Of muslin bags and human hair

2014-10-15 00:00

“GRAN!” Emily’s eyes were serious and her voice was fierce. “Gran, you have to put up a notice: ‘Buck, don’t eat Granny’s roses!’”

The wisdom of a four-year-old. Surveying the devastation before me, I reflected that I could just do worse; after all, a notice could hardly be less efficacious than my previous attempts to convince the duiker that my rose bed was not a good place to be.

“Mix Jeyes Fluid and Sunlight Liquid, and spray,” was the advice of my neighbour on the left.

“No, no!” corrected my neighbour on the right, “it must be soapy bath water and Jeyes Fluid.”

But cocktails of these and similar ingredients, in varying proportions, proved to be no solution. What did work well, for the short time it was allowed to exist, was a single strand of electric fencing. Someone, however, didn’t like it, and we admitted defeat after it had been severed surreptitiously in two places, on two separate occasions, by a person or persons unknown.

Where to now? In desperation, I penned an impassioned plea to The Amber Valley News and Views: “Who can help me?” Within minutes of each other, I received two responses, and each excited voice advocated the same “infallible” duiker deterrent.

“It works!” The line crackled with enthusiasm. “I’ve tried it, and it works!”

I took down the magic recipe immediately, and set about obtaining the ingredients. The muslin was easy (Sew What? on Main Street), as was the human hair, although my request for the latter elicited a barely disguised sidelong glance from my hairdresser.

“Yes, of course I can give it to you, Mrs Thorpe. But first you must tell me what type of hair you think the duiker would find more off-putting: clean hair or dirty hair? And any particular colour?”

I declined to answer.

My son’s scepticism was more open. When he heard that I intended to fill separate muslin bags with a handful of human hair, tie the necks firmly, and attach them to the stems of my rose bushes, he raised his eyebrows

“And I suppose, Mum, that you need to fasten the bags to the plants at midnight, when there is a clear sky and the moon is full, and dance naked round the bed three times in each direction? I am sure the security guards will be fascinated, but do you think your neighbours will ever speak to you again?”

My faith remained unabated. Every day for the week after I had done the deed, I crept outside at dawn and my spirits soared: no buck had been near my bushes. When the first soft shoots peeped shyly out from the first stem, I was jubilant: we had won! I would phone my saviours and take them out to lunch.

It didn’t happen. The morning of the eighth day revealed a sight that I had thought was a thing of the past: in the place of the succulent leaves I saw knobs and spikes. I should have known: magic is not for real.

I love roses. And I used to love buck. Now, after six years in Amber Valley, my feelings towards the latter are ambivalent. Yes, I still have roses in my garden — six, in place of the original 12. I have learnt — the hard way — that the most effective solution to a problem is often the simplest, even if it lacks aesthetic appeal. I have moved all my roses and they are protected by a diamond-mesh fence. The distance between the fence and the blooms has been carefully calculated to be greater than the length of a duiker’s neck at full stretch. And, yes, I have ensured that the height of the fence makes it impossible for even the most agile of the beasts, on hind legs, to come within sniffing distance of the nearest bud.

Only now can I say, with any confidence: “The buck stops here.”

BORN and educated in KwaZulu-Natal, Vivienne Thorpe taught English at high schools in South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland and Greece.

Her retirement to Howick in 2007 has left her with more time to indulge her hobbies: walking, gardening, reading and writing. Since the birth of her granddaughters, Emily and Sarah, and more recently of her grandson Daniel, her particular interest has been writing stories for the children.

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