It’s damn near perfect down here in Let et Garonne at the moment. Over the last week, the sun has changed from burning intensity to a gentle heat that makes for easy gardening, and a nut-brown edge to an ageing Rosbif’s tan. Leaves are busy working their way through the colour spectrum from full green via bright yellow to pastel rust, and the sunflowers are drooping their heads towards the Sungod.
Sunflowers aren’t all big and yellow and photogenic for long: within a fortnight, they look for all the world like a football crowd of old blokes – heads bowed, bored by the game, but hanging in there in the hope of a goal. Our neighbour Lauren has already harvested his maize, and dumped this year’s mountain of ordure on the soil in readiness for ploughing in later. For a brief few weeks, our entrance path will be free of rotting cow dung; after which, the process will start all over again.
Now is the summer of our fat content made worse by the Autumn arrival of walnuts…with that fresh, slightly damp feel the very first kernels have as they start to drop from the trees. And as the glut becomes predictably unmanageable, they are added to warming, early-winter soups containing pumpkin and other scrumptious things. Except that, if Sidney the Squirrel has his way, he and Mrs Squirrel will be the only beneficiaries of this year’s crop.
When we had the new slate roof fitted last year, Sid was confused. Having spent years scampering up and down chestnut tiles with plenty of grip, the poor chap slid this way and that up and down smooth Spanish slate. But having had time to think about it, he now approaches matters with more cunning, and less use of the roof itself. The little scamp has taken to clambering up our north-facing stone wall, and then making the small leap from gutter to branch. So now I’m back to finding empty green jackets or – even more frustrating – rejected nuts that Sidney thinks sub-standard.
And he’s right, the bugger. I’ve watched him at his skilled quality control, and it seems to me he uses weight as the criterion. He gets the green casing off in about 0.02 seconds (it takes me a minute at least) and then – literally – uses his claws as scales while he judges whether there’s anything worth eating inside. So for much of the time, I’m picking up Sid’s tossed-away nut-free shells, thinking how good they’re going to taste later. Thus I too have been reduced to sussing out the weight. Over time, I’ve become quite good at it. I could make it to sophomore squirrel any year soon.
We don’t see much of Mrs S. She has a rather less bushy and showy tail than her partner, although she’s a little bigger than him. We don’t know her name: Jan wants her to be called Sybil, but that’s only because she likes the idea of sibilant alliteration going together with sweet little furry things. I’d quite like Sid’s missus to be a Doris – after the great Private Eye couple, Sid and Doris Bonkers, fanatical supporters of Neasden FC. But naming wild animals is something of a hit and miss process. For years we had Archibald the pigeon, a regular visitor to our home near Lyme Regis on his way back to his whippet-racing owners in Sunderland. And if you want to know how we know all this detail, as Alistair Campbell is wont to remark, “I make it all up”.