We spent a couple of nights under siege last week – and a very strange experience it was, too.
As dusk approached, figures could be seen settling down in the garden on deck chairs, clutching cameras and clipboards.
By the time they’d all taken up their positions, the house was surrounded.
Who were these strange people, giving up their evenings to stare at a Hampshire farmhouse on a chilly June night? They were the Bat Police.
It all started a week or so earlier, when our lovely landlord finally set the wheels in motion to mend some of our falling-out windows.
I dare say the bit of hideous plywood that Hazel and I had tacked over one gaping hole after a winter gale might have had something to do with it; one of the gems in the Trust’s Hinton Ampner portfolio was beginning to look like a squat.
One afternoon a car arrived in the yard, and out climbed Clipboard Lady. Our initial conversation was somewhat curt.
She thought I knew she was coming, I thought she was one of the trainee vets turning up for castration class. It went downhill from there.
Even once we’d established that she was on a recce for the Bat Police, I had a bit of strop; arriving unannounced is not on, I said.
She maintained she’d tried to ring, but there had been “no signal”. I resisted a quip about searchlights and bat-shaped cutouts, and reluctantly left her to it. I’d heard of the power of the Bat Police.
They make HMRC’s red diesel dippers look like Boy Scouts doing bob-a-jobs.
Neighbours doing building work have often requested our industrial hoover to minimise any sign of the tiniest bit of bat poo. (A request I always refuse, of course. I condemn such chicanery.)
The email a couple of days later was similarly toned. A squad of Bat Police would be in the garden on Thursday and Friday evening, from nine until just after 11pm.
I composed a grumpy email in reply, saying that, no, they wouldn’t be welcome; we shut up shop – gates, doors, padlocks – shortly after 10pm.
Hard-working farmhouse, early start next morning, blah blah – all that stuff. I pressed “send” and went strimming.
When I got back in, there was an electronic pile of messages and emails – all of them in a bit of a panic, and all of them from the Trust’s building manager.
Unfortunately, telling the Bat Police they’re not welcome is not an option. If we want these windows mended, we’ll need lots of scaffolding.
And if we want scaffolding, we’ll need the blessing of the Bat Police.
I pondered this for a moment or two. I’ve watched the bats in our garden many times in my life.
Is an animal capable of snaffling a gnat from 30 paces at breakneck speed really at risk from a stationary bit of 2in galvanised pipe?
The need for windproof windows finally overtook my scientific curiosity, so I rang the Trust man back and agreed.
The Bat Police duly arrived, and were, of course, charming.
We had to change some lifelong habits: the curtains were drawn much earlier than normal (my post-shower routine is not for the easily shocked).
The doors stayed shut to stop all the dogs – who guessed something odd was going on – piling out in full attack mode. And, yes, we had to stay up late to lock up once the garden was clear.
Luckily, Casablanca was on again, better than ever. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Or should that be “looking for poo”?