On 20th March, just before dawn, (sometime between 5 am and 5.30 am,) I heard the first tentative call of what in a few weeks will become the dawn chorus. I did not recognise the bird. It was only a few phrases, repeated two or three times. No-one else joined in and he lapsed again into silence.

It reminded me of being in New Zealand with John and Rory. We were in North Island on our way to Russell where we were going to stay in a hotel for a few days (we were 5 weeks touring New Zealand and I felt the need of a bath and comfort; the boys were willing enough because it gave them TV access for some critical world cup football games). So we were making our way up the coast and we stopped in rather a disorganised camp site and parked our camper van under a tree. It turned out that this tree was used every morning by the resident tuey, a bird slightly bigger than a blackbird and with a white bib under his chin, who has the most magnificent voice, rather like a clarinet. He would arrive each morning and begin his musical exercises by clearing his throat and then he would begin to go through his notes, slowly and methodically for all the world like an opera singer. After a few minutes of single notes, he would begin to string them together, repeating each phrase several times. Eventually he would feel his performance to be sufficiently good to launch into his full song, which was truly wonderful. We have nothing to compare with it here.

Our local bird’s tentative beginnings in no way compare to the impressive aria delivered by the tuey, but it is a beginning and it filled me with joy. Spring is coming. Have you seen the magnificence of the magnolias this year? And so as my mother used to say (which I thought very amusing at the time but now I understand exactly what she meant): We have survived the winter!






6 Elm Avenue, Littlehampton

John and I visited an interesting garden in Littlehampton this week, under the National Gardens Scheme.

Among the delights of visiting gardens in the yellow book is that it takes you into parts of Sussex (or wherever you reside) that you otherwise would never see, and you never know what to expect. The ‘garden’ can be the parkland of a stately home – one we visited had an avenue of wellingtonia – or a tiny precious haven of a terraced house.

It was a very hot day. The house was a large 1930s two storey house with an entirely flat garden. Looking at the front garden, it was obvious that it had been laid out by a garden designer. There was a pleasing selection of plants in purple and gold, mostly in flower.

We ambled round to the back, where there were already quite a few visitors. The garden had been divided into sections around a central walkway. Between the back door and the eventual ending of the garden it was bisected by a high fence, which had a moon gate in it. The planting was again in purple and gold and was dominated by hundreds of enormous alliums, all purple, with flowers as big as a football. The lady of the house, graciously in attendance and welcoming, informed us that this allium was called Globemaster. There were pools, and mirrors dotted about.

Among other interesting features was an alpine collection housed in guttering attached to strips of wood fastened to the blank wall of a summerhouse. Near the house were two large wooden receptacles which made deep beds, and were supported by trestle type stands so that they provided portable deep beds at waist height, filled with herbs and salad vegetables.

We had a cup of tea and cake in amongst all this splendour. I reflected that I would like the garden, lovely though it was, to be less ‘designed’. Let some other colour edge in, I thought. However it had only been planted the previous year and perhaps needed time to settle

As we exited the garden, we passed a side entrance; and there was a cat flap in the door, and fixed to the wall below was a step to access the flap. Everyone’s needs were considered.

Just to remind us that we weren’t in paradise, stuffed under our windscreen wipers was a peremptory note accusing us of blocking their exit (which we had not: you could have driven an army truck through the space we left.) We concluded it must be a case of jealousy by the neighbours plus resentment of the noise and activity of the builders of the garden, plus the arrival of so many visitors to their patch.

Then we drove to Littlehampton. I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s nothing wrong with English seaside resorts: it’s the people in them and their lamentable taste that is the problem. The beach at Littlehampton is pleasant enough (there is some sand); the water is clean. There is a little train with a friendly driver who puffs slowly along the promenade and back (we had a shot.) But there are some startling displays. A young woman, perhaps size 16, and going to run to fat if she doesn’t mend her ways, walking the promenade with her voluptuous flesh straining at the seams.

Another very overweight woman, a mother, wearing a skimpy bikini top and shorts bottoms, her flesh oozing out of them, sitting on a chair in a restaurant on the beach. In my first horrified glance at her, I thought she was naked.

I ate possibly the worst baked potato I have ever eaten ; eventually I wondered if it actually was a potato or some noxious substitute.

So we drove back, but we think we’ll return in September when that garden is, once again, open to visitors. I wonder what will have replaced the allium?