I know from recent correspondence with readers that I haven’t been the only person scanning the skies with increasing desperation. What began as a casual glance has become a look of yearning: where, oh where, are the swallows and house martins? By most accounts, our house martins were at least a fortnight overdue-the house sparrows, opportunistic squatters, had taken over a number of the martins’ old nests for their own uses.

This spring is very different from recent years; the ash tree has beaten the oak into leaf for the first time in many, many years (‘Ash before Oak, we’re in for a soak; Oak before Ash we’re in for a splash’). I haven’t heard a single cuckoo. Had something terrible happened to the martins?

Last Saturday was beautiful, and, if you have a garden, you will have been gardening. I was tending runner beans, when, suddenly, a tiny torpedo slanted across the azure sky and up into the eaves of the house. I gave an involuntary yelp of delight; my house martins had arrived. I felt honoured to have them back. Never had the phrase better late than never felt more appropriate. The lack of the normal south-westerly would appear to be to blame.

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