Unpacking Toto and bird pleasures

Oh dear, this blog is getting out of order, no, not that sort of “out of order”, well, not very.  No, just in the wrong temporal order. This really should have come before the last post I put up but perhaps because it’s (mostly) about simple pleasures, I lost track of it.

Anyway, yes: continuity failure.  Toto and I clearly couldn’t have done London until he returned and caught up with me.  Oops.

Ah well.  Let’s go backwards.  Here he was after the ring on the door bell from a smiling delivery man.  (Honestly, he was smiling happily. I agree that’s not always the case for delivery people and I’m not sure it’d be my default expression were that my job.)  The cap had come back with me but I felt it belonged there for the ‘photo: it was as much appreciated leaving present before I went off, from a colleague in my last job.


The shop in Santiago, Velocípedo, S.C, who had partially dismembered Toto and packed him up, had done a great job.  As well as Toto, in the box were my mattress (black roll in next ‘photo), tent, massive bike lock, sleeping bag and liner and both empty panniers.



Toto’s was in quite a dismembered state, well, surgically, a mixture of dismembered and dislocated is probably more accurate.  The handlebars, front light and front rack were dislocated but still connected by cables, the pedals and saddle were truly amputated but everything was well wrapped in bubble wrap and attached to other things to prevent anything flailing around in transit.  Bits of old innner tube supplemented the bubble wrap ingeniously.  I love recycling.


I confess I’m not confident about reassembling a bike safely but it was all fairly easy and eventually, Toto was back in full working order.  Thanks Velocípedo: appreciated and a real pleasure to be back with my own bike available.

That was one simple pleasure of re-entry. Another was coming back to find that J had kept the various bird feeders in the back garden stoked up and the birds were flicking in and out of the bushes, to and from the feeders every bit as much as they had been before I went.  Oddly, they all look cleaner and more spruced up than they had looked earlier in the summer.  J agrees.  Odd, when do our common garden birds get a change of feathers?

Since my return the list welcoming me back is lots of great tits and blue tits, some coal tits, a few beautiful long tailed tits, one of my favourite UK birds, goldfinches (ditto) and the occasional parakeet.

OK, these were taken before I went off but they confirm the parakeet.


They’re just ‘phone ‘photos and through the kitchen window so, yes, they’re awful but as well as capturing that florid green and red acrobat, I particularly like that the second one has a typical flickering of a tit in the background. (You may have to look carefully.  It’s easiest to see on a small screen if you flick your eyes from the one ‘photo to the other and see the blur that’s in the right hand one and not in the left hand one.)

There are times when the back garden seems to have several such determined feeders zooming around continuously and they come in and out for five to ten minutes on end.  Then suddenly all will go completely dead for a while until they return again.  I haven’t worked out why the bursts of activity happen, but they’re certainly not simple statistical fluctuations on a flat base rate of visiting, there’s something more than that going on, some shared safety perhaps?

And, shoddy ‘photos thought they are, I do like that we get those technicolour exotica dropping in from time to time.  I think the accusations against them, that they’re taking local species’ food and nesting spots, feel pretty implausible.  They’ve been a slowly growing feature of London life for about 20 years in my experience and certainly they’re now pretty common, so you hear their unmistakable squawky shrieks a lot and see their purposeful green streak flight a fair bit, but they’ve hardly taken over.  I think the accusations are ornithological little Englander prejudice.  I’m sure there are Brexit voters who think President May should repatriate all parakeets as well as anyone else not “indigenous” and who like to attribute the cause of all that’s not OK in modern Britain to immigrants.

Oh dear, now I’ve gone and spoiled it haven’t I?  There I was, all happy at the simple pleasures of having reassembled Toto safely and finding him undamaged from his trip and the even greater pleasures of the bird life in our little urban back garden and I’ve gone and moaned and gotten all bitter.

I know not all Brexit voters are bitter, racist, xenophobic.  I know and sympathise that a lot were surely voting that way through understandable exasperation with London based politics so out of touch with so much of the country (trust me, pretty out of touch with much of London too).  I know the remain campaign seemed to me to be almost suicidally hopeless, as if they really didn’t want to win, just wanted to threaten people with the financial penalties of not voting for them and their smugly knowing status quo.  Who ever thought that was good lobbying?  I know a lot of the leave campaign looked jazzy, different, upbeat by comparison and, hey, it was liberally sprinkled with lies like the £350M per week for the NHS.  I guess we all have to work out how to hold onto our pleasures alongside our bitterness and anger about things. I guess I think that for some voting “leave” was one way they were getting that (and still think so, or so the Guardian tells me with a follow-up survey).

One odd ornithological thing took me two whole weeks to notice as it’s an absence not a presence.  While there were lots of swallows and swifts overhead when I went, and swallows particularly all the way to Santiago, there are none here now.  All gone, off on their migrations to Africa.   I’m fascinated that I’d had them with me all the way, in numbers and often with all the noisiness that particularly the swallows add to their aerobatics yet it took me so long to see that they had gone.

Oh well, they will return, though data on so many species numbers are depressing and clearly we can’t rely on some to return or even to stay.  When we moved into this house about 21 years ago the commonest bird in that back garden was the house sparrow and I thought they’d always be there.  We haven’t seen one in there for at least three years and I know the drop is similar in my sister’s tiny garden in North London and nearly as precipitate, and from absolute flocks of them, in my parents’ garden in South Wales.  Of course, species’ numbers fluctuate and some die out without human assistance.  However, we are now in the geological era of the Anthropocene: the one in which we as a species are reshaping our planet, and catastrophically so, more than any natural phenonenon is.  Much we must fight there.

OK.  Onward … and forgive me, because over the next few weeks here, things are going to get even more out of order here.  I’m going to go back to how it all started, back to an unfinished ‘photo tour of Chartres, the original inspiration from 1976; I’m going to go back to that first day (2/8/16) as I pointed Toto, who wasn’t even Toto back then, just a bike, out into the drizzle and the very dubious pleasures of the South Circular.  Surely some of you are “Doctor Who” fans: if that time disordered series can keep going for as long as it has, I can try to emulate it, and jump around a bit.

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