Sunday, May 31, 2009
A Cloud over Cuckoo Land
I’m leaving Ghana tomorrow for the UK and then France. France is where my house is. It’s smallish and on the lap of Mount Canigou in the Pyrenees, with a thirty mile vista one way and a vertical rock face a little behind. I have seen eagles slide over it, wild boar tramping across the road to the village and a kind of chamois flashing between the trees on one of the many walks in the semi-wilderness. Then there are so many birds.
One summer song I will hear is that of that two-tone Mod, the cuckoo, the quintessential symbol of parental infidelity. They travel, as you might know, from Sub-Saharan Africa to Europe and have a good time laying each other and then leaving eggs in other birds’ nests. What they do then I should research! Maybe they laze about in the sun and limber up for the return journey like the idle rich with wet nurses and nannies and boarding school. Bringing up the young is just too tiring, My Dear, for any well brought up cuckoo.
I see that mating pairs have almost halved in Britain. I saw on BBC World a couple of human mothers with their young, wandering around some woods with a cameraman and interviewer following, saying that they want their children to hear its authentic sound before it goes for ever, which, they said, would be a shame.
I don’t know whether it is the ageing process and that my neurons are disintegrating, dredging up memories from the muddy waters of my youth but seeing a bit of footage of the cuckoo reduced me to a sort of sentimental regression. I suddenly remembered drawing and colouring one in in a primary school that held about thirty pupils and is now a house. I remembered having a jackdaw which sat on my shoulder all the way to school and then had to be taken home because they didn’t enrol birds. I remembered neck-broken chickens running for a minute or two in the garden. I remembered knowing every bird in Britain by memorising the Observer Book of Birds and being regularly tested by my sister. I remembered almost falling asleep in a lilac tree at break, aged about six, filled with the heady scent and the murmurous haunts of flies and bees among summer leaves. I remembered the brilliant colour of corn flowers, growing unbridled among the cereal crops before the advent of spraying.
This vibrant, technicolour living, breathing world of the 1950s swamped me for a while. Nature red in tooth and claw but also every other colour in its more peaceful states.
The film of the bird threw me back in time and the delinquent creature soared into my brain and laid perfect little capsules of memory there.