You've seen that movie with Lee Evans in, Mousehunt, and had a chuckle at all the anguished bungling and ruined lives, for the love of one little mouse. It seems a far-fetched caper, even for Hollywood. But while Lee was only hamming it up and walked away with a zillion quid for his trouble, I'm left here, gurning with genuine rage, agonising over new schemes to get shut of the pest.
First, though, some intelligence gathering. The first clue for the mouse file comes unexpectedly, while my cousin and I are nattering over coffee in the garden one afternoon.
"There's your mouse," he says, cocking his head to the shed.
"Just came through that bit of offcut pipe, past your strawberries and slipped under the decking."
|In fairness a small foal could get in there.|
"Under there?" I say, aghast.
"Yup. They can flatten their spines into their stomachs. Probably got their own underground world down there."
"I think it's just the one," I say unconvincingly. And ripping up thirty square metres of decking isn't my idea of fun, so the wife isn't going to hear about this one. I always assumed mousey lived exclusively indoors, but the fact he can come and go at will makes me think about his tradesman's entrance, and I eye the overflow pipe and dishwasher outlet warily.
Days later I buttonhole the next-door neighbour, advising her to look out for critters. She hasn't been in the property long and lives on her own, but it seems she has already had the standard rodent welcome.
"Had to take the settee apart," she says, with a shudder. "It was living inside."
"That sounds familiar," I say, and go on to describe various highlights of mousey's year-long stay, including the bedcovers scream from the wife that Sunday, which doesn't go down too well. She cringes visibly, turning paler still. "I can't bear hearing it scratching everywhere. There's traps and poison down now, that should do it, right?"
"Err, yeah. Good luck with it," I mutter, thinking of our own collection of vermin lures that remain fossilised with peanut butter and rust.
From the increasingly neurotic conversation comes a further clue. Her new neighbours the other side asked if she'd seen 'all the field mice yet' and she laughed at the time, wondering if it was some colloquial joke. But, thinking about it, there's an old shed in their garden, she says. A perfect breeding ground, untouched for long periods and set into the soil. Their house had been empty for many months before the sale, and even now they only occupy it for four months of the year, living in Cyprus the rest.
|Did you see something just move?|
Not on my watch.
"They probably have a weekly lottery to see who gets the presidential suite and vol-au-vents," I joke, trying to make light of it through narrowed eyes. "By which I mean there's only ever one. Considerate, in a way."
"Sneaky shits," she shudders, and sneaks gingerly into her empty house, clearly wishing she could shoot the messenger too.
So I may have the diplomatic nous of Prince Philip on ketamine, but it's clear now. The combination of their shed and my decking makes for a flourishing population, where six lucky ticket holders each week get to check into the Dorchester of their choice from the half-dozen houses connecting their garden stronghold.
There's only one place to go from here, and it rhymes with Datsun Cogs Gnome.
Carole wants him cute and fluffy, but I want him mean. A combination of all three would be ideal, and by a stroke of serendipity, there he is. Black as night, disembowelling a twig on his cage floor.
"Look at him, he's a killer."
"He's not! Just a kitten. Aww, how cute!"
So our new saviour mews skittishly from his box on the passenger seat, a twelve-week old ball of fur, unaware that he is about to enter a life of hunting Nirvana, as well as an inordinate amount of injections, pampering and fake, catnip-filled mice to practice on.
"What shall we call this beautiful boy?" asks Carole.
"Churchill," I declare, pursing out a puggish frown. "For he will bite them on the feetses."
It was clearly one of those rhetorical questions women ask before they tell you. "I used to have a Gizmo before, We're calling him that."
Of course it's early days, but while the scratches heal on my hands and our curtains hang in shredded strips, things are certainly looking up for a winter clearout. Progress below in the form of a training video.