Uncle Geoff gets his come-uppance – a modern nature story for boys and girls.
‘What’s that bird, Uncle Geoff?’ said Susan.
Uncle Geoff, who knew all about nature, was out for a stroll in the countryside with his nephew and niece, Robert and Susan.
‘It’s a heron,’ said Uncle Geoff. ‘It lives by the river and eats fish.’
The children had been well taught by him that, in nature, everything eats everything else.
‘Are those other birds trying to eat the heron?’
The heron was in trouble, indeed. Two seagulls were harrying it, like two fighter planes buzzing an unwanted airliner, and, as they watched, the heron was driven right out of sight.
‘No, children. But you’ll remember me telling you before, that seagulls are leaving the sea and coming inland for food (See “Uncle Geoff Visits The Town Dump”) so obviously the seagulls find themselves fighting other birds for territory. I am afraid the poor old heron has just been chucked out.’
‘Why do you say “poor old heron” Uncle Geoff?’ said Susan. ‘You said there was no room for pity in nature.’
Little smarty pants, thought Uncle Geoff, but what he said was: ‘Quite right, dear. I take your point. Now let’s go down to the canal and look at the wild flowers I was telling you about.’
They turned off the lane onto the tow-path, where the British Waterways Board had recently cleared the banks of vegetation. Uncle Geoffrey swore.
‘But surely,’ said Robert ‘the BWB has as much right to manipulate nature as anyone else. You’ve always taught us that…’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Uncle Geoff. ‘Now, can anyone tell me what are those people doing in that field? Remember what I have taught you about observation and deduction.’ (See “Uncle Geoff helps the police with their enquiries”)
Not far away, several men were running about, shouting and waving.
‘From their clothes, I’d say they were city people,’ said Susan.
‘But the colours, the dark greens and browns, are obviously intended as camouflage,‘ said Robert.
‘And yet despite the camouflage they are desperately trying to attract attention.’
‘So they must be…’ said Uncle Geoff.
‘A Fringe group rehearsing for Edinburgh,’ said Robert promptly.
‘Human scarecrows on a YTS scheme,’ said Susan.
‘No, children,’ said Uncle Geoff. ‘ They are…’
‘Saboteurs,’ said Susan. ‘Grouse shoot sabs. Surely you knew we knew that?’
‘Funny how saboteurs who love the birds jump up and down to frighten them away, but the farmers, who loathe them, do exactly the same thing,’ said Robert.
I never thought of that, thought Uncle Geoff. Just then he spotted something odd in the undergrowth. It was a pair of shoes sticking out. There were feet in the shoes. He went to have a closer look.
‘Oh, my God,’ said Uncle Geoff. ‘I think he’s dead.’
‘Gosh, let’s have a look,‘ said Susan. ‘Hmm. Young man, smart clothes. Bad blow on the head.’
‘Look at his trousers,’ said Robert. ‘Those oily stains just above the turn-up, and the damage to the fabric. Could only be caused by one thing.’
‘Chewed up by a bicycle chain,’ said Susan. ‘Let’s have a look around.'
Sure enough, they found his bike in the rough grass and few yards further on.
‘He must have been attacked and left for dead,’ said Uncle Geoff.
‘I think not,’ said Robert. 'My guess is that he’s a yuppie recently moved into the area – who else would cycle along the canal in smart clothes? – and was coming this way in the dark this morning when he hit that overhanging branch there,’
The presence of a few hairs and a touch of blood on the branch seemed to back up the children’s surmise, and a deep groan showed that the cyclist was coming back to life.
‘Funny thing,’ mused Susan, ‘but the way people move into the country round here and displace the old residents is just like the seagulls driving the heron out. Still, that’s nature for you. Ruthless but realistic.’
‘Well children,’ said Uncle Geoff. ‘I ought to be getting back home now, but shall we have another nature walk next Sunday?’
‘I don’t think so, thanks, Uncle Geoff,’ said Robert.
‘We'll probably be busy with our computer,’ said Susan.
Uncle Geoff suddenly realised it had finally happened to him as well. Nature had just given him the order of the boot. (See “Uncle Geoff Goes for a Walk by Himself”)
The Independent 1988
© Caroline Kington