Dulltown, UK: Today’s wrinkled old black and white snapshot is the one of me and Screaming Jay Hawkins playing a hand or two of whist with a couple of toffs in the Carlton Club in St James’s, London, in 1966. (SJH)
Perhaps there’s something wrong with me, something lacking, perhaps a gaping hole, an unfortunate void, in my appreciation of things natural?
I was in the pleasant market town of Beverley, about six miles north of Dulltown yesterday afternoon; I decided to slide into the art gallery to use their facilities and to see if there was anything of interest on show. There was an exhibition of work from something called the Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Pin-sharp close-ups of beaky birds with glinting squinting eyes, scowling ginger foxes, wide winged birds soaring over snow-capped mountains, cheery crowds of coloured ants with a common purpose, badgers doing routine badger things, snotty looking eagles filling the frame full face – you get the idea I’m sure. The thing is, that I’ve seen pictures of things like this before, I’ve seen them on TV with David Attenborough whispering conspiratorially to us from behind a bush, and once or twice, I’ve even seen them live, flapping about or scurrying across fields and cleverly nipping up the trunks of trees…
So, I must confess that this exhibition wasn’t really ‘my kind of thing’. I’m not at all embarrassed saying that, nor should I be. I mean, when you’ve seen one fox, or duck, or ant, or even one condor doing a spot of hovering in the thermals, you’ve seen ’em all…
However, the two rooms the show occupied were absolutely packed with people, I assume they were mostly ‘Beverley people’ – middle-aged men in graph paper check shirts and sturdy brogues, and middle-aged women sporting wind-reddened cheeks and unflattering drab padded jackets.
I have seldom seen an art gallery so full. Just out of interest I made a rough count; there were, I estimated, 48 one room and 28 down the corridor by the cafe – it was pretty well a capacity crowd, and they were loving it!…
You’d think that living in the country they’d be used to, and possibly even a bit fed up with cows, crows, rabbits, dogs and mud, but no, they were revelling in seeing pictures of it! There they stood, open-mouthed, staring at each photo for several minutes at a time… Some, who thought that certain visitors, who were taking far too long over the owlets, resorted to elbowing them out of the way in a surprisingly brusque manner…
I found a chair in a fairly quiet corner of the main room and sat on it to start making notes for writing this post – to document the occasion for you dear reader. I decided that I should keep my head down, I definitely felt like an outsider. I don’t know what I would have done if someone had sneaked up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Isn’t this a really marvellous show?…’ I don’t really think that could have happened though, those Beverley folk are by nature a bit too insular and suspicious to be striking up conversations with people they don’t know – ‘You are not from around these parts, are you stranger?…’ I think they see the nearby city of Dulltown down the road as the pit of hell populated with ne’er do wells and left-wing degenerates – they are probably right.
As I sat there I wondered what was going through these people’s heads as they looked at the pictures – what were they getting out of it? Were they experiencing emotion? Internally going, ‘Ah…’ at the baby polar bears and the pandas – or admiring the brooding cold-hearted nobility of the birds of prey? Or, perhaps they were fantasising about jumping on a jet and whizzing off to somewhere warm, and well away from the East Riding of Yorkshire, to see some of this wildlife themselves?
So, you see, wildlife photos – I can take them or leave them.
As humans, with our domination of the planet, we are, every day, killing quite a lot of it off, and we don’t really care enough to make a few changes to our lifestyles in order to stop it – so, I suppose we might as well have some pictures of things like this for when it’s all gone.
‘Mummy, what are all these funny furry things, and those feathery flapping things?’
‘Ah, they are ‘beasts’ and ‘birds’ that we used to share our planet with back in the old days…’
‘Like the rats that we have now?’
‘Yes dear, that’s right…’