5. ALFRED SMEE (1818-1877) - THE FATHER OF THE BEDDINGTON SCENE (AKA THE BOGFATHER) AND THE BEDDINGTON RABBLE
So Alfred Smee lived in Beddington Park in the C19th and wrote a book 'My Garden'- the first major works on the natural history of this local area. What was later to become Beddington Sewage Farm was referred to as the Irrigation Fields and there were some interesting early observations: see HERE. Following a couple of world wars and a social revolution that turned his country house into a curry house, the masses were liberated to pick up the torch of our early great and good forefathers . First plebs on the scene were Philip Ratcliff and Len Parmenter who were watching 'the farm' in the 1930s. Things went a big quiet from 1939 onwards (apart from the sound of bombs and screaming) but picked up again in the late 1940s and by the 1950s the first carnation of the Beddington Farmlands Bird Group was headed up by Brian Milne. To cut a long story short, the group waxed and waned over the last 70 years with local legends coming and going such as John Burton, Ken Parsley, Peter Grant, Simon Aspinal, Ken Osborne and some coming and still here such as Mike Netherwood and Derek Coleman. Nowadays the torch bearers go by the names of Kojak, Sick-note, the Prof, Tank, Pinpoint, Dodge, Devilbirder, Bulldog, Pyro, Coca Cola, the Monk, Spudhead, Swifty and the Brief who are up agaisnt the multi-billion pound Pennon/Viridor Corporation- a nature destroying and incinerator building capitalist super-organism who have been given responsibility by our democratic government to preserve the planet, care for local communities and preserve biodiversity- nothing to go wrong there.
I wonder what Smee would make of it all?
4. PETER COOK (1937-1995) AND THE 1960's REBEL LEADERS
Not much to say here already that hasn't already been said a billion times. Even though I was a teenager in the 1980s there wasn't much in my youth culture that was particularly interesting apart from some great sci-fi. A little bit of delving in the archives and I never reappeared- Derek and Clive, Monty Python, the straight Peter and Dudley stuff, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix, Dylan- not the greats for nothing.
These were quite literally the people that I wanted to be- only problem was I was actually an untalented useless tyke and ended up working in Burger King instead. Following that I did something even more uninspiring and went on to University to do a Bachelor of Science degree and then a Masters of Science . However University was not a complete and total waste of time- there was a sewage outfall at Plymouth that used to attract some gulls which got me started on looking at larid. I also learnt a few scientific writing tricks and a few techniques that would come in handy with some other birding stuff.
3. THE RISE OF THE BIRDERS (1970s-2000s)
The social revolution of the 1960's had far reaching effects. Fundamentally the revolution was all about empowerment of the masses aka, the rise of popular culture. In addition to pop and rock music there was also popular science movements and out of ornithology emerged pop ornithology known as bird watching but there was also the rock version- birding. I had started birding at 13 years old and by the time I went to University in the early 1990's I had written several bird reports, found a first for Surrey and numerous firsts for Beddington Farmlands- there was some real un-chartered territory on my doorstep, nooks and crannies where the great and good ornithologists from the old guard had not gone and the universities and ivory towers were either too busy with institutional maintenance or had bigger fish to fry. The old guard basically couldn't keep up and a new lighter, faster moving and sharper scientific creature had emerged.
There was new ground across the whole of Europe to be taken by the popular ornithological movement and a whole series of ground breaking periodicals and journals popped up in the late 1980s and 1990s- Birding World, Dutch Birding, Alula and also BirdWatch Magazine (and Birdwatching for the dudes). British Birds Journal had started this trend nearly a century before but by the 1980s was rather dry and become an institution itself- if Birding World and Dutch Birding was the rock scene, British Birds was classical at best and the church choir at worst. Other ground was being made in the production of new field guides, new where to watch guides and bird news services and there was even the ornithological equivalent of scientific pornography known as twitching and an annual gathering the equivalent of Glastonbury- the Bird Fair.
There were several big names in this movement with Peter Grant (an ex-Beddington birder) and Killian Mullarney leading on the new approach and gull identification, Gantlett and Millington with Birding World,, there was Hadarom Shirihai, Lars Svensson, Per Alstrom and ground breaking bird illustrators such as Ian Lewington and Lars Jonnson. The whole gang inspired me to contribute to the birding movement and there were many more greats local and beyond that I admired greatly.
One of my biggest heroes is Mark Constantine- the not so hidden hand behind some of the most significant and cutting edge developments in birding- the money and contributor behind Dutch Birding, the Collins Bird Guide and later the Sound Approach. An alchemist and perfumer by trade and co-founder of the high street chain store Lush (Cosmetics), he is more of a wizard and cult leader in life, I've heard him refer to scientific puritanism in birding as pedantry (heresy to the Asperger's brigade) and is clearly more concerned with the big picture and instead of spending an entire career trying to describe a new species of bird (which he sent out his boys to do anyway) he has created an entire new human subspecies known as Lushies - multi-coloured haired vegan hedonists that concoct all manner of magical potions and successfully sell them to all manner of various forms of the Capitalist's victims dragging themselves along the high street. Now raking in over £500 million a year , Lush, continue to fund developments in birding and conservation and also fund a whole suite of radical groups and activists while using an ethical capitalism model to employ tens of thousands of people. Fundamentally flawed maybe? (what isn't?) but wizardry and the use of magic at its best.
Anyway the rise of the birders was mainly pre-internet and we are now in a new era of birding and popular ornithology where globalisation developments such as Cornell Lab which has effectively emerged as the silicon valley of birding and where swarm and hive developments are taking over, global taxonomies are crystallising and recording systems such as e-bird are becoming global platforms. There are also important alignments of birders efforts with cross spectrum societal activity , the commercialisation and industrialisation of birding and an important politicisation of the birding movement too (tried to collect some of these developments HERE and HERE in Birdwatch Article. All these developments are part of a build up towards the re-booting of the global system, an upgrade from capitalist growth economies to sustainable societies where birders have been instrumental in ensuring that birds are part of that future- a future where birds and nature will be valued even more and will become more integrated into the blueprints that govern development.
2. MY MENTORS (1990-2010)
There were three 'elders' that had a profound impact on me. The first was Simon Aspinall (This guy) who had to die young before more people ever heard of him. He was buried in a cardboard box (a cardboard coffin) to save resources. He was a Beddington birder when I was a teenager and was a great rarity finder and explorer and more so he tolerated me and we did quite a bit of birding and some ringing together.. I couldn't be Peter Cook but perhaps I could be a half decent birder.
The second of the three elders was Prof Chris Bowler, my University tutor, who basically advocated passion over grades. abandoned the syllabus on most days and we all went out on bikes fossil hunting and exploring. He was in his 80s and used to call his work colleagues c#nts on occasions and he took me under his wing as some kind of working class pet project. By the end of my degree I was winning department distinction awards for outstanding independent research- I think he rigged it to be honest and got me my scholarship for a masters too which incidentally I also got a Merit in without his direct influence so some of the mud he chucked at me must have stuck.
The third of the three elders was Dr Brian Glaister. I took too many drugs between my degrees and ended up having to see psychologists to deal with an anxiety state and the resulting introduction to cognitive behaviour techniques, lots of new drugs, the mental disorder scene, neuro-linguistic programming and an endless parade of other quacks, charlatans and mavericks profiteering from mental misery. It was from the rebel Dr Brian Glaister who finally provided some solutions. He advocated there is no chemical solution to mental well being (an act of heresy to the capitalists and the global drug industry) and that we have no control over our thoughts (so basically denounced most psychological therapy techniques- further heresy). He worked in the NHS as a psychologist his whole life (another 80 year old) and taught me acceptance, commitment and impartial observation- simple but very powerful ideas. In essence, philosophy is a solution to psychology.
1. THIS LITTLE PUMPKIN (2017-2017)
This is what it all comes down to as far as I can tell- the joy of the nearest of the dearest and there is nobody more dearest (except his mother of course who might be reading this!) than this little chap.
As far as I'm concerned the journey from the primordial soup to this point in earth history (late Capitalism/the early Anthropocene) is all about making sure the future is a better place than where we are now (that has always been nature's objective as far as I'd like to believe)- so that this little fella and his generation can have a wonderful nature filled life.