The extra hour .jpg

The extra hour


ON SUNDAY, October 29, the clocks go back one hour in most European countries and some people have another hour in bed. Others would like to, but where livestock husbandry is involved, animals, being creatures of habit, have no need of a timepiece to tell them when they are hungry.

Equally imperative are the moos and bleats of lactating animals where the farmer, eager to cash in, has separated mother from her new baby. A hard headed herdsman will claim the extra hour, but others, especially dairymaids, who have experienced the pain and pleasure of motherhood, will bring in the change over several days.

William Willett, a builder, campaigned for Daylight Saving in 1907, by circulating pamphlets to town councils and parliament. He suggested that, as the Sun rose for six months of the year before most people were at work, the clocks should be put forward to allow them to enjoy some sunshine at the end of the working day. This was to be done 20 minutes at a time on four Sundays during April. Despite opposition, in 1916, his idea was implemented to help the war effort and discarded after the Armistice. It was reinstated in several countries at the outbreak of World War Two and has remained unchanged since then.

Spain, however, did not follow suit, so, when crossing from Portugal, everything happens an hour later in summertime, and it is almost impossible to find a hotel or restaurant serving supper before 9.30pm.

To the wild birds this is of no consequence in either country. They rise at dawn and settle to rest as darkness falls, irrespective of the month, being creatures ruled by the light and the hunters pick them off one by one in season, as soon as the year’s hatchlings have reached a reasonable size. In late spring and summer my morning walks have been a joy. Coveys of partridge, rising almost at my feet, out of the dense bush, have gone away in a whirr of wings, scattering to ensure that some of the brood may survive until the following year to replace those that are lost. A few weeks into the shooting season this autumn and none has risen again from the brushwood that covers the hills. New cartridge cases, their colours not yet dulled by rain, lie here and there along with a few partridge feathers.

No doubt Fred, our crossbred hunting dog, will find other diversions on his morning outings, not that he is swift enough to pick a game bird from the air. Having caught a rabbit a couple of months back, he fancies his chances with anything that moves, however small. Abandoned when very young, he survived on a wing and a prayer and continues to eat anything remotely organic found lying in his path: insects, last year’s shrivelled fruits covered with ants and yesterday an acorn, which is bad news for any animal other than a pig. Carefully vetted leftovers from our plates find their way into his supper from time to time and none has been rejected until today.

The Boss enjoys Heinz baked beans, but not being to my taste, a few remained and were mixed in with Fred’s food. He turned his back on the dish after a sniff and curled up in his basket under the kitchen table, while I rooted among the meat chunks, pasta and slimy biscuits. He picked out the bits he liked after every bean had been removed, ignoring that which was tainted by tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, our family visitors have returned to Wales and the house is crying out for attention. Happily it is something I can put on the back burner because our diary is choc-a-bloc with other essentials for the next week or two. Not least the vaccinations due against influenza, an annual necessity because viruses change from year to year and prevent a build up of immunity. Wild birds are a primary reservoir of type A flu and, although only mildly affected themselves, they ensure its continuous presence. Flu viruses from pigs and other animals can merge and, when their genes combine, an entirely new strain infective to humans may result. It is a process of anticipation and regular updating of vaccines to protect people, with no end in sight.

A pandemic started in 1918 among soldiers fighting in the trenches at the end of World War One and, by July 1919, an estimated 70,000,000 had died across the planet, no country being spared. Not until 1944, when Doctors Salk and Francis produced the first vaccine, was it possible to offer wide spread protection.  

Now, migrant birds are returning to the Algarve. There will be enough water in the lakes to quench their thirst, but a shortage of food, because after many months without rain there are few seeding plants and fewer insects: with the exception of ants, which are carrying out a radical clean out of their underground galleries. Work never stops. Each exit/entry path is piled high with vegetable matter for the first 12 inches, then the main tracks split into minor roads as workers go foraging. Whatever they carry below is cleaned and the useless waste returned to the surface, to be banked up like flood defences. As many as 10 nests on the side of a very small hill suggest the presence of one enormous subterranean city underfoot.