The story of the Christmas Social

The story of the Christmas Social

For various reasons, I had never previously attended one of these evenings, but I am so glad that I broke that habit! It turned out to be great fun and not a little challenging?

In informal teams of about four, we settled with drinks and snacks to a quiz that challenged knowledge, wit and ingenuity in a series of topic-based rounds, presented by a genial and ingenious quizmaster, Neil Bucknell. Having unravelled folksy and archaic bird names like Stormcock and Dishwasher, we then had to recall the colours of intimate bits of assorted birds: few, it seemed had peered into a Guillemot?s gape! If this was not sufficiently esoteric, plumage parts and European breeding ranges furrowed more than a few brows. By sheer luck I had just been reading an Ian Wallace article on sub-species and was on firm ground (for once!) with the Irish Red Grouse as the most westerly of the three game birds on offer. Of the bird-themed film titles, the one made in 1991 concerning an East-Midlands petty criminal was so neatly and swiftly translated by our team-leader, Martin Sell, into Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves that he left us open-mouthed in admiration! By this time several teams were creeping out into open space ahead of the rest.

We replenished plates and settled back for Gordon Langsbury?s decisive photo round, with all to play for?

This is the evening when the maestro of the camera loves to underline that there is a lot of ?error? in ?trial and error?, because he intersperses the wonderful shots of rarities and more accessible birds with some of those that resemble what most of us take. We all recognised the syndrome, if not the bird, in the shot of the Red Grouse?s inelegant posterior: it might easily have been the Guillemot?s tonsils! Likewise an apparently headless and tailless Hen Harrier filmed in rich and colour-distorting light gave rise to intense – and mostly inaccurate – speculation. Among the rarity shots, even an Isabelline Shrike didn?t fool some. However, it was a most intimate and well-lit picture that engendered some of the hottest debate: was that Twite a Linnet after all? Opinion was sharply divided.

From the point of view of the competition it didn?t matter a lot. Marek Walford, Fraser Cottington, Paul Bright-Thomas and Chris Robinson had been too strong for the rest of us and had a clear six-point win, though the next few teams were close enough to each other for honour to be satisfied.

The inter-round snack-breaks threw down a different sort of challenge, as John Roberts had furnished a celebrities picture quiz that was eventually closely contested by Mike Taylor and Paul Cropper. A raffle added to the bottles and boxes of chocolates that were borne off at the end of the evening by the winners.

It had been a wonderful ?no fuss? evening, smoothly hosted by Colin Wilson and the quizmasters, whose efforts we all appreciated greatly. For Carole White, her committee swan-song had been to organise the booking and catering for the evening, for which she and her aides deserved our thanks.

As for me, I enjoyed myself immensely and shall not be missing the most interactive meeting of the year in future.

Ray Reedman –

15 December 2004