I was in bed by one o clock on New Year’s Day. We did the countdown thing, for the kids, and then hung around for a while looking tired; it was only later, when my wife and I were upstairs in bed, that the real fun began. A long and corrosive argument about the mice, probably the 15th we’ve had on this subject since we moved in back in August. We could both hear the mice downstairs, whooping it up, holding some sort of shindig of their own; the relentless skittering across the stone floor tiles or the parquet wood blocks in the living room. I was tempted, at one point, just to shout downstairs: ‘Keep it down a bit will you, we’re trying to get some sleep up here.’ My wife, listening to the sounds of revelry — just wait until they work out how to use the CD player — turned over and said, full of contempt: ‘So much for your bloody entente cordiale.’
She has a point. I thought I’d struck some sort of deal with the mice but it now looks like I was as deluded as Chamberlain. You cannot deal honestly with these sorts of creatures. The deal was that they were allowed in and out of the house, especially in very cold weather, and were entitled to crumbs and stuff they found down the backs of things. But they had to keep out of sight and not gnaw at any of our food; in return, the doveish clique in our marital coalition, i.e. me, would hold sway — and so poison and those horrible traps which snap the creatures in two would not be deployed. Only humane traps have been used so far, the ones in which a mouse enters a tilted black tunnel at the end of which I have deposited some Green & Black’s organic fair-trade cocoa powder; when it reaches this bourgeois manna, the trap snaps shut. The captive mice can then be released a couple of miles away, near where the gypsies live.
This deal sort of held for a while; we stopped seeing the mice, our food remained untouched and every so often one mouse would give itself up to the trap and be released to a new life with a static travelling family, as the census describes gypsies who tend to stay in one place. My wife held her peace, but I know was unconvinced. She would have the mice first held in some sort of Guantanamo isolation unit, perhaps wearing orange boiler suits, before being executed, one after the other, with a shovel. But for as long as the mice kept their part of the bargain, I was able to demonstrate that such callousness was not necessary. However, just recently, the mice have started taking the piss. They are breaching both the spirit and the letter of the agreement, flagrantly. If the concordat is eventually torn up and we follow the policies of my hawkish wife, they will only have themselves to blame, the mice. They can’t say they weren’t warned. They will enter a world of pain. They will reap a whirlwind. My wife already has her eye on a range of chemical weapons available over the counter from Rentokil.
And the big problem I have is that she is also beginning to deploy the argument that the black tunnel traps are not in the least bit humane, really. Far from it, she asserts — the mice emerge from these traps after being held captive for as long as eight hours, disorientated, terrified and soaked in sweat and stumble off towards the gypsy encampment looking hopeless and forlorn, a nice chocolate covered snack for the stoats. She has a point here, too. Of the 16 mice we have caught, two were dead by the time we opened the trap and of the remaining 14 at least ten were in as bad shape as it is possible to be without being quite dead. The most heartbreaking — for me, not for my missus, she just cackled — was the night we caught two mice in separate traps. I opened the first one and a little baby mouse, a pup, scampered out looking appalled and ran straight over to the other trap and huddled up next to it — the creature’s mum was inside. That gave me nightmares, I can tell you. Poor little thing.
I can point out to my missus that at least 14 of the creatures lived, or had a chance to live, under my regimen — whereas my wife would have had them all killed. But it is a thinnish argument. The problem is, in order to release them without being held there for eight hours I’d have to nip down every hour at night. That seems to me a bridge too far in the battle to remain humane.
So what do we do? I won’t have a cat in the house; I despise these insinuating and casually murderous creatures — I would far rather have mice than cats. Readers of my Spectator blog suggested one of those electronic devices which somehow annoy the mice with some shrill high-pitched noise inaudible to humans, a bit like one of those Lib Dem women ministers on Question Time when they’re asked about Israel. But they don’t work. Friends of ours put one in their kitchen and the mice built an entrance hole directly beneath it. Are there better humane traps available? Or some sort of unguent which might deter them from coming in? Help is needed, because my wife has got that bloodthirsty look in her eyes, and it’ll be mouse-carnage.
The argument continues online.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 5 January 2013