Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Dealing with moles and rooks

The plan at least is a good one. We are hoping to race through the next phase of our restoration project by the end of July, to be free to enjoy the garden without Armageddon raging around us for the first time in the 2 1/2 achingly long years since we bought our then derelict dump. No 10-ton trucks, mounds of rubble, powersaws or nail guns, just our swimming pool and a blissful drowsy summer ahead without the builders.

So work is just about to begin on the little cart shed, to repair and convert it into cosy bedrooms and a cool glass-walled office. Or so I thought. Like a boy waiting for his birthday, I was excitedly counting down the days to April 24, the date the builders told us was D-Day. ‘But didn’t you get my email?’ said the head man when I spoke to him on the phone last Friday. ‘I’m afraid we can’t start until the beginning of May.’ Today, I heard their arrival is delayed by yet another week.

And, with a small lump of lead in my heart, I have only just noticed the print (it’s teeny weeny) at the foot of the works schedule for the cart shed, sent to me by the builders a month ago. Each week between now and the start of August is blocked out in a different colour, according to the trades needed on the job. It looks just the job, but the footnote warns ominously:

‘I believe this timetable to be very optimistic and strongly advise a slightly longer programme’. So a blissful summer by the swimming pool lies ahead, serenaded by a junkyard orchestra.

Since moving out of London to live in our new home a fortnight ago, our mood – my wife and I are sensitive types – has fluctuated wildly. One minute it is pure joy, and the next, yes, even dizzier heights of euphoria. Truly, all the buckets of sweat we have poured in to bringing the little manor back to life seem to be paying off superbly.

Just one cloud on the horizon. I have learned already that the two essentials of modern rural life are BT Red Care (a burglar-alarm monitoring system) and a broadband internet connection: neither of ours functions. Apparently, broadband and BT Red Care are incompatible in 80% to 90% of cases, despite repeated assurances from BT to the contrary. We discovered this glitch only after calling out a BT engineer who was here for four hours at £60 per hour, and a computer expert for three hours at the same rate. Finally, BT admitted to me today that we will need to install a new phone line just for monitoring the alarm, and their connection cost will be another £99.99, thank you very much.

A confession to end with: I have fired my gun only twice in anger in our garden, resisting all the partridges, pheasants, pigeons, squirrels, mallard, rabbits and muntjac that have taken to flaunting them-selves on our freshly turfed lawn. The first time I fired was at a mole. Someone told me the way to get rid of moles was to shoot them: wait until you see the ground moving, tip-toe closer, and ‘bang’. I missed the mole. Yesterday, I had a crack at one of the rooks that continue persecute us by diving down our chimneys. It was sitting on the roof. I missed. It could be a while yet before I really get the hang of this strange new rural life we have chosen.