Monday, 26 August 2013

Mickey Mouse Politics + Badger = Apache

The badger cage has been picked up from the local blacksmith and put into place at the sett and the Coopers have spent the last two nights baiting it, trying to get the badgers into it. When I saw them earlier this morning, they told me they’ve had their successes and that this sett of badgers have been really partial to a few peanuts. The Coopers are going at it with such gusto and enthusiasm ever since they had learnt from the Telegraph that the badger cull was going to commence on August bank holiday Monday. A lousy bank holiday for the Badgers, whatever the weather. The Coopers were not going to be happy until they could get all eight badgers into the badger trap on a nightly exercise, so that if the worst came to the worst and DEFRA snipers or any other badger harmer came near the sett, we had our contacts and the badgers could be air lifted to safety within fifteen minutes of a phone call. However, to do this you had to get the badgers into the trap, which we rehearsed three weeks ago, along with a BBQ in our garden.
The guest list for this BBQ was the Coopers, a friend who is a RAF parachute tester and his friends – including a helicopter pilot - and two people who the Coopers wanted to bring along. Grid references and helicopter logistics were discussed and clarified with the two professionals but the conversation soon got round to the Cooper’s son, Michael, and what high regard everyone held him in; this included the parachute tester who had come into contact with him in the past on various assignments. The hole that was left at his passing in combat was unfillable and touched a great many people, due to his incredible work when he was alive. From the little I could glean, the pilot and my parachuting friend owed Michael a great deal and that Mozart’s Magic Flute was one small way in which the pair could pay their respects to Michael and his parents. What struck me as really quite amusing was that whenever they mentioned Michael, they always called him Badger, this is the same nickname he acquired when he was about 5 years old, as an endearment from his mother. Mozart’s Magic Flute was also discussed and the conclusion was eventually reached that we needed at least one dummy run, just to be on the safe side of safe, so if the worst did come to the worst, they actually stood a chance of pulling it off. If the airlift did take place, the destination for the eight badgers was to be Hereford, where we were all of the same mind that, once in Hereford, they would be under the top security of the like that was given to Presidents and Prime Ministers.
This bank holiday weekend, I found myself having to work the whole three days, the to-do list has definitely got smaller but it has left me a bit short of time on the badger project. Last night I was on my way to the Coopers and unbeknown to them, I had made the all-important phone call. The phone rang three times, then it was answered.
“25th August 2013, 24:00 hours, Operation Mozart’s Magic Flute.”
“Out.” Was the reply.
I arrived at Beechwyn at 21:30, the Cooper’s disability buggie was pulled in between the beech trees out of sight, I walked up past it through the trees and just stopped short of the big rocks that surrounded the sett and watched, the Coopers hadn’t heard me coming. There they were, crouched down twenty metres from the cage and they seemed to be having a good giggle amongst themselves and, as I watched, it really did bring a smile to my face because they were really in their seventh heaven. This was the place they used to bring their son Michael to watch the badgers, but that was all a long time ago. As I watched them, my eyes averted to the tree just behind them where there was lightly dished trunk, forming a hollow at the base, and there I could see a few tins, some bottles of water and two or three tupperwear containers - they had brought provisions and they were in it for the long haul. I walked slowly and quietly towards them, they turned, didn’t flinch and instead gesticulated and mouthed ‘look!’ to me as I made my way towards them further. As my gaze followed the pointing fingers, I saw that there were six badgers inside the cage and that the old man badger was up five metres in front of the cage; if you didn’t know any better you’d swear he was standing stag (that’s country slang in this neck of the woods for ‘look out’). “Two more and then you’ve got a full house!” they both laughed. The badgers in the cage were brevetting about after what the Coopers laid in for them. “Haven’t we done well!” said Mrs Cooper,
“Unbelievably well,” I replied. Mr Cooper chuckled and he continued to do so as he turned to the hollow tree and withdrew the captain Scott stove. “Let’s have a brew!” he said,
“That’s the best thing I have heard all evening,” said Mrs Cooper. He poured the water from the bottle into a little kettle whilst Mrs Cooper pumped the stove. She then put a match to it and Mr Cooper rested his kettle on the bright blue flame. “You’ve got some supplies in then,” I said, the Coopers both nodded at this, “you don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said. Soon the kettle was whistling, a couple of the badgers pricked their ears at this and darted back into the sett, this didn’t seem to deter the Coopers at all on seeing this, they simply said “they’ll soon be back, they like peanuts too much!” As we drank our tea, the Coopers said how disappointed they were in the government, in a week which has seen the Prime Minister on holiday down on a Cornish beach, wrapped in a Mickey Mouse towel, parents and children gassed in their hundreds in Syria, twenty five percent of British youth from the age of 18-25 have still got little prospect of getting meaningful employment and the best this government can do is wage war on one of Britain’s most noble animals.
After an hour or so’s conversation about old times, these times and times to come, I looked at my watch. It was 23:30. ‘Time to light up the badger beacon,’ I thought. I got up from the Coopers. ‘What are you doing?’ They asked.
‘I’m lighting up the badger beacon!’
‘What for?’ They asked, ‘we’ll be going soon.’
‘Now that the badger cull has started, we’ve got to make sure all the plans that we have put into place work.’ I didn’t want to tell the Coopers about what was going to unfold as I myself was unsure, I didn’t want to build their hopes up and make myself look stupid. But they wouldn’t stop, they kept on quizzing me about the lighting of the badger beacon. I reluctantly explained to them that I had made the phone call to Michael’s old comrades. What was sticking in my craw was that, if they didn’t show, I didn’t want the Coopers thinking that it was in anyway a slight on Michael or them. It was a nervous wait, the time ticked closer to 24:00 hours.
The badger beacon on the North boundary of Beechwyn was flaming brightly. ‘They’d have to see that,’ I thought. Three minutes to midnight and no sign. The Coopers faces that had been so bright and jolly five minutes earlier were now solemn and slightly distraught. You could see that their confidence was ebbing away.

Two minutes to midnight, still no sign.

The Coopers knew as well as I did that the people we were dealing with knew more about time-keeping than Rolex. Their existence depended on it.

50 seconds to midnight.

 In the distance, you could see a light. The light was very low and travelling very fast from the North. The Coopers’ heads lifted in unison. In the still dark of the night, with just the crackling light of the badger beacon, this streak of light was now resembling a bolt of lightning: its speed and height were unbelievable – it was so low! A very deep “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” was getting ever louder and closer. The co-ordinates were spot on and the next thing we knew, they had passed overhead. They were that low, the down draft from the rotors were exciting the leaves as much as a small hurricane. No sooner had it gone over us, it was banking sharply: we’d been seen. It then seemed to creep over the top of the trees in the darkness, with its bright yellow lights beaming down. The Coopers were waving frantically in a little clearing in the woodland where the badger sett happened to be. “It’s an Apache!” Shouted Mr Cooper. Mrs Cooper jumped up and down. The Apache was directly above us, its nose pointing towards us, the body of the aircraft hovering almost vertical in the night sky. Then, all its lights went out and the cab lit up, the two pilots saluted them both. Then, the machine levelled up, three bright red lights on the underside of the craft began to pulse on a two-second interval: we’d been acknowledged, the plan was a go-er. It then left the scene quicker, if that was possible, than when it appeared. “Mozart’s Magic Flute will work,” we all said and then Mrs Cooper started the phrase that we all finished together: “He who dares, wins!”

The Captain Scott type stove that made the wait for the Apache more homely. 

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