Swallows Travel To and Fro – by Robert Louis Steveson
Swallows travel to and fro, And the great winds come and go, And the steady breezes blow, Bearing perfume, bearing love. Breezes hasten, swallows fly, Towered clouds forever ply, And at noonday, you and I See the same sunshine above.
The beginning of September is tinged with both joy and sadness here in BH. Sadness as swallows gather on the telephone wires before heading south for their winter roost. An icon of summer is leaving the blue skies over the West Midlands, and as they depart, the colour drains to a dishwater grey. Winter is approaching. However sadness is replaced by joy at the prospect of the annual “Borstal Heath Farewell Festival.” If you have never joined us for this one, do take a detour off the M6 sometime – it really is worth it.
The day starts at dawn with Marg Crutchley calling us all to gather in the nearby fields. She does so by walking the streets banging a dustbin lid with the leg of her cat. It makes quite a sound! I must point out that the cat is deceased of course! She had Tiddles embalmed by a passing Traveller a few years ago, but sadly he was no expert and the stuffed moggie quickly fell into bit parts. Still, always resourceful is our Marg.
Gathering together as daylight strengthens we BH locals are overcome with grief at the thought of departing swallows, leaving us yet again to the rigours of winter. The crowd is convulsed by a collective outpouring of despair, and quiet sobbing is gradually replaced by outright wailing and howling. It is certainly therapeutic! Some joshingly say we can be heard as far away as the Bull Ring in Birmingham!
The local RSPB rep says he is touched by our obvious love of summer migrants but he does have some reservations about phase 2 of the Farewell Festival. He is quite vociferous in his view that the “Fly Pie Fly-By” must cease. A complete over-reaction I say! What harm is there in taking lumps of “fly pie” and catapulting them towards the sitting swallows in a gesture of wanton abandon. “Go – fly if you must, and may a fair wind speed your journey!” we cry. Just a spot of harmless fun to brighten a mournful morning – and maybe the flies provide a spot of extra nourishment – if the swallows catch them…
Alan Sproggit is our local provider of said marvellous “Fly Pies.” The pies are made of real flies – bluebottles in fact – collected by us all over the summer, fished off cow pats and jam sandwiches, and stored in a large jar. He then bakes them in a delicious dense pudding which is cut into bite sized portions especially for this great event.
It takes skill honed over years to aim at a small swallow on a long thin wire 30 feet in the air I can tell you. And we hope the lumps of black will tempt the travellers to have a last nibble before their long, arduous journey over deserts and oceans. Some do seem to enjoy it – see photo above. However, we are a bit naughty in that a prize is awarded to the person who manages to knock the most swallows off the wires! Modesty prohibits me from dwelling too much on my unbroken record last year of 11 in half and hour!
Mr RSPB is adamant this must stop, and doesn’t seem swayed by our argument that most birds (and a few locals!) recover consciousness in 10 minutes and fly off in rather wobbly fashion, so no harm is done. It is most amusing! He is threatening to bring the police this year to confiscate the pies. He’ll have to contend with the wrath of Alan if he does. Alan may only weigh 7 stone and is 4 foot 10 in his platform shoes but he can pack a punch if his expertise is not appreciated.
The lumps that fall to the ground after catapulting can be eaten by competitors, but NO sneaking a nibble before they have been hurled at the wires. Anyone found guzzling before hurling is immediately disqualified. Ask Beef Betty.
So, this year’s “Farewell Festival” could be quite exciting as Alan squares up to Mr RSPB and many locals are determined to break my record of 11 swallows. Do come along – what fun!