Saturday, 30 March 2013

Courting Swans

Route: Yard - Portsmouth - Newport, Isle of Wight - Southampton - Yard
KM: 144
Hours: 02.30 - 09.35
Listening: Huey Morgan on Radio 2 then Jack FM
Reading: Faultlines by Nancy Huston
Wildlife: Lots of gulls, 2 swans courting

Today is Saturday and I got up at 12.30 in the morning to go to work. However, the 2.30 start time is pretty much the only bad thing about this duty (despite being pretty rubbish hours, it does not qualify for the highest rate of pay either).

It is the Isle of Wight run. The ferry leaves at 5am and the passengers are almost exclusively truckers, with the occasional party goer on the way home, often falling asleep slumped in a chair.

This morning I watched the sunrise from the ferry. Dawn is happening around the 6am mark at the moment although the clocks are changing tonight so it will get later again for a while. I love watching the sunrise.

This is also spring. It has been freezing cold for months, and especially the last couple of weeks when it has really felt as if spring ought to be springing but it isn't. The trees are not in leaf, some are still not even in bud. Even the magnolia aren't out yet and they are normally the first.

The birds have started their courtship and nesting rituals though. The woodlands, even the lines of trees between houses, are alive with birdsong (some of which I can recognise this year for the first time!) and you don't have to wait long before you start to see aerial flirting, some successful, often not.

There is a stretch of the M27 between Portsmouth and Southampton which goes over a small waterway. A house stands right next to the motorway which looks like it was originally a mill house. The waterway is lined with concrete so is probably a canalised stretch of what was a natural stream. The water is normally bare but today there were two swans swimming in perfect parallel, their necks leaning in towards each other. Swans are dedicated parents and mate for life. These may have been getting it together for the first time or they may have been reaffirming their commitment to each other at the beginning of a new breeding season.

Either way, it's delightful to see and I ended up singing "Love is in the air" the rest of the way back.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Full Moon

Route - Yard Portsmouth NDC Bournemouth x2
Km - 587
Hours - 18.10-06.13
Listening - Radio 2, Mark Radcliffe, Jo Wiley, Stuart Maconie's Peoples' Songs on Brimfull of Asha by Cornershop. Billy Idol while Frank Renton on. Janice Long, Beethoven's Violin Concerto (Gidon Kremer soloist).
Reading at break - Guardian Review from couple of weeks ago.
Sunset - 18.29
Sunrise - 05.50ish.

Tonight I saw the full moon for the whole night. It rose orange behind me in my right hand mirror as I left Portsmouth and was still visible in the bright blue sky of daytime when I finished. For much of the night the gentle cloud covering it made it seem as if I was looking at it through tracing paper.

It was beautiful.

It is in the presence of such wonders of the natural world that my thoughts turn to God. Or maybe such wonders of the natural world are God.

So what do I mean by God? God to me is an it, it is a conglomeration of different conceptions, any number of which might fit at any time. Godness, the Holy Spirit, Mother Nature, God the paternalistic Christian God, source, Godness as made manifest in nature or in art. They are all there in that great big ball of loveliness I call God.

God is a feeling, of humility, of joy at the beauty of life and gratitude at my being able to experience it and express it, of love. Not necessarily even love for something or someone. It is just love.

You wouldn't have maybe thought that there would be much link between trucking and God but to me it's quite the opposite. I drive through the night, I see the birds in the day and the stars at night and I get to see the sun rise throughout the year.

That's God that is.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Cold, seriously cold.

Route: Yard - Fareham - Coventry - Yard
KM travelled: 458
Hours: 18.35-03.20
Wildlife seen: None, too dark. Not even on the way home.
Music listened to: Radio 3 Bach concert, Billy Idol 11 of the best, Janice Long on Radio 2, Broadside by Bellowhead.

It is seriously cold. Last night the thermometer in my truck did not get above 0 and that didn't take into account the windchill factor. I got out of the truck in Coventry and had to crunch over snow to take my number plate off the trailer I was dropping. Once I had turned off the A34 onto the M40 the fields either side of me were glistening in the moonlight.

It could be beautiful.

But I am not a cold weather person. I hate being cold and cold wind is my least favourite weather of all. It is a lazy wind, blowing straight through you, not bothering to go round. It goes straight through clothes too. Since I have been doing agency work I have only had the basics of clothing provided and a large coat was not included. For the last two winters I have resisted buying my own coat, I just resent spending money on workwear, but this year I succumbed.

I am pretty proud of my £12.50 ex-traffic cop coat from the local market, it is even fleecy lined. No hood, but you can't have everything.

I don't even have to spend that much time outside, not like when I worked for a builders merchant. It is basically just the time spent walking from the office to the unit followed by the time spent coupling up the trailer, and then just reversing the procedure at my destination. It is the fuelling up that gets me though. When you're coupling up, you're always on the move or having to put some effort into connecting the cables. But at the end of last night's shift, I had been sitting in a lovely toasty warm truck for nearly 3 hours, and then I had to get out and stand in the bitter wind for 5 minutes fuelling up. Our yard is very close to Southampton Water and is flat and open so whichever side of the truck you stand, you can never get out of the wind.

It is brutal at that time of the morning.

Surely this cold can't last much longer.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Red kite on A34

Route: Yard - Southampton - DIRFT - Poole - Yard
KM travelled: 514
Hours: 11.55-23.35
Birds spotted: Corvids (rooks, crows, jackdaws), magpies, buzzards (2 flying, 1 in tree), kestrels and a red kite.
Other wildlife: Fox, cat on route. Deer and badger on way home

I saw a red kite beside the A34 today.

I am very much a novice birdwatcher but I am enjoying learning. Normally my rule of thumb for roadside birds of prey is that if it is small, it is a kestrel and if it is big, it's a buzzard. This was big but it wasn't a buzzard.

It was circling round and round on thermals which is something I have never seen a buzzard do. Buzzards swoop around looking for prey, soaring across the dual carriageways, unconcerned by the traffic. Grass verges at the side of roads are excellent spots for hunting. The ground is warmer than in open fields, so small mammals are more active than they would be otherwise. They are also more captive since it is a smaller area with fewer places to run to. Roadside verges are also fairly dangerous for land predators like foxes, as the nightly roadkill tally testifies. But for the more brazen birds of prey they are ideal.

It also had a forked tail - the telltale red kite sign. No other British bird of prey has one so even if you only see a silhouette, which is the standard sighting for any bird from the driving seat of a truck, you can still recognise one.

My bird book states that the red kite is, "A rare bird for which a journey to Wales must be made". My bird book was written in 1988, one of my favourite charity shop purchases, to commemorate the 100th birthday of the RSPB. Since that time red kites have made a dramatic return to the British countryside, largely due to reintroduction programmes but also due to countryside management and working with farmers. They are a conservation success story, although I still wouldn't have expected to see one beside the A34 northbound between the M4 and the M40 if I hadn't been listening to a Simon Barnes audiobook last week which told me that they are now a familiar sight in the Chilterns.

The wonderful thing about watching birds is that they just do their own thing wherever they are. We, as humans, think that we own everything, we make the natural world into what we need it to be, building cities and roads across migration paths and destroying habitats. But still the natural world adapts and carries on doing what it has always done, using whatever new architecture we have provided for it.

Roads in the daytime are full of people rushing about going to work, talking on handsfree kits, racing the cars around them, desperate to get from A to B as fast as possible, hoping to beat their personal best for that journey. It gives the roads a frantic, competitive edge, which sucks you in and you find yourself looking in the mirror for your next adversary. But if you look up and to the fields and verges to the side, you are reminded that there is another way.

You can just soar on thermals, letting the earth's warmth save you the effort of flapping.