It has been quite an eventful week, culminating in the badger cull being called off by Natural England due to the badger cull targets not being met. But, for whatever the reason, news of that magnitude has got to be celebrated.
As I left for the badger sett this morning, Saturday 30th November, I noticed there was a definite spring in my step. The morning was cold, the light north wind veiled in a dampness, ever trying to creep into your bones. As I walked passing the trees and hedgerows that were now bereft of leaves, the hawthorn and rosehips which were so much in evidence a few weeks ago were now almost stripped. Nature had provided a banquet and the wildlife had had their fill. Now, all wildlife were facing the biggest cull of them all, “General Winter” who will send his battalions out across The Cotswolds in a guise of wind, rain, sleet and snow who was now starting to flex his muscles and soon all British wildlife would be at his mercy. This was nature’s very own war of attrition and it was to be acted out this year like any other in all corners of our beautiful land. And by the end of this week the General will be ordering his penetrating North wind from the Arctic, his first move to soften up the wildlife within our lands. And none more vulnerable was the great Lord Protector of the woodlands himself, the badger. A harsh, austere time was ahead.
As I looked around the sett, it was evident that the badgers were nowhere near as active. This year like any other, the end of November, badgers tend to move about less. The robin that had been with the badgers all year was perched in front of one of the entrances, his feathers all fluffed up looking really quite cheery. His smugness apparent, almost in the knowledge that a picture of his name sake would be on every mantelpiece in every home across half of the world. Christmas was his time and it was just around the corner. I was very fond of this little robin. For me, like so many other birds and animals throughout the woodland over this summer they have stayed with the badgers and their loyalty and their wanting to be a part of the badger protection has swelled my heart with pride.
The British badger lost out to the hedgehog on the favourite British Icon Award, but what the badger lost on the roundabouts has more than made up for on the swings.
I despatched a bagful of windfall apples from my garden around the woodland, the animals and birds find them a welcome addition to their now meagre diets.
It is said that the winter of 1981 wiped out 50% of Britain’s small garden birds, so whatever help is given from what I have seen of it, is always gratefully received.
I strolled back from the badger sett, homeward bound, remembering the instructions from Jackie which were to put up the Christmas lights around the outside of the house, so that was to be the task once home. A job I always loved doing with the kids when they were little with all their enthusiasm equally as much as I do now with all of their “I should do it like this dad,” “I should do it like that dad.” Walking along I started to think of bygone Christmases when I saw the Coopers, they were making their way to my house. I quickened my step and as I walked past my kitchen window I could see the Coopers sat around the kitchen table with Jackie.
“Good morning Mr and Mrs Cooper,” I announced as I entered into the kitchen.
“Good morning Allan,” replied both Mr and Mrs Cooper in unison. Jackie looked up and smiled.
“Allan, I rang and invited Mr and Mrs Cooper up for supper this evening.”
“Oh, what a lovely idea, well done, Jackie.”
“Ah, and that is the reason why we are here,” said Mrs Cooper almost in a whisper. “The fact is, we would have loved to have come but it has clashed with us having supper with Lord and Lady Foxton. We usually meet up and have supper every couple of months and it just so happens that it has fallen on this weekend. It is such a shame, it would have been a real treat as your roast dinners are well renowned.”
“Well, why don’t you all come over here tonight, I’ll do roast beef and Yorkshire pudding followed by apple crumble made from the Bramley apples that you have kindly brought me today?”
“I think that is a splendid idea, what do you think dear?” asked Mrs Cooper turning to her husband who was nodding emphatically. “I quite agree, here it is then.”
Earlier on in the week, Monday night as it just so happens, I returned home about 5pm and on the doorstep I was greeted with a very handsome table display made from the most beautiful crimson roses and a bagful of sumptuous grapes and plums. The grapes and plums have since been devoured by Jackie and myself but the rose table display still looked most magnificent. It had been dropped off by some much respected friends and what better time to show it off than the entertaining of Lord and Lady Foxton and the Coopers. The rest of the day was taken up by myself going up and down to and from the attic retrieving the Christmas lights and Jackie buzzing about the kitchen preparing and cooking ready for this evening meal. It was looking more and more lightly that the Christmas decorations was going to be a Sunday morning escapade as the replacing of bulbs was extremely time consuming. In amongst this chaotic scene the phone rang. Jackie answered it with a pastry floured hand, “Oh hello Mrs Cooper, of course, of course they can come, the more the merrier, yes yes, that’s fine, see you all at 8pm”. Jackie put the phone down and called into me, “That’s two more for supper Allan, Nimrod, who is driving them and Antonio is also coming.” In no time at all it was five to eight and lights were shining up the front of a very dark house. There was a knock on the door which I opened to Lord and Lady Foxton, Mr and Mrs Cooper, Antonio and Nimrod. Antonio was now just aided with a walking stick. Almost miraculous. To think that Lord and Lady Foxton were told by top doctors that it was most unlikely that Antonio would ever walk again after her horrific hunting accident. Jackie came out the kitchen and greeted them all while I took their coats. Antonio came over to me and threw her arms around me, “Allan, what you did for me and my badgers will never be forgotten. Nimrod has told my mother and father, my children and I what you did and how you did it. Is Nimrod exaggerating Allan? Was it really nine dogs?”
“It was nine dogs,” I confirmed. Antonio’s face went stony straight.
“My badgers would have been ripped to pieces.”
“But they weren’t, let’s talk about something a little more pleasant.” Antonio nodded in agreement and a smile spread across her now radiant face. As Antonio left me and walked into the kitchen to see Jackie, Nimrod leant over to me and whispered, “I had to tell them Allan, they wanted to know every detail, and thanks again my old friend, I too will never forget.”
After twenty minutes of pleasantries, the main course was served. Aberdeen Angus was never more welcome. Soon the conversation turned to the Foxton’s badgers and how Nimrod had been assigned the task of keeping them well fed and turnips was proving to be a tasty addition to their diet much to Antonio’s amusement. As we all listened about the antics of the Foxton’s badgers and the gratitude being poured upon the Coopers, it was really pleasing to see that the Foxton’s held the Coopers with such high regard, almost awe with their prowess and care of the Foxton’s badgers. Antonio then said “The sooner Allan’s protection programme of wall building and hedge planting commences the happier I will be.”
“Hear, hear,” responded Lord and Lady Foxton. As if my programme wasn’t busy enough. Nimrod winked over at me as if to say, “You’re well in here Allan.” As we all carried on conversations about the present and the past, the flames leaping around the logs in the fireplace, you could sense that each time the badgers were mentioned, the Coopers were longing to tell them all about Daddy Cool and his family, for to them the greatest badger on The Cotswolds was Daddy Cool himself. But their lips remained sealed. Daddy Cool and his family were under the protection of Mozart’s Magic Flute. Off grid, top secret. The fewer people that knew of Daddy Cool’s whereabouts, the safer he will remain. “A toast,” said Lady Foxton holding up her glass, Lord Foxton along with the rest of us raised our glasses also, “To the end of the badger cull, best health to the badgers.”
“To the badgers,” we all echoed, “and may General Winter show mercy on wildlife everywhere.”
As we toasted the badgers, I could not help in looking over at Antonio and finding it quite difficult to believe that she had been a paraplegic and now she was moving quite beautifully with the aid of a small cane and Mr and Mrs Cooper who were visibly looking and acting younger. The badgers had been and still are a wonderful tonic for Antonio as well as the Coopers. Although, you couldn’t help but marvel at the love and determination and time that the Coopers had invested in these glorious and almost mythical animals, however, you also could not help but wonder just how much good these animals were doing them.
A rose has the ability of warming you totally the second you set your eyes on its beauty.