Returning from a hard bike ride I stop on Halton bridge, lounge with my elbow on riveted metal, gaze vacantly down on the glittering threads of water below the weir, at the newly-arrived swans with their looping necks feeding assiduously, dabbling ducks tipping up and back, black-headed gulls lifting and landing, when my eye is caught by a quiver, twenty feet from me, eye-level, a flicker of coloured lights. Hovering, twitching, hovering on barely-visible wings, blue green red, a humming bird from Portrait slipped through space-time, except no slip, this is here, real, now: iridescence vibrating green blue, plump rufous body, sharp beak – it drops, like a climber falling, through me, a tiny splash, then shoulders out of the gluey water, fish in beak, streaks low across the water, up into the trees, gone. The river flows, the birds feed, it happened. I know it is a kingfisher, that this is its normal behaviour, nothing special, “it dives, either from a perch or while hovering, to catch fish”, says my bird book. And yet. I have seen kingfishers four times, and I remember each time, place, who I was with, mood, circumstance, recall each perfectly, and in each a kingfisher.
Note: Portrait is Tacita Dean’s film of David Warner and hummingbirds, of slow age and fast present, in which both are hypnotic and memorable.
2. Water-skiing through Lancaster.
Bank holiday, high tide, as I cross Skerton bridge, coming closer is the whine and roar of a high-revving engine … and from round the bend under Greyhound Bridge bursts a speeding motor boat, followed by a figure on a single ski slaloming back and forth across the wake, whooping, under the bridge below me, and round the bend upstream towards the weir. I think of the kids in Les Amants du Pont Neuf joyously water-skiing through Paris. Except this black clad skier looks more like a supervillain. Ten minutes later he reappears, shoots under the bridge, heads downriver towards the mouth of the Lune, still whooping, is gone.