The rough and the smooth

I don't know if anybody out there is reading this nostalgia-fest, but it's been bloody enjoyable trawling through my old notes to pick out the highlights (and a few lowlights) that my young self committed to paper... as I've said before, it's cheap therapy!

Dungeness March 1978
My stay has come to an end. April has just taken over from March and the weather seems to know it, with the scudding greyness having been removed by bright gentle warmth.  I’m sitting in one of the mini railway carriages that are pulled by the RHD steam engines that ply the ‘model’ railway track from Dungeness to Hythe.  And then, from Hythe, a coach back to London.

My attention is drawn to the recently emerged bees busily foraging amongst the gorse blooms. A few butterflies also flit in and out of view. It looks like spring – it even smells of spring. I desperately want to get off of the train and return to the observatory. Bugger it! It almost hurts to contemplate leaving and returning home. It’s not as if what awaits me at home is undesirable, it’s just that Dungeness has become a very special place to me. The birds, the people, even the scenery in a perverse sort of way…they’ve all melted together to form a secondary life that I want to experience on a full time basis. Why don’t I just get out of the carriage now and stay. Resign from being an art student. Sign on the dole. Live at the observatory and act as assistant warden. What’s stopping me?  The truth is I’m stopping myself, Mr. Bloody Sensible, that’s who. Why can’t I be carefree for once in my life instead of toeing the line all of the time. What am I afraid of? Insecurity? Uncertainty of the future if I don’t complete my education? There’s no money in wardening that’s for sure, but so what, I’m only 19, there’s plenty of time to settle down yet. The steam whistle sounds. Passengers scurry into the carriages and the conductor joyfully waves his flag towards the driver. What’s he got to be so happy about? Doesn’t he know that in a few days there’ll be Willow Warblers, Whitethroats and goodness knows what swarming over the peninsula while I’ll be in an Epsom art college missing it all. The train slowly draws away, mini carriages full of proportionately large but still only normal sized people, mostly families out for a novelty ride, except for me, using it as public transport and feeling ludicrous as well as dejected.

Dungeness May 1978

How sweet is a stolen day. Should be at art college but I have persuaded a fellow student, who happens to own a car, that he really needs to see this shingle wonderland. A pleasant drive down is taken through a sunny Kent countryside foaming with Hawthorn blossom. A casual pint and a game of pool at the Jolly Fisherman precedes a seawatch where I happily scope my first ever Pomarine Skuas (a flock of seven spooned delights) as they lazily beat their way up-channel, along with a pink-flushed Roseate Tern. Back at the observatory my offer to do a net round is taken up and I joyfully remove a Wryneck from a mist net on the edge of the desert. I wander around in a beatific state until late afternoon when a flock of four Turtle Doves are flushed from behind the café and continue inland. I could so easily have missed all this.


bob smith said…
Yes Steve I'm reading them. Seem quite similar to bits of Shingle Minded,Stuart gave me his copy before his untimely end. Thank you for the mention therein.

Steve Gale said…
More than quite simar Bob! Seeing there are but 10 copies in existence I doubt that this stuff is familiar to too many birders.
mike N. said…
enjoying the nostalgia trips!
Steve Gale said…
Hi Mike, I trust you can remember the week in April 1979 that we spent at the observatory? If memory serves me correct we were joined by Dave Eland and John Bacon
mike N. said…
Didn't recall the date-I do remember the exhausting treks across the shifting shingle & the dirty kitchen!!

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