Early yesterday morning, nature rebelled and took over Eynsham. As the mist rose from the village—a little before seven a.m—a whole crowd of birds descended in its place.
From the moment I stepped out of the door all I could hear was coo and chatter, although I only occasionally spotted the creatures themselves, high in branches. Between home and the bus stop, I met no man, but many starlings and bluetits, and two magpies, separate enough in space to each be half of a different couple. The stop itself, which sits on a wide dogleg bend with the market square beyond, was besieged by starlings, woodpigeons and a dozen entirely black birds: too small to be ravens, too numerous to be crows, and with a call like a chough’s. They pecked at the road surface, which must have harboured some grub meagre enough to be invisible from the stop.
The village was so still as I left the house, only beginning to wake up and drive out the birds as the bus arrived. The mist reminded me of Markinch, a sleepy, rainy Brigadoon tucked into a valley near Edinburgh, where I’d attended a wedding years ago and my future usher—I would never have believed it then—had scandalized the Presbyterians with drink and stinking cigars. The cooing and other calls made me tingle, bringing back springs spent in Summertown over a flat roof that teemed with pigeons as the sun came up. And the sleepy, motley houses brought back some now nameless, placeless, timeless mixture of some of the places friends have moved to over the years: quondam market towns; the prettier commuter satellites; the parts of north and east Oxford that belong to a different city.
Really early mornings, the deserted hours, are a rare enough experience for me that they still feel fresh. As I move gradually further away from what I’ll no doubt eventually consider certain halcyon days, most of my waking life has become a palimpsest: wiped clean of older, lost days; and writ again with work, household and a declining interest in going out of an evening. Only the early mornings remain an untarnished record of the past, occasionally surprising me by revealing with a flourish memories I had long forgotten. Sometimes they’re almost worth getting out of bed for.