I met this small grey seal (Halichoerus grypus) on the beach at Cromer last week. Although grey seals are fairly active at this time of year — you see their heads bobbing up just offshore now and again — in all my years of beachcombing this is the first time I have seen a live and apparently healthy seal on the beach. Please be reassured that I didn’t get quite as close as this picture suggests. I used quite a high zoom and cropped the image. It’s always wise to keep some distance from wildlife, especially seals on the beach, to avoid distressing them: seals on the beach, especially young ones, can end up stranded, and die. This one didn’t seem ill or in any way discommoded, and a short time after I took this picture the seal flopped off towards the sea.
This sighting was all the more remarkable because I happened to be on the beach with a film crew. It was from European TV channel Arte, which came all that way to Cromer to interview me (me!) on the history of life on Earth as part of a
fifthcoming forthcoming show, my recent volume on this subject having now appeared in five of the six languages in which it is broadcast (the six is French, and that edition is available for pre-order).
So I was accompanied by the producer and two cameramen. One had a small movie camera (it looked just like a top-spec SLR to me) on a ‘steadycam’ apparatus, which meant that the camera kept pointing in the desired direction no matter how the support armature was moved, rather like a bird of prey keeping its eye on the prize while hovering in mid-air. These things will be familiar to anyone who makes movies, but I had never seen one before, and it was eerie to watch. The other cameraman had a remote-controlled quadcopter drone, which was tiny. We were on the beach to get some atmospheric, establishing shots (luckily the rain and wind held off until after we had finished). You know the sort of thing, pictures of me walking up and down the beach looking thoughtful, all of which will be edited down to 0.003 seconds in the Final Cut, but which were fun to do. What was disconcerting to me (doing the walking up and down) was the drone hovering a few feet away from me at head height. It took quite a bit of concentration not to turn my head to look at it. But it was there, just out of the corner of my eye.
All of this was enjoyable recreation for a short spell, before I take up the cudgels of publicity again. I have been guesting on the occasional podcast (my latest is here) and am gearing up for an appearance at the Norwich Science Festival next month. By ‘gearing up’, I expect I shall turn up and open my mouth, hoping that something intelligible will come out of it. Winging it — it has always worked for me in the past. And the manuscript of my next book is now submitted, so in a few weeks I’ll probably have edits to take up, galleys to check, indexes to compile and so on and so forth. But I already have a website up so you can check on progress. It won’t be out in English for another year, but I’ve already sold translation rights for several foreign-language editions.
Apart from that I am enjoying recreations such as reading Barbra Streisand’s autobiography and learning to play songs by Queen on the piano. The former is fun and engaging, and I’ll post a review when I’m done (it’s a very big book). The latter are fun and engaging in a different way. Queen, especially the late Freddie Mercury, wrote proper songs, you know, with proper chords and melodies and everything, and it’s fun to engage with sheet music again. Most pop songs can be comped from a chord chart, but the only way to learn Love of my Life, for example, is from the dots, and the experience is comparable to playing a very simple Mozart piano sonata: simple enough that I can almost read it at sight. I’ve often thought that Mercury didn’t write pop songs so much as show tunes. The rusty gears of a long unused part of my brain grind into life once more, as they did when I read Bohemian Rhapsody from the sheet music aged 15.
To all of this tuneful activity must be added Shaken and Stirred, the second album from my recording project G&T. This took far longer to complete than it was meant to, but it’s here now, and it’s even getting some airplay. OK, it’s community internet radio, but it’s definitely something: my co-conspirator, guitarist Adrian Thomas, was interviewed on Poppyland Radio by DJ Simon Pink (you can listen to it here). Simon has interviewed me too for a broadcast soon.
In other news I am starting to dig a large pond in the garden. It’s fun planning such an exercise, and it’ll take some months to complete. There is a lot of earthmoving and levelling to be done, and at the age of 61 and three quarters I can only manage a small bit at a time (I am digging it by hand). Each spring the pond we currently have heaves with hot frog-on-frog action, but the space is
my newt minute, and I’d like to give them a bit more elbow room for next year.
All of which means that I am climbing out of the slough of despond in which I had been mired last year, which basically wiped out spring and summer last year for me. I’m not out of it yet, and I may never be, but if I look after myself and get plenty of sleep and don’t take on too many commitments simultaneously all at once at the same time and all together, things will start to look up, I hope.