I guess the most obvious form of feedback to the blog is via the comment option at the bottom. Just click the word and Bob’s yer uncle, Fanny’s yer aunt.

Some people, though, choose to use email, either because they are congenitally daft and can’t figure out how to leave a comment at the blog itself or - and I admit that this is much more likely - because they’d rather whatever it is they want to say is ‘heard’ only by me, for one reason or another. For the purposes of this posting, I have checked with the relevant truckshunters to ensure that they don’t mind my giving their comments the oxygen of publicity, to use Thatcher’s inglorious phrase.

So first up, a very big thankyou to everyone who’s been emailing over the past few weeks, either on my personal email address or on the truckshunter address which is always tagged on to the end of each posting. I’ve had some fascinating stuff, of which this posting features a very small amount. Thanks to you all.

In a recent posting I mentioned the ‘dawn chorus’ of birdsong in some connexion or other. As a result, truckshunter Dave Court - of whom more later - sent me an erudite and knowledgeable email on the subject. His literary style is so articulate and easy on the brain - surely the best literary style of all - that his email is worth quoting almost in its entirety...

The dawn chorus of birdsong peaks at this time of year because most of the migrant birds have arrived by now. As the last traces of Winter and Spring bow out and Summer makes itself known, male songbirds sing to attract a mate and protect their territory. You have to be up with the lark to hear it, of course. At about 0400, the roll-call begins - often in this order: blackbird (pictured above), robin, wren, tawny owl, warblers (including blackcaps and chiffchaffs), song thrush and blue tit. There’s also a dusk chorus, but as it tends to be less windy early in the morning, the clarion call to love and war is sweetest at dawn. As soon as it’s light enough for birds to look for food - about 0430 - the chorus ends.

Isn’t that lovely?

Interestingly, one of the few things I know about Dave is that he is not an ex-Nightshift listener. He happened on the truckshunter blog via the internet just a few weeks ago and has now read back through every posting - all 147 of them. I don’t know anything else about him - not even where he lives - but I’m astonished and gratified at his devotion!

Another emailer, known to me only as Ellen, also got in touch about my reference to birds. She drew my attention to the recent RSPB bird census which makes sobering and even frightening reading. According to the RSPB, bird numbers in the UK are plummeting and Ellen asks ‘Where have they all gone?’

The humble starling’s population has fallen by 62% in only 20 years; the grey partridge’s by 87% - yes eighty-seven percent. Lapwing numbers are down by 56%; remember that this was once one of our commonest and most striking birds. The glorious skylark, too, is suffering badly - numbers are down by 51%. Kestrels, too, seem to have decided to leave us to our own devices - their numbers have fallen by 35%.

But Ellen reckons that the two most worrying and thought-provoking statistics concern the once common yellowhammer, whose population has dropped by an amazing 54%, and the cuckoo, which - unbelievably - has now been placed on the endangered list.

While I was staying with my friend Sue near Hereford recently, it was wonderful - almost blissful - to lie abed and listen to what must be one of the most characteristic and unmistakable bird calls in the whole of creation; the pure, two-note musicality of a cuckoo in a nearby wood. I loved it; and Ellen's email has filled me with dread that we may actually lose this deeply pastoral and primaeval sound of wildlife forever.

If anyone has the bare-faced gall to suggest that this unfolding disaster has nothing to do with us, they should be clapped in irons and deposited in the most fetid oubliette currently available; I believe there’s a suitable one at Chillingham Castle.

What are we doing wrong? Can we set matters right for the birds? And, as Ellen asks - where on Earth have they all gone?

A truckshunter called Judith sent me this...

Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can raed tihs. Cna yuo? Fi yuo cna, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid.

i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid! Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are; the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Lawrence and I will be mustered for breakfast at about 0800 this upcoming Wednesday 3 June at Margaret’s Cafe near the mini-roundabout where Two Ball Lonnen meets the West Road in Newcastle. Care to join us?

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Before I left the BBC in January I was bombarded with advice and warnings about retirement; and I have to admit that most of the ‘wise words’ I was offered have come at least partially true. Incredible though it may sound, you really do feel a little guilty at first; as if you really ought to be getting up and going off to work as usual in order to justify your existence. You feel that you don’t deserve all these haphazard days of doing nothing in particular. Not that there have been many of them, mind you.

It’s been a whole week since I posted a blog here and, to be truly honest, I don’t know where the time has gone. I’ve done a lot of reading - I finally finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles and am now nearing the end of The Cat Nappers, my first foray into the world of Jeeves and Wooster. The book was not just recommended to me by a truckshunter; it was actually sent to me - and by Inga, all the way from Arkansas. She obviously decided that the idea of an Englishman calling himself educated when he hasn’t read any P G Wodehouse is patently absurd and, having thoroughly enjoyed The Cat Nappers, I tend to agree with her. There is humour here that ranges from the gently sardonic to the utterly inane, with all stops between.

Warmly recommended. And thanks for sending it to me, Inga.

Another book that was given to me on the basis that no-one who describes themselves as ‘literate’ can do so unless they’ve read it several times is In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. And that’s next on the list. Wish me luck.

Great, noble and deep thoughts seem to occur to me more and more often on my Saturday morning visits to Newcastle City Centre. In fact, sitting on the steps of Grey’s Monument and waiting for great, noble and deep thoughts to infuse my mind from nowhere has become an essential and enjoyable ritual for me.

Last Saturday, as I sat munching my luxurious and completely unearned avocado and herb sandwich (yummy) and gazing absent-mindedly down Grey Street (as you do), I couldn’t help noticing, for instance, how many of the folk milling all around me were tourists. Maps and cameras were everywhere, foreign languages - mostly unidentifiable - filled the air and a good time was had by all.

For Tyneside in general, and Newcastle in particular, to have transformed its image from that of a worked-out northern industrial wasteland to one of the finest Georgian cities in Britain - as well as a lively and dramatic regional metropolis - is an utterly amazing achievement. For the likes of Durham City or Lindisfarne to be heaving with visitors is only to be expected; but to see so many admiring the architecture, atmosphere and people of Newcastle and the rest of Tyneside is a real eye-opener. I still believe that we do not brag about our towns and cities nearly enough.

Having said that, I found myself watching the arrival of the DFDS Seaways shuttle bus at Newcastle Central Station the other day. As the passengers disembarked, they were greeted by two bus company employees, both of whom were smoking and both of whom spoke only English - just about. Visitor questions put to them in broken, stumbling English were answered LOUDLY. After all, if you SHOUT, people will understand what you’re saying. I felt so sorry for the city’s seaborne visitors. We still have a lot to learn, don’t we?

But I digress. Back at Grey’s Monument on Saturday morning, I also noticed how lovely a lot of the women and girls looked. It was a very warm day and - just as you’d expect - the weather had prompted a great many of them to abandon cagoules and cardigans in favour of off-the -shoulder blouses and skirts that were so short that binoculars were required; well, almost. Anyway, it was all very pleasing to the eye, as the first bare flesh of a sunny Spring always is, I suppose.

You may be wondering why a man of my proclivities is passing comment on things such as this. To the which my reply is simply that I know a good-looking lass when I see one. And I saw plenty on Saturday. I suppose it does behove me, for purposes of balance, to comment on the lads I saw, too.

Oh dear.

It seems always to have been true that the summer clothes women have worn through the ages have always been designed to flatter them, by the standards of the time. Sometimes, this has also been true of men. There have been periods when men’s clothing and fashions have been designed to compliment and emphasise their shape and their features. As far as I’m concerned, however, this has not applied for well over a decade. Lads and younger men have given in to a ‘look’ that incorporates the infamous modern ‘dropped crotch’ - jeans slung so low that there ought to be Questions in the House about how on earth they manage to stay up.

This, accompanied by the stick-thin physique now required by the dictates of street fashion and the curious (and profoundly ugly) forehead swept hairstyles currently in vogue make young men look like lavatory brushes. You can imagine how depressing it was for a man of my inclinations to be thinking thoughts like these as I sat on the Monument steps on Saturday.

It took the live performance of a Peruvian pan-pipe band called Apu on the dais behind me to cheer me up!

Thanks to Margaret for sending me the pictures of Ulm - see postings, passim. The spire is the tallest Gothic steeple in Europe. Margaret has promised to submit a full report of her visit to this stately German city when she gets back.

... a letter to the editor of The Guardian the other day. It was from Fr Alec Mitchell in Manchester...
‘Both John Simpson and Joanna Lumley would surely make very good MPs. The former, in the course of duty, went late by night in a very grave burka whereas the latter lent weight, nay bite, to the cause of every brave Gurkha’

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com