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 Today I am bringing you another instructive piece for children, to help them learn about the countryside, as we take a country ramble in the company of Uncle Geoffrey and his niece and nephew, Susan and Robert.


"Don't make a noise," whispered Uncle Geoffrey, as they entered the wood. "Freeze ! Look . . . over there . . .  A deer !"
         And sure enough, through the thicket in front of them they saw the delicate outline of a young deer, which was browsing on the woodland floor but which, hearing something to alarm it, suddenly pricked up its ears and was off like a flash.
         "I never cease to admire their speed and elegance," said Uncle Geoff. "And we were very lucky to see it."
         "Statistically speaking, that's not true," said Susie. "There was a programme earlier this year on Radio 4 which said that there were millions of deer in Britain - I can't remember the exact figure, but it was something like twelve million, maybe more."
         "That's one deer to every five people," said Robert. "One to every five! The amazing thing is not that we ever see a deer, but that we don't see them all the time. Still, the programme did make it clear that they are fantastically good at hiding themselves, so full marks for the invisible deer."
         "They're also very good at PR," said Susie. "They look at you with those big eyes and soulful looks and little furry ears, and you get the full Bambi effect, and wonder how anyone could ever harm them, or eat them... "
         "Whereas," said Susie," it's them that are eating us! Deer are a menace! They destroy crops, destroy young trees, destroy gardens! We must get them before they get us!"
         "Shoot the lot, I say!" said Robert. "What do you say, Uncle Geoff ?"
         Uncle Geoff said nothing. Not for the first time, he wondered if all these natural history films on television hadn't corrupted people. They seemed to concentrate so much on sex and violence that people no longer had an eye for the beauty of nature.
         "Look!" said Robert suddenly. "There's a buzzard up there. And it's being mobbed."
         Sure enough, the big bird of prey in the sky was lazily wheeling and diving to get away from two black birds, crows, probably, that were harrying and hassling it.
         "I bet the buzzard was threatening their babies," said Susie. "For them, the buzzard must have been like the lurking paedophile figure outside the playground, as it were. So they started mobbing it."
         "Funny expression, 'mobbing', " said Robert. "How many does it take to make up a mob? More than two, I would have thought."
         "I say, children," said Uncle Geoffrey, anxious to wrest back the initiative, "what on earth are those strange flies in the clearing?"
         They had come out into a patch of sunlight and there, sure enough, were some very curious large black flies, which were flying up and down, up and down, over the same spot. Five feet up, five feet down.
         "They're mating," reported Robert, who had gone closer to inspect them. "They're all in pairs. They're actually mating as they fly, like planes refuelling in mid-air. Presumably they think it's safer up there. Well, that's one trick that humans haven't achieved yet."
         "Not so," said Susie. "Think of the mile-high club. Some humans have managed to mate in mid-air. Though it must have been mighty uncomfortable."
         Uncle Geoffrey was just about to change the subject as soon as possible, when an unexpected development occurred. A passing wagtail spotted the insects and found that if he stationed himself on the ground beneath the black flies, he could leap up and gobble one every time they descended with in range.
         "That's pretty impressive," said Susie. "Imagine what it must be like to be in the middle of sexual congress with some hunky black fly and suddenly - wham! You're eaten up!"
         " 'Is this your idea of a romantic supper?'"said Robert, putting on a pathetic voice.
         "I think being eaten would make a girl think twice about the whole business of having children," said Susie.
         " 'Oh, but I never like to get eaten on the first date!'  " said Robert in the same voice.
         "Time to turn towards home again, children," said Uncle Geoffrey, but what he was actually thinking was: If death and violence is such an innate part of the natural world, why oh why isn't it perfectly legal for me to throttle these two horrors?

17th June 2003