Number 2 - the very first Jay

Number 2 - June 1974 - a Jay on a lawn

The prologue - in a fourth form art lesson, our teacher, Mr Jeffries, suggested that we paint a picture on the theme of 'Conflict' - cue many 14-15 year-old lads producing works depicting blood, violence and death. But for one of them it was a chance to paint something of his favourite subject, that of natural history. I stood behind Mark Greenway as he placed the finishing touches of poster paint to the cartridge paper. His work depicted a cat on a garden lawn, paw swiping the air just missing a fleeing bird. The bird in flight was exotic and highly colourful. I assumed that it was a parrot and asked him what such a bird was doing in such a domestic setting. "It's no parrot", came his reply, "it's called a Jay". He then explained to me that Jays were quite common birds and it was more than likely that I'd see one in my garden. I was no birdwatcher, but scoffed at such a claim - after all, even I would have noticed such a striking bird as this.

The main event - maybe a fortnight later I was loafing around at home, no doubt thinking about the next game of football or cricket (or both!) to take place over in the park when I happened to glance out of the window.

And there it was....

On the lawn, hopping about, was the bird from the painting that Mark had created. Several things struck me at once - firstly, I knew what it was (no duck or gull or chicken-type vagueness, but an actual bird that I could put a name to with certainty); secondly, it was bloody beautiful; thirdly, that it was bigger than I thought one would be in the unlikely event that I ever saw one; and fourthly, WHAT ELSE WAS OUT THERE?

The following day I went into WH Smith and purchased a series of mini bird guides to various habitats to be found in the UK, borrowed my Dad's very cheap binoculars (I don't know why he owned a pair, maybe we had a buxom neighbour who undressed  at night without pulling the curtains) and went out and started birdwatching. Just like that. And I have done so ever since.

In my life there has not been a more important bird. It got me started with a fire in my belly and a sense of wonder at what could be seen with a little time and effort. That Jay, hopping about on a Sutton lawn over forty years ago, put in motion events that have seen me travel all over the UK, Europe, Israel and Malaysia with the sole aim of seeing birds. And it is fair to say that it lead to adventures in the company of moths, butterflies, dragonflies and plants. To me, all of the subsequent Jays that I have seen are that very same bird. Thanks Jay!

I wonder what would have happened if Mr Jeffries had decided that the subject for that mornings painting was to be a self-portrait? Or if Mark had decided to join the rest of us and paint a picture full of fists and blood? On such chance does one life evolve.


laurence.d said…
Mine was a Kestrel in a colouring in book,and then seeing one hunting on the fields behind the house(now a housing estate),first bins aged 8,8x30 from Boots.
Dylan Wrathall said…
Mine was a female Bullfinch - white rump shining through the gloom! Fantastic post Steve - shame there's only one more in the series. I've got a glimmer of an idea - already in my draft folder. Heroes - the ten most influential figures during your life?
We've all travelled along a similar course - so teachers, peers and icons will have made their impressions. I'll show you mine if you show me yours! Take care - Dyl
Steve Gale said…
And I bet Laurence that you have never been prouder of any other pairs of binoculars that you have subsequently owned.
Steve Gale said…
Hi Dyl, looking forward to your icons series of posts. No doubt one or two Tring fisherfolk will appear!
bob smith said…
Interesting Steve that you can pinpoint a moment when you turned to natural history. Theres an interesting line of research there. What happened to Mark Greenaway did you team up with him?
Steve Gale said…
Yes I did Bob. Between 1974-76 we had birding holidays to Dungeness (twice) and a fortnight at Minsmere.

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