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We are having an unseasonably hot spring as in warm weather, not a geyser in the garden. The bluebells are early, the oak budded before the ash which folklore says is a dry summer, ground which a month ago would have swallowed a tractor is now baked hard, and my forearms, head and neck already have a farmer tan. This is very unattractive when naked. Mahogany arms, face and a strip across the back of the neck. Desert bleached bone white everywhere  else. Sarah says it’s like sleeping with Zebra Man.

Because it’s hot Sarah also decided we should do a first-of-the-spring full bee inspection which meant dressing up in head to toe airtight space suits and getting a lot of exercise. I get the exercise. Sarah squeaks with delight as she pores over each hive frame muttering incantations like ‘drone cone on outer, capped honey on left’. I write this down in giant kiddy scrawl because I have space gloves on. Two dead hives, two furiously alive. ‘I find this so calming; trilled Sarah as I heaved redundant hives into the Landrover, sweat pouring down the insides of my suit. ‘Bees are attracted to sweat’ she added helpfully. ‘Just calm down’. !!!

And then I heard the first cuckoo. Like most people, the first cuckoo is embedded in my inner child’s mythology as presaging summer. Unlike most people, after a couple of weeks, I could shoot, boil and eat every audible cuckoo for the unforgiveable monotony of its call. OK, it has flown 10,000 miles to get here, its numbers are in decline and it’s an iconic part of the English landscape. It could at least learn a tune.

‘Look’ cried Sarah, flushed with delight after her calming bee-fest and cuckoo listening. ‘The swallows are back too’. And they were. Each year, by some miracle, a single pair make it back to nest in the big barn’s undercroft. Have done since we moved here. Can’t possibly be the same pair, and it’s only ever two, so where do the others go? Bones in the Sahara perhaps, limed on a Majorcan net, in a Frenchman’s stew.

We’ve never had the two auguries of summer on the same day. It does lift the heart, even inside a NASA anti-bee costume.

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