‘To be recognised and accepted by a peregrine,’ wrote J.A. Baker in 1967, ‘you must wear the same clothes, travel by the same way, perform actions in the same order. Like all birds, it fears the unpredictable.’ Sitting around in the same old clothes, performing chores in the same order, travelling by no way at all, I’ve found comfort in Baker’s assurance that I may at least prove attractive to birds in my slovenly purdah. Sir David Attenborough read The Peregrine beautifully on Radio 4 just before Christmas, but if you were too busy steaming puddings to listen, you may find this a good time for enjoying the series online. I recommend it because, while Baker’s diary begins in October, when the peregrine soars over the fields and flicks acorns ‘like a potter spinning’, it culminates in the most joyful descriptions of spring. I recommend it also because there is precious little else worth listening to this week.
Perhaps I’ve grown too accustomed to the silence of quarantine, but I’ve lost patience with podcasts in love with their own sound. By that I mean presenters in love with their own sound. I’ve tired of the concept of eavesdropping on friendly chitchat destined to interest only the contributors’ mum and dad. I cannot bear guff masquerading as medicine for mental improvement. I am ravenously hungry for richer meat.
Like Lidgates, The Peregrine delivers on that front, transporting us to the skies and dipping us into estuaries after victim gulls. Weighing between 1 and 2.5lb, with eyes so large and heavy that a man would require sockets three inches wide to accommodate them, Baker’s majestic peregrine is both hunter and spy. He snatches a jay and watches Baker by a brook.