Thankfully my deadline was met but with some amendments to do next week. This has meant I've been able to finally grab a bit of time to make a start this afternoon on my plot for this year, clearing last years crap off the beds (now covered in clover) and having a ball creating a huge fire at the bottom of the garden. Surprisingly this burnt so hot and fierce that this enormous pile was smoldering ash within minutes. A good tip for getting a reluctant fire going (if you keep chickens) is to use the empty pellet or chicken feed sacks tucked under the other stuff and set light to them. God knows what they're made of but I'm sure NASA used them to light the Saturn V rockets back in the 70's.
After putting the birds to bed tonight I slowly trundled down the track in my jeep and passed by the couple of plots which have the most junk edging the bumpy road. As my lights swept over the mounds of manure and debris I saw the biggest RAT I've ever seen in my life, sat on a rotting fence panel, just watching me drive by. The size of a Jack Russell, this thing was huge. It reminded me of the James Herbert horror books I used to secretly read when my Mum brought some 'light' reading back from the library when I was a kid. Someone told me later that it was probably one of those New Zealand species that have found thier way here (how?) but I'm not sure whether that's just bullshit.
I have a rifle. The very first thing I built when I got the land was a compost heap made from old pallets. This worked really well and all manner of grass cuttings and veg matter was chucked onto it for 6 months. That winter, whilst trying to keep warm, I decided I'd follow Monty Don's obsessive composting instructions and turn the heap over with my shiny new garden fork.
I didn't actually see the rat at first. After the fork plunged into the steaming heap a few times I felt a thump on my chest, then something ran down my leg, over my wellies and off through the fence. I caught a glimpse of the beast shooting through the neighbours overgrown raspberry bushes into the scrub.
The heap had rotted down quite a bit so was about three feet below the top of the pallet sides of the compost bin. So this bloody rat, probably terrified that I'd invaded its cosy little winter shack with a few steel blades plunging into its living room, had leapt three feet onto my chest.
Shaking, I literally ran up the road to a pet shop that also, strangely, sold air rifles, crossbows, knives, (probably tanks and anti-aircraft missiles too if asked for) etc., and bought myself said rifle, telescopic sight and searchlight thing that sits on top.
Every now and again I go up onto the site, tooled up like Arnold Schwarzenegger, looking for this rat which I perhaps rather naively hope is long gone. The locals on the site also all seem to have rifles, even though we all go to do some gardening, sometimes the site resembles a scene from Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Here's my next chook in my little hentourage...Lady. This hen is Jacques sister, a Copper Blue Maran, and probably the prettiest chicken I've ever seen. Lady is also known as Joan, named after my partner's late Mum.
The green paint on her front (mostly washed off at this point) is from the dividing gate which I thought was dry. She'd paint herself up and down against it whilst waiting for her evening corn treat.
I'll keep you posted about Mr Rat.