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Interludes: A Day In The Life Of...

...The road has a top and a bottom, an up and a down, a slope that leads to a busy flow of traffic. Eight on one side and six on the other, and all the people smile! How lucky we are! How strange for a road to have a soul. It wasn’t always so, but now there’s an air of peace, of warmth and friendliness, and everybody shares...

Sylvia West, with a keen eye and ear tuned to the joys of nature, alert to good neighbourliness and the gentle tides of life, writes about a day in the life of the place where she lives.

A quiet night. I see the wind has dropped. I open the window to let out the steam, and the cool air slides in over the sill to caress the delicate scent of warm lavender. There is silence in the gardens: no barbecues tonight, no smell of crispy bacon, no sausage on the griddle. The couple at number four are out on the patio enjoying their last cigarette of the day, and the aroma of tobacco drifts across and hangs on the night air. I don’t see them, but I can hear their soft voices and a gentle laugh. They are to be married in a month, and after that, she told me, they will stop smoking. It will be easier when all the stress has gone, she says.

The church clock strikes eleven and a breeze stirs the wind chime above my door. No babies are crying tonight, perhaps the Angel of new-borns is in charge. There are eleven babies in the road, soon to be twelve, and only fourteen houses to hold them! The young ones tell newcomers, “Be careful, this is Babyville!”

Recently we’ve had two couples move in who said they were hoping to start a family, and hey presto, they did!

The road has a top and a bottom, an up and a down, a slope that leads to a busy flow of traffic. Eight on one side and six on the other, and all the people smile! How lucky we are! How strange for a road to have a soul. It wasn’t always so, but now there’s an air of peace, of warmth and friendliness, and everybody shares.

“Have you got an onion?”

“Could you babysit for a while?”

“Can you feed my cat for a week?”

“Would you like me to give you a massage?”

“Hey, we’re having a party, will you be able to come?”

“It’s my mum’s birthday, nibbles at one o’clock.”

Listen: there’s the hedgehog trundling through the grass, looking for slugs in the border. He comes from number one, for nobody’s there, the house is empty and waiting. It’s been rented for years, now nobody comes to buy, and the grass is knee high. Brenda would cry and spin in her grave; when she was alive the garden was a joy, sweet and neat and peaceful for sitting in. No more, I’m afraid, the brambles are huge and menacing, they threaten and scream.

“Get off! Get away!” No wonder Sleeping Beauty was hidden away for a hundred years. Number one feels lost and forgotten, the Wicked Fairy who made sure there was a spindle somewhere for the princess to find. I shut my wooden gate and do not look that way.

There’s the hour again: the chime of midnight. Close the window, time for bed. The sky is full of stars again, the moon is up and climbing through the trees. I listen for the owl before I go - wait, there he is, ‘woo-woo‘, he calls, ‘woo-woo‘. I don’t know what kind he is; is he tawny owl, or brown, or little owl? I am no expert. There he goes, away into the woods to look for supper, the foolish, careless mice who also need to eat and feed their babies. There are sure to be orphans by the morning.

The last car of the night swings into the road. One final husband comes home and quietly closes the door. Goodnight, road, see you in the morning.

Alarm clocks are set for six or seven, but the blackbird has other ideas.

“Morning has broken, like the first morning.
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird” says the hymn.

Which one, in the first great Council of Birds, decided that the blackbird should be the first to sing, long before the sun creeps up to the horizon? Does he have this honour all over the world? Who can say?

It’s nearly five, and my blackbird has woken me from a deep sleep. Now there are two, singing in counterpoint, one in my hedge and his cousin up in a tree at number four. I’ll wait awhile and listen: no need to get up yet. Soon back doors will open with a click and dogs will be let out into the gardens, and cats will step out on stealthy paws to mind their own secret business.

I must have slept again, for that was seven from the church clock. Now it must be tea, tea please, the kettle is on and I am saved from disintegration by a big mug of tea with two ginger biscuits. Now I shall live to know another day.

The sliding note of a car engine as the brakes go on tells me that someone is off down the road, waiting at the bottom to listen for traffic. Come rain or shine, at seven thirty Daphne takes the dogs to the common, her own little Westie but sometimes as many as seven or eight lodgers. Daph is the “dog lady”, the Pied Piper, and twice a day the excited, barking ‘caravan’ hurtles down the slope and returns an hour or so later with wet, dry, muddy, exhilarated travellers on board. If the church clock fell silent perhaps no-one would notice, but if we didn’t hear the dog cavalcade, that would signal the end of the world.

Now doors open, mothers dash about and the postman leaves his bike at the top. The milkman comes, letters plop through the door, and a load of bricks is delivered to number ten. It’s time for school, “Shall I take him with mine? Will you collect them, then?“

“Won’t the car start? Here, I’ll go,” and someone is ill so the plans are all rearranged. “Come, go, quick we’ll be late, run, walk, push the buggy, take the dog, oh, it’s cold, you need a coat, no I don’t, the sun’s out, it’s going to be warm.”

Round the corner, away to the school, then slowly back and into the road: stand in the middle and catch the news. Who’s had a row, lost his job, had a rise, booked a holiday - really, is she expecting another one? No, I hadn’t heard about that! Come for coffee, about eleven?”

The blood begins to flow through the arteries of the road. Delivery vans, the Gas Board, the refuse truck, and the old couple from the new houses walk carefully down to catch a bus, and carefully back at teatime. Cats curl up behind the windows, sleeping on sofas with fat cushions and lonely teddies. Hanging baskets need to be watered, cars come and go for shopping, and Jenny has some cakes to make. A lovely smell of baking drifts across the road.

Then school is out, the kids are home, the steady pulse begins to slow: bath time, bedtime, suppertime, a barbecue maybe? There’s a cut-grass smell, and curry and garlic, and the blackbird is right at the top of the tree, singing his heart out. He’s not alone, there’s the robin and a chaffinch, and the noisy, gawky starlings who’ve been eating most of the day. Here come the clouds, the sun is out of sight and it looks a bit like rain. Who’s going out, who’s for the pub, are you staying in tonight?

The clock strikes nine. Listen, there’s the hedgehog, he’s early tonight. Now ten, and here’s the rain. Good for the gardens they say. It’s been a good day for the road. Nobody died, nobody was rushed to hospital, nobody fell out of love. Oh they do. All of these things, but not today. All the usual human emotions are here in our road, the whole life enhancing, soul destroying spectrum, sometimes hidden, sometimes not, but not today.

It’s a quiet night. A bit chilly. I’ll close the window now. Where’s the owl tonight?

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