Not for me the film with Gene Kelly, nor even the much more familiar parody from Morecambe and Wise – not that these left my psyche unmarked growing-up in the 1970s. Back in the day, I used to live in Haywards Heath and commuted daily to London. Often I would find myself catching the last train home (not, I would like to make clear, as a result of working late at the “office”), the much fabled 23:58 from London Victoria. I had around a mile to walk after being deposited at Haywards Heath station – and back in the early 90s, the streets of the “Heath” were pretty quiet in the wee small hours (for all I know, this may still be true – or they may now be thronged with revellers). If wet on my walk home, I would often reproduce, in my own inimitable style (or, at least not yet imitated) the most famous scene from the movie as I made my way down New England Road (I was never sure if this was named after the north-eastern US, or replaced a pre-existing England Road). Or I did, but in an early hint at the cuts that are to come, the council started turning the streetlights off at night – and I decided that dancing in the dark whilst wet underfoot was a little too dangerous.
But like a careless Theseus attempting to depart the labyrinth of Knossos, I seem to have lost my thread. Whilst cycling home into driving rain earlier this week, I once again heard the liquid, warbling song of the skylark – not just one, but at least two – for the first time since What Larks, Pip! I didn’t see the singers themselves as the view through my glasses was somewhat obscured by raindrops (rather less desirable there than on roses). I did begin to wonder if the male skylark only competes for territory and the attention of the ladies through song (an avian X Factor, if you will) in bad weather. It struck me that there’s not much else for a bird to do at such times – they don’t have a Playstation, Wii (which I maintain should be pronounced as Wye-eye, in recognition of its Geordie roots) or HD TV to entertain themselves in lousy weather. Of course, they do have Sky – the original and by some considerable distance, still the best – but perhaps singing from some sheltered spot looks a better bet.
However, in this morning’s balmy sunshine my hypothesis was refuted by a bold skylark rising vertically in full voice – clearly there is more to skylark courtship than my rather feeble observations have so far revealed.