Close encounters with a badger and the woman who nursed me as a child

I’m always amazed at who I bump into when I’m out and about – and by what they might say

One night during January, a badger  squeezed himself in through the cat flap

One night during January, a badger squeezed himself in through the cat flap


The beloved is gone to Poland and I have nobody to share the rainstorms with except the cat, who doesn’t go out much, since she’s getting old and stiff. We watch television together, although it’s not easy to find programmes that suit both of us.

On Sunday night I watched Call the Midwife on BBC. It was just what I needed. A nun delivered a Jewish woman’s baby and, just as another lovely nurse was about to go to Brighton with a beautiful man, he fell and broke his leg, and lost his foot and then he died. I cried all the way through.

I leave the Landscape Channel on for the cat in the mornings, when she’s resting on the sofa. It broadcasts images of nature and plays relaxing classical music to help people escape from the stresses of the world. The cat loves it. And to be fair she doesn’t have an easy life. There are a lot of wild animals outside the door.

Her biggest enemy is the badger who was so hungry during January that one night he squeezed himself in through the cat flap. I found him in the scullery eating a bowl of expensive cat food, and I was naked, which may be what frightened him. He panicked so badly that he wet himself trying to get back out the cat-flap.

But it may have given him something to talk about when he got home to the warren at the end of the garden.

“You’re looking very stressed, dear,” the lady badger might have said. “Did you meet a tractor?”

“No,” he might have replied, “but you’ll never guess who I bumped into on my way home.”

I’m always amazed at who I bump into when I’m out and about. Recently I was in a hotel for Sunday lunch. I was sitting beside the window, looking out at the lawn, when a woman came over to my table. I saw her in the distance and my heart started to pump faster, “leaping in my breast,” as a poet might say.

She was not a young woman, but even as she crossed the floor I sensed something familiar about her. And when she got to the table she reached out her hand and said, “I nursed you.”

“Forgive me,” I said, “I should have recognised you,” presuming she had tended the wound in my groin when I was in hospital last year.

“No,” she said, “it was a long time ago. I nursed you as a baby.”

It seemed such an intimate topic that I didn’t know what to say.

“Was I good?” I wondered.

“Oh,” she said, “you were great. I used to sneak you up bits of currant bread at night because you were always hungry.”

Sometimes I am amazed at the things my parents kept hidden from me. And I would have spent more time with her but I wanted to get to the horse sales in the equestrian centre. Not that I wanted a horse, but dealers always have very intense conversations in the cafeteria.

An old man said about one of the horses that “€3,500 is too much”.

“We could go half and half,” the young woman replied. He was munching away on a sausage as his brain ticked over.

His greasy cap was sitting beside his plate. A blackthorn stick that he probably uses for mannering cattle was lying on the floor at his feet. He didn’t need his stick at the horse sales, but he probably takes it with him everywhere he goes.

And the young woman seemed a bit out of place in his company. She looked more like a Nama mammy with gold bracelets, and her daughter, in a swanky white anorak puffed out like a duvet, was absorbed with texts on her iPhone. They were all polishing off big breakfasts. From the glass wall of the cafeteria they could look down into the sales arena.

“Oh, look, Mammy,” the young girl said, “isn’t that one beautiful.” She was pointing at a bay mare on display below, and she spoke with the longing of someone who wants nothing else in life but to be on the back of a bay mare.

“Why won’t her father get involved?” the old man said.

“Don’t start,” mammy said. And the old man leaned closer to her.

“Do I look like the nursemaid?” he inquired rhetorically. And to be fair he didn’t. But the princess looked like she would need more than bits of currant bread to still her hunger.

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