mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Friday, 30 September 2011

Nervous ticks

A summer of fairly unremitting rain has done wonders for the weeds in our field, which have flourished amid the dung we so thoughtfully ploughed in. We have just about managed to keep what will be the vegetable plot weed free – but the rest of field is now so high with weeds that it is possible to lose the children entirely in amongst it all.

On a positive note, the bird and insect-friendly seeds that we sowed back in June have come up and we have an abundance of wild flowers. I’ve been checking on the few days that are dry and am gratified to note that these have a healthy amount of honey bees on them – as well as an assortment of butterflies, which may help to explain why I have no leaves left on my broccoli plants.

The jungle-like conditions are also of great interest to pheasants, which have very bravely set up home despite the predatory nature of our cats and eldest son, who is desperate to catch one. The dog too enjoys the opportunities the undergrowth provides, most notably as cover so she can sneak up to the gate and cavort and bound with passing dogs and their walkers.

Predictably, therefore, we had our first tick to deal with this week. I hate ticks and spent half the afternoon trying to convince myself that the protuberance from the dog’s belly was an unexpected new nipple. But after she rolled over for the fifth time for a tummy tickle, I could pretend to myself no longer and action was required.

Removing a tick is notoriously difficult. They attach themselves so firmly to the flesh that just simply picking them off is nigh-on impossible. The main danger being that if you do give it a good old yank there is a high possibility that its head will stay burrowed in the dog, where it will probably become infected and all manner of horribleness ensue.

There are a number of schools of thought on the best way to remove a tick. One of which is to apply a lighted match or cigarette end to its bottom, which causes it to release its jaws in surprise – as you would. However, I can testify that dogs do not generally enjoy having lighted matches or cigarettes applied near their flesh. I once worked for a gloriously chaotic press agency to which the news editor used to bring his large, shaggy and insatiably greedy dog, Siva (named after a famous India cricketer, not the god). Myself and a colleague spent one memorable afternoon – when we should have been flogging stories to the tabloids – torturing poor Siva with a cigarette trying to remove a tick from near her ear. Since she was not a willing party the tick removal operation was not a success.

I therefore vetoed that idea, not least because I gave up smoking a long time ago. Instead I liberally coated the tick in butter. Ticks are such efficient parasites that they have mastered the ability to breathe through their skin so their head can stay with the important process of eating. An ability I can see the upside of. Anyway, they’re not so clever that they can breathe through a thin film of dairy produce. The downside of this technique is that they have a tendency to drop off the host in order to recover, before attaching themselves to something new – like a child.

But I managed to catch it while it was still attached and less committed to eating, and pulled it out with a sharp twist of a pair of tweezers. It was then that I decided we should all look at the tick under a powerful magnifying glass. It’s a home education thing, nothing much gets past the magnifying glass – daddy long-leg wings, dead wasps, rabbit poo, mouldy teabags – they all go under. But take a tip from me, if you want to sleep well at night or enjoy eating ever again, don’t look at a live tick in close up. Basically, they are just mouthparts attached to an greenish/grey oval sac with nasty little black legs like thick beard stubble that wave around grotesquely – Dr Who has yet to come up with something so hideously terrifying.

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