Surfacing with the hoover from a corner cranny under the table, I was startled to loom face to face with a Face at the french window!
"Water meter!" he explained, when I’d regained my composure. (has the uniform changed...?)
"Ah," I frowned, grinning frozenly and thinking, Where IS the water meter?’
"I’ll just find the key…" I shouted, gesticulating idiotically, "Meet you down there…"
The WaterMeterMan comes but once a year (I shan’t bother with the Santa joke), so I always forget where the bloody thing is. We have two cellars at the bottom of the steps outside - I cantered off for the washing-machine cellar, then remembered the meter actually lives in the never-bothered-with cellar, and its key had disappeared, unmissed.
George wasn’t around, so I ran up and down the steps a few times, urged on by the Man looking at his watch and raising his eyebrows, until I happened to notice the key sticking out of the bloody lock.
It was not easy to see, enmeshed as it was by a year’s cobwebs and the remains of their unfortunate captives. The door to this cellar is a sturdy old wooden door, arched, with black metal bands... At least it would be, were it not rather rotten, somewhat splintery and jagged. It has character rather than beauty.
A hundred and fifty years ago before the rain and bashings set in, it probably looked exactly like this:
The door is hidden in an alcove of stone at the bottom of three further steps. "We don’t use this cellar much…" I shrugged to the Man as we battled through the overhanging bushes, and, "Oh! Well I’m sure they won’t sting if we just ignore them…" (Were they wasps or bees, I wondered).
Anyway, having made it to the door and hacked through the webmesh with a big pointy stick I managed (with two hands), to turn the enormous key and very very slowly, opened it. The creeeeeak was magnificent, and I was aware that the Man had stepped back several yards.
There was an illogical yet intense terror in groping for the light switch. But I found it and suddenly the single bulb glared into the far reaches of a cellar packed with wine bottles, bits of cardboard boxes, paint tins, rusty chairs, half a barrel, an open box of rat poison and… a frenzied flock of bats.
I was fairly certain that all the Psycho Screeching was just in my head. Or in the Man’s head… I said to him, "I think the meter’s over there somewhere," and pointed at the far wall. He gazed at me as if I’d asked him to just pop over there and set fire to yourself, will you…?
But, with me gingerly leading the way, we and the bats read the water meter. Then the Man, grinning rictusly, leapt in his van and drove off. Pitiful. Surely it can’t be the only bat colony he’s encountered on his rounds?
And after all, they’d been wonderfully behaved, and much more exciting than the bucket of WWII German rifle cartridges George found a couple of years ago (the gendarmes took them). I read that bats are gentle, docile creatures, just looking for a place to hang out.
It was a pity we disturbed them. Particularly since the episode encouraged us to de-clutter the cellar and now, free of its 1500 empty wine bottles and assorted crotte, it looks splendid… but sadly Batless. They evidently got fed up of our traipsing in and out, and have found calmer quarters - this is an area bursting with appealing old outbuildings they could have mistaken for home.
So - If you've seen Derek or Tufty, please tell them we've done that repointing on the ceiling...
Interview with womag legend Clare Cooper
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