Right outside the this lazy summer home
you don't have time to call
your soul a critic, no
Right outside the lazy gate
of winter's summer home
wondering where the nuthatch winters
Wings a mile long
Somewhere back in the late 1960s - it was about '68, I guess - I was idly sitting in the saloon bar of The White Hart in Stevenage Old Town. No, as a twelve year old I wasn't already an ardent drinker. My mother worked there as a barmaid for some 17 years or so. Whenever the landlord, one Bill Smith of that parish went on holiday, it was my mother and father who he chose to "look after the place for a few days".
Anyway, that's a sort of context, so back to what I started on about. I was sitting there as a youngster, I fancifully believe that it was a sunny day (as they all were then - it never rained in my childhood. Ever) so could have been during the summer holidays; I was actually indulging in my three favourite pursuits. Obviously one of those was yet to become a pursuit, as such. It was another few years before sitting in bars and drinking became a life-long pursuit (pleasure). I was drawing and lost in my own little fantasy world when I spied a movement outside the through the window.
Imagine my excitement when I saw the little fella pictured walking down the trunk of the tree (probably just a very ancient ivy rotting away on a trellis in reality). Down the tree trunk, which was a bizarre sight. I had never seen a nuthatch before so was a bit taken aback that it was so small - about the size of a sparrow. From the illustration in my Birds of Field and Forest I was expecting a huge creature much as I had with the hoopoe mentioned in my last post. Ignoring the text, of course, which claimed that it is a "small, plump bird" I still expected it to be huge. I think I genuinely based my expectations on exotic looking birds on some misplaced estimation of size purely from the pictures in this book. After all, the smaller birds were illustrated as less than half the size and often two to a page. And, as it was quite rare to see many of these birds in my hometown, I continued to have these delusions of their size.
In those days I had no binoculars or maybe only a cheap plastic toy pair that were about as useful as a kaleidoscope for bird watching. Mostly I observed birds in the garden, on the bird table dad had put up which I regularly put food out onto. Blue Peter reminded us weekly to do that. Along with an I-Spy book or the Observer's Book of Birds for identification, I continued to look out for these avian wonders. I remember seeing my first yellowhammer in the woods near where I lived. It even sang its a-little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheeeese song just like the book said it would. Even that doesn't look so big as the nuthatch or hoopoe - I was obviously guided by this book and somehow believed that it was all illustrated in proportion.
Anyway, according to Simon Barnes nuthatches have to have "the right kind of trees nearby - big oaks, hornbeam, and especially beeches". I know there was an established tree in the absolutely tiny garden of the pub but as to what it was, I have no idea nowadays, some forty four years away. So it was pure chance that I should see this little fella a few inches away from my face, albeit on the other side of a window. These are the little incidents that make up childhood memories. No flashy holidays in far off exotic locations. No safaris with man-eating creatures on the vast arid plains of Africa. Just down-home small incidents that stay in the memory and occasionally bring a little smile when I wistfully recall them.
I've also grown up to realise that size really doesn't matter.