Archive for the ‘ British birds ’ Category

Living like lovers, swanlike

Side by side for life

I’ve always liked swans. They are majestic, elegant, long necked and incredibly graceful. These are things I am not but hanker for.

I also love the purity of their appearance – all that white, virtually untainted by colour

But most of all I love the idea that they are monogamous creatures; they pick a mate, and stick together for life.

Only now I’ve found out it’s not always true. They sometimes “divorce”. They have affairs. They do the dirty on each other.

I put them on a pedestal, but they have let me down. They are no better than humans after all.

Anyway, before my illusion was shattered, I snapped this pair swimming about together in Springfield Park. It was an overcast day, one of those days when the sky is white with cloud and colour is drained out of everything; not ideal photographic conditions. I liked that this pair were almost in symmetry, either side of this line of shadow in the water. I liked how they look almost identical as they glide away.

I imagined them sailing off to spend the night snuggled up side by side on the bank. In fact they were probably off to a sex party with the neighbours. Dirty beasts.

While on the subject of monogamy, comedian Andrea Walker once made this observation: “My husband thought monogamy was a type of wood. I said: “Honey, no – monogamy’s when you just sleep with your wife.” He’s like, “No,— that’s monotony.”

Off to the nest


The School Walk

I’ve been doing “school mornings” for five years now. Had I been doing the same task for five years at work I would have it down pat by now. Why, then, are schooldays still so fraught, so likely to spill over into disputes, shouting matches and fights? It seems so easy to come up with a winning formula.

The trick, obviously, is to get as much done as possible the night before, thus reducing the risk of it all going wrong during that tired, difficult hour before school.

I once had a night-time checklist. I typed it out and everything. It was brilliant. (By the way, if you’re super organised and always do all this stuff anyway, and never have a fraught morning, and get yourself and four kids off to school and work with ease, then please stop reading now. And know that I hate you.) My list went something like this:

Check and hang up school uniforms, including pants and socks

Check for PE kit, swimming kit, forms to return, letters to read, money to hand over

Make sure the doings for breakfast and packed lunches are ready to go

Rinse water bottles and leave by sink to refill

Woolly hats and gloves and coats on radiator to warm for next morning

Put car and house keys ready in case we have to resort to car dash

Put own outfit ready to throw on

I had everything covered. Fifteen minutes effort, tops. Sadly, I’d lost the checklist by day three of the new school term, and it all slowly unravelled from then onwards.

The reality of life in our household most mornings is that somebody has always lost something vital or suddenly remembers to tell me that I was meant to make Angel Gabriel’s costume (due in today); somebody else wants to lie in and then shouts at everyone else when they realise how late it is; somebody else feels sick/has headache/hurts knee in karate demonstration or jumping off settee onto beanbag; and somebody always loses the car key/house key/urgent form (me).

As a result we are, more often than not, cross with each other by the time we get out of the front door. My eldest is particularly cross if we leave the house a minute after 8.20am, as that means the  gaggle of mates who he walks the last 100 yards to school with will have left without him; the youngest is cross because we are walking at all; and I’m cross because I look like shit, having failed to find time to drag a brush through my hair, never mind put on any lippy.

On these days I harbour a dream. All parents harbour the same fantasy, I’m sure.

It’s the one where everyone tumbles out of bed gracefully at the allotted time, showers without fuss and dons perfectly ironed uniforms/outfits before assembling around the breakfast table (laid the night before). There we all exchange stories of the day ahead, discuss last night’s TV/family board game, while tucking into a hearty fresh breakfast. There is cereal (only healthy, non sugary brands), toast in the rack, juice (freshly squeezed), bacon grilling, eggs poaching, tea in the pot. We depart for school on time, without hassle, walking hand in hand. In some versions I think we are even skipping and singing Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music. I am also two stone lighter in this adaptation, but that’s another story.

This fantasy has actually happened in our family once or twice. Possibly. Though that might have been another dream.

Until I put in the effort to make this a reality, I’ll settle for just getting them to school with food in their bellies and in clean(ish) uniform. This morning was, actually, a nice, stress-free one. So much so that, on the way out of the house, I even took the time to snatch up my camera, with a vague plan to take some pics on the walk back. The images above and below are some of the results.

If you follow my blog occasionally, you’ll know I encourage myself to celebrate the mundane and simple wonders of life. It’s a bit of a theme in fact. More of a “memo to self” than to you, but here it is again: we all recognise the standout special moments – the fabulous holiday, the brilliant achievements of our loved ones or ourselves, the magical days when everything just falls into place – but these come along rarely and are generally accompanied by a loud fanfare and spotlights, so we can hardly miss them. What makes for a happy life, in my humble opinion, is appreciating those everyday moments, and realising amid the routine and the trials and tribulations of life just how blessed we are. Without these regular pick-me-ups I reckon life could soon become a despairing grind.

The walk to and from school, five days a week, is a case in point. I usually spend the best part of the 1km route trying to de-stress after the hassles of the morning, shouting at the kids to keep away from the kerb, and planning the rest of my day in my head. I’ve even been known to text or email while walking along in a bid to get a jump on the day.

We walk along a busy road for the most part, but the last section takes us down a narrow hedge-lined alley, with the school and fields on one side and a play park, football pitches and patch of marshland on the other.

This morning, the mere act of picking up my camera meant that I spent most of the walk there looking out for photo opportunities to snap on the way back. I noticed the deep blue of the wintery sky. The way the moon looked incredibly close, hanging like a globe in the empty sky. The way the light flitted through the stark trees. The long shadows cast across the playground. The frost on the ground, like a Christmas carpet. I talked to the kids about what we saw, and they spotted interesting stuff too.

I would probably have been oblivous to all of this normally; too busy plotting ahead to appreciate the here and now. Sure, I’d have noticed what a crisp, bright morning it was – but then my brain would have switched off and zoomed in on my to-do list.

I know what I’m saying is hardly rocket science – Buddhists have been practising the art of “mindfulness” and living in the moment for centuries – but I realised some time ago that I was spending large chunks of the day thinking about the next thing on my to-do list while doing something else. It’s a road that leads only to stress, stress and more stress. My life improved dramatically once I started to accept there was ALWAYS something else to do and I would NEVER be finished, if I lived to be 500. I learned, slowly, that it was definitely better to go with the flow and focus on one thing at a time.

The photos I took this morning are not of the most dazzling places in the country, nor are they the best composed, nor are they taken during the “golden hours” of sunrise and sunset, when proper photographers are out and about plotting the perfect shot. They are quick snapshots and sometimes I get lucky.

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Among the things I noticed this morning was the way a weeping willow’s leaves shone gold against the blue sky; the contrast of the last remaining red berries on a tree against the azure; a bird perched on a tree branch, soaking up the warmth of the sun; the way the sunlight fizzed across a patch of ice. I noticed how my younger son made a trail through the frost on his scooter, then tried to painstakingly retrace his track, without success. I saw my older son play wrestle with one of his pals before they all broke into a laugh about something one of them had said (probably about a girl; they are at that age).

They and these things would have been there anyway, being beautiful, whether I had noticed them or not. I’m glad I noticed them though; glad I spent a few minutes watching my sons finding their way, glad to watch that proud bird getting some rays. That’s the thing about ‘ordinary’ special things – nobody points a big arrow at them and yells: ‘look at me!’. They are just there waiting.