“O Word of Fear”

It’s been a very long time. Not since the mid-1990s in fact. And that was at a small, rural sewage treatment works in Wiltshire.

Rural sewage treatment works tend to be havens for wildlife – and also quiet, hard to find (no sat navs then) and occasionally it’s only possible to depart by reversing down winding, hedge-blinkered, narrow lanes.

In days of yore, figs and tomatoes often grew at rural works, thanks to processes of nature we can all imagine. And before the days when time was money, some of the men who worked the works grew fruit and vegetables with duly aged ‘manure.’

But what I experienced in Wiltshire that memorable day was not the sight of a rare flower (as there are at some sites), nor of a small, rare four-legged animal (ditto) but a sound. The sound of an elusive creature I could not see.

A cuckoo.

Yesterday, somewhat depressed, as seems to be my fate these last few weeks (don’t mention the kitchen) I took myself out to the local sand dunes, adjoining Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

We’re lucky here, the entire coastal fringe of Sefton is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest – an SSSI.  For which we partly have our famous links golf courses  to thank, for keeping them unbuilt-upon.

The afternoon was moving on to evening, but still the spring sun poured warm libations onto my head as I strode past windswept trees and into the warm, grass covered mounds.

The fence is there because sometimes cattle or sheep are brought in to graze

The sand was soft and golden underfoot. Walking was hard work. But the world was beautiful.

A mile or so down the coast by the beach at Ainsdale this is how the dunes look

Bluebells danced their tethered dance, dappled through trees with leaves unfurling fresh and lush with sap.

Tawny tassels swung from birches. Pink-and-white blossom itched to break free.

Birds sang, dogs ran. People said ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ – or even, ‘good afternoon’.

Then I reached a place where no-one was. No dogs. No people. Just trilling birds, stands of gorse emitting waves of sharp, coconut-like scent. And me.

And then came a sound.

A word of fear, “unpleasing to a married ear.”

A cuckoo.

I thought it would be a fleeting call – that it would stop the instant I heard it, But no.

Cuck-oo, cuck-oo.

And I was back in the parquet-floored assembly hall of St Cuthbert’s Junior School, Bradford. Singing:

“When daisies pied and violets blue

And ladies smocks all silver white

And cuckoo buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men;

For thus sings he,


Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear

Unpleasing to a married ear.”

[Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost, Act V Scene ii]

And I was happy.

But even better, the invisible singer cuckooed on.

I lifted the little red picture machine clasped in my hand, pressed ‘record’ – and hoped for the best.

Which is why, today I can share my burst of joy with you all.

Relish the moment.

I still do.

Happy May day, one and all.



This entry was posted in Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to “O Word of Fear”

  1. Thel says:

    Happy May Day! The Cuckoo’s call is so distinct. I have never heard it before! Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Miz B says:

    Happy May Day to you, too. And thank you for the sound of the cuckoo. I’ve never heard it before. It’s lovely, no matter what Shakespeare says–or sings.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Heide says:

    OH MY!! I’ve never heard a cuckoo in the wild before … what a privilege! Thank you for sharing this rare treat with your readers.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. A great May Day event – actually hearing a cuckoo in the wild!
    The sand dune looks so sculptural – enjoyed walking along

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fiona Unwin says:

    LOVED this piece, Mary! You write so voluptuously about nature. And you have shared your joy on hearing the cuckoo! Thank you for sharing it with us. Xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christa says:

    How lovely, Mary. Lucky you! I have only ever heard a cuckoo once – can you believe it, actually IN Birkenhead – coming from the garden of the Carmelite Monastery opposite my house. I was so thrilled I wrote to the local paper, and they published my letter. That must have been at least 20 years ago. And, yes, you do write wonderful, voluptuous, prose! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Christa, glad you liked it too – I loved Fiona’s ‘voluptuous’! I can imagine a cuckoo across from you – sad there hasn’t been one since – or maybe you have been the elusive one and it did still sing for the holy folk (not suggesting you’re not wholly holy!).


Thanks for reading, please comment if it struck a chord

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.