April 13, 2014

Spring fever

The streets around where I live, on a sunny spring day like today, are glorious. There's nothing special about them: these are rows of Victorian and Edwardian semis and terraces, mostly set a few feet back from the road behind low walls, with iron gates and tiny front gardens now widely paved. Some are shabby, some passably smart; most fall somewhere in between.

The pavements are of dubious repair, patched and made over, and dotted with old gum; the roads themselves, most with speed-bumps, are double-parked. Many houses have ugly satellite dishes strapped to their fronts; all have rooftop aerials pointing towards the mast at Crystal Palace. A few (fewer these days) are scaffolded for loft extensions, or have yellow skips full of building waste and litter outside. It's a workaday, urban environment, unremarkable in every way, and very beautiful indeed.

Up and down the streets the cherries and magnolias are in glorious, heavy bloom, their petals a soft confetti on the pavements. The acacias and kerrias are out, too, blazing yellow against the blue sky. And there are weeds, of course, pushing energetically up through the tarmac, colonising the street drains and starring every available verge. It's a riot.

And the birds! Right now the sparrows are vociferous, calling cheerily from the gutters and housefronts, and the robins and blackbirds are in full song. There are goldfinches, too, and magpies clattering about; crows and pigeons, of course, and every so often as you walk comes the dirty whistle or disapproving, sucked-teeth tut and chatter of a starling.

People are starting to think about their gardens, and up and down my street windowboxes and hanging baskets are appearing. Soon – around the time the lilac begins to flower – we'll see the growbags and tomato canes appear, the pots of herbs and chilli plants shepherded to the front windowsills and porches to catch the best of the sun, and cheerful summer bedding will blaze out from pots and troughs.

Tonight, as dusk falls, the pavements will be crowded by bins standing sentry outside each yellow-lit house. All night cats will slink beneath and between the cars, and the smell of blossom, ghostly-looking in the dark, will intensify on the warm, still air. And then, at around four, the birds in each back garden, street tree, privet hedge and gutter will start to tell South London, quietly at first and then more joyfully, how beautiful it is.