Talking Turkey

Today, OH and I were carving the last of the ‘sandwich’ meat from the turkey and I was putting the scraps into a bowl for the birds. It was a good bit of turkey this year. We just bought a crown, since there nobody was coming for dinner, but it was a free range, Bronze Feather crown, and you really can taste the difference.

Suddenly, OH had a thought.

OH: Do they really eat this?

Me: Yes, they do, some of them.

OH: Isn’t that a bit odd?

Me: Why?

OH: Well, it’s a bit cannibalistic, isn’t it? I mean, eating meat from the same species…

Me: We don’t get many turkeys around here.

Don’t Feed the Magic Reindeer!

You’ve all seen it. It’s on sale at all the craft fairs, it’s available on Amazon, and on eBay to name but three sources. Playgroups and reception classes make it for their children to take home. Someone may even have given some to your children already. I hope that someone wasn’t you, because I have some bad news.

This stuff kills wildlife.

Magic Reindeer Food is sold in little cellophone packets, tied with a festive ribbon and with a cute festive poem on the attached label. If it looks like porridge oats mixed with craft glitter with maybe a few seeds and sequins mixed in, it’s because that’s exactly what it is1. And you know what? Not only is the glitter inedible, it can also contain toxins which are absorbed from that cute little Christmas robin’s gut when he comes bob-bob-bobbing along very early in the morning and eats it before you are even awake2. As if that’s not enough, the sharp edges of the glitter can damage the lining of that gut leaving Mr Robin open to all kinds of diseases.

Of course, robins will not be the only ones to take advantage of the feast. Mice, rats and squirrels will eat it, and so will hedgehogs if they are awake, and hungry enough. Then there are the invertebrates, the slugs, snails, worms, etc.

You might not care too much about the rats, the slugs and the snails, but they will all suffer, because Magic Reindeer Food is pretty indiscriminate. And think about the wider issues; do you imagine that this stuff magically disappears after Christmas? No. It will get washed down into the soil, where it will not only utterly fail to decompose, but may pick up toxins from weedkillers and pesticides, and eventually some will find its way into streams, dykes and rivers where it stands a good chance of ending up inside a fish, or a bivalve like a mussel or a clam.

All this might not sound very important to you, but in fact microplastic is becoming a big problem in the environment – as anyone who has watched nature documentaries lately must be beginning to realise. We are now being told that since the ingestion of microplastics begins with the very lowest forms of life, which are then eaten by progressively larger animals, the amount of microplastics is being concentrated (along with those toxins) into fish destined for our own tables, and into animals which eat fish, like otters and seals. Some of these toxins affect health, including fertility. There are now whole, doomed, dolphin and orca pods which cannot breed because of the pollution in the seas.

If you are now thinking, ‘Yeah, but the small amount of glitter in my little packet of Magic Reindeer Food won’t make a lot of difference – it’ll be fine!” Well, join the club. Thousands – if not millions – of people across the UK and the US are thinking the same thing.

How much glitter does that add up to? How much wildlife will it kill, do you think? Will the 2016 batch of glitter be in your next tin of sardines?

There is, however, an alternative. Online, you can find many wildlife-friendly recipes for Magic Reindeer Food which contain the oats, but also quality bird seed, dried fruit, nibbed nuts, etc. There are even recipes for harmless, gelatine-based ‘glitter’ to which you can add natural colours like beetroot or spirulina powder. A little chilli powder in the mix will deter rodents – they don’t like chilli whereas birds don’t care, and the important thing is, it won’t harm them.

1 To be fair, there are Magic Reindeer Foods out there which do not contain glitter. I can’t say whether these are safe or not, because it depends what’s in them, but clearly they are going to be better than glitter.

2 From Wikipedia:

“Furthermore, plastic particles may highly concentrate and transport synthetic organic compounds (e.g. persistent organic pollutants, POPs), commonly present in the environment and ambient sea water, on their surface through adsorption. It still remains unknown if microplastics can act as agents for the transfer of POPs from the environment to organisms in this way, but evidence suggest this to be a potential portal for entering food webs. Of further concern, additives added to plastics during manufacture may leach out upon ingestion, potentially causing serious harm to the organism. Endocrine disruption by plastic additives may affect the reproductive health of humans and wildlife alike.”

They said they’d be back …

Jan06-1Web

Roadworks.

We have a series of parkways which wind through the city. Two lanes each way, grass and trees on either side, daffodils planted in the spring and so on, because the Development Corporation did a wonderful job back in the ’70s and made room for green spaces and trees along the sides of the main routes. You can drive from one end of the city to the other in some places without even realising that you’re passing through a built-up area with industry and housing estates and so forth all behind that green slope studded with trees. Of course, there are other places where the industry and the roundabouts etc break things up a bit, but the overall effect is quite nice.

And now – thanks to the ever-widening boundaries of our fair city and the inevitable increase in traffic and demand for parking spaces – things are changing. Some of the parkways now sport ugly concrete central barriers instead of a strip of grass and trees, for instance. I think this may be a European thing.

Another change is a plan to turn the parkway through the centre of the city into a boulevard in more than just name, with wider pavements and wider crossings. There will be more traffic lights, but they tell us they’ll be planting more trees – we’ll have to wait and see what it turns out like, but in the meantime some green has been lost and there has been chaos. For most of last summer right up until the Christmas shopping period, we have had slow traffic, dust, mud, traffic jams, and gridlock. We’ve had noise, car parks closing and opening up again, flashing cones, temporary barriers and moveable traffic lights. In short, all that usually goes with redevelopment in a busy city centre. But they very kindly stopped work for Christmas so nobody actually got lynched.

We wanted to go shopping in our brand new giant Waitrose1 yesterday and found that the work had been started again. We hit problems two roundabouts out from where we were headed; traffic in our lane was crawling and the right hand lane was blocked by a stationary car trying to merge into the left. Eventually, of course, some kind soul stepped on the brake pedal and let him in.

While we waited we had a little discussion.

What should we do? Should we move out into the right hand lane and hope that the blockage was after the next roundabout, the one where we needed to turn right? We couldn’t see anything – it could simply be congestion from the works further up, where they were actually, you know, doing stuff.

Or should we stay where we were on the basis that if the blockage was before the next roundabout, we’d be the ones sitting in the right hand lane trying to merge back into the left? And everyone would be cursing and calling us ‘Bloody queue-jumpers’.

We crawled. We stopped and started and crawled some more. Eventually we decided to move over, since … well, we couldn’t see anything. But it was not long before a line of cones came into view and then we caught a glimpse of the roundabout. The traffic was moving round the roundabout quite normally, turning right and everything, but we were being forced into a single, left-lane-dwelling wagon train of vehicles.

So tell me: why did they not put up a sign, before the previous roundabout, warning of congestion ahead? It would have given us all time to choose an alternative route.

Or better yet, why not divide the two lanes with cones nice and early, and make the right lane a ‘right turn only ahead’ lane? Anyone in the left lane who’d got stuck there by mistake could simply go up to the next roundabout2 and turn back, and those who chose the right lane early could smile smugly and just … go!

It seems so simple to me that I surely must be missing something, so what is it I’m missing?

I’m sure, you, dear readers, will have some suggestions to offer. If you can make them humorous, oh, please do! A little comic relief after a journey like that is always welcome!

1 Normally I’m not a huge fan of knocking old buildings down to make way for modern glass and concrete, but in this case it has been an improvement. I like Waitrose, and the one we had before, though conveniently situated inside the big shopping mall, was tiny. Come to think of it, I hate that mall anyway, so this is even better since it means there’s less reason to go into it at all!

2 We have plenty of roundabouts. The things are everywhere, confusing Americans and learner drivers and – it has to be said – making life easier for the rest of us. I think only Colchester has more roundabouts than we do. But I learned to drive in Colchester, so I’m alright.