On my way back down from Scotland to London, I stopped off in Lincolnshire to see mad inventor John Ward, who designed and made the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards for me. We went into his back garden and there were two long bamboo canes sticking out of the grass, with large, upside-down plastic bottles on them.
“What on earth are the bottles for?” I asked.
“Moles,” he said starkly. “We had three moles digging up our lawn earlier this week. If you put a stick or a cane with an empty plastic pop bottle in the grass where the mole’s dug, then the wind rattles the bottle. Moles are blind, but their hearing is phenomenally sensitive, so it buggers up their ears. We had three moles earlier this week. I put those two bottles up the other night and we haven’t seen them again.
“You can buy expensive, sophisticated sonic devices to deter moles, but an empty plastic Coca Cola bottle stuck upside down on a garden cane is cheaper and just the same.”
We were really in John’s back garden, though, to see his new bird table, a large metal structure with holes in it.
“What’s it made from?” I asked.
“It’s the interior of a central heating oil tank,” John told me. “We couldn’t put oil in it any more because it had cracks and splits. It was going to be dumped, but I was in my re-cycling mode, so I looked at it and thought it would make a bird table.
“We’ve had schoolkids come along and sketch it for their art class because – well – it’s something different, I suppose. Drawing farmhouses, rivers and trees must pale after a while. And we had a couple come through on a tandem: I say, the man said, do you mind if we come through and take a photograph of your bird table? Then the Daily Mail came along to take a picture of it and then there was Rory, the man from the Discovery Channel.
“The first version I built was smaller scale and when the wind hit it, over it went. So this one has large holes in and instead of acting as a wind break it becomes, in effect, a sieve. The wind zaps through the holes and stabilises it.”
John used to call himself a “junkist” – because he makes things from junk.
“When people talk about re-cycling,” he explains, “they usually think of something ornamental – something you re-paint and stick in an art exhibition. I like to think of more practical things.”
“Do the birds like your bird table?” I asked.
“Well,” he replied, “we’ve had 18 birds in it pecking away at same time and, when that happened, there were about 7 or 8 others on top waiting to get inside.”
“And your cat?” I asked. “What does your cat think of the bird table?”
“Can’t get up to it,” he said. “It has smooth legs.”
“The bird table. Nothing to grip on to. Our cat leaps up in the air but can’t get in. And, normally, in a rural area like this, rats would go up and in and help themselves to the food too. But, with this thing, underneath, it’s perfectly smooth and flat, so they have nothing to grip on to.”
“Why doesn’t the cat just leap in the air and jump onto the platform?” I asked.
“The holes put it off,” John told me. “The cat jumps up, its paw stretches out, but the birds fly off or just sit and look, laughing at the cat. It’s like Sylvester and Tweety. And the cat’s getting a bit old plus it’s heavier than what it was. It jumps up and plops down with a frustrated, slightly angry look on its face. You’ve not seen my World War Two landing strip, have you?”
“Not that I remember,” I said, “and I would probably have remembered if I had.”
“I’ll get the key and show you,” he said. “It’s in the shed.”
“I like cats,” I said.
“The cat’s not in the shed,” John said.