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 48

There are days when all details of its passing are over-shadowed by a few brilliant seconds, when there is no need to address the minutiae of the other hours.

This morning from the west, following the channel of the drain by the coast road, I spot this year’s first flight of swifts, rising and falling in the face of the north-easterly wind. They are making headway toward the small town of Sheringham, set above the clay cliffs. There are too many of these fine winged birds to count in this group. Their collective flight is reminiscent of watching a loose shoal of fish. “The swifts!” I call to my sister cycling behind, “The swifts!”

I cycle on alone through the village towards the hill, but just before passing the pub, “The Three Swallows” I catch sight of a bulky white bird flying a circle around a small paddock. At first I think that it is a little egret. I had seen one struggling with the windy conditions over the marsh only a few minutes earlier. However, as this bird turned, not twenty feet from me, I recognised the round face and stubby frame of a barn owl. This was just after nine o’clock in a period of full sun.

I have not seen one of these birds since I arrived here. I have watched out for them in vain on my evening walks, so this is a delightful surprise this morning.

I have to use the word luminous to describe the white of the feathers. The barn owl continued its slow patrol of the paddock, before easing its way to the grass for a fraction of a minute and then gently lifting itself on its broad scooping wings to a wooden fence rail behind a willow. I could see the ghostly image resting there, even through the fresh green of willow leaves. I reached for my mobile phone, but the battery faded as I switched to the camera. I stood and watched intently, committing the image to memory.

Happy to move on again, the owl resumed its morning flight. It took a half-turn around the back of the field and departed over the five-bar gate and away behind a tangle of old blackberry brambles, keeping low to the hedge-line for cover.

Later, at the top of the hill, I heard a tawny owl’s hoots. This is a time for hunting. Young owls need feeding, whatever the time of day, or night.

I recharge my phone and find a message from my friend who I used to stand with at the football. He admits that he is using these days in aspic to improve his cooking.

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Christopher Perry

4th May 2020