Thursday 30 April 2009

Brothel Creepers

I can't recall what caused the comment but a few weeks ago Spesh mentioned Brothel Creepers. I promised a blog entry.

Creepers or brothel creepers found their beginnings in the years following the WWII: Soldiers based in the deserts in North Africa wore suede boots with hardwearing crepe soles because of the climate and environment. Having left the army, many of these ex-soldiers found their way to the disreputable nightspots of London (Kings Cross and Soho) wearing the same crepe soled shoes. Those became known as Brothel Creepers.

In the 1950s, these shoes were taken up by the Teddy Boy and the Rockabilly kids, along with drainpipe trousers, draped jackets, bolo ties, quiff and pompadour haircuts, and velvet or electric blue clothes. The brothel creeper was a hit throughout 50s and 60s.

They were invented in 1949 by George Cox and marketed under the Hamilton name, based on George Cox Jr.'s middle name .

More Chester Zoo birds

Some more of the birds at Chester Zoo.

I wouldn’t like to argue with this Griffon Vulture ( Gyps fulvus ).

I like the White-crested Turaco (Turaco leucolophus) because it is ever such a friendly and inquisitive bird, always coming to say hello to me.

The Red Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea rubra ) used to be killed by the local people for its tail feathers which were prized for making headdresses.

This pair of Eurasian Spoonbill ( Platalea leucorodia ) were building a nest. They have a really large enclosure in which to fly around. It has many other species in it and they can all get up to quite a speed as they travel the hundred yards or so from end to end or side to side.

The beautiful Tufted Duck (Aythya marila) is a British native species and can be found wild on some of the Zoo’s lakes.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Exeter here I come...

"Good friends,

good books

and a sleepy conscience:

this is the ideal life."

~ Mark Twain

At the end of the week I am heading down to Exeter for a couple of weeks to stay with Helen and Ian. So expect some new postings on my Exeter blog in the very near future!

Shades of black and white

I dislike nothing more than racism and bigotry. But I don’t very often bring up the subject of racism on my Blog. I cannot be bothered. Folk who are not racist don’t need to be lectured and in my experience folk who are racist are unlikely to be changed by any logic or emotive argument of mine. (I hear some of you groaning about my defeatist attitude – sorry that’s the way I am.)

By contrast, some folk devote all or most of their blog to the subject. Good luck to them, say I. I can understand their need to blog on the subject and sincerely wish them the very best of luck. After all, if one blog changes one person’s attitude it will have been worth it.

One such blogger is Shirl, a white girl, who had the gall to marry a black man. Her family disowned her as a result. Note how I defined Shirl and her husband – by their colour. That’s because I don’t know her well enough to describe her as, for example, a 32 year old married to a 35 year old. I can only go by what her website tells me – just as people on the street only go by their eyes. Equally I could describe myself as white and Jo as being of mixed race. [Jo’s origins are so weird and wonderful as to be incapable of standard definition but somewhere in there are Greek, Swedish, English (white), English (black), West Indian...]

But what about if I described myself as punctual and Jo as unpunctual – a far more relevant (and, in our case, divisive) standard. Or I could mention that she is little and I am of medium height. We vote different ways in elections. What about differentiation based on the fact that I am annoyingly organised and she is (equally annoyingly?) disorganised. I am a poor mixer and she is a brilliant extrovert. Jo loves telephoning people and I hate the phone with an intensity bordering on the pathological. (We are both Liverpool FC supporters but if she had been an Evertonian that would have been the ultimate in differences from my point of view.)

All these could be ways of describing ourselves and are certainly more relevant to how we view each other and interact. And yet to many people in the outside world the difference would be based on skin colour. I don’t just find it sad, I find it incomprehensible.

If things are going badly many people’s natural reaction is to blame somebody else and what better and more easily identified scapegoat than someone whose skin is coloured differently or who has differet facial features. When the national economy is very weak, as it is now in many countries, people will look for a scapegoat to blame, and in many cases they will choose the people that they do not know, such as those with a different ethnical or cultural background. Economic crises cause anger and fear and amongst these are the anger and fear that a stranger will take your house, your job, your wife. You don’t know who this stranger is, and he doesn’t know you. To fight racism we have to get to know each other and learn more about each other’s cultures. We have got to share each other’s joys and learn that we often have the same problems and worries.

Jo often berates me for being too logical (she being far more emotional – another big difference between us). I would love to be able to find some logic in racism. That way I might stand a chance of arguing against it but how do you argue against something so illogical? After all, the very boys who hoot their car horn and shout abuse at Jo and my son head off each summer to warmer climes so as to get their skin darkened. And the tanning studio just round the corner from us does a roaring trade. How weird and illogical is that.

I once heard the story about a girl who was sitting on a bus with her Mum when a man of a different race got on. She asked her Mum – in that loud voice children always manage to adopt for embarrassing questions – why his skin colour was different. Her Mum immediately said – “Why shouldn’t it be? Think about all the colours of flowers in the garden – it would be very boring if they were all the same colour.” The story may be apocryphal for all I know but to me it sums up an attitude that says it all.

If you agree with my point of view can I ask that the next time you see or hear an example of racist behaviour you challenge it. You may or may not open someone's eyes to a different point of view but at least you will have done your bit and, hopefully, will feel better for it.

(End of lecture!)

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Excuse Me?

Excuse me.

Does my bum look big in this?

No bigger than mine, dear.

Living with things

It’s funny how you learn to live with things. When we moved into our house, nearly five years ago, two of the things I was anxious to get sorted were the leaking gutters and the leaking conservatory roof.

These remain two of the things I am anxious to get sorted - but sorted they have not got! We have to make sure that no plant pots sit directly beneath the main gutter leaks or their soil gets washed out. And when it rains we have a plastic box that lives in the middle of the conservatory and which we have to navigate around as we sit down.

I wonder if they will ever get done. After all, when I win the lottery we will probably move house...

Monday 27 April 2009

Mountain Chicken

Every time I have been to Chester Zoo in recent years I have tried to spot the Mountain Chicken (Laeptodactylus fallax).

Despite its name it is not a feathery thing with wings but one of the world's largest frogs. On my recent visit I at last managed to see it. It comes from Montserrat and Dominica in the West Indies and presumably it tastes like chicken! But I would not recommend eating one – the population has declined 80% in the last ten years and this species is now critically endangered. The total world population is estimated to be about 8000 individuals. Until very recently it was the national dish of Dominica.

Mountain Chickens breed in a unique way. A male and female frog produce a foam nest on land in which 15-50 tiny eggs are laid. These eggs hatch into tiny tadpoles, less than a centimetre long. Over the next 6-8 weeks they develop in the foam nest into tadpoles measuring over 15cm long. The female frog feeds the tadpoles throughout their development on unfertilised eggs which she squirts into the nest every 2-3 days. She supplies the tadpoles with tens of thousands of these food eggs during their growth. Isn't nature amazing!

This unique method of breeding was discovered by studying this species in zoos as part of a conservation breeding programme for the species. Chester Zoo is currently involved in a collaborative conservation project with the Dominican government and the Zoological Society of London to try to save the species on the island.

Maggie and Eeyore

Do you have a favourite cartoon character?

I think it is always hard to pick favourites of things but in the case of cartoons I would either go for Maggie in the Simpsons or Eeyore.

Maggie and Eeyore are an extremely unlikely combination. Maggie says nothing but is usually quite cheerful about it. Eeyore is also fairly taciturn but is gloom personified (or should that be donkified?).

“People come and go in this Forest, and they say, ‘It’s only Eeyore, so it doesn’t count’.”

“Sing. Enjoy yourself. Some can. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. that’s all there is to it.”

“Nobody tells me. Nobody keeps me informed. I make it seventeen days come Friday since anybody spoke to me. ....Owl flew past a day or two ago and noticed me. He didn’t actually say anything, mind you, but he knew it was me. Very friendly of him, I thought. Emcouraging.”

“It’ll rain soon, you see if it doesn’t...."

"It’s snowing still. And freezing. However, we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”

“One can’t complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday.”

Sunday 26 April 2009


This uninspiring photo is of a hoverfly hovering in the garden. Please note it is a hoverfly – not a bee. But it buzzes just like a bee. In fact its common English name is the drone fly because of its noise. And when one comes in the house Jo leaves the room – very quickly.

If, as occurred the other day, I happen to be having a lie down, Jo finds herself separated from her laptop, her phone and her paperwork until I get up. Jo being separated from her phone for half an hour results in a severe attack of delirium tremens (colloquially, the DTs, "the horrors", "the fear", "the abdabs" or "the rats"; afflicted individuals referred to as "jitterbugs" in 1930s Harlem slang; literally, "shaking delirium" or "trembling madness" in Latin). So I arrived downstairs to find an unhappy Jo who became even more unhappy when she found out she’d been excluded from the room by a hoverfly.

“But it didn’t hover!”

OK, so sue it, I thought. Sometimes they don’t – especially when they are travelling from A to B trying to find a way out!

Jo doesn’t usually utter profanities (except at the computer) but she managed to call the marital status of the parents of this little insect into question!

Birds at Chester

Some of the colourful birds to be found at Chester Zoo.

Scarlet Ibis ( Eudocimus ruber). They extract dyes from their food to create their brilliant plumage.

The same applies to Caribbean Flamingos ( Phoenicopterus ruber).

This beautiful little bird with a wonderful voice is the Pekin Robin (Leiothrix lutes) found from the Himalayas to China. It lives in heavily wooded areas, starting at 19,685 feet (6,000m) above sea level, most abundant below 6,560 feet (2,000m), usually in groups, in pairs during breeding period. It has a beautiful song which is accompanied in the male by a wing-flapping display.

This is the Fairy Bluebird (Irena puella) which lives in moist hill forests in tropical Southern Asia. It is nearly a foot long and the male has this beautiful iridescent plumage.

This is the Pope Cardinal (Paroaria dominicana) tucking into its dinner.

In one of the many outdoor cages of birds is this beautiful Rufous-breasted Nitava (Nitava sundara).

This is a White-collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris)

And the Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias cordata).

Saturday 25 April 2009

Fishing expedition

"What you up to, Bro?"

"I'm fishing."

"Now mind you don't fall in!"

"Any luck?"

"No, it takes time this fishing stuff."

Friday 24 April 2009

Anderson's Salamander

This is an Anderson's Salamander ( Ambystoma andersoni) from Lake Zacapu in Mexico. It is a critically endangered species, first discovered in 1984 and this photo was taken at Chester Zoo. Without programmes like those run by responsible zoos like Chester many more species would be extinct. The object of their breeding programmes is not only to keep species alive but also, in time, return them to the wild. These salamanders are totally aquatic and spend their whole lives in the same body of water. Lake Zacapu is small lake near Zacapu, sitting at an altitude of 2000 meters.

According to Amy Judd of Vancouver "Salamanders are declining rapidly in areas like Central America, and scientists studying them have attributed this to global warming. Two species are already extinct and a few others are losing numbers so quickly that they look like they are heading towards extinction as well. Just like some frogs, a type of fungus, called chytrid, seems to be responsible for this decline, but it could also be global warming." However, according to David Wake, a scientist studying them in Central America, neither of these factors could be responsible for the reduction of population in that area. Whatever the cause they are exceedingly rare.

Of blogs and frogs and things getting in the way...

I schedule many of my posts so they are written in advance and are posted just after Midnight (BST). This means not having to worry about meeting my target of one or two posts a day. If I schedule one in advance it also leaves me free to write and add another one thereby giving the Blog a bit of spontaneity.

Sometimes the scheduling is only a few hours in advance, others may be written days in advance with a few of them stacked up ready to be posted.

At the moment I have hardly any scheduled ones. It’s more like Scrambling from my Chair! I obviously need to sit down at the computer and spend a few hours preparing some. But things keep getting in the way.

I had planned to do some yesterday but my fishpond with its newly arrived fish decided to spring a leak so it was a merry day emptying out water, stones and fish, re-lining and then filling up with stones, water and, oh yes, the fish... I had forgotten how heavy water can be when you are talking about many gallons of the stuff.... Meanwhile, no sooner had I put a bit of water in the new liner than a frog jumped down into the pond. Then another...

Hopefully I shall get some blogs done today....

Thursday 23 April 2009


Some of the Orchids in the greenhouse at Chester Zoo. Sorry but I don't know any of their names - but sometimes beauty doesn't need a name...

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