Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Year of the Mouse, Pt. 1.

Checking the diary, it's been almost a year since, sitting on the toilet at five am, I first saw the mouse. In it saunters, almost past the point of my slippers, looks up at me, does a sort of double-take then skitters back the way it came, under the door. I can still hear its little claws on the lino, scrabbling for traction and was minded of that mid-air run Scooby and Shaggy sometimes do when running from a ghost. I can also remember looking up from the book I was reading and thinking, "Hmm, very big spider or very small mouse?"

And, on balance, being marginally glad it was the latter.

Balls to this harvesting lark.
I took a moment to get over the shock and then, since it was unlikely to be offering squeaks of "fair cop, guv" on the other side of the door, thought about how to get rid of him. It was October, the chill was starting to bite and the fields behind us offered nothing to compare with central heating and the odd discarded bra to nest in. I could perfectly understand mousey's reasoning and thought about explaining that to the wife when she woke up. I decided against it. Women can't always appreciate the foibles of nature, they're just as likely to turn paranoid and club at random shadows with mops. Nobody wants that, especially during Match of the Day.

So, what then? A brief flashback revealed my mum, her own mop bristling with carbolic as she rendered the house uninhabitable for man and beast alike. Domestic overkill was her generation's answer to everything and I smiled, remembering how we thought our nasal hair would never grow back and our lungs would forever wheeze with the croaky rattle of Phosgene survivors.

No scattergun approach then, and besides, those chemicals have long since been banned. A waiting game sounded more sensible (and a lot less labour-intensive). After all, he might quietly slip away into the night now he knew we lived here, like a conscientious squatter. "Sorry man, my bad. I've left the seat down and a quid in the gas meter."

And if not? I closed the book and washed my hands, muttering. "It's just a wee mouse. Shouldn't be too hard to catch, when the time comes."

How terribly naive I was.

Now peripheral vision is a funny thing. This gift of human evolution must have been great for snagging bats off cave walls to roast, or spotting the blade of grass a sabre-tooth just moved. Today though? Well, it's just a bit of a pisser isn't it? There are some things you'd rather not see, if it means having to conduct a mouse-hunt every time he catches the corner of someone's eye.

Three months on. A typical scene. We are watching tv and there's movement from the through-lounge carpet. Under the dining table, a piece of sweetcorn from dinner is about to be claimed. He is less discreet now, his appearances more regular and brazen. We merely gape for a moment, fascinated at his audacity and at how plump he's become.

"He's like a tiny hoover," my daughter giggles, as he scoots under the sideboard.

"Except there's no bag for the doings," I remind her, and croon, menacingly: "Little pellets in your clothing, little pellets in your hair..."

It is a costly song and the shrill unison of 'ewws!' from wife and daughter alike spell doom for the singer. A tolerance, borne of cuteness and fellow-feeling has been thoughtlessly shattered. I am an idiot.

"Don't worry," I bluster, "Where's he gonna go? Everything's open plan. They like nooks and crannies, holes in skirting boards. He's pushed it too far."

"Don't hurt him!" the daughter relents, "even if he does poo he's still sweet."

Except he had somehow vanished, leaving us to scratch our heads. Later, we found he had a trick of slipping inside the middle of the double radiator. The third time he did it, Carole spotted his tail hanging down between the impossible gap and the skirting board. "Well I'll be!"

I opened the patio door, just a foot away from his spot. "I'm giving you every chance to leave quietly," I said. "Before it gets ugly."

But he's safe within an impregnable fortress of steel. The only thing I can do is tug his tail, and he's either going to detach it (they can do that, apparently) or sink needle teeth into the webbing of my thumb and forefinger. Carole, less gingerly and more angrily, approaches with the mop.

"There's nothing you can do," I say. "He's in his ivory tower."

"Get out of my way," she snarls, and begins whacking the radiator with gusto. "I might not be able to get at the little f***er, but I can certainly ring his bell!"

Put the freshness back. And buy a shotgun.
This is typical of his endless inventiveness and in the months that blossom into summer, months where it is WARM outside and things to eat are PLENTIFUL, we go on to discover the new sanctuary he creates inside the frame of the sofa. There's a further embellishment though, he has tunnelled up underneath the far cushion, the one where crumbs from peanuts and pretzels fall while snackers watch telly. I lift the cushion one day to hoover and there's a nest of offcut paper, a million droppings and a puckered hole in the lining above the springs. A light goes on and my mother's face appears above folded arms and beneath a knotted headscarf, beaming from ear to ear with I-told-you-so. I coat the entire sofa in the strongest chemical nanny-state Britain permits: Shake N Vac. Then I ask Carole to look for something more potent on eBay, from Russia maybe. Army surplus.

Tomorrow - Part Two - Of Mice and Men.

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