It was Boxing Day, and Sally and Peter were out for a wintry ramble with their ever-popular Uncle Jim. Going for a stroll with Uncle Jim was an education in itself, as he seemed to notice things that nobody else ever spotted!
"Do you think we'll see any flowers out at this time of year?" said Sally.
"Don't be silly!" said Peter. "Flowers don't come out at Christmas time, do they, Uncle Jim?"
"Mummy's hyacinths that she put in the airing cupboard have come out," said Sally defensively, "and they've got daffodils in the flower shop already."
"They're special garden flowers," said Peter scornfully. "Gardeners can make special garden flowers come out any time, but you won't see any wild flowers now, will you, Uncle Jim?"
"Gorse flowers all year round," said Sally, "and so does white dead nettle."
"If it's dead, it doesn't count," said Peter.
"It's only called dead nettle," said Sally. "It's only a name. It doesn't mean it is dead."
"Then why is it called dead nettle?" said Peter.
Uncle Jim hadn't said a word so far. He hadn't needed to. Generally he found on these nature walks that the children prattled away so easily that he was hardly called upon to contribute. It was one way of acquiring a reputation for knowledge.
"When flowers are brought from abroad," said Uncle Jim, "they often come from countries which have their summers at different times from ours. South Africa, for instance. They have summer when we have our winter. So when a South African flower is brought to England, it doesn't know when to flower. Should it do it in our summer - or when it's summer back home?"
Uncle Jim didn't know the answer to this, and just hoped neither of the two brats would ask him.
"And what do they do, Uncle?" said Peter.
When you don't know the answer, change the subject, was Uncle Jim's motto.
"Another odd thing that happened this year was that because of all that warm weather we had in 1995, a lot of flowers came out before Christmas that usually come out afterwards," said Uncle Jim. "Things like forsythia and such like. Now naturalists are waiting to see if they will flower all over again at the usual time in January!"
"And will they?" asked Peter.
"I don't know," said Uncle Jim, gritting his teeth and resisting a strong impulse to clip Peter round the ear-hole. "I just told you - naturalists are waiting to see if they will or not."
"Where do birds go in winter, Uncle Jim?" asked Sally.
"They don't go anywhere, except for migratory birds," said Uncle Jim. "Whatever gave you the idea that they go anywhere?"
"Well, you never see any birds in winter," said Sally. "I mean, you see the occasional crow or magpie, but that's about it. And you should really see more birds in wintertime, not fewer!"
"Why?" said Uncle Jim.
"Because there's less cover. In summer all the trees are covered with leaves but in winter they are bare, so birds have nowhere else to conceal themselves. But we can't see them. So where do they go?"
"In evergreen trees," said Uncle Jim decisively.
"Which evergreen trees?"
"Any they can find. If you look in an evergreen tree in winter, you'll find hundreds of birds sheltering from the cold and hiding from our view. They lurk in the evergreens and play with their new Christmas toys and chat about the summer and lay bets on whether it will ever come back again."
Peter and Sally looked at each other behind Uncle Jim's back and grinned. The old boy was going bonkers. Still, it was always one of the great joys of Christmas, taking Uncle Jim out for a country walk when he had an almighty hangover and seeing how far they could wind him up.
"Uncle Jim, why is a sewage farm called a sewage farm?"
"Good question, Peter," said Uncle Jim, thinking to himself - yes, why is it called a sewage farm?
Tomorrow - yes, why is it called a sewage farm? And will Uncle Jim come up with an answer?Reuse content