It all started with a free press jolly to Estonia.
My husband occasionally throws wild cards into our singular blend of happy-go-lucky chaos.
Occasionally he returns to his old hunting grounds on a regional business desk, when the resident business guru heads for sunnier climes.
And as a thank you, one day, the paper offered him one of those lovely jobs foreign tourist boards sometimes come up with: we’ll put you on a plane, fly you to the best hotels we can offer, surround you with an incongruous mixture of sumptuous luxury and experience of local culture. All for nothing save a nice big fat juicy feature about our wondrous land in your paper.
In all fairness, had the trip been offered to me, there would have been nobody standing in my space the instant afterwards. I would have had that vanity case packed and my foot on the first step of the plane before you could say Where Do I Sign.
I love plane flights. That miracle as the plane lifts off the ground. That moment-when the scientific principle of lift becomes reality-usually has me shouting exuberantly in my seat as fellow passengers dig their nails into the upholstery and perspire visibly.
There I am, celebrating noisily, nose glued to the window as the ground swerves crazily below.
I have enjoyed all flights except one. On that occasion, I made the mistake of stretching my legs into the aisle in the early stages of a nine hour flight.
Unnoticed by me, a spotless, fragrant air hostess was wafting down the aisle, to come to the aid of a passenger. All that composed poise came to an abrupt end, when she came into contact with my feet and went flying onto the well-trodden carpet.
I was full of confusion and apologies. She performed that miracle cats do best: she completely ignored the fact it ever happened. Her flawless make-up miraculously re-adjusted itself, her clothes fell instantly back into place and she hovered on her way.
But she didn’t forget. And nor did her colleagues. Not one iota of courtesy or even eye contact did I get for the following eight hours. I hung my head and wished I had extremely short legs.
Despite this experience I still relish flights abroad to exotic destinations. But I wasn’t going this time. I felt aggrieved.
How to pass the time? A different kind of flight. It had long occurred to me that, if we could tempt birds to our garden first thing on a chilly winter’s morning, then even the most daunting school day might lose some of its sting.
Saturday morning dawned, and I had a master plan to bring flight to our doorstep. My father was on standby to knock up a bird table out of virtually nothing. I had old two-litre bottles lined up to make food holders: and a fridge full of lard and a larder full of nuts to make fat balls.
We worked industriously, and within a day we had ourselves a veritable Routiers five-star birdie restaurant.
Granted, the feeders needed replacing with proper ones within the weekend, and the children ran off heaving at the smell of lard which bound the fat balls. But the food was on the table.
The first birds to arrive were the thugs of the British bird scene, the Magpies. They sussed the fatballs fast and moved in for the kill.
Then we had an inexplicable change of clientele. Are Magpies sensitive creatures? Do they ever see themselves as outcasts? Because one day they just went away, and in their place came the enchanting little birds: the blue tits, the sparrows, and the smaller but much more endearing headbangers of Birdland, the robins.
Just as I had hoped and dreamed, the birds acted out a soap opera every morning before school, and every evening when the day had ended.
Their faster-than-the -human-eye antics enthralled us. Robins headbutting other robins, blue tits bickering in tight knit family squabbles, nuthatches walking up vertical planks so effortlessly it made you check whether you were horizontal. Fabulous.
That Christmas we met owls.
Those who rescue birds of prey in this country fund themselves cleverly: through tourism, and the ancient art of falconry.
The people who manage them are generally both highly intelligent and compassionate: because such birds, deprived by fate of their natural environment, need an affection which is totally unposessive. They need selfless, arms-length nurturing. They are, and will always be, enchantingly wild, these creatures of sonar.
For Maddie, and secretly for me, at a snowy owl display, these creatures stole our hearts. Wide eyed, and with the plumage of a tudor monarch, each one still draws a sharp intake of breath from its audience.
Today, we set our satnav on a well-worn route to our favourite Hawk Conservancy. We know each display by heart, and each of the birds there by name: Dave, the secretary bird: Bosworth, the wayward kite: and Troy, the little rescue owl, amoung so many others.
Troy is a star. He has made it to the national press. Like generations of owls down the ages, he was found sitting on the forest floor as a chick.
You know what to do, right? Leave them there? Somehow those impossibly fluffy featherballs with beaks actually find their own way back into the tree.
But someone rescued Troy rather too much. He imprinted on his human self-styled saviours, and because humans don’t live in trees, he ended up with a fear of heights.
The Conservancy has built ladders up the trees in its woodland copse. Every day, some kind soul climbs tree after tree in an attempt to teach fearlessness to a small brown owl.
Flight, of every kind, will always fascinate us. Even the lowliest pigeon can manoevre and soar with breathtaking agility, and our own clumsy attempts to get into the air look so stolid alongside theirs.
But its there for the watching, whenever you look up.