In the June edition of the Newsletter:
I've got a new sort of tit. (Oh dear, I do hope you're not making up your own stories!). I've also got a new, improved bird feeder, but I'm not sure the two are necessarily connected.
Some years ago, I designed and built my own squirrel-proof bird feeder. The only ones I could find ready-made were far too small. A squirrel could reach in with its thieving little paws and get at the nuts. My bespoke version was taller and wider, so the squirrel couldn't reach the nut feeder inside. Then a slightly more intelligent squirrel came along and discovered that it could tilt the outer cage bit so that the nut feeder inside swung to the side and it could grab the nuts. Clearly a redesign was called for.
The original plan was just to build a bigger one, which is sort of what I did, but there was the odd redesign of the redesign along the way. Armed with the approximate dimensions, I headed for the agricultural suppliers to acquire the requisite amount of heavy duty, galvanised mesh - the sort they build cages out of for vicious dogs. The heavy-duty spec means that squirrels can't chew through it, and the galvanised, which costs a bit more, means it doesn't rust. It seemed a bit discourteous to build the birds a feeder that would go rusty, and it would look a bit tatty hanging in my tree.
The mark one version had been circular, as bird feeders generally are, but I discovered, in trying to make one twice the size, that I wasn't strong enough to bend the much larger piece of mesh into a circle. So, I sat down on the shed floor and had a little think. I always wish my Mum was around when I'm faced with these sort of problems, because she would come up with a solution in no time. But, of course, she wasn't there when I needed her, so I had to work it out for myself. I'd already cut off two squares of mesh to be the top and bottom of the new feeder, and, eventually, they provided the necessary inspiration. By cutting off a few more squares, (well four more, actually), I could make a cube. It was all very easy once I'd worked it out. I even had a couple of small bits left over, which I fixed inside to stop the nut feeder swinging to the side, and which also give the birds somewhere to perch. Climbing up my ladder to hang it in the tree is quite hard work. It's about the size of a small garden shed. I guess that counts as my weekly load-bearing exercise, as I have to lift it down when it needs refilling.
Above my lovely new squirrel-proof bird feeder, and slightly off-set, hangs a fat ball feeder. The blackbirds are too big to get into the bird feeder, but they have discovered they can sit on top of it and peck at the fat balls. If it's breezy, the large feeder tends to rotate, so it becomes a sort of blackbird treadmill. They have to trot round the top to keep pace with the fat balls, and, somewhat unpredictably, change direction when the feeder does, but they don't seem to mind.
I've always had great tits and blue tits and occasionally long tailed tits come to the feeder. But now there is a new tit. It's not a great tit because it hasn't got a black shirt and yellow waistcoat, and it's not a blue tit because it isn't yellow, and it's not a long-tailed tit because its tail is too short. So, I guess it might be a coal tit, because that's the only other sort of tit I've heard of. Or have I discovered a new species; the ungreat unblue short tailed tit?
Look forward to seeing you.
I'm Chenda Appleyard
Family Mensa North
I am a traitor. A Yorkshireman settled on the wrong side of the Pennines, their accusing vista staring at me from the distant horizon. I owe recompense, to the county I left, the people I miss. I am the Junior Members and Families Officer, for Mensa North West, and the 'West' part grates on my soul, reminds me of my betrayal. So I'm going to pretend it's not there, and invite you to Family Mensa North
I should stress from the outset, I am not a teacher. Those seeking advice on schooling, raising highly able children, and the challenges therein are best contacting Lyn Kendall, Mensa's Gifted Child Consultant. What I am, is a father of two, keen to see events not providing an escape from family life but including it within Mensa.
The aim of this fledgling group is to provide family-friendly events, on a regular basis, throughout my region and beyond. It is to establish a network of Mensans who've, thus far, quietly wished for similar, but not known if like-minded people were out there. It is to connect Families with Mensa, rather than separating the two.
Family Mensa is not exclusive to children, or those with children, but it exists with the express understanding that all events are a child-friendly environment, targeted at family groups. The first round of such events is listed below. More details on each will be available closer to the time.
For more information, to suggest ideas, or to get involved, please search for 'Family Mensa North West' on Facebook.
The group is new, and will start small, but then so did we all. What it becomes will be defined by the people who share it.
Sun 10th June - Lancaster Castle Tour.
Sat 23rd June - Chester Zoo.
Sun 15th July - Eureka!, Halifax.
Spy Interview Part 1
Following the death of my Dad five years ago, I was talking to his long-term partner at the funeral and asked how they had met.
Her reply astonished me as she began to tell me how her and my Dad first met in the early 1960's when they were both working for Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (S.H.A.P.E), at the time based in Paris. She was in military intelligence and I knew she had also worked at Bletchley Park during the Cold War.
Dad was apparently employed as an accountant, although he was required to have the full background checks and was not allowed to discuss his work. This was a shock, as Dad had never mentioned this, and I had no clue that he had been involved in this kind of work.
Dad, a notoriously inscrutable man, had always been a factory worker as far as I was aware. He had remained in contact with a couple of his colleagues from SHAPE and it was one of them who subsequently contacted me early in 2016 to ask me if I was interested to find out more about Dad's work in Intelligence.
Naturally, being a curious person, I jumped at the opportunity and was directed to a webpage that had been setup purely for the purpose of recruiting and required to complete an in-depth online assessment for an independent television company who were intending to make a documentary about the three main intelligence services in the UK, namely MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.
The documentary was to follow the progress of a number of members of the public as they were recruited by the services and completed the IONEC (Intelligence officers new entry course).
Two days later I received an anonymous phone call from London. A male whose accent and easy mannerisms made me wonder if he had been educated at Oxford or Cambridge, interviewed me over the phone and asked me to attend a selection centre in the North of England a few days later.
The centre was an instantly forgettable non-descript large, single storey former warehouse, in a poor and neglected condition that had a shabby office block attached, that appeared to have been added several years after the original warehouse had been constructed and was located on an industrial estate.
As part of this building was still in use as a first contact centre for new recruits, its location cannot be disclosed.
As I drove along the worn and pothole strewn road, evidence of the thousands of heavy goods vehicles that had used this road over the years, I drove slowly, taking in the various industrial and office buildings either side of the road. Some were obviously still in use, and occupied, others long abandoned and derelict.
I was looking carefully for the building that had been described to me over the phone, no written address was allowed (An informal test of attention and memory I later found out. Written information could compromise an operation or even lead to capture or loss of life if found in the wrong place on the wrong person, and so was forbidden for us).
After locating the building, I drove around the block a couple of times, more out of curiosity to see if I was being followed, as I assumed our observation skills and awareness would be tested and assessed whether we were aware we were being tested or not and was keen to make a favourable impression as soon as possible.
No obvious follow was spotted and as I pulled through the gap in the chain link fence at the location, into an old delivery yard, I briefly noted the slightly overweight woman, incongruously dressed in a bright pink sweatshirt, stood at the gate and holding a handful of strings attached to several brightly coloured helium balloons, a welcome splash of colour in this otherwise grim, drab and gloomy industrial location and reflected wryly that this was a depressing place for a children's party...
I pulled into one of the few unoccupied spaces in front of a grey port-a-cabin, climbed out and locking my car, I walked towards the small queue of people sheltering in a huddle at the far end of the building.
My short walk took me past several abandoned loading docks, now overgrown with weeds and several short saplings were obvious, protruding from the broken iron drainpipes. The glass canopy that had probably been used to shelter the docks as goods were loaded onto the backs of the waiting lorries, now stained green with moss and algae.
We were met at the door by a balding, clean- shaven, middle-aged guy in jeans, sweatshirt and leather jacket, who introduced himself as Rupert.
He checked our names off on his clipboard, cursorily examined the passports we had brought as proof of our identity and led us inside.
We were initially led as a small group into the part of the complex that had clearly been a warehouse, long since abandoned, but hastily re-tasked by the film company to be used as a covert location for the purposes of the programme.
The interior of the building was covered with several thick, armoured rubber, power cables secured to the floor, walls, and an old iron staircase by copious amounts of duck tape probably by the film crew, who wanted to record our first contact and the initial stages of the selection process that we would be commencing that day.
Some of these cables were currently being used to power several large spotlights which lit the large former store room we were now led into, its high ceiling unseen in the darkness outside the circle of strong light we were stood in the spotlights were the only source of warmth and light inside the otherwise darkened and deserted building. Remnants of old rotting metal shelving and rusting brackets protruding from the crumbling brickwork and large areas of blistered paintwork had fallen away to expose damp plaster, hinting at its former use. We were directed to a circle of folding plastic chairs, instructed to sit down and given various documents to read and sign, many of which were non-disclosure agreements, restricting us from discussing anything that wasn't broadcast.
Glancing up from my paperwork I noticed a row of desks was being set up and several people were now settling down behind them. One by one we were called forward. Sitting at the desks, our papers were taken from us and we were asked questions about the online forms we had submitted, before the documentation was taken away along with our passports, for photocopying, before being returned. We were then asked to wear one of a variety of coloured bands for reasons that were not explained to us.
Once we had been processed we were directed to a holding area and given no further instruction. A single trestle table held several stacked tubes of disposable cups, two large and steaming urns and numerous boxes and jars of tea bags or coffee.
Several people were already ahead of me, so I took my cue from them and made a cup of coffee before retreating to the edge of the holding area to observe and people watch.
After a while, the holding area began to fill, and several camera and sound crews began to circulate the perimeter, recording conversations and chatting to candidates. I looked on in curiosity at the variety of people who had turned up interview/audition. Some of the women were clearly dressed in a manner that was contrived to attract attention, choosing gaudy make-up, low cut tops, short skirts and high-heeled shoes.
The men had also gone for high levels of personal grooming, tight tee-shirts over rippling muscles, their strong aftershaves and colognes filling the air with a riot of smell.
Most of them wouldn't have looked out of place in an airport departure lounge for a flight to Ibiza and didn't seem to me to be the sort of people who would be able to remain anonymous or unnoticed in the kind of world we were looking to enter, where anonymity might be key to survival.
I hope you enjoyed the first instalment of Spy Interview written by an anonymous member. This will be serialised over the coming months in Spotlight. Look out for Part 2 in July.