The wettest October since the Great Flood finally gave way to crisp brightness, and so to prevent the second lockdown becoming more of a lock-in, Liam pushed me out of the front door for a Sunday morning constitutional. We ventured along the Wherryman’s Way to the River Chet, past booted dog-walkers, a catch of socially distanced anglers waving their tackle about and one or two boaters disturbing the still waters.
Under the current lockdown restrictions recreational fishing is okay as it’s reckoned to be good for mental health – though the hapless fish might not agree – but taking a boat out for a spin is a bit of a grey area. It could be classed as non-essential travel but the guidance is none too clear.
We made it as far as Hardley Flood (which hardly floods, as a bit of a wit wrote on Faceache), a tidal lagoon and nature reserve which, on the day, was home to a regatta of swans. By then, though, our passage was thwarted by ever-deepening muddy puddles and we could go no further. In more normal times, we might then have headed to the local for a few sherries and a Sunday roast. Sadly, that honourable tradition has been postponed until our next independence day.
When I put food out for the birds, I don’t expect a big fat pheasant to waddle along and scoff the lot. Bold as brass it was. Where’s the pheasant plucker when you need him? I feel a tongue twister coming on.
I'm not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's mate,
And I'm only plucking pheasants
'Cause the pheasant plucker's late.
I'm not the pheasant plucker,
I'm the pheasant plucker's son,
And I'm only plucking pheasants,
Till the pheasant pluckers come.
He might be cock of the walk right now scaring off all the little birdies but, if he’s not careful, he’ll soon find himself hanging in a shed ripening for the pot.
I hear bees are becoming an endangered species and if we don’t do something about it, we’re stuffed too – that is if Mother Nature doesn’t wipe us out with a nasty virus first. And who could blame her? To do my bit to placate the gods I bought a bee bomb – a collection of wildflower seeds which, when in bloom, attract bees and a host of other pollinators. I scattered the seeds over a raised bed, watered them in and forgot about it. Come June, to my delight and astonishment, the bomb had exploded into a riot of daisies, cornflowers, poppies, marigolds and many others this city boy has never heard of and couldn’t pick out in a line up. The tangled bouquet is strafed daily by squadrons of flying bugs while ants and ladybirds harvest the abundance of juicy aphids from the forest of matted stems.
Elsewhere on the farm, a curious mole poked his head above ground before thankfully moving on to greener pastures and a hedgehog emerged from the undergrowth next door to feed, oblivious to the pair of wood pigeons shagging on a gate. The love birds enjoyed it so much they came back the following afternoon for seconds. Meanwhile, larger fauna basked in the warm sunshine feeding on pink gin.
We live in a real life Hitchcock film with Liam doing his best Tippi Hedren impersonation trying to dodge the blitzkrieg of shit from the rooks, crows, pigeons, wrens, blackbirds, robins, doves, starlings, ducks and tits great and small. Wiping down the garden fixtures with a damp J cloth has become a daily ritual.
Pansies HQ overlooks the Wherryman’s Way and so we’re well used to the endless procession of panting dogs with booted walkers in tow. Much more interesting is the sight of partridges and pheasants – though not chickens – crossing the road followed by the occasional muntjac deer.
And then there is the felonious squirrel who raids the nuts from our neighbour’s bird feeder and buries his booty in our lawn. More annoying are the wasps looking for a cosy place to bed down in our loft and the masonry bees setting up home by burrowing into the ancient mortar keeping our equally ancient bricks in place. And don’t ask me about the pesky moles tunnelling beneath our feet.
This isn’t the birds and the bees I learned about as a hormone raging teenager.
As we’re the only gays in the village, Liam, in his infinite wisdom, thought it would be fun to get better acquainted with our new parish. I thought pub crawl. He thought picnic and a gentle stroll along the river Chet. Now, anyone who knows me, even ever so slightly, knows I don’t hike, roam, ramble, trek or yomp. Still, I thought, what’s the worst that could happen?
Having hunted and gathered our provisions – a meal deal at the Co-op – we ambled across the pretty graveyard of Loddon’s fifteenth century Holy Trinity Church in search of the leafy gate to one of the many Broads walks which make up the Wherryman’s Way. As we passed the rows of lopsided headstones, we were serenaded by squawking rooks. It was an ominous sign.
The trail guided us through a tunnel of wild foliage, across babbling brooks and along country lanes to a riverside clearing called Pye’s Mill. The mill’s long gone but it’s a pleasant spot with picnic tables, a barbecue grill and a place to shelter from the rain. We munched on our lunch watching the holiday boats slowly chug along the still waters of the river.
Fully replenished, we embarked on stage two of our great expedition – across a marshy field populated by bugs and a small herd of black cows grazing on the lush grass, tails flapping about to shoo away the flies. We’re both city boys and the only cows we normally see are sliced up at the Tesco’s meat counter so we kept well clear as we tip-toed around the puddles and shit.
Suddenly, a white-faced beast with pendulous udders and a mad cow look in her eyes emerged from the brush heading towards us, mooing in earnest. We stopped. She stopped. We stared her out. She stared us out. Guess who blinked first? Knowing the game was up, we turned round and started slowly retracing our steps. She followed. We quickened our pace. She quickened hers. Then she charged, picking up quite a speed, udders sloshing from side to side. We ran. Yes, we ran. It wasn’t our finest hour and thank the Lord there was no one around to video the pathetic sight of two old poofs fleeing from one ton of angry beef hell-bent on making mincemeat of us. It could have gone viral. Liam even considered chucking himself in the Chet to escape. Having seen us off, she trundled back into the bush.
Returning to Pye’s Mill, we glanced back at our nemesis. She was being closely followed by a cute little brown calf. That was why the old cow was so pissed off. She was protecting the veal. Pity they didn’t mention that in the guidebook. I knew we should have gone to the pub.