Tag Archives: river

Birds doing something unexpected

 

I often stop at the spot where George saw the Kingfisher; it’s where the river turns left, away from the Causeway in Canterbury towards Kingsmead. I have seen egrets and herons along there, but today there was a pair of strange looking — ducks? coots? No, neither of those, but these birds were in the water, or rather the shallows, well away from the road. It took a moment to realise they were wood pigeons, cooling off in the heat.

Maybe they got a taste for cold water when flying for Noah in the ark? Alfie the collie used to stand or lie in the river or a puddle to cool down, but he didn’t have to worry about feathers getting waterlogged. These pigeons had found just the spot where the clean water was flowing over a stony bed, and just the right depth. Alfie, however, was more than happy to lie in mud and bring it indoors afterwards.

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Another unexpected bird.

Unexpected? Always unexpected: a flash of blue along the river by the Glebe and you only realise when he’s gone – that was the kingfisher!

That was yesterday; twenty years ago I was walking George home from school when we stopped to watch the fish in the shallows of the river. The kingfisher dived right at his feet, a metre and a half down to the water and emerged, fish in beak, before realising he had an audience, and made himself scarce.

George instantly became a bird watcher.

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This is the River Tame, brown with peat, passing through Uppermill, Saddleworth, last week. What looks like a weir is a set of stepping stones. I thought such things were imaginary when I was little, as they tended to appear in the sort of story books our teachers thought we should like.

Now there’s a set I can walk across any time I visit my mother.

Well, not every time, as you can see. But there is a bridge very near by, so no great hardship involved.

And yet the river has been known to rise much higher than this, when the upstream flood plain is saturated, and the rain keeps on falling. The bridge then cannot accommodate all the water that pours down; it tries to find other ways through. People get the sandbags out.

It rains a lot in Saddleworth!

So thank heaven the powers that be seem finally to have decided against covering the flood plain with concrete and buildings for a new school!

 

Along the Thames

thames-richmond-640x360

It was Patrick’s funeral that brought me to Teddington, and I had time on my hands between the end of the gathering  and meeting George for dinner.  Time enough for a walk down the Thames to Richmond.

Here the river path is on the right bank, but there was a footbridge at the end of Ferry Road to see me across. A good hour’s walk down to the railway with no bridges between, though I was tempted to take the ferry across to Twickenham about halfway along. Just for the fun of a ferry, you understand, not to avoid the walk!

It was good to see so many people and dogs enjoying the fine weather, walking and cycling; there were joggers as well, but do they enjoy the scenery or just the sense of achievement when they have shorn a half-second from their pb for each kilometre, despite the presence of happy wanderers along their course? Some children were enjoying the last days of summer, but there were teenagers in town already in uniform –

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy.

William Wordsworth: Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood

London’s not-quite countryside must remain as a blessing to local people; it is too much on the flood plain to be built upon or to go under the plough. Much of the path was shaded by mature trees and scrub. There would be no chance of a horse-drawn barge making its way along here today, as came to Mr Toad’s rescue in the  Wind in the Willows, but motor boats and kayaks were making full use of the river.

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Close to Richmond town lies a meadow, still used to graze cattle, including a few Belted Galloways and their crossbred offspring. If I had a country estate it would be Belted Galloways that would add their grace to the prospects. As well as being good looking, they also seem to tolerate people walking by.

But let’s hope and pray that  those I passed that day will not resist the ‘Intimations of immortality’ that come their way, day by day, and that school does not feel too much of a prison house, and that they are enlightened there.

MB

My Last School Trip 4 – Darren in Hot Water

Doss in the Mill

The Cossington Outdoor Centre is in an old watermill, two miles from Llanfair. A skinflint farmer ripped out the wheels and stones in 1929 to use it as a barn. Gradually it crumbled to ruin till twenty years ago, when Jack Wickenden (of Wickenden’s Wicked Lemonade, our local millionaire) had it restored “for the benefit of the young folk of Cossington in perpetuity”. Where bullocks and sheep once sheltered from cold Welsh rain, there are dormitories and showers, heated these days, thank God. The old mill house holds the staff quarters and office; kitchens, classrooms, games rooms and stores are in the outbuildings on three sides of a courtyard. Even the newer buildings are clad in red sandstone, under a black slate roof, all to fit in with the national park. Beautiful. Quiet, till we got there.

The centre has its own staff, led by Bob Kipling, a cheery outdoor type, widely believed to have served in the SAS, a reputation he says nothing to dispel. I remember his last two years in school – they were my first two there. We had enough on each other for me not to let on that he’d only been a part-time sergeant in the West Kent Territorials. His assistants were local youngsters Ellis and Nerys, who could handle a rope on a cliff or a boat on a river, and eat any of our lot for breakfast. Bob and his wife Maggie live on the job, Nerys and Ellis come in daily.

I had allowed myself to be persuaded to drive one of the centre’s minibuses. You may feel this was against my principles, but I’d left my car behind – I hope they aren’t painting that green too – and thought I might need an escape from the Cockles or the students occasionally.

There was a welcoming committee in the courtyard when we arrived at the Centre. They had heard us at the top of the drive half a mile off. Bob soon had the boys lined up with their bags at their feet, while the girls stood in a bunch at the front of the bus, waiting for a word from Maggie and Mrs Cockle. I had the camera rolling.

 

Great Elms School Trip to Wales

Passage cut from Scene 6

Unloading the bus at the centre

Edited by Paul Thompson and Emily Miles

Camera: William Turnstone

 

Scene: main courtyard at Wickenden Mill. Present: GES staff and students, Wickenden Mill staff.

Enter Shep, a collie, sniffing the air.

Stacey bends down to pet him.

Shep ignores her, wanders over to the boys, tail held high, sniffs at Darren’s bag. Darren’s bag wriggles, nearly topples over, whimpers.

Mr Kipling, unable to pull his dog away: What’s in the bag, what’s-your-name?

Darren: Darren, Sir, Darren Hogben. Clothes, Sir. Boots, Sir. Towel, toothpaste, stuff like that… Er, Everything on the list, Sir.

Mr Kipling: Does ANYTHING on the list make a noise like that, Darren Hogben?

Darren: I don’t know, Sir. They are new boots, Sir. Mum said they might be squeaky, Sir.

Mr Kipling: Open the bag.

Darren opens the bag, to reveal the dog he had been seen with by the cliff.

Mr Kipling: I thought so. Well, Sir, your Mum can soon find out if your boots are squeaky, Sir, because you, Sir, are going straight back home in that bus. I will NOT have unauthorised, untrained, mongrel curs chasing round the place.

Darren: But, Sir!

Mr Kipling: If me no buts boy, there are no buts!

Stacey: It’s Scruffy, come here, boy!

Coach Driver: He’s not coming back on my coach. I was paid to bring you people here; not to take you back again. My company has done its risk assessments. I don’t carry no unaccompanied dogs, and I don’t carry no unaccompanied minors. As far as I’m concerned, he stays here till I comes to take you home at the end of the week. Meanwhile, I want to be back across the bridge before my break, so if some kind person will come along to open the gates, I’ll be seeing you on Friday.

Emily: I’ll go! Climbs into coach and leaves to open field gates for driver.

Mr Kipling: Right then, Darren Hogben, let me get this mob sorted, then it’s straight into Abergavenny and I’ll put you on the train home. Now, let that creature have half an hour on the lead while I make some arrangements. We should be able to have you back in Cossington for eleven o’clock tonight.

Darren: Did you say have Scruffy on the lead?

Mr Kipling: On the lead!

Darren: He doesn’t need no lead. He’s well trained. Scruffy! Sit! Lie down!

Scruffy: lies down.

Shep: goes to Scruffy, who rolls over while Shep licks him all over.

Mr Kipling: Shep, come here!

Shep: ignores him.

Mr Kipling: Shep! Heel! Come on boy. Shep! Here!

Shep:ignores him.

Mr Kipling: Stop them, can’t you?

Darren: I wouldn’t do that. It’s just Scruffy telling Shep he knows who’s boss, and Shep making friends. That’s dogs, Sir. It’s what happened with Scruffy and my Nan’s old dog. If you stop them now we could have them fighting all week.

Stacey: Your Nan! Oh help! Runs to Gemma and whispers excitedly.


Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

HI MUM. ARRVD OK. QIK. GET OLD MRS HOGBEN 2 CUM 2 T. NOW. V IMPRTNT. NOW. THIS MIN. LUV U. STACEY. NOW. X.

Second Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

HI JASON. B NICE 2 OLD MRS HOGBEN. KEEP HER TALKIN. PULL HER FONE WIRE OUT WEN U TAKE HER HOME. JUS DO IT OR ELSE. 4 ME + DAZ. STACE. LOOK AFTER RATS.

Text Message sent by Mrs Angela Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

STACEY. R U IN TROUBLE? IS DARREN IN TROUBLE? WOT R U UP 2?

Third Text Message sent by Stacey Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

DONT ASK QS MUM. JUST GET HER ROUND. NOW & KEEP HER. FEED HER, MEGA IMPORTNT. LUV U. S

Second Text Message sent by Mrs Angela Oxenden,

Saturday afternoon

STACEY. I DONT TRUST U. BUT NO HARM IN GIVIN HER A CUPPA. U SURE U NOT IN TROUBLE?


Darren on the Rocks.

Darren was in a mess and I was his ex-form tutor, in loco parentis.  I had to do something, but just what could I do? The first thing was to talk to the boy himself.

“Come on, Darren, let’s give Scruffy a run for his money. If you don’t mind a field full of Herefords, I’ll show you the way to the river. I hear these waters rolling from their mountain springs with a sweet inland murmur.”

We kept Scruffy on the lead across the centre grounds but as Darren said, he was well trained and trotted at heel once he was released, ignoring the big red-and-white cows and the bull in the midst of them. I had to congratulate Darren on Scruffy’s behaviour.

“Thanks, Sir, it’s been hard work, but he’s really obedient now. And very intelligent. I couldn’t leave him behind.”

“Wouldn’t your Mum look after him?”

“She’s gone on holiday with Aunty May, to Ibiza. They should be landing there at six o’clock.”

“So she let you bring Scruffy?”

“Not exactly. I was meant to take him round to Nan’s this morning. But she’s terrible; she feeds him sweets. He’ll put on weight and I’ll have to stop him begging all over again. So I gave him half one of Nan’s sleeping pills and put him in my bag.”

“Wasn’t that a bit dangerous? What if you’d overdosed him?”

“Well, Nan’s only little, so I thought a half would be OK. He looks OK now, doesn’t he, Sir?”

I had to admit he did. Scruffy had a great time chasing sticks in and out of the river, while I was glad to see the sand martins on the far bank and a buzzard circling high above us. Twenty minutes of breathing space, before we had to go back and face the music.

Another question I wanted cleared up before that, “What happened to Dean’s rat? He hasn’t brought that has he? Not after I specifically told him not to?”

“No. She’s gone off to get pregnant at Stacey’s. Her brother Jason lost his female and Dean said he could have half the babies if he had her for the week.”

“That should make life a bit easier, if no-one’s actually disobeyed orders. Still, if we were to send you home … I don’t think your Nan has a spare room in her flat, has she?’

“Er …”

“She hasn’t, has she?”

“No, not if you say so, Sir.”

”Whatever you say, Darren. At least there’s a bed for you here, and we are in loco parentis.”

“Yes, Sir, if you say so, Sir.”

“Have you been here before then, Sir?” asked Darren on the way back to the centre.

“Years ago, when it first opened. I cannot paint what then I was. Mr Kipling was in his fifth year at school. I was a new teacher. Your mother … well, a lot has changed since then. Reliable hot water in the showers for a start, and no doubt the cooking’s improved; this path down to the river and all the wheelchair access. We couldn’t have brought Ollie in those days. I expect Bob Kipling’s a bit more safety conscious as well.”

“Yes Sir. What do you mean Sir, more safety conscious?”

“Hmm, nothing, Darren. Let’s concentrate on the here and now. You’re in enough hot water even without taking an early shower. I take it you do want to stay?”

“Yes, Sir. But will he let me? I mean, even if he does, he’ll be on at me all the time won’t he?”

“I can pretty well promise you that he won’t. Be on at you I mean. Though of ample power to chasten and subdue he’ll have other things to worry about. And I can’t see you being chastened or subdued for too long. If Scruffy doesn’t disgrace himself, we should manage it. Now, here we are at the gate. Get him back on the lead.”