I rarely dream. Never have. Just the odd bizarre vague memory on waking.
And usually sleep quite well, for which I’m grateful. However in the last month my sleep has been unexpectedly broken twice. Firstly by an insect loudly buzzing around my face and ear. This was curiously timed, given the time of year, and that I’d just written a post mentioning the apparent major decline in flies caught on the sticky strip in the kitchen this year. This was clearly a survivor.The buzzing was incredibly persistent in spite of my frantic hand flapping, and even ducking beneath the sheets to escape. It really seemed to be seeking me out – which is not normal fly, or moth behaviour, and with no light to identify it, what was it? And what was it after? Save to impress on me that once again I’d clearly not known what I was talking, or writing about. Fortunately, Fiona, who tends to sleep more fitfully than me, wasn’t woken by my manic behaviour, and the fly didn’t return after that one night, but 10 days later I did spot a small, mosquito shaped insect in the bathroom.
A couple of weeks later I awoke in the middle of the night convinced that I’d heard something scurry overhead in the slanting roof a couple of feet above our bed, beneath the mossy hail capped slates.
Now I can’t be as certain that I really did hear this. It might have just been imagined, or indeed dreamt. If so, then with good reason, since for the first time we can recall, we’ve been under sustained rodent, or more specifically rat attack.
Few people seem to own up to such things, but once the topic is raised, nearly everyone around here has stories of problems with rats. I remember hearing years ago that in a city you’re never further than 10 feet from a rat, and probably the same applies here in the Welsh uplands. They normally secretly co-exist, and since we’re careful with food storage inside the house, and in the barns, we’ve not had major problems before.
I’d probably been too relaxed with putting food waste onto the compost heaps, and ignored the early warning signs of chewed holes at the base of plastic rubbish bins, fallen apples being dragged beneath a barn door, and even a hole opened up between the cobbles right outside the front door.The first really worrying sign was night time scratching outside one of our external gable end shutter doors. The frame base here, in spite of regular maintenance, had started to deteriorate and the frames had been pencilled in for replacement, but the joiner had never got back to us, and we’d let things drift. A few days later and we discovered a hole had been chewed right through into our main sitting room – hidden behind a curtain kept drawn for heat retention, since this door is never actually used. This hole was immediately blocked up, but an important question arose. Did we have now actually have a rat inside the house?
Poison bait was put down, some sticky boards placed around perimeter walls, and we were on high alert for a few days. But no further signs of any activity meant when friends came round for supper, we were quite relaxed that we weren’t likely to have a rat suddenly scuttle over our feet at the dinner table!
They left, we did a bit of tidying up, and retired to bed. But before we could drop off to sleep, we both heard a dull but intermittently repeated banging, or thumping noise from what we at first thought was outside. From the snugness beneath the quilts, we debated what it might be. Could it be our guests, who’d left something behind and returned to collect it? Unlikely we reckoned, so we both crept out of bed, and tried to locate exactly where the noise was coming from. Eventually we reckoned it was in the downstairs bedroom, and with torch in hand then narrowed it down to the under-stair cupboard.
By now we were convinced that it must be a rat that was up to no good. Perhaps at this stage I should say that I do have a longstanding dislike of these creatures, aside from their known disease carrying traits. Never mind that they’re really intelligent, and apparently make excellent pets. Years of small animal practice still didn’t convince me of the wisdom of bringing one of these much loved pets to the clinic stuffed down the front of a blouse, which was fairly typically how they arrived. My initial enquiry about “What I could do for Ms. X today?” then being greeted with a ferreting around in their clothing and a “charming”, but usually impossible to examine, Roland being hoiked out and allowed a free run over the client’s upper body. Yeuch.
A friend later lent us a live and baited trap, but with the warning that it once took him 2 months to catch one of the rats he knew was in his barn using this – they tried to access the food bait every which way, except entering the cage over the trigger plate. So for days we waited for signs of hair on the sticky boards, a body, or even a caught rat in the trap. Nothing. We assumed it had escaped.
Eventually we explored further and discovered that outside the house at this point, at ground level, considerable tunnelling between the stones that make up the house wall had taken place. We assumed the banging was an attempt by ratty to exit the house here, by squeezing between the drain down pipe for the immersion cylinder passing through the wall at this point. Never mind lime mortar, the cavities were quickly filled in with a decent amount of cement included, and the whole of the external walls checked for any other signs of ingress.
At some point we heard another attempt to tunnel in at the other end of the building, and courtesy of Fiona banging low down on the inner door, we were able to see the culprit skitter vertically up the inner aspect of the wooden shutter door, and hide out of sight.
By now benign tolerance was wearing thin, and we had to resort to poisoned bait at hidden points in our barns. 2 weeks later, perhaps aided by cold weather, and we’ve at last reached a point where most of the bait is still there after 24 hours. No more scratchings have been heard and we feel that, at least for now, the battle has swung our way.
On a more cheerful note, and most unexpectedly, a parcel arrived 10 days ago which contained a copy of the very recently published book “Dreamscapes – Inspiration and beauty in gardens near and far” by Claire Takacs. Regular readers may recall that Claire is an Australian photographer who visited our garden over a year ago at the end of May for a photo shoot for an article, which appeared in this year’s June issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine. Click here for my report on her visit to Gelli Uchaf in May 2016.
What we didn’t expect, was that when Claire started putting a book together earlier this year featuring about 70 of her favourite gardens from all the gardens around the globe which she’s been fortunate enough to visit over the last 12 years or so, she would include Gelli Uchaf as one of them.
It’s a real thrill to see the garden we’ve made here feature alongside 13 others from the UK, (including Gravetye Manor, Aberglasney and Bryan’s Ground) as well as many from Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia and the USA. And we’re really grateful for Claire’s wonderful photos, text and indeed arranging for a copy to be sent to us pre-publication in the UK.
In the accompanying text for several of the gardens she mentions that she was fortunate to visit them with perfect timing. This was indeed the case here – we commented that the garden was probably looking as lovely as it ever had done on the day she visited.
But of course to a degree she made this possible by visiting us at short notice, on a Bank holiday Monday, and being prepared to stay out late and get up exceptionally early to capture that special light which is a feature of many of her garden photos. It’s a very different story right now in our yard, where she began her photography.The book is a real delight, with so many beautiful gardens featured that we’d never heard about, and will never be able to visit, but are sensitively captured with consummate skill. The book also includes the image of Kenrokuen garden in Japan, which won her the title of International Garden Photographer of The Year in 2008 – the very first year that this competition was launched by Kew gardens. Click here for that image, and more of Claire’s fabulous photos from around the world. A classic case of being in the right place at the right time. But then an awful lot of planning went into enabling her to be there and to get that perfect shot.
We’d just produced a Christmas greeting card design for 2017 based on pictures of one of our tea time robins, which joined Fiona, William and I for biscuit crumbs when elevens’ were served. With a bit of tweaking of the image below, we both liked the end effect, though something with snow might have been more appropriate. 4 days later we watched “Act of God”, the fourth episode of the excellent “The Crown ” series, which retells the story of the impact of the Great smog of December 1952, not just on the population of London (perhaps 12,000 died in just 4 days largely from respiratory disease induced by pollutants from burning coal), but also the political fall-out for Churchill and his relationship with the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth. Click here for more on The Smog.
What was particularly interesting in the film was the fact that the Met Office had apparently anticipated the potential for such a disastrous situation developing, after analysing weather reports predicting cold weather and a static anticyclone over the capital. And communicated this concern to Churchill at No.10.After a day of persistent hail showers here, we went to bed after watching the film with the most up to date internet weather reports for the Llandeilo area warning us that we were on the edge of either potentially heavy rainfall, or snow.
The following morning I woke to a dark, and completely quiet bedroom.
I’d heard no rain on the Velux overnight. The pictures tell the story of the heaviest snowfall in our time at Gelli. Windless conditions meant trees and shrubs were burdened to breaking point. Daphne bholuas were doubled over and needed shaking to avoid calamity. Some larger oaks, and our Eucryphia fared less well suffering limb breakages and two large branches from a Scot’s pine had snapped, falling across, and blocking our access track. Thank goodness we were forewarned and prepared.Probably 10 inches plus of snow fell in 24 hours. But at least our power stayed on, and the house is snug. Though quite when we venture out with the car remains to be seen.
Amazingly, a friend in Dryslwyn, just 10 miles away in the Tywi valley, sent me photos of their garden with barely a dusting. Such is the difference 500 feet in height and being in the foothills of the Cambrian mountains makes.No shortage of suitable Christmas scenes now for years to come.
So much here continues to inspire us.
We may indeed not always speak the same language, but we are moved by this place.
Rats, flies, rain, hail, snow and all.
Certainly not always a Dreamscape.
Click here, and here, for 2 poems which we do appreciate and understand, and then enjoy this very beautiful song. It resonates as being written by someone completely imbued and inspired by the spirit of this lovely land.
A translation would be wonderful – I can’t find one, but click here for more on Meic Stevens, the composer, who I read is not widely known outside Wales, but clearly deserves to be. The performers on this cover version are Lowri Evans and Lee Mason who we were fortunate to hear earlier in the year at Rhosygilwen.