I SHOULD by now be in Malta with a party of friends. It has become an annual reunion from the school I attended on the island. A chance to meet up with a couple of school pals who live there permanently. An opportunity to forget the health crisis of this year, revisit old haunts, swim in the warm Mediterranean and eat out at night under the stars.

But I’m not. Malta is in lockdown. Covid-19 cases have soared. The holiday is off. Happily a full refund of travel and hotel costs is being organised by my friend Maggie. Others in the group have switched their holiday destination to Madeira, but we have not, and opted to stay at home.

This decision has been seized on with alacrity by John, who just happened to be offered a week’s salmon fishing in Scotland just as the holiday was cancelled. At such short notice it has not been possible to find a dog, sheep and poultry sitter for the week. Several friends who have often come to be warmly welcomed by Millie, Moss and Fizz as far easier targets for extra treats than their owners offer, are on holiday themselves.

So Sunday morning saw John driving out of the yard with a happy smile, boot full of fishing gear and ample food and drink to last the week. He is no cook, but fortunately can grill rib eye steaks and defrost assorted pies, cakes, crumbles to keep starvation at bay. And he is being joined by a friend who is a very competent cook. He will not starve.

I have also packed a bottle of the ubiquitous “Skin so soft”. Always an odd item among fishing requirements, but famed among fishermen (and commandos too apparently) for keeping the midges at bay. So in theory you could smell the operatives sneaking through the undergrowth before you saw them.

Meanwhile, the poultry and sheep have realised the management has changed. Reduced in number. Time to play whoopee. A bantie hen and chicks who should go into a run each night were yesterday evening all perched in the lower branches of the lime tree. The sheep battered their way into the guinea fowl run, after I had failed to secure the catch on the gate, and gobbled up the growers pellets. Luckily to no ill effect. I hope.

Without two of us to surround the pond at night, the ducks refused to come off at night preferring to risk it on the water rather than in the security of their run. The ducklings just seem to have lost the plot entirely. When two of us walk them into their run at night, it is in a calm orderly fashion. But I had them waddling at top speed in any direction except the one I wanted them to go in.

Fortunately the hens put themselves to bed in their hut and my broody hens continued to sit tight on their nests. Hatching time is only a week off and they are going nowhere.

Luckily the dogs know the score. They have promised me that for two long walks a day, regular meals, bean bags to relax on and a share of my crisps at night they will behave impeccably. They will be the only ones round here that are.