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Long Tailed Tits and narrow waisted trousers

The problem with being of slim build is that there is nowhere to hide an ever expanding waistline. I’m currently shaped like one of those fishing floats that are long and thin with a large bulge in the middle. It took a wedding in the autumn to force me to pull my head out of the sand when I realised that none of my trousers that were remotely suitable for such an occasion could actually be buttoned around my waist. Two months on and I am finally getting round to doing something about it.

Now that I am able to walk a reasonable distance again without any significant pain there is no excuse so it was out again this morning for my regular two mile march around the streets and into the countryside as the sun struggled to get out of bed. The route I took today is about fifty percent main road, thirty percent housing estate and twenty percent country lane. It’s fine for getting a little bit of exercise but not brilliant for scenery or bird watching so I don’t usually bother to take a camera or binoculars. It’s more a case of head down and quick march while I mentally run through my wardrobe of narrow waisted trousers and try to summon up the purpose to walk faster and harder. This morning was different though and an abject lesson in stopping to smell the metaphorical roses and regret leaving the binoculars at home.

For a start it was cold but blissfully calm after several days of windy weather and the sky was magically lit by a reluctant winter sun. We may have turned the seasonal corner now that we have passed the solstice but the sun is like a sulky teenager at this time of year. It unenthusiastically peers over the horizon and attempts to perform its daily duties whilst barely leaving its bed. It doesn’t get up any earlier either for the next few weeks; it just goes to bed a bit later but those extra few minutes of daylight are already filling me with anticipation of what is round the corner. There were other early signs of a change too; a Robin and a Dunnock were singing enthusiastically as if nobody had mentioned to them that spring is still a good few months away.

What a cutie. The Long Tailed Tit. (Photo by Craig Smith)

Along the short stretch of country lane a Long Tailed Tit caught my eye as it flew into the bushes next to me and as I looked around for more (they usually come in small flocks) my eye was caught by the frenetic and constant movement of a pair of Gold Crests.

The Gold Crest. (Photo by Tairi and uve Pixdaus.com)

These are stunning little birds with their brilliant black and yellow head stripe and they are a joy to watch as they acrobatically search for small grubs and eggs in the nooks and crannies of trees and shrubs. They are constantly on the move prompting the question of whether they might not need quite so much food if they ever sat still for a minute or two. They are actually quite common, similar in winter numbers to Robins but being Britain’s smallest bird and rarely appearing out in the open, lots of people have never seen one. The final birdy treat was provided by a Blue Tit that flew past my face so close that I actually heard its wing beats.

The last stretch of the walk is through a housing estate and back to the main road. It didn’t mean there was nothing to see though. Starlings, Blackbirds, Gulls and a flock of Gold Finches all added colour and sound to the otherwise dull scenery while the sky continued to flaunt its silvery winter splendour.

Winter sky and a chance to find out where the birds nest.

Oh and I nearly forgot; I saw sixty seven pigeons as well.

As I walked the final stretch to home my thoughts turned back to those frantically busy Gold Crests and I realised where I might be going wrong. I’ve never seen an overweight Gold Crest you see and come to think of it; I’ve never seen one slumped in a chair drinking beer either. I’m not planning to start doing acrobatics in the bushes but maybe less beer and more walking might go some way to alleviating the problem of a wardrobe full of trousers that don’t fit me.

Oh dear, have we made a terrible and expensive mistake?

For the first time in about twenty eight years I don’t own a car. As far as I can recall I haven’t been in this status since a couple of days after I passed my driving test and bought by my first motor, a clapped out Hillman Avenger.

Boy racer days

Back in my boy racer days

That was the car that I actually learned to drive in, not the one the driving instructor picked me up in twice a week. I spent about six months throwing it all over the road, sliding around corners and trying my best to roll it until I eventually got overconfident and had to be towed out of a farmer’s field by a tractor. That was embarrassing. Since then I have been a mostly sensible/boring driver and have only really been interested in cars as a convenient means of getting from A to B. I’ve always been happy to use buses and trains or ride a bike when it was practical and never really considered myself to be a keen motorist. So I was a bit surprised by how it felt to be sans car.

Sorry to disappoint anybody but I haven’t suddenly become evangelically green by giving up driving by the way, it’s just that we are getting a new car which won’t be available for two to three weeks and today I sold the old one. I optimistically put it up for sale as soon as we decided on the change and in just the same way that buses turn up in threes when you aren’t actually waiting for one, it sold almost immediately.

So we have no car. More than three quarters of households in the UK own a car and for a brief spell we won’t be one of them. We could hire one of course but where would be the fun in  that? No, for now, at least, we will experiment with being a bit weird.

I am writing this just a few hours after letting the old car go and I am already overwhelmed by the evidence of how ingrained the automobile has become for the majority of people, us included. (I know there are exceptions out there, some of who may well be reading this. I apologise, you are exonerated.) As soon as we explain our situation to people their reaction gives the game away. You see we have been inundated with offers of lifts from friends, neighbours and work colleagues. It’s very nice of people to be so kind but what shocks me is the way in which people automatically assume that if you don’t have a car of your own then obviously you will need to fall back on the cars of other people. So far, on revealing that we won’t have a car for a few weeks not one person has responded with; “well that isn’t really a problem is it? After all you have legs and bikes and you live on a really good regular bus route”. That just isn’t what we hear. No it is just assumed that you simply MUST have the use of a car one way or another. I’m looking forward to finding out first hand if they are correct or not.

Yesterday was our first full day of being carless and ironically we needed to go to the car dealership to sign the paperwork for the new car. We also had some shopping to do so we turned the house upside down locating our touring panniers, lights, inner tubes and bike locks and spent about half an hour re-familiarising ourselves with what a lot of fuss it can be to prepare for riding bikes in the winter; which is where the car comes in I suppose. It’s just so easy by comparison to jump in the car and travel in complete ignorance of temperature, precipitation, gradient or security. It doesn’t even require any special clothing and the lights and locks are all conveniently built in rather than being lost at the back of a drawer in the shed. It’s warm, comfortable and relatively safe and you don’t need padded shorts to drive it.

But! And it’s a big but; when we got back from our bicycle based utility trip we felt great. In fact we were buzzing. We achieved exactly what we would have done in the car but we also got a bit of exercise and a natural endorphin based high thrown in for free. We also saved money in the obvious way of not using any diesel but also less obviously by opting not to put a fourth bottle of wine in the trolley by looking on it as dead weight rather than unbeatable value.

Day two:

We often go for two or three mile walks around our village just for the sake of a bit of exercise. This morning however, with the rain falling steadily and the weather station telling us it was five degrees outside, the prospect of another round of tea and toast was much more appealing. Under normal circumstances we probably would have forgone the walk altogether and driven down to the village to the butchers. But these are no longer normal circumstances and so we donned waterproofs and walked to the shops in the rain. As it turned out the rain wasn’t that bad, it wasn’t really cold once you got moving and guess what? When we got back we felt great. Anybody else see a pattern emerging here?

Choices, choices

Choices, choices

Maybe the novelty will wear off. Maybe it won’t. It’s early days but it’s going to be an interesting experiment and won’t it be ironic if, after three weeks, we decide that actually, we can manage without our new car after all. Oh dear, have we made a terrible and expensive mistake?