Summer snooping, and assorted chaos

Well, it’s been a funny couple of months. No photos from attractive country locations to share, because we’ve been minus one driving husband for the past 6 weeks, and minus the car for half of that too.

Way back in May some time (I think?) the Mr tripped over a kerb coming out of the station, and several painful hours later decided he’d better take it to A&E. It was apparently only a minor chip to the bone, so he was wearing a boot for 2 weeks. Fine. 

Two weeks later, they realised the X-ray had missed a more serious fracture and the boot would be on for another 4 weeks. Damn.

He was managing alright with the boot outdoors and hobbling round at home, commuting the shortest possible journey in terms of walking distance – bus to the damn Northern Line, my nemesis for many years, but driving was out of the question.

Then we came downstairs one morning to find we’d been burgled and the car had gone anyway – this was at the end of May. We were dazed, but relieved that more hadn’t been taken from the house (just laptops and iPads, all backed up so nothing personal lost – always back up, folks!) but getting a new car was going to be an almighty great hassle.

It was a week later – 1.30am on the night of Bank Holiday Monday, we had the call – Police, we’ve found your car, can we come and collect the spare key in 10 minutes so we can move it? To be woken in the night with amazingly good news was, well, good, but befuddling. I was very sleepy but remember insisting to the Mr ‘check before you open the door, check it really is a policeman’.

Waiting for forensics, and insurers to sort out changing the locks took another few weeks, but the car is back, the door which was forced has new bolts top and bottom and we are throughly relieved all round. 

It has felt very strange not zooming out and about at weekends as we are used to doing, but then it was also the season of birthday parties so we’ve had that to keep us busy, plus the local paddling pool and trips to Greenwich and the Horniman at half term.

I’ve had to fall back on my local patch for admiring flowers – a few favourite houses I like to pass by, and a few new spots as well.

These were spotted in the garden of flats just by Streatham Common – amazing pink daisies, the bees loved them, and the gorgeous colour combination of orange poppies with white nigella.

A view of my very favourite local garden (featured before, I’m sure) – house painted strawberry ice cream pink, which always reminds me of the ‘strawberry pink villa’ in My Family and Other Animals, although SE London does not resemble Corfu in many other ways, I imagine. 

The planting is always beautifully done in purples, reds, and pinks to complement  the house, and the big girl decided she loved the ‘umbrella flowers’ – striped petunias really do look a bit like beach parasols! So I hunted the local garden centres until I found a striped petunia for her. 

A riot of even more purples and pinks: hydrangea, geranium, hollyhocks, clematis. Particularly love that shade of hydrangea – none of mine are flowering yet and one of the front garden ones has barely got going this year at all. Like most of the front garden, it’s rather a mess, but that’s another story.

Something from my own garden I can be proud of, our lovely white rose in the back garden (sadly scentless, but otherwise one of my favourites). I spent a good half hour this morning dead-heading it, so it’s now looking much more sparse, but it always grows back so vigorously I never worry too much about it. 

On the other hand, one of the other roses which was still flowering, I noticed was looking a bit bare in places – so I looked a bit closer…

See those little critters? Here’s a closer look.

It must be the Very Hungry Caterpillar and his friends! Luckily we have enough rose leaves to go round, and we are enjoying doing 30 Days Wild, so this was our ‘wild thing’ for the day. Quite thrilling for small children and me too.

The car/broken foot curfew is almost up, but next few weekends are busy with the school fair and other fixtures – Lambeth Country Show of course – but we will be back to days in the country soon, I hope.


The Rise and Fall of the Cockney Sparrer

My Twitter and Facebook feed have recently been filled with an endless stream of statuses along the lines of ‘Ah, Autumn, my favourite season’, usually accompanied by an Instagram of some attractive foliage.

Now, I can take a snap of a pretty Autumn leaf as well as the next person, but I won’t be jumping on this particular bandwagon, as I’m decidedly a spring person, despite my birthday being in the depths of November. When spring is sprung, the grass is riz, lambs are gambolling and daffodils are nodding, I’m at my happiest.

Autumn Leaf

Oh ok then, I’ll jump on the bandwagon.

I certainly admire the beauty of autumn, and enjoy the crisp, sunny mornings, but when it starts getting dark at 4pm, I yearn to be able to hibernate or migrate south. I sometimes wish I was the kind of character from an Evelyn Waugh or PG Wodehouse novel who decides on a whim to ‘motor down’ to the Riviera for the winter, and spend my days wandering under cypresses and beside the Med, and my evenings drinking aperitifs on a terrace, watching the sun set.

Autumn sunset

And autumn sunsets aren’t bad either.

However, this post wasn’t meant to be all me, me, me – I do remember occasionally to think of others (!), and last week I was guiltily reminded it was time to start feeding the birds again. I have not been as assiduously feeding them as much as I used to this year, partly due to lack of time, and partly due to thinking they ought to be fending for themselves a bit more during the summer, when there should be enough insects and seeds to go around – but of course the same doesn’t apply now that it’s late autumn.

Earlier this year, I took part in the RSPB’s Cockney Sparrow count, which has been asking Londoners to record sightings of the much-loved and familiar House Sparrow. The highlights of the survey results were sent back to me last week, along with a free pack of insect- (and therefore bird)-friendly wild flower seed – thank you, RSPB!

The survey indicates that the apparent decline in sparrows in central London continues, but the population in the outskirts is holding up better, East more so than West. Based on what I’d read before, I had thought pollution affecting fertility was a potential factor, but the RSPB’s current view is that a lack of invertebrate food is causing chicks to starve in the nest (now making me feel even more guilty that I didn’t put out food during the breeding season!)

House Sparrow

House Sparrow (Source: BBC Wildlife)

Increased predation from sparrowhawks and other birds of prey may also be hitting the sparrow population, and is a trend I have personal experience of – last summer to my amazement, a sparrowhawk stooped to snatch a sparrow right from my patio. The split-second moment when the hawk and I stared at each other, and the shriek that went up from all the other birds as they hurried to get away will stay with me a long time – and the silence in the garden afterwards was noticeable, my usual sparrow, blue tit and robin visitors didn’t return for several days.

Whilst I’m pleased to have been able to confirm to the RSPB that cockney sparrers are still doing well in my patch of South London, it does make me sad that you simply don’t see them in central London any more. One of my earliest London memories is feeding sparrows in St James’s Park, now totally dominated by feral pigeons, and of course landmark locations like St Pauls and Trafalgar Square are now bird-free thanks to the efforts to rid them of feral pigeons. Great in terms of reduction in pigeon poo-related nastiness, but a shame for the sparrows who were such a London fixture for so long.

Something else I’d note here, out of anecdotal interest, as I haven’t seen it recorded anywhere else by ornithologists – the sparrow population crash does seem to be a peculiarly London phenomenon. In the past few years I’ve been to a fair range of other major European cities – Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Vienna – and sparrows are still just as common in their centres as they were once in London. I have particularly fond memories of watching sparrows dustbathing and drinking from fountains in Madrid.

Sparrows in Madrid

Sparrows in Madrid

Thankfully, I can continue to do my bit for the sparrows by feeding them in winter and planting insect-friendly plants in spring and summer to ensure they have a good food source all year round – and barring any more sparrowhawk-related incidents, I can continue to enjoy watching them, too.