Most of us have a favourite animal. Humans are naturally inclined towards that sort of thing. We slaughter and devour them, and wear their skin, but we also love them. (I say this as a highly enthusiastic meat-eater. I have my qualms about it but my diet is such that if I didn’t eat meat, I’d literally just live off peas, rice, potatoes and carrots. Don’t worry, my body has adapted to survive off a sedentary lifestyle and poor food intake. Well, I say that. It’ll catch up with me one day but never mind all that, we’re straying from the point).
My favourite animal is the glorious guardian of darkness known as the Owl. They truly are the most wonderful creatures that natural selection allowed to accompany us on this dying rock. Owls are brilliant beasts, in many ways. They are majestic and adorable in equal measure, and also beautiful clumsy nerds. Owls somehow earned the stereotype of being the wisest of all animals, probably to due to association with Athena.
They aren’t. Owls are far from the wisest of animals. If my birdwatching experience has taught me anything over the years it’s that owls are f***ing idiots. Stupid, lazy, and inelegant. But they are also the noblest of our feathered friends and deserve nothing less than adoration and respect.
In life, I am well-known amongst my friends and acquaintances for having a mild obsession with owls. It’s become one of my defining character traits, especially in amongst my drama society comrades. Interestingly, it’s a fairly recent addition to my personal make-up. My current affinity with Owls began in late 2014…at least I think it was 2014…it might have been early 2015. Anyway, it was definitely at some point that academic year.
I was living in a three-bed basement flat with my dear friend, Alex. The third bed was unoccupied, our other friend having had disagreements with the letting agents, and moved out very early on. Alex and I, at the time, served as Treasurer and Secretary respectively on the University of Plymouth Amateur Dramatics Society (UPAD) and had inherited the prop box. Inheriting the prop box is generally regarded as more of a curse than a privilege but there were some gems in there.
One such gem was a life-size plastic owl. One of those things you can buy at garden centres for scaring birds off your fruit and veg. The poor thing was rather battered and missing an eye but still had a certain endearing something that appealed to us. Rather unfortunately, I believe he spent a couple months of the ground outside our front door, which I think may have been the doing of our now departed flatmate. One day, for reasons I’ve forgotten, we decided to bring him in and put him on our coffee table. And there he stayed.
He was remembered by some of the older UPAD members for being used in a production of The Jungle Book two years previously and the owl became something of a running joke within committee. Alex and I (Alex had the idea if remember rightly) christened him ‘Derek’, short for ‘Derek the Drama Owl’. There continues to be certain level of Holy War between Alex and myself over the spelling of this name. I maintain that it’s ‘Derek’, Alex insists that it’s ‘Derick’. The majority of the society backs my view on the matter, and Alex has backed down more on the subject of late.
Derek, at times, almost became like some weird adopted child in our platonic marriage, though my obsession with the owl was always stronger and less healthy. Come the Easter Showcase, I wrote a play called ‘The Last’. If you’re familiar with my blog, you’ll know what eventually became of that play. If you aren’t, go check. I initially wrote Derek the Drama Owl into the play as a joke, but his part became more prominent and poignant (that was the intention at least) as time progressed.
When the year was done, I retained ownership of Derek and took him with me to my new flat when I began my Masters. My new flatmates were not so understanding of my bond with Derek as Alex had been, and my attempts to establish him in the living room were met with intolerance. As such, he spent most of the last year in my room, first on top of the wardrobe, then later on a chest of draws in the corner, where he seemed more comfortable.
Since forming my bond with Derek, I have acquired a number of owls, forming a modest collection. My ex-girlfriend is the only other person I have met who also has an owl collection (which was part of the reason I thought we were so perfect for each other but never mind, supposed to be talking less about that). Derek remains the largest, and best loved of my owls and served as an important comfort blanket during recent unhappy events.
He was formally in possession of an eye-patch, fashioned by one of the original ‘The Last’ cast-members, but to my eternal despair and regret, the eye-patch went missing during our Edinburgh Fringe run. In the kind of dreadful symbolism only reality had the impertinence to come out with, the loss of the eye-patch ran parallel the loss of my relationship, so Derek and I have been required to support each other through each losing a vital part of our current identity. What the other passengers on the coaches from Edinburgh to London, and London to Taunton made of the teary-eyed young man, sobbing into a one-eyed, plastic owl clutched into his arms, I can only guess at.
The photo attached to this article shows my owl collection as it was around April this year. Three more owls have been added to my parliament since then and I can only hope it continues to grow over the years. Owls comfort me in strange and unique way, and I hope I can hold on to Derek in particular for a long while to come.