Friday, 6 March 2015

Hayden Hide Mk II

It has been many weeks since the Hayden Hide was burned down. Most volunteers and staff saw this as a disaster and the end of an era, perhaps marking the end of an age of certainty and confidence and the start of a more perilous future. It's the same feeling you get when your house is broken into; the world will never be the same again, and it will be worse.

In this world of ups and downs, I try to see every setback as a chance to re-boot. When my computer or TV blows up, or my binoculars bite the dust, I upgrade. So an accident becomes, not a setback, but an opportunity to improve! To put it another way, I'm just not good at pessimism.

The move from a wooden hide to a metal one was seen by most of us as sensible in the circumstances, but we still thought it would be a backward step; a down-grade.

Today, the new Hayden Hide arrived at Paxton Pits and we all agree that it is an up-grade from the old wooden hide that we all loved. Whereas the old one was a rather grandiose garden shed, the new one is more like a holiday chalet. In fact, since I have the key, I plan to take my summer holidays in it! We could easily fit a kitchen at the end with the big window and a bedroom at the other end. In the middle we could have a couple of sofas and a table and still get a few birdwatchers in. The problem is that we would have neither water or electricity so it probably wouldn't even qualify as "glamping". Still, a bargain at £400 a week in high season, I would have thought.

What about a TV series with a trendy couple of presenters touring nature reserves and spending the night in bird-watching hides? They could grade them in avocets! Our new hide would get five avocets for sure.

The process of acquiring this hide has been quite convoluted. Our friend Faith Darlow won the original building in a competition run by "Birdwatching" Magazine but it was handed over to Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) who insured it.

Now, if you have car insurance, you know that the value of your car goes down every year and therefore you should expect to pay a smaller premium to replace it. However, insurance companies generally take the view that, if you are daft enough to be loyal to them, they will increase your premium every year, to the point where your annual payment is higher than the value of your car.  It's not like that with buildings. They increase in value every year.

The Hayden hide turned out to be worth ten times more to replace than it's original value, so HDC and the Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve agreed to (more or less) split the cost of replacing the hide. After getting several quotes, we placed an order with a company called S. Jones Containers Ltd who turned out to be a remarkable company to work with. They make bespoke buildings from recycled containers.

A blantant advertisement.
Once we were all happy with the design, the company set about building our unique hide.

David Cobham, who is........... How shall I put it.....? Anyway, he's been a volunteer for a very, very, very long time, in spite of all our efforts. David managed the project on behalf of the Friends and I looked after the District Council's interests. Today we feel pretty much vindicated for all the bloopers along the way. We have a hide that is one of the best I have been in. Well done David.

We did have a few last-minute problems over delivery.

Our local "Man-To-Go-To" over building jobs is Alf Peacock. He built the four concrete cornerstones that hold the hide up and he will be finishing off the access path and the sloping roof. He expressed concern that Jones' would have a problem dropping off the hide using a low-loader with it's own crane because the underlying pea-shingle would be too soft to take the load. Solution: Use an ordinary (cheaper) lorry and hire a local crane-hire company to swing it onto the base.

Colin. He loves his work.
So today. two hours early, the hide arrived on a simple flat-bed lorry that belonged to a company from the West Midlands called "Butlins". It was driven by a big man with a voice like Noddy Holder, who was simply called Steve. As you might expect, he turned out to be a total star.

Today's other key player was called Colin. He drove a huge crane down from Huntingdon Plant Hire's base, and then fearlessly drove it out into the soft shingle and set it up on it's weight-spreading legs.

Colin, Steve and Alf worked together seamlessly, almost telepathically. They all knew what they needed to do and, swiftly and efficiently, they did the job, despite a gusty breeze.  It was a joy to watch.

The 40 foot long hide swung into place and was lowered accurately onto its four supporting blocks. After an appraisal, the Pro's decided to lift the whole thing up again and move it half an inch..... No problem!

Huntingdon Plant. Another blatant advert.
All the gear was put away and we prepared to move off, but the (now empty) crane decided that this would be a good moment to dig a big hole and hide in it! (Have you seen Bob the Builder? The crane is the one with the poor self-image disorder: "Can we fix it?" "Er, I think so.")

Colin's career probably included work in mine-fields in the Middle East.  He was totally calm as his crane started to list to port, then starboard. It was like watching Indiana Jones sinking into desert quicksand on a Hollywood back-lot. Colin seemed totally confident that a few minutes (or hours, or days) of patient digging and manoeuvring would see us out of there. And that was how it was done. By coffee-time we were all in the Vistors' Centre drinking beverages and eating Sophie's Bourbon Cream biscuits.

The new Hayden Hide is in place, but it will take a few days for us to fit it out for active service (as they say in the M.o.D) Please bear with us while we put in some benches and sort out the door-step.

Meanwhile, please let us know what you think of it.