Manual Pest on the Run: More Humorous Short Stories from the Paddy Pest Chronicles

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Her sister, Frances, dark-skinned and fey, not at all like their mother and not yet old enough for boarding school, had chums around to play with. They were supposed to be clearing the drive of rabbit droppings with spoons and plastic bags, for money, but they were all four hunkered in a semicircle under the pine trees, where they had set out tea things for their dolls, a pinecone on each tiny plate, a rabbit dropping in each tiny cup.

Jane heard Frances chanting in two alternating voices while the others watched, in thrall to her. When Jane came near, the little girls melted into the undergrowth with hostile backward looks. She set up her Jokari on a scorched patch of grass beside where their chalky drive debouched onto the road. No cars passed.

Kicking off her flip-flops, she settled resignedly into her game. The pock and thud of the Jokari ball on the baked ground soothed her, and she started to care about whether she could break her own record of consecutive hits. Assaulted amid his reverie, Mr. Allsop was outraged out of all proportion to the offense—nothing was broken. He stopped the car and half stood up out of it to rant across its roof at Jane: Stupid girl! Then the car rolled on, ominously firing to life when it felt the road, and Jane was left wounded, staring after it.

Allsop was small and dark, like Frances, easily bored, and clever with figures. Jane dropped her paddle in an uncharacteristic gesture of despair. Tears stung her eyes; she stood with her hands by her sides, palms outward, in a kind of resigned openness. What next, then, if even her attempt at virtue had failed?

And that was how they first saw her. They passed Mr. Allsop in the Rover; he was turning out of the unmade-up road just as they turned into it. The driver, who had one languid hand on the wheel, cornered carelessly in a puff of chalk dust, tires spitting loose stones. If they were my kids, Mr. Allsop thought, catch me allowing them anywhere near my car. Had the family ever realized that Jane had been abducted, her father would probably have remembered and suspected these visiting aliens.

Nigel was the one squeezed into the luggage space.

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They had decided that they needed to find girls to crown the day. That was a few hours ago. It was Paddy not Irish at all , the bulky, clever-looking one in the passenger seat, with small eyes like chinks of bright glass and greasy hair the color and texture of old rope, pushed behind pink ears. He took the joint from Nigel and blinked at Jane through its smoke with a sort of appraising impartial severity, not lascivious.

Jane stood barefoot, hands still open in that gesture of self-relinquishment. Something was revealed in her that was normally hidden: an auburn light in her face, her freckles startling as the camouflage of an animal, blotting up against her lips and eyelids. There were ginger glints, too, in her hair, which she wore in two bunches, fastened with different-colored elastic bands. Her eyes with their pale lashes, because she was unhappy, communicated keenly. Her family called her pudgy, but she just looked soft, as if she were longing to nestle.

Her jawline was pure, the pale lips rather full, cracked, parted.

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She seemed not fake or stuck up—and, just then in the dappled light, not a child, either. None of this was wasted on the boys. Daniel, the driver, Jane saw at once, was the best-looking of the three; in fact, he was crushingly beautiful—his features smudged and vivid at once, as if sketched in black ink—and her heart fastened on him.

When he had stopped the car, he asked her what her name was and she told him. And so she climbed in, carrying her flip-flops in her hand. On a whim, she had decided against shorts that morning; she was wearing a washed-out old dress in flowered cotton, with a Peter Pan collar. But she was disoriented: as they drove along, Paddy had pulled the elastic bands off her two bunches so that her hair blew crazily into all their faces.

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If they do, you can cry and say that we kidnapped you and made you do it. Allsop would never have shopped in such a dimly lit, cellar-smelling place, its windows hung with conflicting advertisements for cigarettes and tea, its shelves crowded promiscuously with faded tins, china souvenirs, regiments of sweet jars.

A naked fat ham in orange bread crumbs jostled for space on the counter with packets of parsley sauce and marked-down broken biscuits. She chose the cool bottles by feel in the dark little off-license nook, beyond a curtain of plastic strips, because she could hardly see in there; her eyes were dazzled from the light outside. Her heart thudded as violently as an engine stalling, but her hands were sure.

The boys paid for the sliced bread and tomatoes and tin of tuna they bought, thanking the shopkeeper loftily as they left. Jane sat in the car again between them, her trophies chinking on her knee. Jane sought in the recesses of her consciousness the remorse that she knew ought to be lying in wait—that poor honest shopkeeper, struggling to make a living! But it was as if all recesses had flattened out for the moment, into a balmy infinite present amid the sunshine and the gusts and swirls of wind as the M.

It had never occurred to her, until now, that the masculine—a suspect realm of deep-voiced otherness, beard growth, fact-authority, and bathroom smells—could be so intimately important, in relation to herself; it seemed as improbable as two planets colliding.

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She stole long gazes at him from behind the blinding strands of her hair, drinking in whatever it was in his looks that tugged at her so exquisitely. A fine dimple of skin, puckering beside his mouth when he gave one of his rare quick smiles, was a fatal last touch: Jane thought he was as handsome as a rock star or a film star—only more so, because they flaunted crudely from their posters, whereas Daniel held something back.

Nigel had a bottle opener on his key ring, and they started on the barley wine, after a discussion with Jane over whether she drank alcohol or not. I do quite like it! Somehow it explained Nigel, Jane thought: his angular unease and his gape, as if he were blinking in reflected light. Daniel braked on the gravel with a flourish, and they got out of the car, straggling in through the front of the house and then out again at the back almost immediately, as if the bright indoors were an optical trick, not absorbent like the gloomy interiors Jane knew, which were dense with family history.

A terrace at the back overlooked a garden landscaped in Japanese style, with artful quartz boulders and ginkgo and Japanese maple trees. The boys seemed unsure for a moment what to do next; Jane knew from observing her mother that it was her role to fill awkward silences.

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Transplanted out of her familiar world, she seemed to find it easier to be dignified, as if she were moving inside a different skin, sleeker. Perhaps it was partly the barley wine. Daniel had power over the other two, she saw, just as he had power over her, though not through any conscious exertion of his will.

They tracked his movements and his moods: if he was at ease, then they could be, too. Because he was cleverer, he was more detached, with reserves of irony. Now Daniel suggested coffee and sandwiches, as if this were a summer lunch party and not the tail end of an all-nighter. The idea made everyone carefree; they discovered they were starving.

Nigel hunted in the fridge for butter.

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Daniel and Nigel made tuna-and-salad-cream sandwiches; she waited with an air of calm entitlement for hers to be brought to her. While they ate, they catechized her on her opinions, and were delighted to find that she believed in God and expected to vote Conservative when she was twenty-one. Daniel was cross-legged on the terrace beside her.

All the time she was talking, Daniel was doing something to her feet, which dangled from the rim of the wicker cone: tickling them with a grass seed head, pulling the grass backward and forward between her toes where they were calloused from the thong on her flip-flops. Jane was suffused with a sensation that was mingled ecstasy and shame: shame because she hated her feet, prosaic flat slabs that took an extra-wide fitting.

Jane blushed: his word was so forbidden that she hardly knew how she knew it—the girls never used it at school. It was an entrance, glowering with darkness, into the cave of things unknown to her. She looked around at them all to see if they were joking, then drew her breath in testingly as you did on the brink of plunging into water.

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Inspired and she had been sipping barley wine again, with her sandwich , just then she was capable of anything. Tipping herself out of the cone chair, she took hold of the hem of her dress, to pull it up over her head while the boys watched. It was as easy as playing with Robin in the old days, she thought, in the garden with the paddling pool.

She was aware uninhibitedly of her young body beneath the dress, in its knickers and bra she would keep those on, perhaps. But at that very moment another girl appeared from inside the house, astonishing them all: she came through the sliding doors, carrying a glass of fizzing drink ceremoniously, stirring the ice cubes and sucking at it through a plastic bendy straw. Slender and disdainful, with a long narrow nose and slightly squinting eyes, she was wrapped in a sarong.

Her chestnut-dark hair fell well below her waist in symmetrical waves, as if it had been tied in plaits and then undone. Nigel had leaped out of his chair, a suspended wicker basket, which went swinging wildly. When did you get here?

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How did you get in? What on earth are you drinking?

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Then I was fast asleep, until you lot started banging around down here. Hi, Daniel and Paddy. She chose to sit with her drink under an orange umbrella at the far end of the terrace, as if she were semidetached from her brother and his friends. No one joined her in the pool. When she got out, she would ask Paddy to drive her to a bus stop, then to lend her the money for her bus fare home.

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Heaving herself out at the side of the pool, she stood streaming water, too shy to ask for a towel. The others were planning a visit to the pub in the nearest village. Jane had never been inside a pub in her life, but she thought there was bound to be a bus stop somewhere in the village. There was only half an hour until afternoon closing time.

Obediently, Paddy stood up, stuffing his book into his back pocket. Fiona was aware suddenly of Jane. He had felt, while he watched, that he was seeing deeply into her raw sensibility: fatalistic, acutely responsive, open to anything. Her displays of sophistication seemed childish, and he was unmoved by the skinny brown stomach flashing at him so insistently from above the sarong. With a healthy dose of sympathy for her human characters, Todd clarifies the complicated, wonky world of Exotic Pest Plant Councils and feral animal eradication.

A former newspaper reporter, the author has a fresh voice, an inquisitive mind and the instinct to ask questions about ordinary things the rest of us take for granted. Her book will interest any caring observer of our environment or lover of mystery. Readers will get reacquainted with common pigeons from France , honeybees from England , and brown trout from Germany.

They'll also meet lesser-known transplants, like blood-sucking sea lampreys, colonies of monkeys, and orange-toothed nutrias. In all cases, Todd weaves myth, fact, and humor into interesting stories that enlighten us about our everyday surroundings. The mad scientist. A repulsive creature invading a suburban neighborhood. Women shrieking when they opened their closets. One slip, one tipped vial, and cities along the East Coast lived under swarming hoards of insect larvae that stripped apple and oak trees, wormed their way into houses, then turned and rose in a mad flutter of wings.

Despite pesticides and predators, they spread, outbreak by outbreak, leaving a trail of bare branches and disgust. Eventually the story line veered beyond anything a cinema screen could hold. In a modest house at 27 Myrtle Street in Medford, Massachusetts, in , Leopold Trouvelot, an astronomer with a knack for natural history, was trying to breed a better silkworm. He imported several European gypsy moth eggs, planning to cross them with a North American species. If his efforts succeeded, he could jump-start the silk industry in the United States and boost his own fortunes as well.

When several of the moths escaped one warm day in , the plot ground into motion.