Fishing for rabbits

In the spring of 1945 S/Sgt N. J. Blaska 39378483 and two of his USAAF friends were leaning on this five bar gate (or the one it replaced) in Houghton. Yellow cowslips were in flower all over the field and in the centre were the mounds of a large rabbit warren.

I was sitting on the warren, quietly, fishing. Just seven years old I had decided to catch a rabbit for the pot. Fresh from success in the River Ouse by the mill I’d decided to use a similar technique – the rod was a stick and suspended from it in the mouth of a burrow was a carrot. Another stick was at hand to dispatch my catch. Nothing much was happening until I heard a voice calling “Hey, Kid! Hey, Kid!” – with an American accent! No it wasn’t Brer Rabbit, it was S/Sgt Blaska.

I went over to the gate. The men were friendly and I was given a book of cartoons – Private Buck – which I treasure to this day. Perhaps they were thinking of their children back at home. I learnt recently that Norbert Blaska died June 4, 1993 – very sad because I really wanted to thank him again.

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Houghton, Huntingdonshire

With my brother Malcolm and our very patient wives we returned to Houghton where in 1944 we stayed for a short time after leaving Heston, Middlesex and the V1s (flying bombs) and V2s (ballistic missiles) falling there. I remembered the mill (where Clive Sinclair’s career got going with development of the first electronic calculator and now a National Trust property) because that’s where I first went fishing – with a bent pin as a hook.
Mum and Dad rented Orchard Cottage (photo). At the time it was split into two, we lived on the left, and it had a large unruly back garden where the ivy covered brick-built outside loo was situated. The other half of the cottage was uninhabited.
Things change. 28/09/2007, after development, Orchard Cottage sold for £737,000.

My father was one of them.

Between 27 May and 4 June 1940, 338,226 soldiers were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in France. My father, Fred, was one of them.

Dad told us that he put his soaking wet boots up against the hot funnel of the ship that rescued him – only to awake with a start some time later thinking that his feet were on fire. He could never bring himself to tell us about the horrors that he and the others endured during the preceeding retreat and the eventual evacuation.

Once home Dad spent a year in hospital with shell shock before being registered as unfit for service. A reservist, he’d been recalled in October 1937. I’ve never thought about it before but realise now that I probably had only fleeting glimpses of him in the first three years of my life. At least I did get to meet him. Many others never got to know their fathers.

Thank you Iceland?

Thank you Iceland, not for Icesave but for the volcano (has it a name?) spewing a column of dust up from near the Eyjafjallajokull glacier.
Nobody has scribbled on our perfect blue sky for days. The airliner corridor high up and just to the North is empty.
Lower down there are no smaller airliners ferrying people from Norwich to Schipol in Holland (and visa versa) and no helicopters shuttling to and fro from the North Sea oil rigs, and no Eurofighters, no American F15s and no…
Ahh, it is so peaceful.

Bee-fly (Bombylius major). Photo © Brian Stone
Perhaps with what previously has been the usual background noise I’d have missed the the first insect I saw in our garden yesterday. Travelling from flower to flower with a bizzy but not loud buzz was a Bee-fly (Bombylius major). Only the second I’ve ever seen.
Actually it’s a little monster! This large, squat hairy fly resembles a small bumble bee. It has long hairy legs, a very long slender tongue and clear wings with a black band along their front edge. It is usually seen in early spring, hovering around flower borders and it takes an interest in both primroses and violets. The eggs are flicked towards the entrance of solitary bee nests.
The larvae are brood parasites in the nests of these bees and will be found where suitable areas for the nests of hosts coincide with woodlands, hedgerows or gardens rich in flowers. Adult flies feed on nectar, using their long proboscises whilst hovering beside a flower.
Parasite: larvae are external parasites of solitary bees such as Andrena species.
Prey: Bees and wasps

You’ve Gotta Larf!

Brand new sherbet blue

We’re downsizing. Our Honda CR-V has gone and a new Honda Jazz has replaced it.
On arriving home from picking it up I backed our new Sherbet Blue EX into our garage. My other half went indoors.
Right, now to make adjustments to my driving position: steering wheel, seat hight, back rest etc. That done I popped into the back seat to see how much space my 6 foot frame has left for passengers. It’s a bit tight so I need to try putting the driver’s seat forward a little – except that the door won’t open: The dealer’s mechanic has left the child lock on!
There’s little space between the front seats for clambering forward, so what can I do? Fortunately my mobile phone was in my pocket.
GC rang home. “Could you let me out of the car please.” Yes I did get gently ticked off – but, honestly, I wasn’t playing with my new toy. My driving position is important. Isn’t it?

What will the birds do now?

Remembering Job 38 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand…” I have never been happy with the idea of my putting words into God’s mouth.

But I have often sensed God speaking through his creation: Romans 1: 20 ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’.

Martin Luther wrote: “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

With that in mind and with the possibility of my having ‘heard’ through something ‘seen’ I will relate the following for you, Dear Reader, to weigh:

Reading its label MAGNOLIA Soulangeana Alba looked ideal. Large, fragrant, tulip-like, white flowers, faintly flushed with pink at the bases from early to mid spring before mid-to dark green leaves emerge, and not very big – an erect neatly rounded tree to 4m.

We loved our magnolia and it liked our little garden. The soil where we had planted it and its position were to its liking. Each spring it treated us to masses of flowers and that wonderful fragrance that filled the air. And it grew, how it grew. Stretching up and up, year by year, its shadow fell upon and covered our greenhouse for most of the day. Eventually even our little vegetable patch on the other side was denied the sun. Pruning gave temporary respite but magnolia responded with increased vigour and even denser growth. The birds loved it though. Our local, noisy, gregarious, gang of house sparrows often dived in to enjoy the protection it gave. And during the winter groups of long tailed tits, and other birds, found rich pickings as they explored its branches. But the summer shadow was the problem.

Last autumn the decision had to be made. There was no option – our magnolia had to go. A tree surgeon was summoned and one Saturday afternoon, very efficiently, he cut it down and took it away. The garden looked very bare and as dusk fell we asked “What will the birds do now?”

© Steve Rounds
COAL TIT ©Steve Rounds

Early next morning I was tasked with taking the vegetable waste from preparation for Sunday lunch to our compost bin. As I reached it I was aware of movement by my head and turned to look. Sitting on a bird feeder hanging from our remaining tree (a variegated Maple which, creating no shadow problem, had simply been pruned and kept), no more that 50cm from my head, was a Coal Tit (Periparus Ater). We looked at each other eye to eye for a full 30 seconds before if flew off. Beautiful, amazing – and the first Coal Tit I’ve seen in our garden in all of the 25 years we’ve lived here! If the magnolia had been there for it to hide in would I have seen it?

This reminded me of a broadcast I heard some years ago – featuring Dr. Sheila Cassidy (a British Christian doctor who in 1975 was arrested and tortured by agents of Pinochet’s Chilean Government). In 1982 she became Medical Director of the new St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth and it was from there that the broadcast came. Walking with Dr. Cassidy in the hospice gardens the interviewer asked why the dead trees had not been cut down. She answered “It’s in the dead trees, where there are no leaves, that we can see the birds. I notice something similar with people who end their days with us. As life ebbs away the clutter often falls away too and their spirits, often beautiful, are revealed.”

This has made me think:

  1. Never trust the label. Our magnolia was beautiful (and I’ve heard this before) but the height given was not the ‘eventual’ height.
  2. Is there something in my/our life which we treasure without seeing its true cost? Something beautiful casting a shadow that prevents growth elsewhere?
  3. Is there something in my/our life which dazzles us so that we don’t see past it?

Please weigh this.