Mud On the Road

we're about to go shopping in Salisbury...

On Being Eaten Alive

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

   We usually go abroad in August but this year we opted to stay at home. So this year, rather than being feasted upon by exotic, foreign insects, I have been systematically eaten alive by British bugs instead. And I've been beset by an army of fat slugs which have smeared the lanes and by-ways with slime and infiltrated our every nook and cranny...
Film maker Derek Jarman's house
Prospect Cottage, Dungeness
   Had someone,  like my husband, Shedley Mode, for instance, had the forethought to warn me of the biological warfare headed my way, I could have bought one of those big, white, all-in-one, anti-everything, romper suits, like lovely Peter Coyote is wearing when he first arrives on screen towards the end of E.T. and before he turns out to be A Good Guy.

   Granted, the sight of me, encased in a space suit, doing that raspy Blue Velvet hosepipe breathing, might have caused a bit of a stir among the dog
walkers on Stockbridge Marsh, or down at the Three Cups on a Wednesday night,  but people would have adjusted. People, I have decided, do get used to things.
   I know this because only last week we were driving through a small town in Kent, on our way to Dungeness, and there was  a fully grown man strolling along the pavement, dressed head to toe as Superman.

   It was midday on a Thursday. He plainly wasn't on his way to a fancy dress party and he didn't look as if he was zooming to save some little old lady from being mauled by  a deranged wild monster escaped from an inter-planetary  zoo. And he was carrying two see-through plastic bags with ordinary things like milk and bread sticking out of them, i.e. not Special Brew.

   And there were lots of other people, perfectly normal looking people, out and about  on the streets in this little town, with Superman walking among them,  and none of them was shouting, 'Look, there's Superman!'  None of them seemed to mind or notice him at all. They had evidently adjusted to his presence and become used to him.

   Whereas  I was not at all adjusted to him and I shouted, very loudly, in the Bongo, to Shedley, 'Look, QUICK, there's Superman!'
And I may, inadvertently, have hit the dashboard in my excitement and Shedley, who was right next to me and driving the Bongo at the time, diligently performed an Emergency Stop and we very nearly had a difficult moment with the car behind us.

   But, as I have said, no-one warned me about the insects, so no space suit for me this Summer. Quite the opposite. I have been going about casually, in seasonally appropriate light clothing, assuming I would be safe inside my skin, in England, in August, the way I am safe any other month of the year and, furthermore,  that my skin would be safe on the outside of me.


   I have been stung and pricked and bitten and maimed. I have been set upon by so many varieties of stinger and mandible and maxilla; had my flesh pierced and my blood sucked by so many needle-sharp probosces, that my body now resembles nothing less than a live canvas of flesh on which the graffiti artistes of the insect world have left their mark in a series of pointillist dots so complex and horribly joined that I could do a circus act as The Big Red Tattoo Lady.

   When I am not scratching and itching and fussing, I've  found time to reflect on  the remarkable variety of wild beasties which surround us and our contrasting attitudes, His and Mine, to saving their lives Come What May, or annihilating them fast, without debate.

   And how, when it comes to certain life forms, we swap roles so that where Shedley is usually more pragmatic than me, he becomes suddenly sentimental about e.g. spiders. And where I, by nature, am a Dreamer, a Romantic, the mere sight of a large rat loping across our patio in broad daylight, sends me into spasms of rage and racing to refill the bait box, thereby exposing in me, I guess,  a more ruthless, pragmatic streak.

   Together we have devoted harmonious hours, even days of our Summer, to rescuing creatures from  certain death: the Jackdaws which fell down the chimney; the honeybee swarm, erroneously fetched up in the birdhouse; a dragonfly, snared by a web; the butterflies which drifted into the conservatory; a poor frog, gasping on the dry stone steps.

   But not the flies.

   The flies are everywhere and there are thousands of them in all shapes and sizes from the slow, lazy Bluebottle to Blowflies and Blandford Flies and flies which pretend to be bees and flies which believe they are bees. And not forgetting the horrible hairy Horseflies which have mistaken me for a horse and are, apparently, short-tongued and like to rip and tear the flesh on which they feed.

   Shedley swats them all with a rolled up newspaper. He hits them hard and he seldom misses. But, close the edge of things, I stepped the killing up a gear four weeks ago with a mass annihilator called Red Top Fly Trap which cost me less than £10 and looks like a plastic version of a Dream Catcher but is a Fly Catcher  and promises to snare 155 flies a minute. And it does and it has. But there's a further catch, of course,  which is the gaseous death smell which the trap gives off even before a single fly has perished in its noxious fluid.

   So you might be able to garden and potter and even barbecue in a relatively fly free zone but you won't be able to taste or swallow your food.

   As for the slugs... Well, I confess I draw the line at slugs and, being slugs, they always cross it. They are orange and brown and red and so black they must, some of them, be leeches. They are all over the lanes and grassy paths where we walk, fat and wet and engorged. They leave their  trails up the side of fences and make their way through a damp crevice in the brick kitchen wall into the furthest recesses of the house. You can trace them across rugs and around table legs and under the sofa and you have to ask yourself:
   ‘What, in God’s name are they DOING there? Do they have a plan?’

   I pick them up, most untenderly, in kitchen paper and I dump them in the bin. And if I don't unleash chemical or biological hell upon them in the shape of pellets or beer, or garlic, or chilli or salt or coffee granules, then it's not because I'm  scared of the E.U. which, apparently, wants to ban people who coffee granule their slugs. No, far from it, it's because I'm squeamish.  I can't even bear to tread on slugs accidentally.

   I had my first and last outing as a fledgling serial killer aged eight, when a neighbour's daughter and I salted a slug in Germany and watched it writhe and thrash in what we were convinced was an agony we could not reverse or undo. I still feel guilty when I think about it.

   Perhaps it's fitting slug karma then, that I, dispatcher of insect death, am the one who is constantly bitten and mauled, while Shedley, almost a Buddhist in his own lunch break, has come through the Summer unscathed.

   When a new cluster of horsefly bites on my forearm threatened Shedley’s sleep and plans for our Bank Holiday, he frog marched me down to the chemist in the High Street, taking care not to step on any slugs along the way.

   The kind ladies there issued me with soothing balms and antihistamine tablets and generally cooed and sympathised and made me feel better. Until I told them of our plans to go camping with the midges in  West Scotland next month. Then they fell about laughing and choking and collapsed to the floor, hooting with derision.                            



Prospect Cottage
Filmmaker Derek Jarman's house at Dungeness, Kent

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness
Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

The poem
The poem

A view of the garden at Prospect Cottage
A view of the garden at Prospect Cottage

The poem on Derek Jarman's house
The poem on Derek Jarman's house

Prospect Cottage - a different garden
A different garden

Sculpture at Prospect Cottage
Sculpture at Prospect Cottage


A boat in the garden

The boardwalk
The boardwalk

Seagulls on the shingle
On the shingle

The new lighthouse at Dungeness
The new lighthouse

The lighthouse, the power station, the pub sign and the pylons
The lighthouse, the power station, the pub sign and the pylons

The cross sign
The way

The pub at Dungeness
The pub at Dungeness

The old lighthouse at Dungeness
The old lighthouse at Dungeness

Seeing red
Motherly Red Mist
Bradley Wiggins claiming Team GB's 7th Gold medal, 1st August 2012
High Vizzers
Nano world by 'Alturnative Proportions'
 I Shrunk the Universe

Day of the Bee, Part 2

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

   A gang of jackdaws hangs out on the roof of our house. They organise forays to the bird feeders, swooping and diving and clinging on grimly. They've recently discovered the tasty pellets of chicken food inside the chicken run. They strut and waddle about the garden, sidling ever closer to the run door. Then one creates a diversion while his thieving mate dives inside.

   I like their big heads, elegantly topped with steel grey plumage and I love the way they chatter and squabble and patrol their territory of terracotta chimney pots and clay peg tiles. Their gregarious comings and goings have loosened the netting that stopped them nesting up there, hence the recent visitation by the mother and her young.

   Did the young jackdaw fall and the mother scramble after him? Or did the nest simply give way, causing them  to fall together,  flapping  like loose bundles of black laundry, wheeling silently down the vertiginous chute that is the chimney?

Day of The Bee, Part 1

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

The Day of the Bee began at 9.13 am on an otherwise ordinary Tuesday. When it began I was in the middle of getting dressed and at the precise moment when it happened I had my head absolutely and irrevocably stuck in the neck hole of a t.shirt.

     Getting your head stuck in the neck hole of anything is one of those events which takes you back to childhood in an instant.
     So, even as I was grappling physically with the t. shirt and wrestling mentally with the conundrum of how and why it had become so small, and wondering if perhaps this was not my t. shirt at all, but the t. shirt of a random and diminutive stranger who had happened casually to abandon it on the single bed which takes up all of the space in the tiny spare room where I was getting dressed, even as I was endeavouring to cope with all of this, I was being simultaneously assailed by flashbacks to my childhood. I felt again the overwhelming panic of getting my head stuck in the neck holes of sundry garments, (jumpers, dresses, woollen vests), which my mother thought might just do me for another Summer or Winter, but which I, and, in particular, my head, had patently outgrown.

     It was then, trapped in my adult t.shirt, with grown-up, present-day panic rising, that I heard a huge squawk