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Alex James

Alex James: Bright as a button, beak like a dagger

Rural Notebook

On my way to the coffee machine this morning, there was a rook on the landing. Quite a young one: bright as a button. Seeing the thing in the house, it struck me how different wild animals are from farm or domesticated ones.

I suppose unless you dress up as a tree or hide in a hedge, the opportunity to get a good look at these country cousins close up doesn't come along that often. If they don't scarper when they see you, they're not wild. The natural thing is always so much sleeker, and slightly smaller than the cultivated one: like an actress, all poise, vivacity and drama.

One or two rooks make their way into the house every summer. They come down the flues. I bought some rook guards for the chimney pots but it wasn't worth hiring a cherry picker lift just to fit them. When I eventually got one in to fix a couple of roof panels that blew off one of the sheds last winter, we had so much fun wheeling it around the farm and looking at everything from above that I forgot all about the rook guards.

The cats aren't scared of much, but they were policing the rook situation very gingerly, with the well-rehearsed pincer movement they use on the rabbits. The rook was clearly looking for a way out, but wasn't terribly scared of the cats either, beak like a dagger. It even made me cry out loud as it swept past me, wings whirring for another courageous charge at the skylight.

It was surprising how much drama there was. A palpable tension. I had to go and get my coffee to calm down and think about it. I opened a window and when I came back the rook had found its way out and the cats had trotted off. Drama over, but something quite glamorous, quite remarkable, had disappeared with it.

Summer's last peach

So many apples in the orchard, but not a single plum this year. And on the peach tree, which is in better shape than ever, only three peaches. I've been monitoring them carefully. One was full of earwigs. I gave oneto my god-daughter and the third will be ready exactly as you read this.

The last peach is the exact moment of high summer, so if it's raining right now it's downhill from here, I'm sorry to say.

Lopping the limes

Time to cut the hedges. It's been a while since they had a haircut. The last man to do it was mad. He lopped off half the lime trees in the hedge. Never seen a single lime on any of them since.