Living where we did – on the cusp of the wilds of Morden Hall Park, recipients of an almost Wagnerian dawn chorus – it was unsurprising that a mouse found its way into our house. Unsuprising retrospectively, at any rate.
When I try to think back to the point when we first saw it, I am instead reminded of the uncanny (yet ignored) movements just outside my field of vision. It probably happened two or three times, that murine movement, but each time I assured myself that it was merely a trick of the light. Amazingly, we also deluded ourselves into thinking that the tennis ball sized hole in our loaf of bread was caused by the bakers use of yeast! It took a lot to shake me out of my complacency. So little did I trust my senses that it was only when the mouse innocently brushed against my naked toes on its search for crumbs that I finally acknowledged it as a Real Presence.
By that time, the mouse was either very ingenuous or had been made tame by my indulgence. Either way, it was in for a shock when I started stamping and shrieking.
An aversion to mice is, perhaps, genetically ingrained, with those who pandered to them in the evolutionary past falling foul to one of the diseases they carry. Or perhaps they gain their power by virtue of their size: being too small for oafish humans to control. Indeed, the etymology of Mouse is from muscle, as though they were a fugitive part of oneself.
That night, I slept badly. My senses – touch and hearing in particular – became hypersensitive. Barely daring to breathe, I waited for the mouse to come into my room and start chewing on my flesh. My mental image of small mammals has been formed by culture, specifically, the stories of Richard Gere’s hamster, the end of Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, Freud’s The Rat Man, and all those children’s films where the mice evades nasty adults. No, I did not sleep like a log that night.
The next day, I went to B&Q and scoured the pest control section. As a vegetarian, I felt obliged to take the humane option. This, in the modern era, means plug-in ultrasonic bleepers which are inaudible for humans and intolerable for mice. I got a four pack on special offer for £14.99 and put one in the kitchen, one in the living room and two in the bedroom.
Did they work? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I didn’t see any mice for a while and No, because these things only work in relatively open spaces (the soundwaves reflecting off the walls), meaning that the mouse could quite happily scurry behind walls or down the side of the cooker (a feast for a mouse) without even noticing them.
Bleepers only defer and exacerbate the problem. By the time the mouse singular had overcome his mild dislike of ultrasonic frequencies, there were mice plural. How many? I don’t know: 4? 5? 6? With a keen eye and a brutalised attitude, I set about conducting a Jihad (or rather a Crusade) against all mice within my borders. I felt like George W. Bush after 9/11. The mouse situation had gotten out of hand. With research (the best bait is peanut butter and chocolate) and a blanket approach to military technology (traditional traps, two different poisons – I couldn’t find glue traps, sadly), I set about destroying the mouse threat once and for all. I even cleaned the house properly rather than merely tidying it as I was accustomed.
Cleaning is crucial. Unless the supply of food is stopped, there will be no incentive for mice to risk themselves on new sources of food laid out by the Emperor (me) of their lands (the house). No sympathy. No Geneva Convention.
Within an hour of laying the first trap I heard a sickening crack. I didn’t dare go downstairs. What if it was still alive, squirming and writhing on its springloaded crucifix? So I waited for half an hour and went down. My nemesis, dead. My pitiful enemy, as evil as Hussein and Bin Laden combined, undone by its greed for peanut butter and chocolate. I was still afraid, my heart beating almost as fast as that of a mouse (though not this mouse) as I used a couple of plastic bags to open the trap and dispose of it. A moral victory had been achieved. I realised that unlike the poison (which will eventually produce a race of uber-mice), mousetraps are impossible to overcome in evolutionary terms. I reset the traps for the next offensive.