Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Compassion fatigue

Here's a nice non-controversial topic for people to get their teeth into - compassion fatigue. We live in a world with arguably not enough compassion. At least not where it really matters, which is at the government level which dictates policy. Good causes are routinely ignored and marginalised, greed and ego regularly triumph over common sense and decency. And in many cases, humanity. With governments unwilling to help in a meaningful way, all sorts of good causes turn to the general public instead. You and me. And they don't so much turn to you as assault you. Relentlessly. From all sides and using all channels. Physically and online. When is compassion too much compassion?

I work in Canary Wharf. Not exactly a bastion of charitable causes, but I make no apologies for that, it is just a job. I typically arrive on the Jubilee line, and emerge from the bowels of the earth into the cavernous hall. And here, every single morning, is where it begins. A wall of volunteers with buckets, beseeching commuters for donations. Dressed up, bright, cheerful, friendly and smiling. The causes are universally worthy, there is not a single one where I have ever thought that it was a bit rich, so to speak. There has been aid for Syria, collections for children's hospices, for homeless shelters, a fairly practical one recently asking for winter clothing for rough-sleepers (I gave an old coat for that), cancer, alzheimers, you name it and it has probably been there. But here's the rub - it is every single day. And with every single day comes the compassion fatigue. A day here and there and I would likely drop coins in (it does not help that cash is on the way out). But daily and I have become hardened and embittered, immune if you like. And so I feel desperately sorry for those volunteers or charity workers who are there - it is surely their big pay-day so to speak. Canary Wharf at rush hour, the mother lode. But what they don't see is that there was a similar group there doing the same thing yesterday. And the day before that, another. I wonder if when they convene at the end of the day they are disappointed, cursing me and the stingy financial community, or if in fact they do quite well versus other locations? I have no idea.

I actually tend to give money to charity online. Not in response to appeals, simply standing orders or direct debits, fire and forget. It's just easier that way, there is no pressure, no thought necessary. But the online world is under seige as well. I barely use any forms of social media. Twitter is my one real concession, and I follow well under a hundred accounts. Almost all of these are nature related, mostly birds. And of course with that comes, via tweet and retweet, streams of bad news and an almost endless calls to arms. To sign petitions, to do this and to do that, so show support via a click, to express concern. Some I click, some I sign, in fact nearly all I probably sign, as I do actually care about the issues at stake enough to do so. The government ePetitions on driven Grouse shooting, the absurd new visitor centre at Spurn that very few local people actually seem to want, but I can tell you that after several years of this ad nauseam I am getting genuinely tired of it. It is almost as if my brain just switches off, filters it out. Oh look, Natural England has granted another licence to shoot Buzzards, another Hen Harrier has been found dead near a Grouse Moor. Yup, more of the same, next. It's not dissimilar to the almost indifference I sometimes feel when there is yet another terrorist atrocity somewhere in the world, or another air disaster. These things happen so frequently and then are burned into your retinas for endless hours by that scourge of modern society known as "Breaking News" that you end up desensitised to it, immune. The media saturation has the exact opposite effect to that presumably intended, but if you didn't turn off you would end up a basket case, unable to concentrate, an emotional wreck. 

And yet you feel bad, or at least I do. I should care more. I should get involved myself. I should give money. I should promote these causes. I should retweet this. I should sign this. I should make my voice heard. I should express my disgust. If I don't then I'm a bad person and other people will think I don't care. I do care, but compassion fatigue is an actual phenomenon and should not be confused with or be assumed to be an excuse for heartlessness. It isn't, I'm not heartless, but I am definitely sick of both bad things happening as well as people trying to do good. This patently ridiculous, how can I get annoyed by both when one is a solution to the other? 

There are two types of compassion fatigue however, and I have been talking about the minor version. The more serious compassion fatigue is actually a form of traumatic stress disorder caused by emotional exhaustion and it occurs, ironically enough, in caring professions rather than just passers by like me. People can devote themselves so fully to the care of others - people or animals or indeed a cause - that they are affected by it in adverse ways that at their extreme could cause exactly the opposite of caring behaviour. Ultimately it's the same underlying reason - over-exposure to bad things, but seeing too many petitions or watching ten hours of BBC rolling news isn't going to turn me to substance abuse, it's just going to continue to raise my levels of cynicism to new heights.

So what can be done to counter it? I have no ideas I am afraid, not one, which is rather tragic.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Return of the Squirrel

As predicted it has not taken long. My garden is once again besieged by squirrels. I looked out the other day and my largest peanut feeder was simply a writhing mass of grey fur. In the past week they have scoffed about 150g of nuts, 200g of seed, and shredded one of the feeders. The seed came out just fine, but that wasn't enough. No, it wanted to put its whole head inside so it simply gnawed through the plastic. Thanks squirrel, I'll just buy another one then.



There are two of course, the news is out. As I type, squirrels from as far away as Kent are packing up their belongings and setting off. Destination Wanstead. Their greed knows no bounds, their appetites are enormous, their metabolisms supersonic. They arrive at first light, starving, and they stay all day. As dusk approaches they stagger off, bloated, but still no doubt mildly peckish and looking forward to the next day. 

They're indestructible so no point trying to harm them, and chasing them off lasts about a minute before they come sauntering back. In under a month they have learned to climb the palm tree, jump the gap, skip along the greenhouse gutter, run along the apex and then dangle down onto the feeder. With that emptied, they turned their attention to the main feeding station closer to the house. The ease with which they can shimmy up the pole is extraordinary. Straight onto the seed feeder above, which they destroyed in a couple of days. As well as guzzling the contents of course.

It is getting expensive. Whilst buying a replacement feeder I noticed something called a squirrel baffle - a plastic cone to place on the pole. Hah! As if something as cunning as a squirrel is going to be baffled by a mere cone. So like a sucker I bought two, and another squirrel proof feeder - £60 the total bill. They arrived during the week and I spent a bit of time putting them all up yesterday. They look ridiculous, like giant fireworks sticking out of the lawn, and I am not confident that they are going to hold back the assault for long. As I returned back inside, the lead squirrel came to have a look. Slowly it paced around the base of the pole, looking up. Salivating. Then it started to climb up the pole.... And almost unbelievably it was foxed by the baffle! It simply could not work out how to get past the cone, and had to turn back. You could see it looked angry...

This morning whilst enjoying a leisurely breakfast the whole family observed the squirrel zip up the monkey puzzle tree, trip daintily along a branch and in one leap land on the pole above the baffle. 

I went outside and took the feeder down. I've placed it with my pride in the shed. 


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Southern Texas trip report


Logistics
  • A four day trip in the October half-term with my son, with two days on the coast between Corpus Christi and Galveston, and two days in the Rio Grande Valley.
  • Flights were direct from London, arriving in Austin on the Friday afternoon and departing from Houston on Tuesday evening.
  • Car hire was a very reasonably-priced small size SUV that was extremely easy to drive and that we put roughly 1200 miles on and was actually relatively efficient. Fuel was roughly $2 to the gallon, which even with the appalling FX rate worked out at about 35p a litre, so about 1/3rd the cost of the UK.
  • Hotels were all booked in advance, and all rather uninspiring as they were large chains. The Holiday Inn on North Padre Island just east of Corpus Christi was our first night, a Hilton Garden Inn in McAllen on the Mexican border nights two and three, and finally another Holiday Inn in Lake Jackson south of Houston on the final night.
  • Birded a number of key sites extensively, and then made it up the rest of the time, with quite a lot of birding from the car. Side trip to Mexico for tourism purposes.
  • We took two excellent ABA guides with us, one specific to the Gulf Coast, the other to the Rop Grande Valley, along with the indispensible Sibley Guide for birds of the eastern USA. Texas is the one state that needs dual coverage, but we did not go to the area west of the Trans Pecos so did not need that guide.
Day 0: A leisurely start, mosied on over to Heathrow and a 10 hour flight to Austin arriving late afternoon. Sorted junior out for clothes at a mall on the way to San Antonio, and then headed south to Corpus Christi arriving well after dark.

Day 1: An early start to be at a couple of sites around Port Aransas for first light, then birded back down the coast until mid morning. Drove south during the heat of the day with stops at the Sarita Rest Area, country roads around Rio Hondo, coastal habitat at Port Isabel and then onto McAllen for the evening.

Day 2: Morning at Estero Llano Grande, late breakfast and then the nearby Frontera Audubon Thicket until mid-afternoon. Remainder of the day at Santa Ana NWR before a silly jaunt into Mexico for a country tick.

Day 3: Bentsen Rio SP until late morning, and then a long drive along country roads raptor spotting towards Corpus Christi. East to Aransas NWR arriving mid-afternoon, birding around Mustang Lake.

Day 4: Dawn at Quintana Neotropical Bird Preserve, mid morning Bryan Beach and Freeport. Afternoon at Brazos Bend State Park, some mild shopping in a huge mall late afternoon before making our way to Houston for our evening flight home to London.







Relaxed

I dipped a bird by ten minutes a few weeks ago. A very rare one. And worse, some friends of mine who had arrived 11 minutes earlier were there to greet me, all big smiles. It would be uncharitable to muse on whether they gained more satisfaction from seeing the bird or from daubing the rear window of my car with the word “DIPPER”, but I think we all know the answer. I am relaxed about it, and that’s what today’s post is about – my uncharacteristically soporific state of mind.

I don’t actually know if I am a relaxed person normally. My family would probably say that I am not. Neither would the poor sods who work for me in London and Glasgow. The nature of my work and my hectic schedule outside of work should also both point to “no”, but somehow – and I have yet to comprehend exactly why – I am feeling more relaxed than I have for what seems like ages. Highs and lows are like water off a duck’s back, nothing phases me at the moment. Not even dips.

Self-inflicted injuries are beginning to grate mind you. One I could cope with, I only got mildly pissed off when I broke my hand which was a bit of a surprise to me as much as anybody. It is fair to say that I did not enjoy either of my colonoscopies very much, but this is just a part of life that no doubt I would have arrived at sooner or later, so I just accepted them for what they were. Necessary and unpleasant, but brief. And then the ankle. That was more just exasperation, and at that point I just wondered when it was going to stop. Had you suggested that any of these things were going to happen to me at the start of 2016, I would likely have freaked out, but actually my reaction has been more along the lines of “and?”.

I think I am beginning to subscribe to the theory of “It is what it is”. This is different to any kind of motto such as seize the day, live every day as if it’s your last or similar. That’s ridiculous. This is more just being resigned to whatever happens, and accepting that things happen for a reason. That’s not to say I’m disinterested in life, far from it, I am enjoying it a lot. I have simply reached a stage in it where I am content and comfortable, and the odd challenge or irritation doesn’t bother me. I've had rather too many challenges in a short space of time perhaps, but I am told this is the new normal and I have several more decades of it to look forward to it. Hence the quiet resignation perhaps as I just limp towards the next minor disaster and an acceptance that nothing really matters that much, and as long as we're all happy then everything's OK really. See? Relaxed.

Today has been a day of low accomplishment. Normally I would be annoyed at myself for wasting an entire precious day, but today I don't really care. It's fine, it's what weekends are for. The girls and I have spent most of the day being cozy in the house, watching birds come to the feeders in the garden. I had no urge to go out onto the Flats to see their brethren, I was quite content indoors. We left the house once, an abortive shopping trip for a birthday present for my nephew where I visited one JD Sports and three Sports Directs in the space of an hour, taking in Leyton, Walthamstow and Tottenham. Even this failed to raise my blood pressure, whereas it ought to have caused apoplexy. I am beginning to wonder if I am alright.....

Sunday, 20 November 2016

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This is one of my favourite ever blog comments. Starts nicely, not a problem that the robot doesn't know my name, just miss it out - the sentiment is there. Then a compliment or two. Excellent, everyone likes a bit of positive feedback. How can we communicate with each other? Well that would be lovely, but I'm not sure how that would work. Maybe I need to write an algorithm that generates auto responses. Have you tried to write one? It's more difficult than you might think, so I very much admire some of the ones I get, true works of art. I can't really compete.

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Then the killer line. Have I ever used clone partition? No I have not. I have not the faintest idea what that is, so thank you ever so much for providing a link so that I can go and find out. I shall just click on it now.....

Needless to say I have never clicked on one of these, and I doubt many are innocent shopping links. And I hope that none of you have either. Since dispensing with comment moderation I have been seeing more and more of these creeping in, and because they frequently go onto older posts, it's very difficult to keep going through and getting rid of them. I've just wasted 20 minutes going through pages and page having a good clear out and I think that - for now - they're all gone. Naturally I saved a few of the best. The top one is deserving of special mention, not only for what I assume is a confusion between insinuate and intimate, but also for the seamless way it flows between the aforementioned insinuate bedroom and the link to Business Communication Articles. A triumph. Also what is a Niagara furry?!







Do have a go in the comments section at bettering the bots.



Saturday, 19 November 2016

Rocking

As regular readers will know I am bit daft. I am also nothing if not bloody-minded - when I occasionally put my mind to it. The all or nothing approach. Wheatears fall firmly into the "all" category and I am rather determined to get photographs of them all - decent photographs, or at least photographs that please ME. A lot of Wheatears live places that are a little dicey, and as yet my obsession has not led me to risk my safety by seeking them out, however Hume's Wheatear is a regular UAE bird, and the Emirates are perfectly safe. And only seven hours away....

You may remember that I returned last time (Jan 2015) somewhat dissatisfied with my efforts. Yes saw the bird. Yes sharp and nicely exposed. Nice perch....ah. No, not good enough. I came away with wheelie bins, posts and fences. What I really wanted was rocks and nice clean branches. Mostly rocks though. So I went back to Dubai, drove across the desert to the Omani border, loaded the passenger foot-well of my hire car with nice rocks, drove up a mountain, and had another go. 

The below sequence more or less describes what happened next.





Thursday, 17 November 2016

Spry, like a mountain goat

I have just spent some time in nice rocky and sandy environments trying to see and photography various birds. I like deserts – they are in their own way very beautiful. I am no Wilfred Thesiger, as I will recount shortly, but they are definitely to be appreciated, and I would urge anyone who has not been to these regions to go. For the landscape as much as the wildlife.

I was in the UAE. You might think that ths is a bit of a pretend desert, criss-crossed by eight lane highways and carpeted in luxury hotels and crazy skyscrapers. Whilst that’s true, you don’t actually have to go that far to get that feeling of isolation; away from Dubai and Sharjah in the north, it’s still all rather primitive and undeveloped. And then anything south-west of Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are simply a blank canvas, miles upon miles of nothing until you’re well into Saudi Arabia.

This is where I was. I flew to Dubai but it holds nothing for me. Malls and glitz, no thanks. In the same way that I always turn my back on Marrakech and head south, I turned my back on Dubai and headed towards the Omani border. This is where mountain goat skills are best employed.

So it was that at 6.30am I found myself in a stony wadi picking my way slowly up a mountain and surrounded by birds. Green Bee-eaters were amongst the first birds I saw, followed quickly by Orphean Warblers and a bonus Sand Partridge. Much further along the wadi, by which time it had narrowed significantly, I could see a small bird flitting around some foliage halfway up a cliff. Too far up to identify, I carefully picked my way up a scree slope. Plain Leaf Warbler, fantastic! A world lifer no less. It was joined by a couple of Purple Sunbirds and a gaggle of White-eared Bulbul. All very nice, and as gradually this feeding party moved off.

It was then I realised I was quite far up really quite a steep slope, and as everyone ought to know - especially those approaching early middle age - going down is a lot harder than coming up. And as this is 2016, the year of medical and other traumas, needless to say I totally arsed it up. I slipped, fell, bashed my camera on a rock and twisted my ankle all in one graceful movement. I wondered if I had broken it? My ankle, not the camera - this merely now has another crack in it, these 1 series machines can withstand almost anything. But I couldn't really feel my foot, very very tingly. Gradually sensation returned, and with it agonising pain. Excellent. I still had a good way to descend, and my car was at least a mile away. I made it back down and limped very slowly back to where I had parked. Clearly nothing was broken or I'd be being digested inside Lappet-faced Vultures instead of typing this, but nonetheless this could change the rest of the trip.

Needless to say I pushed on, go hard or go home, and in fact took some of my better photos over the next two days whilst essentially balancing on one leg - no mean feat with a very large telephoto lens. Arriving back in the UK early morning on Tuesday I went straight to work and called up the health insurance people. 

"Oh hi Jono" said a familiar voice on the phone, testament to the number of times I've had to call them this year already. "We were wondering when we would hear from you again. What have you done this time?" I explained the sorry tale and was duly booked to see a physio later that morning who confirmed I had a bad sprain and could look forward to 8 weeks of rehab. I declined the crutches.

I am beginning to tire of this year. My eyes have got crap in them, my hand has a lump in it, my little finger a permanent kink, and let's not even talk about my sigmoid whatever it is and the continued nonsense on that front. I would just like for a few months to pass without anything bad happening to me, is that going to be possible? I do not know how this happens, though I have an idea. I suspect it because I still attempt to charge around the place like I am 20 whereas reality says otherwise. Aged 20 I probably would have skipped down that slope and carried on up the wadi. Over double that and skipping doesn't wash any more. Falling over and snapping things is now much more my style, followed by people poking at me and cc-ing me on large bills on posh paper. Anyhow, what I would like to know from my ageing readership is whether this in fact normal and if this is simply a tipping point. If you will forgive the pun, am I now on a slippery slope?


Not bad for a bloke with one leg, one hand, nine fingers, and failing eyes.




Friday, 11 November 2016

Optical obsession

I was at a twitch at the weekend. Well, technically it was a big DIP, but let’s not go there. Anyhow, as I stood around seeing a late Sand Martin and practically nothing else, I noted two things. The first was that the average age of the crowd could best be described as “greying”, and secondly that almost to a man (and the three women!) they all had extremely nice, extremely shiny and extremely expensive binoculars. Does anyone use binoculars that cost less than £1500 these days?

I had a look through a friend’s pair the other day, and they were nothing short of wonderful. Whilst mine are no slouches I felt there was an immediate and noticeable difference. Although from the same manufacturer, I put this down to mine being 8x32 whereas these were 8.5x42 and much larger and heavier. Although I have a marked preference for smaller and lighter bins, picking his up and having a quick look has unfortunately resulted in feelings of envy and lust.

I thought I was past all this.

At the peak of my stupidity I had four pairs of binoculars. You will note I have only got two eyes (ish, the actual number is more like 1.2) and therefore cannot possibly use more than one pair at any one time. This key fact did not escape Mrs L, who whilst not quite able to sniff out the introduction of new optics at a hundred paces as they all look the same, nonetheless has a keen understanding of how they work and that they do not stack. She said I was ridiculous and I agreed with her. I had what I like to call my main pair that I use all the time, the aforementioned 8x32s that rarely leave my side. I then had a pair of rather nice 7x42s that were my original “post-mugging” pair that I had justified keeping for – get this – ‘low light situations’. God I am an idiot. Then I had a cheap pair for the car that never got used because my main pair were always around my neck, and finally I had a pair of 10x binoculars for situations where I might need that extra magnification. Don’t say it as I already have….

What was I thinking?! I do not know, but following a dramatic cull I am pleased to be able to say that I now have just one pair of binoculars again. A weight off my mind I can tell you. That’s not to say that I’m not slightly nervous having just one pair, this is almost uncharted territory after all, but so far I have not been found wanting. I just should not have touched that other pair on Shetland is all, that was a big mistake. That said I went and looked at the price online that evening and nearly choked. £1800! Good grief! I know that mine were not cheap, but neither were they anywhere near that. I mused on who might buy binoculars that expensive. The answer, as I discovered on Sunday, is almost everybody. I barely saw anything other than top-drawer brands, the very latest offerings from Leica, Swarovski and Zeiss. Most of them looked brand new, there must have been thousands and thousands of pounds of glass on display. Mind-boggling.

However despite their obscene cost it was interesting to note that these top-of-the-line optics were still unable to prevent the misidentification of Sand Martins as Cliff Swallows. That's poor. If you are going to spend £2080 on the latest Leica noctovid binoculars you need them to perform better than that. To get it right every time. Although my cheaper ones have had their fair share of ID hiccups, they did at least manage to avoid that particular pitfall. So I may save my pennies as it is perhaps not worth getting anything newer until the manufacturers sort this embarrassing defect out once and for all.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Fear and loathing in las Americas

I am American. By blood, I am more American than I am British. I live here of course, I’m officially British too. The UK and Europe (cough) are where I identify most strongly with and where I’m raising my family. But I also have a blue passport and I pay US taxes. My forebears are Mormons from Utah and immigrants from Yorkshire. They prospered and spread far and wide across the land, living and propagating the American dream. Today I have relatives from Maryland to California, from Ohio to Arizona, from Oregon to Pennsylvania. When I travel there I am welcomed home.


Over here we poke fun at America. Hicks, rednecks and good ol' boys. Obsessed by guns and allergies. Fifteen different kinds of milk. Neurotic, fat, stupid and uncultured. There is an element truth to all stereotypes, but almost all Americans that I have met are kind, decent and honest people. They are friendly and welcoming, when they say “have a nice day” they genuinely mean it. It is a magnificent country, beautiful and diverse. Blessed.

America, what have you done?

I have never been prouder to be an American as eight years ago. It nearly reduced me to tears as Obama accepted. This morning I was close to tears again. Distraught. What has my second country done? Fear and frailty have triumphed over common sense and decency. Traditional politics has failed. Just like Brexit here, the disenfranchised have stormed to victory on the back of a message of intolerance and a considerable amount of hot air. Just like Brexit, it no longer matters what is true and what is not – voters don’t care. People hear what they want to hear, and if you have conviction and pander to that, no matter how absurd or divorced from reality it might be, they’ll listen and they’ll believe. Donald Trump exploited that.


In a way both decisions, awful though they are, are triumphs for democracy. Whether I like it or not (I don’t, in case you were still on the fence about that), the USA will soon have a leader with a scary world view and all the grace of a toasted cheese sandwich*. But that’s what the majority of Americans wanted, they wanted change, they didn’t want traditional Washington D.C. and its elite. Americans are nice people, I can’t stress that enough. But large segments of their society are clearly hurting, and unfortunately that same demographic are also very conservative, narrow-minded and ill-informed – a dangerous combination. The Presidential election was a chance to vote for change and they took it. At least they sort of voted on their issues, something that didn’t happen for Brexit. Brexit was ultimately only a vote against the establishment and not really about EU membership. UK voters failed to distinguish between an election and a referendum. Referendums are one-offs, final, whereas elections come around again and you get a second chance. The Brexit decision that all the over 65s voted for doesn’t allow the young people whose entire lives it will ultimately affect that second chance. At least in America there’s an opportunity to vote for change in four years time, and that’s the only positive I can currently see.



It is scant comfort. The soon-to-be leader of the free world is a monumental cretin, a rich and volatile bully with a dangerous lack of experience and an incoherent/non-existent strategy. Just like Farage here, he has made it OK to be racist and bigoted again. Whilst many who voted for him are decent people with decent views who simply didn’t trust Hillary Clinton, he has also given voice to a small segment of under-represented society that have frankly appalling views. We should all be mindful that views like this were once over-represented, and look what happened then. The swing to the right has been as dramatic as it is terrifying. Hatred. Remember what Yoda said about that? Low-level racism and outright xenophobia have become acceptable again, and just like Brexit the polls got it wrong on the US election too.

I don’t know why we are all so surprised. The Leave voters and Trump voters actually find their choice mildly embarrassing, and rightly so. The surprise would have been if they had had the conviction to stand up and publicly state that they didn’t actually like their Polish neighbours very much and that yes, they were going to be voting to leave the EU. Instead they stayed silent or lied when asked, and after voting went back indoors feeling faintly smug that they had socked it to the establishment. It is obviously a lot more complicated than this. I am just a bird blogger and I don’t understand large parts of the dynamics that have led us to this point, both here and across the Atlantic, but I think it can be boiled down to a few key themes. Disenfranchisement, anxiety and resentment. The world is too big. I do not understand what is happening. It was better before.

It is the failure of successive governments – globally - to address this that has led us to where we are now. It spans every facet of government. Education, health, trade agreements, the environment, everything. Everything is interconnected in a massively complex web, and knowing where you stand in a world that moves faster than you or anyone else can stay current with has been a huge and incomprehensible shock. Voters – and the demographics are very telling – want a return to simpler times, to straight-talking leaders, and to an improvement in their lot in life. Trump and Farage, who let us not forget appeared on stage together, are the winds of change. The fact that neither of them has a scoobydoo is irrelevant.

They lied through their teeth.

Trump literally made it up as he went along. He could have said anything, frequently did, and it did not matter at all in the end. He was the outsider, the alternative, shouting long and loud what people wanted to hear. That the rhetoric was mostly and shamefully untrue ultimately meant nothing, we live in a post-factual age. There will not be a wall built along the Mexican border, that exists only in la-la land. 11 million immigrants will not be sent back to their home countries, it's simply not feasible. Muslims will not be able to be banned or monitored, it’s unconstitutional – the same constitution that preserves the right of citizens to own machine guns, and which regularly results in mass shootings of innocent people. But that’s what people wanted to hear so that’s what he said. They didn’t want to hear about liberalism and the reality of globalisation. I can’t remember who it was that said during the EU debate that the world was sick of experts, or even what side of the political divide that they were on, but they were dead right. Common sense, science, empirical fact and the truth have all gone out the window. Trump and his ilk saw that and they capitalised on it. The traditional politicians didn’t see that and they, to use an American phrase, have been run out of town. They played it wrong and they lost.

And ultimately we have all lost. All of those smug brexiteers behind their lace curtains in middle England are probably just as confused and scared as they were before, as the level of uncertainty in the world is now off the scale. There are no easy answers to the issues that are worrying people, and electing Trump doesn’t change that for Americans either. The only thing that has changed is that we will now have a dangerous buffoon in the White House next year, an unstable, uncontrollable and uncompromising man who is not fit to hold office. This is America’s new leader, the one on whose personal sanity we all in part rely, and he is a car crash waiting to happen. Sensible things like climate change deals could be ripped up, human rights will be trampled over, diplomacy will recede and militarism will increase. He will have a global impact, possibly in very very negative ways, but that irony is lost on the isolationists who voted for him. But that’s OK, because it’s America first from now on, and who cares about the rest of the planet? Or indeed the planet itself. All the jobs are coming back, all the foreigners are getting kicked out, and it will be like it used to be back in the 1950s when life was good.

Except it won’t as that isn’t the way the world works any more. American manufacturing will not come back, as when the same voters who have just sent Trump to the highest seat in the land realise that they have to pay more for their trucks, fridges, TVs and almost everything else they currently enjoy at prices cheaper than they have ever been, they will be up in arms. Hang on, we didn't vote for this! The vast majority of all the things that this odious man has said and promised are complete fiction, just like most of the empty promises made by the Leave campaigners. Remember that bus promising EU contributions shifting directly to the NHS? It’s that, but a lot bigger. Trump won’t make America great again, he’ll push America off a cliff. Just like the true implications of Brexit are only now beginning to be hinted at, job losses and financial black holes, inflation and rising prices, America can only begin to imagine the tragedy that could now unfold. God Bless America, the greatest nation on earth! Wait, whaddya mean we’re at war with eight countries? This is Britain, we’re independent, free at last from the shackles of Europe! Wait, why is my summer holiday more expensive now, and why can’t I find a cleaner? What do you mean Walkers Crisps cost more?

And that’s without considering the human cost. This impacts relationships and families. This impacts where people can go and what they can do, it restricts individual progress and mutual cooperation. It wrecks dreams. I am sounding preachy I think, but consider the opportunities now unavailable to my children following the decision to leave Europe. Think of the doors that are now closed. The answer to globalisation is not to retreat and become more insular, it is to understand it, embrace it, and make it work for you. Brexit and President Trump are steps in completely the wrong direction, and the UK and the US are rapidly heading back to the 1970s. They have set themselves back 40 years.

Elvis left the building a long time ago, reality has now followed.

*croque monsieur

Monday, 7 November 2016

Going soft?

A number of my posts recently have mentioned ageing and middle age, mostly in the context of being rather busy. But not in the context of going soft. As I got into bed one day last week after another regular day of honest toil, I noticed Mrs L’s nose was buried in something about heated blankets. I mean that’s bad enough, but this was one of those review comparison websites. What is the electric blanket with the best features? Features, pfff, honestly…..

Pah!” I scoffed. "My parents have electric blankets on their beds! They are for old people!" Admittedly it was a little on the chilly side versus the weather of late but I am a birder, hardened and tough. I think nothing of standing around for hours on chilly exposed hillsides waiting in vain for rare departed hirundines.

She looked up from the tablet and countered “Well I could just get one for my side.

I wiggled my cold toes for a moment. “But how would a single one stay on? It would slip off surely? Best get a double one, and I just won’t use my half.

It arrived last week and I disdainfully helped to put it on and plug it in. 90 quid? What a con, boy did they see you coming etc etc.

[…]

Oh my God it is wonderful. I won’t bore you with all the, err, features, but there is one setting which lasts just 15 minutes and delivers some kind of magma-based supercharge to the bed. If you flip the switch just prior to evening teeth brushing and the pulling on of cozy pyjamas it is a delight to get into. It is almost impossible not to emit a pleasing “aaaahh” sound when you get under the cover. I am at a loss to understand why we did not do this years ago, it is literally the best thing that we have ever bought. I now find myself looking forward to going to bed. Indeed it is not helping my lack of time as I look at my interminable list of things I think I need to do and then decide to hell with it and get into bed instead. “Mmmmmmm”.

Mrs L did remark that we were now officially old, but I think I have always said that you need to embrace the passing of time. This is not going soft, this is just part of the natural progression of things.

So yesterday I ordered some slippers.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Chequebooks

About three weeks ago I scribbled down on one of my many tragic to-do lists an idea for a blog post. It followed hot on the heels of the UK's first Siberian Accentor turning up on Shetland on a Sunday afternoon, and the surprising news that a load of the UK's "top" twitchers had almost unbelievably managed to be there to see it on Monday morning when most normal people are at work. Somehow they had managed to shift all their important meetings and booked themselves on either regular flights at the last minute, or indeed independent charter flights, and so on Monday morning there they were, lined up at Scousburgh quarry lapping up this frankly ridiculous eastern monster. Smugly.

The gist of my post was going to be a rant about how outrageous this was, and that these people had essentially bought the bird, hence the term "Chequebook Birders". This is of course derogatory and born purely of jealousy, and actually I know of few of them and to a man they are nice, decent people. Just a bit odd...... Anyway, most people simply can't do this sort of thing, thus it irks them. But for those for whom listing is the most important thing in the whole wide world, the impossible becomes possible. Twitchers like this are in a separate category, a whole new level of obsession.

But it comes at a cost.

In a way I am pleased that my lackadaisical attitude to blogging of late has meant I am only typing this up now, as hindsight is a wonderful thing. What might have been a post about how unfair the world was is now more joyful. Part of the attraction of rare birds is the exclusivity, being one of only a small number of people to have the species on your list. Except.... anyone who follows UK birding will of course know that the UK has now had 12 Siberian Accentors, part of an unprecedented European irruption that now numbers over 200 birds. What was once mythical is now ubiquitous, and whilst those quick-off-the-mark pioneers spent hundreds of pounds on frenzied flight bookings and were there the next day, the envious masses only had to wait a week before the second bird turned up - and on the mainland too. There have now been ten more, and whereas I heard of somebody spending £900 on a daytrip to Shetland, my 'tick' cost £25 and a few quid in a bucket. Who's the smug one now eh? 

I am of course chuffed to bits. Clearly I am not in competition with the UK600 brigade, the birders who somehow manage to see EVERYTHING no matter where or when. There is simply no way I could entertain or sustain that, nor likely enjoy it. But nonetheless this feels like a victory for the common man, a triumph for those without chequebooks. I doubt it will happen again, this is an exceptional situation. A bird that was new to Britain then seeing a dozen records in the space of a few weeks is not what usually happens. The next biggie will be on an island somewhere, the news will break and a handful of people (though more than you might think!) will stump up and travel. Photos will emerge, smiling faces on small planes, green jackets and thumbs up, possibly even one or two of the bird itself. The rest of us will grumble about how awful life is and chalk up another one that got away.

Or not, as the case may be.