Many Happy Returns !

That phrase seems to recur surprisingly quickly around this time, and not just for birthdays. For example, it’s only a few weeks since the swallows came back here – over a month late compared to earlier years. They are one of the reasons that I’m here now, as their forbears were twittering on the roof ridge when I came with my younger sister to take a look at the house.

Having spent so many years living out of a rucksack, case, car, or other people’s houses, I felt that if this place was good enough for these delicate aerial migrants to return to year after year, then it was quite good enough for me to put down some roots. They held tenancy over the shed from April to the middle of September and scolded me for any intrusion, no matter how apologetically done. That was the case for 17 years until I decided to use the shed instead of leaving it permanently fallow.


My older brother just celebrated his biblical lifespan of threescore years and ten, though I’m sure he’ll persist awhile yet. He also did a mini-migration to the sun which he enjoys far more than I do.


At the heart of this rumination on periodical occurrences, there will be a commemoration of an event from 75 years ago, more momentous than usual, although it’s remembered each year by a dwindling number of participants, few of whom found it much fun at the time. It is, of course, D-Day that is being recalled, most enthusiastically by the countries for whom it represented the beginning of a huge military and political defeat of enemies affecting Europe and beyond. In the British mind, such events are never far below the surface, as our history appears to be littered with heroic defences, righteous belligerence, of course always playing by the rules, (which we usually made to suit), so our crimes were necessary corrections to the others’ heinous deeds. Of course, history is said to be written by the victors, and in centuries past, there would have been few alternative sources to offer conjecture.

It is an awful lot harder nowadays. Can anyone imagine commemorating the ‘liberation’ of Baghdad, Tripoli or Aleppo in threescore years and ten ?


Something I have the greatest difficulty understanding is the persistent airing of films from the WWII period on British TV – they reinforce a very simplistic view of that conflict (and others) and the forces behind them. So much so that at any sports match between Britain and Germany the derisory chant is never far from the lips of fans; ‘Two world wars, one world cup’ as if there were any sort of equivalence.


Some next door neighbours with small, quite boisterous children took quite the opposite view of happy returns, because when I came in from work, they could no longer stomp around upstairs, playing with their WEE sets. In fact, the older child told me without any trace of irony or enmity, that they liked it best when I went away . . .  How to win friends  . . .

Young swallows perching on an open window
Young swallows taking in their first view of the world

I’ll close by wishing the swallows many happy returns to Scotland; to my brother, many happy returns of your birthday and hoping that one day we’ll be wishing many happy returns to a united Europe, instead of continually commemorating the embittered enmity that almost brought the continent to ruin.

  • reply David Cranwell ,

    Comments appreciated bro… still haven’t lost the flair for descriptive writing have you.

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