18th March 2015

Male blackbird, image from here

For all the coldness that still hangs around the dale, my daughter has recognised that the clock of all seasons has chimed Spring. Which means that tea is demanded outside on the terrace and the morning charge along the corridor to our bedroom is getting earlier and earlier. We've talked about getting chickens. I was against this because chickens bring rats, the dog and cats are bound to try and eat the chickens and the rooster will wake us up at some stupid hour. Rats and death aside, I'm thinking that we might as well get on with it. The rooster has nothing on our daughter, and besides going to see them in the morning will make a change from CBeebies.

Every spring in the dale, one thing in particular seems to shine about all others. Last year it was the blackthorns, in 2013 it was cuckoos up the hill, and in 2012 the lesser celandines were casting their sunshine in the new grass. This year there seem to be more blackbirds than ever before. On rooftops, aerials, hopping along stone walls, swooping singly and in pairs. There is a charm to them, which I've come to appreciate. As I was walking down the lane, in a downpour, a blackbird flew out from the shelter of ivy, landing on the wall. Immediately it ducked down, shoulders hunched against the rain, grumpy as a teenager, before fleeing to shelter.

Robins are thought of as the gardener's bird, maybe because of Dickon and his robin in 'The Secret Garden'. Start turning over the soil and the redbreast appears, as close as it dares, after worms. The blackbird is also there, but further back. Less brash, less desperate. In my book, Snow Summer, there is a farmer of sorts called Thwaite who has birds for company. In a first draft I tried to give him robins and it always felt wrong. When I suggested blackbirds, everything came alive.

And if blackbirds are your favourite, you can vote them as Britain's national bird in a new poll. I'd been meaning to write a blog about them, and this week there was a chap on the radio, championing their cause. I was on my way to take our daughter to nursery at the time. She and I had been up for hours, but the morning was all soft light and mist, too pleasant to be tired. Driving down the lane three blackbirds appeared, the last on a roof, singing in springtime.

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