. A Villus of arms reached out, touching his shoulders in praise, and steering him towards a raised platform. The Platform was occupied by a small gathering of standing, applauding, dignitaries. At their head stood a short chubby chap. He was draped in a scarlet robe and wore a red beret adorned with a large white Ostrich plume. And enough gold chains hung around his neck to sink a battleship. He beckoned willy forward. It was non-other than the Rt Hon Gerald Grosswanger, the Lord Mayor of Crapstone.

Finally, Red-faced, and with garlands of Spring flowers hooped over his head, the Reverend arrived at the platform. He stood at the bottom of a small flight of three stairs. Raising his eyes, he saw the smiling face of the Lord Mayor, who held out his stretched hand to him. Willy accepted the offer of assistance and was gently extracted from the happy, festive throng. As soon as he was free of the crowd, the Mayor lead him across the blue carpeted platform to a free-standing microphone. There they stopped, and the Mayor with one arm over Willy’s shoulder and the other free to wave about, he gestured for silence.

The gathering complied, and gradually the applause abated. A hush befell the square. The unnatural quiet was broken only occasionally by a cough or a parent’s attempt to shhh a child. Willy scanned the upturned faces, he winked a greeting whenever eye contact was made. Suddenly! A wail of ear-piercing feedback escaped the amateurishly installed P.A system, causing people to grit their teeth, and allow their necks to withdraw and disappear between haunched shoulders. On the grey slate rooftops of the square’s artisan shops, Harry Hikinbottom’s flock of racing pigeons cooed, preened, and performed that comical walk that they do. The squealing P.A triggered an instant response from the birds; they erupted into flight in a clatter of flapping wings. As silence returned to the square, a single tail feather from one of the startled pigeons spiraled, quill first, unnoticed, to the ground.

The Reverend now stood alone, the edge of the Platform seemed more like a cliff edge, and the smiling, happy faces before him were seemingly a foaming sea. The silence roared in his head, turbulent waves thundered in, slamming, and then swirling around inside of his head. Holding the mic stand for support, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he started his unprepared speech.
” My Lord, Ladies, and Gentlemen, here it is, my big six o. For years I have longed for the arrival of this day, to finally rid myself of this damn embarrassing BBE. But now, looking at your smiling faces.” He smiled and bowed his head when his eyes recognized Reg, the bus driver. “I had everything worked out, my exact words, the lot. After all, I’ve had long enough to plan them. Stood here, soaking up your love and admiration, I realise that it is you who matters most. With that in mind, I’ll keep my speech short, and let you crack on.” Willy could feel the life slowly drain from his body. ” Thank you all so much, now go and enjoy this splendorous day. BUM BUM!”
The gathering broke into laughter, the bandmaster tapped his baton against his music stand. Moist lips puckered, and rosy cheeks bulged.
The tune of for he’s a jolly good fellow filled the air, everyone sang along.
The Reverend wept, his legs turned to jelly, and he collapsed.

Willoughby, still fuzzy-headed, was awakened by the sensation of something crawling across his forehead, a spider or an ant, he didn’t know.
He tried to raise his left hand to brush it off, but he couldn’t, it was tied down. And so was the other one, his feet too. He tried to raise his head, but that was made impossible by a leather restraint. Panic took over; he wriggled and squirmed, but to no avail, he was tied fast. Tied to what he didn’t know. What he did know was that it was cold, hard, and rough against his naked body.

Although his eyes were wide open and bulged like organ stops with fear, he couldn’t see anything, it was dark, so dark. A chill breeze blew gently on his clammy skin. I must be outside, he thought. Once more, the door of his confused mind was opened, and panic entered, causing him to writhe under his restraints.
” God, help me, please help me.” He wailed pathetically. Movement! Sound! Off to his right somewhere. Rolling his eyes in that direction, he saw the orange and yellow flames of torches, lots of them, carried by mournfully chanting, hooded figures. It was the euthanasia squad. Willoughby, although still, was rigid with fear, his tense muscles flexed to their full. The flames reflection danced within the mirrors of his soul, as the menacing column filed into the clearing. Spittle sprayed from his mouth, adding synchronised vision to the words that escaped through clenched teeth.

The hooded procession was led by a tall figure who carried a large drum that he beat slowly, its somber sound filled the clearing. No one knew his real name, only his nickname. The faceless mass crowded around Willoughby’s writhing form. The clearing was a battlefield of light and shadow, flames from the torches licked the darkness, beating it back.
In this surreal ambient glow, a hooded figure stepped forward and halted at Willy’s side.
The Reverend stared wide-eyed with fear into the black chasm of the hood, but he saw no face. The hooded figure, caressing Willy’s brow gently with one hand, peeled back its hood with the other. Willy gasped. ” Reg!”
” Hello, Rev.” Responded Reg in a hushed tone. Reg winked knowingly at his panic-stricken friend. Willy smiled and coyly winked back at his old buddy.

From within his robe, Reg produced a sheathed dagger. It was a golden dagger. Holding it in the fingers of both of his hands, he raised it above his head. In a deliberately slow movement, the blade was drawn from its ceremonial scabbard and brought to rest on Willoughby’s throat.
Somewhere out in the darkness, a Dog Fox barked. Reg’s and Willy’s eyes were locked, they saw their own reflections staring back, both men smiled.
The long-awaited cure for his BBS was fast and painless.

 

Beating the Block

Why – Why – Why – am I finding this so difficult to do? It’s as if there is a 20ft brick wall separating my thoughts from my keyboard and someone as greased its face to make it more difficult to clamber over. Writer’s Block, I’ve heard of it, even laughed about it, but never did I think I’d get it. I will write again, but first I’d like to explain why I stopped: On August 15th, 2011, I suffered a bleed on the brain – a cerebral hemorrhage. What a horrendous experience that was, one that I nor anyone else will ever forget. It felled me as if I were a tree and almost took my life. For weeks after my life-saving operation, I lived in a sub-conscious, morphine-induced world of horror; Helpless as a newborn baby, I wondered around the spirit world looking for a way out. I’ve been to dark places before, but this one takes the biscuit.
While I was fighting this battle, others, namely my Dad, my younger sister, Meg, and my little Bro, John, were fighting theirs too. But the biggest battle of all was being fought by Jackie, my wife.
Eight years have passed since that cataclysmic day and Jackie has been there for every single one of them; working relentlessly, tirelessly, to keep our heads above water and aiding my recovery. Eight years! she’s been hard at it, never complaining, just cracking on with whatever needs doing. It’s Jackie’s hard work and devotion that made it possible for me to follow the path I’m now on.

After eight years of being the carer for others, it was now Jack’s turn to be the patient; in July of this year, Jackie had to undergo major surgery, and after the op, she needed rest. So, after bravely facing what must have been the scariest time of her life, she was in need of three months R’n’R (Rest And Recuperation). This situation was a real eye-opener for me, because, my role had been reversed. Being in a wheelchair, I couldn’t do a great deal to help her with her culinary requirements, but, I could make myself less demanding, and ease her workload. In theory, all this sounded quite easy. Far from it. All the effort that I usually applied to navigate my own little path, now had to be diverted in totally the opposite direction, towards Jack. And rightfully so!
Think of a half dial, with my name, Mick, on the left side, and Jack’s name on the right side, with a large arrow pointing towards Jack’s name, indicating where all my effort is going. Thankfully, Jack is now well on the mend, and things are steadily returning to as they were before.

Kracker

With Jack now back at work, albeit on a phased return basis, and enjoying being able to ride her beloved Horse, Kracker, again, I can pick up those loose ends that I dropped a long summer ago. That large arrow is almost back to its fully left position, pointing to Mick, and as soon as I press publish on this post, it will click that final notch, and lights will flash, sirens will wail and fireworks will explode.

Jack watching Swallow-tailed Butterflies

So, thanks to Jack and everyone who helped her on her road to recovery, I can now continue on my journey to becoming a better writer. Because that dark obstructive cloud as vacated my creative plain, we can now join hands and sing the School Anthem. I’ll start you off, on the count of three, 1 2 3 – yar de pockerty – rum ping poo…

Settling in

The Merry Month of May is at an end, and what a fabulous Month it has been here at Ladybirch Cottage. The transition from Spring to Summer is almost complete, only the Spotted Flycatcher is yet to return from its wintering grounds. It is so easy to understand why children dance with joy around the Maypole. It is this image of the vibrancy of color: red, blue, yellow and white, together with the sound of joyful laughter that one associates with this Folk Ritual that dominates my imagination at this time of the Year.
For us Humans, it is a time to think of holidays and long lazy days sipping Pims, watching tennis, or, cremating food to within an inch of its life on the Barby; some may think of skin cancer and hosepipe bans. How times change, aye.
For all living things around us, Summer is a window of opportunity, a time of plenty. A time to make Hay while the Sun is shining. We Humans can afford the luxury of being casual observers, so, don’t miss out, get out there and use your senses; even the most mundane of species has the ability to astound you. 

On Friday 24th May, I received a what’s Ap message from a friend, alerting me to the fact that a Marsh-Harrier (Bird Of Prey) had just flown over his location two miles South West of Ladybirch, and it was heading in my general direction.
My Garden List of birds stands at 128 species, Marsh Harrier would make it 129, so you can imagine how keen I was to see it. With my bins hanging around my neck, and, my senses tingling with excited anticipation, I watched and waited. Life around me carried on as normal, everything was where it should be, doing what it should be, unaware of the approaching Raptor. I scanned every part of the southern panorama not wanting to miss a trick; my every sense was on full alert. I had a disappointing false alarm – a Larus species (Gull) drifted East-West approx one and a half mile away. Dismayed, I exhaled heavily and let my Bins (Binoculars) rest on my chest, but then, in the blink of an eye, only 2oo yards to my left, and gliding just above the height of the Oaks; causing me to panic and fumble for my Bins – was a male 2nd Summer Marsh Harrier. For the short time, it took for it to drift through my location, my World stood still.

Male Marsh Harrier

I shall remember May 2019 for many reasons, but the most significant reason is that I became a Bee Keeper. For the past ten years I have wished for this; each year I have provided for and encouraged wild bees into my garden – one year there were five different bee species, with hives in anything from nest boxes to plant pots. Wasps and Brown Hornets are regular visitors, making their homes in the thatch. I’ve had mock hives, purely for decorative purposes, but never the real thing. Wild Bees have tolerated my presence, allowing me to observe their coming and going, but never letting me see the engine room, the central hub of their existence. As soon as they crawl through the small entrance hole, I am left to wonder at what goes on inside. Until now!
It’s quite nerve-racking approaching one’s new Hive for the first time, knowing there are a potential 40.000 stings in it. I suppose our conception of Bees is a swarm chasing a frantic, arm waving individual, before landing, smothering, then stinging them to death. The reality is different, it’s very calming and relaxing. I look forward to my weekly checks of the Hive; this is to ensure the health and well-being of its occupants, not only for my personal pleasure.

So it’s into Flaming June we go: shorts, flip-flops, and a long cold drink are the order of the day. Cheers everyone.

Mothin with the Bugs

As the Sun slowly sank below the tree-fringed horizon, pulling with it a duvet of darkness, that dulled the floral carpet of June; creatures of the night stirred. Ever-lengthening dark fingers of shadow, stretched, reaching across the meadow, seeking out their kind, to become total shadowiness. Sheep, heads down, unaware of its presence, carried on with grazing the Summer lush grass; their lambs, now almost full grown, returned, bleating, wagging their tails, to suckle. A clatter of Jackdaws flew to roost, their noisy departure overriding the bellowing of the Bull, as it pushed clouds of breath into the chilly air.
Amongst the fading Cirrus, a passenger plane glared gold, its path marked by a thinning trail of grey, slowly dispersing vapor. Its beady red eye blinked a silent, rhythmic flash, that intensified in brightness as the Day succumbed to the imminent arrival of Night.

Now under cover of darkness, The Lobster felt it safe to move from its daytime hiding place. After stretching its wings, it ventured out into the Night. Staffordshire slept, totally unaware that outside, The Lobster lurked.

The Lobster

After three years of setting traps, my vigilance was rewarded, I caught The Lobster. For only the second time since records began, had this large, docile Moth been trapped in VC39 (that’s the Vice Count number allocated to Staffordshire). At the moment, this location is the Northern Edge of its range.
So you can imagine, how, after walking the Earth’s crust for 60 years, thrilled, I was to see it.

The simplest of things, and absolutely free, made my day.
What’s going to make yours? There are lots of things out there to choose from.

As the Year progresses, and the nights get warmer, so, the number of Moth species on the wing increases. Leave a light on for a while, or put a sugar rope (string soaked in a sugar solution) in the bushes, they will come, just have your phone camera at the ready. You’ll be amazed by what this Night-time World has to offer.

Nice Surprise

Once a Month I like to set up my Moth Trap, and get a good close up look at what’s flying around out there in the dark. The bright 125watt methane vapour lamp glows like a false Moon, creating a dome of white light, that weakens and gives in to the darkness at its extremities. In the blackness of rural night, to any passing or resident Moth, this light must seem like a Super Moon, and must be checked out.
The Light reveals more than Moths. Brock’s stripey face is easily seen, as his grey bulk shuffles along the track, stopping occasionally to sniff, then have a quick dig.
The Barn Owl glides into the dome of light, its pale coloration makes its appearance seem instantaneous, like a magical illusion. Its blood curdling screech sends a shiver down my spine. The eyes of the Horses (Kracker and Poppy) catch the light as they graze, making me think instantly of evil creatures, lurking out there in the unknown. Silly, I know, but that’s what the dark and the night do to me. The large oak doors of my imagination are pushed open, and every conceivable ghoulish thought in my head is released and allowed to scrape their fingernails across the blackboard of my imagination.

But, the Sun rises, bringing with it a return to the familiar. Those evil creatures of the night have left the paddocks, and thank the Lord, Kracker and Poppy are both ok.
Sat comfortably on my green plastic chair, I lean forward and start to examine the egg cartons of my Moth Trap. I feel like a kid at Christmas, the expectancy and anticipation, I don’t know what’s flown in there, and I have no idea what each turn of a carton will reveal.

The real surprise on this occasion came in the form of a Dotted Chestnut. A very rare Moth in Staffordshire, in fact, it has only been recorded once before, and that was in 1997, so you can imagine how chuffed I am.

Dotted Chestnut – the second record for Staffordshire.

The Blackbirds are singing now, it’s time to venture outside and feed the waiting hoards, then sit down in front of my Skinner Trap to check for more nice surprises.

P.S No Moths were harmed in the making of this epic post.

Connection

I’ve sat here in this old chair for many Winters past; warmed by the flames of tended fire and sheltered from Nature’s inclement weather by a deep thatch of golden straw. It is from this humble, privileged position that I observe the creatures that visit and share my space, as they feast upon the offerings that are always available to them. Leaving the cosy interior of the cottage, each and every day at cockcrow, and entering the dawn of a new day, to feed the waiting expectant mouths forges the connection between my life and theirs. What I feel and experience in those few short-lived minutes, of the cold night that has gone before is but only a brief taste of what they, the birds and animals, have had to endure. Their – let’s get on with it – approach to life is not only endearing, but it’s also inspirational.

There are many birds that frequent my garden, I’ve recorded 126 species so far, and the daily count of the more common species can often exceed 100.
I find it spellbinding to watch them coming and going. Their constant movement a conveyor belt of colour as they hop through the leafless shrubs towards their reward. There is an obvious pecking order that is rigorously enforced, each bird defending its place on the feeder with harmless shows of aggression. That which appears to be an unorganised free for all, is, in fact, a well-disciplined routine. The food never runs out, so each and everyone gets fed. Most species grace my surroundings all year round with their presence; but some, such as Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting are seasonal, just popping in now and again during the lean months to eat and drink.
I move around the garden slowly, cautiously, preventing any sudden movement that may alarm or spook them. It’s their home as much as mine. I use my voice, mainly tuts and clicks made with my tongue, to softly announce my presence. I’m not perceived as a threat, so most carry on with their business and ignore me. With a little thought and consideration, this stealthy behaviour soon becomes second nature, and it’s not long before the rewards start to pour in; Robins, of which there are three pairs around the garden, are the first to appear. In the blink of an eye, little Rocky appears on one of his many perches: the Wheelbarrow, fork handle or a twig, and draws my attention by bobbing his body and whistling a few notes. I reach into the right pocket of my fleece and produce three suet pellets, I offer them on a flattened outstretched palm, talking softly to reassure and coax Rocky into action. The ploy works and Rocky flies from his perch onto my fingertips to collect a morsel. The only sound that I hear is that of his whirring wings (prrrr) as he attempts to hover before landing lightly on his Human perch; fanning any small crumbs to the floor to be eaten later.
So intense is the encounter.

Ladybirch Cottage: wonderful at any-time of the Year.
Last years new arrivals
The damson blossom of Spring

Spring is a meal, a feast! Each harbinger an ingredient that enhances the flavour and enjoyment of this Mother Of All Banquets. There are many familiar faces already sat at the table, with more yet to arrive. Old friends returning to us after their long Winter absence. Some, such as the Garden Warbler, will add its melodic song to the mix, while the Orange Tip butterfly drenched in Sunlight, will splash the canvas with pigments tangerine.
All of this and so much more is yours to enjoy. FREE!

The Hunter leaves

Orion The Hunter as dominated our night sky throughout the Winter months. His appearance all those months ago heralded the end of Autumn. He brought us, Winter, with its driving rain that saturated the ground, turning the once green fields into mud, and, as if we hadn’t had enough of it, even as I write, the wind hurls buckets of it against the windowpanes.
He’s up there now, hunting in the darkness, above the clouds in a far away place. Sometimes he creeps past, seen but not heard, his stealth as he passes through the stillness of the night freezes all below him, at other times, he whips up the wind to flush his prey.
His bow is held ready, his Hounds follow at his heels, he will take… The weak, slow, and the unprepared.

Orion The Hunter follows an ancient trail, if he strays from its path, he will meet his end. We too must follow this trail, and learn to live as the hunted. It is said that Man is top of the food chain and that he has no natural enemies. Well, as you know, Man has lots of enemies, but with effort and determination, these enemies are thankfully being overcome.
There is, however, one enemy that lives with us all, and evades cure.
This enemy that pursues us relentlessly as we travel life’s path, is of course time. Time is the hunter, it gives and it takes. 

The lives and routines of ancient civilizations were ruled by the Heavens. And although we like to think differently, the same applies in today’s World.
Spring forward, Fall back, we can adjust and fiddle about with the time, but it’s Mother Nature who makes the rules and sets the pace. We just play along. You can’t cheat time, or can you?

As The Hunter exits stage West, his hounds follow, taking Winter with them.
They will still make their presence felt, yapping at the Scorpion, that is now rising in the East, shadowing them across the eternal Universe.
Slowly but surely the Winter Circle leaves us, pulling the hardship of Winter with it. Meanwhile, in the East, the Summer Triangle rises, bringing with it Spring and the promise of warmer days.
Already, the garden is showing signs of waking up, the buds on the Forsythia are poised ready to erupt, their golden coloration a welcoming sight after the drabness of Winters almost monochrome palette. A foretaste of what’s to come.
I hope you enjoy the seasonal transition, keep your eyes peeled for harbingers, there will be many, and they’ll make you smile like a Cheshire Cat.

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