Friday, January 14, 2011

DIY on a wing and a prayer

Extraordinary news from the Caribbean, where paleontologists have discovered fossils of an ancient flightless bird which apparently used the ends of it wings as ninja clubs to fight off its rivals and generally cause avian mayhem around what is now Jamaica.

The xenicibis was an ancestor of the modern ibis, and clearly far more dangerous than its chicken-sized frame would suggest.

Luckily, though, it became extinct around 12,000 years ago, so you won't be seeing one on your bird table any time soon.

Speaking of which...

The trusty bird table at the bottom of our garden eventually fell apart just after Christmas, having given years of stalwart service, and the hunt was on for a replacement. But it's only when you start pricing up the alternatives that you start to realise that providing the local blackbird population with a safe haven from the local moggies is not an enterprise to be entered on lightly.

Off we go to the garden centre (fifth time this year and counting) to see what's available. It would appear that the garden centre has seen us coming, and has put out its grandest and most palatial tables in readiness for our arrival.

For these aren't your everyday common-or-garden bird feeders. These are works of garden architecture in miniature, with slate or even thatched roofs, solid brass metalwork and hand-turned finials.

They are painted in subtle shades of cream or duck-egg blue. They would grace and complement the finest country house, they cost the earth and they are, in a word, overkill.

The only alternative is a wobbly-looking structure made of metal tubes that looks like it would collapse if a linnet landed on it, never mind the overfed pigeons that hover around our back garden.

Back to the drawing board. Or rather, off to another garden centre, which this time hasn't seen us coming, and where there is at least a reasonably priced selection of self-assembly kits.

We choose one of a suitably rustic appearance and bring it home, secure in the knowledge that with just a couple of turns of a screwdriver the whole thing will slip together nicely and the birdies will neither starve, nor fall off, nor be propositioned by the cat.

How very naive. In the world of bird tables, it appears, you gets what you pays for.

Mrs D disappears to do something important on the computer, leaving self to puzzle out an instruction sheet which: (a) appears to be a photocopy of a Daguerreotype of a print by mad artist William Blake; (b) refers to screws that are too short to join the requisite pieces together; and (c) involves the forcing of bolts through holes drilled just a millimetre too narrow.

Plus it's freezing in the garden shed, and the battery's gone flat on the not-so-sonic screwdriver, and that man flu you had over the new year seems to be coming back with a vengeance.

There's only one thing for it: start the year with a jolly good swear.

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