Herefordshire Birds


It’s not the first occasion I’ve been wrenched

from the concrete splodge to which I clenched,

I’ve often tramped the bramble-scattered banks

of duck-jammed Roding, Ching and Lea, which quench

the forest with their murky snaking tanks.

I’ve eavesdropped on the flapping mating calls

of horn-emitting spitting swanking swans

by where the fish-congested Wensum falls

off rocks that gloat for glistening plump and bronze,

chased rabbits over hole-pricked Norfolk lawns

and tilted clod-thick bubbling local beer

on the unchanging plains of Lincolnshire.


But no Darwinian twitcher-chap am I.

Today, for the first time, leant on a fence,

I watched a bird sit brooding in the sky,

just hovering without direction, sense

or purpose, like a conker on a string.

Bizarre, it was. A dark and startling thing.


I couldn’t give its dictionary name

but watched the squawker slander gravity

with tea-break flutters, bored with flying’s game,

rethink and then, directly as a train,

zoom off into the hidden cavity

of a slanting orchard dropping rotting, browned

and squishy pippins on the barky ground.


A rabbit-carcassed corridor chicanes

along the climbing prospect of a vale

of flossy evergreen in trails and lanes.

Here and there I see, as I exhale,

a silo towering above a bale

of hay or the insectocuting tail

of this or that intensely staring cow,

her klaxon bouncing off the valley walls,

a squirrel leaping from a berried bough,

a tattooed shepherd shrilling canine calls,

his flock as puffy as the trees, half-shorn,

resembling ruff-necked lords of Tudor fleets

and retching, every minute, their forlorn

conveyor-belt-and-mint-sauce-destined bleats.


A worm contracts and stretches, shrinks and grows,

and strives to drill its slithery frame below

an unforgiving tarmacadam floor

as if that were its earthy home’s front door,

as if the only route to heaven lifts

beneath this huge impenetrable path

the hilltops wear like some unwanted gift,

an oversized and itchy asphalt scarf.


I spy upon a trimmed-back block of hedge

two birds, one large, one small, engaged in talk.

The youth I christen Phil, the older Reg,

who casts a crafty glance and lowly squawks

“Now that’s a grockle there, my boy, you see

his cockerel hair, the cow-skin on his back,

the shiny bits of nest that carefully

join up the cow-skin’s every tear and crack?”

And Phil replies, “You’re right, Dad, without fail,

he ain’t no local boy like all our chums!

His beak’s all soft and curvy like a snail,

his funny stumpy talons ain’t like Mum’s!”


And then I shoot my eyes back to the worm,

its concertinaing existence over,

its body thrown up in the air and turned

to pulp beneath the wheels of a Range Rover

whose driver’s eating yogurt at the wheel

and sporting on her back window, like bunting,

stickers frothing with tweed-jacket zeal

about the noble virtues of fox-hunting.


I think, but not to snub the countryside

with floccinaucinihilipilifications

and unlock the stocky villagers’ vilifications,

we ought to save the fox’s ginger hide.





© Gammon 2020
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3 months ago

That’ll do for me 🙂 I was born in Chingford, remember the Ching in flood. Schooled in Buckhurst Hill – the Roding at the bottom of the school field. Used to fish there – caught a pike once 🙂 Rick.

3 months ago
Reply to  Gammon

there were pike back in the 50s/60s – not big – not eatable. I lived in Debden – Broadway maisonette (5 bedrooms) remember Chigwell Lane (Debden) being a windy lane with hump backed bridge I cycled over each morning – my first kids were born in Thorpe Combe E17 – I was born in Friday Hill Est – E4 – deffo London. And now I’m in Hull – it could’ve gone better ha ha 🙂

3 months ago
Reply to  Gammon

Ah the Winston – went in there on its opening day – learned what to drink there and what not – barley wine ain’t the same as Sauternes ha ha I remember the pie shop opening too – queues around the block.

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