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Open Features: The Cure For Insomnia Is A Cough

...It is exceptional quiet where we live. Our house is opposite a small wood that engulfs an area of former clunch workings. Well away from the main road through the village, any noise after dark echoes in an eerie way, hence the first time I heard the inhuman ‘cough’ it was unnerving. Night after night the same ‘coughing’ broke the stillness and eventually I sought wise counsel of the village elders. My enquiry was an experience I do not wish to repeat. They enjoyed the opportunity of baiting a townie...

Ah, but who or what was doing the coughing? Mary Pilfold-Allan brings us another intriguing and entertaining column.

To read more of Mary’s words please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=mary+pilfold-allan

Moving to the country a decade ago was a shock to the system. After living in the city of Cambridge for more than 20 years I was accustomed to a neon street light as a bedside lamp and the sound of late night revellers for a lullaby. The countryside at night is both dark and almost silent. Insomnia plagued me, and still does sometimes, yet when I stay in London I can fall asleep in an instant to the never-ending wail of police sirens and the rumble of passing buses. The same goes for anywhere near the sea if the fog horn is going.

It is exceptional quiet where we live. Our house is opposite a small wood that engulfs an area of former clunch workings. Well away from the main road through the village, any noise after dark echoes in an eerie way, hence the first time I heard the inhuman ‘cough’ it was unnerving. Night after night the same ‘coughing’ broke the stillness and eventually I sought wise counsel of the village elders. My enquiry was an experience I do not wish to repeat. They enjoyed the opportunity of baiting a townie.

“Well, I’m not sure me dear, but someone did hang themselves in the old well down there. Could be a soul not gone to its rest. I shouldn’t take to walking the dog late if I were you.”

Great, that’s sleeping in the front bedroom which faces the wood out of the running then!
The mystery was finally solved one evening as we turned into our driveway. A procession of what looked like large brown dogs crossed in front of us, two adults and one much smaller. It seemed unbelievable they could live in our woodland. The truth dawned with the help of a wildlife website, they were Muntjac and they were not so much living in our space as we in theirs.

Since then I have come to treasure the sight of the Muntjac creeping out from the dense foliage to nibble at the new leaves, especially after a light shower. Occasionally they brave it all the way to the grassy area in front of the trees, and two of them (I have no idea how many there really are) are confident enough to cross into a neighbour’s garden when he is out and picnic in his vegetable plot. As the village is gradually using up in-fill space for housing, I suspect our woodland is fast becoming the Muntjac’s last refuge and I wonder how long it can go on sustaining them.

The wood has grown up slowly and surely over a number of years. It is totally natural and when a branch drops off or a tree becomes diseased and tumbles down, the remains provide the ideal habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna. For example, a raucous Jay defends his particular ancient tree against all comers and a green Woodpecker drills away to his heart content upon another, occasionally appearing on our lawn to bore holes in the grass in search of ‘Leatherjackets’.

Hedgehogs obviously find it chez moi and when twilight deepens, scuttle over the road in droves (or whatever is the collective term for hedgehogs) to snuffle and grunt in our garden. Once, after a huge rainstorm, when we were having dinner by the French windows, a veritable swarm of frogs hopped past, a sight I hope never to see again as I have a phobia about them ever since a certain small boy dropped one down my T-shirt when I was about seven.

Today, as I write this, the sun is shining out of a clear blue sky, the wood is full of just bursting buds, hazelnut bushes are bedecked with swinging lambs’ tails and a riot of daffodils has exploded in the grass, enough to rival William Wordsworth’s poem about those beside the lake. In daylight our bit of countryside is awash with wildlife and all the sounds of nature. Tonight, once darkness has fallen, silence will descend like a heavy velvet curtain.

Bring on the Muntjac. If I can’t have wailing sirens to send me to sleep, the next best thing for my insomnia about here is the harsh but nevertheless welcome, coughing of these small brown deer.

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