KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
I’ll tell you who has it sorted: swans. Now, I am no great admirer of the genus Cygnus – and longtime readers may remember that I once had a particularly violent altercation with one of their species back when The Boy was a toddler – but sitting at the kitchen table, listening to that erstwhile toddler bellowing for no good reason, it suddenly occurs to me that we could learn a lot from swans.
They are nesting at the moment, of course – late starting this year because of the Baltic spring. We have four pairs on our side of the park. For all my violent personal history with swans, I have always admired the way their females sit with enormous grace and patience on their precious eggs while the father – who would, by this stage of the proceedings, be long gone in most species – patrols the waters close by, hissing at anyone who comes within arm-breaking distance of the nest. There is a certain serenity about this time in a swan’s life cycle, that will shortly be replaced by extraordinary cuteness, as the vigilant parents show off their gorgeous, fluffy offspring for the first time.
They will do so, at least in Tymon Park, to the raucous soundtrack of a very different type of mating ritual. I observed this second, less mysterious, mating dance the other day, just after I’d checked the progress of the nesting swans. Beside the pond, on the all-weather pitch, a dozen or so young teenage boys were playing football, with all of them shooting into the same goal. And inevitably, behind that goal, a dozen or so teenage girls stood around in small groups, all night-time make-up in day-time light, studiously ignoring the boys and occasionally shrieking. I need hardly add that The Boy was one of the boys, and that, in a previous life, I used to be one of the girls. I watched this strangely familiar mating ritual for a minute or so and then, because I felt like a Peeping Tom, I went back to trying to cop a look under a swan’s bottom.
But the thing is, there will be no mating dance for these pending cygnets – or at least, it won’t happen on their parents’ watch. And this is where you’ve got to admire these handsome birds. In about nine months’ time, once their
‘Once, an ugly swan took a bit out of the Boy, for no good reason other than that he
fluffy babies have become fully grown, grey birds, the parents will throw them out of their childhood home and they will fly north, to the canal near Harold’s Cross, where they will spend two years – two years! – choosing a mate. The park ranger who told me about this referred to that stretch of the canal as their Copper Face Jack’s (though frankly, I’ve never heard of anyone taking two years to score in the human version). Meanwhile, the parents return to the more pleasant part of parenting (the how’s-your-father) followed by the lengthy sit on the nest and the arrival of the universally cute cygnets. Until the day the youngsters stop being cute, at which point, they too will be dispatched to Coppers on the Canal.
Anyway, I am thinking about all of this while The Boy is roaring at the top of his lungs for absolutely no reason. I confess that I hadn’t been prepared for this. His sister’s puberty was a fairly low-key event, apart from a few incidents of bad behaviour, quite a lot of swearing and a scattering of spots. With The Boy, I’d been prepared for all of the above, as well as the widely documented poor hygiene issues. But I didn’t know that sometimes, the hormones coursing through boys’ stretching bodies are so overwhelming that they just have to roar. Or maybe that’s just my Boy.
Once upon a time, an ugly swan took a bite out of this Boy, for no good reason other than that he was smaller than the swan. It was an unsavoury event that resulted in me attacking said swan, being attacked back and eventually being chased out of the park, Boy under oxter and Small Girl dragged after, while screaming at the pursuing swan to ‘ f*** off’. Swans and The Boy have regarded each other with mutual suspicion ever since. But if a swan bellows on the canal, his parents are so far away that they can’t possibly hear it. And no swan has ever sat at his kitchen table and wondered what the hell was going on with their teenager. Maybe it’s time Boy and Swan buried the hatchet. Especially since they’re going to be spending so much time together.