A Journey With Blackbirdowl

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Rapturous May morn

Rapturous May morn
Sunday may 1, 2016
It's 4:30. The loudest blackbird ever is singing his head off in a tall tree
in Savernake Road. I am silly with rapture, nay, I confess I might be a
little in love with that blackbird. The sun is not yet shining, but the
clear dark sky promises that it will do so, in time. Hey so why not sing
We gather quietly, spring flowers clutched in cold hands, the 'Oss, the only
creature warm at this moment skitters from foot to foot happily and nods its
We puff dragon-breath as we walk up the hill. All around us a teaming
Corus of birds, fills the sky. It's a merry piping, a dazzle of sound; each
song distinct, each claiming their own tune and rhythm as they sing joyfully
to drive away the fast retreating night.
Dark trees stand in silhouette against a high domed deep blue sky. A bronze
sickle moon sinking deep into the west faces the reddening east. Beneath
this, the mist on the lake curls lazily upwards.
We move across the heath, climbing steadily to kite hill. The twinkling red
lights on the tall buildings of London are spread out below. The western
tall buildings glow, the first to catch the rising sun in their shining
glass faces.
The birds build an ever crescendoing fanfare of song. In and out dart
blackbird, thrush, robin, wren, tits and crows. Pigeon's lazy coo is soon
to join, but the invader paraqueets are still abed. We breathe the cold
thin air and marvel at the clarity all around, as the light grows.
After a song or two, we move across the heath, stepping over brooks,
clambering between trees and logs. The ground is drier than it might have
been had it not stopped raining a few days ago. Contented mallards quietly
quack to each other as I climb over a ditch, the tree trunks rocking with my
We stand below Boudicca's Mount, facing the sunrise. Our view to the sun is
obscured by the bulk of another hill to the east of us. It is as though
someone turns up the dimmer switch, the tall buildings in the west glow ever
more brightly as the sun climbs further above the horizon, till first the
tree tops then their trunks, are gilded with its promise of morning.
The sky, now split by a high silver vapour trail from an unheard airplane,
lightens as the earth turns. The red of the east now becomes orange then
gold, the sky azuring as the morning begins to blaze.
At last, the sun reaches round the hill; its long golden beam touches my
legs tentatively, then more warmly as it grows stronger. Gradually it
begins to temper the chill left by the bitter north wind. Something wakes
inside me and, like the blackbird; I throw back my head and sing.
"Sun is shining.
I'm so sexy!!
This is my tree".
I roar it raunchily; cheekily infectiously. We all bellow it out. The joy of
life smacks me in the chest. My face splits in an enormous grin and I jump
up and down.
"We are the rising sun.
We are the change.
We are the ones we are waiting for,
and we are dawning."

Now for the walk through the woods in the sunrise. We step carefully
downhill, making our way rather circuitously across towards the Kenwood
Spring. Some great metal monster has ripped a series of huge rents in the
heath. These are the new flood defence works.
The tears are festooned with still living trees and bushes, all in various
states of spring preparedness, from the new green curling leaves of the oaks
to the frothy white of the may on the hawthorn. In the steep banks the
patches of grass, amongst the mud and the tumbling stones tossed carelessly
across the way by the earth-moving equipment, white, blue and yellow flowers
flutter in the bitter little wind that is the last of the northern weather
front, now retreating against the warming of the earth. The ground beneath
our feet is pitted and stone-strewn. WE make our way carefully, lest we
twist ankles or worse.
The heath is ours today. We've only seen two others. We walk and sing and
smell the heath as it warms up, stopping to admire nature in all her spring
Turning to look back on the way we have come, someone spies a white figure
in the distance. They say it looks like an angel with a brief case! It
turns out to be a late comer to our journey today, wearing a white nightie
she won in a Witch camp raffle.
Kenwood Spring is still shaded by tall trees. They do not offer us shelter
from the bitter wind. The spring splashes and gurgles. it's warm and
rusty-tasting, slightly thick. I wonder at the taste and whether it is the
spring itself or the pipes in which it is brought to us.
We are early. It being a Sunday the cafe is not open till 8. We have time to
dawdle and admire, breathe in the beauty of the morning as we make our way
slowly back.
The sun is out fully now. We walk back into its full glare. The paraqueets
have woken. Their piercing squawks dominate the birdsong.
Back at Boudicca's mound, the benches are in full sunshine. We sit down to
bask, rest and wait, after all, the cafe won't be open for 45 minutes. It's
so warm.
I raise my face to the sun and relax. My limbs are pleasantly tired; my
body zinging from the exercise. How nice it would be to wrap myself in a
blanket and go to sleep.
My companions remember its breakfast time. Reluctantly I get up. Though we
are hungry, our progress is less than purposeful. We stop to group-hug a
very large oak.
The streets are deserted. Our cafe already has a table of 8 breakfasting
police officers! We settle down to feast.
Warm now, I suddenly find myself thinking of my mother. I wonder how she
might discourse on the refraction of the rising sun on tall buildings, the
structure of the throat of a little blackbird that makes it sing so loud,
the science behind that vapour trail so high up in the sky, why the moon is
bronze when she is old and just before the sun rises. But she's not here to
ask. So I'll just have to imagine.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Blue Bell Burial

Blue Bell Burial
Hastings Green Burial Ground
Friday April 29, 2016
Last time we were here, it was late January 2007. Snow in January is usual,
falling as it did that year, between my father's death and his funeral. The
ground still coldly soaked, but the earth firm enough.
Now there is no sign of where he is buried. The woods have grown up around
and across the graves. This time the two family dogs are absent, both being
long dead. Today promises to be a much better behaved affair.
The woodland is carpeted with blue bells, so I am told. The trees, some
mature, some young, encircle us protectively; their feet covered in flowers
and nettles. The soft grey sky is high. There is no sun, but there is no
threat of rain either.
A solo violin drifts across as we reach and take the handles of the coffin.
Slowly, carefully, we begin to move forward, gently shuffling through the
nettles. We place her on the planks across the grave. Netting is looped
into the handles.

I prepare to put my back into the task of lifting the coffin, engaging my
core muscles, as taught. We lift. She is light when all four children take
her weight, as we once were when she lifted us for the first time into her
There's a science to how we manoeuvre the coffin on the boards over the
grave. We slip the long mesh strips into the handles, and loop them under
the coffin. Lifting and lowering her gently down into the grave is done
without mishap. We do all this. No one falls in and no one drops her.

Russian words join the violin as we sing The Volga Boat Song. I'm not sure
why this song is chosen, other than because it was a presence in our
childhood, especially sung by Paul Robeson, whose communism and human rights
activism, mum admired. Anything Russian, interested her anyway, so why not.
And mercifully it's easy.
Circling together, we gather to celebrate her life, on this soft rich earth,
carpeted with bluebells, their fragrance drifting to us on the wind. I
breathe in the scent of new leaf and crushed baby nettles. This bitter-sweet
tang is edged with salt and seaweed, from the sea beyond the high cliff and
shielding trees. The soft richness of new turned earth offers calm solidity
beneath the inconsequential intangibility of a grey sky and brisk little
One by one we children tell our stories of her. One by one, the friends,
neighbours and colleagues speak their experiences of all she was. Together
we paint a picture so typically her, yet interwoven with things that were
surprises. Amusingly, animatedly, affectionately, we honour who she was to
The violin tenderly nudges the tune of "Moscow Nights"; the guitar adds it
sustaining rhythm. A man's mellifluous voice joins the dance of music as we
hum and sing along. The soft rich Russian words, though incomprehensible to
many, speak eloquently of beauty. I smile to remember the somewhat more
prosaic version rendered by mum, when she was at her happiest. Not this well
turned performance but an enthusiastic rout!

The little red flags are small for our fingers. Nevertheless, we wave them
aloft and sing "The Red Flag" with gusto. I love the words:
"It well recalls the triumphs past,
and brings the hope of peace at last,
the banner bright, the symbol plain,
of human right and human gain."
Human rights, equality, socialism, fairness and the preserving of the
world's resources, the things that mattered most to mum. We honour these as
we offer her physical remains to the earth, as we toss the brave little
flags into the grave. She is given up to the worms and all other organisms
that will play a part in the breaking down of her tissues.
The grave diggers, who have been skulking in the trees, begin to emerge, as
we turn away. High in the sky, a pigeon sings; There is comfort in its
"Droo-droo-droo, droo-droo". Like a lullaby, it sooths and eases. We can
leave her now so we do; walking from the shelter of the little gentle
woodland, past the regimented ranks of the organised dead in the other
cemetery and the fierce coastal wind beyond, for it is time for tea and