Then spree

poetry & diary by Nia Davies

Tag: birds

Istanbul diary – late May

Rubbish collectors, Karaköy

Vertiginous place of twists. The vertigo in walking, loosing the way. Giant swifts cruise from the pipes.  Strait of worlds. Worlds of moving folk. For-dreamed, for-Babelled.

In Beyoğlu, under the squawk and racket of the forked-tailed birds, the human hum: parading youths, Palestinian rubbish collectors, melancholy fiddlers, beggar children armed with kazus, the neck-craned tourists. Boho meets business meets cats and geese in the bar.

That famous dilapidated colour: the overgrown greens and pinks in the rubble of ottoman chic. On the bridges tiny pieces of silver – migrating sprats – are pulled thrice a minute. Men wash before kneeling. Sonorous air, full of the calls to prayer echoing back and forth over the big blue strait.

The gardeners in Yildiz park are too sunned and skinny. Furiously planting marigolds in rapid-spreading rashes of orange, the beds freshly coloured. Too fresh. They sling their crates in the back of the van and speed off to the next star-shaped border. A sweating glasshouse; shambled and overgrown with bird of paradise plants. Through the dim cypress and pine the Bosphorus’s live blue. Peace is maintained by the police guard at the entrance.

Beneath Yildiz, Istanbul Modern is also policed. No art ushers, only G4S security guards. Guarding art, keeping out the chaos of live cultures: bodies, enzymes, fumes of food and motors, the noisy hum and lap of boat-driven waves.

Beyoglu

Birdbook

I have three new poems in Birdbook I – an anthology by Sidekick Books featuring poems on British birds edited by Kirsty Irvine and Jon Stone. This edition covers towns, parks, gardens and woodland. Look out for the Siskin, Red Kite and Wood Warbler!

birdbook Buy a copy here

Reading my poetry at the Betsey Trotwood, London

Recorded by Jess Shankleman at Salt Plus, February 15th 2011:

Nia Davies at the Betsey Trotwood

The Highlands, 21st November

Loch Lomond 2pm

We are driving north, out beyond the flat-fronted housing of Glasgow. Stuffed with the city’s finest ‘Nuclear Beans’. Into the Trossachs and there is an unexpected straggle of late colour, copper clinging to twig, golden needles in their final throws.  At Luss the scream of gulls and lap of loch. We are free of work for one week, and woollens and fleeces and no makeup never felt so flush. I had forgotten the purple of bare birch.

Loch Tulla 3pmLoch Tulla

Last show of bright sunlight in the grass, burning out the edges of the peaks. The trees grow wizened in the beginnings of a great bog. There is the drift of snow like a flag streaming off the tips of the mountains, or is it a snag of cloud? Here is the drama of northern light that bursts and fades so early.

Fort William 6pm

Standing on the pier looking back towards the town. The lights and sounds that reach us, come to our senses from a dark distance. There are the sounds of students shrieking and of roostless mud birds calling over the invisible expanse of water. The luminescence around each coloured lamp bravely strikes out across the night, nearly but not quite reaching us. We stand at the edge of the deep shadow, the 18-hour shadow that is the loch and mountains behind our backs, the shadow that these almost painfully bright streetlights and illuminated forecourts are up against.

Fort William at night

Parked up next to The Underwater Centre is a huge red bottle. Bruising metal, inch-thick red paint, rungs to climb over a curved back. Tiny portholes built for pressure. We can only guess that it’s an old decompression chamber, or some deep-water bathysphere.

The sense of sound chiming out from the bottom of an inky amphitheatre is wiped clean in the Grog n’ Grill with its piped folk ‘Singing Kettle’ CD and over-scrubbed wooden furniture. The bored staff seem genuinely shocked to see us. None of us would like to swing their partners round and round on a Monday night. But the Birds n’ Bees ale is good and my nose finally feels warm again.unidentified deepwater chamber

Rye Harbour, June

There is a fenced-in bird sanctuary to our left. The beach to our right. Over our heads fly terns with the silvery slivers of fish in their beaks. They still manage a squawk as they hop from sea to nests behind the fence.

Oystercatchers squat tense over their eggs. Behind a hump of pastel and beige shingle the hazy sea pulses. The terns dive in with enhanced gravity to shock those little fish.

We walk through the bunches of waxy seakale. Today you can only smell the sea once you are over the shingle ridge on Winchelsea Beach. This land is a gathering of stones, building a flat promenade stretching out to sea year on year. Towers and bastions mark old wars and old shorelines. But these flats hide nooks of nature and graceful migratory patterns must be protect behind barbed wire.

A rusty headland rises out of a beige haze to the west. I wade into the water and that late afternoon sheen runs with the waves over the pebbles. A gentle blast of green wave pumps back and forth making licks and dips in the stones.

It smells like mornings after the breakfast shift at the hotel Pelirocco in Brighton. I would rinse the smell of bacon from my skin in the sea, picking my way back to my clothes before the crowds came. There’s a cleaner kind of dirt on me now and that same South Coast smell clinging to the flinty shingles.

Kew, April

As beech is to bluebell, we are fed and sprung in the new weather. Human eyes and ears and skin are all happy in the green. Me and a flamboyant bird hide out in the yew bushes in Kew while children walk past in pat-a-cake pink hats, right past the party pheasant.

We have a picnic of our own in this oddly human Eden and this bird of paradise is happy amongst humans. Periwinkles light up the ground. This place was seeded by Regency botanists, trod by prince and parlour maid, planted by people with a few fair pennies. Fantasists. All of them. Dealers in the exotic. Not that I’m complaining.

pear blossom


Culver Hole

Culver hole isn’t on my OS map. It’s a secret. A lowtide fortress for smugglers or is it pigeon-racers?

The sea spits a brain-splintering light today, here on the south shore of the Gower. Down we clamber to the shingly rock, the worn plaster-shattered plateau. This is Overton Mere – a mere mere – no sand in this crevice.

We travel with a dog, Ed – a dog with no strap to strap on, with a smaller-than-he-thinks complex. A little legged dog who has to be carried like a baby on the homeward road. ‘The reefs are working the waves,’ says Leon and I wonder how the moving parts get worked on by the solid parts. But maybe that’s the surfer’s trick – to be knowledgeable in crashable substances.

Perhaps message bearers hid here in the well-worn sea smooth crack of the cliff. The blues are pale and the cobbles round. But above the tide-line the rocks stay jagged, unworked on by the waves. In the crack is what seems like a building’s façade; stonework that includes windows and doors. It towers well above the beachy bottom.

It’s all perfect for bouldering, hanging, swinging but my limbs have gone dis-flexy since London claimed me. Leon is up in the masonry before we know it whilst Zoe and I are left wondering where our courage has gone to. We try to dangle on the rope but uneasiness takes over. Neither does the hobbly ladder dangling on another bristly rope and clanging against the cliff-face inspire much confidence. Ed is more interested in rock-pooling. Leon says it smells like pigeon shit in there. And so one purpose of the place is made clear – it’s a pigeon roost.

And maybe smugglers took roost here too. Inside there are walkways and stairs. Perhaps the hole’s one-time occupants caught the brandy flotsam and the rum jetsam. Little crafts could row right up to one of the portholes to drop off their contraband.

Nothing about Culver hole is very clear. But the name may come from the Old English for pigeon and, according to my google search, this place may have been somewhere to farm pigeons in a time when foul winters drove ‘desperate people’ to eat these scraggly birds. It is the home of the Blue Rock pigeon, a species gone interbred and feral. They are quick-shaggers, independent of tilling and sowing and back breaking. Tasty.

It also isn’t far from Port Eynon’s Salt House which is could be another clue. There are mentions of a pirate lord, John Lucas, who built a smuggling empire on this coast in the 17th century. Kind, powerful and criminal in turn, so the story goes, eventually he was beheaded by Cromwell. In other lore I find that Culver hole may have been used to store ammunition and could have also been the sea entrance for a long-gone castle.

And then I find, that in an archaeological dig in 1989, ‘a small fragment of an antler was found trapped in an alcove’. Well well, the mystery deepens and it smells distinctly of pigeon poo.

(copyright, Nia Davies, March 2010)