A time to be born

news: A time to be born

“Spring is sprung, de Sun am riz, I wonder where dem boidies is? Dem boids is on de wing! But dats absoid-de wing is on de boid!” Trivial but true.

The Clerk of the Weather threw a switch on March 31, the thermometer shot up ten degrees and winter clothes suddenly looked frowsty and forlorn. In Lagos, those visitors remaining after the Easter break threw caution to the wind to expose large expanses of pale and fragile skin which, within a couple of days, were done to a turn. Although pink and painful it was something to show for their holiday after a disappointing start.

Now that many people have gone back home the town is relatively quiet again but the irritation of motoring along the avenida, which is only 1.3km long, remains. Two years ago there was an outbreak of sleeping policemen in an attempt to curb impetuous drivers and when this failed, last autumn they were replaced with ten sets of traffic lights. Instead of bumps there is now the challenge of grid starts that few hot blooded Formula One aspirants can resist. Woe to the pedestrian who nips across at the last minute and the little old lady toddling over on weary feet. Stationary tourist buses make matters worse by reducing the carriageway to one lane. At the height of summer Lagos avenida promises to be a no-go area unless walking and then only for the fleet of foot.

And now back to the birds, which seem to know that the ongoing drought will result in problems with breeding and the successful rearing of their young ones. Pairing off began early despite short chilly days and because the fires in 2003 missed us by a whisker there are plenty of trees and scrub in which to nest close to our house. Flocks of sparrows, goldfinch and chaffinch tuck into the birdseed we scatter each morning and randy little sparrows pepper the patio with droppings as they fight over nesting places. Add to these several pairs of blackbirds, spotted woodpeckers, hoopoes and a couple of thrushes all of which must survive on this small oasis and it will be a scramble for whatever insects are available. Certainly there will be a shortage when their young hatch and because there are rats next door we cannot put out anything for them to eat. A lesson we learned last summer when the Boss and I were sitting in the shade having lunch. I tossed a bug infested apple close to a sandstone wall nearby thinking that some creature might fancy a piece of fresh fruit. Within seconds a sleek and glossy rat came out, picked up the titbit and tried to push it back inside a hole. While it was struggling two more slithered into view, trimmed the apple and hefted it out of sight.

Being highly intelligent and adaptable rats will survive conditions inimical to nearly all other living creatures. They were the first to colonise one of the Atolls used for testing an atomic bomb, having crossed over from the nearest piece of land many nautical miles away. So I should not have been surprised when the Boss called me over to look under the bonnet of his car the other day. Alongside one of the fluid containers of the hydrolastic suspension system of his Citröen was a cache of acorns and empty shells that can only have been the stash of a prudent rodent. They have a predilection for pipes and wiring on which to buff up their growing incisors and it seems he had a lucky escape unlike two of our friends, both of whom had their cars put out of action.

While country life is witness that there is a time to be born and a time to die, Christians worldwide will remember Easter Week 2005 for the death of Pope John Paul II. Born Karol Wojtyla in Poland in 1920 and the first pontiff since 1523 from outside Italy, he was a “peoples’ Pope” who considered all were equal in the eyes of God whatever their beliefs. While the convocation of cardinals gathers to choose a successor his flock, numbered in billions, must carry on strengthened by his teaching and remembering his wonderful example.

In the same week the western end of St.Vincent’s Anglican Church in the Algarve said ‘goodbye’ to their retiring Pastor and for a while we, too, may grieve: not clinging to what is past but rather needing a little time to adjust to change. The past cannot be discarded like an old garment and the older one grows the more difficult it becomes to accept new modes of worship. That we have no choice makes this no easier.

And still with the late Pope in mind, the name ‘Wojtyla’ reminds me of an English revolutionary who, in 1381 AD, rallied his fellow villeins against Richard II after a swingeing increase in Poll Tax that none was able to pay. Meeting the King at Smithfield outside London, Wat Tyler demanded that the great wealth of the Church together with its vast areas of land should be distributed among the hungry working class and all men be declared ‘free and equal’. This has a ring of the late pontiff’s attitude and common touch and I wonder if their ancestors came from the same root all those years ago?