The children walked briskly through the woods and out on to the hillside, where they got a glorious view of Tranter's Cement Works in the distance, with its unusually high chimney stack. The children walked briskly because there was a TV programme they wanted to get back to. Uncle Geoffrey walked less briskly because he wasn't as young as he used to be.
‘Let's just sit and take a breather for a moment,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, and he had sat down before they could object. Unwillingly, the children took their seats on an old tree trunk.
‘I love summer,’ said Uncle Geoffrey, ‘although from a naturalist's point of view it isn't the most interesting time of year. If you look around, you can't really see anything happening at all - no animals, no birds, and not many insects.’
‘That's because it's midday,’ said Robert. ‘Nature doesn't like midday. It's too hot. Nature does most of its work when it's cool and not too bright. Right now, Nature is probably at home, snoozing or watching the telly. Nature's got the right idea, I think.’
‘People always talk about the dawn chorus as if it were terribly early,’ said Susan. ‘But birds get up at the right time. It's us who lie in bed frightfully late.’
Why was it, thought Uncle Geoffrey, that whenever he started an interesting train of thought, it was immediately hi-jacked by these two brats? He made haste to reclaim his ideas.
‘I was really thinking of the way you can see so many traces of wild life in winter,’ he said. ‘Bird's footprints in the mud. Animal tracks in the bare earth. That sort of thing. But in summer, especially when it's as dry as it is now, you don't get those sort of traces left behind.’
‘I don't know,’ said Robert. ‘After all, you get animal droppings all over the place, which always give away so much.’
‘Very good,’ said Uncle Geoffrey. ‘Give me an example, Robert.’
‘Well, like those fox turds you've just sat down in.’
Uncle Geoffrey leapt to his feet, but it was too late. There was a large unsightly stain on his ample backside.
‘Bloody foxes !’ said Uncle Geoffrey. ‘Messy little devils! Verminous varmints!’
‘On the contrary,’ said Robert. ‘Foxes are nature's dustmen. They clear up all the carrion that untidier predators leave behind. If it weren't for foxes, the countryside would be covered in carcases.’
‘They'll eat anything,’ said Susan. ‘Even left-over stuff from MacDonalds. So they must have cast-iron constitutions.’
‘Amazing to think, Uncle Geoffrey,’ said Robert, ‘that what you have just sat in could very well have been sold in a fast food joint twenty-four hours ago. Wonderful the way nature recycles everything.’
‘When you look out over the countryside,’ said Susan, ‘you suddenly realise that it is nothing but one huge lavatory. Birds, animals and insects excrete everywhere, and their excretions gradually make their way to the nearest water system...’
‘Where it is flushed away into a stream,’ carried on Robert.
‘And taken by a river to that great sewage farm we call the sea,’ concluded Susan.
Uncle Geoffrey said nothing. He suddenly felt rather ill. These two children had a gift for turning an idyllic rural scene into the most barbaric basic components. He gazed in despair at the distant cement chimney, puffing smoke into the air ten miles away. It reminded him of something... Of course! When he had lived in Notting Hill, many years ago, there had been tall pipes like that in most streets, about twenty foot high, taking the fumes from the sewers above human height where they could not be smelled…
Why was it that even his own private train of thought had now turned lavatorial? It was those blasted children. He turned to remonstrate with them. They were nowhere to be seen. They had skedaddled off home to watch TV. Well, perhaps it was all for the best.
Another country ramble with Uncle Geoffrey coming soon!
The Independent Wed Aug 27 03