Early this morning, in our house in the Tarn-et-Garonne, in southwest France, I awoke in the darkness. Not exactly unusual for me these days but I had an idea that although it was still very dark outside, it was close to dawn. I checked my watch: it was around 5.30am.
Normally I only open the windows when I wake up after dawn to greet the rising sun and the exquisite panorama looking west across the Arratz valley to Flamerens but this morning when I opened the windows wide to a black but starry sky, I was hoping to see some shooting stars.
Seeing none, I went back to bed, leaving the windows open and luxuriating in the unique comfort of being warm in bed but with a cool natural breeze blowing in from the open window. It was still dark both inside and outside, but I knew that the sun would rise in around twenty minutes.
I may have dozed for a few minutes, maybe dreamed in colour. Upon waking I realised that the open window was probably a bad idea as I had remembered that bats fly around the outside of the house not only in the evening when they are preparing to go out, but also the very early morning, after their night’s work eating generously and continuously in far-off trees or woods, before taking up their daytime sleeping positions in the crannies around the rooves of buildings. I decided to shut the window, which I did and went back to bed, still in the darkness.
However, there were some unfamiliar fluttering noises. From the bed I saw that bats were indeed flickering around the window and I assumed they were on the outside of the window. I turned on the bedside light to check, and suddenly saw that several bats – perhaps a dozen – were already inside the room, whirling and wheeling around the walls like soundless self-propelled paper planes in a Gothic merry-go-round, touched off by my innocent action of opening the window to feel the night air.
They started dive-bombing me, zooming close to my face as, unclothed, I rushed back to the windows to open them again to let them out into the darkness. I then made my way outside the room into the upstairs hall, battling my way through and trying not to let any bats into the main parts of the house, then half-closed the door behind me so that I could still see inside into the crazy airborne carousel that my fully-lit bedroom had suddenly become.
I kept checking the room over the next few minutes but the bats continued to circle like a dark, revolving candelabra suddenly blazing with light. They seemed similar to demented mini-drones, often colliding with the window sills. I realised that I had little time left before the sun rose to persuade the bats to leave to rejoin the darkness before they decided to stay and adopt my bedroom as their B&B site for an multiple overnight stay from dawn to dusk.
Not if I can help it, I thought. I was, after all, experienced, after a fashion. Having lived in Abidjan for three years, I had become accustomed to some 10 million bats flying around Abidjan before dawn and darkening the sky before dusk every day.
A few minutes later, the whirling flurry seemed to have disappeared, and I crept in, advanced on the window, determined to shut it, but they all streamed in again before I got there. It reminded me somewhat of the scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds, when the birds all suddenly flew down the chimney and into the lounge. I got out in one piece and without any pipistrelle followers, and I managed to creep back into the hall outside to await the next opportunity. Fortunately it came quickly and after hearing no fluttering from my bedroom, I was able to shut the window firmly just as the first shafts of the rising sun were appearing in the sky.
I checked around the bedroom for any other bats hanging around (I even checked inside the wardrobe with all its inanimate hangers), but all was well and batless. Within ten minutes I was able to open the windows again as I have done every day after dawn to appreciate the morning view, but also because I knew that all the bats were hanging around upside down in their normal bat-parking lots between the tiles and gutters of the roof, probably already asleep. A few minutes later, and they could all have been upside down in my bedroom for the day.
Lesson learned: do not open the upper floor windows of buildings in the small hours before dawn unless you are studying the behaviour of bats in south west France. The whole experience was not frightening but I can think of certain members of my family and certainly some of their friends who might easily have been severely startled by the experience, so I was just relieved that I didn’t have to put the dozen temporary visitors I had this morning up for the day, or perhaps for ever.