It was my birthday on Thursday and I was in my car for much of the day so it reminded me of the USA trip to which I was looking forward (rightly) this time last year.
Driving through southern England is a bit different from driving on the open roads of much of the USA but my Ray Ban sunglasses (bought in Charleston, SC) and the odd tune from my USA trip made me remember those times.
What a lovely sunny spring day it was. A day that only England produces in quite that way – and really only southern England. I was heading to the New Forest for a look around.
I was in no hurry and so I used the same technique as I often had in the USA – strategy, head in the right compass direction; tactics, take the prettiest looking route at each choice. It’s not a bad way to choose a route if you have nowhere particularly to go, and it could be a recipe for life too, but you do have to have some sort of compass and a set direction otherwise you may end up following the easy choices all the time and going around in circles.
I drove quickly along familiar roads until near Andover and then just used the above technique to get me somewhere.
En route I saw buzzards circling over woods and red kites over the dual carriageway, I stopped to buy petrol and wondered whether it was Francis Maude’s fault that it was so expensive. B****cks Maude should be let out in the media more often – he always makes a fool of himself. I noticed that although he got lots of mentions on the news programmes during the day he was usually referred to as ‘a senior government Minister’ rather than by name. Jerrycan Maude may become an ‘un-person’ if he isn’t careful. When I filled up with petrol, and the tank was more than three quarters empty (no panic-buying by me), I did think of buying a pasty just to feel involved in all the latest news stories but decided against it on health grounds.
Sticking to pretty roads in pretty places means you see some lovely sights. Small streams and thatched cottages, rolling arable fields and unspoiled grassland slopes, roads that curve like a woman’s hips and fords that have lost their wetness through lack of rain.
It was a sunny hot day and yellow was the theme of three spring-bringers that mean late March in southern England – primroses in the banks by the side of the road, brimstones flying across my route and the sound of chiffchaffs (yellowy-green chiffchaffs) singing everywhere and their notes came through the open car window and made me smile.
Apart from the weather, there wasn’t much else of spring – some willows were greened up, and a few birch, but the big woods of oak and ash and beech were practically leafless. Most of spring is still to come but it will come with gathering pace, envelope us all (make sure you notice) and then be lost in the dirtier, dustier, duller, drabber days of high summer.
My planned unplanned journey brought me to Lyndhurst and past a hotel where I twice stayed and in which I made the decision one October day, in the bathroom, to leave the RSPB – I gave it a glance in passing as I meandered further.
A walk over heath and through woodland produced a singing woodlark which reminded me of a day in Spain that I heard one sing behind me as hundreds of cranes fed in a field in front of me. But no Dartford warblers for me today although I had a quick look at Hampton Ridge where I saw my first ever Dartford about 41 years ago. But I saw a speckled wood butterfly in speckled sunshine in a wood – another sign of spring.
I’m writing this at the end of the day, in a cheap roadside hotel, after a Little Chef meal. Compared with the USA the room is expensive, the food was comparable and the cost of fuel is much much greater. But the quality of the English countryside in spring is unparallelled in places. And it’s priceless.
So not the best birthday ever but a good one. Starting with birthday wishes from family and friends and punctuated with Happy Birthday texts from friends to brighten the dull bits of the journey.