- Education and Science
The Bard of Ely's Nature Conservation Site Part I
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Bard of Ely comes from Cardiff in Wales but in 2004 he moved to Tenerife in the Canary Islands where, under his real name of Steve Andrews, he has...
Bard of Ely's song "Kingfisher"
The Bard takes me for a nature walk
I went to see my old good friend Steve in Tenerife.
Steve and I go back many years, to my student days in Cardiff. He's a giant of a man, over six foot tall, with a scholar's stoop, a cascading mass of pure white hair tucked under a baseball cap, and a fluorescent green beard.
The stoop is not a physical stoop exactly. It's more a sort of mental stoop. Like when he looks over his glasses at something in nature, something small that catches his attention, there's a stoop of concentration. It's something in his demeanour, a position he takes in relationship to the world, perhaps. A kind of reverence, a bow of acknowledgement to all the small creatures of the world.
Or maybe it's because he is such a tall man, so he's always stooping to be on a level with everyone else.
As for the beard, it is dyed. It's not something that has gone off on his face. Sometimes he dyes his hair too, a whole variety of colours. Once he dyed his hair turquoise. That must have been a very strange sight, a lurching, bespectacled, purple-headed giant with a green beard, looking like something that had just stepped out of a flying saucer, just popped down to Earth to do some shopping at the local supermarket.
Even without the turquoise hair he's very distinctive. Everywhere we went people would turn around to look. There's not that many people in Tenerife with a bright green beard. Not in Tenerife, not anywhere in fact. Green beards are a rarity wherever you go.
It's fair to say that Steve is more than a little eccentric. I don't think he'll mind me calling him that. He is just not at all like other people.
He told me a very funny story about this. He said that when he was about twelve years old he made a very serious attempt to be a normal boy. "What do normal boys do?" he thought. "Normal boys ride bikes."
So he persuaded his Mum and Dad to buy him a bike so he could ride around on it like a normal boy. And then, very seriously, he set about trying to ride it. He rode it up the street and he rode it down again. At least that's how he imagined it would be. All the other little boys had bikes, and they seemed to have no trouble. But every time Steve got on his bike he fell off it again.
He grazed his knees and he scuffed his elbow. He wrenched his wrist and he scraped his palm. He wobbled along a bit and then fell off again, over and over again. Wobble, crash, scuff, wrench, scrape, crash, wobble.
In the end he hated that bike.
The funny thing here is trying to imagine Steve on a bike, this great, tall, lanky, serious-faced little boy, trying so hard to be normal.
One day a friend asked if he could borrow the bike and Steve thought, yes! Yes you can borrow my bike. He was glad to get rid of it.
After a while his Mum and Dad started asking after the bike. This was quite a while later, several weeks later.
"Johnny Blotter has borrowed it," said Steve.
"Well don't you think you should ask for it back?" they asked.
So Steve asked for the bike back but Johnny had to confess that the bike had been stolen.
The normal reaction when you hear that something of yours has been stolen is to be angry. But Steve wasn't angry at all. He thought, Johnny Blotter has done me a favour by getting the bike stolen. I couldn't ride the thing anyway. Let whoever has it keep it.
So he lost the bike and never found it and he never tried to ride a bike again.
We were sitting in a bar by the sea when he told me this story. The fierce Tenerife sun was beating down upon us like someone had left the door open on a giant furnace in the sky. I was sunburnt in odd patches all over my body. We were drinking a beer and listening to the waves crash upon the rocky shore, me huddling under the shade of a parasol trying not to fry in the intense nuclear heat.
Earlier he'd taken me to look at a prospective nature conservation site. At least that's how he described it. He said that he could imagine it being laid out with benches, with a little wall around it to mark it off. There were all sorts of interesting and exotic creatures living there, he told me. Mosquito fish. Dragonfly. Ringed Plover. Damselfly. A few other creatures maybe whose names I forget.
We walked along a main road just outside the town to a place where all these pebbles were piled up. We walked across the pebbles. It was a bit of waste ground, strewn with dog-ends. There was an old plastic-covered blue mattress smeared in mud. The wheels of a buggy sticking out of the ground. Bits of old brick and breeze block and piles of scrap metal.
So we picked our way over the pebbles, stepping round smears of caked, dried mud, glistening with salt, till we came to a scum-covered pool.
It took a minute or two for me to adjust to the scene. I was looking at a dip in the pebbles with a small area of rancid water covered with orange slime. All around there was evidence that this was used as a dump by the local people. Bits of household waste and broken furniture, broken bottles and dog-ends. And Steve towering beside me waving his arms around in an excited manner, talking like a college-professor to a coterie of interested students.
Only there were no students. There was only me.
"See, there, under the algae, mosquito fish," he said. "The damsel fly breed here. Only there aren't any today. No dragonfly either." He was getting weirdly excited over the fact that the creatures that were supposed to be here weren't in fact here.
I realised that I was looking at the place Steve had designated a future conservation site. This pocked and slimed bit of waste ground, this evil-looking patch of stagnant water, with a few silvery little fish like needles darting about hither and thither amongst the weeds, a single, lost, lonely-looking bird hopping along the rim in the searing heat, pecking for food: this was the place of interest that Steve had brought me to see, the place where he imagined benches for people to sit upon and admire. Admire what exactly?
"Ringed Plover," said Steve, as if this explained everything.
Later, as we were walking back he stooped suddenly to pick up a pebble. "No, not here," he said, returning the pebble to the ground. Then he picked up another pebble, and another, until he'd found what he was looking for. "Look!" he said, full of excitement. "A grub."
A little nib of a wormy thing shook and wriggled, burying its head into the mud.
I said, "I've see a bear in the wild Steve. I've seen wolves. I've seen eagles. I have to say, as an excursion into nature this doesn't quite have the same impact."
Steve looked over his glasses at me with a puzzled expression.
Like I say, he's just not like other men. That description I gave of him earlier still applies. He's still a great, tall, lanky, serious-faced little boy. Only he's given up trying to be normal these days.
Next The Bard of Ely's Nature Conservation Site Part II
- How to Catch a Great Crested Newt
I have nothing against Ringed Plovers. I'm sure the Ringer Plover is a very nice bird. The one I saw seemed perfectly decent to me, hopping along by the stagnant pool, pecking amongst the pebbles, looking for grubs...
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Stories and opinions from the North Kent Coast. An on-line column by Whitstable writer CJ Stone.