House martins refugees from heat

NOW in the merry month of May, a potpourri of events and delights on our doorstep.

Firstly, I’m glad to see some builders employed again, albeit they’re from overseas, are working for no wages and building without planning permission. Some of the homes they’ve built in this and other villages are already complete and I saw one of the new-come wives looking out the single window of her tidy residence the other day, very well settled, thank you! The homes are small and compact, one room only, pebble-dashed on the exterior, but not painted. In the Canary Islands, up to recently, home owners delayed painting their new homes because as long as they weren’t painted they were deemed unfinished and, therefore, did not attract the Household Charge.

However, the newcomers I refer to could hardly be levied, given that their homes are no bigger than a teacup. Without electricity, heating, running water or mains services, they shelter under the fascia of a friendly human home, which may or may not have parted with the €100 tax lately brought into law.

They have come from Africa, as they do every year, a long, hard journey.

No decent person would resent their right-of-tenure as short-term refugees from the desiccating African heat.

At nil cost to the economy, they provide a useful service in keeping down the midges of summer evenings, they and the swallows, the latter nesting more discreetly, in outhouses and sheds.

Both provide great entertainment, the eave-dwelling, street-front house martins, with their white breasts, tails like a shallow V and prominent white rumps. Soon, they will be carrying flies to their young, fluttering in front of the nest-windows as small heads extend to take the meal, or popping in to do domestic chores, such as removing their offspring’s’ excretions which, happily, come wrapped in a membrane like a tiny plastic bag.

They and the swallows — slightly larger, with streamer-like tails, red faces and reddish breasts — swoop, dive and plane over the housetops or skim the tarmacadam or the water. They shoot upward like rockets, or rocket downward like kamikaze fighters. They keep going from dawn until last light.

On a glorious evening last week, out on the cliffs, a swallow passed over me and its breast, catching the sunlight, glowed russet-red. So russet was it, that later, consulting the books, I wondered if it might be an Egyptian or Levantine swallow that had wandered off course. But I think it was simply a trick of the light: as readers will know, swallows are unerring in returning to their home patch, their home barn, even their home rafter, flying 5,000 miles from south Africa to reach here.

These days, I am seeing the first butterflies in our garden, small whites and a single orange tip. About time, too. They’re late this year. Orange tips are especially dramatic when freshly ‘born’, the vivid orange on their wing tips contrasting with the creamy white of the wings.

Everything is behind time, this spring. From wild flower records, I see the same pattern. The first foxglove I saw in bloom was last week; yellow flags were just beginning to open in wet places. However, a Kerry friend, a long-acclimatised German whose acquaintance I made through this column, sent me an early surprise.

One morning last week, I saw a car parked outside our front door and, a moment later, our obliging postman was walking towards me with a brown-paper packet 3 inches by 3 by 3, in his hand. Normally, he leaves the car and walks up the driveway. “This package was so heavy,” he said, “That I drove in with it, for fear of my back!”.

I opened it. Inside, a box: the label said ‘face cream’. Clearly, some reader thought my appearance needed attention, and had kindly sent me a jar of the stuff. “Time to change my picture in the paper!”, I thought.

But then, as I opened the lid, the sweet scent of apricots greeted me and, inside, I found not apricots but 20 small, golden mushrooms.

A feast for the eyes and for the taste-buds, I ate them on toast at lunch, lightly salted with a smidgeon of garlic and butter, the first chanterelles of the year.

I’ve never received chanterelles in a face cream box before. I’d say few people have — although, of course, in Kerry they’re different, we know.


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