It started last autumn when my builder removed a flowering weed that had grown around the base of the back door. Its roots, he said, were damaging the wall by growing into it. He was right: the roots had made a small hole between two bricks. He was wrong in not filling it up.
Fast forward to the start of the cold weather in January. In my cosy kitchen I reached for a bag of sesame seeds in its usual place and found that it had lost half its contents through a round hole in the side of the bag. Oh no! Oh yes, a mouse. Oh damn. Within minutes I discovered further traces of serious intrusion, including the loss of a whole bag of expensive cashew nuts. Worse still, the beast had entered several drawers and cupboards and even the oven, chewing the edibles and leaving droppings by way of payment.
The builder came and stopped up the hole with masses of sand and cement. That’ll keep it out, he said. Sure, except that it also kept it in, somewhere within the walls of this old house, with no exit but a healthy appetite. My attempts to trick it into starvation failed miserably: it always found its way to some hidden provision. If only there were a Rent-a-Cat business, I fantasized, supplying lean and hungry cats, not the feline equivalents of Mae West resting on a satin cushion and languidly eating caviar. Getting real, I rang the local Council and asked for help. The next day the Rodent Officer arrived. He was young, dynamic and cheerful, all the things I wasn’t. He stormed through the house, examined all possible entry points, deposited several small trays filled with pink crystals all over the place and promised to return in three weeks.
That left me ample time to ponder some mouse-centred problems. For instance, why fill our childhood with images of lovable Mickey Mouse or brave Jerry eternally outwitting Tom, only to be confronted with the unhygienic, disgusting real thing later in life? Of course both fictional mice are big business – an ugly print of Tom and Jerry costs £22! – and so is the huge industry devoted to wiping out the real ones: just one anti-rodent business on the Internet advertises some forty items of various complexity and cost. I was particularly intrigued by their “Humane Pre-baited Multicatch Mouse Trap”, but resisted the temptation of ordering it. Besides, what I felt towards the creature was distinctly not humane.
Friendly advice kept coming. One rodent-savvy friend told me that used cat litter was guaranteed to drive mice away. Sure, but I would have fled, too. Then I was told to scatter some special dust on the kitchen floor, which would stick to the mouse’s feet and show its itinerary. And no, cheese was not the right bait, only chocolate worked, came the news. Meanwhile every morning I found that the Rodent Officer’s pink crystals had been disturbed and partly consumed, but obviously not lethally, because on subsequent days there were further signs of invasion.
When the Officer returned, he replaced the pink crystals with much stronger purple ones and departed for another three weeks. It was then, apropos of the resident mouse, that I suddenly remembered my very first London home, a large bedsitter in Nottingham Place (which, on bad days, I called Nothingham Place.) I was young and very poor, with a good job awaiting me in a fortnight’s time, but no means to survive that empty fortnight. So I sold my precious watch and had to rely on the clock of the London Bible College opposite my window to tell the time. In the daytime, that is. At night it was a matter of guessing. In the end it all worked out well, the job was great, I had a new boyfriend and my bedsitter had become a real home. And then – strange noises wakened me one night. When I put on the light, I saw that the wall near my bed was bulging, the bulge moving hither and thither under the thick wallpaper, making scratching noises. There was no more sleep for me that night.
It must be a mouse, said my desiccated landlady. This is an old house, she added, there’s room between the plaster and the wallpaper, sometimes mice get in and run around and then leave again. This time, however, I left before they did, full of regrets and resentment. That was a few decades ago, but now that the memory had returned, I understood why I was reacting so emotionally to this intrusion, although this time it was the mouse, not I, that had to leave.
Or rather to leave this earth, but stay somewhere inside my house. The Rodent Officer’s purple crystals had done the job, and he assured me that wherever the tiny corpse was. it would soon turn into thin air. Mice don’t even have a proper spine, he said; they can flatten themselves and get through a hole the width of a pencil. Off he went, the splendid chap, with his little trays of poison and huge knowledge of rodents. And here I was, a lifelong champion and supporter of wildlife charities, trying to save the polar bear and the orang-outangs of Sumatra, not to mention British wild bees, and yet, when a tiny bit of wildlife sneaks into my kitchen, I lose my cool and call in the big guns. H’m.
It’s a funny feeling, being embarrassed by a dead mouse.