Over for another year. Well mostly.

Hopefully you had a good Christmas. For us it was a bit more complicated than expected due to a family crisis, but everyone pulled together in the way families ideally should and in the end it was a good Christmas day with lots of food, laughter and a few presents. Also a lot of glitter… Lots of glitter in fact that was largely unintentional and down to the fact that Christmas wrapping paper from a certain supermarket chain seemed especially designed to shed glitter everywhere and over everything, which eventually turns into adding a special festive glisten to everyone. I like to think that thanks to us everyone in the family was left with an additional sparkle this year.

I find it personally strange this year that this year the festive season has not gone to plan. First it felt it was coming on too early, then I was struggling to get into Christmas cheer mode (though significant progress was made via by a big screen helping of Die Hard – and yes it is a proper Christmas movie, not a just  a running joke. The Lovely Wife fully agrees and she had not seen it before this year). Then suddenly crisis point and before you knew it I was making Turkey Thai curry on Boxing Day. Where did it all go? Once more the Christmas Duck can see the approaching release from the top of the tree (only to be consigned once more to 12 months of solitary confinement in the collector’s edition golden syrup tin (I am a cruel man sometimes, but I manage somehow to live with the guilt).

Still, it is over once more, and while New Year is quite a big thing for the Lovely Wife and I and a second Christmas/birthday bash at my Dad’s is something we can still look forward two I think this might be the first year where I am looking at the calendar and thinking ‘actually I think this might be a long year’. Still, there is no point in moaning and a lot of things to look forward too, including significant birthdays to celebrate so that will have to be the fix of present giving until we can start again to execute the rituals. And who knows, maybe it might actually feel like winter next Christmas and not like a dank March day as it did in our neck of the woods.

Safe journeys to all that have to travel, better health to those that need it and sustained good health to those that have it, and I wish you all happiness as 2016 draws to a close.

Reflections and Resilience

Resilience is a good thing to develop. Not stubbornness, or inflexibility and a reluctance to change. Not even an overdeveloped sense of determination. No, I’m thinking here about standing up in a gale and still moving forward, albeit slowly. Or finding another way to get to the destination on time when the road is blocked, or rather constantly adapting, without panic, as every alternative route is blocked in turn. Someone does not want you to get home but rather than despair and give up, or panic and be paralysed you just keep chipping at the problem until it gives.

Sometimes it just seems as though everything that can go wrong is going wrong. The reality is that it is often not the case, it just seems that way as the things that are not going well (or slapping you in the face like a wet fish) are the things you are focusing on at the time or particularly important to you, and you therefore do not see the things that are bubbling along nicely according to plan in the background.

Anyway, this is on my heart at the moment as the family is having a more complicated Christmas than expected due to unforeseen hospital related activities. That’s all that needs to be said on the negative side because I would rather think about the positives in the situations. The resilience and forthrightness of a dear relative who hardly has paused since a fall to get back up on their feet and the strength of a family I have had the pleasure of marrying into yet again rallying around to do what needs to be done at a time of year where busyness is already endemic. From a moment last week where things were not looking good for the festive season, with a little jigging we are getting back on a slightly changed plan that might go down as a more memorable Christmas celebration than perhaps anyone expected.

It has also reminded me, and finally I am getting to the point, of the people working at this time of year, and working long and hard hours. After many hours spent waiting with our relative and the Lovely Wife in A & E it was impossible not to see just how busy both the hospital and ambulance staff were, and this was not the busiest time of the year – that is yet to come. I was impressed in particular by the ambulance staffs who were the most organised and practical people I have had the pleasure to meet in some time. They have to stay with the people they have brought in until they can formally hand them over to the hospital staff, a process that for non-life threatening cases at least seems to take considerable time. What I did see was some impatience – but it was fuelled by wanting to get back on the road, and an urge to be out there helping people rather than stuck in a hotel corridor waiting for someone from the over stretched hospital staff to take over responsibility for the patient. I’m not knocking the hospital staff either. My grandad used to work in A&E in Newcastle after he left the navy and he was always clear about how difficult it was trying to manage everyone, especially on the Friday and Saturday evening with the drink related injuries (and sometimes having to stop the fights that caused those injuries continuing in the hospital – my grandad was a hard man when he needed to be). Being able to professionally deal with people in pain or anguish and/or their relatives and friends who have brought them in and might be even more of a problem, knowing that most people will have the frustration of waiting hours before being seen properly – because you just cannot rush this kind of thing and you are always going to have less resources than you would like – it is not a job I would have the backbone for I fear. So I when we are enjoying our makeshift Christmas this year I will try and take some time to think and pray for those in the emergency services – all of them – for whom this time of the year can be so busy and testing.  Plus the GPs, vets, clergy, truck drivers, pub and restaurant workers and shop staff and all the rest that still have to work and/or be on call. I salute their resilience and hope they can catch up with some festive cheer when eventually they can get the time off to do so.

Christmas Past

I have struggled to get into Christmas mode this year for some reason. Not sure why, normally I love this time of year and do not need much encouragement to get out the tinsel. Like a lot of people I do like Christmas and the whole atmosphere of temporary insanity that seems to grip the country for a few weeks even if many of the people celebrating don’t really think that they are engaging in what is nominally a religious festival. A lot of it is self- perpetuating and not just by people selling something but also because people like tradition. Many of us moan about having to buy and send cards and covering our houses with decorations of various degrees of tackiness. The Lovely Wife and I are no different. I love buying presents and hate wrapping them, as anyone who has ever received a present from me will probably be able to tell from the lack of care in the wrapping.

We’ve just gone through let another ritual and put the tree up: the boxes of decorations – some of great antiquity – have come down from the loft; the Christmas Duck is once more strapped, helpless, to the top of the tree having spent the rest of the year quashed in a Lyle’s Golden syrup tin (no life that really, I would admit). There is the moment of excitement every year when I put the batteries back in the farting Santa and a moment of intense disappointment from the Lovely Wife when he still works (although I do understand why she would like to see him consigned to landfill and over the years the dye has leached from his costume onto his white beard transforming him more into a zombie Santa on the rampage). Decorations made by God daughters and son when they were very much tinier than they are now come out and are greeted like long lost friends. Unicorns, pandas and elephants hang on various limbs of the tree reminding me of exhibitions attended, places visited and people missed.

Ah, people missed. My late mother adored Christmas. She would buy presents – nothing big, things she saw in catalogues mostly, especially when she became largely housebound – but she would buy them all year round, squirreling them away from my Dad and I in draws and cupboards, sometimes so effectively that she forgot entirely about some of them herself; after she passed away and we helped Dad go through everything we found a few things that obviously had been intended as future gifts. Christmas morning was one of her favourite times I think; she had always cooked the turkey on Christmas Eve and stripped the carcass, so she was not under any cooking pressure, so the morning could be dedicated to an orgy of ripping paper off a host of low value presents. Initially this would be mostly presents for me, but as I lurched into adulthood it became for a while something of a competition between my Mother and I as to how could buy the most presents. Meanwhile my Dad would look on bemused and worry about whether his relatives coming later for Christmas dinner would be in a argumentative mode this year (not with him or my Mum – she always kept a low profile – it was with each other there might be trouble). So much was this a special time for my parents that when I came home from university one year they got me out of bed to open their presents, something of a reversal of my adolescent years where 6am was just about what I could get away with.

Christmas is not the same for me without Mum; Dad does not really celebrate it now, preferring to celebrate with us in early January when he has his birthday. I can enjoy the season with my Lovely Wife and her family; I have carried on some of my Mother’s traditions. Maybe if I think a little more about here this year the Christmas spirit might begin to flow a bit more markedly.

Watch Out

We were walking through the park here in St Albans a few days ago at the onset of dusk (which at this time of year always seems ridiculously early in the day, but there you are) chatting away as is our wont, when the Lovely Wife stopped and pointed at the bushes.

‘Kingfisher,’ she whispered.

And indeed, it was a kingfisher, calmly sitting on a branch above the river Ver, not more than a very short stone’s throw. It did not seem particularly concerned that it was now under close supervision. Neither was this tiny, gorgeous little bird that much into fishing to be honest but then that was to our viewing pleasure.

So we stood there for a few minutes taking in one of the prettiest birds we have here in the UK, as people wandered past us, totally oblivious to what they were missing. I despair sometimes how unobservant people can be. I mean, it was pretty obvious we were looking at something and you would have thought that at least some people should just be plain nosey about that. But no, no one seemed remotely interested. Eventually a small group of people walked by and started pointing – at the fish swimming along in the river. At that point I could stand it no longer and quietly pointed out what they should be looking at, and was rewarded with the appropriate amount of ooh noises that indicated that I had made at least one person’s day.

This lack of awareness seems to be a creeping disease. What I do not know is whether it is an individual thing or something of a trend. Certainly the Lovely Wife and I are on the lookout most of the time for things to interest us, whether this is something wild or something in the architecture. We are the kind of people that Blue Plaques were created for I guess. It forms part of the pleasure of walking, in the country and the town, beyond the exercise and the fresh air. It may just be that some people will always notice and others will not. But there seems to be a heavy majority on the people with more focused vision (or if I flip things, people who are not as easily distracted as I!).

Alternatively, what I could be seeing is a side effect of the huge amount of busyness that we all seem to have these days. Life seems to be busier, time seems shorter and the amount of data of all sorts being thrown at us just seems to increase. Our brains are wonderful things but conscious processing takes resources and those do have limitations. So maybe there is a ‘deliberate’ action going on to cut out input that might be seen as extraneous. Putting blinkers on a horse is usually to stop it being distracted on the race. Maybe we put ourselves in blinkers to achieve what we see as the important task. In this context of course our choice to ‘waste’ ten minutes of that precious time we have gawping at a tiny azure and orange bird represents a good sense of where our priorities lie; for me at least there is no point in the day without some time at least being able to appreciate the beauty and/or complexity of our surroundings. And there is so much to enjoy if we just keep our eyes (and indeed ears open).  But as I say, I understand the other point of view too, but do bear with me and in this case I feel confident that no one cannot be a metre away from a kingfisher and not smile, just a little bit, at having seen something special which, as they say in the vernacular, never gets ‘old’.

 

The End Is In Sight

The end of 2016 is in sight now and I do not think I am entirely alone at looking forward to a better year in 2017. Certainly 2016 has been a bit fuller of incident than perhaps I expected and a lot of it not that good. The loss of far too many people whose work I enjoyed and/or respected and various votes (I’m not using the B word) going – in my opinion – disastrously wrong excepted, I think that the main thing that will stay with me was the rather surreal experience of being close to the terrorist attacks in Brussels back in March. It seems a lot longer ago in a way; but it is still pretty vivid in my mind.

People are affected by things like this in different ways. Personally, I tend to not change my behaviour as I have, in the nature of my work, read a lot about the nature of risk, or in particular, perception of risk. It is this latter facet that is the unhelpful one much of the time, leading us to make decisions that if looked at carefully in the light of the actual facts do not make much sense. One of the quoted statistics in the area is the huge increase in road fatalities in the US after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City; people suddenly saw flying as too risky and instead started to drive everywhere. And have accidents. Meanwhile, at least from a security perspective, flying was safer than ever precisely because of the high alert. But the decision was not a rational one.

I will be using the Brussels Metro in the next few days quite a lot, just as I intended to on the day of the attacks and through the same station. Having lived through the attacks on London by the IRA, you sometimes get into what you could call a bloody minded state where part of you is almost daring terrorists to disrupt you going about your normal life. But the reality is that you are changing your behaviour in some ways, even if they turn out to be subtle. Small things; I definitely pay more attention to my fellow passengers more than I did before March. Sometimes I even can feel a little nervous, especially on the parts of the line close to the various EU Institutions. I think I have also gotten used to the soldiers on platforms throughout the city – before that would have jarred I think, now it just seems normal. How effective they would be to protect me is another question, but that is not really why they are so visible – it’s a deterrent probably to all but the committed nutter out there and meant to be a reassurance to the ordinary punter that whatever happened back then the situation now is under control.

I think the good news for Brussels is that being the centre of the EU institution and being established as a city famous for chocolate, strong beer and a tiny statue of a boy peeing most people will find the memory slipping of what happened earlier this year. People need to go there, as I do for work or go through it to reach a lot of other European cities. Cities are resilient.

Those involved in any way, even in the minor way I was, however, will not forget and will have to decide, individually, how much they want to be impacted by it as we all move forward into a world that seems far less easy to predict at the end of 2016 compared to the world we started this seriously odd year with.

Lead Me On

I’m definitely becoming addicted to technology. And like any addict, when I am deprived of it things just seem to get a bit stressful. Part of my job involves traveling back and forth to Brussels and a fair amount of hotel stays, and the way I usually deal with that is a few cans of Belgium beer and technology. The iPhone for a FaceTime session with the Lovely Wife and streaming UK radio, DVD drive and computer for catching up with stuff either I do not think the Lovely Wife would want to see or in some cases I think have just sat in the massive to be watched pile(s) at home and I am taking it upon myself to see if it really is worth it at some point us both watching it. For the record, current entertainment is 2006/7s Life on Mars, and the answer appears to be ‘yes’ – I had managed to avoid spoilers for 10 whole years in the case of this show but felt leaving it any longer was really pushing my luck. The Lovely Wife is safer – she doesn’t read SF press so is less in danger of someone blowing the joke.

Anyway, rely on the technology and so my laptop bag is a mess of power USB leads that all look the same superficially but are all – and here is the annoying bit – completely different and incompatible with each other. Usually I am quite careful to make sure that the most important ones are in there – notably the iPhone – but there has been a lot of moving stuff between bags recently and departure on Sunday was somewhat flustered and needless to say the only important power lead that has made it is the laptop one.

Once I had finished uttering the ineffectual words of annoyance – whose only power is to make you feel a little better in your state of frustration at your own carelessness and stupidity, you start running through the various permutations of problems that will now arise and how to combat them. While the phone has battery now, it will be gone by the time I have to travel home. So that’s going to have to be switched off until then, and/or maybe hope the Eurostar lounge has a charger. Luckily I have the work phone – and the lead for that – so no problem getting emergency calls and sadly informing the Lovely Wife that she only gets me in audio now. No access to my podcasts and music when passing the time on the Brussels Metro. But, hey, I have brought a good old fashioned book to read, and that doesn’t need to be charged to be of use. It does not help with shutting out the excruciatingly bad fiddle playing of the buskers on the Metro (I thought nothing could be worse than the accordion players; I was wrong) but at the same time I suppose some suffering is required in order to stop this happening again. I’m off to get some extra replacement leads thanks to the wonders of the internet for a start.

Of course none of this is actually important and I’m streaming now the radio through the laptop of course. But it does worry me just a little bit how much I enjoy my computer comforts and how many more people are even further under their spell.

No Going Back

I had to smile this morning when Facebook threw a video at me on my newsfeed of my nephew and niece banging away at toy drums and keyboards respectively some seven years ago when they were both tiny poppets. I forgot how much it made me laugh at the time and for once I was not annoyed to be reminded of something that lies in the past – generally I would rather look forward, given the choice.

Looking back can be dangerous I feel. Revisiting past glories, going back to places you have loved in the past or have important connections for you can be a powerful drug but also risks damaging the memory that made it so special in the first place. The Lovely Wife and I have agreed that we will never try and replicate what we did for our first wedding anniversary, where we stayed in the Eisenhower suite at Culzean castle on the Ayrshire coast, as it turned out having the top floor of a Robert Adam designed castle (clinging majestically to the cliff edge and looking out to sea) all to ourselves. Everything – the weather, the lack of any other guests and the firemen who were in attendance when we arrived (do not tell the Lovely Wife but I did not actually arrange them, but I’m claiming their presence as an additional bonus). Put bluntly, trying to recreate it would not work. In this case the memory is the thing. I think that the nature of memory is that positive elements just continue to improve and mature like a good bottle of port, well kept.

There can be sadness in happy memories too, however.

One of our other fondest memories was of our honeymoon in New Zealand. This has been on my thoughts a lot this week due to the earthquakes there, as it was in the previous bout of disturbances that devastated Christchurch a few years ago. New Zealand is the only place outside the UK where I honestly felt I could make a home, and the people and places were so nice to experience that my heart goes out to them in the wake of such trouble.

Now, here is where it gets a bit selfish. The world is hit by a constant series of disasters – it seems very much the way of things – and many of them are worse than what is currently afflicting New Zealand. They all need support and aid from the world community (oh how much I wish such a thing existed in truth) and Haiti – as an example – is more desperately in need. But in your own thoughts, no matter how much you might rationally weigh such things, damage to your own memories and experiences seems to cut deeper.

The tsunami that hit the Indian ocean on Boxing Day 2004 (was it really that long ago?) swept away the hotel we stayed in on the Sri Lanka coast and it was hard not to think of the staff there, or the young Buddhist monk we met at the tiny temple just inland of it – which almost certainly was destroyed as well. Or the local people who worked at the turtle hatchery further up the coast. I do not know if they were spared, but certainly they would have known people killed and the place we enjoyed a lovely and fascinating holiday in no longer exists outside of our memory.

The same for many of the places we visited on New Zealand’s South Island, especially in Christchurch. The very first place we visited when we arrived, terribly jet lagged but determined to make the most of every moment was the time ball station at Lyttleton, a lovely and interesting building. The station was reduced to rubble in 2011, beyond repair. More important buildings have been lost to the world and one could argue that there are a also lot more important things in the world – people, notably – than a Victorian aid to shipping. But for me there is always a sadness that something part of a time so personally special does not exist anymore, and whether I wanted to or not, there is no going back.

Road Madness

For the few of you who actually follow these little wanderings (and thank you, by the way, to those people – I do enjoy trying to write something every week and if only one person reads it I probably think it is worth my effort) you will have noticed a lack of content last week. This was predominantly because the Lovely Wife and I were in North Cornwall and the nearest phone signal of any kind was a quarter of a mile away on the nearest piece of beach, which was not really conducive to blogging. So my apologies for that and we are now back on track now with a bit of luck.

We came back via the currently roadwork afflicted M3 which is a road often traveled over the years to and from more entertaining things and people than, say, the normal commuting grind that is the M25 (or Road to Hell, as those of us with a liking for the works of Chris Rea tend to think of it). I have been stuck on the M3 enough times to not make the mistake or slightly absurd suggestion that I might actually like this road but it is fair to say that it has given me some amusement over the years. A few weeks back I related the tale of Barney the vulture, but he was not the only odd thing on that road.

Usually this is in the form of other road users. While it is off course important to focus on the road ahead the M3 is one of those roads where the oddity is more common. Partly, that might be what lies once you have left it and entered the wilds of the New Forest – or at least the motor museum at Beaulieu. Certainly that explains the happy moment as I sped past Thrust II, at that point the ‘car’ holding the World Land Speed record in my little yellow Fiat Cinquecento (Sporting). OK, Thrust II was on top of a low loader but it was still fun to think about it that way. It also explains the occasional adapted minis (the real ones, not the huge BMW versions) that sometimes you see (the ones covered in false turf, or my personal favourites the ones that look like giant oranges, a promotional body kit several of which I recall are in the collection at Beaulieu).

I am not sure it explains the sofa, however. It was a rainy night driving back in the rain from Andover on the M3 when I realised I was overtaking a sofa. Unlike Thrust II however, this sofa was not on the back of anything but bumbling along on its own in the left hand lane. The driver (if that was the word) was sitting in his leathers and helmet and strapped in with his steering wheel in front of him. He (or indeed she) was not sharing the sofa with anyone. But it was a bona fide sofa being driven at speed on a motorway. On reflection it was almost certainly another mini adaptation with the sofa ‘body work’ grafted on top of the mini base and engine; but it was the weirdest thing. I wonder if anyone else has seen it, or indeed any other soft furnishings masquerading as a form of transport?

Don’t Shoot the Volunteer

I have been volunteering as a room guide at the English Heritage property at Wrest Park gardens in Bedfordshire now for nearly four years and still find it an enjoyable way of satisfying a need to do something in the voluntary sector (a bug caught at the 2012 Olympics) and trying to drive some excitement in people about their heritage. Wrest in an interesting place; the importance of the site is the formal gardens which or more or less unique in the UK. Most gardens of this sort were swept away in the Eighteenth century to be replaced by Capability Brown style naturalistic landscapes (mostly by Capability Brown of course, although the man’s work is so ubiquitous the lovely Wife and I always joke that it was a franchise operation). The De Grey family who owned Wrest however decided to buck the trend and hung onto their formal parterres and woodland vistas and left us with something rather beautiful.

It is a bit of a shame that many people who visit the site do not really get how special it is and are often disappointed by what they see (or do not see) in the mansion.

Many people seem fixated on the house on a site like this as being the most important thing, when it often is not. The house at Wrest only dates from 1839 and is not rally of any historical importance. It is pretty and certainly quirky – Thomas De Grey designed it himself and created something that looks most like an Eighteenth century French Chateaux but is actually a Victorian English house. It fits the gardens perfectly and this is probably the point as they were here first. The tail is wagging the dog.

All the contents were dispersed when the family sold the estate in 1917. For much of the period since then the site was an agricultural college and many of the rooms converted to offices and teaching facilities and many of those offices are still in use with a number of small firms. The main state rooms though have been restored and are pretty impressive, if empty.

My role is within the house to explain how it came to be like it is and the history of the site, and there are plenty of interesting stories to tell to those who want to listen. Thankfully, there are plenty of people for me to indulge my extrovert nature on and regale them with some of the stories you pick up if you do this role for any length of time. I see it as important to help fill in the gaps that the lack of furnishings has left.

Which is why any shift is a mixture of delight and frustration. This is because while four out five people want to enjoy themselves and their visit the fifth one just wants to grump about something. Maybe it is that they cannot go upstairs, even if they are told repeatedly that it is institutionalised offices and nothing to see. Some complain about the lack of furnishings, although the reality is the cost of restoring the rooms to anything like their original furnished appearance would be prohibitive and impractical; at the moment the kids can run through the rooms freely in their own fantasies (the small ones particularly like to roll on the floor looking at the decorative ceilings) if they were furnished it would be a National Trust style setup with ropes and volunteers needed in every room.

One of the other reasons the house is unfurnished is to allow a flexible space for weddings and functions which is an essential income stream even if it is frustrating for the volunteers as they have to close those rooms off – and you can guess what kinds of abuse that invokes in some people (I’ve had one bloke look as though he was going to punch me up to the point his heartily embarrassed wife made him stand down). But the reality is that the charity needs the money (especially now that there is no regular Government funding) not so much to maintain Wrest but to pay for the upkeep of the hundreds of ruins and monuments that bring in no income at all. And the closures are advertised on the website and you are told at entry so while it is a shame if you have a come a long way there is no need to take it out on the volunteers – especially as if they do not give up the time it would never be open at all.

But thankfully the majority of people are a pleasure to serve – so I am not handing my uniform in just yet.

(Unusual) Birds Of A Feather

On the BBC website today was a story about a Golden Eagle that has apparently made a bid for freedom not far from where I live. The police are warning people not to approach the bird, although why anyone would want to go near a bird with a six foot wingspan and talons like sharp kitchen knives is beyond me. That said, ‘staying inside’, also part of the instruction does summon up the image of a Harryhausen-esque beast swooping down and carrying off a cow or something. Though if we did have a small dog then perhaps it would be safer to keep that indoors lest the last thing you hear is a surprised yelp and the sound of great flapping wings.

I would not be surprised if Eddie (shall we call him that?) flaps his way over here. I have previous with escaped birds, even from childhood. Maybe it was something inherited from my mother. I do not know anyone else who found a canary in the street and had it jump onto her hand. So she brought it home where it happily lived out the rest of its days in our old budgie cage. We always wondered why it did not sing, thinking perhaps it was a little on the traumatised side from its obvious escape from a cage or aviary somewhere nearby. The mystery was solved eventually when it suddenly laid an egg one year. Only the males sing you see.

We used to go as a family down to Allendale in Durham for picnics when I was small, where I would proceed to build (thankfully unsuccessful) dams out of the stones while my parents soaked up the sun (in my head if not reality it always seems sunny, I know that seems unlikely to anyone with knowledge of the North East but it was the 1970s so maybe it really was true). Anyway, one such baking hot afternoon, as I was engaged in my latest aquatic construction project, my mother was heard to ask my father:

‘Is that a pelican?’

My father assured my mother that it was not, in fact, a pelican, as on the whole these are not common on riverbanks in Northern England.

Despite the further protestations of my mother that the bird she had spied on the far river bank was not actually ‘just an ugly swan’ my father was adamant and anyway by that point the point of contention had flown off.

You can see where this is going, can’t you?

On the local news that evening it was reported that a pelican has escaped from a local zoological park and was at large in the Durham area.

My mother, being the person she was, said nothing at all, but if you can radiate smugness that evening she was glowing.

My similar experience came on the M3 some years ago now, when the Lovely Wife was driving us down to the West Country. Idly looking out at the verge (sometimes you get the odd muntjac at the side of the road) I was somewhat taken aback by the large black vulture pecking at some less fortunate creature on the hard shoulder. I was sure it was a vulture, but at this point a sensible part of my brain is screaming not to be stupid. Obviously it was just a very big, very ugly crow. My general approach to bird watching is that if there is a boring mundane identification possibility for any bird then that is likely to be the correct one (usually a pigeon).  The Lovely Wife also saw it briefly and made things worse by agreeing with me.

Again – it turns out that we were correct. It was a black vulture, which went by the name of Barney. Barney, bless him, had escaped from Bird world in Surrey that morning and was enjoying a short lived culinary holiday munching through the ample roadkill available off the M3. He was later recaptured unharmed by all accounts but in a way that was a shame – the many Red Kites we see now are impressive enough and perform this same clean up role, but vultures would certainly provide some interest in the inevitable motorway jams.

I am looking out of the window now and all I can see are a family of goldfinches. But there is still time…