Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Ceri Levy

31st December 2011

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:

I thought 2010 had won the monopoly on experiential living with its highs, lows, peaks, troughs, rights, wrongs and all those mixed emotions that seem to course through my odd and eventful life. But this has been a year of key moments, including one terrible event, which has been counter-balanced by some truly amazing ones. Ghosts of Gone Birds, our show to raise awareness about bird extinction and BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions programme, has been the ultimate highlight.

January – Walking around an art fair I felt a terrible pain in my stomach and had to head home. I thought I had a stomach bug and just lay delirious until Jackie insisted I get some help. She phoned the doctor and told him my symptoms and how my stomach had gone an angry red colour and he immediately diagnosed me with a strangulated hernia. We were told to get to hospital immediately as it was a life threatening condition and it sounded as though I was in imminent danger. I felt so terrible, much worse than when I had had a heart attack the year before. (That proved to be a breeze by comparison.) This felt wicked in the truest sense of the word. I had tubes shoved everywhere, was operated on and woke up in intensive care. It was quiet in there and calming. I flitted in and out of consciousness due to the mega doses of morphine coursing through my body.

After a couple of days I was moved to a ward, with death having given me another wide berth and there my rehab began. Here I discovered that crowd control in wards is handled by giving morphine to the masses. “If you feel any pain, just click the button. Always keep hold of it. It has a time delay on it but if you press it twelve times it will remember to give you those doses.” This keeps a ward quiet on the whole. I knew it was time to get out when my friendly morphine kept urging me to go to the toilet, just to sit and listen to the air conditioning, which sang intricate and complex Indian pipe music to me. It was so beautiful and so wrong. I gave up the morphine immediately and returned home for three months of home visits from the most wonderful district nurses who would oversee my recovery. Slowly, I got better and between Chris Aldhous, my partner in Ghosts, Good Pilot, his company and myself we planned our adventure with Ghosts. I would concentrate on getting artists on board.

April – Jeff and Cathy St Germans gave me Ralph Steadman’s email and I sent him a message about Ghosts and asked him to take part. Just when I thought I would never get a reply Ralph got in touch and a truly wonderful friendship developed. The one bird I asked him to do for the show turned into a flock of more than 100 and now we are preparing a book together of all his Extinct Boids, as we call them. This has been a great year for collaborations.

Ralph and the Liverpool Pigeon

May – And then we arrived in Liverpool where Ghosts got it’s first outing thanks to the Liverpool School of Art and Design and Mike O’Shaugnessy, one of the teachers there and now a Ghost artist. We had a couple of days to test out Ghosts, see if it worked in a small format and we discovered it did. The highlight being the performance by Jimi Goodwin, of Doves fame, with a 15 piece orchestra called the Bird Effect Ensemble, (named after my film he is writing the soundtrack for) performing a piece of music accompanied by a backdrop of a film I had made.

August/September – Spain. This is where my heart lies. Six weeks or so in our house far away from it all charged my batteries, ready for the London arrival of Ghosts. Plus I got to see some amazing birds I had never seen before including Short-Toed Eagles, Rollers and Bee-Eaters. This is where I come to reflect.

The Alhambra in Granada

September – Going to Malta, filming and being a part of BirdLife Malta’s Raptor Camp was a life changer in so many ways. This gave us the idea for Ghosts in Action. To actively take part in some of the projects, which are going on around the world to save endangered birds and advertise the work they do. Hunters on Malta shoot most things that fly. It is an illness and we need to find the cure. Ghosts will pursue this through 2012. We have to stop critically endangered and threatened birds of today becoming the extinct statistics of tomorrow.
A Murdered Black Stork in Malta

NovemberGhosts opened at the Rochelle School in Shoreditch and was an amazing experience as we were inundated by people from the moment we opened the doors to the moment we shut them. We have set a firm foundation for Ghosts to continue, and 2012 is a year of promise for the project. This has been a humbling experience and hopefully Ghosts is proving that there are alternative ways to promote conservation and engage with new audiences.

Margaret Atwood has a great fact she told me when we met. Apparently, of all the money raised by charities in the world, 96% goes to human causes, 2.5% goes to pets and domestic animals, and the other 1.5% goes to the natural world. That’s one to ponder upon.

Dec 23rd – And so I recover from another operation and I am hoping that this is an end to it. The year has been bookended by surgery but so much has happened in between that has made me a different man than I was at the beginning of the year and hopefully it’s a change for the better. Time, and my friends will tell me, I’m sure.

Bring on 2012. I have just so much to do… More adventures please. I still get excited to see what will happen next.

Event of the Year: Ghosts (Of course!)
Book Discovery: The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen
Writer: China Mieville
Records of the Year: The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You.
My Morning Jacket – Circuital.