In the last two years, crows have settled in our big beech trees. This year there were quite a lot of them. They make a great deal of noise: probably a mobius conversation about house prices, like a London cocktail party. I am now applying a solution, which some ingenious coves in the USA came up with, which uses their considerable cleverness and capacity for mutual cooperation against them. It’s a DVD, which plays, at random intervals, the melodious skirl of a hunting peregrine, and some crows saying ‘There’s a peregrine about, take cover’. The idea is to keep playing it from time to time during hours of daylight, and after a while they get so nervous from flying up looking for the non-existent peregrine someone’s warning them about that they decide the neighbourhood’s got dangerous and move out. Certainly the first hawk’s mew from the concealed loudspeakers (in the attic) produced instant silence in the beech trees, and they’ve been very quiet ever since. It looks as if it may work. On another tack, my mother informs me that the version of Menchikoff which we were given wasn’t from Lieselotte as I had thought, but from another fine old lady who was a Queen Alexandra Nurse in Beijing when my parents and I went there (I being an infant in arms at the time). Naturally, as the mother of first one, then two, small children, my mother had frequent occasions to call upon her professional wisdom, and she remained a family friend after her eventual retirement to Saltburn-by-the-Sea. So the Mystery of the Menchikoff remains. There were probably still elderly White Russians in China in 1960, people who’d washed up there after the Revolution, so the story may be somewhere there, but we will never know.