Two things: firstly, the more observant amongst you will have noticed that there’s a new tab on the website (Scarecrow Cottage). If you follow me on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/scarecrowcottagewales ) you’ll know the tagline for the page is “a falling down house, an overgrown garden and a love of homespun crafts”. Well, now you can add “also the final resting place of many of God’s creatures” to that. Secondly, in terms of the title of this blog, the word “pass” actually means “pass” (from what Gandalf shouted as he defended a crumbling bridge against an onslaught of evil in The Lord of the Rings). It is not “pass” as used in that increasingly popular (and irritating to a pedant like me) American euphemism for death, although you may think differently when you read what’s coming next.
A Falling Down House
The latest problem started (like so many) in March 2020. Suddenly finding herself with spare time because of three lost income streams, Annie took it into her head to chisel all the plaster from one wall in what has always been known as “the little room”. We won’t bother with asking “why would she?” because everyone’s life (particularly mine) is too short to try and make sense of the answer. Anyway as Annie never says, long story short, the wall in the little room, with its crumbling lime mortar pointing and bare stones, has spent the last 18 months waiting for the fairies to come and do something magical with it. A couple of weeks ago Annie finally gave up on the fairies and called in the wonderful Kevin Raymond of Gower Stone Art. Ten days later and the wall was cleaned, repointed and ready for another 250 years of life. Such is the joy of having a proper stonemason as a mate.
That should have been that and it would have been except for Mr Roper’s ill-fated attempt to put electricity in the house in the mid 1940s. No sooner had Kevin packed up his tools than the television went on the blink. Thanks to Mr Roper our living room has 5 electric sockets but only one which is deemed safe enough to use. This is partly because of Mr Roper not being an electrician and partly because all of the walls in the house are like the one in the picture and no-one in their right mind would try and put an electric cable through them. It didn’t take long for us to work out that it was the socket rather than the television which had given up the ghost. Cue the arrival of Andrew the Sparky. It took him about 5 minutes to identify and repair the fault and another 10 minutes to warn Annie that perhaps the time had come for us to abandon living with Mr Roper’s cavalier approach to wiring. This conversation took place in the conservatory and at the crucial point when Annie was querying the cost of rewiring, citing the extreme poverty of two elderly spinsters, and just as Andrew was lifting a nice piece of home made cake off the plate, Lily the cat charged through the open door with a dead rat almost the same size as herself in her mouth and dropped the stiffening rodent at Andrew’s feet. “Welcome to Scarecrow Cottage,” said Annie. “I’ll just get a spade.”
An Overgrown Garden
My dad was obsessed by his lawn. In particular, he was obsessed by preventing the growth of anything other than grass on his lawn. Although his English was near perfect (and a lot better than some native speakers of the lingo) he never quite got his pronunciation of some words right and used to ask me to go and buy him “moff killer”. By contrast I have always seen lawns as a complete non-event so not surprisingly, now that the garden is under my jurisdiction, there is less grass and more useful stuff – like vegetables, flowers and fruit. Heck, I’ve even got mistletoe growing on the Crab Apple (although it took 8 years of rubbing berries into the nooks and crannies of every tree in the garden before I succeeded).
Because there is a greater variety of plants at Scarecrow Cottage, there are lots more insects. And because there are lots more insects, there are lots more birds. So far, so good but as my mum used to say, nature can be cruel. In the Yew tree next to the tiny remainder of Dad’s precious lawn, nests a colony (not sure if that’s the right collective term but someone will correct me, I’m sure. A coo, perhaps? ) of wood pigeons. They breed in the high branches successfully, noisily and out of the reach of Lily, who is not that bothered by birds anyway because she’s too busy controlling the rodent population. Sooner or later the parent wood pigeons decide it’s time to empty the nest and encourage their offspring to independence by pushing them off a branch. The youngsters usually bounce on the ground and learn to use their wings pretty quickly. Unless there’s a hawk doing a fly past. As there was on this occasion.
Between October and December every year I switch off the arty bit of my brain and concentrate on two things: decorating my Autumn display table and making things for Christmas. When it comes to Autumn I am especially fond of pumpkins and if someone gives me a lovely bunch of flowers as a thank you present, then my Autumn table looks absolutely wonderful and my life is complete.
Of course, I don’t need to rely on bought flowers. I am happy to steal the odd bloom from plants that hang over the garden walls of my neighbours. At the end of the next road is a house with an undisciplined hydrangea in the front garden. I just happened to have a pair of secateurs in my pocket on the day I was walking past and was feeling pretty pleased with my bounty and the speed with which I had executed the theft. As I stopped to await a gap in the traffic to cross the road (Scarecrow Cottage – in spite of its name and my descriptions – is not situated in some bucolic rural idyll but is actually on the side of what seems like a racing track), I could see that our resident hedgehog wouldn’t be coming home. Another day, another hole to be dug.
(Obviously I couldn’t put a picture of the carnage in so here’s the stolen hydrangea wreath.)
You Shall Not Pass!
So what, you’re wondering, have these three things got in common: a falling down house, an overgrown garden and a dead hedgehog. I’ll tell you. A falling down house: slugs; an overgrown garden: slugs; a hedgehog: slug control; a dead hedgehog: no slug control. This is not about protecting my tender plants and it’s not about keeping the little blighters away from the courgettes or lettuces; this is about them trying to move indoors to shelter from the recent stormy weather. Personally I think if politicians made it clear that sharing your house with slugs will be one of the effects of climate change, people would soon start taking it seriously. Last Tuesday evening I walked into the kitchen barefoot and didn’t put the light on. That’s a sensation between my toes I’m not going to forget in a hurry. The utility room? I try to avoid it after darkness falls. The pantry? 9 o’clock curfew. I draw the line at sprinkling blue pellets over the floors and Lily’s not interested in anything that doesn’t move fast or twitch so I need an alternative. I don’t want to be digging graves for dead slugs that have drowned in saucers of beer or shrivelled up by crawling over some chemical or other, I just want them to stay out of my house. Is that too much to ask? Just in case it is, I’ve started pouring salt in a thick line along the doorstep, channelling my inner Gandalf and yelling “You shall not pass!” Our new neighbours are young, quiet and could be normal. Do I risk explaining the situation to them or shall I let them believe that I am defending the house against balrogs, orcs and nazgul?