Thursday, 17 September 2009

The maiming of the shrew

Now, I could start this off by writing 15st 1lb, zero units, as tradition seems to demand; but that might be taken as implying that I am returning to the daily grind of blogging, and I am not sure that I have the time or the energy for that. On the other hand, I have felt the urge to share a few thoughts during these weeks of silence, and I am conscious of my responsibility to my small(ish) band of loyal readers. And perhaps particularly to the lady who said that life would not be worth living any more if I gave up. With her tongue in cheek, I hope. If not, I trust that you have not topped yourself in the three weeks or so I have spent mulling over my next move.

The thing I chiefly feel the urge to share with you right now is this week’s discovery that women don’t just stand on chairs and scream at the sight of a mouse in Tom and Jerry cartoons. They do it in real life. Or at any rate Mrs H does, although her chosen refuge was actually a sofa rather than a chair, and the small creature turned out not to be a mouse at all.

It all began on Tuesday morning, when I was quietly eating breakfast in the sitting room (rather than the breakfast room or the dining room, because it happens to be the room currently containing our meagre supply of things for sitting upon). The Cat wandered in and dropped something on the carpet by Mrs H’s feet, and I asked her in my myopic way what it was.

That was when the screaming started.

Whatever it was was small, brown and moved both rapidly and comically, like an endearing clockwork toy. “It’s gone under the pouffe!” screamed Mrs H. Then, when I moved said pouffe, “No, no! You’ve squished it!”

Thus I established that Mrs H was (a) terrified of the intruder, but (b) did not want me to cause it any actual bodily harm. It is always useful to get these ground rules sorted out before embarking on any course of remedial action.

So, after a bit of chasing around, I used my superior cunning to trap the putative mouse under a glass and gently convey it outside, where it melted away into the grass. I congratulated myself on my smooth handling of the crisis, and wondered how the hell a cat with only three remaining teeth had managed to capture it in the first place.

I spent the day at home because I have been suffering from what is probably a minor, viral throat infection, though I have told Mrs H that it is almost certainly cancer of the oesophagus so that she can have something worthwhile to worry about. So it was that I wandered into the kitchen at lunchtime and spotted what appeared to be the self-same mouse-like creature sitting in the middle of the conservatory, evidently as puzzled to be there as I was to see it back again. I summoned Mrs H (mainly to see if she would scream as loudly the second time around) and a French friend who was visiting her at the time, and two thirds of us calmly assessed the situation. There was no way that it could possibly have found its own way into the house, so the all but toothless cat must have gone out through its cat flap, tracked it down and brought it back. Our French friend is rather nimbler than I am, so after a couple of humiliating failures on my part I delegated the task of chasing it around the conservatory to her, while Mrs H stood on the window ledge and squealed (definitely a squeal rather than a scream this time, which I took as a sign of successful acclimatization). Again it was captured in a glass and I took the trouble to carry it to a more distant part of the garden before liberating it. When it had gone, we pooled our collective knowledge of Nature Study and concluded (a) that it was not a mouse at all, but a vole, and (b) that it was having a really shit day.

Like most shit days, it got worse. At tea-time I wandered into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea and, glancing into the adjoining utility room, what should I see on the carpet but the self-same vole. It had a look on its face which could only mean “Oh for f***’s sake” and it no longer had the energy to run away. I picked it up in my hands and took it as far from the house as I could without actually climbing over a boundary fence, and gently let it go. Mrs H did not scream or squeal this time, but only because she had gone out for a meeting with her employer. When she returned, we agreed that it might have been a mistake to teach the cat how to use the cat flap (a piece of kit she encountered for the first time in her ten years when we moved here four weeks ago) and locked it to keep her in for the rest of the day. And when we got back from supper at the pub a bit later, I locked it again because Mrs H clearly had not done it properly.

What happened next was therefore technically impossible: Mrs H came up to me in my sickbed the next morning to tell me that the vole was back in the kitchen. Only this time it was an ex-vole. It had ceased to be. Given the absence of visible marks on the corpse, and the Cat’s lack of teeth, it had presumably simply lost the will to live. How the Cat had got out yet again to retrieve it remained a mystery, but we had both definitely locked the cat flap last night, and indeed checked that it was locked, yet this morning it was open. Although she normally yields to no-one in her fierce defensiveness about her cat, Mrs H was quick to assert that she (the Cat) was not intelligent enough to work out how to do that herself. Which seemed to leave only the possibility that we are sharing the house with a genius feline poltergeist, a possibility I had in fact raised a couple of weeks ago when we were trying to work out who might be responsible for a mysterious pool of possible urine on the utility room floor. I called the perpetrator The Secret Cat, which reminded Mrs H of something in The Amityville Horror and generally rendered her unwilling to be left alone in the house after dark, given that it is far enough away from the next dwelling for no-one to hear her screams.

Pause for unsettling, manic laughter.

Life went on quite normally after that until Groundhog Day arrived yesterday afternoon, when I went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, glanced into the utility room and spotted … a dead vole. This time I took the trouble to carry the little body to my computer and compare it with a reliably sourced picture of a vole (so not in Wikipedia, then). I quickly established that it was no such thing. It was a common shrew, though getting less common in the vicinity of our house by the hour, it would seem. The helpful BBC Nature website said that “Domestic cats often kill shrews but they are apparently distasteful to them and are rarely eaten” which certainly sounded right. When she got back, Mrs H sat the cat on her knee and solemnly read out to her the next sentence “British shrews are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and it is an offence to kill them without a special licence.”

It may be a coincidence, but she has not brought another one in since she was issued with that warning. Which is progress from the point of view of the local shrew community, though I miss the sound of Mrs H screaming. I reckon that first shrew caused her more distress than childbirth. Surely there has to be a book in this somewhere?

Oh yes, it’s called Wife in the North, isn’t it?

I’m sorry I dissembled in the title to this piece. No shrew was maimed in the events of the last few days, merely frightened or possibly sucked to death. But I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a cheap laugh. Some things never change.


Imelda said...

This is so funny... I can't stop laughing!! RIP wee shrew! I'm glad to see you back. Even if you don't post on a daily basis, it is better than nothing at all. Love to you and Mrs. H.

Thumbelina said...

DO NOT pack it in! Just found you - just skimmed. I like.
No time now but will be back.

(Northumbrian lass now south so go nowhere! I want to read!!!)

Thumbelina said...

Yup - came back and read. I love your writing style.
I love your Cat actually and how it managed to get through a locked catflap and suck a vole to death. Sounds like it is related to my cat(s).

Off to read more.

Keith Hann said...

Many thanks for the encouragement. I've been a bit poorly for the last month or so, but fully intend to be back when I am feeling better.

Maggie May said...

Well Thumbelina recommended you on Hilary's (from Spitten Image) Post of The Week so I followed you from there. I have had a great chuckle over your story and I am so glad that I followed her advice and came over to you.
I also thought your sense of humour was great and like your style of writing very much.
Hope you are feeling better now.

Nuts in May

Tom Bailey said...

You write extremely well. I connected to you through another blog on a recomendation. VERY entertaining blog.

I have advice but I will save it for another time.

Cheffie-Mom said...

I came over from Hilary's blog. This is a great post -- very funny!! Reminds me of me and my husband. enJOY your day!!

Brian Miller said...

dropped by from hillary's as well. thanks fo the chuckles...