Tuesday, 10 August 2010

My Husband and Other Animals

My husband is unique. And still a bit caveman-like. I love those things about him. They both surprise me and drive me crazy sometimes.

He grew up in a small cornish village, and on Dartmoor. As a kid he earned pocket money by tying flies for the local angling shop, and selling fish he caught to local restaurants and his teachers. He was a commercial fisherman in his teens, to earn money to go to gamekeeping college. By 20, he was the youngest head keeper in the southwest of England. Since then he's pretty much lived in the woods. He's 45 next week.

I was a typical American teenager, going to the movies and hanging out at the mall. I had a job as a waitress, and I was a cheerleader. I went to University and got a desk job. Of course I've seen Star Wars, and been to an amusement park, and used the metro in lots of cities. That's all part of the average American experience. Not Mike. There's nothing average about him. And it's shaped the way he views the world.

He doesn't see distinctions between people. Celebrity means nothing to him. If someone comes on the TV he's as likely to say "I carried her out of the river. Stupid girl wore high heels on a shoot day". It didn't occur to him that I would know who Kate Moss is and that his story was an interesting anecdote, but it seemed so obvious to him that anyone with basic common sense would know how to dress for the outdoors.

Ditto the long haired Goths who rented a cottage on a Devon estate where Mike worked. He dropped in for tea sometimes, and brought them rabbits. It was the members of the band The Cure. When I explained who they are - as a teenager in the 80s I had the mandatory crush on Robert Smith - Mike was glad to hear they made a good living in the end, because he thought they would have trouble finding a job looking like they did.

Good lord Mike!
What Mike notices, what he's fluent in, is animals and the British countryside. Give him a part-chewed pinecone and he can tell you what's eaten it. Same with a hole in the ground, or a pile of scat. The position and remains of a dead pheasant are all he needs to discern the culprit. His world view is coloured by the behavior of the native fauna he's been brought up on. It's reflected in his language and how he makes sense of the world. Here are some examples from our daily conversations:

"Don't hug me - I smell like a polecat."

"He was angrier than a badger in a hessian sack"

"You make more noise than two pigeons mating!"

"A hibernating dormouse is more awake than you are in the morning."

And my favorite: "You have the eating habits of a stoat!" I wasn't familiar enough with stoat behavior to get that one. Did he mean I have a big appetite, or was it my propensity for belching?

I asked "What's a stoat like then?"

He looked at me the same way I looked at him when he told me he's never seen Star Wars. Like I'm an imbecile brought up under a rock in a dark cave. Like surely everyone is an authority on the mustelid family.

"The stoat is a facultative predator with catholic habits." Apparently I eat lots, of anything put in front of me.

Where do you learn words like that in the woods?

My husband will always be a source of mystery to me. But at least I'm learning about stoats.


  1. 1- Absolutely love this post! I have not had this much trouble keeping quiet in the office in a log time! (and I can tell ya love him!) Seriously I am going to point my friends to this!

    2- I don't know if you are familiar with Gereld Durrell, but your Mike makes me think of how it must have been living with Gereld. GD was a collector for British zoos (probably American too) and a writer. My favorite book of his? "my family and other animals". I think my eldest is almost old enough for it...

    Again, thank you for sharing, and tell Mike "happy birthday" from North of Seattle Washington. (where yes, it's raining. In August)

  2. Great post!

    I'm curious if he has an animal phrase for someone who farts musically, because I'd like to spring one on Steve sometime.

  3. theadlynfarm - Funny you mention that - the whole post is Gerald Durrell's fault. I picked up a copy of "My Family & Other Animals" on Sunday for Mike. I gave it to him and he said "Oh I love this book. When I was 11 I was on a cross channel ferry to Guernsey. I happened to be sat next to Gerald Durrell and we talked about animals the whole trip." I have to stumble on these little stories because Mike would never think to tell me anecdotes.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post though I'm sorry it distracted you at work!

  4. Paula - Your comment started a dinnertime discussion about what animal farts the most. Mike says cow, I say labrador retriever (cows burp more than they fart). Neither of us can think of any with a musical gift.

    Mike offers "farts like a fresian" for your consideration.

  5. From my experience, the animal that farts the most is a young frenchman. However, I recently saw a program about dogs that said the ones that have brachycephalic (short) noses fart the most because they swallow so much air. So your labrador might just be gassy because you feed her boiled offal and beans.

  6. Kerry - Noted. But how musical is the brachycephalic dog fart? And, according to Monty Python at least, Frenchmen fart in your general direction.

  7. Well your husband is double lucky in my book. Met Gerald Durrell (a long time wish of mine growing up) and is a gamekeeper. Oh how I wish there was a comparable gig here state side. And while the idea of carrying Kate Moss out of a creek dripping wet does warm the heart a bit, I don't know that I would fancy dealing with all the pushy, (as you call them cheeky) people...

    Although days like this, it does seem better than the office..

  8. Jennifer- I hate to admit that I had to look up Friesian. It means both a type of horse, and the language of folks that inhabit the Frisian Islands, or the northern parts of both the Netherlands and Germany. This is odd because, Steve is both of German extraction (although his folks are from the Rhineland Palatinate) and he was born in the Year of the Horse, Chinese horoscope-wise.

    But I'm curious- did Mike mean like the horse or like a German?

  9. the adalynfarm - In my husband's mind, everyone is Gerald Durrell. He can't understand that Kate Mosses exist who don't know about outdoors and animal behaviour. (I laughed when Mike said she weighed nothing, I told him that was kind of the point of fashion models. He said "I wonder if she felt the cold without a good meal inside her"..!)

    I wondered if there's much call for keepering skills stateside. I could only think of hunting and fishing guides. Is that what you'd like to do?

    Thankfully most of the people we deal with are well mannered and it's a joy to provide them a good day's sport. The cheeky ones just make you appreciate the others.

    Paula - It's also a breed of dairy cow, sometimes called Holstein-Freisian (the skinny black and white things used by commercial dairies for their huge milk yields). I think the breed developed in the Rhineland, which is apropos.

    As for the musical aspect - Since your husband's of German descent, there must be some mileage in a joke about how Oompah bands started...

  10. Thanks Jen, what a lovely post. A true love story!!

    Have you time on Friday to help me learn how to ply? Or just an hour or so to card - spin. I have wheel, can travel to house in the woods with no telephone reception!! Oh yep, can I borrow that book please.

  11. Colette - Friday is fine. Glad to help. Anytime after 9 am gives me a chance to finish my chores.

  12. Ah, love and flatulence. They make the world go 'round.

    I envy Mike both his skills and his worldview. There's nothing in the world like having a job that consumes you, and that you do well. (Except, of course, having a wife who writes so entertainingly about it.)

  13. Too bad more people don't have Mike's worldview :).

    If it makes you feel any better, I know all about Star Wars, but nothing about stoats ... but now I'm feeling like, perhaps, my education is not quite complete ;).

  14. Tamar - I envy Mike his world view too. He's not aware of much pop culture or consumerism. He has nothing to compare to his clothes or his bank account so he doesn't worry about being richer or better dressed than everyone else. No wonder he's so contented.

    He was like an untouched ecosystem until I came along and polluted him with television. I feel less like I'm married to him and more like he's the subject of my fieldwork. Sometimes I run tests for my own fun. When he gets home tonight, I'm going to ask him if he knows who or what a Justin Beiber is.

  15. Wendy - You can join me on my quest for more stoat knowledge. Stay tuned...

  16. Hi Jen,
    loving the Gerald Durrell reference, and very jealous that Mike got to meet him. Though currently I'm thinking I need to acquire some of the knowledge Mike has! I certainly can't tell what killed a pheasant - I'd be happy if I could consistently ID animal tracks/prints.
    PS but I didn't know who Justin Beiber was either (until I googled it after reading your last comment!).

  17. Maria - Mike is so grateful that there are at least two of you who don't know who Justin Beiber is. (Mike keeps calling him Justin Bebo and I won't correct him because it makes me giggle.)

    He's also corrected me..apparently I have the eating habits of a mink not a stoat. He can't believe I confused the two in my blog post. Specialist knowledge is a funny thing. I will try and pay more attention next time!

  18. Now then, only a novice like you or I would mix up mink with stoat! :o)
    Just Bebo sounds about right... I *do* like the idea of you carrying out 'social' experiments on Mike.

    On another note, after seeing it on your sidebar a while back, I'm now reading "We Took to The Woods" and I LOVE IT. It's the sort of book where I find myself racing through the pages late at night, and then trying to make myself slow down, or stop, so I won't finish it too soon and there will be some left for another day. Really liking it in fact! Have you read anything else by her? I'm looking on Amazon and abebooks for copies of her other books (they seem to be mostly out of print so 2nd hand copies it is, which is fine by me).

  19. Maria - Mike is a good sport about it. And it's all in the pursuit of sociological knowledge!

    I'm so glad you're enjoying "We Took to the Woods". You're description of rushing to the next page, then slowing down to savour it made me laugh. I do exactly the same with a great book.

    Her writing style and sense of humor on top of great subject matter wins over lots of readers. I've not read anything else by her, but I'll take your suggestion if you find another one you think is worth a look.

  20. I love this post, and love his 'worldview.' People like Mike are SO enjoyable to be around - unconcerned by the minutia that consume so much of so many people's days. I would say you are both a lucky pair to have each other!
    Now, off to learn more about stoats...

  21. Well now, if it's all in the pursuit of sociological knowledge... it would be rude to decline!!

    I have ordered another Dickinson Rich online - My Necks of the Woods. Will let you know if it's any good once I've read it!