More fur and feather

IMG_1701 In the short few days between taking these shots of our famous triplets – the top one was taken last evening –  you can see how fast they are developing their adolescent plumage from the fluffy down which recently adorned them. Tended by their adoring parents, Peter, Paul and Mary are bigger than ever and ever hungry. Until recently, when one of them peeped for something to eat, the tiny but piercing noise would be accompanied by a gentle but perceptible lifting of the wings, an endearing trope indeed. In turn each is now extending those little wings, strengthening their resilience in preparation for the harrowing first flight, whenever they are ready to try.  How extraordinary that a seabird so commonplace, and indeed so loathed by even some of the people round here (happily not Works All Hours and All God’s Creatures Welcome, whose chimney stack features here), daily brings so much pleasure and joy to us as they go about their little lives.

IMG_1689The simplest things are so often the most precious. Indeed, as I write this, Kemo Sabe has had to greet and feed the visiting Mantalinis who are currently chowing down on the front lawn, their glowing colours and splendidly mottled feathers a wonder of the world. Similarly, the rotund sparrows which bustle and beep in all the bushes, dashing across the garden from rose to honeysuckle, cheeping and chirping with joy apparently undiminished by a turn-down in the weather, such as we had yesterday. The opulence of nature is adorned with the glories of commonplace natural life: tadpoles in the pond, snails on the gate, and starlings, blackbirds and thrushes thrusting nutrition down the throats of the next generation as quickly as we can keep the supplies topped up. Together as we are, all year round, our native species and we the creatures of the house are all in it together and all the better for that.

In come the Pardiggles

Hammy Jo 11.5.14 009There has been much merriment and excitement lately with many unexpected moments of surprise and joy, mostly arising from the increasing number of creatures now under our care (if not directly under the roof). Whenever I can get into the Growlery – where his byzantine set-up lurks – I hunker down and stare at the Boy Named Jo, this perfect charmer. As I write I can hear him, in his little nest all fluffy with clouds of pink and blue padding, at the bottom of one of his homes (which are cleverly connected, like a labyrinth), tucking into a monkey nut which, along with fresh broccoli are his favourite foods. Silence soon follows, which means that sleep has once again overtaken him fully; our own little dormouse. When his food bowl is topped up, he rushes to it straight away, pushing up his sleeves and diving in with gusto, jettisoning this, that and the other in order to locate a particular nibble which he will then either eat or secret in his pouch for later. He has a number of food hordes, one in a length of tunnel, over which he climbs effortlessly on his many perambulations around his considerable territory. One morning Kemo Sabe and I found that he had placed carefully all the shelled peanuts and pumpkin seeds on the inside of his smaller wheel (he has two), but by the next morning, they had been redeployed and rearranged within one of his tiny plastic houses. What is in his mind, I wonder? Does he ponder as I do? He greets us, certainly, and will not nip. He knows when it is time for vegetables and does not mind the vacuum cleaner in the least, stout fellow that he is. I have high hopes for him as he grows in stature.

Our Mantalinis continue to visit and to feed: we wonder where the nest may be and when we will be introduced to the ducklings. The weather has been dismal and wet over the last few days, interrupting their routine waddlings-about, but their insistent announcement of arrival indicates they know us and expect us to know and care for them.

IMG00382-20140503-0747And then we have new arrivals: the Pardiggles. What we suspect to have been Mrs Pardiggle amazed us a couple of mornings ago twitching a bit of weed in a brackish pool on the rocks beneath the sand dunes, in the dawn sunshine before the rains came down. This morning we found a far less interesting little puddle – without so much as a pebble to commend it – full of the punctuation marks which are new-born tadpoles, some of which we brought home and offered to the pond, our wild-life haven, where there is food a-plenty. We hope they prosper and like it here.

On Friday the BBC broadcast the very last episode of Tweet of the Day, which has been running for a year. The final programmes were about the dawn chorus, that natural wonder, of which we never tire. Every location has its own unique lyric ingredients, contributed by the various species whose habitat it is and the BBC made several versions – on salt flats in Suffolk, and a moor in Northumberland. The final broadcast was recorded especially in Whitechapel, to the east of the City of London, where the robin sprung into action in the dead of night under an orange security light, and eventually was joined by the blackbird and then the tits and sparrows.  As light itself encroached, the alarms of ambulances and police cars joined in, as London – which is a sense never knows a dawn – grew busier again. It was incredibly evocative, and reminded us of Stepney City Farm, which we visited recently. We love this tiny two-minute daily jewel of a programme and will miss it terribly. Over the course of the year we have been taken in our imaginations far and wide, up hill and down dale, as we have attended to these creatures, their calls and their ways. Some we will never see; some like the curlew, which are rare to others, are our constant companions. Some of them see places of which we can only dream. Some we hope one day to glimpse. This week it is time to go out to the islands again and see the puffins, returned from their winter in the Atlantic. We will all say welcome back, and mean it.

If you are interested in Tweet of the Day, which has now won awards, you can find more about it here:



Meet the Mantalinis

IMG_1599‘What a demnition long time you have kept me ringing at this confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bell, every tinkle of which is enough to throw a strong man into blue convulsions, upon my life and soul, oh demmit,’–said Mr Mantalini to Newman Noggs, scraping his boots, as he spoke, on Ralph Nickleby’s scraper.

‘I didn’t hear the bell more than once,’ replied Newman.

Then you are most immensely and outr-i-geously deaf,’ said Mr Mantalini, ‘as deaf as a demnition post.’

There is no way our Newman – or anyone in our house  – could miss the noisy arrival of the Mantalinis, who make their way into the front garden at least twice a day – sometimes flying in but usually waddling up the road and into the drive with real determination, announcing their presence with loud and incessant quacking which is simply demanding dinner of the very finest quality. The noise, demmit, only stops when the seed box comes out, and the washing-up bowl for refreshment and bathing is moved to their liking into the centre of the grass. If the Mantalinis are in the garden when we get back from the beach,  Newman and Barnaby both boom out a bark of recognition and like the chance to bounce over in their direction, if they’re not stopped.  Neither of the boys means any harm, of course; it’s all just noise and nonsense, a kind of throwaway greeting of the golden kind on their way to the next bowl of jellies. And no offence has been taken, either; back the Mantalinis soon come, for another lengthy feed.

IMG_1595The story of our Mantalinis began one early evening last summer, with the wind whistling unseasonably wild and things outside all frightening and uneasy, not a night to be out in, or to stand up in, come to that – especially if you’re a clutch of ten tiny ducklings.  Continuous baby cheeping gave notice of the presence of unusual bird ,life somewhere about; but it took a little while before Kemo Sabe was able to identify the source of the song, right near the front door. After searching in storage Jeoffry’s cat-carrier, Kemo Sabe gathered the little ones up and made a towelling nest where they settled at once on the kitchen worktop and, utterly exhausted, went to sleep immediately.  Later, an upturned dustbin-lid filled with water made an ideal kindergarten pond for the little folk, who neighbours across the road took in and raised (as they had no bouncy dogs like us) until they sought their independence in the village. Now it looks like one or other of them, suitor in tow, has returned, knowing they will always get a welcome up this way.

The miracle which is a mallard is easy to overlook, especially up here where we have so many creatures of wondrous plumage and exceptional song; seeing them on a regular basis, qua-qua-quacking among the dandelions and plaintains, snootling in and out of the leeks and under the hebe, throws their opalescent glory into relief: Mr Mantalini is – true to his namesake –  an obvious and complete dandy, though in truth the original looks more like me, with his black curls and moustache; his lovely buxom wife (she her when her crop is full!), admired by many suitors and untroubled by jealousy, unlike her Dickens original is tastefully pranked up in the glistening colours of the thrush.  As Mr Mantalini would have said, ‘My senses’ idol!’

If you have not come across this extraodinary couple before, you will find them and their dressmaking business in the pages of Nicholas Nickleby. Though an early, episodic Dickens novel, it is touching, heart-breaking and hilarious by turns, and the people it brings to life are still out there today, even impersonated by our friendly mallards.