Out Here With The Birds
It is cold and raining just as you would expect on the second last day in October. Two hours after midnight tonight the clocks go back an hour and it is wintertime, officially. There’s no doubt that being born in the month of November and even though your mother told you that the sun was shining when she brought you home from the hospital, your affinity is to the cold, wet, snowy weather rather than to sunshine. In 1957 the first-born baby was kept in hospital for ten days. I can’t get this culture of staying in bed out of my system.
That’s how after a bit of a delay I am out in my garden hut wrapped up in my anorak and hat and feeling it best to stay here and feel the cold and the rain and hearing the wind moving the branches. I could be indoors in the warmth and comfort reading the Saturday papers or watching television. Instead I am enjoying the outdoors oxygen, the expanse of the grey-clouded sky and appreciating the last brave clematis flowers. Some athletic people take it to extremes and climb rock faces on mountains equipped with ice axes. These climbers are thrilled by pitting themselves against nature’s obstacles. I am content to sit on this wooden stool and feel myself a member of the outdoors sort. Nearby is a hoe, a spade, a rake, branch cutters and a mallet but I’m not tempted to get to work with any of them. This black hut was included in the sale price of my parents’ house and on a wall there is still stuck the remains of a “Planting Guide for Scottish Gardens 1932”. The only actual specimen dating back to 1932 might be the old apple tree at the bottom of the garden which is mildewed and well-gnarled but I like to think the birds find it a useful perch. The rest of the garden has a crazy paving patio, a white hut in a worse state which we brought from our last garden and the flowers, the trees and an array of pots have all been planted possibly without referring to any planting guide, in the last twenty years. The black hut is still standing because the wood to build it came “when we owned India”. At the time of this grand ownership, my dad was a wee boy living in a council house in Larbert so it is encouraging that dad feels a part of the Imperial ownership of foreign lands by the British Government. It probably also helped that the original owner of this hut was a joiner and would season the wood well. Many coats of creosote later it is in fairly sound condition with just some evidence of woodworm. In the winter it is home to one or two wild mice who leave evidence they have treated it as being en-suite. It’s not safe to store manuscripts. I don’t grudge the mice this accommodation but when I tugged open a drawer one time I was very startled by a large brown mouse who looked like he was on his way out anyway. The inside of the hut is well-cluttered but the arrangement works fine if you are prepared to keep looking for the item needed. Dust and cobwebs lie thick and even and probably best to lie unremarked.
Whenever you visit Dobbie’s Garden Centre or other large retail gardening sites, there is a tempting array of attractive garden homes, newly-painted, laminate flooring and with double-glazed windows which do open. Adjacent is the Sales Office where the sales girl will come out expectantly when anyone approaches this expensive display. It would be lovely if you came into money – the Lottery, Ernie or left in someone’s will – and you said “I’d like to buy a summerhouse.” This would come as such a surprise to the oft-disappointed site sales person that she would possibly blurt out: “This is not happening. You cannot be serious.” Newly-invested with cash, good humour would prevail as you explained you thought it was a most natural occurrence. This is why I prefer to admire the hens for sale at £30 apiece clucking in their pen. Dobbie’s don’t put any assistants to watch for customer interest in purchasing a hen. So it is definitely more relaxing and the thought of transporting a big feathered hen between Garden Centre and home means I just look at them with no intent to buy. If the hens cluck you feel lucky.
You might say that Garden Centres sell more home hardware goods than plants. However there is that garden plant association because the cushions have embroidered pansies and many a mug is decorated with every herb. Additionally there is a range of clothing to wear outdoors so you feel you are still keeping faith with the outdoors way of life. When the grand outdoors proves elusive, there is still hope for enjoying nature.
I like the way George in “George and Mildred” is so appreciative of his goldfish, Moby. He is heard each episode telling Moby what good company he is. I have kept a goldfish when I was at primary school and the Fairground Shows came to the Tryst ground in Stenhousemuir every September. You would win a goldfish in a small clear plastic bag of water and be delighted. The Fairground goldfish must have yearned for the open road as they always died within a week or two and then it was a visit to Kynoch’s pet shop in Falkirk to buy a replacement. The feeding lesson is that if you tap the fish food carton too strongly, the fish will die of the excess provision. I am doing damage to myself by excess eating but the goldfish analogy is just another in a line of graphic warnings I have ignored. The way a goldfish keeps on swimming all the time shows how exercise isn’t enough to prevent damage from an extra portion.
There is no pond in our garden and I feel happy not to encourage frogs and toads. I do occasionally glimpse these reptiles and they make me feel very uneasy. My dad says they are good for keeping down the snails but it is hard to find gratitude for them. The small garden birds, bluetits, sparrows, robins and blackbirds and a tiny wren are very welcome and I try to protect them from the marauding magpies. The magpies in my vicinity still fly off when I clap my hands. The sense of power this gives me is very gratifying. The Garden Centres are keen purveyors of wild bird food, nuts, fat-balls, fat-filled coconuts and an array of trendy feeders. I’m happy to say my mother climbs up on a kitchen stool to put up the bird food. With any luck I’ll be like Prince Charles who continues to miss out on monarchy duties because his mother keeps on the royal role herself. In my case I will be happy to relinquish any claim of succeeding to feeding the birds thanks to my mother’s country upbringing where hard work was expected. By the time I came along my Granny just asked me to write her Co-op message line. The beauty of Greenhill was the countryside all around. In Stenhousemuir we lived in a council housing scheme and had a very small garden. Playing outdoors was on nearby pavements fortunately at a time when few people owned cars. One girl had a large garage with a concrete floor and on wet days we went there to skliff along in our mothers’ high heel shoes. It seemed a fascinating activity back then but I think children nowadays would scorn such outdated pretence.
In Greenhill there were two dogs, Roy and Jacky, and my fondness for both of them has endured for their forty year loss. Roy was an intelligent and loyal sheepdog with a bit of Alsatian which gave him a local reputation as a good watchdog. Jacky was a mongrel terrier, white body and brown face, and he was an untrainable scamp who would run off to chase sheep if he saw his opportunity. As it was, he was kept in or he was taken out on his lead but he then created havoc by eating an apple tart when my Granny was out at a van or else he would anger Roy who was much bigger by trying to pinch food from Roy’s bowl. My fondness for Jacky has something to do with me having a much more timid character and I do hope I never succumb to eating an apple tart intended for someone else.
I do not have a pet dog and not even one goldfish as a pet at home. However from my window I watch a varied procession of people walking their dogs. There’s not many mongrel dogs on the pavement outside my house. The fashion is definitely to own a small dog of definite pedigree and so there are a lot of lovely King Charles spaniels, Lhasa Apsos and Border Terriers. Andy Murray who is almost the World No 1 tennis player has a Border terrier but I know this from reading the newspapers as, of course, Andy Murray has no need for the stretch of pavement outside my home in Larbert for walking his dog. One lady told me that she and her husband had researched the breed of dog they would choose and they decided on a beagle. I suspect they should have got some training in research methodology. Their beagle has one blue eye and the other eye is hazel in colour. The couple and their dog have made conspicuous viewing for about two years now as they are constantly stopping to give the dog a treat by way of training. The dog is certainly intelligent and does whatever it likes including stopping and making the couple wait until whatever or whoever the dog is waiting for catches up on this dog and it’s owners. When viewed from behind this beagle which would have cost £550 to buy as a puppy, has quite a similarity in physique to dear old Jacky. My uncle Jack got Jacky and his male sibling free of charge. However a fireman who worked with my dad at Falkirk Fire Station said he would like a dog and my dad suggested he come up and visit his in-laws who had a terrier he could have. The man took a taxi to visit Granda and my dad was taken aback when Granda decided to ask ten shillings for the mongrel terrier. It ended well enough as this dog was good at carrying the man’s newspaper but he was a bit annoyed that the dog wanted to lift it’s leg at every lamp-post. Grangemouth is a well-lit town whereas the Greenhill countryside does without any lamp-posts at all.
I like being outdoors but I’ll do without a dog requiring daily walks on a lead. It’s not really my decision because my mother tells me that she knows what is involved in keeping dogs and they are best kept outdoors. These cold dark nights that are upon us I don’t feel like rising to the challenge of stepping out on cold nights – or mornings – to enjoy a dog’s company. As I write I have my china mug decorated with a terrier dog by my side. At the fireplace is a china spaniel ornament which captures the sweet aspect of the breed. I wouldn’t reveal this on a dating site but beside my bed is a ceramic mallard duck set in a glass pond. Declaring this on a dating site would possibly result in an interesting match but you know by now I am too much the sensible outdoors sort to do this.