Of messengers winged, wandering and wondering…
Of birds, baths and beaks…
Above the CD collection of mixed ownership hangs a certificate, testifying that the quarter acre or so which I now tend was once registered as a wildlife garden.
Qualification – twenty five years ago – required us to have five ‘wildlife features’; long grass, woodpiles, bog areas, ponds and the ilk. I think it likely though that had the registering body known that our original ‘pond’ was a bath, we’d have been more likely to have been certified than certificated.
My father was pretty wild too; having manhandled the cast-iron hulk down the steep quarry steps and spent hours sinking it in at ground level as a ‘surprise’ for his beloved-who-wanted-a-pond, his beloved’s reaction was not quite what he expected. The clincher for my mother was probably the taps, but even without the no-longer-running H&C it was always going to be a buried bath – which of course now had to be exhumed and hauled back up the steps, my father leaking good karma with every riser.
His subsequent silence – anger and hurt invariably manifesting themselves in a lowering rather than a raising of the volume in our household – lasted for several days, during which time mum no doubt had time to reflect that he had, after all, meant well. Not a word of protest was raised then when a neon turquoise plastic sheet later appeared lining the rather sinister, coffin-shaped indent.
I swear the imported tadpoles wore sunglasses that first year – they looked, after all, as though they’d ended up on a Club Med holiday. Time, however, is a great fader, and today, bar the shape, it looks almost like a pond. Only algae seem to thrive in it, but I suppose they’re wildlife too
Oh! I just discovered something courtesy of Word… I’d started that last sentence ‘only algae seems…’ to be rewarded with one of those annoying little green squiggly underlining. Wondering indignantly what it was objecting to now, I right-clicked, only to learn after all these years that that the singular of algae is ‘alga’. The option it offered me – ‘an only alga’ – must be one of the loneliest phrases I have ever encountered, but I will go to bed wiser courtesy of Microsoft tonight. ‘Tis such a reversal that I shall consider fragmenting…
Anyway, back in the garden the pond still blooms, the bath overflows with francoa and life is as wild as ever it was. A little wilder, in fact, this year, for the triumvirate of robin – seagull – crow which rule its airways have been joined by an usurper; a male blackbird anxious to elbow in on the pecking order. It started by stalking the robin and has now graduated to stalking me, venturing to within a foot in its determined quest for mealworms.
The indignant crow watches from a short distance, hunched on the wall like a sulking hoodie and Tig is definitely struggling with it all. If she half closes her eyes she can just about convince herself that something as small as a robin isn’t really fluttering fearlessly around her, but the blackbird’s on a bigger scale altogether and as such much harder to ignore, especially as it will insist on punctuating its every darting movement with an anxious, piercing ‘twick’.
Sammy’s sanguine enough though – he, after all, has never relied upon a diet of worms. No, his prime source of nourishment is cat food – or to be precise, the bits of alleged ‘meat’ left after Tig has sucked the jelly off her Felix. All Sammy has to worry about from his haughty perch is ‘will it be beef or will it be salmon in cat saliva gravy?’
The robin hardly seems to notice either – its brood hatched around a fortnight ago and it has, since, become a bird driven. I treasure being close enough to pick up on these changes in his life; he has, after all, been carrying mealworms to courtship-feed his partner for some weeks now; had I been less familiar with his behaviour I might well have concluded that he already had young.
After seven years of watching though, I spot the difference that announces break-out from eggshell Alcatraz immediately. Suddenly, instead of helping himself to a mouthful he’ll pick up a single grub, manipulate it from side-to-side-and-back-again across his beak like some macabre mouthorgan and then break it into shorter lengths before flying off with a meal made-to-measure – the perfect pecked lunch.
I suspect that he’s feeling both the width and the quality, ensuring that there are no choking hazards in these small parts. The dexterity though with which he manoeuvres and then sections the worm leaves me with renewed respect for the precision engineering of his beak; true wormsprung durch teknik.
An apology to purists, incidentally, for the heavy reliance on hand-based metaphor in the previous two paragraphs, but seek a synonym for ‘dexterity’ and what are you offered? ‘adroitness’, ‘dextrousness’, ‘legerdemain’, ‘handiness’… the results of some word searches, it would seem, are as empty as the sound of one wing flapping…
As days pass and the robin’s beak-loads grow larger and larger, I use their swelling and frequency to measure his brood’s progress. His current winged message hints at two to three well-fed young roblings – no mean feat when you consider that each one will demand around 140 small grubs or insects a day. It’s lucky then that it’s the time of year when I’m almost a fixture in the garden myself; an ever ready worm-o-mart where the only bills are full ones.
Of beauty, beasts and burial…
It is, you see, the start of the iris season. I am entranced.
I like spring flowers, or course, but having long ago lost the bulb battle to starch-seeking badgers and squirrels, my early-year garden boasts little impact after the fading of the hellebores.
The contrast, come May then, is sudden and startling. Clematis montana fleshes out the old pig sty roof, pale paper hats of astrantia crown shady borders and honeysuckle ‘Graham Thomas’ pours its scent into the waiting glass of evening. Awakened by bluebells, the garden’s getting up at last; ghostly globes of clematis Miss Bateman yawn open, meadow rue and chives comb out their shaggy locks and the perennial cornflowers stretch wide. In the borders, the first cranesbills and Cambrian poppies compare their crumpled, just-out-of-bed skirts.
And then the irises begin to bloom. The dozen-or-so varieties I grow will unfurl in waves from now until July, each spiralling a fresh charm of fascination as they corkscrew open. For one who photographs they are a delight, a muse of which I never tire whether viewed face on, from above, from below, lit by the setting sun or bejewelled by raindrops. I adore their complex form, the intricacy of their markings, the depth and breadth of their colours; small wonder that they are named for the winged messenger of Greek mythology who personified the rainbow.
In fact considering the beauty – and the inexplicability at the time of the phenomenon of rainbows – it surprises me a little that Iris wasn’t a bigger player in the Pantheon. But no, her role was very much that of trusted go-between, a B-list deity conveying the messages of A-list gods with accuracy and alacrity. Mentioned a few times in the Iliad – and called upon to deliver Stygian water to Mount Olympus, come the Odyssey she seems to have been largely usurped by Hermes, almost as if Zeus and Hera had decided to change their utility supplier.
The Theogony – a didactic ‘who’s who’ of the gods by Hesiod – gives Iris’ parentage as the Titan Thaumas and the nymph Electra. And if he is right, it means that she was a bit of a Cinderella in other ways too, for she had, you see, some very ugly sisters.
Exactly how many ugly sisters depends on who you read; Homer only mentions one, Hesiod two and later writers three or more, but whatever their number, they were, collectively, known as the Harpies; loathsome, ravenous creatures with the heads and sometimes bodies of women but the wings and claws of terrifying birds.
Originally associated with the sea, wind and storms, the name ‘Harpy’ comes from the Greek ‘harpazein’ -‘to seize’ – and this was very much their role in myth. Be it children, the wounded, food or souls, the harpies were always lurking, ready to smash and grab.
One of the best known stories tells how Zeus sent them to plague Phineus the seer as punishment for his revealing things that should only be known to the gods. Every time Phineus tried to eat, the harpies would swoop from the heavens and make off with his fare, befouling any scraps left behind with their vile guano. I look around the high perches of my home and wonder whether I should rename Sammy and the crow Aello and Celaeno…
They’ve been joined in the last couple of days by a dark rash of Corvidae; I woke this morning to find two magpies within feet of the bedroom window looking on whilst a jackdaw grappled with a birdfeeder half its size and yesterday I watched astonished as a jay made repeated visits to the enclosed confines of the back, gathering up peanuts spilled during replenishment. It’s only the second time in my life that I’ve known a jay venture so close-up here; that the last time it happened was during a bitter, snow-clad snap hints at the stress that adult birds are under at the moment.
For we’ve had, you see, three consecutive days of rain and at times gale-force winds too. Providing for the needs of baby birds is a difficult task full stop, but in conditions like these it becomes exhausting and at times impossible; small wonder then that adults are willing to take unusual risks to access food either for themselves or their young.
The hideous weather also explains the odd behaviour of a blue-tit I watched yesterday evening. Humming-bird like it hovered around doors, window frames and under sills, clinging momentarily here and there, probing and pecking. I can only assume that heavy rain and wind having washed the caterpillars, grubs and aphids from the trees, it was searching out the spiders which spin between the angles of buildings; they would, after all, be relatively protected from the elements.
The message conveyed by the blue-tit’s flutterings was not an optimistic one though; even if they come in multi-packs, there’s not much meat on spider drumsticks and I’m sure that many, many baby birds will have perished either from hunger or hypothermia over the last few days. Apparently only one-in-ten eggs laid ever goes on to become an adult bird and consecutive days of bad spring weather must up these already sad odds considerably.
The baby robin I buried today though fell prey, I’m ashamed to say, to Tig. Well would have fallen prey had I not heard its cheeping and opened the back door on the beaming cat. I’ve wondered since whether it would not have been kinder to have left it shut, but once face-to-face with the bedraggled mite I had, of course, to scoop it up. I did so with heavy heart though as I know from experience that bird-saving is not my forté. From abandoned ducklings to numerous cat and weather casualties, my record is in fact just two successes over quarter of a century of trying – but hey, there’s never two without three, is there?
So over the space of 30 minutes I warmed it, I dried it, I tried – and failed – to feed it. I even sat it in a makeshift paper-lined nest-bowl and played it a recording of my robin’s song to try to make it connect me with bird-dom and food, but its beak remained stubbornly shut whilst its heart thumped and its eyes gazed wide. So I took it back to the garden and left it, in some shelter, near its parents. Half an hour later it was dead. Such a very short life.
Of vagabonds, vagrancy and varied diets…
Things being cold and wet have always bothered me. When little, my ambition in life was to be rich enough to buy a house big enough to home all gentlemen of the road. Whether they would actually want to be homed or not didn’t even occur to me. It also never occurred to me that I would need anything more than a single, very large building with perhaps twenty bedrooms at most at my disposal; I must have assumed at the time that almost every tramp in existence eventually found his way to our front door.
In my defence we did seem to get more than our ration of hopeful callers looking for food and perhaps some old clothes; in fact my mother swore that our dwelling had something she called ‘the mark’ on it, identifying it as one where there was welcome to be found. It would, she said, be carved in a spot ‘known to the wise’ – and it sounded even more thrilling when she said it in Welsh.
For years I thought I’d found it on the talcen wall but said nothing; I liked our strange visitors and loved the idea of a secret symbol. It was quite a let-down then when I eventually discovered that the arrow I’d kept to myself all that time was nothing more romantic than a benchmark inscribed by travellers from the Ordinance Survey, proclaiming the house to be precisely 228.2 feet above sea level. I consoled myself by reflecting that perhaps people living at that altitude were particularly renowned for their generosity of spirit in vagabond circles.
I’ve since learned that a circle is exactly what I should have been looking for, for that was the sign of a welcoming house (although how long that welcome would extend if the owners caught you chiselling into their masonry is of course a moot point…) A circle bisected by a line was a sign of warning, and a ‘Z’ an even more definite ‘do not call’. A triangle denoted a police house which could be a mixed blessing; a particularly bitter night might, after all, be better spent at her majesty’s pleasure than in the bite of the elements.
Anyway, signposted or not, our regular irregulars returned starling-like with the fall of the leaves each year. In spring and summer casual farm work would provide them with both both board and bedding but once harvest had passed, rural pickings were poor.
I don’t remember my family making any great distinction between the tramping folk and the gypsies who were also regular callers, although in a household where money was often scarce I suspect that the latter’s entreaties to part with hard cash in return for clothes-pegs, charms or frivolous glimpses of the future were less easy to comply with then requests for food.
There was, after all, always food to share – 95% of the garden was given over to vegetable production and a further 4% to chickens and bees. Eating and cooking apples in abundance, pears, blackcurrants, strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb cocked a further snook at greengrocers whilst the surrounding countryside yielded blackberries, whimberries, elderberries and mushrooms.
Every Thursday morning my father would rise at five thirty and go and help one of the butchers at the local market to unload and set up his stall. The payment – always in kind – provided ample protein to last until Sunday and buttered the family bread for the week. On Sunday a chicken was eaten roasted, on Monday cold and on Monday night the carcass would be boiled to make cawl for Tuesday and Wednesday.
We actually paid for very little then; flour, sugar, milk, dried fruit, lard, margarine, tea and coffee were the staples whilst the occasional luxuries came in tins – baked beans, spaghetti, Goblin hamburgers, and Nestle’s cream. The cream – slightly grey and oily – would be served at teatime on a Sunday along with tinned ‘fruit cocktail’ – a syrupy mass in which only colour and texture distinguished peach from pear from pineapple. The punctuation marks of palid grapes and day-glo cherries tasted no different either, but were to be coveted all the same.
I must have thrown the family economy into crisis then when, at the age of five, I decided that for tea I would eat a dry currant bun with a glass of orange squash and that my supper would be a tin of Chef beans and sausages; every day; for years. I suspect that what triggered it was starting school dinners and the trauma of being forced to eat things I truly disliked to the point of retching; children’s taste buds can be such drama queens.
At home then I craved predictability and my parents, themselves fairly traumatised by picking a beetroot-faced child up from the school gates each day and dragging her back there the next morning, capitulated. There must have been times though when their patience was as sorely stretched as the household budget and I clearly remember my brother’s calm suggestion that I should be ‘given to the Lovells’.
The Lovells were our ‘local’ gypsies. I know that sounds a little unlikely, but for travelling folk they seemed to spend an awful lot of time in the area. They were headed by ‘Queen’ Marjorie, a weather-haggard crone who was generally held in awe by adults and children alike in spite of her diminutive stature.
My brother’s threat was made all the more credible because goodwill between our families was high. Perhaps my parents experienced sufficient prejudice as a result of my father being German to make them more tolerant than most of ‘difference’ – even to feel a camaraderie with those who hovered on the edge of exile. And my grandfather had long been a favourite with Marjorie since, whilst waiting outside chapel to troop in with the other deacons one Sunday morning, he had obliged her with a light for her clay pipe. The act prompted her to declare ‘Morgans’ to be ‘a gentleman’ – and once Marjorie declared something, it was so.
They’re all gone now; long gone in fact. Today I’m forced to buy my clothes pegs in the supermarket and the old tramps call no more. And so, with my chosen career path of hostelier to the homeless closed due to lack of demand, my current post of mental health Welfare Rights Worker is probably as near as I’ll get. I don’t house or feed people directly, but I do try to ensure that the sate fulfils its duty to do so, even if I fear that Government plans to introduce a much tougher test of ‘sickness’ this autumn will once again see growing numbers estranged from the safety net of social security.
I despise the way politicians play with people’s lives to meet their own ends. I’ve seen thriving communities and industries crucified in the name of free enterprise and generations of people lose their self-worth and hope as a result. I’ve seen people told that they’re sick because that’s cheaper than providing them with work and less embarrassing than having them join the millions of jobless and I’ve since seen them grow more and more unwell as a result, whilst first Conservative and then Labour Governments told them that they weren’t really ill at all. And now, when the Government have themselves concluded that fraud amongst sickness benefit claimants is actually negligible, what do they do? They move the goalposts. You’re almost all genuinely sick? OK, let us show you what sick really means.
And even more shamefully, they’re also planning to remove safeguards which have, until now, protected the most unwell from the random quality of government medical testing. It may no longer be legal to hang someone for a repeat offence of begging but some are sufficiently vulnerable to take the rope into their own hands.
It’s nothing new, of course, to classify and persecute the poor in justification of inadequate opportunity or state provision. As early as 1383 the Statute of Cambridge made every parish responsible for the care of people too unwell to work, but demanded that unless vagabonds could, if required, ‘display their means of support’ they should be thrown in gaol. Somehow I suspect pulling out a battered guitar or accordion wouldn’t have sufficed.
Keeping people in gaol cost money of course – and could provide many with a better lifestyle than they enjoyed at liberty – so by 1495 the punishment for vagrancy became three days and nights in the stocks followed by banishment from the parish. Whipping replaced the stocks from 1530.
Employment and Support Allowance recipients of 2008 are probably the closest equivalent of the ‘impotent poor’ first recognised in statute and allowed licence to beg in 1537, whilst Jobseekers would be the ‘sturdy beggars’ – capable of work but wilfully incompliant. At least today we only have monetary sanctions – unlicensed begging in the 1530s was punishable by two years’ servitude and branding, with the death sentence for a second offence. By 1572 first offenders were ‘bored through the ear’ – and not by an Elizabethan minstrel strumming James Blunt’s greatest hits – whilst persistent offenders faced the noose.
Things got a little easier after the 1601 Poor Law recognised that as well as the ‘idle poor’ and the ‘impotent poor’ there were also ‘able bodied poor’ and established Houses of Industry for the latter as well as Houses of Correction. We have to wait until 1795 though to meet the precursor of Tax Credits – the enlightened ‘Speenhamland System’ under which a poor family’s wages could be topped up depending on the number in the household and the cost of a loaf of bread that week.
The Poor Law of 1832, for all the well-meaningness of its authors, looks positively draconian by comparison. All outdoor relief was banned, families were broken up with separate workhouses established for women, men and children and conditions further toughened to try to ensure ‘lesser eligibility’ – it was vital, politicians felt, to make life within the workhouse walls tougher than it was on the outside. Fortunately they eventually concluded that the living conditions of the poorest could simply not be replicated without starving people to death which would, of course, rather have defeated the purpose and by 1842 outdoor relief was once more legalised.
‘Doles’, too, were an important aid to survival for the poorest – whether in cash or in kind – bread, cheese, blankets and coal being amongst the most common commodities distributed, often ‘in memoriam’ of a local dignitary. How many making provision in their wills for these annual hand-outs were driven solely by the wish to alleviate the plight of the poor is questionable – many of them would, no doubt, also have been motivated to perpetuate their own memory or even shorten their stay in purgatory. The difference they made though was significant.
The beneficiaries of doles varied from ‘the poor’ to very specific recipients – ‘four old men’, ‘ten youths born within the parish’ or in one case ‘six women who had lost their husbands through drowning’. Often though a distinction was still made between the ‘deserving’ and the ‘undeserving’ poor – ‘as for beggars by trade and election I give them nothing’ stated a will of 1687.
A more random way to deal with the distribution of a dole was to simply throw the goods to an assembled crowd and allow them to scramble for them. If the dole was one of coins, it was common to heat them first, no doubt adding to the enjoyment of spectators. Examples of ‘scrambling’ doles still survive in several parts of Britain, often now attached to civic ceremonies such as Mayor Makings. Health and Safety considerations have been taking their toll for some time though; many of the scrambling doles were eventually moved from indoors to outdoors and a decision was taken in Harwich in the 1960s to wrap buns in cellophane before they were thrown to the crowd…
The only state provision for ‘my’ tramps in the early 70s would have been a daily amount of either 30 or 40 pence, paid at the discretion of the local DHSS. The distances between offices were considerable though, so most failed to claim daily and many preferred not to claim at all. Why tramp? Well, I suppose their survival depended on maintaining the goodwill of strangers, many of whom might willingly share their repast once or twice a year but who might feel less inclined to do so if requests were made monthly or weekly.
Where are they now? Well, judging from their ages I suspect most of them turned to vagrancy either as a result of post-war trauma or during the depression of the 20s and 30s and that death has long since accompanied them down their last road. I hope it was a gentle companion.
Of ewes, earthworms and angels…
I found myself thinking similar thoughts up on the Preseli Mountains a couple of weeks ago when, excited by a group of stones I’d not previously noticed, I began an enthusiastic yomp to a ridge. Anticipation and ascent both warm the blood, so that I didn’t notice the wind until I stopped. Once I did though, it rapidly began to dissect my folly with cutting remarks. But there was glorious clarity to the day and the cloud-studded sky was just yelling ‘take me, take me’… I fumbled over my camera, trying to adjust my fffffff-stops.
And then salvation flapped at me from a gorse bush where, entangled, lay a long length of agricultural black webbing. Remembering Abraham and giving thanks for my temporarily numb fingertips, I set about prising the makeshift shawl from the spiky shrub.
Once freed it glistened in the sunshine – its weave was fine, its texture soft and the elements had fringed its edges deep. The true gift of the wrap was time though – its warmth allowed me to dawdle amongst the stones, to study the lichen and investigate the hollows between.
The bones were almost all on the sunless lea-side. Most of the long ones I left behind, but I gathered up two of the skulls, thinking as I did so of the sheep dying there, alone, trying to shelter from the wind. Not with lasting sadness though; their calm hypothermic slide into unknowing was probably far kinder than mass transportation to slaughter.
Looking at them now, side-by-side, I’m not wholly convinced that they’re both sheep’s skulls; if they are, they came from significantly different sheep. Or it could be, of course, that one was just much prettier than the other…
I did notice a couple of cars slowing as I descended once more but there’s very little traffic on that mountain. It wasn’t until I got back to our car then – dark cloak billowing out behind me and a skull in each hand – that Tom’s slightly scared but not altogether surprised expression said more than words could. ‘We were cold…’ I explained.
Please don’t assume that I’m a mad old woman… well not yet. anyway. Although I’m thoroughly enjoying the carte blanche that being over a couple of foothills seems to confer, I’ve only just turned 45 and have always been prone to acts of the unusual.
In my youth for example, when not worrying about chilly tramps, I turned my attention to earthworms. They were cold, they were wet – they were my friends. They went everywhere with me, usually in my pocket, although they did turn up in other ‘nice warm places’ too – gloves, hats and occasionally – but long enough apart for him to forget about checking – my father’s slippers.
And they weren’t the only things that accumulated in the pockets so carefully sewn onto each and every dress my mother made me when I started school to ensure that I always had a clean handkerchief to hand. For a long time I was concerned about the little bits of litter which accumulated in the school yard being cold and lonely so they came home with me too, along with any pieces of lunch which were simply beyond swallowing. My later school frocks had no pockets.
This was all of course some time after the angel.
The angel lived in the graveyard about half a mile from my home. In pre-school years a daily walk ‘to the cemetery and back’ was customary so I’m not quite sure at what age I did a Pygmalion and fell in love with the statue – certainly too young to appreciate the difference between animate and otherwise, doll and grave-marker.
I adored it. I climbed its plinth and picked snails from the concave angles of its wings. I talked to it and brushed cobwebs from its face and when winter came and I had to leave it there in the cold I clung to it and sobbed. I was faithful, too, in my taphophilia – I’m told that my tears continued for weeks after walks took a determinedly different direction. My mother, no doubt, considered the Boswells.
And I was specific as well as faithful, for angels in general have long disturbed me. I think it started when I first encountered the particularly reassuring bed-time prayer which invites four of them to stand guard over you whilst you sleep before adding the killer line ‘if I should die before I wake…’ Well gosh, thanks, I’d never really considered the possibility of failing to make it through the night before, but now that you mention it…
Neither did the awesome messengers – and often deliverers of eye-for-an-eye retribution in the Old Testament so beloved by our chapel ministers – bear any resemblance to the benevolent, parrot-like guardians so often depicted today. In fact ‘angels on your shoulder’ sounds more like a warning than a blessing to me – a sinister dandruff to be brushed off with haste. For those of you who watch Dr Who I’ll simply add ‘don’t blink’…
Of death, haar and fret…
This has, I know, been too long in the writing; a couple of weeks ago it became clear from the winged messages of the robin that all of its brood died that evil spring bank holiday weekend. He’s carrying mealworms again, but now only to his mate.
There’s been poignancy then to his recent company – inferred I’m sure rather than implied – and my will to blog of that which robin behaviour tells me has slumped. If I’m honest though and try to suspend my anthropomorphism, what it actually tells me is that the driving urge to reproduce swiftly supersedes any ‘grief’ parent birds may – or may not – experience.
I have my suspicions that there is though at least a brief recognition of passing; my mother, writing in a diary of 1997, records the reaction of a female blackbird coming across the lifeless body of one of its offspring thus:
‘the mother flew down, stood motionless and then ‘sat’ down with both wings fully extended, drooped her head and stayed without moving for a couple of minutes whilst I cried for her… The silent grief of the mother was one of the saddest scenes that I have ever witnessed…”
That much of my mother’s own experience would have been brought to the emotion of that account is beyond question, for she too had borne the death of one of her offspring. I trust her observational skills absolutely though and the honesty with which she would have recorded the facts of what she witnessed.
The day the robins’ demise dawned on me was marked by the coming of a sea fog so thick and so unmoving that it shrouded the coast for three days. Of all the weathers we endure here on the Atlantic coast, fog is beyond doubt the most lifeless – as if someone took essence of November and concentrated it before serving it chilled. The sombre accompanying toll of the fog bell is precision tuned to its presence; it may guide boats safely home but I’d rather not meet the ferryman.
The ability of bells to sound either ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ – or, indeed, alarmed – only really struck me on the third day of the fog. How can a single note convey such intense and bleak tristesse? It only sounds its vacuous knell once every couple of minutes, so it took a cold wait to make sure I had its note correctly stored before heading back to the house la-la-la-ing.
‘La- la – I- can’t- actually- speak- now’ I sang to Tom like some monotone diva ‘it’s- the- note- of- the- fog- bell- and- I’m- going- to- find- out- what- it- is – la- la…’ As I dashed up the stairs to my keyboard, I felt as though a doleful chorus should have closed behind me (no, not clutching buns wrapped in cellophane…)
It turned out to be a ‘B’. Surely not, I thought to myself, for the ‘B’ I was playing held none of the desolate sound fixed in my head. B flat perhaps? No, too low; what I was looking for was definitely a B natural, but one with an overwhelming air of melancholy to it.
I found the answer online later that night. I don’t pretend to understand the physics involved but it would seem that what we hear as the ring of a bell and interpret as a single note is actually made up of many variables – its ‘nominal’, its ‘hum’, its ‘prime’, its ‘tierce’ and its ‘quint’ – and I suspect that our fog bell has a ‘flat prime’. Follow the link beneath the irises below, listen and understand!
And on that note… (a B with a flat pun, I know…) I shall wrap up this post, send it on its way and go sample some late afternoon sunshine. Who knows, perhaps I’ll even find a mark on a wall with a definite ring to it…
Post Script – four days later
My robin is gone.
www.bench-marks.org.uk/ – do you know of a benchmark? Register it here!
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/mid/3354825.stm – one of the last tramps to call here
www.hibberts.co.uk/ears.htm – the sounds of bells