Eight thirty am. There was a knock at the door. O and I were snuggled together in bed, as has become customary on Fun Friday (and again with the addition of Daddy on both Saturday and Sunday), furnished with coffee and milk (respectively), books and biscuits ….and making an inevitable crumbly mess of our new sheets.
The ratatat tat sounded again.
Donning a dressing gown I ventured downstairs to investigate leaving O happily leafing through his new space book searching for pictures of planets, rockets and spacemen.
“Too early?” said the elderly man in council uniform clutching a satchel, his wrinkled mouth hinting at the fact that his teeth probably resided in a glass of water overnight.
“No no” I said. “Come on in.”
It was pest control.
“You’ve got cash for me?” he asked brashly as he strode comfortably past me into the kitchen as if he had been here a million times before.
“Ummmmmm” I said hestitaingly as I followed him through. It was the princely sum of £22 he needed but, like the Queen, I rarely carry money. Silently I kicked myself for not having gotten organised.
Pulling out a chair uninvited he proceeded to extract a folio from his satchel.
“I’ve sat myself down” he helpfully explained as he began the extraction of ‘necessary’ documents with which to paper our table.
Hovering nearby I stalled.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked
“I will. Thank you,” he said pulling out a pen and immersing himself within a series of tick-boxes.
“Would you take a cheque?” I asked.
“Nope” he said without looking up. “Surname?” and scratching at his paper in response to my answer he added, “They should have told you. We stopped taking cheques six months ago.”
“Bank transfer?” I asked hopefully.
He shook his head.
“I could run the cash to the council offices later today?” I suggested.
Tearing his gaze away from the paperwork before him he shook his head again. “Sorry.”
I shrugged my gowned shoulders. “Let me just get the baby.” Returning downstairs with both O and an iPad in my arms I offered my final and somewhat unappealing suggestion.
“If you have time you could go for a coffee while I throw some clothes on us both ” I indicated my pyjama-ed and chocolate crumbed son who was at that point thoroughly enjoying the direction Fun Friday was going. Swiping through apps, hovered briefly over Skype before deciding not to call his grandparents as he had forty eight times before breakfast one morning not so very long ago, he opted for Peppa Pigs Holiday where he proceeded to make virtual ice creams.
“I’ll drive to the cashpoint.” I finished.
“How long will you be?” he asked
“Twenty minutes?” I answered, albeit optimistically. It would take that time alone to wrestle away the iPad.
“I haven’t much else to do this morning,” he mused. “We could do that.” and he continued to write.
I pulled out the chair next to him.
“Perhaps I can tell you about it first?” I said in the kind of whispered voice you might adopt in the reveal to a doctor of some ailment for which you might then be prescribed a cream.
“Sorry to be rude but I would like that cup of tea….” He reminded and with tea apologetically made I launched into the story.
Our mouse problem, you see, is a bit of a conundrum. As you know we have suffered from them in the past …a hostile takeover of what seemed at the time like millions running rampant over the house experienced shortly after moving in followed by a sneakily executed break-in by a gang of (masked?) three (or thereabouts) via a hole in the floor for the boiler pipe soon after the builders had departed. Now this. Audible scratching emanating from within the boxing-in of an upright steel and beneath the kitchen floor (reminder….9ml ply lies over original floorboards topped by our reclaimed flooring). There is, however, thankfully no evidence whatsoever that they are inside the house but the noise can be so perturbing that at times it feels that they must be a darn sight close to it. Quite what they are chewing through I don’t know, but it feels as if they…..or more hopefully ‘it’….are well on their way to getting there.
One evening the scratching was so loud I felt sure there was someone outside trying our door. After a tentative investigation I returned upstairs, shaking S awake as I did so, to report on my findings.
“They are trying to get in.” I said, fearfully climbing into bed.
S rolled over to face me, alarmed.
“The mice.” I replied drawing covers to my chin.
S fed a sleepy arm around my waist.
“They are not trying to get in. They don’t even know there is an ‘in’ pet. They are looking for food. When they find none they will go away.”
I lay there, listening.
Finally I pushed the covers back and returned downstairs. Shifting O’s toy box from in front of the boxing I stood back in anticipation, fully expecting to see an Escape from Alcatraz style hole concealed by a toy truck fashioned by a guilty faced rodent bearing a spoon.
There was no hole.
The scratching continued.
Thumping on the wall angrily I returned upstairs to find S already peacefully asleep.
I’ve grown accustomed to the sound now but visitors….and more worryingly babysitters…are not so blasé.
“If you hear a bit of scratching..” I’d explained to D recently, a much valued babysitter who would scupper our social life significantly if she were to refuse to return, “Please don’t fret. Its under the floor…I promise…. and can’t get in.”
D looked at me aghast, the colour from her face draining.
“Oh M.” She shook her head “I wish you hadn’t said that. A mouse?”
“Honestly it’s ok…” I said waving my hand as if in some way by doing so I might take back my words. “I promise you they can’t get in. They just…well…sometimes they sound very loud. You could bang the wall and they go away….or just ignore it as I promise they can’t get in.”
“M…..You keep saying they….?”
“It.” I had corrected hastily, “It. Definitely ‘it'” And I’d quickly changed the subject. Luckily for us they chose that day not to appear.
Upon the relaying of my tale the pest control man sat back in his chair.
“There’s no evidence they are inside?” He asked.
“No droppings? Know what they look like? Just smaller than a grain of rice?”
“No” I said.
“No chewed packets of food?”
“No” I said. “Just the scratching.”
“Then there’s nothing really I can do. Just count yourself lucky. I’ll give you some poison anyway, your husband can put it in the loft but otherwise maybe just hope they go.” He began to write once more. “Boxing….floor….scratching….” I heard him mumble. Meanwhile I considered how far from said boxing the loft was and wondered at the effectiveness of his proposed solution.
“Once I heard scratching in my wall.” he continued, setting his pen back down. “The guy at number four had rats. I knew that.”
I shuddered, wondering fearfully at the relevance of the forthcoming anecdote.
“Bit like a busmans holiday, isn’t it, me having rats? Anyway. I took a vent off the wall and yes it had that musty smell of rodent. I waited a bit. It went. Mystery.”
He snapped his folio shut before dunking a biscuit into his tea.
“Nice place though.”
“Thank you” I said.
“Got a bit of work to do in there…” He said waving at the snug before getting up to investigate further.
“Yes” I said “it’s almost there.”
“These are nice” he said, stroking two retro worktop savers. “Where did you get these? I’d have both of these….”
“They were a gift.” I said.
“Lovely.” His eyes roamed the room before halting on the area above the sink. ” I bought some posters for the kitchen recently. One about British bacon, the other Marmite. Framed they would look lovely…there above the sink. You know…..eat British……”
“They sound great” I said approvingly.
“I go to all the markets and car boots. I look for war memorabilia. One thing I’ve learnt….always buy then. Plays on your mind otherwise.”
I nodded my understanding.
“I know.” I echoed enthusiastically, “I was bidding on a pair of benches for the hallway….”
He cut me off.
“I’m looking for a mortar board.” He said. “I’ve got an old school desk and I thought it would look nice with a mortar board on it. Saw one at the market. Lovely it was. I decided to think on it. Went back this week. Gone.”
We resumed our seats at the table as he began to shake electric blue caplets of poison into a bag.
“I’m into witches, me. I just like witches. Saw this one at a carboot sale. Beautiful thing it was…resin with a warty old hooked nose. The broom needed a bit of attention but I knew I could see to that. We’ve got an old tree stump in the garden..” Looking up from the poison he waved at ours “and I thought it would look really nice just perched on there. So there I was, thinking about this witch when the vendor called me over to look at some DVD’s. I mean. What do I want with DVD’s? I looked up. The witch was gone, carted off under the arm of this woman. Livid I was. Can’t stop thinking about it. Livid.”
He drained his tea. “So there you go” he said handing me the bag with its neonly hazardous contents before gathering together his paperwork and making his way to the door.
“Bye little one.” He called over to the hushly engaged little boy transfixed by the dragging of letters into words and relishing in my lapse of attentive parenting. “He’s learning.. ” I argued to my conscience.
The little boy didn’t look up.
“Well” he said at the door. “That saved you a trip to the cashpoint. I’d much rather you spend the £22 on the little one this Christmas. Goodbye.”
And with that he was gone.
The mouse stayed. Scratch scratch scratch it went in celebration. I shook the packet of poison. “You wait”, I thought. I’m not yet sure where to put it to have any effect but a plan will form, I’m sure.
Until then he continues with his tunnelling….