Brian Robert Marshall photo
Something strange is happening to me, and I’m a little bit scared.
It all started a couple of weeks ago as I walked with a friend along Regent’s Canal. The scene was thick with portents, as in a dream. A strong wind from a clear blue sky, dead cherry blossom decaying beneath our feet. The empty carcass of a Number 8 bus on Roman Rd, taken out of service before the end of its route. I should have guessed that a part of me was about to die.
Then it happened.
“Look”, my friend said. “That moorhen has built a nest out of twigs and old kebab cartons. Isn’t that symbolic of something rotten in this godforsaken city?”
I paused to study the strange construction in the middle of the water. “You couldn’t be more wrong”, I replied. “That’s not a moorhen, it’s a coot. You can tell by the white mark on it’s forehead.”
“Dude”, he replied, (he’d watched American Pie the night before), “you know the names of BIRDS?”
He was right. I don’t know how, but I knew the names of birds.
If this were an isolated incident, perhaps I could let it pass. But my behaviour became increasingly erratic. One Saturday morning I awoke from a spaced-out reverie to find myself, or someone very like it, in Hackney Wick. Not so unusual, perhaps, but rather than lying in a gutter surrounded by cider cans, I was buying a honeysuckle plant from the garden centre.
A week later, I had to give my apologies for arriving late to a barbecue. Asked to account for myself, I said I was late because I’d been on the Jubilee line. People seemed to understand. But this was a filthy lie. I’d actually spent the day ducking, goosing, and swanning around at the London Wetland Centre.
I finally had to admit that I had a problem when I turned down an invitation to the pub because it clashed with a repeat of Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks on BBC4.
It’s time to admit the truth. At 26, I’ve become a nature bore. My carefree urban youth has withered like an April daffodil. I can’t even construct a simile anymore without recourse to flowers. I’ve seriously considered buying a wormery. They send you worms through the post for god’s sake. It’s gone too far.
You know who I blame? London, that’s who. With its sprawling parkland and meandering waterways, its varied wildlife and abundant habitats. I didn’t come here for this. I came here to get away from it all. I wanted concrete and noise, pollution and graffiti, warehouse parties and temporary traffic lights. You call this a city? It’s a walk in the park.
And this troubles me because I fear what the future might hold. Plotting out my dreams for the future, I always planned on getting into nature sometime in my 40s, when I had time and money and to distract myself from the inevitable divorce. But if it’s happening now, what sad hobbies will await me in my later years? Just as we were warned as teenagers that a single spliff would lead inexorably to a lifetime of heroin and crystal meth, does composting in your 20s lead inexorably to the harder stuff: hobbies like trainspotting, making replica ships out of matchsticks, Christianity?
I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do. A few days ago I found another coot’s nest in Mile End Park. This one was made of reeds and filled with fluffy little red-haired chicks. I’ve been back twice to see them since, I think they might be the only real friends I’ve got left. I need help.