Good reasons to be cheerful

IT was the linnets that really made the day for me.

Aidan Semmens

IT was the linnets that really made the day for me.

They arrived together, a busy little family, and stayed flitting about in the bushes long enough for us to make a confident identification.

The guidebook says they are “very common on heaths and in open country with hedges and bushes, in parks and gardens”, but I'd never seen even one in my garden before. Not knowingly anyway.

But then it's not every day I spend an hour just staring out of the window. It tends to be a once-a-year thing. Perhaps I should do it more often.

The occasion was the Big Garden Birdwatch, when the RSPB gets members to record all the birds they see in the garden over a period of an hour.

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My cousin, dutifully watching her garden in London, recorded only one blackbird, one blue tit, one starling and a pair of robins. Though, as she noted ruefully: “When I've just melted the ice on the bird baths I expect them to make an appearance.”

I was just hoping the long-tailed tits that had been making frequent visits to my feeder all week wouldn't stay away, as they have each previous time we've taken part in the big watch.

And this time I wasn't disappointed. There they were, eight of them, jostling together on the fatballs and bouncing about the nearest branches of the apple tree.

I love those little guys, so smart in their black, white, pink and beige livery, with their fur-ball faces and long, elegant tails.

And of course they never travel alone - or so I was about to say: as I write this there is one solitary long-tailed tit outside my window. I'm sure it won't be alone for long - either its mates will join it or it'll be off shortly to find them.

It seems extraordinary now to think that I'd never seen one outside the pages of a book until I moved to Suffolk 14 years ago.

I remember vividly the first time I encountered them. I was walking through the woods by Martlesham Creek when suddenly I was surrounded by these bright little furry commas flitting and twittering all around my head. An almost surreal and utterly wonderful experience.

And now here they are right outside my window.

The rest of my Sunday count was: five blackbirds, five linnets, four goldfinches, three blue tits, three great tits, two coal tits, two chaffinches, two robins, two dunnocks, a greenfinch, a woodpigeon and a blackcap.

In fact, I'm pretty sure there were a lot more blackbirds and tits than that, but you're only supposed to register the highest number you can see all at once, in case you keep counting the same individual over and over again.

The robins, I'm sure, have a nest in next-door's clematis. The blackcaps have nested in a nearby holly bush for the past three years. Only the female turned out for us on Sunday, but I saw her mate the other day.

The fact that they're here now, and not just in the breeding season, may be a sign of global warming. They're not “supposed” to winter this far north.

Comparing my list with my cousin's made me once again so glad to live where we do. Not just in Suffolk - though anywhere in the county is better than London - but right on the edge of a little patch of woodland.

And that's before I took the dog for his walk, on which we saw gulls, crows, lapwings, egrets (more evidence of global warming), godwits, shelducks, redshanks, a mixed flock of wigeon and teal, a dabchick and a cormorant, and heard a curlew.

Oh yes, I like living here.

I HAVE been accused by a Star reader of being a “do-gooder”.

I certainly wouldn't want anyone to think of me as a “do-badder”. But the tone of the letter makes it quite clear the writer doesn't think a do-gooder is a good thing to be.

He begins: “Re your comments about Prince Harry and the… ” - but no, that's as far as I can go.

In less than 150 words the writer packs in profanity, sexism, homophobia and a level of racism that might make even Harry blush.

“But then,” he explains, “we were real men in those days”. The words “real men” are heavily underlined to emphasise that those of us who find sexism, homophobia and racism offensive are, presumably, either not men or not real.

The least surprising line is the one that begins: “When I was in the forces… ”

The letter ends: “As this will never be printed it's pointless to give my name and address.”

So that's a real man, then. Someone too cowardly to put a name to his opinions, even in private.

Fact is, mate, the Evening Star and I would have loved to run your letter in full. But once we'd made all the cuts necessary for legal reasons there wouldn't have been much left.

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