East Anglia is the heart of paradise

IAN COLLINS Marvellous May - miles better than arid April. This is the well-watered and spectacularly sprouting month when I'm sure we inhabit a paradise, while holding heaven or hell in our heads.

IAN COLLINS

Marvellous May - miles better than arid April. This is the well-watered and spectacularly sprouting month when I'm sure we inhabit a paradise, while holding heaven or hell in our heads.

For all the blots, East Anglia is so breathtakingly beautiful. Driving from Southwold to Norwich each morning, to cover a splendid festival, I am dazzled by masses of may blossom and lilac blooms, hanging so thickly it seems amazing that branches don't break.

In from the coast, cow parsley is holding its own against wretched alexanders. Great banks of Queen Anne's lace blur hedges, river margins and meadows. The haze of bluebells in the woods is giving way to open expanses of buttercups and poppies. Some farmers at least are evidently cutting down on pestilential pesticides.


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Nature can be aided in unexpected ways. In from the coast also, it's amazing how shore plants are now colonising Britain, spreading via the winter-salted routes of roadside verges.

Yesterday morning I awoke to a cuckoo's call, soon giving way to that ecstatic shrieking of swifts. And in the nestbox by my kitchen window there's now a constant day-time mewing of blue tit chicks. Good as it is for us to join together, it's wonderful to break free and to plunge into wilderness. Three wild adventures to report from the past festive fortnight during solitary evening walks.

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On one I trekked across a shingle ridge near Kessingland and found my first avocet's nest of the season. I sat within six feet of the broody female, while her mate skimmed the shallows of a pool and two pairs of these balletic birds continued courtship displays nearby.

In 1946, a solitary sighting north of Southwold brought twitchers flocking. A year later, the flagship RSPB reserve opened to the south at Minsmere in the hope of creating an avocet haven.

On that sacred site's 70th birthday the plot of Peter Scott and friends has succeeded beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Scores of avocets now nest in and around Minsmere, with many more ranged around the East Anglian coast.

Minsmere is also a symbol of contemporary life because it's a heaven alongside a hell (the nuclear power station at Sizewell, whose potential menace is too monstrous for many to contemplate - so instead they tilt at windfarms).

Moreover, it's a way of looking at life: from a positive or a negative viewpoint. I spend far too much time bewailing from the latter angle, when May underlines the need for pure jubilation. Our glasses are neither half-full nor half-empty: mostly they are brimming over.

Similarly, I got planning permission to extend my tiny cottage into a habitable small house only through the sustained backing of neighbours, Southwold councillors, conservationists and MP John Gummer. Against the 25 letters of support that finally swayed a very obstructive Waveney council, there was a lone note of objection from the owner of a holiday home.

That single objector has taken up far more of my thoughts than the massed supporters - who, when I get to hold a celebratory party, will still scarcely be able to fit into my extended home.

How madly imbalanced we can get, brooding on blights rather than counting blessings (which may in fact be too numerous for counting). My second wild experience of May was an evening walk through Reydon wood - managed by an admirable community now uniting against a new plan to drive a toy train across pristine countryside.

Pausing on a path lined with orchids, I listened to a nightingale. I'm bad at identifying birdsong, but whereas most feathered singers have a distinctive note or two, this migrant from Africa has a throat containing an entire orchestra.

My third bit of bliss came on my favourite marsh walk where, for the first time, as dusk was falling, I watched an aerial ghost: a near-luminous barn owl out on the prowl.

Yet another highlight for me has been a trip to Yarmouth to see Purcell's The Fairy Queen in the Hippodrome. That purpose-built Big Top unchanged since 1903, straight from an Angela Carter novel or every child's fantasy of a circus, is a glittering gem among the gaudy dross.

Moved by magic, I reclaimed my car from the neon seafront where teenagers out of their minds on drugs or drink were shouting, screaming, staggering and struggling, their faces a blank of malnourished excess.

East Anglia is the heart of paradise. But heaven and hell really are in our heads.

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