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Nibble

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It must be nearly Halloween, what with all the pumpkins and of course, the mice. You don’t have mice? I do. One just scuttled past my son’s foot as he tapped at his computer. You’d think my son’s foot, bare and somewhat unwashed, would put them off their game but, no. He thought it looked cute. As a joke, and to annoy me, he has named it ‘Nibble’. The mouse, not his own foot.

It appears to be a cold spell that brings them in. We had some earlier in the spring, oh, spring, yes, the sound the trap makes as its jaws open.

Mice are not a pretty business. After the number of mice I’ve had to dispose of this year I am beginning to feel more sympathy with Tom than Jerry. They look cute and furry with their big old beady eyes but, the reality is, they leave smelly and unhygienic piles of poo wherever they wander. They have to be er, clutches at euphemism, dealt with. Are you imagining me now in a swivelly chair stroking a white cat? I wish I was. The white cat might help.

That said. all my neighbours have cats who feel free to come into my garden and butcher a goldfinch or a starling but who leave the mice and, takes deep breath – the rats, to it. Is there a UN embargo on the feline catching of rodents?  My current theory is that the reason my house is being scurried to is BECAUSE of all the cats. The outside is a war zone for anything small and savoury. Ooh, look, the little blood-filled kind! Crunchy. Yum.

I don’t have a cat and therefore my house is a safe haven for the whiskery fugitives. I am not keen on cats which is, I appreciate, a sentence that shouldn’t really be written out loud. It is a truth however, having watched my neighbour’s white cat ‘play’ with a blackbird once. Remember the Orca ‘playing’ with the seal? Like that but on dry land.

I don’t know if it is proper science or urban myth that informs us that we are never more than two feet away from a rat.  A few years ago we were even closer when we had an infestation of rats in our house.  It came about because of the double whammy of a particularly cold winter and a nearby property that had been left empty for two or three years suddenly got a new buyer and a revamp and the rats had to find new digs.

It began, like many a horror story, with scratchings in the walls and then it became the full on nightmare of sitting in the kitchen and seeing something move from the corner of your eye as a rat squeezed itself up through the floorboards under the skirting, scuttled across the floor and out through…where? Where did it go? It vanished?

I called in the Pest Control Officer who gave me a lot of information about rats and their biology, much of which I did not wish to know. He laughed scornfully at my idea of locking any available foodstuff in cake tins or plastic boxes. He had known rats to chew through concrete and steel as an ‘amuse bouche’. They love a Doc Marten by the way and gnawed through one of mine one night.

Poison was put down inside and out and still we heard ‘the rat’. One afternoon as my daughter was doing her homework she heard a scuffly sound in the dresser cupboard built into the side of the old fireplace. Jokingly she opened it saying ‘Ha, is it the rat?’ before screaming and leaping up onto the kitchen table because it was after all, the rat. It was a poor and sorry rat, come to die in my cupboard, its innards a mush of toxic waste. I called in the Pest Control Officer and as he opened up his disposal bucket he said ‘You might want to look away.’ The small corpse was removed and we thought the horrid experience was over.

WRONG. All his relatives came to wreak their revenge. Cupboards, flooring, plaster, wiring were chewed through. The rats scurried and scuttled through every wall space, using the heating pipes as their very own Tube system. I tore out skirting, ripped open boxed in pipework, lifted floorboards. I blocked entryway after entryway as we hunted them down, I left out flour traps to try and find their rat runs and was blindsided each morning by the mass of rodent footprints that danced fandangos over every available workspace. Scrub. Scour. Scrub. Bleach.

I am known as the rat killer in our house. In the end, I had to kill so many rats I lost count. My children, grown up as they are, find it hilarious. It was their own personal Tom and Jerry show. Time and again the vicious traps did not do their appointed task. One morning I came down to the kitchen to find that a rat had gnawed its way in from the roofspace in the kitchen, for the third time. It had chewed yet another hole through the plaster. On this occasion I had, the night before, placed three traps along the top of the cupboards. The first trap was on the floor by the cooker and contained a leg. The second, tripped but still on top of the cupboard, had a tail in it. The third had fallen onto the top of the fridge-freezer with its burden of rat, tailless, three-legged and lifeless. My heart lurched along with my stomach and I reached for my terrible rat killing kit of heavy duty rubber gloves, barbecue tongs and the step ladder. I would have to retrieve this death trap and take care of disposal.

Picture me, early morning, up a step ladder in my pyjamas in black gauntlet rubber gloves, reaching for the dead rat in the trap with the tongs. Picture then, the rat, minus a tail and one leg making a huge leap from the top of my fridge-freezer, the trap clattering as it landed on the tiled floor and then scurrying under the cupboard by the sink, made recently plinthless by my other rat-hunting rat-catching activities.

With a pounding heart and a churning stomach I had to rope in my husband, bleary with sleep. There were mops involved. And shovels. This, as you can imagine, did not end well for any of us. Thankfully, this battle was one of the last.

With the rats banished all the holes and rodent superhighways were blocked up. I took out my kitchen cupboards to clean and scour but revealed the extent of the damage. The base units were chewed through and behind them the high tide of the grease marks that the rats leave on the walls as their waymarkers. Rat droppings were vacuumed and brushed from behind white goods. Scourging and purging took place and it was decided that the kitchen cabinets must be replaced.

And so to the Recent Mice. They, like the rats, don’t go for cheese, Swiss or otherwise, they prefer peanut butter or chocolate spread. We had to kill several in the Spring and my daughter said I was a Barbarian. It’s the big black gloves and the tongs that give me away.

Yesterday I headed out to buy live traps and see if that helps. Instead of death I will dish out relocation.  The two traps are ready and baiting by the mousehole and we have a nearby meadow all picked out as a possible release site. Who knows, perhaps our Little Visitor will do sterling service as a footman for  Cinderella one of these evenings?

I imagine it will only be but one twilight before the shadow of the owl looms and silence falls. It’s the circle of Life, it is Predator and Prey.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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