Why geeks are great (and why we must love them)
Is there anything better than meeting someone who knows more than you do about the thing that interests you most? Perhaps someone who has spent a tremendous amount of very dedicated and driven time developing a fabulous understanding of that topic? A person whose curiosity has fuelled a brilliant inventiveness, a methodology which has led to the unravelling of unique secrets, maybe utilising a spark of pure genius, maybe as a result of hours, years of totally hard slog.
And, better still, their energy means they can hardly control themselves and just have to tell you everything they know in the first five minutes. They are Kerouac's 'fabulous exploding Roman candles' who 'burn, burn, burn', they are 'the lights that burn twice as brightly', they are those who see 'heaven in a wildflower', who can 'hold infinity in the palms of their hand'. They are wonderful. They are geeks. They are the best bits of my life. In this series they are Frank Greenaway, Raury McKenzie-Dodds and Dave Culley.
Frank is the Bat-man. I've met a few and in all fairness his commitment is not unique, nor perhaps is his contribution to 'Bat Awareness', but for me he encapsulates a distillation of all of their skills... plus he is some sort of 'techno-genius' on top. And as a result his photos are brilliant. And he has a shed. A real Great British Shed, in which he melds his field observations and questions with his inventiveness and determination to find a means of answering them.
He imagined, devised, built and used a 'twiddler' to lure specific bats into his custom-built, high-speed flash guns made using some sort of military silicon hardware. And because it's a British shed, it's called a 'Twiddler', not a 'Sono-rotatory-ultrasonic-chiropto-lure'. That would be California, not Surrey. His skill base is unbelievable and his enthusiasm quiet but electric. He is Hero Number One.
Hero Number Two is Dave Culley. On his side is that he totally out-loves me when it comes to my favourite bird, the sparrowhawk. But I soon realised that he has gone way beyond this. Dave doesn't sleep for about 11 months of the year. Well, he snatches a few winks but not if his precious hawks are active. He has bugged his nesting pair with a multitude of self financed cameras and webbed them to the world.
He has also most importantly been very, very critically watching and analysing their most intimate behaviour. He stayed awake for 60 hours to record an egg hatching. He has blown apart the idea that sparrowhawks 'start nesting' in March... because hangover-free Dave has seen his male starting to build a nest on New Year's Day. That's pretty hardcore. And also Dave loves knowing, not smugly; he was burning to tell me everything all day when we were filming, and he just wants to find out more. He has plans, his energy is inexhaustible, Dave is Mr Accipiter Nisus. Wow!
I met Raury McKenzie-Dodds in 1991. Or 1993, he will remember. It was a coldish, damp, very un-dragonfly afternoon when we were tinkering around with some now antiquated slo-mo camera. He had inaugurated the National Dragonfly Museum at Ashton Water and instantaneously I fell in love with his amazing passion for the Orthoptera.
He had a big-wig job in the city. A dragonfly landed on his shirt and he saw the light. Magic eh! It by his own admission 'changed his life' and that life has since had an unswerving desire to communicate his epiphany to the world. When Ashton faltered, his motivation didn't and the Dragonfly Project found safe and welcome refuge at the superb National Trust's Wicken Fen Reserve. Here they now have a new centre which is a focus point for the enthusiasm of all things dragons and damsels. Go, visit, enjoy.
But, to be honest, this is all desperately unfair. Frank and particularly Raury enjoy the support of an equally heroic set of fellow enthusiasts. It's just that I don't know them as well, and of course there is a small but priceless guild of other uber-geeks whose company I have yet to revel in. Days to dream about...