Not many people like snakes. As it happens, my elder daughter does: as a kid, she had a pet python, and she’s now a real estate negotiator. On the whole, you shouldn’t mess with my firstborn – and as it also happens, she and her husband are staying with us at the moment. And as it even further happens, having seen no snakes at all since April, we’ve seen two in three days.
The first was a small thing – not much bigger than a garden worm – but it got into our swimming pool and, like most reptiles, had no problem with swimming. Problem is, these little silver things are dangerous enough to require hospitalisation if they bite you – so it had to go. This was not a pleasant episode. Even less pleasant was the discovery of a harmless but very large snake in our hallway this afternoon: while my daughter drooled on about how cute it was, my wife was ready to check into a hotel. So it too had to go. You will be unsurprised to learn that I was elected Lord High Executioner.
For some reason I don’t understand, late summer brings out the worst in all the nasty things here. The wasps become a bit dopey and make nests in silly places. So you stumble onto them, and the little sods sting you four or five at a time. The flies drone around like old 78rpm records playing at 33: they sit on your nose and ears, and hum around the bedroom in the early hours. The harvest mites bite your scrotum and other sweaty bits, while green shield bugs sit on the rim of a beer glass, like so many daredevils psyching themselves up to dive off a cliff.
Every year here, there is a catastrophe for one species or another. This year it was Hoopos, the charming crested birds that flop and swoop around the the skies in a delightfully drunken manner. Normally we see at least a dozen a day; this year we’ve seen two, maybe three in six months. For moles, on the other hand, either there has been a post-war baby boom or the death of their predators – we don’t know, except that they’ve been a mountain-building pest all year.
As for our red squirrel pair, they’ve had young – and been showing them over the last few weeks how to access our biggest walnut tree. But as we’ve changed the roof from ageing wood tiles to immaculate slate, there’s been a great deal of sliding about. Red squirrels are (as most people know) much smaller than greys. But what’s less known is how many sub-species of red there are. We have the dark red plus brown tailed variety at our place, and the bushiness of the tails is something to marvel at: their undulating movement really is poetry in motion. Also, while greys are in-yer-face, reds are a bit cheeky but fundamentally timid. How anyone could shoot one is quite beyond me.
And as ever, there are Monsieur Morgue’s goats. They wander, their bells heralding the arrival of interlopers at some point in the day. When they stray onto our land, Foxie and Tiggy terrorise them: although a fifth of their size, our two terriers chase the growing herd back to Morgue’s ramshackle farm with minimal difficulty and maximum enthusiasm.
Our dogs’ other main interest is the gecko population, swollen at this time of year by the spawning of minute lizards who hide easily but have yet to learn the strict rules of survival. At least once a week, Tiggy catches one and is then traumatised by the wriggling tails they leave behind after having made good their escape. Foxie watches quietly, having long ago grown out of chasing the uncatchable. At the sound of scraping plates and opening dishwashers, she’s always the first to arrive – and being the dominant bitch, still terrorises her younger, distant relative. But it’s Tiggy who stands guard against rabbits, barks at cars on the horizon, and chases the post-lady’s van every day. Foxie would rather catch the chicken leg tossed over Henry VIII’s shoulder than pelt after a hare. Some days I see her as a victim of welfare dependence, and on others as just a shrewd servant easing into dignified middle-age.
The first yellow, red and brown leaves are appearing now, and there’s a steady fall of them fluttering on the cooler breeze. One can sit in the sun after four pm, as opposed to staying in the shade until six. We sleep with a sheet over us at night; in a week or two it’ll be time for the light duvet to go on again. The glut of walnuts will arrive just before we leave – and for the first time this year, we have grapes on our two vines: we hope to pack these away in the car and eat them when we get back to England.
We may not be wild and crazy people any more, but we like the wildlife here.