Saturday, 3 December 2011

Flushed with success?

The 19th Century arrives at Paxton Pits.
A wooden outhouse.
One of the District Council's show-case projects is the tree nursery at Godmanchester. It's so much more than just a nursery; it is a full-blown community project. The rangers from Paxton pop in occasionally for work reasons (a cup of tea), and we always see that there is something new going on there. Often they have an idea that we can copy at the Reserve. For me, the highlight of one recent visit was to experience the beauty of their new composting toilet. Why can't we have one at our yard where we have no water or electricity?

I fondly remember the Sanilav at my Grans house in Swaledale. I say "at my Gran's house" but the loo was actually over a hundred yards away in a stone shed by the pigsty. It was cold, dark and smelly and you had to carry a torch unless it was a really sunny day. I remember the feel and smell of last week's Radio Times that hung on a nail behinds the door. 'A good read though.

Years later, I enjoyed the daily privilege of using the pit latrine on Cousin Island in the Seychelles where I was joined by two species of gecko, two kinds of lizard and a million mosquitos. This throne room was totally outclassed by one on the slopes of Mt Meru in Kenya. It lacked all the usual features such as lights, fans, walls, flushing water etc. but made up for this by having an excellent library of magazines and bird books, and the best view in the world, possibly.

But these new, Welsh composting toilets are absolutely palatial compared to the old holes in the ground I once new so well. Our colleague Mark Houston from the Architects' Department put in a bid for us, and now we have one! It duly arrived, in bits, on the back of a truck, but how to unload it? Our neighbouring farmers at Southoe, the Rampleys, were called to lend assistance with their front loader, but due to pure Welsh cunning, the kit was unpacked on the trailer and lifted off a bit at a time using our tractor. The hardware was soon installed and, by the time you read this, the door will be finished. Ranger Matt Johnson has led on this project, so I guess he should use it fist. He probably already has.

Last week's afternoon talk was a bit of an experiment. (That's what I always say when things don't turn out as expected.) Up to about 15 minutes before the start I was aware of at least 3 people who had come for the talk! I put out a dozen chairs, just in case a few more turned up. Well, in the end I had to put out 48 chairs and then stand at the back. Barrie Mason obviously has his own fan club because most of the audience had followed him up from Bedfordshire. Quite a few were old colleagues of mine from the RSPB at Sandy. So the experiment was a success because it attracted a new crowd and drew in a bigger total than we usually get for a evening talk.

I give quite a few illustrated talks myself (I'm available, by the way) and I always find it interesting to watch another speaker. Like our own Trevor Gunton, Barrie has stuck with slides rather than going digital and I must say, they looked stunning. (Note to self: I must remember to black out all the sky-lights next time we have an afternoon talk because slide projectors are far less bright than digital ones.)

Barrie is first and foremost a photographer, so the talk was about the pictures and the asides were about the business of taking them. Trevor and I are not really photographers, so we use the other approach where we tell a story and are quite happy to steal anyone's pictures to illustrate it. For us the pictures are largely there to remind the speaker what to say! In Barrie's case it was all about the pictures. Of course, to pull this off, the pictures have to be really good; and they were.

Our visitor figures for November are looking good, probably due to the mild weather. 1660 people came through the centre and 10 children's groups brough 104 aduklts afor only 75 children. This reflects the fact that we get mostly special education groups at this time, and the Little Bugs Club, which is for very young children and grown ups who like to party!

Cllr. Tysoe
Finally, last Wednesday we had a flying visit from Councillor Tysoe who represents Sawtry. He is now the portfolio holder for Environment at Huntingdonshire District Council, so I hope we made a good impression. We took him up to the quarry in the shiny, clean, black 4x4 that is based at Hinchingbrooke Country Park. Rangers Kirsty Drew and Judith Arnold came a long to make sure I stayed on message and didn't go all "lefty" on them. Judging by the email of thanks we received afterwards, we will all still have jobs on Monday, at least!