136. British Reserve


Open car boot, take out bag, binoculars, big boots. Change boots. Put other boots in boot. Close boot.
It is Wednesday morning.
I am at a nature reserve.
I like nature reserves. In nature reserves I can stand still in fields and woodland without people thinking I’m a murderer. It’s surprisingly refreshing.
I walk alongside a big hedge, listening to gulls bicker and scream over the water on the other side. A muddy track leads to a large green metal box, a birdwatcher’s hide.
I enter the hide like a God Botherer who’s late for church. Creeping. Head bowed. A man in his fifties with a ridiculously large telephoto lens frowns at me. I ignore him. Ease myself onto a bench. Lift binoculars, adjust focus, look at ducks on the water.
I don’t know what kind they are, don’t care. Ducks. Fucking about, splashing, quacking at each other. Some are a bit bigger than others, some have brown heads, some have green arses. Mallards. That’s them. Everyone knows mallards, though. There’s charts on the wall, but I’m not going to consult them, don’t want to look like a muppet.
I slip a book out of my bag, look at pictures of ducks.
Telephoto man notices, says, “What’ve you seen?”
I say, “Not sure, but I reckon it might be a duck.”
I think he says ‘tosser‘ under his breath. Lifts his big lens, photographs ducks.
A black swan swims past.
Black swan (Cygnus atratus) big, black. Call, bugle like. Fucking about in the reeds.
I leave the hide.
Old woman struggles down the path. Her mobility scooter is parked at the top.
She smiles, shouts, “Seen anything?”
I say, “There’s a black swan.”
She stops smiling. She glowers. “The black swan has been gone for months, but now it is back. It is our enemy.”
I say “Is it?” and walk away.
Lad in a hoody behind a wire fence cutting coppiced willow, stacking it neatly, doing a good job. He stops what he’s doing, scowls at me as though he’d like to do something stabby to me.
Glad of that fence.
A wren darts past, too quick for me to focus my binoculars.
Wren (Troglodytes Troglodytes), small and busy, loud bubbling call. Fucking about in the bushes.
Bloke in a green anorak staring into space through big binoculars. Try to see what he’s looking at, can’t see anything. Walk on.
I enter a different hide. Through slots in the wall I see reed beds, shimmering water, ducks, mud, a white swan, some seagulls.
I don’t count ducks, white swans or seagulls as they’re common as muck.
Two old dears are sat in the hide. One looks through binoculars. One picks pear drops out of a crumpled bag. She’s laughing.
Pear Drop says to Binoculars: “… eeh, you couldn’t make it up, could you?”
Binoculars says to Pear Drop: “Yes you could.”
Pear Drop says to Binoculars: “Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
Pear Drops looks sad. Binoculars keeps looking through the binoculars.
They notice I’m there. They both look guilty. I look out of a slot at the lake. I see a moorhen.
Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) black, red bonce, big yellow feet, fucking about in the mud.
Pear Drop and Binoculars fidget. The silence is uncomfortable. I’m enjoying it. They get up and leave and I hear them arguing bitterly once they think they’re out of earshot.
I look through my binoculars. I see reeds, trees, a road in the far distance, a jogger in a pink top, some electricity pylons. On top of one the pylons there’s a cormorant.
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) Shifty looking scag duck, lurking on pylon.
I like having the hide to myself. It becomes my hide. I imagine sleeping in there overnight and I like it.
A bloke enters my hide. Big, in his sixties. He goes to the other end, opens a hatch and carefully peers through the slot. Raises large binoculars.
I resent him a bit. This is, after all, my hide. Not even a by-your-leave. I tut.
I soon get used to him.
Nothing of interest comes along. I watch a gull shit on another gull from a great height. The shitty gull screams at the shitter. The shitter looks like it’s pissing itself laughing.
Another bloke in his sixties comes into the hide. Settles himself near the bloke at the far end.
He falls silent.
The three of us are silent.
The new bloke says, “I might be wrong, Ken, but that looks like a Pochard.”
Without taking the binoculars from his eyes, Ken says, “I won’t tell you again, Peter. Fuck. Off.”
Peter sighs, then he fucks off.
I’m left with Ken.
I look in my bird book and I’m quite pleased to discover that Peter was right.
Pochard (Aythya ferina), brown bonce, grey back. Call, a whistle followed by aaoo-oo-haa. Distribution, all over the fucking place, by the looks of things.
I consider telling Ken that Peter was right, but think better of it.
I decide to let Ken have the hide to himself so I fuck off too.
I amble around for a while, pretending to point my binoculars at things.
I see the bloke in the green anorak again, his binoculars are pointed in my direction.
I’m hoping to see a bloke I saw here a few months ago.
This is what happened.
It was late Spring. He looked like a survivalist who wasn’t surviving very well. He smoked roll ups and wore camouflage. He had long straggly hair and a scratty beard. He had a heavy looking rucksack full of mystery things.
We were in the reed bed hide. He pointed out a bird to me.
He said, “What’s that bird on the pole over there?”
I said, “Looks like a sparrowhawk.”
He said, “It looks like a cuckoo to me.”
I said, “Bloody hell, you’re right.”
Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) looks like a bit pigeony. Says cuckoo. Every parent’s nightmare.
Later, in a fit of over enthusiasm,  I jotted the cuckoo sighting up on a board at the visitors center where new sightings are jotted.
It drew a bit of attention, I can tell you. I was suddenly a minor nature reserve celebrity.
Later again, someone told me another bloke tried to jot ‘cuckoo’ down but they stopped him as it was already common knowledge.
He looked a bit put out, they said. Walked off smoking a roll up, they said.
An hour or so after that Roll Ups cornered me by the dragonfly pond. He tried to be cordial, but I could tell he really was put out.
“Did you put that cuckoo on the board?”
“No! Sort of. Actually, yes.”
“I saw it first.”
“You didn’t know what it was. You asked me.”
“You said sparrowhawk.”
“I know, but cuckoos mimic sparrowhawks to shit up reed buntings so that…”
“I know, I know. Don’t lecture me on fucking cuckoos. Still, it was my cuckoo. Mine.”
“I suppose it was. Sorry.”
“Hmm. It’s alright. I’ll let you off. It was a nice cuckoo though, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. It was lovely.”
We fell silent.
I said, “Anyway, my name’s Luci.”
He didn’t say anything. He just walked off.
I saw Roll Ups a few days later. I apologised again for taking his cuckoo.
He apologised for being a bit rude.
Then he said, “The other day, you said your name was Luci.”
I said, “Yes. That’s right.”
Roll Ups looked around, shifty eyed. He moved closer. He pushed a fresh roll up into his thin mouth.
He whispered, “I didn’t tell you my name, did I?”
I whispered, “No, you didn’t.”
He looked around again, then said, “Round here, people know me as…” Yet another cautious look round. “They call me… James.”
I feigned surprise. I said, “James? What, as in, you know, James?”
He said. “Yes. James.”
Roll Up James then walked quickly away, following a butterfly.
It threw me right off, I can tell you.
Well, now I’m mooching about, hoping to see Roll Up James.
I don’t know why I want to see him. There’s a very real chance he might be a bit noncey. You get some odd types at the reserve, you know. Lonely types. People with time on there hands. Time on hands always leads to trouble. Always. You start off a bit bored, next thing you know you’re on Chat Roulette with a jam jar up your bum.
Or you’re at the nature reserve. It’s one or the other.
But there’s no Roll Up James. There’s a reed bunting.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza Schoeniclus) Looks like a sparrow with a thyroid problem in a balaclava. Says ‘zrip’. Looking cocky in a hawthorn bush.
I look in on the marsh hide and I see a glum looking couple. They are both looking through binoculars. They don’t know I’m there. For a big bloke I’m quite stealthy.
She says, “Do you want them to come to ours for dinner?”
He says, “No.”
She says, “Do you want to go to theirs for dinner?”
He says, “No.”
She says, “Do you want to go out somewhere for dinner?”
He says, “No.”
She says, “Where the bloody Hell do you want your dinner then?”
He says, “I don’t know.”
I decide to give marsh hide a miss today.
Now I’m at the dragonfly ponds.
A different bloke with a massive telephoto lens is carefully focusing on something.
I stand behind him, at a distance, trying to see what he’s photographing.
He must sense me, because he says, “There’s fuck all there.”
I say “I didn’t think there was” and I walk off.
Wind shifts the willows. Yellow leaves spin madly on the stems, clinging on for dear life. Next year’s buds gleam against the leathery limbs.
Roll Up James is nowhere to be seen.
Green anorak is on the other side of the ponds. His binoculars are trained on me again.
I lift my binoculars, stare back at him.
He’s in his late forties. Thinning. He looks like he might have had some sort of breakdown at some point. You know the type. I wonder what he thinks of me?
We stare at each other for a bit, then I raise my hand. Wave.
He waves back.
I find this unsettling.
I wonder if he’s looking for a sexual encounter?
I wonder if I am.
I imagine us meeting up behind the high hedges of the now mown butterfly meadow for a quick spot of mutual masturbation.
I can’t imagine it would be very nice.
I imagine his hands are rough. A sticking plaster on his thumb. His breath smells of tomato soup. There’ll be no kissing, thank you very much. Eye contact avoided. I imagine there might be a bit of small talk as we pull on each others genitals. Preferred choice of drill bits, techniques for reverse parking, last Saturday’s Brian Matthew’s Sounds of the Sixties on Radio 2, carveries.
There’s no way I’d be able to climax under such circumstances.
Not for the first time I decide homosexual liaisons aren’t for me. I sometimes think they seem fun, but my sticking point is where you actually have to have sex with men. I just don’t fancy it. Each to their own, I suppose.
I lower my binoculars and decide to ignore Green Anorak. I leave the dragonfly ponds.
On my way out I look behind the hedge into the butterfly meadow. There is a couple in their fifties kissing with tongues.
This surprises me. I wonder if I’ve stumbled across a dogging hotspot. I wonder if Green Anorak was the last can on the shelf, so to speak. Did this woman decide between Mr Tongues and Green Anorak? Was there a complicated courtship semaphore across the dragonfly ponds using binoculars and suggestive hand signals?
The couple have stopped kissing and are staring at me.
I say, “Sorry. I was looking for a grizzled skipper.”
Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus Malvae). Distinctive black and white butterfly, feathery edge to wing. More common in the South, rare in the North. Not a cat in hell’s chance of seeing one in November. An amorous philatelist would have caught me out in a moment.
I hurry away. I decide that it was a coincidence. I don’t want to think of the nature reserve as a dogging hotspot. That would be awful.
I trudge through the fields to the visitors center. Jackdaws stare at me with their psychotic blue eyes and scream and clack at each other for no apparent reason, other than they plan to kill me when I’m not looking.
I shudder.
Jackdaw (Corvus Monedula) Black, like a small crow. Maniacal looking blue eye. Steals things. Can be taught to talk. Look like they can read minds. Look like they’d have your eyes out as soon as look at you.
Back at the visitors center I see the lad in the hoody who’d been cutting willow. He still looks stabby. He’s drinking a Vimto and shouting incoherently at some other lads. I think they’re a borstal work party. I keep my distance.
I look at the board. No cuckoos, I see, but it’s way past cuckoo season. I’m tempted to write cuckoo there and put the name ‘James’ next to it, just to put the cat amongst the pigeons, so to speak, but I restrain myself.
I decide to go home.
On the way down the road, past the fields, I see a heron looking over a hedge.
Heron (Ardea Cinerea) Large, grey, big wings, long stabby beak. Flies like a Hercules transport plane with a fucked engine. Fond of goldfish.
I like herons. They look like flashers. Lurking in murky corners, still and staring. They open their wings to create shade for fish, like they’re exposing themselves, then they stab the fish like only a sex criminal can.
Yes, I like herons.
On my way to the car I see a cheery looking bloke.
He says, “Seen much?”
I say, “Nowt of interest.”
Open car boot, chuck in bag and binoculars. Change boots. Put big boots in boot. Close boot.
It is Wednesday afternoon.
I’m going to work.

 

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Dragonfly ponds. Green Anorak is in the centre, looking shifty.

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