Anyone for collective bird names tennis?
REGULAR readers may be shocked to hear that I was recently ‘trolled’ on FaceBook, when I was criticised for putting up a 500-word post about my early days at Bleak House.
Many of you stood my corner, and it turned out to be the catalyst for me to begin my book on Crowden and Longdendale in earnest, and not before time. In the space of three weeks I am currently on 35,000 words.
According to my notebook it was April 24, 1984, and I was having a mooch around the moorland graveyard at St James Chapel; there was always something different to see, not least a little carving here, or a missed name there, and I had brought with me, a wax crayon to try and get a ‘rubbing’ of an Angel on the edge of one of the flat-gravestones.
These stones must have taken some shifting 200 years ago, and most of them are now skew-whiff with heather sprouting from beneath like a natural cushion for their weight. The Angel came out really well, and as I was on my knees, making a green version, a pair of well polished black shoes appeared in front of me; above the shoes, the start of a neatly pressed pair of black trousers, which gave way, as I lifted my head, to a slightly more creased mid-region, and then to an over-long black jacket, a rough pair of hands and thence to a collar and tie, followed by a craggy benevolent face, topped with a massive shock of white hair,. He reminded me of my dad a bit.
At a guess the man was around 70 years old, slightly built, but with a healthy glow to his face, and, I guessed, slightly ill at ease in a suit. You could say he was all trussed up and on his way to a funeral.
“Good morning,” I said, before the stranger replied with an engaging smile. “And the same to you lad, it is a grand morning tha knows, North Easterly gets reet under tha bonnet!”
I explained what I was doing, although it was fairly self-evident, and asked if there was a burial due at St James that morning. “Nae lad, tha canna plant any more in tha, tha knows, it’s full ‘tut brim”, he said, “Thy’d n’er get a babby in.” Charming I thought, but he was probably right, and apart from a hand-full of locals, including Retired waterman Eddie Davies in the early 80s, and his wife Lil sometime later, the graveyard is chocker. I should also give a mention to Bob Blackburn, another waterman whose ashes were scattered around his wife’s memorial near the church door.
Mr Brocklebank, which turned out to be my visitor’s name, chatted away as I was trying to produce the perfect rubbing. He waxed lyrical about skylarks as one particular bird serenaded the pair of us on high; and why wouldn’t he, they are a proper sound of Old England. The collective noun for the skylark, ‘an exultation’, is probably the perfect description, a feeling of triumphant elation, jubilation, a rejoicing. Arthur Brocklebank agreed and proceeded to demonstrate his knowledge of collective nouns for birds.
The kind of game I like. Arthur sat on the stone steps of the Church, while I perched on the edge of the Angel Tomb. “These steps are at the exact same height as the steps on yon Mottram Church tha knows,” said Arthur.
I didn’t question him on that small piece of local folklore as I had heard the story before - it was said that the original wooden church had been built as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ by the landowner, Edwin Shah, 500 years earlier. In other words, he made it easy for ‘them’ to attend services instead of traipsing the six miles to Mottram.
“I think my favourite collective noun, is a ‘Tok of capercaillie,’” I said.
“A what?” laughed Arthur, “what on earth is a capercaillie, it sounds like a dance?”
I explained that it was a large cousin of the Red Grouse, which was only found in the Highlands of Scotland.
“As big as a turkey and they have to launch themselves from a branch and drop a few feet before getting airborne.” I was exaggerating slightly, but they are big rascals.
“Be some eating on that then, not like yon skinny moor cock,” said Arthur. He was referring to the Cock Red Grouse which are found all over the moors at Crowden, and sometimes on the back wall at Bleak House.
“Aye, that’d be a covey of grouse,” said Arthur, resuming the game. “Your turn lad.”
“Okay, how about a ‘bazaar’ of guillemots, and a ‘confusion’ of guinea fowl?” I offered.
To anyone who knows their birds, these two collective nouns are a close second and third to ‘toc’, the former because they crowd together in their thousands on jagged cliff faces, and the latter because guinea fowl, with their fat bodies and peculiar little heads, seem to scatter hither and thither in no particular coherent fashion.
I should point out that if I have got Arthur’s pronunciations wrong, I do apologise and would be delighted to be corrected.
Next week, Arthur Brocklebank’s Great Escape...
St James Chapel
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop