Tag: oddities (page 1 of 8)

Send Wendy Walking: Things I never knew about London

Dear Karen,

Last week, I went on a London Walks Tour, called Somewhere Else.  A fairly vague title, I think we can both agree.   Continue reading

Facebook betrayal and…ducks

Dear Karen,

I was all set to discuss betrayal on Facebook today but I decided not to.

Let me explain why:

  • I’m not a masochist
  • I don’t have time to dwell on people who childishly decide to  block me
  • Life isn’t a popularity contest
  • I can see ducks through my window
  • I guess they’re more important than hurt feelings and unanswered questions.   So I threw away my original post (Gone!  In the bin! So long, sucker!) and started to do some duck research

I’m so glad I did.

From Cuckoos to Ducks?  Huh?

You know I’m not a bird person, or as they’re called in professional circles, a Birdologist.   I used to think, based on the evidence that Donald Duck always flew in airplanes, that ducks don’t fly.

That’s how much I know about ducks.

alt="IMAGE-duck-balcony"

“Yes Wendy, I climbed up here, thanks to my portable ladder. I never travel without it”

 

So when I saw them across the way, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at girls, boys, or one of each.  All I knew was that they’d show up every morning around 6, stand on the railing looking towards my office window, quack a lot, and about 3 hours later, they’d fly away.  Lyra and Blue loved having them around.  So did I.  They were kind of fun.

But I wanted to know why they decided to come to a landlocked block in the centre of London. Why not fly the extra 3 minutes and land in the pond in Hyde Park?  Dumb ducks.

So, using something called Google (have you heard of it?  It’s kind of amazing), I tried to search for information.  I tried “Strange duck habits”, “Ducks landing on balcony”, and “Why am I so unpopular? Please help!” but came up with nothing that solved my burning question.

Imagine my shock and blushing horror when at last I Googled “Unusual duck behaviour”, and up came  this site addressing the much lauded topic of Homosexual Duck Necrophilia.

Well.  Tie my beak and call me speechless.

Of course I had to read on.

Don’t worry, it’s gruesome but it’s also incredibly fascinating.

Fascinating?  More like terrifying

Male ducks engage in something charmingly called “rape flights”.  These two males were going at it feather and tong  when, according to the scientist who was witness to the whole sordid affair (oh Wendy, you’re so judgmental), they crashed into his window and fell, plop!, to the ground, just outside his office.

alt=IMAGE-ducks"

We see a sitting duck, whereas he sees an opportunity.

He went out to see what was up, so to speak.  He found Dead Duck  and Lucky Duck, as I now call them.  Lucky was furiously pecking Dead Duck’s head.  Like, a lot.  As in, more than you’d think necessary or prudent in a situation like that.

Once he completed that little task, Lucky jumped Dead’s bones, and there’s no delicate way of putting it, raped him.  For 75 minutes.

Isn’t nature amazing?

What Kees Moeliker had witnessed was unique.  10% of ducks are gay, apparently, so they’re not that rare.  And sometimes the males do have a go at dead females.  But the combination of these two behaviours turned something sort of boringly average,  into the realm of “Holy shit, did I really see that?” and “Where’s my camera?”.

The only thing that could improve this story is if the Lucky were also a vampire duck.  That would be awesome.

Moeliker won the IgNobel Prize for this one, and I say Bravo to this.   Apparently, these ducks have  changed his life.

I love this story more and more.

But this is what I really take away from this article:  ducks have penises?  Wow. How did I not know that.  I thought they laid eggs and then kind of sat on them for a while.

I really wish I’d paid more attention in school.

The silver lining of this duck story is, I’m insanely happy that the person who has so rudely blocked me can’t read about my duck news.  And whenever I think of her,  I now imagine those ducks, which just makes me laugh.

And that’s good.  The world needs to laugh more, I always say.  Who needs bitterness and hard feelings when there’s nature to explore and necrophiliac gay ducks to spy on?

Right?

Love,
Wendy

Wendy takes on The Proust Questionnaire

Dear Karen,

I’ve been a subscriber and reader of Vanity Fair magazine since 1987.  When it comes through my door each month, the first thing I do is flip through to the back page and find out who answered the latest Proust Questionnaire.

The answers are supposed to offer the taker (and reader) an insight to their personality and life. I just think it’s kind of fun, like reading a Cosmopolitan magazine questionnaire but without the stomach-churning embarrassment.

In the past Catherine O’Hara, Mary Tyler Moore, Hedy Lamarr, and Robert DeNiro have answered the questionnaire.  I figure, if they can do it, so can I.

alt="IMAGE-vanity-fair-proust"

This month, it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s turn. And mine as well. (photo credit: www.ethnos.gr)

 

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A sunny day, wonderful food, my family nearby, everyone talking and laughing, lots of wine (and no hangover the next day)

2. What is your greatest fear?
Losing someone I love.

3. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Women.  All women, of every era and time.  We’re very under-represented in the history books and the more I learn, the better.

4. Which living person do you most admire?
I admire Margaret Atwood for her story-telling skills, Richard Dawkins for his stalwart, logical opinions, and Michael Palin for his humour, kindness and longevity in show biz.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Procrastination.

6. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of empathy.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?
Lyra and Blue.

8. On what occasion do you lie?
Whenever I need to get out of trouble, which happens less and less the older I get.

9. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I have the Irving chin.  I shall say no more on this subject.

10. When and where were you happiest?
1969.  Prince Edward Island.

alt="IMAGE-PEI-province-Canada"

Prince Edward Island is a happy place. (photocredit:  en.wikipedia.org)

11. If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
I’d like to be able to say “no” without it turning into an “all right, I’ll do it”, 5 minutes later.

12. If you could change one thing about your family what would it be?
If I could wave a magic wand, I’d wave it over my parents and utter the phrase, “You hate alcohol”.  Then I’d sprinkle pixie dust on them and dart away with a flutter of my dainty wings.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Overcoming my fear of public speaking.  Now I find it difficult to shut up.

14. If you died and came back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?
A Ragdoll cat.  I’d like to be called Lyra, please.

alt="IMAGE-lyra-ragdoll-cat"

Lyra, in her kitten days.

15. What if your most treasured possession?
My sense of humour.  I crack myself up a lot more than you’d think.

16. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
When my parents died.

17. Who are your heroes in real life?
The Brontë Sisters.  Or, as they were known in their day, Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell.  They were forced to use male pseudonyms to get their works published, as female authors were universally scorned at that time.  They wrote for the pleasure of telling a story, not for the money or the fame.

18. What is it that you most dislike?
Blind allegiance to people, organizations or creeds that don’t bear up to close scrutiny.

19. How would you like to die?
Quickly, painlessly, and looking like Ali McGraw in Love Story.  Or, as Maxwell Smart said countless times in Get Smart, “Of old age”.  Either way will do.

20. What is your motto?
“Tough, but fair”.  I just like saying it – in reality, I’m not tough at all.  Don’t tell my kids.

There, all done.  I wonder what profound insights I’ve unintentionally revealed about myself.  Now it’s your turn – you want to give it a try as well?

Love,

Wendy

Was Alfred Hitchcock onto something? Why crows are fascinating…and terrifying

Dear Wendy,

Have I ever told you about my fascination with urban crow behaviour?

No? Well, that’s probably because whenever I mention crows around here, I am treated to exaggerated eye-rolls and stifled giggles from my loving children. But since you’re in London and I can’t actually see you looking heavenward and wondering how to shut me up, I shall proceed.

Ahem.

alt="IMAGE-urban-crows-winter-roost"

(Photo: Monique Beaudin, Montreal Gazette)

It all started one winter’s afternoon a few years back, while I was driving out toward the airport. The sun was low in the sky, and the trees that line the airport parkway were jam-packed with birds. Loud, raucous black birds, and it seemed like more were flying in from every direction to join them.

As I drove back along the same route half an hour later, I saw the most peculiar sight: great black drifts of crows, rising out of those trees, and filling the skies as they flew northwest in a huge black noisy stream. Seriously, it looked just like that scene in Harry Potter where the owls fill the sky. Except it was, you know, crows.

I’d never seen anything like it.

But you know how it is—once you’ve noticed something, you start seeing it more and more often. And it turns out that for Ottawa’s crows, this is just part of their daily routine. The trees along the airport parkway are just one of a series of way-stations, a gathering point where they meet an hour or so before sunset. And then, as if by some signal, they set off for their night-time destination.

It’s an amazing sight, watching the crows converge from all directions, thousands upon thousands of them. You literally cannot see the branches of the trees, they’re that thick with crows. And the noise! They caw and shriek and chatter amongst themselves, as they settle in for the night; if you are nearby, it’s an awe-inspiring, eerie sound.

alt="IMAGE-crow-cawing"I did some research, and here’s the kicker: No one knows exactly why they do it.

Some say it’s for safety (because seriously, you would not want to mess with 10,000+ crows—just ask Tippi Hedrin); others say it’s a way to keep warm; or maybe it’s a social thing for them, like some kind of gigantic crow campfire, except without the marshmallows. Or the fire.

Okay, I know. Most people don’t like crows. They’re dirty, they’re noisy, they get into your garbage and steal eggs out of other birds’ nests.

Crows are smarter than monkeys

But they’re also unbelievably smart. They can make tools—and okay, yes, monkeys can do that too, but monkeys have never been seen making tools so they can make other tools that they then use to get a bit of food. That takes planning, forethought, dexterity.

All of which crows have. And if that doesn’t worry you, consider this:

Crows are watching you…and talking about you.

alt="IMAGE-two-crows"

“Whaddaya think?”
“Well, she really shouldn’t wear that shirt with those pants.”

If you’ve ever had the feeling that crows were watching you…chances are they actually were.

Crows live in families, and they spend a lot of their time observing humans, probably because we’re their main source of food. Not that they eat us (well, not usually), but they know we know where the good food is, and they know we’re a bit dim about how we hide it.

Garbage bags? Feh. Your friendly neighbourhood crows know that those are really just giant treat repositories.

Also, crows can tell us apart. And they can hold grudges. Scientists have shown that crows recognize human faces, and that they pass this info among themselves.

We know this because some researchers at a university in Seattle, wearing creepy masks, captured several crows and tagged them, then released them. After that, whenever the scientists wandered around the campus wearing those masks, the crows would scream at them; and not just the crows who’d been tagged, either. Pretty soon, the masked scientists couldn’t set foot outside without being dive-bombed and harassed by enraged crows.

Oh, and it wasn’t just “we hate guys wearing masks.” Because when the scientists went out wearing other masks, the crows weren’t interested.

And apparently the story of the mean guys in the masks became legendary among those crows, because eventually, even crows who hadn’t been born when the tagging occurred got in on the act.

Okay, I know I probably haven’t convinced you to love crows. In fact, I’m kind of scaring myself now.

We share our urban environment with these loud, smart, sharp-eyed, sharp-beaked animals, and 9 times out of 10 we don’t give them a second thought, other than to whoosh them away if they come too near our garbage bins.

Maybe it’s time we gave the crows their due. Or at least stop my kids from mocking my interest in urban crow behaviour.

Because that’s totally legit.

Love,

Karen

Drunk Astrology: What do your stars have in store for 2014?

Dear Readers,

As we careen into yet another year, most of us could use a sneak preview of what 2014 will hold for us.

Continue reading

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