Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Cocker Hoop

As Margaret and I arrive in Coquetdale for our summer holiday, we are invariably greeted by the sound of a cuckoo calling for a mate, but try as I might I have never located the source. A few years back a fisherman in the next cottage, who didn't eat fish brought us a freshly caught trout, you'll never believe he said, but all the while I've been fishing, I've had a cuckoo for company it was sitting on the fence post behind me, I dashed out to see it fly off into oblivion.
Friends tell me to go to Scotland to see them and a grand variety of other species also, but that is out of the question for the foreseeable future.
Last year I heard about a juvenile on the car park at Parkgate, but circumstances prevailed and I couldn't make the trip down there. Then out of the blue I get to hear of a juvenile fattening itself up on caterpillars in at Cockers Dyke near Pilling before making it's long journey to Africa, as my desk was clear I decided to go for it.

I set off on a beautiful morning with the sun rising over the Pennines and the mist hanging in the valleys, but sods law was to prevail. As I headed north heavy cloud drifted in from the Atlantic and by the the time I arrived it started to pour down, it was 7am, it was going to be a long day. There was nothing for it, I had to sit it out in the car and drink my coffee. An hour and a half past and I had already eaten my lunch and still no cuckoo, its gone I thought, its buggered off to Africa. Damn!!!

Then through the gloom "my" bird arrived and landed on a post forty foot or so away, my heart skipped a beat, even though it was too dark to photograph, well now it really was going to be a long day, cause I wasn't going to budge before sunset - that's if the sun were to ever rise!

Well it did awake from it's slumbers and put it's hat on, and the weather and light slowly improved as the day progressed. The cuckoo returned every half hour or so feeding from various fence posts and electric wires, before being disturbed by dog walkers.

I was amazed by it's ability to hunt for caterpillars. From wires thirty foot or so above the ground, it would perform a variety of acrobatic dismounts, then free fall parachute, before twisting into a full head on dive, hawk fashion, vanishing into the nettle covered ground and immediately emerge with its pray and return to a perch on the wire. From fence post it would launch similarly horizontal attacks as far as twenty foot away, in both instances I never saw it miss. But should I be surprised with this bird's ability, when, from the moment it hatches its inbuilt genetics instruct it to remove its adopted parents eggs from the nest, then after feeding its self up it will journey to Africa all on it own some.

All in all I put in thirteen hours on site that day, but eager for more I returned a couple of days later, in a seven hour stint the cuckoo never showed at all, I wrongly assumed it had moved on, only to be told later that it had turned up that evening. I went back the next day only to get a fleeting glimpse in very bad light.

My mate Steve took up the gauntlet the next day, he phoned me at two o' clock to say it had just turned up and the light was good, so I immediately jumped in the car and set off once more. I took up a position behind a WW2 bunker hoping the cuckoo would land on the fence post directly in front of me. Although my strategy held a bit of a risk, the cuckoo might stay in it's favorite corner and not come to my desired post, had that been the case I would have returned home empty handed once more. But I needn't have worried after twenty minutes the cuckoo duly obliged and I returned home a very happy man, cocker-hoop you might say.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The Longest Day the Home Run

As the boat approached the steps in Dunbar harbour I was geared up to disembark, the boatman had barely got the boat secure when I hopped onto the steps, I said my goodbyes to everyone, it had just gone 6.15. It must have seemed awfully discourteous but I was on a mission to get to the station for the 6.28 train to Newcastle, if I missed it, it would mean an overnight stay in Dunbar or Edinburgh. I wouldn’t have minded that, but the weather forecast for the next day was atrocious, so it made sense to me to get home, my only regret, I would have to pass the chippy instead of going into it.
I made a steady plod up the hill and through the town and made it to the station with two minutes to spare, I was sweaty my pants were dirty even though I had over-trousers on – it was muddy in places on Bass Rock – I pitied the person who was going to sit next to me, indeed if I were the train manager I wouldn’t have let me on!
I needn’t have worried as the carriage was empty, I got my favourite seat next to the luggage rack, and as the train pulled out of the station I went to the toilet and cleaned myself up.
The train manager was a charming lady; I explained my predicament at having a wrong ticket and she wasn’t bothered one jot,” enjoy your journey, the catering trolley will be along shortly”, how civilised I thought. She advised me to go through to Darlington, where my connecting train to Manchester would arrive on the same platform, brilliant.
My connecting train to Manchester was eight minutes late, I know that because a passenger opposite told me so, he wasn’t best pleased as that was going to make him late for an appointment in Leeds. That got me thinking if it was running late would I make my connection on the last train of the day home to Wigan. I decided it best to ask the manager.
“Tickets from Darlington” the manager bellowed, he was at the far end of the carriage, mine was ready on the table for inspection. As he arrived I immediately asked if we were going to be late arriving at Manchester. “Ant a clue..... am dun ut Leeds” he replied arrogantly in his thick Yorkshire droll, picking up my ticket at the same time “What’s this”? “It’s a ticket” I said rather sarcastically, as I didn’t care much for his manner. My manner was to cost me, “I, bur its u rung un”, I started to explain, but he cut me short “Il tell thee haw much thy owes”. £11.80 was how much I owed, still, cheaper than a B&B I thought.
“He wants reporting” said the gent opposite, when the manager had gone. It takes all sorts I thought. My new companion and I set the world to rights on the rest of the journey to Leeds, where we shook hands as we bid each other goodbye.
Apart from the run-in with the manager, things had gone pretty well and passengers, who had up to that point been a bit thin on the ground, had all been polite. Alas all that was about to change. At the huge metropolis of Leeds, the train flooded with an influx of a more yobbish and discourteous class of passenger. Of course the train had now become a late night local commuter train between Leeds and Manchester. People thought it right and proper to sprawl about wherever they liked. Outstretched legs under tables with dirty trainers on the opposite seat, sitting on tables hunched up over their mates, trainers on seats yet again , most with phones glued to their ears or IPods playing – tsss tut tsss tut tsss – or some such rhythmic nonsense blurting out. The public address system announcements changed also. Previously they had been advising on catering arrangements and approaching stations, and “Mind the step on leaving the train” Now it changed to “Passengers are reminded that CCTV cameras are in operation”. Some comfort I thought, if I were to be mugged, at least it would be recorded for posterity.
The train had made up some time and I was only five minutes late arriving at Manchester Piccadilly Station. Once again I was geared up for a fast departure as I knew it to be quite slog over to platform 14. But the impoliteness was to prevail, as the doors opened a crowd of about thirty people rushed to gain access, while those of us onboard tried to get off, it was disgraceful and an utter shambles. The public address was repeating the message “Passengers are reminded that CCTV.................
If that’s City living then I want no part of it. Mind don’t we see bad behaviour every day on our roads, drivers overtaking at speed, cutting-in, parking abysmally, complete disregard for anyone only themselves and oblivious to the dangers caused to others – I really don’t mind if they kill themselves it’s the innocents I care for. (Sorry for the rant it just came over me)
My last train of the day left Piccadilly at 10.50 a typical bone- shaker of a commuter train, I think everyone was just as tired as I, it was thankfully, quiet an uneventful.
At 11.50 Sue arrived to pick me up. At midnight I was sitting in my lounge with a large whisky reflecting on one hell of a day trip.
Number Crunching
Rise Time 4.40am
Bed byes 1.15am
Two short car trips 3 miles total
Six connecting trains 494 miles total
Footslogging 2 miles
One return boat trip 16 miles total
Total mileage 515
That’s an average of 25.1 miles per hour awake (that’s a stupid statistic)
Food - packed lunch plus 4 cups of coffee
Cost of trains £58.60 plus £11.80 for being sarcastic (spit)
Bass Rock trip normally £98 provided free of charge by the Scottish Sea Bird Centre in lieu of photographs (many thanks)
Photographs about 800 images - still plodding through them they will appear in the the Spotlight section on my web site when completed.