Below is an excerpt from my ‘soon to be published’ (well, later this year) book, with provisional title BIG BLUE SKY – A Celebration of Norfolk. It is not a very spiritual tome, though my spiritual journey is, in essence, tucked into the final chapter. But here is the opening of chapter three.
My Norfolk Birds
Chased by ‘the hag’, ravished in a tunnel, snogging behind a gooseberry bush, and Mrs. Starling’s beak.
It was 1960, and at fifteen, coming up to sixteen, newly acquired hormones were tumbling through my veins, and I was trying to discover my real identity. Like my friends, who were equally driven and no less naïve.
With those unfamiliar hormones now bombing through my cardiovascular system, ‘birds’ were becoming of ever increasing interest. A new coffee bar in the high street, with floor to ceiling plate glass windows facing the street, was known locally as the goldfish bowl.
My friends and I would gather there, sitting like morons, peering out through the glass, while passers-by gawped back. Sipping coffee. Staring. Grinning at one another and saying, “We’re bird watching.” We would leer out of those walls as the birds strutted by.
It was a game, but we never realised. The birds slowed down, dithered, and flashed the hint of a smile and an inordinate portion of thigh, before continuing past. I felt self-conscious. Surely everybody was staring at me, and was interested in me. But they were only interested in themselves, and were as self-conscious as I was. We were teenagers. And yet my awareness of la différence had been at aroused some years earlier.
At primary school, aged nine or ten, I had fallen in love with my first bird. Sandra Golder. She sat in front of me in class, and I would gaze at her blonde hair, and when she turned round, her big blue eyes would make me catch my breath.
I made the mistake of confiding in a friend, who then confided in Sandra. The rat. How embarrassing. The next day a little crumpled note lay on my desktop. It read, ‘Kiss my hand. Sandra’. And during the first lesson of the day, Sandra sat very awkwardly at her desk, and somehow twisted her arm through the back of her chair, looking almost deformed in the process.
I was too shy to kiss it, but touched it lightly with two fingers, simulating a kiss. She thought I had consummated the relationship, and, as my heart pounded, her neck turned deep scarlet. At the end of lessons, she was off like a hare, out of the door and home before I could so much as wink at her. We exchanged love letters, of around three sentences each, on more pieces of crumpled paper. We exchanged rings, made of plastic, which probably originated in Christmas crackers, and changed hands in the playground for a few old pennies a time.
She confided in me that her surname was not really Golder at all, but Forbes, and nobody else knew. Where might this affaire de coeur have ended, if her family had not suddenly moved to another part of the country. Goodbye Sandra.