I am branching out in my volunteer role as housesitter. I have temporarily vacated Sophia and Vincent’s sophisticated Chelsea house in favour of Lily’s friend’s Esme’s grandmother’s dilapidated cottage and two dogs. It's ten minutes from The Manor, thus giving me a chance to spend more quality time with my darling daughter. Except that my darling daughter would rather spend more quality time with her schoolfriends. We are in negotiations. I think I have secured her presence tonight.
Meanwhile, now I’m in the wilds, the Raleigh-training opportunities are coming at me thick and fast. Dolly greets me at the breakfast table with a bird’s claw that has either been rejected by the cat or sent by the local witch doctor. Gingerly, I pick it up, expecting it to be firm and claw-like. It is soft and limp. AAGH! I drop it, Dolly grabs it, exits and sprints round the garden before I can induce her to drop it so that I can flip it over the hedge with the poo spade.
Now to tackle my bed and the disappearing bedcovers. The problem is, the floor lists at an angle of practically 45 degrees. As I deliver the painter his morning cup of tea, I notice he has a spirit level.
‘Ooh, could I borrow this to check the level of my bed?’ I enquire.
‘You in that room up thur?’ He nods towards the room above the front door.
‘Don’t surproise me. Whole floor’s tippin’.’
‘Exactly!’ I say, taking the spirit level and fetching some blocks of wood from the log store. I throw back the eiderdown and blankets and place the spirit level on the floral polycotton sheets. Just as I thought. The bubble’s practically off the scale. I kneel down and lift. Argh, this bed’s heavy! With a lot of hauling and heaving, I manage to shift two bed legs on to three inch blocks. I flop down on the bed. Totally horizontal! I really am a DIY expert manqué! Except a DIY expert would probably have a handy jack or a hoist or something instead of doing their back in.
I return to the kitchen. While stroking Esme’s granny’s old lurcher, Betty, I detect a little black lump on her chest. I part the hairs and find a tick in all its leg-wriggling splendour. I pinch it between my fingers and pull, but it won’t give. I twist it anti-clockwise like a corkscrew as I was told to do by someone in Mistlebourne, but it remains steadfast. I wrestle and wrench, but still it won’t pull free. Unlike Betty, who backs away and retires to her bed. Presumably the tick’s head is now well and truly submerged in her flesh and I’ve probably hastened her demise.
Google remove tick dog. ‘Do not yank or twist the tick while attempting to pull it out.’ Oh God. ‘Avoid breaking its head off inside skin to avoid infection.’ Oh bugger. Now what? Maybe go back to step one. ‘Soak a cotton ball in olive oil and place it over the tick’s body.’ Olive oil. I scan the kitchen worktops. Olive oil. I throw open all the cupboards. Honestly, you wouldn’t think there was a household left in Britain without olive oil, would you? Not even sunflower or vegetable oil! I soak some kitchen roll in Mary Berry’s Light Salad Dressing and hold it over the spot. Nope. The blighter’s still in there. I go out to ask the painter if he has any ideas.
‘Don’t try and pull it out whatever you do,’ he warns.
‘Too late,’ I say, showing him the black spot under Betty’s skin.
‘Best thing to do,’ he says, ‘soak some cotton wool in nail varnish remover and press it on. That’ll kill it and it’ll drop off of its own accord.’
The thing is, who brings nail varnish remover to a country housesit? Call Dan. He’ll know what to do.
‘If you were Crocodile Dundee,’ he begins, ‘you’d sedate the dog by throwing a tin of sweetcorn at its head and then suck out the venom.’
‘And if I’m not Crocodile Dundee…?’
‘Well, if it were my dog, as indeed it has been in the past when I’ve made a horlicks of pulling out the tick, I’d pat him on the head and say, ‘Good boy,’ and go off and do something else.
‘And three days later, when the infection has set in…?’
‘Well then I’d be stroking him and notice a bit of a lump and think, oh, that’s a nasty scab, and then I’d pat him on the head and say, “Good boy,” and go off and do something else.’
Honestly, these country folk! I scan Esme’s granny’s list of telephone numbers. Ah. The vet.
‘Oh, I shouldn’t worry,’ she reassures. ‘Just put some Vaseline on it and the tick will suffocate and drop off. Keep an eye on the dog in case there’s an infection, but usually they’re fine.’
I ransack the bathrooms and kitchen drawers but is there a pot of Vaseline in the house? No there is not. Honestly, how do people live without olive oil and Vaseline? I scrape off some precious Dr Hauschka Lip Care Stick with my fingernail, roll it to a squidgy Vaseline consistency, apply it to the tick and give Betty a pat on the head. ‘Good girl,’ I say, and go off and do something else.