Welcome to Spring – or what passes for it this year! At the very time Hubcap and I were expecting calls requesting the first grass cuts of 2018 to start, instead we’re snowed off work in some of the severest weather I can remember… although since the ‘Beast from the East’ arrived on Tuesday, we’ve pretty well had a full-time job trying to keep the bird-baths thawed and Helmickton’s resident avian population alive. Luckily we have one very sheltered feeding zone under a big dense shrub in the front garden which stayed almost snow-free, while in the back we created a couple of ‘scrapes’, exposing the ground to help insect feeders dig for grubs, and propping up a wheelbarrow with its back to the easterly wind to try and keep it clear, as you can see in the photo; something as simple as this may mean the difference between life and death for a bird. On the coldest days we went through literally pounds of food, with seed, suet pellets and dried mealworms being gobbled up practically as soon as we put them out. But it was worth it for the spectacle of dozens of sparrows, dunnocks, robins, blackbirds, tits (blue, great and long-tailed), finches (chaff, bull and gold) and pigeons stuffing themselves stupid; and yesterday, when we finally got some sunshine and relatively mild weather, it was lovely to see the sparrows and blackbirds literally queuing up to take a bath.
We also went for some picturesque walks around beautiful Newmillerdam Country Park, as you can see from the pictures below - the one in the middle shows Hubcap admiring a tree in the superb arboretum. We fed hundreds of birds while we were at it - and made some scrapes to help one poor disappointed robin for whom we didn’t have a single scrap or crumb left. (That dearth was largely due to the gulls - they may only have bird brains but they're smart enough to identify a food source, and one little flock followed us all the way round the lake, looking pathetic then pouncing on anything we threw down!). It was very striking to see the number of redwings around – according to Hubcap they’ve come from Europe, either fleeing from or being blown by the Siberian weather – and as they’re very fond of apples, we chopped up a few to take with us on this morning’s trek. We also took a bucket of trout-pellets – these are made largely of fish protein/oils, and go down great guns with the water-fowl, gulls and crows. So we might not have earned much money this week thanks to the snow; but we’ve made the most of our enforced holiday and thoroughly enjoyed trying to help our feathered friends survive the Big Freeze.
Today marks something of a watershed for Doggett Garden Maintenance: our final session on a large grounds maintenance contract for a local school which Hubcap has looked after for thirty years. It was quite a wrench to leave because he’s very proud of what he achieved there, especially the splendid wildlife areas he created to give lots of habitat for birds, bugs and pond-life, and outdoor learning opportunities for the children; I was also proud, having helped in a small way over the past couple of years to keep the site looking nice and tidy. But we’ve been struggling to do the job since we lost Mark, so handing it over to another contractor for the new financial year seemed like our most sensible option.
The staff who knew Mick best will find it a wrench too, judging from the goodbye cards and presents they gave us: the gorgeous bouquet you can see in the picture for me, and a bottle of Hubcap’s favourite Jagermeister. Best of all, the caretaker says we can keep on picking cherries there whenever there’s a decent crop – fingers crossed this year will yield another bounty of cherry jam, brandied cherries and cherry vodka! Naturally we’re sad to leave the site and such lovely people, but glad that dropping the contract will give us a much less demanding schedule for 2018. So this is a truly momentous day because it represents our biggest step so far in scaling down the business in preparation for early retirement…
...which suddenly no longer feels so far in the future! It’s very exciting for me because it means I’ll have more time to get back to serious writing, finish my projects in hand, and set about the thousand things I want to do in the house and garden. (It’s also slightly scary because it means I’ll be getting old!). So it seemed fitting to end on a high note during the first stretch of proper seasonal weather/uninterrupted working days we’ve enjoyed so far this year… and two days ago on Palm Sunday, March 25th, we were lucky enough to get a picture-perfect Spring day for the annual Towton Battlefield Society members’ walk round the Battlefield Trail: glorious sunshine and hardly a breath of wind. As well as being the 557th anniversary of the battle where so many men lost their lives, it marked a significant day in TBS history: the last ever battlefield walk and commemoration service our good friend Mark Taylor will lead as Society Chairman. (There he is at Dacre's Cross between wreath-layers Chris Murphy (left, Lancastrian) and Hubcap (right, Yorkist). Yes, after 14 years of stalwart service, he’s stepping down from office at next month’s AGM – and he’ll leave a very big pair of shoes behind for someone to fill. So it was great that Mark’s final walk in this capacity could be on such a fine day – and it certainly gave him a good appetite to round it off with a giant Yorkshire pudding at the Crooked Billet afterwards!