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.
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…).
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.
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:
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.