Monday, October 5

The Rime of the Ancient Murelette (by young Sammy Rita-Coolidge)

The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
Merrily did we drop
Below the church, below the hill,
Below the lighthouse top.

No paying guest aboard was blessed,
This cruise was to be tragic,
There would be shame, from unreasonable claim-
This was a doomed pelagic.

‘Ere long there came both mist and snow,
And it grew wondrous cold:
And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
As green as emerald.

The chum was here, the chum was there,
The chum was all around:
It stank for miles, but gave men smiles,
For rares would soon be found!

At length did cross an Albatross,
Through the fog it came;
Not close enough to specie-fy,
We could not make a claim.

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
But every day, it kept away,
I.d. attempts were hollow!

'God save thee, ancient Mariner!
From the tick, that plagues thee thus!—

Why did'st thou do?'With my glimpsed view
I strung the Albatross.

Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
And all my claims did mount;
Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Not any one would count.

And the good south wind still blew behind,
But no good view did follow,
Nor to make truth of another’s 'proof',
I heard the others LOL- oh!

For I had done a hellish thing,
And it brought indignation:
For all averred, I’d strung the bird
Through too much imagination.

Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
And all my claims did mount;
Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Not any one would count.

Ah! well a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
For my claimed cross, that Albatross
About my neck now hung.

Four times fifty living men,
I heard all sigh and groan.
With heavy thump, a listless lump,
They dropped me one by one.

Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
And still my claims did mount;
Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Not any one would count.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on the world wide sea!
And ne’er a rares committee, shall ever take pity,
On my albatross and me.

My many claims, so stringful!
Now they all dead did lie:
Those thousand thousand claimed stringed birds
Sadly did for I.

Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
And still my claims did mount;
Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Not any one would count.

But happy single person strings!
No judgement could be lead,
If I remained a lone observer,
And kept them in my head:

Realisation that I could claim,
Did to my mind so hint
If Albatross stayed quiet in mind,
Never bother to see to print.

Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Now all my claims illusional;
Waterbirds, waterbirds, everywhere,
Who cared if self-delusional?

How long in this same fit I strung,
I have not to declare;
But soon my life list was rebuilt,
All claimed from thin rare air.

"Is it he?" they say, "Is that the man?
The priest who died by cross
'Gainst his daft claim, everlasting shame,
Of the stringy Albatross?"


Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
A light-house now I see?
Is that a hill? is that a church?
Is this my new county?

I drifted in o'er harbour-bar,
And I with hope did pray—
O let me be most unknown here!
Oh let me slip away.

I saw ashore, I heard his voice:
The Hermit Baptist I did seek.
For he kept mute of unlikely claims,
made here in his retreat.

This Hermit good hides in a wood
On a slope down to estuary.
His well known sin, is he loves to take in,
Raw birders off the ferry.

He birds at morn, and noon, and eve-
He claims a list most long:
It is the size that helps disguise,
The fowle he gets so wrong.

Together wonders we shall claim,
Many very, very rare I bet,
For I would wager on a New World wader,
I might stake a claim on a Murlette.

So now, safe in my new county,
I offer proof of claim to no man!
For I leave behind my old sunk rep,
To stay and bird with Konan!

Konan the Baptist,
evangelical birder and hermit of the Northern Marshes.
Banished from a'birdering orthodoxy after this DNA extraction
to falsify a claim of Griffon Vulture off Cape Unclear

Saturday, September 26

Lord of the Fly-bys (by young Billy Golding)

Piggy blew on the shell, as hard as he could. A toot escaped him.

One by one the children gathered. First to arrive, as usual, were the smallest choir boys. Since their boat had gone down mid-estuary and they had washed up on the island, these boys had been known as the litt’listers, because many had seen so few birds at all, and had no idea how to cope.

Then the big’listers came to the clearing. Among them there was Jack, former choir leader, now leader of the spotter-hunters. Sam’n’Eric, the twins who could never stop arguing on identification with anyone and everyone, who ran to the front and sat squarely beside Ralph, whom all had voted Chief of their new Society not long after the sinking.

Piggy held the conch aloft. “I’ve got what we’ve called the shell-sea. Remember, a shell-sea means it’s all about me. You have to listen.” He knew the rules. Anyone who took the shell-sea had to then be gazed upon with awe by their peers.

Now I know things ain’t been good. What with the litt’listers running about after Jack trying to tick allsorts, leaving the signal fire to go out. I know we’ve been arguing. But it has to stop now.”

Jack stared at him. “This is about my challenges, isn’t it?

Piggy, looking away from Jack, blurted “Shell-sea! shell-sea! this is all about me! You have to wait to speak, them’s the rules.” He looked over to Ralph for agreement, who nodded in return. “Yes, of course this is about your silly challenges. You challenge everyfink here. We should be concentrating on how to get back to the main stream but you see foreign beasts everywhere, and want us hunting ‘em out and splitting ‘em up.” Only now did Piggy turn to face Jack full on. “It ain’t right for litt’listers. Making up beasts, everywhere. It just ain’t right.”

Sam’n’Eric jumped up and,in unison, cried “we wanna take a shell-sea!

If it weren’t fer Jack..” Sam started, “We wouldn’t have Acadian Harrier on our lists” Eric finished.
“And if it wasn’t fer Jack..” Eric continued, “We wouldn’t have Pallid Flycatcher on our lists either” Sam finished.

Piggy put a hand back on the conch. “It. Ain’t. Right.”

Piggy was clearly shaking now, but would not let go, and would not keep quiet. “We should be building shelters ‘n’ finding food ‘n’ keeping the signal fire burning ‘n’ behaving like we was in school learning surveys  than running off after Europey Dunnocks and Europey Great Tits and everyfink else Europey you’ve added since we washed up here. We’ve been castaways on the island for seven hours now and already your list of bird-beasts is 417.”

Sam’n’Eric started back at Piggy, fifteen to the dozen, both blurting out new different criteria for new different beasts at the same time so that it was impossible to argue with them. Jack walked up behind and reached over the twins to clasp the shell-sea, ripping it away from all three. Holding it aloft, he paused, then spoke calmly but firmly.

“I’m taking a shell-sea now. Pay attention to me, no-one else. This island is overrun with beasts. We must identify them. All of them. If we spend time making a model Society, we will do no birding.”

Without a word further, he turned and strode to the tideline where he reached down to reclaim something he knew there for just such a moment. It was some sort of large beast's head, covered in flies. He held it aloft in front of him, so all could see it.

“You know me, I am conservative in my birding. So when I find a dead head like this, I treat it like any conservative birder would, and I poor all over it. So I can say, confidently, this IS a beast of continental origin. By smell alone, Danish. This is what I do! Would you rather do this, or count redshanks?”

The litt’listers erupted. Throwing the head at Piggy’s feet, Jack shouted And you don’t need your glasses no more! You don’t use ‘em properly! I’m taking ‘em!” Piggy squealed, but no-one helped him; Jack ripped the opera glasses from around his neck. There was more whooping and hollering from the mob.

Ralph, who like any good leader had done absolutely nothing up to now, felt it time to run.

Off through the spartina, dropping into runnels, squelching though black sand and mud, soaking from the damp, Ralph ran and ran and ran. Behind him Jack’s mob of splitters whooped and screamed, and to Ralph sounded to be getting closer all the time.

Clambering over rotted boats, racing along stony shores, Ralph ran and ran until he slammed into the legs of.. a man. Looking up he could see the figure was in uniform. Admittedly a convict’s uniform, but a uniform nonetheless. And there was a dog collar(!) Civilisation(!)

The splitters then came upon them, and their cries died away.

The priest looked at the crowd, then down at Ralph doubtfully for a moment, and said “Well? Anything about?.

Squirming a little, conscious of appearance, Ralph answered shyly. “Ummm, a Pallid Flycatcher and a Acadian Harrier sir.”

At which Piggy, who had just caught up to the back of teh mob, let out a long, long sigh that took a long. long time to die.

“I should have thought,” said the Priest, “I really should have thought that a pack of British boys- you’re all British aren’t you?- would have been able to put up a much better showing than that. Consider your statement again more carefully. Was it a Mealy Pallid Flycatcher or a Snowy Pallid Flycatcher?”

Piggy looked at him dumbly. The tears began to flow and the sobs shook him.

The emotion spread to all the other little boys too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Piggy now wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of mans’ lists, and the fall from purity listing of his once-friend called Ralph.

The man spoke a final time. “Look boys, I've no time for this. I’d left a severed Pig’s head I’d found over on that tideline yonder for sustenance tonight.  Have any of you seen it? You, you at the back, that's it- give it here(!)"

Thursday, September 17

My Great Expectations (by Charlie Dickens)

My father's family name being Pippit, and my Christian name Richard, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Dicka Dip. So, I called myself Dip, and came to be called Dip.

I give Pippit as my father's family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister, Mrs. Joe Garganey, who married the forgeman. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them, my first fancies regarding what they were like were unreasonably derived from their most excellent bird records published within the County's Annual Reports. To me, they lived on the coast, surrounded by rares and scarces. Ours was the marsh country, down by the river, within, as the river wound, twenty miles of the sea.

My first most vivid and broad impression of the identity of things seems to me to have been gained on a memorable raw afternoon towards evening. At such a time I found out for certain that this bleak place overrun with nettle-birds was the churchyard; and that the dark flat wilderness without a hide beyond said churchyard, intersected with dykes and mounds and gates and burnt-out carts, with scattered cattle feeding on it, was the marshes reserve; and that the low leaden line beyond was the river; and that the distant savage lair from which the wind was rushing was the sea; and that the small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was Dip.

"Hold your noise!" cried a creaky voice, as a man started up from among the graves at the side of the church porch. "Just keep still, you l’il low lister, or I'll cut your binstrap!"

A fearful man, all in coarse prison grey save for a torn clergyman’s collar, and with a great iron scopac on his back. A man with a broken Birdfayre pinbadge, split wellies, and an old rag convict bandana tied atop his head. A man who had been soaked in water, and smothered in mud, and lamed by stones, and cut by flints, and stung by nettles, and torn by briars; who limped, and shivered, and whinged, and whined; and whose teeth chattered in his head as he poked me on the chin.

"Tell me your name!" barked the man. "Quickly!"

"Dip, sir."

"Show me where you live, Dip." said the man. "I pray thee point out the place!"

I pointed to where our village lay, on the flat in-shore among the alder-trees and pollards, a mile or more from the church, just beyond the fly-tipped hillocks.

"Who d'you live with-- supposing you are kindly let to go, which I have yet to make up my mind about?"

"My sister, sir,--Mrs. Joe Garganey,--wife of Joe Garganey, the Village Forger, sir."

"Forger, eh?" said he. And smiled the smile of a man with a cunning plan.

"Now look here," he said, "the question now being as to whether you are to be let go, or not." He paused, smiled and said more quietly "Do you know what a rares description file is Dip?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Garganey forges them."

"And you know what a Collinses is?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well Master Dip, you must get me a blank description file. And you must get me a Collinses. Then bring both here to me." He tilted me again, and tried to sound both authorative and threatening, like a Committee man. "Or I will have your records struck out forever and a day."

"You bring me Dip, tomorrow morning early, that file and that Collinses. You bring the lot to me, at that old coal burning station yonder. You do it, and you never dare to say a word or dare to make a sign concerning your having seen such a person as me, and you shall be left to a'bird. You fail, or you go from my words in any particular, no matter how small it is, and your sightings and your descriptions shall be tore out, roasted, and ate."

I said that I would get him the file, and I would get him what broken bits of food I could, and I would come to him at the old coal station, early in the morning.

"Say may the County string up your reputation if you don't!" said the man.

I said so, and he tilted me down.

"Now," he pursued, "you remember what you've undertook, young man, and you get home!"

He hugged his shuddering body in both his arms,--clasping himself, as if to hold himself together,--and limped towards the low church wall. As I saw him go, he looked in my young eyes as if he were eluding the adjudications of undead committees, stretching up cautiously out of their graves, to get a twist upon his tales and pull him under.

When he came to the low church wall, he got over it, like a man whose legs were numbed and stiff, and then turned round to look for me. When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs. But presently I looked over my shoulder, and saw him going on again towards the river, still hugging himself in both arms, and picking his way with his sore feet among the great rubber cart tyres and corner store trollies tipped into the fill-dykes here and there, and he called out, "Ah a Sandgrouse, a Willet, a Great Snipe!".

The marshes were just a long black horizontal line then, as I stopped to look after him; and the river was just another horizontal line, not nearly so broad nor yet so black; and the sky was just a row of long angry red lines and dense black lines intermixed. The man was limping on towards this latter, as if he were the a Websman. It gave me a terrible turn when I thought so, for such wader counterers were but ghosts about here; and as I saw twittering sheep lift heads to listen for his shouts, I wondered what they thought. Now I was frightened again, and ran home without stopping until I could hear the sound of "Tattler, Slender-billed, Corks! how lovely a Robin.." no more.

Tuesday, September 8

"And with one bound, Jack was free!" (And Bandwell. Mustn't forget Bandwell.)


To: The Guv'nor,
The Clink Doubters' Prison, Clink Street, Bankside, Southwark, Olde London Towne.

From: Judge Wrightly-Wrongly,
Chair, Northern Marshes Doubtful Claims Court.


I understand on Sept 1st last, a doubter sentenced for a string of Spring overshoot claims most heinous, made good his escape from your establishment. This individual, who answers only to the name of 'Spring-heeled Jack' has, by now, made it back to his beloved Sarf Downs, and will soon be responsible for generating many and varied fanciful claims and bestirring the locals to similar behaviour. Previously, tall tales of his ornithological abilities featured in many a penny dreadful bird report, and will now undoubtedly start up all over again, unless you ensure he is retaken soonest.

This may help you. From my judgements upon his doubtful claims, though he dons a mask and dresses most battily in public, I fully suspect his true identity to be a one Mr Wayne Bruce, of Goatham Lane, East Sou'Saxon. I have this suspicion based upon receipts obtained from Bristow's taxidermic records made out to an 'Alf Pennyworth', someone I know to be in Bruce's employ.

This 'Jack' is a great concern, for sure, but not as great a one to me as that of his cellmate, the (once Reverend, now defrocked) Bandwell Ringmore Fumblefinch, who did somehow also vanish from The Clink at the very same time.

Yours was said to be the best lock-up in Olde Englande. Your establishment's name held generic for prisons throughout our land, yet somehow not one, but two of the greatest errorists of our age have made good their escapes.

Though this past year has been enjoyably quiet, I have no doubt that the rogue Fumblefinch will soon come over all 'preachy' if not back in your custody. Double your efforts in finding him, I implore you. Treble your manpower. Quadruple any reward. He really must be stopped from launching one of his drones against a'birderdom.

Judge W-W