Any­one for col­lec­tive bird names tennis?

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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

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