Tuesday, 1 August 2017
Today I went swimming with my new toy - an action camera that takes underwater photographs. Actual underwater photography in the Thames would be a bit pointless given how cloudy the water is, but I took a few shimmery shots of my legs just to experiment. Eat your heart out, Esther Williams.
There was a light breeze and cotton wool clouds skudding across a blue sky. A grebe was diving nearby. The Heathrow flight path was over Twickenham today, and the aeroplanes glided in above the roof tops with a distant growl.
Then I saw it - that iridescent streak of blue and a gleam of gold as a kingfisher flashed past and alighted on a garden wall beside the river bank. A kingfisher used to be a daily visitor to the bank opposite my houseboat until last summer, but I haven't seen one since. Kingfishers have a life expectancy of five to seven years, so given that I'd been living here for six years, I presumed that it had died. Occasionally in the spring there would be a pair, so perhaps the breeding parents imprinted in the consciousness of their chicks this particular secluded spot along the river.
I drifted back to the boat with the outgoing tide, thrilled beyond words that the kingfisher was back. How is it possible for so much joy to be kindled by one tiny bird? A mother duck came calling with her newly hatched ducklings - yellow and brown fluff balls cheeping and paddling around her.
As I sat at my desk to answer emails and wade through the day's tasks, I heard the unmistakable sound outside the window - the splash of a kingfisher diving into the river. I looked up in time to see that glorious blue streak as it flew up to the tree on the river bank.
'As Kingfishers Catch Fire' is one of my favourite poems. Here it is:
As Kingfishers Catch Fire
BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)