Springtime in December

'I am in favour of global warming as much as the next man, but aren't primroses, a spring flower, blooming in December going too far?'
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The Independent Online

Books about British wildlife, especially introductory books about British wildlife, tend to have titles such as The Year in the Country, or The Country Month by Month, or The Changing Seasons of the English Year. That means you can go through the year describing everything that happens. What you don't tend to get is books called Two Years in the Country or Last Year in the Hedgerow and This Year as Well. That's because one year in the country is much like another year.

Books about British wildlife, especially introductory books about British wildlife, tend to have titles such as The Year in the Country, or The Country Month by Month, or The Changing Seasons of the English Year. That means you can go through the year describing everything that happens. What you don't tend to get is books called Two Years in the Country or Last Year in the Hedgerow and This Year as Well. That's because one year in the country is much like another year.

The same is true for people who write newspaper nature columns. One year they write a column starting: "The migrant Burberry ducks have started to arrive from Russia, and they will be with us for another month before they move on to Canada," and who's to know that they didn't do exactly the same column last year – after all, there isn't a lot more you can say about Burberry ducks when you come back to the subject.

(The only possible variant comes about if you see from your Newspaper Nature Columnists Diary that it's time to write the Burberry duck piece again, and you go out and look for them, and the bloody things aren't there. Still, at least you can still write a piece starting: "The migrant Burberry ducks have usually arrived for a month on the lake from Russia, by now, before their ownward flight to Canada, but no sign yet of their distinctive plumage etc etc etc".)

I am in the opposite position. I do not write a nature column. Yet from time to time I see something in the open air that I think is worth reporting, and I find it damned difficult to drag it casually into a column about something else like the Taliban or the iniquity of supermarkets. Only once in recent memory did I think I had spotted something that was worth a whole column, and that was when I wrote about our local willow trees, on which many other things grow, including one on the river that supports a full-size sycamore tree 10 feet above the ground.

(The day after I wrote that piece I was walking by the river when our neighbour Liz Booty came rowing past in her boat, with a friend, looking up and down the river in a strange fashion.

"Hi, Liz," I greeted her.

"Never mind about that," she said. "Where's this bloody willow tree with a sycamore on it? I can't see it anywhere."

Whenever I wonder despondently if my columns ever have any affect on anyone, I think fondly of that day.)

Well, I have recently spotted something else I think is worth reporting. There are primroses out already near us. Primroses are spring flowers. They come out when Christmas is a dead memory, when St Valentine's Day is over and done with, as a sign that winter has done its worst and is departing for a season to Canada. But on the bank of the stream near our local station there are several primroses clearly and cheerfully out.

Now, I am in favour of global warming as much as the next man, but isn't this going too far? Nothing else seem to be out of kilter. The holly berries are around at the right time. There are no early bulbs. The swallows haven't come back. So why on earth are there primroses out months too early?

A reader writes: Is that it? Is that all this column was about? Just to tell us that you've got a few early primroses near you?

Miles Kington writes: Yes, I suppose so.

A reader writes: Well, it's pathetic. You haven't even made a full column out of it yet. We're well short of the end of your space, and I can't see you getting any more juice out of the primroses.

Miles Kington: Well, I was also thinking of mentioning a cormorant I saw the other day, which flew so low over me that I realised for the first time that it also makes that slight whining noise which swans' wings make when they fly, and I was going to speculate.

A reader writes: No, thanks.

Miles Kington: Or a bat I spotted, flying endlessly up and down over a sewage farm.

A reader: Spare us.

Kington: That's it, then. Just the primroses.

Reader: Thanks. Oh, and don't forget to let Liz Booty know where they are. We don't want her wandering up and down the fields in great frustration, looking for them.

Kington: I'll do that.

Reader: And I'd keep off the wild life in future, if I were you. Leave it to the nature boys.

Kington: I think maybe I will, at that.

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