Saturday, 18 April 2015

Not such a perfect day.

"It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.*" Do you remember where that quotation is from?  It sprang to my mind today when things went wrong, then right, then wrong again.

Working on my blog at Chez-Jim.
These days I go to the office three times a week with an agenda in mind. If I printed out my to-do list on Monday it would take up a roll of wall-paper but by Friday it would be even longer and that's because on Wednesday, stuff always happens!

This Wednesday I didn't even start on my to-dos because the electric shutter was broken and the ice-cream freezer had gone off and it had started to thaw out. You can't just walk away from that and do your paperwork!

Fortunately the shutter can be worked manually but it is a real chore to wind it up and down. The freezer just had to be fixed quickly, so of course we checked the fuse boxes and all was working there.  The next step was to follow the wire from the shutter motor, through three walls and into the store cupboard where we found that it ran into a duct with the wire from the freezer. That seemed suspicious!

The duct ran along behind some shelves that were full of sales goods which we removed and "Lo and Behold**" we found a socket with two plugs. A sign read "Do Not Switch Off" but, guess what?

I switched them both on and the freezer lit up so I was pretty sure the shutters would work as well:.........They didn't.

An inspection of the plug's innards showed a burned-out fuse which we replaced by taking one out of a redundant fan heater. Victory was ours. But who turned the switches off??

A Ranger is good in a crisis. We can give you CPR, rescue a swan, tow you out of a hole, and give you a tracheotomy or an amputation with no anaesthetic, and all of these roles are more rewarding than emptying dog bins, at least in my view. However we are deemed incompetent when it comes to changing a fuse; they have to tested by a man named Pat.

Laurence Rose; ornithologist, composer
and former chair of the Friends.
I went back to my list and started work on editing a press release concerning dogs and disturbance during the nightingale season. I was interrupted many times with minor issues and requests for information and then a scheduled meeting about boats and break-ins.

There was no time for lunch as we had to put the furniture out for an afternoon talk which was to be given by an old colleague from the RSPB, Laurence Rose. I was looking forward to hearing what he had to say about springtime in Norfolk but crisis number two was on it's way, by bicycle.

A breathless cyclist popped his head round the door to tell us that our cattle had escaped and they were on the footpath. This has happened before; on one occasion they turned out to be someone else's cows so we asked him to describe them. "Brown, very butch and extremely shaggy, with big horns." Definitely not Fresians then. 

Age has taught me to be sceptical so I assumed that the cyclist had actually found himself cycling through the cattle enclosure which is out of bounds and within the quarry, but Ranger Sam James and I went to check anyway. As we passed people on the Heron Trail we asked them if they had seen any loose cattle and they certainly had. 

"Form a circle, girls"
Enjoying the shade of hawthorns and munching on the fresh shoots of overhanging willows, our 12 Highlanders were about a mile away from their field and heading south along the Ouse Valley Way. They were almost at the moorings and it was obvious that we were not going to get them to march all the way back towards Buckden on the hottest April day for four years. 

We called in Ranger Paul Claydon and the three of us hatched a plan, cowboy-style. Using three vehicles, we planned to march them south to the sheep paddock near Dodder Fen. I say "march" but I mean "lure". Highlanders are not animals to be marched or driven. If they start to jog or gallop they become unstoppable. They have "rear wheel drive" so the back end tends to swing about making steering difficult (I watch too much Top Gear.) Fortunately they have a weak spot which is their stomach.

Sam was sent to the yard to get the Kawasaki Mule and two bales of hay while Paul stayed with the cows to act as anchor-man and stop them heading for the main road. Meanwhile I went ahead to open all the gates along the Ouse Valley Way and block any potential escape routes using whatever I could find. The big blue tractor was useful for blocking off the Heron Trail and various bits of fence and fallen tree came in handy too.

Using mobile phones, Paul (who was the only one who could actually see the cows) warned us that they were getting spooked and looked like heading north again. Sam reversed towards them and shouted "Come on; grub's up"....... and they blooming' well did! He gave them just a taste of hay and they started to follow him in single file with Paul bringing up the rear in the blue Piaggio pick-up. I drove along the river bank to act as a flanker then got ahead of them again to use my car to stop them going right past the paddock and on towards the village. 

I have to say, we did extremely well to keep the cows calm. If either Paul or I had made a sudden movement or tried to push them along they would have broken out and we would have failed. I can't deny that luck also played a part. If we had met any visiting dog-walkers the game would have been up. 

I really love being a ranger! What next?

There was a lot of gear to put away in the yard so Paul and Sam did that while I emptied an overflowing dog bin and went off to look for two suspicious characters who had been spotted in the bushes near "The Beach" on Cloudy Pit. I didn't find them, but by now it was 5:30 pm and I thought I would leave before something else happened. 

If we had not caught the cattle, we might have been in for an all night job. You cannot just go home at the end of a shift when there is a chance of your cattle getting onto a main road or into people's gardens. Imaging waking up to find 12 highland cattle calmly munching your laundry in the back garden! Imagine the letters to the Council and the articles in the Hunts Post. People would pass me in the street and whisper "Mooooo" behind my back. I'd have to emigrate.

* "A Tale of Two Cities"
** A misquote from the James V1 Bible.