Once more with feeling

Christmastide is nearly over. (It is not truly over until all the new Christmas socks and knickers have been worn, the last of the Christmas cake munched and the final, loathsome, soft centres consumed or binned – we still have a way to go on these fronts). The tree has, however, been wrestled outside leaving a trail of needles ready to clog the hoover, the baubles are boxed and ready to return to their attic slumber and the stockings (aside from Ishbel’s which remains on location) are safely packed away with lavender bags to deter moth incursion. Dry January has been replaced with Dryish January and we have climbed back in the wagon until Friday (absent some midweek emergency).

Lockdown mode has been reinitiated, we know the drill all too well. I have organised the ironing heaps into “his” , “her’s” and “household” and made a spirited start yesterday, magnanimously reducing all three piles and darning three holey jumpers to boot. Having picked off a few easy numbers yesterday (towels), I plan to wrestle some sheets into submission this afternoon. Henceforth, I shall be dressing like a scruff and eschewing anything requiring much effort on the laundry front. To the unobservant this may present no difference to my usual attire, but as neither the unobservant nor the observant will be visiting, I care not a jot. New projects to keep us occupied are being dusted off. Keith has been out scouting sites for new camellias and plans to move on shortly to plucking pheasants. There is also an urgently needed cattle handling area to plan. I have a new cardigan on the pins and am minded to dig out a partially completed quilt. I also have to source a paper pattern for hospital scrubs for Ishbel. Lachlan appears from time to time brandishing typed pages of essay and reading us excerpts. All is activity on the homestead. I have stopped watching the news. Distraction is the order of the lockdown day.

Lyra and I have roamed far and wide the last two days. Yesterday we took the road past Simprim church then turned down to come back across the fields. It proved a noisy walk. Just before Butterlaw two fighter jets swept into view and then banked away to the north, leaving a booming roar behind them. It occurred to me that a Russian invasion would add nicely to the horsemen of the apocalypse bingo we seem to be playing. All the way along the road was an incessant insectoid buzz from a chainsaw somewhere. The noise ebbed and flowed, sometimes nearer sometimes further away. This was interspersed by the tell tale muffled boom of shotguns. It was well night impossible to identify the source. As we turned down from Simprim church, however, the loud saw of the chainsaw proclaimed its home in the wood to the east. That, I thought, likely ruled out shooting nearby as surely the noise and activity would deter the birds. Oddly though, there was a pick up parked and two chaps with hunting dogs and waistcoats that did not smack of library curtain. As we passed into the field they got into the pick up and drove off. (Later it occurred to me that the chainsaw could have been cutting branches to build the hurdles the shooters lurk behind fo some future event. ) We turned towards home but had not travelled far when there was the almighty bang of a gun behind us, rather too close for comfort. Lyra went up at least two gears and we shot diagonally across the deer field, startling two roes which had clearly had the same idea. Later, passing a bedraggled pheasant which had the look of someone dragged through a hedge, I notionally tipped my cap and wished him well.

Today we kept further to the south. It was frosty out and every puddle and rut had a crisp cap of ice. I wonder when you become too old to enjoy snapping into an icy puddle? Not 55 that’s for sure. At the foot of the stubble field Lyra sprang to attention and looking up I saw three deer over the hedge, floating over the next field and into a stripe of livid green where the sun had broken through to shine on the next field of winter wheat. Lyra watched for a few seconds, as if considering, then ran straight to me, say and looked pointedly at the “compensation treat” pocket. I was still chuckling at this when a fat rabbit broke cover. This did not get the same treatment. Madam shot off, but made the fatal error of looking back at the flock of gleaning birds which rose as she passed. The rabbit took full advantage of the lapse of attention. A further compensation treat was tendered and accepted.

There was a pair of buzzards in the bare ash trees on the Butterlaw road. I have seen them there before. I suspect they are behind the disembodied puffs of pigeon feathers in the stubble field, the equivalent in bird terms of a yellow chalk man outline on a city street. Walking back along the lane the puddle ice had all been shattered by a passing vehicle and the verges were full of shards as if someone had smashed a window. The frozen grass on the verge makes a fussing sound underfoot and we find a pale mushroom peeking through, looking for all the world like a severed ear. A rural crime scene…..

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