WE are approaching the holiday season which will last until around the time the clocks go back an hour in the autumn.
Some of us will head overseas for guaranteed sunshine and warmth while others may do exciting things like deep-sea diving with sharks, skiing in the Alps, experiencing bush-life in Africa or even heading for Mars or the North Pole.
Quite a lot, I am sure, will stay at home to enjoy a traffic-and- crowd-free time in their own garden where the food is good, time does not matter, you can wear what you like and those we meet on such a well-planned home-based holiday are usually quite normal folks.
It was such a discussion that I overheard in a local inn and it reminds me of my own very first holiday. My parents did not take breaks except during school holidays (mum was a teacher) when we might spend a few hours on the beach at Whitby to which we travelled by steam train. As a child, I never visited Whitby Abbey or indeed any other important place – with my younger sister and brother, we would sit on the beach and paddle in the sea or sometimes kick stray footballs to be chased by dogs belonging to other people. And our sandwiches always tasted of sand while our time on the beach was dictated by the train timetable.
Then we had a surprise. Mum gathered us together to announce we were going away for a proper holiday. We would go during the schools’ summer holidays but dad would not come with us as he had some very important work to finish. However, he would take us there in grandad’s car and collect us afterwards. The holiday would last about three days – it would give mum a much needed break, so folks said.
I would be around five or six years old and it was during wartime but mum assured us we would not be anywhere near dropped bombs, invading enemy forces or a busy town that had to extinguish all its lights – and there would be no air-raid sirens, she assured us.
I listened to all this excitement but mum did not immediately explain where we were going for our holiday. It was some time later when she said the dates had been confirmed and we were going to spend our holiday on her distant cousin’s farm near Pocklington in the East Riding of Yorkshire. I had no idea where Pocklington or the East Riding were located, but mum seemed to know. I did not know her cousins either but we would spend our time helping on the farm, collecting eggs, putting fresh hay in feeders and straw on the byre-floor for the cows to mess on, even to muck out the pig sties or help with the daily milking.
That did not worry me – I had done all those jobs on grandfather’s farm even at such a young age and I was quite used to telling cows to “sholl ower” or greet visitors with “Noo then, howst tha gahin on?”
I thought a foreign language might be spoken in the East Riding because it was such a long way from our home in the North York Moors. My mum’s cousins might be slape-tongued or they might talk posh like some rich folks or even use big words. In any case, mum always made sure we used correct grammar, never swore and always spoke the right words in all our conversations. Thanks to her efforts, I could “hod mi coorner” in most conversations despite my youth.
Now, all these years later, I cannot remember the name or location of that farm, nor do I recall my mum’s cousin’s name except that mum called her Fyer, short for Sophia, I believe. However, one memory stands out – I recall a giant of a cart horse called Ben lived at the farm and according to Fyer’s son, I was to have rides on his huge broad back.
I had never encountered such a massive animal and was later to discover Ben was a Shire horse. His breed was descended from those war horses who carried knights into battle when the knights were dressed in their heavy armour. The sheer strength and power of those horses led to them being also used to haul everything from ploughs to brewery wagons.
On the farm, however, he was known simply as a cart horse and around the end of the Second World War it was his eventual fate to be replaced by a tractor. I must admit I was rather apprehensive about riding on his massive broad back but was helped by one of Fyer’s sons.
I needed a ladder to climb aboard. Ben was already saddled up and waiting patiently as I settled on the saddle with my guide sitting just behind, holding the reins while making sure I was safe and secure. I cannot remember where that ride took us but it was memorable because it taught me that large animals are not necessarily fierce. I’ve admired heavy horses ever since.
There’s a wren in our garden. This is by no means unusual although it is worthy of record because it suggests this tiny visitor has already claimed our patch of ground as part of his territory. This means he will vigorously fight off any other male wren that dares to trespass within his domain, although he will usually permit other species to have access.
Although it is impossible for mere humans to distinguish the sexes of the wren – they are tiny brown birds with short cocked tails and loud but beautiful voices – it is generally the male that selects the territory where he will produce his next brood. He may do this at almost any time between late winter and early spring before the mating season, so it seems our current little chap was making early plans? Perhaps he knew something we didn’t, such as that snow and hail near the end of April?
A wren’s nest is a miracle of construction and is built by the male. Using leaves, dried grass, moss and other items of dry vegetation he will build his ball-shaped nest which can be found in all kinds of odd places.
It will later be warmly lined with feathers and the entrance will be at one side but it might be hidden among the ivy or in a thick hedge, but also in garden out-buildings or even inside a hollow tree trunk. Wrens have even been known to use the old nests of other birds.
However, the lady wren is very particular about her new home. The male will build several nests for her to inspect – I was once told it could be as many as eight – and when she finally selects the home of her dreams, she will indicate her choice by lining it with feathers.
It is these nests that often become life-savers for wrens during tough winters. I don’t know whether those who squeeze inside to defeat the cold are members of one family or unrelated wrens from nearby but it is a good form of mutual protection against the winter.