Thursday, 2 December 2021

Bird News - Part 3: Nancy's

Nancy's Café was the oddest bird news hub that you could possibly imagine. I cannot do justice to its idiosyncratic excellence here, and recommend Mark Cocker's Birders - Tales of a Tribe, where it features prominently. Suffice to say, the telephone number of this modest, Cley-based emporium of cheap eats was once writ large in the front of every twitchy birder's notebook...

0263 740767

In the previous post I probably gave the impression that the grapevine was basically a network of individual birders. Mostly it was, but with one or two notable exceptions. For example, on occasion you might call a bird observatory and ask if there was much about. Fraught with danger though, especially if the phone was picked up by some twitcher-hating wind-up merchant.

'Yes mate, ten Golden Orioles in the trapping area, two Subalps and a Sardinian Warbler. Do drop by.'

And then there was Nancy's.

Next to the Nancy's Café telephone was a log, with all the latest bird news listed out. Anyone seated near the phone knew the score: answer the phone; read out the news. On the other hand, if fresh gen was being phoned in, make a note in the log and call it out to the room. Nancy's operated on a 'quid pro quo' basis. For example, if you successfully twitched the Wilson's Phalarope, you found a public call-box, coughed up ten pence and phoned an update through to Nancy's. At the same time of course, you would hear the latest gen.

Looking back, Nancy's Café strikes me simply as a serendipitous product of its time. Its location , Cley next the Sea, was already a focal point for birders, and those birders were inevitably attracted by the prospect of good-value grub. The proprietress, Nancy Gull, was happy to let the birders use the phone as a bird news hotline, and those birders were as eager for bird news as for beans on toast. Win-win.

The photo of this vintage clipping was kindly sent to me many years ago by Tom McKinney...

Nancy on the right. And look at that phone. It has a proper dial!

Thus far in the bird news saga there has been no real talk of money. Okay, yes, it cost a few pence to make a call, and every birder in those days had a small stock of 10p coins for the public call-box, whether that was to let your mates know about the Velvet Scoter you had just found on the reservoir, or to get a rarity update from Nancy's. But we are talking peanuts. And in the early 1980s, peanuts was just about all you could possibly spend on bird information. However, that was about to change. And change mightily.

Next: Mammon. Oops, I mean Birdline.

12 comments:

  1. What a wonderful phrase to describe Nancy's Café: "a serendipitous product of its time". Perhaps even more serendipitous was the fact that the proprietress's surname was Gull. I was only in Nancy's once. I look back now with wonder that such a place ever existed.

    Malcolm

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    1. Thanks Malcolm. Probably took it for granted at the time, but yes, with hindsight, quite unique... 😊👍

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  2. It sounds like a fun time that has been replaced by joyless technology. Oops, nostalgia pink glasses time. But there is a joy to the ad hoc, mixed with an extended family just, happy memories for sure.

    Are we to expect a future post with all of the identification features of the Nancy Gull?

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    1. Ha ha! Yes, what a terrific name.

      Joyless technology definitely opened a door to a different world. Pros and cons of course, but certainly a loss of charm.



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  3. Eddie is still active around Cley, as you mix with the past proprotors of those famous 0898 numbers you are about to discuss :) - I must say the article gives his age away, he still seems younger than I feel.

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    1. Not sure I've ever met him, but I think Eddie Myers is responsible for what is possibly the smartest bird I've ever seen, the 1984 sum-plum Ross's Gull.

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  4. A birding friend recommended this book to me and what an excellent read it was.
    I expect it was a very sad day when Nancy’s Cafe closed down, because of the great social side to meeting other birders & twitchers alike. It's a shame there is nothing like this anymore.
    There must be a lot of fond memories.

    Thanks again Gav

    Tony

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    1. Cheers Tony. I reread 'Tales of a Tribe' just recently, and it feels very dated to me now. But the depiction of Nancy's is great, and much more intimate than I could ever manage.

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  5. One thing you did not mention was the mental map of where the nearest phone box was. I was very much aware of all the phone boxes between Sheringham and Kings Lynn. Also when on a twitch noting the nearest ones to the site. Some people might need to phone in sick.

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    1. Don't think I was ever that well organised! 😄

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  6. This is...pause for uneccesary breath...Birdline Southesat...further pause...on the 17th mid-morning update of....presumably checks watch, another money-gobbling pause anyhow... the 14th May in the year nineteen hundred and ninety three in the year of our lord....first, the highlights...another protracted pause, obvs... In Kent the adult summer plumaged Lesser...."Beep beep beep" OH FFS!!!!! (throws yet another 20p into the slot wondering if he's enough money left in his jeans pocket to make it to the next bird he's currently planning to twitch).

    Yeah, good times. Can't wait for you to remind me about the hundreds of pounds I must've thrown into that slot waiting to get beyond the date and onto the news! :)

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    1. Tell me about it! Actually, I think you've saved me a paragraph. I'll just cut & paste... 😄

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