Town and country birds.

Town and country birds.
I seem to have spotted a number of interesting specimens recently.

Putting them eagerly into my enthusiasts scrapbook I notice a subsequently intriguing cross-breeding of influences forming. Here then, without any in-the-field sketches, sadly, is a short list of birds that have caught my eye.

Bird #1


Lovely girl. Risen to fame from nowhere, to become every politico-financial analyst’s go-to gal. Everyone says we’re going to her, apparently. Inevitable, they say.

Yes indeed, Ms Handcart is very popular right now.

So, amid the shrieking hair-pulling, the goggle-eyed blaspheming, the chicken gizzards-reading and mindless fax paper-throwing-around going on in most important office buildings and newsrooms at the moment, we’ve been looking for a little escape.

Bird #2

Another nice lass. Bit artificial.

Geek partner in crime, Chris, bought me – or perhaps the group – a desperately pleasing birthday gift this week. A box set of Star Trek. The original series, with Captain Kirk and pals – but super-geekily remastered with NEW special effects, so the Enterprise doesn’t look quite as grainy and wobbly. I love the jobs some people find for themselves in uncertain times.

We’ve watched too many of them already, naturally. Not least because I spent much of yesterday feeling a bit crook.

We took ourselves out to the forest for a Sunday afternoon stroll and found a balmy summer warmth in the middle of October and squadrons of families in pratty safety helmets riding push-bikes very slowly along very very safe flat gravel paths through the trees.

The New Forest being more Walt Disney than Disney, with twinkling, babbling brooks and mossy carpets of green under dappled silver birch woods and golden autumn leaves flickering gently down through sun beams like confetti, we found a suspiciously stage-managed looking grassy clearing to lie down in. Had to shoo away the unicorns and little purring-winged fairy Kylies but it was okay. We slept under the clear blue sky and watched lazy vapour trails high above for a while, before stopping at a leafy evening pub in one of the many pretty villages on the wending drive home.

..Naah, it was okay.

Though I’d left the Mac up to do some work when we got home, by the time all that lovelyness had had a go at clearing my head and somehow failed, all I could face doing was watching another episode or two of daft, forty-year-old sci fi. Which strangely seemed to do the trick, eventually.

Captain Kirk is wedded to his spaceship, they keep telling us. It’s ultimately going to prove to be a giant, alien-chick-porking fib, of course, but you can’t blame him. The 23rd century is incredibly neo-sixties. In What are little girls made of, when apparent robotics genius, Dr Roger Korby, innocently tells former flame, nurse Christine Chappel, that he’s not tinkered in android love with allegedly feelingless but conspicuously girl-shaped artifical companion, Andrea, you can see Mrs Roddenberry’s boof-blonde character none-the-less thinking: “so why’d you give her QUITE so much eye-lash upholstery and heaving cleavage?”

Did find myself humming Everybody ought to have a maid from A funny thing happened on the way to the forum afterwards.

Bird #3


Now she’s a girl who’s been on my mind a lot this year.

There was a telling moment on The Daily Show last week. A moving one, I thought. “I’m getting a little tired of certain Republicans telling me that small towns are the only places in America with values” said Jon Stuart, with restraint. “Do you know what New York is? It’s ten small towns all piled on top of one another in the same building.”

The battle for America’s evolving identity does seem to pit town against country – small towns are real America, cities are slick, corporate engines of evil.

Well, it’s hard not to scowl at Wall Street right now. And systemic corporate culture is no mere gloss to the American political system. But Jon’s heart-felt jab made me think of one author and her seminal book – which is, in truth, a kind of love letter to the city.

Jane Jacobs was no trained city planner or architect. Just a regular Mom, perhaps not so dissimilarly qualified to Sarah Pallin. But, ingeniously using her eyes to look at stuff, she ended up collecting up what she saw into a book of recommendations to planners and people-space designers in the late fifties – The death and life of great American cities. It shook the establishment.

It was required reading on Caroline’s urban design course. Except I found myself reading it on holiday in Italy – after Caroline had completed the course, and before she’d read it herself. As we bobbed in the Med, I found myself telling her with great authority about numbers of eyes on streets and the importance of mixed usage.

The main thing to have struck me, beyond the specific, embarrassingly No Shit, Sherlock observations she makes, critisising architects’ science fiction daydreams that have little bearing on what people really do in their spaces, is what a love letter to the city it really is. How much the city can support not only life-giving diversity but humanising community. She writes with passion and inspiration. Even pride.

Thinking of all these different ladies here, I guess my point is that when you’ve escaped for a bit, there are real problems to go back and face. You have to find access to a space that effectively recharges you somewhere – so you can deal with real human being stuff more effectively. Find a little fortified courage to see things as they really are, not how we imagine them to be.

Far away from the stage-managed beauty of the countryside – refreshing and life-affirming as it is – the sharp end of modern human politics may find many of its answers in the city, the solutions to some real human challenges of living side-by-side.

That’s Jane’s Star Trek future. Once we’ve all stopped throwing ourselves around at odd camera angles and the financial deck feels a little firmer under feet, I think many American politicians would do well to consult her sooner than Ms Pallin and Helena.

Might stop a lot of us twitching.

Bird Appendix

Peregrine falcons.
Did you see the photos of the nesting pair on the Houses of Parliament this weekend?

What they doing there, then?

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