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.
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.
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?