Thursday 17th November, 11.30am : We’re on our way to Leicester to give another talk about the Osprey Project. We’ve given ourselves plenty of time ~ it’s only twenty miles or so from Rutland Water, and we’re not expected till 12.30. Our destination is The Leicestershire Golf Club, where we will be the guests of the Concorde Ladies Luncheon Club. We have a map and Michelle is navigating. We need to turn left off the A47 at some point. We chat as we drive along, and Michelle tells me about the changes she has made to the presentation as we have a shorther slot than usual for our talk today. The Project took delivery of a smart new lap-top yesterday, and we are giving it its first outing. It’s now 12.10am. Shouldn’t we have turned off the A47 by now? We’re almost in the centre of Leicester now. I see the de Montfort Hall and other buildings which tell me we are a little off course. We stop and ask a postman where the Golf Club is, and he looks at us blankly, but at least gets us back on the A47. ‘We’ve passed that hospital before’, says Michelle helpfully. We can’t be far from the place now. We drive through leafy suburbs and suddenly see a sign for Evington, and then there it is at last : The Leicestershire Golf Club. The car-park is huge, but absolutely heaving! The place is packed! These must be golfers’ cars surely….but no, the people getting out of them are nearly all smart ladies on their way to lunch….and a talk about Ospreys. We sit in the car for a few minutes to regain our composure and equilibrium. ‘OK, let’s do it,’ says Michelle suddenly, and we gather our equipment together and make our way purposefully towards the very imposing club-house.
The bar is filled with a crowd of women chatting animatedly in groups. We are greeted with genuine warmth by the Chairman of the Luncheon Club and others, and shown through to an equally grand dining room where we are to have lunch and then do our presentation. The members are extremely smart. Should I have worn a tie? The building is octagonal in shape, and the dining room covers two, or maybe three, of the eight sides, making it slightly difficult to know where to place our screen so that everyone can see. We choose the best location, and set up. Drinks appear for us. About sixty to seventy ladies are expected. Everyone has to take a numbered disc from a box and this tells them where to sit ~ that way they all meet different people at each monthly lunch. Very clever. Our places are reserved on the ‘top table’ next to Madam Chairman. While we are still setting up, the ladies enter the dining room and find their places. They are all talking. The Chairman bangs the table with a little brass gavel and says a charming Grace which mentions the ‘birds of the air’ ~ very apt in view of today’s talk. As we sit down I survey the scene : here I am, surrounded entirely by congenial and elegant female company, about to enjoy a sumptuous lunch, and then to take part in a talk on a subject dearest to my heart! Is this heaven? Well, it’s pretty close anyway.
Our neighbours on the table chat away as we begin our first course. One lady assumes Michelle can’t have been doing this for very long, as she only looks 20 or 21! That pleases her. The Chairman tells us a little about the Club, and asks us not to be offended if one or two members close their eyes while we are speaking! We won’t be offended, we assure her! My first course is ‘Smoked mackerel and beetroot salad with horseradish cream’, while Michelle has gone for an ‘Avocado Salad’. Both are very tasty! The chatter is friendly, pleasant and very warm. We hear about our neighbours’ families, travels, previous jobs, grand-children…..and ospreys! One lady has seen them in Canada, another visited her daughter and family, who were holidaying this summer just above Lyndon and could see the Osprey nest in Manton Bay from their caravan. Michelle and I start to relax. This is going to be fun.
Time for the main course. It’s amazing. ‘Stuffed roast loin of Pork with apple sauce and seasonal vegetables.’ Michelle’s ‘Double Baked Cheese souffle’ looks delicious too, and she soon confirms this as we start to eat. When did I last eat like this on a Thursday lunch-time? I’ll have to be careful ~ if I eat all this I won’t be able to stand up, let alone do my bit of the talk in a few minutes time! Anyway, I do eat it all ~ it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it? While we are having coffee and scrumptious chocolates, our Chairman bangs the table again and calls for order. After a few domestic notices, she gives both of us really good build-ups, mentioning Michelle’s degrees, my ‘almost four decades’ of teaching………. and then we’re on!
After a few fiddles with blinds, curtains and the screen, and after checking that everyone can see, we go into our by now familiar double act. We even get to use a microphone, so that those furthest away can hear every word! We keep it light, inject a little humour where we can, swap over as seamlessly as possible, and add little details as we think of them. Audience reaction is good, spontaneous and encouraging, and this gives us both confidence as the talk progresses. No-one has dropped off yet. Michelle has added a movie sequence of the Osprey diving and then being followed by the underwater camera as it grapples with the fish and eventually pulls it out of the water. That is very popular, and she has to play it three times, to great acclaim each time. The new lap-top has performed well.
The last slide shows an Osprey sitting in a tree in fading light just off a Gambian beach ~ one of John Wright’s most evocative images. As we look at it, the questions start coming in from our audience ~ and what a wide variety there is! We answer them all as well as we can, and as usual invite everyone to come and see us in the spring, when the ospreys they have heard about today will hopefully be back on familiar territory just 20 or so miles from where we are. Our Chairman thanks us very warmly, and then wishes her members an equally warm farewell. Many of them linger to tell us they have enjoyed it so much, and how much their grand-children would have loved it. We pack up with a rosy glow on our faces as departing ladies wish us and the ospreys well. I think we’ve gained a lot of new fans today…….and no-one fell asleep.
Back at the reserve, dusk is gathering as we go into the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre. Tim is still in the meeting which prevented him from doing today’s talk, but Michelle will tell him all about it later. We stand by an open window and look out over the lagoons as night takes a hold and begins to embrace the flocks of wildfowl and lapwings which are swimming and standing about. Lax Hill looms large over to the south, and stars are already twinkling through the trees on its crest. We take stock, and conclude today was a good day, a job well done, and we thank one another. I look out over the water one last time. Did you ever read Karen Blixen’s ‘Out of Africa’? I read it first in German, many years ago, and always recall one phrase she used after describing her life in those high African realms :
‘Hier bin ich, wo ich sein sollte.’
I say it quietly to myself now:
‘Here I am, where I ought to be.’