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It was hard to say no when she wanted a bunny rabbit. She wanted it for so long.  I carefully explained that having a pet is a big responsibility and a bit of work is involved.  Yes, yes, she knew. She still wanted a bunny.  Eventually she realised that I needed a bit of convincing and recruited the whole family to keep on at me that we really should get a bunny. I tried again to explain that it would need looked after; the nice jobs like feeding and brushing, and the less nice jobs like cleaning out the hutch and picking up little rabbit poos.  Once she got everyone pleading along with her, I gave in. We now have a rabbit.

His name is Thumper.  I wanted to call him stew and sometimes I remind him of this with a whisper from the other side of the room. I know his comically oversized ears can hear me.

For most of the time it has all been joy and everyone has helped look after Thumper.  It is a lot of fun for us all to have him as a new member of the household.  So, has she embraced looking after a pet?  Yes, but yesterday I had to sit her down and remind her about the responsibilities.  Remind her that it is not all joy and sometimes there can be frustrations with pets and the pets cannot be blamed.  This all came out when Thumper bit through her laptop cable that she uses for work. I reminded my wife that she really wanted a bunny and promised to look after it. I explained that we have to keep things out of his way and he is only following his instincts. I also pointed out that we should be grateful that he chewed through the low voltage and not the other, high voltage, end of the cable.

Here is a picture of Thumper the laptop slayer.

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I believe him to be a breed called the Dutch.  A few days ago I told him this in case he didn’t know.  I told him he was gentle and easy going and that I read it on the internet, including, “To sum up, the Dutch is a very versatile breed that is used for showing, pets, and even meat.”  Later that evening he hopped over to me in the living room, sniffed me on the leg, then bit me.  He then calmly hopped away as if he had much more important things to do.  After I yelped, I laughed.  I  like his style and I think me and Thumper are going to get along just fine.

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A long time ago I was alone in the mountains, at least I thought I was. I strolled down and around a slope and stopped in my tracks. Perched on a rock was a Raven. A massive Raven so black it seemed like a hole in the world. It turned and looked at me unsurprised. The Raven knew I was coming and knew we would meet even if I didn’t know it. The look it gave me was that of irritation, and if I could hear its thoughts I imagine it muttered and sighed, “human” while rolling its eyes. Can ravens roll their eyes? Then it decided to unfold its three foot wingspan and lift off so gracefully it looked like it was swimming into the air.

I miss the mountains. I haven’t been there in a while. I also miss the calls of the ravens. The coarse language that fills the air and echoes against granite. Part of the joy of the wild places is to see the wild blackness that is a Raven. A very long time ago they were once common and then got pushed to the edges of the land, living in the places humans rarely went. Then, some years ago, they began to return. A bird that fills a similar ecological niche, the Red Kite, was in a worse position. The Red Kite got pushed to the edges then over into extinction in the UK. The Red Kite is back, with a little help from humans. The Ravens have been slowly returning on their own.

We took a short glamping (camping in a glamping pod) trip to Rathin island with the sea at our doorstep. It was not long after setting foot on the island that I was thinking about Red Kites as a huge raptor flew around our heads. For a brief moment I did think it was a Red Kite due to its size and careless attitude it took flying so close to humans. I was wrong, it was a buzzard and we would see it a few more times during our stay. It turns out that wildlife lives more obviously on Rathlin. We saw birds, lots of birds, and seals. We even saw a hare. Although, the hare was in the grim situation of being eaten by a gull after falling off a sea cliff.

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Returning home we found more wildlife. I walked over to the hens and I knew straight away that something was wrong. They were making their alarm calls and all bunched up in a corner with the rooster on the front line, standing proud, standing guard. Over the edge of a beech tree root a dark head, with a liquid black intelligent eye, looked directly at me and then ducked down out of sight. There was an injured crow in the chicken run, but what kind of crow?

I caught the crow and knew straight away that it was not a rook. Rooks are the most common crow we usually see, and make up most of the crows that sometimes fly in huge flocks returning to rookeries at dusk. It was too big for a rook and did not have the bit on its beak that looks like bone not covered by skin nor feather. It was a big bird. It could be a carrion crow or……… a Raven.

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My opinion kept oscillating between these options until I settled on a Raven. Too big for a Carrion and smaller than the Raven I encountered up close in the Mourne Mountains. A young Raven? It was black. Heavy black beak with deep black eyes. Black claws with black nails. Reinforcing my opinion that it was a young Raven; it had the beginnings of the rainbow sheen of oil on water. Then it would move in the light and return to inky black.

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The Raven?

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An image from ‘The Raven: A Natural History in Britain and Ireland’ by Derek Ratcliffe

I fed it wet cat food then took it to the vet. They don’t seem to get a lot of Ravens. It’s size and strangeness caused a bit of excitement amongst the veterinary staff; lots of Game of Thrones references. The vet diagnosed a broken wing and thought it had a reasonable chance of recovery. After treatment it would be handed over to a wildlife rehabilitation charity, then back to the wild.

Was it a really a Raven? In flight the Raven has large diamond shaped pointed tail feather and a Carrion crow has a tail feather with a straighter edge. Of course I never got to see it in flight. After leaving the vet I kept a more open mind and an open eye looking for crows. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon kicked in swiftly. Only a mile from our home I spotted a overly large crow gliding down to some tree tops. As it closed in it flattened out and pulled out all its air breaks, its silhouette terminating in a large diamond shaped tail.

It’s hard to describe the busy nature of life with three little people to look after.  After a long day at school I arrived home just after the lovely Sharon; also just home from a long day at school.  We hit the ground running; the dinner needed made, the little man’s homework needed to be supervised, the little lady demanded that I listened to the debrief of her nursery school day, and the littlest man simply demanded my attention with duplo. The lovely Sharon and I juggled these tasks with no time to ask each other how our days had been.  As if to demonstrate how our priorities and perspective on life has shifted; it was only about half an hour later that the lovely Sharon remembered to mention, “Oh, yeah, I forgot to say that our school was on fire today.  We were evacuated and the fire brigade had to put it out.” At that point somebody screamed.  It might have been a duplo block that wouldn’t fit, a spelling written back to front, or someone needing to go to the toilet.  I can’t recall the details, but that was the end of the small talk.

The lovely Sharon took the little people out and about, and I spent the whole day in the bathroom; the smell was awful.  It all began with an ominous leak on the floor.  Over the space of just a couple of days a small puddle had escalated into a plumbing problem. It should have all been relatively straightforward; I purchased a few new washers and settled into the bathroom with a selection of spanners, wrenches, and towels.  A few hours later I was perplexed and close to throwing the towel….onto the wet bathroom floor.  Then it dawned on me; whoever had drilled the holes in the toilet bowl had bad eyesight, or just didn’t care. Once I realised this I tried a little creative thinking (and grinder to ensure a certain metal bracket actually fitted). The whole toilet and flush was working perfectly and not dripping.  Job done.

A few weeks later a little drip appeared.  Then the drip increased until we had to introduce the flush bucket. The flush bucket is a simple plumbing solution involving a bucket filled and kept in the bath, which is then used to flush the toilet. It was a temporary measure while I waited for the opportunity to tackle the problem properly.

It only took a few days before the worst happened.  It was so sudden and unexpected that it shocked me.  We were at a children’s party, everyone was having fun and there was no context at all to the lovely Sharon’s comment. She turned to me and said, “Do we need to get a plumber?”   In hindsight I genuinely think she was trying to be helpful.  I was gutted. My quiet inner voice held back from saying that I thought she looked big in that dress, even though she didn’t.  Instead I remained stoic and shrugged and said that I thought I should have another look at it first.

On Saint Patrick’s day I was off work and everyone else was at school.  I stepped out into the cool spring air and let my eyes rest on Slemish, the very mountain the Saint Patrick shepherded on.  Then, I went back into the cottage and ripped the toilet apart.  I put it all back together with generous amounts of silicone sealant and it hasn’t leaked yet.

No time for this, no time for that. Time spent, time valued. Time flies, then it is time for change; time for spring.  It’s fair to say that the three little ones are my time now. Time playing lego, time feeding, time talking and answering questions. Time holding hands and learning to walk.

 

I took a little time out to order up some raspberry plants with the intention of investing some time in summer and autumn raspberries.  Ideally they should be planted, according to the literature, in November.  There was a day that I set aside for just such a task.  Then I was sick on that day and the window passed. The raspberry canes have been stored in damp soil in the greenhouse and I intend to plant them out soon.  Yet things happen. Fences get blown down in storms, chicken coop roofs get blown off and scattered around the garden.  These things need mended and fixed.

 

The first signs of spring are here and this is inspiring me to make time for growth. The snowdrops are out and the daffodils are beginning to flower.  One hive of bees is all that has survived from last year.  Their stores are desperately low.  They seem to be breaking their winter huddle every so often to feed on the fondant I left them.  If they hang on then the willow and dandelion will be out soon.  Hang on.

 
It’s at times like these that I turn to Monty.  I’m re-watching Monty Don’s Fork to Fork and getting inspired. No; I’m getting reminded that summer does actually happen if we choose to believe that it will. So, I will plant out those raspberries.  I will turn over the soil, and I will get those potatoes ready for chitting. I will make time for these things. Why?…  The littlest man may be only learning to walk now, but in time, I hope he will be walking through the garden eating all the raspberries with his brother and sister, and me only half-heartedly complaining that they are spending more time eating than picking.

Wheelbarrows of compost need to be shovelled from one area to another.  The soft fruits need mulched.  The apple/pear/plum trees need manured.  The strawberry bed needs weeded and fed.  It is the springing time and things must be done to prepare for the summer.  If we are to reap the rewards of a harvest we must put in the work now.  Over the years we have often missed opportunities.  We didn’t start our peas or beans in time.  We didn’t sow the tomato seeds properly, with warmth to germinate them.  We didn’t mulch the raspberries/blackcurrants/gooseberries. To be fair, a few years ago I didn’t know what mulching was.  Now I watch Gardener’s World.

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Can I feel less old if I watch Gardener’s World on iPlayer and flick through everything that isn’t Monty Don.  I’m not interested at all when the colourful flowers are on display, or when it is explaining the benefits of winter colours.  I want to know the tips and tricks that I need to apply right now.  I have five hungry mouths to feed (including my own) and I need to know that raspberry roots are shallow, that apples must not be pruned every year, and that I need to put buckets on my rhubarb to ensure sweet stalks in two or three weeks time.  Monty will tell me all these things.

So far this springing time:

  • Three bags of potatoes have been planted (one bag still to go).
  • Tomato seeds have been sown and are sitting on a sunny window ledge indoors.
  • Onions have been planted.
  • Peas and beans have been sown in trays in the greenhouse.
  • Some of the raspberries have been mulched.
  • Some of the apple trees have been fed.

And…

  • Wheelbarrows of compost have been shuffled about the garden.

 

So much has been ticked off the mental list.  This is the joy of Spring.  Things to do, things to be done.  I could list all the things that need to be done but I’m not really sure what they are.  Playing in the garden with the little people lets me notice more.  Watching Monty reveals even more.  It all sounds so busy.  And it is.  And it isn’t.  It does feel like a balancing act at times.  At other times I find myself with a minute or two to stand and ponder, then spy a bucket out of the corner of my eye; a bucket full of rotted collections from the guttering (collected on one of the finer days of winter). Then another bucket filled with rotted down weeds the lovely Sharon collected, before she forgot about it as she ran after one of the little people, then decided it was time to go inside.  These buckets added to the growing heap of matter piling up on the main vegetable patch. This was a bonus to the main thought when I spied the buckets.  The now empty buckets were turned upside down on the shooting rhubarb and weighed down with bricks from the other corners of the garden.  It didn’t feel like something that needed to be done; it felt like something that would make a fine rhubarb tart in a few weeks time; something Monty would want me to do.

Over half way on the long commute from the country to the town I got the call, “Come back. I don’t want to be on my own.” When a pregnant woman commands, you obey by reflex. I spun the car around and rushed back.  Past experience (the little man) has taught me that these things can happen very slowly and rushing is futile.  Then another past experience(the little lady) has taught me not to drag my feet and dither, these things can happen fast and catch you out. Experience has taught me nothing.

Back at the cottage the lovely Sharon was convinced that things had begun and a new soul would arrive any time between soon to several days…….

We went for a walk.  It was a slow walk near shops, supermarkets, civilisation and the closeness of hospital care.  We walked and talked and waited. Later we picked up the little people and headed back home to try and pretend everything was normal.

In the morning nothing happened and we pretended again. The usual Saturday pancakes, the usual Saturday lunch.  We went walking again, this time beside the river to try and let it wash away our worry. I remember the water was high and chaotic: a torrent in full force after weeks of building volume saturating everything around it. I remember it that it felt like my anxiety. It didn’t sit with me like a metaphor. Too real. Too raw.

After the walk I dropped the lovely Sharon off at the hospital and drove off with the little people leaving her alone.  That was difficult.

Granny and Granda arrived to look after the little people and I returned to the hospital to join the waiting.  We waited and waited until I had to leave the ward.  They gave me a blanket to sleep in the waiting room.  The  room was full of light and noise, and cold.  Outside in the night was dark and much colder.  I choose my down sleeping bag in the frozen car, until the lovely Sharon’s fancy motion detector car alarm threw me out and back to the waiting room.  Another expectant father slept beside me with his portable radio and his snoring.   I few hours later I fell asleep for a half hour until my phone rang: the pain had begun.

So much pain.  Nobody can ever know someone else’s pain. We can pretend to sympathise and empathise but it is nothing and futile. I can’t begin to understand as I have never experienced it.

I cried when I heard his first cry. His was a reflex of breath and a gasp at the air, a grasp at the life around him. Mine was a reflex of my anxiety and joy bursting in an uncontrollable way. It caught me by surprise but was glad to feel it. I cut the cord and the cutting merged old memories with new ones.

Two days later we were all home and we were a family again; a bigger one. I honestly can’t remember what we did for those few days at home. I guess we reminded ourselves how to look after a tiny baby. We didn’t venture very far as it felt like our whole world was there at home with the little people and the new, littlest, man.

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