Not far from Graaff-Reinet is a lovely old Karoo farmhouse built around the time of the Anglo-Boer War, which now doubles as a self-catering cottage. So here we are, perched on a hill with an uninterrupted view of hills and bush, not a single sign of civilisation anywhere – unless you count the sound of distant sheep complaining.
We expected star-filled nights, lots of space and air, the magic of soft sunrises and a peaceful cup of coffee as we look out over the Karoo scrub. And we’ve got it all. What we didn’t expect are the bats that fly in at dusk and take over the house for a couple of hours.
It’s midsummer, hot enough to melt your face, so we have the ceiling fans whirring at full tilt. As a result, the incoming bats are flying low – and let me tell you that having seven or eight of them lining up to torpedo your head is unnerving. I rush to turn the fans off because I don’t want to be responsible for bat mincemeat going splat over walls and ceiling if their echolocation systems are on the blink.
Thinking they’ve come in the open front door while we’re braaing, we catch them one by one in a tea towel and release them into the night. In minutes the bastards are back. That’s when we realise their point of entry is the chimney of the enormous kitchen fireplace. Retreating in the face of greater firepower seems wise, so we barricade ourselves in the bedroom and leave the house to the bats, vowing we’ll block up the chimney in the morning.
Next day, newspaper and plastic supermarket packets are hubby’s weapons of choice. He steps manfully into the massive hearth and the top half of him disappears from view up the chimney. At full arm’s stretch, he begins to build his fortification, only to be rewarded with a rush of soot tumbling down on his head and shoulders. It’s a scene straight out of a Laurel and Hardy cartoon. Cursing and complaining, he positions the next piece of his bat-proof cordon – with the same result. More soot, more swearing. But finally he’s done, unvanquished by bats or soot.
If we expected to be bat free tonight, we’re disappointed. The bats have been coming down that chimney for years so they simply push the newspaper and plastic aside, swooping triumphant into the house on their hunt for insects to nibble on. We’ve learnt our lesson and retreat again to our bedroom fortress, leaving the field to the bats. After all, they were here first.
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