One thing you cannot deny about living in a little town in the English countryside, is the invaluable opportunity to be exposed to the worlds of Thomas Hardy, Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen (amongst others) and their gardens of hedgehogs, robins, honeysuckles and stone cottages. Before moving to Dorset, never in my life had I experienced the true wonder that is known as the Dawn Chorus. (And I don’t refer to the woman who auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent 5 years ago, that lives down the road).
You find yourself setting your alarm clock to simply catch this sound splendour that is created by local Robins and Sandpipers, Redshanks and Finches and Gulls. You could stand for hours, looking out of your bedroom window, listening to the sounds of a new day completely consume you of your evening’s rest.
I remember, on one particular occasion, volunteering to taxi my Englishman and his friends to and from the local pub. It was a warm summer’s evening and I was thoroughly excited to be driving my new little VW Beetle convertible that I’d just purchased. My cuckoo clock had just chimed 2 o’clock (am) and I hopped into the Beetle and zoomed through the country lanes, roof down, to pick up the partying lot. Even then, at that time of night, the birdsong guided my drive. Even at that time of night, these feathered friends had something joyful to sing about. Even at that time of night – the evening skies shook with their twitters and chirps.
Much was the same fascination the moment I saw my first badger. A real, living, breathing racing-striped badger. The animals I’d come to know in the pages of Kenneth Grahame, where a toad lived in a hall and a mild-mannered mole decides to leave his spring-cleaning habits and explore the riverbank. Little stocky characters they are, and speedy too. We’d seen a glimpse of a badger running along a country lane one evening, in the light beam of my car, busily looking for evening nibbles and snacks. You can understand my excitement at the opportunity to watch them scurrying about at a local farm that had set up a badger hide. A controversial idea, given the recent flurry surrounding culls and bovine TB in the area, and one that was, no doubt, frowned upon by some local farmers. But a gift of an opportunity to experience a precious insight into a creature that I’d only had the opportunity to imagine, before then.
Dorset is a beautiful place to live and to visit. As I let the Spaniel out for her evening constitutionals before bedtime, last night, I stood in our garden, as the stars flickered brightly in the black sky overhead, and the frost started icing the grass, closed my eyes, and listened. An owl, a seagull, and even a faraway fox. All going about their normal lives and completely unaware of this foreign voyeur.