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
Mooched around Bray Gravel pits (as recommended in 'Where to watch birds in Berkshire"). Hattie thought grebe were coots so no tea for her. Also saw a heron on a house roof. Anyway, number 23 was left at the entrance to the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust ...
My nearest RSPB reserve is Church Wood, Hedgerley. Had a nice mini-tromp around the reserve with Hattie. Disturbed a buzzard and a green woodpecker almost immediately (I’m not light on my feet). We found a lovely spot for number 22 to roost.
Popped down to Farnham, Surrey to visit Hattie, my daughter. Doesn't Odd Bird look gorgeous amongst the pumpkins?
Hattie and I went for a little tromp and left Number 20 by this stile with a lovely view down over Wooburn. Lovely floral NHS tribute in Wooburn Park with lots of red amaranth.
Thought folks might need something light-hearted to wash down the news with and so left her in the newspaper dispenser at the BP Garage in Chorleywood
Number 18 found herself surrounded by 374 acres of glorious woodland!