Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that, with increasing regularity, I cannot but take this hobby of ours a little bit too seriously - or rather, I read too much into it. To me, it is a minefield of angst, disappointments, social failures and self-denial. I recognised that I needed help...
Two days ago I checked into a newly opened wing of The Priory, called the 'Svensson Rooms'. This establishment started to take in the 'natural history needy' only last November. Each guest had a small bedroom, with an Observer's Book of Birds placed on the bedside table, which we were encouraged to read each night as a reminder of how we all began our enjoyment of 'birdwatching'. This word, 'birdwatching', was exclusively used throughout my stay, with any other term used by the guests (such as 'birder', 'birding' or 'ornithologist') being drowned out by Ring-necked Parakeet calls played over the tannoy system. Each subsequent use of such a word meant another minute being added onto the duration of the parakeet calls - and the recording being turned up another notch. We soon learnt to only used the term 'birdwatching'.
I signed up to four modules - 'It's not big to twitch', 'Your life list is just an extention of your penis', 'So you can identify immature gulls - so what?' and 'Forget about those Wallcreepers that you have seen in Britain and go and do something useful'.
I met some interesting people in there. 'Dave', at the start of the week, wandered around telling anybody within earshot that he had seen the Durlston Brown Thrasher. Within a day he couldn't remember if he had seen it at Spurn or Dungeness. When I left this morning he told me that when he was at Durlston in the 1960s his highlight was witnessing some amazing Meadow Pipit movements. Another man (they were all men), 'Pete' wore a badge that read '600 and proud'. Yesteday he had scratched off the last zero on the badge and was taking his British list apart, calling all unstreaked rare acros that he had seen 'string', dissing all Redpolls "apart from our humble Lesser" and not counting anything seen on Shetland and Orkney because "it's nearer to f***ing Norway than England".
Having been home for several hours I feel calm. I will feel warmth towards all of my fellow birdwatchers in whatever they do and how they do it. I will smile broadly at any fellow patch worker that will grip me off. I will positively beam at Robins, even the ones that will flick in front of me this autumn, pretending to be rare.
If you feel in need of similar threapy, give the Svensson Rooms a go. Up coming weekends include:
'So you can tell brambles apart - get a life'
'Pan-species listing - have you really got a girlfriend?'
'Moths are not cool, they are just another diversion from real life'