This article first appeared in the January 2023 edition of Birdwatching Magazine
I’ve probably spent sixty of my seventy-three years being cynical. From sullen teens to firebrand twenties I raged against the unjust. Through my thirties and forties I was a rabid radical and my fifties and sixties were one long rant. I have not softened, despite many of my contemporaries running to the right as fast as they were running to fat. I’m not about to start believing politicians or get religion. Age softens my brain, not my rough edges.
Our continuous exploitation of the world’s resources regardless of consequence angers me no less. Idiots killing birds and calling it sport will never get my blessing, nor will greenwashing multinationals capturing carbon with one hand while spouting out ten times more with the hidden other.
My thick skin and viperous tongue are not withering like my muscles but, believe it whether you wish or not, hidden deep inside is a rickety heart still capable of youthful delight. Much as it pains me, I’m about to wear it on my sleeve.
If you’ve read my missives for two decades you will know I live in a maritime town where all things green are in retreat. Downsizing Londoners and faded glitterati are flocking here, putting up house prices and erecting studios. It won’t be long before the all-day breakfast joints are all serving brioche and a panache of avocado on bulgur-wheat baguettes and beating their frying pans into timeshares. Meanwhile the lickspittle council follows government whim ensuring yet more prime passerine habitat become housing hardly big enough to swing a half-starved rat in. You will also know that my semi is hemmed in by brick walls and my yard smaller than a banker’s boudoir. You will know we’ve crammed in pots and small raised beds, turned my garage roof into a patio and managed to find corners for the frogs to hide and the bumble bees to breed. Bijou overstates its dimension. No wall less than five feet and no under-gate gap, the one piece of fence sits atop a concrete base allowing no egress – catproofing works not at all, but to enter my domain you must climb high or fly.
Where is this going, may ask, if you haven’t drifted off already?
A few nights ago, Hawkeye was taking the air before retiring; counting how many frogs sat on the ledges of the pond when she spied movement. No younger, or even much fitter than I, she still managed to race indoors to broadcast the news… she was 87% sure that the corner of the eye movement had been the back end of a baby hedge-hog disappearing under a bush, just where she spreads feed for shy blackbirds. Of course, I dismissed this foolishness reminding her that nowhere in England can you be further than fifty feet from a rat. Maybe that pesky, suet-stealing squirrel was out on night manoeuvres?
Two nights later she repeated the excited claim, dragging me outside to bear witness. She was, of course quite wrong, I mean, how could a hedge-hog get into our urban fortress?
Instead, there, as plain as day in the motion-triggered lights, were TWO big fat hedge-hogs. It turns out these podgy fellows can scale walls – who knew? And that, unbelievers, was when my heart melted like a marshmallow. I felt the untrammelled joy of that long-forgotten eight-year old boy, who could lay for a day on a riverbank just peering at sticklebacks, or lie back in the hay meadow staring at larks in the never-ending blue skies of childhood summer. I kept smiling for hours.