Ever since I was a child I have loved the Spring. Maybe it was seeing the first snowdrops or the primroses that my grandmother so tenderly planted in the hedgerows and dingles around the farm. My sister and I would often clamber through the brambles to pick a posy for mother, like a page from a sickly Thomas Hardy novel, which were displayed in pride of place in a silver jug in the hallway to denote the new season.
Then, as I got older and developed a healthy interest in sheep breeding, it was all about lambs: seeing them play and grow, hoping that a year’s planning and hard work had produced the type of beasts I had intended to breed from the blue-print in my mind. I never tire of watching lambs racing around the hedgerows at dusk like competitors in a cross-country rally.
But, to me, Springtime is mainly all about mornings. The perilous early frosts of late-winter giving way to eerie misty dawns, until the orange glow of the sun yawns its way through in a bid to give warmth to the new growth stirring under ground.
In this part of France, things happen a month or so earlier than they do in UK and today, being near the end of March, is unveiling one of those exquisite scenes. It’s just before 6.
Outside, a lone bird awakes a while after I have, and calls out its tuneful song to us insomniacs who have already arisen.
For once, instead of frantically pouring out words from a night full of creative dreams into my current novel, I take the time to listen. Although to human ears the song sounds like a random selection of notes thrown together in no particular order – in my mind, not unlike modern jazz – I am sure to the its perpetrator, it is perfectly coherent prose: a wordsmith busy at its job. We are similar, bird and I. A few times I have heard him, or indeed her, singing away and am pretty sure it is the same creature each time. I have named him Chaucer.
Up the road, my neighbours cock crows. I can’t say I like cockerels – or my neighbour as it happens – they appear to me to be belligerent creatures, too ready to give out orders like a sergeant major, summoning the troops and teasing the sleeping. “It’s morning,” he cries. “I know it’s morning, you know it’s morning, so get your lazy backside out of that bed!”
As the light settles into its new day, in our field two lambs are calling through the fence. “Come on, Mister!” they shout, “feeding time already.” These two had the misfortune to be disowned by their mother and have been reliant on Wendy and I to provide them with bottled milk, 4 times per day, since the day they were born. At 4 weeks old now, the pair of them have become bold and a tad greedy, bunting the bottle with the impatience of youth, often dislodging the rubber teat with catastrophic consequence. What might sound to many like an idyllic and romantic task has of late turned the chore into an awkward human struggle, especially in a dressing-gown and wellington boots.
Before I get around to giving in to their demands, the cat throws his two-penneth into the fray, yowling for reasons only he can justify. I am none too fond of felines either, particularly this one, whose disapproving tones are unequivocal. I guess he wants food as well.
Then the dogs pipe up, awoken by the cat and optimistically awaiting their breakfast, calling out in dog-speak that is none too hard to translate. It’s 6.45am as I trudge to the kitchen, their distractions pulling on the handbrake of my creative writing for the day.
Words! Every creature has them at their disposal. Only a foolish author would write them down.
Today, once I have replenished all these beasts, I have a thankful task on my own agenda. This foolish author is off to meet a fan. I don’t get much fan-mail, I guess that shows! Ironically, this is a lady who won one of my books in a raffle and enjoyed it so much she took the time to write and tell me. After a few conversations, she has today invited us for dinner, albeit that I have offered to help her castrate her goat kids in the bargain.
Words. Funny things, really.