Saturday 26 April 2014

Red in tooth and claw

(image from Wikipedia Commons)

For 18 days I've kept my binoculars trained on the spiky firethorn bush at the bottom of the garden. It's grown wild and dense, with straggly top branches stretching upwards, its new leaves a fresh caterpillar green and the few remains of its Autumnal abundance of bright orange berries now withered and dry. In a couple of months where there were berries there will be masses of tiny fragrant white flowers, full of nectar for the moths and bees and hoverflies.

These last 18 days it's been the haven for a female song thrush.  Did you know that an archaic name for the song thrush is 'Throstle' and another one is 'Mavis'?!  From the kitchen window I was thrilled to watch 'Mavis' build her nest there, negotiating her way between the thorny fingers with great beakfuls of dried grass and moss, followed by mud for its lining. I can just about see a small section of it from my vantage point, its tight basket weave distinguishing it from the random criss-cross of surrounding branches. For the last two weeks she's hunkered down there, protecting perhaps four or five bright blue speckled eggs, keeping them warm beneath her soft body. Occasionally I've caught sight of her leaving it briefly to feed, then returning and settling down for another sitting.  It feels like such a privilege that she's chosen this little garden in which to introduce her brood to the world and I've been on tenterhooks waiting for the next, crucial stage.

As with all the creatures with whom we share the garden, I feel a kind of duty of care to this unborn family. I've been worrying mostly about the neighbour's cat who, whilst a bit half-hearted when it comes to hunting, would no doubt find it hard to resist a vulnerable fledgeling as yet unskilled at flying. But the shrubbery is thick and its undergrowth difficult to access; a small, freckled baby bird will be well-camouflaged and hidden from feline predators, so it stands a decent chance.

Song thrush chicks usually hatch after about 12-14 days so their due date has just passed. I've been eagerly looking out for signs of life, so excited at the prospect of witnessing their development, ready to help the parents by providing soft fat and sultanas for them to feed on themselves as they diligently collect small grubs and slugs for their new offpsring.  It will be a busy time and Mavis will need to leave her nest more often.  Any time now...  Any time now.

This morning I was working in the shedio, hunkered down like a bird on the nest myself, when I became vaguely aware of a sound I haven't heard quite as close for a while. A hoarse croaking... a cackle. Lost in my painting I didn't really register for a moment, until it seemed to become particularly urgent and it dawned on me what it was. Of course! It was a magpie. And then my heart sank as I realised. I looked out the window and across to the firethorn, and through the greenery I saw the black and white. Pied wings flapped as the magpie pushed its bulky body through the gaps between the spiky branches and then I knew what it was after, what was worth the effort of squeezing past those thorns, and what was happening.

The magpie flew off but I suspect it wasn't the first time it had visited this morning. On checking through the binoculars several times this afternoon and evening, there's no sign of my song thrush on her nest and no sign of movement within it. I will check again tomorrow but, sadly I think I know what I will see – or perhaps, more to the point, what I won't see.

It's just nature, I know: red in tooth and claw. Presumably the magpie will have eaten well today, or perhaps fed tiny morsels of fresh, tender meat to its own young on a nest in a bush not far away. And Mavis can build another one and before the season is out she may rear several young. Most will not survive their first year, but with luck some will - and maybe next Spring one will find our garden and breed with more success, undisturbed by marauding magpies.   I do hope so.

Summer is coming, summer is coming
I know it, I know it, I know it.
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again,
Yes, my wild little poet.

(From 'The Throstle', Alfred Lord Tennyson)

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Caught by the fuzz

Had any interesting experiences with the police lately?

It's been a while since I have – the last time I spoke to them was when we woke up one Sunday morning a couple of years ago to find the back gate and shed door mysteriously open. Nothing had been nicked; the shed was in such a state at the time that the cobwebs made it impenetrable, and even the most intrepid of burglars would have found their courage and perseverance rewarded with no more than a rusty spade and a half-empty tin of Sadolin. But we told the police anyway just in case there was a spate of it in the area. They sent round a couple of bobbies - I have to call them 'bobbies' in this instance because they were old-fashioned and smiley with local accents, the type who ride bicycles slowly and wave at old people – these were not cops or pigs or old bill. They kindly suggested we could hang a little bell on the gate to deter any potential intruders. It kind of sums up where we live now.

That's not to say I haven't been on the receiving end of crime before; in another life and town my flat, my car and my handbag have all been broken into and I actually couldn't fault the responses of the police in each instance. But was that because I'd been the 'victim'?

I mean, it felt very different when I was in the transit van that was stopped by some cops on one occasion (of several) coming back from a gig in the early '80s. I was with Mr SDS' band, along with the other girlfriends and the mate who did the driving, when we were pulled over by a police car as we drove through a spookily quiet London in the early hours. We were young, scruffy, punky types. They were young, bolshy, smart-arse types. It was clear that they were desperate to catch us out on something and drugs would be the most likely haul, so we were interrogated, patronised, physically searched and separated and it felt shit, and actually quite scary.  When they eventually couldn't find anything they didn't apologise - they did give us a sticker for the van, though. It said, 'Mets Are Magic'. Pah.  There was only one place we wanted to stick it....

It seems so long ago now.... and so does this. What actually started me on this train of thought about the police was watching Britpop At The BBC on Friday night and seeing this clip. I just can't get enough of it. Isn't it the most compelling performance of an absolutely perfect song?

And then I thought about how many great songs there are about the police. Like this one from an old Pink Fairy....

...and this one which I saw performed live so many times in my youth

And then there's the Equals, Junior Murvin/Clash, Crisis etc etc.... there's always something to say about the police.  Where would we be without them, eh?

Saturday 12 April 2014

Stomping ground

I went out yesterday; it's been a while! Put on my lipstick (the colour of a pimento pepper, I just noticed that it's called 'Kiss of Life') and went out to meet my two old schoolfriends. We go back 40 years and I've written about them before here. And one of them was the friend who wrote the letter I mentioned a few posts ago on this blog too. She had no recollection of obsessing about Sham 69 and Jimmy Pursey in 1978, by the way, but the evidence was there in black and white....  We got the giggles.

Our rendezvous, as usual, was in the town where we all grew up together. The town where we went to school, the town where we learned to ride bikes and swim, where we puffed tentatively on our first cigarettes, where we had our first clumsy kisses, our first pint of warm cider, our first naïve fumbles with dodgy boyfriends. Our first of many gig experiences too – which we reminded ourselves about when we'd finished our lunch and went on a mini-tour of our old stomping ground. We pulled in at the old maltings building which used to be our rather excellent little music venue, where we had seen the Banshees in January 1978, Adam and the Ants the following year, and countless other bands of varying degrees of notoriety and ability. In retrospect we reckoned we were so lucky, growing up in a rural town but only 45 minutes by train from London. We had fields, woods and riding stables at one end, a rock/punk club (and jazz and folk if you wanted it too) plus the Granada cinema at the other... our homes on the hilly streets between.

The town has changed; like most places it's bigger than it was even 20 years ago, new estates on its perimeter have spread progressively outwards like ripples on water, buildings in its centre have grown upwards like plants struggling to reach sunlight in crowded beds. But its heart still does have some heart, in spite of the increase in boho-chic shops with French names and the ubiquitous estate agents. The road by the market square still has its brick style paving, overlooked by buildings dating back to the 14th century, even though they now sport their Mexican and Italian restaurant chain frontages. I never really noticed the beauty of the architecture as a kid - you don't, do you? - never thought about the history of the half-timbered houses or grand Georgian facades.

But you didn't really want to read about all that, did you? No, well... if you really must know, my first naïve fumble was with a boy called John in the bushes by the playing fields behind my house, on a Spring afternoon after school. I really didn't know what he was doing, nor what I was supposed to do either, everything felt unknown and daunting - my childhood had been so very innocent up to then.  As I said to my friends yesterday: “It was hard...”   Oh, I didn't mean like that! That's for me to know and you to wonder about.  Growing up with lovely friends like mine, though, everything else really was quite easy, and picking up where we left off all these decades later always is too.

Monday 7 April 2014

Photo phobia

In the age of the ubiquitous Selfie, I imagine that most kids grow up now feeling very comfortable in front of a camera. I don't need to harp on about how different things once were, because I know that you too remember the days of taking your roll of film to Boots for developing, then, feeling disproportionately excited, you'd collect your packet of photos a week later only to find that those which weren't over-exposed had brutally chopped off the top of your head instead. Plus you had to pay for them. The disappointment could not be over-emphasised.

I never liked having my photograph taken and I went through a particularly rebellious stage as a kid. Somewhere, in a box in a room in my sister's house, there are dozens of slides from our once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Germany, with shots from the Television Tower in Stuttgart and Black Forest castles and cobbled streets in the many towns we visited. In every one, I'm sticking my tongue out. Miley Cyrus had nothing on my six year old fotografizophobe (I looked that up). (I can still do a fair impersonation of Miley now, as it happens, just flick my hair up at the front and pull out ears to complete the effect... but not in front of a camera...)

So on our return from the European jaunt my mum took the multiple rolls of films to Boots for developing, then, feeling disproportionately excited, she collected her packets of photos a week later only to find that every single of one of them which included her spoilt little brat of a daughter was ruined by the horrible face that said offspring had pulled. Only my obnoxiousness was over-exposed.  I'm afraid I was a difficult child.

Then again, if you'd been forced to have your photo taken at the age of two whilst wearing a ridiculous knitted bonnet (and coat) indoors, you might have felt the same way. That's fear in that chubby cheeked face there. Fear.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Revelations and renovations

Bloody hell, what a week.  I don't know what was most shocking - seeing a skip fill up with bits of my home (more on that in a mo), or the enjoyment I got from the Chas 'n' Dave documentary, 'Last Orders' on BBC4.  I mean, this weekend we watched two music programmes - the one I've just mentioned and the one on Robert Plant, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the former was far more interesting and entertaining by a mile.  Did you see it?  Did you see the clip from BBC Breakfast Time when Chas 'n' Dave were interviewed by Selina Scott and Nick Ross?  Unbelievable.   "Tell me...why do you wear braces?" was one of the questions from Selina, with no attempt to disguise the snigger in her voice.  "To 'old me trowsiz up" was the simultaneous reply from the interviewees.  The look on their faces as they tried to keep it civil whilst being patronised and treated like some alien species by their smug and incredulous hosts actually brought the Bill Grundy/Pistols incident to my mind.  It really wasn't that far removed, and could just as easily have been John and Steve sitting on the breakfast TV sofa wondering what the fuck they were doing there.  I saw the Rockney duo in a whole new light after that programme.  Just wish I'd had a bit more respect for them when they did an album signing at the record shop I worked in during the early '80s.  I'm afraid I was slightly embarrassed about the whole thing at the time.

So that was one surprising revelation.  Here are some others from the past few days:

We took out a door frame and found the original red brick wall, layers of dark orange paint and some good old '70s (?) brown and white patterned wallpaper beneath it...  I love the way you get a kind of palimpsest (a favourite word, that - any excuse to use it) when you strip back those layers.  A snappy(ish) phrase came to mind, one that you don't want to try without your teeth in: "decades of decaying decor".

If I seem a bit out of sorts at the moment it may be because my kitchen looks like this

...which resembles a sort of warped Mondrian to my tired mind right now.  Whaddya reckon to the light switch hanging from the ceiling, eh? (if you look closely, top centre).  An art installation?

Meanwhile, back in the living room, it's all about plaster... but I'm liking those parallel lines.

And as for the back wall of the 1950s breeze block extension (also part of the kitchen), here's what it looked like earlier today.  When is a door not a door?

I'm shattered.  I can't wait until I no longer taste dust.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...