We weren’t quite at the stage of parched Bedouins, spying illusory oases that turned out to be dunes, but the first proper rainfall in two months was call for celebration. As the sky darkened to a November grey, we held our breath. On several occasions recently we’d been fooled into thinking the near-drought was about to be broken, only to be disappointed. For some weeks now, Hoolet’s hoses, sprinklers and watering cans have been working overtime, quenching the thirst in shrubberies and vegetable beds, and giving yellowing grass a reason to live another day.

Alan takes a particular interest in a beech sapling we were given by a neighbour, whose own magnificent spreading copper beech had seeded in her flowerbed. For over a year this tiny offshoot has been sinking its roots deep. Above ground, however, it’s little more than a frond. With the solicitude of a father for his firstborn, Alan has been watering it since March, and awaiting the first leaves of the season. Buds eventually appeared, followed by the unfurling of glistening leaves the colour of old pennies. Just the other day he witnessed the arboreal equivalent of a child’s first day at school: a sparrow alighting on its branches, treating it like a real tree.

The gardener who told us how to plant it said that it can’t get enough watering. It’ll take however much you pour on it, allowing roots to take hold, and speeding its growth. So when eventually the clouds opened the other evening, it was the infant beech I thought of, soaking it up before reaching for the sky.

As the rain pounded on the skylights, I stood at the window. Lit by the streetlamp on the village green, water filled the cobbled gutter. It rushed blackly towards the drain, a sprinkling of fallen apple blossom bobbing on the tide, as if a wedding party had just passed. Through the small hours the downpour continued. I could lie awake all night listening to it. When I was growing up my bedroom was in an attic. Early in the morning seagulls’ flippers would patter over the roof, and the slightest breath of wind or rain was amplified by the rattling windows and nearby trees. The worse the weather, the more I enjoyed it.

This astonishingly dry and sunny spring has been a boon during lockdown, the best possible antidote to gloom. I don’t like to imagine how miserable it would have been if there had been incessant damp and cloudy skies. Yet surrounded as we are in Hoolet by fields of crops, and with flocks and herds munching grass, lack of rain means everything suffers. Cattle especially have been known to break out in search of water, thirst driving them slightly nuts.

Following last week’s cloudburst, the village has emerged from its dousing like a bridesmaid from the hairdresser’s. At first light the blackbirds were out in force, working their way across the green, combing every inch. I read that it’s been a good year for blackbirds, but that was hardly news. The place has been jumping with them for weeks, males chasing off rivals or fighting mid-air as if reenacting the Battle of Britain. Females have been shopping for worms in pairs. No patch of lawn or grass goes unforaged, the birds keeping several feet apart, like customers at a supermarket checkout. Ousting wood pigeons and thrushes from telegraph poles, they declare their territory; and every few minutes one flies past the window at such speed, you’d think it had been fired from a gun.

A year or two past, one of our neighbours found a blackbird lying stricken in his garden. Alive but bleeding, it was being mobbed by other birds. He took out a chair, and sat near it for the rest of the afternoon, until it had recovered enough to fly off. He noticed it had been ringed, and when it began to make his garden its home, he called it Wilf. If he were ever tempted to rename his cottage, he could do worse than Wilf Hall.

While we were speaking, Wilf chittered from the hedge. A day or two later, he turned up in our garden, two fields away from base, pecking for worms. With his gleaming ankle ring, and boot-polished feathers, he has a debonair look. I used to think they were all much the same, but once you start examining blackbirds, they emerge as individuals: the plump matron, the one with a white feather on its wing, the scrawny, aggressive male, ceaselessly refuelling himself and his nestlings.

Like pheasants, they allow us to get very close – Wilf especially, who seems fearless around people – but it’s not because they aren’t smart. You feel a pheasant is capable of walking on to the Christmas platter and arranging the carrots and parsnips around itself while it waits for the gravy; blackbirds, on the other hand, know how to take advantage of what we can offer.

Given the kerfuffle they make in the beech hedge, they could be devouring a packet of crisps. They make no attempt to hide their presence or keep their distance and whenever I start digging, the cry goes out. They don’t sit cutely on the spade handle like robins, but they hop within a few inches, spotting grubs I couldn’t detect even with a magnifying glass. Once they’re used to you, their confidence quickly grows.

Some time ago I interviewed a woman who kept crows and rooks in her house, as they recovered from injuries. While we sat in her kitchen drinking coffee, a small rook click-clacked towards us over the tiles. Keeping one eye cocked on me, it pecked at my bare ankle, before growing bored and toddling off.

The blackbirds in Hoolet aren’t tame, but nor are they shy. When worms began emerging after the rain, they were already in place, waiting. It’s been a good week for them, and soon their well-fed broods will be joining the party on the green. I’m less certain about our bluetits. Occasional cheeping can be heard from the nest box, but it’s too early to know if they’ll survive. Caterpillars are their food of choice, but as the butterfly population declines, so does their larder. Might they have something put away in case of a rainy day?