Podcast: Christmas special service

Christmas in Virginia. Image:

There's long been a tradition on British television of Christmas specials. Old characters come back, stories get bigger and more melodramatic, and the whole thing feels just a tiny bit self-indulgent.

This is our Christmas special, so, well, you know what to expect.

Things Stephanie and I talk about this week, in no particular order:

  • The CityMetric Christmas playlist – that is, which Christmas songs are actually about cities/maps/geography/something;
  • How I started the year by wandering around London with a map and a film crew, pretending to be lost, because of this story about station names;
  • How I ended it riding up front in a train (sorry, Jim);
  • The CityMetric Christmas quiz, which Stephanie wrote specially to flummox me (you can see the questions below);
  • How we'd like to hear more from those of you who listen to this thing who aren't in London, New York or another of the cities we bang on about all the time. If you're the person who's listening to this in Tirana or Tehran, please do write in.

Lastly, we are giving serious thought to doing a live episode at some point next spring, probably somewhere in London that serves drinks. If you’d be up for that, have suggestions about topics or guests, or would even like to offer us a venue, you can write in about that, too.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

The CityMetric Christmas quiz

Metros

1. Which metro has the longest metro system by route length?

2. Which has the highest ridership?

3. Which has the most stations?

4. Which is the oldest?

5. Which is the second oldest?

6. Which popular drinking-game destination is the third oldest?

Tube maps

1. Which is the southernmost tube station...

2. Which has the funniest terminal station?

3. Which stations are connected by the Emirates airline?

4. Which of these is not a disused railway station: City Road, Wood Lane, or Church Street?

5. Which station is objectively the worst to change at?

6. Which is the coolest disused railway in London?

City facts

1. The city of Berezniki in Russia is home to the world’s biggest what?

2. Which city has a population of only 824?

3. Where was TV Sitcom Frasier set?

4. Of which city’s aquarium did Matthew Norman say in 2014, “This gigantic aquarium – “the world’s first submarium” – is one of very few Millennium projects that could be called a success by anyone not tripping on acid.”

5. Which two teams feature in the famous Istanbul derby, known as “the Eternal Rivalry”?

Gävle goat round

1. How was the goat destroyed in 1970? (Two drunk teenagers)

2. How was the goat destroyed in 1976? (Hit by a car)

3. What was special about 1979? (First goat burned prior to being erected; second broke)

4. What happened to the 1983 goat? (Legs destroyed)

5. What happened to the 2011 goat, even thought it was sprayed with water to create an ice coating?

6. What happened to the 2013 goat, even though it was soaked in a flame retardant?

7. And in between, what happened to the goat in 2012?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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