Obsessed With Nature

With a title like that, it’s a matter of time until someone — I’m thinking a few select friends here, although it could also be a humorous stranger — makes a lewd comment about me and naturism. Let me say here, now, that I have never been obsessed with naturism. I don’t even really know how I feel about it, actually, but that’s for another blog post. Maybe. (Probably not.) I was going to write I wouldn’t even know a naturist if I saw one, but I find that highly unlikely…I may not know much about naturism but I did once see a documentary…

Anyway, besides all that, I’m a huge fan of dinosaurs — have been for as long as I can remember (not a particularly trustworthy statement, considering my memory can be terrible, but I do know it was since childhood). My poor parents…I am told that between the ages of 3 and 17, an hour didn’t go by without me mentioning ammonites or asking “when are we going fossil hunting again, dad?”

Over the years, I’m ashamed to say that my love for dinosaurs has been surpassed by just about everything else — even, at times, the Wispa — and days have gone by without me even considering fossils. Had my childish self known that, he’d have been distraught.

But that doesn’t mean I have forgotten totally. I could never forget totally. Just last Thursday, in fact, while visiting Oxfam Mill Road — home of the enigma that is Mungo — I came across not 1 but 3 pristine miniature plastic dinosaurs, and instantly I knew I had to possess them. One was a Brachiosaurus, I think, with its customary long neck, and one was…wait, I’ll Google it. I want to say Dinosaurus or Spinosaurus, owing to its mighty spinal bone-plates, but that doesn’t sound right. I’m glad I didn’t just say that: I know geeks who would’ve had a genuine fit if I had done.

Stegosaurus — that was what it was. 2 centimetres long and bright yellow, something about it wasn’t quite right…somehow I doubt that the dinosaur I bought for an irresistible 5 pence is an accurate representation of the ancient beast it depicts.

One of the dinosaurs…which looked better in the shop…something tells me that when they were discussing how to create authentic dinosaur faces, someone wasn’t paying attention

Except I never bought the Stegosaurus! I’ve just been through all my pockets — I even looked in the pockets of things I wasn’t wearing, as you do when you’re in a flustered dinosaur-hunting-panic — and it is nowhere to be found. Oh well. Memory can be a cruel thing. Sorry geeks!

It wasn’t all good, though (not that it was originally all good as I have just demonstrated, but you get what I mean). My third tiny-plastic-dinosaur purchase was far less inspired, you see. In fact, it was a down-right insult to ancient prehistoric beasts! As you can see from the photo below, it resembles what you might get if you bred a horse — an ugly horse at that — with a T-Rex that hadn’t exactly been a fan of exercise (and somewhere along the line, a Kangaroo had been mixed-up in the mating…but let us leave it at that…).

The shame…

Leaving Oxfam Mill Road with my tiny beastly creations safely hidden from the view of jealous others, I started feeling guilty. Guilty that I had just deprived a future small child — or dinosaur obsessed teenage dork — from enjoying some ancient-modern fun.

But oh well, he or she should have got there first. They didn’t, and so I won. So ner! I’d done them a favour, really. Even though this future child or teenager didn’t know it yet — and probably would never know it — I had taught them the value of being slow to get your tiny plastic dinosaurs in.

Being a role-model felt better than I thought.

It’s funny how depending on what age you are, this photo could look like a number of different things. But for the record, they are wrestling and the green one started it

Does my animal obsession stop at dinosaurs? (Please don’t email me or Facebook message me or Tweet me to say that Animal Obsession sounds like the name of a sordid and illegal VHS/DVD. I know it does, you don’t need to tell me). Of course not! As a fan of being outside in nature in general — although I draw the line at stroking a horse’s face and wouldn’t dream of going near a badger set again, not after that time when I was 10 and I poked a stick down there and heard a terrifying growl — I love all living things. Suffice to say that insects are on that list, as long as they are not spiders, daddy-long-legs, mosquitos, harvest spiders, those tiny flies you get on plates you should have cleared up but forgot when you put them under your bed, and greenfly. Ugh. I know it’s daft but I have an irrational fear of greenfly. But at least it is irrational. That’s probably the best excuse there is. If only all excuses were like that.

I had nature — again, not naturism — on my mind when I rode into Cambridge yesterday afternoon. I had just decided to turn left and head down past Newnham recreation ground when I stopped to allow a number of Chinese students to cross the road in front of me. I had little part to play in the decision of stopping, seeing as me and all the cars and the entire world seemed to be invisible to these people. That’s not a dig. I have nothing against people who cannot see invisible things. People who do are just being mean.

Upon getting off my bike, I really couldn’t be arsed with pedalling any more. I felt I needed a break from that, and I’d caught sight of some cows on the wild-land to my left and that looked like a better option. I’d go and wander about there for a bit with my bike just for the hell of it and try not to piss-off any cows (note: this place is apparently called Lammas Land and the cows rarely attack humans).

I opened the old black metal gate and pushed my bike through, then I wandered in the sun along the river. Then I stopped abruptly because this one brown shaggy cow beast was standing between me and going any further. I could have asked politely, but instead I took the scenic route: I went off-road to my right and remembered that here, you could go under the road by way of a concrete passage-way that goes under the bridge. One that’s not wide enough to allow most cows through. Here, I pondered the intense jealousy of cows at those cows which were unnaturally thin.

Then I stopped. The passage-way was flooded and a cow was staring at me from the middle of it, stuck and clearly panicked! He or she had been trapped there some time! Not really, I just wrote that to amuse myself. It worked. Now, I cannot stop imagining a trapped cow.

It was when I turned my bike around and walked back the way I’d come that I spotted it: a long shape on a leaf which changed colour slightly as I moved towards it (the shape changing colour, not the leaf). My natural senses kicked-in. I propped my bike up on its stand and crouched down beside it. This is what I saw:


Immediately I knew I was in the presence of greatness. Not Deadly 60 greatness, or the kind of breathtaking greatness you might find on a David Attenborough documentary, but greatness nonetheless! See for yourself:

Like I said, greatness

What you can’t properly see here is the amazing colour. A kind of iridescent metallic green on first sight, depending on the light, the beetle became black, burnt umber, metallic purple and dark brown. Measuring in at around 2 inches, this was also no common beetle that I had seen before. With every passing second, I was losing interest in the cow that was still standing there, proudly blocking the path, and enjoying analysing this precious insect beauty instead. Crouching in front of a stationary insect might sound dull and boring, but I loved every second of it. And the beetle didn’t seem phazed by my presence either, which meant I could get as close as I liked with my HTC Desire camera phone without scaring the animal (and scaring the hell out of myself upon it jumping in my direction). When I yanked on its leaf if just moved its legs a bit and moved its antennae. But then, I suppose this might not have been the first time it got stared at by a massive clumsy creature. This was probably a typical day for the thing.

That night I discovered that I was right: though reasonably common in the Cambridgeshire area, the Musk Beetle is actually quite  rare in this country. It felt like the old days, like when I was 9 and I found an ammonite fossil on the beach, completely intact and full of wonder.

Bolt V Blake: The Men’s 100 Metre Final — It’s About To Go Off!

Tonight was cheese & wine night at my brother’s place; a fine evening spent with mutual friends, where the only real issues were finding enough chairs and deciding on which cheese to eat first (the brie was a favourite). On the TV was a recording of the day’s Olympics events — all the swimming action, along with Jess Ennis blitzing her 100 metre hurdles heat with brand-new British, Olympic and Heptathlon hurdles records in HD! — followed by a

Wait, I should have said cheese, wine & big conversation night at my brother’s. You’ve probably guessed what one of the main topics of conversation was by now. If you haven’t, you either a) haven’t paid enough attention to this blog, or b) you just don’t care about what is arguably the greatest track & field event at this year’s London Olympics.

I’m not the most patriotic person in the world, and I’m definitely not the biggest sports fan, but here are a few reasons why I think this Sunday’s main event will be well worth watching (even if the notion of sprint-training is less appealing than being stuck in a lift for 8 hours with Frankie Boyle…especially the case if your name’s Rebecca Adlington…).

1: It’s two men running as fast as humans can physically go without either passing out or dying. I don’t give a shit who you are and what you like: that’s good TV.

2: The men’s 100 metres is about as competitive as life gets here on planet Earth. Are you the kind of person who feels a sense of intense irrational joy when you see someone do something trivial not quite as good as you can? If you feel immediately lifted when witnessing a stranger or loved-one park badly, adore overtaking slow cyclists while out on your bike, or get a disturbing amount of pleasure from watching an old person try and text on their ancient phone while becoming visibly distressed while doing it, then you are without doubt a closet 100 metres fan!

3: There hasn’t been a showdown as anticipated as this for a long time in athletics. Even better, the Usain Bolt Versus Yohan Blake story adds a unique twist. On the surface it might seem more interesting if Blake and Bolt were bitter rivals, but actually, I think the fact that they’re training partners and friends creates a more unusual and compelling dynamic.

4: Even if you haven’t been following the charismatic Usain Bolt story for the last few years, you’ll likely have become aware of just how legendary the man has become. If Bolt gets beat on Sunday — something that’s likely to happen if he doesn’t get a great start or does a false-start, leading to instant disqualification under the new rules — it’ll be a massive upset and could potentially mark the beginning of a new champion. At the very least, it’ll prove that when Blake beat Bolt at the recent Jamaican Trials, it wasn’t just a fluke.

That’s if…somehow, I doubt Bolt’s going to let it go so easily…

Hugging — it’s never quite as simple as it sounds

An experienced hugging couple tackle a high-difficulty manoeuvre. Warning: can be a real crotch-killer

Up until recently, I thought I understood hugging and how to do it. I had my technique — loose enough that I could adapt it to different social situations, but personalised enough to make the individual feel like it was a hug designed for only them — and I had acquired enough hugging knowledge over the years to know what is and is not appropriate arm/head positioning (for example, never grab someone’s bum mid-hug, even if it’s just a joke! Unless you have the rare opportunity to hug a super-model, professional female beach-volleyball player or other such owner of bum-genius — in which case the penalty will probably be worth it and you’d be a fool not to take the chance).

So I was happy. I was at peace with my hugs and I knew what to do if a short adult lunged forth and hugged me around the mid-riff and I couldn’t bend down without seeming insulting (do what you would do if a bear confronts you in the woods: just stand still and wait for it to finish). They were never going to change the world, but at the same time, they weren’t offending anyone — as far as I was aware — and that was the main thing. Of all the things I would hate to be known as, it’s a hug offender (there are other things which are much worse, of course, but let us not go into those now).

Then, recently, something changed. From out of nowhere, rules appeared and I was lost. It didn’t make me unhappy, but it did open my eyes to a whole new world of hugging enlightenment that I’d never before considered.

It began with one simple and innocent well-meaning hug. A hug for a female friend. It was the end of the night at the pub and this was one of those hugs which was somewhere between casual and meaningful. A nice friendly hug that should have been simple and without politics and complications. I say casual, because this was a female friend I saw relatively frequently — so it wasn’t as if there was enormous pressure resting on this hug going right; it could afford to be a little rough around the edges and unfinished in a way that hugs can’t be when someone is emigrating, or just going away for a really long time . I say meaningful because I only believe in meaningful hugs. I can’t just hug for the sake of it — more to the point I won’t. Doing so doesn’t just feel wrong and fake…I also find it extremely uncomfortable — emotionally debilitating, even. Hugging for the sake of it simply baffles me.

It’s sad, but whenever I’m walking through town and pass a group of teenage girls, all hugging for the sake of it and not knowing any better, I often feel a pang of jealousy. I am not saying I want to invade their space and hug them — this wouldn’t be appropriate, and bearded men have been arrested and soiled with a bad reputation for much less! — but I am saying that it’d be nice, just once, to understand what casual hugging is like. Hugging without so much preparation attached.

Here is how the hug in question went:

1: I stepped towards my friend at medium speed — about as fast as you might to stroke a cow’s head, which is not something you would ever catch me doing, but that’s beside the point — and embraced our hug as best as I knew/could (there was not that much time to prepare for the hug, and this also threw me a bit). At this point, I was to be shown-up royally. Her hands/arms did their thing with worrying ease…it was instantly clear that she had been practicing, and this was despite her natural advantage of being smaller than me. Some people have all the luck!

2: The hug tightened. You know how it is, I know how it is — hugs have been tightening and making people feel loved, wanted and special for centuries. Personally, I think tightened is a very good word for this important second-stage. It sums it up nicely. The conclusion of stage 1’s initial embrace, stage 2 involves a delicate blend of finesse where you sense how long to hug for and compromise with the other person. Which I was about to ruin completely when…

3: …My big stupid man-arm swung downwards upon my friend’s back and my big stupid man-hand slapped her not once, but twice quite hard. Not hard enough that strangers would feel the need to intervene, but hard enough that both I and my friend knew that I had over-stepped some unwritten hug-boundary. When the release came, it came with laughter, as my female friend quite rightly pointed out that I had given her a classic man-hug! The speed, the approach, the slap, the not-quite-leaning-forward-enough, making it seem like this hug was the very last place I wanted to be. A hug which made it seem as though I was winding a baby.

A MAN HUG. Had I learned nothing?

Clearly, somewhere along the way I’d got supremely mixed-up. I’d forgotten that men and women had different hugs, and I’d gone and done something which could not be un-done. Now I would carry that label with me forever…

Are we still friends? Yes, of course we are. Where I live, you don’t stop being friends with someone because they man-hug you in a way which lacks grace and finesse. What you do do, though, is thank that person. And, if you are the one who receives a dodgy hug, then don’t hold back. It is your duty to bring this to the attention of the man at once. There’s no point hiding it or being kind for the sake of the hugger’s ego. Because us men need to know what we’re doing wrong when we hug, otherwise, how can we be expected to correct it?! (Note: this does apply to heavy-handed women too, or just women who suffer from my hugging issues. I imagine women who do the shot-put also have real trouble not hurting people when they hug.)