Alice Thomas Ellis
0 ne cannot really say that spring has come because it's been around since last November if I read the signs aright. I've seen the gorse in bloom for months now, fuchsia, campion, herb robert, snowdrops, snow-in-summer, clematis all getting their cues wrong and appearing on stage in mad confusion and quite out of chronological order, as though Cecil B. de Mille had taken over the production and sacked Mother Nature on set. We all got very boring about it. 'Tell me,' we would cry, 'is that a paeony I see before me? And is not that a clump of erica, freshly sprung?'
Sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn't. I can tell a rose from a daffodil, but the less conspicuous and distinguishable flora leave me puzzled. Lots of them look the same as lots of others until you count their petals and I've got too much else to do to crouch in hedgerows doing that. One thing I noticed — it's possible to have too many daffodils. The outskirts of Shrews- bury practically disappeared beneath the things. Not for the first time I found myself in disagreement with the views of William Wordsworth. There was no chance of any clouds getting lonely up there for they had all run together, and millions upon millions of dying daffodils make it look as though the countryside is suffering from eczema.
The birds, too, found it impossible to figure out what was going on, cheeping at inappropriate moments and thinking about furnishing their nurseries when it was much too soon. You could see them trying to decide whether or not to persevere with carrying away that twig, like first-time home-buyers in a DIY centre. Now, however, spring is getting serious. The pigeons are back in the tree next door. Big, fat wood pigeons — they would probably describe themselves as doves, being of far superior appearance to the scratty-looking, diseased mob who scavenge in the rubbish in the market. Nevertheless their judgment is faulty, their habits deplorable, and their stomachs upset.
From the bedroom window they present a pleasantly aesthetic prospect until you realise they're trying to put up a nest in precisely the branches it fell off last year, tumbling the fledgelings into the star-of- Bethlehem as an unexpected treat for the cats. I don't know what they eat, but it doesn't agee with them, and we, their human neighbours, have to exercise skill and forethought in negotiating the passage from door to gate. The secret is to look up before you get too close and ensure that they're out doing whatever it is that they do. On no account should one pause beneath the free and look up without having first ascertained that they are ab- sent.
The other birds are sharpening up their vocal chords or whatever it is they make that noise with, and the dawn chorus no longer consists only of the neighbours' burglar alarms going off or the feral cats arguing the toss. One of these cats — a particularly unappealing specimen — has taken to sitting on the drawing-room win- dowsill. Motivated by spring fever he has probably fallen for Puss, who is much too self-obsessed and hyacinthine to notice. He sprays the magnolia believing that this will endear him to us, and when he gets off the windowsill he sits on the wall, jeering at Cadders who resents him most bitterly.
All in all I am tired of this extended spring with its unwontedly unsettling effects. Flowers, birds, cats, humans have all been thrown off course and I don't know what to wear. One sure thing is that no one with any sense will venture out without her umbrella — even if she's only going as far as the gate.