Sunday, 10 February 2019

Fence climbing for the elderly

It's a given that, when advancing in years, your eyesight and hearing will reduce in its effectiveness. I can certainly vouch for both - the increasing difficulty in following a small bird in flight as it travels over (or through) vegetation - or the ability to pick up certain bird calls, in my case Tree Pipits. I am just grateful that crest calls and Grasshopper Warblers still register in my hearing range.

What I have had to accept recently is that I am not the sprightly chap that I once was. Let's take climbing fences for example...

OK, maybe climbing a fence shouldn't be something that a birder does anyway, as the said fence has been erected to keep them out, down to maintaining the land owner's privacy or to keep livestock in place (and so there is likely to be animals on other side of the fence). But sometimes these fences are there because 'they're just there'. It seems to be a modern disease this erection of fencing all over the place. But I digress.

I have always had 'cause' to climb the odd fence - and robustly constructed fencing at that, the type where the top strand of barbed wire cannot just be pushed down and straddled over - and then climbing necessitates a certain amount of planning, a surveying of the fence to identify traps and points of possible accident. The main decision to be made is where to place your first foot hold. This is not as straightforward as you may think. How high is the fence? Is the second foot movement to be on the top of the fence or not? Is barbed wire involved? Is the fence rickety and will it easily take your full weight? There is, of course the desire not to damage it, for fear of irate land owners and doing the decent thing.

Once the fence has been summited there is the question of descent. Do you leap fully onto the ground beyond? Do you need to swing a foot round and climb down the fence the other side? And while you assess such things there is the real concern that you might snag clothing on the spiteful barbed wire, so all this needs to be factored in. A ripped jacket is not required. Punctured wellington boots a no-no.

Years past would have seen me leap, gazelle like, across such obstacles, landing like a gymnast on the other side. Now? A nervy ascent, a wobbling summit and an elephantine decent, followed by a rubbing of stiff knees and a knowledge that one or two muscles have been stretched a bit too much for their own good. It is when, having made a slightly scary crossing on a particularly nasty fence, that the horror hits you - that you will need to go through it all again when making the return journey.

All such physical activity and danger to skin, bone and clothing can be negated by surveying the wider scene before making your move - I have more than once got to the 'other side' of a fence to see a gate just a few metres further along. And on one occasion, having fallen heavily and muddied up my optics, found myself looking straight at a style.

13 comments:

  1. Reading the last paragraph, following small birds may not be the only sight problem as I know myself only too well ;)

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  2. "Elephantine descent". Love it!

    A few years ago Mrs NQS and I were searching farmland on the Lizard for an Ortolan. I found myself on the top of a wall with a 6 or 7ft drop into the field below. We had already scored a nice Red-backed Shrike, and the mood was optimistic and confident. I carefully lowered the scope, then leapt...

    I landed on two feet, no problem, but the upper part of my body was still in motion and forced me heavily into a parachutist's roll. The contents of every pocket sprayed across the field, along with my dignity. Mrs NQS may have wet herself.

    Mind you, I'm probably still a bit too cavalier with fences.

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    1. To your advantage Gav is a six foot plus frame!

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  3. You never said why you wanted to climb the said fence, or was it simply a case of if "the fence is just there" then I'll climb it just because it's there.

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    1. Short-cuts mainly Derek, but sometimes an interesting 'out-of-bounds' feature to be checked - allegedly.

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  4. You're being modest Gav, what about that eight foot fence topped with over hanging razor wire that you defeated en-route to a London (I think) Bittern?

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  5. Steve, your post reminded me of my first Hoopoe twitch on Cup Final Day, 1971 at Hilfield Park Reservoir, Watford. Graham (Mutley) Clarke and I had just scaled a 6` fence topped with barbed wire resulting in ripped parkas and flared jeans. Anyhow, we settled down to watch the Hoopoe through our crap bins when up walked Tim Lawrence, a London birder of the day. Tim looked at us two and said, "**ck, you two look as tho you`ve been over an assault course to get in!"
    He then pointed back towards the fence, about 20 yds from where we entered, and said, "should`ve used the hole in the fence over there..." Happy days!

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  6. Sorry Steve, I should have mentioned my own fence incident when I attempted to jump off the top of a barbed wire example.
    The fence was wobbly so as I pushed off, it went backwards as I went nowhere - but down! But just in time for the top strand to come swinging back at the very moment my backside was passing it!
    Rip!!!
    The scar is still there. The jeans were lost that day.

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    1. We should know better really Ric, but even now the lure of the 'other side' of a fence is too much!

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  7. I know exactly what you mean Steve with these fences. Climbing fences is a bit of an occupational hazard for me as I spend a great deal of time carrying out surveys on farmland. I like to have a decent pair of wellies for comfort and I have punctured both Barbour's and Muck Boots...ouch! An expensive lesson.
    In connection with fences I take exception to bailing twine used to fasten gates up! They are usually impossible to undo when tied with the horrible fraying orange matter, and often lead to an ascent of a high gate. Not the same danger element presented by that single string of barbed wire, but they can be a tad high to fall off!
    Cheers, Seumus

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    1. It's funny how the other side of a fence always looks so much better Seamus!

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