Cuckoos Over the Weald


Bill Tipping shot for goal. Holding off a lanky Italian defender, he took two short steps and caught the round flint perfectly on his instep. On darker mornings he might have seen sparks for his effort, but not at this time of year. Game over, as the stone escaped into thick swathes of cow parsley lining the narrow lane.

          Bill loved his walk to the small country station. Nearly forty years and he had no intention of packing it up, enjoying the routine, happy in a community which thrived on familiar faces and warm welcomes. A woman driving her children to school hooted and slowed to edge past on the narrow lane; Bill glared, until he recognised her from the cul-de-sac development at the edge of Heddingly, and waved back.

A cuckoo called from one of the coppices dotting the Sussex Weald, the same bird, he thought, that led the morning chorus he’d listened to from bed earlier. Blackbirds and sparrows foraged for grubs under the high hawthorn hedges. Bill pictured their unguarded chicks as prey for cackling magpies in search of an easy meal. How he hated that sound.

His tinny pocket radio had promised another fine June day. The sun was already high and he felt overdressed in a fleece, but with fickle British weather it was best to be sure. Strapped across his chest, he carried a beige, army-style haversack. Inside were the Coach and Bus magazine, a sticky bottle of sun cream wrapped in clingfilm, and his Tupperware lunch box containing sandwiches, a banana and a chocolate bar.


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