Monday, November 21, 2005

Carpentry / Neighbours from Hell

It is quite possible that the family next door will never forgive us for what we inflicted on them over the weekend: two full days of auditory violence from breakfast until long past dinner. Quite simply, we are the DIY neighbours from hell. Not content with hanging a picture or assembling flat-packed furniture, we took a fancy to building a garden shed.  Not for us the kits delivered on the back of a lorry – instead, four car-loads of wood, screws, nails and roofing felt have been carried home from our local hardware supermarket.  To these materials, we applied not only hand, tenon and mitre saws and hammers, but also high-powered drills and electric screwdrivers, plus a jigsaw.  Only a lingering sense of fiscal responsibility prevented us from fetching home a circular saw to complete the “orchestra”.   Still, the “melody” our little quartet produced was enough to draw the curiosity of passers-by (all the more so because only the tallest could see us behind the high walls of our garden).

The work is nearly complete now.  Our shed has four complete walls standing squarely on a strong and level base.  A ridgepole runs the length of it, and the first rafter pair are now semi-secure, making a gable above the doorway.  Tonight, we must get the roof on, because tomorrow it will rain (can you believe our luck in having three consecutive dry days, just when they were needed?).  Oh, and all sides must be painted, to weatherproof them.  Roofing is the job we really dread, though: cutting rafters with tricky angles and “bird’s mouth” notches and screwing them together into something neat and strong, seven or eight feet above the shed floor (in the dark, because night falls so early now).

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Shed

Miss C and I spent a good part of the weekend in our new garden (a rather generous term, it being currently a waste of weeds unrelieved by dragonflies, sparkling or otherwise).  Regular readers will know it as the site for our expanding mouse cemetery.  

This time, though, we were there with constructive purpose: not content with namby-pamby shed kits, we spent Saturday afternoon buying two car loads of wood, plus an assortment of fearsome-looking nails.  The Day Of Rest we spent merrily sawing and hammering.  By the time the moon rose, we had constructed an 8 by 10 foot base, with a stiff (and hopefully sturdy) floor.  

Construction is tremendously satisfying: remarkably, we have sustained only light injuries and manageable levels of blood loss.  The only cloud on the future of the project is Miss C’s glum prophecy that we are simply “building a house for the mice” – she believes the finished structure is sure to become a kind of mousy mansion, a cosy wooden home in which to raise more furry hordes.  I am more sanguine: from dust they came, and to dust they shall swiftly be returned.  They will make excellent fertilizer - for our weeds.


They say that some people become like their pets, their manner and appearance gradually taking on something of their familiar’s. Could it be that a similar process develops in people with an antipathy towards a particular animal?

I ask, because our campaign of the last few weeks against the cunning and persistent Mus musculus seems to have begun certain changes in me: the faintest rustle or scratch will freeze my pose, even as my head swivels to triangulate the source. The eyes concentrate more and more on the world of ground level, seeking cracks and crannies, cover and clearings. Even my nose, previously deaf to all but the most violently fragranced cheeses is now sensitive to days-old mouse traces.

This might all be put to an overactive imagination, except that it is getting results – I, who had never seen a “wild” mouse have recently tracked and found several, indoors and outdoors. Newly-sharpened senses are awakening atavistic instincts are awakening. Late at night, I slip silently into a darkened kitchen, stand stock still in ambush, listening hopefully, almost hungrily: furry flight is tremendously exciting, an irresistible invitation to chase.

Am I becoming a cat?

Update: Last weekend, I found myself waiting with great anticipation beside a mouse hole

Friday, November 11, 2005

Serial, Killing the 3rd

We’ve been having trouble with midnight marauders again. We think they’ve been gaining access through a tunnel, but at first they eluded us, stripping traps of bait on three occasions. Not this morning though: a freshly re-baited and re-set trap caught our intruder with his hindquarters still in the tunnel entrance. The poor fellow took the fatal blow square in the forehead – unpleasant-looking, but at least the end must have been instantaneous. His last meal was a good one, as he had managed to eat most of the bait before the trigger wire came free. The usual pre-dawn burial followed, his little body not yet stiff, curled almost as if in sleep as he slid from my spade into the earth. Three small graves lie in a row now, but I’m still sufficiently un-hardened to my task to feel rather wicked as I looked down at the tiny form of my victim. Such a sweet-looking thing he was, with his pale underbelly and tiny pink paws that look so much like hands.

Update: My sympathies for the deceased not withstanding, I reset the trap immediately, and Miss C found another fresh little corpse an hour or two later. Burial will follow this evening: no flowers please.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Fall

Once a week, for no particular reason, my friends and I like to take riding lessons in an indoor arena perched on a quiet hillside which lies some miles into the green, green country beyond The City. We are usually half a dozen or so, there for social element as much as the horses.

In the summer, we were all beginners. Now, we are learning to canter: this is a much faster pace, where all four hooves may leave the ground at once. There is a lot of motion: you must keep the rhythm of the horse – or risk being bounced halfway to the rafters. For male riders, getting the rhythm wrong can be quite uncomfortable. I’ve learnt to clasp the horse very firmly with my knees.

On the evening of this story, our instructor was pleased with our progress: so pleased that he wanted to give us all as much practice as possible. Now, usually we canter singly, with the rest of the group observing, their mounts stationery in the centre of the arena, but on this occasion I was sent out to lead Miss C in a canter (or, my horse led because hers is a bone-idle, laziness incarnate).

No sense of foreboding, just excitement to be riding fast, together. We’ve been around too many times to worry much. And it goes well, until the call comes to turn in again. Something startles my “Gipsy”: instead of slowing to my “whoa” and tug, she seems to buck and jump. Adrenaline stretches seconds: time becomes glacier-slow as the next turn approaches. Awareness is a tunnel, pin-sharp, the problems of the world reduced to a single goal: stay in the saddle. I fight Gipsy for control: pull her back, firmly, not cruelly. Just as suddenly as the mischief began, it leaves her, and we fall back to a walk.

Only then do I glance in to the others: and see - no! - a white horse with an empty saddle trotting through the arena by itself. It is Miss C’s horse.

Once more, moments seem to stretch into aeons as I seek frantically back along the path of the white horse. Disbelieving, I find her up walking, with a smile on her face.

The accident reconstructed: Down went her horse, cleanly she fell, head-first, then somersaulting, tucked in, bounced, rolled, stood again, unbroken. At the time, I think I got a bigger fright than she did.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Back to the riding school last night, and another new mount. Gipsy was taken, but I wasn’t disappointed for long: instead, I was given Andy, a five year old Connemara Pony. His owner described him as “maybe a bit too good for a riding school”. I’m no judge of that, but he is certainly a very comfortable horse to ride. Taller than the others (except Gipsy), he turned out to be even easier – I several times had to pull him up for trotting too fast – and he broke into a canter very willingly too. Already, he was my favourite of all the animals I had tried, but better was to come.

At the end of the lesson, we were given another try at the poles, two being set out on opposite sides of the arena, each in the middle of a long straight, requiring a jump of about a foot or so. Riding immediately behind Gipsy, I was able to see her take an easy line, turning a little to the left where rising ground made the pole lower and easier. Andy didn't waver, and actually made a small jump. After the second pole I was feeling very confident, and on the next lap I actually spurred him on for the last length or two of the approach, tucking myself low on his neck at the last second. I could feel his great shoulder muscles bunch below me, followed a moment later by a surge of acceleration as all four legs uncoiled and propelled us cleanly over the pole – easily the best jump yet!

The jump was followed by a smooth landing and the realization that riding is really becoming instinctive. Jumping is very exciting, but feels perfectly natural, and happens exactly as I had imagined it would. Further adventures beckon – can’t wait.