My life of genteel poverty

Every year at the beginning of April, I tell myself I must top up my Isa before the 5 April deadline. And all my friends tell me I must. My financial adviser tells me I must. Articles in the press and adverts on social media tell me I must. And every year on 6 April I ask myself: why didn’t I top up my Isa? Yes, I know investing in an Isa is the smart, sensible thing to do – so why haven’t I done it for the past ten years? Every year I have an excuse. Capitalism is about to collapse; it’s government-sanctioned tax avoidance; I should give the

Under the Italian sun, the insects are stirring

The sun was setting on the first day of spring and I felt unusually happy as I fed the donkey. Winter, along with the fog and all the rest of it, had gone at last. But then from somewhere near my right ear I heard a small whining sound that for a moment I did not recognise. It was the first mosquito of the year. And I remembered how biblical it all gets round here under the Italian sun, insect-wise. Sometimes I wish I’d stayed up in the Apennines where there were no mosquitoes, just giant wasps There are a whole host of insects and other things, real, imagined, and

The amazing aerial acrobatics of swifts

It happens usually in the second week of May, between about the 8th and 12th (this year it was earlier, the 2nd): a distant sound, building as it approaches, and then the doppler dip as the first of the returning swifts screeches past the roof of our Cornish farmhouse. It’s the opening bracket of the summer months, one that closes with their departure just 12 weeks later. But it is a reminder, too, that while we might think of our house as home to two adult humans, two teenagers and a dog, it is also the habitat for several nesting swifts, swallows, house sparrows, pipistrelle bats, mice, occasional winter rodents

The best tricks to tackle household pests

Recently, Antonia Hoyle wrote about this autumn’s influx of wasps, flies, mice and spiders into her home. In response, Spectator readers have been offering their tricks and tips for getting rid of household pests… ‘Grow pots of lavender everywhere; hang up dried sheaves, put it in vases. Grow it in pots outside and under windows. You don’t see flies around lavender. Grow basil, mint and rosemary. I put sprigs of rosemary in wardrobes, suitcases when travelling, in bath water and in clothes drawers. Spiders are meant not to like basil in particular so tear up leaves and sprinkle in prime areas. Leave dried basil leaves on windowsills where you don’t grow

How to cope with pest season in the countryside

The first sign that something was awry was what sounded like an electrical crackling noise coming from the corner of our downstairs hallway and growing louder every day. Having ruled out our dodgy wifi (for once), I eventually turned my attention outside, where I found the cause. Wasps – hundreds of them – were swarming into a hole under the wall. My husband suggested we hire an expert to get rid of their nest. I said we should save money and that I was perfectly capable of doing it myself. So I waited until nightfall, armed myself with a wasp-killing foam I’d bought on Amazon and covered up in as

Mother nature is finally getting the art she deserves

I guess that few would currently dispute that the world is in crisis. I’m not talking about Covid-19. Nor am I primarily addressing the issues arising from the 36 billion tonnes of carbon that the human project sends into our atmosphere every year. Climate chaos is a part of the issue, but I’m thinking principally of those things that most impact upon the biosphere as an ongoing live enterprise. They include the additional billion humans that our planet acquires every 12 years; the four-fifths of fish populations harvested to or beyond sustainable levels; the half of all the world’s trees felled by our species; the catastrophic depletion of soils by