Wednesday 7 May 2008

Straight from the pages of Jane Austen

13st 9lb; just 1.0 unit of alcohol yesterday, despite all the stress to which I was subjected; 1,367; Chawton and Selborne.

For the last two evenings I have rounded off my day with a long telephone conversation with the LTCB. She has been sitting at home sewing, just like a real Jane Austen heroine. I picture her with her hair put up in ringlets, wearing an elegant empire line dress (as opposed to one bought on the never-never from Empire Stores), working by flickering candlelight. There is no doubt that she sounds exactly like Elinor Dashwood or Elizabeth Bennet would if they were in possession of an electric telephone, possessed such a comprehensive knowledge of innuendo that they would be able to feel confident of lifting the Mastermind trophy if they chose “The ethos and running jokes of Viz comic, 1979-2008” as their specialist subject in the final, and also had an unbelievably dirty laugh. I am becoming really rather fond of her.

Meanwhile I have been widening my acquaintance with the natural world, as befits a lower middle class suburbanite who has been living in the heart of the countryside for more than 20 years. The highlight of my walk with the dog tonight was the music of curlews calling, one of the most glorious sounds in the world. Yesterday I admired the aerobatics of the swallows who are now here in some numbers, after the first of them pitched up on 1 May as tradition demands. It’s always the same with immigrants. You let one in and …

Yesterday there were also couple of peewits calling loudly and doing not at all badly on the aerobatic front. Then I heard my first cuckoo of the year; always a rather special moment. On my way back I paused to investigate a strange grunting noise emanating from the hedgerow. The racket proved to be caused by two hedgehogs in the ditch, one of which had its head poking out of a burrow while the other stood facing it, almost nose to nose. I was keenly interested in whether this was a blazing row or some sort of mating ritual, but did not like to ask. After all, it’s often not at all easy to tell even among humans, and when one is actually one of the participants.

The strangest thing I have seen on our walks of late was on Friday, when I was stopped short by the arresting sight of a large rabbit chasing and attacking a stoat; a complete reversal of the normal law of nature. Then, as the stoat made its escape, I saw in its mouth a small burden which could only be a baby rabbit. There’s nothing like having your offspring eaten to make even the most timid and tolerant of parents turn a bit feisty.

I started trying to tell the LTCB about all this tonight, but I am not sure she was too interested. I asked whether she had ever felt any urge to be a naturalist, and she said that she’d never gone further than going topless on the beach. An easy mistake to make, as I did the time I turned up for a local naturalists’ outing bollock naked, only to find everyone else wearing silly hats, shirts with an implausibly large number of pockets (all stuffed with notebooks), baggy shorts and sensible shoes.

Talking of which, the LTCB admitted tonight to owning 60 pairs of the things, none of which I suspect could be classified as sensible at all. That must mean that the true number runs into the hundreds. I, by contrast, own six pairs, all completely identical except that half of them are black and the other half dark brown. But I normally try to wear them in pairs of the same colour. Rather staid for her, I fancy, judging by the astonishment she expressed when she told me just to wear jeans for our next scheduled meeting, and I revealed that I had not owned a pair of the things for at least 20 years. I could have added that I never much liked them, even when I considered myself young enough to wear them, but the last thing I wanted was to drive a further wedge between us.

Damn. I seem to have made another classic blogging error by giving too much away. I truly am the Bill and Melinda Gates of aimless indiscretion. But at least I haven’t yet told the one about the time that …

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