The new year got off to an auspicious start yesterday morning. Almost the first words I heard, after tuning in to Farming Today on BBC Radio Four, were “swan guru”. Outside, it was still the dark before dawn, but I resolved, with new year vim, to go in search of my very own swan guru.
I was not listening to the radio with sufficient attention to learn whether a swan guru was, on the one hand, a human being possessed of breathtaking insight into swans or, on the other, a swan possessed of breathtaking spiritual insight which could act as my teacher and guide. But I knew which one I preferred, and it wasn’t the human being. And so, as the first light of the new year spread across the sky, like a patient etherised upon a table, I set out for Nameless Pond, in search of a swan.
As I lolloped towards the pond, I recalled the popular Hooting Yard series Notable Authors Sitting On Swans, which featured photographs of notable authors sitting on swans. The swan upon which the infant Raymond Roussel sat, for example – was it a mere swan, or was it the writer’s swan guru? I did not suppose I would ever know the answer to that question, but just posing it made me all the keener to lay claim to my own swan guru.
Standing at the edge of Nameless Pond, on which several sprightly and savage new year swans were scudding, I tried to determine which one would be the perfect spiritual teacher. But then I was struck by two thoughts. One, I am extremely myopic. Two, I am ornithologically ignorant. If I were to pick a particular swan, here and now, as my guru, would I be able to recognise that swan on subsequent visits to Nameless Pond? I had to concede that this seemed unlikely. In my world, a swan is a swan is a swan. Well then, that being so, why not choose the swan nearest at hand as my guru? Next time I came here, the nearest swan might well be an entirely different swan, but did that really matter, so long as I received from it the spiritual succour I sought?
Convinced that I had hit upon an effective method of mitigating my myopia and ornithological ignorance, I fixed my gaze upon the nearest swan. The next couple of minutes would prove critical. I had to lay myself open, fully receptive to whatever spiritual wisdom the swan saw fit to impart to me. The better to accomplish this, I gawped, open-mouthed, dribbling slightly, like a dim-witted child. I tried to empty my brain of all conscious thought, and I succeeded so well that I toppled over, having forgotten how to stand upright. Sprawled in the pondside mud, I sensed a terrifying inrush of what I can only describe as swanness or swanosity. It surged through me, magnificently.
I stood up, dusted myself down, bid adieu to my swan guru with a wave of my hand, and set off for home. Woe betide anybody I met along the way. With one thwack of my wing, I would break their arm.
As a disgraced former didgeridoo-wielding TV presenter once said, when things went disastrously wrong during a Buddhist-themed interlude in an episode of Animal Hospital, “Tie me swan guru down, sport”.