DAY 52: Mon 4 May

Rats! They are back. (Not that they ever went away.)

Last night while picking herbs in the front garden I was startled by a squeal followed rustling sounds into undergrowth. At first I thought it was an injured bird, but I could see nothing. More rustling then silence. Perhaps it was a mouse, I thought, after the birdseed. 

I later learned from my house guest that he too had heard such noises when he went out for a smoke in the evening. We eventually determined that this was a RAT, coming from the soakaway drain nearby. We had once found the corpse of a defenestrated rat on the pebbles around the pond. So arranging the dispatch of that rat will be one task for today. (Not that they ever come singly.)

The rats used to collect their meals from the compost bin (even chewing through reinforced plastic to get at it) but two years ago we had a massive infestation. They burrowed into the greenhouse, two compost bins and, of course, into the chicken run. I set up a wildlife camera in the coop and got some remarkable footage of, at first, one huge and very athletic rat. Later shots found it accompanied by a smaller version. By tracking their movements I was able to ascertain that they were not just eating the chicken feed, but collecting it. They appeared to be burrowing under the 8 foot wall of the next door electricity substation, and under another wall into a neighbours’ dog enclosure. 

When some friends came round one day, we lifted a flagstone to find the rat family larder which included not only chicken feed but also dry dog biscuits from next door! My puny efforts to eradicate them came to nothing so I ended up paying a lot for the professionals to move in. The ‘ratman’ was himself startled when the bruiser that had the run the chicken coop broke cover in broad daylight, leapt up onto the highest perch more than four foot off the ground, ran along it and dived through the fence into the next door garden. 

It took a while to be rid of the five different ratteries, but we had been pretty clear since then. One brief infestation from under the patio was swiftly dealt with last year. But after last night’s incident I toured the ‘hot spots’ again this morning. No sign in the greenhouse or the compost bins. (I now compost garden and green kitchen waste in sealed rotating barrels and only fill the bins when it has all rotted down.) But, sure enough, in a dark, seldom visited corner of the chicken coop, there was the tell-tale sign – a deep hole at the junction of two walls – the substation’s and the neighbour’s, and two more close by. The electricity board did invite me to inspect their premises last time, and we could find no trace, but rats are canny creatures. So, let battle commence. I have traps and poison to hand. I laid them later.

Mother Nature is a capricious character. Leave the garden for two minutes and everything just grows (or dies). My potatoes have broken cover – that is to say some have grown out through the protective netting and become an open invitation to the chickens to gorge themselves! Meanwhile CATS have found their way into the bird-free vegetable garden and taken delight in pawing my nicely sieved earth as part of their toilet rituals. Of course they have chosen the neatly marked rows beneath which seeds nestled as they prepared to sprout. Bah!

I have a question for Mother N. Why don’t slugs and snails eat what we call weeds?

I also have a question for those ramping up the VE Day celebrations this Friday. It had not got through to me that the May Bank Holiday had been swapped for today to the end of the week, but what had got through was the idea that we were all supposed to follow a national timetable on Friday leading to singing WARTIME ANTHEMS led from the Albert Hall. We are NOT at war. And anyway there is no sign of victory over the coronavirus yet. Do they realise that the Tories’ wartime rhetoric is dangerous nonsense? It plays into the hands of the xenophobes – like Brexit – and elevates Johnson – the man who came back from the dead at Easter – onto a Churchillian pedestal. It does not bode well for the future.

Ironically ‘It’s the Media, Stupid!’ arrived today. It’s a slim volume of articles looking at how the 2019 Election was ‘handled’ by the media, with its constant attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the ramping up of attacks on the BBC, then and since. We are now in the hands of a right-wing government with an agenda that I suspect even some of its supporters do not appreciate. Produced by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (North) the book raises concerns about the power of the mainstream media which has been let off the hook of Leveson 2 by a Tory Party which in turn owes its dominance to key sections of the print media.

On a happier note, at lunchtime I finished off The Master which has a rather anti-climactic end (spoiler alert – it’s all down to a dog), my grandsons having been quite excited by the build up. I think T.H. White ran out of imagination, or perhaps became anxious about the political, ethical and technological issues he had flagged up in this story about world domination. And yes, it’s a children’s book riddled with the casual sexism and racism of its day). But then he was an off set, with some rather disturbing predelictions. Now I have to find a new book to read to them. My library is distinctly adult, so this might be quite a search. 

Tonight’s hour-long Zoom meeting featured 18 journalists, mostly freelances, from throughout the south west region of the NUJ. Discussion ranged from how to make ends meet when the commissions run out to whether mainstream media and opposition politicians are doing enough to hold the government to account over the current crisis.

Having managed to get more than half an hour’s exercise in before this evening’s Iftar, I now feel justified in settling down to watch a movie. This time it was The Laundromat, a Brechtian attempt to explain why and how the Panama Papers revelations were important. Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Anthony Banderas, David Schwimmer and Sharon Stone, take us through a series of incidents which reveal the amoral way in which the rich protect their assets at the expense of everyone else. It is unusual to see such ‘stars’ in agit prop theatre especially directed firmly against the American financial establishment, and which ends with an attack on the very political structures that determine who gets to stand for President (no names, no pack drill).

And now it’s time for bed

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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