- This is My Hadji Bey
- Eurovision in a Cowshed
- The Boll Weevil 3: On the Waterfront
- A Year in Brocante 11: An Easter Egg
- A Year in Brocante 10: Upscaling and Hacking
- Kevin Pearce
- The Bol Weavil and the Lightning Bug 2: On the Ground
- The Boll Weevil and the Lightning Bug 1: A Home in Ireland
- Love In The Air
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The weather is still glorious, gorgeous, golden. We are at the centre of – a rather unromantically named – “Blocking High” over Europe with calm, still cloudless days of 28 degrees. Daily dressing means badenahs (Cork-speak for a swim suit) and a pair of shorts. Dressing up to go to the shop is an embroidered Indian top, oversize T-shirt with the neckline cut down, or a beach cover over said badenahs and shorts.
Every day I go to the lake to Stand Up Paddleboard and swim. Yesterday as I sat beside the water at the Ecole de Voile, five swans marched determinedly up the slipway in a straight line muttering to each other, headed straight for where the catamarans reside and began eating the grass. By their size, I reckoned there were four cygnets and one adult – probably a pen (female)….everything on Lake Annecy is so perfect that its cygnets never appear as ugly ducklings – they are always white. Their flat black feet and their lolloping gait may not be to the catwalk born, but they are more photographed than Kate Moss. Being a native, I watched for a while but did not reach for my camera, then went into the water for a swim.
The tourists are gone, the horrible wake-making, natural ecology-upsetting Tupperware boats with their loud, powerful engines and aggressive noses slamming the water have been towed back to England, to Holland and abroad and all is peaceful on the lake. Stroking lazily, looking to starboard, I saw a swan – aha! the cob! He sailed along the reeds towards the slipway, but did not deign to let us see his ungainly feet. Looking decidedly paternal, he barked sternly in low swan-words to his family on shore. They did not have to be called twice…. Immediately the brood stopped their grass plucking, raised their heads to let the last of the succulent green down their long necks and Maman led the four down to the water, their trundling waddle cartoon comical in their haste to obey the order to get back in the water. Papa did not greet them – hardly acknowledged them…..oh boy was he in a bad mood - imperiously, he but led the way and they followed, docile, gliding out along the lake.
It was unusual to see the brood without the cob, it was funny to see him arrive, take command and stop their grazing. But what had he been up to alone? Swans, it is always said, are heterosexual, take life mates and are monogamous. But years ago, I remember writing an article on a study out of the Zoology Department of University College Cork which showed that swans can be gay. More recently, they have become bolder with same-sex couples setting up home together, divorces have been cited and occasional affaires noted.
In Ireland, swans are plentiful and protected. On Lake Annecy the swans are so proud that they come onto the beaches and demand – or steal – picnickers’ food. In Cork, they are beloved and fed massive batches of sliced pan bread from the bridges and in the parks. In Cork-speak, where words are foreshortened or rhymed, they are known as “Bon Bons” as in… “will we go down to the Lough and feed de Bon Bons?”
Built on the banks the Lee, the river divides before it flows into Cork Harbour, making it a confusing place for visitors using bridges as landmarks. The two channels also divide the natives, so strongly that it is said a Northsider would never feed the swans in the South channel – outside the City Hall – whereas a Southsider wouldn’t dare be seen feeding North Gate Bridge swans at the Opera House. I remember once talking about hybrid vigour with the musician, writer, traditional folk singer and seafaring man Jimmy Crowley: “My mother is from the Northside but my father is from the Southside….does that mean I’ve got hybrid vigour?” he mused.
In Cork they may be Bon Bons, but as its rhythm has stayed with me for decades, I, like Leda, often greet the royal bird with a less formal moniker. According to Oliver St John Gogarty, she addressed him thus:
“What was it she called him:
For she knew no better
Way to call a swan;
And the bird responding
Seemed to understand her,
For he left his sailing
For the bank to waddle on.”
and of course, one thing led to another ……so my experience of the cross Daddy swan was as nought compared to Leda’s…
“Of the tales that daughters
Tell their poor old mothers,
Which by all accounts are
Often very odd;
Leda’s was a story
Stranger than all others.
What was there to say but,
Glory be to God?”