Auntie Duck

I’m staying this week at the edge of the Lake District. There are no actual lakes to speak of here, which seems to have embarrassed the local weather into a determination to play catch up – with enough rain this week to fill at least one and a half new meres, by my reckoning. I may have been biased by several days spent mostly out of doors. My sensible footwear remained sensible for one hour of rain and walking through wet grass, after which it became simply soggy. It has also developed a wet-boot odour, which vies only with wet-dog for potency. At close quarters in the pickup with two wet dogs and a lot of wet layers, the combined smell was quite something to behold (or whatever the nasal equivalent might be).

I am here visiting my brother, his partner and two sons, my week spent variously by helping my brother to erect fences at work, entertaining nephews, and wandering the countryside around their cottage. I am tired, mildly sunburnt, slightly bedraggled, happy, and impressed at how much we’ve managed to fit into a week. I am currently sitting in an unusually quiet living room, noticing the clock’s tick, a fly’s buzzing and the sound of an aeroplane flying overhead. If my youngest nephew were in the room, he would say ‘tick tock’, ‘shoo f’y’ and ‘ehpaaane! hi, bye!’. He is two, and his language is developing at a rate of knots, but he has not yet learnt my name, to my somewhat sorrow. When he first started speaking, Brenna and I decided to christen ourselves Auntie Banana and Auntie Duck as he already knew how to say these words. She not bearing much of a resemblance to a banana, nor I (I hope) to a duck, he has been slow to catch on. This morning he learnt to say ‘pop’ and went after his bubble bath with a gleeful, popping vengeance. He also poured water on my head with a small watering can, which explains in part why I added bedraggled to the above list of adjectives. I’ve also found that it’s hard to keep tops clean when small children with muddy boots want piggy backs. His older brother is ten, so I’ve had just enough time to forget how grubby two year olds are, and how much this is catching.

I am a besotted auntie, enjoying the most time I’ve ever spent in a block with littlest nephew, and the most in a while with oldest. The Bean is chubby, smiley and delighted by toys, stories, stickers and hide and seek. He’s just started pretending to look for me behind cushions when he is seeking and knows perfectly well where I am hid (‘not there – where can be?!’). He’s started noticing shadows and squealed with delight and fear when my frantically quacking shadow duck was chased into the air by my malevolent shadow fox (read: malformed duck with pointy ears – can anyone do these things well?). The Dude (no connection to the Big Lebowski, he was the Baby Dude when he was wee) is tall, clever and creative, pleased to take after his father, eager for praise and adept at contriving reasons why he was listening actually, he was just busy doing this other thing first. We’re writing a comic together, about a hunter and a troll – parallel lives, opposite priorities. I’m hoping they’ll make peace and be friends, possibly with a decent environmental message thrown in, but it is equally likely that the hunter will become an astronaut and go looking for space trolls. All things are possible. Yesterday I wrote The Dude a treasure hunt with rhyming riddles and sent him around the garden in search of clues and toffees (‘I don’t actually really like toffees’ – then, reassuringly – ‘the treasure hunt was good though’).

We are near Sizergh Castle, whose mature hornbeam trees draw the rare hawfinch here – large, shy, and orange capped. I’ve been learning more about them this week, though my hopeful pauses and peering into treetops has been rewarded only by a couple of disgruntled woodpigeons taking flight. I did see a wren and a nuthatch in the castle grounds though, and glimpsed a jay flying while walking with my brother’s partner J and her dogs. Being largely responsible for my newfound fascination with hawfinches, J patiently waits while I scan trees for them. Last night while I cleaned my teeth she called me out to see toads in the back garden, which I greeted with unalloyed if toothpastey delight.

I was going to write more this evening – about work in the field and about Beatrix Potter and about the joy of reunions – but I find that my yawns are becoming more frequent and my eyelids are drooping, so you are spared (for now) my fun facts on fencing. Stay tuned,

Love from Auntie Duck.


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