A Country Life: The revamped Birdie Song

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An interesting noise rent the air at the Three Crowns, Ullingswick, the other evening, a difficult noise to put into words.

An interesting noise rent the air at the Three Crowns, Ullingswick, the other evening, a difficult noise to put into words. Lots of noises are. I had a devil of a time at Wimbledon trying to describe the one made by Maria Sharapova. Was it a shrieky squeal or a squealy shriek? It certainly wasn't a grunt, the generic term for noises made by tennis players exerting themselves.

Anyway, the best description I can offer of the noise at the Three Crowns is that it sounded like Freddie "Parrot Face" Davies trying to blow a raspberry on a kazoo. It was issued by our friend Ian, who had been praised by his partner, Avril, for his extraordinary ability to imitate the warble fly. Naturally, we then called upon Ian to give us his warble fly impression, and after making sure that we had all covered our food, plus any items of clothing we didn't want showered in spit, he did.

Where, you might ask, lies the benefit in being able to sound like a warble fly? Well, it is hugely entertaining, apparently, to be with Ian when he lets rip while leaning on a five-bar gate looking into a field full of cows, because the cows all stick their tails straight up in the air and go thundering across the field as far from the noise as they can get. A warble fly by all accounts represents their worst nightmare, burrowing under their skin and causing them great pain. And even though most of them have never had an encounter with a warble fly, they are genetically predisposed to be terrified by the noise.

There will, perhaps, be readers reaching for their pens right now to berate me for making light of a cow's trauma, of dealing frivolously with Ian's ability to provoke alarm in cattle who seconds earlier had been placidly enjoying themselves. So I should explain that he does not go round habitually terrorising cows, and makes a noise like a warble fly only rarely, more often by request around a dinner table than leaning on a five-bar gate.

The reason I bring it up at all is to acknowledge the painful truth that, as we reach the second anniversary of our move to the country, I am no nearer being able to impersonate any animal, bird or insect, which is a mark of the true countryman. Ian lives in the Herefordshire village in which he has always lived. He knows just where to find badgers after dark, and has been able to sound like a warble fly since he was eight. Moreover, he has a large repertoire of other animal noises which is no less impressive.

I envy him these skills. The things I can impersonate are city things, like the annoying man saying "mind the gap" at Waterloo Undergound station. I would love to be able to cup my hands over my mouth and make a noise like a female nightjar, especially if it brought a male nightjar to check out the talent. Still, I have at least become more familiar with countryside noises, even if I haven't a clue what is making them. We have in our garden a bird which has a song eerily reminiscent of the chorus of "Barbie Girl", the 1997 hit by the Danish-Norwegian band Aqua. I call it the Barbie bird, and am working on my impersonation, ideally without a karaoke machine. That'll impress them in the Three Crowns.

Killer kitty

We realise now that we have misnamed one of our cats. The children called him Sooty, for when he arrived he was a sweet little ball of black fur. He is still black, but the sweet little ball of fur has grown into a ruthless assassin. The name Sooty evokes a cheerful glove puppet, doing nothing more deadly than firing a water pistol at Sweep. In fact he should be called Carlos. Or even Osama.

Hardly a day goes by without Sooty depositing a dead - or worse, half-dead - bird or mammal on the doorstep. He has even taken to leaving us decapitated baby rabbits, which is unspeakably upsetting for the children, who are of the opinion that baby rabbits are the cutest things in the whole wide world.

However, suggest to them that we might consider finding Sooty another home - a federal penitentiary would be my choice - and they become even more unspeakably upset.

So the killing spree goes on, and I am worried that it might get worse. At the Bromyard Gala the other weekend, Jane bought another couple of chickens, Cream Legbars, which are still pullets and live in the rabbit hutch from which our official pet rabbit, Bramble, did a bunk some months ago. Several times I have found Sooty gazing at the hutch, as if working out how much gelignite he needs to break in. I fear for the Legbars.


Last year we didn't bother growing potatoes in our vegetable garden, having decided that potatoes were cheap enough to buy, and that our own would not necessarily be any better. How wrong we were.

This spring we planted two beds of Red Duke of Yorks and are harvesting them now. Maybe it's a time-of-life thing, but I have found intense pleasure in digging up new potatoes and eating them an hour later, although delicious as they are, the pleasure is almost more in the digging than the eating. Even when they're all gone I might just have to keep digging.