I reviewed a sports book the other week and expressed some reservations about it. The author – let’s keep him nameless – sent me a series of abusive emails. He concluded that I wrote as I did because I am a bitter old man. I was taken aback by this, and thought it advisable to take a health check. Time for a bitterness scan.
I know what’s he’s on about, of course. He’s saying that since I got sacked by The Times I’ve gone sour and twisted and I now resent exciting new talent like the author. And it’s true: I did get fired. Starting a new life in such circumstances is not straightforward. You doubt your own value.
But I’m deep into other stuff now. I didn’t go to Twickenham for the Rugby World Cup. I still love sport but I hate the crowds and the travel. I really don’t miss that. Sure, I miss the swagger and self-importance of saying: “I’m chief sportswriter of The Times”. I miss having a big organisation to call on. I miss colleagues. I miss the banter. But I really don’t think the lack of these things is eating me up and warping my judgment.
I’m writing these words in the Best Western in Denver. (It’s fine.) In a couple of hours I’m off to the Badlands (which I think will be rather better than fine). I’m writing a piece on National Parks. Last week I was on Jersey, staying with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. They shut me in with the fruit bats, four and half foot wingspans and all. I was researching a piece on the life and work of Gerald Durrell – a great man and a great personal inspiration. I also gave a lecture on Durrell at Jersey’s inaugural Festival of the Word.
When I’m back I have to finish a rather funky bird-book I would never have taken on had things been otherwise. And I’m involved in an enthralling project with the Wildlife Trusts. It’s become a mantra: I couldn’t do that if I was still with The Times. I’m saying it more and more. So no, I’m not gnashing my teeth, wishing I was back on the sports circuit and resenting those who are.
And it’s not just about work. On Saturday, instead of going to Twickenham, I joined Eddie for a long paddle on the River Waveney, and we saw a kingfisher: a long, low dart close to the surface, in classic kingfisher fashion, the colours catching the sun. There was no wind, the water seem scarcely to flow, a day of perfect gentleness. On Sunday night I cooked a curry, six dishes for a family supper. The dry potato dish with mango powder was particularly good, if you ask me. And not bitter.
The curlews are coming into the Broads now: cruising down from their breeding grounds to winter here and their calls punctuate the horsey tasks. Owls have been disputing territories in loud voices. The other day I saw four birds of prey in ten minutes, all over the marsh in front of the house: peregrine, kestrel, marsh harrier, buzzard. As one of those marsh harriers flew away – did I see a hint of white on the bum?
It was going like the clappers, not a good view, but it just might have been a hen harrier. I suppose I could be bitter about hen harriers, or at least about the people who shoot them, since that – it’s been suggested – was the reason for my sacking. I still hate the crime, and I’m not crazy about the criminals. But not for anything they may have done to me.
But that’s one of the things about writing about the wild world. You wouldn’t want to go in to bat for the morality of everybody who runs the Premier League, but I’ll carry on playing shots for the wild world every chance I get. It’s a subject that constantly enriches and renews the writer. Out in that canoe there were moments when I didn’t feel much older than Eddie. I’ve got a raft of great projects and the curlews are calling. I feel as bitter as Pooh’s store of honeypots.
- Apologies to all those who visit this space regularly. I’ve been silent here for too long. I’ll get back down to it – and I’ll ask Eddie to do the same. Thanks for all the lovely messages about Eddie and the June blog we did. I’ll finally get around to replying to them when I’m back from the Badlands. Again, many apologies.