400 smiles a day
here's lookin' at you

31st August, 2007 ...... Believe only half what you see (revisited yet again!)
When I awake of a morning the very last thing on my mind is what day of the week it is. My lifestyle makes it a total irrelevance. What I've just realised though is that I also have no idea what month it is. Since I started putting the date against these entries a few weeks back, it dawned on me just today that something looked wrong. No, I mused, that can't be right - it's not still July ... D'oh! I've now gone back and hauled myself up to date. So let's start properly this time.

31st August, 2007 ...... Bandits at 12 o'clock
A generation ago the buzzard was an endangered species in Britain - I remember it well from my childhood with its distinctive call as if in permanent distress - but over the last few years there's been an explosion in their numbers, as indeed with the kite, a bird I don't remember ever seeing live, so to speak, until a couple of years ago. However, there's now great concern regarding the increase in such raptors, especially the buzzard which is regarded as a serial killer of other birds. Well, The Birds are fighting back in a way deserving of a walk-on appearance by Alfred Hitchcock. Today for a change I went on an afternoon walk, and high above the Towy Valley I hear a dreadful commotion and racket. Crows are appearing from everywhere - or at least a variation on the theme of crows, I'm never sure from a distance. Directly above me I also notice, cruising along towards them, seemingly minding its own business, a buzzard. What happens next is astonishing. Now let's see, it's a murder of crows, an unkindness of ravens and a parliament of rooks - so let's just say that a whole bunch of UMPs (unkind and murderous parliamentarians), around twenty or so, form a wing and head for the buzzard. They circle above it, and then singly, but occasionally in pairs, dive and clip the buzzard on its back before pulling up and climbing sharply. Occasionally one approaches from underneath as if to distract the buzzard. It's bright and sunny, some high cloud, which makes it really difficult to follow them through the camera's viewfinder. However, I do manage some shots of this extraordinary dogfight.




It's like watching the Battle of Britain, except that it's a squadron of Spitfires taking on a modern stealth bomber. With each strike the buzzard rocks gently, but seems totally unperturbed as it ploughs ahead. However, the unrelenting nature of the attacks has an effect, the buzzard banks away and departs the UMPs' territory to a tumultuous racket of celebration. Silence returns, as if nothing has happened. Curiously, just a few days ago I found the remains shown below, near the River Towy. It's very rare to find the remains of any bird. It was clearly a large bird, my guess a heron, and it did cross my mind that only a buzzard could take down a bird that size.

Talking of bird deaths, a while back I happened to notice a pigeon fly out of a tree - but it was ruthlessly attacked by a bird diving from above. It happened in a flash and my immediate thoughts were a buzzard, but quickly realised it was a crow of some sort. It struck the pigeon on its back, but this time the poor little thing crashed instantly to the ground. The attacker climbed to join the murder of crows circling above - and again they were making a fearful racket as if celebrating the hit. I hurried over to where I thought the pigeon had landed - and there it was on the ground, helpless, a broken wing. What the crow had done was to attack and snap its wing - which is probably what those UMPs featured above had been attempting to do to the buzzard, but its size rendered their efforts useless, although I guess one lucky hit, bingo! I was now faced with a typical country dilemma. What should I do with the poor pigeon? Whilst I know how to kill a rabbit in one swift stretch, I had no idea how to swiftly put a bird out of its misery - so I chickened out, made my excuses and left. The next day I made a point of returning - and the result is below. The dogs bark and the caravan moves on...

26th August, 2007 ...... Believe only half what you see (revisited)

Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see. When I first saw this photo in the Wales on Sunday newspaper - all those naked people in the snow - my first reaction was what a clever bit of digital manipulation, or diggery-pokery: vehicle tracks on a snowy country road, Lilliputians down in the ditch, little people to a man and woman, Gulliver looking on.

Imagine my surprise then that they are in fact hundreds of naked people posing in front of the melting Aletsch glacier in Switzerland, a photo commissioned by Greenpeace (taken by Spencer Tunick) to call attention to the issue of global warming on the shrinkage of these awesome ice structures. When I found the original photo online, as it was before being cropped by the Wales on Sunday (and as replicated here), the mountain ranges in the background made the whole thing a tad more obvious. How easily the eye can be fooled.

The Times newspaper does a Feedback column where readers are invited to query or question what appears therein. I once inquired if a front page photo of a bird silhouetted against a partial eclipse of the sun had been digitally manipulated. They did a feature on it, confirming that the paper never uses such photos, or if it does it would state so, excepting of course colour cast alterations, contrast and cropping. But what fascinated me was that the paper saw fit to actually confirm with the agency that had supplied the photo as to its absolute authenticity.

Imagine that, even the picture editor of The Times did not know for sure. In this digital age perhaps it should now read believe nothing you hear - or see. Eye-catching photo alongside though.

22nd August, 2007 ...... On the trail of the lonesome slug - not!

From now on I've decided to date all my entries, just as I do on What a gas and Look You. I've also gone back and dated my last entry, all about the snail trails I'd stumbled upon, a bulletin which was sent zooming into the ether exactly a week ago - it's handy to know when I post these things. My comments about all those snails were pure observation; I'd concluded that it must be something to do with the National Trust returning a particular field to sender - to nature, that is. Well blow me, in The Times today there's a piece which starts thus: 'Gardens and crops are facing devastation from slugs that are enjoying their best year on record amid the wet summer weather.' First things first, every day a day at school and all that, I've been referring to the blighters as snails rather than slugs (snails carry a shell, slugs don't, so there - I'll have to backtrack and amend accordingly). Anyway, let Richard Meredith of Bayer CropScience, continue: "It's slug heaven this year. Our counts are up by well over 50 per cent. We've been finding big black slugs in the middle of fields where they're usually never seen." Which is precisely where I came in with my snail trails - oops! - slug trails. The big round bales have now been cleared and the grass has grown, so I can't see the slugs - except that the Trust maintains a well manicured path across a corner of this field, so I still notice the slugs. I took the photo below just before sunrise - and the slugs are everywhere. I could have pointed the camera at any spot along the path and come up with a similar photo ...

But of course what the above doesn't answer is why I never encounter slugs on neighbouring farms; I certainly never saw one single slug trail on any round bale, even after they'd been lying about on the fields for a couple of weeks or so - yet on the Trust's field every single bale was plastered with slug contrails. Anyway, if I discover why I shall certainly keep you posted. Incidentally, according to Bayer CropScience, a slug can travel 36ft in 24 hours. My guess would have been further. In the meantime, I'm determined to get my 'snail' trail in, so here's a delightfully curious snap I took a while back - and remember, I don't do diggery-pokery (digital manipulation).



The Backpacker's
Guide to the
Universe, Life & Everything


15th August, 2007 ...... Slug Trail ......

On a recent early dawn walk, a dull, cloudy start, with a hint of drizzle in the breeze, I’m crossing one of Dinefwr Park’s fields. It would have been around the time of that brief early-August settled, sunny weather, and the National Trust had cut a field of hay, but as the weather did not exactly inspire confidence they‘d made those round, wrapped bales rather than the traditional sort. The field was littered with big, black plastic bags, ready for collection. As I passed a nest of them, something caught my eye, the glistening trail of a slug over the top of one of the bales. Here it is – alongside.

As the light was poor I decided to take another, with flash – and the rather astonishing, eye-catching result is here - the flash reflects dramatically off the shinny black surface nearest the camera. What the eye and the camera lens had originally captured were just last night’s trails, nice and fresh as the slugs passed over the dewy, damp plastic surface of the bales - but the flash highlighted all the trails laid down over the previous nights as the bales lay dormant in the field. Curiously, and because I regularly walk this particular field, just after they’d cut and baled the hay, I’d noticed the astonishing number of slugs that were crawling all over the field at first light. But I didn't think much of it.

Over the following few days I walked across different parcels of land, and in fact encountered three separate fields of similar bales, so out of curiosity I specifically looked for slug trails on the bags – but nothing. Not a trace. Now I know that the Trust has abandoned all fertiliser applications as they work to return the fields to traditional hay meadows, so I guess it’s reasonable to presume that all those slugs have made a comeback since the field was effectively returned to nature. A truly smiley event. And who'd have thought I'd spend my walks looking for slugs.

When the top two photographs were taken the slugs themselves were not on view; what with the coming of the dawn they'd obviously retired for the day. But there were stragglers risking life and limb – birds, crows especially, were beginning to wheel ominously overhead - and one brave (or stupid) slug is captured just above, although it does look as if it's done a u-turn. As for the snap to the left, I rather like this because clearly this slug has a particularly artistic bent. Can you see what it is yet? I’m unsure though whether it's endorsing its Welsh credentials with an outline of Wales – or is it actually an eagle in flight? It’s amazing what you see when you look and allow your imagination to run riot ......

July, 2007
Shakespeare ponders the fate of Shambo, the sacred bullock of Skanda Vale, Carmarthenshire, Welsh Wales

TB, or not TB - that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep -

Sh ...... Sham ...... Shambo ...... Shambolic - an everyday story of country bullshit ......

Friday August 03, 2007

The ghost of Shambo looks down - not with vengeful foot in mouth, we trust!
(and remember, everything in heaven is black and white)

More moons ago than I care to remember, when me and my mates were a bunch of trainee young bucks about town, Friday and Saturday nights had a set routine: a pub safari and a shed full of pints; then there’d usually be a dance at the local Drill Hall (or in summer perhaps a barn dance at a neighbourhood farm), all mostly run by the local Young Farmers Club (and there’d invariably be some fisticuffs because the farmer and the cowman rarely were friends when it came to the local gals); and finally we’d sniff out the aforementioned talent to hopefully conclude the evening with a bang. I’d missed one Friday night and I remember asking Rick (only the name has been changed to protect the guilty – that’s Rick as in bar owner Rick Blaine) how the night had gone: “Oh, three Fs – with bells on.” The first F meant the safari had been a boozy laugh a minute; the second confirmed that there’d been a bit of a shemozzle at the local hop; and the last – well, he’d had his wicked way with one of the local wenches: “The Three Fs: Fun, Fight, and a F*** to round it all off! An evening straight off the drawing board.” Scroll on a generation, and my, my, how things have changed. The girls now get pissed along with the boys; the wenches pick fights with each other; and sex is now only a quick proposition away. I can understand the drinking and the sex – but the fighting? All so very unlike the female of the species. But as always, nature provides the answer. Along my usual walk on the wild side I encounter something I’ve never witnessed before: two sheep fighting – and I mean a vicious clash, as you’d expect two rams to have a go. Firstly below, the two girls face up to each other, just like two fighters in the ring during the prelims. Then both start taking it out on some prickly thistles, butting away like mad - the equivalent of the two fighters returning to their corners and doing a bit of shadow boxing to get the juices flowing…

Then the bell sounds and the real fight begins. Rather gently at first… then with increased force and violence. It really is quite vicious, surprisingly so. The blackface sheep in the background is saying: "Go on girl, show the old cow who's boss." Eventually one backs off, turns, and walks away – but the alpha sheep gives chase and continues the fight. The submissive one now runs away – and the victor seemingly accepts the situation. I can only think that the key is the word ‘alpha’. As I was saying, all human behaviour can be viewed up close in nature…

Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see ......

Stylish des res, elegant motor -
shame about that front wing...

Oh dear -
all fur coat and no knickers!

Truth to tell, the above motor was part of a Daimler and Lanchester International Car Rally at Dinefwr Park and Castle - this particular model being in its early stages of restoration, and had been parked up the night before the morning after...

Continuing the adventures of Fly, the sheep born to be a sheepdog ...

Big Dick the Stallion, little Brian the Bare -
and friends - get ready for the roundup ...

"Come, Fly - with me!"
"Okay Fly, say your prayers first then."
"The Lord is my shepherd ..."

"No, Fly!  No boneo for you yet - and
don't look at me like that!"

Apropos the 'boneo' girl, thereby hangs a tale. There I was, minding my own business - well, actually minding the gas pipeline contractors' business, in as much that I was patiently waiting for an excavator to move to an advantageous spot for a photo opportunity - when I became aware of a presence. I looked round, and there at my feet was a sheep, which had wandered right up and was staring curiously into my eyes, just as a dog would. I casually brought the camera round, hoping she wouldn't move - and she stayed put for a moment, just long enough for one shot. She then sort of shrugged and wandered off. It was delightfully surreal and contributed hugely to my smile deposit account. Incidentally, what do you get when a ram marries a llama against a background of church bells? A llama, rama, ding-dong!

"Who's that there?" "Who's that there
saying who's that there?"

"Sit, Fly!"
(The sheep born to be a sheepdog)
"Fetch, boy!"
(The lamb born to be a pup)

The question every woman should ask:
Does my bum look cute in this?
Yummy Mummy and Laddie Daddy
proudly parade Bella Bambina

You’re a white bluebell, I’m a blue bluebell,
Have we met somewhere before?
You’re a white bluebell and I think bluebell
That we met on the woodland floor.

Glad to meet bluebell, such a sweet bluebell,
How you thrill me through and through.
Don’t be tough bluebell on a coy bluebell,
‘Cause I can’t help loving you.

Every time I sniff your bouquet …
It makes me go all way-hey …

You’re a white bluebell, I’m a blue bluebell
Will you marry me in haste?
I’ll be true bluebell, just to you bluebell,
And we both have no time to waste.

(with apologies to one Max Bygraves)

Huh! Sod you and your silly
Musical Chairs game - I'm off!
Okay kids, listen up ... on my left, the
 watering-hole; now repeat after me: The stare on the face of the hippopotamus is equal to the stare on the faces of all the other...

Oi, you pointin' that thing at me? Oh okay, just this once

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