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22 August 2007

Great North Eastern Railway (GNER)

On 17th August my wife and I travelled by GNER from York to Edinburgh for the Festival and the Military Tattoo.

It was a fast, smooth and near-silent journey. It arrived in York (from London) on time, and it arrived in Edinburgh on time.

The onboard staff were brilliant: helpful, amusing, polite.

We returned from Edinburgh by the same service, and all the above comments still hold true for the return journey.

It was therefore all the more saddening to reflect on the fact that GNER have had to relinquish their franchise for the East Coast Main Line service from London to Edinburgh and beyond, since their parent company (Sea Containers) got into financial difficulty. From December this line's franchise will be transferred to National Express (the intercity bus company).

I shall miss GNER, since it is probably the only train service since British Railways were privatised to have retained some semblance of dignity and connection with the great days of this prestigious line. It didn't give itself a fancy modern meaningless name, it didn't tart up its rolling stock to look as if a mad graffiti artist had been let loose on it. It also designed itself an old-style railway style coat of arms, and maintained a smart but dignified external and interior decor. It didn't pretend to be some johnny-come-lately airline on tracks. All its trains had inscribed in discreet letters on the side of each coach "Route of the Flying Scotsman" and the train we travelled on the other day was named "Mallard".

I hope that National Express will take on all the GNER staff, and will find it in their heart to maintain some of this line's heritage.

Pigeons living dangerously

This is Part II of the pigeon story.

Our August weather has been doing a passable impression of mid-November. This morning the wind is howling and the fir tree containing our nesting pigeon(s) is waving about like a thing possessed; the branch on which the pigeon nest (if one can dignify it with that name!) is precariously perched is bouncing up and down alarmingly.

The pigeon currently "on duty" is, however, clinging on for dear life (and probably suffering with the bird equivalent of sea sickness), and although there is another little pile of sticks underneath the tree the nest appears to be just about intact. I understand the incubation period is about 18 days, so we must be getting very near to hatching.

11 August 2007

Wood Pigeons - Birds Living Dangerously

This is a pigeon that is one of a pair which has constructed a nest in a tree standing in my front garden.

The trouble is, pigeons are rubbish at building nests, and I marvel that so many of this species actually exist.

They just chuck a few small dead sticks together in an untidy pile and hope for the best.

In the case of the pigeons currently domiciled at my address their house-building skills are made even more questionable by the fact that what is laughingly referred to as their nest is balanced precariously half way along a single branch without any other visible means of support or stabilisation.

On the grass beneath the tree is a scattering of sticks that presumably were once part and parcel of a construction that is rapidly taking on the attributes of a Minnesota road bridge.

A few weeks ago pigeons were observed building a nest in a tree in my back garden. Soon after they completed the job there were scrambled pigeon eggs all over my garden steps, baked hard by the sunshine.

As for the current attempts - somewhat late in the year, (but the birds are not the only creatures confused by our changing climate) - I was recently privileged to watch at close hand the "Changing of the Guard". The pigeon's mate alighted on the end of the branch near the tree trunk and turned to face in the direction of the nest. Both birds were now looking at each other about 18 inches apart. The bird on the nest then nodded its head half a dozen or so times. Its mate repeated the nodding action, after which it slowly walked along the branch and eased itself on to the nest whilst its erstwhile occupant simultaneously vacated it, walked to the far end of the branch and flew off.

I hope that this crazy nest will fulfill its proper function for long enough to ensure survival of the next generation, though I have to admit that the incessant and monotonous cry of wood pigeons at 5 a.m. outside my bedroom window is just a little irksome.

I will report developments.