Wednesday, July 9, 2014

How to blow a bird's egg

Yesterday my feet took me to the museum and my eyes enjoyed it immensely. Was it Darwin who said that god had a fondness for beetles? Me too! Nothing else comes close to their irridescense, their machine-age aesthetic. Engineered for earthworks, their design almost entirely externalised as exoskeleton - by all accounts what's inside is mostly mush. I want to handle them. I know museums are hands in pockets places but I'm itching to touch. My heart drops though to see the birds - their twiggy toes tagged and no note on the noise they make nectaring or courting. I jolly myself by tracking through to fossils and shells.

On the way home I look in at my favourite opshop and come away with a bunch of books and a Harris Tweed hat. The hat is a good fit, snug and silk lined so no pricks or itches from the wool. Best of all though is the lyrebird brooch pinned smartly to the side. I have done well on the book front too. A 1962  edition of John Gilmour's Wild Flowers - Botanising in Britain, which begins, "The first step to becoming a field to be visited with an irresitible passion."  It's true. To be struck with a lunacy of love is surely how we begin to know. The other book is a musty smelling 1955 print of The Young Collectors. The pages are foxed and yellow but there are articles by Georges Rees on pressing flowers and blowing bird's eggs and one by Clarence Ellis on pebbles. Who these days could wear the name Clarence without an apologetic smile? But as collectors go he is one of my heroes. Other chapters discuss in earnest tone the merits of collecting cheese labels and porcelain - an unusual hobby I would have thought for a child. Georges Rees spends a deal of his article on how to prick out an egg with a thorn. "I carried a few hawthorn points in my pocket, blew the egg straight from the nest and carried the blown eggs home loose in jacket my pocket; and rarely broke one." I can picture the young George kitted out in something like my tweed cap, socks pulled over his breeches for tree climbing and a future in filling museum cases with specimen birds.

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