FLYING SOUTH WITH THE BIRDS
If the swallows can do it then so can I, they had vacated their black chimney nest back in early September and during a dull Breton summer there had been two casualties which I discovered on returning from the Outer Hebrides. My 17th century farm-house in Central Finistere has always been open to wildlife, bats lodge between the rafter, mice make their way through the meter thick walls, hornets have discovered the perfect void above the toilet dormer window, sparrows nest in the scaffold holes in gable end while toads find the damp mossy cool spots at the base, and each year swallows fight over who will take over the chimney nest. With all this wildlife there is inevitably death, I returned at the end of one summer to find a swallow spread eagled under the cooker and another half eaten in the parlor with a dead sparrow hawk alongside. Before there would have been a quick spade burial in the garden but now I waste no time in plucking, wing, tail and any other useful feathers to be incorporated at some point into my bird pictures. Little goes to waste in the way of feathers, a sparrow managed to short itself out on the horse’s electric fence wire and the 9-year-old cockerel finally fell of his perch after being abducted several times by the neighbors golden retriever.
Having dug over the garden, this year moving all the fruit bushes and planting replacements the remaining area I covered in black plastic sheeting in the hopes that it would remain clean and not too water logged as it was now my turn to fly south. I packed a roll of wallpaper circa 1900 from the Arthur Silver Studio plus forty-four of my feather bird pictures. The birds were discretely slipped between the pages of my sketchpad in the hopes that on my arrival in Perth Western Australia I would be directed down the customs nothing to declare sniffer dog line. No such luck but I needn’t have worried for even though WA do not allow import of feather the golden Labrador was perhaps more concerned with the sniffing out of drugs.
The Christmas period rushed in shortly after my arrival and is very much the same in the southern hemisphere having very little to do with the birth of Christ and more about spending and eating. I managed to avoid the former (a lesson learnt from my father) but by New Year just the idea of another barbeque and food left me groaning, for a reformed vegetarian this had been a real meat feast which left me longing for anything green. Water plays a big part during the hot festive season with the sea little over a kilometer away and a pool in the back yard, a week of temperatures in the high 30’s and no air conditioning meant both were in full use. It would seem a God given right for all Australians who own a 4x4 to drive along any beach they can get to and Christmas is peak season for this pleasure. Everything but the kitchen sink is packed for a mornings trip to the beach, all manner of plastic toys; floating, flying and digging stuff, fishing gear, food and drinks, towels and bathers plus tables, chairs and loungers. I felt positively naked when turning up on pushbike with little more than sun screen and a hat but I had that simple unencumbered pleasure of walking along the beach and flopping into the Indian Ocean where the water temperature is what we would consider more like a warm bath in the Outer Hebrides. The granite rock, white sands and turquoise blue sea of the world renowned West Australian coast are remarkably similar to those found on Harris, only the temperature of the water is crucially different. Just prior to Christmas the arts and craft wallpaper finally found its first home after more than a hundred years in the roll and looked stunning, while my feather bird pictures returned from the local Bunbury framers looking suitably simple and impressive. The exhibition, which has almost a year in the making, is due to open with a massive display of fireworks at the East Victoria Park Art Centre in Perth on 26th Jan (Australia Day).