Sunday, 14 August 2011

Riots and Puffins

What are we to make of the riots in England as the dust appears to be settling and an impressive criminal justice system is dealing out punishments? We can all imagine the stereotypical individual apparently at the heart of the rioting and looting. They are already known to the police as muggers and minor criminals. The terrifying thing was the exponential loss of inhibition and increase in savagery when they acted together as a group, in fact the classic mob albeit coordinated on social networking sites. The second apalling reality was the way that hitherto law abiding citizens, many gainfully employed, got caught up in the drama and set aside whatever moral principles they possessed in the name of lawless materialism, hoovering up the TV's and trainers that appeared in front of them.
     On the positive side, the dignity and calm of the berieved Muslim father and the forgiveness of the mugged Indonesian student added to the determination of the clean-up army, rescued something for humanity.
     Looking forward beyond the hand wringing of the careless politicians who have let the soil be prepared for this, what is to be done? In the short term, I'm sure that the police won't let things get so far out of hand again, even without advice from hot shot American cops. The other short term answer is to have enough prison places.
    In the longer term how do we change social conditions to prevent more generations of feral children growing up to be hooligans. This is one of the most complex questions facing society. On the left, the answer is to alleviate poverty, but poverty is relative and I do believe the Bible where it says 'the poor will always be with us.' From the right there are any number of propositions, few of which would get through the strictures of the Human Rights Act, so I'm not optimistic. It does look like poor/no parenting has a lot to answer for. Looking across at America, there are models which work, but behind that they do have a very large prison population and a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. In the Times yesterday, the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks called for a moral revival, along the lines of what happened in the 1820's, amen to that.

As an antidote to the above lets have a look at one of nature's most endearing creatures, the puffin. I've know them since childhood as nesting residents on some of the wild rock stacks off the Caithness coast. As my photographic ambitons have grown, I realised that Caithness puffins would always be too distant to photograph without a camera designed by NASA. You have to get reasonably close to capture the clownish features and garish beak colour and above all that iconic shot of them returning from the sea to their nesting burrows with a beaks full of sand eels. Flying in the air is not exactly their strong point. They steer with their feet, which are about the same size as their wings.

  I got this shot on the Farne Islands in early June when the puffins were feeding their young in their burrows. Flying in from the sea they had to survive the attention of groups of black headed gulls intent on relieving them of their catches. The bird life on Farne is amazing and a photographers paradise because the birds seem so tame and easy to approach, a bit like The Galapagos without the good weather. Take the boat from Seahouses on the Northumberland coast. In the Times yesterday Simon Barnes helpfully told us that the best place to see puffins without having to get on a boat is on the Bempton Cliffs, an RSPB reserve in Yorkshire near Bridlington. One for next year and more about the Farne Islands in a later post.

See and read excerpts of The Stuart Agenda at for download to computer and most e-readers. Go to or for free read of first chapters, reviews and download to Kindle.

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