Being out in the countryside with my dogs gives me time to think. I’ve learnt the pleasure of solitude without being lonely, and that’s a good feeling for me.

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This is my countryside diary which appears each Saturday in the Dundee Courier newspaper.

A kiss and a dram

December 29th, 2012

ALAS! ALAS! How sad to think, / Another year has past. / Tho’ much we vowed, still we have been / No better than the last.

The opening lines of ‘New Year Past’ from Songs and Ballads: Consisting of Songs Set to Music, Miscellaneous Poems, Squibs, Epitaphs, &c., &c., &c. by “Jeems”, who I have quoted from before.

The words have an uncomfortable ring about them. A reproach on yet another year which started with promise and faltered to an embarrassing conclusion with the realisation that I’ve failed to fulfil the New Year’s resolutions that I pledged so confidently.

Many of our vernacular Scots poets have a marvellous ability to compress a philosophy of life into a handful of lines. WD Cocker in ‘The Auld Year’ had a different take on the year’s end.

Auld year, your secrets are nae mair a mystery; / Hoo ye begunkit us brawly ye ken. / Ilka new year is a clean page in history: / Turn ower the leaf, an’ tak’ tent wi’ your pen.

December’s weather seemed set for a Biblical deluge right till the end of the year and, for a time, if Noah had sailed past hollering from the crow’s nest – “Ony mair fur Th’Ark” – I should hardly have given it a second thought. Whether he’d have thanked me for the two extra passengers I might have tried to offload on him would be another matter!

Unless you’re a duck, a lot of wildlife is no fonder of persistent rain than we humans are. Wildlife may be better adapted to deal with it but the birds and animals that the dogs and I expect to see on our travels generally don’t enjoy getting soaked any more than we do. They prefer to keep to the cover, coming out principally to feed. So, for the best part of a fortnight I’ve found less than usual to report on.

Actually, we humans have one advantage over the wild animals. They are issued with a single all-purpose suit of clothes and when that’s sopping they can’t change into a sloppy jumper and a pair of chinos while the wet clothes dry off.

What a relief for us all when the weather took a turn for the better on Christmas Eve. The jackdaws and rooks which usually greet us when the dogs and I go out for the morning walk had been pretty well drowned out by the downpour, were starting to tune up again. It raises the spirits to lift your eyes and see the hills, to see white clouds dancing across blue sky and feel the sun’s warmth on your face.

After we got back from the midnight carol service on Christmas Eve I took the dogs out for their usual walk last thing. The moon was almost full, the sky clear and star spangled. It was so still you’d almost think the world was holding its breath.

My Christmas morning greeting was the gentle hooting of tawny owls amongst the beech trees, and away in the woods a fox barked four times.

It’s an exhilarating time to be out on your own. You can learn the pleasure of solitude without being lonely – and it’s a good feeling.

The weather may be mild enough just now but don’t forget to keep the feeders for the garden song birds well filled because the frost will return. We have a tribe of house sparrows which are challenging the tits and the chaffinches for the seeds and the fat balls.

From the same collection, another of Jeemsie’s poems called ‘New Year waitin’ to get in’ has a more upbeat message – In the new yin (year) jumps and dances, / Roon’ the hoose the youth he prances, / Gets a dram frae a’ he passes, / Kiss’d and cuddled by the lasses;

My Father counselled me never to turn away a dram or a kiss – I might never be offered another. Good advice especially at Hogmanay, but it’s advice I’ve always followed, and always received satisfaction. I hope I have given it in return.

So, I’ll look after the drams, the dogs will enjoy the cuddles and I’ll be sure to kiss the Doyenne.

Which has all the makings of a Good New Year.

Written on Saturday, December 29th, 2012 at 6:35 pm for Weekly.