He digs and he delves – you can see for yourselves
It’s been a while since I wrote anything more than a few lines to accompany a picture but – now there’s a thing … have I been away, or have I been home? I think here is home so I must have been away but then again I was staying with my mother and spending Christmas with family so I must have been home because my definition of home was always where my family is. And Two Brains made it by the skin of his teeth on Christmas Eve arriving 3 hours before we all sat down to Christmas Dinner which we do on Christmas Eve partly because we realised that one of our daughters was eating three Christmas dinners on Christmas Day and had to remain dry because she and her partner were driving to his mother, then his father and then me and then home (possibly to a turkey sandwich) and another has a fiance whose mother would fall on her own sword if her precious boy were not at her Christmas table (I say nothing) and partly because 25th December is Two Brains birthday. So the simple solution is to follow the French lead and that is what we do leaving everyone, in theory, happy. Anyway, enough familial bliss – I was in England. Land of my birth. And increasingly less familiar to me … I wonder if other ex-patriots experience this out of body-ness when visiting the old country, wherever that happens to be.
I lived for years close to various points on the Ridgeway and walked regularly on the section from Streatley-on-Thames to Uffington. When my parents moved to the place my mother still lives, I walked sections of it each weekend with my father and our dogs. I have walked it with children, with friends, with dogs. It is a very familiar path. Two Brains and I and two dogs, because The Bean’s best friend Brian who belongs to my eldest daughter was staying too, walked a bit each day.
We walked somewhere between 6 and 12 km each time (the distance being un aller-retour, a return, to allow for leaving the car). I wanted to walk this path full of memories with my husband and it was happy – windy, rainy, bitterly cold, foggy, sunny we had all weathers which makes us both happy. Two small dogs and then just one, after Brian returned home, snootling and rootling and sniffing the air and the ground which is generally what makes a dog happy. We would return to my mothers house after an hour or three soaked and muddy some days but we had a very contented time. Except ….
Somewhere between Wantage, once called Wanating and birthplace of King Alfred (he of the frazzled cakes) and Sparsholt we spied something on the fence ahead. Moles. I am very wed to moles. I grew up in the village in Berkshire in which Kenneth Grahame lived the last 8 years of his life and he died there in 1932. He attended the same school as my father in Oxford. I, like so many children, grew up knowing and loving the anthropamorphasised animals he created. ‘The Wind in The Willows’ was read to me when I couldn’t read, then read and read and read when I could, and then again read to my own. And Mole was my particular favourite – so thrilled with the world outside his dark tunnels, his portly little velvety form was one I longed to hug. I do understand that many find moles a nuisance. They dig and they create earthmounds with positively ruthless efficiency and ruin many a lawn (that overwhelming obsession of the English, let’s not forget) and they don’t give a damn about crops in a field. So long as the earth is brim full of worms they are happy chappies and will keep diggering on. Actually here in Cantal I am convinced the moles are genetically modified – or at the very least pumping steroids … their mounds are immense! We have them all over the right side of the lawn though oddly never the left. The Bean is very keen to find one and is often found standing four square with nose poking down a hole in the top of a mound where the mole has come up out of his laberynth of tunnels early in the morning or at dusk.
The thing about these moles though, in case you thought that they were some sort of genetic mutation that dwells above ground, the thing is that they were dead. Hanging on the fence, tied with yellow binding. To say the sight was gruesome is an understatement. It was a sharp and frosty morning and everything had that eery beauty that comes when the only movement is the twinkling of the ice particles in the hazy sun trying to break through a shroud of cloud. The moles too were frozen, their little black coats glinting with freezing moisture. Stiff. Cold. Dead. Unfortunately our Opinel (the ubiquitous knife in a huge variety of sizes, ours with a 4″ blade, that no Frenchman would be without) was in the car about 2 miles back so we couldn’t follow our hearts and at least cut the little creatures down and lay them somewhere dignified. Out of sight of, incidentally, the many walkers, riders and particularly families with children who frequent the path. I was disgusted. Choked. Angry actually. For heavens sakes what is the point? And yes, I do know that in days of yore the mole catcher would hang the moles as proof to the landowner of what he had earned and to ensure that he didn’t try and bill for same mole twice. But this is 2015 (I think it was January 2nd) and I do not believe for one moment that any landowner now uses such feudal methods in fact I’m not convinced that there even are travelling mole catchers these days. No – this was just some foul blood lusting individual or group who thought it would be clever to hang their barbaric catch out for all to see. Or perhaps they were crass enough to think that they would put other moles off digging there … not understanding that they are blind. Before you shout me down – I actually found a thread on the internet that had me quite helpless … a thread about this very practice in which one person states that it is to put other moles off and another points out that they are blind. Person one says ‘what – every single mole? I don’t think so’ and the other patiently points out that they live underground. Person one says ‘why?’ patience says ‘Because. They. Are. MOLES!’ As I live and breath it is entirely unbelievable.
And now I am back home, because on reflection I know this is home and wherever my family are, they are always in my heart. Here it is still hunting season – I have to be judicious when choosing my walks particularly at weekends because I don’t want to be shot. And neither does The Bean. The French have a reputation for shooting anything that moves but le chasse is strictly governed here. And I live in an area far off the beaten track where undoubtedly folk could break the rules if they wanted to. But they don’t. The Ridgeway is a well walked path and I wish the Police success in catching the culprits of this heinous act if they so wish. I know they try to stamp out illegal hare coursing but The Law says that you can only prosecute if you catch the perpetrators red handed. Not for the first time in my life, I fear that The Law is an ass.
PS: The following day we walked from Sparsholt to Uffington. The White Horse here is the oldest chalk horse carved into a hillside in Britain and there is Dragon Hill which, legend has it and I like to believe is actually the body of the dragon slain by George himself. And there is Uffington Castle … an iron-age hillfort. We walked around it and I was heartened to see that the moles had invaded and clearly conquered the castle. Sweet victory to the little men in black velvet as they diggory diggory delvet according to Beatrix Potter in Apply Dapply’s nursery rhymes from whence the title comes.