gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Writing 101- Lost and Found

Imagine you had a job in which you had to sift through forgotten or lost belongings. Describe a day in which you come upon something peculiar, or tell a story about something interesting you find in a pile.
So, today’s twist: If you’d like to continue our serial challenge, also reflect on the theme of “lost and found” more generally in this post.

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If you worked in the lost property office for Transport for London you would never know what would find its way to your shelves next. Over 5 million items a year are found, lost on buses, trains, taxis and Underground carriages.
Hats, gloves, umbrellas.
Books, phones, crutches, walking sticks, dentures.
A jar of bull’s sperm.
Three dead bats.
A stuffed puffer fish.
A theatrical coffin.
An urn of ashes.
Two human skulls.
A machete.
Water skis.
A 14 foot boat.
How could you lose a 14 foot boat?

I lost something in London on the night of the Millenium. It was my child. To say this was one of the worst experiences of my life would not be too much of an exaggeration.
As a family we went to central London to witness the amazing fireworks and to be part of something very special for a new year, a new century, a new Millenium. We headed for Westminster Square, to be near Big Ben to hear those famous chimes. There were nine of us- grandparents, auntie and uncle, me and Mr G, and our (then) three boys aged 7,6 and 18 months. And a buggy pram. Unfortunately when we got there everyone else had the same idea. Most of them seemed to be well into their celebrations. I don’t like crowds at the best of times, but here it was dark, jam packed, noisy, boisterous, pushing, pulsing, jostling, shouting. They were all having a great time. I was not. We pushed through, holding small mittened hands, pushing the buggy against legs, trying to stay together.
Then Mr G let go of a hand. And a small 7 year old boy just disappeared. Gone.
In a second.
Lost.
I nearly went out of my mind. Even now, 14 years later in dreams I relive this moment.
Grandpa had been leading the way, and family members not freaking out at this point reckoned he would realise that we had been separated, get to a phone and arrange to meet up somewhere quieter. This was back in the day when we didn’t think it necessary to carry a phone everywhere. Can you imagine that now?
The time was 9.20pm. It was 11.30, over two hours later before we were reunited by the banks of the Thames. Thankfully our boy had no idea that anything unusual had happened. Never for a second did it cross his mind that he might be lost. He was with his beloved grandpa, and he was safe. He had a long walk around a crazy city and queued for a long time for grandpa to use a Phone Box. And now here were mum and dad looking so pleased to see him! And the promise of fireworks!
Happy New Year. happy New Century. Happy New Millenium.

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Being Entertained!

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How did we all entertain ourselves before the Internet? This morning I have fallen down a virtual rabbit hole and ended up looking at photos of what birds would look like if they had arms….
Some are cute

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Some are macho

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Some , like this pelican marachi band are just silly

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This gladiator rooster is great, particularly since Mr G and I have just seen the movie in the Royal Albert Hall in London, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra playing the beautiful music score live

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But this little video clip I love best of all – you sure don’t need arms to give a hug – please click on the link to see it! It will make you smile in a feathery fuzzy way.
you don’t need arms to give a good hug

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Rubby O Chicken

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Ever eaten a puking pastille or a vomit flavour jelly bean? I sincerely hope not. But these are only two of the weird and wonderful items you could purchase on a visit to the fictional shop known as Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes in Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter stories written by J K Rowling.
On our brief pit stop in London we made a trip to the Warner Brothers Studios in Watford for a tour of the sets where the Harry Potter stories were filmed, much to the excitement of 11 year old smallest Gillyboy, and to be honest, also myself. This is a great place to visit!
So much to see and explore and marvel at – costumes, sets, special effects, models etc. I won’t mention any spoilers but we did enjoy a broomstick ride and drank butter beer. The attention to detail that went into making these movies was simply phenomenal. Some 4000 people were employed over the ten years that it took to make the eight films.

Of course there was a huge gift shop selling all manner of Hogwarts school uniforms, quidditch kit, cuddly owls, and many of the sweets those naughty Weasley twins would have sold.

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In the props department I discovered one of their products which makes its appearance in the Weasley twins shop in “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince”- the Rubby O Chicken, described as a magical rubber chicken that was bewitched to do an Irish stepdance. The purchaser was also advised that the product wasn’t edible. Much like those All Flavour Jelly Beans also for sale!

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Cave Canem (beware of the dog)

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If your life, family and home were under imminent threat of being extinguished by a dramatic volcanic eruption what would you take away with you as you tried (in vain) to escape? This is a question I asked myself this week.
We took a detour via London on our way home and made a planned visit to the Pompeii and Herculaneum – Life and Death exhibition at the British Museum.
In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed these two seaside towns with a couple of hours. This disaster preserved the towns until 1700 years later when archeologists began to uncover them. Most of the items on display were brought to London especially for this exhibition from Italy, making a journey identical to our own but without the tedium of going through passport control.

One of the first exhibits you see is the cast of a guard dog, still wearing his collar and chain, caught in the throes of what must have been a sudden but painful death, guarding his master’s home until his end.
As you pass by the many amazing exhibits- preserved food, household items, carbonised furniture, a little baby cradle, some spectacular wall frescoes, there is a mosaic from the doorway to a house of a black dog, wearing a red collar studded with stones representing jewels and the legend “cave canem” – beware of the dog. And wouldn’t you know, they tell us the the cast of the guard dog was found outside this very house. He must have been a well loved pet to have had his image produced in such detail by the tiny square tesserae that made up the mosaic, and to have proudly worm a jewelled collar. And also to have given a warning to would-be burglars.
It reminded me a little of the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby I blogged about back in June.
Some of the fleeing townspeople were instantly burned and were left as skeletons, still wearing jewellery, carrying purses, doctor’s tools, swords, keys to their property. Others were covered in heavy layers of volcanic dust which hardened around them, and that is how casts of their postures as they met their death were made. There is a family – mum still holding a small child in her lap, a man crouched against a wall, his hands covering his mouth and nose. The impact of a sudden and violent end to so many people (around 16,000) is still very evident and moving even now in 2013.
Certain things touched me more than others- the cradle, the dog, the freshly baked loaf still bearing the baker’s stamp, and a little gold ring with the image of a mother hen and three chicks engraved on it.
Ordinary lives snuffed out without warning.

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The Blue Rooster of Trafalgar Square

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Today we are in London en route to Italy and I thought I was seeing things when confronted with a 4.72m high blue rooster (wearing a hat) on a plinth in Trafalgar Square- famous for its Nelson’s Column and fountains, and pigeons too! I appear to be followed by hens everywhere I go!
Unveiled just today by Boris Johnston, The Mayor, it’s German sculptress Katharina Fritsch says the giant azure rooster the size of a London Bus represents regeneration and strength. In a historic square full of monuments to military heros I’m sure our big blue friend will ruffle a few feathers.

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A stroll along the Serpentine

For our last few child free hours we walked and then cycled round Hyde Park in London. Henry the Eight used to hunt for wild boar here. It was a glorious morning and everyone was out with their dogs, kids, horses, skates and bikes enjoying the spring morning. We even witnessed people jogging backwards. I had heard of this sport but never seen it with my own eyes!
In Hyde Park there is a large man made lake, the Serpentine, constructed by George 4th for his wife Queen Caroline. Many years ago young Mr Gillybirds took me for a romantic afternoon in a rowing boat, I particularly remember trying to extract a large skelf of wood from his hand due due his efforts on the oars. Today we stayed on dry land and watched swimmers gliding through the water beside the geese, swans and ducks who have made this tranquil part of London their home. Being birds of course they were waddling around looking for food and we had nothing to feet them with. I did take a few photos, this beautiful bird caught my eye. A duck or a goose?
Well actually it is an Egyptian goose. More closely related to the Shelducks than to ‘real’ geese, this is an exotic-looking introduction to the British fauna. It has been part of our countryside since it was introduced into parks and stately gardens in the 18th century, but only officially as a British breeding bird since 1971. It is certainly very pretty in its autumnal colours, with a brown eye mask giving it an air of superhero mystery. And they do originate from Egypt. If you look closely at this scrap of papyrus from ancient Egypt you can spot these birds hiding in the reeds.

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I couldn’t resist taking a snap of one of the magnificent swans. Just like Mrs Gillybirds herself, serene and calm on the surface, paddling like mad below the surface. 🙂

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Poultry EC2

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While we were wandering the streets of the City of London, the capitol’s financial heart, I noticed an unusual street sign.
As a hen keeper this immediately sparked interest. Poultry is a very short street which takes its name, like Milk Street and Bread Street, from the produce which was sold there long ago in the street markets of Cheapside, which in Old English means “market place”.
The short street extending between Cheapside and Cornhill was the special quarter of the London poulterers who sent their fowls and feathered game to be prepared in Scalding Alley (anciently called Scalding House, or Scalding Wike). The pluckers and scorchers of the feathered fowl occupied the shops between the Stocks’ Market (now the Mansion House) and the Great Conduit.
Today Number 1 Poultry is a very modern building housing among other things the Coq d’Argent restaurant which has a roof top terrace boasting superb views. (Not as spectacular I would imagine as its neighbour over the river, the Shard.)
Sadly in these difficult times, this high building in the heart of the City has become the location of five suicides in the past two years.
Centuries ago, from medival times to 1815 the local prison Poultry Compter was located here. It was notorious for its poor conditions and was used to detain debtors, religious dissenters and vagrants. William Carter is perhaps its most famous inmate. A Catholic printer, he was imprisoned in Poultry Comptor for several months before being moved to the Tower of London, stretched on the rack and executed for treason against Elizabeth 1st in 1584.
Poultry Comptor was also used to detain slaves who had been released as part of the Abolition efforts of Granville Sharp in the 1770’s.
So much history beneath our feet. The only memory left in an unusual street name. And on a blustery Saturday morning in 2013 it is much easier to obtain a large latte in Starbucks than a freshly scalded chicken.

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An old sketch of the long disappeared Poultry Comptor.

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Living the High Life

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This past weekend Mr Gillybirds and I left three teenagers “home alone” and the smallest Gillyboy was being cared for by some responsible adults and went off on our own to London. Mr G works in the capitol city most weeks so it is no novelty for him, but very exciting and much anticipated by me!
One of Mr G’s thrills is to climb the highest building/tower/structure in any city visited, and he closely watched the construction of The Shard in London, towering tall at 309m, the highest building in Europe. For Christmas I bought him two tickets to The View from the Shard. I’m not great with heights but I wasn’t going to miss out on an excuse to get some time together for two days.
The day was bright, a little cloudy, we emerged from the Tube looking up, and up again at this glistening jagged spire that dominates the London skyline. The two elevator trip takes you to floor 69 at an ear popping 8m per second. The 360 degree views are fantastic, if you like that sort of thing. I was more than a little anxious, clinging pathetically to the central wall, while everyone else seemed perfectly comfortable to be getting a bird’s eye view of London. A small child was merrily banging on the glass giving me heart palpitations.
Mr G was picking out familiar landmarks- St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Wembley Stadium, Battersea Power Station. The Thames was weaving its way through the city like a long silver ribbon.
Then we climbed a staircase to floor 72 where the floor is open to the elements and you can feel the wind blowing in your face. Scary stuff. The discreet sound of angelic voices added to the feeling that this was the closest we would get to heaven aside from being in an airplane.
And outside the glass, hanging from a thin rope were two guys, looking totally chilled to be dangling 994 ft above planet earth on a Saturday morning.

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The Shard had a tenant before it was even completed. An urban fox. Staff discovered the intrepid visitor on the 72nd floor.The animal, nicknamed Romeo by staff, entered the building through a central stairwell before climbing to the top. It was living off scraps left by builders.
The fox was first spotted by a crane driver at the beginning of the month. Les Leonard, a pest controller, said: “At first I didn’t believe it was up there, I thought it must be a hoax. I’ve got a fear of heights and getting the hoist lift from the 35th floor to the 72nd was terrifying.
“On the second day it ran straight past us then scrambled up a 10 foot ladder onto the rafters. It was surreal, we couldn’t believe that a fox could go that high.” The fox had managed to make his way to the top of the tower via the central stairwell.
Romeo was caught by Southwark Council pest control officers (in traps baited with live chickensand taken to Riverside Animal Centre in Wallington where the hungry explorer was given a thorough medical and a few good meals. He was then released back into the London Bridge area.

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The account of Romeo is taken from Metro newspaper.
Cuddly Romeo’s can be purchased from the Shard gift shop which you have to pass through as you exit the building.

I’m not one for heights but this was a great place to visit, the staff were so friendly and welcoming, the views are spectacular I would consider going again at a different time of day. I’m sure sunrise/sunset are awesome.
We had a great weekend, seeing Helen Mirren in a West End play, cycling on Boris bikes, finding the location for one of our favourite tv shows (Spooks or MI5 as it is called in USA), walking and walking and talking, enjoying delicious meals, getting some giggles from the world’s sweetest niece, and generally living the highlife for a couple of days.
And all our boys survived too.

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“Romeo, where art thou?” Says Mrs Gillybirds at the Shard

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Ravens of the Tower

interview with Raven Keeper
This week I got to spend a few days with my beautiful brand new niece who lives across the sea in the big city of London. As well as lots of cuddles me and two of my own flock visited the Tower of London, to be wowed by the Crown Jewels (now those are real diamonds!) , to satisfy a ten year old boy’s passion for armour and weapons, and to check out the legendary ravens of the Tower of London.

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The ravens are thought to be the most important residents of the Tower, for legend has it, if they ever leave, the Tower will fall and England with it. King Charles 2nd insisted that they be protected. Ravens were probably attracted to the Tower from its initial construction back in the days of William the Conqueror, when they would have scavenged on the Tower’s refuse.
Allegedly, at the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1535, “Even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements and gazed eerily at the strange scene. A Queen about to die!” The ravens of the Tower supposedly behaved much worse during the execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1554, allegedly “pecking the eyes from the severed head” of the queen.
Today they are cared for by the Ravenmaster. They eat 170g raw meat daily, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood. They enjoy an egg once a week, the occasional rabbit and scraps of fried bread. One wing is has the wing feathers clipped to prevent them flying off.
Each raven is named, and they are identified with coloured leg rings, just like the Gillybirds. There are seven ravens at the Tower today ( the required six plus one spare!) Their names are Hardey, Thor, Odin, Gwyllum, Cedric, Hugine and Munin. Their lodgings are to be found next to the Wakefield Tower.
During World War II, only one raven was able to survive the hardships of the bombing during the London Blitz, so Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, ordered more ravens to be brought in to bring the flock up to the correct size. The Tower ravens are enlisted as soldiers of the Kingdom, and were issued attestation cards in the same way as soldiers and police. As is the case with soldiers, the ravens can be dismissed for unsatisfactory conduct, sometimes an individual bird will fall out of favour because of inappropriate behaviour. For example, “Raven George” lost his appointment to the Crown, and was retired to Wales for attacking and destroying TV aerials. A special decree was issued about the incident:
“ On Saturday 13th September 1986, Raven George, enlisted 1975, was posted to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Conduct unsatisfactory, service therefore no longer required.
During the fears in 2006 concerning avian flu, the ravens were kept indoors in a special aviary.
I took plenty of pictures, but obeyed the command not to feed the ravens as they may bite if they feel threatened.
I did however bring home a little souvenir! Not wanting to be the cause of the fall of England, it is only a tiny replica raven. The Crown Jewels too are still safe behind their bullet proof well protected glass.

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“Check that Woman’s Pockets for Diamonds!”

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