After years of badgering my dream's finally come true
In Preston, where I grew up, the word 'Brock' is a common prefix to a lot of place names. Brockholes, Brock Bottom, Brock Wood are all found in the local maps of the area, as it the village of Brock itself. I remember this being pointed out to me when I was at school and the simple explanation fired my imagination.
'Brock' is in fact the Old English word for badger. In Anglo-Saxon times when early maps were first drawn up, badgers must have been so plentiful and predominant in the countryside around Preston that their habitats were distinctive and recognisable landmarks.
Naturally, this inspired a lot of fantasy images in my mind of Anglo-Saxon badgers in the town hall cartography department, drawing detailed ordinance survey maps watched over by a Lord Mayor badger wearing a shiny chain of office over his Anglo-Saxon costume and puffing on a big fat cigar. (Ok, I must have read too many Beatrix Potter stories and not enough history textbooks).
But although the very creatures were written forever into our local folklore, I never once saw a badger in all my years in England. It certainly wasn't for want of trying.
I put out cat food, dog food, minced beef, mince pies ... heck, I even dug up earthworms so they didn't have to and left them on a plate at the back door. I laid on everything short of a menu saying Bon Appetit, but my friendly neighbourhood badgers never materialised.
In fact, my species-specific wildlife quest became a bit of an in-joke over the years.
For example, in the late Nineties I took the kids on holiday to Center Parcs in the Lake District specifically because I'd heard there was a badger family living in the forest on site. Indeed, it was such a focal point of that holiday village that the management team had set up a night-vision 'badger-cam' directly outside the sett and every night residents could tune into it on their televisions and watch them live as they came out to forage and feed.
My plan – in theory – was to monitor the TV screen until the badgers appeared and then for us to sneak into the forest with torches to track them down, David Attenborough-style.
In practice it didn't quite work out that way. By night time, both kids were tired, grumpy and ready for bed. And every night when I switched on the badger-cam channel, it would be greeted with a cry of "Oh noooo, not this again! This is the most BORING programme ever! Nothing ever happens! It's RUBBISH!".
Sadly, the closest we got to seeing a badger on that trip was the sight of a partially-decomposed fully-flattened black and white carcass on the side of the road on the way home.
Fast forward many years and my kids are both grown up. I've lived a life that's full, I've travelled each and every highway. And no, oh no not me – I still hadn't seen a bloody badger.
Then last week something wonderful happened. A friend of mine posted a photograph on Facebook of a badger feeding at his back door. Envy and awe turned to sudden excitement when I realised that this friend happened to live only a couple of miles away and – even better – he owed me a favour.
So at last, after 50 years of trial and error, I finally saw my first badger. My son came too, and it was a really magical and memorable experience, so worth the wait!
Within five minutes of scattering a mixture of peanuts, pasta and pedigree chum – then retreating to a safe distance to watch through the kitchen window – along came Tommy Brock in all his native splendour.
Ok, he wasn't actually wearing a chain of office or puffing on a cigar like the one in my earlier incarnation, but he was as magnificent and as impressive an animal as I've seen in the wild anywhere in the world, let alone this wee corner of our wee country.
I don't think I need to spell out where I stand on the current badger-cull controversy.
This earth belongs as much to its native creatures as to the people who co-inhabit alongside them.
I'm with fellow wildlife lover Chris Packham of the BBC who said: "It is both sad and shameful that when night falls and the setts around our countryside stir, their gentle folk will be needlessly slaughtered. That in spite of science and public will, the wrath of ignorance will further bloody and bleed our countryside of its riches of life."