Do you remember that poem about the months? January brings the snow. . . etc. So here it is, November – the last days of autumn or perhaps the beginning of winter. Anyway, that poem says:
Dull November brings the blast,
Then the leaves are whirling fast.
Well, OK, I admit that there bare still plenty of mufti-coloured leaves outside. But I have to admit that the weather has taken a turn for the wintery just lately. Freezing winds and ice-cold rain have been lashing the house and even though today has a bright clear spell of sunshine, it was along with bitter temperatures and a real crisp edge to everything. But you notice that I said ‘a turn for the wintry’ - not a turn for the worse. Personally, I like all sorts of seasons, all sorts of weather. I have to, sometimes round here we get almost all four seasons in one day!
So it’s cold and a bit bleak – but there are things I love about the wintery days. The changing colours of the trees, the chance to cuddle close a fire , with a great book - and perhaps a cat. We’re lucky enough to have a real fire and my husband has lit the coals. I’ve been sitting on a couple of cushions close to the grate with an absorbing book (Defending Jacob by William Landay) but just now I had to go into the garden to deal with the worms.
I'm not keen on worms. I don't have anything against them, but I prefer that they just stay nice and snug in the earth and I don't have to have actually meet them so to speak. I certainly prefer not to touch them . But just lately I've been dealing with large numbers of meal worms and have shocked several visitors to the house by have a plastic bowl full of meal worms soaking in warm water beside my sink.
The reason? I don't like worms much but I do love robins. And robins love mealworms. Perhaps I should mention that these mealworms are not live ones. They are freeze dried mealworms for feeding to robins and blue tits and other lovely birds to keep them well and happy during the winter.
My mother always said that she believed a home that had its own 'resident robin' would be a very happy home. Robins are very territorial and they defend their area ferociously. We may have two cats, but they don't usually get the robins - something for which I'm very grateful.
But the robins do have one great enemy - the magpies.
Magpies are beautiful birds - elegant in black and white but they bird assassins - those long, fierce beaks of theirs are lethal - they stab their victims with them and usually one attack is all it needs. One of the most frightening and nasty things I ever saw was a magpie fight where a pair of birds had obviously intruded into another magpie's territory - it was bloody, brutal and savage. So late last winter when I found a dead robin on the lawn, the fact that it was totally unmangled told me that the magpies had got it. A cat would have chewed, ripped, certainly it would not have left ever feather intact.
So I was saddened by the thought that our resident robin had been killed. But in the spring, in one of the flower beds, I found the two halves of the distinctive blue-green egg that robins lay. And two halves meant that a baby robin had hatched - I hoped.
I was right. Last weekend the Babe Magnet was digging in the garden, turning over the soil around the raspberry bushes and a very bright-eyed and healthy young robin appeared. He found a huge worm that had been unearthed, tugged and tugged on it until he got it whole from the soil and then he flew off to enjoy his meal in peace. So we have a new young resident robin. And the meal worms are there to keep him happy when the ground is too hard and the worms buried too deep for him to find.
Unfortunately we also have the magpies - a pair of them who live in the big Scots Pine tree at the far end of the garden. The magpies get to enjoy the suet and nut cakes that I put out on an old tree stump that act as a bird table - and the robins who prefer to feed on the ground get soaked mealworms in a quiet corner all to themselves. After all, if the magpies are full of suet and nuts, hopefully it will keep them from attacking the robin.
Robins are said to be the souls of loved ones who have died and who had come back to visit. SO if that's the case they're even more welcome. Magpies on the other hand are said to be the most arrogant of birds - birds who got their distinctive colouring from refusing to wear full mourning when Christ died. They're also remembered in the rhyme
One for sorrow, two for joy;
Three for a girl, four for a boy;
Five for silver, six for gold;
Seven for a secret, never to be told;
Eight for a wish, nine for a kiss;
Ten for a bird that's best to miss.
So we're lucky because we have a nesting pair and when we see them they are usually together - so that's for joy.
And it only one of them appears? Well, apparently you can ward off the 'sorrow' and the bad omens by saluting and greeting them. So, although I'd claim I'm not superstitious, I'll usually salute pretty smartly and say 'Good day Mr Magpie!' - just in case. The only time I didn't do that was when I was a small child and we were driving to Wales - a long way from Yorkshire. I spotted a magpie - so 'Oh look, that's one for sorrow.' Immediately there was a loud bang and the car's engine stopped dead.
Anyway, superstitions apart, one of the things that I love about this changing time of the year is that I get a chance to put out the suet cakes, the mealworms, the peanuts. And then sit and watch the birds swoop down to the bird table – or the meal worm holder on the ground – and feed happily.
And of course I can watch from the warmth of my cushion by the fire.
Kate Walker’s new title, A Question of Honour will be published in Modern Romance and Harlequin Presents in June 2014. Her most recent title was A Throne for The Taking which came out in June 2013:
Alexei Sarova, the black sheep prince who has to face up to a new and unexpected destiny with his heroine Honoria Escalona (Ria) as the woman he wants as his queen.
A kingdom's safety...
Betrayed by those she loves, Honoria Escalona must now face the only man capable of bringing stability to the Mediterranean kingdom of Mecjoria. A cold, hard man who once called her his friend... Alexei Sarova-the true King of Mecjoria.
In exchange for her happiness
But Alexei's tortuous past has changed him into someone she hardly knows. He blames Ria's family for his bitterness, and his help-when he offers it-comes with a price: he'll take his rightful place as King with Ria as his wife, until she produces a true-blood heir
A Throne For the Taking was published in the Royal and Ruthless miniseries in both Harlequin Presents and Mills & Boon Modern.