The Pitter-Patter of Tiny Feet
THE THING about mice is that they appear suddenly in the corner of your eye, and scurry across the floor before disappearing into some unexpected fissure in the fabric of your house. You can't tell that it's actually a mouse you saw; it could have been a ghost, a figment of your imagination, or a particularly exciting animatronic toy. Surveys of the fissure achieve nothing; the mouse (or ghost, or figment, or toy) is long gone. So you're never quite sure if you've actually got mice.
"You can tell if you've got mice," said a mate of mine who had recently suffered a major plague of the little buggers. "Leave a piece of chocolate in the middle of your kitchen floor. If it's still there in the morning, you definitely don't have mice. Definitely."
So. We put a piece of chocolate in the middle of the kitchen floor. Quick as a flash, Jonathan crawled out from an unexpected fissure and ate it. Clearly this technique required refinement. Late that night, once the baby was safely dispatched, we tried again. The chocolate was still there in the morning. We tried again, with cheese. The mice, or shadows, or whatever, turned up their noses at unpasteurised Canadian vintage cheddar. We concluded that we probably don't have mice. Or perhaps we had one mouse, which got in by accident, found it not to its liking, and went away again.
Regardless of whether we had mice, we certainly had pigeons. They'd found a handy crevice near our roof which was, more or less, a pigeon Ritz. We'd be sitting in the garden, resting gently in the hammock and watching the world go by. And the pigeons would be watching us. They would all line up, in a row, perched on our improbably horizontal soil pipe, and stare. It was like something from The Birds. Of course, there are no baby pigeons, but every time we counted, there were more great healthy almost-adult pigeons loitering around the garden, smoking roll-ups and selling Es.
Something had to be done. Everyone told me that you should ring the council and they'd sort it out. "Oh, no," said a helpful woman. "We don't touch pigeons. But here's a number you can try."
The number turned out to be the local office of Bird-X, who do exactly what it says on the box. For only obscene amounts of money, they will come along to your house and render it completely impermeable to pigeons.
"Well," said the man from Bird-X. "It says here you just want the basic pigeon-proofing service: get rid of the nest." I explained that I actually wanted him to get rid of the pigeons. "Not so easy. Tricky buggers, pigeons. But they'll probably go away if you get rid of the nest." But next door's got an identical crevice, and hence an identical nest. We had seven pigeons, and they had seven pigeons. "Well, that's ok. Soon you'll have no pigeons, and they'll have fourteen," ruminated the executioner. "I remember one time we did a house in Hampstead, end of terrace, completely pigeon-proofed it. Birds just moved next door. By the end of the summer, we'd done the entire street." He thumped the side of the roof. Improbably many pigeons flew out. Quick as a flash, he'd blocked up the hole and stuck up a little avian eviction notice. But there was still a vast amount of pigeon guano on our kitchen roof. "We can come back and clean it off for you. But your best bet is to get your husband up there with a jetwash. B&Q have a special on, £39.99. We'll charge a lot more than that." I nodded, dubiously. I didn't think there was much chance of Steven buying a jetwash, let alone climbing up on the roof with it.
I had underestimated Steven's hatred of birds. A quick trip round the North Circular and Steven was suddenly transformed into the Exterminator. No pigeon was safe from his supercharged power spray. Unfortunately, neither was the not-entirely-waterproof kitchen ceiling. I was worried that back in the house, the mice were sandbagging the flood defences of the fridge. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I spotted something whizzing across the floor with a tiny snorkel.
And there was still the vexed question of whether or not we were actually infested with the little furry buggers. I supposed we would have to get a trap. Or a cat. People with cats don't have to wonder if they have mice in the house; they know. Half the mouse is in the kitchen, half the mouse is in the living room, and there's four foot of intestines joining the two. Giulia suggested we should cultivate the neighbours' cat. Jasper already thinks our garden is his; we should just invite him to lunch on our mice.
I decided not to worry about it and to go off and work on the fanzine cover. My computer chair is a rather fabulous Stokke Actulum, designed so that you can rock forward to type, and rock backward to think. Every so often, I would rock backwards, and there would be a little crunch, as the rockers went over some small plastic toy of Marianne's, or a pen, or a network cable, or something of the type. I leaned forward, and pasted in an electric glow. I leaned backwards, to survey my work. There was a crunch. I cursed Marianne's habit of leaving small plastic toys around the study floor, and carried on regardless.
The following day, I happened to move the chair. There, underneath the rocker, was a mouse. It was exceptionally dead; in fact, its head had neatly been smashed in by my trusty computer chair. I renamed the chair Skullsplitter, and Steven's still trying to get the mouse stains out of the wooden floor. Perhaps the jetwash?