Today, I heard the birds sing. I don’t know if they have been singing like this for a while and I had been too busy thinking of other things to hear them, or whether they are really revving up for spring.
The pied wagtails have arrived, which is always a hopeful sign, and one came and wagged his tail at me on the gate. The dear, faithful robin who stays with us all winter was flitting and hopping from perch to perch. I always think of robins as fat, stolid characters, mostly I suppose because of the Christmas cards, but in fact they are nervy, athletic creatures, always on the move.
I worked my little brown mare and then we stood in the rain and listened to the birds.
I suddenly thought of the more urban of the Dear Readers. Is it odd, I wondered, to be sitting on a bus or a train reading about a slightly flaky woman listening to birds in the rain?
I adored the city when I was in it. I loved the myriad of faces, the Babel of languages, the feeling that all the world was there in London. I loved the taxi drivers and the men in frocks and the old timers down the North End Road who were such Londoners that they were almost a caricature. I loved jumping on and off the grand old Routemasters and standing on the platform holding the pole with the wind in my hair. I loved the elegant arcades of Mayfair and the greasy spoons and the old-fashioned barbers which still had the red and white swirling thing outside. I loved the dodgy basement clubs in what was still the front line (that part of Notting Hill where gentrification had not yet reached) and the wide open space of the Serpentine and the tan ride at the bottom of Hyde Park where the army horses exercised at dawn.
I loved all of it and I never thought I would leave and then I left.
I fell in love with these hills like you fall in love with a person. Now, I spend my life with mud on my jeans and hay in my hair and mysterious little smears of dirt and horse feed and other imponderables on my forehead. I wear absurd hats, not for fashion but to keep off the weather. I stand in the field with a gentle thoroughbred mare and listen to the birds.
I remember the birds from my childhood. We would ride on the downs, that grand, sweeping arc of country that rose out of the Lambourn valley. My mother would lift her head and look up and say: ‘Listen to the lark on the wing.’ I can hear her saying that. I can see her face, lifted to the sky.