Caught by the River

The Bird Effect Diaries

Ceri Levy | 23rd December 2009

The diary of the making of a film. and an on going fascination with birds and their accompanying cast of human characters. By Ceri Levy. Read previous entries, starting here.

Monday 21st September

Today, I am driving up to Herefordshire to meet Jimi Goodwin from the band Doves, who is a keen birder. We are going to chat about TBE and do some birding. We are meeting thanks to an old friend of mine, Jamie Woolgar, who works in press at Rough Trade. This is another story of serendipity.

I had phoned Jamie on a Monday morning in June, as I had wanted to contact Martin from British Sea Power, who was a known birder, and thought Jamie may be able to help because Rough Trade is BSP’s label. I had not spoken to Jamie for a few years, but that happens sometimes. I called him and after his initial surprise, we chatted for a while, immediately picking up where we had left off. Then, he dropped what I presumed was a damaging bombshell as he told me that he was just starting in a new job that morning. My first thought was unprintable and I told him why I had got in touch other than just catching up. He was silent for a moment, and then told me that was really weird as his new job was back at Rough Trade, which he had left some years ago, and that he was just walking through the door for the first time again, when I had phoned. Suddenly, the timing could not have been better. On such moments does life change its course and thus alter one’s trajectory. Without that call I would not be writing this diary. Why is that I hear you ask, well, this is why.

I proceeded to tell him of some of the other people I was going to try and meet for the project, including Jimi from Doves, and he said that his girlfriend, Anna Derbyshire, who worked at Virgin at the time, might be able to help me in that direction. The long and the short of it is that Jamie introduced me to BSP, and Anna put me in touch with Jimi via Jeff Barrett at Doves record label Heavenly. Coincidentally, this was the very same Jeff, as the Jeff from CBTR, and also the man who would have the idea of me writing a diary for the site. This is how coincidence works in mysterious ways.

Jimi and I were put in touch with each other and we decided it would be a good idea to meet up and talk about the film. He suggested that we get together in Herefordshire, which had been a stamping ground for him as a kid, when he used to stay with Miles Baddeley, who was a friend of Jimi’s father, from the days when he ran a vintage boutique store called Seven Miles Out in Manchester, during the 60’s and 70’s. Miles then moved to Herefordshire, living with a puma called Khan, yes, a puma, in an isolated house deep within Wapley Hill Wood. Jimi often visited him and was shown how to look after injured animals, which Miles had rescued from the wild. It was Miles who had been instrumental in igniting Jimi’s love of wildlife on these visits to the countryside, and this was where Jimi began to develop an affinity with the natural world.

Photo Courtesy of Allan Flowers with thanks to John Coller. L-R: June, Miles Baddeley, Laura, Yvonne and Robert circa 1970

As an aside, Jimi also knew and often visited the once famous couple of Bob and Pat Ratcliffe, who also looked after injured birds in their Manchester terraced house and were the subject of my book of the month, Kestrels in the Kitchen. (See below.)

One of the main reasons for our trip was for Jimi to pay his last respects to Miles as he had died in a motorbike accident in 2004 in Langkawi, where he had set up Junglewalla, which specialised in nature tours.

Jimi recommended we stay at The Stagg Inn in Titley, which was utterly fantastic. A Michelin starred pub and serving fine Hobsons beer, it proved to be a perfect place for us to meet and talk about birds and TBE. We headed out to Wapley Hill Wood, where Miles had lived. We parked and even though it had been years since Jimi had been there, his homing instinct kicked in and we were suddenly marching in a specific direction. His eyes lit up as he surveyed the forest all around us. And then we were in front of an amazing house, with well-kept gardens, and fenced off from the public. This was Miles’ house. We peered in and Jimi told me it had really changed and had been well maintained, but was still the house that he remembered and loved. We could hear voices from within and we debated whether we should say hello. Feeling like we were six years of age, we called out and after some time a woman appeared, who looked at us hesitantly, with not much trust in her eyes. Having just been confronted by two slightly unkempt men, this was not too much of a surprise. Nervously, she asked what we wanted and Jimi realising her tenseness, hurriedly explained that he used to stay in this very same house when his friend, Miles, had lived there. The woman started to realise we were possibly not going to rob her and began to talk a little as Jimi’s former knowledge of the place started to win her over. I was holding my film camera but knew this was exactly the time you don’t film anyone. Wait to gain their trust, even though sometimes that is not possible. I told her I was making a documentary about birds and their effect upon people, and that was why I was with Jimi, as we visited a childhood haunt of his. Feeling as if we were finally getting somewhere, the cordial chat was interrupted by a sudden gruff, irritated shout from inside the house, “You’ll have to get in here or the chutney will burn! Come in now.” “Coming mother…” The woman made her excuses but when Jimi said he had some photos with him of how the place used to be, her curiosity got the better of her and she asked us to come back in half an hour or so. I asked if it would be possible to film her and Jimi chatting about the photos, but I already knew that was not going to happen. We traipsed off and found a log in the forest to sit upon and opened Jimi’s flask of coffee and had a cuppa. We chatted about nothing and everything, like kids in the wood waiting for the time to head off back home at the end of the day. We returned to the house and the woman came out of the door and immediately stated she did not want to be filmed, but agreed to look at Jimi’s photos. Immediately she saw them she was captivated and told us that when they moved in they had had to do a lot of work to bring the place up to scratch. Perhaps the pictures were too much of a reminder for her as quite quickly she was disappearing back inside the house and said that if we had time maybe we could come back the next day as she was sure her husband would love to see the pictures. It was an invitation we knew we would probably not be able to accept due to the constraints of time.

She did give us directions so that we could make our way down the hill to see the wooden chair that had been carved in memory of Miles and we soon found it. Jimi had found the perfect place to pay his last respects and we toasted Miles with more coffee.

We headed off back to the Stagg Inn and ate a fantastic dinner before we turned in for the night. It had been a great day and tomorrow we would try and do a little bit of birding at Bodenham Lake, before we head off in different directions home, with Jimi going north and myself going south.

The next morning, after much searching and asking for directions we found Bodenham Lake. A buzzard flew overhead and chirps of finches surrounded us as we walked towards the lake. I had my new Leica scope with me for its first trip away from Jim Lawrence, from whom I had bought it. We made our way to the hide and decamped there for a couple of hours. I set up the scope and we watched the birds before us. Nothing outstanding appeared, but we had so much fun with the new toy, studying every bird that came into view. Cormorants and herons amused us, as they sat in strange places in trees, and great crested grebes, which enchanted us, must surely be one of the most beautiful and graceful birds to light up our vision, especially through the scope. Jimi was really impressed with the quality of the lenses in the Leica scope, and my Leica bins. I have a feeling this could prove to be an expensive trip for him as he re-evaluates the binoculars that he owns. He said this himself and I wonder how long before he succumbs to buying a new pair. We will see. It was peaceful, serene and timeless here and we managed to steal a last moment in nature’s glory before setting off for our respective motorways. We found a pub to have some lunch in and we said our goodbyes. I am pretty certain this is just the beginning of a new friendship.

Beer of the Month – Hobsons Best Bitter.

Wednesday 30th September

Jimi texts me this morning to tell me that Leica are having a sale on bins for one day and one day only. Rhetorically, he asks me what I think he should do. We both know the answer to that particular question.

Thursday 1st October

Jimi texts me to say his bins have arrived!

Friday 2nd October

Book of the Month – Kestrels in the Kitchen by Meg Elizabeth Atkins.

This book is an amazing period piece from 1979 and looks into the world of Bob and Pat Ratcliffe, and what lies within their terraced house in a Manchester side street. Bob has spent most of his adult life caring for sick and injured wild birds, and this is his and his wife’s story. This house is populated by, amongst others, Kestrels, Owls, Buzzards, a flightless Crow and many other transitory bird patients. Oh yes, and they all lived in harmony with several Siamese cats. I remember seeing them on television when I was younger and always remember a bird sitting atop a TV set while Bob and Pat watched it as though this was the most normal scenario one could ever see. It’s worth digging around to find this book. This household would probably never be allowed to exist in this way today. Health and bloody safety would see to that. It is a memory of a different time, different attitudes and a different world.