Swallows and ants
In the two weeks since I last posted, while I have had my focus exclusively on work, the weather has become hot and the river almost dry. The Red-rumped Swallows have been bringing beakfuls of mud to our front terrace, much of which has ended up on the floor. The first few random splodges on the wall served as claw-holds for more delicate constructive work. Then they spotted a hook on the ceiling. I have long had my eye on this hook. It was put in by our predecessors and is strong enough to hold a swinging chair. One day I knew that I would find such a chair, in rattan perhaps, maybe in a teardrop shape. I would occupy the future leisure days of my imagination devouring books in my suspended, pod-like nest.
The swallows got there first. They gave up on the wall and turned their ambitions to the hook. They are slowly covering it with mud, while a small mud mountain grows on the floor beneath. The Red-rumped Swallows are known for their distinctive home. It is a closed cup shape with a tunnel entrance. I cannot figure out where the hook fits into the classic design. Time will tell.
The ant-spewing volcanoes have continued to erupt. We reconquered our kitchen, but we didn’t notice that in a rear-guard action the ants had taken over a spare bedroom. It was our luckless guests, H and D, who woke up in the night to a strange sensation of rustling and shifting pillowcase, and found a line of ants marching across it on their way to the spare bathroom, where perhaps an insect carcass had attracted their attention. Our guests knew where to find the hoover and set to vacuuming the little beasts up. We slept soundly on the other side of the house.
We have now resorted to the medieval castle-holder’s solution and are pouring boiling water on the ants’ heads, down the various holes in the garden out of which they emerge.
Currently emerging from holes across the United Kingdom are racists to whom the winning ‘Leave’ result in the referendum has given some kind of mandate. I was in London on the day of the result. I’d gone there for a meeting. My postal vote had long ago been sent off and the timing of my visit was pure chance. It was not until I heard the result over the radio in my minuscule hotel room that I realised how little I’d considered the possibility the United Kingdom might actually vote itself out of the EU. I could hardly believe it, and I still cannot. Rejoicing in the result is the biggest grinning villain of them all, one Nigel Farage, leader of a party of jokers, who failed to win a seat in Parliament. Among his many declarations since the result was announced is that people used to laugh at him but they don’t any more. How true. We are not laughing.
The two main political parties are collapsing from within. The prime minister declared his intention to resign, leaving others to sort out the mess he engendered. Conversations on the street show how little people understand the process. ‘Now that we are no longer in the EU,’ I heard. (We are still in the EU. A process of dismantling our membership has to be initiated first.) Newspapers and social media are reporting ‘go-home’ taunts shouted at ‘foreigners’. Triumphant ‘Leavers’ are not so much taking leave of Europe as of sanity, morality and intelligence.
I never heard a note of triumph on the streets of central London. I did hear notes of fear. Many of the service jobs in the city are done by people from mainland Europe. After greeting me in the friendly way that their jobs required, remarking on how much better the weather was than the day before – when flooding in South-east England had affected flights and caused my own to arrive two hours late – a look would be exchanged, an almost imperceptible widening of the eyes, and we would admit to our shared horror at this result.
The EU isn’t perfect. I suspect sound and even humane reasons can be argued for leaving, but they were not made. The campaign was a racist one. Hideous fissures have opened up in the ground of a country that once prided itself on decency. Not such a great accolade, ‘decency’, but one we are going to miss now if it’s gone.
And here I am back in Portugal, where I have known nothing but kindness, friendliness and tolerance of my poor grasp of the language. Time to apply for a new passport, perhaps.