All posts by Rob

Land of make believe

Those of a certain age will remember the Blue Peter “makes” of the 1970’s with children’s TV presenter Lesley Judd, when all manner of junk materials were recycled for a variety of uses – from the coat hanger tinsel covered advent crown to the toilet roll tube desk tidy!
My favourite ‘make’ was the farmyard – a papier mâché landscape which I replicated and adapted into a zoo, safari park and ‘Lost World’ to house my collection of Britains animals and Inpro dinosaurs.
I spent many an hour re-enacting the 1969 film The Valley of Gwangi and 1978 TV movie The Beasts Are on the Streets.
My papier mâché creations have long since disintegrated – but all the animals and dinosaurs are safely stowed away in a wooden box that my grandad made – a potential good investment if the going rate on auction sites of some of these toys is to be believed.
Watching the likes of Jurassic World and seeing what things kids today have to play with it’s clear toys and films have moved a lot since the stock frame animation of Gwangi and the plastic mouldings of animal figures based on the original 1940’s lead models.
I think Blue Peter still do their “makes” – I remember in the 90’s Tracey Island being a huge hit, so hopefully the power of imagination, mixed with a bit of creativity is still enough to provide hours of fun at no cost at all!

Celebrating Attenborough

When I was 13 I queued up at a bookshop in Birmingham to meet David Attenborough at a signing launch event for publication of ‘The Living Planet’. I actually cheekily asked him to sign my previously purchased paperback copy of ‘Life on Earth’ as I couldn’t afford to buy the hardback ‘Living Planet.’ I’ve still got the book & the newspaper cutting from his visit!

I’ve always been a massive wildlife fan and an avid watcher of his television programmes. My grandmother used to say she was going to write to the BBC and say if ever David Attenborough wanted to give up his job I was a prime candidate to take over!
I don’t know whether she ever did write in – but given he is still working as a wildlife presenter it would have been a very long wait!

So instead I’ve been inspired to try and follow in his footsteps to see for myself some of the wonders he has shared with us in his documentaries. As a result I’ve been lucky enough to sit with gorillas in Uganda, marvelled at the migration in the Serengeti, island hopped in the Galapagos looking for finches and iguanas, as well as getting up close with lemurs in Madagascar and taking to the oceans to watch whales.

Hopefully sharing my travels and love of nature through photography, illustrations and story writing with my nieces, nephews and other children will help to inspire a new generation of wildlife enthusiasts.

Pick up a Penguin

Today is World Penguin Day celebrating our tuxedo clad flightless feathered friends who walk with waddle but swim with amazing speed and grace.
I'm reminded of the story 'And Tango Makes Three' by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell. The story is set in Central Park Zoo and tells the tale of two chinstrap penguins Roy and Silo and how they become parents to Tango.
It's a great story wonderfully illustrated by Henry Cole - yet the American Library Association reports that 'And Tango Makes Three' was the most challenged book of 2006 to 2010, except for 2009 when it was the second most challenged.
But just like the story says this penguin family isn't really any different from everyone else - "..they (Roy, Silo and Tango) snuggled together and, like all the other penguins in the penguin house, and all the other animals in the zoo, and all the families in the big city around, they went to sleep."
Penguins perhaps have a thing or two they can teach some people too!

Here be dragons

Well today is the feast of St George the patron saint of England famed for killing a dragon, which got me thinking about other incarnations of these mythical creatures.
The first that springs to mind is Idris a small, red Welsh dragon who is hatched out of his egg in the fire of Ivor the Engine a steam train featured in 1970's children's animation by Oliver Postgate.
Then of course there’s Smaug from Tolkein’s Hobbit story, as well as 'Puff' the Magic Dragon from the song performed American folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.
A person favourite of mine is Falkor the Luckdragon from the Never Ending Story – I love that film, but I have to confess I’ve never read the book. Perhaps I should?
I’ve been lucky enough to visit China where dragons are seen in temples, on boats and dancing at celebrations. From my travels there I brought back a dragon netsuke – although I appreciate these actually originate from Japan!
And then there are the real life dragons of Komodo – I’ve never meet one other than seeing them at Jersey Zoo, but I’ve had some encounters with some relatives of the Komodo dragon including Nile and Bosc monitor lizards during my time as volunteer worker at a pet rescue centre, as well as meeting the marine iguanas on my travels to the Galapagos. Maybe one day I’ll get to meet a Goanna in Australia just like the one in my story “Whose egg are you?”
Recently I’ve also been drawing dragons, I’m taking part in the #AnimalAlphabets challenge on Twitter so if I can keep it up I’ll have 26 mythical beasts to add to my illustrations portfolio!

All Creatures Great and Small

I like it when you log onto Facebook and their ‘On this Day’ app shares a memory of a post that you made in the past. So today – 7 years ago I was lucky enough to be in Mlilwane in Swaziland meeting a nyala. If you don’t know what one of those is – check out the Antelope Alphabet or visit my gallery to find out.
From a young age getting up close to animals is something I’ve always enjoyed doing as this photograph of me meeting a moose shows!
Mlilwane is an amazing place that provides a unique opportunity to experience African wildlife at close quarters. Thanks to dedication of Ted Reilly, who in the 1960’s began to turn the family farm into a game reserve by racing around the African countryside in a Land Rover called Jezebel darting and catching a whole range of creatures, visitors to this wildlife sanctuary can now literally walk with the animals.
Mlilwane is a Siswati word and means ‘little fire’ in reference to those started by lightning strikes in the hills of the Ezulwini Valley in Swaziland.
Similarly the spark of interest I had in animals as a child has been fanned by likes of James Herriot and David Attenborough but more on that another time.

Make a little birdhouse in your soul

My first aviary was built in my parents back garden in the mid 1980’s with the help of my maternal grandfather. He wasn’t a budgie man like my paternal grandad, he was a carpenter and cabinet maker. As a result my first aviary – although constructed mostly out of scraps of wood recycled from various sources including old doors and window frames, it was made with precision and had beautiful dove tail joints. It even had a stained glass leaded window savaged from the garden where it was being used as a cold frame because the windows in my grandparents’ house had been replaced on account of 1940s stained glass being old fashioned.
When I moved to my first home in Derbyshire in the late 90’s the aviary at my parents was dismantled and the stained glass moved with me to be installed in a new aviary. And so the tradition has continued with same glass panel finding its way into the design and construction of the aviary where I live now.
Throughout all that time there have been many birdhouse inhabitants from finches and quails to waxbills and cockatiels, even the odd cheeky mouse and of course budgies – but no blue canaries as ‘They Might Be Giants’ would sing! That said the glow from the window reminds me of my grandparents and as a reflection on the song lyrics they are the ones who watch over me.

Badges, Budgies and Books

Thanks to some internet searching these little badges tell quite a tale of their own.
They used to belong to my grandfather who wore them on his jacket lapels to show his affiliation to the world of budgerigar breeding.
I knew my grandfather was a train driver – what I didn’t realise was the history of The London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. It would seem in its time (1923-47) the LMS was the largest Joint Stock Corporation operating a railway anywhere in the world and the LMS Fur & Feather Society was one of a number of groups organised by the railway employees. Competitions were organised between similarly interested groups around the rail network.
Similarly the heritage of Budgerigar Society also dates back to the 1920’s with the formation of the first Budgerigar Club at the Grand National Show at Crystal Palace in February 1925.
My grandad even appears in print – in A Locoman’s Log 1937-85 by Bill Alcock.
Who’d of thought there’s nearly a 100 years tradition hidden behind an enamel pin badge?