I went out for supper with my book group friends last night. The hedgerows are at their peak at this time of the year, with the grass fresh and vibrant, the cow parsley in flower and nothing yet rank and tired. I drive three or four miles along a country lane, stopping to pick up other people on the way to whoever’s hosting the evening. Who picks up whom, or whether someone walks or cycles, depends on whose turn it is, but I always drive as it’s quite some way.
I slowed down for a pair of partridges. He was on the right side of the narrow road and would have been quite happy to swerve off into the verge. But his wife would have none of it. She trotted on in the middle of the road, agitated but determined. He loyally carried on behind her and I stopped, hoping they’d move aside. They didn’t, so I crawled on behind them until eventually they moved, first him to the hedge on the right and then her to the left. Luckily, neither changed their mind as I edged past.
A few yards on, a hare skittered along. Such a pleasure to see. I do love hares, with their absurd ears and their long back legs. They’re threatened by a form of myxomatosis, but this one looked healthy. Later, my friend Gill told me that it seems to have spent itself out for now, the remaining hares are looking okay.
I picked up Annie and we drove on. A hedgehog ambled in front of us, a rare sight nowadays. We fetched Helen and Anne and went on for a delightful evening with the others.
On the way home, with just Annie in the car again, I rounded a corner – luckily, I never go very fast on that road – and there was a little owl (the breed as well as the size) crouched on the tarmac. I jinked past it thankfully – how awful if I’d hit it – and thought, I’d seen a greater variety of wildlife than I usually do in a week.
This month’s book is Artemis Cooper’s autobiography of Elizabeth Jane Howard. She – EJH, that is – was a customer of Al’s for a number of years, in the days when she had frequent house parties and put in big orders for fruit and veg. He used to deliver to her, just down the road from his shop. One day, he added a card and a bunch of flowers. The next week, she dropped in to thank him. “How did you know it was my birthday?” He said that he’d seen it in the paper, not quite liking to say that he’d been reading her autobiography. She was really quite frank about her love life and he was slightly embarrassed, she being the same age as his grandmother. In fact, slightly isn’t quite strong enough. In the end, he gave the book to me, unfinished. He said he just felt too awkward, reading all that about someone he knew.