Monday 28 February 2011

Why Manfrotto is the last word in Monopods

Go and buy a Manfotto monopod. Do it today. In fact, do it sooner than that. Do it now. Do it even if you don't ever think you would use a monopod. One day, you will.  I convinced myself I needed a monopod, and then didn't use it for ages as despite it being about a third of a tripod (go figure) I still couldn't be bothered to carry it. As an afterthought I strapped it to the side of my bag on my trip to Shetland last year, and put my tripod in my suitcase. My suitcase didn't arrive on the same plane I did, or even on the same day. That monopod saved my ass, and meant I was able to bring you this lovely Otter.

Hmm, not bad I thought, and threw the monopod back in it's dusty corner in my living room. Down the side of the bookshelf in case you were wondering. There it lay, or stood, whatever, for the next three months. Then I had to go to America, and so I dug it out again. I knew I wouldn't have much if any time for photography, so a tripod would have been overkill. It made this Eastern Bluebird shot possible. Without it there would have been a dribble of blue and red, possibly identifiable as a bird, but nothing beyond that.

You know what monopod, for eighteen quid off Ebay, you are the nuts. I mean, you are the best. You are constructed of cheapo aluminium, have a rubber grip and a standard screw thing, and that's it. No frills, no carbon fibre weave, no fancy-ass weight-saving clips or built in spirit level. You weigh 800g, but you can support 10kg. You are one tough little cookie, and you cost me naff all. And you're the reason I'm back in the UK and not still lying in the snow in Lithuania.

The defining moment for my monopod came on my recent trip. We (Bradders) got the hire car - the second hire car - stuck in snow. Properly stuck. The engine block was resting on compacted snow, the puny wheels spinning uselessly in deep troughs of their own making. We had no shovel. Enter the monpod. The Manfrotto 680B Icepick. We dug the car out with my monopod and our bare hands. The monopod was instrumental, extended, for reaching all the way under the car and smashing out compacted blocks of snow. A tripod would have been too unwieldy, a carbon fibre implement perhaps likely to shatter with a misplaced blow. An aluminium cheap as chips monopod? Ideal. It took two hours, but we did it. I am never travelling without my monopod again.

Other uses could include bashing sueda, a walking stick, beating off muggers and rabid twitchers, helping to balance on a tightrope, punting small bitey dogs in graceful arcs across broom fields, and stirring one of those record-breaking giant paellas. Or bird photography.

Saturday 26 February 2011

More Woodpeckers

A few more pics from Lithuania, in case you hadn't had enough in the last post. A brilliant experience, best ever views of even the common woodpeckers. Look at the trees - stripped bare. I think we had eleven woodpeckers feeding simultaeneously at one point. Awesome.

Middle Spotted Woodpecker. A month ago I had never even seen one of these, and was straining to see one in the very tops of some tall trees. These close views were an unbelievable treat. This one has a damaged lower mandible.

Rufous Turtle Woodpecker, Dendrocopus streptobalticensis. Note the weak bill, it is primarily a ground feeder. Relatively rare, even in Lithuania, we were lucky to get these views.

And everyone's favourite peanut-stealer, Great Spotted Woodpecker. Wish I got views like this in my garden. I may need to re-jig my feeders to create some better opportunities.

Lithuania, again - Woodpecker Heaven

Once we had faffed about getting the new car started (it didn't like the cold apparently...) we were on our way. A bit of birding in Estonia on the way back, including the wonderful Soomaa National Park where we had stonking views of a White-backed Woodpecker smashing the bejeezus out of a dead trunk, but the main draw awaited us back in Lithuania - Jos' feeding station north of Vilnius.

Before that I should probably mention Latvia, which so far hasn't really had a look in. We actually stopped in Latvia. It was dark, and all we did was eat a burger and have a coffee, but we did set foot in Latvia and very nice it was too. An excellent country tick, though the burger was on the thin side. Anyway, Latvia done, though Schumacher Bradnum got to visit it again, including a full tour of the back of a Latvian police car.

North of Vilnius the following day, we hit the feeders. Amazing, simply amazing. Birds are pretty few and far between in the Baltic states in mid-February, but here, with the promise of boundless quantities of free peanuts, seeminly every Woodpecker in Lithuania had gathered. A Grey-headed, three Middle Spotted, six Great Spotted, a White-backed, and two Black. I didn't see them all, but some rather good photo opportunities which I am pleased to be able to bore you with.

Friday 25 February 2011

Estonia, or "How to be even Colder"

We arrived at the ferry terminal of Virstu before first light, a flawless drive by Jos. The first sign that things were seriously wrong was when I walked from the car to the waiting room without putting on any gloves. Perhaps a thirty second walk, at most forty five. Sweet baby Moses - hands lost all feeling about halfway. So now I knew what -24c meant. Quite extraordinary. I put gloves on.

Once on the island of Saaremaa, it's roughly a two hour drive to the far end, the peninsular of Undva where our quarry, a wintering flock of Steller's Eider, hopefully awaited us. A dip after an eight hour drive would have been somewhat galling. As we approached it didn't look good. The bay was frozen as far as the eye could see - as Jos put it, we were in danger of dipping the sea, let alone any birds. We abandoned the car some two or three miles from the end due to heavy snow making the track impassable, and carried on on foot. True to form, I fell over multiple times, including a superbly flailing effort that saw me swirl about six feet to my left and land in a snowdrift. We ploughed on (literally) and gained the shore - more ice, though a few patches of open water. One Goosander, three Goldeneye, hardly a good reward. Carrying on up the beach, White-tailed Eagles flying before us, we espied a more distant patch of clear water towards the point. It seemed to contain Swans. Things began to look up, but it was another half hour of slipping and a sliding (skateaway that's all) before we rounded the tip and finally got confirmation that we were in with a chance.

Dipping the Sea

The sea, although 200m distant due to ice, was alive with birds. Thousands of them. Goldeneye, Mallard and Mute Swan dominated, but small flocks of Goosander, Whooper Swan, Smew, Velvet Scoter, a handful of Common Eider, and some funny apricot-breasted ducks diving in unison. Magic. We had done it, and there they were. Not the hundreds I had anticipated, but probably thirty or so in a tight-knit flock. Eventually we were treated to a close fly-by by a few birds, great views. For a while I didn't feel the cold, even though the landscape could have been the Weddell Sea. We finally dragged ourselves away for the long trudge back to the car, and once back in it, immediately crashed it. Legal restrictions prevent me from saying exactly who was driving, but suffice it to say that we ended up pointing into the sky, perhaps at an angle of thirty degrees, with surprised looks on our faces. We quickly established that we were all fine, but that the car had some, er, cosmetic issues. Let me demonstrate with some before and after shots.


We limped back to the hotel, and made some apologetic calls to a man who had until recently owned a pristine rental car. To cut a long story short, they agreed to meet us the following morning back on the mainland with a replacement car, albeit a crappy little car. Happy days, kind of.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Lithuania, or "How to be Cold"

Have you ever been to Lithuania? I'd heard of it, I admit, via a crazy Glaswegian guy called Franko who I met in France many years ago. He was of Lithuanian extraction, and drank like a fish, though that might have been due to the Glasgow element. I can't remember much of what he said about Lithuania, but he said that even compared to Glasgow it was pretty cold. Impossible, I didn't believe him. Having now been, I'm inclined to agree.

May I firstly say what an irritating airline Ryanair is. Thank You. We flew to Kaunas, about an hour west of Vilnius, and started birding immediately. First stop a frozen forest, where a Crested Tit showed well, but that was about it in an hours worth of birding. We began to wonder if we had made a mistake. A Middle-spotted Woodpecker raised our spirits, as did a fine Beaver dam, a new sight for me.

We needed to meet one Mr Jos Stratford in Vilnius later in the evening, so started heading that way. A brief stop at Kaunas Hydroelectric was amazing - the only open water for probably miles and miles around had a stunning concentration of waterfowl - in the short stretch that we scoped were at least 800 Goldeneye, several hundred Mallard and Mute Swan, flocks of Goosander, and a Lithuanian rarity - Canada Goose!

We met up with Jos exactly as planned - he had a small bear on his head to cope with the extreme temperatures - I wondered if my crappy little fleecy beanie was going to cut it. A brief pizza, an even briefer kip, and then we drove through the night to Estonia. I think I woke up at the border, but basically Latvia didn't get a look in. As we approached our destination, the port of Virtsu on the Gulf of Riga, the car temperature guage read -26c. It doesn't even bear thinking about...

Tuesday 22 February 2011


I have never been colder

Thursday 17 February 2011

Shopping in Pitsea

So, I was going to Pitsea, like, to do some shopping, yeah?

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. I definitely didn't bundle Pudding into the car at about 11:10am, and cane it to Rainham. Once there, neither did I run to the Serin Mound, and breathlessly ask to look down someone's (anyone's!) scope. As long as that's clear.....

I did actually have to go shopping in Pitsea, there to buy a fleecy neck gaiter thing, which can work as a scarf, a hat, a balaclava, a pirate costume and who knows what else, for my upcoming trip to Lithuania where it is going to be baltic. Rainham was on the way, and so fitted neatly into my plans. The bird itself was always distant on Wennington Marsh, but very obvious once you got your eye in - I confess it has been some time since I squinted down a scope at gulls. It was too far to glean any finer details, but on size, mantle colour, head markings and so on, plus a whacking great trailing edge to the wing when it flew, it was clear that it was "the boy". In truth I can't get too excited about it, but it is clearly creating quite a stir judging by the number of panicked-looking people in anoraks sprinting down the sea wall. Hey ho. And by the way, it doesn't count as twitching 'cos Rainham is my second patch, OK?

Here, have a gull. They're all the same really.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Coots and Squirrels

Have you ever looked closely at a Coot? I admit that it is hard, but have a go. Whilst doing so, image that you were a bit smaller, and that they were a bit bigger..... Terrifying, and it's not like they're particularly placid is it? They're either constantly up for a fight, or actually fighting. And there are lots of them, not just one or two at the top of a food chain. Back in the dim distant past they probably hunted in packs - small proto-humans wouldn't have stood a chance.

Fulica velociratra

It's the same with Squirrels. They look cute and cuddly, but this belies an agressive nature and urge to dominate. Again, imagine they were a bit bigger, and that you were a bit smaller. Remember Veruca Salt? Gah! And of course there is nowhere they cannot get to, no obstacle insurmountable, and not forgetting that they are utterly bomb-proof. Next time when one chatters above your head, be thankful that evolution took a slightly different course.

Sciurus indestructiblensis

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Inner Strength and Momentous Resolve

Yesterday my pager bleeped, or it would have done had I had it switched on (yes I still have it, there is a notice period in the small print). Instead I had a few phone calls from some rabid twitchers I know. "Go go go!" they shouted down the phone. "Eh?" I replied. "Isn't that Jono 'filthy' Lethbridge?" they responded.

I know of no such person. I am a changed man. The message was about a Rufous Turtle Dove in a garden in Oxford. This is very mega, the first southern record for about sixty years, and the home owner, having read my Crow Council piece, had opened up his garden to the masses. He would allow access from 10am until 4pm on Tuesday, and on Tuesdays I am childless and 100% available. Surely I would be going, my friends enquired.

I admit I weighed it up. Two hundred miles there and back, that's about £3,250 of diesel. Four hours in the car, including the first leg on the M25 during the morning rush. Arrival time of 11:30am at the very earliest. I would have needed to leave at 1pm at the latest to ensure I got back to pick up the kids from school. An hour and a half on site, with viewing restricted to ten at a time from a kitchen window, with anxious birders queuing down the street to gain access. Did I want to be part of that? Did I want to stand in a residential street looking like a complete tit along with likely several hundred other people looking like complete tits, whilst looking at my watch every five minutes. Come 1pm, in the queue still, would I attempt to stay that little bit longer. And then just a bit longer? Frankly it had Lesser Kestrel written all over it.

Rufous enough for you?

Today is Tuesday, and I am in Wanstead. The March issue of that august publication Birdwatch Magazine has just landed on doormats (and is available from all good newsagents - buy your copy today!). In it I muse that birding needs to be enjoyable. Indeed - and here is a freebie - the last sentence reads "When your birding is reduced to periodic moments of blind panic, surely it’s time to reevaluate". Going to Oxford on Tuesday did not have many of the hallmarks of an enjoyable day, so you know what? I passed. Mega it might have been, nihth ever it might have been, but fun it would not have been. So no thanks, and I get to not be a hypocrite for a change.

Instead I went for a walk round Wanstead Park. I had a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker down near the Ornamental Waters, and 11 Pied Wagtails feeding together on the cricket pitch was mega in its own way. In Oxford, 700 people turned up, and the bird did a runner just before 9am. Result.

Monday 14 February 2011

Aythya Hybrid, Valentine's Park, Valentine's Day

You know I said I'd be writing about Coots and Squirrels? Well, something came up. A duck, to be precise. I've never knowingly seen a hybrid Aythya before, and so as part of my ongoing birding education I thought I would go and see one. Hawkeye found a funny duck in Valentine's Park yesterday, and which may be the same bird that the Mo found at Berwick a few weeks ago. That one was mooted as Ring-necked Duck x Pochard. I watched it for about three hours in all, during which time it was either awake and distant, or close and asleep, with periods of very brief awakeness for which I had to be alert and ready.

I managed some close ones in the end, and on inspection at home, with Dave's photos on hand, I'm not convinced it's the same bird. Specifically, I think the white band above the 'nail' on bill is much more indistinct. Lighting plays a part I suppose, as can posture (such that the apparent rear crown peak can just disappear), but this looks more like the classic (perhaps a poor choice of word) Tufted Duck x Pochard, the Lesser Scaupalike.

What do you think?

Whatever it is, an interesting bird and I was glad to have the chance for a good look at it. I spent a bit of time scouting around for Valentino the Med Gull, but couldn't find him. We have been wondering if the bird on Wanstead Flats was Valentino gone walkabout, but I have since discovered that he is ringed, whereas our bird is not.

Anyway, next up Coots and Squirrels, exactly as promised, no way would I let you down. Oh, but first a Pochard.

Sunday 13 February 2011

"Tomorrow I will mostly be seeing Ravens in London"

So said Paul W last night, and would I like to join him? I decided I'd do Wanstead Flats first (of note - Med Gull again, 2-3 Teal, 2 Siskins), and then give him a call. This I did, and then decided that 10 hours in Wanstead was quite enough for one weekend and that a trip, or at least a tripette, was in order.

Now Raven is a very difficult bird in London. You don't just bowl up and see them. Most records are of flyovers on the fringes of the recording area, and indeed Paul has seen 295-298 (depending on whether you ask him or George Michael I suppose) birds in London without seeing a Raven, so his confidence was all bluff really. But he had done a bit of homework and pinpointed a couple of likely spots, so Bradders and I thought we might as well. Before we tried them though, Paul insisted we do a bit of off-road driving down some dead-end tracks. We humoured him in this, and once it was out of his system, proceeded to Copped Hall in Upshire. A short walk over the M25 and we were looking vaguely downwards onto an expanse of wildish-looking countryside that no roads penetrate, basically woods and fields that you can't get to.

Within a couple of minutes we had picked out a circling Buzzards, followed by several more, and then several more. Our count peaked at around 17 birds in the air together, pretty amazing in London. Our attention was drawn to a herd of deer (don't know what kind) crossing one of the fields. As they were disappearing, Paul picked up a corvid coming in. I got on it almost at the same instant, and immediately it looked good, appearing enormous and rolling in the air. It carried on coming, and as it passed it turned sideways displaying the much-hoped for wedged tail. Score!! It flew right past and disappeared off to our right, clearly calling, yet sadly inaudible to us as a strong wind carried it away. As we turned back to the vista in front of us, I noticed what appeared to be a large corvid in the field the deer had just been in. Now my bird ID skills are relatively feeble, but I believe I said something like "Guys, I'm not being funny, but look at this bird in the field, I think it's another one". And it was! It too was cronking away but again we couldn't hear it. After a short while the first one joined it, and so for a good ten minutes we were lucky enough to be watching two London Ravens on the deck. They then flew off, though were successfully twitched at the same location about an hour later.

Barely classifies as a photo, but shows the key diagnostic feature

So, bird finding, not bird twitching. Distance from home, as the Raven flies, about nine miles. A London tick, and also an Essex tick. Win win. Though also a year tick, so a "lose" for that one I suppose. Did I say Coots and Squirrels? Sorry, I meant Buzzards and Ravens.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls

Larophobes look away now! I didn't mention it yesterday, but Nick pulled out a Med Gull on the Flats. I twitched it on the school run, and it was quite superb. An adult, with the hood moulting in. Out birding properly on the Flats this morning, I found it again west of Alex, and proceeded to chase it around for an hour before giving up. It may or may not be the same bird as last year (which was also an adult), but if it is, this time around it is a lot flightier, and I couldn't get near it. About a million joggers, two million dog-walkers and an old duffer who walked right through the middle of the loafing birds didn't help matters, but even so I'm not sure I stood much of a chance.

Really good numbers of Herring Gulls on the Western Flats first thing, though only two Lesser Black-backeds. The real numbers, as always, were made up by the Common and Black-headed Gulls. I'd conservatively estimate 700 of the former, and perhaps 3-400 of the latter. What we were all looking for though was a Ring-Billed Gull. Nick felt he had one yesterday, but it flew off before it could be nailed for sure. With so many smaller Gulls there is a least a chance of one, just as with the Med, though obviously it's somewhat rarer. To cut a long story short, even though we had scopes and everything, there was nothing that stood out - apart from the Med obviously. There is always tomorrow though.

Sorry about all the Gulls. Every now and again it just has to be done. The next post will be a soothing one about Squirrels and Coots.

Thursday 10 February 2011

The S Word

Remember I asked what you would do if you looked out of your back window and saw one of these. Well?

Wednesday 9 February 2011


I was playing with Pudding in the garden this morning when a Red Admiral butterfly flew past. You could have knocked me over. A couple of weeks ago there was snow all over the place, and now there are butterflies. Eh? My conclusion is that it is now summer.

A couple of hours later and all of a sudden there were two flitting around the terrace. To prove I am not butterfly-stringing, I took a photo. You can tell this is my house because Pudding is inside. There is another way you can tell though - can anyone spot what it is?

Monday 7 February 2011

Des Lacs, Des Grues, Du Boursin

Just returned from France and am wiped out. Birding dawn til dusk, staying at the finest hotels known to man, and eating extremely well. Destination les departements de l'Aube and du Marne/Haute Marne - lakes and forests. Cranes and Woodpeckers. I will provide a link to a trip report in due course, what follows is not intended to be one.

A great deal on Eurotunnel is what swung this trip. Only fifty quid on this particular weekend, and the region in Champage-Ardennes, broadly south-east of Paris, is only about four hours by car. Twenty-thousand wintering Common Cranes and the possibility of various european Woodpeckers were the main draw, but there was plenty more besides. Hawfinches, for example, are about as common as Chaffinches, Willow and Marsh Tits breed side by side, and more generally the countryside is alive with birds. Oh, and the food is great - if you can manage to avoid McDonalds.

Howard, Bradders and I left really late on Friday night, and drove through the night to the Foret d'Orient near Troyes. We found the forest track we were aiming for at around 4am, noted for being overrun with Woodpeckers, and attempted to sleep in the car. I'm not sure this worked, but I didn't actually feel too terrible at first light, so set out to explore. The forest was heaving with birdlife. Hawfinches overhead, Siskins, Crested Tit, Short-toed Treecreepers, Goldcrests - and Woodpeckers. It took about an hour or so to locate our first Middle Spotted Woodpecker - and they showed superbly, if quite high up. Proved almost impossible to photograph, but that is the case with most Woodpeckers so I wasn't too upset - seeing them was the main thing. We continued to bird the area, and on the point of leaving two Black Woodpeckers started up with their strange mournful - well I don't know what to call it - a kind of mewing drawn out "clee-eeeeeew". Despite the birds being relatively close, and extremely large like Crows, we couldn't find them.

The day passed in a blur of sites around the impressively large Lac d'Orient, and included Whooper and Bewick's, White-fronts and Beans, Hen Harrier and White-tailed Eagle. We birded until our eyes hurt, and then found our luxurious Formule 1 hotel, had a bite to eat and went to bed at the rock and roll time of 7pm. Went to sleep dreaming of Black Woodpeckers.

Next morning we were at a different lac, the Lac du Der-Chantecoq, only a short way north-east. The birding Gods must have seen my dreams, as Howard picked up a Black Woodpecker in flight before we had even got out of the car. Although we saw the general area where it had gone, and heard it call several times, we couldn't find it again - they're tough! We spent the day birding around the Lac du Der, the main attraction being the hundred upon hundreds of Common Cranes. If you're so inclined, you can go to Norfolk and see a handful of Common Cranes. My typical experience is at Stubb's Mill watchpoint - you see the birds fly into roost, perhaps twenty, and that is that. In France, they fly in great vees across the open skies, and replace sheep in the landscape. And the sound, the bugling, well, there is nothing I can say that adequately describes it, especially when coming from flights of birds. Simply brilliant.

Great White Egrets everywhere, a stonking female Goshawk sitting in a tree being massive, flocks of Goosander - the birding in the area has a lot going for it. Perhaps most interesting was the extreme paleness of a large number of the Common Buzzards in the area. Why birds round here should be so absurdly (and confusingly) pale is anyones guess, but I'd never seen birds like them, and indeed when we drove further north they reverted to being brown and normal-looking.

By mid-afternoon we were flagging, so a pick-me-up was called for - a French Cafe beckoned. It has been several years since I have been to a cafe in France, and I must confess I was looking forward to it. It being Sunday we struggled with everything being closed but eventually found one in a small town called Vitry le Francois. If you fancy being humiliated by a french Waiter, I can heartily recommend the Bar Maxime in Vitry. The waiter did a superb job of patently ignoring us. I'll wait it out, I thought, but a full fifteen minutes after we had sat down he still showed no sign at all of coming over. Meanwhile of course, every other table in the place was enjoying nice fresh coffee and cold beer. Had I not been birding, and daylight not been quite so critical, I would have sat it out, but with time pressing I could wait no longer, and was forced to drag myself to the bar to order our coffees. Crushing. There was a modicum of enjoyment gained from startling the guy by ording in faultless french, but let that take nothing away from his victory, which was complete. I left a tip of 10 euro cents, which I felt likely he would understand to mean that we understood that he had won convincingly.

Victorious waiter with someone else's coffee.

Under cover of darkness we drove to Compiegne, about half-way to the coast, and north of Paris. This is where the Armistice was signed in 1918, but has more appeal for birders by virtue of its large forest teeming with Woodpeckers, or so we hoped. H aimed the car at a McDonalds, but I was able to wrestle the steering wheel from his grasp and he missed it. We ended up in centre ville and at a Brasserie that Cafe Rouge had likely modeled itself on. Superb in every respect.

Especially this respect...

The following morning, after another night in a luxurious and well-appointed hotel, we found ourselves in Compiegne forest. We heard two Black Woodpeckers more or less immediately, but it took another hour and a half to actually see one, and once again it was a flight view only as it lazily flopped over a track and disappeared. We were booked onto a lunchtime train back though, and could not tarry. I hope to go back for better views another time, but I'm still very pleased with what was a successful, cheap, and easy trip.

Friday 4 February 2011

The Rite of Spring [Cleaning]

Yesterday was glorious. Blue sky, bright sunshine, and at 11 degrees centigrade, genuine warmth. Something primeval stirred in me, the marigolds called out to me, and before I knew what was happening I had been transported away on a frenzy of cleaning activity. I don't know if one can clean to death, but I must have come close.

By the time I looked up, it was almost 2pm. I had been cleaning for almost four and a half hours straight, daughter forgotten, lunch uncooked. And you know what? This morning the house looks exactly as it did yesterday morning. If anything, I'd say that it even looks slightly worse. What a pisser.

Evidence of the problem

The problem is children, or too many children. Whilst I was busy cleaning the upstairs bathroom and vacuuming the bedrooms, Pudding was downstairs experimenting with playdough. When I came downstairs, I had to send her upstairs to wash her hands (the downstairs bathroom by this point out of bounds whilst bleach-based products worked their magic). Whilst I was engaged in removing atoms of playdough from the seat of a wicker chair, she then made a mess of the sink and moved the contents of her bedroom onto the landing - a party, she said. When I arrived upstairs again,  I re-cleaned the sink and moved her belongings back into her bedroom, whereupon I discovered a mutitude of green, yellow and purple wheat-based flakes all over the landing. I got the vacuum out again....

I stuck her in front of Snow White and the Seven Little Men (Dwarf/Dwarves not yet in vocabulary) where she could cause no further destruction, and carried on. I pruned the very thorny Bougainvillea in the conservatory - this is middle-class cleaning - and emptied all the bins, one of my least favourite tasks in the whole world, particularly the bathroom one. Gagging, I returned indoors and tripped over a plastic tractor.

Mt. Garment

All manner of other mundane jobs followed, although I never went near a duster, and all of sudden it was way past lunchtime and the house was looking pretty good apart from washing draped everywhere. I congratulated myself on a job well done, and went to collect the other two kids. Upon arriving home I went straight to the kitchen for a cup of tea, parched, and when I next emerged cyclone Yasi had apparently passed through. I started the clear-up operation....

It's now this morning (obviously), and the house looks a tip again. Clothes all over the floor, piles of junk everywhere, the breakfast stuff still on the table, and last night's dinner to wash up. By the sounds of it there is a party in full swing on the upstairs landing, and it can only be a matter of time before the Slaty-backed Gull puts in an appearance and Dom is camped out in my garden.