Living on the edge of the reservoirs


I was watching the gorgeous sunset yesterday afternoon. A band of orange along the straight edge of the end-of-garden fences for a whole 180° of a head turn, bare vertical branches silhouetted, distant desiccated lung trees their silhouetted arteries, black geometrical silhouettes of electricity pylons and serenely sagging cables between each one, the black shapes of gulls wheeling and flying in one direction, almost momentarily forming letters and spelling words with their formations, I looked in the hope of seeing a word emerge that might sum it all up. I stood there looking at it for longer than usual, in short-sleeves, clean chill in the air, a couple of duck silhouettes coming in to land sights set on the reservoirs, in the foreground sparrow silhouettes bobbing over garden fences, a cluster of starling silhouettes all suddenly as one leaping up from below the end-of-garden fence its black band into the orange blazing background and silhouetted bare sycamore branches, all landing in separate places as one. I thought to myself, one day I will make a panoramic shot of this silhouette sunset stretched-out scene stitched together from separate photographs, how it would be good to capture this picture in more than words.

I'm glad I live here. By the reservoirs, it's like an international airport for geese and herons and ducks, with them coming in thick and fast at the time of migration. When I first came to see this house with the estate agent, it was a very foggy night, a real peasouper. Before even looking at any of the rooms I wanted to see the garden, I thought I'd be able to make out some of its features even with the fog. So I went outside but I couldn't even see the end of the garden, almost everything but the ground was hidden in the fog. But there was something else in store, all I could hear was hundreds and hundreds of water-birds calling unseen in the mist and I thought it was so beautiful I just strode out of the fog and told the landlord and estate agent I'd take it, solely based on that, without even looking at any of the rooms. They thought I was slightly mad of course but the pleasure of living on the edge of the reservoirs has been enduring.


I have an abiding image in my mind from childhood, a freshly creosoted tall wooden fence giving off a pungent coal-tar vapour, not unpleasant, but overpowering close by, and then I saw a pale green cabbage-white chrysalis spinning round and round dangling on a thin thread hanging from one of the strengthening joists of the fence. The juxtapositional palette of this dab of pale green set against this expanse of dark creosote brown I thought quite superb, the living butterfly inside metamorphosing in a constant barrage of petroleum-fraction fumes. And I watched it spinning on the end of that thread, thinking how precarious its position, and yet, how perfect it looked there. Out of the many millions of patterns from the kaleidoscope of childhood, this one has stayed with me like no other, it was utterly mesmerising.