My family's poor bird knowledge is embarrassing | BBC Radio Solent's Alun Newman

The obvious downside of only being able to eat and drink outside is the great British weather.

By Alun Newman
Tuesday, 11th May 2021, 11:19 am
Family of mother and kids observing and photographing the spectacle of the migratory waterbirds from their car.
Family of mother and kids observing and photographing the spectacle of the migratory waterbirds from their car.

It seems that even when it’s sunny, it’s cold these days and the only option is choosing the right coat. Or, if you're really posh, go to one of those pubs that offer you a blanket.

My wife has started carrying a woolly hat and gloves in her handbag.

This is either good planning or it highlights a potential drink problem. The former of course.

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One beer garden table that I booked over the phone offered some guidance.

The lady who took my call advised me that if it was raining, then don’t bother turning up because they’ll be shut. That makes sense.

Although if you’ve hired staff and chefs, what are they going to do? I guess they’re allowed inside.

England has the most unreliable weather. I monitor the weather using my mobile phone that seems to make wild claims of sunshine or rain and then change its mind like an unreliable witness in Line of Duty.

I’m having to motivate my family to be bothered to go out.

And then I have to motivate myself to switch from the far more affordable drinking and eating at home to traipsing out.

Fortunately, I’m a bit of a lightweight so I’m a cheap date.

On a recent stroll into town, the sun was out so we extended our walk to take in the remains of a nearby nature reserve.

It’s old marshland and is resisting the advancement of housing developers.

While walking along a gravel track that cuts through the marsh, there were masses of bird watchers – or ‘birders’ as they’re often known.

These are men and women equipped with huge lenses on normal cameras or telescopes on monopod steady-sticks.

They normally wear robust windcheater-style clothing and trousers with a never-ending number of useful pockets.

It soon occurred to the entire family that we all know nothing about birds.

It was impossible not to look in the direction of the birders’ cameras but we were lost without knowledge.

In the end, I was tasked with asking what was causing a stir.

So, from a distance, I made safe contact.

The excitement turned out to be an osprey. This didn’t really help as I thought an osprey was similar to an albatross. We turned to the smartphone for picture assistance.

Turns out it’s a rather beautiful bird of prey that loves fish.

We waited and saw nothing. Although we did spot a pigeon and a goose.

The natural questions flowed as to why bird identification isn’t taught at schools.

The current default of any child inadequacy is ‘schools should do it’.

We decided that it was actually the job of quality parents.

At first assessment, it could be perceived that we had failed and my entire family had rubbish bird identification knowledge.

However, maybe that wasn’t actually the case. Under quiz show-style pressure, my family was fluent with pigeon, seagull, goose, blackbird (orange beak).

Later, we discussed over a drink in the beer garden, while we froze and claimed it was ‘good to be out’ (Coke for £2:20!)

We added duck, robin, heron, woodpecker, sparrow, turkey and chicken. The list continued.

It turns out that we were better parents than I thought. My children could identify lots of birds. Thank the Lord.

I’m no Chris Packham and there’s plenty of room for improvement.

However, we city dwellers have had to learn our ornithology from the back garden, the balcony, or the supermarket meat aisle!

Department store magic

One of the highlights of my week was going into a well-known department store.

At the rate the UK high street is changing, the phrase ‘department store’ could soon be on its way out. However, there are some beasts left fighting their corner.

I was in this department store buying a laptop. The old one had died. This moment seems to come round every 10 years when we have the ‘we must back-up photographs’ and ‘this one has all the passwords’ conversation.

The fella in the store tried to sell me a new computer with a quad-core processor. He was very excited. A quad-core processor had four cores! You can apparently do multiple tasks at speed.

I explained that I wanted cheap, reliable and something that lasts. I ended up with cheap; the other two components were too tricky to pin down.

Anyway, off to the till I went. Then the usual question: ‘Have you got a loyalty card?’

Usual reply: ‘Yes, but not on me’. At that point, we usually move on.

Not today. The keen assistant asked if I had a smartphone. Yes. Did I have the store app? Yes. ‘Open the app sir.’ Okay. ‘Now shake your phone’. I did, out of politeness. Then ‘as if by magic’ the store card appears! I was so excited. It was scanned and off I went.

It was the first thing I told the family when I got home. It was like David Blaine or Dynamo had explained a trick. Needless to say, children were uninterested. The wife knew all about it already.

Give it a go. It’s like magic but not as much fun.