The road not taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no steps had trodden black.
Oh I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Christmas past and Christmas present, what now lies ahead?

Christmas came and now its gone. All packed away for another year.

In many ways Christmas remains the same except gradual changes creep in year on year and my Christmas of 2022 is very different from the early ones I can remember in the 50s.

Nowadays we start preparing for Christmas in the New Year, at first just considering who will be at the dinner table, even who’s table it will be at.

It was simpler when we were young.

I can remember in Chesham, before we moved to Rhyl, Christmas was very traditional, Mum and Dad (Mummy and Daddy in those days) made sure we left our stockings at the end of the bed and in the morning they would be full of little surprises, a tangerine, nuts, sugar mice and chocolate coins.

When we were all dressed and after breakfast we would get around the Christmas tree and each present was handed to the named recipient.

There were presents “from Santa” and from Mummy and Daddy, Granddad, by that time only one was still alive and there were no grandmothers, then there were presents from aunties and uncles, including the honorary ones.

Obviously as children our presents included toys, but there were also more practical presents such as gloves, or scarves, socks and woolly hats.

Christmas dinner was turkey and all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding and we three children raising our glasses of cordial as Mummy and Daddy raised their wine glasses to toast us all a Merry Christmas.

After dinner we would play with new toys, or play ludo or tiddly winks before we sat down to watch television. Then later we had our afternoon tea with turkey sandwiches of course.

By the 1960s we were living in Rhyl and the morning routine remained the same but by then we went to the Drs Anderson (yes they were both doctors) along with other members of the group our parents mixed with for Christmas morning drinks.

In later years the young “set” would retreat to the kitchen area away from the adults in the front room, where we would drink cider and beer and any other forms of refreshment left around.

On Boxing Day the roles reversed and we hosted a drinks party, mainly for the same group but sometimes including visiting relatives and Granddad, of course, who now lived with us.

By the 70s my big brother was married and he and Jo, his wife, would alternate Christmas at our house and at Jo’s family home, soon to be followed by my sister getting married.

By 1972 it was changed again, I had moved down South and returned for Christmas but it was not quite as festive as previous ones as my grandfather had died at the beginning of the previous year.

The following year was my last proper family Christmas with my parents as by 1974 I was with the Sooty Show at the Mayfair Theatre with just a couple of days off for Christmas which gave me time to spend with a good friend in Basildon.

By 1977 my darling wife and I, with our girls, were living in Holyhead in a charming cottage on the mounntain, and gradually setting our own Christmas traditions. The girls were still young so we opened our presents around the tree before we got dressed for a late breakfast. There is great joy in seeing young children opening their presents with squeals of delight.

By 1980 (well 1979 in fact) things changed again as we were in Australia and to be honest in that heat sleep attire was not really suitable when you are taking pictures.

We still had our traditional Christmas Day but on Boxing Day we had our friends round for a proper Aussie barbie in the back yard.

We returned from Oz early in the 80s but the next few Christmases were mixed, especially one I spent alone in the Middle East, the second year out there it was just Marion, myself and our son David as the girls were staying with my brother and sister-in-law because they had reached an age at which local guys were showing too much interest in them

By 1988 we were settled in Prestatyn and Christmases returned to normal, even after we moved to Norfolk.

Sometimes our children were with us, sometimes not and as they grew older they had their own lives. Whenever they were with us for Christmas the traditions remained the same.

Even now Christmas at our house in the mornings involves presents after everyone has had breakfast and is dressed.

This Christmas, however, things were slightly different.

My daughter Sarah, and her husband Oliver, are making new traditions for our grandchildren and this year, while on holiday from the Middle East, they rented a house near the Thames and after opening our presents at home, my wife and I, along with our daughter Jacqueline and son David, went to their house to exchange presents and have the pleasure of seeing our grandchildren open their presents from us and us opening their gifts.

It was a wonderful Christmas morning and then the four of us returned home and had our Christmas dinner, with poussin instead of turkey but otherwise it was a traditional dinner with all the trimmings.

I wonder what Christmas will be like this year.

Horror that followed us from town to town

When I left Basildon at the end of summer 1974 I did not know if I would ever be back. My move from there, initially, to the other side of the country was to create a breathing space, not just for me but also for someone who had become close.

Initially my only contact would be at Harry Corbett’s home in Child Okeford where Lawrence, the stage manager, and I shared a caravan for the two weeks prior to the tour.

I gave that address to my parents, who were up in North Wales, and to the one other person who really mattered. There was no email or mobile phones in those days. You wrote down what you wanted to say, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and consign it to the Royal Mail.

During the fortnight at Harry’s place I received two letters from my parents, basically family news, and that was it.

In the second week Harry gave us a list of venues and dates for the next seven months which included theatre addresses and telephone numbers which were provided for emergency use only.

I copied the list out, twice, and sent one to North Wales and one to Basildon.

As it happened, about eight weeks into the tour we would be at the Basildon Arts Centre. I should have realised this would happen as it had been a regular visit by Harry for some years.

Once we began the tour we soon fell into a routine.

Sunday was arrival at the theatre and unloading whatever gear we needed, as I mentioned previously we carried enough equipment to dress a bare stage if necessary; getting the caravan as close as possible to the stage door and linking up the power; doing a technical runthrough so the local stage crew knew what was needed and when; then the evening was free to relax, read, go to the pub or whatever floated our boats.

A normal week would be a matinee performance Monday to Friday and then two or three shows on a Saturday, 10am, 2pm and 4 pm slots and then from 6.30pm we would strip out our gear and pack the van ready for the drive to the next venue.

One or two shows a day would appear to leave us free most mornings and evenings but life wasn’t that easy. After breakfast we had to check the sets and equipment and patch up any damage, take delivery of new puppets (which were checked out by Harry and if not up to his standard would be returned); set up the front of house merchandise stall, which I manned for an hour before the show, during the interval and for half an hour after the show ended.

There were all sorts of little jobs which needed doing, from making swazzles to preparing the mix for Sooty’s “cooking” during the kitchen scene and making sure the special effects were in order for the Haunted House and Water Garden sequences.

The tasks varied from day to day which meant we had no time to be bored.

In the evenings a lot depended on what was happening in the town.

If we were lucky the town might have a multi screen cinema couple of decent pubs and even another venue for entertainment than the own we were at. Sometimes there was even an evening production at the same theatre, a play or even a concert.

The worst case scenario would be a single screen cinema and two pubs.

It was surprising how often that happened and we did have a run of five or six weeks when the same film appeared to be following us around from one town to the next and it was not a film that appealed to either of us – it was called Deadly Weapons and starred the oddly-named Chesty Morgan.

Week after week we checked the cinema and found the above poster on display. We turned away each time and went to the pub or back to the caravan.

After six weeks we finally gave in and decided to watch it.

It proved to be the most expensive cinema ticket based on cost per minute because we were out of there within five minutes.

The plot – if you can call it that – involved the star (a Polish actress) seeking revenge on the mobsters responsible for the death of her boyfriend. She tracks them down, seduces them and smothers them with deadly weapons of the title (need I say more).

Even if the face of the “heroine” had been even vaguely as pretty as the girl in the poster we would probably have still walked out. I do not normally make disparaging comments about women but the woman in the film could have been the poster girl’s granny.

There are films of this kind from this era which still managed to provide a reasonable revenge plot with a more likely use of weapon for the execution of that revenge. This was not one of them.

It has taken me years to banish the images of those fleeting moments of film from my dreams.

It was fortunate that before going to Harry’s place I had taken many of my belongings to my parents’ home for temporary storage and at the same time had selected a good number of books. classics, thrillers and crime novels, to help while away any free time on the tour.

There was a highlight every week when Harry would treat us all to dinner at a good restaurant, no expense spared. I don’t care what they might say about Yorkshiremen being mean with their money, Harry was a generous man to his friends but did expect value for money.

Teddy Bear

by A A Milne

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at;
He gets what exercise he can
By falling off the ottoman,
But generally seems to lack
The energy to clamber back.

Now tubbiness is just the thing
Which gets a fellow wondering;
And Teddy worried lots about
The fact that he was rather stout.
He thought: "If only I were thin!
But how does anyone begin?"
He thought: "It really isn't fair
To grudge me exercise and air."

For many weeks he pressed in vain
His nose against the window pane,
And envied those who walked about
Reducing their unwanted stout.
None of the people he could see
"Is quite" (he said) "as fat as me!"
Then with a still more moving sigh,
"I mean" (he said) "as fat as I!"

Now Teddy, as was only right,
Slept in the ottoman at night,
And with him crowded in as well
More animals than I can tell;
Not only these, but books and things,
Such as a kind relation brings -
Old tales of "Once upon a time",
And history retold in rhyme.

One night it happened that he took
A peep at an old picture-book,
Wherein he came across by chance
The picture of a King of France
(A stoutish man) and, down below,
These words: "King Louis So and So,
Nicknamed 'The Handsome!'" There he sat,
And (think of it) the man was fat!

Our bear rejoiced like anything
To read about this famous King,
Nicknamed the "Handsome," Not a doubt
The man was definitely stout.
Why then, a bear (for all his tub)
Might yet be named "The Handsome Cub!"

"Might yet be named." Or did he mean
That years ago "he might have been"?
For now he smelt a slight misgiving:
Is Louis So and So still living?
Fashions in beauty have a way
Of altering from day to day
Is 'Handsome Louis' with us yet?
Unfortunately I forget."

Next morning (nose to window pane)
The doubt occurred to him again.
One question hammered in his head:
"Is he alive or is he dead?"
Thus, nose to pane, he pondered; but
The lattice window, loosely shut,
Swung open. With one startled "Oh!"
Our Teddy disappeared below.

There happened to be passing by
A plump man with a twinkling eye,
Who, seeing Teddy in the street,
Raised him politely on his feet,
And murmured kindly in his ear
Soft words of comfort and of cheer:
"Well, well." "Allow me!" "Not at all."
"Tut-tut!" A very nasty fall."

Our Teddy answered not a word;
It's doubtful if he even heard.
Our bear could only look and look:
The stout man in the picture-book!
That "handsome" King - could this be he,
This man of adiposity?
"Impossible," he thought. "But still,
No harm in asking. "Yes I will!"
 
"Are you," he said, "by any chance
His Majesty the King of France?"
The other answered, "I am that,"
Bowed stiffly and removed his hat;
Then said, "Excuse me," with an air
"But is it Mr Edward Bear?"
And Teddy, bending very low,
Replied politely, "Even so!"

They stood beneath the window there,
The King and Mr. Edward Bear, 
And, handsome, if a trifle fat,
Talked carelessly of this and that ...
Then said His Majesty, "Well, well,
I must get on," and rang the bell.
"Your bear, I think," he smiled. "Good-day!"
And turned, and turned and went upon his way. 

A bear, however hard he tries,
Grows tubby without exercise.
Our Teddy Bear is short and fat,
Which is not to be wondered at.
But do you think it worries him
To know that he is far from slim?
No, just the other way about -
He's proud of being short and stout.

Time to make my final stand as the hedge wars reach their Waterloo

It is time for the war to end.

It has gone on too long with casualties on both sides.

Now, however, we have reached the point where one side must achieve victory – that will be MY victory.

Yes, this year, 11 years after the struggle began, I am determined to have my Waterloo and, without the need for allies or any form of outside support, that damn hedge will finally be defeated.

It has taunted me, wounded me numerous times, pretended to surrender only to attack me when I was not looking and acted in the completely underhanded way you would never expect from what should simply be a delightful area of growth, a larder for birds and backdrop to our garden.

When we arrived down South, in February 2011, a year after the death of my dear mother, we were met by a neatly trimmed, normal privet-style hedge at the front of the property which then turned unto a prickly barrier as it turned the corner and headed down to the garage.

The front garden was fairly bland, with both sides covered in shingle with a tall acer to one side and a smaller, umbrella-type acer and a garden pond on the other. There were also a few plants in large decorative pots.

The back garden was much larger, with a greenhouse, garden shed, a plum tree, a cherry tree and a magnolia and flower borders and it was here the head gardener, Marion, decided to concentrate her activities and spent the next few years creating a beautiful floral garden combined with a fruit and vegetable area.

My job as under-gardener was to dig holes, cut off big branches and deal with the giant prickly hedge.

Clearly the previous owners of the house must have had a problem with it because they had erected a six-foot fence in between the hedge and the garden itself.

The hedge now looked onto a parking bay, with about an 18 inch strip of tarmaced footpath for people to get to their boots, if reversed in, or their engine compartments. They still tended to put their posteriors in jeopardy if they backed onto the thorns.

The first time I approached the hedge, with an intent to show it who was master, it stood about 10 to 12 feet high and was probably about three feet deep from outer edge to where it was pushing the fence.

Aided by a pair of secateurs and a pair of branch loppers, with extending handles, I got it down to about eight to nine feet high, still at three feet deep but I had got rid of the most vicious of the thorny twigs that had been poking out at every level from ankle, to arm, to well over my head.

I had worn jeans, thick socks, a thick cotton shirt, my father’s old Canadian heavy woollen jacket and a pair of leather-palmed gardening gloves before taking on my prickly opponent.

When I undressed that night my arms and legs had scratches all over them, as did areas of my torso, and I probably had about 30 thorns snapped off on my fingers and the back of my hands.

It took a week for the scratches to heal and another week or two for the thorns to work their way out.

Within a few weeks it had sections going back up to 10 feet and the front, in parts, was a good four feet deep and threatening to attack any cars that came near it.

That summer I made a frontal assault on my enemy at least three more times and concentrated on the upward thrust just the once.

I swear it still kept growing throughout the winter and the thorns grew longer and stronger. There are probably tribes in the depths of some jungle who would have snapped up those thorns to use in their blowpipes when they went hunting.

As the war spread into its second year and beyond I had to keep the front hedge in trim as well and eventually a small electric hand trimmer was added to the armoury which worked fine on this softer, gentler hedgerow, although I still had to take the secateurs to the odd thicker branch shooting up from the middle.

My thorny foe was more than a match for a set of cordless hand strimmers, leaving me to plough on year after year with the branch loppers and increasingly stronger pairs of secateurs. In more recent years I have even had to use a small hand saw and last year even had to use a single-handed bow saw.

Last year it definitely got the best of me and entered 2023 with some parts reaching up 12 feet and a depth of over four feet, not all pushing outwards as it also pushed hard on the fence behind it.

This year it has to be do or die because if I don’t defeat it then in 2024 it will be the equivalent of Russia advancing into the Ukraine and will require high-powered ground level missiles to wipe it out of existence.

Yes, this year it’s me or the hedge.

At long last I found ‘Uncle Howard’

Have you ever had that niggling little memory which has lost a piece of itself in that labyrinth we call the mind? It’s only a tiny bit missing but it makes all the difference to what you are trying to remember.

I retrieved one of those bits tyesterday and I had been hunting for it for years.

It belongs to the story of my tour round England with Sooty, Sweep, Harry Corbett and various other people and puppets.

Considering the tour was just over seven months, less than one per cent of my life, I do seem to have lingered rather a long time over it and in the next few days I will have to draw that part of my story to a close, but not today.

My last mention of the tour described how we had become like a family in the fortnight at Harry’s place in Dorset. We all had our parts to play and our backstage roles as well as front of house.

The only member of the group not initially forming part of the family was the guest artist, Howard the escapologist. He did not join us until the day we booked in at the first theatre (and no, I still can’t remember where it was).

Other than his act, which he had obviously rehearsed (as he was an escapologist one would hope he had rehearsed everything), he was required for the UV sequence to ensure the appearance of the genie – a football painted in UV paint with a menacing stare, set on a cane frame draped in fluorescent material.

Fortunately he was quick on the uptake and after an hour before lunch he had the routine off to a T and at the first performance that day he managed to move the genie around the stage without bumping into Lawrence and myself who were each operating two giant butterflies.

As I have mentioned previously I remembered his name was Howard, which as it happens is also the name of one of my nephews but he appeared on the scene later, and that he was an escapologist. In my mind I could picture him but for the life of me I could not remember his name – until today.

So, ladies and gentlemen and all my other readers, let me introduce you to:

HOWARD PETERS ESCAPOLOGIST!

Howard is the gentlemen seated between two Butlins Redcoats at the Bognor holiday camp early in 1974. He was the resident compere known as Uncle Howard.

He is also the man seen hanging upside down from a crane in the middle of Nottingham, could be in the 60s or 70s.

There we go, I finally found that missing piece which helped me find Uncle Howard.

We’ll round off the tour soon and look at my next steps outside the cosy world of journalism.

How strong are your resolutions as we face a Brave New Year?

A New Year lies before us and this is normally a time to make resolutions, hollow promises of what we will do in the year ahead.

We announce our intention to lose weight; to stop smoking; to drink less; to be kind to others; to refrain from licentious behaviour; not to abuse others on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever floats your social media boat.

I make no rash claims to be and do better in 2023 than I did in 2022.

Come to think of it I couldn’t do much worse on this blog than I did last year as things got on top of me and I have not blogged for the past six months. I apologise to readers and can only say I will try to do better, the operative word being try, after all I am heading rapidly to my 74th year.

I intend to return to the tale of my sabbatical from journalism, we were still in the early days of my tour with that well-known magician Sooty, and his sidekick, Sweep.

I will also hopefully entertain you with some of my favourite poems.

Books I have read will almost certainly be on the agenda, whether they are brand-new, something I read in my childhood or anything in between.

The spotlight will also fall on my love of theatre, amateur and professional, classical and modern, music and dance and even down to my grandchildren appearing in a school play (with my daughter Sarah’s permission of course).

Politics and my own personal view of what is going on in the world in general and the UK in particular will also feature. Reading is not compulsory but you never know you might find it amusing.

Finally I will be writing about family history, starting at the very beginning and offering hints and tips as well as information on records which could prove useful.

I am not claiming to be an expert genealogist but Marion an I have been carrying out our own research into the Duke and Pierce families and their branches for the last 45 years. I also created and edited a family history magazine for people with origins in Norfolk which had subscribers worldwide, so do have some knowledge of the subject.

Let me just say, welcome to 2023.

Poetry or song? It’s just words

The other day I gave you the lyrics of a Bob Dylan song from 57 years ago and suggested that lyrics are basically poetry without words.

Then again some of the finest lyricists in the world are really poets first who then have their poetry put to music.

This does not mean all poems could be put to music.

The best poets create their works to be listened to and the poem and its rhythm are music in their own way.

In the same way there are songs which thousands, even millions, love – but if you took away the music what remains is an alphabetti spaghetti thrown at the wall to see if it is cooked.

What I do find interesting is that the wonderful poet (and Covid survivor) Michael Rosen has presented his own version of Desolation Row with a weekend blog piece called:

Dissolution Street

by Michael Rosen

b. 1946
The King is in the counting house, eating bread and money, 
He thinks if he talks like Julius Caesar, we'll think he is funny. Plato has found a way to play chess, using tanks and guns 
'Who cares?' says Henry Ford, 'we'll make ten thousand suns.' 
John and Yoko close the curtains and get beneath the sheets 
They can hear the bombs outside, falling on Dissolution Street.
 
The banker says to the poor man, 'You're helping keep things great.' Louis Braille's lost his sight and says people keep giving him bad looks. 
They say they know how to handle him. They take away his books. 
King Midas tells the multitude there's always plenty to eat 
The queue at the food bank stretches down Dissolution Street 

They found that the judge was lying, so the judge changed all the rules 
They found gold beneath the playgrounds, so they sold off all the schools 
Doctor Death went to hospital, where he met up with Dr Who 
Doctor Death said he was out of cash, so he sold the hospital too. 
The Sheriff of Nottingham was saying that it was honest to cheat 
As he strung up Robin Hood on Dissolution Street. 

The doctor's telling me the good news, my foot won't be falling off
The nurse is telling me I've got no lungs so I don't need to cough.
Another nurse is telling me, 'Move!', cos I often fall out of bed. 
The doctor's telling me more good news, he says I'm not brain dead.
The diary's open on yesterday but I don't know who I'll meet 
They say I'm deconditioned, now I'm on Dissolution Street. 

The Queen says how it's awful people resent her fur coats. 
The real problem she says is people arriving in small boats 
They will eat every one of you, she says to you and me 
The safest thing for all of us, is if we push 'em into the sea 
One or two can come ashore and as some kind of treat 
They can become nurses or clean the floors on Dissolution Street 

From the other end of the corridor, I hear a woman scream 
I lean out of bed and ask the nurse, 'Can I stay in my dream?' 
He says, 'You're dead anyway, so you're missing the bad weather. 
This is the last place on the earth where we're all working together.'
They bring in the last machine they have, I could see my heart beat 
I might be dead now, I think, but we can leave Dissolution Street.   

NB: on reading it again (and again) I realise that Michael Rosen makes sense of the current position, far more than Bob Dylan did in 1965.

Desolation Row

by Bob Dylan

b. 1941
They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tightrope walker, the other is in his pants
And the riot squad they're restless, they need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy,  "It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he's moaning. "You Belong to Me I Believe"
And someone says, "You're in the wrong place, my friend, you'd better leave"
And the only sound that's left after the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up on Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden, the stars are beginning to hide
The fortune telling lady has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel and the hunchback from Notre Dame

Everybody is making love or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he is dressing, he's getting ready for the show
He's going to the carnival tonight on Desolation Row

Ophelia, she's 'neath the window for her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday she already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic she wears an iron vest
Her profession's her religion, her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon Noah's great rainbow
She spends her time peeking into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk
Now he looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette
And he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet
You would not think to look at him, but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on Desolation Row

Dr Filth, he keeps his world inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients, they're trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser, she's in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read, "Have Mercy on His Soul"
They all play on the penny whistles, you can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough from Desolation Row

Across the street they've nailed the curtains, they're getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera in a perfect image of a priest
They are spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured
Then they'll kill him with self-confidence after poisoning him with words
And the Phantom's shouting to skinny girls, "Get outta here if you don't know
Casanova is just being punished for going to Desolation Row"

At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone that knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders and then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles by insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping to Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero's Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
Everybody's shouting, "Which side are you on?!"
And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain's tower
While calypso singers laugh at them and and fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday, about the time the doorknob broke
When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke
All these people that you mention, yes, I know them, they're quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces and give them all another name
Right now, I can't read too good, don't send me no more letters no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

The prodigal’s return after playing ‘poo sticks’ with a new prickly pal

Gone (for a while) but hopefully not forgotten.

Unlike the Prodigal Son I have not frittered away my time or money, I have just been taking a break from cerebral activity and spending more time on manual work in the garden.

I’ve also been making friends with a rather prickly chap who began to make his presence known in the garden in April.

To begin at the beginning.

Despite two years of the Covid crisis, and the total mismanagement of the whole thing by an incompetent government, our little household had come out the other side in reasonably good nick.

The problem is whether we HAD really come out the other side or was Covid just lurking in the background waiting to strike again when we (or rather the government) let our defences down.

Luckily for Johnson the Tsarist Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

That certainly took our mind off Covid and Partygate and Durhamgate and all the other gates opening and closing around the Palace of Westminster.

My Muse has listened to me vehemently spouting my feelings at the TV news, or news feeds on my phone or just at the world in general and expressed surprise that I hadn’t written to the Guardian or the Telegraph or Mirror expressing my anger and signing off as Frustrated of Farnborough.

As it happens I have vented my frustrations in the direction of newspaper editors but nowadays you don’t really know which newspaper belongs to which group and if the letter comes in from a Mirror website it could easily get diverted to another website of Reach plc, which owns not only the Mirror, but also North Wales Live, which includes many of the newspapers I have worked for in the last 50+ years.

Nowadays a complaint just goes round and round in ever decreasing circles until it disappears up the fundamental orifice of the daemon who has a red hot finger on the button.

That is why, rather than blow my top, I turned my attention to the wildlife in our garden.

Along with all the other residents and visitors, ranging from sparrows, robins, tits, pigeons, finches, frogs, newts and the occasional fox passing through looking for a friendly vixen, or one of the latter sitting in our front garden letting the world know she was looking for Fabulous Mr Fox, we encountered a new member of the menagerie leaving his calling card.

The calling card in question was left near the back door and was black, about an inch and a half to two inches long and the thickness of a pencil. I have no idea if it had any particular smell as, unlike many of the wildlife experts, I wasn’t going to let my nose get that close.

We ruled out fox, because we know the size of their output.

At the end of the day it could really only be one thing – hedgehog.

We had no problems with a hedgehog either living in the garden or passing through on his way to a nice nocturnal nosh – not even if he was looking for a Miss Tiggywinkle with plans for a bit of moonlight mischief.

In fact we would be quite happy if he made his home in our patch.

Last year we thought there was a hedgehog around and we even bought some proper hedgehog nibbles to feed it along with a dish of water.

Unfortunately, although we left the food and drink out each night for over a week, there was no return.

It did mean, however, that we had appropriate food in case this time our visitor decided to use our garde as a regular trail.

I put the dishes of nibbles and water out at dusk and next morning they were empty.

This went on for a few nights and, despite the emptying of the dishes, there were no more bits of poo left around the back door (more about that later).

I still couldn’t be absolutely certain it was a hedgehog eating the delightful delicacies I left out – it could have been a large family of field mice, or even their bigger ‘bad’ cousins who tend to enjoy a jolly tune from a pied piper.

Determined to satisfy my curiosity, and not wanting to go to the expense of an outdoor camera, I put a fine dusting of flour around the feed dishes to see if I could recognise the footprints.

The following morning there were very clear prints in the flour by the dishes which were quite clearly those of a hedgehog, you could even see the tiny pads and the pinprick claw marks.

In the flour further away from the dishes there were signs of disturbance but no clear prints to show where he had come from or where he had gone.

Since then we have found our nocturnal friend likes the hedgehog nibbles, suet pellets I use for feeding the birds, and even a bit of banana now and again.

There are mornings when the food remains in the bowl, sometimes even two or three nights in a row, but our prickly pal always comes back.

I have continued to lay the odd flour ‘trap’ close to the feeding station to get an idea of direction of travel and have discovered Harry (as we have named him) sometimes goes from back garden to front via a gap under the gate, and at others does a turn around the garden either before or after partaking of his supper.

We have also found another indication of his nightly trail and this is where ‘poo sticks’ comes into it. Note that is ‘poo’ with a lower case p and no h.

Yes, I am talking about his excrement.

First we noticed it on a paved area alongside a gravel path near the greenhouse. Just a couple of droppings and not every night. It did seem that he wandered away from his dining area before disposing of any waste. A very hygienic hedgehog.

A few weeks later My Muse was heading for the greenhouse when she spotted a black splat of something on the step. If it was Harry’s it did look as though his digestion had been upset. Whatever it was it certainly had not upset his appetite as the next few nights he tucked in as usual.

The odd bits of hedgehog poo turn up every now and again and, despite the odd nights he does not turn up, even though his table is always reserved, he always turns up again.

Although hedgehogs are supposed to roam across a wide area they have to make a home somewhere and come the autumn we will be making sure there are places, and material for bedding, where he can tuck himself away out of the cold if he wants to.

I must admit, concentrating on the garden and its wild occupants seems to have busted that block which seemed to be inhibiting my writing.

After my very long break I had intended to put up a new post at the beginning of the second half of the year, which initially I believed, as so many probably do, would be July the first.

Then I did my maths and realised that the year is 365 days long but July the first is the 182nd day and half way would be 182 and a half days. This would takes us to mid-day on July the third, which is today.

I may be an hour or so out but this is close enough.0%