Thursday 1 April 2010

Not Easter eggs

15st 9lb, 4.5 units. The Journal’s April Fool spoof this morning is a splendid half page story about well known local auctioneer Jim Railton being fined £1,000 plus £70 costs and a £15 “victim surcharge” (and just who is the victim in this case, pray, apart from Mr Railton himself?) for advertising wild birds’ eggs for sale. Only it isn’t a spoof at all.

Poor Mr Railton has fallen foul of the RSPB, who deem it necessary to protect the nests of their favoured raptors from contemporary egg collectors (who are, I think we can all agree, an anti-social nuisance) by prosecuting people trying to sell eggs collected a hundred years ago, when this sort of behaviour was considered perfectly acceptable.

I feel a personal interest in this case for two reasons. First, most of the furniture in my Northumberland house came from the pine shop run by Mr Railton’s then wife in Alnwick in the late 1980s. In those days, presumably before he developed his auctioneering skills, he ran a business called “Railt-o-strip” which, so far as I could gather, consisted of a large acid bath in which he dipped knackered old pieces of painted furniture culled from the farm outbuildings of Northumberland. Like a washing powder challenge on an industrial scale, these emerged from their dip as beautiful, character-filled pieces of pine furniture, albeit occasionally patched up with pieces of oak, walnut and mahogany where their owners had lost sight of the original raw material.

Secondly, a few years ago I purchased a very run-down Georgian mansion in Glanton that had once gloried in the title of the World Bird Research Station. A friend alerted me to the fact that it was on the market and I saw the obvious potential of about a million quid’s worth of property on offer for less than a fifth of that price. With my usual business acumen, I naturally went on to sell it to the aforementioned friend for little more than I had paid for it, but that is another story. The relevant part is that almost the only things I personally salvaged from the wreckage were a 1930s book about the joys of naturism, two cases of Victorian stuffed birds and a cabinet full of birds’ eggs of similar vintage, all beautifully labelled in copperplate. I admired it as a curiosity, but I must admit that I also hoped it might be worth a few quid. Not so, it appears, thanks to the RSPB. Apparently they can’t touch me for owning it, but the only thing I am allowed to do with it is give it away to a museum (who would be too frightened to accept it, from what I read) or smash the contents up. Brilliant. A real triumph for conservation. I am SO glad I resisted any temptation, however slight, to make a donation to the RSPB when we were wandering around their Unpron-Ounceable Bird Reserve in west Wales towards the end of February. I cannot help wondering whether their inspectors would benefit from the eye-opening potential of a quick dip in Railt-o-strip.

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