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An excerpt from

The Twitch

Kevin Parr

January 1st – 59 species.

I’m not certain whose head I can see the top of, bobbing rhythmically into view above the low brick wall by the potting shed. A little plume of steam billowing up into the cold air.

Up and down – up and down.

The hair colour is hard to discern in the moonlight, as both Mick and our landlady share differing shades of grey-flecked mousy mess.

    Ah…it has stopped – and presuming whatever form of sexual encounter I was privy to has now reached its conclusion, Mick will soon be padding through the bedroom door, full of drunken guilt and possibly crying, but certainly in need of his bed.
    Tomorrow, of course, the bravado will be back – just like two years ago – and Mick will be bragging that he could have had the barmaid, or the girl in the petrol station, or any one of the females we met through the day, but instead chose to shag the less-than attractive, middle aged landlady of this little Cornish B&B because nothing could quite compare with her experience; a lady with no inhibition who knew just what she wanted and just how to please a man.
    No, Mick, I quite agree. If I were in your position there is no way I would have blown a chance with that ridiculously cute little barmaid in favour of a muddy roll in the garden with dear Mrs Bellchambers as her husband sleeps upstairs. And as for her experience, well surely your encounter of two years ago was enough to keep you out of Cornwall, leave alone the same bloody guest-house.
    Here he comes – will he speak? cry?….no – straight into bed, not a word, duvet pulled tight over his head.
    If I sound slightly bitter it is because I am.
    Today was supposed to have contained a Gyr Falcon – not just a near mega tick on the first day of the year, but a lifer for me. I fear, however, that there never was a Gyr – instead I have been convinced to charge down to Cornwall, hungover, on New Year’s Day, for the sake of Mick’s libido. And his pride.
    His sudden decision to leave the party last night, two hours before midnight, seemed to neatly coincide with an apparent rebuff from the girl with the brown bob – Jackie’s cousin I believe.
    Mick would never admit to it, not with his ego, but he isn’t the man he was twenty years ago. The hair is thinner and much greyer, the eyes are tired and the belly hard to hide under even the baggiest of shirts.
    At 24, though, Mick had the looks and the jabber to back them up. He worked his way through most of the girls in Surrey, had an eighteen month shagfest in Bristol and then returned to marry Kerrie Bowers – the hottest girl in Guildford.
    The fact that Kerrie was in the kitchen last night as Mick leered all over the girl with the brown bob, accompanied by her sister-in-law to boot, was further proof of his utter delusion.
    Successfully pull the girl with the brown bob and then what? Sneak her upstairs and hope no-one notices? Because if Kerrie had got wind of anything untoward and her brothers had found out, by god, I would not want to be in Mick’s shoes.
    Fortunately for Mick, though, the girl with the brown bob was quick to dash his efforts, with a sneer of disgust, and I was probably the only one to notice his humiliation - and certainly the only person slightly suspicious of his announcement minutes later that he was going home, to bed, in order to be up before dawn. A probable American Golden Plover had just been sighted at the WWT in Barnes, his pager had buzzed to tell him.
    At 2130 on New Year’s Eve? Does he think everyone's daft? Someone's calling an American Golden in the pitch black at a Wetland Centre that closed at five? Still, I was gullible enough to buy his Gyr story this morning.
    ‘What about the American Golden?’ I asked.
Mick paused.
    ‘False I.D.’ he muttered, ‘but the Gyr is a definite.’
    ‘But I’ve been paged bugger all…’ I reached for my pager. The message box was still empty, though I couldn’t help noticing the time.
    ‘Mick, it’s not even seven. Who the fuck is down at Lands End calling a Gyr on New Year’s Day when the bloody sun hasn’t even come up?’
    ‘Tom. Picked it up yesterday afternoon. Sent me a text which I didn’t get until this morning. He wants to hush it for his bird race today.’

Cornish Tom was a regular Cornwall tip-off and a reliable caller – reporting both the White-billed and Pacific divers at Hale in October before anyone else had a sniff. And finding the Gyr last March on three consecutive days – a bird I dipped on three consecutive days.
    This news gave Mick’s phone call a little more credence. The Cornish New Year’s Day bird race was one of the biggies, so it would be natural for Tom to keep schtum on a Gyr – it could give him the edge.
    ‘Okay, I’ll come. But not for a couple of hours – I need to have a stern word with Nicola this morning – she didn’t roll in until five.’
    ‘Gave some lad a very Happy New Year, no doubt, lucky sod – I’ll pick you up at eleven.’
    ‘She’s fifteen, Mick….’
    ‘And regularly plucked, Ted...’
He is no doubt right. My second daughter certainly acts as though she is sexually active. But I do not appreciate my best mate making lurid reference to her - his bloody goddaughter, in fact. Sick.
And, with hindsight, it was Mick’s leching and the subsequent explosive confrontation between Nicola, Abi and myself that allayed my suspicion as to Mick’s contentment to not leave until eleven.
With at least 4 ½ hours on the road, we would have less than an hour of daylight, at best, to find the Gyr. Futile, surely?
    Normally, Mick would be champing at the bit. Outside, tooting the horn within minutes.
    ‘It’ll fly, it’ll fly!’ he would panic, before breaking every speed limit en route.
    Today, though, he seemed happy to plod along at seventy – even on the dual carriageway – and I might have read more into that had I not been so damned tired, and so confused about Abi’s indifference to her daughter’s behaviour this morning. In fact, she all but condoned it.
    ‘What was his name?’ she whispered as I left the room, post-rant, referring to the eighteen-year-old pervert who had been knobbing our daughter while the rest of the country had been cheering in 2007.
    ‘Was’, she had asked, ‘was’ – past tense – not ‘is’ – not ‘what-is–the-name-of-this-boy-you-admit-to-sleeping-with-and-therefore-must-be-a-long-term-boyfriend-because-otherwise-you-wouldn’t-dare-consider-dropping-your-knickers-until-you-had-spent-months-getting-to-know-him-and-earning-his-respect.’
    To my little girl who is still six months from sexual legality, my wife enquires, ‘what was the name of your one-night-stand?’
    It's now two-thirty already. I’ve gone beyond tired.
    I may as well sit up and wait for Mick to stir in that six am burst of sobriety that wakes you so rudely after a night on the sauce.
    He’ll want to leave immediately – desperate to avoid Mrs Bellchambers, despite her award-winning breakfast.
    If I stay awake then I can sleep all the way home. At least that way I can avoid the steady torrent of self-proclaimed sexual prowess dribbling out of Mick’s mouth, the showboating becoming ever more vociferous as we near home and he tries to suppress his guilt and fear.
    At the moment, though, Mick is snoring like a trooper, honking out a stench of stale booze with every rasping breath.
    He put an awful lot of Mermaid’s Revenge away in the relatively short time that we were in the pub.
    Naturally, there had been no Gyr Falcon, and no sign of Cornish Tom. Mick didn’t seem at all surprised, and remained unperturbed that the only room we could get was back at the Porthcove Guest House. The very same room that we shared two years ago on my first ever twitch.    I say shared, but on that night Mick spent the night next door in Mrs Bellchambers’ bedchamber, tending to her needs while her husband was away tending to his ailing mother.
    This time the husband is home, but was fizzing when we arrived, an empty keg of scrumpy already under the table.
    Mick insisted he came to the pub with us, and got the poor old bugger straight on the single malts. Within an hour he was on the floor and the landlord was driving him home to bed.
    Another half an hour and Mick suddenly announced he needed his bed, just after that text-
    I just checked his phone. ‘He is asleep,’ reads the last text received. The stupid sod has given her his number this time.
    A long way to come to get over his shun from the girl with the brown bob. And hell of a guaranteed lay! Mrs Bellchambers...well, she’s certainly all woman.
    Mick will definitely want an early start, so I may as well tot up my first day total.

59 species. Dreadful.

It’s not a sprint, I know, but that is a pitiful effort.
    Not least because there is nothing special there – I suppose the barn owl can be a mildly tricky tick, but the rest I could have picked up in a lunchtime stroll to the Barleymow.
    Mick’s list will already be 150 odd. It’s cheating, really, but he ticks all the ‘dead certs’ first thing on January 1st every year.
    ‘The race is twelve months long, Ted,’ he argues, ’and I will, without doubt, see all of these ticks by the end of December. This way I don’t miss anything stupid off.’
    He has a slight point.
    In 1999, Scott Mitchings, whose list was always completed chronologically, missed out on the title by one species. Only to notice a month too late that he had forgotten to include Woodlark.
    Woodlark! A schoolboy error, and it was too late, his final list had already been accepted.
    Today, of course, everyone ticks a box, for fear of doing a ‘Mitchings’, though Mick’s method is not foolproof, either.
    He admitted to me this evening, that he couldn’t recall having actually seen a Little Owl all year – and yet he had ticked the box, probably on January 1st, and submitted the list.
    Perhaps I should expose him to the Board. Harsh, but fair – and he would most likely face a lifetime expulsion.
    I’ve just checked his list for 2011 and Little Owl is unticked. For the moment at least, the Board will remain uninformed…