RIP Big George

I’ve just heard the very sad news that George ‘Big George’ Webley has died.

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Big George was probably best known for writing the theme tune for ‘Have I Got News For You’ but I knew him personally as he was a Milton Keynes resident – as was I before we moved to France – and we occasionally bumped into each other when our orbits crossed on the local music scene.

He was a very nice guy indeed, as well as being a highly talented composer, musician and TV and radio broadcaster.

I’ve played with George – he depped on bass for a band I was in – and one of my fondest memories of him was when he supported another band I was in at the Marquee Bar of the Bull Hotel in Stony Stratford one New Years Eve. He performed the HIGNFY theme on guitar and kazoo and he went down an absolute storm.

Sad news indeed and, at 53, far too young.

Goodbye Big George…

Dragonflies, swallows and kir petillant

And still France continues to share its wild life secrets…

A few hours ago, we were sitting outside – taking a smoke and drinks break before yet another stage of the fucking interminable process of putting together an Ikea Hemnes wardrobe – when Mrs Shark exclaimed that she’d just seen the biggest hornet ever.

Closer examination of the ‘hornet’ revealed that it was, in fact, this:

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It’s a Broad-bodied Chaser – or so Google has reliably informed me – a female.

Never seen one of those before.

Amazing wings – almost like Tiffany glass…

Whilst I was typing the first part of this blog entry – sitting in the dining room with a JPS 100 and another (sic) nice glass of kir petillant – there was a great commotion when a swallow flew in through the doors and Oscar caught it.

As far as we know, this is the first bird that he’s ever actually managed to get between his jaws.

I managed to get it off him and – fortunately – it seemed remarkably unphased and uninjured and flew off out of my hands when I took it outside.

My god, but it was beautiful…

I feel doubly blessed now – and, after my fourth glass of kir – very full of honhomie.

Just call me Mr Congeniality…

…better had, or I’ll twat you one…

Footnote: the photo was taken by me with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 compact camera.

That’s a big one!

I’ve just been doing some serious brushcutting in the garden and a few minutes later this beauty appeared near to where Mrs Shark was doing some weeding:

 

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I guess I must have disturbed it which was a pity, but it did give us the opportunity to see our first Green Lizard here. Aptly named as you can see. It was big too, about 30cm long from its nose to the tip of its tail, although I’ve heard they can grow up to nearly 40cm long.

Small fry compared to another French lizard species found in the Pyrenees – the Ocellated Lizard. This can grow to 90cm and will take young rabbits, for fuck’s sake!

I’ll pass on that motherfucker, thanks…

The wildlife here never fails us and often amazes us – from the abundance of wild flowers like primroses and cowslips to the wide variety of birds.

And neither does the amount of work still to be done on the house and garden!

Painting our bedroom later…

Happiness is a hoopoe!

After a week of weather here that would put many a summer’s to shame, it finally broke last night.

We woke up to a rather damp day and the sun is struggling to shine so it’s not too bad now, although I’m sure the farmers here would have liked a bit more rain. It’s been very dry for months now.

About half an hour ago we were sitting in the dining room having lunch and looking out at the day when all of a sudden Mrs Shark asked, ‘What’s that bird?’, in a very excited voice.

I looked where she was pointing and saw something I’d only seen once before.

It was one of these:

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Yes, a hoopoe!

It was digging about in the verge by the side of the communal road here – probably because the rain had made using that long beak beak to skewer insects or worms in the damp ground a bit easier.

OK, they might be commonplace here – although I think they’re more often found in the south of the country – but we were totally gobsmacked.

The only other time we’ve seen one was when we were on holiday much further south in the Herault departement. We were renting a house on a terraced slope in a village and saw one flying through the trees down below us, although we heard its distinctive cry a lot more often.

Anyway, we’re feeling dead chuffed and looking forward to another sighting.

Birdwatching v Twitching

The wildlife here continues to come up with some lovely surprises.

We’ve had jays in the garden. I’ve seen them before in the UK, but always in flight and from some distance away. However, the other day we saw one in the cherry tree and then later on another one (although it may have been the same bird) down on the lawn obviously after insects or worms amongst the grass.

They’re fantastic birds with a brilliant blue flash on their wings that seems almost neon-like.

Yesterday we had this handsome creature down on the lawn:

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Not a great photo, admittedly, but it was taken using the Lumix’s 10x zoom without a tripod through the window (and afterwards cropped and enlarged) as I didn’t want to spook this green woodpecker like I did the other day with the jay.  (Otherwise I’d have a shot of that too.)

Meanwhile, birds of prey seem to be more evident now that it’s autumn. If we don’t see buzzards and at least one kestrel when we drive though the countryside it’s quite unusual.

Talking of birds, we watched a program about twitchers on BBC4 the other night. Twitchers are birdwatchers who approach their hobby in a manner akin to trainspotting. It’s all about seeing as many birds of different breeds as possible and then getting ranked in a sort of league table. It’s a very serious hobby indeed and expensive too as if you’re a serious twitcher and you hear about a rare winter visitor 400 miles away, you’ll drop everything and hare off to see it, regardless of cost.

Not so much people who watch birds, really, but people who see and then record them.

The UK’s top twitcher seems to have set himself up as regulator of the whole UK twitching scene. For some reason, his fellow twitchers kowtow to him in a sickening way. Offend him, apparently, and you’re completely fucked as far the twitching scene is concerned. God knows why, as he struck me as a total areshole who had a very high opinion of himself for no discernible reason. 

Equally unedifying was the married couple who took their 8-year old daughter twitching. Although the kid had some interest in birds, it was hardly surprising when she appeared to lose this after she’d been hanging around in a cold and windy field for 4 hours whilst mum and dad waited to see a particular bird.

Another twitcher had driven fucking miles before catching a ferry to Ireland to chalk up another species for his list. He ended up missing the bird, but rather than go and look at some birds whilst he was there, he chose to sit in a bar and drink beer. Now, beer’s great and sitting in a bar drinking it is a pleasant thing to do, but it says a lot about his attitude towards birds that he only seemed interested in seeing a new one. This same twitcher was particularly well-organised with all the items he’d purchased for his hobby meticulously recorded in a little book. It bordered on OCD…

OK, it’s a harmless hobby compared to some, but it just strikes me as a shame that those involved in it seem more interested in ticking off the names of birds rather than marvelling at their beauty.

And speaking of beauty, here’s a photo of part of the barn wall here:

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Autumn – summed up in a few square feet…