We can no longer depend on frogspawn. Its appearance in ponds used to be a sure sign of spring, but now it can be seen slurping about even in January. Migrant birds seem to come and go as they please and blossom becomes more lurid and flashy.
To help sort out the confusion of the seasons, I’ll be publishing Nature Notes in the coming months. Here is the first instalment:
There is a sense of expectation in the air. On the verges we can see more and more patches of fresh bright green as the discarded cheese and onion crisp packets replace the harsh blue salt and vinegar of winter.
Take a walk in the long grass and you may put up an empty Evian water bottle or perhaps a polystyrene cup which has been lying absolutely still and cleverly camouflaged in a dip in the ground.
These are signs that you have stumbled across the scene of some lunchhour tryst of a pair of office workers. If you wait patiently at dusk you will see the flocks of people going past heading back from the garden centre in V-formation, uttering little piping cries when they learn how much they have spent.
Just stand and listen. In the distance you may hear the first call of the shy hedge-trimmer emerging from its hibernation in the shed. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, it goes. A moment later you hear the answering rasping notes of the chainsaw being started up. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, then rooooaah, rooooaah.
Soon another sound is added to the chorus as a cock BMW somehow knows that it is time to open its windows to let in the milder air and let out the song from its quadrophonic speakers as it claims its territory. Brrrrpp, brrrrpp, rooooaah, rooooaah, bom-bom-bom-daddy-bom-daddy-bom.
You may hear the restful drone of an aircraft overhead, and, if the sky is clear, see its vapour trail. It could be our old friends the Haskings returning to these shores from their skiing holiday. It won’t be long before the sky is filled with more of these frothy white patterns as the Boeings depart for the warmer climes of Spain and Greece, using some means of navigation that we can only marvel at and never truly understand.
My favourite sound of spring is the cheerful clatter of lightweight aluminium chairs falling over. Something deep inside tells the managers of wine bars, coffee shops and restaurants that it is time to set up chairs and tables on the pavement. A gust of wind comes and blows them over, but these intrepid creatures go out and set them up again.
It happens over and over again. They seem to be fulfilling their destiny. It’s as if they know that in just a few weeks’ time there will be customers at these tables and colourful waiters flitting among them with their odd little repetitive chirruping which sounds just like “Enjoy your starters”.
It is a time of renewal. A telltale postcard reminds us that it is time to renew our subscription to the gardening magazine. We look down at the carpet and we see that we are surrounded by a multicoloured carpet of leaflets inviting us to take up various types of Isa.
There are also mysterious stirrings – a restlessness in the male and the female which they do not fully understand. There is a yearning, a need. Finally they realise what the are yearning for. They must have more work surfaces. The time has come round, once again, for an improved fitted kitchen.
Exactly 17 days after the pair go through their elaborate looking-at-the-catalogues ritual, the neat little van of the fitted kitchen company will draw up outside their house. After that it is just a matter of time before the male and the female are cooing over their clutch of perfectly shaped and delicately patterned ceramic tiles.
Finally there is that annual miracle that tells you spring is here. You are walking down the street when the seasonal gale blows the outsize magnolia blossom off its twig and it hits you in the face like a cold damp flannel.