2 September 2012

Good morning and welcome to a very autumnal-feeling beginning of September. Since we didn’t have a summer this year, I suppose it’s logical that Autumn should start before the end of August. As I was out walking Molly on Friday morning I met a fellow dog-walker who made the same observation – the morning was “fresh” and, were it not for the swallows swooping and feeding over the recreation ground one could easily be forgiven for mistaking the date for early October. Let’s hope we get some sort of an Indian summer before we descend into the depths of winter.

Mackerel SkyMs Playchute and I were sitting on the back patio the other day sipping a glass or several of decent Languedoc red when I spotted what, to me, was an interesting cloud formation. Penelope calmly and knowledgably informed me that it was what is known as a “Mackerel” sky resembling, as it does, the scales on an adult mackerel. Apparently, the size and darkness of the “scales” can indicate either the approach of inclement weather or a short term improvement. You will be astonished to learn our mackerel sky brought the former – high winds and an overnight deluge. Our photo doesn’t really do it justice but it was quite impressive. It’s amazing what I learn living with Ms Playchute.

It’s also amazing how thoroughly miserable our “summer” has been. Both the Guardian and the BBC had articles on the “wettest summer” in 100 years and the fourth wettest since records began in 1727. (There’s some discrepancy between the two sources as to when records began but however you measure it, this has been a truly epic disappointment of a summer).

The same evening we observed the mackerel sky we also enjoyed some splendid entertainment – the second brood of our resident swallows were fledged and we watched in hysterics as the parents attempted to get each of the babies to develop their flying skills. In some ways, I suppose, this is similar to teaching your children to drive a car – there is so much to get to grips with and, for those of us who taught our children to drive a car with a manual transmission, how well we remember the bunny-hops and stalled engines, not to mention the sweeping turns and over-corrections. (Not that our boys ever did that – they were expert from the start).

So, Penelope and I watched with considerable amusement as one particular infant struggled with the finer elements of flight control. The first step is that the parents somehow encourage their offspring to hurl themselves out of the only home they’ve ever known and start flapping. Can you imagine it? You are a few weeks old and your parents want you to fling yourself out of the nest into this great abyss below? No thanks, but somehow they all manage it. Then, they perch themselves on the rafters of the garage as the parents swoop in and out taking them in turns for a brief introduction to flying. They do a quick turn around the garden and plunge back in to the garage, depositing one infant on a rafter and picking up another. This continues for a while until all five babies are out and about.

This one child, however, was struggling, particularly with altitude control. I suppose one has to take into account that they have never flapped their wings to any extent previously until they plunge out of the nest. So, the infants flap their wings as fast as they possibly can and somehow, barely, stay aloft. That’s tricky enough but then trying to gauge the height at which they should be flying proves difficult for some and so it was with this one particular child. He/she could not seem to control their flight path sufficiently to ensure that they were at an appropriate height as they came to enter the garage and perch on a rafter. As Penny and I watched shouting “Up a bit. No, down a bit. No, up a bit,” this child would approach the opening to the garage, realise that he/she was too high but unable to lose altitude in time.

After a few aborted approaches, he/she decided to take a rest by clinging on to the wall at the front of the garage opening. The parents, meanwhile, charged through chirping words of encouragement hoping to persuade him/her to let go of the wall and have another go. Which he/she did only to fail again. And again. And again. At one point he/she ended up on the windscreen of Penny’s car, trying to cling to the glass as the parents again swooped by trying to persuade him/her to have another go. Eventually, he/she got it and now they are out and about every day, perching on the rafters only when they need a rest. It’s fascinating stuff and it’s great fun having them around – I just wish they wouldn’t crap all over everything in the garage.

We’re off this week to Devon with Nick, Lucy, Annabelle and Molly. I suppose it’s possible that we’ll see some sun – here’s hoping anyway. Nick and Lucy have hired a cottage near the village of Noss Mayo in South Devon and, for some bizarre and inexplicable reason, they invited us to come along. I don’t know that we’ll do too much sun bathing or swimming but there’s lots to see and do, and the cottage is literally on the South Coastal Path so we are looking forward to doing some walking along the cliffs. We’ll let you know how we get on.

MomAnd finally, yesterday was my mother’s birthday. It also happens to be my sons’ grandmother’s birthday and, believe it or not, it’s also my granddaughter’s great-grandmother’s birthday. What are the chances of that? We love you lots and hope you had a splendid day.

Love to you all,



One thought on “2 September 2012”

  1. Dear Greg and Penny,
    What an interesting observation of your swallows’ teaching their offspring to fly. Are your swallows Barn Swallows or a different variety? We used to have Barn Swallows nest in the eves between the two sections of the White House. However, they have not been back to nest for 8 or 10 years now. I don’t know whether there is a population decrease, or whether just too many people around so they seek more privacy in their nesting selection. I never saw the parents teach their little ones to fledge. I have watched Phoebes fledge. The little ones just get so large, they over flow the nest. Either the biggest just gets pushed out, or it is the boldest. However, they have been flapping their wings vigorously a few days before so they have strength to soar to a railing, or to a branch away from the house. The other difference is that our Barn Swallows start lining up along a wire (phone or electric), a week sometime mid August, and then fly South.
    So much on the comparative ornithology observations.
    Sadly, I goofed and missed acknowledging your Father’s, Mother’s, brothers Steven’s and Sandy’s birthday in August. I must learn where to write memoes to myself on my iPad, since I can no longer write with my right hand.
    The U.K. Has had a lousy “summer”. El Niño or La Nina are greatly affecting the global weather patterns, plus the wilder swings in the Jet Stream. Predictions are stronger and wilder weather in the coming years. We have just had a large, but not so intense Hurricane which is dumping 3 to 15 inches of rain fron Louisiana all across the mid U.S. eastern U.S. Here in VT, it is due to hit tonight or tomorrow, and rain for three or four days.
    I head to the Lake next Wed. for 8 days, and a wonderful wedding. I hope to see Pam and Sandy and Carol, Zack and baby Azalea, and enjoy seeing old friends. The Adler’s are friends of some 8 years now, and I know all five boys and their one daughter (who is getting married). Their eldest son, Ted, whom I have known the longest just got married 6 weeks ago, to a beautiful woman, who is in her final year of residency to become a pediatrician. The Adlers are a wonderful family.
    Love your Blogs! Bunny W.

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