My father... and other jackdaws

… I probably go on about them a bit…

But at this point in the conversation (because that’s what this is) I need to point out that I’m not a twitcher,birder or spotter. It’s not through a need to shy away from the sad misrepresentation of those ‘who do’ as being perhaps rather obsessive/enthusiastic, indeed ‘geekier’ than most.  It’s simply that I don’t know enough about birds to qualify as such a person. But I do love them. I really do. And it’s very much because of my father.

From previous posts, you’ll know that I was brought up on the North coast of Cornwall.

We moved down there when I was pretty young and set up in a cottage nestled amongst working farms, stream carved woodland and badger sets. My mother and father had chosen to do this because they were both very much attracted to a more meaningful, slower and real existence.  In truth, regardless of whether this lifestyle still held the same rosy appeal for them after a few years, they couldn’t afford to do much more than a “Tom and Barbara”, even if they’d secretly pined for the ‘old life’, as, with a lower income, things got pretty squeaky and we all had to be far more resourceful than before.

My father pursued a growing career as an antique furniture restorer, while my mother held together the house and heart of our family.  This family at various points became extended to include pets… the usual dogs and cats. We kept chickens, geese and guineafowl, but they weren’t supposed to be anything other than the next meal.

My father had found peace and a little time with this move to Cornwall, and with that I suspect a little more headspace too. Slowly, a softer side was occasionally glimpsed … one goose (‘Dorcus’) had taken a shine to him,  and would follow him to the back door for a crust. In turn my father started walking around with pockets permanently stuffed full of stale bread and corn (the bain of my mother’s existence as inevitably it would end up in the washing machine, pockets bloated!). A guinea fowl (‘Peep’) that began it’s early life living in my mother’s top pocket decided that Dad was his mate-for-life and as such trailed around after him as he moved through his working day. And naturally, as I took on the chores of feeding the animals they would start to follow me too.

This was my very first experience of someone depending on me, yes me, for food and company! As an 8 year old this seemed beyond any magical experience portrayed in a Disney film (even The Jungle Book).

I relished this new form of company. The love was unconditional, unquestioning and always available whenever I walked out of the kitchen door and around to the back garden or orchard (pockets bulging with corn!). School life, by contrast, was hell. So these feathered friendships were far more nurturing than anything in the school playground at that time!

Meanwhile, my father’s heart seemed to slowly unfurl to reveal someone in stark contrast to the sales manager of before. I came to know, love and admire my dad, probably for the first time. It’s only now, in my fourties writing this that I’m able to percieve this gradual change in our relationship as it truly happened.

My growing years were defined by birds, on so many levels. We’d be driving along in his white transit van, my brother and me in the back, no seat belts, free to bump around. On most trips it would seem my parents would spot a bird on the roadside. The unspoken rule was, if it was alive, my father would mend it; if it was dead, my mother would cook it!

So many bird moments; I could fill a book, but I won’t, at least not for public consumption.

Some memorable highlights as I grew up:

Sharing my breakfast with Gonzo the crow ( he particularly loved scrambled egg)

Having my teeth cleaned by Jack (the jackdaw.. contrary to popular belief they don’t go for your eyes!)

Revision for my Chemistry A level being interrupted by a buzzard, perched high on the dresser, firing a poo 3 metres through the air, only to land on my carefully annotated illustration of a Liebich Condenser.

Watching my father give mouth-to-beak resuscitation to a goose (it lived).

On another occasion I watched him grab a drowning gander that had fallen into a large bucket of water, and, finding no pulse, he took it by the legs and swung it around his head. A huge expulsion of water arced out; the young goose survived.

My father (on countless) occasions has played the part of mother bird to baby pigeon, crow, jackdaw. Carefully holding the youngster he would chew on a mouthful of chick crumbs, add water, swill and then wait for the fledgling to put it’s head in his mouth to feed. I have photos, but I don’t think he’d would thank me for ‘sharing’.

Watching him from my bedroom window, strolling out into the orchard, whiskey in hand, only seconds later to be tracked by a clattering of jackdaws. Two detached from the wild mob and swung down to land on his shoulders.  He always kept bread in his shirt pocket for his friends, and jackdaws will remain high up there amongst the best, most loyal of friendships that he’s enjoyed.

Writing this brings such a surge of strong emotions, you’d think I’m writing about a man who has died. He hasn’t; he’s very much alive and can be found most mornings strolling with geese. But he’s made a huge impression on me.

He’s given me a balance, a spirit level to hold up to my life. This life, it’s so fast, so messy, sometimes with an enforced level of materialistic values that make it umbearably heavy. To be able to walk outside, look up and listen. It makes life lighter, clearer, happier.