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The swallows are back home at last

By Frances Burscough

It was Easter Sunday and I was driving down the Ards Peninsula to pick the boys up from their dad's - who lives in the tiny village of Kearney - because they'd had Easter Sunday lunch with him this time. I'd had a lot on my mind. I had decided after months of agonising to put my big old house on the market, sell up and move a bit closer to the country, so every drive out of town ended up as long meandering window-shop, with me slowing down or stopping at every half-decent house with a 'for sale' sign outside.

As a result, it had been a protracted journey. I'd taken a different route than my usual one, from Newtownards direction instead of Bangor, but because I wasn't as familiar with the approach I missed the cross-country turn off at Kircubbin by mistake. Actually I'd been distracted by something on the radio. All of Me by John Legend, which always has to be sung along to at full volume. "Allllll of meee loves alllllll of you! All your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections." It's such a compelling song, resistance is futile. Even the dogs were howling along.

But instead of turning around and doubling back, I decided to carry on all the way down to Portaferry and then follow the coastline's curves and edges and perfect imperfections until I eventually found Kearney. Simples! Or so I thought.

Unfortunately, signposts are few and far between in that neck of the woods and I ended up stuck on the Ballyquintin Scenic Loop. Granted, it was very scenic, but after I'd passed the picturesque castle on my left for the third time and Kearney still hadn't appeared anywhere on the horizon, I knew I was lost.

By that stage I'd been driving for almost two hours. The dogs were getting yappy and restless and daylight was turning to dusk, so I pulled in to a lay-by and reached for my phone to call Luke.

Just then I glanced up through the window and saw it. A vision of grace and beauty. A solitary swallow, dipping and soaring and cutting its way through the clouds like a scythe. Every year the sight of my first swallow always makes me gasp with delight. Not simply because this is a living symbol of the changing seasons, and one that summer is on the horizon, but also because of the sheer effort and incredible distances that each and every swallow goes through to get here.

They spend their winter in South Africa and then fly all the way back here for the summer to nest, passing through the Sahara desert, up along Morocco, onto coast of Spain and the Pyrenees, and then western France until they finally arrive in the British Isles for another season.

They migrate by day and find food on the wing. Despite accumulating some fat reserves before crossing large areas such as the Sahara, they are vulnerable to starvation during these crossings. Migration is a hazardous time and many birds die from starvation, exhaustion and in storms.

Migrating swallows cover 200 miles a day, travelling together mainly during daylight at speeds of 17-22 miles per hour, and the entire journey can take up to eight weeks, depending on weather conditions.

Their sense of direction is so phenomenal that swallows will often return to the same nest year after year.

All these facts go through my mind when I see my first swallow. I want to wave a banner in the air, welcoming them back to our shores after such an arduous journey.

But back to my own arduous journey. Eventually I found my destination after a lot of faffing about, and the boys jumped in the car for the trip back home.

As we were driving across the peninsula, I asked them how they would feel about moving to a new house somewhere in the countryside. Would it feel like home?

"If there's a place for us all to get together, then it becomes home - it's not the house you're in, it's only who's there that really matters," Luke said.

I'm sorry, but I really cannot stand Gordon Ramsay. He may very well be a genius in the kitchen, but I just cannot bear to watch him and even less to listen to his expletive-laden tirades that lost their novelty value a decade ago. It's not clever and it's not funny to be rude and offensive for no apparent reason. It's just tiresome and predictable. Anyone can bloody well swear. It's not rocket science.

So why am I bringing this up now? Well, only because it emerged this week that Mr R (right) was one of the first people who was approached about being a presenter for the new revamped Great British Bake Off on Channel Four.

Fortunately for us all, and for the state of the nation in general, he turned it down. Apparently he "doesn't do sloppy seconds" and would not feel comfortable walking in Mary Berry's shoes. Well thank God for that, is all I can say. Can you imagine?

"Look, I'm sorry, darling, but this piece of s*** that's supposed to be pastry doesn't just have a soggy f*****g bottom, it looks about as appetising as a dead dog's partially digested dinner!"

They'd have to change its name to the Great British F*** Off.

Mostly be looking forward to a special showing at QFT on Thursday of Heart on the Line by the legendary Northern Ireland filmmaker and musician John T Davis. This is a unique take on the lyrics, lives, dreams and attitudes of Nashville's songwriters, the largely unknown men and women whose art is the lifeblood of the country music industry. The film features performances and commentary by major songwriters such as Harlan Howard, 'Cowboy' Jack Clements and Whitey Schafer. Complementing Heart on the Line will be a screening of Mshiikenhmnising, the pilot film for Davis' current work in progress. Full details are available through queensfilmtheatre.com.

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