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General Bonery

The Dress Lamp Tree, England , 2004 Tim Walker, Photograph

Tomorrow I'm off to that London. It's an ill-timed trip. One I'm not in control of and so I'll miss the new Tim Walker exhibition at the Design Museum. One of my favourite photographers, he takes pictures like Angela Carter writes her stories. Pretty gutted I've missed out on seeing his notebooks. Still, the Natural History Museum never goes away. The new Charles Darwin 'Big Idea' exhibit is on there and I've managed to get a ticket for Saturday. Just.

To say that I dig taxidermy (the art of preserving animal skins) and paleontology (general bonery) is a bit of an understatement. I've been mad for the stuff since I was a kid and fell for Darwin around the same time as getting into Tennyson. The Galapagos Islands have made my top destinations along with Mexico, Egypt and Japan. Can't wait to see that first edition waiting for me and those 200 year old Floreana Mockingbird specimens that started those cogs rolling and changed, well, everything. 

Just like Charles, I love a good twitch. As a kid I would take this great slab of a bird book from our wall unit - a mahogany shrine to Dad's many gardening, fishing and hunting books - and carry its weight somewhere out of sight. Taking it was tricky because I was wrongly suspected as a threat to the book's binding. I had to work secretly, without anyone seeing. Once it wore a shiny paper jacket but now, like most things, it is naked. Bound with brown fabric, the spine was embossed with gold lettering that simply said BIRDS. Twenty four carat, I thought.

After a covert mission to get the book from the front room, fill a flask, make a peanut butter sandwich and steal the binoculars from under my brother's bed, I'd climb up onto the dog pen. Our sleek black greyhound Bau's kennel was a vardo-like wooden dwelling built by my dad from scratch. It was covered in thick slices of tree bark and pinned proudly with horse brasses that would catch the sun. From the roof, nestled in the prefabs, I'd look for owls and buzzards that would never fly past our little garden. But their real-life absence didn't matter. They lived so vividly in my imagination and took flight from each page and landed in a lined red exercise pad stolen from school as I'd copy the illustrations by hand and write their Latin names and calls in my best joined-up inky writing.

Lightly penciled, the pages - like my wrists - were dimpled with indentations of tarmac that softened and slid in the summer heat. Those days were framed by sparrow song, watering plants and the smell of drying creosote. I can't wait to get back to the land of bones, feathers and fur again.



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