Sunday, 26 April 2015

Of nostalgia.........

I won't be making any apologies for the rambling nature of this post as nostalgia, incorporating the key components of my birding experience - romance and existentialism, is emotionally rooted and therefore tends towards the non linear and in my case the nonsensical. 
This weeks birding has been good. I spent last weekend on the Suffolk coast and during the week managed to top and tail my working days and family time with the Ring Ouzels, a Black Redstart, the Garganey and a Spoonbill amongst the excitement of continual migration and breeding bird activity within the Ely10. 
I was at Minsmere before dawn last Sunday and had the reserve to myself for an hour or so.  Drinking in the sights and sounds I left the moment and found myself reminiscing about each of my visits and walks around this fabulous, and bird rich, mosaic of habitats.  I realised that it was 30 years (give or take a week) since my very first visit here as a 10 year old lad.  I can't begin to describe the totality of overwhelming excitement I experienced during those first visits.  Looking back with greater knowledge I now understand that it is the effects of dopamine, which was released copiously when I saw each new and long imagined bird back in the day, to which I have become addicted.  How fortunate that the simple act of walking around outdoors experiencing the world around me and bumping into birds, which to me have some meaning and context, can release this highly addictive biochemical reward. For this birding compulsion is now neurologically wired within me and continues now, setting my pulse a quickened and heightening all senses and experience of the moment when an Avocet simply gets on with it's business just metres in front of me. 

A couple of years after that first visit to Minsmere I won, with childhood birding buddy Jono Leadley (check out his blog at ), a signed..... thank you very much, copy of The Big Bird Race at the RSPB/YOC Conference's bird quiz.  I fell in love with it and I have read it at least once a year ever since. If you haven't read it, birder or not, then you should because it takes you into the field and into that race to see as many species in a day as possible. Jono and I felt for this book so dearly that we read long extracts from it for our GCSE English speaking grades.  Meeting up with our Cambs Bird Race team earlier this week we mused on this book and how great and significant it is to us to be bird racing around the Ely Wildspace with Tim Inskipp, one of the birding heroes from the TBBR. 
A fortnight ago and my wife turned 40.  She had a sizeable gathering of friends old and new.  Good times were had over the weekend festivities, particularly impressive considering that she had a four week old clamped to her for most of the time and a four year old biting at her heels.  The ale flowed and a graphic illustrator friend, who had travelled an admiral distance from Northumbria, gave me a belated birthday card with a Robert Gillmor linocut of a Heron standing proud on the front.  I don't need much excuse to dust off my bird books and I jumped at the chance to share "Cutting Away", a fantastic anthology of Gillmor's prints with someone who would really appreciate the stylisation, graphic confidence and technical craft of the work.  I think for many British birders Robert's images are an intrinsic part of their wider birding experience and are as iconic and memorable as those first visits to reserves such as Minsmere and Titchwell. 
Earlier this week I was dropping into classes at school and went into a Year 9 Art class where they were doing their first linocuts.  I couldn't help myself and, through the wonder of t'internet, was able to show the class a range of Robert Gillmors work and some pictures of him working in his studio.  I focused upon the 2 pieces below with the kids as I think, although they are of the Norfolk countryside, they have a resonance for anyone who has spent time in the Fens and has ventured a little way of the beaten track. 

I have spent too many hours in airports and to while away those hours there is a great game to play spotting look alikes, the more subjective the better.  A fair few years ago now,  a birding holiday to Spain with Ben unfortunately incorporated the pan-European mother of all disruptions caused by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud and we found ourselves playing a very long game.  We did find the real deal over the holiday and Heather Mills-McCartney on her way to a skiing trip, and Kerry Catona with attendant reaity TV camera crew were duly ticked.  One fella with an uncanny resemblance to a young Robert De Niro (and didn't he know it) was a highlight but after 24 hours looking through the same stranded folk in Madrid terminal 1, we ended up resorting to the dubious but hilarious stereotypes game of locating "men who look like old lesbians" - ...Bear with please, bear with....
So serendipity prevailed.  Having pottered out in the Camper today, via the garden centre, to Mepal Airfield and not seen a Ring Ouzel (although there is at least one still there per Mr Green) or a long gone Black Redstart (a find that really deserves to have it's picture or even a painting on the blog) I pulled in to the BP garage on Witcham Road for Diesel. 
Gazing across the A10 and daydreaming of Ospreys, I saw a look-a likey for Robert Gillmor walking across the forecourt.  The downside of playing this game, with the subjectivity rules intact, is that many complete strangers can become very familiar looking.  I went in to pay and was more than 80% convinced that the man just behind me in the queue was indeed the artist himself. In the past a certain shyness and apprehension would have curtailed me from speaking up but I guess I'm more than pretending to be a grown up now and decided to strike up a conversation on the basis that he looked familiar and, when I enquired, was met with a positive response from Mr Gillmor.  He was really very lovely and I was able to share the classroom story and my enjoyment of his work.  He asked about the Arctic Terns on my arm so I was able to big up Ben's artistry and he invited me to drop into his studio if I was passing Cley in the future.   Needless to say I was buzzing.  I have been prone, like most, to flirt with the notion that random chance, given meaning and significance by our prior experiences or knowledge, belies something more than co-incidence.  Today however I'm happy to just sit back and enjoy the nostalgia, serendipity and meaningful reflections and connections with the birding child within.  

A lovely print by Northumbrian artist LJ Le Rolland