It’s so beautiful down here at the moment. I mean, ridiculously so. There’s that special Spring thing going on, which we as a temperate nation appreciate more than most. We’ve emerged from yet another bleak mid-winter and are now officially frolicking in the sunshine. If I was a lamb I would almost certainly be gambolling, and if this was pagan times there would be all manner of fertility rituals going on. This has been replaced in modern society by seven pints of Stellar and a kebab eating competition, but the theme is still the same. Anyway, I like Spring. A lot.
As I was feeling young and fecund, I strolled across the park to join the nearby lifeboat station as a volunteer. I know everyone says they do this out of a sense of duty – which is true – but there is also the not inconsiderable motivation of the possibility of rescuing the (all female) crew of a yacht that has stranded on a sand bank and urgently need lots of lotion applying. The thought of hoving into view to be greeted by the words “Thank god you’re here. We’re the Hooters display team on a motivational outing and there will be genuine bikini chafing issues unless you can do something RIGHT NOW”.
Well, let’s just say it added a certain spring to my step as I approached the lifeboat shed.
I duly chatted to Rob, the boss, who is a very nice man, but told me that I was too old. Crikey. I’m forty five, and the maximum age for a D Class boat is….forty five. The crew were all very welcoming indeed, and – seeing my crestfallen expression as the vision of helping out in a helicopter lift by attaching a hook to a leopard skin thong duly faded – Rob said that I could help out on shore. I am therefore being trained as stand-by tractor driver to get the boat in and out of the water. My feelings on the RNLI are well known as I do try to write about them whenever I can – they represent the very best of what we can be I think, volunteering to put themselves in harms way to save others. I’m happy and honoured to help out, and for now have put away my tub of coconut smelling factor 30 and bikini release shears. But I’m ready at a moments notice.
We went up river in the RIB to explore the Dart. It’s a strange sensation to motor away from the genteel, manicured seafront in Dartmouth, and within minutes be puttering through what appears to be the Amazonian basin. The trees come right down to the edge of the water, and the valley echos and crackles with life. I was fully expecting some parakeets to fly overhead or a tapir to emerge from the margins. Although that didn’t happen, what did was probably – in fact definitely from Reuben’s perspective – just as exciting.
As we motored through one of the larger turns in the river – which are in effect huge, sweeping lagoons as the Dart slows in it’s leisurely amble to the sea – I saw something in the water. We were probably three hundred metres from the bank, right in mid-stream, and a long way from anything.
The first I saw was a very small head motoring very determinedly along, whiskers bristling, whilst a very short distance behind there was a fluffy tail being used as a makeshift rudder. As we got closer we realised – after considerable debate in the boat - that it was a stoat. Plainly there was something highly compelling on the opposite bank that had made it plunge in to swim a very, very long way indeed. We drew alongside and I could make out it’s little legs whirring away, eyes fixed on it’s destination, a demented David Walliams on a mission to the promised land.
There was a great deal of ‘ahhh’ing” and “come on little fella’ ing” from all of us in the boat, which drew the attention of the – until this point rather bored – dog.
Up to this juncture Reuben had been occupied with his crewman’s duties which consist mainly of a) barking at the water, b) sitting on my feet to keep them warm, and c) barking at the water again. Having performed these duties with some aplomb, he was by this stage pretty unimpressed with the trip. Imagine then his considerable delight as he hoisted himself to his feet to be met with the sight of what appeared to be a swimming squirrel right under his twitching nose. This was the equivalent of every single one of his Christmas’s and Birthdays arriving simultaneously.
At this point a certain level of bedlam broke out on the boat. Reubs was very, very, very keen to retrieve said squirrel for – as the Japanese whaling fleet might put it – scientific purposes. We were equally keen that he didn’t. Kerin – Tam’s brother – basically had to assume a similar position to a water skier as he held Reub’s collar and skidded across the deck. Reinforcements became involved, and Reubs was taken into custody before being manacled to the deck. He found this disappointing. He started barking, the baby started crying, it started to rain, and the stoat engaged the after-burners and accelerated to about one mile an hour. It seemed as good a time as any for us to leave the scene.
Anyway, what an amazing thing. It turns out that stoats are very good swimmers – we did a bit of research when we got back – and found out that they can swim out to offshore islands as far as a mile out. Unless pursued by Reubs of course, in which case I bet they’d swim much further (and faster). He sulked all the way home by the way, and is still slightly huffy about it.
The shop looks great, and will really come on in the next week or so. The big opening is Friday 6th April – hooray indeed. We’re doing a course about how to use social media soon, so we can keep everyone posted about what animals we’re seeing via twitter and all that. The shop, although small, will have an electronic signature akin to the USS Nimitz shelling a beach prior to an invasion.
Isla's very well, although she’s now the size of Miranda. Reubs loves her, and keeps a close eye on proceedings.
We’ll keep you posted as ever – can’t believe that soon we’ll be flipping the sign from Closed to Open!