He digs and he delves – you can see for yourselves
It’s been a while since I wrote anything more than a few lines to accompany a picture but – now there’s a thing … have I been away, or have I been home? I think here is home so I must have been away but then again I was staying with my mother and spending Christmas with family so I must have been home because my definition of home was always where my family is. And Two Brains made it by the skin of his teeth on Christmas Eve arriving 3 hours before we all sat down to Christmas Dinner which we do on Christmas Eve partly because we realised that one of our daughters was eating three Christmas dinners on Christmas Day and had to remain dry because she and her partner were driving to his mother, then his father and then me and then home (possibly to a turkey sandwich) and another has a fiance whose mother would fall on her own sword if her precious boy were not at her Christmas table (I say nothing) and partly because 25th December is Two Brains birthday. So the simple solution is to follow the French lead and that is what we do leaving everyone, in theory, happy. Anyway, enough familial bliss – I was in England. Land of my birth. And increasingly less familiar to me … I wonder if other ex-patriots experience this out of body-ness when visiting the old country, wherever that happens to be.
I lived for years close to various points on the Ridgeway and walked regularly on the section from Streatley-on-Thames to Uffington. When my parents moved to the place my mother still lives, I walked sections of it each weekend with my father and our dogs. I have walked it with children, with friends, with dogs. It is a very familiar path. Two Brains and I and two dogs, because The Bean’s best friend Brian who belongs to my eldest daughter was staying too, walked a bit each day.
We walked somewhere between 6 and 12 km each time (the distance being un aller-retour, a return, to allow for leaving the car). I wanted to walk this path full of memories with my husband and it was happy – windy, rainy, bitterly cold, foggy, sunny we had all weathers which makes us both happy. Two small dogs and then just one, after Brian returned home, snootling and rootling and sniffing the air and the ground which is generally what makes a dog happy. We would return to my mothers house after an hour or three soaked and muddy some days but we had a very contented time. Except ….
Somewhere between Wantage, once called Wanating and birthplace of King Alfred (he of the frazzled cakes) and Sparsholt we spied something on the fence ahead. Moles. I am very wed to moles. I grew up in the village in Berkshire in which Kenneth Grahame lived the last 8 years of his life and he died there in 1932. He attended the same school as my father in Oxford. I, like so many children, grew up knowing and loving the anthropamorphasised animals he created. ‘The Wind in The Willows’ was read to me when I couldn’t read, then read and read and read when I could, and then again read to my own. And Mole was my particular favourite – so thrilled with the world outside his dark tunnels, his portly little velvety form was one I longed to hug. I do understand that many find moles a nuisance. They dig and they create earthmounds with positively ruthless efficiency and ruin many a lawn (that overwhelming obsession of the English, let’s not forget) and they don’t give a damn about crops in a field. So long as the earth is brim full of worms they are happy chappies and will keep diggering on. Actually here in Cantal I am convinced the moles are genetically modified – or at the very least pumping steroids … their mounds are immense! We have them all over the right side of the lawn though oddly never the left. The Bean is very keen to find one and is often found standing four square with nose poking down a hole in the top of a mound where the mole has come up out of his laberynth of tunnels early in the morning or at dusk.
The thing about these moles though, in case you thought that they were some sort of genetic mutation that dwells above ground, the thing is that they were dead. Hanging on the fence, tied with yellow binding. To say the sight was gruesome is an understatement. It was a sharp and frosty morning and everything had that eery beauty that comes when the only movement is the twinkling of the ice particles in the hazy sun trying to break through a shroud of cloud. The moles too were frozen, their little black coats glinting with freezing moisture. Stiff. Cold. Dead. Unfortunately our Opinel (the ubiquitous knife in a huge variety of sizes, ours with a 4″ blade, that no Frenchman would be without) was in the car about 2 miles back so we couldn’t follow our hearts and at least cut the little creatures down and lay them somewhere dignified. Out of sight of, incidentally, the many walkers, riders and particularly families with children who frequent the path. I was disgusted. Choked. Angry actually. For heavens sakes what is the point? And yes, I do know that in days of yore the mole catcher would hang the moles as proof to the landowner of what he had earned and to ensure that he didn’t try and bill for same mole twice. But this is 2015 (I think it was January 2nd) and I do not believe for one moment that any landowner now uses such feudal methods in fact I’m not convinced that there even are travelling mole catchers these days. No – this was just some foul blood lusting individual or group who thought it would be clever to hang their barbaric catch out for all to see. Or perhaps they were crass enough to think that they would put other moles off digging there … not understanding that they are blind. Before you shout me down – I actually found a thread on the internet that had me quite helpless … a thread about this very practice in which one person states that it is to put other moles off and another points out that they are blind. Person one says ‘what – every single mole? I don’t think so’ and the other patiently points out that they live underground. Person one says ‘why?’ patience says ‘Because. They. Are. MOLES!’ As I live and breath it is entirely unbelievable.
And now I am back home, because on reflection I know this is home and wherever my family are, they are always in my heart. Here it is still hunting season – I have to be judicious when choosing my walks particularly at weekends because I don’t want to be shot. And neither does The Bean. The French have a reputation for shooting anything that moves but le chasse is strictly governed here. And I live in an area far off the beaten track where undoubtedly folk could break the rules if they wanted to. But they don’t. The Ridgeway is a well walked path and I wish the Police success in catching the culprits of this heinous act if they so wish. I know they try to stamp out illegal hare coursing but The Law says that you can only prosecute if you catch the perpetrators red handed. Not for the first time in my life, I fear that The Law is an ass.
PS: The following day we walked from Sparsholt to Uffington. The White Horse here is the oldest chalk horse carved into a hillside in Britain and there is Dragon Hill which, legend has it and I like to believe is actually the body of the dragon slain by George himself. And there is Uffington Castle … an iron-age hillfort. We walked around it and I was heartened to see that the moles had invaded and clearly conquered the castle. Sweet victory to the little men in black velvet as they diggory diggory delvet according to Beatrix Potter in Apply Dapply’s nursery rhymes from whence the title comes.
What a horrid sight to come across! I hope The Bean was not too alarmed. I don’t believe I have ever encountered a mole, but I probably would leave it alone if I did (I am more interested in catching pigeons). My People found this to be a fascinating window into this region of England. We did not know that such a thing as a traveling mole catcher ever existed!
Albert we averted The Beans eyes … it was too horrid. Brian (who also features) lives in London and shares your interest in pigeon catching. The English are generally obsessed with manicured lawns which may account for the ancient profession of Mole Catcher – these days the killing was more likely to have been done by what is locally called ‘Pikeys’ these are travellers who don’t travel anymore but still delight in hunting with dogs, traps and guns illegally – there are rather a lot of them in that area probably attracted by the pubs in Wantage of which there are numerous!!
Oh my gosh Fiona what a terrible thing to come across and a truly barbaric fate for the poor dear moles
Maggie it was absolutely devastating … I will never understand the need to kill moles (even if they are making merry havoc of your lawn … its only grass for goodness sake) and then to feel the need to display the evidence is quite beyond me. We averted The Bean’s eyes!
Mitzi, our much loved previous cat, caught a mole after we moved to Cornwall……goodness knows how! What I have never been able to fathom is how many dead moles it must have taken to make a pair of moleskin trousers!
I can imagine how upsetting it was for you…gamekeepers used to do the same with crows, magpies, birds of prey etc. that they had killed…that was supposed to deter others. Maybe they still do.
Once again I loved reading your blog!
Thank you Jenny for reading and taking the time to comment. Yes – I knew that about gamekeepers although I could never quite see the logic … once dead the victim simply becomes a meal for carrion creatures surely? I’m hopeful that Moleskin trousers aren’t really skinned mole because I’ve worn them! Hey ho to the late Mitzi the brave – they just will catch it if they can these pesky cats 🙂
I remember crows and magpies hanging on the fences of a large estate nearby when living in England…and in the Vendee there was a custom of nailing an owl on the barn door – a custom which I hope has been stamped out with vigour.
An elderly French friend was convinced that moles came to the surface twice a day – at the two eleven o’clocks. So at eleven in the morning he would be standing over likely molehills with his shotgun. His success rate startled me.
Yes, the crows and pies I know of but I did not know of the horrors awaiting owls in the Vendee. I too hope that custom has been obliterated. Your story of the mole man reminds me of a Jasper Carrot Sketch many years ago which basically plotted his descent into madness as he tried to catch the culprit ending up sitting on a revolving chair all night with a cocked shotgun. I chose not to include it as a link as it seemed incongruous. I’m afraid no patch of grass however large is worthy of killing moles by whatever method in my book. 🙂
I remember that sketch! No, no grass is that important…but the havoc they used to wreak in the veg patch! We used smokes which seemed to deter them.
That’s absolutely right …. I remember the smokes now! They are little blighters for sure and doubtless when I get my potager started once we move to a permanent abode I will be eating my words 😉
That’s horrible! I will never understand people who can do such a thing. How sad that you had to run into that 🙁
It was entirely un-necessary and very upsetting. I know what I would do with the culprits but it is illegal and unprintable 😉
It is almost like a stroll down memory lane so to speak. Great images. Thanks for the story too. Sorry you had to go through that situation with the moles but at least it is over with. I look forward to more of your journey on this blog.
Thanks again for this post.
Thank you tsizzles … for taking a read and for taking the time to comment. I look forward to digging and delving through your blog too! 🙂
In the Western United States varmints such as coyotes that prey on cattle and sheep are killed and then hung on a fence to create a stink and dissuade their brethren. Moles do so much damage here but I have never seen a sight quite like the one you saw. That’ll take the joy and happy right out of your afternoon stroll.
That is most interesting, Dunelight,. I can understand a farmer killing a beast that attacks his animals and hanging it out to fester and put the others off, in fact here roaming dogs are at severe risk of being shot for the same reason … though I haven’t seen any hung on fences. Moles on the other hand are certainly not going to be put off given that they live underground!
They do this to prove to the farmer that the mole catcher has done its job. Used to see it on and off where we used to live in North Yorkshire. To farmers moles are a pest that have to been dealt with if they get too numerous. They destroy pasture and can transfer some diseases to sheep. ( apparently, I got this info from following a sheep farmer on Twitter @herdyshepherd1 well worth a follow)
I know they are a pest … and I understand the rationale – I suppose I was a bit churlish about the fact that it was along a public footpath well walked by young children. I should probably take my hypocrite’s hat off since I singularly refused to shield my own children from the reality’s of life when they were growing up though … I will check out @herdysheperd1 … sounds like my sort of follow 🙂