SUMMER is now a distant memory with the dark nights and rain soaked days upon us, bringing with them a host of problems.
My two boys trudge, a good mile each way, up the track to catch the school bus, largely uncomplainingly but probably because they know moaning will get them nowhere as their mother has a heart of steel and a do-to-list which does not include taxi-ing about late-risers no matter what the excuse. The cold and rain has turned our dirt track into a quagmire so they arrive for lessons, I’m sure to the disapproval of the teachers, caked in mud.
The quaint wooden sliding sash windows in the cottage run with condensation as (relatively) warm air hits the paper thin old glass and condenses into a wood rotting permanent puddle on the sill.
Our lounge has turned into a wood store as we drag in enough fuel each day to keep the wood burner stocked so the house is warm in the evening and water hot enough to get a decent bath. The wood shed in turn is already looking dangerously empty – and it looks like we will have to buy in wood which always seems ridiculous considering we live in a wood.
I have developed the annual autumnal hacking cough which will probably stay with me all winter – not helped by the fact the house is cold all day till the fires are lit.
And (though this is far from the completed list, I stop for fear of going on) – the rats have moved in. I can hear them now as I type, scuttling around in the void above the kitchen ceiling. One year they actually chewed through the lighting circuit and plunged us all into darkness. My husband and I spent ages tinkering with the generator that night – bad-tempered and grumbling at each other for failing to charge head-torch batteries – until we realised the sockets in the house were still working and so the power source must not be at fault. It took us more than a week to find an electrician we could coax down the track – and I doubt he will ever agree to another job here again. He came down from the loft having repaired the offending wire, visibly quaking and saying we had “a bit of a vermin problem” up there, before refusing the offer of a cuppa and disappearing back up the track, considering the pot-holes, quicker than was good for his transit van.
That was the year I boldly took on the role of pest control officer. A capacity in which by trial and error I have developed some modicum of expertise as the rats – seeking refuge from the cold – annual encroach on the house. My methods have developed from the initial approach which was to throw hard blocks of rat poison into the loft and shut the hatch and wait for the best…. The best being that the rats did die – but that they did so in some discreet and impossible to reach crevice so that we had to endure for weeks the stench of rotting rat emanating from some vague spot in the walls.
The other trouble with poison is the danger of something other than the target species accidental eating it. Determined to avoid this scenario, one year I took to securing blocks of poison onto a wire coat hanger and stuffing it down suspect rat holes around the hen run. Cunningly concealing the entrance to the hole with a spare section of drainpipe, I felt this set up infallible – until I turned round and caught my new puppy, who must have been only about 8-month-old at the time helping herself to mouthfuls of blue poison straight from the open tub behind me. A panic stricken rush to vets ensued, the pup dosed with spoonfuls of foaming crystals which promptly made her sick in a icky blue mess all over the white tiled surgery floor and I’m pleased to say she made a complete recovery, maturing into an equally naughty and accident prone pet who causes me endless headaches (and massive vet bills) to this day.
But the use of poison clearly had its disadvantages so last year I decided to try my hand at trapping. Glorious was the moment I approached the hand crafted contraption, cobbled together from wire trays previously used for storing potatoes, and with the flash of my torch actually found a rat scurrying around inside. Nestled in the fruit cage for weeks, I’d been checking the trap religiously every night while shutting up the hens, sometimes even finding the scattering of corn taken but the trap empty and had feared the design was somehow flawed but now, finally, victory – and the eldest was home from school with a friend round – what a fantastic opportunity to educate them in the rigours of country life!
The boys were surprisingly amenable at being pulled away from playing on their phones and coming out into the cold dark evening. “There’s a rat in the trap, come on, I’m going to kill it, you’ll have to see.” That’s what I said. Is it weird? It seemed totally acceptable to me at the time, I mean we weren’t living here deep in the woods to stay indoors and play on phones for goodness sake. And the boys went “cool” so I must have been onto something and we trouped out into the dark, we three, armed with torches and me with a stick and it wasn’t until eldest said: “So how you’re gonna kill it,” that I realised, I really had no idea.
The rat wasn’t crouching in the corner of the cage, like you might have imagined, trapped and terrified. No, it was fighting furiously for freedom, scurrying all over its wire prison, clinging to the bars on all sides. The vague plan had been to somehow drown the rat in the river while still in the cage but the trap was large, large enough, I’d planned, to use to capture a few of those tenacious rabbits which annual ate more of my young veg than my family ever did, but how was I going to maneuver the oversized trap out of the fruit bushes with the rodent ranging so viciously inside?
In the end I dragged it out with the stick but things got even more grim when we reached the river. Upended, which it had to be to stop the trap door swinging open, the cage reached to about the height my hips. I strode purposefully into the river, the trap, with its awful cargo pushed before me on the end of the stick, the two boys following behind. Panicking the rat scampered across the walls of the cage to evade the inky black water, then once I got the trap half submerged to my horror it just started swimming around inside. “Stay on the bank boys,” I called, trying to sound calm, “I’m going in deeper.”
It took five, maybe more, minutes for the bubbles to stop rising and I could finally confirm the rat drowned. Standing waist high in the freezing river, my wellies filled with water, hands numb with cold as I held the stick which held the trap now completely submerged under the water, it felt much, much longer. At one point I heard concerned eldest understandably say to his pal “are you alright about this” to which the pal replied “I’m fine,” but from the squeaky sound of his voice, I suspect he was lying.
Splodging back to the house, I considered initiating an intelligent discussion about the pros and cons of the use of poison, its potential effect on the food chain and so on but instead I said: “Who’s for a hot chocolate?” which we all whole-heartedly agreed, was finally a great idea.