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  1. When we took on our six ducks, we had no idea how industrious these little birds are, how intelligently they interrogate their environment, and how creatively and assiduously they set about shaping it to their needs.

    ducks site inspection

    They spent a few days settling in, then after some reconnaissance, they set to work tidying up their pond, which we had originally dug out over ten years ago. The roots of the surrounding willows, planted over 15 years ago, have bound in the banks and base, so it holds water all the time. The ducks’ first project was to flatten and trim all the edges, test the pond for depth, and pat the banks into shape. They thought the water level was too high, so they dug a neat little run-off which directed water straight onto the path.

    We disagreed with their decision and blocked up the run-off, which was trickling steadily and turning the path into a mud bath. The ducks watched us resentfully, muttering at the way we had undone all their hard work. After we had left, they moved in and politely but firmly, dug another run-off right next to the repair.

    ducks builders meeting

    They work together, and hold frequent builders’ meetings, standing round the site in question and discussing how it’s going; these talks often get quite heated, and there are raised voices during obviously passionate negotiations.

    There are now a variety of earthworks taking place all over the hill. The first site is being used for mud baths. There is a nascent pond appearing between the mud bath and the existing pond. One wonders if they are creating some sort of elaborate system for cleansing, like a Turkish bath. While works are in progress, the new holes become feeding sites, as the bare earth is obviously lifting with fresh food. Then the geese are invited for tea, and it’s quite a party.

    ducks mud bath

    These projects seem designed to create running water. We now have two new streams - as if we haven’t got enough of those already - and are beginning to worry that if our ducky labourers keep this up, our hill might actually be entirely flat within the next five years. Either that, or nibbled down to the bedrock, which will probably turn our hill into a waterfall, and we will require a winch to get down to the car …

    ducks ditch forewoman


    Bowling happily along through the heart of Glasgow on the M8 the other week, en route to our holiday destination, my husband was keenly anticipating the advent of Junction 16. He had planned two fishing trips, at least one of which would require waders, which were waiting for him in the largest fishing tackle shop in Europe, a mere two minutes from Junction 16. The rod, reel, line and flies, net, little scissors and spectacles were already packed, the shop selling the fishing permits earmarked for a visit. Only the waders stood between him and angling bliss.

    day 4 river clyde bridge field

    Junction 15 came and went. We both switched into extra-alert mode, eyes fixed on the approach of the sign, ears pricked, noses twitching. The sign appeared in the distance –  for Junction 17. Er …

    My husband re-consulted his largest fishing tackle shop in Europe leaflet, to ensure we had not mis-read the directions. We hadn’t. As we roared along, we held urgent talks about what had happened between the road map, the leaflet, our interpretation of the available information, and the stark physical reality facing us – that with the point of access not in evidence, the largest fishing tackle shop in Europe was now a rapidly receding missed opportunity.

    Were we on the right motorway? Yes we were. Could Junction 16 possibly refer to an exit on an unlabelled, mysteriously short connecting motorway that lasted approximately 25 yards, and was called something like M8/B1? Not according to the spanking new 2017 edition of our AA roadmap. It was a red rather than a blue dot on the page - was it a junction in progress, under construction, or merely a twinkling in a town planner’s eye?

    Maybe the numbers had got mixed up. Would Junction 16 appear just after Junction 17, having been shoe-horned into the motorway system at the last minute, after all the signs had been put in position? More radically, was it possible we had both experienced a simultaneous time-travelling zone-out moment, propelling us past Junction 16 without us noticing? I checked my watch. It showed no trace of lost minutes.

    Perhaps it had been decided that Junction 16 was surplus to requirements, and it had been relocated, complete with slip road, to a more needy spot on the A85. Or could it have been kidnapped and was now being held to ransom in a derelict barn just off the B4096?

    day 4 river clyde mike tackle

    Even worse was the thought that the largest fishing tackle shop in Europe was labouring under a misconception about where it actually was. Did it hover somewhere out of time and space, without a Junction 16 to anchor it in the real world? Did it ever get any business? The advertisement mentioned no other route of access; it was two minutes from Junction 16 – or not there at all.

    Were we in an alternative reality scenario, where Junction 16 and the largest fishing tackle shop in Europe existed in another dimension? If I chose a point roughly equidistant between Junction 15 and 17, pointed the car firmly at the crash barrier and floored it, would we, following the scream of tearing metal, open our eyes to find ourselves teleported to the largest fishing tackle shop in Europe, twinkling under a different sky, staffed by kindly men in moleskin waistcoats and trousers modelling the much-longed for waders in question, and delighted to encounter another dimension-travelling fisherman?

    Hm. I decided not to risk it. We thundered on, waderless. We now live with the mystery of the vanished/invisible/displaced/never there in the first place Junction 16, and the tantalisingly unattainable largest fishing tackle shop in Europe. Which is why Tuesday found my husband calf-deep in the River Clyde, defying the cold with sodden moleskin trousers and doggedly wading in his walking boots, eventually celebrating the catch of a handsome 14” wild brown trout on his recently designed New Dun …

    day 4 river clyde wading