Friday, 9 March 2012

March madness

It is not the hare alone that suffers from madness in March. It is at this time of the year that Marcia begins to come towards the end of the book she is writing. She will be somewhere between sixty and seventy thousand words when this particular form of madness kicks in. It is, I suppose, a neurosis if one becomes extremely neurotic. It is all to do with the book, as you would expect.

The problems are threefold and can be summarised thus:-

Marcia is terrified that she will forget all that she is carrying in her head: all the little loose ends that need to be tied up before the book reaches its natural conclusion. The fact that she has a note book in which reminders are written when thoughts occur is not enough to quell these fears. As she rightly explains, if the notes were fully developed you would end up writing each book twice. There is no point in my reminding her that she has happily finished twenty-six books already so her fears are unjustified. She is, as she points out, a year older than last time and therefore must be approaching unqualified senility.

The second problem is technical. We have both had enough computers die to know that this is a real possibility and she has never forgotten the time, five books back now, when she dropped her laptop on the slate floor of our kitchen. That was that. The work she had done that morning was lost (we copy the book each evening but not during the day) and she remains convinced that what she lost was far better than what was eventually written. I say eventually because the model of laptop she had been using was no longer available so we had to buy something different. Poor Marcia, it could not have happened at a worse time. She was already in the neurotic zone and trying to finish that book with a new bit of kit proved extremely stressful.

Then there are the fears associated with fire and burglary. I used to carry a copy on a memory stick when we were out but that opened up other terrors. Suppose I lost it? Suppose someone got hold of it and stole the plots and the characters? So I stopped doing that. Before we leave the house, Marcia hides her laptop (sorry, not going to tell you where) and the book is copied onto my PC and at least one – usually two – memory sticks which are held in separate locations. Of course, if someone where to break in, steal my PC and then set light to the house . . . The answer to that came from Marcia's agent, Dinah Wiener: leave a memory stick in the fridge where it stands a good chance of surviving a fire. So we do.

Fortunately this period of March madness is usually very short lived. The first fear drives Marcia so once she is in this danger zone she works incredibly hard – it is not unknown for her to write five thousand words in one day. So, after a week or ten days the final words are written and life returns to normal. Normal, that is, for a household in which lives a novelist and a man who writes blogs and articles on the political scene in the UK.

* * * * *

Long-tailed tits are amongst our prettiest visitors. They live in flocks of anything from four to fifty. They live on insects and each flock seems to have a feeding route that they will work around twice or even three times every day. We are very lucky to be on one flock's feeding route which includes the small wood that adjoins our garden and takes them along the hedges of two fields before coming back to us. Being one of our smallest birds, they are terribly susceptible to the cold and it is thought that over 80% can die in a really bad winter.

According to most authorities they are strictly insectivorous and so cannot benefit from the food that is put out in bird feeders and on bird tables. That is not our experience. Twice a day they pop in and eat from both the peanut feeders and the fat balls. Incidentally, you can buy fat balls in green plastic nets which is a pity as not infrequently birds get their feet tangled in these nets when there is little food left inside. That is usually the end as they are either taken by a predator or die of a combination of hunger and cold. As you can see, you can buy feeders that take fat balls which are not in nets. The same problem can happen if you hang up nets containing peanuts.
Two long-tailed tits on a fat ball tower

Anyway, a few days ago one long-tailed tit started to behave in a way I have never seen before. It would swoop at the kitchen windows time after time. For a while we thought this one had 'lost' the flock but he (she?) would carry on swooping even when the flock called for a quick snack so it can't have been that. Was he (she?) seeing a reflection and assuming it to be either a potential mate or a rival? Has this bird discovered a new way of feeding? It does look remarkably like the way the pied wagtail behaves when feeding. We shall probably never know.
Every now and then he (she?) would take a short rest.
*     *     *     *     *
Time to reveal the truth behind the mystery photograph. No one got it quite right although some of you were close. All of you opted for food but actually it was a bucket of mineral and vitamin lick such as the one shown below. The green circle in the middle was where the bucket had been standing. Almost every farm animal was suggested: pigs, cattle and sheep as well as one donkey and some chicken. It was, in fact, the feet of sheep that had caused the muddy ring. It rarely looks as bad as this but over the six days they were in that field it absolutely poured down and so it soon became a quagmire. It has dried out now but it will be a while before the grass starts growing again. 


Not a great deal to report. Most of the eggs have now hatched and turned into tiny tadpoles. Most of them are still spending the day resting on the bottom but some are beginning to feed. At this stage they seem to be quite happy browsing on the algae on the leaves of water plants so I make sure that they have some fresh vegetation (I so nearly said vegetables) every day.

On Sunday they will have to be moved into fresh water – taken from the pond with some weed. Last year was the first time I realised the importance of constantly changing the water and I think this is probably the main reason why it worked so well then.
We are growing, nearly a quarter of an inch long now.