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

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hooptedoodle #280 - One for Sorrow

Smart chap, but unwelcome - pica pica
Neil, the ghillie here on the farm, retired in June, and has moved to live in the town, at Dunbar. The ghillie is the man who keeps the wildlife under control, and on this farm a proportion of his work was also to look after the large numbers of pheasants, which are introduced in yearly batches to ensure that there is plenty of shooting around Christmas time. (Personally I do not care for the big shooting parties, so we try to arrange to go out somewhere else for the day when one is organised.)

A lovely man, Neil, generous and helpful but surprisingly shy - I shall miss him. In recent years there hasn't really been so much to do on the farm, so he has also been working part time as a driver for the local bus company.

Well, he's gone, and we are becoming aware that things are changing as a result. We never really saw or heard much going on - it was all quiet and behind the scenes - but we now have sightings of foxes, stoats, rats, and a few other things which Neil, with his traps and his shotgun, used to take care of. Rats and stoats are not good news - if you think that a stoat would be a delightful creature to have as a neighbour on a farm then you have never seen the havoc they can inflict on a chicken coop. Some years ago Neil's wife lost her complete stock of Christmas turkeys to stoats, which tunnelled into a closed compound and killed the lot - didn't eat them, just killed them, apparently for recreation.

Though related to the weasel, an animal which is weasily recognisable, the
stoat is stoatally different, as you can see
One further intruder we have now is the chap right at the top of this post - pica pica - the Common Magpie. Regarded as one of the most intelligent creatures around, they are also very vigorous predators.

One has to admire any animal which is so handsome and so successful, but we now have daily visits from a number of them, we've seen 3 at the same time in our garden, and we know that if they become permanent residents in our woodland then they will have a dreadful effect on our beloved garden birds. These things eat eggs and baby birds like popcorn.

OK - it's Nature - that's what magpies do. One immediate outcome is that it seems unlikely that we will be able to make much use of our garden bird feeders this winter, and that is a huge loss to us if it comes about. Our feeders are all well above the ground, and the microsystem we have has worked well - perch feeders make a bit of a mess, and the ground feeders clean up after them. That may not work any more - the presence of seeds and nuts in the garden will certainly encourage both the rats and the magpies. Much pondering required.

The magpie (in common with other of his relatives in the crow family) features extensively in folklore and superstition, usually as a bringer of ill-fortune. It may be because the carrion birds ate the bodies of hanged criminals on the gibbet; there are a number of interesting theories on this. I had a friend who always said "good morning, Mr Magpie" when he saw one - he was brought up with the tradition that it was bad luck if you failed to do so - he didn't necessarily believe, you understand, but he was taking no chances...

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth.
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth.
Five for heaven,
Six for hell,
Seven for the devil, his own self

***** Late Edit *****

Also loosely connected with change and sorrow, but this item not down to Neil, I think. Past visitors to Chateau Foy may well recognise this place - this is the only Indian (Bengali) restaurant in our village, and we are regular, devoted customers. Sadly, the owner, Mohammad, has decided to sell up for family reasons, and they will be closing down tomorrow - so there's something else we are going to miss. If we want an Indian meal in future, we'll have to go to Dunbar or Aberlady, which is not nearly so handy. The premises are to be redeveloped as a bistro wine-bar - I'm sure it will be very nice, but there are already 5 similar businesses in the village - did we really need another?

Progress, you see. Next, it really wouldn't surprise me if someone opened yet another gift shop in the village; anything is possible with entrepreneurial people who can think outside the box.



  1. Different version:

    One for sorrow, two for joy
    Three for a girl, four for a boy.

    Used to do a lot of shooting/fishing in my youth - we're the same as stoats, hunting and killing for pleasure...

    1. Hi Rob - I think that is the version of the rhyme I grew up with too. I never liked fishing - mostly because I had to go with my dad(!) - I had use of a good air rifle when I was a kid. I was a very decent shot - only ever at targets. One day when I was about 12 I killed a young cock blackbird in my parents' garden with an accidental ricochet (I know that's what they all say, but it is gospel truth) and I was heart-broken. Never used the rifle again, even for targets.


    2. I lived in the grounds of an isolation hospital - dad was the hospital engineer - and used to like lying on the roof of the incinerator (only when it was not burning things) shooting rats. My dad was half blind. He used to go out shooting rabbits but if he saw a fox he would shoot that - only foxes and pheasants are easy to mistake for each other. He was also a fly fisherman. I finished up more interested in tying the flies for him.

      Happy days.

  2. Funny you mentioning the air rifle. I had a similar experience at eight or nine, where I shot and killed a young bird foraging in the grass the spring after I received an air rifle for Christmas. Like you, I was heartbroken when it immediately dawned on me what I had done, and I never used the air rifle again. I've since passed up all opportunities for even target and clay pigeon shooting during the last 40-odd years.

    Best Regards,


    1. Hi Stokes - what a pair of softies we must be! Very similar stories - I was invited a number of times to clay-pigeon sessions on corporate outings - once at Jackie Stewart's shooting school at Gleneagles - and used to have to think of complicated excuses why I couldn't go. I couldn't tell them I was scared of the bangs, could I?

  3. A ferret is, of course, ferritably distinctive. Sorry. Couldn't resist. A sable is sable to be told apart.

    I'll go now...

    1. Excellent - unotterably well played sir.

  4. Are many of the species now upsetting the tranquillity of the Chateau gardens introduced species? In the Antipodes we are reaping the harvest of colonial-era introductions of animals, birds, fish and plants to make the place more like England, which threaten the viability of agriculture and destroy whole ecosystems. I can still remember visiting farms in my childhood and seeing whole hillsides covered in rabbits. Stoats and ferrets were a major problem in New Zealand when I were a lad, as they decimate the native bird populations (many of which are wholly or semi-flightless). Indian Myna birds now form huge flocks and drive out native species, while our major river systems are clogged with carp. I do remember reading that rabbits were introduced to England by the Normans, so you'd think the colonists would know better (but commonsense was in remarkably short supply it seems, pigheadedness and a sense of inherent superiority being far more important to the building of Empire).
    Meanwhile, what on earth is a "bistro wine bar"? Isn't that just a restaurant with a wine list? We don't have bistros here. Instead we Melbournians love cafes. If any business or old public building closes, flocks of wild baristas (another introduced species) colonise it overnight and open yet another place for people to queue up to buy poached eggs and lattes. There is apparently no natural or economic limit to the number any local shopping strip can sustain.

    1. I know for a fact that the pheasant was introduced to the UK from somewhere Foreign - China? - can't remember. [Look at that - I'm sitting here in front of a computer, and I didn't even look it up. What's happened? - have I given up? - am I ill? - am I letting the side down? - have I discovered a new, ubercool attitude which could become the New Thing? - have I, in fact, merely taken ignorance to a new level?]

      The songbirds are confusing, because some of them live here part of the year, some are merely passing through on the way to somewhere else (see "Foreign", above). I think the rest of what we get around here are pretty much indigenous.

      Bistro wine bar - yes, it's just a caff with pretensions. One can only assume that bistros, espresso houses and pizzerias will all be banned or renamed after Brexit. A good thing too - let's get back to egg and cress sandwiches and Brown Windsor soup and HP Sauce. Oh - and industrial tea - brewed in a boiler.

      I was going to agree that our rivers here are also choked with carp, but then realised I'd misread your comment.