Remembering Dad, by Sara Murphy
Bird watching was Dad’s thing, that meant he wanted it to be my thing too, and let’s be honest, what kid wants the same hobby as his Dad? It would be like admitting to liking the same music. I was a secret Abba fan for years, not wanting to admit I quite liked them when the tape blared out of his music centre. Likewise, I never bought a second Adam and the Ants album after I heard him whistling to Ant Music, describing it as ‘catchy.’
The first book he bought me was the Ladybird Book of Garden Birds. It had exotic looking finches on the cover, but all I could recognise with confidence were sparrows and blackbirds, or spuggies and blackies as he called them. The truth was, I didn’t want to learn. I feigned boredom when he tried to teach me how to distinguish between their tweets.
“Listen, listen,” he would claim excitedly. “A little bit of bread but no cheese, that’s a yellow hammer, let’s see if we can see one for you to tick off, can’t mistake him, he wears a yellow cap.”
Or, on hearing the great tit, he would mimic its cry.
“Tea-cher teacher, can you hear his voice? Much clearer than the raspier Coal Tit who has the same call, but sounds like he’s been working down a dusty pit!”
He could distinguish between every caw, cheep, chirp, coo, squawk and warble.
To me trips to the coast were spoiled by having to detour to Bempton Cliffs so he could lie flat near the edge with his binoculars, Knicky-knockeys, to watch gannets and puffins. I would sulk in the car eating our pack up, wanting to be at Scarborough, with sand, lemon tops, and wheel-em-ins, preferring a postcard seaside to Gannet Land.
Weird then, that years later and Dad long gone, I see a bird and want to know what it is, or I hear a call and would love to tell my child with confidence which bird to look out for. Although, some information must have dripped in. I surprised myself by telling my daughter that the male sparrow looks different from the female, due to his black bib. “How do you know?” she asked.
“Because Grandad said that the boys are messy eaters but the girls have table manners, so only the boys need a bib.”
I realised on that day, that I can take comfort in remembering the stuff he taught me, rather than stressing about his lost knowledge. I’d kept the Ladybird book. My daughter marvelled at how old it was, that I’d read it with my Dad, her granddad whom she never knew. His love of birds skipped a generation. However, next weekend we are off to Bempton with his knicky-knockeys, so I can rekindle his enthusiasm through her eyes.
he author and first published by Friends of Rowntree Park 2015.