Imagine working out for the first time that these are individual birds!
Mrs Blackbird with nesting material
Seeing the world through new eyes: what a blessing!
Our grandson is a year old. Twelve months ago he could not focus at a distance, so a great deal of what goes on around us he is seeing for the first time. That index finger is forever pointing at something interesting; today the birds. Sparrows in next-door’s roof, arguing the toss in great excitement; starlings in family parties, descending on our tree, never silent; the cock blackbird, hidden by the leaves, but even louder in his song – or his warning notes – than the others. Louder still, the herring gulls circle, often calling though sometimes silent; magpies and pigeons stalking the playing field, but best of all a jackdaw, who leaves his group and walks beside the buggy for a good few yards, no more than five metres away, bright eye locked onto bright eye. Bird! Bird!
it has, from time to time, been suggested that Mr Turnstone could pass for a patriarch from Genesis. Today it was the Noah side that came to the fore.
Despite Mrs T’s worries, our pond had plenty of spawn by last weekend, when Ms Turnstone II came to call. She was begging some for her class of 4-5 year-olds. Mr Noah was recruited to bring the spawn, with a few hatchling tadpoles, over to School. Great fun was had by the children as well as Mr Noah, and I think the children will enjoy observing the little creatures as they grow.
One lad was guessing what sort of animal I’d brought along – is it a tiger?
No, said Noah, he might eat you for breakfast, then you for break, and you over there for lunch, and so on. The conversation moved on … We discussed Ms Turnstone’s pet hen she had as a child, which had all 60 children – there were two classes – performing a chicken routine that had to be seen. And Ms T blushed!
Finally, Mr Noah put his foot in it at lunch time when he said he might bring the tiger in to get some lunch. One poor boy took it literally, when all the rest enjoyed the shiver of shock. Sorry Lad! I think we parted as friends.
Mrs Turnstone came in from the railway bank where once I met the little girl with a ragdoll. Mrs T had been up there looking for greenery to renew the Advent wreath and decorate the house.
‘Here’s a story for your blog’, she said, as she unloaded branch after branch of holly, each one bearing berries as red as any blood. ‘I began harvesting at eye level’, she said, ‘then looked up and there were all these berries. I’ve never seen the like in all the years we’ve lived here.’ She suggested it was due to the mild winter we have had so far, but why then have the blackbirds stripped the pyracantha outside our window, which usually does not get harvested until into the new year? Are the two harvests, the unusually late and the unusually early, connected, or are there two separate populations of berry-eating birds just a couple of hundred metres apart, each going its own way?
One thing is sure: if the waxwings come looking for pyracantha berries chez Turnstone this winter, they will be disappointed!
It’s an occupational hazard for those of us blessed with a grey-to-white beard! ‘Hey Santa!’ from teenagers, or a rather more awed approach from younger children. I once had a long conversation with a little lad in Gap, France, with his mother in the background, encouraging me to keep going; great fun for me as well as him.
Today was surprisingly different.
Cycling along the shared path by the river, I rang my bell to warn a lady with her two dogs that I was approaching; they were occupying the whole path. Smiling, she got out of the way, saying to the dogs, ‘There boys, it’s Father Christmas come to say hello.’
Those finds set my memory going. Years ago I used to care for a garden behind some offices; the building had been a private boys’ school until about 1920. From time to time I would find glass marbles or copper halfpennies, sometimes Victorian ones with both lighthouse and sailing ship behind Britannia on the reverse, but the find that stays in the memory was easily overlooked, more prosaic yet more poignant.
When clearing St Tydfil’s churchyard forty years ago I was struck by the number of clay pipe stems in one corner, till Trevor told me that the shop next door had been The Three Salmons pub. Pipes were sold cheaply to patrons, or given away with tobacco, so one that was drawing poorly would be snapped and tossed over the wall.
This one that turned up in the office garden must have had a story to tell, for it bore the legend ‘St Omer’. My predecessor, I guess, would have returned from the Front in 1918 and resumed his gardening work. When his pipe broke, he thought little of it, but took a short walk to The Three Tuns, where a beer would have been most welcome, and a new pipe waiting for him. Did he feel that throwing the French pipe away was another short step away from the trenches?
A few weeks ago, digging in the back garden, I turned up a small toy cat, what my daughters used to call a China animal. Friday by Friday, each of them collected a set of dragons, ducks, horses or cats from a tiny shop near where I worked, each animal brought home in its own tiny paper bag. At 10p apiece they provided hours of imaginative play. When the girls saw this relic of their childhood there were gasps of delighted recognition.
Delight, but puzzled delight for us when the good people from Regency Floors brought us a white Scottie dog found wedged between the floorboards they were renovating. None of us recognised him: a Monopoly counter perhaps, but not one we had ever played with.
At Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse in Laugharne/Llarregub a cabinet displayed half a dozen toys unearthed in the garden, including a Dinky car like one my cousin Anthony used to let me play with. Good to think of those children playing in the garden: the toys a concrete reminder that A Child’s Christmas in Wales would have been blessed, even with little by way of material things, as ours were in Birmingham.
Domestic archaeology, unearthing happiness! Dylan praised Laugharne/Llarregub for its smallness in a small land, smiling under the Principality of the Sky. Delight is beyond measure, a tree from a mustard seed.