And there it was; really and truly, swimming in the toilet!
I ended last week’s Wildernews with hearing a frantic shout from outside the study, alerting me to the presence of a mouse, apparently down the loo. How the creature had got inside was a mystery, but there it was and something had to be done about it rapidly.
It was a large, deep chocolate brown mouse and it was paddling desperately round and round the slippery sides. We stared at it, wanting to rescue it, wanting to remove it from the premises entirely, not wanting to risk getting bitten, reluctant to put our hands in, in a confusion of jumbled feelings and alarms. We are plagued by mice at times in winter, but this is summer, so why was it indoors at all? I watched it make a valiant effort and land on a sort of rounded ledge at the front, still in the water, but not under it. The poor fellow was shaking uncontrollably. I had an idea.
I fetched the old hamster cage, one of those transparent storage boxes, with transparent lids. I scattered fresh paper shreddings over the bottom and shoved a fistful of hamster food in at one corner. I placed the lid close by and fetched a thin head scarf from the hall. Then, gritting my teeth and holding my breath, I cast the scarf lightly across the pan and let it sink gently down over the stranded, exhausted mouse.
The scarf landed, the mouse leaped. I grabbed. I felt the wriggling, struggling animal under my fingers and hoped it wouldn’t bite. Then I lost it, as rather than be grabbed, it had dived back into the water. Frantically I scooped it up, scarf and all and dumped the whole wet bundle into the box, crammed the lid on and stood back to regain my breath, with a triumphant yell “Got it!” to anyone who might be listening nearby. “Don’t let it escape,” came a distant response. “No chance!” I replied and meant it.
The next half an hour or so was fascinating. It was an eyeball to eyeball view of a completely wild creature, giving itself a very thorough and energetic washing and drying grooming session. Mouse sat up on haunches, fat, business-like and apparently totally unconcerned now about the audience.
Dark brown belly was brushed and licked, tiny pink paws a blur of activity. Shanks, head, tail, sides all followed. It glanced at us briefly, then twisted round to back and bum. Ears, feet, everything got a rapid, energetic treatment and then it sat back and regarded us snootily, as much as to say “well don’t count your chickens, I won’t be staying”. It then began exploring the cage, and finally burrowed into the shreddings out of sight.
It was only then that a wretched, frustrated sense of regret hit me. I had been fascinated by accounts of the “Shetland” mice for years. I had frozen ones killed in traps, and ferried them to Edinburgh for the national museum collection. Andrew Kitchener needed specimens to research the differences between them and their mainland cousins. I had glimpsed the odd individual both indoors and out, but never managed to catch a live one to study. Now I had held one in my hand, rescued it from certain death by drowning; I had stood like a zombie, watching its every move through transparent walls, and all the time the video camera was just yards away, switched off!
Never mind, I would have lots of opportunity to film it over the next few days. I reassured he who must be obeyed that I would take it in the car and release it miles away when I had finished. Sceptical was the only way of describing the response. I carried the box to the garage. Mouse still under shredding. I adjusted the lid to leave a tiny air gap and placed a box on top, filled it with stones until it was so weighed down I couldn’t shift it. Nothing could possibly get out. The mouse couldn’t gnaw rounded, convex walls at the bottom of the box and there was nothing to climb on. I returned to the tasks of the day.
From time to time over the next 24 hours I glanced in. Once I took a chance and opened it up to put a tray of water in at one end. A sulky shuffle from under the paper was the only response. I never saw it again. Finally I lifted the lid, worried that the animal had died of delayed shock. Tentatively I investigated the bedding. Nothing – no mouse – impossible! Still no mouse! I remembered the sceptic. Gloom settled. Can mice eat themselves? Can they deliquesce, like ink caps? Then I looked more closely at the lid. I couldn’t believe it. There was a tiny hole, gnawed in the edge of the lid, where the air slot had been left. The mouse we had watched, washing and drying itself was as big as a double yolker egg. The hole was the size of a one pence piece.
It was gnawed in the lid, a good foot plus above the bottom of the cage, with no uneven bits to cling to below. The escape was impossible, but it had worked none the less. Mouse had gone. Worse still, it had escaped, still here, at home, right next to the house, no doubt the garage being a very familiar place already. Groan! Reluctant to admit total failure, I went for a short walk.
There’s nothing like a hill full of spring flowers to take the mind off things. Have you ever looked at spring squill under a hand lens? As soon as they open, these gorgeous mini hyacinths challenge the colour convention. Turquoise and flax blue truly shouldn’t go together, but this flower trips the unconventional. Take a lens and look right into the heart of it. The clash of the two blues, sharp and “just not done!” in polite circles, works like a charm. Good old nature again … well for a few hours anyway!
Jill Slee Blackadder