Friday, August 31, 2007

Moat Dipping

"How's it going?" I asked McColleague, as she approached.

"All right, " she replied. "I've had to come back once already. One of the kids was taken poorly in the woods."

We didn't have time to exchange much more information than that. It was the changeover section of our children's event, our Bug Hunt and Pond Dipping activity. This outdoor event is very popular and always fully booked. As the numbers are so large we split it into two sections, with one group heading off into the woods - on this instance with McColleague and Lovely Warden - to hunt for insects and wildlife, while the other group stayed with me and New Warden for a go at fishing in the moat for water creatures. After an hour the groups swap over, so everyone gets to have a go at both activities.

"Right," I announced to the assembled crowd of adults with children in wellies, clutching brightly coloured fishing nets. "Those of you who have done the moat dipping will now be heading off with McColleague and Lovely Warden here. Those of you who have just been on a bug hunt will now be coming with me to see what we can find in the moat!"

I did the usual health and safety chat about taking great care by the water's edge, washing their hands after they'd finished, and then handed out the plastic trays into which the children would be landing their catch of the day. It's always water boatmen. We get the occasional stickleback, a water scorpion, perhaps a leech. But by far the most common sight, zipping about in their trays, is the water boatman.

"Now, what have you caught?" I will ask, squatting down to peer into their inch of muddy water with leaves. "Ah yes," I'll continue, "It's a water boatman."

It was as I was crouched over just such a tray full of little black aquatic beetles that I heard the splash. Then I heard the crying. A small boy came running up to me. He was laughing. "My brother's just fallen in!" He pointed at the source of the noise - an even smaller boy, crying, soaked through from head to toe. As I strode over his mother appeared beside him. She soothed him. "It's all right," she said, "you're just a bit wet. I've got dry clothes here." And to my pleased amazement she produced a towel and a full change of clothes. I was impressed. Once the child was dry and happily sucking a sweetie I expressed my admiration to this paragon of motherhood.

"Oh," she said, "I always come prepared. I know what he's like. Honestly, he was sick in the woods earlier."

I couldn't wait for McColleague to return with her group. "Hey," I pounced, as soon as she returned. "You know that kid who was sick in the woods?"


"He fell in the moat!"

Oh, how we laughed. He's not going to forget his big day out at our property in a hurry. I would love to read his "what I did in the school holidays" essay, complete with pictures.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Bat Scat

Look at the state of my bat covers!

This is the time of most activity in the house for the bats. Each morning the pile of poo seems to be bigger and wider.

The problem I currently have is that the bats seem to be present during the day as well. Usually they fly about the Great Hall at night and then return to their attic roost for the daylight hours. However, over the weekend I noticed bat poo and even tiny splashes of bat wee on the tables after I taken the covers off and dusted them. I suspect the little buggers have moved in full time. If so, that presents a whole new challenge for protecting the contents.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007


At the top of the estate is our little kiosk, a small hexagonal wooden building where our kiosk attendant spends the day meeting and greeting everyone who comes past.

The chap in question - let's call him Ken - is lovely and I drive past him many times a day.

My daughter and her boyfriend walk past him often, on their way to the post box, or taking the dog for a stroll. Sometimes my daughter goes past on her bike, on her way out somewhere.

Invariably Ken will emerge from his hut to stop us and ask if we are here for the walks, if we want to visit the tea room or go to the house.

The first few times it happened we would respond: "No, no, it's ok, we live here, we're just out for a walk," or "Hello, Ken, it's me, Doris, I'm just off to the estate office."

However, despite these repeated clarifications, Ken never recognises any of us next time we go past. Which can literally be 10 minutes later on the way back from the post box or office.

"It's like being in Memento," sighed my daughter.

Maybe I should buy Ken a polaroid camera.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Maize Maze

Some of you may recall my scepticism regarding the maze ever being open before the end of the season. And the Rabid Badger theme.

However, the recent bout of sunshine after the rains has given the maize a much needed growth spurt and earlier this week my Boss decided the time had come to make the maze.

This, as predicted, involved he and Lovely Warden disappearing into the field of maize armed only with some string and a strimmer. After a couple of hours they re-emerged, caked in mud.
"Does it look like a badger?" I asked.
"Well, we simplified the design a bit."
McColleague and I had some concerns, so decided to test the maze ourselves before sending unwitting members of the public into it.
Note the badger motif (no longer rabid, thankfully).
There is a quiz sheet to go with the maze, with badger related things to spot en route. McColleague was in charge of that and duly ticked things off as we trudged along.
"I'm bored now," she said, some time later.
"What time did we come into the maze?" I asked.
We worked out we'd been at it for about 10 minutes.
Twenty minutes later we had reached the "Finish" sign.
"Well, that wasn't worth £2," opined McColleague.
I think I'll just put out a donation tin.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Apple Tree

While out walking today, assessing the flood damage to the Nursery Rhyme Trail, and regretfully discovering that apart from a bit of silt on the footbridges the rest of the exhibits were completely unharmed, I spotted this apple tree. It has just the one, red apple upon it.

It looks slightly unreal, like a set dressing. It really fits with what a Nursery Rhyme tree should look like. It is my favourite thing on the walk at the moment. Still, once the apple drops, it will be just a tree again. There must be a metaphor for something in there....

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Washer Woman

The washing machine died. It didn't just stop working. Oh no. First it let me strip all the beds, load it up with lots of towels and jeans, filled itself with water and then it stopped working.

When I finally managed to get the laundry back out of it again it had started to smell a bit funny. Being a bit of a clean freak I couldn't bear it, so finished the load of washing by hand, in the bath tub.

Wet towels and jeans are amazingly heavy when you can't spin dry them. I actually sprained my wrist, and not in a fun way. As I pegged out my exceptionally soggy washing in the hope it would drip dry (and in a state of anxiety in case the line snapped and all my back breaking labour ended up in the duck shit) I had a flash of inspiration. There are numerous holiday cottages on the estate, surely there'd be one with a washing machine. If I was lucky, there may be an unoccupied one with a washing machine!

I was lucky! The cottage was a mile and a half up the road, but that was still better than having to wash all my kit by hand, in the bath.

So that is why I have been a little quiet this week, on the blogging front. I have been spending all my spare time trekking up and down the road with my baskets of washing. I have been on a mission to wash as much as possible before the holiday cottage is occupied again tomorrow, in the hope we will then all have enough clean knickers to last until the new machine arrives.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mending Fences

Some freeloading git has broken the fence next to the padlocked gate. They have obviously attempted to climb over the railings, given the footprints in the grass leading up to the fence, and have snapped the top bar clean away from its post. Possibly the weight of all the change in their pockets, saved from not paying the admission fees, has been a contributory factor.

I wonder if they hurt themselves?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

"You Don't Remember Me, Do You?"

It's a phrase that causes an internal slumping of the shoulders every time I hear it.

Today is no exception. I have given my customary welcome as this visitor enters the house and he has responded with "you don't remember me, do you?" My smile remains constant as I search the filing cabinets of my mind. Is he a volunteer I used to see occasionally at a previous property? Is he a visitor I have had a lengthy chat with a year or two ago? A member of staff I was on a course with some time?

It's no good. The folders in my mental filing cabinets are as blank as my expression. He takes pity on me.

"It's Dave! I service your water filter. It'll be due for another in a couple of weeks."

"Dave! Right! Yes, of course. Sorry, it's because I'm seeing you out of context," I explain, relieved the Visitor Memory Game was over for the moment. Dave still looks a little crestfallen I hadn't remembered him. I feel a little guilty, as if I have somehow chosen not to store the water filter man's face in my memory banks. The problem is I see literally hundreds of people every day. If I remembered all of them I'd have no room left to store important memories like where I put my shoes or how much wine is left in the fridge.

The slightly awkward moment ends as I gratefully spot more visitors approaching the door. "Hello," I smile. "Have you visited before?"

"No, they reply. "It's our first time."

I am genuinely delighted to hear that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Body Odour

An instantly identifiable smell permeates my office.

It swells and fades throughout the day, and is proving difficult to pinpoint. That hasn't stopped me dragging everything out of every corner in my search for the source.

It is the smell of decaying rodent. That awful dead mouse smell that nothing can mask. Unfortunately it is very rare to find the actual body, having gone through this process many times in different rooms of the house. If the unfortunate animal has died under the floorboards or in a wall cavity, we're stuck with it until nature takes its course. My pest control chap has a supply of "rodent deodorant" for these situations, but, frankly, it's so pungent it's a close call as to which smell is harder to live with.

Given the overpowering stench one tiny dead mouse can produce, it does make me wonder how killers manage to hide bodies under floorboards without detection. I have spent the day sitting as close to the open window as possible, apologising to my volunteers for the terrible smell and recommending they eat their sandwiches outside today.