Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hell, high water, wind - and lots of kites….

Monday saw me hurtling down the M1 trying to make a meeting in Redhill, Surrey for 12 noon. Traditionally, I’m late for everything – but this meeting is different, this meeting just could mean kerching city for Alfie, his wifey, his kiddykins and his bank balance. So this time I really must not be late.

To make doubly sure of a timely arrival, I did half the journey from the North West on Sunday night, staying at my sister’s - a pleasant house just a couple of miles to the left of Rutland Water.

To make trebly sure of a timely arrival, I tapped in my destination on the sat-nav before turning in. It reckoned a two and a half-hour journey would do it. Sorted. I’ll get up at 7, out by 8, arrive at my destination by 10:30……. 11, tops.

Dream on.

Everything went swimmingly (it was raining hard) until I hit Luton. Suddenly I’m in the biggest, longest, thinnest, most static car park in the entire world. The sexy sat-nav lady informs me there is a traffic jam. I ‘kin know there’s a ‘kin traffic jam, I’m ‘kin in it.

And I was, right up to my neck.

Never mind, I reasoned, I’ve factored in the ‘why does it always happen to me’ gambit – and allowed loads of time for just this eventuality. Well done to me for being so bloody organised. Just then, the traffic reporter on Radio FiveLive informed me there was a big, very big traffic jam on the M1 southbound. Worse still, there was a huge accident on the M1 northbound – and it is completely closed. They’ve also just closed the southbound motorway so that a couple of Air ambulance helicopters can land.

It put everything in perspective. I hoped the victims were OK. With that, I get philosophical - I ring the office in Redhill, tell them I’ll get there when I can and just sat back and relaxed a bit.

Two hours later, I’m sort of still relaxed, definitely still stationary and still being told I’m in a traffic jam by Ms Sat-nav… 45 minutes after that – and we are moving… moving I tell you! Mind you, by now the heavens have opened – had Hurricane Katrina finally hit our shores?

I’m flooring it on a skid-pan. Every truck in the world is in front of me, churning up gallons of water and chucking it at my windscreen at the speed of a water cannon…… And then I hit the M25. Oh God, the M25, the ring of hell in a tsunami of wind and water. Somehow, I manage to negotiate it. Somehow I arrive wet, late, bedraggled - but alive.

After the road to hell came the art of prevarication from the client. The deal of deals never quite got put on the table. We went through the motions then went for lunch, cardboard salmon steak with reheated carbon chips and a side salad of stale grass. They agreed to commit their offer to paper, in black and white, clear as crystal – so the journey wasn’t entirely wasted..

With that, I drove home, but this time I decided to give the M1 a miss. This time I thought I might try the M40 – a road that carves through some of the finest countryside in the south of England. The road was clear, surprising really for rush hour – and a hell of a contrast from the morning. Some thin ribbons of blue sky even managed to make an appearance through a slate grey, battleship grey, grindingly dull, grey sky.

My spirits rose.

Suddenly, just as I was reaching the Oxfordshire border a bloody huge bird of prey, swooped across the motorway, about 20 foot above the car. Even though I’d never seen one before, I recognised it immediately, this bird is just unique. It had a really long forked tail, so it could only be one bird….. just one.

It was a Red Kite…. No doubt about it. The forked tail and the huge wing-span – around 6 foot across were the giveaways. The Red Kite is one of the rarest birds in Britain – there are a few in remote areas of Wales…. And that’s it.

I was so excited, I rang Mrs Alfie…. "I’ve just seen a Red Kite" I stammered…………."Bloody hell, there’s another one, and another"….. Mrs Alfie indulged in a bit of mega scoffing and put the phone down.

Altogether I counted about 15 Red Kites fluttering above a mile long stretch of motorway Fifteen!

When I got home it was like I was the fisherman who let a whopper go, no one believed me. I consulted the bird books…. They all said that the Red Kite was incredibly rare, how their stronghold was in very remote areas of Wales – and how they were very seldom if ever seen. So how could I have seen a whole herd of them – over a motorway in England?

I decided to ring the RSPB to find out. The conversation went something like this.

"Hello, I was driving on the M40 last night, just coming into Oxfordshire and saw"…..

"Red Kites!!!!"
he exclaimed.
I was gobsmacked. This guy told me that sometimes there are as many as 50 Red Kites all flying over the motorway in this little hot spot…. Apparently, this area has the largest population of Red Kites in the country. I asked him if the site was a secret – he said it couldn’t be as they spend all their days swooping over the motorway.

So there you go, if you want to see a truly awesomely amazing bird of prey, and one of the rarest animals in Britain, head for the M40.


Red Fred said...

True, Alfie - the Red Kites were re-introduced, as it were, into Oxfordshire about 5 years ago. Its one of those programmes that really worked.
Nice to know, that we can look after our country, ain't it?
When we try to, of course.

Kaptain Kobold said...

I use the M40 semi-regularly to visit my parents in Brum, and we always look out for the kites. You are right - there are loads of them

Aside form that, though, I regard the M40 as one of the most tediously boring motorways I've ever used.

The Crafty Cruiser said...

My mate and his wife live near Oxford and they feed red kites in their back garden as though they were sparrows - except with meat...

Alfie said...

Alan, when you've got the M58 running through Kirkby, skirting Bootle and Croxteth in Liverpool, then running down to Widnes, the chemical cocktail town as our local M-way, believe me, the scenery is breathtaking on the M40 in comparison....

And about the Red Kites, everyone I've spoken to already knows about them. It looks like me and the missus were the only 2 people not to know. In the pub on Monday night everyone guessed which bird I had seen.... usually with the words.."Oh yeah, I thought everyone knew about the Kites in Oxfordshire"....

Anonymous said...

Red kites? Common as muck in the Derwent Valley, just beside Gateshead (turn left at the Angel of the North and park at Gibside Chapel).

krip said...

You lucky bugger. I can only dream of seeing Red Kites down here in Kent........sigh :(

Anonymous said...

Yes they even reached Luton. I saw a kite on two separate occasions in May in the Luton/Hitchin area. Apparently they were reintroduced into the Aylesbury area about 15 years ago by RSPB et. al.