Wednesday 1 July 2015

Yogurt, Amateurs and Admirals

Well, as I've remarked before, this has so far been one extraordinarily busy retirement - busy not with Work as I used to know it but, infinitely more agreeably, with a ceaseless whirl of family and domestic activity - so much going on that it's all a bit of a blur and I scarcely know what day of the week it is. As anyone who has spent much time with babies and toddlers will know, it's a delightful but draining business, one of the side-effects of which is that the brain turns to yogurt - in my case, strained Greek yogurt, teetering on the brink of expulsion from the neurozone. Add to that the effects of the current stupefying heat and the result is a pretty lamentable state of affairs in the old cerebellum. Indeed I have more than once found myself barely capable of coherent speech; what comes out at the first attempt is a kind of half-formed incomprehensible burble.
 Yesterday, however, I was for a while out of the whirl and taking a short walk on Ashtead Common, in the hope of finding White Admirals, Silver-Washed Fritillaries and even, if luck was on my side, perhaps a Purple Emperor. As I drew near a particular spot where on many years I have seen early Silver-Washed Fritillaries, I saw that an elderly (well, older than me) couple were looking intently at the oak trees and the undergrowth of flowering bramble - surely in the hope of seeing butterflies.
 Usually the only people I see looking for butterflies - and I don't see many anywhere - are rather joyless grey men in grey anoraks with fancy binoculars and cameras. I avoid them. But here today were a couple of kindred spirits - amiable amateurs, happy to look and hope and enjoy. I gave voice and was understood at the first attempt. The husband told me they were hoping to see a Purple Emperor, having had that pleasure a couple of times in previous years. We all looked around us for a while, with no luck on any front - Emperor, Admiral or Frit - before they moved off, still looking. After a while I followed at a distance behind them, on a usually rewarding woodland path - but still with no luck.
 After a while I caught up with them. They too had not been lucky. We commiserated briefly with each other - had we come too early? - and admired the mighty veteran oaks in our view. They told me of some lectures they had been to about Wimbledon and other commons (from which the lecturer had sometimes absented himself to attend to his marital difficulties, leaving a video presentation in his place). We agreed that London is singularly lucky to have so many of these ancient oak-studded commons preserved around its periphery (thanks, very often, to the far-sighted philanthropy of the Corporation of London - those were the days...).
 After we had taken our leave of each other, I headed off on a wide loop back to the railway station - and was rewarded with the sight of first one, then two beautiful White Admirals, one gliding away into the woods, flickering in and out of vision, and the other briefly ahead of me on the path, then out of sight among the trees.

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