Sunday, 11 May 2008

My name is Grit. I have a pigeon fetish.

Oh dear. Now I've gone and done it.

I've led the blind and foolish Grit family into a twitcher's meeting down the local woods. As soon as I did it I started to doubt. Perhaps it's the way that there's a long pause on the other end of the telephone when I book in two adults and three children for early on a Sunday morning. Perhaps it's because they've heard about the screaming, but I didn't know we'd been banned from the woods. Then I wonder What if the bird watch walk is really a cover for some organised twitcher dogging party? Then we're in trouble.

And this is the trouble with home ed. I want to lead Shark, Squirrel and Tiger into uncharted waters for the betterment of their education. Problem is, I have to go there too. So I end up in the most Grit-alien places, like muddy fields, watery gravel pits, evangelical Christian dance sessions, or learning how to willow weave while being bashed about the rear with a hand-made fish. No wonder people routinely say to me, Are you mad?

Well I wonder that today.

The clock's not yet groaned on its Sunday morning stagger towards 9am and here we are in a wood in the middle of nowhere, with a bizarre assortment of social misfits. Grit examines the assembled entourage for signs of fetish behaviour. She sees plenty. There's one elderly bloke who can barely make it down the woodland path for the weight of the lenses he has slung around his neck. He's so tooled up with telephotos, zooms, wide angles, tripods, two, maybe three cameras, it's barely all he can do to move his lower limbs. I'd snap a photo of him with my phone camera but I feel he might leap upon it and give me the detail range of ASA numbers he's got hanging down his leg.

There's a huge, round man who looks like he's still asleep. When he moves he doesn't make a sound. I have the weird feeling that I'd like to go up to him and poke him and see if he's real. How can he be so big and so light on his feet? People seem to know him. They nod, respectfully, and he gazes back at them. He has an expensive set of binoculars slung round his neck, and a gold bracelet hanging from his wrist. He probably does a quiet sideline in used telephoto lenses, or knows where to go and how much to pay to get hold of a live action video of booby bird chicks.

Then there's the outdoors veteran. She's come dressed in full outdoor rambling combat gear, hiking boots, belts, proper leggings. She's equipped with hand sanitizer, tissues, guidebooks, binoculars, ointments, baskets, blanket, Thermos, bum bags, and a vague smell of pine disinfectant. She looks like she knows what she's looking for. Actually she spends most of the bird walk tutting about the flowers in her garden, which makes me wonder if she's got this far in bird hierarchy by bluffing it out or by waving the sanitizer at appropriate moments.

Then there's a bloke who's the twitcher expert, apparently. His name is Bob. He bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeremy Clarkson. After five minutes I suspect this may be Jeremy Clarkson and this is what he secretly does on a Sunday morning. He straps himself into jeans that are too small for him and goes off to the woods to shout politically incorrect mouthfuls at squirrels. He does that aplenty, standing at the foot of trees, glowering into the branches after a disappearing fluffy tail 'you f***ing little b****r rat. Don't you f***ing come near me!'

Things are not starting well.

Shark, Tiger and Squirrel, who I'm drawing ever closer in case Clarkson find out, are equipped with binoculars and a record sheet to tick. There is an impressive array of birds listed on that sheet. Some of them sound unlikely. Some of them I'm ashamed to say I've never heard of. One, the Mistle Thrush, I swear is made up. It comes out of poetry books right? It's not real. It's made up so some coked up teenage romantic can drape themselves half naked over a fence at midnight and drivel on about dying of love on a summer's day, right? And what is a Spotted flycatcher. Don't tell me. It's spotted and it catches flies. And you expect me to believe this stuff? They make it up so twitchers must stand rooted solid to the same spot for five hours. It keeps them away from the rest of society, so we don't have to suffer. Get them all together in a wood, that's what I say.

Now I'm not glorying in this ignorance, obviously. Blame my background. Grit is a town girl, from Nottingham, gun capital of England. She spent her teenage years hanging out in Dolcis and Top Shop down the Viccy centre before heading off looking for boys. She did not spend her youth up to her armpits in mud and grass waiting for a willow warbler.

Well now Grit has a different priority, clearly. Now she is driven by the ill thought-out urge to introduce her children to the cultures of the world. Or at least as many as she can before she drops dead out of sheer exhaustion and pain.

And first thing I learn about today's cultural experience is that the whole twitcher thing is designed to make you suffer. We have to stand still every few minutes and not make a sound. Not breathe either, if the fat man has his way, who gives me a sharp look when I start whispering to Shark about how important it is to shut up arguing about who got to walk first down the woodland path when we only went five yards anyway.

And then oh my God, we see a crow. A crow! Everyone's jumping up and down with excitement. Should I join in? I don't want to let the side down. I'm here to educate Shark, Tiger and my threatened Squirrel. So I point. 'Can you see the crow' I whisper. 'Yes! Yes!' squeaks Shark, peering through her binoculars. Seriously, at that moment I think I might be going crazy. My mind is on fire. Is this some sort of revenge for throwing sticks at that magpie the other day in the garden? I am now destined to worship its cousin from afar before it heads off and rips apart some baby roadkill to the admiring ooh and ahhs of some assembled group of twitchers?

But the excitement doesn't stop there. A robin! There! Perched on the stump of that tree! Did ya see it? Didja? Amazing, right?

And a starling. My God! You don't see those, do you? Look at those tail feathers. Did you see those tail feathers? Let me kiss the ground right now.

Just when I think I can't take any more, that I've suffered enough in the name of Home ed, that I never ever want the kids ever to become twitchers to save me from having to drag my lumpen carcass out of bed at 7am on a Sunday morning to drive them all down to the woods with four hundred weight of gear that cost two thousand pounds to eye-spy a pigeon, we see a woodpecker. Jabba the Hut, moving soundlessly behind me, whispers it's a Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I watch this beautifully coloured bird, with its red flash and painted black and white markings, tapping tree bark with its sharp beak, tearing away a small fragment of wood and probing the inside. With a little jerky hop the woodpecker begins to make its way round the tree, upwards and coiling, tap tap tapping as it goes. It doesn't know we're watching and I feel suddenly a great excitement, like I've discovered something about the world I didn't know before. I've never see a woodpecker, just behaving, well, like a woodpecker does when it thinks it's alone and unwatched and busy with breakfast. And it is amazing.

Like I said. My name is Grit. And now, I have a pigeon fetish.


OvaGirl said...

Now see Grit...I too am a twitcher. Like, not a proper one, i don't own binoculars for instance and I don't specially go out of way to twitch but my parents in law ARE (they keep records in books etc) and they gave us a bird book after we spent a holiday with them that was so excruciating it was preferable to stare into trees than at each others faces and that's when i too saw woodpecker or similar and felt the thrill of Nature. I love doing it because it reminds me how rarely I stand still and actually try to see what is about me and that sometimes what is about me is a delicate beautiful and extraordinary creature that lifts my heart to see it. Other times it's just a crow but whatever.

So I say...Embrace Your Inner Pigeon. And make your children do it too because it's good for them.

Allie said...

I often find myself wondering how I ended up in this place, doing this thing. Like playing team games in a grotty basketball court, for example. I never wanted to do that as a child, so how come I'm doing it now?? But, every now and then, I surprise myself by really getting inspired by something that I only went to because we're 'good home educators'. It is healthy and an excellent example to the children! Lord, I sound like that sinister, grinning lady on "Honey we're killing the kids"...

Merry said...

Me, i just twitch.

I also grew up in Nottingham, in Lenton to be precise. And i can name that chocolate and croissant place that used to be in the entrance to the Viccy in 1. I was also extremely pleased the day i discovered that Broadmarsh is built on an old smelly marsh. There's justice.

On the other hand, i went to school opposite the Arboretum, so birdwatchnig i did a plenty. For what good it did. (Probably none!)

Pig in the Kitchen said...

too funny! i love the collection of social misfits, you were so brave to go!

sharon said...

I watch the birds from the comfort of my craft room at the back of our house! No binoculars, warm clothes or wellie boots required. One of the joys of rural life is the huge number of birds we can see on a daily basis without actually venturing outside. Now that the birds are used to us and our house being here, they even come up onto the windowsills in search of bugs to eat. We cheer them on!! OK, the bugs can be a little disconcerting at times - I have become quite fond of my spray tins of toxic chemicals, those ones I never used in the UK, but here it's all a bit different. We are also visited by kangaroos and rabbits. The rabbits won't be so popular when we finally get the garden sorted out and some veggies planted. So far only one snake, a Dugite, just over a metre long, and yes it is venomous! Fortunately it carried on going and went through our back fence-line into the gum plantation behind us

I really enjoy hearing about your outings, it almost makes me nostalgic. The weather - not so much lol!

Kelly Jene said...

I saw a seagull eating trash the other day! Am I a twitcher too?

Have a great week!

Kelly Jene said...

By the way... we got a letter today. The boys love the map and area book!

Retiredandcrazy said...

You are the mother from heaven and your girls will forever remember these early morning mad soireers of yours, when you dragged them from their heavenly comfortable beds to go twitching.

Mean Mom said...

Collection of social misfits? They sound like my sort of people. Where do they meet up, again?

I think even I could manage to get up that early on a Sunday morning, if I could be guaranteed the sighting of a woodpecker. I hope you were joking about the other sightings, however!! If you weren't, I see more interesting birds out of my living room window! I am not a twitcher, but I am interested. My husband and I live in hope of catching sight of a woodpecker, when walking alongside the river or canal.

Glad the early morning jaunt was worth it, and it certainly provided great blogging material!

Michelle said...

Us too! Us too! We saw a greater spotted woodpecker when out with Petits Haricots earlier this month.

Grit said...

Hi folks! i knew i would offend twitchers. All over the world possibly. never mind. it could have been worse. i could've had a go at anyone who's ever gripped a steering wheel.

and i have an inner pigeon now called marjorie.

hi sharon, you would not be nostalgic for this weekend's cold winds, grey skies and threatening rain.

and merry! did you go to the high school? are you posh?

Maggie May said...

I missed this one & it is hilarious! Would make a good comedy on TV I think, especially the miss fits and the crow! The robin was worth it cos we don't get many where I am. The wood pecker would be definitely worth it. I twitch but not much happens!

Merry said...

Posh? Possibly, but not the high school and always posh at the expense of being extremely poor! I went to the little private junior school opposite. I went on to the high school in the small town between there and leicester :)