July 2012

With a bit of time on my hands I’ve been able to type up the award-winning essay mentioned in the Birdland post I wrote a while back.

It gives some interesting insights into the author, who was growing up as a farm-worker’s son near Slough, long before it became fodder for Betjeman & Brent, and also some of the practices and attitudes of the time towards animals.

There is a very odd bit about the senses which doesn’t sit with the fact that this piece was written at Methodist Sunday School, but does put me in mind of the sort of hokey that Arthur Conan Doyle was getting into at the time.

It is a document from a time of innocence in many respects, not least of all because young Jack would, a few short years later find himself in the trenches of the Western Front.

An essay on the R.S.P.C.A. by Jack Wakefield. Age 13.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has done a great deal of good since it started, and if it were to cease its noble work of kindness, there would be a lot more cruelty done to animals in England today. Horses would be ill-treated, dogs and cats and other domestic animals would be neglected. People of the English Nation would become more cruel to the animals that work for them, and they would soon get a bad name.

The work of this Society is to prevent as much cruelty to animals as is possible.

All people are not alike in their treatment to dumb animals, and of course, there are many who would scorn to ill-treat any creature in their care.

Children can best be trained to be kind to animals, when they are young, by having a few pets of their own to look after, such as a dog, cat, rabbit or a bird. They should be taught to feed them regularly every day, and to treat them kindly. A small prize offered by a parent to the child who has the best kept pet, would encourage them a great deal.

Children who are kind to animals when they are young, will, in most cases, be the same all through their lives, and people who know them will respect them, for surely, if they are kind to dumb creatures, they will show kindness to human beings.

In many cases it is not advisable to keep pets, because they are taken from their natural place in life, to live in a place which they were not meant for. This makes them ferocious, and if they are upset they will attack anybody who is within reach.

It is very cruel to keep wild animals and birds caged up for pets, just to look at, instead of letting them roam about the forests at their own free will. There are exceptions of course, such as the horse, cow, sheep, dog and cat, which were put into the world for the use of man.

The human race benefits a lot from it’s supremacy over the Animal World, because men have the power and ability to make most animals useful. The horse for instance, will draw heavy loads or plough the fields. The cow gives us milk, and the dog is taught to guard the house and the sheep, while the cat will rid any place of that pest, the mouse. All animals that work for mankind should be treated with kindness, and fed according to their nature, for are they not of much value to their owners? A creature that is properly cared for, will serve a master much better than a beast that is cruelly treated and ill-fed, so in the end it is far better to show their kindness to all animals. Take for example the horse, which knows quite well when it has a good master, and will appreciate a dry warm stable and good food, after a hard day’s work, the result being that the horse will work all the better.

The uses of birds are many and various. The English birds are not so pretty as foreign birds, but they have beautiful voices, especially the nightingale and canary. Sparrows do a great deal of good by eating up so many insects and caterpillars which infest the ground, although, although they are somewhat mischievous amongst the farmers corn. Starlings are fond of eating our cherries, but they pay for this by devouring so many worms, slugs and snails in the course of a year. Men would scarcely be able to get rid of all these pests, and if it were not for the birds, a lot of our garden produce would be spoilt. Linnets are noted for eating the seeds of weeds, thus showing how useful they are in the keeping the weeds down. Such birds as the canary, thrush and the different kinds of finches are kept in cages and hung up in people’s homes, because of their singing powers. If a man feels melanchol (sic) and depressed, and he hears some of these birds singing, as they will sing, he feels as if he cannot help trying to be happy like the birds. It is very nice to listen on a bright summer day, to the birds singing up amongst the trees, they make everything seems so cheerful. The nightingale is heard at its best in the evening when all is still and quiet, its sweet notes echoing for some distance round. Wild birds have been caught and shut up in cages with black clothes tied over them, to make them sing. Others, by being starved of water, have been taught to draw their own water with a little pail and chain. This is a cruel way to teach a bird to do anything. Parrots and jackdaws are very amusing, but they are often ill-treated, when people split their tongues, thinking it will make them talk better.

Other animals are also treated in a similar way, especially at a show of circus. A horse has been taught to walk on its hind legs, with its fore-legs resting on the back of a cart or trolley, and go several tomes around the ring in an unnatural way. The spectators are pleased with the performance, but little do they think of the torture the horse has gone through while being taught to do it. At a certain place, a long pole about eight feet long, and studded with sharp spikes, was used where some horses were being trained to jump, it being held underneath them, to make them jump clear of obstacles. Such treatment as this is very cruel, as of course, if the horse did not jump high enough, it would most likely come down on the spikes, which would inflict serious wounds.

Men who treat animals like this deserve to be punished for deliberate cruelty. Some men keep horses and dogs which are trained to hunt stags, foxes and hares. For several days before the hunt the dogs are kept rather short of food to make them more keen in pursuit of sport, and the horses are spurred on by their riders until the blood comes from their flanks and they are nearly exhausted. It is to be hoped that the time will soon come when men will be forced to treat all animals kindly for although they are the servants of mankind they have feeling as well as humanity.

The human race has seven senses, which are seeing, feeling, smelling, talking, tasting, the magnetic and electric senses. Most people know in a moment when another person in the same room is looking at them, although they cannot see that person. Then there are many people who are aware of the approach of a cat or dog, even though the animal has come up unseen or unheard. This is the magnetic sense.

The electric sense is even more wonderful. By this, in some unknown way we know of happenings several miles away. The following story is an example. “A lady was once walking across a piece of moorland crowned by a high road. As she got to the top she suddenly saw a runaway carriage and pair with some people inside and two men on the box, coming toward her at a furious pace. All at once there was a terrible accident before her very eyes. She ran forward impulsively to offer assistance, and then the whole scene vanished. When she got home she told the story to the friend with whom she was staying, and described the occupants of the carriage. They proved to be the local squire and some members of his family. The next day, at the same time and place the accident really did happen, but it was known twenty-four hours before, by the electric sense.”

Animals are not endowed with the magnetic and electric senses, thus plainly showing that the human race has more senses than animals.

Another difference between human beings and animals is that men have an hereafter, which animals have not. When animals die that is the end of them, but with humanity it is far different, for us we have an eternity stretching out before us, – Heavenly Home where we shall live forever. When we say a man dies we are wrong, for to everyone who believes in the life to come it is just waking from a deep sleep and being in the Home above, to live eternally in the presence of our Maker.

It will be seen that the human race is far different from the beasts that roam the forests, and although we sometimes hear a man called a beast, it is not that he really is a creature of the animal world, but that he is doing something that is not worthy of mankind, showing no more sense that an animal, therefore he is termed a “beast”.

There is still another difference between humanity and animals, and that is sight. Some animals can see better in the dark than in the light, while men can only see in the light.

Then some dogs have a sense which even the cleverest detectives do not possess, that is, the sense of smell. These dogs, called blood-hounds, are able to trace a person for miles, with only the faintest scent for their guidance. They are sometimes used for catching escaped criminals, when men have failed. The teaching of Natural History is very important because it shows people the ways and claims (sic) of animals. It would be best for children to learn this at school when they are young, because they are more likely to take an interest in it. They should have a different subject for each lesson and the teacher should explain it in such a way that the children would thoroughly understand it.

A horse’s foot is composed of grisel (sic) which grows hard towards the bottom. The hard part is called the hoof. At the bottom of the hoof is the frog. A careless farrier may drive a nail through the hoof into the frog, which in most cases will turn to lock-jaw and cause the death of the animal. If a horse loses a shoe while travelling, the hoof is worn off close to the frog, causing the horse to go lame. It is very cruel to let horses go about the without shoes on because it causes them pain. It is like making men walk on sharp stones bare-footed, for the horses feel it just as much as men do.

The bearing rein on horses is not used so much now, for men are beginning to find out that it is useless. When a horse falls or stumbles, the head and shoulders go down together, therefore the bearing-rein cannot be any support. But although the bearing-rein is injurious and useless, a tightened rein is often needful, because it keeps the horse’s head up, and helps to prevent stumbling. When a cart-horse is going up a hill with a heavy van and it has got the hame-rein on, it requires a great deal more power to draw the load, than it would if the horse had its head free. Drivers think if they make their horse wear the bearing and hame reins it will make them look smart. It may do in the eyes of people who care nothing for their horses, but to those who do, it looks very cruel. The bearing rein pulls the bit tight and makes the horse’s mouth sore, which after a while gets hardened, and the horse then becomes nearly unmanageable.

No man should have animals in his care unless he knows how to treat them. We can easily tell if a horse or dog has a good master, because they will look so much better than the animals that have a cruel master. They would be well fed and clean, and more able to do the work they are fitted for, while the cruel master starves his animals, then beats them because they do not have the strength to do their work.

Every animal was put into the world for a purpose, therefore it is our duty to treat them as they ought to be treated. A very good way of doing this is to help the Royal Society in its good work, and try to stop any cruelty that comes under our notice.


This series of paper bag posts has made me smile a lot this morning.

They do carry a much less amusing underlying message tho’


Last year I blogged about buying an old Intrepid fishing reel, and later, briefly about one my dad owned.

Since then I’ve acquired a few more. Quite a few more. Enough to be called a collection in fact – which for anyone in any doubt means more than three of a particular object. Actually means two of the same item and one vaguely similar.

That said I don’t know very much about them and there doesn’t seem to be that much information widely available.

This may be because Intrepid reels as a marque are not particularly well regarded in other than nostalgic terms; most British anglers wetting a line in the late 50s to early 70s would have owned one. Some people actively scorn them, much of which seems to stem from owning a Black Prince as a child (though not all feel that way), or perhaps trying to use them in modern times. I have tried the latter with mixed results, because the fact is they don’t really compare with later reels.

Also, although I understand they came up with many innovations they were let down by build quality/materials. So to some people they are regarded as nasty, badly made little black reels from the 60s.

Personally I think this is far from the real story (reel story?), but then I’m partisan.

It had not been a good day.

But then it had not been a good month.

Or a good quarter year even.

Life had worn me down somewhat, largely because I’ve got myself into a position at work I’m not happy with and one which I see limited opportunities of extricating myself from.

I’d sat all morning by an old monastery pond, during a rainstorm, and caught only a tiny perch. My only luck was in not catching a cold as well. Relocating to a river seemed a sensible idea, particularly as the sun was due to appear in the afternoon.

This did prove more successful in terms of catching fish (though they were few and not very big), but the sun didn’t turn up and it continued raining on and off all afternoon.

Rarely do I feel anything other than contentment when fishing, but I was starting to feel distinctly glum. Soggy and glum is not a good combination.

And then I reeled in this little fellow.

Has a smaller fish ever been caught on a size twelve hook and five, yes five, maggots?

At the time it just tickled me as the smallest fish I’d ever caught. But over the next twenty-four hours this small piscine creature swam round and round in my mind. I have touched before on the life lessons that can be taken from tiny critters and this one certainly made me think. In attacking a bait almost as big as itself it showed a hunger for life that was both impressive and slightly crazy.

So what did I take from that?

Well, that life is for living and not moping and if I can’t reduce the grim bits of life that I can’t control, then I need to increase the positive aspects. And a big part of that has to be doing something creative. I’ve a few ideas that’ve been hanging around for a while and I certainly need to reinvigorate work on my tree book.

And to get better at fishing.

Like a magpie I’ve picked up all sorts of written material about horticulture. Amongst these were some old copies of Hortus “The Best-Selling Gardening Quarterly – Offering the finest garden writing in the English Language”. How many gardening quarterlies are there I wonder.

This was spotted and as a Christmas present I was given a year’s subscription to the periodical. Twelve months later I did not renew it. To my mind it was rather dull. There’s only so much I can read about the gardens of country estates and stately homes. Plus, actually not a plus but rather a large minus, it has in recent years included a regular piece by Hugh Johnson whose columns I have previously found tedious in the RHS’s Garden magazine and then Gardens Illustrated. I wasn’t about to sign up for thirds.

By now I’d picked up most of the back issues and whilst there was some good stuff in there I just didn’t have time to go and mine it. So earlier this year I sold the lot which gave me a good length of shelf space to fill with something more interesting.

In fact there were only two elements of the later editions that I enjoyed.

The interviews by Diana Ross, which are the best thing she’s done since her days with the Supremes and Sam Llewellyn’s pieces which were wildly brilliant, certainly compared to the rest of Hortus’ musty content.

Subsequently I got hold of a copy of one of his (many) books “The Worst Journey in the Midlands” which though described on his site as “a little masterpiece of gloom” is an amusing read about his descent of the Thames in an ancient wooden boat plugged with plastic filler.

Recently I was checking out Sam’s website and was delighted to find it includes one of his Hortus pieces.

If only there were more.

The fishing season started a few Saturdays back. The day before it began I wrote this, but haven’t had time to post it till now.

The first day of the season, a day charged with expectation and significance. Particularly for me as the beginning of my first full season since angling reclaimed me last year. In my youth I fished almost exclusively on stillwaters, since my return it has been almost entirely on rivers. But it seemed appropriate somehow, important even, that this special day should be marked by a visit, a pilgrimage even, to the monastic ponds where I started to learn the craft.

Undoubtedly nostalgia was playing a part in this decision, but it was largely because I love these little ponds hidden in the woods. Important too to take with me some talisman, from that near, but distant, past. No longer do I have the old bush hat that I used to wear, but I do have a badge of the kind that adorned it. The rod of my youth is long gone, but I have acquired a surrogate and I still have my first reel.

Also an ancient reel case with faded gold lettering, the zipper sporting a shire-horse keyring. The latter was a gift from my very young sister the same Christmas as my first set of tackle. Puzzled, but enchanted by what to a four year old constituted a good present, I could think only to marry it to the reel case. A good luck charm if ever there was one.

But this is to be a day as much about the future as the past and I’m not that befuddled with sentiment that I’m not taking along a better set of tackle. It will be interesting to see whether I catch more or less, better or worse, than I did all that time ago. But then all this trip is not about anything as tedious as numbers, it’s about something more important than that.