Something’s not quite right. It’s a lovely day again. Soft air, the scents of spring with a hint of summer to come. No more excuses not to walk the children down the lane to school. So off we set, breathing in the grassy farmyardy smells and merrily swinging our plastic bag containing the two empty birds nests I found in the garden yesterday. The topic this term at school is ‘Materials’and the various things you can do with them. They’ve made lumpy grey recycled paper out of shredded newspapers, been to a local quarry to study stones and now they’re doing weaving. Yesterday a local artist came to the school and helped them weave a living pergola in the playground out of willow twigs. It’s designed to be a little shady retreat from the summer heat (hope springs eternal in these parts). It’s really rather splendid and, as ever, I was in awe of what our little village school manages to achieve. So anyway, I felt particularly chuffed when I found these abandoned nests as they were marvellous examples of weaving. Those little birds had put together something quite remarkable with a load of twigs, mud, horsehair, straw – you name it, it was there – all woven together beautifully. Nature comes to the classroom in all its glory. Of course the first thing that happened when I presented them to the teachers was that I got told off for taking them out of the trees. As if. I did explain, slightly sarcastically, that they had, of course, been lying on the ground, sideways, obviously abandoned. I hardly wrenched them from the grasp of the poor hardworking birdies as they put the finishing touches to their home. And I refrained from saying that Molly probably ate the birds anyway - they’d have had social services onto me in the blink of a disapproving eye.
As I started on my way back, a friend stopped me, impressed that I’d actually walked down rather than my usual screeching in at the last minute, the smell of burning rubber in the air, shouting at the kids to ‘Run, run, run’ to squeak through the door before 9 o’clock tolls. It seems to be an unwritten rule that the closer you are to the school the later you are. It was always a race between me and the friend that lives 200 yards from its gates as to which of us was going to get there last and incur the wrath of the Head. She usually won. I was devastated when she moved her child to a different school (with a view, presumably, to getting there on time) as I suddenly had nowhere to hide. Anyway, it seems they are now selling up and I got into a discussion as to the possible whys and wherefores and how sad it was that two more small children were leaving the village.
The friend I was having this conversation with grew up here and her mother still lives in the house she was brought up in. She still loves the place but we were lamenting how much things have changed. Even four years ago, when I arrived, there was still a herd of dairy cows which chewed the cud in the field opposite our house and would give me very good excuses for being late to school when the farmer was moving them down the lane to new pastures. Having just left the car crush and road rage that is west London, it was wonderful to have a rather different type of road user ambling along the byways of this land. The girls loved it too. It was one of the reasons I moved here – to have them grow up with real country rhythms in their souls, surrounded by nature rather than smoke, grime and crime. Not so long ago there were about five dairy farms in this village and you could set your watch by the passage of cows past the pub on the way to the milking sheds. The last one to go, three years back, was owned by a man in his early thirties whose family have farmed in the valley for generations. He finally gave it up because it was bloody hard work and not enough money in it. He’s now diversified into sheep and hanging baskets. One of his uncles lives next to us, dabbles in property and runs the local milk round. The other farms sheep and lives at the bottom of the lane. His children go to our school. At least he and his wife (also born and brought up here) are doing their best to keep down the average age of the village – they’ve just had their fourth child. It might help keep the school open if nothing else.