Monday, December 23

A Christmas Carolina Duck, part the five

The sound that he heard, it was the Church bells of Much Ticking ringing, Scrooge was sure of it.  Church bells, and, and a Blackbird, yes, a dear sweet Blackbird, and wait, yes, a Wren, and the chomp chomp of an Ivory Seagull feeding upon the frozen corpse of the little match girl in the Square. The CocKs and their daily ritual of pre-dawn lime-light flashes had not scared it off yet, so the day was still starting, but which day was it(?).

Then the unmistakable sound of a once-jolly reveler throwing up the remnants of last night's ale with such gusto as to match the tones of a ditch-water torrent over-topping a jammed sluice discharge(?) It could only be one person. Scrooge drew back the curtains of his four-post bed and ran to the window.

"Mrs. Miggins(!) Why, Mrs. Miggins, is that you?" Scrooge cried down and received a warming reply of throaty regurgitation. He peered through the half-light to the roadside, where, in finest stilettos, LBD/apron combo, lashings of body glitter and a rather fetching scopac, Mrs. M. was squatting.

"Mrs. Miggins, pray tell me, what morning is this?"

"Well, Mr. Scrooge, that depends on 'ow long I have been asleep surveying this 'ere gutter for snipe I s'pose."

"No worries, no worries(!) I can now tell by my Weblogge screen it is indeed Christmas Morning, so neither you or I have missed it(!) Now, please, come in Mrs. Miggins, come in(!) I have business that concerns you."

Mrs. M entered, still on all fours, and Scrooge helped her to a seat. "Mrs. Miggins, I must ask, is this year the same as usual for your Tea & Sandwich Shoppe for Elderly and Befuddled Gentlemen? By that I mean do you still have several hundred unsold copies of your 'Annual Tea Shoppe steep records Reporte'? If so, then I will buy every single copy from you, providing you can have them here within the hour. In fact, have them here within the half-hour and there will be an extra shilling for your troubles. I intend that they will be given as presents to the poor a'birderers of this Parish." No time was wasted and, true to his word, Scrooge then went about the village showering holiday tidings and gifts on all the a'birdering muppets like some most able Caine.

No a'birder had ever kept Christmas as well as Mr. Scrooge did that day. I quote most truthfully the words that young Chas Dickens later penned about Mr. Scrooge;-

"Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him."

He certainly showed it by being, for the first time in all memory, 'offline' to all Usury enquiries for the rest of that December 25th (it was later revealed he instead partied with his family where, for once he spoke not one single word of fowle language all night long).

On the Boxing Day morning Scrooge was found at first light already seated in his Usury, awaiting the arrival of Tickall. At one minute past the start of the first working hour his minion entered the shop, most sheepishly.

Said Scrooge, sternly "You sir, you are late.

"I'm terribly sorry Mr Scrooge sir, but we made rather merry with the carol-oke last night, and when we had to put the carpet on the fire the nylon caught the chimney alight we had call out the village fire brigade of Pugh, Pugh, Balmer & Gillings, Caffrey, Downie and Swann (and Fuller) to deal with it."

"Excuses, excuses, excuses. I will tolerate it no longer, sir. I shall instead, sir, be giving you a raise, sir."

Tickall was taken aback by this pronouncement;- "More money, sir(?) Oh that is wonderful news(!)"

"Money(?) Heavens no, man. I am giving you a raise up. A raise in position. A raise in rank. I am raising you to be the highest ranker in the Premier League of A'birderers (as sponsored by The Tickall Ornithological Claims Shoppe, formerly Meinertzhaagen-Das and Scrooge). You see, everything that in a 'birdering I have made my business these many years is now yours. I am stepping down. From this moment forward you shall be the Head Usury of the land. Does this not please you?"


"For certain, it means it will be you who is hero-worshiped most regularly, admired most regularly, interviewed most regularly, quizzed most regularly. True you will also be quoted badly most regularly, challenged most regularly and derided most regularly, but surely all the attendant celebrity and admiration is worth it(?)"


"No, my mind is made, I am stepping down. For sure, I am certain some regulars will keep harking back at me to start with, but within a short time you will be seen as the Premier recipient of all Usury discussion and I will by then be slipping quietly into anonymity. It is done, sir(!) By tonight it will be your name above this shoppe window, in lights. Your name on the lips of every a'birder. Come now, this really is what you have always wanted, after all(?)"


"Congratulations then(!) For the whole wide world of competitive listing, warts and all, now revolves around you. You are now the epicentre of all attention, good and bad."


"And now I take my leave of you, for I must go and see the Reverend and let him know I am a changed man, before I then retire to the country to attend to m'Lady's pheasant place and my half-hidden Carolina Ducks. Cheerio, young Tickall, and God help us, God help us every one(!!)


~ ~ ~ ~

And that, my future unknown incumbent of this Parish office, was how the famous Mr. Scrooge became such a changed man. I am sure right up to your own day many a'birderers will still consider him to be a most miserly figure and fail to ever find any good in him. And for sure, I know he will sometimes be unable to resist offering strong opinion on matters within the old profession. But he can at least now leave all Usury nitty-gritty to the new man and spend more of his time enjoying family and common fowle. For that is what he now appreciates. And that is the true Christmas miracle.

Whether of course Scrooge truly manages this, or whether indeed the Spirits require repeat visitations to young Tickall I presently have no idea;- you sir will have to read on through what must now be most-dusty annals of the Parish Register.

For now then I take my leave of this ghostly Christmas story, with a quote, which seems so apt to the highs and lows that will be heaped upon any who seek a situation of Usury:

"You don't understand how competitive this is.
For some people, this is life and death."
                                                                                  (Mr. Geo. Washington-Post, 15/12/13)


The full story was later adapted into a novel
 by Mr. Cajun-Avery,
 entitled "Fighting over Birds"
and is still available everywhere.

Tuesday, December 17

The Ghost of Sightings Yet to Come

The young man in combat fatigues opposite stared at Scrooge. He said nothing, as with the Spirit next to him, Scrooge found could still hear his thoughts, plain as day.

"Just look at you old man. Why did you have to go and sit near me? I didn't see you board, and I sure don't see you packing heat so you ain't a real birder. You just stay way clear of me when it goes down. I don't not like you, looking at you you remind me of my Grandad, 'G'. So I really don't wanna to see you get hurt. But this is birding after all."

Scrooge was confused by what he was hearing in his head, and confused by the situation he found himself in. He, and this Spirit of Future Sightings, had both materialised in some sort of shaking metal cylinder, speeding at some height over a brightly-lit city that seemingly stretched from dark horizon to dark horizon. The young man obviously saw him, but not the Spirit. Scrooge looked at the division patch on the militia man's sleeve; " Tickall, Dirk: Voyager Generation Birders: Championship Class."

Scrooge looked to his Ghost host and whispered "Spirit, these thoughts I am hearing, they are clearly not my own. Are they his?" There came a nodded reply.

Tickall checked his kit. Hundred thirty miles to go, just time for those superstitious last minute routines. His weaponry was always kept in a state of readiness, but this routine just got him that little bit more into the zone. He stared at his Hand-Cannon. The Android Operating System was off, replaced by manual CSC (Camera Systems for CocKs). Ultra HD and 3D image capture were online, and giving a good pixellation via the EVF transat. Using the touchscreen interface to spin through 360 degrees in nightvision setting, he zoomed in further on the target zone care of the Wi-fi GPS. A blip was there. Was this it? Pulling up voice recognition control he xeno-canted 'Tringa totanus'. At the same moment, now just sixty-seven miles away, the bird gave out a quiet contact call. His weapon registered positive voice-recognition and locked on. The screen flashed and zoomed in on the target. Already the Iris filled the screen. Oh this was going to be good.
It was the first twitchable Redshank since the Surge of '25 wiped out the last remaining saltings. It would only be his fourth-ever wader. Stakes were high. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his grandfather's lucky bandana, kissed it, then quickly hid it away again before anyone saw it.

They were now just forty miles off of the sewage storm-drain, the CocK chopper would be putting them down within thirty seconds. Whilst he could have remote-captured a full DNA pic-profile from breath at this range, Tickall was like the other CocKs;- old fashioned. He still liked the thrill of direct line photon capture- he wanted to be there, in the zone, with the bird. And naturally he also wanted the automatic reverse 180 selfie that would show him on site, for the Listing Committee files.

The chopper banked hard and fast, Tickall slid forward, his thermo-nuclear cam-pack battery array digging hard into his back. He gripped the barrel of his weapon tight to him. Deployment was now nano-seconds away, and it would be every CocK for himself.

The well-rehearsed plan was already set fast in his sub-conscious, in his muscle memory. The chopper floor would instantly withdraw and buckles release automatically- Tickall would drop into the foetal roll and let his body camo-armour take the impact. He'd practiced that a hundred times each week at the gym, in full kit; he knew first man standing always got the chance to then tripod down those still on the floor around him if needs be. He had to be first out the blocks.

It would be no more than a hundred yards to the camo-barrier-screen that had been remote-dropped overnight following the discovery of the bird on the avi-radar. Pre-flight he'd put enough steroids in him to cover that distance in Olympic qualifying time. His weapon would be up and readied ten yards from the barrier where it would capture the first K of images in the time it would take his rods and cones to record him an old-fashion 'own eyes on' hit. And in the same instant he'd be dropping and rolling clear before the main twitchwave hit. He forecast that most of his fellow travellers would be arriving a half-second after him, and taking no prisoners. After all, they'd all paid a lot to be here. It wouldn't matter they'd most likely bring down the camo-barrier with the force of the wave and flush the bird, they'd have it. It'd all be over in less than twenty seconds. Sure, some always didn't survive these landing photo-assaults, but this was birding.

For a moment he thought of his Grandad G. Sure, he'd sold the old coot for bodyparts on the Medicom black market to raise monies for this chopper flight, but he'd deserved a chance to get this;- Grandad G may well have introduced Dirk to birding, but you're only as good as your last performance, and Grandad G had kept on and on and on about how he didn't 'need' Redshank, having self-found and seen well at least three or four, pre-surge. He'd really annoyed Dirk by saying he'd have rather gone to pay respects at the funeral of his old boss Scrooge. The silly old fool. Nothing was more important than the list.

But the strange old duffer opposite him was a reminder, and Dirk felt a little for him. Still, this was first twitchable Redshank in nineteen years and he really hoped that this unknown coffin dodger wouldn't get in his way- if push came to shove he wouldn't hold back on seeing if those bones were as brittle as they looked. After all, this was the bird that was going to put him in the TUKOGBANI 100 club. And that old man was surely on his final migration. He was on the threshold of Premiership. You only remember the winners.

The red warning lights started to strobe and the chopper was dropping groundwards. Dirk was so pumped, he found himself singing. "I got ticks, they're multiplying..." This was it, battery up(!) Lens and load, Lens and load...

For Scrooge it was all over in a second. He and the Spirit were now alone in the chopper hold. At first they could hear rapid fire and then screaming from inside the concrete storm drain. Then the fading sound of distant 'booms' as the chopper pilot wisely got clear of the killer shot zone.

"Spirit, I have seen more than enough tonight. Take me home Spirit. Please. Have pity. Take me home."

Scrooge was in blackness. For what seemed an eternity. Would he ever awake? Would he have the chance to change?

(to be concluded)

Sunday, December 15

The Ghost of Sightings Present

In which Mr Scrooge is taken to view several festive scenes of Christmas;-

~ ~ ~ ~

First to a joy-filled market forum, where a'birderers had gathered from all over the webbe to discuss the true meaning of Christmas; namely, which journal to subscribe to, which book to buy, which travel expeditionary force to spend with, which pair of opera glasses to upgrade to, which drawscope was worthy of purchase, which camera obscura was best in the 'over one thousand guineas' range, which waxen jacket was the one to be seen in this season, which fowle usury service provided the best information for money (Scrooge liked this), which electronic application upon a telephonic communicator was worthy of splashing out upon, which birdseed mix gave best value by appealing to fowle but at the same time not attracting village waifs, strays, urchins and ne'er-do-wells... And so on and so on it went(!) Scrooge noted someone even posted a small piece on the sighting of a fowle, but as usual this just led to virtual fisticuffs, so he went back to coveting all the shiny things.

When sated, Scrooge turned to the Spirit and enquired "Oh Spirit, I now have such a feeling of cheer, when I awake I must join such a market forum if they will have me(!) But where exactly, may I ask, are those many happy people populating this market? I cannot see them for all the glittering."

The Spirit pointed towards the darkest corners, in which Scrooge imagined he could just make out the hunched figures of pale sad lonely souls, each alone in a darkened bare cold room, each a'hammering at their keyboard. Happy together, yet alone.

~ ~ ~ ~

Without warning, off, off, flying through the air, this time to a Minor's cottage. There, up in a bedroom a typical teeny-ticker of today applied himself to the young ways of a'birdering.

"But mommmmmm, five minutes, I'm a'twittering with my new friend..."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - MOS. I'm back!
So, your news?- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - ROTFL!
??? - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Robin on the Found List!
Boomawesome dude! - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - hey u promised 2 show me yr list
LOL- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - Lots on List?
NOYB :-) Joke! sick set of selfies- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - pls send it
ok, but u gotta show me yours- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - ooo, that's a nice big list
+ you have pretty selfies- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - I want selfies like that
Listen, now we're BFF, can I share?- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - ?
It'll be our little secret?- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - WTF?
Wanna see a naked bird with a good book?- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - BLOCK!!! UNFRIEND!!

Scrooge looked at the minor, alone in their room wide-eyed, shaking and fearful, and despaired for the future of a'birdering. "Let us away Spirit."

~ ~ ~

Next was to a Lighthouse Observatory where, cut off from the world by savage winter gales thus denying him all chance of birderage, a lonesome Obs Man instead sat compiling chart upon chart of autumnal commonfinch motions for the annual reporte, by the flickering light of his Stormsvala kerti. Scrooge watched as he rose and sloped over to the oven from whence he took a small, but splendid, Christmas dinner of traditional 'Lighthouse Attraction', adorned with all the trimmings (roofing felt, grit, scrapes of leaden paint). "God bless me" he whispered, coldly, before settling back down to pull his own cracker.

"Spirit, I now know what you say to me, a'birderers are such lonely souls and they should not be. Show me something happier."

~ ~ ~

Scrooge found he then looked in upon his own relation's family celebration, a party at which talk of a'birds was always banned by his young nephew;- and yet people were somehow still happy, most happy, all dancing and singing and revelling, all enjoying the many things other than fowle which the world had to offer-

"Whoa(!) Halt(!) Not that happy. Quickly Spirit, away, quickly- a'birders may well need to live life a little better than they do, but nothing you can show me will make want to live like that(!!)"

~ ~ ~

Or so Scrooge thought. They were now outside the window of the hovel of his humble minion, Tickall.

Tickall was stood over the fading embers of old DVDs in the hearth, which flickered but dimly, making glimpsed images of old documentaries appear in the sparks. "I'm sorry family, but I think I have now squeezed all I can from the old show. I think I still have a little hot air coming off my bloggesite and a'twitterings, but that is all there is for now. We very well may yet have to fetch the hall carpet. But remember, whatever happens, we should always thank Mr Scrooge for this situation."

Scrooge pondered for a moment, then asked of the Spirit "What of Tiny Tickall's media career if I do not involve myself? Will he be able to keep it alive?" The Spirit's hand pointed to a stool by the fire, with a newspaper upon it. "The Washington Post" read the banner. "In Britain, bird-watching gone wild" read the headline beneath.

Staring at that stool, which he now realised to be much of his own making, Scrooge said quietly "No Spirit, no, I have no need to read that, nor shall I ever, whether in this newsprint form or googlified. I know what will happen. I have learnt from tonight. I have seen enough." Turning back to face his guide, he saw that the Spirit now looked old, tired and faded, no longer appealing to him in any way. And for the first time, Scrooge noticed that the Spirit had a sash around him, upon which he could only just make out several faint letters;-

TUK - GBANI   A'bird - - ing   L - sting   Ch - mp - - n    - - 13

~ ~ ~ ~

And then Scrooge awoke. In his bed.

And then Scrooge awoke. Not in his bed. 

And in his head Scrooge heard the voice of his guide for this, the final part of his journey.

"Do you smell that?
Redshank son. 
Nothing else in the world smells like that.
I love the smell of Redshank in the morning."

Wednesday, December 11

The Ghost of Sightings Past

Chapter the two:

In which Scrooge revisits a favourite haunt,
in spirit only
(for the establishment in question has been closed
for exactly twenty-five years
to this very day of writing)

Why Spirit, I know this place, oh I know it so well(!)  This Northfolk red-brick terrace holds Mrs. Seagull's Pudding Shoppe(!) Oh Spirit, you bless me, bringing me here like this(!) And you wish I should venture inside? Ah, yes, I see that the door is indeed open and there is the queue running the whole length the hallway, made up of so many old a'birdering faces, yet here still young and all innocently happy, all smiling, all expectantly awaiting their industrial-sized pot of tea, their Ethelburger, their beans on toast and their slice of Dambuster bread pudding pie, all for a half-shilling with change on top(!) Value(!)

Ah, the smell of the pud, the beans, the mouldering green waxen jackets and the great unwashed a'birderers. How this brings it all back to me(!) 

Look, look, through to the back room, past the table of nick-knacks for sale and there, by the window, the most famous perpetual telephonic communication contrivance in the land, stuck to the red-raw ear of the most foolhardy young a'birder who dared to sit next to it. Oh how often I was on the other end of that! Indeed, sometimes this end also, answering, answering, answering.

The converse would always be "Hullo there, is there anything fowle about this very day, if you do so please?" to which the young turk holding the fort would dutifully list all contents of the Daily Logge booke. This was our information service.

Were it the likes of myself answering, I would of course first point out they had the pleasure of addressing Young Mr Scrooge, and new acquaintances would be made. Oh, wait, I remember once, when contacting, I forgot my 'if do so you please' and dear old Mr Seagull, on the other end, pointing out most forcibly "I don't have to do this you know." What larks(!) Is he here(?) Yes, wait, wait, as we pass the front parlour door, look in and there he is, dear Mr Seagull, sat with their dear hound, hiding far from the a'birdering crowd!

Oh Spirit, now I can see Ethel, dear silver-haired waitress Ethel, dithering around the room, chivying along the prettiest young serving wenches the little village had to offer as they ferry hot pud after hot pud to the eager customers. And there, through in the kitchen, there the slight figure of Mrs. Seagull herself. Dear, dear Mrs. Seagull. How her sweet voice calls out my name(!)

Spirit, do I have time to push my way across the parlour that I might look on the table by the contraption for... yes, yes, it is there, the Daily Logge Booke, all stained with tea coffee and currants, detailing all the rares of the land. And Oh what a book that was(!) And the doodlings upon the pages. It is a historic treasure of a'birdering.

I can see out the window, to the garden, also is fit to burst with a'birderers, all filling up for another day in the field. Never has such a small house been so full to burst.

Those were the days Spirit. I was so, so happy then. If only life had not changed from this. If only I could have happiness like this again. But, there, look Spirit, look to the dark corner. That shady group, part-hid behind a pile of pud? I know what they are planning, for look, I am there also. (Did I not say Mrs. Seagull called out my name?) Dark times. The days of free information draw to a close. Fowle Usury is coming. Soon all of this happy clientele will be paying much, much more than the price of a pud for their daily news.

Wait, do we have to go now(?) Oh, please Spirit, just a moment longer, please, I was so happy then, please, please let there be no swift passing now back to...

Crying out so loud as to awake, Scrooge found himself to be sitting, bolt upright, in his own bed.

He knew he was now awaiting his Christmas present.

Monday, December 9

A Christmas Carolina Duck, part the one.

Entry to the Church records, December 11th;-

I provide the following account for all future holders of my post, as to be a cautionary tale of the witchery that abounds in country parishes as this quiet village of Much Ticking. Dependent upon your beliefs, this story may well prove to you that here truly Christmas ghosts do abound.

I wish to detail the strange case of one Ebansezer Scrooge.

Now some years past Scrooge was described by village newsheet columnist Charlie Dickens as 'a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old lister', and I myself had, until the time of this tale, seen little to make me disagree with the opinion. Scrooge, together with his minion clerk Garry Tickall, ran the Ornithological Claims Shop of 'Meinertzhaagen-das and Scrooge'. The business was that of a Usury of Fowle Sightings, and was open, according to his volume of days a'field, some 400 days of each and every year, excepting for a few hours on Christmas Day itself, because Tickall had to take time off to shampoo the hall rug (and reaquaint himself with his offspring) which Scrooge was known to feel 'a poor excuse for picking a man's pocketlist every 25th December'.

Scrooge did have family, and they had always made an effort to invite him to their festive gatherings at Christmastime, but his reply was always the same as given to them last year; 'Just as there will be other weddings, births and deaths, so there will be other Easters, Whit Sundays and Christmases. But there may never be another Siberian Social Thrush-plover. So, good day to you.'

Last December, following this annual turning of family away from his door, two of the local County Ornithological Society then arrived seeking donations of scarcer claims for their Annual of records, but Scrooge gave them also a stern rebuke, saying that he already paid enough through discussion on such sightings on the national information broadsheets. The two Ornithological men replied that many observers would rather die than not see their sightings appear in reputable annals, to which Scrooge replied that such observers 'had better do so and reduce the surplus claims population'.

Knowing of these events I could not then begin to explain how greatly shocked I was to have a much chastened, and a much changed Scrooge come unto me in my parlour this last Boxing Day. What a true gentleman he had become, overnight(!) The reasons for the change he revealed in the following story...


Returning home on the Christmas Eve night, Scrooge was, he is absolutely certain, visited in the early evening by a ghost(!!) Not just any ghost, but the ghost of Jacob Meinertzhaagen-Das, his business partner long dead some seven years. 'Meinertzhaagen-Das's face had a dismal light about it, like a half-hidden scarce specimen in a museum drawer. It had what appeared to be a bandage under his chin, tied at the top of his head.' How much greater was Scrooge's horror, when the phantom, taking off the bandage from about it's head, had its lower jaw drop down upon its breast, whereupon the bandage was revealed to be a lengthy roll of claims disproven and stolen, stretching over the bedroom floor and away down the stairs.

Meinertzhaagen-das then warned Scrooge to change his ways, lest he suffer the same miserable afterlife as himself. He warned Scrooge that he was already wrapping himself up in his own length, what with the list of credible a'birderers he already kept. Did Scrooge not realise he was close to hanging himself with it? To save him, Scrooge was to be visited by three additional ghosts that very night, and each in its turn would accompany him to various scenes, in the hope of achieving a transformation in his ways.

These were to be the ghost of sightings past, the ghost of sightings present, and the ghost of sightings yet to come.


(That must end the first chapter. My wick is short, please forgive me for now and I will continue this tale in a day or so.)