Weather in these isles is notoriously unpredictable at the best of times but, all things considered, summer this year has been good. Just as well with all this lockdown business. June was warm and dry, July was wetter and August has been a scorcher so far. Whenever the mercury rises, out comes the BBQ, bangers and burgers. On the hottest day of the year, we popped to the shops for grill grub and, after getting home, threw open the stable door to our little porch. The heat rushed in and the fire alarm went off. We had to unscrew it from the ceiling to get it to stop.
Later that day, as I was flipping the burgers, I stepped on a wasp with my bare foot. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t go down too well with the wasp and the angry little bugger stung me. It was my first time. Until that painful moment, this city boy had never been stung – bitten many times, yes, but stung, no. I didn’t know how I’d react, physically. Thankfully, I didn’t go into anaphylactic shock and have to be rushed to hospital. I did, though, hop around the lawn screaming ‘ouch, ouch, ouch.’
‘Don’t be such a drama queen,’
Liam said before pouring me a large glass of medicinal white.
Country life brings with it many rewards but one of them isn’t the common or garden mole. Our small rural patch was under sustained excavation from one (or maybe more) of these pesky pests burrowing beneath our feet to mine for juicy worms. The BBQ was in serious danger of dropping down a sink hole, and whole sections of the lawn began to resemble a toy-town Peak District as the industrious mouldywarp (as moles were called in Shakespeare’s day) built little hillocks from the tunnel spoil.
Mole hills are all too common in these parts. The local graveyard is full of ’em. The dearly departed may not mind, but the alive and kicking certainly do. I’ve had dreams of Mr Mole sunning himself on a little deckchair, cocktail in one hand, worm burger in the other; the party guest who never leaves. It’s the stuff of my nightmares – Wind in the Willows it ain’t. So I counter-attacked with organic repellent and coffee grains in the hope he’d get the message and move on to greener pastures. So far so good. I may have won the battle but the war is not over.
I hear bees are becoming an endangered species and if we don’t do something about it, we’re stuffed too – that is if Mother Nature doesn’t wipe us out with a nasty virus first. And who could blame her? To do my bit to placate the gods I bought a bee bomb – a collection of wildflower seeds which, when in bloom, attract bees and a host of other pollinators. I scattered the seeds over a raised bed, watered them in and forgot about it. Come June, to my delight and astonishment, the bomb had exploded into a riot of daisies, cornflowers, poppies, marigolds and many others this city boy has never heard of and couldn’t pick out in a line up. The tangled bouquet is strafed daily by squadrons of flying bugs while ants and ladybirds harvest the abundance of juicy aphids from the forest of matted stems.
Elsewhere on the farm, a curious mole poked his head above ground before thankfully moving on to greener pastures and a hedgehog emerged from the undergrowth next door to feed, oblivious to the pair of wood pigeons shagging on a gate. The love birds enjoyed it so much they came back the following afternoon for seconds. Meanwhile, larger fauna basked in the warm sunshine feeding on pink gin.
We live in a real life Hitchcock film with Liam doing his best Tippi Hedren impersonation trying to dodge the blitzkrieg of shit from the rooks, crows, pigeons, wrens, blackbirds, robins, doves, starlings, ducks and tits great and small. Wiping down the garden fixtures with a damp J cloth has become a daily ritual.
Pansies HQ overlooks the Wherryman’s Way and so we’re well used to the endless procession of panting dogs with booted walkers in tow. Much more interesting is the sight of partridges and pheasants – though not chickens – crossing the road followed by the occasional muntjac deer.
And then there is the felonious squirrel who raids the nuts from our neighbour’s bird feeder and buries his booty in our lawn. More annoying are the wasps looking for a cosy place to bed down in our loft and the masonry bees setting up home by burrowing into the ancient mortar keeping our equally ancient bricks in place. And don’t ask me about the pesky moles tunnelling beneath our feet.
This isn’t the birds and the bees I learned about as a hormone raging teenager.
After a dull, damp winter, the spring has been warm and friendly – pale blue skies and wispy clouds – perfect weather for back-garden BBQs and slow walks along the Wherryman’s Way. Some readers may remember our clash with Daisy, the mad cow last autumn. On the warmest day of the year so far, we decided to return to the scene of our undoing. It was time to finally face our demons.
We took a circuitous route from Chedgrave, through Loddon, past pretty cottages dripping with wisteria and locked-down pubs looking sad in the sun, finally arriving at the riverside clearing at Pye’s Mill.
After a brief stopover for some extra vitamin D and a beef baguette, we girded our loins and wandered into the field where the evil cows graze. Keeping a watery ditch between them and us, we proved that man and beast can live together in perfect harmony, as long as they keep to their side of the moat. Job done and safely home, we chucked a couple of burgers on the grill.