Archive for the ‘Back and Sides.’ Category

Ravens! Ravens?

“Ravens,” I’m being told, “A pair of ravens. In that tree opposite the barns we’re converting. You’ll remember the tree won’t you?”

I kind of do: an impressively shaped tree, that has had some of the thicker lower branches chain sawed off in an efficient-but ugly fashion. Was it an oak or a sycamore? I know both trees but at the time I was introduced to it I was driving a three ton dumper truck and needing to concentrate on smoothing out the seriously resistant gear changes. Heavy clutch, strange angle.

“Yeah,” he’s still going on about these ravens. And trying to zip up his waterproof coat. And failing.

“Ravens?” I say. “You’re sure they were ravens? They’re massive birds you know.” I am clearly not convinced. We’re talking Cannock Chase and I am not aware of these majestic, brutal-looking birds being around here. And I’m thinking back to a time when I came, literally face to face with a stuffed specimen raven in the wildlife rooms at Birmingham Museum. Piercing eyes, big butcher bill. Previous to this encounter I had assumed they were simply big crows; they are so, so much more.

common raven | Christopher Martin Photography

“Paddy said to me – he said to me: “have you seen those ravens?” I saw ‘em; pair of birds with grey heads. That’s how I know. Grey heads, cowls, like a wig … Grey head, that’s a sign of a raven that is.”

I smile. “I’ve got a grey head mate, I’m not a raven.”

He’s getting exasperated now, continually failing with the attempts to fasten the coat.

“They sound like jackdaws to me.” I go on.

“I was talking to John later. He’s driving the tractor, muck spreading. I said to him: “John you seen those ravens?” “Yeah,”  he said. “They’re always about when we’re ploughin’. Ploughin’ or spreading muck. So he knew they were ravens. He said you don’t really see how big they are until they fly, then with their wings out you see the real size of ‘em.”

We’re at the football match. Our team, Walsall Football Club – on the edge of relegation – have just sacked the manager and appointed a former player (and most recently, Wrexham manager) Dean Keates. This will be his first game in charge and I am feeling positive. We are playing Wigan, however, promotion-chasing, lots-of-money and the team that got through to the F.A. Cup quarter finals by beating Man. City.

“Dammit! I can’t get this coat sorted. What’s the matter with it?”

It’s got two zips,” I tell him, “you have to get the correct fasteners matched up.” (I know this by experience – and because The Plantation Owner’s Wife told me.)

“Rubbish!” he spits out, “that’s rubbish, why would it have two zips. It’s just knackered. Dammit!”

Behind him, his thirty-plus-something year old son is smiling wryly and entering something into his smart phone search engine. He catches my eye. Nods.

“John said he’s seen ‘em lift … carry away … aaargh what are they called – baby rabbits?” (Oh, I tell myself we’re back to the ravens again.)

“Kits,” I reply, making him frown.

Baby rabbits are called kits,” I say, patiently. “But he might have said leverets …”

“Yes!” he grunts, “Leverets, that’s it: baby rabbits. He’s seen ravens come down and pick up whatsernames … leverets.”

“Sorry mate,” my grin is wider now, “leverets are baby hares; baby rabbits are called kits. Hundred per cent certain. And raven’s heads? They’re black, but iridescent, so they shine, blue, greenish, different shades depending on the light. But not grey. That’s jackdaws.”

The son, meanwhile has pulled up a picture of a raven. More exactly a raven’s head. And, as artists will, this one has gone to town on the iridescence. And there’s no scale. And he thinks it looks like what he and Paddy saw in that tree.

I shake my head, ever so slightly. I’m wanting to watch the match, the razzamatazz which – even at lowly Walsall – surrounds the appearance of a new manager. Wanting to see if, even this early into his task Keates has done anything to turn around the dismal, disjointed recent performances.

But Son Numero Uno has seen the shake and is beavering away again on the internet. This time it’s a photo of a jackdaw.

“One of those!” the zip-flustered friend says, “a raven; look: grey head.”

“Jackdaw!” son and I laugh together, “It’s a bloody jackdaw!”

“Wait till I see Paddy tomorrow … and John. Why did John tell me they were ravens ?”

“And what is going on with this zip!”

Back at home, setting bird food out before setting out for work in Tamworth I am conscious of how early it is getting light. The ground is still damp. Cowslips are rosette-ing their shapes in the lawn (blooms still inside buds), crocus blooms just going over. Spring is racing in.

The woodpecker has been noticeable by his (or her) absence recently, but visits, briefly on Thursday morning. There is frogspawn in the pond and the evening quiet is disturbed by a frog chorus. Their sound is bass and travels unexpectedly long distances. I can hear it while I’m cutting logs (for my mum) down by the shed.

There is a cobweb spanning one of the bird feeders (slightly dangerous siting for the spider I think: wrens and blue tits are regular visitors after all) but it is dotted with the trapped corpses of about twenty gnats (unsure exactly what these are, so “gnats” is a generic term – and what my grandfather (Grandy) would have called them.

On the grassed lawn verges heading in to Tamworth the masses of council planted crocuses are keeling over. But they are being replaced by equally sized swathes of miniature daffodils that shine their happy-giving butter yellows like beacons. Credit to the council; these cheer up passers-by and provide early nectar for insects. Behind and among them are the leaves of taller daffs which will bloom later, giving a succession of colour and nectar. Elsewhere the gorse is in gorgeous, yellow blossom and some fruit trees (almond or cherry) are frothy white.

Back at the game our team hung on for nearly half an hour, before capitulating in a nine-minute three goal bombardment. Work to be done there then Mr Keates. But, just maybe, there is time to hang on in in League One. And the new man has breathing space now to work with the team: no game this weekend (international break), so I’m looking on the daffodil and spring bright side. But we are heading inside for a coffee (or Bovril).

“This coat has got two sets of zippers!” he exclaims, beaming.

“I bet you two knew that. Why didn’t you tell me! You should have told me!”

I get the coffees.


Heat Wave? No Thanks, We’ve Got One Already.


The sky is summer-generous high. Held up by the promise of a warm, dry tomorrow and the gentle sighing of traffic that has survived rush hour marmalade and now veritably purrs along the no-corners road in the middle distance. Hushed by the laburnum-green filters  arches overhead.

Ambitious spiderlings lower themselves on invisible drag-lines from the outermost branches of the small-leaved lime tree. Dangle, planning, then anchor threads to the back of the bench I’m sitting on and make hopeful, cunning traps of the very air.

The big star faces, sun centred of ox-eye daisies tremble and nod in the meadow level breeze; small fuchsia fireworks display their slo-mo ballet over the fence. Sun – down, back garden peace ushers in friendly shadows.

On something of a whim today we headed to Charlecote Park. Somewhere in Warwickshire. Traffic packed motorways. Stole into an almost-parking space: the last and least available on the packed car park and spent a fine half day at the property.

DSC03072 DSC_0198

All of the magnificence and eccentricity of a British institution. A credit to the National Trust, especially to the unsung-hero army of volunteers. Under-staffed, under pressure and none of it showed, bless ‘em all.

Red-brick building, lineage back to pre-1066 (depicted wonderfully in stained glass windows throughout the rooms). Very cool inside, the exact opposite outside. But a steady walk in Place’s meadow, the river Avon flowing by: swans, meanders and rushes ; cattle on the banks in the shade of willows. Back through the meadow with Disney-spotted fallow deer in and via a much-needed ice cream to the oven of a car.

And home to sit in our own back garden.

But the allotment’s gonna need watering tomorrow. Never mind, it seems like a long time away.

Polling Closed. Plus One.

He’s never been to this place before. But surely, these days when people are not so secretive about stuff, they’ll be talking about the voting. Won’t they? And he’s eager to know. Because the results aren’t all out yet. Not everybody knows. And it could be close. So many different ones to choose from, to vote for.

So he’s  very surprised when at dinner time his new co-workers are either on their smart phones, checking names or social media posts…

Or talking about parties. The differences between this party and that party. Probably some themed thing going on because there’s been apparently a green party. But according to what is being said, it was  a big party but they didn’t get enough seats. He doesn’t quite get that: what kind of a party needs seats: you’re in the kitchen necking beer aren’t you? Or outside smoking? Or throwing shapes to music? And how could they not have enough seats: how poorly organised must that have been?

“Wouldn’t have him,” a lady is saying, “you can’t trust somebody with a face like that can you? I mean …”

“ … and so-and-so said he said something about what he’d done for hospitals and I got confused because I didn’t think he cared …”

“… and they always end up talking about jobs and I think about the banks. They never mention that it’ll be me that’s paying do they?”

There’s no mention of the voting. For a moment he is decidedly angry. Nearly gets on his soap box and talks about everybody having the right (and the attached responsibility) to cast a vote. The whole history of democracy, the traditions and trials to get these rights. But he’s not sure anybody here would be listening. Honestly they just don’t seem the type. They’re all missing the point. Somebody should talk to them, get them to grow up … but he’s on his first day here, so it is not really his place.

Perhaps he is too smug, he realises. But he’s done his little bit, all that he knows to do. Studied the histories and characters of those who appear on the voting slips. Cast his own vote. On-line, because that’s possible with modern technology. Didn’t even have to leave the house. Typically he voted for the smallest one. Appeared a conservative choice. Not usually noticeable, but territorial, and could stand up and be counted when necessary. A bit, he smiled to himself like me he thought.

But, back at work he is constantly distracted: needing to learn new routines and who is who in these unfamiliar rooms and corridors. He briefly considers using the office computer to find out the results, but chickens out: there are rumours that the system is monitored and the bosses can find out what sites you’ve been looking at.

So it is not until later that night, much later in fact that he looks it up. And the results are still not announced. He will have to wait a bit longer it seems before Britain’s first ever national bird is announced.

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