I had cause the other day to call to mind the written works of John Lister-Kaye, or to give him his full title Sir John Lister-Kaye OBE. I first came across Lister-Kaye as a huge fan of the life and works of Gavin Maxwell, for this budding naturalist, then entrenched in a steelworks in Swansea, had been invited by Maxwell to head north to Kyleakin and help him rise from the ashes of Camusfearna, to expand from his days with otters. He took that road north and although his time with Maxwell was short as Gavin succumbed to the cancer that took him all too soon, Lister-Kaye remains in the Highlands to this day. His Aigas Field Centre remains on my visiting list on my northern excursions, and one day I’ll manage to get there.
To date Lister-Kaye has eight books to his credit and I was surprised to find that we have five of them on the shelves, for The Genealogist was first to discover his writings with his Song of the Rolling Earth. His first book though, published in 1972, was of his time with Maxwell, The White Island, and that was were I joined in. More recently he published At the Water’s Edge last year and it proves, very simply, that his writing improves as the years pass. I recall reading Nature’s Child a few years ago, an enchanting memoir to the delights he had in introducing his daughter to the wonders that are all around us, and to his routine in his highland idyll. It is a book I need to read again, conscious as I am that The Urchins are getting to that stage.
I know they are getting to that stage, for today Urchin the Younger finally just about managed to rid himself of his fears and take to his bike with a degree of confidence and bit less whimpering. Several hundred yards he managed, in a couple of bursts, at the end of it managing to keep any hint of a smile or sense of pride well and truly hidden. Urchin the Elder meanwhile, had bombed on ahead, even managing to pedal most of the way up the hill and home. It was all only jealousy on my part, for sadly I am Grasshopper-Free. The bike remains in the workshop, for a winter service and some minor repairs, held up longer than expected by some stubbornly-seized brakes and a mechanic intent on freeing them rather that taking the more profitable option of replacement. Carry on Ben, for I know she is in good hands.
But I missed her today, for it was fine outside and having dealt with work related issues yesterday to free up cycling time today, I had everything going, except of course the bike itself. It is a 60 mile or so round trip to the bike shop but I was half way there yesterday, on football business. In good form was I, for we managed to inflict on the Medda XI a first league defeat of the season, a real confidence booster for a side desperately short of belief. So good was my humour, and some may find that in itself a difficult one to accept, that I left Ben and the bike, knowing that my cycle today was not going to happen, with a smile on my face.
So the law of sod decided to grace this day with weather that would have gone down well in the summer, a day wholly unexpected mid-November, and one that suggests that the lawnmower’s hibernation may yet be premature. And I cursed that lawn. In a rare moment of sensitivity on a day varnished by the unseasonal sun, I cajoled said Urchins to cavort in the garden. Collectively we worked on hand-to-eye co-ordination with baseball bat and ball, foam covered ones. Even the Elder did eventually manage to put bat to ball. But the lawn was cursed. I use the word ‘lawn’ somewhat loosely, for there is little of that and plenty of moss. And it was the latter into which my foot sunk as I swung for that final home run, the ball intended for the field across the road, only for my swing to be accompanied by an audible crack from a rather dodgy knee, one that was subjected to a less than successful operation ten years or so ago. The Grasshopper could have an extended rest, and that will leave me very grumpy indeed.
I watched the sun retire gracefully and my attention was caught by activity on the bird-feeders. Usually we have a chaffinches outnumbering greenfinches, occasional gold ones, and more great tits than blue ones. Today though it was the blue tits that caught the eye, half a dozen of them together, where usually we just have the odd one. What sign is this I wonder, a harsh winter ahead, mild one perhaps, even a sharp increase in the local blue tit population? Is it more widespread; have they fought back against the last two winters and put in surplus for what may lie ahead? It was an inordinate number we had today, and I must keep an eye on the garden in the coming weeks.
I had my hands full with wildlife earlier. A rogue cat managed to find it’s way in through the window and set to devouring a fresh-baked loaf resting on the kitchen table. It was the same cat that had been locked in the shed for a three nights a few weeks ago, clearly out for revenge. Our own moggie remained curled and snoring, ignoring the intruder.
But that was not all, and I have the scratches to prove it. We usually have a few hens pecking around and I had brought in a new stock of speckledys a couple of months ago. They should have come on to lay by now, but there was little evidence of even the urge. I suspected impacted crops, possibly brought on by my parsimony in using shredded paper for bedding rather than shelling out for woodshavings. Stupid beasts had, I think, being eating the paper, and thereby ensuring that the food that is needed to form the shells fails to get down. So there I was spooning olive oil into chicken’s beaks, hanging them upside down and massaging their scrawny necks, whilst thinking of Sunday dinner. They had been stuck in their run for some time as I was intent on not letting them range freely until such time as they were laying where they were meant to lay. Thinking fodder may be part of the answer I let them loose to graze; but they are stupid birds for there is little room for a brain up there, and they barely left their run at all. Give them a few days and they’ll have found their way along the road and back again, but will we start to get eggs?
And at the end of all that I remember now what it was that brought Lister-Kaye to mind. I had been reading Views from the Bike Shed, where Mark is on a mission to write about nature every day this month, and does so with such style that Lister-Kaye was a name on my lips. At this point I see that I have failed my next lesson. The words ‘Views from the Bike Shed’ above, should be highlighted with a link behind the scenes to take you direct to Mark’s blog. In the absence of that you’ll find a link in the blogroll at the side – go on have a read, and I’ll get working on those link skills for the next time.