Back at the beach house, there are instructions for the ship to shore radio (also useful as shore to hotel radio: ‘If the tractor is coming down again today please can you bring a bag of ice and leave it at the boathouse?’) and also old guides and manuals for dealing with various location-specific problems, like heatstroke and ants. My favourite is Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly which I’ve read cover to cover several times, while sitting in the swivel chair with the rain battering on the roof.
In The Naked Jungle, (1954), Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker battle to save a plantation house that stands in the path of a two mile wide column of army ants. I can’t remember what they do. Fitz told me that once he had a massive column of army ants left-righting their way up to the house, and the advice he got from his jefe de campo was to let them come on through, the theory being they’d give the place a good clean-up and then move on. That is common sense, although it’s not the advice they gave in the Quarterly. (It’s also possibly apocryphal, given that at least four people have told me that tale.) It’s not what I did either when we had a gang of ants marching towards the house after the first of the rains once in San Jose, partly because I had a baby in there, and it didn’t seem right. We poured a strip of paraffin and lit it to make a firewall, and off they scampered (possibly with hastily made plans to regroup in a garden down the track).
It’s good to read up, and be prepared. I had a kind of manual on babies sent from England when George was born. It was pretty useful on topics such as how to gently support a baby’s head, and what temperature to run their tub, but not too helpful on what to do when you’re trying to lay a baby down for a rest and your house starts falling apart and sliding down the mountainside on account of minor earthquakes and poor construction.
So instruction manuals have their limitations. I’d probably put them in the same category as a hope and a prayer.
Something else no manual here covers, is tsunamis. Not infrequently, particularly when there have been a small tremors, I study the terrain behind the house, which is at first steep, and then vertical, generally impenetrable, and somewhere not to go unless you have a thing for fer-de-lance snakes. I think it’s also where the puma lives. ‘Yeah! Right! Well, good luck with that!’ Brad Kittel of Tiny Texas Houses said, making a ‘bad idea, man’ face, when he asked where I was off to next, after our interview wrapped up, explaining in detail how the ice caps are melting, and great slabs the size of countries or counties or states are on the brink of crashing into the ocean – right now – creating great walls of sea and flooding coastlines around the world.
I think that’s why I like reading Common Sense Pest Control Quarterly. A lot of things in life seem daunting. Ants, I can cope with.