A Swallow in November
9.45 a.m., The Navigation, Calder and Hebble Canal, Calder Grove
Flap, flap, pause, flap, flap, pause.
It's flying into the wind just over hedge top level. I do a double take when I see this single swallow by the canal this morning. There a variety of other birds about, including great tits moving through the hawthorns and a small skein of geese going over, so at first I think 'Did I really see what I thought I saw?'
Then, 'If it wasn't a swallow, and at this time of year it can't be (they should be in Africa by now) what on earth was it?'
Fortunately it appears again. There's some white below but I don't see any on its rump, so it's not a house martin. Besides we have house martins throughout the summer and the flight of this bird seems slightly different. If it is a swallow, and that's exactly what it looks like, it's one that lacks tail streamers. It doesn't have what I think of as a fish-like tail, like house martins do.
It appears to hover briefly over the railway embankment. It's slightly smaller than a sparrow.
There's smoke and the bright flares of a firework as I arrive at the sailing lagoon.
The far shore of Millfield Lagoon, hemmed in by the
motorway on its eastern edge and the railway on its north, is an outlying
corner of Horbury that I've never been to before.
As a boy, in the days of steam, I had, I guess, a yen to be an engine driver but the job of signalman fascinated me even more. It's hard to get an angle on this signal box, at Horbury Junction on the Wakefield to Huddersfield line, without straying onto the motorway embankment but this view, framed by birches and the willows of the lagoon, sums up the glorious isolation and independence that I associated with the life of the signalman.
The box looks south over a broad stretch of the Calder valley.
This viewpoint gives it something of the loneliness of a pagoda in the
floating world of willows and islands you see in Chinese brush-drawn landscapes,
Japanese prints and English 'Willow Pattern' crockery.
Just as I'm setting up my umbrella, a border collie runs up to me, soon followed by a tall, bearded man in camouflage jacket.
'What was all that with the firework?' I ask him.
'Somebody had left a bag of rubbish and amongst some fireworks I found one that hadn't been lit so I thought that would be the safest way of disposing of it.'
'I thought there must be an explanation but I couldn't work out what it was - I thought you were on gull-scaring duty!'
'No; but I do scare off cormorants; - there's one coming in now, talk of the devil - I'm bailiff here: I'm the one who has to try and keep the place in order and clear up the rubbish.'
'That'll be a full time job then.'
'It's mainly anglers.'
'If they do that, they ought to be out of the club.'
Richard Bell, email@example.com