Since falling ill with ME, my symptoms have always been worst in a morning and though I wake around seven, it takes at least ninety minutes (sometimes two or three hours) for my symptoms to subside enough for me to get out of bed. My bedroom looks out over farmland and as I lie in bed each morning waiting to be well enough to start my day, I listen to birds singing in the trees and hedgerows.
This past year or more, BBC radio has hosted a programme called ‘Tweet of the Day’, using recorded birdsong to help listeners identify the different species participating in their neighbourhood’s dawn chorus. So far (on the extremely infrequent occasions I find myself listening to radio 4) the recordings of puffins, egrets and curlews have been a little too exotic for the birds in my back garden but trying to distinguish between the different calls of birds has given me a new appreciation for the variety of birdlife on my doorstep.
In recent months however, the birds have been competing with a whole new kind of dawn chorus as work progresses on a long-awaited link-road that will pass 100 metres from my bedroom window. Six days a week, the work starts up at seven in the morning and the high pitched ‘beep-beep’ and deep throaty ‘ark-ark’ of heavy machinery sounds very much like strange mechanical birds demarcating their territory. I can cope with the ‘vehicle-reversing’ bird. I don’t mind the ‘please-stand-clear’ bird. But I must confess that when it comes to the ‘cleans-the-mud-off-its-metal-beak-by-banging-it-on-the-tarmac-outside-of-my-window-first-thing-on-a-Saturday-morning’ bird, I struggle to summon any kind of fondness.
It is an awe-inspiring sight to watch flocks of swirling seagulls filling the sky as they swoop to snatch up worms from fresh-dug mounds of earth whenever the diggers break new ground.
Around this time of year, I normally watch a pair of swans raise their cygnets on the canal-side. They swim up and down between the narrow boats and sit together in the sunshine on the grassy bank. The more intrepid will embark on lengthy walks across the field, waddling its way through a herd of startled cows, not stopping till it reaches the railway a quarter of a mile away. One memorable morning, I heard my carer scream as she opened the living room curtains to find the swan peering back at her from the other side of the glass, eying up the pot plants on my windowsill. I watched it all morning as it sunbathed on the grass, moving every hour to keep ahead of the shadows that crept across the lawn as the sun passed overhead.
Eventually one of my neighbours, an elderly gentleman, went out to try and chase it away. I watched him noisily shoo the swan across the garden, waving his arms and brandishing his walking stick. Halfway to the gate, the somewhat startled swan appeared to come to its senses and turning around with wings outstretched, started chasing the even more startled man. It was better than any Laurel and Hardy sketch and I couldn’t help but laugh at the comic scene unfolding before me.
Since the pile-driver arrived last month to plant the foundations for a bridge over the canal I sadly haven’t seen either of the swans. I hope they’ve just moved further down the bank to get away from the noise and that it won’t put them off returning to their usual spot next year when the machinery will have moved on.
It seems the swans are not the only birds the new road has displaced. Since the road works began I have regularly heard hooting in the middle of the night. In seven years in this flat I have never heard an owl hoot despite often being awake at unsociable hours so can only conclude it has left its normal habitat because of the road. It has proven a comforting sound to hear another living creature on those all-too-frequent nights when I lie awake and in pain because of my illness. I have no doubt that local rodents vehemently disagree.
At seven every evening, the mechanical birds fall silent and I’m relieved to remove the earplugs I must now wear through the day to have any chance of resting and managing my symptoms or being able to concentrate on other activities.
While I still can’t tell their voices apart (despite the BBC’s best efforts) I sit with a cup of tea each night before bed, listening to sparrows, thrushes and finches as they sing me a lullaby.