» Listings for 2020
Hooray! Casemate (UK), my publisher, has decided that the hardback version of On Her Majesty's Nuclear Service has sold well enough for it to be worth a punt at a paperback version. The good news was that this required no effort by me.
I heard a cow mooing in the field below my cottage. It seemed rather more of an agonised moan than a moo, as if the animal had a sore throat. As it kept giving these agonised moos every so often, I went to investigate and spotted a cow lying on its side close by my fence. As it seemed to be bloated, I thought it was dead but then saw a back leg move a little in the air, as if blowing in the wind. I phoned the farmer, who is only renting the field. He turned up about twenty minutes later in his pick up truck.
As I don't know him peraonally, I went down to say that I was the guy who phoned him. He was on his own and clearly under stress. He replied by asking me to get into his pick up truck and drive it slowly forward to pull the calf out! The cow had been in labour but seemed to have fallen into a hollow in the field and could not get up.
The calf was already dead and half out of the cow. The farmer had put a rope round it and tied that round the towing ball on his pick up truck. Now he wanted me, a complete stranger, to drive the truck and pull the dead calf out of the cow. What a terrifying prospect. I feared that my foot might slip on the clutch and I would rip out the poor cow's innards. In fact, I did very well, literally inching the truck forward and after about a foot, the farmer called, 'Stop'. The calf was out.
It was all very sad. There was a perfectly well formed calf which should have been up on its legs looking for milk but was lying dead in a huge pool of after birth, and the cow was still unable to get up. While all this was happeniong, the rest of the herd came up from the far end of the field and literally started poking their noses around me, the dead calf and the stricken cow.
I won't attempt to describe how the farmer got the cow back on its feet but it was both brutal and impressive. The poor animal was trembling with shock and fear but once up on its feet, it made a remarkable recovery and wandered off with the rest of the herd. A partially happy ending.
Living in my cottage is like living in a nature hide. When I replenish the bird feeders, it becomes like a Heathrow for birds. No idea who's doing the air traffic control. I've noted over 70 different varieties in my thirty years here.
Over recent days, I've noticed that a young Blackbird has become exceptionally bold and flies down close beside me when I'm putting out fresh seed as the Robins do. I even find it sitting on the bird table waiting for me in the mornings (see photo). It gets tucked in as soon as I've put seeds on the bird table and is unfazed by my moving about close by. Is this the precociousness of youth, bird-style? I've now started repeating a signature whistle when I go out, in the hope that it will recognise it and come when I call. (Not sure yet whether it is a young male or female; they change plumage in their second year).
I love communicating with the animals. There is a resident family of Buzzards near here. I just love to hear their whistle overhead - to me it's an 'all's well' sound. For years, I've been mimicking it when I see them with minor success. On several occasions, I've persuaded a buzzard to come from a fair distance to hover about one hundred feet above my head but that's as close as they come. I've put up an old telegraph pole in front of the kitchen window in the hope that they will come and perch on it, as they do down the farm track, but so far no luck. However, all the other birds love it, especially the Woodpeckers.
When I was doing blue water sailing, I used to play my harmonica to dolphins which were only a few feet below me. I'm convinved they enjoyed the recitals. After all, my Alsatian dogs used to throw their heads back and howl when I played it, and dolphins are mammals just like us and have the same airborne hearing systems.
Ever thought that British birds lacked colour and that exotic birds can be found only in the tropics? How about these. Photographed from my kitchen window.
L - R Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Jay, Great Tit (young), Robin, Woodpecker, Redpoll, Siskin but even the all-black crow is a handsome bird
With experience of real lock down in submarines, lock down at home for Covid 19 caused me no stress. In fact, it has been brilliant. I hate going shopping and would never think of going down to a pub for company. I have treated lock down as if I were going on a two month patrol and set myself a list of tasks to complete before it ended. One was to put a roof extension on the logstore. I did. The following evening I walked into it.
It is surprising how much we do from mental models* rather than by visual reaction. Ever found yourself feeling for the phantom gear stick in a new car or tripping over something in the dark that didn't used to be there?
Bats live by sound, not sight. In one experiment a bat was put in a divided chamber with one third of the partition opened up only at meal times to let it through into the other half for food. When first introduced, the bat went round pinging like mad until it had built up a picture it in its memory. Thereafter, it pinged very little. It was familiar with its surroundings. Then the researcher moved the opening in the partition to the other side and the bat flew into the closed side of the partition.
I was that bat. Who the hell put a roof extension on the old logstore?
* By 'mental model', I mean a memorised picture, not a mad manequin.
2nd April, 2020
Love is joyful.
Love is kind.
Love is precious.
Love is blind.
But let me tell you this,
It’s always painful
In the end.
Today is the fifteenth anniversary of losing my beloved wife, Kate, to breast cancer. Hard to believe. It was so difficult back then to comprehend that the woman to whom I had been bonded for forty years, no longer existed. Life without her had been beyond the bounds of my imagination. But there is life after death, or at least after bereavement. It has been a tumultuous and very happy fifteen years. As always, I count my blessings.