New Year 2002

I have just come across this piece I wrote some 14 years ago. I thought I’d share it.

2002 – and another fantastic beginning for me, with this view of the world as I opened the curtains on the morning of January 1st.

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On January 13th, my picture was rather more with words.

Today seemed such a perfect January morning in an English village that I felt a need to write about it.

Well to start with, it isn’t quite perfect, for the sun is not shining. In fact, it’s a bit drab and grey but the early mist has lifted. Visibility is quite good, but it is better to look at the close scene, rather than our wonderful panoramas across to the chalk downs of Salisbury Plain. There is virtually no breeze. It is ideal listening weather. And the sounds of this English village 120 kilometres West of London, are lovely.

I could be tempted to say that there is no man made noise – but this would be utterly wrong for the dominating sound is that of our village church bells. We have 6 bells in our church and the team of campanologists are ringing the changes well this morning. It is loud, but from my distance of a few hundred metres, it is such a lovely sound.

It can’t drown out the wren, shrieking her way through the winter bramble bushes. Such a tiny bird, she is, yet equipped with a mighty voice – and a charming song she sings. From local trees come the incessant call of ‘teacher, teacher, teacher.’ This is the attractive great tit’s song. Not exciting, but an essential part of our rural sound pattern. They can be seen, flitting from tree to tree, and with them are their smaller cousins, the blue tits and the long tailed tits.

In the distance, I hear another noise of human technology as a train rumbles by about a kilometre to the North. To be quintessentially English this would need to be a whistle blowing steam train (and we get them on special charters from time to time). But this is a hooting diesel – perhaps dragging stone to make the trackbed of the new channel tunnel rail link being built in the South East of England. The sound reaches me as a gentle and restful drone.

But back to nature! Sparrows have clustered in a shrub. There seems to be no organisation to their chatter. It is as though they have met up after a night out, and are gossiping about what they saw. The flock of speckled starlings are too busy for too much chatter. They rush across the grassland, and when one bird finds a tasty morsel, the others dive in to try to get their share. From further afield the woodpigeons are cooing contentedly. Are rooks ever contented. The croak of the colony, a couple of hundred metres to the West sounds like a major squabble.

The robin, though avoids any rows. He sits high in a tree and sings loud and clear to tell us all that this is his patch and that we had better keep out. His relative, the blackbird, is doing the same in a more distant tree but the blackbirds are a bit close packed around here. Squabbling blackbirds chase one another from tree to tree – a sure sign that spring is on its way.

Another spring like sight is the jackdaws, sitting together and sharing food. How romantic. And a pair of winter squirrels have decided that this day is good enough for a chase through the trees. Ah yes! Spring is on the way. It won’t be long before Sue and I decide to take a walk down Windmill Lane to see the first snowdrop flowers of the year. We won’t see a mill. There isn’t one. We won’t see cars either, for Windmill Lane is a narrow footpath through the sandstone hill which leads down to the wet, heavy clay lands.

But winter hasn’t passed by yet, and the flock of fieldfare which fly over are a testament to this, for these birds are winter visitors to our island.

The church bells stop. It is one of those rare mornings when I can hear two other sets of church bells. A couple of kilometres away lies West Lavington church. On still days they can often be heard. But today I can now hear the bells of Urchfont, 7 kilometres East of here. It’s a faint sound, and a mellow one.

Whilst listening and looking, I have been feeding my own, domestic animals. My geese – handsome birds – are now freed from their overnight, fox-proof home and their gentle and polite squawking has joined the bird noises. I note with some dismay that my cockerel is getting far too dominant. One goose, and my ducks are clearly frightened of him. He chases the loudly quacking ducks around.

I am happy to lean on a fence post and observe the sheep. They are very quiet and content today, but it won’t be long until we have the first lambs of the year running in our field. And by the size of some of the ewes, there’ll be twins around.

But now another man made noise begins – a gentle clicking. It is the noise of my hoe, as I prepare ground for planting up our vegetable crops. We persist in growing vegetables despite the fact that we see to get less and less of them for our rarely seen, neighbourhood badgers are also fond of carrots and sweetcorn and the squirrels are happy to nibble peas, the woodpigeons just love cabbage and the rabbits eat anything green. But we’ll keep growing, for nothing can beat the taste of a freshly dug, roast parsnip or a slow baked potato.

 

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