Tomorrow night, on primetime TV, someone will offer me the opportunity to eat slugs. It’d be churlish to reveal whether I thank them politely for their kindness before ingesting, or offer to rehome said invertebrate within the location about their person that best offers the dark dank conditions they favour.
Even being in the position of someone offering me slugs to eat got me thinking about how much my diet has changed over the last few years. I actually eat salad. There was a time when I had a block about eating anything that didn’t have the courtesy to give me the calories to finish eating it. No more. And 5 years ago I didn’t eat meat, yet within a few short months I was keeping pigs and even chopping them up, making sausages, salami and a mess.
I was hoping to keep a couple of weaners this summer but I’ve been snookered by the local wildlife. The day before the little piggies were due to arrive I noticed the odd wasp flying into the immovable oak and iron ark. Further investigation revealed a tennis ball sized nest, small now but a potential basketball in a few weeks. I was dim enough to mention it to a friend here to fly fish the river. As I told him about the problem I had entirely equal and simultaneous feelings of relief and trepidation: I knew he’d have ideas for getting shot of it; I knew he’d have ideas for getting shot of it that would have to sidestep the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer. Luckily the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer was busy making my tea.
Within two minutes we were at opposite ends of the ark – he with one of those handheld squirty things for watering cacti that someone really ought to think of a snappy name for, and me at the other with one of those large outdoor candles that comes on a short bamboo cane, attached with string and poor knots to a longer cane. If you are beginning to suspect that the aforementioned squirty thing wasn’t filled with a potash-high foliar feed, you are most certainly beginning to get the picture.
I should locate the wasps nest in your minds eye: the ark is of the classic design with a semi-circular profile when viewed end on, and has a door-shaped opening at both ends…as shown in the green ark below. Why I no longer have the entirely moveable green ark in the photo below is a lengthy tale for another time. Of course, the nest was at the most inconvenient location it could possibly be – onside, immediately above the door opening, tucked in behind the crossbeam.
The only choices for viewing the nest were either by leaning in the nest-end and looking up at a nest a couple of inches from your nose, or crouching at the far end and squinting against the sun until your eyes adjust to make out the tennis ball nest. I’m pleased to confirm that we were bright enough to choose Option 2.
We tossed an imaginary coin (ie I chose the soft option), and on the nod he squirted at the nest while I moved the (now lit) outdoor candle immediately under and just within the top of the door entrance. ‘Woof’ doesn’t quite do justice to the noise that resulted, not in that size font at least. As a kid, I spent quite a few after-school early evenings watching the Tomorrow People entirely transfixed and envious of their power to ‘jaunt’ – to transport themselves to another place in an instant. Little did I know I’d acquire that superpower several decades later in a sunny field in East Devon: we were instantly cross-armed, nodding at the result our handy work, fully 50 yards from the smoking ark, with only the merest bouquet of burning arm hair hanging in the air. The silent relief of distance and tentative self congratulation was punctuated by a second ‘woof’ – the dropped outdoor candle had found the corner of last year’s straw bedding. Under the protection of the ark it was as dry as Gandhi’s sandal – it went up quicker than greased gooseshit out of a tin horn.
Two hours later, and after a lengthy (enforced) debrief with the Otter Farm Health and Safety Officer, I approached the now quiet, non-smokey ark taking the sort of circuitous route one takes at a school disco when approaching ‘her’ – some faux disinterest/nonchalance is required however obvious it is where you’re headed. No wasps. Not a hint of a wasp. Where once the nest had been, a char remained. Splendid.
I slept a sleep fending off diving dream-wasps with just a thin bamboo cane.
In the morning, I barrowed down some fresh straw for the new arrivals bedding – pre-coffee, such was my enthusiasm/coarse pride in victory. The now burnt-away straw had revealed a large rabbit hole (why would a rabbit want to shelter in the ark when it’s home’s underground I wondered) which I avoided as I spread the straw around. That’s when I heard a buzz. I leapt out. No wasp, just a bee. Marvellous, a bumble bee. And what a year for bumble bees it seems to be, I thought. Two, hurrah. Oh look, they’re friends, going into the ark together. And another. Brilliant. And another. Hold on. They’re going into the rabbit hole. And out again, and back in. Then two more. My grasp of non-edible plants isn’t what it might be, but I’m reasonably confident that underground plant species requiring pollination may not be numerous. It was a nest, sure enough, and (according to the Winged Insect Spectrum of Love) you can’t ‘woof’ a bees nest.
I had to take my hat off to the bumble bees – they’d survived two reasonable infernos (inferni?) and were still calmly, quietly, going about their business unruffled. I hadn’t felt that combination of irritation and grudging admiration since happening upon a couple having frontseat carsex besides a public footpath on a sunny Sunday afternoon last year.So no pigs.