Monday, 4 May 2020
Over Ratley way it's raining; the clouds have given up to the north wind's bluster. Desi meets me at her gate, soft-nosed and excited-eyed. I tell her she is beautiful and it is lovely to see her. She sniffs my hand with warm breath, and wags her tail. She lets me rub her ears. They are soft as bats' wings. It is the closest thing she can do to pierce my blindness. Penny comes up and their noses brush, barely touching; ears relaxed, eyes averted. Small micro-signals, but it is all that is needed. Contentedly, they turn and trot away. Meanwhile, behind them, the lawn mower silently glides and then turns, following its own unseen, unheard syntax.
Lazy sunny morning under a cauldron sky. Two young rooks dunk a piece of dried bread in a puddle. First sighting of house martins that arrow knee high over the grass. Later we go down to wind the clock together. D, Penny and I walk through a snow globe of cherry blossom.
Thursday, 16 April 2020
The second or maybe even third hatchings are taking place. The hedges and dark corners are alive with scruffy squawks. The older rooks play dodge and twist on the field followed by their insistent clamouring young. Our runner beans are regularly plundered and the garden now blooms with spinning, scratched CDs and ragged carrier bags that play upon the wind like corporate prayer flags. Everywhere is enthused with the untidy energy of youth...
And now here they come in a small gaggle down main street. A little knot of girls singing and shrieking; daring the world to look at them with that eggshell-thin, fragile, belligerence of adolescence. Dressed in little more than their parent's high blood pressure they trip the kerb to Oxhill Road and the sky is filled again with shrill laughter and foul language. Every shriek, every movement, calls fearfully out to an uncomprehending world in which they have found themselves flung. There are no easy Edens for us sons and daughters of Adam.
"I HAVE ARRIVED. I AM HERE. AND THIS IS ME..." They seem to say.
They fall silent as they walk past and then collapse in snorts and giggles, their arms around each other's shoulders and necks. And I love them for it; I love them for their heroic "barbaric yawp" that signals their presence in this world... in this village... on this little inconsequential street on one summer's afternoon at the razored-edge of their childhoods... I'm drawn into their terrifying, wonderful, invigorating, intimidatingly indifferent worlds in which they find themselves.
Do the little, feathered scruff-balls that dart beneath the garden hedges also feel this? Lifting their voice to the blank, unyielding sky for the very first time. Is their piping call clear and sound? Or do they fear that no one will notice; that their voice is too cracked, that their song won't work? Do they fear that they too might be ultimately... unlovable?
They turn the corner, by the maple that flames wine-red in autumn and pass out of sight.
But their voices still ring among the flights of lazy bees.
"THIS IS ME. I AM HERE AND I AM BEAUTIFUL..."
...and if there is a slight shake and hesitation over the last word that turns it more into a question than a statement, let us pretend not to notice it.
...For yes your voice is loud and it is clear
And your song WORKS.
So exalt in it and let it ring out across these streets
For you are so very, very very beautiful...
...but for none of the reasons you think...
Sunday, 12 April 2020
... quite early, and the street was as still as the ghost of sheep on the high hill. But dawn had broken. Oh Lord, how it had broken, sending splinters of light into the victorious, ringing, bird-carved, air. Even though snow still lay as white as sea foam on Sunrising Hill and lay under each hedge, ribbed, like the bare, bleached bones of ship-wrecked schooners, the sun had risen high; higher than the turbulent rooks and higher than the breath that billowed in clouds of steam from my ragged body.
I walked abroad in that slumbering village, and as alone as a blushing, rib-full, Adam, beneath a sky of thrush egg blue; as blue as the cornflowers of summers past. Down Main Street, past Quo Vadis. No curtains twitched, though the garden hedges bristled with song. The occupant of each house slept warm and deep under the soft hills and folds of their duveted wildernesses. Jackdaws wheeled and laughed among the sleeping bones of the old oak on Fourways Corner to see the sun beams of that beautiful morning trying to prise their honeyed fingers through the neat, new shutters of the Old Shop and its cymbal playing tin monkey in the window. A blackbird stood as proud as your mother (should she see you now) in the middle of the road. The sun warm on her back. She watched me pass with beetle eyes, a harmless spirit in her eternal Eden of sun and ice.
Only two other souls were awake that morning. The vicar who, with knitted brow, played with whirling fingers the organ of the braying heating pipes in the village church. Climbing down from one of the Jacobean, dark oak pews, he fussed some dust into the morning air as the sun poured like Eucharist wine through the great east window and stained the altar cloth crimson and blue and, oh, such golds. Does he know that, when no one is looking, the faded saints and the firemen in their smart blue serge climb down out of their stained glass windows to ring out the hour on the faithful old tenor? Or that, in the church tower (made of rough brick and cobwebs and prayer), the stone angels play hide and seek with the umbrella-winged bats, piping and squeaking, in the belfried dark? Or that, behind his back, at every Pentecost, the yews in the churchyard burst into flame and that tongues of fire dance upon every shaggy branch?
The other is the runner who outruns the dawn, red faced and breathing out dragon's breath, down past the village hall (built in 1929), newly painted, and then past the Post Office, bursting with wool and flowers and unlicked stamps, and on past the shuttered tearoom. But not even he can outrun my nose in this impudent north-easterly wind that has been sharpened by the claws of polar bears, and the clash of icebergs, and carries down these whistling streets the sound of Saami bells, and shamanic gongs and the deep green waters where the blue whales sing. Past the Peacock, smelling of booze and laughter and last night's fires. Down Saddledon Street to blow on my fingers and breathe in the sweet smell of the cattle barn on the frigid air. The old dog at Herbert's Farm snuffles where foxes loped, loose-limbed and laughing, under the frosted thatch and snow and dreamt of the days he ran wild and free over Orchard Hill. A woodpecker drummed out his exuberant life among the sighing trees. The morning whistled and trilled.
As I returned home, the Keeper of the park gates opened his front door, stood in his front garden and roared out his approval of the triumph of that morning.
Sunday, 23 February 2020
Tyres hiss in the grey rain. Beside the arrowing Roman road the old oak stands; hag like and wild haired. Jumbled rafts of twigs clutter their clawing limbs. Beside each nest a rook stands guard, looking out into the rain at time passing. And then I am gone.