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Friday, 18 December 2009

Local Animals for Local People

As surprising as it may seem, I have a friend. His name is Steve and he lives in Oxfordshire, near Didcot. (Well someone has to) He's not part of the conservation world, he's not a birder, nor does he survey cetaceans (although he is pretty handy at wild flowers). In fact he's a building surveyor. But he just loves wildlife, thrilled when he sees almost anything regardless of whether he knows what it is or not. But he always wants to know.

But the curious thing about Steve's love of wild places and wild things is that ask him what wildlife sight he'd most like to see and he'll say something like an otter or a peregrine falcon. Now although these animals are 'way cool' as my nephew would say, they aren't particularly exotic. But this doesn't concern Steve in the slightest because it's the stuff in his backyard that interests him most. Offer him the choice of a trip to West Wales or the South American rainforest and Aberystwyth would win every time. It's just the way he's built: his home is part of who he is and the wildlife around him is the wildlife he cares about most.

So, despite the restraining order, he took me out on a walk to the outskirts of his village because he said he wanted to show me, as he put it, "my water voles".

I sort of feel the same about cetaceans. I love being abroad and seeing the cetaceans that I'm unlikely to see from Southampton docks but when I see them from British shores or in our own waters there's a different kind of satisfaction there: they're my cetaceans.

In a curious way that somehow makes me want to make sure they stick around more so than if they were animals I never saw because they were on the other side of the world. Now, obviously, just seeing them makes them as much mine as seeing a picture of Nicole Kidman makes her my next date, but you get the idea. For instance, there's a guy in Pakistan who's spent 15 years protecting the Snow Leopard but, get this, he's never even seen one. As much as I admire his sense of dedication I couldn't do what he does: protecting the invisible.

With cetaceans filling British waters then doing something to protect the marine environment is as good an opportunity we're going to get to not only see the animals but also to say that they're cetaceans that we've had something to do with: they're our cetaceans.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tonight is Music Night

“Let’s have a music night where we write down a list of our favourite pieces of music, play one and explain why we like it. Then the others can pick one or more of your list that they’d like to hear.”

Thus sprach Zarathustra. He didn’t actually. It was Kathy that sprached that particular idea. I say ‘idea’, I mean impending atrocity. As ideas go it’s not exactly up there with, say, electricity or the steam engine or Later With Jools Holland. They’re ideas. This was a recipe for disaster. I’ll stick my neck out and say (in case you hadn’t guessed) that I wasn’t keen on the idea.

The problem is that I’m a musical snob. The idea of sitting listening to someone explain why Chicory Tip’s Son of my Father is actually a heavyweight work exposing the cruel realities of 70s working-class Britain did somehow not appeal.

Nonetheless, I gamely agreed. After all, I thought, it’ll be good preparation for when the Desert Island Discs invitation arrives in the post. (By the way, Kirsty, if you’re reading this I’m still waiting.)

I should have guessed the outcome: I ran out of room on the paper. By the time I got to a 75 pieces of music I stopped. Until I remembered all the great music I’d forgotten. In fact I got to looking at the back of Who’s Next by the Who and just wrote “…tracks 1 – 9” and something similar occurred with David Bowie’s Hunky Dory.

I just love it. Everything that music offers; the aggression, emotion, volume, insanity, intensity, broodiness, quietness, loudness, class, ugliness and beauty. The first time I heard The Clash it incited in me a similar emotional impact as when the world first clapped eyes on Picasso’s Guernica. And don’t get me started on Since I’ve Been Loving You by Led Zeppelin, Fisher Boy by Eliza Carthy, Exit Music by Radiohead or Allegri’s Miserere. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Believe it or not, there was a time when western civilisation heard harmony for the first time and of that experience the Bishop of Chartres wrote…

“When you hear the soft harmonies of the various singers, some taking high and others low parts, some singing in advance, some following in the rear, others with pauses and interludes, you would think yourself listening to a concert of sirens rather than men, and wonder at the power of voices … whatever is most tuneful among birds, could not equal. Such is the facility of running up and down the scale; so wonderful the shortening or multiplying of notes, the repetition of the phrases, or their emphatic utterance: the treble and shrill notes are so mingled with tenor and bass, that the ears lost their power of judging. When this goes to excess it is more fitted to excite lust than devotion; but if it is kept in the limits of moderation, it drives away care from the soul, confers joy and peace and transports the soul to the society of angels...”

I’ll take those Angels. But I’ll also take the washed-up bums of Tom Waits, the monochrome world of Gavin Bryars the stark landscapes of Chris Wood and the devotion of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Here’s to every single one of you.