Animal magic

I think I've said previously that from 2005 Kitty and Ann Wiseman's Loch Ewe Cottage represented, for us - especially for Dee, some sort of heaven on earth. The old cottage was coal-fire cosy, close by the lochside and in a secluded spot within the same remote and tiny village of Mellon Charles as was Peace Cottage. It had a very reasonable rental and even, as it later transpired, an option to buy. We had all our own furniture, books, pictures etc - in other words all the stuff we had brought up from Winchester in 2002. Ranking as benefit equal to all for my lady, we were surrounded by the Wiseman's precious croft animals.

Bearing in mind that hungarian vizslas are by breeding and nature hunting dogs and that they had been brought up in an urban Hampshire setting, there had been in Peace Cottage a fair amount of necessary 're-training'. Most especially when first the two of them set eyes on sheep, chickens, geese and ducks - not to mention the odd (wild) red deer - just by our back door! But in a surprisingly short time all threatening behaviour had ceased and everybody settled down to a life of harmony, or so we thought! 

One day we were out visiting, leaving the dogs lazing in the garden sunshine, the back door open into the dining room. We rarely if ever remembered or found it necessary to lock up either our home or our parked car. Crime was and is virtually unknown. We returned to find Mati, the picture of innocence, as far away on the lawn as she could get and Sorosh, the picture of guilt, under the dining room table surrounded by feathers and one very dead cockerel. We were horrified in spite of the fact that Kitty had two cockerels who were always at it tooth and nail and, to my exasparation constantly competing with each other to hail the crack of dawn - about 03.30 in the summer! Confronted by the scene of the crime, in somehting of a panic I determined in true murder mystery fashion to hide the body, and fast. I drove it miles away and consigned the late lamented to a watery grave. However when I returned home, Dee, conscience stricken as always, insisted I go and confess Sorosh's crime to Kitty. Kitty's main comment was, where is he? He'll make a goodly soup, so he will.  Upon which I was forced to confess to the greater crime of criminal waste.

On another occasion Kity told Dee that something's getting into the barn and taking my eggs. It so happened that Dee had spotted the miscreant - one of the detested hooded crows had found a hole under the eaves of the building. That same day Kitty went into the barn to collect eggs, hand in hand with her seven year old granddaughter, only to surprise the thief. Caught red handed the crow tried to exit the barn at high speed through the opened doorway, upon which a hen jumped high in the air, talons uppermost, and brought the crow to ground. To the horror of the little girl all the chickens then fell upon the thing and literally tore it to pieces in front of her eyes!

Down on the farm truth is often, at least to me, stranger than fiction. As an instance, at one time Ann and Kitty were losing their precious ducks one by nightly one. Very distressing, especially as they had spotted the culprit. A female otter had given birth to a litter of otterlets in her holt (not sure of the terminology) under a broken down old shore-side building. She was feeding her family right royally at Kitty and Ann's expense, not that they would have dreamed of killing their ducks for food or anything else. Anyway, to put a stop to the slaughter the crofter ladies brought the ducks up nearer their house (and ours) but the bold otteress actually came into their yard, grabbed a duck and made off with it. Ann was just in time to rush out and take hold of the duck's legs. The poor thing had become jammed when being pulled by the retreating otter in a hole in the fence. Ann won that tug of war but this was very much a phyrric victory, for the duck did not survive its ordeal. The next night Ann was lying in wait. When the otter made its appearance she dashed outside, grabbed the nearest throwable object and let fly. Mrs Otter last seen heading for the beach and her holt - covered in white paint!

At lambing time in March Dee would help out with Ann, patrolling the fields in the middle of the night to find and help any ewe that was in birthing trouble. I'm afraid I myself would turn over in bed and go back to sleep. Even in broad daylight the birth process is not of interest to me. (I never even attended one of my own, by the way!) For a supposedly hard-nosed crofter Kitty was incredibly kind to animals, which is why she always has so many cats and dogs. When a sheep gets injured or knocked over in the road the crofter will usually despatch it without a second thought. Not our Kitty! She would take the creature into her kitchen, which instantly became an operating theatre, and do everything possible and some things impossible to mend it. Some of her sheep she kept for years after their commercial value was well out of date. There was one ewe I remember that she called Shirley Bassey. The poor animal had eaten the dreaded poisonous ragwort and had a permanent wool-less sore on its back and only half an ear. But it had lived at least six years in such a condition. Apart from those defects it was an ordinary white woolly ewe. Why do you call her Shirley Bassey? Dee asked. Because she's got curly hair of course, Kitty responded ...!

Of course! But a couple of years on we noticed Shirley Bassey one winter's day lying comatose in the field, her poor eye just a bloody mess. The hoodies had been at it. You can hate those birds. For a time we did. But nature will not tolerate infirmity.

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