In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments:
Having recovered from yet another operation at the beginning of the year I set about working with Ralph Steadman on our book, Extinct Boids. This has been one of the most wondrous collaborations of my life and I would change nothing about where we ended up. It has been totally organic and conversations had in the morning would often result in an existing bird or boid by the end of the day. Initially we never set out to create a book but as we marched ever onwards it became clear that this could be the end result. Bloomsbury saw the potential and got on board the Steadmanitania as we set sail through the seas of extinction. We have tried to bring people to a difficult subject through humour. I always need sounds around me when I write and sometimes I find a particular song or album that puts me in the right place and Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly became my guide while I wrote. And then I lifted my head and it was spring and time to go to BirdLife Malta’s Spring Camp.
I have spent some of my darkest moments on the holiday island of Malta and this time 18 artists accompanied me on the journey with a view to creating a show next year. 23kms full of sunshine revellers and bird murderers make odd bedfellows, and I wonder if swimming pool worshippers even notice the barrage of gunfire that surrounds their package holiday hotels. I spent more time in the vet’s surgery watching beautiful birds being put down than my heart could bear. The last moments with magnificent creatures such as Marsh Harriers or Bee-Eaters are heart wrenching, especially when I could see the vim, vigour and life of the bird burning deep within its eyes. Then the injection came; a shudder, a shake, a last flexing of wings, a doomed attempt to fly away, talons clench and it is over. Another victory for the hunters. Malta is certainly not the only place with these issues. It is a widespread problem and lest we forget, in this country we are now down to our last breeding pair of Hen Harriers thanks to their persecution by poisoning or shooting to protect grouse stocks. And as for the Turtle Dove, admissions are finally being made that hunting plays a very real part in the demise of this beautiful creature. I do not see how we can continue to allow such wilful hunting to happen anymore. People tell me it is not a simple subject. Really? How so? Stop hunting for sport and stop the persecution of birds of prey and maybe our skies will stay beautiful.
Spring moved into summer and Jackie and I got tickets for the Champions League Final in Munich. We spent the weekend of May 18-21 travelling on trains through Europe to get to and from the greatest night of our Chelsea supporting lives. Everyone we knew descended upon Munich in whatever way the could in a Trains, Planes and Automoblies fashion. We all met up in Munich to be hosted by the city’s wonderful people. Entering the stadium we were met by giant signs of Unser Stadt, Unser Stadion, Unser Kopal. Our town, our stadium, our cup. Our two tickets were also in the thick of the Munich fans. There we were alone in the heat of fans who believed destiny had ordained their ownership of the cup. And for much of the game that was how it felt. But football so often proves that there is never a certain outcome. In view of their certain winning of the cup those around us realised we were English as well as Chelsea fans and we were allowed to stay among them. Munich went ahead and the party started around us. We felt like interlopers but inside we still felt hope and then Drogba scored one of the finest headers I have ever seen to equalise and it was time for us to keep very still and quiet. Tears welled up but we could not celebrate. Then Munich’s ex-Chelsea player Robben missed a penalty and for the first time all Chelsea fans in the stadium believed we could win. We moved through the pain of extra time and then onto penalties, an exercise we have never excelled at. But as destiny departed from Bayern Munich she landed amongst us and decreed that Drogba with his last ever kick for Chelsea should write history and win the Champions League. As his penalty hit the net we could no longer contain ourselves and we celebrated in a hysterical fashion not caring if the stunned Munich fans took umbrage at us. We had won! And to be fair the German fans were incredible. Not a fan left the stadium until we had received the Cup. And then we headed to the exits as Champions of Europe.
I have a tiny necklace, which comprises two seashells on a strip of leather. It was made for me by my goddaughter, Triana and her sister, Dani in Spain. The shells are from our quiet little village beach and when things get too difficult I just hold them and imagine being back there. It keeps me light in the darkest of days and reminds me that there is more to life than the chaos and hurt that can be caused by others.
2012 has been the year that I have finally realised that we have failed nature. I have walked ever further with my film The Bird Effect and talking to those that have worked solely within nature for years it is the abundance of species that we have lost that will prove irreplaceable. In London we have few sparrows left, dawn choruses are much more minimalistic everywhere and great swathes of habitat remain untouched by birds that should be there. We can probably never return to the headier days of teeming wildlife so all we can really do is make sure we lose no more. We have to fight for what is left and damn those that strive to capitalise on nature’s goodness for their own wealth. And lest we forget, birds are just a symbol of much of the world that we have systematically destroyed.
2013 is the year that I would like to continue my work in the conservation world and I aim to put on a show about hunting with various artists. Many came to Malta to experience what was happening there and I think all left with a renewed view of hunting. It will also be the year that I will finish the Bird Effect. I have one last shot that I want to get and that will involve travelling to Kazakhstan. As always I look forward with hope, and can’t wait to begin this next year.
Book of the Year – The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon. The graphic story of a girl who suffers with OCD. An extraordinary and groundbreaking tale beautifully told and illustrated by Glyn Dillon.
Records of the Year
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange
John Talabot – Fin
Tempest – Bob Dylan
Cody Chesnutt – Landing on a Hundred
Jeb Loy Nichols – The Jeb Loy Nichols Special
Dan Deacon – America
Mike Wexler – Dispossession
Alabama Shakes – Boys and Girls
Lana del Rey – Born to Die
Sharon van Etten – Tramp
Tame Impala – Lonerism