An owl crashed into the glass doors of our terrasse the other day. We were still in bed when we heard the thump against the glass.
My wife threw on her dressing gown and rushed downstairs to investigate while I sat up blearily, consigning the night’s bad dreams to oblivion. Previous such collisions had all ended in the head-bangers’ demise, followed by sad funerals in the garden involving paper bags and a garden trowel.
Louisa called up. “It’s an owl,” she said. “It’s knocked itself out, or it might be dead.”
Donning my fancy M&S dressing gown and slippers (my coat of many colours, Louisa calls it), I too made my way downstairs. The bird was huge, as big as a handbag. It was sat at a slight angle to the floor, its head turned 120 degrees, its eyes shut.
I am no twitcher, still less an ornithologist. I am, I think, friends with our two resident blackbirds and the robin who likes to perch on my garden spade. And just today Louisa stocked up our birdfeeder and put out one of those greaseballs that the finches – and the squirrels – seem to like. But I am not a bird whisperer. As a carer, I chase off any stray cats that come by, but other than that it’s a case of live and let die.
Anyway, the owl looked to me to be fully fledged, so not a chick out on its first hunt. But I was only guessing. Whether it was dead or not was a question that could only be answered by stepping out onto the terrasse.
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In the background, fluttering about, was a group of chaffinches, looking very pleased with themselves. I would later learn that little birds, if there are enough of them, sometimes attack owls, swarming in and putting them off their stroke. They were certainly very excited.
“What are we going to do,” Louisa asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, manfully. “But you should get your phone and take a picture.”
Meanwhile, I opened the door and bent down. “You’re going to be alright,” I said, ignoring the fact that the owl – either an hibou or a chouette, depending on its gender – presumably spoke French.
At that, it opened its eyes. They were big and jet black. I bent down further, wondering if I should fetch the garden gloves that were currently drying next to the log-burner. “Would you like a hand up?” I asked.
The question hung in the air, as did the owl, which all of a sudden twisted round, stretched its wings and took off at high speed. The last I saw of it was it disappearing over the fields beyond.
The chaffinches, which had been swirling around, were not so brave now. They scattered into the safety of the surrounding hazelnut trees.
It would have been nice, and interesting, to have had an owl as a friend. He could maybe have taken our vole problem under his wing. But it was not to be.
Meanwhile, a quite different visitor has taken up residence in our front garden, just a little way up from the gate. It might be a fox, or possibly a stoat. As I keep saying, I am a city boy and I know nothing about country ways. All I know is that a hole maybe nine inches across has appeared in the bank that appears to go at least a couple of feet below ground.
The first time I noticed it, I poked a stick down the entrance and stamped heavily on the grass above. Nothing happened. Either the occupant wasn’t home, or he was unsure how best to respond. At any rate, I went back to picking up the thousand or more apples that have fallen into the garden in recent weeks. Most of them are bruised. Many have been part-eaten by weevils. All I can do is select a few of the best and cart the rest to Louisa’s compost heap.
As for our latest intruder, the outlook is not good. We got notification the other day that Enedis, the company that does most of the grunt work for the state energy giant EDF, plans to uproot the electricity pylon in our garden, right next to the mystery hole, as part of an upgrade programme that replaces overhead cables with a more efficient underground network.
This is good news. Six weeks or so ago, our friendly local electrician complained to Enedis that our existing electricity supply was sorely lacking, so that our overnight storage heaters were only operating at 80 per cent of capacity. The chap he was talking to checked our levels (which can now be done remotely) and agreed. In fact, he went further. It was, he said, une catastrophe.
I assumed that would be an end to it. Diagnosis is one thing, getting something done is another matter entirely. An Enedis engineer who turned up later the same day, confirmed that our electricity supply was hopelessly out of date but that replacing it was a big job that wouldn’t happen anytime soon. We should get our local mayor to write a letter to EDF, he said, getting back into his van.
But then, blow me down, our neighbour Jean-françois knocks on our front door a couple of days ago to tell us that while we were out shopping an Enedis rep had dropped by to tell us that the upgrade would be in fact be carried out sometime in the next eight weeks.
The work, when it starts, will be invasive, involving a crane and large earth-moving machines. The concrete pylon, a good 15 metres high, has to be removed and channels dug that don’t interfere with either our water supply or our fosse septique, both of which lie between the house and the road outside. Our driveway, shared with Jean-françois, will have to be ripped up and I’m pretty sure an almighty mess will be left behind. But the result – once we are reconnected – will be worth it. Our radiators should finally work properly (allowing us to test the limits of Macron’s energy cap) and the toaster will no longer go dim when we put the kettle on.
So we will be just fine. Le jour de gloire sera étonnamment arrivé. I wish I could say the same for our mystery squatter. Maybe I should leave him a note.
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