Les, stalwart of the canary fancy in the East Midlands, died on New Year’s eve.
Anyone attending CBS shows along the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border soon got to know Les. His favourite perch was at the table near the entrance to the show hall, invariably in the company of Hilary Flint and Bridget Bolton, who between them sorted out all the paperwork and the money as exhibitors came and went. Now you might think this was simply part of the job, but I know better: it was the best place to greet everyone and enjoy a bit of banter. It was something that both Les and his regular band of exhibitors looked forward to. He had a droll sense of humour did our Les. Then there were the endless cups of tea and the plates of buttered toast and bacon rolls. The ladies spoilt him you know. And why not? He deserved it.
Les was a worker. He probably sent you the schedule for the show, took your money at the door, donated many of the raffle prizes, organised helpers for the event and booked the hall for next year. The sorts of jobs most of us prefer to avoid, but which Les seemed to take in his stride. He did this not just for his home club, Kimberley CBS, but helped out others too: Ashbourne CBS, Alfreton CBS, South Notts CBS and the Midland LCA.
A visit to his home in South Wingfield, always started with a cosy chat in the conservatory overlooking a rolling landscape of fields and hedgerows. Enter Linda, his lovely wife: “Like a cup of tea? And some cake? I made some this morning”. You always felt welcome.
Twenty or thirty minutes later you would be invited into his bird house, a brick built extension to the house with excellent natural light. A great place to breed canaries. Perhaps that explains why there were so many of them. Even a few weeks before the start of the breeding season you would find that every cage had an occupant. “But Les, you’ve got no space for the youngsters!”. “Oh don’t worry, I’m taking my surplus birds to the auction next week. You get a better price for them at this time of year”. And that would be that; Les never seemed to worry about the birds.
Les never achieved stardom as a top canary breeder; he liked variety too much. I don’t think I ever saw less than half a dozen different breeds in his birdhouse: Fifes, Glosters, Red Factors and Lizards were the mainstays, but there would also be a few novelties: perhaps a pair of Norwich or Stafford canaries, a few Harlequins or some British finches. Success at shows was always a pleasant surprise rather than a serious ambition, like the time he won Best Lizard at the Kimberley open show (in 2016 I think). There was no bragging, no swagger, but the sparkle in his eyes was infectious; everyone in the hall was delighted too.
Then there was Les, the generous friend. Need a few cage fronts or some repairs to your old ones? “No problem, let me know what you need.” Looking for a songster for a young member of the family? “Take your choice from those Fifes in that corner cage, they’re all in full song”. The only difficulty I encountered was getting him to accept payment for what he had done. If you were lucky he might accept a contribution towards the cost of materials but never more than that. The only way I could show my appreciation was to reciprocate his kindness when the moment was right: a bottle of wine for the club raffle, or a Lizard canary if he needed an outcross, that kind of thing.
I hope that by now you will have gathered that Les was an unsung hero, a man who put far more into the bird fancy than he ever took out. He was liked and admired by all who had the privilege of knowing him. He was one of the best.
Les’ funeral will take place on Wednesday 23 January 2019 at 11.15 a.m. at the Baptist chapel on Birches Lane, South Wingfield DE55 7LZ. No flowers, but any donations will be shared equally between the Baptist and Methodist churches. My thanks to Bridget for keeping me up to date.