Saturday, 29 November 2008

Rambo ...

There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.
Harry Crews



This post has turned out to be a bit of a PITA. It has been composed and ripped apart several times, and was eventually put on hold so that 'Giant' could go up.

The problem is the subject matter. To generalise, it is about survival, but it has nothing to do with 'human survival'. The will to live is the strongest instinct of any living thing, but sometimes it takes a bit of outside help to attain that state of grace. In retrospect, it is still an up-beat tale, despite the hero being a BIRD!

I will try and compress the story into as few words as possible, but you get fair warning at this stage that some of the images will not sit well with the squeamish.

Fast rewind to 3 years ago. Isabel, Maria's friend, offloaded a ball of feathers on to Maria due to her inability to provide the constant care the little chick required. The chick had been kicked out of the nest by one of Isabel's breeding couples. Maria took on the challenge and I dubbed the fluff-ball 'Beaky' on the grounds that that was all she appeared to be; one massive beak that needed constant filling! Later, when she started to show signs of maturity (egg laying and nest building are a classic giveaway) we got her a mate. Fully adult, very nervous and totally incompatible with the female. She rejected him and he sat in a corner fluffed up and looking dejected. Maria refused to accept this standoff, so she grabbed one in each hand, held them beak-to-beak, and gave them a stern talking to. She then put them back in the cage, and I kid you not, within minutes they were billing and cooing like the lovebirds they are supposed to be! The rest is history.


Barney and Beaky. She is collecting nesting material from a basket that once held a Christmas cousin. She harvests. He watches. When she isn't looking, he steals as many bits as he can!
I am seriously considering going into advertising. They will happily pose all day. One brood of many and, yes, I am sure they would prefer to be on the outside looking in!


The last pic is of only four of about 30 chicks that the original pair have produced (we've lost count), and they have another full nest even as I write. The problem is to find homes for the offspring with people we consider 'suitable'. The vetting procedure is stringent and so far, bar one 'escapee', we have been satisfied that they are all being well looked after.

FF to September this year and the couple two floors down from us, recipients of three of our birds (they had the 'escapee'), asked timidly if we could look after their birds as they had managed to snag a late 10 day holiday. The reason for the request was that their pair was now breeding and had already produced one chick from a nest of four eggs. Could we manage? Damn silly question, since all these birds came from this source in the first place!

The day after they'd left, the second chick was born. Three days later Maria observed weird behaviour by the adults. The female appeared to be spending too much time off the nest and the male was making no attempt to feed her or the chicks. Maria checked, and to her horror this is what she found.

Both birds have been pecked, but the little one in the foreground looks a goner! That's a serious wound on his head. Not much hope for this little one. These pics are after they were cleaned up. It doesn't look possible that the hole in his head will heal.


Maria donned her nurse's uniform (always like it when she puts on her nurse's outfit) and set to work cleaning up the mess. 'Água Oxigenada' was applied liberally and flaps of skin were gently manoeuvred back into place. Two-hourly feeds from a syringe were started and by the time the couple from downstairs came back 7 days later, they were able to take home two relatively healthy babies. Feathers had started sprouting to disguise the wounds, and apart from having to be hand fed for several more weeks, they were as 'normal' as any hatchlings.

Why did the mother attack the chicks? Dunno! Maybe she is not ready to be a parent as yet.

Sadly, the story didn't end there. About ten days later the woman from downstairs, totally distressed, phoned Maria to tell her that the little chick had suffered a setback and now had a twisted neck. We invited her up so that we could have a look at it. Sure enough, the poor little sod couldn't hold his head up and was carrying it, bent, beak down, at a 90 degree angle to the norm. Decision time. Looked like it would have to be the chloroform bottle as this wasn't something you could rectify with the magical 'Água Oxigenada'. Maria asked her to leave it with us, reassuring her that we would be as kind as possible when the time came to put this wee one out of its misery.

After the woman had left, Maria offered the chick a bit of food from a syringe. He gulped it down and then took aboard a copious amount of water before lowering his beak to the floor and promptly going to sleep. A quick trawl of the internet threw up the information that 'love-birds' and 'budgies' sometimes suffered from this disability, and that they were referred to as 'Stargazers'. They could apparently live fairly normal lives; walking, climbing and flying, compensating all the while for the disability. It was also suggested that this condition could be caused by an inner-ear infection and that it was treatable. Voilà! The chloroform bottle was returned to the top shelf.

Off to the vet the next day. She specialises in avians. Yes, she had seen this before, and yes, it was often treated successfully. No promises, but she prescribed a course of antibiotics to clear up the ear infection if that was what the problem was. Two days later the little blighter was holding his head up straighter. Not that we believed our eyes, you understand! We felt more that it was wishful thinking on our part.

We didn't take any pictures of this period of his life because we felt it was inappropriate to photograph a bird that was about to be put to sleep. The earlier pics were fine because we needed photographic evidence to show the owners, especially if things had gone bad. This time, we knew instinctively that he had reached the end of his travels, whatever the outcome!

I've bestowed on him the title of 'Rambo', based purely on his apparent ability to overcome all the odds. The difference is that this little guy is for real. He continues to improve by the day. He still flies like a brick, but he is getting stronger and more adept as time moves on. He still begs to be hand-fed if he thinks he can get away with it, but he has begun to discover the bins of food laid out for him, and we often find his crop is stuffed full without any help from us. The one ritual he continues to observe is to stridently demand to be let out of his cage when he hears movement in the house.

Here he is nearly three months later ...


Who would have thought he had a hole in his head, followed by a twisted neck, only two and a half months ago!


This little fella is here to stay. He is slowly beginning to bond with the adult birds and appears to tease them now that he knows he can fly out of danger when there is threat of a winged attack. He doesn't have an inbuilt fear mechanism, certainly not with humans or dogs!

Don't believe me? Take a look ...



If you've stayed with me this long I am sure you'll agree that it was a tale worth telling.

Even if birds aren't your bag ...


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Thursday, 27 November 2008

Giant ...

O! it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant.
William Shakespeare



Truly a giant specimen of a man, Geoff Capes
Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. He retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps.

has proved over the years that he is also a sensitive, kind and gentle human being. If you don't believe my hype, Google him and you will find out everything there is to know about this remarkable Lincolnshire son.

The reason he features in this blog post is because, as I was putting together something about the character that appears in the next post, I was once again distracted by a memory that has some relevance.

If you don't know who this man is, and if you haven't Googled him yet, here is a potted bio:

  • Geoff Capes is the most capped British male athlete of all time. Even though he retired from UK athletics in 1980, with 67 international caps - and returning 35 wins.
  • Amazingly, he held the British and Commonwealth 'shot-put' record of 71ft 3½in, set at Cwmbran in 1980, which stood for 23 years.
  • During his athletic career, which began in 1967, he won 17 National titles, was twice Commonwealth Champion, won two Gold, two Silver and one Bronze medals at European Championships, was three times European Champion, competed in three Olympic Games and was awarded The Queen's Jubilee medal in 1977, for services to the community.
  • Geoff turned professional in 1980 to take part in strong man competitions and Highland games. He was twice the World's Strongest man and took the titles of Europe's Strongest man and Britain's Strongest Man three times each. He was World Highland Games Champion on six occasions.
  • What surprises most people is that a man of Geoff Capes' physical stature should be gentle enough to keep, breed and exhibit Budgerigars!

Geoff and 3 of his 'Budgies'.

The fact that Maria and I have 'accidentally' involved ourselves with the keeping and rearing of tiny birds is enough of a loose link for me to mention Big Geoff. But, of course, there is more to the story. 1977, the year Elvis died (16th August for those with short memories), was the year I fleetingly met Geoff Capes. Two strangers passing, and I suppose it didn't register on his consciousness for a second. But it did on mine.

I was doing a stint of instructional duties (teaching the trade) at RAF Cosford, which at that time housed the only decent-sized indoor athletics track in the UK. Cosford had the hangar space, it was a training establishment without anything 'militarily sensitive' to be concerned about, and it was located centrally in the Midlands, close to Wolverhampton and Birmingham and the major motorways. The government were approached by the UK Athletics Board with a request to house the indoor track, and the deal was done.

And so, at the start of every athletics season, a roster was drawn up for the permanent staff and trainees to "man the gates" on the days for which the athletics 'meets' were scheduled. Invariably weekends and public holidays! Joe-Public has never fully appreciated the 'free' services provided by the Armed Forces. Operation Burberry later that year in which I and hundreds of other servicemen were forced to man Green Goddess fire engines whilst the striking firemen took our part-time jobs (mine at the Cadbury factory in Uxbridge) was a classic case in point. Winter of discontent? You bet your sweet bippy! But I digress. That will have to wait for another day.

I was designated 'Guard Commander' (doesn't that sound grand?) for that particular bright but cold late winter day. You will recall that this was the start of heightened IRA activity and all who entered our hallowed gates needed to be searched. My crew consisted of 12 men, working the search tables in shifts of four. No, there were no women. These were the days when women were a lot more enlightened, and the subject of 'equality' was never mentioned. In any event, why would they want men to gain equality? All who entered were greeted with a cheery 'Good Morning' and pleasantly asked to put their bags on the tables and empty them so that we could check the contents. It was a rule that you didn't put your own hands into the bag in case you managed to trigger something that was concealed inside. Everything was running smoothly and there were no complaints or grumbles from the public, so I wandered out of the gates and turned right towards the raised Cosford railway station a couple of hundred metres away. Life was good and I was wondering why I had had reservations about this 'duty': I mean, if you're a full-blooded heterosexual male, how often do you get the chance to look soulfully into Donna Murray's Dubbed the 'golden girl' by the British media, the blonde-haired Donna Murray (later Hartley) established herself as a significant force in British athletics at both the 200m and 400m during the latter half of the 1970s.

limpid eyes and lose it?

Suddenly, my sunshine was stolen! Gone. Just like that! Looking up, all I could see was this mountainous Yeti-like creature blocking my sun and smiling shyly from behind a full set. Oops, best get out of his way; he certainly wasn't going to get out of mine! I nodded and he nodded back and moved towards the gate. My immediate thought was to get there before him and warn off the loudmouth Brummie who was at the first check-in table - just in case!

I didn't quite make it, and sure as hell the big fella went for table one.

"Good Morning, sir," said my Brummie at table one, "can you please put your bag on the table and empty the contents?"

With a disarming smile Geoff muttered, "Not bloody likely, son. You want it, you take it." proffering his kit bag to the hesitant young trainee, held at shoulder level by his massive outstretched right arm.

This 'ask-and-decline' exchange took place about three times. The boy asked, big Geoff declined.

The boy was smart. He realised he ought not to push his luck. And certainly not with a man-mountain. He held out his hand and took the bag. That's when the penny dropped. Actually the 'shot-put' dropped. Not one, not two, but THREE 'puts' neatly packed in the oversize kit bag crashed to the trestle table causing it to collapse with an almighty, splintering crack.

You know how you complain when an airline sets your baggage limit to an unreasonable 20 kilos? And then when you're hauling the case up and down stairs and escalators of the airport concourses you are grateful for the little 'wheelie-thingies'?

Think about picking up that case with one arm and holding it straight out at shoulder level and you can understand what strength is required to do that with a kit bag weighing nearly 22 kilos.

And then try to picture a young stripling trying to emulate the feat.

Yeah, sure!

There was a deathly silence, then a roar of laughter from Mr Capes, followed by suppressed mirthful giggles from the rest of the people gathered around our hapless hero.

"Well done, son. I'll give you full marks for tenacity." said our Geoff, scooping up his bag from the floor and shuffling away in the direction of the hangar.

Our Brummie hero ducked into the guardroom (without permission from his 'Guard Commander') for a much needed cup of coffee. I wasn't about to stop him.

In any case there were only 3 tables left and I certainly needed something strong to 'brace' myself, so I followed ...

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Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Break ...

I didn't have to think up so much as a comma or a semicolon; weary, I would beg for a break, an intermission, time enough, let's say, to go to the toilet or take a breath of fresh air on the balcony.
Henry Miller



Needed a break.

Took a break.

Many other bloggers on this circuit have also taken a break. Shrinky took a break, but she is back with a bang. And what a BANG! Debs Lehner, still in the process of moving from France back to the YUK, is posting when she can, but you can't help feeling sympathetic for her frantic scurrying around. Others, too, have taken a short break, but that man David McMahon just keeps rolling on. Can't understand where he gets his energy and enthusiasm, but I think we are all thankful and delighted that he is there. Keep it up, fella!

Real-life incidents forced me to reassess the allocation of my time. My sister and her daughter (my niece) visited from Oz. I hadn't seen Pam for 46 years and I'd never met April until now. Suffice it to say that it was an emotional reunion. My eldest daughter and her husband dropped in from the UK to make their acquaintance, too. Full house! Highlight of my sister's trip was when we took her to Fatima. If you are Catholic, you will understand; if you aren't, you won't much care!

Immediately after their collective departure, April back to Perth, Pam onwards to Kolkata (Calcutta), both via Singapore, Maria's son, d-i-l and grandson arrived for a few days from the Algarve to celebrate her birthday. More family reunions!

All this frenetic activity accompanied by a birdie-crisis that I shall post about later. It is a story that HAS to be told. And I have the pictures, too!

So, until I can park my butt in front of the computer for an extended period without too many distractions, this post will have to suffice.

Catch you all later ...

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