Friday 10 July 2020

Odds and Ends

There has been some pretty grim weather lately (making up for the glories of the spring), but it was still a surprise to discover that this date, July 10th, is, on average, the wettest day of the year in the UK. It owes this unenviable status to such catastrophic events as the great Somerset flood of 1968, when Bristol and a great swathe of the county endured a mighty downpour (more than five inches in a day) that transformed city streets into rivers, swept away country roads, inundated acres of farmland, and in places put people in fear of their lives. The Cheddar Gorge became a raging torrent, bearing along tons of rock and debris from the cliffs, and the famous caves were flooded for the first time ever.
Nothing like that to report today, happily.

What I can report today is that one of my regular charity shop haunts has reopened its doors (subject to hand sanitising and a degree of social distancing). It was a joy to be scanning its shelves again, and, to celebrate, I bought a rather attractive Artois beer glass and three books: two of the attractive mini-books extracted from the Penguin Classics – The Madness of Cambyses from Herodotus's Histories (tr. Tom Holland) and Thomas Nashe's The Terrors of the Night, or a Discourse on Apparitions – and Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away (FSG Classics paperback), because I've been thinking of rereading it and don't (didn't) have a copy of my own. A welcome return for another element of the old normal, one that I'd been missing more and more as this madness went on.

And here's a curious incident from a couple of days ago. I was walking along a quiet back road beside a local park when I saw that what was clearly a raptor of some kind had made a landing just ahead of me and was intent on devouring something, spreading out its wings to shield its prey and prevent its escape. As I drew closer I saw it was a kestrel  (Hopkins's windhover) and, as several other birds were sounding agitated alarm calls, I assumed it had a fledgling. The kestrel was most reluctant to fly off, and I was almost treading on its tail by the time it took flight. And then I saw what its precious prey was – nothing more than a female stag beetle (smaller, unantlered and less formidable even than the male). I was glad to find that she was still alive and apparently not much the worse for her ordeal, apart from having been turned onto her back. I righted her and left her lumbering away towards a safe space. As I watched her go, I couldn't help feeling that this kestrel, so impressive in the sky and so fearsomely arrayed, had let itself down badly.

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