Thursday, 20 November 2014
Saturday, 15 November 2014
I am sat on another plane, and I wish to describe my mood. It is mixed. On the one hand, I am off to Tenerife to see a whole pile of interesting birds. Tenerife, although within the group of islands known as the Canaries, is subtly distinct from Canary Wharf in that there is no desk waiting for me. Rather there are things like Berthelot's Pipit and Bolle's Pigeon, and neither are familiar with Regulatory Capital. All the forementioned is good, and thus puts me in a somewhat positive frame of mind. On the other hand, I am stuck in a metal tube, and I am not enjoying it very much. I am no stranger to planes of course, but this particular one is a disgrace. The Canaries are a long way away, over four hours as the modern jet aircraft flies. With that in mind, I splurged the extra on a seat up the front, hoping for a bit of extra space in which to spread out (I am good at spreading...). This however is G-MEDK, and I have been spectacularly unlucky.
At this point I should perhaps point out that I am not, and never have been, a plane-spotter. Frankly it has all the same hallmarks as chasing a list of birds, and could almost be expected in some ways -there is many a twitcher who has reached that pinnacle of hobbies via the medium of writing down aircraft registrations in a small notebook whilst dribbling mildly. But of course I'm not a twitcher, and so therefore neither am I a plane-spotter. However due to my propensity for air travel I do find it worthwhile to take at least a passing interest in the planes I fly in, mainly for reasons of comfort. For instance I know that the best seat in a BA Cityflyer-operated domestically-configured Embraer RJ190 is either 12A or 12D. And that the best economy seat by far on the A380 is 25D, as the crew quarters escape hatch is in the floor directly in front of it. I therefore also know that G-MEDK, an ex-BMI Airbus A320 acquired during the 2012 merger, is the absolute runt of the British Airways fleet, and when I saw it at the gate my heart sank. I've been on it before (don't ask me how I know....), and I know just how crap it is. Even in so-called business class, the seat pitch means your knees touch your ears, and the windows don't line up. Seat 1F doesn't even have a window! The seats are thin, minimally padded, uncomfortable even on a short hop. How they can call it Club Europe I have no idea, and I'll be mentioning it to Willie next time I see him. So I'm desperately uncomfortable in a first-world kind of way, quietly fuming, and no amount of prospective Blue Chaffinches is making me feel better. On the plus side, they've run out of the pitiful excuse for Champagne that is Monopole, so I'm drinking water instead.
I digress, on the whole life is not too bad, and I am privileged to be able to do this. It's so easy to get on a plane and go somewhere warm with better birds than Wanstead. I massively enjoy my short trips, from the planning and the expectation through to actually breathing it in. There are four world lifers waiting for me, numerous endemic sub-species, and ideally gazillions of photographic opportunities. I've got three days in which to have a ball in spectacular scenery, warm sunshine, and hopefully forget about the world of E14. It's all good.
Taking my mind off the amazing and expensive discomfort of seat 2A are Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. I'm listening to a double album called 'Live in New York City' and it's quite simply sensational. I had thought I was in a Beethoven kind of mood, but then discovered that my iPod had failed to synch and I was fresh out of symphonies. You might think that Bruce and Beethoven are about as far away from each other as possible, but that's not the case at all. Both are Gods, and listening to either is akin to a religious experience in my book. Live is even better, hence the choice of album. Ideally I'd have Bruce and the guys lined up near the galley, plugged in and pouring out, but there's not enough room to swing a cat on this thing, and more's the pity. The good news is that BA are dumping it in March, and while the risk of the getting one of the five G-MIDs remains from Heathrow, I for one will feel much more comfortable knowing this heap is no longer going to be an option from Gatwick. Sad, moi? I have no idea what you mean.
Anyhow, the plan is simple, soak up some sunshine and recharge the batteries in an attempt to compensate for the rigors of the last two weeks which I always knew would be draining. The downsides of my day job are the regular peaks in stressful activity that align with specific dates in the accounting calendar. Yes, such fun. Whilst this is frustrating in that I can't often take holiday exactly when I actually want to, it means that it's also possible to book trips away exactly when I know I will need then most. It makes it survivable, and if the quarter end or whatever it is is followed by a couple of days that are as far away from that mindset as can be, I can live with that. Even on G-MEDK. Tramps like me, baby we were born to run.
Sunday, 9 November 2014
That being the case, and popularity amongst the digital generation being absolutely at the top of my list of priorities, it would obviously be very foolish of me to go and add to the vast morass of Desert Wheatear shots that now exist online following the east coast being littered with ridiculously showy birds. Fortunately I actually hate Wheatears, they're probably my least favourite group of birds on the planet, and there is absolutely no way I'd bother wasting any time on one of them whatsoever, especially on a weekend when I could have stayed at home picking my nose. No, this blog is going to remain steadfastly original, and I stand in complete solidarity with all those boring, pompous twat-heads who have proclaimed online that they're sick and tired of photos of Desert Wheatears. There will be none of that here, not while I'm in charge. My brothers, I salute you.
With two fingers.
Saturday, 8 November 2014
Today started badly with a hangover of medium proportions, survivable, but not sufficiently overlookable to be able to bounce out of bed and go and do what I wanted to do, which was smash the crap out of Desert Wheatears. So instead I opted for the juvenile Surf Scoter out at Wrabness. I'd never been there and promptly got lost, which required some cross-country remediation, but eventually I popped on the river wall of the Stour to be presented with a massive and Scoterless vista. Pleasant enough, but absolutely no sign of the bird, so I strung a few bits and pieces until it turned up - loads of Mergs, a few Goldeneye and oodles of Great Crested Grebes.
I probably had time to go to Kent for the Wheatear too, but party preparations back home beckoned, so I sensibly returned in order to do that and not get into trouble. Hopefully the Wheatear stays, but the weather in the morning isn't looking too hot. Looks like I had better have a lie in.....
Sunday, 2 November 2014
Thankfully this week most of the megas that have turned up are ones I didn't need. I spit, for instance, at Eastern Crowned Warblers. And a good thing too, as I've been out of the country for a change, this time in France en vacances avec most of la famille. On the Côte d'Azur to be precise, enjoying cloudless skies and warm sunshine. I understand it has been pretty agreeable here too, but I've had acres of lovely cheese and many vats of wine. Côtes de Provence rosé is magnificent in the right setting, and sat outside in a warm breeze somewhere between Fréjus and Sainte-Maxime is most definitely the right setting. Of birds and birding there was very little. Sardinian Warblers tchack-tchacked from all around, and there were billions of Magpies and Collared Doves, but on the whole I paid very little attention to matters avian. Too busy with the corkscrew mainly, but also too chilled out to worry about it. I took bins, used them a couple of times but really it wasn't the time or place.
The riviera was fabulously French. People impeccably turned out, people impeccably snobby. Where else would a hotel reception be closed between 12 and 2, leaving arriving guests stranded? Rules abounded, no children this, no doing that. Ah non monsieur in response to an as yet carried-out indiscretion, they read your mind these people. Favourite moments included being herded away from the entrance to the indoor pool before I even got there, and having the cricket bat confiscated at Nice airport security. A toy I said, as my daughter wept. Ah non monsieur, the bat was wielded menacingly. I returned to check it in, this dangerous soft balls only foreign object that had travelled quite happily from Gatwick on the same plane a few days earlier..... Once back through I briefly considered buying a magnum of Rosé de Provence and returning to security, there to whirl all 3kg of it it by the neck in the manner of an elegant cut shot towards the smug official that had been unmoved by tears, but it was 32 euros and likely delicious so I didn't bother. Ah France, a country that is truly blessed with many fine things, but has the misfortune to be inhabited by the French, many of whom can be insufferable. You deal with it though, and by being polite and passing the time of day you begin to understand how it all works. Not for the French the incredible speed of modern life. Being from London it is almost incomprehensible, but if you can manage to slow it all down you're 99% of the way there, and you realise quite how irritatingly pleasant it all is. The quality of life - for instance hotel receptionists get two hour lunch breaks - makes it all worthwhile. They know how to live, and it's a wonderful place for a short recharge in the Mediterranean tempo.
Monday, 27 October 2014
|Do you get these at Morrison's? Do you?! No.|
It just felt wrong from the start. Instead of being confronted with a series of lamp posts and telegraph poles along a pavement, there was a dried up pool and some sallows. Of neon signs, petrol stations and roundabouts there was no sign. Surely we were looking in the wrong place, but there was no way that a hundred other people could have made the same mistake - the place was carpeted in Starling twitchers! How could so many people screw up such simple directions?! I tried telling people that we were looking for Kwikfit, but nobody would listen. This is where it roosted they said. Rubbish! Where was the A30, I asked? But no, they remained in a long line scoping a bit of scrubby cover about sixty feet long that clearly had no Starlings of any variety in it. Talk about misguided! I think I even overheard somebody talking about a Cuckoo at one point! I mean If they can’t even twitch the right species, what hope is there?! Eventually I managed to drag Bradders away and with a bit of skillful map-reading directed him back over the Lands End peninsula and into Penzance, where would you believe it I spotted the damn bird from the car as we were motoring along the dual carriageway. Exactly as expected, sitting about with a group of normal Starlings on a massive lamp post. To his credit, Bradders apologized for initially taking me to the wrong place, and although we had wasted three hours staring at empty bushes, the continued presence of the glorious juvenile Rose-coloured Starling – which hadn’t fallen off its perch in the night as some had predicted– made all of that irrelevant. The long trip down to the south-west was a success, and another one to chalk up to the “never miss” list. These overnighters are always carry a certain amount of risk, but once again the plan had come off. Phew.