Come fiendly bombs & fall on Slough

January 19, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Gone are my wilder days of yoof. Days (and nights) when I would enjoying heading into taaaan centres to drink lots and hell raise a little.

These days I prefer to drink whilst sitting on my porch swing in my sump oil-stained dungarees.

I’ll be chewing some baccy with a little Dixie on the “wireless” at my feet and sneering with my two remaining stumps of teeth at any “towny” that walks by.

I’ll occasionally lean my head back and shout “GET ME MA GERRRN WORHMAN!” but otherwise, that’s about me.

 

Regular readers of this blog might know that we (my wife, son and I) live on the very northern edge of Bracknell, with countryside nearer to us than the town centre. I hear that will change in the next two years as they build an “urban extension” north of us, but that’s to come.

I rarely venture south into the town centre. Occasionally I have to, (like today, when I need to pick up a battery for the ‘pick up’) but not often. I am always venturing north into the countryside however.

To be in the fields and woods with the owls, badgers and stoats.

 

Living where we do, if you know this part of the world, you’ll also know that we therefore live about thirteen miles away from the centre of Slough.

 

Poor old Slough.

Since 1937 when Slough became the site of England’s first “industrial trading estate” proper and John Betjeman wrote his famous poem, it’s been the butt of many snide jokes. But the truth is it’s no worse than High Wycombe, or Bracknell, or even Reading or many other towns in this neck of the woods. They’re ALL pretty dire places to spend time, at least in the worst parts and industrial estates.

Slough was just the first round here. The model on which many towns were formed.

 

After John Betjeman’s death, his daughter suggested that he was always slightly embarrassed about his Slough poem, or at least the harshness of it in relation to Slough specifically. Betjeman was really rallying against desecration and modernisation in general.

I expect when real (Luftwaffe) bombs dropped on Slough a few years after he wrote the poem, he might have a felt a little awkward?

 

That said, I happen to agree with the poem’s harshness, albeit almost 80 years after Betjeman penned it. A pretty, beautiful, sleepy little hamlet, Slough is not.

I’ve strayed into Slough a few times in my life but try my best to keep away. Well away. Rather like Bracknell.

 

 

 

Yesterday I steeled myself and headed off to the Southwest suburb of Slough – Cippenham. (That’s right, Cippenham, not Chippenham).

I headed there for a reason.

 

Now Cippenham (Slough) has been around for a long time. Henry III had a palace there (some people still refer to it as “Cippenham Moat”) and for an awful long time the “village” consisted of nothing but a few houses and Cippenham Green, where the commoners’ livestock would graze.

 

Nowadays though – Cippenham is just an extension of Slough. It has an SL1 postcode even and has been extended massively over the years; just recently two new, large housing estates have extended this Slough suburb right down alongside the M4.

 

What has Cippenham got going for it these days?

Well… I guess it’s close to the M4 (it’s ON it), so you can drive to the West Country or London pretty easily?

It’s very close to Heathrow airport also. So if you want to (or need to) catch a plane somewhere – that’s doable too, relatively quickly. Of course you’ll have to check in several hours before your plane takes off as normal, only in Cippenham resident’s case, they’ll be sitting for hours in a departure lounge from which they can almost see into their front room back home.

There is what Government officials like to call “affordable housing” in Cippenham. For “affordable” read tiny, cramped, no garden (or postage stamp sized garden) that no-one really wants and set in areas that are undesirable for a number of reasons – please see below for these in Cippenham’s case.

Other than that… Cippenham (SL1) has not a lot going for it really. Not that I can see.

 

So what is the problem with Cippenham (SL1) then?

 

Well…. again, it’s right alongside the M4 (to the south). So you have the constant road noise (not so much the engine noise – as is often the case, traffic on motorways tends to be cruising rather than revving or changing gears) and of course the pollution – especially from diesel-fuelled freight.

Not only that, the vast industrial estate borders Cippenham to the north. More noise, potential pollution and freight.

 

It also sits on (or at least bordering) some pretty low-lying land – from both the River Thames and now the Jubilee river. Large parts of Cippenham are at risk of flooding from ground water rather than a flood directly from a fluvial source.

 

Then of course there’s the grand old lady of sewage treatment works on the other side of the M4 – no more than a couple of hundred yards from Cippenham’s most southerly dwellings – and upwind from them too – meaning Cippenham is constantly full of people complaining about the stench.

If it rains heavily, as with many STWs, sewage is (under licence) pumped out into local streams and ditches and this exacerbates the reek.

 

And then again, there’s Heathrow a few miles away. Planes leaving Heathrow on the “normal” runway (facing west into the prevailing wind(ish)) and heading North to Oslo, or Helsinki (or even Manchester or Renfrew in the case of domestic flights) fly low over Cippenham.

Even international flights to airports East of Heathrow, (places like Munich for example) will normally take off in the direction of Old Windsor (due West of Heathrow), turn north and start to about turn over Cippenham to head East towards their destination.

 

But even if German airlines are taking off from Heathrow and about turning over Cippenham to join a flight path towards Munich for example, they’re not dropping bombs over Slough these days are they?! They’re Lufthansa planes after all, not the Luftwaffe!

 

But.

There are bombs falling on Slough these days. Fiendly (not friendly) bombs.

Permit me to explain.

 

 

I drove to Cippenham in Slough yesterday  (maybe around 12 miles away from our house) at dawn to see if I could find the huge roost of ring-necked parakeets that spend each winter in this place.

Much has been written about these exotic birds – whether they should be culled or not, what damage they may be doing to our native birds and even how they came to be in the UK. (African Queen, Jimi Hendrix etc). For a very good summary of these birds you could do worse than read this web page – the best I’ve found.

 

Me? Personally? I’m used to them now, in the same way I’m used to red kites flying low over our house each day. We have parakeets in this area every day it seems – regularly in the garden.

I think they’re spectacular birds and quite welcome in the numbers they’re at, at present. They always remind me of my honeymoon in Sri Lanka – and those are nice memories indeed.

That said, they DO seem be exploding in numbers and expanding their range, albeit slowly – this may prove (very) problematic for our native, hole-nesting bird species – such as woodpeckers, jackdaws, pigeons, owls.

I think a cull of some sorts may well be inevitable – ‘though I’m not sure it would be particularly effective now.

 

I have watched a number of rugby matches at Esher rugby club over the years and before 2011 (when the club had to pull down their rotten poplars) up to 7000 parakeets would roost there.

On at least one occasion (probably more) the club had to close the footpath under the roost trees as the copious amount of guano that accumulated there was deemed to be a health hazard. I can understand why. 7000 parakeets roosting each winter there must have produced an almighty mess.

I never travelled to Esher to watch the birds, more so the rugby, but the winter roosts were always spectacular. I think the Esher girls’ side is still nicknamed “The Parakeets”, despite the birds having gone now.

Perhaps some of them have moved to Slough?

 

I arrived at the site before dawn with an aim to count the birds as best I could. Not in situ, but by taking photos of the entire roost and counting them on Photoshop later, by painting a bright green dot on each bird I could see on each photo (I stitched four photos together to produce a very wide angle landscape shot with the entire roost pictured) and using a manual clicker to aid me. Meant I didn’t have to remember what I’d counted up to – I do like my clicker!

 

The photos below are a pictoral representation of how I counted the number of birds in this roost. You'll not be able to make out any detail as this website will not allow HUGE pictures to be displayed. Each "photo" below is HUGE however, consisting of 4 photos stitched together to make each.

(Each green dot is a parakeet).

 

And the result? 1990 birds!

 And those were just the birds I could see from my (very poor) photos taken in the gloom.

Potentially there could be as many as 2500 birds in this roost.

 

Now parakeets are not quiet birds. Many people hate their loud, piercing, raucous squawks and whistles. They do seem to be constantly shouting at each other. In fact as I type here in North Bracknell, I can hear two or three parakeets constantly squawking and squealing at each other in the tall trees about 100 yards from the house. I don’t have to imagine what 2000 parakeets might sound like – I heard them at Cippenham yesterday morning. LOUD.

 

Then there are the droppings. The “fiendly bombs”.

As I’ve said above, Esher RFC had to close one of their footpaths at least once whilst the birds were there due to a glut of guano.

There is a bridleway running under the Cippenham roost. In fact as I photographed the roost yesterday, two joggers slid and slipped down that bridleway as quickly as they could. Talk about running the gauntlet! Running through piles of parakeet poo with more constantly falling from the sky above you.

If the birds remain there, then I can foresee an imminent bridleway closure for the same reason as Esher RFC’s footpath closure. There doesn’t seem to be any reason for them to leave – they’re in a lovely habitat – right next to the STW and M4 for warmth and light, right next to a watery habitat (parakeets seem to like being close to water) and close to many birdwatchers’ gardens – birdwatchers that put their favourite foods out for blue tits and goldfinches – but food that the bolshy parakeets will of course take instead.

 

Don’t get me wrong – for me it was a spectacular sight – seeing a roost of 2000 lurid green, noisy parakeets and for all I know, the people who have to live there, the people of Slough (and more specifically, Cippenham) might like the birds.

But I doubt the vast majority do.

 

The people of Cippenham already have the industrial estate, the M4, the sewage treatment works, the flood plain and Heathrow to contend with.

And now they have 2000 noisy parakeets each winter too, covering their footpaths in green goo.

 

I don’t know about you, but for many reasons (professional and personal) if we were to move house, my first check on finding something that might suit us would be a flood risk check in the area. Then a check for nearby STWs or dumps. Then a check for local industry (wrecker’s yards etc). But even I might not have considered checking any potential area for winter parakeet roosts (they’re noisy for quite a lot of the night for quite a lot of the winter).

Did Cippenham residents, certainly those who moved into the new housing estates know they were moving to a house a few yards from one of the biggest parakeet roosts in England? How would you know (unless like me, you have one eye out for these sorts of things)?

 

So…. Betjeman eventually got his wish anyway (even if he regretted his words being published).

These "bombs” are fiendly, not "friendly"though; and are more "dropping" (hur hur) rather than "falling" on Slough.

 

Poor old Slough.


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