Anyone who has owned a rural property in France whether it be a small cottage, a farm, a gîte or a château and has read the literally mutterings of Peter Mayle in his "A Year in Provence" will probably have recognised that many of his stories are less than accurate. Possibly he collected odd stories that he had heard while sat in bars or restaurants, and dusted them with a sprinkle of poetic licence. There are two stories in particular that always raise a chuckle when I read them especially as I’m fairly sure that I know the truth behind them.
The story of the old farmer who was frequently disturbed in the night with rats running above his ceiling, in an attempt to stop them the farmer regularly fired his shotgun up into the ceiling at them. My suspicion is that far from being rats the scurryings were much more likely to have been made by Lerots, which according to the dictionary are dormice. These pretty little creatures look like small bush babies with large bushy tails and black and white markings around their eyes.
They are rarely found near the ground preferring to stay up high out of the way of predators, and they are the only rodents that can penetrate the defences of my cats, They like to nest for the winter in the insulation of my roof and wall space, and their scratching last thing at night and first thing in the morning can indeed be very annoying. I have often banged the ceiling or wall with a brush but have so far resisted the urge to get out the gun. In 17 years I have only found them inside the house on two occasions, once when a larot entered the house through the wiring conduit only to meet a quick and shocking end. And I only found that out because I needed electric and he had unfortunately tripped the circuit. The second time was when I opened the door one evening to find one traversing the wall, he came inward with the door trying several times to get back around the corner and up to safety. For some considerable time he refused to come down, although eventually out of sheer necessity he did make an attempt, which failed miserably and saw him falling to the ground, gathering himself together he was straight back up the wall to safety clever little bugger. I have often sat on the terrace on a September evening with friends and watched them scurry along under the eves until they find an entrance into the roof space, so Mr Mayle come clean on the rat story.
The second story which beggars belief is his tale of eradicating the moles. To ask us to believe that diesel was poured down a hole and lit catching the neighbours’ garden, which was on a much lower level, alight, is to ask us to spread the bounds of credulity far too thin. It is obvious that he’s got the wrong end of the tale, for a start diesel is almost impossible to light without using a lighted cloth or paper, it would never run down hill without being absorbed into the ground and if you light it at the top it will burn slowly from the top, so the story seems very unlikely to me.
There is however some truth hidden in this tale. It is for instance possible to smoke out moles by lighting a diesel rag and letting it smoulder in the hole. On one occasion I had mole problems and my fumigation system did in fact include diesel, however it was the smoky engine on my lawn tractor that did the trick. I connected an old hose from a vacuum cleaner to the exhaust pushed it down the nearest hole and waited expecting to see hoards of choking moles come up for fresh air. In fact all I got were dozens of smoking chimneys all over the lawn. I hurriedly rushed round heeling them in, and after about an hour it seemed like the whole two acres of lawn were alight. The fortunate outcome was however that the moles disappeared. Whether that was because they died under ground, which I seriously doubt, or whether they simply didn’t like the smell of diesel and so packed their bags and headed for cleaner pastures, I will never know. They did not return again until the following spring, but by then I had a new weapon altogether.
The subsequent spring one of my regular customers arrived and said I have brought something with me to eradicate your moles. He produced a beautiful antique 9mm shotgun and explained that he had had a large collection of guns but because the law was getting very difficult for gun owners, he had asked the police to take them all away and destroy them, all but one, the one that he gave to me. Oh! What a joy, from then on until a couple of years ago moles just weren’t a problem. I would simply wait until the moles started working, luckily they are punctual little critters feeding in the early morning and again at about 4.00 in the afternoon. All I had to do was spot were they were digging and then creep up quietly stand over the hole with the shotgun and when the soil started to move pull the trigger. It was about a 90% kill rate, I would then dig them up just to make absolutely sure they were dead.
I have stopped using the gun of late, as with the expansion of La Grange I no longer have anywhere handy to keep the gun in safety. So now the gun is stored away safely so that visitors won’t find it and I keep the cartridges in a different location. The only problem with that is that if I remember where the gun is I forget where I’ve hidden the cartridges, or vice versa. So it looks like I may have to revert to Smokey Joe.
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