This is the second in the series of blog entries that we’re not doing this year. The idea was to spend ‘blog’ time editing and adding to the material we already have to go into the second book. Alas I’ve found it difficult to get going so the plan now is to sneak up on my procrastination and surprise it by suddenly having a completed chapter or two by stealth.
As I transferred this entry from my notebook and sundry scraps of paper onto the laptop I became aware that I have left out a significant event from the last few days, the sad and untimely death of a good and longstanding friend. By doing so I mean no disrespect but his friendship to me, to us, deserves more than a passing mention in a flippant blog and this is not the time or place to honour his memory. That will be for another time.
We’ve just had a couple of days off and they reminded us of the joys and frustrations of living here. We explored Uisken, a remote cluster of houses set around a sandy cove with rocky islands to explore when the tide is out. We arrived in sunshine, admired the views over to the Isle of Jura, wandered across the sand, breathed in the salty air and while at the furthest point from the car had a good nose around the largest of the islands; where we got caught in a hailstorm.
Bedraggled and gently steaming we headed back to the car, set off towards home and got caught behind a Ford Pootle – which is a generic term we’ve adopted for any car that drives along at the exact speed to prevent safe overtaking, too slow for comfort and that doesn’t pull over in any of the amply provided passing spaces. Pootle drivers are the antithesis of Audi drivers. They are usually piloted by people who are completely oblivious of everyone and everything else around them. They seem to be interested only in swerving all over the road while scanning the countryside for anything they can’t see in their native suburbia, like cows, sheep or the inside of a loch as they plunge in after spotting a crow.
There is of course far more interesting wildlife on Mull than crows. So far this season we have seen white tailed eagles, golden eagles, buzzards, herds of female red deer with fawns so young they still have their dappled coats and lone stags with impressive antlers, new born and gambolling lambs and cows with calves tottering on spindly legs. In an effort to spot the most elusive, to us anyway, of Mull’s rare breeds we tried otter spotting from a hide. Spoiler alert- we didn’t see any. What we did encounter was Gerald and Margery, ancient bird spotters. Actually I made up their names as I couldn’t bring myself to communicate with them.
It had all started well; we were ensconced in our little hide with another couple, who took their leave after successfully identifying the Spanish frigate F101 as she sailed down the Sound of Mull. After a few moments of precious silence during which otters were mustering in their hundreds ready to entertain us with a display of synchronised frolicking, the door flew open and in rustled Gerald and Margery, or rather Gerald and a tripod with some sort of scope. Margery eventually wrestled her tripod through the door which she then closed with a clunk that echoed off the mountains. I suspect that they arrived in a Ford Pootle or its close relative the Vauxhall Dawdle.
After exchanging a knowing look with Alison involving much theatrical raising of eyebrows and rolling of eyes I settled back to our vigil. Gerald now started assembling his tripod while his waterproof outfit squeaked an accompaniment to his every move. As if this wasn’t nerve jangling enough he breathed extravagantly through his mouth the whole time with an uneven phlegmy rattle. Just as he completed assembling his super-duper-extreme –deluxe-scope on the tripod and settled his left eye to the viewer Margery opened the window in front of her in a series of creaks, bangs and scrapes which brought to mind a localised earthquake.
“See the… (gasp for breath)…Great Northern Diver…(wheeze)…over here… (gasp…splutter)… Margery… (rustle rustle, cough)… at about 11:00 O’clock … (gasp, pant) …from the third buoy…(wheeze).”
Margery seemed less than impressed and grunted a non-committal “umm” that managed to communicate in one single syllable a whole lifetime of repressed frustration living with Mr Wheezy Excitement. Of course that’s pure conjecture, I suspect they are adorable people and very much in love but I was a trifle frustrated at not seeing anything more exciting than oyster catchers from our snug hideaway.
The oyster catcher is the one bird I have a soft spot for. This comical black and white creature with its long orange beak has us both entranced. Let’s start with its name…’oyster catcher’ sounds like it stalks oysters across the ocean floor in a stealthy battle between hunter and prey. But oysters aren’t known for doing much at all and are certainly not fleet of foot; they’re just a stone with a soft centre. Basically, catching them requires little more than dipping into the water at a likely spot.
In fact the oyster catcher seldom catches oysters anyway but scours the shoreline for cockles and mussels or for worms when it’s off visiting friends away from the coast. But, and here’s the thing, they are just so comical to watch while doing it. They have an animated expression that makes them endearingly like a Loony Tunes cartoon character. They waddle along with a clumsy gait, chirp away with their over-long orange bills and occasionally stab at the kelp on the shoreline, although I have never witnessed one catch anything. We’ve watched them for ages and probably missed white tailed eagles carry otters off to their nests as we do. I’m not sure if they form part of the dawn chorus, but if they do they’ll be the ones put into the back row and told not to let everyone else down by fidgeting, picking their nose or pretending to be an aeroplane.
Speaking of the dawn chorus, it starts nice and early around here and may be part of the reason I was feeling a little irritable with Gerald and Margery. It began around 4.30 this morning when a goose let forth a solo honk. Even the most dedicated ornithologist cannot really call the sound of a goose attractive. At best it sounds like a clown blowing his nose, at worst, at 4:30am for example, like a clown blowing his nose on a handkerchief stained with fresh blood while holding a dripping machete in his other hand. Other birds soon joined in with more delicate but no more welcome calls. After 10 minutes or so I joined in with a quilt rippling fart, turned over and went back to sleep, or maybe passed out, but either way 20 seconds later I was jolted awake by that bloody goose again.
The geese will soon be off to wherever geese choose to spend the summer, Jupiter maybe, and we will get used to the cacophony of tweets and chirps that greet the day and sleep through them. Generally I like birds in the same way I like sunshine and flowers. They are very pleasant and the world would be worse off without them but with the exception of watching oyster catchers make fools of themselves I don’t feel the need to study them, watch them or take more than a passing interest. I leave that to the serious looking folk like Gerald and Margery with their tidy notebooks and matching waterproof clothes.
Back at work this morning the weather is…well improving would be an accurate description. A grey mist was draped over the landscape, sucking out the colour and flattening the view until everything was shadows, echoes of the mountains and trees that we know so well.
Now, after the rain, the colours are back, vivid green fields with ribbons of brown tracing decaying stone walls and across the shimmering bay trees of radiant green poke out from their muted brown neighbours. Whole hillsides have sprung to life, seemingly overnight, with fresh grass competing with the unfurling bracken for the watery sunlight. The scent of wild garlic mixed with the sweet woody aroma of gorse drifts towards me. It’s at moments like this that our lifestyle makes perfect sense…I’m lost in a daydream, letting the day wash over me. In the back of my mind I hear tyres crunching over the car park and turn to watch a tidy little car meticulously reverse into the exact centre of a parking space, pull forward, repeat the manoeuvre until it is resting in precisely the same spot as it was on its first attempt and I breathe in the silence as the engine stops.
After a couple of minutes the doors open, slowly there’s a faint rustling on the breeze, a familiar wheezing and Gerald and Margery slowly unfurl from their Pootle. It may be a long afternoon…