Thursday, 8 January 2009

Exploring Vole Country With Bill Oddie

Bill Oddie owns one of humanity’s better souls. There’s no less flattering way of putting it. Nestled in that body of his beats a heart so pure that it’s thought to be in time with nature’s own clock. There was a moment today when I realised that just to be in the man’s presence is an honour. His breath smells of wild nettles and he has small barbs on the backs of his hands were wild creatures can grip as they sup the heady nectar oozing from his sweat glands. I can honestly say that the exciting days and long drawn out nights I’m spending with Bill are making me more aware of his special qualities. Hell. I've even seen him suckle a weasel. Is there anything more honest and true than that?

We’d spent our morning tickling trout on the stretch of Scottish river that Bill maintains up here on behalf of the wildlife. It’s a lush paradise for all types of fauna, including the grit toad, the gasping adder, and the rare Highland vole (about which, more later). Yet as much as I love Bill and would have happily bore him children if we'd met in my childbearing days, I did feel that the morning was less than advertised.

I’d travelled all this way to Scotland expecting to finger some fish only for Bill to insist, at the very last moment, that I could only tickle his trout if I wore woollen mittens to protect the oils that cover their delicate scales. Water heavy mittens and temperatures below freezing were not what I was expecting when I agreed to this caper. By eleven o’clock, I was so disenchanted that I made only half-hearted attempts at inducing laughter in the trout, who, it turns out, are the most selfish of creatures. Once they realised they were getting nothing from me, they’d slip from my numb, cold fingers and go seek their pleasures between Bill’s waders. I’ve seen similar behaviour at recordings of the Paul O’Grady show, so I recognised the signs that a performer should retire while he still can. Only some, like O’Grady, keep going and put honest men and women out of business. Ruin them. Force them to wretched satellite channels, only a dozen or so channels up from the porn. What kind of life is that for a man with great ideas and a wife with a novel to plug?

However, I digress.

Around lunchtime, I managed to persuade Bill that we’d tickled enough trout for one morning and I suggested lunch.

‘I have some pickled onions and quorn sandwiches in my binoculars case,’ he said with an enthusiasm you couldn’t smash with a mallet. ‘I’ll share them with you, Dick. Nothing like pickled onions and a bit of quorn to warm you up for an afternoon wading among the trout.’

‘Much as I appreciate the offer, Bill,’ I answered, ‘I doubt if your binoculars case could hold quantities of neither pickled onions nor quorn to satisfy my appetite. Let’s call the ticking off for the day and go look for a local tavern and perhaps sample its honey meads.’

‘Taverns? Honey meads?’ scoffed Bill. ‘There aren’t any taverns around here.’

‘Then let us embark on a quest to find a country pub,’ I replied. ‘Isn’t it often said that you can’t walk five minutes in Scotland without smelling some freshly brewed hops?’

‘That’s true but not in this part of Scotland. This is Presbyterian country. Most pleasures are outlawed around here. Do you know I even needed a license before we could tickle the trout? And before they gave me that I had to promise that we wouldn’t go touching any nipples.’

I felt a slightly guilty flush develop around my cheeks. Nobody had mentioned that the nipples were out of bounds.

I thought it best to hurry matters on. ‘This is disturbing news, Bill,’ I said. ‘Where am I to get a pint?’

He laughed. ‘Nowhere! There isn’t a pub within fifty miles of us.’

I could hardly see a reason for humour and with barely a wave to the trout, I set off in search of lodgings and something alcoholic and warm.

Walking in Scotland with Bill Oddie was such a rare experience. It was past noon and the cold of the morning had been turned a touch more pleasant by the breaking of sunlight through the clouds. We’d been walking some time, me leading the way as Bill went bounding over the fields and occasionally returning to the road to hand me some fresh owl droppings that he’d found. Yet it was about five miles down the road when the incident happened.

There was a vole lying at the side of the road. We’d been walking along when Bill stumbled across him. Well, actually, Bill didn’t stumble. It was more like me nearly falling on Bill after I'd slipped on the poor creature’s innards that had been spread across the carriageway.

‘Oh, the poor little mite,’ said Bill, kneeling down to close the vole’s lifeless eyes.

‘Looks like a car got him,’ I said. ‘Dunlop. I recognise the tread pattern across his back, all four bloody feet of it.’

Bill wiped a tear from his eye as he stood up. He’d left his jacket across the remains of the poor dead vole.

‘We should buy him,’ he said.

‘Bury him?’

‘You can’t leave him here. Not like this. It’s undignified.’

I looked up the road, imagining a hot toddy waiting for me in some warm snug with access to repeats of the Richard&Judy show on Watch. ‘Oh, it will be alright,’ I said. ‘A cat will come along at any moment and lap that up. Isn’t that the way with nature? He’ll be food for some passing crow within the hour. I promise you, Bill.’

Only Oddie wouldn’t listen to reason. He spent the next ten minutes digging a small hole by the side of the road and then transporting the dead vole into that makeshift grave.

‘I’m surprised you don’t need a license to do this,’ I muttered as Bill stood over the grave and bowed his head.

‘Do you think we should say something?’ he asked.

‘I could say a fair few things,’ I replied in a threatening tone. Only, one look at Bill and I realised how terribly cruel I was being. ‘Of course I could say something, Bill. In fact, I’d be delighted.’

As you probably know if you’ve read ‘Fathers & Sons’ (reasonably priced at Amazon and getting even more reasonable by the day), I’m blessed with a mastery of words. However, nothing could have prepared me for that moment when I had to compose a valediction for a mole lost by the side of a Scottish road. I wish I could recover the words I’d said there but they have been lost on that lonely stretch of tarmacadam and vole juice. All I do know is that by the end, Bill was sodden with tears; his beard a single strand of bedraggled hair, matted together and smelling like damp straw. As I stood and watched him play the Last Post on his favourite duck call, it was then that I realised that Bill really is a very special person. He’s a one off; the champion of owls, defender of the hedgehog, and a friend to animals everywhere. And as soon as I’d scraped the last of the vole from my shoe and kicked it into the grave, I was only too happy to start filling in the hole on behalf of my good friend who could only stand there, blubbering out his vows to fight even harder to have vole tunnels installed under every road in this country of ours.

When I was finished heeling in the earth, Bill looked up at me, his face hardened into a look of solid ardour.

‘Never again,’ he said, gripping my arm. ‘Never again.’

‘Never again, Bill,’ I agreed with compassion. ‘Now let’s go get a drink and help me rinse this taste of vole out of my mouth.’


Welsh Girl said...

Buy the vole? What strange ideas Bill has. I expect that the road, sodden with Oddie tears now has a dangerous patch of black ice near the vole grave. More voles may die, slipping on Oddie ice....

Dick Madeley said...

Oddie ice! The very notion is as crazy as it's impossible. Don't you know that he contains his own natural anti-freeze, which sustains him on his long nighttime vigils with the owls?

Barbara said...

Aw, that was nice to eulogize the poor little vole. That's really all we can ask for, for someone to say a kind word after we've gone on.

Tessa said...

So pleased to read that you finally got to tickle the old trout, albeit briefy. And with a sodden glove.

RIP vole.

Nige said...

Brilliant stuff Dick - had me LOLing like a grampus (or something). Why is it that others fail to see the sheer all-round wonderful saintliness of Oddie? Did you by any chance get any pictures of the two of you together?

Dick Madeley said...

Barbara. Indeed but it was more than nice. It was profound and moving.

Tessa, I feel a little robbed of the experience of feeling fresh trout beneath my fingers. I might have to go back another day when Bill isn't with me.

Nige, I'm delighted you read it and laughed. You're not alone but it's not something that people like to advertise. Others tend to think us Oddieites quite odd.

James Higham said...

Is Jeremy all right these days, Richard?

Incense Blog said...

Hey, you should expect this kind of craziness from Bill, he's being going downhill ever since the Goodies.

Mind you, he can't have got it all wrong, what with hanging around with all kinds of birds... particulalry at night ;)

Anonymous said...

Ha!! You cannot fool me, there is no such animal as a 'vole' - I expect you meant 'Veal' which is a kind of teeney cow? Did it have udders at all?

Anonymous said...

Hmmm! How come your blog is mentioned in the Guardian all the f***ing time and mine isn't

(Guardian Guide page33 )

M Blister

David said...

I agree, but more importantly I’m sending Richard Madeley to hell on Wed 12th Jan. For your chance to play God and save him: