Category Archives: “Good Things”

It’s easy on the dark days to forget that we are happy a lot of the time, so here’s some things too prove that when it’s bad, sooner or later things always change, just remember that and keep the positive energy going when you have it.

Brento the starling I rescued

Brento, the fledgling Starling was trapped in Jane’s wall cavity and I rescued him by removing a vent, no sign of parents, no nest.  As we could not find a local rescue center and also because he was so desperate I took it upon myself to be his caretaker. My duty was to give him as much chance of survival as if he was with his parents, which was a tall order!

It is a difficult job to care for a baby bird. If you are considering it, make sure you are 100% certain that parents are not about. Take time looking and listen for their calls.  If it’s a starling it will have been nesting in a roof or a wall or something high, if it’s a Blackbird it will be from a nest in a bush. Starlings can fly (a bit) as soon as they leave the nest, Blackbirds on the other hand hide in the bushes waiting for mum for days till they are mature enough to fly, so it may be a Blackbird, it’s hard to tell the difference.

It really has been an eye opener and a pleasure looking after him.  I’m no expert on birds, so for more information on starlings I highly recommend visiting http://www.starlingtalk.com/  their website helped a great deal with my research.

If you have rescued a chick you will notice that it will need feeding a lot, much more than you think it could possibly eat!  Don’t worry about over feeding it, it will refuse food when full and it will eat A LOT in one go, much more than you would think possible. They eat mainly insects, get millions of mealworm and crickets from pet shop. Dried puppy food soaked then drained is the other main food, check the protein content it should be more than say 25%. pet shops also sell fat/suet with added insects (Tesco have pellets too). Boiled egg and shell mixed with apple sauce. berries. dried insect mix. Seeds as food yes, but depends whether starling or blackbird, best to start with seeds that are like alpen squashed etc and without husks (Tesco ‘Natures Garden’ ground and table mix, and ‘No mess Mix’) mix them both together and add some goodies like dried insects/dried mealworm/apple bits/peanuts, whatever.. oh and worms are to be avoided as they may contain parasites (Gape worm) that could kill the bird in no time.

Starlings are amazing talkers and can also impersonate machinery and the likes. I have been playing Starling song to him, they have to learn it in the first 60 days or they won’t be able to remember it when they start singing at maturity.

You will need a big cage, and also an aviary/shed so that it can get it’s flight muscles excercised.  Do not try to tame it (after all it is a wild bird) by handling it too much. An important factor to consider is time, you will need loads of it! In the film you will see ways to help the bird learn how to be a bird! Also the internet has a wealth of information. If you choose to hand rear an baby bird, it will not be easy, however it will be a majorly rewarding experience.

The last day I saw Brento he fed well and seemed happy enough, in fact I’d say he was quite playful, pecking my ear etc.  I did feel something strange about him that day, and looking back now I think he was saying good-bye.

Brento the starling I rescued » "Brento" the starling I rescued and raised.

 

Starlings are magnificent flyers and when they glide overhead in their little Squadron’s they look like miniature humans wearing Phoenix-Fly Phantom 3 wingsuits!

Gary Connery wingsuit landing – I was there (with vid)

I told him he’d nail it, he strolled up the field, donned his wingsuit and did just that.

Gary Connery lands a wingsuit – Here’s the gallery.  I was there on this historic day 23rd May 2012 when Gary Connery, ex british soldier from 3 Para, and hollywood stuntman became the first person to jump from an aircraft (a helicopter at 2400ft no less!) and land safely without using a parachute.

I chatted with Gary minutes before the jump, and we talked about his flysight data from another jump he’d done “sputnik,”  and how he managed to get the perfect glide ratio  he had planned for to hit the boxes.  Weather conditions on the day were not ideal though, it was gusting, there were thermals at the end of the box-rig, he had changed a few things like his exit routine from the chopper, the world’s press (and me and my little camera, my girlfriend Jane and Sassy dog) were waiting, it appeared to me that the wind speed was picking up!

Watching Wingsuit BASE at Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Watching Wingsuit BASE at Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

I told him he’d nail it, he strolled up the field, donned his wingsuit and did just that.  There are no words to describe seeing a man fly like a bird with such precision.  If you want to know, go to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland like I did a few years back, that will give you some idea.  “The valley” is a BASE jumping paradise where if you don’t fancy it yourself, you can get yourself comfortable and watch the wingsuiters jump from the cliffs and fly over your head, all day.

It would probably be correct to say that most people present at Gary’s jump had zero clue about wingsuiting or BASE jumping, but Gary’s confidence and profound self-belief  led everyone to believe that all was in order, nothing could possibly go wrong, lardy dar let’s get this done more tea vicar! and there’s nothing wrong with that.

When the sound of the helicopter rotors changed pitch I knew it was hovering into position, a speck in the sky above. My heart rate probably doubled, then a few seconds later “there he goes”.   Ages seemed to go by, then he exploded into view all of a sudden, no longer a speck, now a man, flying.  Then he went unstable and was rocking from side to side, I was concerned he was close to a stall and I stopped breathing for a while I’m sure;  then when he smashed into the boxes I thought  “perfect landing, he did it”, a thought that lasted about half a second to be replaced by “oh shit, he went in hard and fast.”  My girlfriend was sobbing and I was reassuring her (and myself) that he was ok.  I was nearly in tears and buzzing with adrenaline waiting for him to come out the boxes.  Gary Connery, a true gentleman, and a legend from now on. Something tells me this won’t get copied for a while, it’s just bonkers, I still can’t believe what I saw!

Here’s my video from this incredible day.  For the interview I was between ITN News and the Times, however because this interview was interrupted by the crowd running into the boxes, courtesy of Gary’s wife Vivienne (a fitting end to the proceedings in my opinion) the interview was not shown on TV to the best of my knowledge, so here it is, just as it should be.

 

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”    Theodore Roosevelt

Gary Connery what a guy!
Here’s the gallery.

Desperately seeking Deborah D51

Whilst driving through France, Jane and I went looking for the WW1 tank D51 “Deborah” that took 5 direct hits from German Artillery at Flesquieres, killing 5 of her crew during the Battle of Cambrai 20 Nov 1917. Deborah had been dug out of the ground in 1998. I was a little unprepared, and aside from some stuff I’d printed off the internet about Deborah and her crew, I had no idea where the tank was.

Moderne
Moderne
Battle of Cambrai
Havrincourt
Battle of Cambrai
Havrincourt
Battle of Cambrai
Havrincourt
Battle of Cambrai
Havrincourt

We drove around with a european road map with a scale of 16miles per inch, it was of little use. Fortunately I did have some WW1 maps of the battle of Cambrai, so we headed out towards Havrincourt, because that was where the tanks prepared for the battle and were hidden in the woods. Surely someone there would know where Deborah was. We saw an old lady outside the peculiar looking building that looks like the old shop in Havrincourt, looking almost derelict, with a sign saying ‘moderne’. She looked like she was always there, hanging around in the doorway. I don’t speak much french, I can sing Le Boudin – The march of the French Foreign Legion perfectly, but I suspected this too would be of little use. I pulled up alongside her and said in my best french, “Tank – Deborah”. It seemed that was all the french I needed and after stopping off in the pleasant village square to cook up a brew on the MSR Dragonfly Stove – For Men, we headed off in the correct direction for Flesquieres.

We visited the cemetary at Pozieres to pay our respects to Pte Alfred Muckell of the 6th Connaught Rangers who had died in the German spring offensive of 1918. A relative of my girlfriend Jane, she believes she may be his first relative to have visited panel 77 which bears his name, his body was never recovered. It was a poignant moment, a beautiful memorial, he told Jane “Go on girl, have a fag for me”.

Battle of Cambrai
Panel 77,
Pte Alfred Muckell
6th Connaught Rangers
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres
Battle of Cambrai
Pozieres

Next, and still on the D929 from Baupaume to Pozieres, a tank memorial complete with beautiful bronze miniature tanks around an obelisk, I quote from the plaque “Near this spot the first tanks used in war went into action on 15th Sept 1916.”

Having to mostly rely on the WW1 map, gave me a good feel of the battlefield as we drove through it on the country lanes, and sometimes down the actual tracks through fields that were used by tanks on the 20th Nov 1917. My own experience as a tank crewman had me noticing the lay of the land, areas of cover, approach routes, suitable defensive positions, bridges, woods, unavoidable open ground. I had a good feeling of understanding and empathy and really felt connected. I was imagining, the attention and fascination the tanks must have recieved from our troops, and indeed the enemy. They would have been a natural gathering place for troops, the warmth and smell from the Daimler petrol engine, the noise, the technology, it’s firepower and it’s ability to drive through houses. Having myself spent many nights and cold mornings waking up in the woods with tanks, I know how they become like home. It is always a terrible way to die inside a tank, but once driving along if death came, it would probably come to you where you sat, so you knew where you would be when you died, close to your crew and in your own space which you take with you into the battlefield. A space that carried with it memories, and a sense of place, you, your crew and your tank acting as one. For an infantryman going over the top, i cannot imagine there would be any comfort in knowing where you are going to die, how I feel for those poor men.Time was getting on, it was late afternoon on a beautiful summers day by the time we arrived in Flesquieres. Driving around the small village I saw no tank, no signs, no museum. A stuttered conversation with a woman led us to the barn where D51 is. No sooner had we got out of the car to go and see if we could see through the door somehow, a car pulled up and a french guy gets out and starts doing the old talking french thing. Gesticulating rules in circumstances like this and before long we were left standing there as he drove away. Minutes later he returned,. with the key. His name is Dominique Lavallee, he lives in Flesquieres, and should you wish to see D51 “Deborah” I would advise that if contacting the official website fails, you contact him. The tank is currently only viewable by appointment, Dominique’s e-mail is dominiquelavallee02@yahoo.frThe official website is here www.tank-cambrai.com

Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
D51 “Deborah”
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
Flesquieres Cemetary
Battle of Cambrai
The crew of
D51 – “Deborah”
Battle of Cambrai
Flesquieres Cemetary

Dominique is a nice man, he speaks virtually no english, but he has a kindness about him. He opened the door and as I walked in and saw her there, ripped open and shot at, I was overcome with emotion at the though of the crew’s fate on the 20th Nov 1917. For a while I sobbed unashamedly, before reading out some information I had printed. They are buried in the cemetary 100m away. There was a pen on the grass in front of one of the graves obviously dropped in error, I took it back to the car, it never worked. A few weeks later, it was the only pen the right colour I needed to edit Sassy’s dog passport after the vet filled it in wrong and we were told at the ferry check-in the dog would be refused, the pen worked. There is a small museum at Deborah’s memorial, some interesting artefacts from the great war.At the top of the hill in Flesquieres there is a monument built in part by members of The Royal Tank Regiment. Jane and I drove down a tank track opposite this obvious gun position at the edge of the village, and found a spot on the battlefield where we lit a fire and camped out for the night. Havrincourt woods was a mile or so away across the field, and the route the tanks would have taken in order to maintain cover was obvious, I imagined them starting up their engines at twenty past six in the morning as a barrage of 1003 artillery guns detonated simultaneously on the german lines. In the first minute alone around 5 thousand shells would have been in the air. The thump and whoosh, ching, seeing the explosions a mile away, and the smell of cordite, the air being sucked up as the cannons let rip, It must have been quite an awesome experience. Jane and I had an emotional but very humbling and enjoyable day.

Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
looking east towards Flesquieres Hill
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
Battle of Cambrai
The Battlefield
Flesquieres
looking towards
Havrincourt Woods
Battle of Cambrai
Bourlon Woods
scene of fierce
fighting
Battle of Cambrai
Bourlon Woods
scene of fierce
fighting

To all who have died at war, my thoughts are with you, and particularly with my comrades The Tankies, I bid you a happy Cambrai Day.20th Nov 2010.