Tuesday, 19 May 2015

down by the river

Find myself beside a stream of empty thought,
Like a leaf that's fallen to the ground,
And carried by the flow of water to my dreams
Woken only by your sound.

It's that time of year again - it seems to come round quicker and quicker. Still, this is the last time I'll be juggling a regular job and exam marking. Yes, it's the annual trip to London for the AS Film Studies exam marking conference.

As I am now only working part time and the conference was on Saturday, I took myself off to London on Friday to have a day out. As the hotel was in Hammersmith this year I thought perhaps a wander along the river up to Chiswick and the Fuller's Brewery would be a good idea. Unfortunately I couldn't organise a piss-up in the brewery for myself as they were full. Still, a wander along part of the Thames Walk seemed like a pleasant distraction on a nice sunny day.

And indeed it was. I fairly quickly came across The Dove, quite a famous pub that sits next door to a house William Morris once lived in. I wonder if it's still got the same wallpaper? Anyway, it seemed like a good place to pop into for a pint and a bite to eat. At £4.04 a pint practically next to the actual brewery I was a bit taken aback. It's still only (!) £3.55 in my local and that's the priciest place around here. London prices outside of the West End seem quite high. The West End tends to be a bit cheaper I guess as there's so much competition. Market forces and all that.

I wandered along and took a look around the area as I've never spent much time around there before. I did see the pre-Clash Joe Strummer band the 101'ers* back in the mid-1970s and Dire Straits in 1979. Oh yes, my Best Man took me to see John Martyn there the night before my wedding too. But these were all fleeting visits to a concert hall. We certainly didn't go wandering around the neighbourhood to take in the ambience.

A parakeet, honest!
The riverside walk was a very pleasant experience. Three green parakeets were noisily chasing each other around the trees whilst a couple of cormorants stood on a platform in the centre of the river with their wings akimbo, drying them off. Walking by water is pretty soothing and it gives me time to think. Perhaps that's why I live next to the sea. A warm sun, the sound of bird life and solitude, even whilst in the heart of the city, gave me some time to reflect and think about how life has lead up to this moment. The parakeets were bloody noisy though.

A little later outside a very busy pub, a heron was happily allowing pigeons and gulls to wander around checking him out whilst he lazily thought about whether it was dinner time or not. He was only a few feet away from a lot of people but seemed quite happy. That's probably the closest I've ever been to one in the wild since one flew directly overhead once near the River Ivel when I used to live in Bedfordshire near Jordan's Mill.

A trip to the Fuller's Brewery shop secured a few cans of London Pride at a much more decent price of £1.97 to take back to my Executive suite at the Novotel. They even supplied mini Bose speakers for my entertainment. Things are looking up. After a rest and a few beers I went down to dinner thinking I'd go to the cinema to finish the evening's entertainment off. But after meeting a few old colleagues that was a non-starter as more and more bottles of wine turned up like on some sort of psychic conveyor belt.

Usually I end up wandering around the West End when I go up to London. I have mentioned before that modern Soho is becoming Every Town, Every Place as developers are forcing local established businesses out to build more swanky shops, hotels and restaurants. A depressing state of affairs but everything changes, I guess. I didn't go this weekend as I'd forgotten my Oyster Card and travelling around London otherwise can be pricey (I'm practically a pensioner you know!). Maybe next time.

Saturday came and Saturday went and I reached home without having to get the usual East Anglian weekend "alternative transport"- or getting a bus as they're known.  Usually someone's digging up the railway tracks. Or sweeping leaves off of it. Or nicking the copper wire. On Sunday I wandered up to get a newspaper which is something I rarely do nowadays. However, there was a great article on disappearing Soho in the Observer which I enjoyed reading over a light lunch in my local - yep, definitely £3.55. Reading it made me feel a little cross that I hadn't gone to see it before it does disappear. Well worth a read, anyway. Actually, a live version of Wild West End by Dire Straits just came on as I wrote that. Synchronicity? Ah well, I'll be back up on June for the A2 marking so perhaps it'll last until then.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

wondering where the lions are

Cut and move on,
Cut and move on:
take out trees,
take out wildlife at the rate of a species
every single day.

I was sitting in a friend's garden on Sunday with the wildlife of Nottinghamshire flitting and around and entertaining us with a few songs, I brought up a subject I'd had on my mind for a while now. For some reason I recently flicked through the Brooke Bond Picture Card album Wildlife in Danger and I mentioned to my friends about how I wanted to check through the fifty species mentioned to see how many were now extinct. They sagely nodded and thought it a worthwhile pursuit.

I have mentioned this series before but essentially, in the 1960s P G Tips tea regularly gave away cards that we collected and glued into our little books. This one cost sixpence which shows how old it is. It was first published in 1963. So my little seven year old self was busy collecting cards and sticking them in badly so the pages occasionally stuck together all those years ago. I got all fifty of them. Even if some of the species hadn't survived, the album has. It also shows that we drank a lot of P G Tips in the sixties (I've still got plenty of the other collections!).

Anyway, yesterday I spent a short while checking every one of the species in the album. Some of them seem bizarre, almost as if they were made up or had featured in The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. I was sure that I was going to be quite depressed afterwards, which is why I'd put off checking them out for a while. However, as I worked through the EDGE and Wikipedia sites my heart was lifted by the news that nearly all of the species have survived. That doesn't mean to say that everything is rosy - many remain critically vulnerable or in low numbers. Given that most of the species were, even then, becoming endangered because of mankind, it is only really due to human attempts to stop them from disappearing that has saved them from inevitable extinction.

This chap, the Mi-Lu or Père David's Deer is now extinct in the wild but the story here was a fascinating read. There are quite a few creatures in the album that have become extinct at some point in the wild but through reintroduction programmes are now, at least, hanging on. In some cases the creatures that have been reintroduced into the wild are now thriving such as the Splendid Parakeet. The only creature in the album that I have genuinely seen in the wild is the Californian Condor. In the album it claimed that there were about 60-65 individuals left in 1963 and according to Wikipedia they became extinct in the wild in 1987. Due to being reintroduced they seem to be surviving.  Still the veracity of Wikipedia is called into question here as the EDGE site tells a slightly different story.  They're supposed to be protected now but it would seem all is not well. One of the main problems for them is lead poisoning from hunter's spent cartridges.

About ten years ago we were standing looking out over the Grand Canyon when several of these huge birds flew up from below us - there was an audible gasp from everyone there. Spectacular.

Another bird that is only just hanging on is Stellar's Albatross with its seven foot wingspan, because of the vast distances they fly it's difficult to keep perfect records but it is, just about, still with us. The Galapagos Giant Tortoise which is featured on the cover became extinct as a sub-species in 2012 when the last surviving one 'Lonesome George' died. Technically he was a Pinta Island Tortoise but him and his kind have gone the way of the Dodo now. The Leathery Turtle managed to survive in their thousands but our propensity for plastic bags has become a major problem. The turtles, along with many other sea species, assume the floating bags are their main source of food - jellyfish. Obviously with devastating results.

Another little chap that is still having a hard time clinging on is the Giant Fijian Wood Boring Beetle.
Such a creature is probably nowadays the star of awful Celebrities eating through the Insect World-type programmes. But this chap has continued to be seen as a delicacy particularly in the larval stage - a stage which takes twelve years. There is also an internet-based trade on them, so along with attacks on its habitat life is certainly still challenging for them. Mind you, according to some reports, we'll all have to start relying on insects as a food source soon. In fact, they already are being marketed as a food source in the West having been consumed in some parts of the world for aeons. The second largest biomass on earth has not yet really been exploited. The big food companies are planning our future fast food as we we sit quietly watching the world be destroyed.

All-in-all I was relatively impressed that we have managed to stop the wholesale extinction of many of these creatures but it's still quite unsettling to see the devastating impact we've had. The fifty species identified back in 1963 for the most part have managed to lurch into the Twenty First Century which is good to know. However, the EDGE Project gives the picture that we still continue to have a ridiculously devastating impact on the World.