Friday, 15 July 2016

Song thrushes, squirrels, pigeons and cellos

We were awoken this morning by an astonishing racket in the back garden which sounded like a kitten fighting a magpie. I immediately stuck my head out of the bedroom window, and, although I couldn't see what was going on, I decided it must be the noise of squirrels either fighting... Or screwing! It went on for ages. I'm not sure much fun was being had!

I sat at the kitchen table today, window wide open, allowing the breeze to tickle my temples. I was rather thrilled to see an old friend in the tree in our garden, namely one of the pair of wood pigeons who, for many years, would coo at each other and nuzzle on the upper branches. One of them flew into our bedroom one morning and got into a right panic. I very calmly talked to him whilst edging myself closer. "Don't be frightened," I said, "I'm going to hold my hand out, get you to jump on, and then I'm going to carry you to the window and set you free..." I held my hand out and was utterly astonished when he climbed on, almost as though he'd heard and understood everything I said to him. I carried him to the window, he hopped off and hopped onto the ledge, where he sat for some time looking at me as though to say, "aren't you a big, funny, old gentle giant?" Then he flew away...

Anyway, a few months ago, either he, or his mate was killed by a cat in the garden and for a long time the other pigeon vanished from sight. I was glad to see him back. I shall be gladder when he finds himself someone else to coo at. Everyone deserves to be loved.

As I walked down to the tube I became aware of a really peculiar tweeting coming from the bushes alongside the causeway which runs down the ravine. Initially I assumed I was listening to some kind of tropical creature in an avery. The little chap had quite some repertoire. Fire alarms, telephones, chirps and whistles. Like a parrot almost. I recorded a few excerpts and sent them to a friend of mine who knows about these things and he told me I was actually listening to a song thrush. Spectacular. Although he says nightingales are better!

I got a bit blue after lunch and texted Philippa, who immediately told me to come down to East London to attend my goddaughter's school's fete, which was an insane experience. A tidal wave of tiny feet. Cake stalls for miles. Pots of jam. Sweeties. Amazing Asian street food... Deia's is an incredibly multi-culti school, and seeing all the kids playing together, and all their mums running the stalls side by side, gave me a fabulous sense of what this country ought to be. The children themselves are often fabulous mixes of different cultures and have no sense of anything being different or wrong. They just play. One lad I met today was half-Japanese, half-Irish. He had mint green eyes and jet black hair. They call it "generation beige" and I think it's the future. The one thing that mixed race people almost always are is beautiful. Whatever the mix.

...Then one of the children weed herself whilst standing on the toy stall table, so it was time to leave!

I spoke to a couple of Australians who are heading back home after a fifteen-year-long stint in the UK. I asked the bloke if he was reticent about leaving. "I was until Brexit" he said, "then I realised I didn't really know the country that I thought I loved."

Columbia Road is a lovely part of London. It's intensely urban but has this timeless quality which is created by the beautiful Victorian architecture. The streets are largely car-free, which means the kids just play out on the cobbles. I imagined them in thirty years looking back on those halcyon days.

I got a bit upset at one point when we all stopped outside a little Bengali-run corner shop. Philippa was buying a magazine for the kids. The daughter of the shop owner was a delightful little dot with, rather curiously, a shaved head. I learned today that quite a lot of Bengalis actually clipper their children's head to encourage hair to grow back thicker and stronger. It sort of makes sense. Quite a number of my friends have shaved their heads and had hair grow back curlier or thicker. Anyway, the little dot was quite delightful, and Deia and Silver interacted with her without any sense of her shaved head being strange. Two older people walked past and gave the child a really strange look and then started laughing. I was really upset. I know I'm more sensitive to that stuff at the moment, but I just can't see a problem with multiculturalism when it is as integrated as what I witnessed today. We have so much to learn from one another if only we bother to listen without prejudice or fear.

Speaking of which, the news from Nice has devastated me. I find myself even more devastated by the ghastly Brits who are saying that this attack proves that we should have come out of Europe. Yet my instinct is overwhelmingly that I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the French at this awful time. Their pain is my pain. Their problem is my problem. That's always how the Brits responded to the French in the past.

I got home from Philippa's and watched the First Night of the Proms. A spectacular rendition of the Elgar Cello Concerto performed by a wonderful Argentinian 'cellist called Sol Gabetta, made me weep, then get all excited, then laugh, then weep again. I've seldom seen the piece played with so much life. She eked out every conceivable emotion from the piece and bashed the shit out of her 'cello in the process. The 'cello responded brilliantly! Fiona texted to alert me to what was going on. I then called my parents who were already watching. The encore was understated yet fabulous. She actually sang whilst she played. It was all just lovely.

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