Day 56

In the garden a hole in the ground, sealed to hold enough water to form a small pond, now has two water iris plants and some marsh marigolds in an earthenware flowerpot. Some old bricks set in the water keep the lip of the pot above the surface. Some large stones give some character in and around the pond, that measures about 18 inches in diameter.

It is already home to two common European frogs, one small male and a much larger female. Will any frogspawn be laid, or is the pond too small?

The rats have been less obvious in the garden since all the feeders have been redistributed. A new metal, red poppy has been planted. The idea is to provide a feeding tray for small birds that can be easily seen from the kitchen, without it being accessible to rats. Advice has been taken and petroleum jelly can be used to grease any poles that the rodents might wish to explore.

The ornamental poppy has a substantial lip, so unless the rats bring rope and tackle, it should be a safe spot to leave some nibbles. Within minutes of being stuck in the ground and seed placed in the red “flower” a slender robin arrives and tucks in.

On my cycle ride this morning I saw a pair of black caps, a pied wagtail singing from a telephone cable, blue tits and gold finches. Gold finches are everywhere I have travelled around England these past five years. Either they are thriving, or I have my own personal flock of small, tuneful creatures.

A pair of swifts led the way for a while along the coast road. I nearly lost my balance on the bend while following their swooping and dipping. As “Lockdown” regulations change there is a need to be more cautious on the roads. There is noticeably more traffic this week already.

Over the ancient port up the road, a yellow Coastguard helicopter circles, making an obvious movement, tilting side on toward two people enjoying a rare conversation in the street. This manoeuvre is similar to that made by police helicopters when filming groups of football fans at high category matches. The two people move another foot further apart, uneasy at being observed so obviously.

A Saab cabriolet passes me with its roof down. The number plate ends “BLX” I am mildly amused. Perhaps the driver had paid for his car from a lottery win and had been able to stick his job? Or was his number plate an expression of frustration at the over-whelming scale of the challenges we collectively face at this time?

The health minister advises that “social hugs may be possible in the Autumn.” That is something to look forward to for the more tactile members of England’s population, although for others it will be a time to retreat deeper into isolation, in case it is taken as an instruction.

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Christopher Perry

12th May, 2020

Day 47

Yesterday evening provided a striking sunset. The Sun appeared from behind the solid bank of cloud on its descent and glowed orange in a narrow, low band of clear sky on the horizon. The light was flooded out under the cloud bank across the reed beds, reflecting off the bottom of the clouds and the top of the rain-filled pools. The reeds edged the scene as inverted tassels against the glow.

Shelducks, a redshank and a typically morose heron were some of the few birds visible. Two hares raced around the pasture and a muntjac deer had come down and across the road from the heath onto the path. It disappeared in the dusk. Bats were active around the green and the village cats were gathering again.

That cloud bank dominated today. Sunlight made a brief appearance in the morning, but it soon dulled to leave a grey day. Mowing the grass was done with care. I had an eye out for a toad that had been seen by the tiny pond under the wild plum tree. The scent of fresh cut grass filled the air for much of the afternoon until the smell of cooking eventually predominated.

The grass cutting temporarily dissuaded the birds from the garden, but eventually chaffinches, sparrows and robins came back over the fence. The young robin with its parent frequently returned to feed, as well as a third beautifully marked solitary adult. Blue tits seem to have nested in the old nest box hung on the side of the shed.

The two brown rats made brief visits and stimulated vigorous investigations of possible hideaways. There are signs of their tunnelling, but of course they have chosen places that are not easily reached. The growing confidence of the clever rat has led to the re-siting of the bird fat, which now hangs in a small metal cage from the washing line. How attractive this is to the local bird fraternity is questionable. The nut feeders have also been moved to the far end of the garden near the shed. The birds will find them sooner or later, but they have plenty of naturally available food to eat at this time of year. 

In the past few days I have seen many blackbirds of both sexes travelling with beaks filled with various small worms and centipedes. The earlier rain and now the mowing have encouraged the blackbirds to strut about on the lawn, tails proudly raised. These birds are enthusiastic in the pursuit of earthworms and they have been quick to take advantage of the need for the worms to move closer to the surface after the recent showers.

One thing that I need to investigate is the fascination that one chaffinch in particular seems to have with a shallow hollow in the lawn not far from the backroom window. It returns time and again and gets low into the same dip in the ground and busies itself with picking at the ground there. Are there ants there?

The yellow appearance of oak tree leaves is not good news, as I thought. Acute Oak Decline (AOD) is prevalent across East Anglia and in other regions of the British Isles. The appearance of young yellow leaves is a symptom ill-health.

The bark is badly affected by the disease and mature oaks, that might otherwise live for hundreds of years, are being killed off within four to five years by infection. There is research being carried out on whether the native oak jewel beetle is part of the problem, or whether it is attracted to the decaying bark of infected trees. The symptoms of this disease have been known of since 1918, but only now is an extensive research project being carried out.

This grey day passes quietly. No cuckoos that I am aware of, but a lark, the robins and blackbirds sing on regardless of the low light levels.

Along the footpaths, lanes and byways the Alexander plants are running riot in the absence of the local council verge trimming services; another consequence, dare I say, of central government cut-backs. One of the villagers has taken it on himself to tackle these invasive, gigantic, celery-like plants near his house with a sickle.

I enjoy talking with you this afternoon. The hundreds of kilometres of separation closes in an instant when I hear your voice.

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Christopher Perry

3rd May, 2020

Day 15

April already! My day is consumed with detailed work, but it is still light enough for me to set out walking just after six in the evening.

Bard Hill is covered in hawthorn bushes glowing with white blossom – it looks as if it’s snowed. I stop halfway up the traffic-free lane to listen to the bees. Bumble bees at every hawthorn. So big that occasionally they disturb a tiny white petal causing it to tumble to the ground.

The bees produce a deep buzz as they power their wings at top speed to defy gravity, but they fall silent when they land and start probing for nectar. The overall buzz I hear is a series of slow waves that coincide with one bee settling to drink, then another lifting off to seek fresh fuel.

Up on the heath I see some lads setting a small fire while they smoke and drink a can or two of beer. There’s been no sustained rainfall for weeks. One is arguing that building a fire is unsafe, the other offers reassurance that it will not spread.

At my intervention from the road they put it out. I bid them a good evening. They apologise and reply in kind. I leave them to their illicit adolescent pleasures.

As dusk forms deer are more confident to come out of hiding and I see them nibbling grass at every turn. I lose count of them and of the hares that are sitting upright in the fields that slope toward the sea. A hare on the road ahead is surprised at my appearance, so it races full pelt down the lane towards the village. It is unable to get off the road because of the steep banks on either side and the pace of its escape. It disappears in a dust cloud around the long bend.

Turning toward the house I wait and listen to a robin in full song. Such a common bird; such a beautiful singer. I walk on and find another exercising its voice with equal subtlety and variation just twenty-five metres further along. No cars come to disturb the performer or audience.

A rumour is confirmed late tonight. A local deliveryman has succumbed to the coronavirus. Contact tracing isn’t part of the government’s plan here.

It is close to a half-moon tonight. We often celebrate the full moon as it was full when we first met. Now any light in the dark is precious.

We are content to message “goodnight” tonight.

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CLP 01/04/2020