open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like

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Seven(th) Swans a-Swimming

It looked like a bright day outside. The wind was loud and boisterous. It was whipping my skirt, my scarf, my hair. Stinging my eyes. Cold forehead. I wished I’d worn a hat. Leaves blew up and whirled round. It grew less and less bright as I stepped onwards, and not just because it was past three o’clock on a December afternoon.

The Swanpool swans were dabbling at the pool edge by the benches at the roadside. The seven-month-old cygnet has not yet left his parents. Each time I come down here I wonder whether he will have flown the nest yet. Continue reading


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How to tell it’s August despite the weather

Packed beaches. Ambling tourists in shop doorways when I’m in a hurry on my lunch break.

The same weather we’ve had all year is now moderately warmer if no drier or less windy or more predictable, thus adding humidity to the list of general meteorological discomforts of 2012.

Too many types of vetch, umbellifer and mustard in flower. I got as far as tufted vetch with my flower book but got disheartened by the similarity of cow parsley, burnet saxifrage and sea carrot. Garden escapees are in full throttle, rashes of near-artificial colours on the cliff edges and road sides: crocosmia, fuchsia, red hot pokers. Petals from a naturalised hydrangea litter the pathway like snippets of fallen sky. Epilobium is pink on the coast path, convolvulus white in the cemetery, a hedgebank strewn with cotton hankies. Ox-eye daisies, tansy and red valerian, which is often pink not red, all smell unpleasantly polleny. Honeysuckle smells of sun drenched hedgerows and buddleia smells of honey.

The corpses of three juvenile herring gulls have been mashed into the tarmac of my road.

A Green Flag  Award for Swanpool recognises it as among the best green spaces in Britain. Continue reading

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Henley Pre-gatta

Aston Ferry – Hambleden Lock – Remenham – Henley-on-Thames (where?)

25th June 2012 (the Regatta took place between 27th June and 1st July)

Aston Ferry is ferry-less. There is a puddle through the whole middle of the wishing gate. A heron lifts off from the near bank of the Thames. Greylag geese have two goslings, grey and lagging behind. Canada geese, four: strangely green-looking things like they’ve been rolled in lichen. Ducks are free-riding the fast flowing stream, or paddling sideways to the quieter eddies at the sides. Something garden bird-shaped makes a straight flight across from the water meadow to the tree-line on my left. Unremarkable in size and flight I catch a glimpse of its blue and orange. I haven’t seen a kingfisher for years.

Here the river is wide. Boats are forced to navigate through Hambleden Lock, which controls the flow through the gap between the west bank and one of three small islands in the curve of the river. Reaching out from the other side of this island and stretching diagonally downstream and across the river to Hambleden Mill on the opposing bank is the weir. The metal access bridge feels fragile and temporary – though I know it is both strong and relatively permanent – a utilitarian scaffold frame with narrow walkway, steel railings and gaps underfoot between the metal treads through which the river can be seen. It is a strange feeling to stand over the middle of the river, watching it, hearing it, smelling it, feeling it, all round you: through those railings and below that framework. I feel slightly detached, standing still above the full force of one of the wettest June’s on record gushing through beneath. Continue reading

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Water Babies

Rain stopped play yesterday so I only made it back to Swanpool today to check on the progress of the nesting pair of resident swans. Down at the water’s edge a bevy of mallard quack expectantly in my direction. Their luck’s in: a family with toddlers and a bread bag are also passing. So are the seagulls, airborne the better to snatch a snack. Cue cries of bullies on wings! from the bread throwers: they’re monsters! they take the chicks as well, you know, one elaborates, while the dad quickly snatches up a vulnerable toddler as if he were too at risk of gull predation.

South end of the pool, no sign of the swans. I head in the direction of the nest, but before I get near I see a white shape in the reeds – no, two white shapes – Mr and Mrs, then: the eggs must have hatched! And yes, there they go, out into the pool with some little shapes bobbling behind them; or rather here they come, as they’re heading in my direction. I realise I should have brought bread as this is clearly what they’re expecting, but it’s ok, the bread-throwing family were here before me and there’s a tideline of soggy crusts where the wind’s flopped the water over the edge of the pavement.

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