Sunday, 21 February 2021

Communing with nature. Outdoor privies. Odd consequences of a year of Covid in Italy.

The television keeps showing clips of David Attenborough, a National Treasure if ever there was one, advising us all to go and stand still, or even sit still, in the middle of the countryside and see what happens. After ten minutes you should start to hear all sorts of birdsong and see animals and birds, and presumably creepy-crawlies, you would not otherwise have noticed. 

We are very fortunate in that we don’t need to sit on a damp log in the middle of nowhere to see and hear nature. Walking up the lane towards Dobcross yesterday, we were struck by the return of the blackbird’s song. We’ve not heard him for what seems like months but there he was, singing his head off. Out running this morning, I noticed the tits were back as well, various sorts. 

Maybe it’s the milder weather after a period of very cold stuff that’s brought the birds out again, convincing them that spring is around the corner. Maybe we see more of them because we are lucky enough to have some quiet lanes in our vicinity, despite actually living on a main road, the A62 which was a major route to Yorkshire before the motorways came along. And then we also have loads of footpaths and bridle paths. So we get see squirrels - grey not red but you can’t have everything and I find the grey squirrels quite appealing too - and the occasional heron and even from time to rare time some deer! 

Yes, we do thank our lucky stars. There are worse places to spend a soggy lockdown. 

Adventures with nature: I recently read a report of a woman in Alaska who had gone with her brother and his girlfriend to spend some time out in the backcountry in his yurt. As you do! She went to use the outhouse toilet, sat down in the seat and was bitten by a bear. Her first thought was that it might be a squirrel but when her brother took a flashlight went to investigate her discovered the bear. And next morning they found bear tracks all over the place. They reckoned he had made the outhouse into a den. 

Wildlife experts in that part of Alaska said they had had more trouble than usual with bears because of a poor salmon run last year and fewer berries than usual, meaning that bears have not fattened up as much as usual for the winter and so have been coming out of their dens. Maybe this one fancied a bit of bottom for breakfast!

So much for communing with nature! Fortunately you are not likely to be eaten by lions or bears if you follow David National Treasure Attenborough’s advice and sit down in the middle of an English forest to observe nature. 

The bear in the outhouse story reminded me of a tale my mother used to tell. The house where she grew up had no indoor toilet, as was very common at the time. Instead they had an outdoor privy, shared by several houses. This provided the perfect opportunity for mischievous children to get up to tricks, one of which was to drop a hen into the privy and wait for one of the older ladies to scream when she went to loo and risked having her bottom pecked! 

Our house, the one we have lived in for 35 years or so, still had the old outdoor privy at the bottom of the garden when we moved here. It was no longer in use, of course. Some house-owners in the area had converted their privies into garden sheds of some kind but ours still had the wooden plank with a hole which served as a toilet seat back in the day. On one occasion our daughter’s rabbit managed to get inside the outhouse and caused consternation by hopping up onto the wooden seat. There was a lot of fuss as we imagined him falling into the black hole below and our being unable to rescue him. Fortunately he came out again of his own accord. 

The privies have long since been demolished, the stones used to make a sort of raised flower bed where the neighbour grew pumpkins last year.

Here’s a last thing related to nature and especially nature of the ursine variety: Kate Winslet has a child called Bear!! I read it in an article about the actress this morning. I never cease to be amazed at the names some people choose for their children. Of course, in this case it might just be a nickname, but somehow I doubt it. Her other children have perfectly normal names, Mia and Joe. 

It’s a year since we started to hear about lockdowns. Phil and I were in Spain when we heard that parts of Italy were locking down because of a new and nasty virus. Here’s a link to an article about it by Tobias Jones, reflecting on changes in Italian society.

Here’s a bit that particularly struck me:

“There have been two noticeable consequences of that economic suffering. As often happens when the Italian state seems flat-footed in a crisis, organised crime has stepped in. Mafiosi have distributed food parcels in deprived suburbs, suspended protection payments and offered immediate cash loans. This “mafia-welfare” is a strategic assertion of superiority to the state, a means to create consensus, control and indebtedness, literal and metaphorical.”

This does not surprise me. The mafia established itself initially by helping the poor and making them feel obligated towards them.

Tobias Jones continues:

“The mafia is also buying up struggling companies: 43,688 Italian firms changed hands between April and September 2020: not all passed into criminal ownership, but – because of the high number of new owners choosing anonymity through offshore solutions and opaque trusts – it’s believed that many did. Mafia-controlled companies will, of course, be looking greedily at the €209bn recovery fund that Italy is about to receive from the European Union.”

 I suppose the mafia moves with the times and adapts to current circumstances. It’s a strange world we live in. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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