I have written before about two of my very best and oldest friends who live in the Netherlands. They are George and his wife, Truus. They live in the south of the country in the province of Limburg. The Duchy1 of Limburg existed before the formation of the modern Netherlands and overlapped2 into what is now Belgium and Luxembourg. Netherlands, which literally means ‘Low Lands’ because much of the country, especially in the north, lies below sea level and is protected from flooding by the famous system of sea defences known as dykes3. The country is popularly known as ‘Holland’ although strictly speaking4 that refers to only one of the northern parts – in the same way that the United Kingdom is often called ‘Great Britain’ or even ‘England’ to the disgust5 of the Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh. Anyway, my friends live in a part of the country which is well above sea level and is not far from the scenic6 woodlands of the Ardennes. The Ardennes region took its name from the ancient Arduenna Silva, a vast forest in Roman times that stretched from the Sambre river in Belgium to the Rhine in Germany. The modern Ardennes covers a much smaller area, but is still densely wooded with steep-sided7 valleys and boggy8 moors9 which make it an excellent place for wildlife of all sorts – excluding humans. You will see the point10 of this geography lesson in a minute!
George and Truus have recently been on holiday – a birthday treat11 for Truus – to the Portuguese island of Madeira, a beautiful place far out in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Canaries, famous for its fortified12 wine and exotic flowers (more geography!) I was there long ago for only one day and it poured with rain almost the whole time, but my two friends were more fortunate13 and they enjoyed much better weather. (An Englishman cannot go for long without mentioning the weather!) During the time they were there in the capital city of Funchal, there was a flower festival and parade which must have been a glorious sight to behold14. They say that the water sellers were kept busy as people waited for hours in the heat to see the procession.
Mr David Wright (UK)
The next part of this account15 is far less pleasantI. Two days before they left home for their holiday, Truus saw an object close to their garden shed16 which looked like a dead rat. Naturally, it was down to George to deal with it and when he got closer, he could see that it was not only not a rat, but it was not dead eitherII. They thought it might be a kitten, but were not sure. Anyway, they put it in a box and left it in their garage overnight17.
The following day, the creature was still alive and it was able to drink a little of the milk which they offered it. Being such kind-hearted people, they decided to take the animal to a place of safety where it could be looked after properly – an animal hospital, or sanctuaryIII, where trained and experienced veterinary surgeons (commonly called ‘vets’IV) would know what to do with it and how best to care for it. They had some trouble finding the right place, but eventually located some people who would accept the animal. One can imagine that by this time the little creature would be thoroughly bewildered18 and traumatised by all this handling19 and movement – but it was all for its own good.
When the expert saw it, he (or she, I am not sure which) identified it as a ‘stone marten20’, also known as a ‘beech21 marten’V, a protected animal with a range extending from central and northern Europe into Asia – so perhaps you have them in Russia as well. It has been described as ‘a Eurasian marten having brown fur with lighter underfur22 and often inhabiting rocky inlets23 and crevices24’ and as being ‘arboreal’, which means ‘living in trees’ – that’s why the proximity25 to forests was important. I expect the little creature would be cared for until it was fit26 and well enough to be released back into the wild – at least, I hope that is what happened. We don’t have any of this kind of marten wild in Britain, although there is a similar rare cousin called a ‘pine marten’ which lives and is seldom seen in the evergreen forests and plantations in the north of England and Scotland.
You might think that was the end of the story, but when George and Truus returned from their holiday, there was even worse to greet them – a horrible smell from around their house. They had noticed a bad aroma before, but put it down27 to decaying28 vegetation during the winter, but this was far, far worse. It seemed to be coming from the roof of their bungalow, so George had to look under the roof tiles and investigate29 the matter. Their roof was made from asbestos-cement tiles with fibrous30 rockwool31 insulation32 underneath. The rockwool is an excellent insulation material as it does not decompose33 or retain34 water, but traps35 air between its fibres, keeping their home cosy36 even in the hardest winter. It also made a cosy spot for martens to shelter and birds to build their homes.
As he looked further into the roof space, George found another dead stone marten (this one really was dead) and nests of dead birds with their associated waste materials. That meant that the rest of the rockwool and the asbestos tiles had to be removed and then replaced with a new roof made from plywood37 covered with metal tiles. This time, George made sure that there were no spaces into which curious martens or birds could creep38. Asbestos can cause serious cancer-inducing39 damageVI if fibres or particles of it get into the lungs or tissue surrounding the heart, so there are strict regulations about its use and disposal40. The waste from George’s roof had to be bagged in plastic and taken to a place specially equipped to deal with it in the neighbouring town of Maastricht.
We have a saying that, “Bad news always comes in threes!” and, sure enough, the next item of bad news for long-suffering41 George was that one of his brothers had to have an open-heart operation, just as George himself and another brother also had.
I think after all that, George needs another holiday and no more visits from stone martens.
I An example of typical English understatement.
II You need to follow the successive negatives closely in a sentence like this – the construction is common in English.
III Sometimes called a ‘refuge’.
IV This abbreviation is also used for ‘veterans’, ie old soldiers, but it is usually clear from the context which meaning is correct.
V Mates foina, an agile, slender-bodied mustelid, somewhat larger than a weasel.
1 duchy – герцогство
2 to overlap – частично совпадать
3 dykes – дамба, плотина
4 strictly speaking – собственно говоря
5 disgust – (зд.) досада, неудовольствие
6 scenic – живописный
7 steep-sided – с крутыми склонами
8 boggy – болотистый
9 moor – торфяник
10 point – (зд.) цель
11 treat – увеселение
12 fortified – креплёный (о вине)
13 fortunate – удачливый
14 to behold – созерцать
15 account – отчет
16 shed – сарай
17 overnight – на ночь
18 to bewilder – приводить в замешательство
19 handling – обращение
20 marten – куница
21 beech – буковый
22 underfur – подшёрсток
23 inlet – фиорд, узкая бухта
24 crevice – расщелина
25 proximity – близость
26 fit – подготовленный
27 to put down – отнести на счет
28 decaying – гниющий
29 to investigate – расследовать
30 fibrous – волокнистый
31 rockwool – минеральная шерсть
32 insulation – изоляция
33 to decompose – разлагаться
34 to retain – удерживать
35 to trap – поглощать
36 cosy – тёплый
37 plywood – клееная фанера
38 to creep – прокрасться
39 cancer-inducing – вызывающий рак
40 disposal – устранение
41 long-suffering – многострадальный
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