January 2011

24th January

Spring's in the air, and our woods are alive with the sound of birdsong - our avian chums are getting frisky and starting to pair off! The tits are spreading their tails and dancing about in the branches, while Mr and Mrs Robin have joined forces to chase everyone else away from the feeders. Common Woodpecker's hammering out, 'I've got a strong beak, come get me birds', and we're seeing some rarer visitors too: first a pair of black-caps, then a fleeting call from a pair of goldfinches (who took a quick look in the seed-feeder only to fly off in contempt - 'Come away, hen - not our sort of menu at all').

Yes, Kettlethorpe's definitely the best place I've ever lived for diversity of wildlife. We have at least one pair of foxes - I saw the male trotting down the street in the early hours one morning, so big and fine I thought he was someone's pet dog till he turned sideways and I saw his brush - and quite a few other raptors: sparrowhawks, kestrels, magpies and the tawny owls we hear but never see. So we're among the locals who really appreciate how lucky we are, having such a lovely nature reserve on our doorsteps... but sadly, not everyone feels the same way. Some folk just look on the woods and beck as a place to deal drugs, set fires and dump all kinds of garbage under cover of night - horrible, anti-social and dangerous to wildlife and humans alike, their activities cost the Council a fortune in clean-up operations.

So on Saturday morning, 'Team Doggett' joined our hard-working local Councillor, Monica Graham, a dozen or so other residents, and a crew from Groundwork and Wakefield District Housing, on a community litter-pick. What we found was incredible - as well as the inevitable welter of sweet wrappers, crisp packets, cans, bottles, burger boxes and soiled nappies (Urgh!!), there were BIG things: manky old carpets, television sets and even a buried 3-piece suite! Although my pet hate was the plastic bags of dog-poo, carefully collected by well-meaning owners - but then tossed away to festoon the bushes like ghastly fruit until they finally disintegrate and re-deposit the contents on the ground. If people don't want to take poo-bags home to throw in the bin, I wish they'd just leave their pets' offerings where they drop to biodegrade! As for weird finds, Mick's strangest was a bag of broken X-box and Gameboy type games; mine (among the tiles, bits of plumbing and other debris from someone's bathroom renovations) were probably the three odd shoes, a man's, a boy's and a lady's. We just couldn't help wondering how anyone can lose, or wantonly discard, a single shoe - what happens to the other one?!

Anyhow, on the left you can see us posing in front of the growing pile... then the thing that stopped us was running out of bags. Would you believe it - in less than 2 hours, the team filled all the 60 black bags provided with assorted festering horrors - and if we'd had more bags, there was certainly enough rubbish left to keep us going for the rest of the day.

So well done to the Council and Groundwork for organising this - it was icky work, but strangely fun at the same time, and wonderfully satisfying to do something constructive for our lovely local woods. We're looking forward to the next one - and if you live around Wakefield and fancy getting involved, check out the Groundwork website www.groundwork.org.uk, email on info@groundwork.org.uk, or phone on 01924 307222.

litter pickers

4th January

 

So... the trimmings are back in their boxes, the Christmas tree back in the garden awaiting release from its pot, and life's getting back to normal! I'm relieved, in a way - between all the festivities, Bank Holidays and departure from routine I've hardly known what day of the week it was. And hurrah, the weather is back to normal here, too - cold and fresh, with some pleasant winter sunshine. Far better than the dismal, dank foggy period after the Big Thaw, when it barely seemed to get light all day, everything looked filthy and we were up to our ankles in mud and soggy brown leaf-squish. Not to mention the smell... one day our bedroom stank so badly I thought a mouse had crept in and died behind the skirting board. So I flung wide the windows to let the niff out, and - pooh, more came in! It was the WORLD that smelt so horrid - on account of the number of cabbage fields hereabouts, which after weeks under snow and frost were all going yellow-slimy-rotten, and the stink of their decay trapped in the smother of mist. Pity the poor farmers... the effects of the Arctic blast must be costing them dear.

But the cabbages look more cheerful today - maybe the crops are not entirely lost - and I'm pleased to be getting back to work. My immediate priority is to finish the presentation I'm giving to TBS next week on Queen Margaret of Anjou. When I first started studying the Wars of the Roses, as a dyed-in-the-wool Yorkist I hated her with a passion, and blamed her for Richard of York's death at Wakefield.

But the more I got to 'know' her, the more I came to admire and sympathise with her difficult position. Margaret was an amazing woman - way ahead of her time in many respects, and certainly a far stronger and more charismatic personality than her husband Henry VI; hence the rough ride she's had from history and the vicious, misogynistic character assassinations she's suffered since the 15th century. So now I'm looking forward to telling 'herstory' in a rather more positive light!