Archive for March, 2009

Swan’s gone

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

It was a perfectly normal walk to work yesterday except that as I approached Folly Bridge I saw, lying on a low wall, a swan. A dead swan, its neck elegantly elongated and its feet curled. It didn’t seem at all marked but it was dead all right.

All the way to work I thought about the dead bird and I also thought it should be disposed of properly. Apart from being ringed and the property of the Queen , apart from monitoring dead creatures for avian flu a swan, I can assure you, is a big beast.

So I googled “dead swan” and up popped the Royal Borough of Windsor – “in the unlikely event of you finding a dead swan, phone….” Unfortunately the link didn’t work and anyway, I don’t live in Windsor. But it sounded like the Council is a good place to start. So I called environmental health who said it wasn’t something they dealt with. They debated it a bit and looked on the web. Ah ha they said; it’s Defra, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

So I called the Defra line and there was an option especially for reporting dead animals. Joyously I pressed number 1 and was answered by a man whose Liverpule accent was so strong that I really did have a bit of trouble understanding him. He told me that Defra weren’t interested in my swan because they only dealt with numbers – 10 or more to be accurate. He asked me who owned the land the swan was lying on. I didn’t know – well I had a pretty good idea but I pretended I didn’t. He said I should find out who owned the land because it was their responsibility.

I asked what one do if the owner didn’t do anything. Or was away or a tiny person who couldn’t pick up the bird. He couldn’t give me an answer. I pointed out in a rather Grande Dame manner that I found it all rather unsatisfactory.

So, I called my local MP’s office and a nice woman called Annabel said she’d see what she could sort out. About three hours later she called me back. She’d had the most frustrating morning she said calling the Council, Defra, the Water authority and the College which owned the land the swan was lying on. No-one would take responsibility. Finally she had persuaded the Council Works department to deal with it. But the best bit was that Defra had told her to tell “the lady” ie me to put the swan in a bag and put it in a bin!

What a wonderful suggestion. Three years ago I listened to a ress briefing in Brussels all about this sort of thing and I wrote a little piece about it. I’m sure they didn’t suggest that citizens should try to stuff a swan in a bag. And anyway, we have recycling here so I wouldn’t even know which bin to put the thing in.

The poor, beautiful creature had gone by the evening, presumably thrown in the back of a lorry. But what I want to know is who is going to tell the Queen that one of her swans is missing?

Off the beaten track

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

My son’s special girl teaches drama in a part of Birmingham called Dudley. Natives of Dudley have a very particular accent. They pronounce the name of their home something like “dood-lay”. I think it’s probably a Dudley accent that people think of when they say that a Birmingham accent is along with Liverpool, the most disliked in Britain. I would have said the same for decades but since I’ve been going to Birmingham over the past few years I’ve been inclined to hear it as reassuring. It’s familiarity I guess. When I lived in Paris, where everyone had wonderful accents of course, I always felt back at home when I heard someone call me darlin’ and I also love a rich West Indian accent – and that was the South London accent I most missed, I think, when I moved.

S’s SG tells me that her students are sometimes known, by people in the wider city, as “yam yams.” This is because of the locals habit of substituting I am for yam as in “yam going to chippaiy” or, as we might say in Oxford, ” I am going to the chip shop.” Fascinatingly she told me about other vernacular words like “I bist” also meaning I am.

So with my new-found interest in the accents of the West Midlands, an area also known as The Black Country from the great factories and forges that used to colour the landscape I was rather enchanted to come across a translation service .– Good to know that university teachers are still mining those offbeat seams. It’s dirty work but someone has to do it.