We were under lock down almost as soon as we arrived and it would have been easy to feel isolated, especially so far out in the countryside. In fact the wide open spaces proved to keep us rather busy. A combination of warm weather in March and the (in)famous rain led to an explosion in the garden. The grass shot up and with it a swathe of dandelions and primroses. We had no intention of attempting to create a traditional lawn. Apart from anything else most grass in Ireland grows mixed in with moss. We used the new strimmer around the primroses, avoided the biggest clumps of dandelions and left it for the bees.
I say the “new” strimmer as when we arrived we were rather short on garden tools. As previous owners of a ten foot square yard we had just one trowel. Derek, the mover, looked at it and said, “Think you’re going to need a bigger spade”. He was right, of course. In fact apart from food shopping and the occasional book most of our expenditure has been on tools and garden hardware. A lot of our DIY tools were left behind by the idiot movers and had to be replaced but we never needed a hedge trimmer. Or reciprocal tree saw, loppers, lawnmower, heavy duty clippers ….. the list seemed endless.
As did the task ahead as we ventured into the wood to take stock. It had been sadly neglected over the years. There were a lot of trees – ash, beech, alder, willow, hawthorn and oak, all jumbled up together. The brambles had grown in from the boundaries, as far as fifteen feet in places. The grass of up to five years was packed across the few open spaces and walking was dangerous. As I tried to get to the back of the plot the whole surface gave way suddenly. My leg plunged knee deep into the undergrowth leaving me struggling to move – and very thankful there are no snakes in Ireland.
I looked around, focusing on one tree at a time. Each one was choked with brambles, ivy and sticky weed (Galium Aparine to a gardener). The weight of these parasites was pulling down the tree branches and sucking the life from them, as was the anklet of moss around each trunk. A large number of trees had obviously already succumbed but we decided to wait for summer, to see how many showed signs of life. We had a conference around the kitchen table. Each tree would need to be cleared of weeds and ivy, old and new, but this depended on reaching them in the first place, something currently almost impossible. It was off to the hardware shop again.
We not only had the wood to contend with, we also had the piece of land behind the Majestic. This had huge piles of tree roots, earth and building rubbish scattered across it, far too heavy for us to move. I had eyed several mounds with suspicion, wary of tackling them. As a crime writer my first thought was perhaps there was a body under there. In fact there was something worse. Rats.
Having rats in England is a source of shame. Only dirty (or unlucky, or poor) people have rats. It is different in Ireland, especially anywhere outside the main cities. Everyone has rats. Each year the shops fill up with traps, bait boxes and poisons. Everyone has a favourite method for catching them. They prefer the grain to blocks, we were told. Use peanut butter – they can’t resist it. Fix the blocks so they have to eat them and not carry them off. I was talking to the store owner on a visit to the cottages. He nodded and said, “I had three round my bird table. Waited ‘til they got down and shot them”. I was impressed. “Did you use an air rifle?” I asked. He blinked at me, shaking his head. “Nah, shotgun”. Now, I hate rats as much as the next person but that doesn’t seem very sporting.
We began to watch our bird feeder and sure enough, early in the evening spotted a rat up at the seed hanger. I was so incensed I shot out of the back door, seized a metal off-cut and raced across the lawn to the back wall. I was yelling and going the full Maori warrior. The rat heard me and sat up. He stared for an instant and made a dash for a hole in the wall.
I don’t know who was more relieved he made it, me or him.