Tell me Everything You Know About Squirrels

For some reason, companies have got it into their heads that in order to find the best candidate to fill a position, rather than asking questions pertinent to the job on offer, it is better to ask questions which make no sense whatsoever. Thus it is that should you wish to get a job at Google (or Gwgl as I’m now calling it in the hope it will catch on and we’ll get a renaming on St David’s Day), you will need to answer such brainteasers as “How much would you charge to wash all of the windows in Seattle?” and “Why are manhole covers round?” For the record, my answers would have been “I charge by the hour” and “So they’ll fit in the manholes, obviously.”
Strider, who is currently decimating the Welsh government with her Probably-really-is-Swinflu-this-time-itus, tells me of a job interview she’s heard of in which the candidates’ chair is set to the kind of ridiculous angle reminiscent of a gynaecological exam and the successful candidate is whichever one puts the chair right without asking or making a fuss about it.

The original purveyors of stupid questions to determine worth were, of course, the Oxbridge Universities and a favourite of theirs, or so I’ve heard, is to lean forward and ask the nervous candidate to tell them everything they know about squirrels.
It is then, rather a shame I am not going to be experiencing any Oxbridge interviews as I could tell them quite a lot.

Squirrels are evil. Really evil. You have only to look at their fluffy, innocent tails to know you are staring at the backside of the most evil creature to stalk the realms of this earth. Even those red ones with the fluffy ears that everybody thinks are endangered are evil. The red squirrels live on the Isle of Wight for heavens sake; I’ve been to the Isle of Wight and I can confirm that nobody who wasn’t plotting something would bother to live there. You know who lives on the Isle of Wight? David Icke, that’s who.

To begin with, there were a pair of squirrels who would come and eat the bread from the bird table. They were quite sweet. One of them was clearly the Mammy squirrel because the other one would repeatedly attempt to suckle from her only to receive discouragement in the form of a swift blow to the head, often with the largest piece of bread Mammy squirrel had to hand.

Earlier this year, for reasons we were never able to work out, they took to appearing at the bird table and carrying away the quartered apples we had left out for the birds. Why we felt birds would enjoy apples, I’m not sure of either. In any case, it didn’t matter because the squirrels seemed to need them for something so the birds never got a look in. I theorised they were building a squirrel fortress deep in the woodland so they had somewhere proper to sit and plan their nefarious squirrel deeds. Either that or they have a cider press.
When we had run out of apples, the squirrels took to climbing onto the tubes of bird nuts and eating them instead. We were getting through a cylinder of nuts every couple of days. The problem became exacerbated by the Coal Tits who worked out they could extract whole peanuts through the holes left by the squirrels and who would fly off into the woodland with a peanut the size of their head.
The theory that the squirrels were extorting nuts with menaces was briefly floated but was swiftly discounted. The Coal Tits have struck a deal with the Chaffinches to form a gang large enough to take on the Greenfinches. Not even the squirrels are stupid enough to mess with the Chaffinch-Tit Mafioso.

Now that it is wintertime in this hemisphere, we have begun putting the nuts back out again and this has led to a return of the squirrels, only this time there are three of them. Or at least, there were three of them.
We tried knocking on the window to make them go away. This failed. We took to opening the door and clapping our hands loudly. This worked for a time until the squirrels decided they could safely ignore us. We took to walking outside with a menacing expression on our faces, a dangerous task given the wetness of the decking, which only worked for as long as it took the squirrels to realise we were hippies who weren’t going to do anything terrible to them. Now they just look at us carefully to see if we have any quartered apples for the woodland squirrel overlord.
Eventually, I decided the best way to get rid of the squirrels was to make a really, really loud noise. So I got a wooden spoon and a saucepan. This worked. This worked so well in fact, that one of the squirrels accelerated up the corner of my two story house until he reached the roof. He then fell back down onto the decking, regarded me and my pan with a surprised expression and ran across the lawn to the safety of the trees. I haven’t seen him since and feel massively guilty in case he’s lying in a pool of rotting apples somewhere in the forest.

The other two, meanwhile, continue to devour the nuts with impunity. They have also taken to looking through the kitchen windows at me in case I want to go outside and give them some more. When I tap a finger on the window to make them go away, they hopefully sniff at it through the glass in case there is a peanut attached.

In an effort to foil them, we hung the tube of nuts from the washing line where the bird would be able to reach it, but the squirrels would not.
To begin with, it worked very well and had the added bonus of providing He Who Knows Everything and I with squirrel based entertainment as we laughed at the fluffy wretches’ obvious confusion. For the best part of two hours they clambered over everything within a ten metre radius of the elusive nuts until finally managing the work out they could perform a death defying leap from the topmost branches of the bay tree and grab the nut tube on their way past. As I shouted to them through the window, if they could learn to put that much effort into finding a natural food source, everybody would be much happier and relaxed.
To foil further death defying leaps, we moved the nuts further along the line away from the tree until Mammy realised they were climbing all over her contorted hazel and breaking it, so we brought the nuts inside until a solution could be found.

I’m told that coating the nuts in chilli powder will prove a formidable deterrent which won’t bother the birds but I have to confess, I’m a little reluctant to try it. I already have one of their number on my conscience, I don’t want to be responsible for the other two staggering across the lawn looking as though they’ve been maced.
I’m also told that creating a squirrel feeder filled with delicious peanut butter and raisins will keep them away from the bird feeders. I’m not keen on this either. I’ve already had one of the little blighters climb in through an open window scouting for the missing bird feeder and leaving muddy squirrel footprints all over my hall and sunroom; can you imagine the siege I’d be under if I started giving them something they really enjoyed?

Pumpkin A-Go-Go

Although I may have complained at length about the children who saw fit to disturb my isolation the other night, this does not mean I am totally immune to the pleasures of the faux holiday that is Halloween. I do quite like creating a three sided pumpkin masterpiece for my windowsill.
I confess, I did cheat rather. The templates I have appropriated from http://www.familyfun.com (the pirate) http://www.jamminpumpkins.com (the gravedigger) and http://www.scissorcraft.com (A Gingerbread my and My Neighbour Totoro?). Thanks to the people across the interwebs who worked hard and created these free designs so I didn’t have to.

Pirate Pumkin copy

Pirate Pumkin copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Pumpkin Gravedigger copy

Pumpkin Gravedigger copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Gingerbread Pumpkin copy

Gingerbread Pumpkin copy from http://theohrm.vox.com/

Things that go *Ding-Dong* in the Early Evening Time

I am not, I will admit, a great one for Halloween. The pleasures of it elude me somewhat. For a start there is too much effort involved – first you need to find an outfit which is even worse than finding a blog template because your poor choice of dress will haunt you via friends’ photographs for the rest of eternity. What seemed like an ironic and droll Boney M tribute seems less so in the cold light of 30 years hence. I’m told we’re all going to live to be 120 years old from now on so it’s worth bearing in mind how much longer those youthful misdemeanours are now going to haunt you.

I’m also not keen on having to interact with other peoples’ children. Even with the ones I can personally manage to place a name to, social discourse is stilted and awkward. I’m always terrified I will say something hideously inappropriate which will scar them for life or, worse, be recounted by their Mammy to the other Mammys around the school gate who will laugh at me. I don’t know the Mammys around the school gate but this is a small community. I live in fear of the day a story is recounted to me by somebody I vaguely know and it turns out to be about me.

The main trouble is that I can’t help but feel this whole Halloween thing has become just another form of one-upmanship. A way for parents to show off to other parents that their child can have the best and most expensive costume. What ever happened to donning a couple of rolls of bandages and going as the Mummy?
I went into Tesco at the beginning of October only to find my way totally blocked by a Mammyjam in the seasonal aisle. There must have been twenty Mammys (and a couple of Daddys, equality fans), each with a trolley, all gushing over the nylon outfits newly made available that week. Mammys entering the store were parking their trolleys by the newspapers and making their way to the front of the crush on foot. It was utter chaos. By the time Halloween rolled around four weeks later, the entire collection was sold out.

In my youth, we didn’t do much for Halloween. It was always secondary to bonfire night. When we did, not a single one of my contemporaries would have bought an outfit to wear for Trick or Treating. Sure, you might have bought a moulded plastic witch’s hat or a mask or something to make it a bit clearer what you had come as, but the main crux of the costume would always be something fashioned at home from whatever you could raid from the dustbin or your Mammy’s wardrobe (this was the 80’s, there was a lot to choose from).
Kids today just don’t make stuff anymore. I’m not sure they know how. Even the lego kits of today have lost their way. In my youth I had about a kilogram of the stuff, all proper individual pieces that could be fitted together one of a hundred different ways. These days they are all pre-moulded pieces designed to make one thing only. Rubbish.
Can you imagine trying to persuade your average 8 year old that a really fun way to spend the afternoon is with a Pritt Stick, a pair of scissors and a piece of cardboard building a replica of the Globe Theatre or Darwin’s Beagle? Let alone garnering any enthusiasm for a carefully constructed Blue Peter Tracey Island model? They’d only complain it smelled of yoghurt. It’s little wonder they all turn out in logoed polyester rather than papier-mâché.

Over here, I was rather glad that I would not need to lay in a supply of candies for the little oiks of the neighbourhood as I did when I lived in Cardiff. When I say that I live in a field, I mean that literally. The nearest house is a good quarter of a mile away. Beyond that, it’s another quarter to the next one. If I want to go anywhere at all, it does have to be by car.
As children can’t drive, I assumed I would be safe from them. I was wrong.

At the risk of sounding like Concerned of Tunbridge Wells, what kind of person allows their children to harass strangers for sugar?
I saw the brake lights flash and moments later was greeted with a wild banging on my door by a number of breathless children demanding sustenance. They were each clutching a carrier bag and were clearly making an opportunistic tour of the neighbourhood.
It was only later that I realised that I did vaguely know them. They were the children of the man who seeded my lawn over 18 months ago. I haven’t seen him since I paid him and I haven’t seen his kids since they mysteriously pitched up at my door in an identical situation 12 months previously. On that occasion, Mammy gave them some rotten apples from her fruit trees (she thought they were fresh ones) and I gave them some leftover Harribo I had laid in for the children of my friend in the hope that plying her kids with e-numbers would discourage her from bringing them to see me.

Mammy tells me I am a grouch. She is right, of course, yet I’m still put out that I have to put up with these brats because their parent lacks the will, or the possibly just the manners, to tell their offspring that it’s not okay to call on people you don’t really know, who don’t have any pumpkins out the front, who haven’t seen you since you demanded additives this time last year and to whom you are as welcome as a soloist performing Silent Night in a Synagogue.

Anyway. Mammy has suggested that next year we put some Garda Crime Scene – Do Not Cross tape across the gateposts to try and keep them out. I’m not convinced it will work but I’m happy to give it a try. Leaving all the lights on will probably make it look more convincing.

If you have had your kids out trick or treating, it would be really nice if you could be a little more circumspect about where you take them. Calling on the people you don’t know is irritating and, to be honest, a little rude. Kids today need to learn you don’t get sweets for mere existence. It’s up to you to teach them.