MUCH as I miss my equine friends up and down the Rede Valley, there are many compensations to my second attempt at retirement.

For the past four years or so, since giving up my proper job, I have been up well before the crack of dawn to muck out and bed down horses, ranging from wild and woolly brumbies to regal campaigners at the Sport of Kings and I still bear the scars.

But the advent of coronavirus means that once more I am on the employment scrapheap which in many ways is no bad thing.

For I no longer have to blunder about in the dark, trying to get dressed without waking Mrs Hextol, and I don’t have to face that twice daily trek over Hareshaw Head where snow can still linger when people are wearing shorts at lower altitudes.

I can enjoy the luxury of a long lie in, enjoying breakfast in bed on a daily basis, with nothing pressing to get up for other than taking the dog for a leisurely walk.

I may venture into the village two or three times per week for essentials like bread and milk, perhaps popping into the chemist’s for the odd prescription, but all in all this lockdown lark is fairly civilised.

The unusually balmy April weather has helped and I have already earned several wolf whistles for taking to my shorts many weeks earlier than normal.

Butterflies have fluttered around the Hextol Towers gardens, and a pair of blue tits have been enthusiastically house hunting round the bird box

I am slowly working my way through the eclectic section of beers which I have somehow amassed in the garden hut, and the first swallows of the summer have been swooping round the sky.

I have enjoyed the occasional potter, painting the front gate for the first time in a decade, and even decorating the porch roof for the first time since the house was built.

There was one fly in the ointment – or to be rather more accurate a bee, which buzzed into the kitchen, and found itself unable to buzz out again.

Now I rather like bees, especially now they are seen as the saviours of the universe, and resolved to turn this little fellow loose to pollinate as many plants as he felt able.

I got my glass and side plate bee-catching apparatus, but as I approached, he disappeared behind the little forest of plant cuttings Mrs Hextol has been nurturing on the kitchen window sill throughout the winter.

I swear I moved the stand the cuttings were on less than a millimetre but the whole lot toppled into the sink in an unruly avalanche of leaves and compost.

It took some time for me to tidy up the mess and save at least some of the seedlings, but when order was restored, I spotted the bee lying on his back, his legs waving feebly in the air.

I carried him outside on the plate, but I suspect he may have buzzed his last.

One of the drawbacks of my enforced idleness has been a gradual slide back into portliness, for there is nothing like five hours of solid shovelling and barrow tipping to melt away the avoirdupois of liquid lunches at Wetherspoons followed by a visit to Greggs.

I have lost about four stones since I retired and at least some of it is starting to creep – nay gallop – back on as I am unable to pass the bread bin without seizing a slice of Warburton’s Toastie followed by a fig roll.

So I resolved to return to cycling to shed a pound or two only to find that my bike had two flat tyres which were impossible to blow up.

So I resorted to Mrs Hextol’s bike instead, a lurid purple number picked up at the Corbridge car boot sale for a fiver many years ago. I wouldn’t dream of being seen in public on it.

So I set it up in the garden on a roller which allowed me to ride it like a real bike.

Once the novelty wore off it was a bit boring so I rigged up my phone to play hits of the 50s and 60s through the earphones I didn’t know I possessed.

That worked fine until the earphones fell out of my ears in the middle of Jailhouse Rock, I tried to grab them and in doing so fell off the bike into more of Mrs Hextol’s plants.