And now to raise the tone. I regularly take the dog along the coast between Birkdale and Ainsdale often walking through the sand dunes. In our Liberal Democrat room at Southport Town Hall there is a rather fine watercolour painting of the dunes. With my daughters I have been out with the local Brownies and Guides when Duncan, one of the Coastal Rangers, guided us to the pools and slacks where the natterjack toads live and breed.
The Birkdale Nightingale a poem by Jean Sprackman is set in the same landscape:
(Bufo calamito – the Natterjack toad)
On Spring nights you can hear them
two miles away, calling their mates
to the breeding place, a wet slack in the dunes.
Lovers hiding nearby are surprised
by desperate music. One man searched all night
for a crashed spaceship.
For amphibians, they are terrible swimmers:
where it's tricky to get ashore, they drown.
By day they sleep in crevices under the boardwalk,
run like lizards from cover to cover
without the sense to leap when a gull snaps.
Yes, he can make himself fearsome,
inflating his lungs to double his size.
But cars on the coast road are not deterred.
She will lay a necklace of pearls in the reeds.
Next morning, a dog will run into the water and scatter them.
Or she'll spawn in a footprint filled with salt rain
that will dry to a crust in two days.
Still, when he calls her and climbs her
they are well designed. The nuptial pads on his thighs
velcro him to her back. She steadies beneath him.
The puddle brims with moonlight.
Everything leads to this.
from Tilt (Cape, 2007)