DAY 62: Thurs 14 May

Rats, rats and more rats, plus an artichoke

Up at 7. Less than 5 hours sleep. Let the chickens out. 

There were two segments of film on the wildlife camera featuring rats. In one a single rat appears right beside the camera then scampers along the passageway and runs up into the neighbours’ garden to their dogs’ pen. In another, two can be seen, one appearing to try to get into the chicken coop but not succeeding and then running back down the passageway towards steps to the front garden. Fits with my theory they are coming from elsewhere. 

I make myself a mug of a tea and watch the news channels. 

The phone rings. It’s my son. He and grandchildren 3 & 4 are outside the house. They have been for a long walk with the double buggy. Grandson No.3 has been running much of the way as a racing car (he gives me his sound effects). My granddaughter is just waking up and gives me her gorgeous smile. 

The phone rings again. The Council’s pest control operative (PCO) has arrived, so  I have to abandon my visitors for a while. The PCO acknowledges that the rats have not taken any of the bait on my neighbour’s side; I tell him they’ve also taken none on my side either. He blames the chickens again and I point out that no food has been kept in the coop for more than two weeks. The chickens are fed in the garden during the day. I also point out the holes I found in the coop have been packed with poison, filled in and blocked off as per his instructions. There is no sign of them being disturbed in the last week. I say I have film of the rats arriving last night – coming in from the direction of my front garden. He doesn’t seem interested in seeing the evidence. 

He says they must be coming for the compost bins, pointing at one in another neighbour’s garden. He is told it is full of dried material only . and I tell him that I now revolving composters that the rats can’t get into. My neighbour points out that there is an abandoned fridge in the next door garden which still has food in it. The PCO says rats could get in through the back. I tell him about seeing a rat in the front garden beside the waterfall, and watching a cat trying to catch ‘something’ in the undergrowth. He says they are probably coming fron a broken drain. I tell him the one soakaway drain in the front garden has an unbroken grill which I have supplemented with close knit chicken wire. Nor has the bait-box beside it been visited.

I suggest they are coming for the Back Lane itself, where there is a wildlife corridor and access to a culverted brook with gave the street its name. The PCO says the neophobia of rats may also explain why they have not yet investigated the bait boxes. He will come back next week to see of there has been any change.

Off he goes and I return to my family. A passer-by from the street greets us, and lets me know that the two huge brick chimneys that overlook this end of Brook Lane are indeed remnants of the Poultney Pottery that once graced Fishponds, and that in a nearby back alley there are remnants of the stables of Upper Fishponds House – once part of the private madhouse I am writing a book about. 

Grandson No. 3 says “I am hungry” and looks up in expectation. Plums and a kiwi fruit are not filling enough, so his favourite ’pizza toast’ is duly prepared. His little sister demands her share and her determination shows she will be a power to e reckoned with. Her mother, of whom she is the spitting image, arrives by car to deliver some fruit shopping for me. Then it is time for them to go home.

The morning has gone and still I have had no breakfast. I make myself a Welsh Rarebit and while it is under the grill I set a fruit loaf in motion. The phone rings. My daughter reminds me her sons are ready for the next chapter of Culann, but I plead for enough time to eat my ‘brunch’.

As I bit into a succulent rarebit the phone rings yet again. It is a colleague calling to discuss her academic paper. She has further revised it so there is more to look at, I say I can do nothing for half an hour.

I manage to finish my rarebit before it goes cold, followed by a herbal salad.. The phone rings. It is my mate from Tanzania. I say I am about to read to my grandsons so we agree to talk later.

Then it is back to Culann in Gaul. Have won his battle with Angus, son of Tirgach the Pirate, he now has to help the talking frog, who claims to be under a spell from the evil headmaster who had stolen his wife. Culann finds it all hard to believe, especially when he learns that the spell would be broken if he tells the story of Three Rock Mountain in Ireland!  The chapter ends with the story told but the problem unresolved, and the boys want to lark about for a while. As well as doing their school work they have also been cooking – a menu of fruit-based goodies. As we say goodbye the phone rings again and it’s a chance to catch up on news from Tanzania. 

Today seems to have left me behind. None of the things I had anticipated doing have been possible. It looks lovely outside but I have spent little time tending the garden either. I head to the greenhouse to refresh the inhabitants which are wilting under 45C. As I begin to plant out some black kale and more sweet potatoes, I find a young sparrow caught in the netting over the vegetable patch. It takes some time to release the poor thing. Then I harvest the first of five artichokes blossoming in the greenhouse

The phone rings, Now it is my daughter and her two sons at the front of the house. I make tea and my house guest appears with a delicious fruit smoothie for the boys. He is still fasting, of course, and normally keeps to himself during the Ramadan days, but it is evident he is delighted to see the boys. For the asks four years he has only been able to see his own young son via Skype on his phone, and yesterday his son dropped his mother’s phone and smashed the screen.

My house guest and my daughter compare notes on lief on the outside. They agree that the shops and main roads are almost back to normal this week, with many people ignoring the physical distance rules. No doubt relieved by Johnson’s ‘green light’ signals, they are acting as if the worst is over. The worst may be yet to come, and who will take responsibility for that?

My daughter tells him about the Pakistani family in her street who delivered Iftar to all the neighbours last week – it made it onto Pakistan news – and she is  now planning a socially distant street feast for Eld.

Like me, my daughter is finding the daily No.10 briefings barely credible and the spokespeople’s apparent inability or unwillingness to answer questions more than frustrating. We both agree that journalists have got to start calling them out. If a question is not answered the next questioner must repeat the question until we get the information asked for. We also agree how impressed we are with Nicola Sturgeon’s more forthright approach in Scotland.

The phone rings. It is my neighbour out the back. He want to talk. over the fence. He tells me the Council’s ratman has informed Environmental Health about his visit, and they will be writing to me to say I must get rid of the chickens or risk being prosecuted. I find this barely credible but also very disconcerting. Getting rid of the chickens won’t get rid of the rats – they are ever present. The alternative, he tell me, is to concrete over the chicken run to prove that the rats aren’t coming from there! Again, I fail to see how this will help since the rats don’t self-generate in chicken runs. My neighbour says he will help me if I agree to do that, but advises me to keep the footage which show the rats coming up from the front garden. He claims the council said they would spare no expense to eradicate the rats if they are coming from elsewhere. (“Good luck with that,” I say to myself). 

All utterly bizarre. There is a clue in the name of my street. Brook Lane owes its name to the Bally Brook, now culverted at the bottom the Back Lane which joins to the two parts of Brook Lane. It is an ideal haven’t for rodents of various kinds. The little wildlife corridor is home to badgers and foxes as well as rats, all of which visit gardens in the area, not to mention several restaurants. pubs and supermarkets which offer their own attractions to vermin. Normally fast food junk gets dumped in the Lane (which is why I litter-pick twice a week), so the close down means rats regular food sources are more scarce. I shall await the promised letter with interest. 

To calm down I water the front garden and another neighbour passes by to confirm he has bought the solar light grow of us are contributing to, to illuminate the dark spot outside his cottage in the Back Lane, where nefarious deeds sometimes take place at night. He also points out that we have swifts soaring around the area, and I show him that birds have nested in the honeysuckle canopy over the entrance to my garden. A more enchanting taste of nature,

At eight we are all out clapping, banging and ringing bells for the NHS again. I learn that my neighbour and his brother were able to visit their dying mother, and everyone is congratulating a little girl on her 5th birthday. A picture is circulating on the WhatsApp group of her with the huge cake someone has made for her, .

Iftar over I collapse in front of the telly and watch Philomena Cunk and then a recording of Charlie Brooker’s Anti-Viral Wipe to cheer myself up. I then binge watched a few episodes of The Thick Of It instead of editing and uploading today’s diary entry. And I still have worked on my friend’s academic paper. Late to bed again.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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