Well - 'yer 'tiz. My 200th blog post. And yet I am annoyed.
Approximately a month, it has been with us. Approximately a month. And ALREADY it has caused trouble.
I refer, of course, to my bird table. The first few days, my partner and I were enchanted (as, in part, we continue to be) by the visits of our feathered brethren to seek sustenance at our table. Alas, just a few short days ago, I was dozing in a sunbeam, which poured through the French windows, when an upstart interloper caught my drowsily closing eye.
Why? Why am I tormented by such beasts? The memories of the disrespectful hedgepig nemesis from my previous home had just begun to fade with the passage of time - and now here was a new ne'er-do-well to haunt me.
I crept quietly into the kitchen, where my partner was preparing lunch, and asked if I could be let out to go to the toilet. She kindly obliged, and I tipclawed around the corner of our house in order to catch the beast in his heinous act.
"OI!!!" I yelled. The small grey thief started, and dropped the armful of nuts that he had been collecting, "What the H*LL do you think you are doing?!"
The squirrel was a young one, probably born this spring. His eyes darted about madly, looking for an escape route but, finding none, stood stock still on the table, trembling. I continued, angrily, "Those nuts and seeds are for the birds, not you!"
"Oh, please," implored the squirrel, "PLEASE, Mister Dog, please let me take some. I'm so hungry. PLEASE! There are no nuts in the hedges here and if I don't eat these, I'll die!"
I looked at him. He was incredibly thin. His eyes were sunken hollows in his face. His ribs were clearly visible, rising and falling rapidly, and his grey fur was mangy with bits missing. I felt a stab of pity.
"There is a squirrel colony about a mile over there, with plenty of beech and hazel." I said. "Why don't you go over there?"
The little squirrel's shoulders sagged.
"I was born there." he replied, sadly. "Lots of us were this Spring. In the end, there were too many of us in the colony. There was a huge fight, and the weaker ones had to leave. I don't know where the others went, but I came here. I built my own drey before I realised there was no food here. Now I am too tired and it is too cold to find anywhere else. And then I saw the nuts here." He looked defeated. "I'm sorry." he continued, "I won't trouble you again. Please don't kill me. I shall die soon anyway."
I stared at him, sighed, and (not for the first time) despaired at the benevolent streak in my nature which, somehow, made me feel less masculine.
"Hold!" I called, as the forlorn squirrel turned to go. "How many of you are there here?"
"Just me. No-one else."
I sighed again.
"Very well." I barked, "You may dine freely at this table."
The squirrel turned and regarded me, his eyes now filled with hope. I continued. "Just you. And just for this Winter. You will find fresh nuts every morning - but my partner stops putting them out at the end of March. You may take what you need, but no more. And ensure you leave enough for the birds."
"Oh yes!" panted the squirrel, happily, "There is plenty here for all who want it. Thank you! Thank you Mister Dog! God bless you!" And he began to re-stack his armful of nuts, with renewed hope and happiness.
I must say that, despite my misgivings, I did feel a warm glow at having helped one of my fellow creatures. I turned to go back indoors - and then turned back towards the table.
"Don't go directly back to your drey." I said, "Turn left; go across the garden fences, cross the road and go back that way. There is a cat hiding behind that tree there" (indicating the nearest tree) "waiting for you."
The squirrel fixed me with an earnest gaze.
"Thank you." he said.
I nodded, and returned to the house.
After the squirrel had been gone about ten minutes, I had the satisfaction of seeing a highly annoyed young female cat emerge preyless from behind the nearest tree, with a look of thunder upon her not-unpretty face, and stalk off home.
Perhaps doing the right thing by starving rodents had hidden advantages for me - as well as proving balm to my conscience. I'd almost go as far as to say that my act of goodwill made me feel Christmassy.
Almost - but not quite.