A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hooptedoodle #126 – Darwin – Further Evidence


A finger touched the clay, and life began. Good start, thought Babu. But after a while he became impatient with these tiny, ticking, whiskery creatures which he could hardly see, and he ordered a change. 
On this very shore, at the margin of the heaving sea and the shifting land, his will was done. Bewildered encephaloids crawled into the freezing dawn, to begin the work of engineering themselves, through countless generations and mistakes, into reptiles and mammals, and marketing consultants.

Oh well, thought Babu.
From “The Casso Verses” – © Lowgate Publishing 1997

I have to admit that I’ve always had problems with the concepts of evolution. I can sort of understand the principles, but I find the implied numbers mind-blowing. Looking backwards, it looks very orderly - there appears to be a progressive development of the species, in that they became better suited to their environment. Of course, I realise that the theory is that countless other, less successful variants died out, didn’t make it. 
It’s the “countless” bit I have problems with. If genetic variations are just random accidents, and only the odd lucky hits work, then the numbers involved seem improbable – even the existence of the odd lucky hit is a bloody long shot. Anyway, no matter – I am interested in this stuff. I have recently been watching the DVD set of Prof Brian Cox’s Wonders of Life, and have vowed to watch it again, to attempt to understand it more fully. My personal beliefs do not insist that there is some form of conscious will behind this progression, nor do they require that I should be able to understand such a thing if there were one, but I have a lot of trouble accepting that it could work without some form of scripting, without something or someone having had a peek at the answers in the back of the book. I’d like to think I keep an open mind on it, and I also like to think that one day it will make sense to me, but not yet.

To move on from the philosophical to the ridiculous, we may have a little more evidence this morning. In crude terms, my understanding is that some variations and mutations just didn’t work. Birds, for example, which built their nests in dangerous places would be less likely to survive and pass on their instincts and their habits to their offspring. We have one such here, at Chateau Foy.

Yesterday a sparrow fell down our chimney, and ended up in the log stove. This happens very occasionally (though, now I come to think of it, it was blue tits previously), and is not recommended. It is upsetting for the bird, and potentially even worse for the owners of the stove. The stove, of course, was not lit.

We let it out, having opened all the windows, because birds are smart creatures of the wild and can spot the way out of a tight situation (e.g. via an open window) in a flash. The results were disappointing - it flew around, bouncing off the ceiling, for 15 minutes - it left us eventually, but the living room was a disaster area. I was too preoccupied at the time to take a photograph, but here is a picture of a dog which gives the general idea.

You may imagine me, if you will, with my son’s butterfly net, standing on one leg, waving it like a fairy wand about 2 seconds after each time the bird has passed. We should register the film rights. The Contesse performed heroics cleaning up, and about an hour and a half later things were back to normal – a lot of work, and really well done.

Sadly, by this stage the sparrow had once again fallen down the chimney and was back in the stove. Yes – it was the same sparrow; the moron seems to be attempting to build a nest inside our chimney cowl.

Now my instinct at this point was to help speed up evolution and leave the stupid thing there – with luck it would quieten down when it got hungry and would be more amenable to being lifted out. At worst, it might die and we would have strengthened the species as a result. The Contesse, of course, could not contemplate such heartlessness, and we were obliged to let it out again. This time the panic lasted only a couple of minutes – I guess the little chap was tired after the first episode – and the Contesse caught him in the butterfly net before too much damage was done, and took him outside.

I know that you are now nodding, waiting for the next appearance of the idiot sparrow in the stove, and it may still happen, but so far so good. Around 3am - peak thinking hour - I had all sorts of crazed ideas for making a bag out of 10mm plastic mesh and putting it over the chimney pot, even a rough design for a mesh bag which would fit the opening in the stove, so that we had a piece of official kit for rescuing birds from log stoves – maybe both these devices could be patented, and I could make a fortune selling them through Scott’s of Stow, along with the sofa-rug-with-sleeves and their other classic devices for improving the lives of dumb pensioners. Maybe not.

Maybe Scotts of Stow gives us another dark hint about evolution, too.

Here are some photos we took during the second visitation. 


  1. You are good people for being kind to dumb animals. My wife and I once spent an hour trying to rescue a bat from our bedroom. Alas we did not have a butterfly net and the story did not end well. After overturning everything of value we inadvertently drove the bat into a ceiling fan we had forgotten to turn off. :(

    1. Michael - that is a sad story, but I am especially disappointed that the bat collided with the ceiling fan - I thought their guidance system was better than that.

      Bats are a dodgy proposition here - if they move into your house, or any part of it, you had better move out, since they are protected to such degree that it is illegal even to think of disturbing them. We had an exciting episode a few years ago, when the Contesse's mother (La Duchesse Veuve Culdechat, as described in Hooptedoodle #74) was babysitting for us, and was badly upset by the intrusion of a pipistrelle - she had to be rescued by the fisherman who lives next door. At the time there was much discussion of how unlikely it was that one would find two old bats in the same house.

      Regards - Tony

  2. This is one reason why we keep cats.........no, I mean since they already understand the universe and have arranged it to their liking, there is no need for me to ponder the mysteries anymore. The fact that they adhere to the laws of nature and eat unauthorized interlopers is just a plus.

    But we do have a cap on our chimney anyway. Woudn't want the smoke to have its exit blocked by a nest, makes it hard to light a fire and messes the kitchen walls...

    1. The following day we got a female chaffinch in the stove, but this lady was much smarter - flew straight out of the open window on being released. All sorts of reasons suggest themselves, but maybe the one I fancy is that it was getting dusk, and the room was fairly dark apart from the bright window - the sparrow episode was around midday, when the whole place was very bright, and the windows maybe weren't so obvious.

      We have a metal cowl on the chimney which has been wired to keep birds out - maybe it keeps them in?

      I wouldn't fancy having a cat stuck in the flue either...