Saturday, 22 March 2008

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 3

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sunday dawned, as they so often do. Wolfing down my Mad Astronaut Cryogenic Breakfast I leapt, light as thistledown hem hem, into the driving seat of my mighty rig, ten-four good buddy c'mon. Crob crob crob went the mighty twin chromed exhausts of the Hispano-Suiza 10-litre turbo diesel ... blah blah ... mighty rolling plains ... four-lane blacktop ... loneliness ... blah blah ... kangaroos (what?) ... blah blah drone drone drone. So, er yes, I drove ten minutes round the corner to go and see Bec. Vroom.

Today's principal objective was to have a jolly visit to the WWT place at Martin Mere. To this end we picked up Becca's friend Frankie, who lives in Owens Park. This was real Blast-From-t'Past™ stuff for me. While manoeuvring to pick up Frankie I went right round the Landcross Road / Furness Road block, something I possibly last did in about 1978 on the Honda 250 (of blessed memory). Just before or after some nasty young man stole it.

As for "manoeuvring to pick up Frankie", yes, that was interesting: the formerly straightforward, wide Wilmslow Road outside OP is now a mass of specialist lanes, little rinky-dinky parking bays surrounded by tasteful brickwork, and, er, stuff. So merely driving through it is now more like white-water canoeing, and stopping to pick someone up is out of the question: you might see them but they're behind nine rickshaw lanes and a little brick garden, and thus effectively in another dimension, so you turn into Landcross Road - while you still can.

And orf we went again. It's a fair drive up to Martin Mere, but not ludicrously so, and once there we were into serious goose-viewing in no time.

Martin Mere is very good. I only know one other WWT place, the one at Arundel about which I wrote a few months back. I'd like to see more of them, and especially the London one since it's nearer home and it seems crazy not to have visited it. I suppose it's inevitable that there'll be quite a bit in common, given the type of landscape in which they're most interested; and good level access goes hand in glove with this. There's also all the other visitor facilities, which are excellent: shop, caff and so on. I was less convinced by the binocular hire, as we ended up with two slightly ropey pairs - better than nothing, but not great. [You'll be pleased to hear that I've deleted, before I even wrote it, a discussion of this rivetting topic.]

There's one thing I hadn't completely understood about the WWT places, though it's perfectly obvious once you know: there's really two places in one. There's the wild bird reserve side, where you just get to see whatever flies in, and there's the captive bird side where you're seeing a collection of wildfowl from all over the place, but the birdie doesn't have the option of moving on when it's, er, sifted through enough mud or whatever it likes to do. It was really a bit dim of me not to suss this out before: but hey.

We spent the first part of our visit doing the regions-of-the-world themed collection thang. I was particularly taken with the flamingos. I mean, you can argue all you like that they're a bit of a cheap thrill, and rather brash and tarty compared with the subtle delights of the Lesser Grey Dabbling Whistler and its understated colour scheme. But, my word, flamingos do have pinkness, dash and verve.

As you may see from the Photographic Plate sewn in nearby, this lot weren't doing too much dashing or verving just then, but they were doing very well in the pinkosity department, and were well worth observing peacefully for a while, so we did.

I didn't exactly clock every single bird we saw. I honestly am interested, and do love going to these places, but I'm probably not, these days, going to go home reciting lists of species. (Longer discussion vapourized in pre-emptive strike.)

One thing that really did catch my eye was the Mad Prehistoric-Looking Scary Throat-Ripper Goose. This possibly has a real name too, but not that I can discover while on the 184 omnibus. (Ah yes: Black Spur-winged Goose.) While as far as I know lots of big birds are capable of delivering a bit of a nip, this is the one that needs extra wire and a safety warning, so it's perhaps implied that it's really a bit special. It wasn't actually doing that much while we were there, just sitting viewing people with a jaundiced-looking eye. It's not a pretty bird, so you really wouldn't want to try to pet it: not without body armour, a fencing mask, and very big gloves, anyway.

It was just before this Scary Goose of Death that we met Becca's friend Stephen and his partner Catherine. As perhaps implied earlier (you were paying attention, Tamsin?) there was a secondary objective to this mission. We needed to return a Baroque viola bow to Stephen, who is Becca's LBO desk partner. He lives somewhere up that way, but further I think, and had very kindly offered to come and meet us at Martin Mere. So we spent the rest of the visit with them, which was great as they're very nice.

From there we went back to the cafe . It was pretty busy - goodness knows what it must get like in August - but we managed to get a table, brave the rather slow queue, and acquire some nice food.

This pleasant break was followed by a trek out to the "wilder" side of the reserve to visit a hide or two. We stayed for quite a while in one where it was thought we had a chance of seeing a kingfisher. Becca and I, however, have a bit of a history with our attempts to observe this bird, and sure enough the Martin Mere ones had heard we were coming, and arranged to spend the day visiting friends.

Talking of friends, Stephen is a serious birdwatcher/photographer type, and was carrying an impressive collection of, er, things with lenses. He very kindly spent ages setting up a humongous great scope thing so Becca could have a go. We still saw no kingfishers - now there's a surprise - but there were plenty of other birds coming and going and, especially, a vast flock of greyish/pinkish geese who were very impressive when moving en masse. I had a look through Stephen's scope too and found it pretty amazing, with much higher magnification than I'm used to with binoculars. I also found it a bit hard to use at first, but I'm sure you'd get used to it pretty quickly.

That was pretty much it for Martin Mere and it was starting to feel a bit chilly and end-of-day-ish, so we said our farewells and leapt back in the megavan.

Back in Manchester we went round to Becca's house for another visit. This time, after a long and energetic day, the idea of getting us all in pretty much defeated us, so instead I brought Figaro, the baby of the trio, out to the van to see Bec.

This was great but I'm never doing it again without a proper container: I thought I'd be OK with him in a very deep cardboard box I'd found. Haha, not so OK at all. The "deep" bit is irrelevant if you apply claws to cardboard, and then all you've got is a strangely unstable object which is mostly oddly light but contains a somewhat annoyed cat at its top end: its centre of gravity is actually, er, over there somewhere. You might then think ah diddums ickle sweet thing, he'll never push his way out, but believe me it was like he was being propelled by a hydraulic ram, and it was touch and go whether I could get him to the van without disaster. Don't do this at home kids. Ickle'n'sweet: yes perhaps, but also strong'n'fiercely-persistent. I think I aged about three years in the twenty-metre walk to the van. The annoying thing is that there was a proper travel basket thingy in the house somewhere: I was just too thick to find it. Doh, Vogel, and indeed Duh.

Having said all that it was very gratifying to get the said puss out to the van and set him free in its er er Cavernous Interior™. Figaro is a nice little chap, and lively and curious with it, so he did all the right things in terms of exploring the van, being affectionate to persons found therein, observing the world outside, and generally being ├╝ber-cute.

Getting him back inside the house was a bit of a re-enactment of the same trauma, but I was better prepared this time and kept the lid clamped shut, and the whole box clamped to my body, with a sort of octopus-death-grip. We made it and I only aged a month or two this time. But NB: never again without the proper travel box!

Pausing only to drop Frankie at OP (and once again, no doubt, to bore both young persons rigid with another attack of Late 70s Oral History Project, drone drone) I zoomed back to the Sparrow's Chirp. (Crob crob, twin exhausts, see p. 47.) There I dropped Becca so that we could both enjoy a brief Collapse-n-Recover™ period before the evening's jollity. I can't speak for Becca but I can assure you that for me a quick kip was more than a luxury. The manual chair she was then using was really only easily pushable by an incredibly strong person about four feet tall, and we didn't have one with us so I'd had an immensely entertaining day delivering a force A at an angle R to components G and H.

An hour later I set off back to the Parrot's Perch but found myself drawn mysteriously off course by a strange power known as "Chip Shop" before recovering control and continuing on to Becca. While buying chips I made an interesting mistake: on the menu it said "salt and pepper chips" and dozily I didn't really wonder what it meant. Yes Colin you may say duh. I was maybe thinking of "salt and vinegar" or maybe just that these were chips with salt and pepper - you know, the ground stuff. Well, no, Vogel: live and learn. Indeed, wake up and sniff the, er, condiments. These were chips with more than a sprinkling of actual peppers, presumably as in chilli peppers though this is hardly my specialist area of expertise. It wasn't exactly a sauce, just a very strong presence of lots of tiny bits. The overall effect was somewhere close to shocking on the scale of hot'n'spiciness. We did, it must be said, get through most of the bag but to be honest it was pretty close to A Bit Much for me: while it wasn't actually unpleasant I wouldn't be in a huge hurry to repeat the experience. It was interesting to have done it once, though.

I wonder how widespread this dish is? I don't think I've seen it on offer down south: so is it specifically northern, or Mancunian, or M40-only, or what? Or am I just out of touch, as usual?

The other thing that was rather interesting about these chips was their effect on one of the nurses, a nice young guy from Pakistan. He came in to see Becca on some professional mission, but stopped in the doorway, doing a classic double-take. Apparently the aroma of the chips was giving him real flashbacks to home: it was rather sweet, actually.

So, with our evening's telly and gossip thus spiced-up, it was eventually time to set off back to my luxurious home-from-home at the Oldham Travelodge. (Crob.) Zzzzz.

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