Anecdotes and memories

RSPB East Berks Local Group Anecdotes and memories, from Brian Clews

Prior to meeting at our current venue, we used to meet in a very cramped upper room in the Maidenhead Library.  A ceiling level lower than our tallest visitors meant most folk in the back rows could only see the top 3” of each picture! Anytime the speaker said anything vaguely funny and exacted a laugh, the library staff would keep coming in to tell us to “be quiet this IS a library you know”!!!!!

The group was responsible for organising the annual local showing of the RSPB film of the year.  This was screened at the Desborough Suite, Maidenhead Town Hall, which was usually full for this event.  Operating projectors and sound equipment for such a high profile event was a nerve racking experience for the local group organisers!!

One particular milestone was the 21st anniversary celebration in 1995.  This was held at Eton College hall and was quite a jamboree with stalls, food, raffle and a famous guest speaker.  The RSPB headquarters at Sandy were quite involved and Bill Oddie was invited as guest speaker.  (We think Bill Oddie was President of the RSPB at the time.)

I (Brian Clews) led a trip to Reading Gravel Pits once.  Everyone else was looking at something totally uninteresting, a Smew or Goosander or something. I was trying to get to grips with some very strange plumage on a distant bird bobbing up and down at the furthest most edge of the lake, in rather poor viewing conditions.  In the end, I gave up hoping I could announce a rare duck to enhance my reputation and invited everybody to focus on the ‘interesting bird’ I was struggling with.  I think it was Dave White who eventually broke the ice by asking “How near the plastic Coke bottle is the bird”?!!!!

I suspect we have probably run coach trips more regularly than many other RSPB Groups (thanks to Ernie).  We always had ‘the naughty boys’ sitting on the back seat.  This typically included Martin Finch, Angus Murray and, in more recent years, Bernie Upton!  Mind you, the coaches were not always to international travel standard.  I can recall one very rainy trip where I was trip leader; passing through the coach on the return journey to collect the ticket money, when the “high quality” coach went through a huge puddle and a wave of water came up through the floor and soaked me right up to the collar of my shirt!!!!  I was not amused - but everybody else was in hysterics!

We were once booked by coach to go to RSPB Elmley but just a few days beforehand, they rang to say they‘d double booked and couldn’t take us. BY chance, on a business trip next day, I discovered Tichfield Haven on the south coast, which I’d never heard of before. Enquiring within, and by the biggest fluke imaginable, the following weekend was their first weekend for ages without a coach party booked! Result.
The next Saturday, we were hurtling along country lanes towards the reserve in the coach and passed a field gate, which we passed in about 1 second. But I’d spotted something which caused me to shout to the driver to stop. After much bad language and protestation, he did and I made everyone walk back with their bins (hoping to find a Little Egret - rare in those days). Even I was surprised when it turned out to be a Cattle Egret – a tick for just about everyone aboard! Thank goodness it wasn’t a Coke bottle!!!!

One of the things about EBRSPB is that there have always been lots of volunteers to serve on the committee (often up to a dozen). The only qualification for being a local group committee member was membership of the national organisation. Amongst such numbers I ‘inherited’ on one of my stints as Group Leader was Martin Britnel, (Mr B as we lovingly know him), and son of Cyril, a founder committee member. During one of the mid-term sessions, chat got around to the various forms of membership to which Mr B responded that he’d never been a member. I HAD TO SACK HIM ON THE SPOT! (But he still speaks to me!).

Ernie Allen has organised more coach trips than many of us have had ticks! All with incredible attention to detail. But there was one occasion when the clockwork got a bit sticky. Whilst writing around to get a good deal for one trip, he placed the order with one company and did not accept the other’s offer (or so he understood). On the day, a coach turned up, we all got on and departed. A short while afterwards the proper company coach turned up and was somewhat miffed at no-one being there waiting for him. But it all got sorted out amicably afterwards.

Lin and Harry Matthews, long-term servants in our goods and sales activity, didn’t often like to travel on the coach so would often meet us at the destination, with Harry waiting in the car whilst we walked. At one such destination we all went off in search of the Snow Buntings reported at the coastal end of the reserve. We dipped; only to find that Harry had had one sitting on his wing mirror whilst we’d been away!

Many will remember Les and Eva Cuddon, regular attendees and committee members during the 90’s. Les was a sturdy retired fireman whilst Eve was a little unsteady on her feet. We’d got halfway round a walk when we encountered a style that poor Eva could not cope with. We all recommended Les give her a fire-mans lift over it, but she was far too embarrassed to allow him (plus, tho we didn’t say so, he was well past the ability to do it!!)

A small group of us went to Portland Bill for a weekend. Someone shouted ‘Black Redstart’ and we took the path towards the spot – except Martin Gostling! He decided to take a short-cut hopping over the gaps in the large flat rocks near the shore. At the Redstart site, someone eventually asked “Where’s Martin?”. We retraced his steps and found him cowering down a deep fissure between two huge slabs. The 50-foot long fissure was over 15 feet deep with very jagged racks beneath. But there was a 1-foot square stone which had lodged itself just six feet from the top at one location– upon which Martin had been fortunate to fall. True, he had a huge swelling on his knee, and his telescope seemed to be looking in two different directions at once, but thank goodness for that stone!

At the first group trip to Gibraltar Point in autumn 1975, it is claimed that Jeremy Langham caused considerable alarm to Peter Gaines by using a wire coat hanger to scratch on Peter’s room door in the early hours of the morning.  This may be the first time Peter knows who the perpetrator was!

It may have been this same event at which, during a busy breakfast, Jeremy released a Pheasant from a cardboard box into the dining room: Pandemonium!!!

Other Observatory tales include:-

  • Cyril Britnell leaning down from his top bunk with line and hook trying to remove the wig from the head of a sleeping Malcolm Collier!
  • At Sandringham Bird Observatory, ‘Mr B’ and Jeremy arrived late and had to sleep on the floor between all the occupied bunks. But beneath the cot was a floor board which, when depressed, somehow caused the door to open and a powerful draft enter. Jeremy probably went through the routine of getting in to bed, getting up again to shut the door, getting back in the cot etc etc three or four times before being barked at to move his cot against the door!!!!!!!!!
  • Bill Oddie called out into the Dungeness breakfast room that a major rarity had been discovered, causing all to down cutlery and shoot out to find it. They returned, having dipped the rarity, to find empty plates and a note from Bill thanking them for all the nice breakfasts!

The group often had a stand at the Knowl Hill Steam Fair (until they started charging for the benefit!). The stand would be put up in record time so the guys could spend the rest of the day in the beer tent!  Cyril Britnell always used these events to display his ability to shin all the way up one of the main marquee support poles – to much applause.

Bob Stockhausen recalls how it often seemed to be the case that, whenever he popped into the bushes to “see a man about a hose pipe”, it resulted in one of the scarcer species of birds being flushed which everyone else saw – except him!

At Pagham, two ladies at the front of the party ran back to report “We’ve just seen a Puffin carrying a carrot”. A mad dash to the scene resulted in a lone Oystercatcher!

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Page last modified 30-May-2015