Thursday, 25 November 2010

Confessions of a rough sleeper

One element of twitching that seems to have disappeared is the rough sleeping. Now, it was never comfortable and it often involved more of the 'rough' than the 'sleeping', but never the less, it was taken on as a given part of the twitching ritual, which along with hitching, army surplus coats and Mars Bars made you what you were proud to be - a proper twitcher. During my brief affair with the genre, I slept rough regularly, mainly to save money but also to be 'on site' for a dawn raid on the bird. I therefore proudly announce my memorable rough moments, scored for your delectation and to be used as a guide to any tyros out there that may be contemplating spending time out in the elements.

Walberswick Bus Shelter, Suffolk
When: New Years Eve 1977
Conditions: Damp but mild
Quality of sleep: Fairly good, due to copious amounts of beer downed in nearby pub.
Drawbacks: need to get up for a wee on several occasions due to said beer. Bus shelter smelt of urine. Drunks staggering past first-footing.
Score: 6 out of 10

Lowestoft sea front
When: January 1978
Conditions: clear and cold
Quality of sleep: Awful.
Drawbacks: A chill breeze found its way inside the sleeping bag and clothing. Three days in the field without a wash was taking its toll. Hard concrete floor not great for insulation.
Score: 2 out of 10

A barn in Yorkshire
When: June 1979
Conditions: Warm
Quality of sleep: Good. Very few interuptions.
Drawbacks: Scuttling of rodents, fear of farmer waking us up with a pitchfork at some ungodly hour.
Score: 8 out of 10

Falmouth, Cornish clifftop
When: March 1980
Conditions: Mild for time of year
Quality of sleep: Good, due to sandy soil acting as a natural mattress.
Drawbacks: Waves crashing on beach did not have the soporific effect as hoped.
Score: 8 out of 10

Norfolk church
When: summer 1980
Conditions: dry, then very wet
Quality of sleep: good then dire
Drawbacks: the entrance hall of the church was dry, comfortable and homely. The vicar that came to lock up at 10.30 cast us out into the night that involved walking around, shetering under trees and dodging heavy downpours.
Score: 8, then 0 out of 10.

I'm glad that I had these experiences. To sleep out in the open air, to look at the stars, to listen to the night-time call of birds - mainly owls and common waders, but also Stone Curlews - are experiences that are worth fortunes. The connection to the place and its wildlife is never stronger, your senses never more heightened. Even in a piss-puddled bus shelter...


Gavin Haig said...

Shame on that vicar!

seppy said...

Hi Steve - would be good to know what birds you were after on those nights out - or were you just roughing it for general birding? I must confess I've never slept out on a twitch, but have had several nights in cars, including 3 nights in the boot of a fiesta with 4 other blokes in it on a big twitch around the south coast and wales from aberdeen back in '90 - great spotted cuckoo, boni's gull, black-winged stilt, 2 woodchats, and cirl bunt all fell but wasn't a great kip! Coldest night ever was at the American Bittern outside Blackpool zoo - 3 of us huddled in the back seat of my beige mini metro under a threadbare blanket. There was ice inside the car! The cops arrived to ask us a few routine questions, but luckily we were saved any more disbelief & grief from them when another carload arrived asking "is this where you park for the bittern?" All part of why I'm now much more interested in patch birding!!