I’ve known my mate Phil since we were eleven. We met at secondary school and have been firm friends ever since. He came to visit me this week. The first time he had been over since his wife Jean died of cancer two years ago. Talking on the phone regularly is no substitute for face-to-face. We had a great time catching up and packed a lot in to four days.
Phil is very handy. He and Jean often bought old, rundown houses and did them up whilst still living there. Then, just as the house was looking fine, they would sell it and invest in another rundown one. Plenty of times I went to visit and they were living in a couple of rooms with the rest of the house a bit like a builder’s.
Phil was the right fella to ask how to repair a kitchen hob; one of the rings on mine had just broken. ‘Don’t bother,’ he said, ‘get a new one, they’re easy to replace’. We went to B & Q and found that hob and single oven sets were being sold off (double ovens are now fashionable). So I bought a set, it was only £50 more than a hob on its own. Back at the house we set to work. I was the apprentice who handed Phil the tools and did the easier tasks. I’m very glad he was there as I would never have taken on such a DIY job on my own, especially as it involved electrical wiring. The job turned out to be mostly straightforward, but there were a few tricky bits that would have flummoxed me. Half a day later the new hob and oven were installed and working.
Phil is a park ranger in the New Forest and very knowledgeable about plants and animals. We went on a couple of good walks at Murlough and Castlewellan, then a cycle along the Newry Canal. At Murlough we saw a peregrine and a cuckoo - the first either of us had seen for many years. Like swallows scything after insects, the call of a cuckoo is a harbinger of summer, but you rarely see them.
In the evenings we went on a couple of bat hunts. T had bought me a bat receiver. You turn the dial to different frequencies and can hear the sonar that bats emit to navigate by. Different bats emit at different frequencies and you can go a good way to identifying the bat by the frequencies that they use. The sounds are very eerie, a series of clicks and longer sonic pulses. You hear the bats flying around nearby but it’s often hard to see them. There are sixteen different bats in the UK and they are all very small, none bigger than the palm of your hand. Bats fly very fast and with great agility, rather like nocturnal swallows, as they pursue insects on the wing. If you are lucky you will see them briefly silhouetted against the moonlit sky.
Going out at dusk, under a crescent moon and a gleaming sky, we saw small pipistrelle bats darting around the old graveyard near to my house. We also spotted a long-eared owl in a tree, its pointed ears swivelling from side to side as it listened for its prey. Down at Hillsborough Lake we saw Leisler’s bats flashing across the shadowy surface of the water. These bats are much larger than pipistrelles, they have distinctive hairy arms and emit very eerie long pulses of sound.
The bat receiver was an excellent present. I’ve loved going on the bat hunts; you are entering into a strange and exciting nocturnal world that is normally hidden. I’m becoming the Bat-man of Ardbrin.