THIS is the year of the hawfinch. If you are ever going to see one, it is this year.

The BBC’s excellent Winterwatch got very excited on Tuesday about the very rare finch, which was blown over in its thousands by a storm from eastern Europe. Chris Packham showed a map with a red splattering of sightings on, mainly in the south but a couple in the North-East, only for yesterday’s Echo to report that a flock of 100 had appeared at Castle Howard, near Malton, in North Yorkshire.

A quick google reveals that there are currently hawfinches residing in Bishop Middleham, in County Durham, and in Guisborough and Skelton in east Cleveland.

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The hawfinches’ name is a misnomer – it prefers hornbeams to hawthorns. Its scientific name is coccothraustes which comes from two Greek words: “kokko”, meaning “kernel”, and “thrano”, meaning “I break in pieces”. In its bulging cheeks, it keeps massive muscles and a vice which enables it smash a cherry stone into pieces – if humans were as strong, we could pack a 60-ton punch.

Just before Christmas, in the laurel outside my front door, I spotted what I thought was bloated off-colour bullfinch, but now I wonder whether one of those splatterings shouldn’t have been on the southern outskirts of Darlington.

I’VE had many comments about the dying of my car following last week’s column – people have come up to me in the street and offered their condolences, and a couple of vultures said they’d give me a couple of quid to pick over the car’s carcase.

The Mondeo has been part of my family for 12 years and two months, and together we have travelled more than 136,000 miles. Tragically, the car had received a technologically terminal diagnosis – an £800 estimate when it was worth just £175 – but I wrote how, loyally, it was spending its last days taking me to showrooms where, before its very headlights, I was cheating on it by test-driving younger, fitter models that might replace it.

Little did I know how it was seething inside, waiting for its moment to extract maximum revenge, just biding its time…

On Sunday evening, we flew down the A1(M) to take my daughter back to university in Leeds as if speed limits had never been invented. The Mondeo lulled me into hopeful thoughts once again that reports of its demise had been exaggerated by a mechanic on the make and I could keep my savings in my bank account.

But as we came to Leeds ring road, my left foot pushed the clutch down to the floor – and the pedal didn’t come back up.

I quickly found that by using my right toe, I could lever the pedal off the carpet and, pinching it between my two feet, I could bring it through the biting point.

But then we came to a rest at a roundabout, and I needed three feet – one on the accelerator, two on the clutch – to get us moving again.

So we glided into a hotel car park and called for a tow-truck.

It was just about the furthest point on the journey from the safety of home. There had been no bang and no crash – it was just a silent, cynical assassination of all my plans to get back in time for the football on the telly.

Rust to rust, crashes to crashes, the Mondeo has passed to the great scrapyard in the sky.