This page is now pretty much full, so the diary continues on the "Brown" page
There was a surprising inundation of Large Whites in the garden late this afternoon (I counted twenty-three at one point), with a couple even managing to find their way into the house (see below). Then, as I stood watching most of them fluttering around the Buddleia, I felt one land on my thumb! Fortunately, I happened to have my camera in the other hand and managed to take a quick photograph (above) before it flew off (the Butterfly that is, not the camera....or my hand). Not exactly something special to most people I guess, yet a tiny moment of magic for me. As for why it suddenly decided to use my hand as a resting place....my daughter suggested that it probably mistook me for a cabbage!
RAF Gunner Killed in Kandahar
RAF Gunner, Senior Aircraftsman Christopher Bridge (20) from Sheffield, was killed today when his patrol vehicle was caught in an explosion close to Kandahar airfield in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
Sqn Ldr Tony Brown, Commanding Officer of C Flight, 51 Squadron RAF Regiment with whom SAC Bridge was serving, described him as "a very competent gunner, unassumingly professional and with a very promising career ahead of him". He added that "although SAC Bridge had joined as a quiet man, he had grown into an adventurous, charismatic and intelligent gunner....whose likeable personality and witty sense of humour made him engaging to work with....He was a high-calibre member of the Royal Air Force Regiment".
SAC Bridge's Mother described her son as her "pride and joy....Everyone who knew him is heartbroken" she said. "He touched so many lives and died courageously, serving his country and his Queen and we are all very proud of him".
A civilian interpreter was also killed and two other servicemen injured in the same blast.
Please Explain It To Me
A young British soldier (a Para) went into the record books last year as being the most severely injured soldier in living memory who managed to survive his wounds. He suffered thirty-two major injuries, including the loss of both legs and most of his hearing after treading on a land-mine in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He also sustained serious injuries to his face and arms and to several of his internal organs....nor will he ever be able to father his own children!
The soldier has finally received a compensation payment of just over £150,000 from the MoD....an insult in the form of a pittance....that was calculated by taking into account only three of his injuries....the other twenty-nine could not be taken into consideration according to a long-standing MoD ruling. My own compensation was calculated on two.
All his mother wanted was to be able to buy a small bungalow so that she can spend the rest of her life looking after her son when he's finally released from hospital. Now she's faced with massive legal fees if she wants to so much as appeal against the injustice of such a miserable payout!
So what's my problem I hear you ask....well, it just so happens that a clerical typist working for the RAF has recently managed to secure an MoD payout of over £450,000 after claiming compensation for a repetitive strain injury to her thumb!
I know that these days I'm all too easily written off as just another grumpy old git forever snarling at the world around me, but nevertheless, someone will still have to explain to me how such a blatently unfair situation can possibly be allowed to............ah Bo**ocks to it!
Silverton and Humble Shine
Absolute respect to BBC newsreader Kate Silverton for the gutsy determination and sheer courage that she displayed in overcoming her most profound of fears involving the open sea. With just a few weeks of training and the minimum of preparation (compared to the professionals), this totally modest and, at times terrified, non-kyaker completed one of the most awesome challenges inflicted upon anyone in the history of television!
While under the watchful gaze and expert tuition of a certain former Royal Marine and Kyaking enthusiast, Silverton managed to successfully complete a tremendously arduous task involving ten metre jumps from clifftops near St. David's, Pembrokeshire into the boiling ocean below, followed by an extremely hazardous swim around dangerous headlands in order to get to a kyak waiting for her on a secluded beach and then paddling out from the beach through two and three metre waves....and all before starting on the "challenge" itself as soon as she had managed to struggle out beyond the breakers!
The actual challenge involved kyaking a further nine miles around the Atlantic Ocean side of Ramsey Island and through a very narrow and unpredictable tidal-surge channel before finally heading back to where she started, but this time via Ramsey Sound and the notorious "Bitches" Rocks....In fact, it was here, in the worst possible place, that she managed to capsize....amidst some of the most notorious reefs, strongest currents and turbulent tidal waters in the whole of Europe! Nevertheless, despite never having been in a kyak until a month before and being totally exhausted and terrified beyond words, she showed incredible grit by somehow managing to scramble back into her craft and finishing the challenge....AWESOME!
Previously, I thought that Kate "never before been undergound" Humble's pot-holing exploits shown on BBC TV last week, in which she tackled (and mastered) four progressively difficult caving systems (including her ascent of the sheer rock face of an underground chamber as high as the London eye), was impressive enough, but Kate Silverton, in her ocean challenge, actually completed three-quarters of an open-water endurance and survival course originally designed for the SBS....and in less time!!!
You see....you can't tell by just looking at people exactly what they're capable of. Indeed, there are lots of big, ugly, action-man types out there who probably think they invented the word "tough"....and brother do they like people to know it! However, confront them with just a sprinkling of their worst fears and they turn to jelly every time!
TV during this last week has been very much a "Tale of Two Kates" as they both learned to overcome their own worst nightmares....and succeeded in no uncertain terms!
They both deserve our total respect, but as for the bottom line....
I'd rather have gritty, determined, prepared-to-listen-and-take-it-all-in people like Silverton and Humble in my squad any day of the week (even if they are scared sh**less most of the time) than the macho, he-man, tough-guy types....but that's only because the Kates would be far more likely to not only get the job done, but actually manage to stay alive at the same time!
That sort of thing tends to be a major problem I have with the "hero" characters in all those daft Hollywood action movies....in the real world, the gung-ho, good-guy brigade wouldn't get past the opening credits, let alone all the way through the film....not to mention three bl**dy sequels!
Blue on Blue Fatalities
Privates Aaron McClure (19), Robert Foster (19) and John Thrumble (21) of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment have been killed and two others injured in what appears to have been a "friendly fire" incident involving two US F15 aircraft just North-West of Kajaki in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
The aircraft had been called in by the soldier's platoon commander in an effort to counter an attack from a large force of Taleban insurgents. Fighting was intense and the much smaller British force was in immediate danger of being cut off.
Tragically, a bomb dropped by one of the F15s exploded far too close to the British positions and five British soldiers were caught up in the blast. Three of the men were declared dead at the scene while the other two were subsequently air-lifted to the medical facility at Camp Bastion where they remain in a stable condition.
Commanding Officer Lt Col Stuart Carver described Ipswich born Pvt McClure as already a veteran of over 40 engagements with the enemy and that he was a "loyal, hard-working and highly professional" soldier. He added that Pvt McClure "constantly surpassed the standards expected" and that his loss was "a bitter blow to the whole Battalion".
Of Pvt Foster, Carver described the young soldier from Harlow in Essex as having "seemingly endless reserves of courage and a strength of character way beyond his years" He added that Pvt Foster "had a rare quality of always seeing the bright side of any situation and had a mischievous sense of humour that made him hugely popular".
Concerning Pvt Thrumble, Lt Col Carver considered him to be one of the "mainstays of the Battalion....proven in combat on countless occasions....his raw courage and ability to raise a smile were invaluable in these testing times".
The Royal Anglians have been one of the regiments hardest hit by fighting in Afghanistan....nine of its soldiers have now been killed in action out of a British forces total of fifty killed in action and twenty-three deaths from other causes.
The tragic killing of an innocent eleven year-old boy by a fourteen year-old youth (allegedly) in a seemingly random "ride-by" shooting in Liverpool yesterday has already been blamed by "experts" today on two key issues...."poverty", which is endemic in several of the neighbourhoods near to where the shooting took place and "boredom"....the fact that young people in the area appear to have nothing to do!
Mmm....are we to assume therefore, that today's youngsters are the first in recorded history to be both poor and bored or is it that more and more young people (teenagers especially) are becoming increasingly dependent on being "entertained" by their TVs, video games, mobile phones, MP3 players and computers, resulting in the fact that many of them appear to be growing up totally incapable of creating their own entertainment....even if that means just kicking a ball around in the local park or (if I dare use an old-timer's expression) "taking up an interest or a hobby"?
Could this also be a slightly more reasonable explanation as to why some kids "fall victim" to an apparently irrestible urge to obtain such a thing as an illegal firearm....thus enabling themselves to go out into the street with the intention of shooting a total stranger....a kind of physical manifestation of their darkest fears....or perhaps a simple attempt to prove that they can actually make some sort of impact, albeit an incredibly negative one, on a world that they feel totally ill-equipped to deal with in any normal way? After all, if you have never developed the ability to occupy yourself in anything even remotely akin to positive and creative ways as a child, how the heck are you ever going to cope with the harsh realities of life as you approach adulthood?
Is that really what things are coming to in the increasingly Media-driven, celebrity-obsessed, money-junkie-controlled UK?
Fear is our most profoundly dominant emotion....without it we wouldn't survive the day. It's possible to live a life without love, but fear keeps us from putting our hand in the fire and makes us look both ways before crossing the road. Fear makes us think before we act and is our greatest ally in the occasionally desperate struggle that is life. However, Fear has two ugly and sometimes spiteful offspring....Inadequacy and Insecurity....and it's their incestuous relationship that produces Aggression....the grandchild of Fear!
Aggression can, of course, be both positive and negative....powerful ambition in the workplace and extreme competitiveness in sport are generally viewed as positive forces within us, while such things as physical or emotional violence are considered negative. Yet they are all, ultimately, the products of Fear and from this it's possible to argue that even our most celebrated and successful of businesspersons and athletes are actually some of the most inadequate and insecure amongst us. However, unlike the violence-orientated thugs slowly suffocating in their own personal quicksand of isolated self-loathing, the ambitious worker or the competitive sportsperson have probably had the firm foundations of a caring family and the guidance of appropriate role-models to help them develop the skills required to direct and focus their lives in far more positive ways.
My argument however, hinges on exactly how we "react" to our fears....either positively....in the workplace or in sport or perhaps by proxy through the development of our children....or by reacting negatively....through planned or random acts of violence perpetrated against others. Basically, the less equipped or developed you are in your ability to deal with the realities of life, then the more profoundly afraid of life you are likely to be in general and the more negatively aggressive you may well become!
Men have always been my predominant model in this regard....their "need" to appear tough, determined and strong in the face of adversity is admirable, but their propensity towards physical and emotional violence is not. Many men consider aggression to be a strength in their psychological makeup and often choose to indulge themselves in all kinds of aggressive acts at home, in the workplace, in the car or elsewhere. They may carry out subtle acts of bullying or coercion or they may be physically aggressive or verbally abusive. Whatever....the behavioural origins are the same....aggression in all its forms is born out of Inadequacy and Insecurity, the twin offspring of Fear!
The conclusion is a simple one therefore....the more negatively aggressive you are today, then the more afraid you are likely to have always been in your attempts to cope with life and the less likely that you will have ever developed the necessary tools and strategies to cope with life and all its pitfalls. Aggressive behaviour will gradually become more and more seductive....a Siren offering you a dislocated sense of achievement by creating fear in others....fear of you and fear of the power that you subsequently create over them!
Negative aggression however, is NOT a strength! It is, instead, a measure of our deepest and darkest fears and, therefore, of our weaknesses! The aggressive man is a weak man! The man at home, beating the crap out of his wife is a weak man, the bully intimidating a colleague at work is a weak man, the gang member shooting a stranger from a passing car is a weak man!
The truly strong man is the one who has developed the ability to CONTROL his aggression and channel it, like the ambitious worker or dedicated sportsman, in positive and acceptable ways. However, that ability grew out of his childhood through the support of his parent(s), his schooling and education, the right kind of input from peer groups and the influence upon him of "appropriate" role-models. It didn't happen all by itself and it certainly didn't come from spending endless hours playing video games or watching lowest common denominator junk programmes on the idiot box!
I look at young black and Asian kids in the UK today for example and I wonder where their role-models are. They sit in primary schools up and down the country during the most formative and impressionable years of their lives, learning about Ancient Rome or the English Civil War simply because the Government wants everyone doing the same thing at the same time to maximize high-scoring exam results as a vote-winner in the next general election instead of utilizing the talents of the in-situ teachers to address the direct and immediate needs of the particular children in their care!
My own role-models were good for me, but I'm from a completely different generation....Scott, Durrell, Jet-Ace Logan, Hawkman and Biggles just aren't going to float any boats for the kids of today!
Where are the lessons in schools about the wonderful Dr. King....or the amazing Jesse Owens....or Muhammad Ali....or Nelson Mandela....or Gandhi? No wonder black and Asian kids turn to rappers drugs, gangs and guns....You see Mr. Brown, Julius Caesar and Oliver bl**dy Cromwell just can't hack it in the classroom any more!
Another dog attack on a child....Rottweilers this time, on a six year-old girl from London, holidaying with her parents and her older brother on a working farm in Co Antrim! I understand that the farmer had been warned by the girls parents earlier in the week that the dogs appeared to be dangerous....He ignored the warning, saying that they were harmless...but then the dogs attacked the girl a few days later while she stood in the entrance to her caravan and actually tore large pieces of flesh from her face and arms before the farmer finally managed, quite rightly, to shoot the animals!
Question....who's going to shoot the bl**dy farmer?
I've made my feelings clear before on my websites about dangerous breeds of dog and the sub-human morons that are allowed to own them, so I wont bang on about it here!
After all the worry and concern about it over the past few days, I was delighted to hear that the Space-Shuttle "Endeavour" had made a textbook return to good old Planet Earth earlier in the week and that all the crew are 100% safe and well. The guys who go up in those things really are a special breed and I salute every one of them!
Boss Under Fire
The Boss has recently been subjected to a totally vitriolic attack from a group of university-based science academics who appear to have taken great exception to a whole wodge of data released by him a few weeks ago as evidence in support of his growing concerns on various issues of countryside conservation.
Almost all of the evidence was collated in the field by us (the UKNR) over a five year period, but appears to conflict mightily with findings made by the scientists themselves in a number of key areas. Consequently, the same scientists have been extremely keen to cast aspersions on our perceived lack of scientific qualifications and go on, therefore, to savage the actual validity and worth of our findings. They openly maintain that the complete absence of "letters" after our names makes us virtually incapable of undertaking such data-based surveys properly in the first place and that the Boss's alledged lack of "scientific" understanding makes him incapable of interpreting such data anyway (as if he does it all himself), simply because his background is a military one and not science-orientated.
In fact, all but two of us do actually have degrees and stuff and even Mark can count all the way up to eighteen (unfortunately he lost two toes in Kosovo)! However, we just don't bother putting our qualifications on our ID cards or letter-headings, etc in case people think we're stuck-up little jerk-offs whose idea of "field-work" is to send hordes of zit-faced, first-year under-graduates out into the countryside with plastic clipboards to tick lots of little boxes instead of doing the job properly yourself by practically living out there in all weathers and trying to understand it all from the inside-out!
As for certain members of academia....the words "insecure", "empire-building" and "little Napoleons" spring readily to mind for some reason, but then I've encoutered people like that many times in all walks of life over the years....industry and education for example, are riddled with them!
Er....I'll stop there I think....after all, I've already had a rant about this in the "House Martin" section on the "Survey" page of www.wildliferanger.co.uk
At this very moment, a programme called "Midnight's Grandchildren" is being shown on BBC3 and features three British-Asian teenagers, a Sikh, a Muslim and a Hindu, who travelled to the Punjab with film crews in tow to learn how their families fared during the Partition of 1947 and to retrace the footsteps of their Grandparents who were forced to make the hazardous and occasionally terrifying journey between India and the then brand-new nation of Pakistan.
I mention it here because the Muslim boy in the programme, Kaz, was a close friend of my son when they were at Grammar school together. Kaz is an extraordinarily bright boy, but was, at that time, very shy and I think he looked upon my son as someone with whom he could feel totally at ease. In fact, I've always been very proud of my son's natural inclination to "take care" of people (something he gets from his Mother)....right from his very first day at infants school when we were called in by the head teacher because my son had pushed another boy over into a puddle in the playground and had made him cry! Mostly because of my son's stubborn streak (me this time), we didn't find out until the following day from the mother of a little girl called Kirsty the exact details of what actually happened and that my son had pushed the boy over deliberately to stop him from bullying her daughter! Meanwhile, kirsty and my son remain good friends to this day.
He's at home at the moment....it's his birthday soon....but I've hardly seen him. Word soon gets round that he's back and his phone doesn't stop ringing....people from all walks of life seem to enjoy his company. He even shares an apartment in the city with four very cosmopolitan friends....a Norwegian, a Turk, a Pakistani and an Iranian. I can just imagine the mix of accents when they're all out and about together....including my son's broad Gloucestershire dialect!
Yes, I'm very proud of his ability to mix with people of all backgrounds, colours and creeds and the fact that they genuinely enjoy his company and are prepared to call him friend!
Nearly a Million!
I have been known to question the seemingly dubious social life of "my reader" for feeling compelled to visit my websites on an all too regular basis and, occasionally, the actual sanity of my "other reader" for similar reasons.
This, of course, goes back to a time, not so long ago, when "visits" to my websites were relatively few and far between. However, according to the daily "hit" statistics provided by my web-hosts, things began to change quite rapidly around March/April of this year when my two faithful readers were inexplicably joined by hordes of equally socially inert and desperate individuals from the four corners of the planet (and Romford) who were suddenly logging-on to one or both of my sites each and every day!
Exactly how or why the apparent popularity of either site increased so markedly remains a mystery....perhaps people simply began logging-on in their droves to prove to themselves that their own socially sterile lives weren't all that bad after all when compared to the poor sod out there in the ether who was finding the time to actually write all this rubbish!
Whatever....the fact remains that it's now fast approaching a time when the number of "hits" to the two websites combined will total ONE MILLION....the vast majority of which have occured since March, 2007!
It could even be that the grand total is actually closer to TWO MILLION because of a possible anomally in the way that the "hit" statistics are recorded....if someone visits the co.uk site for example and then logs-off before visiting the .com site, then this will be recorded as two "hits", but if the same visitor goes to the .com site via the link on the co.uk site (or vice-versa), then it is only recorded as one "hit"! If used, the link between the two sites appears to cancel out the second hit!
Anyhoo....if I ignore all that and only go by the "official" hit-count, then the magic ONE MILLION marker is only a couple of weeks away at most and I've been thinking what a wonderful idea it would be if the person who makes that one millionth "hit" (maybe you) is rewarded with a special prize....an all expenses paid (by you) night out on the town with none other than Nobby! There could even be some kind of second prize....TWO all-expenses paid (by you again) nights out on the town with Nobby....If nothing else, it would be a good excuse for him to wash some of his smellier bits and pieces and I'm sure (if you begged him nicely) he'd be prepared to take hardly any of his bug collection along with him to show you while you're eating!
Finally....and on a more serious note....suppose that only 10% of all those hundreds of thousands of "hits" were made by people who were prepared to donate just ten or twenty pence (or cents) DIRECTLY to the RNLI or the RSPB or the WWT or the RSPCA....that would be quite something....After all, a hundred thousand ten pences....or centses equals....er....a lot!
Thank-you very much by the way, to all those of you who may have already donated an amount of money to any of the charities mentioned above or elsewhere on my sites or, indeed, to any charity of your choice....I only ask you to donate a handful of loose change at most and then only if you've managed to find something (anything) even remotely interesting on either of my websites....or if you have actually enjoyed looking at the odd photograph or two!
REMEMBER THOUGH....IF YOU DO DECIDE TO GIVE TO A CHARITY, THEN PLEASE SEND YOUR DONATION DIRECTLY TO THE CHARITY AND NOT TO ME....NOR IS IT NECESSARY TO MENTION EITHER MY NAME OR MY WEBSITES....THE DONATION IS THE IMPORTANT THING!
Birds Illustrated Magazine....Autumn Edition
This dramatic painting entitled "Fighting Pheasants" by talented wildlife artist Wayne Westwood, graces the cover of the Autumn 2007 edition of "Birds Illustrated" Magazine.
However, now that the main High Street stores have discontinued selling small-circulation, specialist-type magazines of all kinds (just in case they might accidentally give people something either fulfilling, worthwhile or genuinely educational), BIM depends almost entirely upon word-of-mouth recommendations from its current readership to promote new sales and, as I personally feel that the loss of this little A4-sized gem would be tantamount to a heinous act of criminal injustice, I feel compelled to give it a mention or two on my websites....something that I do entirely of my own accord by the way and not at the behest of the magazine itself! Believe me, if I didn't like the thing, then I'd say so in no uncertain terms!
I was pleased to find my Autumn copy of "Birds Illustrated Magazine" lying on the doormat this morning. It's a terrific little quarterly, subscription-only magazine, claiming to celebrate the world's Birds in words and pictures....which is exactly what it does....and better (in my opinion) than any other bird-orientated publication I've ever read....which is most of them!
I even managed to skim through a few pages as I ate my breakfast, before having to rush off to deal with something rather unsavoury....the kind of thing that no wildlife magazine ever touches on in any detail....thankfully!
Back home by mid-day however and I've now had time to peruse my copy of BIM at a more leisurely pace.
I always have mixed feelings when I read this particular magazine though, simply because of the sheer quality of the illustrations depicted within its hallowed pages....from the cover (always stunning) through to the "Picture Perfect" section at the back, I just can't find fault with any image! Sadly, I always end up feeling totally depressed by what I see, knowing that I'll never be able to come anywhere close to matching the sheer brilliance required to produce pictorial masterpieces like Dutchman Paul Oomen's breathtaking photographs of Purple Herons in Holland's Zouweboezem Wetland or the magnificent wildlife photography of the outrageously talented Finnish cameraman, Markus Veresvuo (both featured in this issue).
Wildlife painters and sculptors are also featured regularly in BIM of course and this edition's focus on the superb artwork of Scottish Highlands-based painter Keith Brockie and the Yucatan-inspired bird-art of gifted storyteller Ian Hillery is typical of the efforts that the editorial staff always make to give every issue of the magazine its admirable and profound sense of balance....and that's without even mentioning the article on the Puffin pictures and paintings of the artistically sublime David Miller....aided and abetted by his little mate Colin!
Meanwhile, depression or not, it wont be long before I'll be off out again, re-invigorated and re-inspired, with my own camera held firmly in my sweaty little paws and armed with a renewed determination to at least try to produce something one day, just that little bit more special....Hey-ho!
Royal Anglian Killed in Helmand Province
A second soldier of C (Essex) Coy, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment has been killed in Afghanistan in as many days. Captain David Hicks (26) died during an intense and sustained attack by Taleban forces using small-arms fire and RPGs on their patrol base North-East of Sangin, Helmand Province.
Commanding Officer, Lt Col Stuart Carver, described him as "an outstanding officer who always led from the front". He went on to explain how Capt Hicks was leading from a forward position at the time he was wounded in order to direct what had become a very intensive battle and to provide an inspiring example to his men and that, even after realizing for himself that his wounds were fatal, his only concern was to return to a position from which he could continue to control immediate operations.
Lt Col Carver added that his officer "typified the highest standards of leadership and commanded genuine respect from all who served with him".
Capt Hicks, from Wokingham in Berkshire, had been commissioned into the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment in 2002 and was a veteran of both Bosnia and Iraq and had already been involved in a number of fierce clashes in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Capt Hicks was a keen skier and had been planning to buy a house in Surrey with his girlfriend, Nicola, upon his return to the UK.
Reconnaissance Royal Marine Killed
I have only just learned of the death in Afghanistan of Royal Marines Commando, Lance-Corporal Michael Jones (26) from Newbold in Yorkshire.
Apparently, L/Cpl Jones was killed during a ferocious fire-fight with Taleban insurgents in Nimruz Province in the South-West of the country in late July!
He was on a "specialist" mission at the time, the details of which remain classified.
L/Cpl Jones joined the RMC at the age of eighteen and served in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan with distinction. His Commanding Officer (who has not been named) described him as "a truly exceptional non-commissioned officer, the best at his level". He went on to add that L/Cpl Jones "stood unflinchingly, time after time and shoulder to shoulder, with his friends in the very worst of conditions".
Royal Anglian Fatality
Private Tony Rawson (27) of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment was killed during a Taleban ambush on his unit in Afghanistan earlier today.
I believe that Pvt Rawson died and another soldier was injured in close combat while on patrol to engage the enemy and disrupt their movements as well as to reassure the local populace and to check on the progress and security of a local irrigation project in the Jusyalay area of North-East Sangin, Helmand Province.
Captain David Hicks of C (Essex) Coy described Pvt Rawson as tremendously "good-natured, even in the face of adversity and very courageous under fire and that his loss would be deeply felt by all who knew him".
Pvt Rawson entered the Army in 2002 and quickly gained the nickname "Nicey" when he joined the Royal Anglians in 2003 because of his generally affable nature and his willingness to go out of his way to be helpful to his fellow soldiers.
He was from Dagenham in Essex and leaves behind his fiance, Louise, who is expecting their first child and Louise's daughter, Caitlin.
Irish Guards Killed in Basra
Londoner, Lance Sergeant Chris Casey (27) and Romford-born, Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath (22) were both killed when and improvised explosive device was detonated alongside their patrol vehicle in the early hours of this morning.
The men were from the 1st Battalion, The Irish Guards.
I have no further information except that two other soldiers were badly injured in the same attack which happened just North of the Rumaylah oilfields.
LAC Killed in Iraq
Leading Aircraftsman Martin Beard (20) of Number 1 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment was shot and killed while on routine foot patrol in the al-Waki District North of the British base at Basra Air Station when his patrol came under attack in a market place.
His Commanding Officer, Squadron Leader Jason Sutton described LAC Beard as "a strong, fit and exceptionally gifted infantryman....(he) had such a bright future and had already set his sights on selection for Special Forces and I have no doubt whatsoever that he would have succeeded in that as he did in all else".
LAC Beard was from Rainworth in Nottinghamshire and was due to marry his fiance, Nic, immediately after completion of his tour of duty in Iraq.
My opinion....for what it's worth....we're going to see more casualties like LAC Beard (above) and Pvt Barber (mentioned below) if British soldiers are forced to continue operating in an area where effective control was handed over to the Iraqi army, but who are simply not up to the job of maintaining security in key areas. Enemy militia now have too much free reign and appear to be operating carte blanche throughout Basra City. This is an untenable situation for British troops who are now forced to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political interference....as I've said before....it's the same old same old and it's the Squaddies and Bootnecks who always have to deal with it!
Now you know why I put polititians below certain types of lawyer and even paedophiles on the social ladder!
This casualty of the highway was still alive, though only just, when I stumbled across her by the side of a country lane late this afternoon. Judging by the blood trail and despite catastrophic injuries, she had managed to drag herself towards the trees, but had finally lost the strength to go any further. she was in a hopeless condition, continuing to bleed from her nose, mouth and ears while in obvious and very considerable pain from extensive internal injuries. One of her hind legs was badly broken and partially severed!
If she had been struck by a vehicle during the night (most likely), then she may well have lain beside the road for at least ten or twelve hours, gradually becoming more and more exhausted and de-hydrated!
Her breathing was generally weak, irregular and occasionally laboured and she was, by this time, totally unable to move. Semi-conscious and only vaguely aware of my presence, she barely managed to follow my movements with her eyes. Basically, she was so immersed in her own little universe of pain and confusion that she hardly reacted at all as I put her into a deep, deep sleep and then despatched her as humanely as possible! Experts will disagree, but I believe that many animals understand what you're trying to do for them in such circumstances and they often seem to visibly relax and accept their fate....I still find it very upsetting though!
Anyway, I then took photographs and measurements, made a note of its age and sex (she was quite an elderly lady) and the nature of all apparent injuries. I recorded the location (including map reference) and then took blood and saliva samples. Finally, I fetched my spade from my vehicle and burried the old girl in a grave deep enough to disuade even the most persistent of predators.
We occasionally come across the bodies of Badgers fatally injured by passing vehicles on the roads and, provided that such animals were killed no more than twenty-four hours prior to us finding them, we are required to perform the unenviable task of extracting a blood sample and taking a swab or two of saliva (hence the twenty-four hour deadline). We then freeze the samples as soon as possible and send them by courier to an external agency who despatch them abroad to an independent laboratory for analysis. The risks to ourselves are absolutely negligible....provided that we use the appropriate protective gear supplied to us and which includes basic rubber gloves, goggles and face mask (always carried on our persons and for use in taking samples from such things as Badgers for example) to full-on NBC (permanently stored in our vehicles and to be worn if we're required to help deal with such things as confirmed cases of avian influenza, swine fever or foot and mouth). We even carry our own supplies of Tamiflu!
The basic protection that we carry on our persons at all times....although this one is minus a blood-sample and swab kit (I used my last one today) and my protective goggles which I managed to leave hanging on a tree branch close to where I burried the Badger! I'll get the goggles back tomorrow....if they're still there.
Probably as much as 80% of our time is spent conducting survey work of one sort or another and is carried out totally independently of all Government, conservation, farming or other agencies. Basically, we collate and attempt to make sense of all the physical data that we acquire while carrying out a huge variety of "observational" activities in the field....from simple species-specific census work to the occasional monitoring of the activities of dubious land developers.
All this, plus other things such as animal blood, tissue or faeces testing (Badgers again....or birds from time to time) or maybe river-water cleanliness testing, produces a wealth of data that has to be sorted and interpreted and the resultant, mostly statistical, information is then used by the Boss in ways that he considers to be the most effective.
Not surprisingly, both the "independent" nature of our organization and our somewhat maverick methods of operation tend to place us well and truly "on the fence" with regard to all those "other agencies" and some are very suspicious of us, but it is vitally important to the Boss that we are perceived as being totally independent and that our work remains non-partisan....even if it means upsetting the "good guys" from time to time when our own results differ from theirs!
He also says that we shouldn't take it too personally....the way that some individuals or groups react to us. Most people, he says, will immediately assume that if you don't appear to be 100% for them, then you must be totally against them! It's always with a wry smile that he attempts to reassure us from time to time by insisting that, at the very least, we're disliked by everyone equally....yet another reason why he prefers to employ ex-forces personnel....he knows we're all used to being thoroughly disliked no matter what we do!
Royal Welsh Soldier Killed
Private Craig Barber (20) of the 2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh Regiment was killed early today by small-arms fire whilst taking part in a night operation in the Al-Furzi District of Basra, Iraq.
Having enlisted in the Battalion only three years ago, this was already Pvt Barber's second tour of duty in Iraq.
His Commanding Officer, Lt Col JFP Swift MBE, described him as "a dedicated soldier who was keen to deploy on operations in support of his mates" He went on to add that Pvt Barber "was always very proffesional, courageous and someone who never wanted to let his comrades down....He was a huge physical presence in his platoon, but was the epitome of the gentle giant".
Pvt Barber was from Ogmore Vale in Bridgend and was married with a three year-old son.
Foot and Mouth....A Warning!
Not another bl**dy outbreak of foot and mouth in the UK! The poor farmers haven't got over the last lot yet! It's only an isolated incident at the moment, but if this disease gets out of control and spreads across virtually the entire country like the last time, then it will be utterly catastrophic....and it won't be just the dairy farmers who are affected either....or the hill walkers and ramblers.....it's all about balance and connections in the country-side and this has serious implications for the UK as a whole! Farming is absolutely vital to this country's overall economic health and stability and if a high enough percentage of farmers ultimately succumb to financial ruination (as more and more of them are doing with each passing season), then believe me, the rest of us will soon be suffering along with them!
Increasingly mild Winters, overly damp Summers and then this year's unbelievably large-scale Summer flooding is leaving farmers of almost all commercial types with desperately poor crop yields. They have nowhere to go and nothing in reserve....another widespread foot and mouth epidemic will break their backs for sure!
Don't forget, I've yomped across countless miles of crop-orientated farmland of all kinds over the past few years and I've seen (and recorded), first hand, the sometimes devastating effects that decades of negative Government decision-making and mis-management has had on the ordinary, average farmer. Basically, these ridiculously hard-working individuals have been at the end of their tethers for far too long and they simply wont be able to cope with the awful effects of yet more foot and mouth!
Meanwhile, I doubt that many townsfolk will understand the sinister implications of such an outbreak this time around, but they will certainly have to be prepared to help fund huge Government farming subsidies over the next few years if they want to continue seeing relatively inexpensive food on the shelves of their local supermarket....or very much food in their local supermarket at all for that matter!
Royal Tank Regiment Fatality
Corporal Steve Edwards (35) from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment was killed earlier today by an improvised explosive device in the Mustashfa District of Basra City, Southern Iraq while checking on the safety of the men travelling in his Warrior armoured vehicle .
He died from injuries sustained in the explosion when the Warrior armoured patrol of which he was part was targeted by enemy forces.
Cpl Edwards joined the Army in 1993 and, during his fourteen years of impeccable service, had been deployed on exercises all over the world. He also served on operations in Northern Ireland, the Balkans and as part of the first phase of Operation TELIC. He was looking forward to both a new job and a promotion to the rank of Sergeant at the end of his tour in Iraq.
Cpl Edwards leaves behind his parents, his wife, Gabie and his 18 month-old son, Ryan.
Free As a Bird!
I would just like to commend the staff of the Julian Graves Health food store at Evesham Country Park for being prepared to damage their expensive-looking display units yesterday, the ones permanently attached to the shop wall. A House Sparrow had flown inside the shop and managed to get itself wedged behind one of them via a gap at the top!
I happened to go into the shop a short while after the bird's mishap to buy my usual bag of dried Cranberries, whereupon the staff asked if there was anything I could do to help release the trapped and, at that moment, chirping bird. Unfortunately, the very heavy unit was well and truly secured to the wall and the gap at the back was far too narrow to get to the Sparrow directly, so I suggested that the best option would be to cut a hole near the base of the unit and wait for the bird to make its own way out.
After consultation over the telephone with the district manager, permission was given and a workman called in to cut the hole. The Sparrow was then able to escape back into the shop before being caught and released back into the outside world!
It was a minor crisis (after all, birds dying behind display units in health food stores could well go on to raise one or two health and safety issues), but this particular crisis was handled well by the staff concerned and therefore had a positive outcome....particularly for the House Sparrow!
Floods of Bygone Times
Wet weather is very much the issue of the day in the UK at present, but it is perhaps worth reading the following extract taken from Geoffrey Young's fascinating book, "Britain's Countryside....A Walker's Guide" (published by Bounty Books) to put things slightly more in perspective and to illustrate that there really is very little under the sun that is entirely new....
"We keep few memories of the miserable wetness of life in earlier centuries....Flooding was a regular fact, even in enclosure times when the land was criss-crossed by drainage ditches. Villages would be cut off for weeks at a time, with washed-out cottagers taking refuge in the church (often built on higher ground with that purpose in mind)! Large-scale movement often became impossible in the Winter months, as in warfare. Of England's fifty major battles, from the Dark Ages through the Wars of the Roses to the (English) Civil War, only six took place after September and of those, five were in October! Skirmishing began again in March at the earliest!"
It's no consolation to those poor unfortunate souls caught up in the flood devastation across the UK over the past few weeks to know that their current predicaments have been all too often repeated down through the centuries, but it's true nonetheless....severe flooding has been a fact of life for countless millions of people since the dawn of history.
There is one difference however....something that IS perhaps entirely new and which makes the storms and floods of today very different indeed from all the hundreds that preceded them....you see, this year the rains came not in Winter or even in the Autumn or Spring, but in the middle of Summer....and they came with such a power and a vengeance that it seemed as if the Sky itself was colliding with the Earth....warning everything upon it that things are not as they should be....and that when push comes to shove the balance will be restored....one way or another!
Saddest of all perhaps, is the fact that no matter how much crap we injest from the idiot box every day or how many more airports we build to help us fly away to sizzle in the sun or how many 4 x 4s we buy to drive the kids to school or how much Scandanavian furniture we purchase for our homes to encourage the replacement of our fragile ancient woodlands with sterile swaythes of sustainable forest or how much we replace our once efficient water-draining garden areas with hard-standings for three or four cars per family and countless hectares of house extensions, concrete patios and wooden decking to turn our streets into water conduits that will far more effectively channel floodwater into our homes and business premises, thus causing victims to shake their fists at the heavens and curse their rotten luck....no matter how much we continue to do these things....we will never truly understand that every single one of us is a player in a particularly unpleasant game of "bite the hand" with our very own planet and that, as far as good old Mother Nature is concerned, whatever goes around, will, most definitely, come around!
Unfortunately, our behaviour is as much a part of the the Natural World's laws of "connection" and "balance" as anything could be and can never be divorced from it! Few of us however, will ever be prepared to accept such a notion, even if we bother to consider it in the first place....until it's far, far too late! It's all a bit too bl**dy inconvenient....and tiresome ....and expensive....and besides, who gives a s**t anyway? It's no big deal!
Meanwhile, as the story-hungry news teams pack away their equipment ready to resume their never-ending quest to turn one man's disaster into another's entertainment and the people of the Severn flood plain are left behind to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives as best they can, the rest of us can sit back in our armchairs and feel safe in the knowledge that severe storms and floods and stuff are things that only ever happen to other people....in our newspapers and on our TVs!
Sergeant Barry Keen (34) from Rowlands Gill, Gateshead was killed in a rocket attack near the village of Mirmandab in Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan yesterday. He served with 245 Signal Squadron, 14 Signals Regiment, Royal Corps of Signals. A communications specialist, Sgt Keen was apparently providing support for operations being carried out in the area at the time.
Sgt. Keen was very much a career soldier, having already served eighteen highly creditable years in the Army with tours completed in both Bosnia and Northern Ireland. His Troop Commander, Lt Dave Phillips, described him as "an inspirational figure within the Troop....widely respected and well-liked by all".
Royal Anglian and Grenadier Guardsman Killed
Two British soldiers have been killed in as many days in Afghanistan this week....
Norfolk-Born Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins (22) of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment was killed in an explosion as his unit returned to base in their Vector vehicle following a routine patrol on the outskirts of Sangin, Helmand Province in the South of the country on Wednesday.
Described by his commanding Officer, Lt Col Stuart Carver, as one of the most promising soldiers of his generation, L/Cpl Hawkin's life-long ambition to become a first-class sniper was realized within his first year of service, actually finishing as top student on his course!
Defence Secretary Des Browne said that L/Cpl Hawkin's death was "a dreadful loss" and that "his contribution will be remembered with honour".
Two other soldiers were also injured in the same incident!
Since then, Manchester-born Guardsman David Atherton (25) of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, died when his Company came under heavy fire from Taleban forces after successfully securing a bridge-head North-East of Gereshk in Helmand Province on Thursday. It was as his unit pushed Westwards to clear further Taleban positions that Guardsman Atherton was mortally wounded by small-arms fire!
Commanding Officer, Lt Col Carew Hatherly, remarked on how "immensely proud to be a Grenadier" Guardsman Atherton had always been and that "during his time in Afghanistan, he had been operating in the most austere of conditions and in the harshest of climates. He had risen to the difficult challenges he constantly faced, had given selfless service to his Nation and died doing what he loved alongside his Grenadier comrades".
Guardsman Atherton leaves behind a girlfriend and a young daughter.
Typical....I'm stuck at home for the next couple of days (grrr!) liasing with Scoobie to organize more supplies for some of the more vulnerable outlying flood victims (350,000 people are still without fresh water and will remain so for the next two weeks at least) while all but three of the others are out in the thick of it!
Meanwhile, Dave, Nobby and Macca arrived fresh on the scene this morning and within an hour got themselves on the telly! Of course, that's simply because the TV news crews have been rumbled by their bosses and have been told to go get their feet wet amongst the people in the villages and tiny hamlets of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire who are suffering just as badly as those in the towns (if not worse) and who are still totally cut off from the rest of the world!
The trouble is, the Boss saw the news as well this evening (oops!) and for our happy helpful trio, that's the equivalent of being caught breaking SOPs back in the old days....Oh dear....Tsk, tsk, tsk!
Jenny on the other hand, has earned herself a gold star by actually managing to impress the Boss (miracles do happen!)....Apparently, she's been using her old Army connections to good effect and certainly hasn't lost her NCO touch (I guess old habits die hard!)....she actually commandeered a bunch of bewildered squaddies for the day, getting them away from their even more bewildered CO to do something, as she put it, "a bit more bl**dy useful than standing about with their thumbs up their a**es!
Finally, I'm pleased to see that the RSPCA are out in force to help deal with some of the problems facing isolated farmers with livestock and stranded people with pets of one sort or another!
Lack of clean water for the animals will be the major problem of course, but I don't understand why the farmers aren't being shown how to construct their own water filtration units using a couple of old oil-drums or plastic rain-butts positioned on a split level with the higher drum containing a three-bucket layer of gravel followed by two of charcoal and then three of sand. A length of pipe with a tap of some sort connects both drums, running from the bottom of the higher drum into the top of the lower one. Dirty water is then poured into the higher drum and this gradually filters down through the sand, charcoal and gravel layers, whereupon clean, potable water finally comes out through the pipe when the tap is turned on!
Just in case I've slightly confused anyone with my description of how to build a water filter large enough to provide sufficient clean water for farm livestock, then here's a picture to finish the job!
It's a very simple system, used to great effect by both Monty's Desert Rats and Rommel's Afrika Korps in North Africa during the Second World War and explained to me many years ago by my Uncle Bill who'd been in the 7th Armoured Brigade himself right through the North Africa Campaign. He'd had one in a lean-to outside his tiny country cottage where he chose to live almost hermit-like after returning home from the War. He had no mains electricity, no gas and no running water, but used this two-drum filtration method to purify his own water as well as collecting rain water in barrels....However, he's worth a separate chapter all to himself in "Slices" and I shall certainly write it one day!
Uncle Bill (seated left) spent several weeks recovering in a convalescence hospital in Cyprus after being gravely wounded and buried alive for more than two days during a sustained German artilliary bombardment in North Africa. His best friend John (they had been friends since their schooldays in Tewkesbury and actually joined-up together), was killed beside him in the same attack and lay burried just inches away in what had once been their fox-hole! Without water, unable to move and drifting in and out of consciousness throughout, it was pretty much a miracle that my Uncle survived his ordeal at all! Not surprisingly however, he carried those awful memories (and others) with him for the remainder of his life and, after fifteen torturous years of fighting his demons through the anaesthetizing effects of the bottle, he finally drank himself to death....Yet another reason why I've never drunk alcohol!
A Mixed Day
A Model Son....
My son appears to be enjoying every moment of his time in the big city....He went along to a modelling agency a few weeks ago (a spur of the moment thing and without so much as a photograph of himself) with his stunning, long-legged, raven-haired girlfriend to see if they could get themselves taken on to do a bit of modelling work here and there to help pay the rent now that they're no longer in halls of residence (I had a paper round!)....Well, earlier today a film casting agency rang him to offer them a part in a proper movie set in the 1930s!
Crikey, he'll be the new face of Yves Saint Lauren before you know it....or possibly Winalot!
A huge number of people in the outlying disricts around Tewkesbury and Evesham are continuing to live in the upstairs rooms of their flooded homes despite pleas from the emergency services to vacate their premises for their own safety. I can understand their concerns....huge uncertainty about where they will go and how they will manage in an unfamiliar environment with no electricity and no mains water available for at least another two weeks....not to mention having to constantly worry about their property and possessions with an increasing number of looting incidents being reported every day! I know that I would probably be the same....holding out....looking after whatever you have left in the world.
Most of yesterday evening and this morning was spent getting a few essentials to a handful of slightly more vulnerable people in some of the more isolated locations. They'd already been helped by the brilliant emergency services who had provided all of them with enough food and water to last at least forty-eight hours. However, they were all still very worried and were very pleased to see Sean, Beth and Jenny arrive by boat with the special emergency survival kits I'd put together. We only had ten lots, but they were given to those people who we felt were the most needy and who included three elderly couples, a tremendously stubborn, but spirited elderly lady and a young single mum with two small children. All of them had listened to professional advice, considered their situation very carefully and then decided not to leave their homes.
Bearing in mind that the nights will seem very long, very dark, very cold and very scary when you have no heating, no electricity and no water supply, I decided to include a few odds and ends that would help make things just a little bit more bearable. It's bad enough to be in a survival situation when you've had all the right training and plenty of experience, but to suddenly find yourself in such a desperate plight when you've had no such training and, not only that, when you happen to be very elderly, or someone with an unwell dependent or you are alone with a couple of very young children to worry about, must be an absolute nightmare!
With so many thousands of people in the same situation, what we did was barely more than a drop in the ocean (almost literally) and I wish that we could have done more, but virtually all of the items included in these kits came from our own supplies and, sadly, they are limited.
For those of you who might be interested in the contents of the kits we distributed yesterday and today and who might perhaps wish to put together their own home survival kits, here's an inventory of the ones we handed out. This particular pack is obviously limited and any survival kit that you may wish to create for yourself could include any number of things that you might deem useful in an emergency....
72 Hour Survival Kit
24 hour Army ration packs x 3 per person
5 litre bottled water x 3 per person
Box of disposable rubber gloves x 1 (50 pairs)
Water purifying bottle (Katadyn or similar) x 1 plus spare cartridge x 1 (sufficient for purifying 400 litres total and removing 9.999% of contaminant protozoa, bacteria and cysts and ideal for producing water for either drinking or washing)
Camping stove plus spare gas cartridges x 3
Waterproof matches x 3 boxes
LED mini-lantern x 1 plus spare batteries x 4
LED wind-up hand torch x 1
12-hour Snaplights (yellow) x 10
Wind-up radio x 1
Lo-tech mobile phone plus hand-charger
Dustbin liners x 20
Toilet paper x 8 rolls
Disinfectant x 1 bottle (1 litre)
Full instructions (large type-face) for all above
Full list of emergency contact numbers
Both Jenny and Beth spent more than enough time with each person to explain how everything worked and stressed that the flood-water would probably be contaminated and that it would be very unwise to make contact with it....even to move possessions. However, if it's absolutely necessary to touch it, then always wear rubber gloves and avoid touching the water at all if you have any cuts or abrasions on your hands (this particulary applies to children). Also, on Jenny's recommendation, two dogs and a cat were taken to a kennels/cattery for the duration....which is something that I expect the Boss will pay for....although the words "fait" and "accompli" spring readily to mind!
By lunchtime, I was back in the Cotswolds travelling by car from village to village and trying to get some idea of just how badly (or not) people might have been affected out here. I spent a great deal of time talking to local people, trying to find out if anyone had been badly affected by the storms, but everywhere seemed to be largely unaffected with just a handful of properties partially flooded in just three separate villages.
Problems usually occur with elderly people living alone, but who have known adversity of one sort or another for most of their lives and who, therefore, prefer not to make a fuss. Their predicaments can often be dire, but they never complain and hate feeling that they might be putting anyone out! Fortunately, I didn't hear of anyone who was likely to be in a such a situation....though you never know for sure. If, therefore, you have an elderly person or perhaps an elderly couple living in your town or village who may well have been affected by recent events, then please take a few minutes to check up on them....even if they're stubborn old goats!
After a day of dealing with so many frightened people who have lost virtually everything, but who just get on with things regardless, I'm afraid that I got very cross with two men and a woman who were sitting in their inadequacy-compensating car while parked in a "disabled only" parking space! I'm afraid that there are two things that are guaranteed to annoy me....fully able-bodied idiots who feel that they can pick and choose which rules they obey, especially when it comes to parking in spaces reserved for the disabled....and rude dorks! I told them to move their vehicle to another space which, in all fairness, they did, but not without the obligatory bulls**t bravado and total disrespect which is such a cliche with people under the age of twenty-five or so today!
I guess I gave them a piece of my mind....I didn't threaten them....I never do that....ever....at least not since I was four years-old and threatened to stab my natural father for lashing out at my step-sister....and I would have done it too!
These days however, I know that I shouldn't react....twelve years of psycho-therapy have helped me enormously, but sometimes I implode....I go so cold and I shake with it....all my senses become focussed and heightened and all that blood and crap from years ago comes rushing back in....like a dam bursting! It's not temper....not anger....just ice....and I'm dangerous then....to myself more than anyone! The Boss understands....he helps me....he helps all of us....Sean, Joe, Dave, Macca and the others. You see, the military train you and they turn you into something that you would never have been otherwise....hopefully, they give you the discipline to hold it all together and then they let you back into society....amongst people who have no concept of either self-discipline or basic right and wrong!
Self-indulgent, self-obsessed, self-centered excuses for human enemas who drive around in silly fast cars with their balls where their brains should be aren't going to understand someone like me....s**t, I don't understand me myself!
Anyhoo....It doesn't last long, less than a minute usually....Ellie always pulls me back from the brink....except for that time when those men were kicking that hedgehog....like a bl**dy football! That was nearly twenty years ago now and another chapter written for "Slices" that I can't bring myself to put on the other website. Oh well, at least I was able to drive away this time....perhaps every day in every way I'm getting a little bit better and a little bit better!
In any rainstorm, you expect a few minutes of torrential downpour, but this deluge was non-stop for nearly twenty-four hours! I took this photograph through the back garden patio-door windows and it clearly shows how the rain was falling in virtual sheets!
The last forty-eight hours have been, for many people, especially in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, a complete and unprecedented nightmare! Three months-worth of rain falling in as little as twelve hours in some places has resulted in widespread flooding, causing chaos and heart-break across the South-West!
My own home-town of Tewkesbury, just twelve miles down the road from me, remains completely cut-off by floods with the magnificent, but vastly over-stretched emergency services forced to turn to both the RNLI and the RAF to help rescue thousands of people from their homes, their cars, caravans and even their places of work! Emergency shelters are now accommodating many of those people, while others have been taken in by those more fortunately placed.
I understand that more than 60% of homes in the town of Upton-upon-Severn (I was there only last Thursday) are now under water simply because the brand-new £150,000 flood-barriers due to be installed this week are still stuck on the M5 together with more than 10,000 cars (some people have been stuck in their vehicles for twenty hours)! Meanwhile, the sheer number of homes and business premises affected by flooding throughout the two Counties remains incalculable at present!
The rain has abated, for the time being at least, but more heavy rain is expected this evening and throughout tomorrow, bringing with it still more misery! However, rivers such as the Wye, Leadon, Teme and Stour are absorbing the run-off water from the Welsh Mountains, dumping it into the Severn, while the River Alne and Grand Union Canal continue to fill the River Avon with flood water from the Midlands. Unfortunately, it all comes together at the Avon/Severn confluence in Tewkesbury, which means that, even without more rain, things are probably going to get much worse over the next few days for an awful lot of people!
You tend to learn these things the hard way when you grow up in a flood town like Tewkesbury, but most local people have learned their lessons well over the years and have always acted accordingly....It was less than ten years ago however, that a well-known and very large out of town building development company threatened to take me to court because I had had "the audacity" (their words) to write a letter of protest to a national newspaper questioning the suitability of a site on the outskirts of Tewkesbury that had been proposed as an ideal location to build 75 brand-new two and three-bedroomed homes....not unusual in itself you might think, but this particular site was one of several places where kids like me had gone rafting on several feet of flood-water back in the Spring of 1963! The developers argued that the Winter of 1962/1963 had been a one-off and that entirely adequate measures would be taken during the building process to prevent any future flooding. Worse still, they were arrogantly dismissive of the fact that Tewkesbury is sited at the Northern, pointy end of the Severn Estuary flood plain! Anyhoo, despite my objections, the houses were built regardless and finally sold to ordinary and unsuspecting families for an average of £150,000 pounds each....As I type this entry, every one of those houses is standing in about two metres of water!
A Friend in Need....
The nightmare was brought home to me this morning when I received a telephone call from the wife of an old friend of mine, a former fire-fighter. Their Tewkesbury home is safe for the time being and is still about four feet above the rising water-line. They are virtually on an island at the moment, but flood levels are expected to rise by as much as four feet over the next twenty-four hours! They are very worried, naturally, and have already moved most of their posessions upstairs. However, the clean water supply has now been cut off and almost all of the homes belonging to their now evacuated family and friends are already underwater and they are worried that with emergency shelters already full, they might have nowhere to go. Not to worry though....once evacuated by RAF Sea-King helicopters (big adventure for the kids), they can come to us and I'll put them up in my motor-home and their kids will be fine and dandy for however long it takes to get back on their flippers.
The van is always connected to the mains, so they'll have somewhere to live and sleep (it sleeps five) with full mains electricity and so they'll have lights, radio and TV, a refrigerator, four-hob gas cooker (with oven) and their own toilet (or they can use the ones indoors). They'll even have their own shower, so they should be fine. Hopefully though, it wont be needed, but it's one of those bottom-line situations where, if everything else goes pear-shaped, it's re-assuring to know that you have somewhere safe to go, no matter what....after all, it's not for nothing that we live 547 metres above sea-level!
Having brought my daughter home safely from school on Friday in the torrential downpours by managing to avoid most of the grid-lock in Cheltenham town and taking the high roads back into the Cotswolds, I was worried for my wife this morning when she didn't return home from a twelve-hour nightshift at Cheltenham General hospital. No cause for concern in the end however....she'd volunteered to stay on for another four hours because not a single one of her ward's day staff had been able to get in! She was especially lucky to be able get past the dozens of abandoned cars still littering the main road out of town! She also noticed that a caravan and car belonging to some poor unfortunate holiday-maker and abandoned on Friday has already been stolen!
She's working again tonight and has told me not to worry if she's late home again tomorrow. She's also due to start a two week break tomorrow, but expects instead to be covering for staff who may still be unable to get in! My wife's quite special....she doesn't hesitate to help out when needs must and I know that the hospital have always had the highest regard for both her professional/technical ability and her willingness to "muck-in" when necessary!
I have always insisted that my wife carries a complete survival kit in the boot of her car, including two blankets, a sleeping-bag, bivi-tent, wellies, cold-weather gear (even in the Summer), a set of water-proofs, a shovel and a broom-handle primarily for testing the depth of water if she's forced to leave her vehicle because of flooding. She also carries enough food and water for seventy-two hours plus signalling equipment, wind-up phone-charger, torch and spare batteries (still in the blister-pack), loose change, fire-lighting bits and bobs, a pair of walking boots and all the usual car stuff, such as tools, tow-rope, jump-leads, spare oil, etc....oh....and a couple of good books!
She used to laugh at me (as did most others) and complain that there wasn't room for anything else, including her, but because she's found herself in "difficult" situations on a number of occasions since learning to drive a few years ago....where she's either broken down (twice last Winter) and had to wait a couple of hours for the RAC and once when she got stuck in snow and was finally able to dig herself out, she takes it much more seriously. In fact, she told me this morning that after this weekend's dramas, she'd been advising colleagues at work to make up their own car survival kits....and I'd suggest most strongly that you do the same!
I'd just like to give a special mention to Sean and our new rangers Beth and Jenny who spent the whole of yesterday rescuing no less than forty-two holiday-makers from their caravans on a site very close to a flooded and extremely treacherous River Severn. They used Sean's very own RIB and were able to transfer everyone to much safer ground. From there, they were eventually transported to temporary sheltered accommodation by the army.
Sean and Beth....Beth and Sean....is it love?
Meanwhile Mark, together with a couple of extremely anxious stable owners (ladies), were able to rescue four increasingly worried horses from a field near Evesham on Saturday where they were already up to their bellies in very cold and mucky water....the water was up to the horses bellies that is, not Mark's or the ladies....it would, after all, have been up to Mark's nose! The horses were later examined by a vet, passed fit for active service and subsequently driven by lorry to much higher ground!
I have just heard on the radio (1500hrs) that large parts of Gloucestershire will be without clean drinking water by 1700hrs today, including Tewkesbury (already affected), Gloucester and Cheltenham and, of course, their surrounding areas....That's a million people at least! The main Severn/Trent Water Authority water and sewage processing plant just North of Tewkesbury has now failed completely and is not expected to be operational again for at least another four days!
Fairly predictably, this has already led to widespread panic-buying of food and bottled water in shops and supermarkets across the county and I'm now hearing of a number of violent incidents involving individuals arguing over such things as a bottle of Perrier!....Who was it said that "any civilization, no matter how cultured or advanced it might consider itself to be, is never more than twenty-four hours and three square meals away from total chaos and anarchy"?
We should be ok for water here, for the moment however, simply because the water supplier for the Cotswolds is Thames Water and so everything depends on what happens weather-wise out towards Oxford and London during the next twenty-four hours. In fact Joe and Sam have rung me to say that things don't look too bad around the rivers and reservoirs in Oxfordshire at the moment, but that it could all change rapidly overnight as new bands of ultra-low pressure move in from the South-West....No good worrying about it though....we can survive up here for months if needs be....we'll just have to wait and see!
It's not beyond the realms of possibility for the floods to strike just about anywhere at any time....including up here in the ever-so quaint and charming Cotswold Hills....the Coln, Churn, Leach and Windrush rivers are notoriously spiteful at times! I would therefore reccommend, purely as a sensible precaution, that anyone who hasn't done so already, collects together such valuables as legal documents, photo albums, electronic equipment, jewellery, antique items and all non-perishable foodstuffs plus plenty of potable water poured into anything that will contain it (fill the bath as well) and move the whole shebang into an upstairs bedroom (though not the bath of course!)....just in case you come downstairs tomorrow morning to find the mice doing backstroke in your fireplace!
For what it's worth, I always follow a golden rule that I learned more than thirty years ago....
"HOPE FOR THE BEST, BUT EXPECT THE WORST!"
It works for me!
Lance Corporal Timothy "Daz" Flowers (25) of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers was killed by indirect fire during a mortar attack on Basra Palace in Southern Iraq while working on a vehicle. Originally from Northern Ireland, he was on attachment to the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.
Commanding Officer, Major Fabian Roberts MVO commended L/Cpl Flowers for being "an ostensibly quiet and modest man who got on with his job with unstinting pragmatism and determination" He said that there was "a depth to him intellectually and in his wider personality that made him full of surprises" He added that L/Cpl Flower's death had dealt "a body-blow" to the Company!
Meanwhile, L/Cpl Flowers was described by his immediate superior, Artificer Quarter-Master Sergeant Lee, as a "natural mechanic" he went on to say that it was "a testimony to the loyalty and courage of the man that he extended his service to see the job through with his friends, regardless of his own situation". For personal reasons, L/Cpl Flowers had already resigned from the Army prior to arriving in Iraq, but had decided to support his friends who were seriously under-manned.
Am I the only one who finds it totally mind-boggling that the political seat-polishers and armchair generals based in Westminster can so easily gainsay the most senior military people "on the ground" in both Iraq and Afghanistan when it comes to commenting on the logistical and numerical viablities of UK troops currently serving in those countries?
I'm absolutely certain that the polititians understand perfectly the gravity of the military logistical situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan and that even though this is not the sort of crisis they themselves are used to....acute shortages of paper-clips or photo-copier toner or a lack of bacon sarnies in the vending machines! I am convinced that they fully understand what a very senior military officer really means when he says that things in Iraq and Afghanistan are "at the edge of sustainability"....that he means for every vehicle deemed "operational", two others have had to be scavenged by exhausted mechanics working eighteen hour shifts and that this has had to be done to provide vital parts to make it work long enough to complete a single patrol! He means that soldiers who come "under fire" on a daily basis do so knowing that their SA80 rifles run a 50% chance of jamming....and that the percentage drop in the amount of ammunition they use is not due to a decrease in the number of blue on red engagements, but rather that many troops don't have enough bl**dy ammunition to use in the first place!
The polititians are fully aware of all of this....and a lot more besides, but they remain totally callous in their cynical exploitation of the courage and profesionalism of the average squaddie and bootneck whose lives they seem so eagerly prepared to sacrifice without any real concerns for even the most basic of their logistical needs!
Three RAF SACs Killed in Basra
Three RAF personnel have been killed in a mortar attack on their base in Southern Iraq.
Matthew Caulwell (22) of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment was a Senior Aircraftsman from Birmingham. Described by his CO, Squadron Leader Jason Sutton, as "a true character known for his out-going and gregarious nature" SAC Caulwell was held in the highest regard by all those who served alongside him.
Peter McFerran (24) from Flintshire, was also an SAC serving with 1 Squadron RAF Regiment and had followed his father into the Regiment in 2004. SAC McFerran was described by a colleague as "a genuine friend who was capable of so much more than he realized....In Pete, we have lost one of our finest".
Christopher Dunsmore (29) was a Senior Aircraftsman with 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment. SAC Dunsmore was a manager with a paint company until being attached to 1 Squadron in August 2006 for one year. He was was engaged to be married after returning home next month! Squadron Leader Sutton described him as "a highly skilled individual who, from the very start of his time with us, put 100% into everything he did".
All three died as a result of what the MoD have described as "an indirect fire attack on the Contingency Operating Base in Basra". For security reasons, further details have not been made available.
1 Squadron RAF Regiment is based at RAF Honington near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.
504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force is based at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, East Midlands.
I would just like to add that, without the dedication, personal sacrifice and professionalism of the men and women of regiments like the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and the Territorial Army, military operations in places like Iraq and Afghanistan would, without doubt, come to a galloping standstill. Their role is a vitally important one and should never be ignored or forgotten!
I'm not going to go into my own personal experiences concerning battery farm chickens here....few people would believe any of it anyway! However, I understand that Australian scientists have recently discovered that the production of a hormone present in chickens and only stimulated by fear is equally present in both battery and free-range birds. This has led to the pro-battery lobby concluding that if such hormone levels are indeed, the same, then there must be no advantage to the birds by keeping them in free-range conditions and that battery birds are not only just as healthy, but much happier because they are safe from predators, disease and all the other hazards and dangers associated with living out of doors!
Mmm....I have two questions....
1 What has fear got to do with being happy? I don't stick my fingers in a plug socket because I'm afraid that I'd be electrocuted and I don't cross a road without first looking both ways because I'm afraid that I'd be run over by a No 27 bus. Nor do I stop my children from living normal lives because I'm afraid of what could befall them when they step outside....but that doesn't stop me being happy!
2 If you gave an Australian research scientist or a battery chicken farmer the choice of being locked in a little cell protected from all of the hazards and horrors of the outside world for the rest of their lives....or of being allowed to live their lives out of doors, as normal Human Beings, free of restrictions and exercising freedom of choice....but where, like the rest of us, they might easily be run over by a lorry, mugged and beaten by thugs, infected by STDs, drowned in a flood or murdered by a crazed serial killer, which do you think they'd choose?
Meanwhile, It's well worth taking a quick look at the "Battery Hen Welfare Trust" website via your search engine. It's not the biggest of organizations, but they do some tremendous work and are responsible for the rescue of hundreds of psychologically and physically sick and malnourished battery hens from all over the country and even manage to re-home a great many of them!
Of course....it might also help you to realize just how "happy" these quite emotionally complex birds have really been during their short little lives!
Another Window Strike
This otherwise extremely healthy-looking young Blackbird was killed virtually instantly today when it flew into the glass patio-doors at the back of my house, breaking its neck!
Returning home this evening from a day of being persistently threatened by several of the more enthusistic and shotgun-wielding members of D(ork) Platoon, The 2nd Batallion The Camberwick Green 1st Foot and Mouth (I was only taking a few pictures!), I was greeted by my wife with the upsetting news that the last of "DT's" youngsters had managed to kill itself outright by flying into the patio-doors at the back of the house!
I've talked at length before in this diary about birds involved in window strikes and the precautions I personally take to reduce the overall number of fatalities that innevitably occur, so I wont go on about it again. However, a new trend seems to be sweeping the UK of late, as un-caring/un-thinking garden centres have begun selling a variety of those awful free-standing or wall-mounted mirrors designed for use in the garden. Your guess is as good as mine as to the benefits provided by such landscape ornaments, but I do know that they are already causing significant problems for birds as they unwittingly fly smack-bang into them. Please therefore, if you are considering purchasing such a mirror yourself....then don't!
On a final note....it's particulary sad that "DT" and his mate have now lost all of their fledgling youngsters one way or another this season!
As for D Platoon....keep looking over your shoulders gentlemen because all subsequent photography will be entirely covert!
Typical Over Reaction
So a couple of American tourists (from Mississippi apparently) sighted a "big-cat" in the Cotswolds yesterday and couldn't wait to report it to the authorities and get their names into the newspapers. Now it seems that lots of ignorant people worried about the safety of their dogs and cats are getting all jittery and silly again and they've sent for the "heavy mob"....half a dozen bloodthirsty morons complete with their tossertesterone-driven arsenal to "deal" with a couple of extremely shy and vulnerable animals who have never hurt anyone and who only want to be left alone. I don't deny that such cats are potentially dangerous if approached, but these are fine, just so long as no-one harasses them....or makes them feel threatened....or forces them into a corner....or injures one, particularly with an inappropriate firearm!
Well Mr. "specialst" tracker person (I know you read this), you may well be telling people to relax now that you're "on the case" and that it wont be long before you "hunt the animal down and bring it in....dead if necessary"! Mmm....but that may not be as easy as you think....you see, those cats have a "specialist" friend....one who's been looking out for them for a few years now and I guess that he's "on the case" as well....unlike you and your friends however, he doesn't carry a firearm anymore....he hasn't for years....he totally hates them....but then of course, he doesn't need to!
Basically, I'm pretty certain that he'll be somewhere nearby for the next week or two, just in case you happen to get anywhere near to the animal's lair/den and, who knows, he might be out there later today, obliterating tracks, removing sign, springing traps, cutting snares (he hates snares as well) and generally crashing and bashing about in the undergrowth.
On the other hand, if you really want to do something of value for society, then why don't you start a campaign to reduce the number of idiots who persistently speed on our roads? What was it....more than 3,000 deaths on British roads in 2006 with almost half of them caused by speeding drivers! That's nearly 1,500 people (many of them children) and that doesn't even include the injured, a figure that runs into tens of thousands!
Not interested? Could it be then, that the chance to shoot something as newsworthy as a big-cat gives your tiny penis a little hard-on and is far too irresistible a chance to show what a macho-man you are with your mighty high-velocity weapon....and all in the interests of "public safety"....but just remind me again Mr. specialist tracker person....how many people were killed or injured by big-cats in the UK last year....or ever for that matter? Crikey, most people don't even believe they exist....thankfully!
In a way, I wish I'd had you in my squad for just a few days back in the 1970s, sitting in a filthy muddy ditch, freezing your a**e off in the middle of Winter endlessly watching remote backroads on the Irish border. I'd have given you all the opportunity you wanted to show what a macho-man you really are....but why for only a few days you ask? Well, you wouldn't have lived longer than that....You see, unlike big-cats, our "prey" had a tendency to be even better armed than we were!
Grenadier Guards Fatality
Guardsman David Hickey (27) of the 1st Battalion The Grenadier Guards was killed earlier today in Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan. He was working as part of the 1st Battalion The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment Battlegroup alongside Afghan National Security Forces when he was shot during what have been described by his CO, Lt Col Carew Hatherley, as "protracted and ferocious clashes with the Taleban".
Lt Col Hatherley described Guardsman Hickey as "courageous and determined and an inspiration to everyone....He was a quiet and thoughtful character" he said, "who was fun to be with both on and off duty" The colonel went on to add, "we knew each other well enough that he could joke with me whenever we met and it was invariably at my expense....He will be sorely missed!".
Two other soldiers were injured during another part of the operation and are now being treated in hospital.
The House Martin chick that, sadly, I found dead on the front lawn this morning.
I was very upset to find one of the second-brood baby House Martins lying dead on the front lawn this morning! It was from the nest adjacent to my daughter's bedroom window and had apparently fallen out at some point during the early hours!
It looks as though this little bird would have been fledging over the next couple of weeks, but how it came to actually fall out of its nest (if it did) is a complete mystery to me. Both young and adult House Martins are very vociferousl birds, whether in flight or while sitting inside the inverted mud-hut they like to call home and I sometimes stand in the middle of the Close during the small hours of the night with up to twenty occupied nests under the eaves of the houses surrounding me, listening to the occupants chattering away for all they're worth....and the birds are just as noisy!
All that vocalizing is often accompanied by a good deal of fidgity activity within the nest and I can only think that this particular bird was knocked out of the entrance-hole accidentally somehow! There is still at least one chick inside the nest however and both parents are continung to care for it.
Unfortunately, the nest outside my son's bedroom window was attacked and completely dislodged by Jackdaws one day about a month ago and, before someone e-mails me to say that Jackdaws simply don't do that kind of thing, I actually saw and heard them attempting to cause mischief to the nest a couple of times during the previous day and again when they returned early that morning....so I wasn't entirely surprised that it eventually came away from the wall altogether! There had been two chicks inside and both were taken by the Jackdaws! Sadly, the nest has not been re-built....so far at least!
From my own observations, I'd say that overall Butterfly and Moth numbers appear to be down quite drastically in the South-West this year....that is, until today! It's been very sunny and pleasantly warm all day for the first time in a couple of weeks and suddenly entire "kaleidoscopes" of Butterflies appear to have responded to the change in the weather by appearing in flurries all over the Cotswolds!
I managed to photograph eleven different species today, including this gorgeous Marbled White who was peering down at me from nearby Bramble bushes while I ate my lunch in the shade of an old Willow tree.
I would just like to say a great big thank-you to the married couple whose heart-wrenching story not only helped to restore my faith in Humanity when I heard it on the radio this morning, but served to cheer me up no end. Apparently they used extreme stealth and a very large sledge-hammer to break into a Barratt's show-home on a brand-new housing estate yesterday in order to steal the 42" plasma TV residing in the living-room....unfortunately, they failed to realize that the TV, like all the furnishings and fittings used by Barratt in their show-homes, was only a fake and made entirely of plastic!
Congratulations to unseeded tennis pair Jamie Murray and Jelena Jankovic on their Wimbledon mixed-doubles final win yesterday. It is, of course, the first Wimbledon victory involving any British player for more than twenty years and I notice that while the National newspapers today hail Jamie as a "True Brit who overcame all the odds to win", his brother, Andy, who completely missed Wimbledon this year because of a wrist injury, is "The Scot who did not!"
Two New Rangers
Word in the woods is that the Boss is taking on two new full-time rangers with almost immediate effect....and apparently, they are both female. I must say that it's about time we increased our ranks and the introduction of two lady rangers will add a completely new and very useful dimension to the wide variety of work we do....and you never know, it might even encourage Nobby to have a wash from time to time!
For the purposes of this website, I'll refer to the ladies as Beth and Jenny and I shall probably be meeting them later this week. I understand that Beth is a former naval lieutenant (pronounced "lef"tenant) and a navy-qualified diver in her early thirties with a passion for coastal and marine wildlife of all kinds. Jenny meanwhile, is of similar age and has several years experience as an NCO in the regular army (and not the TA as I had first heard). She is also a keen half-marathon runner, has an Open University BSc Honours degree and is an on-going post-graduate research student with specific interests in botany. I believe that both ladies have served tours in Eastern Europe and/or the Middle East.
On behalf of everyone associated with the UKNR, I'd like to say "hello ladies and welcome!" As for any advice that I could give them....well, the only advice that I would care to offer is quite straightforward....whatever else you do, don't lend money to Sam, don't touch Joe's kukri and for goodnes sake, don't find yourselves drawn to Sean's more "obvious" charms!
Three Soldiers Killed in Separate Incidents
Rifleman Edward "Vaka" Vakabua (23) of the 4th Battalion, The Rifles died after being involved in a fatal accident yesterday at the British Base at Basra Palace. Specific details of the incident have not yet been revealed, but Rifleman Vakabua, originally from Suva in Fiji, served with a mortar unit attached to 7 Platoon, B Coy. Described by the MoD as a "quiet, shy and thoroughly pleasant character", Vakabua was based in Bulford, Wiltshire.
A second soldier, named as L/Cpl Ryan Francis (23) of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh Regiment, was killed today when his forward patrol came under attack from rebel fighters using small-arms fire and RPGs. His death occured as more than a thousand troops were co-ordinated in the largest single operation involving UK military personnel in Basra so far this year. L/Cpl Francis was from Llanelli in South Wales.
Three other soldiers were injured in seperate incidents during the same operation, but sadly, one of them, Cpl Christopher "Readie" Read (22) of 158 Provost Coy, 3rd Regiment Royal Military Police, has since died of the injuries he sustained during a small-arms fire-fight with insurgents as his unit returned to their base in the early hours of the morning. Cpl Read was from Poole in Dorset and was described by his regimental CO, Lt. Col. Simon Miller and by Major Jan Waring, OC 158 Provost Coy as "a rising star in the military police....a warm and modest young man with a wicked sense of fun....a brave soldier, always volunteering to be in the thick of it....a very popular, professional and effective military policeman, the loss of whom will be deeply felt by his colleagues".
19 Regiment RA Soldier Killed
Grenadier Guardsman Sergeant Dave Wilkinson (33) of 19 Regiment Royal Artillery was killed yesterday in Gereshk, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. He died when his vehicle was targeted during an exchange of fire with rebel forces.
Sgt. Wikinson was married and from Ashford in Kent. Speaking of him, Wilkinson's CO, Lt. Col. Will Bramble described him as a "total professional"....a man who "excelled as a soldier".
Meanwhile, following a very unpleasant, venomous and particularly spiteful e-mail that I received yesterday from a typically anonymous source, I wish to stress (yet again) that, as far as Iraq and Afghanistan are concerned, IT'S THE TROOPS, together with THEIR ADMINISTRATIVE STAFF and THEIR FAMILIES BACK HOME who I support! I DO NOT support THE WARS themselves....IN EITHER COUNTRY! Nor do I agree with or uphold the political stances or agendas which resulted in the troops being deployed there in the first place or which, indeed, continue to keep them there!
Believe me Anon, if I had a magic-wand, then I would wave it mightily while simultaneously sprinkling handfuls of Sooty's "oofle-dust" in an effort to secure the safe and immediate return of every single British, US or Coalition soldier into the arms of their families and friends! I would do it today....I would do it right now....I would do it just in time for tea!
I would then wave my magic-wand one more time and replace those troops with every self-serving politician who insists upon perpetuating such wars....thereby simultaneously filling the enormous social, political and economic vacuum created when the troops were magicked away! Furthermore, those very politicians would be armed with nothing more than the fatuous words of their fallacious arguments....After all, we voted them into power as so-called wordsmiths....let them earn their keep for once!
Mmm, I wonder then, how long the wars would last?
Storms and Floods of Old
and a Flower of Power
(Global Warming? Not Just Today it Seems)
When my Gran was perhaps no more than eight or nine years old, way back in the 1890's, she lived in a small reed-thatched cottage on the banks of the River Wye, not so very far from the splendid City of Hereford. She shared it with her brothers and sister, her Mum and her Dad and a double score or more of assorted goats, chickens, pigs and goodness knows what else!
Biting Stonecrop tends to grow in carpets of gold as it spills out over walls, rocks and sand dunes. The above example however, was growing out of what remains of one of the two main tarmac runways on the site of the old disused RAF Chedworth airfield. This crumbling monument to World War Two saw active service from 1942 to 1946 and was strategically very important at the time.
Life, of course, was very tough in those days, particularly for a little girl who never once went to school and who was always expected to play her part in both the management of the the home and the care of the livestock. Nevertheless, I always remember her talking to me about those days with great nostalgia in her voice as she cast her mind back to her early childhood spent in the little cottage by the river so very long ago. I firmly believe she'd been quite happy back then....despite her family's abject poverty and the harshness of their reality.
Yet almost a century before the invention of global-warming and long before people could tune in to their local radio stations or scour the internet for the latest weather forecasts, grizzled rural-folk of old might descend the stairs of a morning and paddle across to the kitchen window. Then, if they saw a sheep or some similar creature doing breast-stroke up the garden path in at least three feet of water, country wisdom decreed that it had probably rained quite heavily during the night!
Biting Stonecrop has always been considered as a cure for a wide variety of ailments, including excessive bleeding, ulcers and fevers. Its alternative name of Wall-Pepper derives from the peppery-tasting green leaves, the juice of which can cause severe vomitting! When I was a boy, my Gran once saved the life of "Slipper", my dog, who had made himself very poorly by eating Rabbit meat covered in Rat poison. She forced him to swallow nearly half a cup-full of juice that we squeezed from the plant's succulent leaves and Slipper was subsequently sick for more than an hour, but it worked....although such a quantity could just as easily have killed him as efficiently as the Rat poison!
For my Gran and her family, back in the June of 1893, the rains came....and came....and came. They simply refused to go away and come again another day for almost the entire month! The river's level rose....and rose....and rose until it finally came knocking at their door and invited itself inside to occupy the downstairs floors!
Forced to leave their home, my Gran and her family gathered together what few posessions they had and went to stay with friends on higher ground at a nearby farm until they could finally return to their cottage almost a fortnight later!
The crops suffered as well that year and the harvests were poor. The rain had continued, on and off, right through to early August, when the sun finally arrived with a vengeance to crack the mud and blister the paintwork. Meanwhile, the cottage's previously sodden thatch grew tinder-dry and, late one evening as the goats lay down in the orchard, the chickens hid in their coup and the pigs grunted their disapproval of all things meteorological, a thunderstorm came....the Mother of all thunderstorms! Then, as my Gran lay frightened beyond words in her bed beneath the pitch of the thatched roof, a lightning bolt struck the cottage with a sound like battlefield artillery, blasting clumps of flaming thatch and shards of splintered wooden beam across the room and onto her bed!
My Gran ran terrified and screaming from her room that night as the fire took hold and the little cottage by the river burned to the ground! There was no fire-service close to hand back then and no insurance....everything was lost!
From that day forward, my Gran feared lightning-storms more than death itself and always took great care to grow a carpet of Biting Stonecrop on the roof of any house she lived in! She explained to me one day that superstition dictated that a mat of Biting Stonecrop grown on the roof of a house protected it from all thunderstorms....though she never really knew why such a superstition had ever come about....but then, neither do I!
My daughter is currently on a four day Geography field study trip in the beautiful Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. Rather worryingly, the Met Office has posted "severe weather" warnings for the exact locations that she and her group are operating in! Thankfully, they are all sleeping indoors every night and not camping out!
However, following record level low-pressure fronts and unprecedented torrential rainfall for the month of June, I hear that certain areas of the local terrain have been marginally de-stabilized and the threat of rock-falls and mud-slides significantly increased. The roots of many trees have also been under-mined and some are likely to fall, particularly if the wind picks up! Many rivers and streams are reported to be at an all-time high and are dangerously fast-flowing! More heavy rainfall is also forecast for the next two days. Flooding is localized, but widespread!
Needless to say, I'm not a happy bunny!
The kids are scheduled to participate in studies at two local glacial valleys, investigate coastal management and tourism at a nearby beach resort and at the ominously named Black Rock Sands (minus Spencer Tracy presumably), conduct river investigations on the Afon Conwy and examine a prehistoric settlement....Mmm....It's strange, but all I ever remember doing in geography when I was at school was copying out a page of notes about ox-bow lakes from the blackboard and drawing a diagram of the water cycle....and even then, one of the wheels fell off!
I'm sure that the teachers in charge of my daughter's class are very capable and responsible people who would never ever knowingly put the children in their charge at risk. However, those kids aren't sitting in a dry, warm, cozy classroom while the adverse weather vents its wrath on the other side of the double-glazing! A couple of children from other schools have lost their lives already this year while doing outdoor activities, while more than thirty others have been hospitalized with everything ranging from a broken ankle to mild hypothermia....and all because of sudden and radical changes in the weather and poor decisions on the part of the organizers! Sadly, a sixteen year-old girl was swept away in a swollen stream on Dartmoor a couple of months ago and an eleven year-old boy died last week and three others were injured on a school adventure trip when a branch (widowmaker) fell on them!
This is our particular field of expertise and Dave (another UKN ranger who does most of his work in Wales), is currently in the Snowdon area. Fortunately I've been able to send him full details of the kid's itinerary and, with the Boss's approval, he's now checking out the relevant areas ahead of my daughter's group, both on foot and by Land Rover, even as I type this entry. He'll keep an eye on them from time to time over the next couple of days while he also gets on with some of his other work (mostly survey stuff). The kids aren't likely to see him though....unless that is, he needs to warn them about any significant or potentially serious hazards.
Thanks Dave, especially since you'll have to sleep in your vehicle....but then, I guess he knows I'd do the same for him!
An afterword....I'm relieved to be able to report that all the children are now home again and safe, having experienced nothing at all untoward. In fact, they all had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I would also like to commend the wisdom of the teachers in charge, who were willing to take on board advice given to them to cancel the group's proposed visit to the Afon Conwy as the river was in a state of severe flood and potentially very dangerous!
If the current spate of terrorist attacks in the UK are intended as a ploy by radical fundamentalists to test the mettle of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then I think that there's at least one thing the bombers need to bear in mind....Brown is Scottish and, in my experience (which is considerable, having once been based in Arbroath), Scots are the most thoroughly exasperating, tenacious, resilient, tough, and resolutely obstinate race of totally uncompromising ba****ds that ever walked the planet....and I love them for it!
My advice to any would-be terrorist out there is quite simple....just like a Hornet's nest, it's not the brightest of ideas to go around poking the Tartan Hordes with a pointy stick....a fact of life perhaps more familiar to the British than to good old Johnny Foreigner (and I don't care if it does say that you're British on your passport....if you go around trying to maim, mutilate and kill innocent people, including women and kids, then your mind-set is as foreign to these shores as if you came from planet Mars!).
For hundreds and hundreds of years, kings and emperors alike have tried everything humanly possible to "subdue" the clannish mentality of the average Scot, but it's a mentality forged out of one of the harshest and most unforgiving of terrain environments....from the shores of Durness to the Firth of Tay, the land, though staggeringly beautiful, has been merciless in its shaping of an entire race of obdurate and genetically unyielding people who, by their very nature, are completely incapable of being even the tiniest bit intimidated by anyone or anything!
As for bombing an airport named after the "Great Man" himself....well, what can I say?
1WFR Liaison Officer Killed
Captain Sean Dolan of the 1st Battalion, The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters (1WFR) was killed yesterday in a clash between Coalition forces and the Taleban near the village of Qaleh-e-Gaz, South-West of the town of Sangin in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Apparently, he was fatally injured while attempting to destroy a damaged Coalition vehicle in an attempt to prevent it falling into enemy hands.
Cpt. Dolan was a liaison officer between 1WFR and a joint US and Afghan National Army task force. Further details are not available.
More Red, Pink and Orange
National Flag V
Dock and Thistle....good name for a pub maybe....or maybe not! Broad-Leaved Dock used to be such a nuisance on cultivated land that it was eventually listed in the the "Weeds Act" of 1959. Modern weed-killers soon brought it under control however, but it has recently managed to find a significant, though somewhat smaller niche in the Government subsidized uncultivated wildlife refuges now left by farmers around the edges of their crop fields.
I guess that the days of country folk using the larger leaves to wrap butter disappeared with the advent of kitchen foil and cling-film, but they remain as popular as ever for the relief of Nettle stings. When it comes to the latter however, it's worth remembering that crushing the leaves to release the juices within and then rubbing the juice onto the affected area is far more efficient than just spitting onto the leaf and then rubbing.
Our Begonias act as excellent water reservoirs....retaining countless droplets of moisture for several days after a rain shower and providing a drinking facility for many of the birds that frequent my garden.
Early April Rhododendrodendrodon....I think Carol might have given me too many vowels again!
I guess that I've taken tens of thousands of photos over the years, but I can honestly say that there are probably no more than a dozen that I've really been pleased with (not much of a return on all that effort is it?)....This Rose however, is one of them! Others would include the Cirl Bunting, male Stonechat and "Eye of the Pheasant" photos all featured on the "Home Page" of www.wildliferanger.co.uk
Definitely not the type of "Walkers" I care to run into while out in the countryside!
My wife likes to have lots of flowers around the house throughout the year and these Carnations are her latest acquisition.
You never know what flowering beauties you might stumble across in my job!
Is it those tomatoes again?