I spy with my little eye something you don't

`I could tell she was not asking that in a search for knowledge. It was a search for ignorance. Mine'

"DO YOU know how kingfishers defecate?" said my wife.

This was the other day, after she had been out walking the dog, and I could tell from her tone of voice that she was not asking the question in a search for knowledge. It was a search for ignorance. My ignorance.

I think I may have mentioned before that to while away the boredom of living in the country, living with a dog and living with each other, my wife and I have spontaneously evolved a primitive kind of nature quiz in which we try to spot things while out on our walks that the other may not have seen. She goes for birds and river-life, mostly. I tend to go for trees and droppings. But for all the droppings I had seen, I had no idea how a kingfisher defecated. I suspected I was about to find out. I was right.

"It sort of shakes and shivers a bit on its perch, then does a sudden squirt and flies away. I saw one doing it this morning. Quite dramatic."

"Do you think it is aiming at anything?" I asked. "Or is it just a random squirt?"

"There's no need to be jealous," said my wife. "You just wish you'd seen a kingfisher defecating."

Not quite true. I just wished I had seen one defecating before she did. A few days later I tried to trump her kingfisher with a tree. Two trees, actually.

One is a willow and the other is a sycamore, and the sycamore is growing on top of the willow, about 10 feet above the ground. There is a big fork in the willow at that height, and a sycamore seed must have lodged there in the past and grown in the rotten leaves. The roots of the fully grown sycamore tree now reach 10 feet down to the ground, swarming round the willow trunk, with the sycamore as tall as the host in which it sits. A strange sight. Strange enough to try out on the wife.

"Do you know the willow growing down by the river bridge, where the buses stop?" I asked.

"The one with the sycamore in it?"

"Yes," I said.

"And have you seen the willow on the far side of the river with an oak and ash growing out of it?" she asked.

"No," I said.

I had not won any points there at all. In fact, I think I may have lost some. A few days later I tried to regain lost ground by expanding on something I had seen on the canal.

"It's a curious optical illusion with canals," I said, "that you often think canals are flowing like a river. Of course, canals don't flow at all. But the reason we think it's flowing is that the wind blows objects along the top of the water. Yesterday I watched the wind blowing along a small collection of leaves and vegetation, for all the world like the little swirling bits of chive, tomato and cucumber that the Spanish sprinkle on gazpacho soup."

She thought about it for a moment.

"That's overdoing the imagery a bit, isn't it?" she said.

Her attention wandered. I still had not made a hit. Later, on a cold, clear evening, when I was walking the dog in the dark along the field by the railway, I was struck by the view up through the branches of a tree bearing its last leaves, with the stars above, a lone aeroplane shining high up in the last rays of the vanished sun, and a bat flitting back and forth under the tree. It was right by where, four months earlier, I had seen a cascade of climbing roses growing in a tree by the railway. I had no idea how garden roses could grow on a wild patch of railway until an old lady living locally told me that it was exactly where the railwaymen had had their allotments 30 years ago, and the roses were probably a living relic.

I tried to tell my wife about the scene in glowing and vivid language. She looked impressed.

"Red roses growing wild? In November? Amazing!"

"No, the roses aren't out now. It's where they grew in summer. I'm just describing the spot. It's because the railwaymen had their allotments..."

But her attention had wandered again. It's difficult to win points these days, I can tell you. So if you should be passing through the wilds of Wiltshire this Christmas season and you see a bent, thoughtful figure wandering along, staring hopefully into every tree and behind every hedge, when everyone else is at home having Christmas dinner, you will know who it is.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral