Leaving April behind and listening to news of eels

It’s Wednesday 29th April and anyone that didn’t already know it already can see that Brexit island is drifting slowly into obscurity that’s now become a tragedy we might not know the full weight of yet. I catch up on the news today and I watch the German news on DW because it’s sober and provides an outside perspective, and the newsreader asks London correspondent ‘how is it that one of the world’s richest countries with a good national health service has been hit so hard by this virus?’ and the correspondent replies that the NHS has been hollowed out in the last ten years by austerity to the extent that it was already running at full capacity before the epidemic struck, and the result has been twenty-six thousand deaths, and maybe more, thousands more. And I watch pictures of people in one minute’s silence and think suddenly about all those people dying silent lonely deaths, away from their loved ones, unable to breathe, and it’s too sad. There’s a Samih Al-Qasim poem called ‘the globe’ and it goes: ‘I stand for a moment of silence and mourning in memory of the globe. Or is it the globe that’s standing in silence and mourning in memory of me?’

Meanwhile I keep taking people their takeaways and pretend that everything’s ok. A curry to Clifton, ice to Montpelier, there’s a priest hurrying down Queen’s Road and his cassock is billowing in the wind. Empty beer cans are clanging around in the road and the seagulls are picking at crisp wrappers and discarded receipts. I sit for a while on East Street and watch a seagull pick up the same tiny piece of plastic wrapper and put it down again and pick it up again, shake it and realise that it’s still not food and stand in the road defiant as cars slow down to pass it, and it goes back to same piece of wrapper again and it’s still not food. A few weeks ago when the city felt apocalyptic and not just depressing and empty I thought that seagulls would grow fat in our absence and take over the Best and start turning people away for being too drunk at four in the morning. Then I remembered that seagulls have evolved in relation to humans, feeding off our scraps, like pigeons and rats. And there’s no scraps right now as street life has come to a halt and so the seagulls too are going hungry. Some people are weathering the crisis just fine. I overhear snippets of chat on Stokes Croft and a man is asking another man in a wheelchair and one leg if he’s ever considered a prosthetic leg and I don’t hear the reply. Then he says ‘I can’t even go to the countryside man, I left my saxophone in Devon.’ On the other side of the road a man walks down towards the bearpit with a guitar, drinking a can of beer and singing. A bus comes down the road with ‘Amazon’ written on the front of it and imagine it ending up in the Amazon river in Brazil instead of a soulless warehouse where people are packing endless boxes of consumer goods to be posted to people stuck in their houses. It reminds me of when I saw buses in London over a decade ago to ‘World’s End’ and felt happier not knowing that was a real place in Chelsea. R dwells in another reality and maybe he’s better off there for now. But my feet are stood on Stokes Croft and I’m not going to the Amazon I’m taking a Caribbean curry to Bishopston.

I think about the seagulls because they’re often right in front of me. Will it be our fault if they starve without our wasteful drunken spilling of takeaways? Or was it our fault that we fed them in the first place? I’m not sure when it comes to seagulls and pigeons but we’ve no doubt been living out of step with animals and that’s how we’ve ended up in this mess. Zoologist Jane Goodall says in this interview: ‘we’ve disrespected animals and we’ve disrespected nature and we’re paying a price for it’, and she’s talking about zootropic diseases and how they come about through meat consumption or storing animals in cages and in industrial sized farms. We’ve myopically lost sight of the fact that we are part of nature, choosing instead to pretend that we’re the overseers on the plantation, in control of all that we see. Those who spend their time looking at nature can become the prophets of their time. Rachel Carson spent her time looking at the sea and she told in the 1950s that the ocean was warming and that sea levels were rising, starting her 1951 book ‘we live in an age of rising seas’. Had she lived longer she may have developed her theories on CO2 and the greenhouse effect. The future might not be written in the stars but we might be able to catch a glimpse of our fate in the glaciers and oceans and the trees and the soil.

There’s a seal in the river Avon and it’s bobbing around having a nice time playing with fish around Hanham lock and Conham and how did it get there? Did it want to go there or is it lost? Do animals feel lost? I listen to this podcast about animal migrations and in it scientists track down a lone stork who hasn’t followed the crowd and ends up in a field near Syria instead of Spain and they talk about whether this is adaptive or maladaptive, and how migration patterns are changing as a result of climate change. Why do animals migrate and how do they know where to go? Do they chose to migrate? There’s a video of bird migrations mapped over the globe in the course of a year in a minute and it’s amazing to watch. Ancient Greeks thought that birds migrated to the moon, or hibernated in the sea, or transmutated into other birds, trying to explain the mysteries of mass bird disappearances and appearances with the seasons. Eels are one of my favourite animals just because of their migration story. All European freshwater eels are born in the Sargasso Sea in the western Atlantic near the Caribbean. They then cross the Atlantic and swim through the waterways of Europe, and there might be some in the Feeder Canal right now, avoiding the seal and our hook and bait, and here they live most of their lives. Then at some point they swim back across the Atlantic to the Sargasso Sea, developing into either male or female on the way, then they mate and die. I remember one October I was on a beach on the east coast of England there was a large group of seals laying around on the beach, and some in the sea and I took off my clothes and ran in to the sea to swim and I was at that moment the opposite of lost.

I sleep a night out on the Mendip hills and swim in Blagdon lake, and sleep on Dundry Hill and look at the moon and Venus hanging out next to each other. Various friends send me pictures of the moon and Venus from that night and they know I’ll like it and they’re right. I cycle a loop of Bedminster and Knowle West, looking out towards Hartcliffe and the hills of Chew Stoke, Pensford and the Mendips beyond. I take fizzy drinks to Knowle West and the woman looks out of her window and smiles a big smile at me in thanks. I cycle another loop of Bath Road to Callington Road, then up the hill back up Wells Road and back to Temple Meads, then another loop instead taking the right behind Windmill Hill to East Street. And up Park Street and Whiteladies Road and down Park Row to Stokes Croft, and Montpelier and Easton, and home. April’s hesitation, April’s nearly over and the moon moves across the sky and Venus is in view for the last time. And the seal gets the fish and the seagulls go hungry.

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