I have passed a day of such near-bliss here, it’d be hard to describe – but I’ll have a crack at it anyway, because I am a wild and crazy guy.
I watched the two pigeons that nest here take up their customary position on the telephone wire, preening each other with a degree of affection that almost made me well up. I gave a broad smile as I saw the main rose pumping out its first blood-red blooms of the year. The red is so pure and strong, it’s like the eye has been over-adjusted for colour-noise – almost as if a one-dimensional colour has become pot of luminous paint.
The roses at the front – planted over the last five years – are called Courtyard, partly I think because they’re quite happy with dappled light. They bud a bright orange and then open out to be creamy-yellow….a perfect balance with the ceanothus and perrywinkle. I’m coaxing the mauve wisteria round the corner to meet all this, and within a year or two it should blend in very well. Or have me to deal with.
The white pyracantha at the back fights gently with the Chilean potato vine and halliana honeysuckle from early April until late October. The effect is stunning, and down below these creeping bushes, the pale blue of Nigella (‘love in the mist’) will be going mad within the next few weeks. Nigella is one of my favourite plants: you can chuck the seeds onto anything, and they grow. It is I suppose technically a weed, except that it’s more than happy to coexist with cultured plants. Anyway, s’lovely innit?
All this week the acacia trees have been in bloom. The French take the flowers and fry them in batter. When I was first invited to an acacia nosh, my French was still a bit schoolboy, so when my neighbour Ange range to say would I like to try some cooked acasia (pronounced Akashya) I thought he’d asked if I’d like to smoke some Akashya. In my youth there was an Atlas Mountains form of dope with the same name. Mon Dieu, I thought, I’ve lucked into the local druggie segment. Life can be a terrible disappointment at times.
Seven trees had to be culled this winter (Ash trees really are weeds, and they do take over) but they burn well and season easily. The nice thing about them is that, like Nigella, you can literally stick the saplings in a bucket, chuck in some mud, and they will survive quite happily. So this Spring I’ve planted eight of them to restore the balance. Once through the weed stage, they make a magnificent large-garden tree – truly majestic. The five oldest I have are over 80 feet tall.
The culled Ash don’t just go on the fire: I leave three feet of trunk, and on a border their sprouts can be threaded over time to create an ash hedge. I’ve always been a threader if things – it’s almost a compulsion: after seventeen years here now, the south border of the property is a lush hedge from mid May onwards.
Today I saw my first goldfinch of the year. Like the houpos that fly here for the summer, they don’t look right in a verdant European garden: dandies both of them, and the houpo something of a punk to boot. But I love the way these crested punks swoop-and-dive as they fly: far better than a bunch of metal-ridden dopes doing the pogo and spitting at each other.
Goldfinches must be one of the fastest fliers in the avian world: they seem jet-propelled as they straight-line bullet from one destination to another. But for sheer captivation, there is little as gripping as watching the bright rust-coloured Sparrow hawk seeking out prey. Their wings flutter to retain perfect stillness in the air, and the minute any unfortunate rodent so much as twitches a nose, the hawk drops – literally – like a stone. You’d be amazed by what they’ll take on: two years ago I saw one with a baby rabbit in its claws. The ambitious bird flew on manfully for about twenty metres and then finally had to admit defeat, dropping the poor little beggar unceremoniously down to the ground.
Little hoppity rabbits are of course terribly sweeeeet bless, but they’re too fond of sex – and no matter how hard one tries, the men just will not wear a condom. Like most feckless contemporary blokes, they then do nothing as the youngsters career around the garden like bobtailed locusts. They eat everything. No wonder people say “I blame the parents”. I do too. But mainly the men. Let’s get men. Let’s all become bonkers feminists and steal Liberal Conspiracy’s thunder. Let’s agree with every knuckle-brained thing they say. I bet that’d really get up their noses.
Meanwhile, as a thousand unnatural ideas about gender and procreation feature on the pages of the Guardian, the rest of the planet’s species without exception ignore the rabid drivel and do what everyone does in the Spring.
And it’s not all shagging, you know. Oh dear me no: there are nests to build, squirrels to fight, Jays to ward off and everything from insects via rodents to worms that must be caught, mulched and vomitted down the throats of the young. Life in the wild is not a London style magazine.
But we humans do love trying to help wildlife. I have a female chum who told me that, when young, if she saw worms getting wet, she’d bring them into the house to dry. I love that story. We are a daft species, but the compassion for animals is extremely widespread. Usually, we fail in our efforts to help because (let’s be real for a minute here) they are scared witless of us: usually our intervention is enough on its own to give most birds, for instance, a heart attack.
I suspect most animals when we pick them up have this thought process:
‘My mum told me about people like you. You’re the ones with the guns and sprays and all the other shit. You pull down hedgerows and imprison chickens. Well don’t think you’re going to get me in the pot without a fight buster, and what’s that you’re offering me? Get away from me you disgusting pervert….”. It’s hard not to sympathise.
But it is a fact that inter-species behaviour can and does breed out natural instincts of aggression and fear. In Africa, it is vital that many deer herds for instance be exposed to lion early on: salt a game park with okapi or bred entirely away from lion prides, and they’ll all be dead within a week.
The Russians have shown that, if you take wolf packs and breed out the most aggressive alphas, within three generations they become harmless dogs. But like cats, stick them back in the wild and they very quickly return to feral behaviour. It’s the same with plumbers, I find.
So you see, it’s all about nature and nurture. Always has been – and most natural interreactions are a balance between several factors. Only radical feminists, Tories, German interior ministers and Lord Mandelson disobey this rule. They’re like the crocodile: just awful. With enemies and friends alike, they never change. When a male and female croc meet, neither’s sure whether they’re going to make babies, or be eaten. Nothing ruins a neighbourhood quicker than a crocodile…have you seen Schäuble’s teeth? And nobody ruins a culture quicker than Peter Manglesum. Or a Tory Cabinet. And Rupert Murdoch.
Thankfully, the culture here remains sane at all levels among the garden species. Being left-right brain cursed by nature and softened by nurture, it’s probably what I like about wildlife and real gardens: they make sense to me, they make me feel emotionally at ease, and the assault on the senses can at times beat the best cuisine.
But all of it’s terribly diluted by the absence of a brainy chum with bumps on the front – and a knowing face that suggests twinkly humour and flirtation. The world is full of women, but not many of them are special in the ways that count…for me at least. The same is even more true of men (my girly mates keep telling me) but that really doesn’t concern me: when you meet most blokes, you have to go through the tedious pissing contest and all the bravado. And I’ve never been into either giving or receiving at the back door. I have no more than five at most close male friends, and none of them are like most chaps. All of them like wine, cooking, music, women, and either ads or movies or books or all of them. Most of them like footie.
Before I discovered girls, all I wanted to do was play – or write about – footie. After I got past the girls are smelly wimps phase, all I wanted to be was a footie hero or a rock star, based on the entirely superficial observation that both those genres seemed to get shagged a lot. As John Lennon once told Rolling Stone, “Well, I went ter see Elvis in GI Blues like, an’ all the Judies screamed at ‘im, an’ wet their knickers an’ that, so I thought right then, that looks like a good steady job”.
My requirements these days are very simple – apart from the previously outlined preferences. All wannabe Slogettes should be blessed with untold riches, endless patience, internal and external beauty, and a healthy carnal appetite. Applicants should apply with all haste and without delay to Shag Slog Competition No 1, Sloggers’ Roost, Somewhere in France. Sorry Peter, but you’re off the A-list darling.
As I Iook out of the den window now, a large fiery ball is slipping below the horizon like a late Turner painting in action. It’s been rolling across Heaven all day. The meteo said we wouldn’t see it at all. The meteo said the skies would micturate profusely all day. We should stop calling them Weather forecasts. We should rename them Weather opinion polls.
Goodnight, and try not to take me too seriously at times.