Odd Bird 365
One evening, in the time before face masks, I was flying back to London from Paris. It was late. I was in the middle seat, sandwiched between two other middle-aged men. Unusually, we were all reading.
Men. Reading. Blimey.
I always feel a sense of solidarity with those who choose to spend the captive hours reading rather than watching a bloody screen or playing a bloody mindless game. I am always tempted to talk to them. Sometimes I do.
The man to my left was reading from an e-reader and so I couldn’t tell what he was reading ─ though I’m sure I tried. The man to my right was reading a hardback biography of Ronnie Wood. I recall a little flash of disappointment; I would have preferred that he was reading a novel.
I read. I snoozed. We landed.
As I pulled my laptop bag from the overhead locker I was still trying to decide whether I should talk to one of my companions. On the one hand some of the most enjoyable conversations I have had have been with strangers – a taxi driver in Kansas who had been married ten times; a Washington lawyer who died and was reborn; a Morris dancer on a train – but on the other hand I was tired and possibly grumpy.
The Ronnie Wood reader met my eye briefly. I asked him if he would like me to pass his bag. Handing it to him I asked if he was a big fan of The Stones and we were off. He said he was a Stones fan but mostly he just liked to read biographies. In fact, he said he only read biographies. I asked him why? (I suspect I was about to try to convert him to the cult of the novel).
Lakshan explained that for many years he didn’t read at all and then one day he found a biography in a park. It had been left there deliberately and it contained a note from its previous owner. Lakshan devoured the biography and it changed his life, he said. Now he read at least two biographies per week, often staying up into the wee hours to finish them.
I was enthralled; I loved to hear how Lakshan’s life had been changed by reading, after all mine had too and I am borderline militant about its merits. But there was more to come.
As we walked into the T5 terminal building Lakshan explained that whenever he finished a biography he would leave it somewhere, perhaps in a park, perhaps in a café for somebody to find. He hoped that the lives of others would be transformed also. He grinned as he spoke about the letters he had received from those who had written to thank him for the books that they found.
I was inspired. Here was a man who didn’t only wish that others would read more, he was actually taking action. I also felt slightly guilty about my own reading rituals.
On January 1st I look up and down the stack of books that I read over the course of the previous year and I decide on my top five. Then I carefully place them along my shelves. (Sometimes I suspect that I am even more nerdy than Dr Simon Selwood). And, of course, a new reading stack begins.
I can’t even remember when I started doing this but I know I will never stop. My reading stack helps me to reflect on my reading journey. I think it helps the year just passed to seem less fleeting too. Whatever its merits, my reading stack is undeniably all about me.
As we neared passport control I told Lakshan about Odd Bird. I told him that I wanted to send him a copy when it was available. I told him that when he had finished it, I wanted him to leave it for others to find.
‘No,’ he said, ‘If you send me your book, Lee, I will keep it.’
I kept thinking about my conversation with Lakshan in the taxi. I live just twenty miles from Heathrow but by the time I had got home I had decided that from the date of the publication I would leave one copy of Odd Bird somewhere every per day for a year. The chances are most of these will be left around Maidenhead or on my tromps in the Chilterns. Some may come to rest in more exotic locations. I hope they will be found and enjoyed. I would like to hear about what has happened to them too. But most of all I hope they will be enjoyed because that’s why I wrote Odd Bird.
With thanks to and in honour of Lakshan.
Odd Bird Sightings
Day 36 – The Goose and Fountain, Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire
Odd Bird flew to Leicestershire and to the village where I grew up for this one. And, conveniently, Croxton Kerrial has a bird themed pub. I haven't been in there for a while but Lesley Beauchamp (thank you!) kindly delivered Odd Bird there on my behalf.
Day 35 – Waltham Place
Odd Bird 365 is back after an enforced absence! Waltham Place is a lovely nature reserve in White Waltham, south-west of Maidenhead. I left Odd Bird by a gate, marked by a poster of a green woodpecker. Unfortunately I forgot my phone (getting rusty after a month of...
Dat 34 – RSPB HQ, The Lodge, Sandy
Regrettably number 34 must be the last one for a while because of the lockdown. Where better then than the RSPB national HQ in Sandy, Beds? In fact, I used to live just a couple of miles down the road and played footie for Sandy and nearby Potton. You can just about...
Day 33 – The Old Swan Uppers, Cookham
Another Swan! This time it's The Old Swan Uppers in Cookham. I used to live just a five minute walk away. And the floral swans outside provided the perfect place to rest number 33.
Day 32 – The Swan Beaconsfield
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Day 31 – Aston Hill, Halton, Bucks
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