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2006-08-24 - 11:50 a.m.

We're all settled in now! Almost every room is unpacked (some boxes remain in the study, and get shifted around the house shedding a few items every now and then) and the cottage is beautiful. We have slotted into the village church with no effort atall on our part (the first words the priestin-charge said to Tiffer were "Marvellous! Can you preach next Sunday?!) And last night, we had our first encounter with the famous Madingley toads.

Until last night, we had only been aware that the toads existed through hearsay and the presence of two large signs at each end of the village, warning drivers to watch out for toads crossing. But now we have met The Toad Man. William goes out on his bike every night (or maybe just every wet night - and we've had a few of those recently) and collects the toads thatare trying to cross, hoping to get to them before the cars do. He then deposits them behind a little barrier on the side of the road they were trying to get to, so they can go hopping happily off to find their mate or their hibernation place, depending on the time of year.

We came across William last night as we were out on a night walk with our torches, making sure not to step on any snails, so he quickly mistook us for fellow creature-hunters and we went on some way together, pointing out molluscs. We had just complained that we hadn't yet seen a toad when William spotted one, rightin the middle of the road. I certainly wouldn't have seen it there if it had stayed still. They are a lot smaller than I expected. He showed us how to tell the male from the female: this one was a male, and apparently a mature male, as he had these grips on his toes with which to hold on to the lady toad! William called them "coital pads".

When we had got back home, avoiding six or seven snails on our garden path, we opened the door to find a little toad sitting underneath it! We shone our torches on it and made excited exclaiming noises, which was probably a bad idea as the toad's next move was to hop inside the house and hide behind the television. Tiffer was no help at all; his first move was to go for the video camera, with the result that there are now several minutes of film of me crawling on all fours around the ground floor of our house going "Toady! Toady! Oh no, don't go in there...!" I did eventually catch him and put him back in our front garden. I hope William finds him before he tries to cross the road.


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