Saturday, May 29, 2010

It's hardly dark but the light is falling. There's a brisk wind scudding in from the west - billowing and voluminous clouds swell ominously. Rain tomorrow perhaps. We need rain but not this much and not then. A shower tonight would suffice.

I go to shut the birds in.  Two pens of hens have taken themselves to roost and can be shut in with ease. I drop the shutters on them both. The new hens in the third pen have 'issues' about bedtime. They roost on the roof while the cockerel beds down inside the hut. He croons away - no doubt he thinks he's an enticingly reassuring presence and A Sexy Thang. The 4 hens outside, however, are not beguiled. Nobody is up for a bit of nooky with the randy old sod - and a quick 'knee-trembler' seems to be the key to entry. A shag and you're in - take it or leave it.

So here I am - interfering in their best interests.  It's a double edged sword: show solidarity with the sisters or leave them perched on the roof and to provide supper for Brer Fox. I do the sums:  they cost me £15 per bird but I could go to Tesco and buy chicken at £3.00 apiece to throw for foxes. It makes sense to shoo them in. This is a gradual process - a nudge off the roof and a bit of guidance with a stick generally does the trick. Then a wait while they decide to go in....or...not. Patience is the key

There's time to stand and stare though - hence my observations of the evening sky. I pull my jacket up around my shoulders against the cool air and lean against the pen to watch as the colour fades around me.  To watch what? A couple of lights twinkle in the distance; there is little to disturb the tranquility of this place. Badnage Wood is black - and sighs as a gently breeze shifts the conifers. The ridge and furrow in the Church Field is thrown into sharp relief. It's hardly discernible when one is actually in the field but from afar I see peaks and wide troughs - contours made by centuries of the plough following the same path, the moulboard cutting and turning the soil, throwing it up from the furrow onto the ridge.  
 Moulboard Plough, Geoffrey Luttrell Psalter (1325)

Who did plough it I wonder? Which ploughman trudged behind oxen up and down the bank? Just who did live here? And when? And why? What were their lives like?

As clocks cannot be turned back there is no way of really knowing, but in the gloaming I try to imagine life on the end of the Long Mountain centuries ago. Tough and hard come to mind, for both man and beast; and each thing done according to the seasons. This much does not change - I still see my farming neighbours following those familiar patterns:
'To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.'

But that pheasant shrieking in the dingle - that would have been an unfamiliar cry and the sound of a light aircraft some miles away - what strange and terrifying bird is that? Then there is silence broken only by the whispering wind and the low of a cow crooning to her calf in the field by the lane. I smell of woodsmoke and feel cold dew on my feet. Like this then perhaps?

The hens are in at last and the door shut. I can hear them jostling and clucking inside - universal hen noises for all-time.  I turn my back on the night and ramble back to the blare of the 21st century. Yes, the Glam Ass is watching some cop show or other......

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

WOYWW...Wow!

Look! look! look! Look what arrived in the post yesterday. I'm so excited I could squeal.

It's the pieces of glass I made on my glass blowing day at Martin Andrews studio in Stourbridge.

We have a slightly eccentric bowl with a slightly ancient Roman feel to it, a pretty blue and green paperweight and some Andy Goldsworthy-esque bobbles. Skill level is very low indeed but delight in my achievement soars off the scale. In the eye of this beholder that is the sweetest little bowl there ever was -  and if you tap it, it 'tings' as proper crystal should. The bobbly things are the best - I probably love them most of all, these wobbly miniature statues.

I'm going to lie some papers down in a windy place and use my paperweight right now - just for the joy of it.

When I've got over the excitement of my pieces of glass I shall go over to Julia's and see what other craft people have been getting up to on the WOYWW. Well worth a visit.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where to start?

Like a dog whining at a gate my poor blog is whimpering to be noticed. 'Write me, write me, it pleads, go on give me biscuits words....'

If Thursday was high definition in terms of light and images then on Friday the reality of what was about to happen was also clearly defined.

Book launch - visitors? Visitors - book launch? Which to worry about first? Well both pale into insignificance when a man thrusts a microphone into your face and asks earnest questions to which you know the answer but can't actually string the appropriate words together to form it. My press releases had obviously hit the spot. We were in both local papers (thank you Shropshire Star and County Times) and Radio Shropshire made a two pronged attack with offers to be interviewed for a couple of programmes. We left the presenters to fight it out amongst themselves. A little negotiation between them puts us on Eric Smith's breakfast show rather than on an afternoon programme in two weeks hence. I think the conjunction of the words 'history ladies' and 'more than meets the eye' must have been enticing.


E.S. arrives in a seriously logo covered van, so without a shadow of a doubt he's our man from Radio Shropshire. I do hope he's not disappointed with the actual history ladies. We are keen and try hard not to twitter on too much. Listening later I'm surprised at how coherent we do sound although I can be heard cackling manically at one point. Cringe.

We walk around the village (a scuffle-scuffle through the gravel and a clink-clank of the church gate reminds potential listeners that this is not a studio recording). We discuss landscapes and vernacular buildings and listen to birdsong. Then, with much unsaid our interview is finished. Oh. Is that it then? Apparently it is.

Later we set out our display in the village hall having borrowed display boards from a neighbouring village. (We'll gloss over the embarrassing incident with the unsecured load at a significant road junction. Ahem. I'll tie stuff on in future.) It looks fine - we have a small exhibition of words and photographs and a stack of books. A few pink and blue balloons, courtesy of the National Lottery, jiggle about and add a jolly touch. I hope they, like ourselves, remain buoyant until tomorrow: The Big Day.

In the meantime there is a brief hiatus when I am able to enjoy the company of our visitors - my brother and his wife. The weather is absolutely perfect. We loll around in the sunshine, basking in its unexpected warmth. By special request we fire up the pizza oven and make pizza - lots of small crispy ones, which as the evening progresses, become both more adventurous in their toppings and more proficient in manufacture. The final and finest one is topped with spinach, ricotta and egg. It cooks on the oven's hot floor for little more than seconds and emerges with the egg soft and unctuous. Perfect to dip one's asparagus into. Bliss. I have no doubt we have eaten and drunk too much but what a rare treat it is to sit and eat outdoors watching the sun go down and the stars come up. We drift indoors eventually, leaving the night to the bats which swoop under the trees in the dingle.

And then of course it is The Big Day; the launch of 'Marton, the story of a Shropshire village'. Here I am, with Doreen on my left, getting to grips with signing books, selling books and giving the right change. The hall fills up quite quickly with folk from both the village and from further afield. (Radio Shropshire obviously reached the parts that other radio stations fail to reach.) I hope these visitors weren't expecting to meet real celebs.
We sell lots of books, but it is as pleasing to see the hall full of people chatting, being together as a community. This last fact is important as it was one of the anticipated outcomes we stated on our grant application. Here too I must thank the National Lottery for their support - its grant enabled us to make the book a reality. They gave us balloons too and for those visitors under the age of 8 those free balloons were probably more exciting. Lovely to see fellow bloggers SBS, Wipso and Twiglet - thanks for your support.

It's hard work though, smiling and signing - by the end of the afternoon we were exhausted and I was in danger of forgetting how to spell my name.

Sunday then was a day of well deserved r & r.  My sister in law and I took ourselves to the Dingle Garden and its adjoining nursery.
As garden lovers will know this is indulging in plant porn. The garden is in a steep sided valley. The sides are densely planted and laced with paths which lead down to a still lake which reflects the planting above. At this time of year rhododendron and azalea look well and I found myself inspired by the many varieties of viburnum - which I know do well in my own garden. In shaded areas much use was made of white flowers to reflect and illuminate - in fact their shade planting is exemplary. This is Magnolia sieboldii, exquisite in its simplicity. Most covetable too.
At home my white iris - variety forgotten - enjoy baking in the sun at the front of the barn. The little geranium is 'Bill Wallis', a good do-er. That's my mates Bill 'n' Iris then - sound like a pair of old codgers don't they?
It has been a good weekend all round. Tomorrow I shall candle the eggs in the incubator, sow beans and plant squash. There's always something to do isn't there?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

High definition

It would be impossible to recreate, even in the highest of high definition, the brilliance and luminosity of the season's sublime green shades. It's so transitory - here today, vibrant and fresh and tomorrow fading slightly with the years inevitable and onward march. Let's catch it while we can.

A fern unfolds:
Blossom - fragile papery petals:


Trelystan's orchid. Perhaps all verges, and fields too, were once scattered with orchids and cowslips. We count ourselves lucky to have these few and protect them fiercely - snarling at any stray sheep keen to snarf. There are 6 flowering this year.
Quince blossom - big papery flowers of shell pink unwind from tight whorls. How come this dainty thing turns into that great knobbly fragrant fruit?
See what I mean? It's a wonderful landscape but my photograph does not capture the wonder of being here, in spring, under a blue sky.


Hmm. Just why am I sitting indoors then? Off I go to live in the moment.



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Proper Book

What did people expect I wonder? Some Xeroxed sheets cobbled together and clipped with a staple at the corner? It's a book alright - 220 pages; illustrations in black and white and colour,  acknowledgments, references and indexes; an ISBN number and a proper publisher. Let's be loud and proud about it.....

'Marton, the story of a Shropshire village', our book, is a reality and I think my co-conspirator and I can puff out our matronly chests with pride. Whoop, whoop. We did it!

Pick up our lovely book, caress its silky cover, admire the photograph of Marton lying in the verdant Rea Valley with Stapeley Common, Corndon and the Stiperstones beyond. Turn it over and read our enticing blurb. Surely you would want to find out more about our little Shropshire village. This is how we start to reel you in:
'To drive through Marton takes only a matter of moments. The Village’s main street, always an important thoroughfare, is now an efficient road which whisks the traveller on his way with barely a backward glance.
Stop a while though - take lunch in one of the Village’s Pubs and maybe stroll down one of the narrow lanes where the hedges in springtime are abloom with hawthorn and  honeysuckle. Head off across one of the many footpaths that cross rich pastureland and take you up onto the valley sides. Look back on Marton, nestled on a slight rise in the rich arable land of the Rea Valley and wonder, as the authors did, what secrets this village holds.
Scratch the surface and there are stories waiting to be told.

Within these pages Marton’s history unfolds. From its humble beginnings; a cluster of lakeside huts built on a patch of dry land amidst marshland the village becomes the 21st century community familiar today. 

Museums and archives have yielded their facts and figures but it is the reminiscences of older inhabitants – who have often recounted tales told to them by their own parents - that have brought Marton’s history to life. Their memories, the memories of ordinary folk, the farmer, the shop keeper and the farmer’s wife, people who worked the land and played their part in the community are our link with the past.
This is their story.'
For me it all began with a remark about a talk I'd not been to. An elderly retired chap from the village had spoken to the WI about his war-time exploits. He'd been a good and memorable speaker and the adventures of this once young ex tank driver were hairy to say the least. Everyone agreed they should have been recorded - except by then Ron had died and taken his reminiscences to the grave with him.  The seed was planted however; the village had numerous elderly residents, all with tales to tell - admittedly perhaps not as noteworthy as Ron's, but worthy of recording before they too were lost. A friend in the village shared my enthusiasm and we tentatively, with the aid of steam-driven recording equipment, set about putting memories on record. We found simply putting the cassette player on the table and pushing 'on' worked best. Folk on the whole forgot it was there and chattered away about this and that, largely without prompting. We learned about arcane agricultural practices, fairly primitive home medicine, cooking, rites and rituals and oh, so much more.  Doreen took on the job of transcribing the crackly tapes - a job which confused her word processing programme no end as the Shropshire tongue is a stranger to grammatical correctness and exact spelling. 

The project morphed into something more solid as we amassed more and more information. We borrowed and scanned pictures and documents and Doreen took up writing to strange men persuading them to reveal their secrets.

Doreen said we should have an exhibition. So we did. It was well received - but what next? It seemed a shame to stuff all the material we had gathered into a drawer never to be seen again. Then, because it was an easy answer when people asked 'What are you going to do with all this?' we replied casually 'Oh, put it into a book'. 

The long and the short of it is, that is what we did. Doreen wrote chapter upon chapter and I chipped in my three penn'orth here and there. I continued to amass pictures, maps and photographs and give them captions. I drew maps too, learning skills I didn't know I'd got. We got a price from a publisher - the excellent Herefordshire-based Logaston Press - applied for and were granted an Awards for All grant from the National Lottery.

Then one day recently - in fact on the day that I went glass blowing and Wilson (the most stupid dog in Trelystan) had his encounter with the evil fungus - 800 books arrived on the doorstep. The Glam. Ass., (bless 'im) was only moderately ruffled as they had not been expected. There was the small problem of the Big Lorry and Turning Round and the smaller problem of shifting a ton of books across a gravel path. Nothing if not resourceful, he laid down a temporary track of plywood sheets for the pallet moving thingy to run on and carry them to the garage. Well done that man. That's about a cubic metre of books incidently, and it has put paid to parking the car under cover for the foreseeable future.


At long last our book 'Marton, the story of a Shropshire village' is here.

Doreen and I got a book from the stack and opened it with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Would it be alright? Would it be really, really alright? Would the story of Marton come out as envisaged, clear and coherent, with the right balance of pictures to text.

Well, it looks pretty good - Logaston have done an excellent job of putting our documents and files together. We're quite pleased and our sternest critics - family members - have given it the 'thumbs up' too.

Curious about what a ton of books look like? Be curious no longer:


And close up, shrink wrapped into packs of 16 they look neat and fresh and clean. I think we are both quite proud of our achievement. We really do have a 'real book'.
Of course it doesn't stop with a neat pile of books in the garage - the mighty task of marketing and exchanging them for money starts with a vengeance. The publicity machine has been cranked into action. We have our launch this Saturday, 22nd May in Marton Village Hall between 2 - 5pm. Do join us.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Things

Thing 1: The crescent moon.
In the sky: huge and low on the horizon, a little sketch of a moon with an attendant star which may well be Venus.
On the lane: husband, walking his brave hunting dog Chester, chats with our farmer's son who is fencing in the gloaming:

'Nice evening - looks good for tomorrow?'

'Course t'is - moon's on its back - it's not going to let any water out.'

Ah - well there you have it....and there we were thinking farmers had special farmers' weather forecasts from the Met office. Nope it's all down to the way the moon sits in the sky.  Things their fathers told them. We'll see.

Thing 2: Hen bedtime
Just how long does it - or should it - take to persuade 4 Rhode Island Red hens that the place to roost is inside the hut rather than outside on the roof? In the 20 minutes I've been standing in the pen alternately waving a stick and cajoling them to go through the door I've decided that the resident cockerel needs a pinch of bromide in his tea. They are definitely waiting until he's put his head under his wing before going in and hopping onto the marital perch.

Thing 3: The creeping buttercup
'One year's seeding means seven year's weeding'.  How damn true that is. (And Gill, if you're reading this I think of you every time I spot a weed I could have dealt with before it seeded. You were are wise beyond your years.) Have spent the day bent double with my new Burgon & Ball hand fork hoicking out creeping buttercups - the weed that is intent on world domination. Bastards every one of them. 5 mega bags full.  Ever so slightly pleased to find out that bending double in touch-yr-toes mode is no problem at all. It's only the nettles that hurt - and that's another story.

Thing 4: The Incubator on the desk.
It's try again time. After the last attempt which ended with abject failure I've fired up the RCOM Suro incubator again. I have put 12 RIR and 8 Maran eggs in and countdown starts today.....

Thing 5: We have a book.
The car must stand outside because in the garage there is a cubic metre of books. I'm told they weigh a ton. I'm also told - with some surprise - that our book 'looks like a proper book'. The local history project that my co-author Doreen and I have been working on for nearly 4 years is now a reality. We have a book - 220 pages of real book, pages and pictures, maps and charts, acknowledgments and indexes. We have an ISBN number too. It's called 'Marton the story of a Shropshire village'. We have 850 copies in need of good home. This surely deserves a post of its own........

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A lost world

I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.

Chorus:
Val-de-ri--Val-de-ra-
Val-de-ri--Val-de ha ha ha ha ha ha
Val-de-ri--Val-de-ra.
My knapsack on my back.

I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun,
So joyously it calls to me,
"Come! Join my happy song!"

Chorus:
Val-de-ri--Val-de-ra-
Val-de-ri--Val-de ha ha ha ha ha ha
Val-de-ri--Val-de-ra.
My knapsack on my back.
Anybody remember this fairly vomititious song from earlier and more innocent days? 'The Happy Wanderer', it's enough to make one want to cast off any thoughts of weather-proof clothing and go off in search of the fuggy delights of the great indoors....and it has awful ear worm potential too.

Don't get me wrong - I love 'out there' and I am particularly keen on finding out stuff and exploring places but I've never really got the hiking/walking thing.

However, last evening the Glam.Ass. and I joined Marton's walking group on one of their monthly outings which take in some of our fantastic bucolic scenery. Some walks are H, some are VH and some are a walk in the park (so to speak).

This was a walk in a quarry, and as it turned out, a mere stroll for those professional ramblers who turned out Rohan clad and suitably booted. There was even a knapsack or two.

We fetched up in the car park of a 'heritage' site in Llanymynech, a village that straddles the English and Welsh borders - the national boundary runs up the middle of the A483 which speeds motorist from north to south and divides the village. The motorist is aware of the limestone cliffs which tower over the town's cluster of dusty roadside houses, shops and pubs but passing through gives little thought to questions of what or why or when.

The cliffs above the town are a quarry, of Dolomite limestone, which closed about 100 years ago. It forms the basis of a nature reserve which is the shared responsibility of Montgomeryshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts. Peregrines nest there. This much I knew. This turned out to be the tip of the iceberg; the raison d'ĂȘtre of the heritage site was the conservation and restoration of the whole Limework's area, to retrieve something of a once busy industrial site before it is subsumed by the forces of nature.

Our guide was keen. Very keen, and obviously one of the prime movers of the group bringing the site back to life. This is a man who digs out bits of twisted steel from nettle beds before breakfast and announces 'railway track, hurrah!!!', is thrilled by the minutiae of engineering, a man for whom the throb of a compressor is music indeed. His kind can also be found on the footplate of steam trains, oily rag in hand. You get the picture.  Admirable really, putting so much energy into revealing our heritage instead of letting it moulder in earthy heaps for some descendant of Tony Robinson to reveal 1,000 years hence.

Not so much a walk then, more a slow amble round the old works looking at piles of this and piles of that, admiring brick work and kilns and trying to interpret lumps and bumps in the ground. Our guide was a great one for detail so those of us that wanted to press on and get to the bit with the wildflowers just had to be patient.

Our man's remit though was obviously industrial archeaology because even when we hauled ourselves up the steep slope to the bed of the quarry via the route of the inclined plain - a trudge which definitely sorted out the Walkers from the strollers - to be shown a breathtaking view (and did we need to catch our breath!) of the Severn valley, the industrial references continued with merely a nod to the flora and fauna. How quickly nature takes over given the opportunity. The bed of the quarry itself is now home to many limestone loving plants. Orchids, Early Purple, Common Spotted and Butterfly apparently are prolific. This year's season being late meant that few were flowering yesterday but a visit in a fortnight's time will be a different story.

It's basically a big hole in the ground on the top of a hill - and for lovers of holes in the ground everywhere here are a couple of pictures:



We're apart from the world up here. Only us and our quiet chatter, the whisper of the breeze and birdsong. The rush and roar of humanity (such as it is in these parts) does not intrude. Hard to imagine it as a working quarry with drilling and blasting and the clank and grind of men and machine. I'm reminded of Conan Doyle's 'The Lost World'  and keep an eye open for Mr Pterodactyl and his dinosaur friends.

Time to go and we edge down the other inclined plain back to the car park - why is it so much harder to go down than up? This doesn't seem to be a group who end a walk at the pub unfortunately, so home we go.

I've enjoyed this walk and think I might join the group again - if they'll have me. I might even go as far as to buy one of those nifty stick things. A stick's always good isn't it? Useful for beating off tigers, pterodactyls and vipers - poking stuff and bashing the tops off nettles.

Now I've just got to stop humming 'The Happy Wanderer'.

Blasted ear-worm.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The first potatoes and other scenes from domestic life

 Ah yes, potatoes. Today the Glam. Ass. has, with the hunter-gatherer's zeal, brought in the first of the new season's spuds. Little titchy jobs, same size as the marbles we used to call 'dobbers' - a little smaller than golf balls. Undeniably sweet and fresh, cooked with a sprig of mint and served with a dab of English butter - possibly a feast in themselves.

But what's that nagging thought: 'Men are from potatoes Mars, women are from cupcakes Venus'? What is it with men and potatoes? I can beg, plead and cajole but the delicate task of weeding between baby seedlings is never done but the selection, planting and harvest of the King Edwards has all the pomp and importance of a royal visit. Sigh. We'll just enjoy eating them then - and yes, I'll heap praise on those first earthy handfuls.

The garden is still mostly brown although if I concentrate I can see a row of spinach and just about spy the beetroot.
The greenhouse is crowded - which is good - young plants ready to go outdoors are jostling for space. The weather is still uncertain. Remember the runner beans planted exactly a month ago? They look like this now:
There are tomatoes showing their first flowers:






Basil ready to pick....some melons ready to grow and geraniums needing sunshine.
...and more basil and 'Hasta la Pasta', a favourite squash.


Indoors - and there has been a lot of 'indoors' as the weather has been so cold an wet - Broadband went walkabout for a couple of days. The small mountain kingdom of Trelystan felt strangely isolated. Instead of knuckling down and doing some of the chores which are always less interesting than travelling through cyber space I paced, grumbled and growled and spent much time staring out at the swallows sweeping low in the driving rain.  BT, my internet provider, blamed my telephone provider Talktalk, who win gold medals for their unctuous customer service and expansive ineffectual promises. The promised call to let me know how the work on the line was progressing has not yet happened. In the meantime I delved into my big box of spare parts and set up a new router - Just In Case. Mysteriously all was suddenly well. Perhaps there never was a fault with the line after all. 

It was a task both easy-peasy and unnecessarily complex. I always think delving into the Utilities Folder of the hard drive is a bit like venturing into the heart of darkness - a metaphorical ball of string to unravel so I could find my way out again would have been handy. Setting up the router was easy - but trying to restore the wireless connections to the printer from both computers less so. But hey! I did it. Just don't ask me how.....if the same thing needed doing today I know I'd be feeling the same bewilderment.

I was going to photograph the rats nest of cabling that resulted on my desk - and this even with a wireless mouse, printer and keyboard but in the end wondered what sort of sad fool photographs wires....

As I write this the Glam Ass. is vacuuming throughout. It’s quite a performance. Bits of kit which normally lurk at the back of the broom cupboard have been called into play; the little pointy nozzle thing, the brush for this and the brush for that, a new bag and a shaken-out filter. Chairs have been shifted, tables moved and anything un-vac-able gets a squirt of Mr Sheen and a thorough dust. The dogs have taken to their beds lest they fall victim to this frightening monster that swallows everything in its path.

Not that I’m complaining – far from it. I’m just not sure what’s set him off. I don’t think it was the dust bunnies which are approaching critical mass – nor the fact that it’s a job which Needs Doing Regularly. No, more to do I think with the possibility that some miniscule creature – a spider or fly – is lurking in one of the smoke alarms and setting it off. He's going to get rid of all potential pests.

At 01.11am this morning said alarm shrieked into life. Then stopped. We went back to sleep only to be brutally woken 10 minutes later when it set off again. Isn’t it horrid to be woken like that? A new battery perhaps? The ladders are in the garage and it’s dark and raining and then the dogs set off barking….I lie in bed and try to stay awake – a show of solidarity and uxorial support is necessary I think. There is much cursing and thumping about on the landing before the Glam Ass returns to bed.

He tells me he didn’t sleep a wink – waiting for it to go off again and I can vouch for that.

Let's hope it's done the trick. I shall leave the roar of the vacuum behind and venture out into the garden to plant onions and leeks. Right now, with the sun shining for the first time in days, the world looks rather green and good.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

On hearing the first cuckoo....

The early morning is good. Just the dog and I and the world fresh, clean and green. For a few moments, before I go back to the house and another busy day kicks in, there is time to draw breath.
















Wow! What was that? From the dingle below me comes the unmistakable call of a Cuckoo, the sound rising up to fill the still air.

Its a nasty bird really - its only redeeming feature being that distinctive call - a quintessential sound of spring. I believe they are in decline - odd for a bird with such a strong sense of preservation. Perhaps the long haul from Africa has taken its toll - as it seems to have done with our swallows this year. Indeed this is the first one I have heard for a while, - I can clearly remember the last few occasions; 2 years ago on the Stiperstones, 6 years ago in a village up the road and 10 years ago in north Yorkshire. This may partly be due to the fact we lived in Stockport for over 20 years and while we were lucky enough to spot kingfishers very close to the town's horrid shopping precinct, the Cuckoo was never heard.

It was certainly a sound of my childhood in south Warwickshire. We three children would discuss it's traits as we rambled along the lanes to school or scrambled at play through ditch and hedge. Someone swore they never sang when they were flying. Never. I'm still not sure. We did 'bird-nesting' - although I can't remember ever taking an egg - in search of 'a cuckoo in the nest'. And no, we never found one.

The nearest we got I suppose was one of my brothers running excitedly to our teacher, Miss Charles. 'There's a cuckoo in the hedge' he squealed, pointing to the hedge of ubiquitous privet that bounded Moreton Morrell School's playground. Miss Charles was excited too and scurried over to gently part the branches and peer inside the better to see the unexpected visitor. No Cuckoo was to be seen. She wasn't to know that the infant brother - perhaps barely 4 years old - had a pet name for a ball - inexplicably balls were called 'cuckoos'. Somebody had lobbed a ball into the hedge and as far as he was concerned there was a cuckoo there....I imagine his big bossy sister (moi) explained all to Miss Charles, who probably tutted and blew the whistle which signalled the end of play.

It's quite possible we all trouped in for our singing lesson on the wireless, 'Singing Together' which introduced us to the country's traditional music, folk songs and ballads. This would have certainly been one of the songs we learned:

O the cuckoo she's a pretty bird
She singeth as she flies;
She bringeth good tidings,
She telleth no lies.
She sucketh white flowers
For to keep her voice clear;
And the more she singeth "Cuckoo"
The summer draweth near.