Thursday, July 05, 2007


Those of a vintage will easily be able to sing the title of this piece in the style of the childrens ITV answer to Blue Peter, those not of a vintage will be nonplussed, I'm not going to explain though.

To finish the week of reminiscing we must return once more back to the 1960's, back to a more innocent time, a time when the sweet innocent ten year old me wandered the country lanes and woods of these parts with a gang of friends - looking for birds eggs.

Yes friends we collected birds eggs when we were young, its bad, I know that now, I am old and wise now and I see the error of our ways, but when we were young we gave not one tiny fook about the law or the morals of collecting birds eggs - it was something to do.

In its favour it did give us a great insight into country life and wildlife and birdlife in particular in a way that no school biology lesson could have done and I learned stuff about wild birds that remains in the library of nonsense that is my brain to this day, for instance...

...ok there is no for instance, but I'm sure that something will surface soon.

Stuart Ackroyd was a nut.

It was useful to have a nut in your gang though because if there was anything slightly dangerous or slightly dirty or dodgy to do then you simply dared the nut to do it and sat down to watch the show.

We'd been out walking the fields one spring saturday afternoon when we came across the orchard for the High Farm, the High Farm is now a pub in the middle of a godawful concrete council estate, its the second most awful-est pub in this area and it wouldn't have the pleasure of my custom if it was the only pub standing after a nuclear cat-as-tra-sophe, its a shit pub.

But we've gone so far back through time that when I was ten years old it wasn't a pub, it was still a farm, and it had an orchard in the front of it and in the orchard was a big hawthorn-type tree and in the big hawthorn-type tree, right at the top of the big hawthorn-type tree we spotted a birds nest, and as we watched it we saw a magpie sat on it.

Birds only sit on nests for one reason, they have eggs in there, and we didn't have a magpie's egg in any of our collections - here was todays task.

We snuck up on the orchard behind the dry stone walls that lined the fields, snuck up on it because the orchard was only fifty yards from the farmhouse back door and we crouched down behind a wall that shielded us from the farm, right underneath the big hawthorn-type tree.

There were three of us that day, me Stuart Ackroyd and his younger brother Steven who if truth was known had even less brain power than his brother, if you added the Ackroyds IQ's together then my left foot would have won the contest.

Problem one was the proximity of the big hawthorn-type tree to the farm, we'd need to keep an eye open for the farmer and keep the noise down.

Problem two was the big hawthorn-type tree itself, it was big and the bastard magpie had built its nest right at the top and the bastard hawthorn-type tree was very, very, very prick-ely, lethal in fact.

There was no way that I was going up the tree, so I dared Stuart Ackroyd to do it, he accepted without question as I knew he would.

And then he came up with an ingenious answer to problem number three - how to get the eggs down from the top of the tree.

He instructed his younger brother Steven to take off his blue quilted parka and then for the pair of us to hold it out like a firemans blanket so that when he reached the nest he'd be able to throw the eggs down from the top of the tree for us to catch - he was confident that the quilted inside of the parka would protect the eggs in their fall and everything would be just hunky-dory. I thought it was the stupidest idea I'd ever heard but it wasn't my parka and it wasn't me up the tree so I said nothing.

We crouched behind the wall for a while, heads poking above it observing for farmers and other hazards, when none were forthcoming Stuart Ackroyd broke cover from the wall and started the long climb to the top of the prick-ely spikey hawthorn-type tree, interspersed with lots of "ow's" and "bugger" and "argh me finger" as he got spiked again and again and again, so much so that Stupid Steven and myself were splattered with his blood by the time that he reached a point just below the nest where he could stretch his hand up into it and declare that there was indeed eggs in there, three of them.

Stupid Steven and I stood up and took up our stance with his parka stretched taut between us and with little warning the first magpie's egg came hurtling out of the tree towards us.

We actually caught it in the parka and it actually didn't break, what a marvellous idea this was and we grinned at each other not daring to speak in case the farmer came out with a shotgun and give us an arse full of pellets like they did in all the best comics.

The second egg dropped perfectly into the parka, excatly where the first egg had fallen.

Unfortunately we hadn't yet removed the first egg from the parka and they both smashed to pieces which sort of spoiled our elation and sort of spoiled Stupid Steven's parka lining.

"Did you catch it ?" a barely whispered voice came from the top of the tree
"Yes" we replied, sort of not-a-lie-really
"Good, heres the last one" he croaked and indeed here it came falling from the top of the big hawthorn-type tree at a tremendous rate of knots.

We caught it in the parka, its missed the mess in the middle and landed safely at the end that Stupid Steven was clinging hold of, we looked up at each other and grinned, we'd saved one, in all fairness Stuart Ackroyd should get it for risking life and limb up the prick-ely tree but already I was plotting a way to win it off him and not really watching his egg as Stupid Steven lowered his end of the parka to reach for it, only to see it slip down one of the sleeves and break on a rock on the floor.

"oh bugger" he said.

His older brother 20 feet up the prick-ely tree heard him and leaned forward to see what the problem was, and it was while leaning forward out of the tree, face covered in scratches and blood, that we heard the branch that he was stood on crack and then fall to the ground, bringing him with it.

If we'd still been holding the parka out like a fire blanket then he would have fallen right into it and I'd love to finish the story by saying that that's what happened, but thats not what happened - what happened is that he fell out of the tree, bounced off his arse on top of the wall and landed at our feet with an "oof" and then a barely whispered "I think I've broke my collar bone again" as indeed he had.

He lay on the floor for a while holding his shoulder in that oh-so-familiar "I've broken my collar bone again" mode until he remembered the magpies egg and asked for his, we couldn't bring ourselves to tell him and so instead just pointed to the three broken shells and three pools of egg yolk on the grass next to his head.

He didn't speak to us for months.

I do hope that Bill Oddie doesn't read this.

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