Copyright M.& M.M. Ough Dealy 2007-2011
This page last modified on Thursday, September 01, 2011
Each feature had a tale to tell.
For example the hedge was growing in compost that we had collected from the local fish and chip shop. Rich in nitrates and the aroma of dead fish it proved to be an irresistible attraction for every cat in the neighbourhood. The hedge took a long time to start growing shocked as it was by the attention of the feline neighbours and the over abundance of nitrates. But I have it on good authority that it survived for the many years after we left and is today a super hedge of 9 feet in height, so we must have done something right.
The veggy garden took a lot of hard work to establish and an initial planting of potatoes to help break up the concrete like ground and in the hope of an early edible product. But our first crop was a real disappointment. Nearly every tuber we later harvested was infested with wriggling masses of wire worms. These were of a repulsive dark orange/blood red hue that quickly dispelled any ideas of a feast of roast potatoes or even chips.
But I was given an answer to that problem by an old Devon farmer friend. He advised me " to plarrrnt musturrrrd seed. That’d be sure to make all them tharrr varrrms jump and run away..." and it did! We never had that problem again.
Then there was that pride and joy of mine - the fish pond. It was started by the discovery of a swathe of concrete under the piles of rubbish on the plot. This had been, I suppose, laid down as the base for the farm yard that once stood on the land long since abandoned and forgotten. We broke the concrete up and used the result to build the garden walls. But I soon got fed up with that hard labour and wondered what I could do with the remaining exposed concrete still in situ.
Maybe I thought of it or may be Minnie suggested it but whatever...surely we could use it as the bottom of a pond. No sooner thought of than almost done, the pond was quickly established using some of the stones and rubble with new concrete. Of course it leaked at first, but eventually things settled down and we populated it with a few gold fish. These were the lucky survivors of my first attempt at keeping golf fish in a small indoor aquarium tank. Most of that ill fated population died because I, being an amateur in these matters, had neglected to provide circulating water and oxygenation.
Anyhow the remaining few fish liked the new pond and survived. Even in the rigours of a cold winter when the pond iced over you could see them swimming below the solid surface.
They also had the hungry local cat population to contend with. What with the fishy smell of the new hedge and a potential meal swimming a cat’s paw length away, the local feline’s really thought they were in a seventh heaven...or would it be a ninth or permanent heaven for cats?
Those much put upon fish had another hazard to contend with on hot summer days. Our neighbours owned a rather large male Labrador. As he was banned from doing in his own place the many doggy things dogs do he took to making free with the facilities offered by neighbour’s gardens. Apart from leaving his several marks in our garden he made a habit of plonking himself down in the pond to cool off. When he thought no one was looking he’d saunter down, jump over our apology for a hedge to take a refreshing plunge. Trouble was that he was a large, fat hound and the pond was small and relatively shallow. His sudden immersion half emptied the pond of water and startled the poor fish. Of course the fish were too small and the doggy hide was too hairy for them to do any damage to scare him off. So he’d lie there panting with a self indulgent smirk on his self satisfied face without a care in the world.
Mind you, mad as I was when I caught him at it. I had to be careful what I did to discourage him. After all he had teeth and out ranked me at least by three levels. His owners had named him Colonel and he did like to parade about!
I did have one weapon. But it was one not of my making. Nor was it one that I or anyone else could possibly control. It liked to skulk in dark places and walked on four large paws well equipped with long sharp talons. It had a tatty fur coat that had seen better days and showed the scars of a life of violence and crime. Its ears looked as if someone had got at them with blunt shears and its eyes were a window into the evil within.
In short it was the local feral cat. Everything walked in fear of it. When it felt so inclined it would take up residence in our garden and then not even the Colonel would brave its baleful glares. Mind you the fish seemed happy enough as I never saw it attempt to take them; perhaps it did not like a bath.
Now our cat was a neutered tabby and so a reasonably well mannered pet. It had a tawny coat and a developed ruff. It still imagined itself as the Prima Dona amongst cats. It liked to preen and show itself off pretending to be a lion amongst its kin.
That is until one night when all hell broke loose. I had just gone to bed when our lion and the monster of the darkest hours came boiling through the bedroom window. The feral was intent on murder and the lion’s one desire was to escape...any old how. I must say I woke up with a start and Minnie swears that I shouted loudly for help from my mother. But before I realized what was going on, the brawling felines shot out again through the window, leaving behind the cowering occupant of the bed and scratch marks on the wall near the ceiling where our macho had desperately leapt to evade the enemy.
Scenes from Happy days in Faringdon 1967-69
Many years later I renewed my fishy affair. The New Zealand population is well over a hundred fish of perhaps five generations in varying sizes and colours. They benefit from clear running water, pond weeds to skulk in and plenty of food.
But they have to contend with not just the hazards of local cats. There are also curious children and hungry birds. The Kingfishers, quick to recognize a good thing when they see one, have long since taken up residence in the Phoenix palm and regard the ponds as their dinner table
We have also had several herons visiting with gold fish on the menu of their tiny minds. One particularly cheeky character used regularly to land on the neighbour’s roof, hop over to our veranda and parade along the balustrade before diving down to catch his breakfast. The introduction of some plastic replicas of his kind finally discouraged that particular nuisance. But the replicas did not deter the Kingfishers; not at all. They still take great delight in shooting down from their high perch in the palm tree or the washing line to sit on the painted beaks of our plastic herons. From there it is an easy jump into the pond for a meal. But what really gets me is that they will sit perched on the heron’s plastic beak daring me to do anything about it. They have the same evil glint in their eyes that remind me of another feral monster that was not to be discouraged from a meal or a fight.
Some things never change.....But at least the local fish population still survives. They are the best kind of pet, self sufficient (most of the time) colourful and undemanding they provide a constant if somewhat silent companionship and do not talk back! And their tails can be magnificent!
Fishy Tails and Other Stories
By Martin Ough Dealy
The builder said to me "Look mate, why don’t you buy the plot of land next door as well as the bungalow? It’s going cheap!" Ah.... thought I, now what is the catch here? But at a price of about GBP150 how could I possibly go wrong?
Sure it was an odd roughly triangular shape and looked a bit desolate. It was also separated by the local substation from the land on which our new bungalow stood. There was a forlorn looking concrete pill box of WW2 vintage at the far end near the main road overlooking the town of Faringdon. On the other hand there was a well established old apple tree near the pill box and the plot was certainly large enough to accommodate a garden for the bungalow. So why not buy it?
Indeed why not?
It was not until we moved in that I found out.
Despite the somewhat humpy desolate appearance of the plot it looked OK to me. However, when I got out my new garden fork to start the ground work I discovered that the top soil was really just a thin veneer. It had been used to cover and hide all the detritus the builders had energetically dumped on the plot. They had built about 20 houses and it seemed to my now very jaundiced eyes that they must have dumped all the rubbish they had cleared from the rest of the estate on my garden to be. There was a wealth of old bricks, concrete rubble, rocks, piles of clay, twisted coils of wire and much else besides, but little evidence of soil on which to establish a garden. We even discovered, much later, an old cap badge and some great coat buttons of the East Yorkshire Regiment that must have been camped in the area long years before.
How I cursed that wily builder! But there was nothing for it, we either left the plot as it was or we turned to and did something about it. I say we, because Minnie, loyal wife that she was/is, (luckily for me) had volunteered to help.
To cut a long and somewhat sorry tale short we managed to tame that plot. The end result many months later was a nicely grassed area lined with stone walls, a budding hedge, one healthy apple tree, a veggy cum fruit garden and, my pride and sometimes joy, a fish pond. The pill box was now discreetly hidden by bushes.