Geneva, Friday 10 April 2020
Lockdown Easter holiday! I thought it was high time to pay tribute to my extraordinary older brother, Garth; especially as he’s doing lockdown on his own in Norwich, UK. His facebook pages carry all the evidence I need to tell you about his many and varied talents. Here it comes, Bro with lots of love all the way from locked down Switzerland…
Here he is, aged 6 with a Grass Snake (Natrix matrix). I wonder if our parents knew then that Garth would become one of the UK’s great experts on reptiles and amphibians and a lauded wildlife photographer and illustrator. But I’m leaping ahead here.
A rare photo of Garth at about twelve years old doing something useful. Don’t be fooled by the apparent wholesome lawn-mowing stuff; this was the year he introduced me, at the age of 8, to cigarettes. I puffed away at anything I could get my hands on until, one year later, Mother found me smoking at the bottom of the garden. I haven’t smoked since!
From a young age, Garth was very good at drawing. This talent bloomed throughout his rather rebellious adolescent years. On leaving school, he went on to Art School in Great Yarmouth. From there, he joined the design team at Rowntree-Mackintosh of chocolate-making fame. One of his dossiers was Quality Street. Here’s his take on Major Quality Street wooing Miss Sweetly.
I’ve never quite understood why, but all of a sudden he decided to join the police… In Glasgow. Didn’t he get into a few scrapes up there! After some years, he moved south to the Metropolitan Police in London and, after a few years down there, finally came back to Norfolk to walk the beat of his home town. For the last years of his police career, he served as an instructor for new recruits and developed the country’s first course on enforcing the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.
In 1993, I published a surgical textbook. It sold 3,000 copies. Under the name “Donald McDonald,” Garth published a book of cartoons about only one operation. Let’s call it “adult humour.” Putting my nose only slightly out of joint, it sold 30,000 copies in the first year. He used a nom de plume because he didn’t want Mother to know. Of course, it didn’t take long before someone spilled the beans. She bought twenty copies and gave them to her friends at church!
Around this time, he got into stand-up comedy. His “Mad McDuff” character with authentic Glaswegian accent brought the house down. The high point of the act was a ferret coming out from under his kilt.
This is a photograph that Garth took in 2006. It is a head-to-tail pair of Limax maximus slugs mating. Huge beasts they are. That white mushroomy thing is an erection! In the world of gastropods, it is the rarest of events and only happens at night. A BBC wildlife TV crew heard about this nature-nutty copper who had the lowdown on sluggy love. As a result, they were the first to capture the slugs’ extraordinary ritual on film. It was broadcast in early 2007. It is truly amazing.
“Got anything else like this for us, Garth?” The BBC crew asked. “Sure” he replied. “Do you want to see the rarest spider in the UK?” Of course they did! So, off they went to the only location in the British Isles where Segestria florentina is known to exist: Westminster Abbey. They filmed and later broadcast Garth coaxing one of these rare beasties out of one of the Abbey’s stoney crevices using a tuning fork to imitate the buzzing of a web-encaptured fly.
When I go back to Norwich, we usually do one of his “Norfolk Safaris.” Last year I asked if we could find an adder (Viperidae Vipera.) No problem; Garth took me to one his hot spots and showed me a whole nest!
After retirement, he spent a couple of years out in Australia to be closer to his son and daughter who now live out there. Inevitably, he got right into the wildlife; it was paradise for a herpetologist. He photographed and made illustrations of hundreds of Aussie frog species drawing accolades from all sorts of natural history societies. Yes, the above picture of Great Barred frogs (Mixophyes fasciolatus) is a water-colour painting!
That’s him in the middle. Garth, a.k.a. Flyman with his band “The Divide.” Their original songs were largely written by him and his guitarist son Ross (not pictured here.) The band have been together for fifteen years and enjoy quite a following in Norfolk. I love their lyrics. How about this from a song entitled “Monkeys”: “I’m top of the tree since climbing down, you see. What went before were Monkeys, making Man of me. I’m the number one; got the fire and the gun. I’ll kill if it’s in my way. I’m just having fun! Now don’t be blaming me. It’s just a blueprint in my head. It’s all genetic circuitry and it’ll see me dead. It’s my Human nature that lays down what I will be. That same old Human nature made a Monkey out of me.”
Not content with pumping out their very loud stuff to an adoring public, Garth and Ross put together a promotional double disc for a rock show. The theme is the life of bees and how their lifestyle can teach us humans about looking after the environment. Kinda topical!
His most recent work is a pen and ink with watercolour illustration for a scientific journal. It’s a male Great Green Bush-cricket (Tettigonia viridissima) on Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica.) I think he improves with age.
And here he is, my amazing and talented brother Garth (Homo sapiens), doing what he does best. Of course, there was always Bruce, the middle brother, who died suddenly in 2017. Bruce was the solid, reliable, sensible and handsome one of the three of us. He kept us in order. We both miss him terribly.