May 9, 2011

Wildlife indoors


The story thus far, as reported on Twitter this morning:

I had an uninvited guest last night at the cottage. A Chiropteran guest. Small. Furry. Winged.

I was lying peacefully in my bath, reading (as it happens) a homeopathic journal on the treatment of shock and trauma. And there was a funny noise. A sort of light thumping and whacking noise. But not light enough, if you follow me, if you’re lying in your bath in the middle of the night and are expecting only to hear the mellifluous tones of Radio Three, the gentle lap of water, the hush of turning pages, and maybe the occasional snore of a hellhound. Any loud or startling noises should clearly be coming from outdoors.


What are those wretched dogs getting up to, I muttered, and rose from the depths, nothing at all like Botticelli’s Venus except for the sheeting-water bit. I dripped into my office and there . . . were two utterly crashed out and oblivious hellhounds. Hellhounds are perfectly capable of shooting back to the dog bed, hurling themselves down and peering at me warily when caught, or semi-caught, in delinquency; but they aren’t good liars. These were crashed out hellhounds. And as I stood there (dripping) I could still hear the fwuff-fuff-whack going on elsewhere. Indoors. Behind me. Oh gods.

Totally bizarre shadows in the hall. Whatever it is, it can move, and I don’t think it’s happy. A little dark spot coalesces, zigzagging furiously, over my windowsill shelf of medical textbooks. It pauses, briefly, grasping my ancient Steadman’s Medical Dictionary.** But nothing else flies like that, that ducking, dodging, sideslipping motion, and the odd crooked wings and the little square body. Once I’d seen it I knew what it had to be.

It was a bat.***

I went back in the bathroom and slammed the door. When I came out again I was drier and clothed. Bats don’t totally freak me out, and the urban myth that it’s going to get tangled in my hair doesn’t register. But I don’t like wildlife indoors, and I can’t believe that its echolocation isn’t disturbed by the panic it must be feeling—and it’s big enough to do me some damage as well as itself, if it slams into my geraniums or riffs off some of the more fragile of the Little Noodgy Things that (sigh) line my bookshelves.† And it was now in my office, and I thank the Gods of Natural Perversity that the hellhounds, for reasons known only to themselves, did not respond to this clear and one would have thought irresistible provocation. Darkness is mad for birds, but possibly he had opened one eye, murmured ‘doesn’t fly right’ and shut it again. Whatever. I had a bat in my office. Aaaugh.

I withdrew to consider my options: I couldn’t think of any. That didn’t take long. But as I was moaning and clutching myself the bat stormed out of my office and streamed upstairs into the attic: I pelted up after it and prepared to close the trap door. My last sight of it was of it cozying up to my . . . er . . . bank of woolly-things shelves, specifically the cashmere shelf. You leave claw-holes in my cashmere, I will track you down and boil your bones for soup. Nonetheless, I closed the trap door.

I did not have a good night last night. I kept thinking about the four hundred and ten bats counted streaming out of my eaves last summer—the biggest mum-and-baby bat nursery the Hampshire Bat Group had ever counted. Last summer I was pleased. Last summer I didn’t have any bats indoors. When and how did this one get in? And why? The Velcro-and-scotch-tape screens I have on my windows probably wouldn’t stop a bat fixed on entry, but it would leave signs of its passage. My screens were all undisturbed. I assume it must have darted in when I was carrying garbage bags out to put in the bin last night, Monday morning being dustbin morning . . . but still, why? Every time one of the hellhounds turned over, or the house, being an old house, gave an old-house creak, I shot awake again, thinking about four hundred and ten bats living in my immediate vicinity.

This morning I opened the attic door again . . . cautiously. I assume that it went to roost . . . somewhere. I’m not going to go poke my cashmere†† sweaters and find out exactly where. No sign. No sign of either it or . . . four hundred and nine of its fellows. So far so good. I went downstairs again and rang the nice people who are the head of the Hampshire Bat Group and said, pardon me, but you counted four hundred and ten bats living in my house last summer, and last night I had a bat on my side of the barrier and neither of us is pleased. And she laughed lightly and got that soothing tone in her voice, that there, there tone, like a kindergarden teacher soothing a kid who has rejected its graham cracker. They rarely come indoors, she said. Just leave a window open, and it’ll go back out again at twilight.

I’m writing this at the mews. I haven’t been back to the cottage since twilight.††† I really, really don’t want to think that this was one of the early scouts for this year’s nursery, and it’s now having a beer with its—her—friends and saying, listen, forget last year’s cramped quarters—I don’t care if it’s traditional. Let me tell you about cashmere. . . .

* * *

* It should be thudlet really. But thudlet-thudlet-thudlet doesn’t really put it over. Or mini-thud, which is even worse. But it wasn’t a tap or a pat. It was a thud. Unmistakably a very small thud.

** I mean ancient. Us homeopaths are expected to read the foundation texts, the oldest of which was first published in 1810. Sometimes you really need an old medical dictionary to bail you out of total confusion.

*** My frivolous mind will revert to Gilbert and Sullivan: It was the (c)at.

† We’ve had this conversation. I swore I would never put stuff in front of books on shelves. I am an oathbreaker. It is very sad.

†† BY THE WAY. In the conversation that has been going on in the forum about one-space-or-two after a period/full stop, and how modern computer technology has rendered the need for a double space null and void because unlike on typewriters, all letters are the same size, or anyway occupy the same amount of space on a computer screen: wrong. I am amazed no one has mentioned the occasionally highly erratic little spacing ways of Word. I’ve asked not only my Computer Archangels but the occasional programmer geek and they shrug and say, oh, yeah, that’s a known issue but Microsoft doesn’t feel like doing anything about it. This comes to mind because it’s usually ‘e’ that decides it feels unduly constricted by the standard spacing, and demands about half a space’s extra range. This has just happened with the first ‘e’ in cashmere, as I write this post in Word before pasting it in the blog. It will have disappeared by the time it has been through the new frelling WordPress system, which may even out Word’s vagaries but now eats all my double spaces and I hate it. Just by the way. . . .

††† I was going to tell you about the brilliant lesson I had with Nadia today but . . . this is long enough and I want to go to bed. I had a bad night last night. . . .


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