I’m about to make an admission that will probably cross me off some Christmas card lists: I’m not an animal lover. I prefer plants, mountains, trees and waterfalls to things that walk on four legs, fly, swim or crawl (definitely crawl). But hold your horses – just because I’m not glued to Springwatch or the latest David Attenborough offering doesn’t make me a bad person. I just happen not to get a buzz from watching film of zebras in the wild or enjoy listening to hyperactive BBC presenters trilling about water voles as they sit around a firepit in the wilds of Norfolk. And I’m so sorry, but I don’t go gooey over those cutesy videos people post on Facebook of murderous looking dogs cuddling up to ducklings…
But although I wouldn’t describe myself as an animal lover that’s not to say that I don’t like seeing nature in reality, rather than on a TV screen. Take birds, for instance…when we lived in Cardiff the birds in our garden were mainly pigeons, seagulls or magpies. I challenge anyone to champion those creatures, nuisances every one. But since we’ve moved to woolly-back Wales things have changed. Now we’re treated to the daily sight of robins, various types of finch and tit, blackbirds, swallows, wagtails and many more, partly because Michael has made feeding stations a priority. We have nuthatches – they eat upside down! And I never knew there was a bird called a tree-creeper until last week!This feeding of the birds has led to an on-going battle with the resident squirrels, who’ve decided that they shouldn’t be left out. Despite the construction of obstacles that would defeat an average teenager hauled out of bed on a Saturday morning, the blessed things still manage to climb up poles and over upturned pots – and even seem to be able to defy gravity and cling to vertical surfaces. I’ve become used to sitting in the living room reading quietly when the peace is shattered by Michael banging on the window and hurling obscenities at Fluffytail 1 or 2.
With these country birds comes a whole new soundscape. No longer do we have to suffer the squawking of a seagull as it dive-bombs into the garden or the cackling of the magpies. What we get instead is the hooting of owls (nice), tapping of woodpeckers (gets us straining our necks to try to see them, though we never can) and the cawing of jackdaws (which starts pretty early in the chestnut tree outside our bedroom window). Added to this are the high pitched calls of the occasional buzzard or red kite, a lot more interesting than squabbling pigeons.
One of the most entertaining of the bunch is the blackbird. These birds are real mimics and I’m convinced that at one time a blackbird – or group of them – picked up the melody of ‘I’m a Barbie Girl‘ because if you walk through any woodland that’s what you hear. Michael tested out the mimicry recently and whistled that five note refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sure enough, a minute or two later it was chirped back at him.
We’ve had a little trouble with a blackbird this week. The weather was good, the French doors were open into the dining room and Michael was inside keeping an eye on Roger Federer. I was lolling in the garden with my nose in a book when I looked up to see Michael rushing through the dining room to the kitchen, yelling “There’s a bird in the house!” Sure enough there was a blackbird flapping wildly against the inside of one of the kitchen windows. It took a good five minutes for Michael to coral the poor thing out of the doors, by which time it had left evidence of its occupation all over the windowsill, floor and worktop.
Which sort of confirms my feeling that I prefer trees and hills…
And so to the news this week: the fallout continues after THE vote that took place a fortnight ago, with at least three political parties having leadership issues; the seemingly invincible Novak Djokovic got knocked out of the Wimbledon tennis championships in the first week; and Wales reached the semi-finals of a major football championship for the first time in 58 years. Like most people I know, I’m fed up to the back teeth of politics – though unfortunately there’ll be a lot more to come! – so let’s move on to the other stuff.
I’m a huge fan of Novak Djokovic – quite apart from his astounding tennis ability, I think he has great charm and humour. If you’ve got time on your hands (or are just avoiding doing something useful, like me a lot of the time), have a look at some of the clips of him on You Tube. Very funny, though he tends to be a lot more serious at Wimbledon. Anyway…although I’m a supporter of his, it is nice to see a bit of a shake-up in things. It’s slightly boring to see the same person dominate a sport. Or to see the same teams at the top of the pile, which is just one of the reasons why I’ve been watching football for the first time in my life.
I don’t want to upset anybody but, my word, it’s a boring game. There doesn’t seem to be any structure, just twenty men running to and fro along an oversized lawn, trying to kick the ball past one of the goalkeepers at either end. These two are usually dressed in some hideous, fluorescent colour, like a pair of highlighter pens on legs. It’s likely that the fascination for all of this passes me by because of some sort of deficiency in me, not in the game – after all, millions of people world-wide are completely crazy for it. Along with music it seems to encourage universal bonding and I suppose anything that does that must be a force for good.
So I won’t whinge about it any longer and will just say that whatever my inability to appreciate ‘the beautiful game’, I’ve put that aside to support Wales this week. The team and the fans, as so many others have noted, have been a wonderful example of the best that sport can do for people. They’ve behaved impeccably, mixing genuine pleasure and excitement with fun and good humour, and have been generous winners as well as good losers. They’ve also shone a light on Wales and Welsh culture; there’s been terrific singing at the football stadia and it’s been impossible to look at TV or social media without seeing huge computerized dragons soaring over French cities. It strikes me that the next time we travel to Europe and tell someone we’re from Wales they’ll no longer frown and say ‘Where is that?’, but will demand to know if we really have dragons…
YES, WE DO!
The journey has come to an end, though, with the victory of Portugal last night. The team and fans will be on the way home…but now that they’ve all had a taste of success they’ll surely want more? So good luck to them, and thanks for brightening up our days and giving us something else to think about.
It’s tempting to say that anything which distracts us from the chicanery going on in Westminster at the moment is a good thing, but there were two things this week that I’d wished had never had to happen and I’ve deliberately left them until the end of this post.
The first was the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. An appalling episode, even by the standards of that bloody war, and still today it defies comprehension. There was extensive TV coverage from the ceremony at Thiepval and it seemed only right that as the day progressed, the grey skies over northern France wept over the hundreds of people present.
The second, much more personal event was the memorial service that we attended for my lovely friend Karen, who died a few weeks ago. Karen was a member of the singing group I go to and was one of the first people I got to know when we moved here. In a crazy, anarchic group of people she stood out as being one of the craziest, one of the friendliest, most generous and most fun-loving. She’d decreed that her service was to be not in a church but on top of Table Mountain, a place she loved. In addition it’s an uphill hike of about an hour and I’m sure this appealed to her sense of mischief, knowing it would be a challenge for some folk! She also insisted that we sing her favourite songs up there.
Which is why, if you were in the area last Sunday, you would have heard a bunch of people dressed in shorts and walking boots belting out Nkosi Sikelel i’Afrika, Eli Jenkins’ Prayer from Under Milkwood and Calon Lan.
And wouldn’t you know it – after a week which had seen changeable weather (to say the least) the sun shone steadily and the whole occasion felt completely right. Then we all trooped back down and went to the pub, just as Karen wanted xxx
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye