Saturday 31 May 2008

Tom McKinney

Hats off to Tom McKinney, whose very funny (and very sweary) website is featured in the 'Blog Roll' column of today's Guardian Guide. He does share the limelight with some stupid blogs about pigeons and penguins, but still, getting a mention in a national newspaper can't be all bad.

Mind you, I'm not sure if he's too pleased about it, as he was slagging them off recently:

More dumb ignorant shit again this week, this time by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:

Perhaps that's why they included his site, to get back in his good books.

If you haven't seen Tom's website, I highly recommend it, especially as he made a very complimentary comment about the old Llamas site recently...

Friday 30 May 2008

The Leicester Llamas - a History

This is a bit long, so if you only have a short attention span, or have something more important to do (such as watching Don't Forget the Lyrics), just read the first paragraph.

Although it's only about five or six years since the original Leicester Llamas website disappeared, it seems longer, and I'm sure there must be many birders who've never heard of it, or if they have heard of it, didn't see the original. For anyone who doesn't remember it, the Leicester Llamas was a satirical (or mostly just plain silly) birding website. The name 'Leicester Llamas' was originally the name of our bird race team, and was inspired by Steve Wright's character Llama Man on his old Radio 1 show.

The website was the product of many evenings of substance abuse by myself and Richard Fray, with occasional input from Richard's brother, Rob. My memory is somewhat hazy now (I wonder why?), but I think the site first went online in about 1999 or 2000, and hung around for a couple of years. However, the origins of the Llamas go back further than that, to a birding holiday in Shetland in 1996.

Around this time, we had the vague idea of bringing out a satirical birding magazine as a successor to the very popular and funny Not BB, which first appeared in the mid-1980s, and ran to four or five editions. To this end Richard started writing down ideas as they occurred to us in a 'humour book'. Of course, we were far too lazy actually to do anything about getting this into print, but nevertheless we kept on accumulating material. Then in the late 1990s we discovered the Internet, and that seemed a much better place to publish our nonsense.

So Richard and I learnt how to create websites... the hard way. There was none of yer fancy Dreamweaver stuff at first; oh no, the original Llamas site was hand coded in HTML using Notepad. No wonder the design was quirky, to say the least. The photography was also primitive by today's standards, being a combination of scanned prints and low resolution videograbs. Using our clunky old PCs running 'fucking Windows 98' and painfully slow dial-up modems, we uploaded our creation and unleashed it on the world.

Highlights of the site included: 'They're Nerds - the magazine of the IQ40 club'; 'Things that wankers say' (my personal favourite being “I hear you have a website that discredits me”); 'Place names explained' (a blatant rip-off of Not BB, which has subsequently been used yet again by the Punkbirders); a page about Rob's dog, Sparky, and a Poetry Page. As an aside regarding the latter item, a few years ago I got into conversation with a very posh lady and her husband on the dam at Rutland Water; after a while she said “You're not one of those Leicester Llamas, are you?” I somewhat shamefacedly admitted that I was. “Oh, we absolutely adore your site,” she continued, “we especially like the poetry page, and particularly the last one.” This was an unexpected reaction indeed, as the 'poem' in question was...
There once was a twitcher called Lee. WHAT A CUNT!!!

Which only goes to show, as Terry Pratchett is fond of saying, that you never can tell.

From these brief examples, you can easily deduce that one of the main targets (oh all right then, the main target) of our piss-taking was the UK400 club and its esteemed proprietor, variously satirised as L.A.R.G. Ego, L.G.R. Sole, L.Y.R.E. etc, etc. Not surprisingly, he didn't take kindly to all this slagging off, which of course spurred us on to even greater efforts. I think there are two main things which people remember about the Leicester Llamas; one is the page about Sparky, and the other is the photo of 'Britain's top twitcher' resplendent in metallic blue and silver shell-suit and wellies, bouffant hairdo, three gold chains round his neck and pager on belt, which when clicked on, turned into 'Ali Lee' (see below):
So what happened to the Llamas? The main reason for the site's demise was that in 2003 Richard met and married Melanie, an ex-pat British Llama-fan living in Arizona. With one half of the writing partnership now several thousand miles away in the USA, things were obviously never going to be the same again. Rob and I also gave up twitching around this time, which meant that we were no longer as aware of what was going on in the birding scene. The site stayed up for a year or two until the domain name ran out, and then disappeared. Some of it can still be seen (minus most of the graphics) on a web archiving site:

In June 2007 Rob moved to Shetland, leaving me as the sole remaining 'Leicester Llama' actually living in Leicester, hence the singular title of this new blog.
I'm fairly sure the Leicester Llamas was the first birding humour website, but subsequently others have appeared, particularly with the rise of the blogging phenomenon. Foremost amongst the recent arrivals have been the Punkbirders, Tom McKinney's completely mental (and very funny) blog and Martin Collinson's 'George Bristow's Secret Freezer'. And no doubt there are others that I haven't come across.

Fuck it, that's enough. No-one will ever read this far anyway. This is the Internet for fuck's sake - people want bite sized snippets of bollocks about 'celebrities' that they can read in ten seconds and then move on to something else, not pages and pages of solid text wittering on about some stupid website that disappeared five years ago and wasn't really that funny anyway.

Rare birds fly in!

It was good to see the Leicester Mercury keeping up the honourable traditions of reporting rare bird occurrences, with a fine article about the Stilt and Marsh Sandpipers at Rutland Water this week. It must be one of the first things trainees learn at journalist school...

Lecturer: OK, there are three golden rules when writing about rare birds: One - always start the article with the sentence "Hundreds of twitchers have flocked to [insert site name] hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare bird". Take it from an old hand, that's a real quality joke - twitchers 'flocking'. Just like birds! Two - always say that the rare bird has been "blown off course" by the wind - that will give your article some scientific credibility. Three - quote one of the twitchers who's seen it in a way that makes them sound like a sad loser. If you can't get a good quote, just make it up! And finally, don't forget the snappy headline: "Rare Bird Flies In!"

Return of the Llama

I've been threatening to do this for a while, but haven't got round to doing anything about it until now. I don't intend this to be a 'birding diary' type of blog, although I may occasionally write about birds I've seen. Nor is it going to attempt to recreate or emulate the original 'Leicester Llamas' website. If you've never heard of the Leicester Llamas, I've written a short history, which I will either upload if this set-up will let me create a 'page' rather than a 'post' (it's actually quite long!), or I might just link to it on my website.

I have some vague ideas about what I'm going to do, but probably I'll just make it up as I go along.

Finally for now, a warning: unlike my old blog on my wildlife art website, which I deleted because I got bored with it, this one will contain gratuitous swearing where appropriate. So, as the old Llamas site said - if you don't like swearing, you'd best fuck off right now!