A Country Diary 78
2 July 2008
THE CROWS HAVE been irritating me. The sound they make is deeply unpleasant, a kind of mocking croaking, as if they are laughing at you. They attack smaller birds and do damage to the vegetable patch. So I have been trying to shoot them. But they are crafty: there they all are, in the tree opposite the front door, cawing to each other. Very gingerly I step forward into the porch, my loaded .22 air rifle at the ready. But the moment I emerge into the light, they all fly off. I have taken a couple of pot shots but the birds just laughed at me. On another occasion I loaded the gun and sat by the window, the barrel pointing up at the telegraph wires where they sometimes congregate. But no crows returned. But I’ll get them, one day, I’ll get them!
I DID MANAGE to shoot a rat. I noticed that it has a hole in the barn wall, and when the coast was clear, it would scamper into the yard and scavenge for titbits of chicken food. So I hid in an alcove behind the hole and waited. After five minutes, a little nose poked out from under the barn door. But by the time I had lifted and aimed the gun, the nose hard darted back in again. This happened three times: each time I got a good view of the rat, but did not have enough time to get it into my sights. So I tried another tactic and went round the back of the log barn, which was where ratty was poking his head out from. I sat there for a minute, and sure enough, out he came again. I aimed the gun and shot him. The creature did a sort of triple somersault in the air and then ran off. Whether I killed it or not I don’t know: I started to worry that the rat was quietly expiring in a hole somewhere, dying a slow and very painful death, and that the rat population would take horrible revenge on me, perhaps by taunting me in my dreams, rat ghosts howling at me and nibbling at me while I lay asleep. I did manage to kill one rat: I went into the yard one day and saw a huge Samuel Whiskers style animal limping across the yard. Perhaps it had run under the pony’s foot. I trapped it with its tail in the barn. It tried to bite my foot. I trapped it under a box and went to the get the gun. I trapped it with my foot again and put the barrel of the gun against its head. The rat squirmed and writhed and attacked the barrel of the gun, biting it and scratching it. When it was still for a moment I shot it in the head. When the kids came home from school, I thought they might be interested to see the dead rat. But when Delilah saw it, she started howling. I think it was the sight of the blood. And in a way, the rat did look fairly cute when dead. Her howling set Henry off, and we had two children weeping over the death of a rat. “I care for all animals,” said Delilah. “Even rats.” “But rats eat our food and carry disease,” we tried to explain.
POPPY, our black labrador puppy, finally came out of her plaster. The vet said that the fracture on her leg had healed. Which was a mercy: the vet told me that if it hadn’t healed properly after six weeks, then the dog would have to undergo an operation at a cost of £1,500. Which would have been a bit of a disaster, especially considering that something had gone wrong with renewing her insurance and she wasn’t insured the day she broke her leg. She is quite a naughty puppy, though. A friend had warned me that they are thieves, these dogs, and she was quite right. For one thing, she is an egg thief, and we now suspect her of having been an egg thief for some time. She found a nest in the wood barn, and had clearly been scoffing them every time she found herself in the yard. She will steal the food from her plate, so we tend to keep her in her cage during mealtimes. But she is a very wonderful beautiful, playful puppy, too: she really just wants to race around in the field with some small children for company.
SOMETIMES I THINK all that human beings really need to be happy is a field. A field is freedom. We are renting the small field opposite the house from our landlord, and it’s been an absolute joy. In one corner is the vegetable patch, and a stream runs through the other side. It gets the sun till late, and during the recent music festival, we had friends camping up there. A field is your own personal campsite, it’s a cricket pitch, it can produce fruit and vegetables, it’s a dog training centre, it’s pastureland for a pony, it’s a nature reserve. You could keep pigs on it, have bonfires in it. put a caravan on it for visitors, or simply lie in it. If you don’t have access to a field, try and rent or buy one near where you live, perhaps sharing the cost with a group of families. It’s heaven.
IN THE HEDGEROWS, the elderflowers are all out, and we say every day that tomorrow we will go and collect them and make elderflower cordial, but we never do. The foxgloves are now dying back, and in the front garden, the roses are starting to appear, as are the enormous hollyhocks. The lawn is looking pretty awful, straggly and unmown. However, I have ordered a scythe on the recommendation of Paul Kingsnorth, who came and stayed the night last month. This scythe is going to transform my life. Paul said that scything is very enjoyable, unlike its modern equivalent, strimming. Strimming is pure hell. It’s noisy and makes your whole body ache and shake. It uses lots of oil and it breaks all the time. No one wants to get the strimmer out. But the scythe: it is silent, you can hear the birds sing while you are doing it. It is not an ugly, brutish machine, mercilessly laying waste to the overgrowth. It hasn’t arrived yet, but you wait, when it dies, this place is going to look tip top.
OUR MAIN excitement lately has been the arrival of a beehive, which came quite by chance, since a friend was given one which they decided not to use.. Victoria has been going every week to meetings of the Devon Bee Keepers Association, and she says that, as is the case with anything that is done voluntarily and for its own sake, the meetings are hugely enjoyable. Such nice people. Victoria selected a spot for the beehive, and Alan came round and put a fence around it to keep stock away. I put some slates down and we assembled the beehive. It looks rather splendid. The next step of course is the arrival of the bees, which we are hoping to get in a week or two. I have heard talk of a lack of bees in general this year. A few friends have noticed that they are fewer in number this year than in previous years. And as we know, if the bees die out, then that’s the end of the world because it means no more plant life and no more food. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to encourage the bees as best we can.