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Clusterduck

15 Mar

Our handsome new biology lecturer was annoyed. So was I. He was annoyed because every few seconds another latecomer would bang  noisily into the lecture theatre and interrupt his speech on physiology. I was annoyed because I was premenstrual.

“I would just like attention for future lectures,” he said, in his sultry Mexican accent. “I get quite distracted when the door is opening and closing all the time. So if you can’t be here before five minutes of when the lecture starts, I won’t allow you to come in.”

Seized with a random burst of indignation, I called out from my seat at the very back of the lecture theatre: “‘Scuse me! Quite a lot of people have to walk quite a long way across the campus to get here.”

I don’t know why I said that. I didn’t know where any of the students were coming from.

“Is that your case?” asked the handsome lecturer.

“No,” I admitted. I come from three miles away and always arrive early for my lectures. I didn’t let that fact dissuade me from continuing to speak for my fellow students, most of whom I wouldn’t recognise if I saw them in the street.

“I find it distracting as well,” I said, glaring hormonally at two more latecomers who were searching for seats,  “but our last lecturer would wait 5 to 10 minutes after the hour to start the lecture, so that everybody would have a chance to get here.”

In fact, our previous lecturer always arrived late and dishevelled, with no plan of what he was going to say to us, and only got away with it because he is blessed with the gift of the gab.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of material to get through,” said the handsome lecturer unhappily. “But I may take your suggestion.”

The following day, on my way into the Biosciences building, a duck sprang out of the shrubbery and almost collided with my head. Turning in surprise, I saw four more angry mallards wrestling among the foliage. It appears that I am not the only one being swayed by hormones lately.

The males, with their sunshine-yellow beaks, were pecking and shoving each other out of the way in a scramble to be the first to mate with the brown female trapped beneath them. Despite their fancy plumage, drakes are not the greatest proponents of courtship. They were so intent on their struggle that they completely ignored me when I walked up to them. I contemplated rescuing the female, but decided this would only prolong the inevitable for her: the drakes would chase her until she sank down exhausted in some other patch of greenery, or worse, in the water, where the pressure of their bodies might drown her. Here, she looked unhappy but not in physical danger. So instead, I observed and took some photos.

This caused me to lose track of time, and I arrived late for my lecture. I saw with some horror that the lecturer was standing at the back of the theatre, apparently waiting for me.

“Hello,” he said with a smile. “I’m taking your advice.”

He delivered the lecture several minutes late, and finished with minutes to spare. There were no interruptions.

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Autumn Meandering

27 Nov

Today has been one of those golden Autumn Sundays, with long shadows and dreamy sheep in the meadows, and secret warbles emanating from the hedgerows. Hoping to garner enthusiasm for my university assignment due tomorrow, I took a stroll up the lane to visit the wildlife pond.

Although the fields are flooded, the pondwater was very low today, exposing its weed-covered silt. Somewhere under the surface the fish were no doubt lurking, but the water looked lifeless – except for a large grey heron standing knee-deep in it, stabbing among the weeds with its beak. We startled each other, and the heron lifted itself away and flew heavily across the field.

I crouched in a space among the shrubbery edging the pond and waited for half an hour, hoping to get a shot of the heron returning. As my pins and needles set in, I could see it waiting politely in the distance for me to leave.

A honking sound in the sky drew my eye to a skein of geese flying West for the Winter. Common knowledge dictates that geese fly South for the Winter, but here they always fly West. Perhaps they are headed for Canada.

Rapidly losing sensation in my legs, I stood and meandered back to the cottage, leaving the heron to its own devices. Under the trees near the pond, someone had been chopping firewood, and the air smelled sweet and damp.

The crab-apple trees along the lane have unburdened themselves of their fruit, and I used my scarf as a makeshift bag to collect it for the guinea pigs.

I now feel refreshed and cheerful, the guinea pigs are well fed, and my assignment calculations are looking as daunting as ever.

The Secret of the Tortoise

14 Aug

Bunty and I are in Morocco. Last night, we slept in a tent surrounded by fruit trees and palms and jasmine, and crickets and stars. The tent stands in a garden called Manzil la Tortue – the Secret of the Tortoise.

We now understand what makes it secret. To find it, we drove along a long, long dirt track, past tiny hamlets of ramshackle houses where all the villagers were sitting out under the stars at their Ramadan feasts. Fearing we were lost, we stopped at a shop the size of a wardrobe, and I got out of the car and asked the three men outside its door for directions. They spoke no English and I had not managed to bone up on French or Arabic, but somehow, with a lot of laughter and a hastily-sketched map, we managed to communicate with each other.

I awoke bright and early, having slept through the muezzin’s call to prayer that woke Bunty in the dark hours. The air was still fresh and laden with jasmine, and I wandered out to explore the grounds. I found three different species of ant, an array of pill bugs, a fly, and three species of songbird. A man raking flower-heads out of the pool greeted me.

“Bonjour”, I replied.

I was bonjoured soon afterward by the camp site guard, a man wearing the long djellaba and pointed yellow slippers seen all over Morocco; and a woman, also in a djellaba, who passed me in a covered avenue of white bougainvillea.

“Bonjour.”

“Ca va?”

A bee the size of a quail egg buzzed around my purple tunic. It was black and white and red – very striking – but it didn’t stay still for long enough for me to phtograph it.

I rounded a corner and found this rabbit enclosure.

I love that they are free to dig and socialise, and have burrows. I was surprised to see that they had been given a large number of orange halves to feed on, and had clearly appreciated them very much. I must try Broccles with an orange one sunny day.

Then I stumbled upon the chooks who will be providing my breakfast eggs a few minutes from now. They look alert and happy too. No battery hens, these.