I met Jim Fowler – aka Maalie – through his blog. I had not know him very long but we became very good mates quickly.
He was a regular visitor to Austria for its birdlife and always stayed at Illmitz. Near lake Neusiedl – not far from Vienna. Last time he was here he also stayed with us for a few days in Vienna and was due to stay with us again at the end of May.
I spent a week with Maalie in Cumbria in January and he showed me all over the Lakes District. He truly was a delightful and indefatigable host. He was divorced a few years ago and one of the grounds cited by his then wife for the divorce was his ‘youthful exuberance’.
Indeed his exuberance had no limits. He would bound out of bed at the crack of dawn to make me a cup of tea and he would flog me around Cumbria from dawn till dusk pointing out countless birds and lakes - and he would actually test me on the fecking birds -
‘Quick Badger – what bird is that?’ he would shout
‘Um…Umm….it’s a Black-necked Grebe Maalie’ I would squeak - saying the first name that came into my head – from the few names and birds that I memorized from my iPhone Bird Guide App the previous evening.
And occasionally I would get it right and he would be well pleased with me.
‘Well done Badger’ he would say ‘We will make a bird watcher of you yet’
‘Oh please no’ I would think because he would tell me about the freezing hours he would spend motionless in hides waiting for the Lesser-crested Mugwump to appear just so he could record it – because it had not been seen there for 5 years.
My problem is of course that all birds look the same to me – as I recorded in this blog after my trip.
He was full of life. He would say to me that he wanted to use every moment of his life to the fullest while he was healthy because he never knew what was coming next. Well he certainly did that. He wasted no moments at all as far as I could see. He ran up the fecking stairs to bed!
He was a good cook and would make me massive meals of things like fish pie and steak and eggs and the only way you could assure him that you were satisfied was to have second helpings.
After this I would waddle into the lounge room and we would have marvelous fun watching really old movies such as ‘Reach for the Sky’ and have a wee dram together. Last time I went there I took him a bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich -and it was a fine drop indeed.
He stayed with Cate and I a few months ago and we sent Cate to bed early. He and I stayed up for a very long time and had more than a wee dram. We drank to the wee hours - and then well past the wee hours and spoke about life and birds – with and without feathers – and about the universe and matters great and small. Much I do not remember but it was important at the time.
Like me, Maalie was an Atheist and had absolutely no fear of death. Like me – his only real concern was not understanding how everything fits together - and the thought that ‘wouldn’t it be nice to know how things turn out after we have well and truly gone.’
The only disappointment in Maalie’s life is the one we can’t talk about in this blog because it can affect other people. It is the one thing that bothered him and the one thing that was beyond his reach - and would have made him happy beyond his dreams.
Other than that – he was just about the happiest damn man I have ever seen. I could never imagine that getting up at three o’clock in the morning to ring birds could make anybody happy but my mate Maalie was exceptional.
I took the finest photographs I have ever taken when I was in Cumbria. These were taken with my little Canon Powershot G12 and have not been digitally enhanced. They are in Picasa attached to the blog and the one with me on the stone bridge was taken by Maalie. I will post some more photos of Maalie in Picasa.
For a couple of years Maalie had been mad keen on Kayaking and this is apparently how he died. I am not sure of all the details yet but I lost contact with him on Thursday.
Maalie and I would exchange text messages or phone calls almost every day and he did not respond to my texts or messages on Thursday or Friday. I was sent a link to a Cumbrian newspaper on Saturday morning about a police finding an empty Kayak on Coniston Waters and I knew then what had happened. I have since learned that he died yesterday but I still do not know how or why.
I have not met his sons or sister and I probably never will. But I know a lot about them - and especially how much he adored his sons.
He was a very special man. A biologist, cricket fan, true friend, remarkably intelligent and excellent fun to be with. I will miss him terribly.
It is my birthday tomorrow. He was with me on my birthday last year and I will have a wee dram for him this year. He was only a year older than I am.