Monday, January 10, 2011

Stoat skin

Summer and one tires of mowing the lawn. Others keep a dog and walk it daily; I keep half an acre of greenery short. Interest is added by virtue of having to dodge John's sea salt and stoat skin, and all the fallen apricots. The salt is acquired as sea water and poured onto a green tray where it evaporates in the middle of the front garden; the stoat was acquired only the once when he found it, fresh road kill, on his bike ride. He brought it home and asked for a lesson in animal skinning. I hadn't grasped that the stoat is related to the skunk until inadvertently snipping through a small innocuous white gland near the tail, but my taxonomic knowledge grew very quickly thereafter. Instant nausea. Just as well I didn't pick up the stoat I saw last year with a view to playing a small joke on Willem, who kept a daschund called Chester. I had planned taking the stoat in a box and saying 'I found Chester run over.' Willem has a keen sense of humour and would have laughed uproariously. Colette (Mrs Willem) would not; she hated Chester in proportion to the number of times he pissed in the bedroom. She wanted Chester dead. And in fact she got her way and saved me the stoat joke because Chester, poor chap, ran out of the house under a car. In fact it may have been because Chester looked like a stoat that he got run over: your New Zealand driver will always run over stoats and possums, and you can generally tell an overseas driver by the fact that his tail-lights come on when there's a hedgehog in the road. To everything there is a morality but there are no absolutes, and the running over of stoats and hedgehogs is mitigated by the eating of kiwi eggs and weka eggs and Californian quail eggs by stoats and hedgehogs. - In fact only the kiwi and the weka are native-and-preserved: the Californian quail was introduced specifically so people could shoot them, but nobody ever can. A Californian quail is about the size of a plump blackbird and about the colour of a guinea fowl and sticking out of the top of his head is a single feather, a plume, that looks as if it ought to have been in a BBC costume drama. And he always goes everywhere with his wife and fifty or sixty exceedingly tiny children, all of whom run at a speed that makes Sebastian Coe look like a member of the House of Lords. The Californian quail has legs about a quarter of an inch long and to see him run - and he always does run - makes you revise your ideas about short cranks, because you can't actually see his legs move. They're a blur. Eventually they vaporise, of course, and then he has no option but to fly, and his wings are wired up to his leg neurones so his feathers are a blur too. And if ever you meet a man with a gun who can shoot a miniature pea-hen with an ostrich feather stuck in his hair who runs like a McDonalds wind-up toy and then turns into a hummingbird, I authorise you to shoot the man instead. But you won't find one. He'll be laughing too much.

Summer, so one keeps one's eye out for the first recumbent-or-Bob-Yak-struggling-up-Takaka-Hill. It was yesterday, as a matter of fact. It was a recumbent and not a Bob Yak. Summer always produces a few in Motueka: the Bob Yaks spontaneously generate themselves in Nelson and trek over here, but the recumbents are always from Picton and always on their way to Invercargill. This betrays lamentable navigational skills because Motueka is a bit out of the way, and certainly by the time they've done Takaka Hill (894 metres) and found that there really isn't any other road connecting Golden Bay with the rest of the country and so it's got to be back over Takaka Hill (894 metres again) they begin to see the value of map-reading skills. The recumbent was a short wheelbase and very probably an early Radius, very probably a Hornet, but it might have been an HP Velotechnik Street Machine. But anyway it was red. And heavily laden. And almost certainly ridden by a German. Even though he had all his clothes on he was probably German. I know he wasn't a New Zealander because there was a hedgehog on the road and he didn't run it over. (Though maybe that was to do with Mr Larrington's P*ncture Fairy.)


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