Monday 5 June
It was with utter sadness that I learned of the death of my great birding friend, Chris Bell of Worksop, early last week. I received that so sad news form his daughter, Kim who was able to let me know that her father had passed quietly away just after dawn on the morning of Tuesday 30 May having fallen asleep the previous evening.
|Chris with his young grandson
I made contact with Chris over eight, and more likely ten plus, years ago by email as he contact with me having been reading this blog whilst I still lived in Spain. From a couple of emails a week, over the years our correspondence became more regular, increasing to at least five or six messages a week until these past few years when we gave been in daily contact and even messaged a few times a day on occasions. During this time the got to know each other, and our various interests and foibles, in greater detail and it certainly appeared that we shared many interests including classical music, the state of the (UK) country and what was going on therein. Indeed, we seem to share each other’s various visits and experiences over the past many years as they cropped up on regular occasions. A slightly off-beat discussion included the best buys from the local Farmfood shops as we discussed our culinary preferences!
But our contact was not just be email. I first met Chris outside the hide of the Escondida Pool at the Guadalhorce in Malaga. Just like Chris, he knew I would be there with my Axarquia Birding Group and, staying in Fuengirola at that time, took the opportunity to visit the reserve to coincide with mine. But that was a very brief meeting and upon my next visit back to our UK home in Stamford we were in contact and I was able to meet up with Chris for a visit to one of his local birding sites. Then, whenever back in the UK, I would meet Chris somewhere or he would travel by train over towards me so that I could take him to some of my favourite sites Including Rutland Water, Frampton Marshes near Boston or even to the North Norfolk coast.
These were always special times as Chris had such a fantastic hearing ability and was recognising birds before I had even heard the bird! But, then again, I would catch him out with a distant sighting, a Bittern at Potterick Carr near Doncaster I think, which he continued to remind me about when recalling our various visits.
Then Covid came along to upset the proverbial apple cart and, I very much regret to say, meant I was never again to meet up in person again with Chris. Yes, we still corresponded and he was always ready to comment on my posts and, likewise, I would do the same with the regular birding trips that he undertook locally in which he always selected his “bird of the day.” Covid was a real nightmare for Chris as he regularly reported his frustration with me at either not being able to get out and about and when he did the uncooperative nature of many of these that he came across as he tried to make sure he kept his distance.
Life suddenly seems so strange, if not exactly empty, not having Chris to tell me what was about, what to see, etc whenever he heard that I was off somewhere. I am presently in Spain having just returned from a week in the high Pyrenees with my friends that I left behind in the country when we returned to the UK just over a yer ago and, although I am yet to actually get on and write up the reports, etc, I know Chris would have been awaiting their publication so that he could pass a comment or two.
And then comes the more recent sadness. Upon returning we relocated from Stamford to live in Warsash on Southampton Water with my wife’s brother so Chris was no longer within an hour’s drive away. However, having reached the point where I was now undertaking plans to drive back up to the Midlands so that I could once more meet up with Chris when we both experience problems with our heads. For me it was a case of applying some sort of ointment to my forehead at the hairline and all cleared up whereas Chris had a more serious problem with lesions that needed regular treatment by his local nurse and then the referral to the local hospital which led to a more serious situation. But ever cheerful, Chris would tell me of the happenings on his regular hospital visits and often mention the various nursing staff he encountered. But Chris, at heart, was a very private man and did not want any fuss so, despite my interference suggesting he should keep his daughter fully informed, preferred to keep the serious nature of his problem to himself rather than cause any unnecessary worry or stress to family.
Chris continued to be positive and kept up his regular bird walks, always informing me of where he was going/had gone and the birds seen. It, therefore, came as a bit of a shock when, having been receiving updates every day, and often two our three emails a day, that I had heard nothing from him for two or three days. I knew that his daughter and family lived down at Lands End so you can imagine my surprise and distress to receive an email from Kim to inform me that her father, Chris had been take to hospital and then transferred to the nearby hospice. But at least that did mean that Kim was aware of her father’s illness and was able to be at his side, take him for walks and, no doubt, birding tales will have cropped up.
It sees strange that our latest venture will now never come to fruition. I had recently introduced Chris to the “Merlin” app for a phone that enables a birder to listen to a bird call and then receive information as to what species might be singing, calling, etc. I know that Chris was looking forward to testing out the system for himself to test its efficiency and correctness and I, in turn, was awaiting with interest his conclusions. However, it is not to be; what will be will be. I like to think that as Chris passed quietly away in the early hours of Tuesday morning it was to the accompaniment of a lovely “dawn chorus” with him smiling as he identified the various songsters, no doubt set off by a local Blackbird and a Robin or two.
Rest in peace dear friend; you’ll not be forgotten.