Early morning and it looks idyllic out there. Buttering my toast I watch a scene Walt Disney would be proud of. Two – no three! – red squirrels, frisky as kittens, chasing each other round the bird feeder.
Before breakfast Ray saw a brown hare in the field, long ears alert for dog walkers and other dangers. And now around the pond, randy mallard drakes are pursuing loudly protesting females while two swans finish their mating ritual with elegant finesse, making a heart shape with long necks. Spring has sprung at Pond Cottage. But don’t be deceived, it’s a jungle out there.
We watch that beautifully choreographed mating dance with mixed feelings. Every year there’s a magic moment when the young ones appear but we have learned that those fluffy bundles paddling after their mother can suddenly disappear. Nature has no time for frail or foolish young things.
“Survival of the fittest” on the pond depends on building nests well out of reach of marauding mink or other predators lurking in the undergrowth. This week a crow found the clutch of ducks eggs in a ferny hollow near the back door. Empty shells now lie scattered on the ground.
Then there’s the weather. A sudden cold spell wipes out weaklings in the brood, flash floods wash away nests. One year, after heavy rain destroyed the swans’ woody platform, we watched the female transporting her young to safety, the smallest cygnet snuggled between her wings.
Every year we marvel at the instincts that drive such determined hard work. It’s a tough life, feeding, keeping warm and perpetuating the species. And it’s no softer in the city. Back at home this week Ray watched a sparrowhawk sweeping through the back garden, perching on the bird bath with a small dead bird in its talons before retiring to a tree to finish the meal with gusto. All within full view of the kitchen window. As a friend commented, it’s the sign of a healthy songbird population. Our overgrown garden is obviously now on the raptor list of recommended eating places.
But back to red squirrels. In the last three years they have become one of the great treats of staying at Pond Cottage. At first we wondered if they would be harmed by contact with pox-carrying greys but oddly the greys seem to have given way to the smaller, more photogenic reds.
Last week I spotted a notice at the farm shop, asking people to inform the local Squirrel Watch group of any sightings, red or grey, ending ominously “We Will Do The Rest”. Our greys seem to have scarpered but even if they hadn’t I would be keeping quiet. There’s quite enough killing in our back yard.
Perhaps it was just a slow night on telly. Perhaps I was cheered to hear that David Tennant had lent (if that’s the right word?) his voice to Scottish Labour. Whatever the reason, fortified with only a small glass of wine, I sat down to watch four short YouTube films one after the other. It was a strange experience and not at all scientific but if YouTube hits were real votes Labour would be beating the SNP..
Imagine you are watching from a distant planet, what impression of Scotland would you get from the 2012 party election broadcasts?
Under the Scottish National Party, we all live in Happy Street among smiley, smiley neighbours: going out to work, moving into new homes, heading off to college, taking in parcels for neighbours, shopping, laughing, not a care in the world. In Happy Street there is no sign of unemployment or housing shortages. Someone has clearly advised the SNP to campaign for local council votes with the feel-good messages that worked so well in the Scottish Parliament elections. Confident, optimistic and ever-so-slightly smug. [YouTube hits at the time of writing: 2994]
In Labour’s Scotland people put themselves in the picture, literally drawing a good life: jobs, homes, childcare, security for the elderly and a future for the young. David Tennant may be doing the voice-over but real people are talking to camera and they seem to mean what they say. As a Labour voter I am obviously not unbiased but I am often highly critical of (and deeply disappointed in) the party I have always voted for. This time I am cautiously impressed by the message, not least by the last word encouraging everyone to vote whoever they vote for. [YouTube hits: 5,100]
In contrast both LibDems and Scottish Tories have gone for the cheaper option of talking straight to camera against a backdrop of areas all benefiting from their good management. At first Willie Rennie for LibDems does a pretty good job: energetic, enthusiastic, urgent. Er, maybe too urgent. After the third repetition of “We need more Lib Dem councillors” he begins to sound more desperate than keen. Not for the first time I find myself wondering why they turned down the chance to continue in coalition with Labour after the 2007 election. [YouTube hits: 124]
And the Scottish Conservatives? Well, you’ve got to admire Ruth Davidson’s determination but she lacks the warmth of Annabel Goldie and when she starts to enthuse about the great job the Tories are doing in Aberdeen (What?) you begin to stray into a different fantasy land. Is it a restricted budget or a design feature that introduces random black and white scenes? Either way, it gives the effect of intermittent power cuts. Not a good message. [YouTube hits: 19].
Whether party election broadcasts influence anyone is open to question. I’m certainly not suggesting these YouTube hits are a guide to voting results on May 3. But it’s interesting…unless I was just one of a lot of Labour supporters with nothing better to do than tune into YouTube. Oh come on, it’s no worse than watching dancing cats!