The story begins on a Thursday, early in summer, among the hills of west Herefordshire, the very perimeter of man’s creation. Here is a quiet backwater where nature is largely unspoilt and the villagers enjoy a pace that beggars time. The only signs of change are the big tractors working the fields and even bigger harvesters that drone endlessly through the golden corn.
From the lawn, you can see pastures rise and fall across close, fertile valleys, and green-leafed trees climb steep banks to crest the close-by common.
The loudest sound is the noise of a quarry, sometimes drowned by morning bird-song; the only pollution the dust it sprays, to cloud the cars and thicken the mud that lines the nests. Above, flocks of small creatures wing unerringly after flies: the living food-chain works; hawks and buzzards hover in the clear blue . . .
The day is marked in eternity: mother-in-law, with the happy assistance of the mother of my children, was mounting her broomstick to leave for Ireland after her first trip here, ever. It was high summer and her week with us had been notable, for reasons soon to become evident, for thunderstorms, earlier in the week. One evening we had been to school to see the world premier of Emily’s class video, Why Bother? The showing was preceded by the fiercest storm for years, forked lightning sending shivers down the spine and, inevitably, cutting off the electricity supply. However, we survived, power was restored and the video was an immediate hit, whatever about its influences at the box-office. Made by eight-year-olds, supervised by their class teacher, the video showed the advantages of their particular school and the benefits of its kind of education. Very good it was, too.
That day, then, m-in-l was boarding, after the tearful (cross my heart!) goodbyes. Mother had just taken her to the car (to get to the broomport) and – I must admit – I went to the garden to breathe a sigh of relief.
The sun blazed down, as it had done for weeks. Our garden is small and fenced-off from neighbours by a high lath structure that can’t be seen through, although we overlook open countryside. The vegetation within our boundaries consists of some bedding plants, male and female sumach trees, a few roses, and a lawn that entertains more of Prince Charlie’s ideals than those of the perfect gardener.
There was no shade, not a whisper of wind, and, there, on the ground beneath my feet, lay a small blob of yellow jelly, maybe a couple of inches from stem to stern. I had no idea what it was: for all the world like one of those slimy things the children have, that leave big, dirty splodges on the walls, and invariably end up stuck to my shoes. I suspected it might be something thrown into our garden by the child next door, but, on closer investigation, there was a sign of life. I could see a small but energetic pair of lungs respiring clear air for all they were worth. Although I have a degree in biology, I couldn’t recognise any anatomical landmarks on the blob. No eyes, no nose, no legs, no hairs. I poked the blob with my foot to see if there might be a reaction, but no. Still, the breathing continued, and with some venom now. I bent closer to the ground – the blob was a baby bird.
Mother, unexpectedly, came back then (to ask if I’d pay the exorbitant airport parking charges for the broomstick!) and I showed her the bird. She just looked and said: ‘Oh, how sweet, it must have come from that nest up there.’
I looked up at the house. Of course, it hadn’t dawned on me. There, just under the eaves of the roof, the bottom had fallen out of a housemartin’s nest. Damaged by the storm that previous night, it had finally collapsed, and here was one of the babies at my feet….
Book: Paperback 126 Pages (opening lines above) ISBN: 0-9529750-0-9