One of the things I most resent about spending 10-hour days deconstructing the bollocks put out by Those Who Run Things is that my recognition of the problem in 2004 interrupted a post-work Nirvana. Before the scales fell from my eyes about crookery, hypocrisy, cowardice and can-kicking, I’d been pursuing three endlessly fascinating areas of human enquiry: neuroscience, social anthropology, and sub-atomic physics.
Don’t misread that opener: I am no unique brainbox prodigy. But I am interested in so many aspects of what makes us tick, my headmaster at Grammar School was moved to tell my parents, “Your son is a true Renaissance Man”. My Dad – who was mega-bright Salford lad, but left school at 13 through force majeur – asked what he meant, and my Mum (middle class and well-educated) said “It means he’s got a butterfly mind”. Northern mums say that sort of thing to keep their sons’ feet attached to terra firma at all times: but another way of putting it might have been to say “he is incorrigibly nosey”.
And I am. Anthropology as a whole (after I stopped going to an office in 2000) in turn led me to compare our species with the natural tooth-and-claw world of wildlife. This started out as a means to prove that Harriet Harman and most pcers are unhinged, but in the end became an interest in and of itself. So ‘At the End of the Day’ is usually a bit of R&R for me, in that it allows one to write about enjoyable things….as opposed to people I despise.
Anyway, last night a few ATEOTD threaders said that my latest post was far too dark and miserable, and can we have more about Coco the terrier puppy please. They were right, and I thank them for pointing it out. It’s just that often – after a day of wading through turd-filled waters of murky dissembling – it is hard to remember that there is always fresh air to breathe when one emerges from the sewer. So tonight’s effort will be a return to normal service; but the odd bit of underworld just might peep through from time to time.
We were out walking the dogs last week when we met other people similarly engaged. They’d found a baby badger, either abandoned by its mother, or the unfortunate side-effect of badger culls. The little mite couldn’t have been more than a few days old, and the helplessly fearful squeaks it was emitting went right through one’s chest cavity to the human heart beneath. As it happened, I didn’t have Rolf Harris’s number with me, but someone in the other group did have a local wildlife rescue hotline to hand.
I hope the badgerette survived. What I couldn’t believe on picking her up was the nature of its coat: like a sort of spiny sandpaper. Fully grown, they are magnificent creatures to observe, and with the increasing harassment of the species they are more often to be seen – startled by one’s presence – scuttling back into the hedgerows during the daylight hours. I remain unconvinced by the bovine TB data, but mainly I am unimpressed with the cynical way in which Farmer Giles gases or clubs the poor little buggers to death – and then leaves them by the side of various highways so they look like ‘roadkill’.
Badgers themselves are – like most wildlife – fiercely territorial and vicious when cornered: they have claws that could rip out your throat, were you silly enough to bend down while in their company. But the ‘roadkill’ scam isn’t very subtle. First off, most of the ones I stop to inspect are unmarked. Roadkill does, by definition, mangle animals pretty badly. And second, roadkill tends to leave animals where they were – halfway across the road when that ever-so-important DHL truck doing 75 mph hit them. Only rarely do the victims drag themselves back to the roadside in order to look neat and tidy.
Entry of underworld into post: were Lord Mandelson to be the Minister at DEFRA right now, he’d put out a viral rumour that such badger inspections were clear evidence of my being a fiend obsessed by urges of bestial necrophilia.
This afternoon, a lady chaffinch went BONK very loudly into our (closed) French windows. I know she was a lady, because in Chaffinch World the blokes get to wear the bright colours – whereas she was a muted symphony of delicate greys, browns and bits of yellow. Having fallen to the ground badly stunned by our triple-glazing, it was obvious one or other of our dogs, local rodents or birds of prey would ‘ave ‘er, as the saying goes, before too long. But you can’t be too intrusive with wild birds: just handling them can result in a heart attack later.
As she was spark out when I found her, she was gently plonked onto the terrace table. Her mate – something of a dandy decked out in bright orange waistcoat, red neck and jet-black hat – was kicking up a helluva din from the safety of our extension roof. Not offering to help, mind – just sqwarking his head off. Typical bloke.
Eventually, she came round and – the next time I approached – flew off unharmed. Thus was this day made worthwhile. Now there are those who would say, “You shouldn’t interfere”. Bollocks. When I was a kid, the chaffinch was the most common bird in Britain. That the bird is now more rare has a lot to do with my species; and Mrs Chaffinch’s concussion was entirely due to a man-made window. So it was my duty to help her survive. OK, so she pooed on my table. It’s not that big a drama.
And so to the progress of our newest canine recruit Coco. While I’ve never seen a dog bounce like Tiggs when she was little, Coco is the only puppy I’ve come across who will walk on two legs right across a room in search of a hand-held treat. Her balance is incredible. But then, so too is her ability to learn bad habits. The latest of these is a compulsion to chase sheep. This isn’t a good idea, in that farmers have carte blanche to shoot dogs that worry ewes while they’re lambing. A rigid programme of aversion therapy is now under way, under which Coco blinks uncomprehendingly as Jan and I make sheep noises and pretend to be dangerous. I’ll let you into a secret: it isn’t working. There is something about sheep that screams “We are not dangerous. We are harmless dorks”.
One morning last week, I was dozing as Jan showered, when I thought I saw a pillow propped up against our bed moving under its own steam from one end to another. After sixty, this is the sort of sight you dread: proof positive that you’re off your head and will soon be drinking with difficulty from the plastic beaker with holes in the spout. Thankfully, a scruffy little head appeared soon afterwards – Coco was trying to get back into bed by using the pillow as a jumping-off point.
It’s at times like those that the laugh-out-loud thing dogs can evoke is beyond compare. When Foxie was tiny, we went to visit chums in Suffolk who have a large Black Labrador called Nelson. Nelson has a bed-basket big enough to hold most Olympic events, with the possible exception of the Marathon. Foxie (who was about six inches long at the time) shot straight into the basket and claimed it as her own. Nelson looked first at his owners, then at us, and finally at Fox. It was priceless.