Breakfast visitors, bubonic plague and disturbing behaviour

I’ve mentioned my wildlife visitors before on this blog. This morning, after a very early stroll around Broadpool, Rufus and I headed back for breakfast. I put out the seed for the birds and almost as soon as I had gone indoors, the feathered guests arrived. I was able to get some nice photos of the sparrow and the wren, and later the fat pigeon. The blackbird family stayed at the top of the garden, and the magpie was a wuss and flew off every time a blade of grass moved. There was no sign of the frog, but he usually only pops his head out of the water at dusk.

Imagine my surprise and the innovate vocabulary that shocked even Rufus, when on returning to the kitchen to wash up I saw a rat on the wall, eating the remains of the birdseed. My first thoughts were of the camera (I am a dedicated photographer – I will probably photograph the inside of my coffin come the time). My second thoughts were of the imminent plague that was sure to start, and the buboles, and the sneezing, and the carts of corpses and the cries of ‘bring out your dead’, all of which were guaranteed to happen because I had a rat in the garden.

My next action was to let the rat know I was there and as soon as it saw me, it ran off towards the neighbour’s garden. I finished washing up and made sure Rufus was in. I started to think rationally, moving from how exactly I’d make a flame thrower to how much ammunition I had for the air rifle and finally to finding out more about Rattus norvegicus (the brown rat – I have to admit to being a little disappointed that I wasn’t faced with Rattus rattus – the black rat – as I’ve always loved the name). I looked out of the window again and Norvegicus was drinking from the bucket of frogs. I grabbed my camera for a great shot but, of course, it disappeared before I could get focussed.

I went searching on the internet for advice, fully expecting to have to get vermin control in.  I’m no amateur at getting information from the web. And I am not naive enough to take the first thing I find as the gospel truth. But the first site I found was entertaining in its panicky postings. It was a forum, and the original poster had seen a rat in her garden. The resulting responses ranged from ‘man-up’ to ‘shock and awe’ with many inventive (and highly dangerous) options in between. I finally settled on a combination of the Royal Horticultural Society site and the Animal aid site which seemed to offer level headed advice and some background information.

Apparently, the brown rat lives outdoors, hates anything new and almost all ‘infestations’ are as a result of humans feeding wild birds; birdseed is a favourite diet of the brown. It is neo-phobic; that means it’s intolerant of anything new. In other words, change it’s environment and it becomes uneasy and uncomfortable. Change it often enough and it will go away. The brown rat is not a plague carrier (that’s the black). You wouldn’t want to come into contact with it’s urine (but that’s true of any critters), but it isn’t the scary bringer of death that rumour and scaremongering would have you believe. And no, you probably are not within 20m of a rat as this is a myth.

If you’ve read my blog before, I hope you will have picked up that I don’t like to kill things out of hand. After all, spiders (I am an arachnophobe) are not out to deliberately harm me. So I always try to seek the least harmful solution to these situations. Rat poison was not an option, particularly with Rufus, next door’s cat and a fox to consider. So I decided on a programme of change.

First to go was the obvious rat run where I put the bird seed. There was a pile of bamboo that I was using to make fence panels as and when required. This was where the rat had disappeared into when it saw me. so they had to go. I wondered whether there was a nest there but I decided there wasn’t, as Rufus would have detected it long ago. It took me 15 minutes to clear them away and there was no sign of rat activity. Next to go was the big pile of pine branches and other trimmings that had accumulated near the house. This was waiting for disposal with my next door neighbour, who has a rubbish collection business. I had left it alone over the winter and in the spring wrens and a blackbird had nested there. Now they had flown the nest, I was happy to disturb the pile.

I was convinced I’d find something beneath the pile as Rufus had shown a lot of interest in the base of it recently. As I moved the branches to the side of the house, ready for collection, I found one of the nests still intact. It was made mainly of moss and grass and was quite solid, even after it had been abandoned for a while. It took me nearly an hour to shift everything through the side gate so that it could be picked up. And underneath – nothing.

During all of this, Rufus made sure the house was guarded against rat infestations by dozing near the front door. We all play our part in this house!

 

I ended the afternoon’s work by cutting up some logs for a friend’s wood burner. I think I managed to change the rat’s environment quite drastically over the two hours I spent in the garden. Combined with not feeding the birds for a while,  expect that the rat will not bother with my garden in future. But if it does, once I’ve got the photos, I’ll be dreaming up some more disturbing behaviours.

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Looking Back II – Looking up.

This time last year I was fast asleep. No big deal, I had an early night. In a tent. Okay, January in a tent isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. At 4700m on the western slope of Kilimanjaro.

I can’t believe that it’s a year ago today I started the long and difficult slog up to the summit of Kibo. We were up at 10.30pm (7.30pm GMT as Tanzania is 3hrs ahead of us) for breakfast of porridge and more porridge and lashings of hot sweet coffee. I remember being fairly sharp the adrenaline was pumping at the thought of what was coming next. It was cold, and I’d worn several layers to bed so that the impact of the cold wouldn’t be too bad. I don’t recall it being a factor at the start.

We didn’t hang around. At 11.30pm we set off on a short but steep scramble over the rocks that surrounded the camp site before settling in to a steady plod along zig zags that led up the scree towards Gilman’s Point.

It got colder and colder. I went into a daze in which only the person in front of me existed. I saw a procession of lights coming up on a different route that looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. The moon sank below the horizon before we’d got half way up but Jupiter kept us company throughout the night. Every time we stopped for a break, I wanted to rest my head on my walking pole and sleep.

And then we got to Gilman’s point around 5.45am. It felt unreal and amazing at the same time. I celebrated with a wee down the drop we’d just walked up as payback for the cold and tiredness (the altitude makes you go much more frequently).

Sunrise was at 6.30am, just as we reached Stella Point. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve experienced – watching the sun rise over Mawenzi Peak and colouring the cloud layer way below us first a pink colour and then orange. It took me another 50 minutes to get to Uhuru Peak – the summit, at about 4.20am GMT. If I’m awake tomorrow morning at that time, I’ll be thinking about how I felt then. My journal, written about two hours later, lists the following to describe how I felt at the top:

“Rush to the head, relief, elation at achievement, happy, tired, a bit fuzzy due to the lack of oxygen, disorientated, in awe of the sunrise above the clouds, cold, aching limbs, pack weightless.”  I wrote that the effects of altitude seemed to disappear for a while.

Then we were descending and I think that is when the effects of altitude came back because the walk back to Stella Point passed in a blurry flash and suddenly I was charging down the slope trying to keep upright, to keep up with our guide and not to fall over. Equally as suddenly, Barafu camp came in to view and suddenly we were sat down in the sun warming up, fuelling up and staring at the top of Kilimanjaro some 1300m above us. The sudden increase in oxygen available made up for the fatigue and the packed 2nd breakfast (it was 9.20am local time) contained a real sausage! We stayed at Barafu for 90 minutes and then took another 90 minutes to descend another 1000m to Millennium Camp, which we reached at around 12.30.

I was fast asleep in my tent shortly afterwards and slept until they started using dynamite to excavate a toilet block some hours later.

 

Weekend

Both of us have been feeling under the weather this weekend. Rufus woke up on Saturday with a bad belly – I knew there was something wrong when he wouldn’t have any breakfast. Not even a morsel of scone. I felt as if I was coming down with a cold – sore through, headache and a bit of a dodgy tummy too. Being blokes, these were no ordinary, mild illnesses and so we decided to have a poorly lads day in.

All morning, Rufus’ belly rumbled and squeaked and he struggled to find somewhere comfy to settle. Eventually, my bed seemed his favourite spot, so apart from occasionally checking on him, I left him be. I spent the morning channel hooping and doing some housekeeping on the PC.

After lunch, Rufus had picked up a bit – the test is always will he eat a piece of chicken. He did, and after he’d eaten some dog biscuits as well, I decided we should go out for a breath of fresh air. We headed out for a quick wander on Fairwood Common. Neither of us was feeling particularly energetic but we had half an hour of fresh air, during which time we watched two lots of parachutists drop from the sky, whooping and screaming. I was surprised at how quickly they descended once the parachutes were open.

Back in the house, the inevitable consequence of a bad belly started. There’s no delicate way to say that Rufus started farting and didn’t stop all night. By now he was eating  properly but this didn;t help. By the end of the night, I had to be careful not to accidentally create a spark or the whole house would have gone up in a flash of flame and smoke.

This morning, we were both feeling a lot better so after breakfast, we set off for a walk on Cefn Bryn. It was a lovely morning and everywhere I thought of going, there were sheep, horses of cattle. In many of our usual spots, there were combinations of animals. So we ended up walking out to Arthur’s Stone. The view across the Loughor Estuary was fantastic and still air meant that the sound of the countryside – dogs barking, sheep and cattle and birds – were clear and sharp.

About half way around our routes, I crested a little hill to see a herd of wild horses galloping towards us. They were far enough away to allow us time to get out of the way, but for a few minutes there was some urgency to our walk. It turned out they were being scared by a quad bike that was coming up behind them. At first, I thought it was someone deliberately herding them, but the quad bike turned off after a while and left the horses alone. By now, they were following us although without the influence of the bike, they were no longer galloping. Nevertheless, for the last 20 minutes of our walk, they followed us at our pace, some 50 yards or so behind us.

In the tradition of lads sticking together, it would be wrong of me to mention that one of us tried to steal a bar of chocolate from another one of us, unsuccessfully.

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More coffee stuff

I woke up yesterday morning, stumbled downstairs, set the bread off on it’s transformational journey to become toast, opened the cupboard for a fresh packet of cafetiere coffee and….

AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

… no coffee. Not even a jar of solidified, 18 month old instant granules. I ran my finger along the shelf – there might have been coffee dust. Nothing. I even looked again, in case my caffeine-craving brain had missed a vital clue – like a large packet of coffee. It hadn’t.

I resorted to tea. I like tea, but it’s not coffee.

In work, I must have seemed ignorant and rude. But I knew there was coffee on my desk. It’s not called a desk, of course. In the 21st Century, it’s called a workstation. But it looks like a desk and performs the duties of a desk in a perfectly acceptable manner. And it’s not even mine, as I hot desk. But the coffee was there and that was mine and about 30 seconds after I’d reached my desk, I had a piping hot mug of coffee.

Fast forward (like my brain did once it had received the caffeine hit). It’s Saturday morning. I stumbled downstairs, set the bread on an enlightening quest to achieve the tao of toast, opened the cupboard for a fresh packet of…. oh… was it a dream…of course it was…there must be…..

AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!

It was later  so it was lighter, and in the daylight, I discovered two catering sachets of Nescafe (other coffee dusts are available). They both went in the cup, without me checking the use by date. Seconds after I’d finished the mug of … ahem… coffee, I was out and down to my nearest convenient purveyor of coffee for a packet.

You will be relieved to know that as I type this, a mug of Italian roast blend coffee is within reach, and in sight at all times.