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 beauty of medieval bestiaries

How to hunt an elephant. Find a tree and saw most of the way through it without felling it. Sooner or later an unwary elephant is bound to lean up against it. Down comes the tree and down comes the elephant, which, since it has no joints in its legs, will be unable to get up again. Dispatch your elephant with, um, dispatch, lest the herd arrives in answer to its plangent call. In that case, the youngest of them, being lower to the ground, will be able to lift their fallen comrade back on its feet. When smaller birds flock around an owl in an Old English sermon, they

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

Has Carole the tarantula cured my arachnophobia?

I’ve been an arachnophobe my whole life. I can’t remember a time when videos of spiders, or even photos or drawings, didn’t give me palpitations. As a kid Charlotte’s Web read as sinister propaganda. Even as an adult, just hearing the word ‘tarantula’ would make me feel like one was crawling on me (kind friends and colleagues took to calling it ‘the t-word’). I wish I could blame someone for these fears, but no one else in my immediate family screamed uncontrollably when a house spider scuttled across the floor. A fear of spiders is the third most common phobia in the UK, so I know I haven’t been alone.

My wife is caught in a web of fear

Even in my shed at the bottom of the garden I can hear the screams coming from the house. Shrieks of pure terror, often sustained for several seconds, followed by desperate cries for help. No, my family’s not being assailed by a serial killer. Spider season is here and Caroline is an arachnophobe. One a scale of one to ten, I’d give her about an eight on the irrationality scale. She doesn’t insist that I search every nook and cranny of our bedroom to make sure it’s spider-free before she can go to sleep. But she has surrounded the bed with conkers. She’s a great believer in the spider-repelling properties