At the End of the Day

Esconced as I am down here in the leaky but on the whole very cosy barn conversion, up at the Big House things still need checking: the ability of wildlife to squat one’s property is a constant process of balancing live and let live with health and safety considerations.

Mice poo in such great profusion everywhere when not chewing through pipes and wires, I am become Mayor Slog of Zero Tolerance. Squirrels, on the other hand, usually go out in search of their own food and have little interest in destruction of the water and energy fabric of human habitats. Also they crap discreetly in attic spaces, as God most assuredly intended.

This winter being the first one during which I’ve occupied the newly converted grange, the resident squirrel pair have been venturing forth into the main residence interior; and their exploration has borne fruit – or to be exact, nuts – in the shape of last year’s walnut crop in the summer den. I’m ready to accuse mice of almost anything, but not of being able to break open walnuts. The fickle finger of Dragnet is pointing inexorably towards Mr & Mrs Nutkin re this one.

Last week I saw the two of them for the first time in weeks, and I do remember thinking that they looked a tad overweight. It is of course true that squirrels are just rats with fluffy tails who sit upright and bounce everywhere rather than darting about deviously. But down here they are reds not greys, and I’m here to tell you that one’s heart warms to their antics in a way that no rat on Earth has ever come close to equalling.

Your rat carries little beyond bubonic plague, being incorrigibly idle and altogether a thoroughly bad lot. Your red squirrel, by contrast, is just the sort of chap I rather admire: I’ve seen them carrying a nut in each cheek and two under each arm. And their ability to drop this baggage as they scurry about produces new seedlings that enjoy the status of protected species – for they in turn are the natural protein factories of the future.

Anyway, the TV room needed some clearing up, having been turned into a tableau of carelessly cast shells, and nuts discarded because my cohabitants had judged them unfit for rodent consumption. It looked untidy, but was mercifully free from excrement. Among many other redeeming features, the average squirrel’s standards of hygiene make it much preferred to mice and rats on the neighbour-you’d-rather-have scale.

Meanwhile, I have a new lodger in the garden. He’s a guinea fowl, and I know not whence he came, but his completely unjustified trust in me is reminiscent of the now extinct Dodo who greeted the first humans to arrive by painting target-circles on their heads and sitting very still, the better to facilitate death by shooting.

It’s lucky for him that things have not yet turned survivalist. That, and my innate pacifism, sense of fair play, and preference for going up Lidl to buy one ready prepared.

Earlier at The Slog: The odd tale of the astonishingly quiet Rupert Turdlock