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Home owners now have the opportunity o personalise their postcodes, but at a cost; vanity doesn't come free.

Royal Mail has announced that from today it will take applications for personalised alphanumeric postcodes for an initial fee of £500 and an annual 'maintenance fee' of £200.

'We are delighted to announce this opportunity for people who own their own homes to choose a personalised postcode,' a Royal Mail spokeswoman said. 

'The postcodes could reflect a hobby or interest, a vocation, or some unique feature of their home or where they live,' she added. All applications would be vetted to ensure they don't breach standards of acceptability.

In an advance invitation to a select few privileged customers, Royal Mail has already approved the following vanity postcodes:

GR8 W8R - taken by a hospitality college
FI5 H1N - chosen by a keen angler
AV1 80R - bagged by a commercial airline pilot
K9S 4ME - selected by the owner of a dog kennels business

Existing postcodes can be dispensed with once the new one is approved. It does not need to begin with local postal area initials either, but will be unique to the single address of the applicant. The vanity postcodes will be able to be on-sold should the property change hands.

'As long as the postcode letters and numerals do not spell anything offensive or are likely to cause upset - and have not already been taken by someone else - we will approve them,' Royal Mail said. This rules out such personalised postcodes as B1G N0B, 4NI C8R, etc. 

But can you buy a vanity postcode as a gift for someone else? Yes, confirmed Royal Mail. So I'm going to, and soon - assuming it passes the decency test - you'll be able to write to:

Theresa May, 
10 Downing Street, 
London BO1 10X. 

Can't see how that would offend anyone.

- Press Association, 01 April, 2019

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I woke up this morning expecting to see the usual news coverage of that omnishambles called Brexit. I was ready to quickly swipe to my daily dose of Dilbert, and then browse what ElonMusk's SpaceX had been up to on space.com. I didn't, because I couldn't. Instead, I saw news stories about a massacre in New Zealand, the country I'd called home for over forty years. Forty-nine people had been gunned down and killed in two mosques in Christchurch, with at least twenty more injured. My morning, and my whole basis of knowing New Zealand had suddenly been turned upside down.

I went out there as an almost-fifteen year old and discovered a country of gentleness, of times past. A country that some said was 'stuck in the 1950s'. I loved it from the start.

Not long after joining high school, in the sleepy town of New Plymouth, a boy asked me one day, 'Do you like Maoris?' His name was Mark. I didn't understand his question, but it turned out that even in this provincial high school in 1969 there were tensions based on race. I, however, didn't see them, and apart from Mark's query saw no other real evidence of segregation or unease. Our class was made up of Kiwis, Fijians, boys of Polish and Dutch extraction, and probably many more. We had city kids and country kids, wealthy and not-so.The point is we gelled.

As the years went by I did however witness some divisions within New Zealand. I'm not sure when it started - perhaps in the very early 1970s when there was an imminent danger that some of us boys would be drafted into the military and sent to fight in Vietnam (I confess now to seceretly abusing my trusted position as a part-time office worker at the YMCA to use their Gestetner copier to churn out  protest leaflets against Agent Orange and defoliation). Maybe it was with the protests against the visit of the nuclear-powered (and armed?) USS Truxtun in 1976, and later the civil unrest around the Springbok rugby tour in 1981. Suddenly New Zealand seemed uneasy with, and within, itself.

As the years went by there were other visible abrasions, not least of which would be the accusations (and reparations and acknowledgements) around colonialism, and Britain's mis-handling of the Treaty of Waitangi - but I don't recall there ever being any religious-based unease. Migration to New Zealand was an accepted fact and had been for decades; the country needed skilled labour in a number of areas and opened its arms to those qualified. Earlier it simply opened its arms to anyone anyway - witness the '£10-pound-Pom' scheme of the 1950s and '60s. New Zealand welcomed everyone and anyone.

The country has tussled many times over the years with its identity in a global context - and within itself often too - but by-and-large has always managed to self-level and maintain dignity and calm. Yes there have been the odd spikes in extremism as there are in any nation, but overall, well: good on ya' Aotearoa.

But this morning all that changed. This morning New Zealand wasn't in the global media for its tourism delights, its Lord of the Rings scenery, its earthquakes or its beached pilot wales. This morning its All Blacks and Silver Ferns took a back seat. This morning New Zealand was covered in blood, and would never be the same again.

One of my immediate thoughts was, New Zealand has lost its innocence. Its deputy prime minister echoed my thoughts a little later, and he - we're - right. What had generally been perceived as a safe, clean, green country full of friendly people, thousands of miles away from the rest of the world's troubles, was destroyed when - at time of writing - one man allegedly took it upon himself to drive to two mosques during prayer time and murder almost fifty innocent people. It may eventuate that more perpetrators were involved, or that a terrorist organisation was behind the atrocities, but that will become evident in time.

The tendency at this point is for the media - and the rest of us - to want answers immediately. Did the security services know of the threat? Did they do all they could to prevent it? If not why not? Who let this shooter, this extremist, into the country? How was he (and perhaps his accomplices) able to get weapons? At this stage we have nothing but questions, and in the absence of answers we do, of course, leap to conclusions. It's in our nature to fill the gaps with opinions, thoughts, ideas, suspicions.

Hard though it might be, we need now to wait for the due process to take place. A man is in custody, along - at this point - with at least two others. The police have a long road of investigation ahead of them, as do the security intelligence services, not just in New Zealand, but Australia and likely further afield. CCTV footage will be revealed eventually, showing the suspect(s) preparing for the atrocity. Acquaintances will be interviewed, 'experts' will be questioned, and slowly over the next few weeks we will begin to learn the truth.

In the meantime we can do little but grieve. Nobody saw this coming, but New Zealand must always have been a 'soft target', and it now must up its game to ensure nothing like this ever happens again. Sadly many people will now consider cancelling their planned holidays there; Kiwi tourism will take a dive, and the country's reputation as a safe place to go has been irrevocably tarnished. It will, however, recover. But right now that's nothing compared to the grief of those family members whose loved ones were killed in this massacre. Some of those people went to New Zealand seeking a haven, a place of sanctuary from the troubles of their own countries. They went there seeking the country that I arrived in fifty years ago. Instead, terrorism followed them there.

It's evident from the social media postings today that any divisions within Kiwi society are being put aside. Today, New Zealand is united in its grief; and united in its resolve that it will never be such an easy target again. Kia Kaha, Aotearoa (Stay strong, New Zealand).

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Lime Street Station, Liverpool, 03 Jan. 1969
The slightly fuzzy photo shows me standing in the doorway of a train at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station. It is the third of January 1969. I have my eyes closed, but I’m smiling. Poetically you could say I am dreaming of my new life in New Zealand, which is where my Mum and I are headed on this distant day, but in reality I am caught mid-blink. Which is a shame because the photo represents a significant moment in my life.
In the picture I am fourteen-and-a-half. At that age it was still important to me to count in half-years because it made me sound closer to fifteen. I don’t do it any more – telling anyone who’ll listen that I’m sixty-four-and-a-half is futile, and anyway I’d rather be closer to sixty three. Or twenty three come to that.

People today still ask, why did you go to New Zealand? Sometimes I ask myself the same question, but only when I stand back to observe my life’s choices dispassionately. Was it the right thing to do? Certainly. Could I have stayed in the UK? Yes to that too, but such speculation is a waste of time, and I might not have much of that left; Facebook adverts keep reminding me to pre-plan my funeral. Maybe they know something I don’t.

So, how did we come to emigrate? Blame me, it was my decision. It’s a long story, but after losing one husband to sudden death and a second to divorce, my mother had devoted her life to bringing me up, while also looking after my ailing alcoholic granny and holding down a job with HM Customs in Liverpool. She deserved a medal, but somehow the honours list always overlooked her.

Anyway, after a long illness my granny died in 1967. It was, it has to be said, a relief for both of us. Suddenly my mother had some freedom, which was seized upon by a once-spurned suitor of hers who had earlier left the UK to live in New Zealand. His name was John, and he was an outdoors hunting, shooting, fishing type. He had kept in touch with Mum by correspondence (aerogrammes, remember them?), in which he’d occasionally renewed his offer of marriage, but which she’d always – of necessity – turned down. There was no way my grandmother was going to survive the trip to New Zealand, and anyway, I was still at school.

The mountain formerly known as Egmont
But with no elderly invalid to care for any more, my Mum received yet another marriage proposal and saw it perhaps as a ‘final demand’. This was some time in 1968. One morning – a Saturday if I remember rightly – she came into my bedroom where I was languishing in teenage torpor (it was probably actually 3pm) and said, ‘How would you like to go to New Zealand?’

That was the gist of it anyway. She went on to explain about John, this former shipping clerk who had taken a shine to her seventeen years previously in Liverpool, whom she had spurned. He had gone to New Zealand and joined the forestry service, then later the NZ police force. He was now a sergeant and based in some place called New Plymouth, a coastal town dominated by what was then called Mount Egmont, a dormant volcano slightly smaller but of Mount Fuji-like proportions. Today it is called Mount Taranaki and wears a more indigenous cloak of respectability, but that’s another story.

I digress. There was no pressure from my mother to make a decision. She laid out the proposal and left me to think about it, but one thing she made very clear: it would be mydecision. If I wanted to go we’d go, and if I didn’t we’d stay. This was a big choice for a fourteen (and-a-half) year-old, and I look back on it as a momentous occasion. Our whole future was put in my hands. It was the biggest decision of my life. I was – and still am – proud that I was given such a big say in our lives, possibly the biggest.

The clock's ticking: decision time
You’ll be thinking right now that Mum was a liberal, far-seeing soul who was way ahead of her time, and you might be right. The reality is that I was at high school, and for the first time in my scholarly life I was actually starting to do quite well. Not brilliantly, but I was finally making progress  (my reports had typically said things like, ‘Could try harder’, and ‘Michael finds this subject difficult’) and after some dismal years I was enjoying myself at school, and had made some great friends. My future was looking bright, so what would happen if I suddenly threw all that away and moved 12,000 miles to a new life?

I did research. I studied anything I could find about New Zealand, which wasn’t much. There was no Internet, so I was restricted to whatever was in the library, which largely meant geography books in which New Zealand was always accorded a frustratingly small section. Mum told me of some of John’s hunting and fishing exploits, which sounded appealing; even at that age I was keen on rambling, and my friends and I would catch buses to the countryside and walk across farmland using old outdated guide books. I was also interested in fishing (though in the absence of a father could never master the cast – Mum didn’t know how), and I liked golf – in short, I realised that I too was actually ‘outdoorsy’. 

The Southern sky was a drawcard
Another plus – and this was a major one – was that I had an all-consuming passion for astronomy, and owned a nice 4 1/2-inch telescope (as with my age the half-inch was very important), so the prospect of the southern hemisphere night sky with more stars and a lot less light pollution was a major attraction.

And that was it. Decision made: we’d go. If I gave any thought to leaving behind my close-knit friends and my increasing popularity at school (at last) I sadly don’t recall. Maybe having made the choice to leave I just began looking forward, although I knew I would miss my girlfriend, Janet. She was a real girlfriend too, and I’d only just got to ‘first base’ with her (I’ll leave you to guess what that was because the ‘Base Scale’ varies globally and has not yet been formalised by any authority), so I promised her I’d be back within three years, at least for a visit. Meanwhile we would keep in touch. (We sort-of did, but with return aerogramme correspondence taking at least six weeks this wasn’t easy. I did go back for a few months three years later, but the flame had died. And anyway, I’d already got way past second base in NZ).

The SS Canberra, P&O Line
And so, some months later after much planning, organising, packing, and selling our tiny 17th century cottage, Mum and I found ourselves at Liverpool’s Lime Street Station boarding the train for London and on to Southampton, from where the next day we would sail away on the SS Canberra, the cliffs of England slowly disappearing in the grey, murky January afternoon.

While I know the names of everyone in the photo on the platform I can’t recall who took the picture. Whoever it was caught me with my eyes shut momentarily, which is poignant really because the fifty years since then have disappeared - in the blink of an eye.

(Mike Bodnar has now returned from New Zealand and lives in Surrey)
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Yesterday I attended Parliament.

Not to protest against Brexit, or lobby my MP (whoever it is), but to take part in an 'assessment day'. 

I have, you see, applied for a role at the Palace of Westminster as a part-time Visitor Engagement Assistant, and part of the asessment day required those of us attending (the chosen ones) to deliver a presentation.

Pleasingly we were allowed to choose virtually any topic, though with some relevance to Westminster and democracy, obviously.

I chose to put the Palace of Westminster and what it stands for 'on trial', playing both the roles of Prosecution and Defence, and I share my script with you here. Seems a shame to restrict it only to the green leather hush of Committee Room Nine.

Whether the verdict is that Westminster is outdated and needs replacing or is a shining example of contemporary democracy - well, I'll let you be the judge.

All rise...

For the prosecution:

Your Honour, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you will hear in the next few minutes about an outdated, outmoded, ancient and creaky system of democracy that is falling apart at the seams. About a system which must at all costs be replaced.

Tracing its history back over 800 or-so years, we find that Parliament’s foundations are based not on goodwill, a heartfelt need to listen to the people, or a consensus of opinion, but in fact are built on war. On aggression and defence.

When Edward I called a parliament in 1295 it was for the purpose of taking counsel from his appointed lords on how to raise more money to continue fighting the Scots and the French, not to mention suppressing insurgency across the border in Wales.

There was no healthcare, no transport subsidies, no policies reflecting social needs - nor were any of these considered important. Commoners were commoners.

And yet a parliamentary system grew up around this, but became the domain of the wealthy and privileged. Some would argue it still is. Five hundred years ago one needed to be able to demonstrate that one’s land was worth at least 40 shillings in order to have a say in governance. Until the early 20th Century women were not even allowed to have a say at all, and even today are vastly outnumbered by men. Of the 650 parliamentary seats only around 200 are occupied by women.

For centuries the sovereign played the lead role in governance, but today Her Majesty reigns – although as my learned friend will surely tell you, does not rule over parliament – as head of State. A mere figurehead.

One need look no further than the Westminster cloakrooms for evidence of how antiquated this building and all within it have become. There you will find ribbons from which Members may hang their swords (if they could sneak them through security). And in the House itself, two red lines divide the government from the Opposition; lines which it is said are measured by the length of two swords, to keep our governors from drawing and using their weapons.

Heavens, just outside the chamber there is a snuff box from which Members may ‘take a hit’, since smoking is no longer permitted. And if that’s not antiquated enough, there are only 427 seats available for a total of 650 Members of Parliament, so in order to secure a seat on those busiest of days members must fill out a 'prayer card', and be in attendance for prayers before any debating begins.

My time is limited, so it is with regret that I cannot inform you fully of the rodent problem, the crumbling gothic structure in which we stand and the enormous cost of its refurbishment. But as an analogy the Palace of Westminster is perfect: like the system it houses, it is slowly but surely falling apart. 

This isn’t Westminster. This is Wasteminster.

For the Defence:

I thank my learned friend for his observations, which, as you will see do not stand up to scrutiny, and which conveniently yet erroneously paint a picture of a deteriorating democracy.

Your Honour, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let us not be fooled into thinking that a building, even one as magnificent as this, can represent the full power, or the full significance of the Westminster System of democracy. It is not the bricks and mortar that hold our society together; it is the decisions, the debates and ultimately the laws that are passed within the building that save us from the descent into anarchy and chaos.

As you’ve heard, Edward I realised he needed to gain popularity with the commoners if he was to impose taxes for raising funds for the defence of the realm. But in doing so, what eventuated was the chance for the people’s voice to be heard by authority.

The common people had grievances, over land, boundaries, the expectations demanded of them, and for the first time the monarch had to listen to them. For the first time those that ruled had to embrace the concept of quid pro quo: I want  something from you, I need to give something to you. We have never looked back.

Yes it was kings who ruled and reigned for many years, but from Edward’s time on the
Making their voices heard
concept of a Commons survived and grew. Not always perfectly, not always equally, but eventually the 40-shillings rule was dropped, and having a say, making your voice heard, became the right of commoners. 

So community representation goes back hundreds of years, with knights taking county and borough grievances to the king. Later  this developed into a more formalised system of representation when voting was introduced, and thanks to the voices and sacrifices of the suffragettes, women too were able to vote. It is a testament to democracy that their voices were allowed to be heard, and were listened to.

It is true also that her Majesty reigns over but does not rule parliament. And yet each week she meets privately with the prime minister to discuss affairs of state, to take the pulse of the nation, and – who knows – maybe to advise and counsel the head of government with wisdom and insight. She has  after all outlasted twelve prime ministers to date, and maybe even thirteen by the end of the year.

('Objection! Your Honour, pure conjecture!' 'Overruled. Please continue...')

Thank you m'lud. Oh yes we have ribbons for hanging swords, lines on the carpet to keep our members from tearing each other’s throats out, and snuff for the taking. These are quaint, old-fashioned, and yet such things are a magnet for tourists. It is just these quirks and conventions that our American cousins, our European cousins, and in fact those from all over the world find fascinating and absorbing. In this age of Instagram, Parliament has never been so visible, so desirable. 

This Palace has endured many hardships. At least twice it has caught fire. It survived a terrorist plot involving gunpowder - though it could be thanks to its damp crumbling cellars that the explosives might never have gone off – and during the Second World War the Luftwaffe bombed it. It is still here. It endures. And more importantly what it represents endures: freedom. That includes for example  the freedom of the press to question every aspect of parliament without fear, without threat of incarceration, or worse. 

You are here today safe and sound because of Westminster. Not the building itself, but what it represents: around 800 years of democracy. Eight hundred years of caring for the commoners, for caring for the United Kingdom’s place in the world. Eight hundred years of progress, and a system that has been adopted around the world in one form or another.

Ladies and gentlemen, I put it to you that you came here today thanks to laws governing transport, health and safety, equality, and above all laws that entitle each and every one of you to have a say in the running of this country. Laws that were drawn up, debated, and agreed here in this building.

This is not Wasteminster, this is Bestminster.

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At this moment I am the Man in Seat 13 on a train, lucky for me; I'm no triskaidekaphobic. Some hotels don't have a floor 13 due to the inauspicious nature of the number, but Virgin Trains laugh in the face of superstition, and here I am in First Class as the doors beep indicating the last chance to board at Euston for the two-hour twenty-minute journey to Liverpool Lime Street. Or Lahm Shtreet, as it is pronounced in Scouse.

Ooh, First Class I hear you scoff. Don't. Not until you know the details. I am probably paying considerably less than many others on this train, especially those who've left their ticket buying till the last minute. In these days of dynamic pricing that can be a costly move. But me? Well organised. 

Fewer fellow passengers in First
Virgin send me special offers occasionally, and reminders to 'book early' for the best prices, but in fact I've found that if you try and book too early the ticket prices are astronomical. Beyond Uranus, which is where they can stick them. But staying with the solar system analogy for a moment, I've discovered there's a ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for booking tickets at the best price. In astronomy terms the Goldilocks Zone is that slim orbital margin a certain distance from a sun in which a planet is neither too hot nor too cold to sustain an Earth-like countenance - atmosphere, water, nitrogen, carbon etc. Life, Jim.

I booked this ticket a month before travelling, by which time the prices had come in from the distant outreaches to a more acceptable orbit. Like astronomers watching the skies through telescopes, you just have to be vigilant. Anyway, suffice to say that my first class ticket cost a few pence over £30, albeit with a senior railcard discount. There's got to be some perks to this ageing business.

'Tea mate?' asks one of the train staff as he staggers through the coach (because we are now moving at high speed, not because he's drunk. Then again, who'd know?) The staff are from Liverpool judging by their accents; he pronounces mate as 'mace'. 'No thanks mace,' I reply. I will wait for the wine. Or wahn as it will surely be called when proffered.

Travel strategically
As with the ticket purchase there are some tricks to getting the best value from your First Class journey. The main one is not to travel on weekends, because for some reason Virgin doesn’t offer any alcoholic beverages and only a reduced menu. Saturday and Sunday First Class is really only First Class Lite, so avoid weekends and bank holidays. 

The second best-value tip is: don’t forget to use Virgin’s First Class passenger lounges at those stations that have them. Tea, coffee and non-alcoholic drinks are complimentary, as are various biscuits and other treats. It beats standing on the concourse waiting for your departure platform to be announced. And if you're really desperate for a wine you can purchase a glass in the lounge.

Weekend disappointment
My final bit of advice is to choose your departure time strategically if you can. Travel too early and you'll get only breakfast; too late and it's afternoon tea or snacks. But for lunch with alcoholic beverages you need to travel in the midday period, say between 1100 and 1300 - another Goldilocks Zone, and often the cheapest. Don't mention it. My pleasure.

Before my train has even reached its cruising speed of what feels like 1000mph the train staff come round with the proper drinks trolley. Sure you could have sparkling water or orange juice, but you're in First Class, so why wouldn't you have a first glass of wine?
The woman opposite me knows this and orders a red. As the train steward pours it he says in a thick Scouse accent, 'One of my special measures like?' and fills what must be at least a 250ml tumbler almost to the top. I go for the white wahn, telling him I like his measures and I get the same treatment. 'These glasses aren't big enough for my measures' he quips. I tell him it's an engineering fault. 
The measure of the man

A woman appears a few minutes later pushing the food trolley, also from Liverpool (the woman, not the trolley). 'Anythin' tereece?' A man nearby chooses the game pie, but I know from experience that it's best avoided; the last one I had, while eloquently described on the menu and by all accounts made lovingly by hand especially for Virgin, tasted no better than the cardboard box it came in. In fact I finished the box and left the pie. I opted today instead for the ploughman's 'sub'.

To make it clear, I travel this route reasonably often, and try and go first class when I can, so I know the routine, part of which is that the train steward tends to come round a second time with the drinks trolley quite soon after the first visit, and usually before you've finished your first glass. Knowing this I down my expected first glass with strategic swiftness, pending a second wahn in the near future. But as the time drifts by along with the autumnal landscape outside there's no sign of any

The Ploughman's Sub

refill. Perhaps the company policy has changed. Maybe they've caught me on the in-train security footage finishing off the equivalent of two-thirds of a bottle and sitting back in contentment, shoes kicked off and snoring loudly. I really must get some quieter shoes.

And then, just after the Stafford stop, my mace with the measure comes round again offering more drinks, so without hesitation I decide to travel second glass. The woman opposite with the red is only half way through hers and declines, though the last journey I was on a cheeky Scouser asked if he could stack a second glass up with his first, to which the steward complied. 

Use the First Class lounges where available
As with air travel, there are some things that just can't be any better in First than Cattle Class. The train rocks and rolls just as much in Coach K as Coach A, we all get to Lahm Shtreet at the same time, and the entrances and exits at the stations are the same sheep runs for everyone. But the first class Virgin seats are a bit wider, and you can slide the seat base forward to give the illusion that you've reclined your seat back. There's free Wi-Fi (intermittent at best) in First, tables with every seat, and generally fewer fellow passengers, depending on when you travel of course.

The antimacassars are embroidered with ‘First Class’ just to remind you how lucky you are, and there's a generous supply of power points (not sure mine was actually working), but the days of silver service, white linen table cloths and waiters  offering three-course delights are long gone. For that you'll need the Orient Express or similar.

Still, for £30 I'm not complaining. The two glasses of wine are worth about £5.95 each at London prices, and the Ploughman's Sub (though I could find no taste of ploughman) is probably £3.95 in value, so in terms of the ticket price that leaves me having paid only around £16 for the journey.

I'll drink to that.

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I'm ready for my close-up now...
Dropping your camera into the River Thames isn't usually recommended, but I actually did it on purpose. It was attached to our garden rake so it wouldn't float away. I'm not daft.

This was back in July, during the heatwave; the backwater at the bottom of our garden was crystal-clear, and from the footbridge across to the island I'd seen fish languishing in the shallow water, so I decided to immerse my waterproof sports camera in video mode to see if I could catch anything - at least digitally.

I clamped it to the rake both for safety and ease of manipulation and lowered it into the river at our mooring, making sure it was pointing towards a gap in the weeds, which had been growing visibly in the warm waters of summer. I then went back into the basement to continue breaking up the concrete floor, but that's another story. The point is I forgot about the camera for an hour or so, but later retrieved it and recovered the micro SD card for transfer to the PC. 

By way of explanation, I'm not a wildlife documentary-maker, not even much of a nature rambler, but we'd bought a run-down riverside property at Sunbury-on-Thames primarily because it was a) on the river and b) it had its own mooring. Oh, and c) we could afford it - just - with the help of a mortgage broker. In fact we told all our friends the house was called Mortgage-on-Thames.

The wildlife was an added and unexpected bonus. We quickly discovered there's no shortage on our backwater - ducks, swans, geese, grebes, coots and kingfishers are regulars, but what lay beneath? The fish I'd seen from the bridge looked big and were dark grey, but what were they, and what else was there? I hoped the unblinking eye of the underwater camera would reveal all. I was not disappointed.

Watching the footage back on the PC in real time proved not only rewarding, but strangely calming. Tired from my toil in the basement breaking up the concrete floor, I sat in front of the screen and watched the bright green underwater weeds dance gracefully back and forth as the sluggish water flowed by. Every now and then a mysterious dark shape went past on the surface, but always in the distance. 

Closer to the camera I saw interesting floating things - amoeba-like objects, bright green blobs of vegetation, and bubbles rising from the bed of the river, like jewels backlit by the bright summer sun. And then a large grey fish poked its head in from right of screen, its orange eye seeming to look directly at me. It swam past the lens followed by another similar fish. They turned, and with a swish of their tails dashed out of shot.

During the next hour I saw small shoals of darting silvery fish with orange-tipped fins, a ghost-fish of almost transparent grey, and other smaller fish. I was mesmerised.

Over the next couple of weeks the Rake-Cam was put to work often, and each time I looked forward to seeing what I'd caught in camera. It wasn't just fish; I laughed out loud as a grebe passed directly across the field of view doing a sort of underwater breaststroke (except without arms), and twice got up close and personal with a swan as it not only fed from the weeds in front of the camera but actually pecked at the camera housing to see if it was edible. This was the week of Swan Upping. I guessed the creature was displaying swan-upmanship.

I edited some of the footage and put it on You Tube, partly to share the pictures but also in the hope some knowledgeable fishing folk might be able to identify the species; so far no luck. I think the fish with the orange-tipped fins are perch, and the large grey ones are perhaps catfish judging by the barbels. In the end, it doesn't matter to me what they are, I was just delighted to find so much going on underwater, and right on our doorstep - or moorstep, if you will.

Perhaps best of all was going fishing without a licence, or a rod, and not having to sit on a stool for hours on end. No worms were harmed.

With the glorious summer now already a memory the Thames has turned murky again as the autumnal rains wash stuff into the river and the water is more disturbed. The Rake-Cam has been disassembled, and the rake is back to doing its job of clearing the lawn of leaves. Its film industry career is on hold. The camera is tucked away in a drawer. The fish, I suspect, are all still there - as I will be again next summer.
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