The Daily Grind

This piece is a reflection on a group day trip to a small local tourist attraction, Dudley Zoological Gardens and Castle, a historical monument with a zoo laid out in the grounds. Not the biggest or the best, but at least they are trying. 

The early morning routine was almost complete and the animals, already heat weary, were glad of a little peace to pick at the snacks left by the cleaners before settling back into the cool of their concrete bunkers which, although no replacement for native timber and greenery, few now could remember any such thing anyway with clarity.

With one set of annoyance out of the way, the background hub-bub of traffic circling the mound too had quietened from the twice daily rush hour into a gently rumble and crunch that could easily be ignored. For some, a return to fitful sleep recalled dreams of paradise, if now only imbedded in their DNA.

baboon.jpgA gangly limbed Gelada juvenile snatched a handful of fur from his older sibling and scampered off up the steep hill away from retribution. Unfortunately, he went head first into the towering, heavily maned figure of his father calmly looking out over his dry domain. A well-timed scratch to the inside of his leg stopped the youngster doing him any real injury at the collision, but a sideways swipe soon put the bemused infant back into the pecking order.

The alien clunking metal of the chair lift overhead held no interest for either so they failed to notice that not all the travellers on the ancient yellow and rust coloured contraption could bear to look down into the enclosure below. The mixture of a freezing fear of heights and memories from encounters far too close, kept the two domains well apart.

Higher up, and under a degree of tree shade, a single dish-like bejowled face peered around the rusted metal frame of a square doorway, but there was nothing of interest to expend energy on and he shuffled back into the mounded straw of his night bedding. ‘Let them play spot the animal for a few hours more’ was his reasoning, and rolled over comfortably in his orange coat to suck the juice of a breakfast orange before closing hooded eyes, and sleep.

Lemur walkThe levels of chatter had begun to rise and tiny fluorescent jackets scampered hand-in-hand in pairs, only roughly in crocodile lines, hopeful of seeing at least one living thing move behind the wire and glass. Unfortunately, the biggest movement they were treated to, was the twitching of a wild dog’s ear, but even this was hard to spot deep in the camouflaged shade.

More mature conversation held no interest for the residents of the shoddy enclosures either. Knowing full well that they were not going to get any tip-bits of food, was a lesson long learnt and, even with direct access to these upright bipeds as they walked through the wooded enclose, the younger lemurs went about their ritual competition for who could call the loudest without waking the parents but satisfyingly, annoying their larger cousins skulking elsewhere in the trees.

WP_20180703_13_52_36_ProWith heat building, there was no need for a clock to know that the wanderers would soon be sitting down with their bags and bottles which, for those lucky enough to have free reign of the place, was time to get on stage. A silent sweep of eye spotted feathers gave the best show of the day, which he knew of course, although his rather dowdier mate had seen it all before and she bobbed away to look for bits to peck at. The show was overly appreciated; but then he knew it always would be. A commotion nearby was drawing away the audience and even this iridescent shimmer of splendour was not enough to keep them interested.

At the opposite end of the beauty scale, the grey scabby bulk of a bull sealion was duly playing out his role for a smiling couple who had paid handsomely for the privilege of getting covered in fish guts and being within millimetres of a creature who could easily inflict great damage. Once more, he really couldn’t be bothered, so after the three small sprats which were not even an appetiser for someone weighing half a ton, he glided effortlessly away with his females spinning dutifully around him.

This affinity with food was the only thing that the diverse if otherwise unconnected species, had in common, but each new it was something they could use to get what they wanted, if only in the moment, not the greater scheme of things of course; freedom was, regretfully, only a relative concept. This food matter was not quite as brazen as the ‘blood diamonds for weapons’ trade of their native central Africa but, mealworms for a picture opportunity seemed a fair exchange in the Pigmy Marmoset world, or the Red Panda existence, although not even this motivation was enough for over-heated Howler Monkeys or a sweltering Snow Leopard who could only dream of its natural icy domain.

Curiously, the smallest of the captive residents seemed to get the greatest reaction from dudleyzoo-04the alpha predator humans. Contrived to be the most interesting part of a now crumbled stone history, an unrealistic terror at the sight of glass bound mice and rats was guaranteed amongst the large if faded remains of the historical summit.

The sun was dropping yet again on another pointless day and the bored macaws scratched the backs of their heads and, in nodded silent agreement, waddled through the hole in the mock stone wall to huddle together until the next round of uncommunicative faces showed up.

The chairlift, still swinging up and down, remained empty for the rest of the day, the downhill exit being easier for those who could leave, all-be-it via the glitzy gift emporium.

The shaggy coated Baboons were as uninterested as ever, but the children continued to play tag and annoy their father if they could get away with it; the only other youngsters were long gone in their fluorescent jackets back to school.

A quiet settled once more which, curiously but unfortunately for the paying public, heralded the greatest degree of activity throughout the mis-matched mound of wild-life that, rather desperately, had long lost its wild side. Maybe by keeping out of the way, they had the right idea all along?

Many more Chapters ready and waiting

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If you haven’t been following my other blog, the serialisation of my book “A Fruit Cake Just Exploded” I am up to Chapter Thirty now. It’s not for everyone but there may be something of interest in my observations of a difficult but character forming part of my life. It has a happy ending so what more do you need? Click below to take a look maybe.

A Fruit Cake Just Exploded

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One Boy’s Day

Recently I was part of a group of writers asked to share our thoughts at an event to raise awareness of refugees, although I don’t have any direct connection or involvement in such things, one can’t help but feel for their plight, refugees that is and not just economic migrants trying to ride the same road.

The water, flashing over the collapsing roundness of the rubber boat, was dark in the Mediterranean night. Tiny fingers, grey with cold, had been hanging onto the thin safety rope for what seemed like days and now showed red at the raw edges of wet, wrinkled, skin, ripped away at the joints.

He had stopped blinking against the stinging salt from the crests of the waves, his dark eyes had settled into hard beads, frozen in their stare at the beguiling depths of the black and green water, that sparked hypnotically with the reflection of the stars above.

An indistinct shape bobbed into the boy’s narrow field of vision, but it was hard to focus, in the fight to keep awake. A larger wave boosted the object into the softening outer skin of their sinking ride, but he was unable to make any move to investigate it further. Some others hand swept into the picture, and the sodden piece of wool and straw, pushed its one-eyed face into the grey brown cheek of the boy. He let out a muffled moan, a mixture of fear and discomfort, but it was lost in the general hubbub from the 400 other souls squeezed in a space made for just a quarter of that.

Blinking away the initial fear, if his mouth could have smiled it would have, at the recognition of what might once have been, the familiar comfort of a toy camel. He just leant his chin on it, and continued in the fading hope, of the dream he had been dragged into.

His recognition of the figurine was a timely distraction, from the mop of black hair that weaved and floated with the swell of the water, as it passed by. This singular piece of flotsam that had very recently breathed with life, would soon sink to the depths and be crab food. If the boy had been just eight or nine years older, he might have easily joined the many innocent teenage boys that were quietly but callously smothered and slipped into the vast watery grave, a concept no one wanted to acknowledge it seemed. Young girls were assured safety by the value of their virginity, but boys?

A slim, familiar hand gripped the boys arm as he stared into the dark, but even for his mother’s comfort, he was not going to give up his place to the promised land of peace and plenty, despite it being nothing he could possibly know. If he could have seen a few feet below their barely floating escape, he would have been more inclined to seek out this familiar warmth, as a better place to die. The grey shark fin was an unknown terror in his sort lived world but, could so easily be the method of his departure from it.

The background noise rose noticeably and a piercingly bright light blinded the scene. The boy’s shivering body stiffened at the unfathomable intrusion and he didn’t have the choice of resistance this time as he flew into the air, his free arm trying to hang onto the sodden remains of the now lost toy.

There certainly wasn’t time to see it crushed against the black hull of the rescue boat.

The strange white face that flashed past his bewilderment, offered no smile, but the firmness of the grip, and the crackle of alien, shiny foil around him, was the beginning of a whole new world, one he hadn’t asked for, and certainly couldn’t comprehend.

Not yet anyway

There is a poem that was written at the same time on a similar theme, you can read it here, Refugee’

A Royal Garden Party.

I was very honoured to be asked to accompany my sister, Sue, to a royal garden party at Buckingham Palace in London, on the 16th May 2017. She had been invited for her considerable services to the village community where she lives.

The day was well planned but stumbled because of the traffic issues after the discovery of an unexploded WW11 bomb the day before, along the route to the train station. Traffic chaos ensued but, with quick thinking, a cycle ride, albeit in my new suite, and then driving to an alternative station to catch the scheduled train further down the track, we were eventually able to relax for the picturesque journey to the metropolis.

Perfect weather had been forecast, a window of clear skies and sunshine from days of rain and cloud seemed to be too good to be true, but it happened.

My sister was not a seasoned WP_20170516_13_52_14_Protraveller in London and the underground would have been a challenge on her own she admitted, but one change of line and only three stops later, we walked up and out into the bright sunshine of Green Park, within sight of the walls of the Palace.

We had planned to eat lunch in Hyde Park, it is adjacent to Green Park. The gentle walk there, took in many memorials, statues and landmarks and bought us easily to the next wide-open space. Used well by residents, workers, and visitors WP_20170516_13_52_53_Proalike it was literally a breath of fresh air to entre. The restaurant I had chosen is on the Serpentine lake, a more elegant setting was hard to find. PIC

Italian Pizza, made by Italian chefs and a healthy house salad filled a growing space perfectly.

With time built into the schedule for a little sightseeing, we strolled along the lake taking in the wonderful setting of mature trees of so many kinds and both formal and natural planting bought the countryside to the city perfectly. WP_20170516_14_20_57_Pro

Being spring, there were many new little lives negotiating we humans, but we all managed OK.

Our target was the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Garden. A granite water feature which attracts many visitors who oftWP_20170516_14_07_33_Proen to just sit, and take in the different sounds from the water bubbling or crashing through the various sculptured features on its way around the circular feature. A peaceful space to remember the many aspects of a short but influential life.WP_20170516_14_10_04_Pro


Time to head back to the formal part of the day.

Security at the entrance we chose, at the lower side of the grounds, was high as expected, but efficiency moved the guests through the cordon of machine gun armed police, to the more welcoming military uniforms of the Palace staff. Quicker than we expected, we were into the grounds and wow, what a place to find yourself in.

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Despite having seen the gardens on the television and in photographs, my first impression was of it being far more natural in its layout than I might have imagined. At 40 acres, it’s a big space. The age of wp_20170516_15_11_38_pro.jpgmany of the trees and the huge diversity of planting from hundreds of years of royal patronage makes it a forest, then a shady glade, then a lakeside stroll with rocky outcrops and finally rolling lawns; a microcosm of English countryside re-created in walled privacy.

But we were not alone. Around eight thousand people attend each of the four garden parties hosted by the Queen each year. The space was soon awash with suites and uniforms of almost every cultural, rWP_20170516_14_46_26_Proeligious and military background. Then of course, the best of frocks adjourned by a sea of hats and fascinators in every style and colour you could ever imagine. Here are just a couple of them, yes, it’s me and my sister.WP_20170516_14_46_58_Pro

There was plenty of time to walk and watch and then sit a while and just absorb the wonder that this event is. Obviously well planned and rehearsed for many decade, everything was just perfect.



The more formal part of the afternoon was signalled by the arrival of the Yoman Warders. Normally found awp_20170516_15_57_59_pro.jpgt the Tower of London, they made space in front of the palace steps for the arrival of the Royal party. With diplomatic and other guests, having been entertained inside the palace slowly moving through the two channels of we ordinary guests, the familiar but slight form of the Queen appeared on the terrace. She was dressed in pale apricot pink. Other members of the Royal family followed closely, but not too closely, to stand with the queen at the top of the steps for the National Anthem to be played by one of the two military bands on duty. Having managed to get close to the front of the crowd, we had as good a view as we had hoped.wp_20170516_15_58_54_pro.jpg

The Queen and The Prince Phillip made their way down one of the corridors of guests to a long line of individuals selected to be presented to her Majesty. Other members of the family made small talk and greeted many other guests as they made their way round towards the Royal Tea Tent. Both were very measured but relaxed encounters which took more than 45 minutes. It was what many of the guests came there to be part of. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, The Prince Willian and Kate, were obviously a crowd favourite, although the more mature members of the wider family were equally welcomed for their interest in all the guests they met.

And then came the famous Afternoon Tea. Organisation and execution ‘par excellance’.



Having known of one other couple from my sister’s village being there, we didn’t manage to find them, but did stumble into another lady that we didn’t know about. Low and behold, another couple overhearing the mention of Birmingham also joined us in conversation while we ate and drank and soaked in the marvellous atmosphere, sights and sounds.

The royal party eventually finished their own refreshments and, after more formalities for the royal guests to thank the Queen, the Royal party made their way back towards the Palace but took time once more to meet and greet more guests on their way.

WP_20170516_17_33_27_RichThat was the formal day done. A last glimpse of members of the royal family saying their own farewells before leaving in various vehicles, allowed us then to leave the grounds. Our choice was the Grand WP_20170516_17_46_38_ProEntrance, the world-famous frontage of the Palace. With the usual tourist lined railings, many wondering what the event might have been we had a final photograph. The feeling to be on the inside is very special.





With time in our schedule, we headed for yet another royal park, St James’s, at the side of the Mall. Finding the café, I had used many times in the past, a relaxing tea and welcome sit down was welcome.  Here we watched both people and wildlife while reflecting on the marvellous privilege we had just been part of.

Still too early for the train, a short walk past Horse Guards Parade to Trafalgar square, a wave to Nelson on his column and we headed back into the underground. A crowded five stops back to Marylebone station left us to wait for the train back north. There was so much to ponder from the sights and sounds of the afternoon, the time went quickly and we were soon seated in our transport.

The only annoyance in the perfect day was the continued aftermath of the traffic problems in Birmingham. Having booked to go from, and return to, the city centre, but then having left the car at a different station, we were amused to find that the train didn’t stop at the one we needed, at that time of night. Quick thinking and patience had us alighting at yet another station on rout and then a taxi to the carpark found us soon home and safe, still basking in the days wonders.