May - The Lusty Month of May



I miss the ribbons of hawthorn hedges. We get May blossom here - in fact we have our own May tree - but with red blossom - but we don't have the snaking lines of bush after tree after bush which we saw at this time of the year in Lincolnshire. It's still there. Creamy flowers delight travellers to our former home in Barrow upon Humber. My mum wrote that she was uplifted by the many bushes in flower along Double Rivers, thirty miles south west of Barrow, between Scunthorpe and Doncaster. I wonder if the hedgerows between Battlegreen and Burnham Beck still fragrance the wanderings of kids out to play of a late-Spring-early-evening. Those field edges were our playground and, for me, the smells, the sights and the sounds never diminish.

Here, in Caithness, the cotton grass is beginning to flower along our dog-walk and the king-cups beam from ditches. Lady's Smock sprinkles the banks and field margins. Unsurprisingly, since it is also known as the cuckooflower, we are hearing the cuckoo on both morning and evening walks. I don't do both - it has to be one or the other - and I'm a morning person really.

At this time of year, when the weather is as it should be, I take my little tea pot outside very early and I sit with the dog, breathing in the fresh new day and listening to our avian friends carolling and chuntering one to the other. The wren finds me in the kitchen when I am setting the table for breakfast ahead of my early morning cuppa. He sits in the mountain ash and calls me. I follow. Orlando follows me. He doesn't have the same problem with the wren that he has with the gulls and the pigeons. There's a kind of respect between them. They actually like each other. We all share the peace of the freshly-made day. It never happened before and it will never happen again. This is the first and the last. This day is the day I will do no wrong. I'm delusional - but I keep trying. We sit. We just sit and be. Sometimes I can hear the sea. When the east wind picks up it begins to feel a little chilly. Sometimes I can't resist the temptation to walk down the garden and check on newly sown seeds or fresh plantings. I'm back with the Andy Pandy story which my children loved - the one where Teddy planted acorns and wouldn't let them be. He kept digging them up to see if they were in fact growing. Patience. I must learn patience. They'll grow in their own good time. And, when they do, I will have to pick off the snails. I don't use chemicals. It's a matter of principle but it would be easier to have no principles. Take, for example, Lidl - some of their products are good and reasonably priced. A long time ago, when I was teaching full time and had a young family, all - except one -  in bed with 'flu,  the "except one" and I went to shop at Lidl. I was exhausted and forgot that, in this particular store, one didn't pack directly into one's carrier bags at the checkout. I was obviously beaten by a very efficient cashier. Efficient she may have been - but kind she was not - politeness would have sufficed - but, no, she used the very bad word at me. I wasn't going to blame the store as I knew she was probably a rogue employee and, I expected, would receive the necessary training after I had contacted them. I did contact them - and was told that I should understand that the woman in question was only doing her job and that she had recently been bereaved. Well, I was sorry for her bereavement - but I've never been over the threshold of a Lidl store since that day. Principles eh? Who needs 'em? I do!  No - I can't use chemicals to kill a snail or a slug - it wouldn't be a fair fight - not to mention the effect on our own little ecosystem here at 53. I'll stick with my principles.

The longer I sit out, the greater variety of birdsong I hear . . . and, after a while, the birds have to compete with the sounds from the harbour. The working day has begun. I go indoors but still think of the garden and plan to take the mid-morning drink outside. Meanwhile, the birds continue with nest-building and with feeding their young. The winter winds, attacking the laurel, exposed the teapot given to me, by my daughter, in order to encourage robins to nest. Now the branches of the laurel are leaning away from it so that the robins will surely not want to take a chance with nesting there. Maybe it will produce new leaves and those will hide the pot? Baby robins are so cute with their specklediness and gaping beaks. It would be good to have a family of them here in our garden. We have a pair of blackbirds in the ivy and Mr. Wren has built at least one of his nests here - near the gate. Mrs. Wren will make her decision regarding which nest to choose. She does the interior design and can take up to a week to complete it - ready for the eggs. There are sparrows nesting under next door's eaves and rooks have a colony in the square. We hurry under the trees in the square! Home is a nest. Wherever home is, it is a haven - a shelter - it is from where we set out each time we interact with others - and it is where we go when we need rest. Welcome home feathered friends - there is plenty of room for you - we won't knock down your nests nor will we disturb your privacy. Number 53 welcomes you!

I don't welcome all. Slugs and snails - but not puppy dogs tails - are most unwelcome. They cruelly strip my plants of their leaves which are meant to allow the plants to feed - and, as for seedlings, they can make them completely disappear overnight.  That is one conjuring trick I detest! 

Each Spring, in Lincolnshire, my grandfather took me into the garden to look for birds' nests. I think he had done a reconnaissance ahead of my visit. There was always one and sometimes more. We were careful not to look when the adult bird was near the nest and we never took a single egg. There were sparrows which Grandad called spadgers. There were blackbirds which he called blackies. The wren was always Jenny Wren - it may have been male but it was always Jenny!  All members of the tit family were called titmice. I have a nature book which belonged to my uncle when he was a lad and there is a chapter in it which is headed, "Gentlefolk and Ruffians". The gentlefolk are birds such as tits and the ruffians are starlings. I have to say that, when starlings come in any number, things get quite noisy around here - as they do when the jackdaws arrive. They are inclined to air their dirty linen in public. While I was repotting some plants the other day, there was an alarming noise which made me look up to see three jackdaws chasing and chelping over the housetop.They scare away the siskins but the siskins' friends, the goldfinches, will often stand their ground.

Our birds in Caithness are not so different from in the Lincolnshire of my childhood. The main difference for us now is that there are gulls nesting around us too. In the fields of my childhood the gulls followed the plough and we saw them at the refuse tip but that was all - except on days out at the seaside. Today they make their mewing sounds around me as I take my early morning tea outside. The pitch has changed as I slowly walk around the garden in the sweet-smelling evening. I recorded such a walk last year and it sounded threateningly jungle-like. I half expected a snake to slither down from the sycamore - or a tiger to pounce from behind the water butt. And what was that sharp stabbing in my neck?

When the gulls have left their parents they are at huge risk in the town. They foolishly walk around on the pavements where they are sport for dogs and cats. This is sad but you might argue it is natural. What isn't natural is that, when they wander onto the roads, some drivers speed up to hit them. Opinion is divided here about the gulls. When we first came to this house we fed them on the lawn. Some people on the square didn't like it. It was quite a spectacle though - to witness a dozen or more pairs of considerable wings hang glide above the scraps and, taking great quantities, propel themselves up, up and away over the wall. We only stopped when Orlando came to us. As a small sprocker he didn't stand a chance against a flock of adult gulls. We never started again but they come sometimes and knock food from the bird table onto the floor and from there they help themselves. All comers welcome! 

At the close of today there were many insects flying in groups above the garden. They will feed the swallows and martins and the bats. They also herald a good weather day tomorrow. I hope that, somewhere between the laundry, the baking and the cleaning, I shall be able to sit out for a while and, breathing in the scent of the lilac, I shall absorb the trills, tweets and melodies all around me.

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