Friday, 27 May 2016

The new Top Gear

8.00pm tomorrow evening (Sunday) will see me eagerly watching BBC2, for the first of the new series of Top Gear. Brand new. For Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond won't be in it. We will see instead nervous new presenters Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc and Sabine Schmitz. They will however be assisted by The Stig, who has crossed over into the new programme. Presumably he hasn't yet realised that anything has changed. Hibernating in a sealed pod buried deep in the ground tends to keep you blissfully unaware.

Actually, I don't think Mr Evans has much to worry about. He has a winning formula to follow: he can (and must) tinker with it a bit, to put his own stamp on the proceedings, but the viewing public will basically want to hear the old familiar theme tune, see stylish, glitzy photography, and enjoy delicious swanky cars driven to extremes. If Mr Evans and his team can deliver that, plus a witty and entertaining dialogue, then all will be well.

In fact I really do hope that none of the main presenters try to emulate the Terrible Trio - especially not Clarkson. They should 'be themselves'. If they can manage that, it will be a most refreshing change. There are six programmes in this first series - six weeks in which to establish the new Top Gear as a must-see show. Let's say that's eighteen to twenty cars to showcase, and six celebrity guests to chat to. There's no need to rehash silly stunts with caravans and Reliant Robins. No need to make offensive remarks about Latin Americans, Roumanian cars and transgender folk. Certainly no need to behave like mysogynistic Neanderthals.

And look, they begin with the goodwill of millions of viewers to draw on, myself included. What can go wrong, even if they try too hard?

Meanwhile, over on Amazon, the Terrible Trio are preparing their rival show The Grand Tour. So far as I can see, this will be a series of programmes on the lines of their old Christmas Specials, i.e. Which is 'better' at crossing the African desert - a Bentley Continental GT Speed, an Aston Martin DB11, or a Bugatti Veyron? Well, this too is a winning formula. But I'm not signing up to Amazon simply to watch it. There's no need. I wouldn't be surprised if the BBC soon make plans to buy screening rights from Amazon, so that ordinary TV licence payers end up with two versions of Top Gear to watch. Well, why not?

After all, the BBC's new remit to provide 'distinctive output' surely encompasses British-humoured motor shows hosted by outrageously quirky individuals. So two distinctly different takes on the old Top Gear will be a neat fulfillment of that remit.

Not everyone will be pleased. The Mexicans and the Argentines won't be. I understand that they are bracing themselves to complain in the strongest terms possible, should the BBC appear to give new hope and succour to the hated Trio. Let's hope that Mr Evans can soothe their wounded feelings, and demonstrate that neither he, nor the BBC, regards those fine countries as natural targets for ridicule.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Three anniversaries

For me, May is rich in important anniversaries. Three of them come together - two today, the 25th May, and one tomorrow, the 26th.

Today is a sad-happy set of anniversaries. This was the day that Dad died in 2009. It was also, exactly one year later in 2010, the day that I took delivery of my car, Fiona. Here's Dad, in one of my very last photos of him, having lunch with me at a pub in Fernhurst, near Haslemere:

That was how he was, just two weeks before he died. As you can see, he was (at eighty-eight) still up for a pint. I thought we would be driving out to country pubs for years ahead. There were strings attached to that, a growing role as carer just one of them, but I loved my father and was ready to look after him. It was a shock that it didn't happen.

One year later, my four-month wait for Fiona to emerge from the Volvo factory and reach the dealer was over. I drove over there in a state of high excitement, though that was tempered by the trade-in of my Honda CR-V, which had given me eight years of good service. Here it is, looking rather forlorn. It was going to be scrapped under the government's Scrappage Scheme then in force. It wasn't going to live on in somebody else's hands. It was going to be crushed. I think it knew that.

It was a perfectly good car. It was tired, but it wasn't ready to die. It seemed like an awful waste. But I had to close my mind to it. And that was easy, once the thrill of taking possession of Fiona, the first new car I'd ever had in all my life, took over. One hour later I was driving her away. Here I am, back home, looking very pleased indeed with Fiona gracing my drive:

She looks exactly the same now, six years later. I've looked after her. Yes, if you examine her very carefully, there are the expected small battle-scars - from 89,000 miles of motoring - but they don't show in a casual glance.

That first evening of ownership, on 25th May 2010, I took Fiona down to Bosham on Chichester Harbour. I left her on the water's edge. I couldn't leave her there for too long, because the tide was coming in, and within an hour the water would be lapping gently at her wheels. But for now there was something I wanted to do. I bought two drinks at the bar of the Anchor Bleu pub, and set them down facing each other at a table that overlooked the Harbour, and also overlooked Fiona parked below.

That's my Prada bag and bowl of chips. The pint was for Dad. I said a soft 'Cheers, Dad,' with a lump in my throat and tears welling up. But I kept control. I left his drink there, untouched. It was my small gesture.

Fiona was quite a big car, and seemed especially so when parked next to smaller cars! Here she was in one of the following days, at Haywards Heath station:

I soon revisited Bosham. Fiona had presence and got noticed. Here a boy is doing a double-take:

And of course she became a regular visitor at the Cottage in Piddinghoe - still unsold, and on my hands:

But her forte (and her 'official job') was as my towcar, as in this scene from November 2010:

Fiona has been through many adventures with me since. She isn't young any more, and may be enjoying the break while I recover from my torn shoulder muscle, which of course makes driving rather painful.

And tomorrow's anniversary? Eleven years ago it was my last day at the office before officially retiring on 31st May 2005. No more of this view as I arrived early-morning on the sixth floor of the Revenue's high-rise building in Croydon:

It won't look like that now!

It was a morning of final things. The last phone calls, the last letters and penalty notices signed. The last Prêt-à-Manger sandwich:

I had been a fire warden for my floor. Time to hand in the armband and ear-defenders:

And then the gathering to say an official farewell to the six of us on that floor who were leaving that day, in the presence of senior bods from London Region:

Then it was the pub. And after that, a strange, fey journey back to my local station on the train. I wasn't tipsy or anything. I simply felt free, as never since the day I walked away from school, when not quite eighteen. That evening, a meal out with Mum, Dad and M---. I felt like someone who had pulled off an amazing coup against the odds. 2005 felt like a golden year. Surely all years to come would be golden too? Mum caught my mood:

I should have known better! Yes, for a while M--- and I enjoyed an orgy of caravanning. Yes, we made it to New Zealand, and toured there for two months - an unforgettable experience. But we also incurred the wrath of the gods. We fatefully invested in the Cottage. We lost our way, and a twenty-year friendship was destroyed.

Still, life goes on, and anniversaries come round, and in the fullness of time you get used to how things have turned out. And indeed you make the very best of it.

Jo has just texted me, offering a tasty home-cooked Shepherd's Pie, and will even pick me up. I'm still achy if I sit up at a table - as opposed to lolling back on cushions - and I won't be any good for cards afterwards, because I won't be able to hold the cards in my hands for long without discomfort. But I haven't said no. 'Make my mind up for me!' I've texted back. I wonder what she will say in reply? Ah, she's driving over to pick me up.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Torn shoulder

Oh dear. I am very easily injured nowadays!

Getting out of bed last Saturday morning, I raised my arms above my head and carelessly stretched, and something tore in my left shoulder. Ouch!!

It hurt a lot to begin with, but within half an hour the pain had eased off, and I then did normal things for the rest of the day. Oh, I still had a bit of an ache in my back and my left arm, so I abandoned all thoughts of tackling the rain-fed weeds in my garden. I did my food shopping. I even went out that evening for a pleasant pub meal with friends in Rottingdean, staying there late because we watched the latest Star Wars film on Sky TV. Driving home was painful though. Nevertheless I got home safely, and off to sleep without trouble.

On Sunday morning, however, it was a different story. My shoulder and arm both ached badly. Really badly. Paracetamol didn't help, so I switched to Ibuprofen after lunchtime. That didn't seem to make much of a dent in the pain either, but I continued with it.

Monday was much the same. A constant ache in my left shoulder and arm - but not both at the same time: the centre of the pain would shift, depending on what I was trying to do, and whether sitting up or reclining. (It was impossible to lie down flat on my back) I looked it all up on the Internet, and decided that I'd either torn a muscle, or had overstretched a tendon. It was worth seeing a doctor, if only to obtain better pain relief. I fired up the practice app on my phone. Nothing doing anytime during the rest of Monday. But there was a slot available on Tuesday morning at 9.40am, with a lady doctor I'd seen before and trusted. I booked it. Then I braced myself for an ordeal: the best part of 24 hours to get through until I could get medical advice, and presumably a prescription. I couldn't sleep - the ache was too nagging for that. I felt dog tired and very unhappy, and occasionally the pain was enough to make me cry out aloud - more to express my hurt and frustration, than because the pain was unbearable. Although it was quite strong enough to test anyone. In fact I couldn't remember any previous occasion when I had felt this uncomfortable! But you forget: I'd probably gone through worse in my life, and had just blotted it out.

I'd spent the night in a recliner on Sunday to Monday, dozing off for brief periods only. I did the same thing on Monday to Tuesday (today) - although just before dawn I managed a couple of hours of deeper sleep. I know that because when the alarm woke me I was in a middle of a dream, and the dream was gentle, and I felt definitely rested and better-relaxed. In the dream, I was showing my brother Wayne over my (imaginary) new caravan, which, although modern and attractive, was a bit flimsy because little bits and pieces came away in my hands as I touched them. Even odder, my brother died twenty-one years ago, long before my caravanning days began...

I had to drive a mile to the surgery. That took some concentration! But the doctor was kind and reassuring. After various questions and physical manipulations to see what I could move and to what extent, she told me it would have been a micro-tear in a shoulder muscle. More painkillers - double-strength Ibuprofen, and Co-Codamol, both taken concurrently - would greatly reduce my discomfort. She'd also prescribe a small amount of Diazepam (aka Valium) to relax me at night and get me some sleep. Once home from the chemist, I worked out a timetable for taking the Ibuprofen and the Co-Codamol, and I have been dosing myself accordingly ever since.

I'm not yet entirely comfortable, but certainly the pain is much less, and (for example) I can now type this post, which I couldn't face doing on Sunday and Monday. I suspect that even with the Diazepam I will still not find it possible to lie in bed tonight, and will have to resort to the recliner again. I don't know what effect the Diazepam will have. I have never taken it before, and to be honest I'm not greatly looking forward to it. But if it relaxes my pain-tensed muscles enough to give me a few hours really sound sleep, then that will be wonderful. Deep untroubled sleep is of course the very best medicine!

My appointments and social engagements for the rest of the week are all of course cancelled or postponed. I need no more shopping for now. I can wash myself and cook. I'm OK. I shall concentrate on recovery.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

What shall I do with Fang?

This is about cuddly toys. And - at the end - rather more than that.

Toys are a wider subject than you might think, but for most of this post I'm going to concentrate on one cuddly toy in particular: my collie dog Fang. And it's a serious post, concerned with use of limited space, and what on earth to do with a toy if it becomes redundant.

First things first. Unlike Teddy Tinkoes, given to me when I was only one, and my lifelong cherished home companion, Fang is neither an especially cherished friend nor any kind of toy. I do not often do more than smooth his fur (hair?) if it has become ruffled, and move him from spot to spot inside the caravan.

For Fang has been 'the dog that guards the caravan when I'm not in it'. That's where he stays, all year round. That's his 'job' and sole purpose. Other caravanners have told me that, when seen from outside, he does look like a small but real collie dog, stretched out and watching them through the front window of my caravan.

I'm amazed to hear this. I mean, he's a cuddly toy dog and looks like one. He's primarily a soft fabric accessory for the caravan. I thought that when buying Fang in December 2009 in Salisbury, and still feel that way about him. We haven't grown close. I have more feeling for his well-being than I would a cushion, and I look after him, but that's about it. I am not, nor ever have been, neither as child nor adult, soppy where cuddly toys are concerned. I may feel a certain loyalty towards them as time goes by, and Fang gets that, but I don't love him. Only Ted is loved.

Fang isn't my only travelling companion. Ever since buying her in Scotland in 2013, Rosie my china Wemyss Cat has come with me on all my caravan trips. She is also inhabits my bedroom at home, and therefore she is an amphibious little friend. Rosie definitely has personality. You can tell that from this photo from 2013:

That's Fang in the left background. He's floppy and sleepy-looking, and just lies there facing out at the passers-by. Rosie is perky and alert, shapely, lovely to hold in the hand, with friendly eyes, and not only does she too look at the world through the window, I can turn her about to look at me while I'm doing things - in this case, some photo-editing. You can 'talk' to Rosie, just as you can 'talk' to Ted, or at least greet them, and like Ted she is an antidote to being solitary and sometimes feeling far from home. But Fang is just an object, with expressionless eyes; and it feels daft saying anything to him. Here's a picture at home in 2014, with all three together (Fang coming indoors specially for the shot):

This shows Fang at his very best. He's pleasant to look at, but he doesn't do anything for me. If I were on a cruise, and the ship hit a rock, and we had to take to the lifeboats, I'd grab Ted for certain, and Rosie too, just as in the Titanic film A Night To Remember someone grabbed their 'lucky' china pig - and survived. But Fang wouldn't be a priority. He wouldn't even get taken on the cruise in the first place.

Fang is OK, but he takes up valuable space in my little caravan. Look how crowded it gets. Here are some shots from 2015. Photo-editing at night (Fang is behind the radio):

Mealtimes, with and without handwashed knickers drying overhead:

I could spread out a bit more if Fang wasn't there. He adds very little to my holiday experience. I'm seriously thinking of leaving him behind on my next trip.

But then there's the problem of where to put him in the house!

Ted is pre-eminent. He rules in the lounge. He guards the house from the bedroom when Rosie is away with me. He won't tolerate Fang for long in either room. I don't blame him. Nor will Rosie want to share the bedroom with Fang when home. I won't either.

Fang obviously can't go in the kitchen, bathroom or toilet. That leaves the study or the conservatory. I can't think of any spot to place him in the study where he won't be in the way. So it'll have to be the conservatory. At least that will be a sunny place for him, indeed the place most similar to what he has been used to. I'll put him on the green leather recliner there. He'll be perfectly comfortable, and can watch the birds and scare off the cats and squirrels.

And if by chance I miss him on my next trip, why, he can return to the caravan, and stay there. I won't know how I'll feel until I go somewhere without him.

How odd that I should care about Fang's comfort, when I profess not to love him! But I've noticed that those who are tender towards plants and pets tend to to be tender towards the people in their lives too. I reckon Ted and Rosie and Fang are, in a manner of speaking, my substitute pets. If so, my feelings towards them, and the confidences I share with them (spoken or not), and the companionship I get from them, may all be perfectly understandable. And this kind of caring, even if it does nobody any good, may suggest that I'm not at core irredeemably hard and cold and selfish.

Well, I've done it. Fang has been moved from the front of the caravan, where he was dozing because there was nothing to look at except my house, to the green recliner in the conservatory, where there is the whole back garden to study, and keep him alert and interested.

He didn't protest, and no wonder, because he looks good in his new position. And I can see him all the time from my kitchen, so actually he'll get more attention now. And any burglar or housebreaker studying my home from beyond my rear boundary will see that a closer approach might well bring forth a cacophony of barking from a watchful little dog, and that intruder will accordingly stay clear. Toy collie dogs have their serious uses!

And now I can wake up in the caravan and say 'Good morning, Rosie!' without feeling guilt from not saying 'Good morning, Fang!' as well. And 'See you later, Rosie!' and 'I'm back, Rosie!' - also without guilt.

Am I nuts? No: I'm just practising for when I buy my first household robot. We'll all have to find a way with them. And I don't think they will be entirely emotionless, programmed or not. After all, what is consciousness? What does it mean to have a relationship with another entity? If you live with responsive beings, who are sentient and capable of learning, why wouldn't you treat them with sensitivity, courtesy and kindness? If, that is, you want them to be discerning, knowledgeable, empathetic, utterly loyal to you, and to serve you excellently?

Friday, 20 May 2016

Repairing my camera's scuffed paintwork

It's been four weeks since I slipped on wet rocks and crashed my Panasonic LX100 camera - still only nine months old even now - into a rock ledge in an attempt to save myself from injury. I had to replace the battery (which fell out into a salt-water pool), but after cleaning-up the camera has - luckily - functioned perfectly. But the scuff-marks on the baseplate and lens barrel, exposing the shiny aluminium under the matt black paint, have been a niggle. It was time to fix that, and restore a nearly-new appearance.

Dad had been something of an amateur artist, and his collection of suitably fine paintbrushes was still up in my attic. I needed only a small pot of matt black enamel paint, plus a jamjar and white spirit, to get started.

Getting hold of the paint was the thing that held me up. There were no nearby model shops. Then when in Canterbury two days ago with my cousin Rosemary, we went into Fenwick, the big department store there. She wanted a very lightweight weekend bag. It turned out that the luggage department was next to the toy department, and lo and behold, there was a display of little paint pots for model-makers. Aha! A pot of matt black enamel paint! And only £1.70.

I needed to be in the right frame of mind for this job. It might be quick, simple and very successful. Or it might turn out to be a nightmare, ruining my lovely camera's appearance. Would a pot of modeller's paint really match the original factory-applied paint? Well, this evening I decided to have a go, and find out. I assembled my equipment:

The screwdriver was for prizing off the paint-pot cap. I also had some newspaper to work on.

Aluminium was exposed at various points around the front of the lens barrel, including a place that would require me to remove the front lens ring to get at it properly. Aluminium was exposed also on the baseplate, at the end closest in the above shot. It seemed to me that a lightly-laden brush, gently stroked over the various areas needing a touch-up, would do the trick. And I had steady hands. But I really had no idea how thick or thin the paint would be, or whether it would be the right shade of black, neither shinier or duller than the original paint when dry.

Oh well. Here goes. Victory or ruin.

Phew! It was OK. I was very careful not to overload the brush, and the paint went on smoothly, and so far as I could tell, evenly. There were actually more scuff marks than I'd hitherto noticed - what punishment my camera had taken! When I had treated them all, I stopped - resisting the temptation to apply a second coat. Let the first dry, and then decide.

But if today's effort has been mostly successful, I think I'll do no more. No need to push my luck too far. A slight slip of the brush could be a disaster. The intention is not perfection, but merely to restore a nearly-new appearance, sufficiently good to fool the casual eye. And so far as I can judge, the eye will be fooled.

I'll leave the camera undisturbed overnight, so that by tomorrow morning the paint will be not only touch-dry but somewhat hardened. Then we shall see.

Next morning
It worked. If you're looking for it, you can see where I applied some paint. But it's quite a neat job, and this is matt black on matt black. It's really not noticeable.

Well, that's a little but constant reminder of a foolhardy and potentially brain-damaging accident - for I bumped my head as well as the camera - out of the way. Though not forgotten.

Now I'm swinging the other way!

This referendum! It's such an important and far-reaching thing. It's an historic event.

It really matters which way the vote goes, because it will oblige the government either to conform (unwillingly) with EU requirements now and in the future, or to set in motion a procedure that will disentangle this country from the EU with completely unknown consequences. Neither course will necessarily turn out well.

But for once the ordinary voter does have the power to compel the government to do what it wishes. The expressed wish of the majority will have to be acted upon, and this will affect the far future, for better or worse, pushing not just this government down a certain road, but its successors also. It will alter Britain's standing in the world, and the way other countries will perceive us. Nobody knows whether this will be good or bad.

In fact nobody seems to know anything definite about what the position will be if we leave the EU. To be sure, there is plenty of assertion and speculation and expert opinion. But the actual long-term effects of withdrawal are shrouded in fog. I suspect that all other countries (not just EU countries) are holding their breath, waiting to learn what the voters of Britain want, and that they are prepared to be surprised. If the British government gains the freedom to pursue a global role, rather than just a European one, it will affect many nations.

And do the voters of Britain know which way they will vote, and why? I think that most of us are weather-vanes, turning round and round in the wind.

The economic arguments don't seem to be very convincing. Big figures like '£91 billion a year' and '£350 million a week' are thrown around, representing the value of EU membership to our economy on one hand, and the cost of EU membership on the other. But these are very small figures compared to - say - the the government's tax take, which in 2015/16 was £716 billion. And that tax take was just a fraction of all that was earned by individuals and companies. The total value of economic activity in this country is truly colossal - around £2 trillion - which (I believe) is £2,000 billion. So if membership of the EU adds £91 billion to our annual income-generation, then I'd say that was a useful contribution, but hardly of vital concern.

I'm much more impressed with the arguments connected with keeping this country safe, secure, and distinctively British. And to have all these things we surely need complete control over our affairs. You know: the freedom to formulate all our own laws; and the freedom to act decisively in our own interests. That indicates a 'leave' vote.

If we did get out of the EU, then I'd expect successive governments to act rationally and responsibly, and get their investment and spending priorities absolutely right, because there wouldn't be any EU handouts any more. (I wonder: were we getting too dependent on them? Was this the infamous 'benefits culture' at a national level?)

I'd expect successive governments to draw up laws to support the mainstream culture of this country. The 'mainstream culture' is the shared culture of everyone who wants to embrace the British Way of Life. I don't mind all kinds of colourful variations on the British Theme. But anyone living on this crowded island must be whole-hearted about their Britishness, whatever their origin. I don't want to have in our midst people who are here merely to undermine British Society; people who have no intention of 'joining in', who won't agree that British Laws and Customs and Attitudes trump any foreign laws and customs and attitudes they have brought with them; people who actively want to spoil it for the rest, or even to behave traitorously. They should be asked to think and behave differently - and if they won't comply, then be compelled to go somewhere else.

I don't want these people around when I'm very old and very vulnerable. I shouldn't think anyone who might suffer at their hands will want them around, and that might well include generations of past immigrants who made a home here and love this country. The world is wide. Let the troublemakers and malcontents move on to where they are not aliens, where they are not fighting against an indigenous culture that doesn't suit them and their beliefs.

And why not kick out our own home-grown, loud-mouthed, bad-attitude troublemakers too? The sort of crass, obnoxious, ignorant fat-bellied 'patriots' in stupid baseball caps worn the wrong way round. Or the more subtle ones, who sneer and carp and cavil and complain in educated tones, but are still acting like spoilt children. Let them all have a good slap in the face, and a free one-way ticket to an island on the other side of the world. Let's have penal reform, and bring back transportation for not being cheerful and caring.

Some may remember the 'I'm Backing Britain' thing of fifty-odd years ago. It wasn't government-sponsored. It was a ground-swell from ordinary people, a national (and natural) expression of faith in what Britain, with everyone pulling together, could achieve. It was a pre-EU phenomenon. Might not that spirit emerge again, post-EU? Why not?

I'd want to see a Britain newly-obliged to be more 'out in the world' to think even more globally, and take an even more active role in combating planet-threatening dangers. That implies seeking links with countries the world over. It implies a cleaned-up Britain taking a lead. Being a broker, a host, a peacemaker, a negotiator, and a facilitator, as well as a trader. I can see Britain having an enhanced role as a middleman and lead-taker in many things; and in particular I'd like to see international agencies such as the UN, and many others, based here. Britain is the right candidate for a balance-of-power role in a world where the larger superstates have grown tired-looking, tainted and untrustworthy.

It looks as if I've definitely swung back to voting for an exit! But an exit with a positive global vision and manifold worthwhile responsibilities to take on.

I'm not simply one of those coffee-club ladies with glum grumbling faces. Whose bigot husbands 'hate all foreigners', and sourly complain about everyone and everything. There's an awful lot of them about. They're not my sort. They can retreat to an English Bar by some Spanish beach and stay there, so far as I'm concerned. And I hope the sunshine mellows them.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Two partridges come a-visiting; and wekas at Westport, New Zealand

It was two days ago, in the afternoon. I was in my study (a room on one of the front corners of my house) when I became aware of an unusual sound. A kind of slow ticking or tapping noise. For some things I've got good hearing, and pick up sounds that others might not hear, or find easy to ignore. I couldn't ignore this and shut it out. What could it be?

Well, I had to find out. It seemed to be coming from outside. And there was my across-the-road neighbour Alison, and her daughter Shiraz, looking at my next door neighbours' front drive. No wonder! For walking about on it were two wild birds with handsome markings, not very large but plump and rounded, pecking at this and that, and entirely unconcerned about the presence of humans!

The village is surrounded by farmland, and has the odd pond and stream here and there, so it's not at all unusual to see a variety of wild animals and birds among the houses from time to time, though more usually at night. But I couldn't remember seeing birds of this sort - a secretive bird of the open fields surely - in our grassy, leafy, but semi-suburban enclave. Identification was a priority, so I took some photos (shown above) so that I could look these birds up in whatever guide I might have on my shelves. The birds posed without apparent concern. Then they wandered across my front lawn and on into other neighbours' front gardens, there being no fences to stop them. The local cats must have been sleeping on the job, because nothing raced over to take a look and challenge them. I dare say the birds were more alert to danger than they appeared, and could fly out of trouble if need be.

Well, back in my house, and studying my photos, I deduced that they had been a pair of Red-legged Partridges.

I had consulted this little book from the mid-1970s. Old it might be, but the illustrations were pretty helpful.

I'm sorry these shots are not quite in focus. It isn't your tired eyes. I was holding the camera just a bit too close.

Anyway, there's no dispute here as to what these two birds were. The mystery is why they had decided to mooch around some front gardens, instead of a nice farmer's field. Wikipedia supplies a clue: see They like to nest on dry, sandy ground. And lo, the ground underneath where my next-door neighbours' caravan is parked, originally grass reinforced with a green plastic lattice, but now powdery soil reinforced with a faded green plastic lattice - seen in the second shot - might well catch a ground-nesting bird's fancy. In fact one of the pair actually settled down into a section of it, to try it out as a possible nest. Not big enough, though!

It was a diverting episode. Birds are not at all my hobby, but they are full of life and movement, even the drabbest of them. Often full of noise too! But I warm to some kinds especially. I certainly enjoy the company of all birds built like chickens. Why, I can't say. They just seem happy to be with people, they are certainly curious, and they are often very attractive to look at. You can talk to them, either normally or by mimicking the noises they make, and they will pay attention. In other words, you can form a relationship, there is mutual recognition, and you can make friends with such birds.

I thought of other wild birds like these that I've encountered. For example, the endearing Weka birds that came up to our campervan in 2007 when pitched at Westport, on the west coast of South Island, New Zealand:

They were entirely unafraid. They were very interested in our campervan, and if we hadn't been around, might well have come aboard to investigate further.

Ah, Westport. I thought it was an attractive place, even though it had once been a centre for mining.

It was at the mouth of the Buller River. The lighthouses where the river disgorged its water into the Tasman Sea were favourite sunset spots:

Looking along the beach, the light effects at sunset made the sea, sand, low clouds and distant mountain range look ethereal:

The same place at dawn was even stranger, the beach littered with an incredible collection of washed-up tree stumps, some looking like the skeleton bones of whales, or the jaw-bones of crocodiles:

Although a proper town, Westport had a rather end-of-the-world feel to it, the South Island west coast not being at all well-populated. You would feel a bit cut off from the rest of New Zealand, with nowhere else close by to go to if you wanted a day out in a different town. Westport had a rather 'frontier' look to it, superficially modern, and spruce, and nicely-painted, but perhaps not all that different to how it might have been a long time ago:


Behind the scenes, there were signs of decline, such as the place that was once Westport's railway station. No passengers had alighted here for a very long time, and grass had all but covered the tracks: 

The remaining very infrequent freight traffic was concerned with the cement works only.

Why had the passenger train service disappeared? When private cars were few, and rail travel the only mass-transportation option, New Zealand's railways flourished. Their heyday was the mid-twentieth century. But the rail routes had been determined by the mountainous topography, and trains were always hampered by winding track and many speed restrictions. Driving to a place became a better option, and later on, going by air. And except in the vicinity of Wellington and Auckland, suburban train services were not viable. So out in places like Westport the passengers vanished and grass took over.

When Westport had its mining industry, things must have been good on the freight side, but now wagons moulder on sidings.

The mining past is however well-commemorated, and I spotted this superbly-executed mural when walking about town:

Just as well I shot so many different photos at Westport. I am never likely to return, as much as I might wish to take a second, more leisurely look at South Island. There is however a 'family' reason to go back. Dad's family surname was Dommett - so streets named after a nineteenth-century settler (and eventual NZ premier) named Domett were all highly intriguing! Such as this one in Westport:

The Domett name cropped up in Collingwood, up at the north end of South Island, too. Wikipedia explains why - see The difference in spelling may not mean 'no connection whatever', although in this case I do tend to think that this active and enterprising man had no link with the humble country people down in Devon and Somerset called Dommett. But you never know.