According to "The Observer" newspaper eight pairs of sparrows were introduced
into the U.S. In 1850. They have grown to 150 million birds. Normally at this
point I would ask the chickens for their views on the subject, but I am far
from them, on the front lines of the parakeet invasion. Scientists estimate
the invasion by birds of Tibetan and then South American origin--I have no idea
how parakeets came to have such an odd sense of empire--has resulted in a
European parakeet population of, "at minimum 85,000." We walked along the
Thames on a towpath near Hampton Court, trying to have words, but it quickly
became clear that I don't speak parakeet.
We are here, my friend and I, to give talks at a conference at Imperial
College. I'd invite you all, but a day ticket costs four hundred pounds, which
either makes what we have to say seem valuable or suggests that cash-strapped
universities have hit upon a cunning plan to help pay the bills. Before
talking, we are getting lubricated, hieing ourselves north in search of the
perfect pint. Which you'll find at the Old Brewery, Tadcaster. Years ago two
brothers, John and Samuel Smith fell out over business. Tadcaster now houses
two breweries. John Smith's is enormous, towering over the village. Samuel
Smith's actual site of production may be big too; you can buy the beer all
over. But at the Old Brewery you can order a pint of cask conditioned ale and
stagger when they ask you for money; imperial pints are two pounds each.
Nectar of the gods for practically nowt.
British bed and breakfasts have moved past the "Fawlty Towers" era, but they
have not completely forgotten their heritage. At our first stop toilet paper
was dispensed from a container that released one sheet at a time. At our
second there was free wi fi, but the range didn't quite reach the room. It was
fine in the corridor... And in our third, the toilet tank got tired just as we
were getting ready to go to sleep. Up came Basil. He fiddled with the gubbins
and pronounced it working...just very slowly. Could we perhaps use the one at
the end of the hall?
We are having fun.
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