Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Homeworkers Commute

Perched quietly by the window I eased my way into the working day. With the frosts consigned to the earlier days of January the ground now held a cool dampness and as the sun strengthens it gives a hint of the spring to come. Movement on the edge of my peripheral vision drew my attention from the screen before me and through the window to the sight of a field vole scurrying around in the undergrowth outside. Short bursts of speed allowed the little creature to cover the open ground between cover as scraps were scavenged. Working away from the cities and clutter of people regularly brings such sights for me and I find I miss them greatly when I am called back to civilisation. After enjoying the most welcome distraction I returned my eyes to the screen and carried on until wrens and dunnocks took their turn to pass through my field of view.

Hours ticked by as shadows swung and lengthened before the setting sun brought the blue skies to a deeper hue and the stars and crescent moon gently appeared over the horizon. I stepped away from my tasks, wrapped up warm against the evenings chill and set out with two of my dogs to clear my mind of the thoughts and intricacies of my work. The country lanes were surprisingly busy, headlights and the drone of car engines hiding the commuters passing to and from the near by village & its railway station. Remaining on the lanes was looking unwise and far from peaceful, I chose to take the green lanes, footpaths and edges of the fields to leave the commuters to their rushing around and embrace the peace & darkness.

With the chill wind blowing across the fields and it was a relief to be away from the lea and in the shelter of the hedgerows. The soft ground took its toll as my boots plugged into the mud and the simple act of walking left clouds of condensing breath in the air around me. The early crescent moon was also frugal with her light and I had to resort to using the lantern for a while as the hedgerows tailed up toward the small copse and woodlands.

Miles ticked by as my body warmed with the effort of the walk and finally I was glad to be heading downhill and back towards the flat fields near our hovel. The long grass of the fallow land helped to strip the mud from my boots making steps easier as I made my way into the last half mile. My dogs had clearly enjoyed their walk, they were spattered with mud but still enthusiastic with their gait as they pushed towards the hedgerow bounding the field edge. A shape emerged silently above the hedge and sailed by me to slowly hover and patrol the field. I turned the lantern on for a moment to see the elegance of the barn owl, who seemed to be forgiving of our presence and more intent on the hunt. Within the edge of the lantern light and with a turn of the wings the owl held a space within the air for a moment before folding and dropping into the long grass. I have little doubt a field vole would have been taken and it would not be long before the owl would be on the hunt for more.

I turned off the lantern and finished my wander, the back step of the hovel was soon adorned with my muddy boots and the dogs were relaxing in the warmth. I too was grateful for the warmth and the chance to sit down, with my mind filled with an enriching experience I settled into a chair as one of the last of the commuters drove past on the narrow lane before the hovel. I suspect our journeys would have been very different.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Frozen Fields & Time

The silent energies of winter held the landscape in frozen form. Not even the gentlest wind stirred the hedgerows as I walked home across the fields and a stillness spread to the near by lanes and cloudless sky. Beyond the skeletal forms of the bare trees I could see the fading dusty yellow of the January sunset through a distant haze. I paused for a moment to take my place in the scene, balancing on the frozen tractor rutted ground. My mind travelled back to the days before the hard frost and I remembered watching the field voles foraging for nesting materials to make for warmer slumbers. Again my mind travelled and settled on this time within the last solar year, I remembered the ice and deep freeze. How the biting cold had frozen the water supply to my hovel on four occasions as the frost traveled deeply into the earth and turned the country lanes into a skating rink.

I pondered the moment and returned to the present as a single form fluttered above the landscape. The silhouette of a kestrel hovered over the hedgerow before me looking for the voles, his shuddering wings holding him still within the sky while the landscape fell beneath the sharpest gaze. The fields suited the little falcons and I have watched them thrive here. Hundreds of years ago the woodlands would have dominated and the hawk would have ruled the spaces between the trees where the falcon would have been unable to turn. I cast my eyes to the distant lights of the village and wondered how long the land will remain in this form. With oil and resources would come the expansion of settlements. As they diminish the sprawl of humans will become less of a threat as true sustainability and the need for food will be a forced issue.

As the light faded, my breath clouded the air before me and the kestrel moved on to new grounds I decided to head home. I moved from the field to the narrow lanes with the lights from the hovel growing steadily closer. If I could have looked into the future I would have seen a new scar appear on a familiar roadside tree. Within a few nights a van driver would become ill at the wheel of his vehicle and leave the road to smash into the tree within the ditch. That night a lady from the village and I would be the first to stop and help him and call the emergency services.

Time can seem to move slowly out here but life can change in an instant.

Friday, 13 January 2012

The Young Immortals

I often find myself driving down darkened rural roads, usually it is the crawl home after a day out working and more often than not it is a chore and not a delight. Earlier this week I left a clients office after sunset and began my homeward journey through the hills of the peak district. As I climbed one of the hills I looked over the dry stone wall to see the spectacular full moon flanked by the illuminated cloud. I have seen such a sight hundreds of times before but it never ceases to make me smile. Familiar miles began to roll by as I passed through the quieter lanes into the glaring lights of the towns marking the half way point of the journey and back onto the rural roads as I began the descent down towards the river valley.

For a while the traffic was light and I found myself chugging along with the tarmac and hedges lit up by both moonlight and headlights, for that short while driving was a pleasure and I could understand something of the obsession the modern person has for the motor car. Inevitably I was not alone for long, other headlights appeared in my rear mirror and soon I  had the familiar sight of a car tailgating me and weaving on the road as he looked for an opportunity to overtake. On a straight stretch he took his chance and in a rasping roar of an overworked and poorly maintained engine, a modified boy racer renault struggled by sporting the usual array of customised wheel arches, oversized bean tin exhaust, budget spoiler and blacked out rear windows. He was shortly followed by a motor cycle bearing the same traits as the car but with an even more impressive noise to poor power ratio!

I had to smile, I remember the freedom transport afforded me as a youth and the excitement. Even if it gave the impression of tastelessness and poor judgement. The vehicles headed off into the distance but it was not long before I had caught up with them behind a line of traffic. The young drivers were obviously toying with each other. They would overtake each other but not the traffic in front of them, repeatedly dropping into lower gears and over revving the engines, they used their vehicles to obstruct each other and their overtaking became more erratic. There was certainly a chance this was going to end badly. The motorcyclist finally threw caution to the wind and undertook the car. He squeezed through the narrow gap between the car and the kerb at nearly 60mph and appeared briefly in front of the car before slowing down too much and being overtaken again.

As we reached a roundabout I found myself in the left lane, clear of traffic I gently chugged past onto another road leaving the duelists to their journey. In my younger years I could remember the excitement of fooling around and the feeling that nothing bad would happen, or if it did someone would help. I have my own experiences of close calls together with moments of horror and realisation to draw on. I consider myself lucky to have survived them and learned from them.

I wonder if the young lads on that journey will have such a privilege or if they will have the life torn out of them on a darkened road by the forces of speed and the ferocity of the elements.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Searching in Circles

Certain moments in life can make you realise how things can turn in an instant and change from ordinary to disaster within a heart beat. On the 22 December I had one of those such moments:

We had been asked by a friend of a friend if we would consider rehoming their German Shepherd. We were a little reluctant at first due to having 3 dogs already (one of which is very old and in need of quite a bit of care) and also because money is tight. But after a discussion and meeting with them we realised he is a good dog and could well fit within our existing pack. It turned out the current owners had only owned him for a month having adopted him after his original owner from a housing estate area decided he didn't want him. As we stood in the middle of the farm with chickens strutting around we were told of how he seemed unable to leave the birds alone and how he just did not seem to bond with the farmer but he was quite attached to his wife who was a quieter soul. After watching his behaviour and taking heed of the situation we decided the dog was fine and just needed a more appropriate home where he could settle and where we would have more time to spend with him.

After picking him up on the 22 December we spent a little time walking him and socialising with our adopted Boarder Collie, who can be a little touchy with other dogs. As evening fell I took him for a walk on the lead to a local wood and he seemed to be settling. It was only as I returned home and tried to get him out of the back of the car that things went wrong. As I opened the boot he bolted, shot through my grasp and raced off into the night. It was the proverbial "oh sh!t" moment. I followed as quickly as I could but he had gone. I began search by foot and car while my good lady began making contact with the local police, dog wardens and the dog lost website.

Over the next few days we received only sketchy sightings and promises from dog walkers and local businesses of their willingness to keep an eye open for him. In three and a half days I went no further than 15 miles from our hovel but I covered more than 500 miles by car and on foot. Christmas day was spent searching the housing and industrial estates near his first owners home. It was as we returned home in the early hours of boxing day my mobile rang. A vets in Lincoln had had a dog brought in and after catching up on their Christmas e-mails and seeing the dog lost website realised there was a good chance he might be our new boy.

We leapt back into the car and headed round to them. It was him, he lay in a kennel with a broken leg and clearly confused but delighted to be getting some fuss from the vets and ourselves. He had been hit by a car in a near by village. The driver had not stopped and after crawling into a garden the home owner had found him and contacted the RSPCA. After reassuring the vets he would be looked after we returned home with him.

The following days brought about anger and frustration of the highest order, as we had only owned him for a few hours before he went missing and had not had the chance to sort out insurance we tried to get him treated with the PDSA and the Blue Cross. Both told us they were sorry but because we were out of their catchment area and not receiving housing benefits they were not willing to treat him. We had contributed to both these charities (especially the PDSA, who my good lady had made regular monthly donations for many years) and felt badly let down by them. No doubt the CEOs of the charities still enjoyed a good wage far in excess of our own, so we decided to cancel our contributions and refrain from assisting them in any way in the future. Our own vet managed to make contact with a well respected and reasonable vet surgeon who could carry out the surgery for us so we decided to drive him the hour and a half to the clinic and scratch together the payment rather than prolong his suffering any further.

He is now sleeping outside the bedroom door and is settling in. I am left reflecting on the people I have come into contact with over the festive season. The from the wonderful local businesses, individuals and the splendid down to the pen pushing established charities who claim to be there to support the animals and their owners in times of need.

I would like to say a special thank you to the people on twitter who have given us encouragement and spared a tweet or two to raise awareness (thank you Di, Jess, Winterette, Craig, Binnie, Pandora, Joanna, Jocelyn & KT).