This farmhouse is irresistible to members of the animal kingdom.
We are always returning lost dopey black labs to their owners.
Sheep arrive in the yard with monotonous regularity.
Ted the donkey was a regular visitor, absconding from Les Holder’s farm next door.
One cry of “Go home, Ted!” and he would do just that, slowly, with his best Eeyore face on.
It gets worse in the autumn.
At the first creaky crank of the drill’s calibration handle, every Hampshire slug makes for Manor Farm.
And, come the Equinox, the mouse kingdom rings with the message: “Everyone round to Charlie’s place.”
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s just mice crashing around on the ceiling above my bed.
In the small hours they sound more like rats. Or squirrels.
In Chieftain tanks.
On 22 September, the annual Mouse War started.
My first weapon: A stepladder.
I had to scrounge one off Grandpa Flindt that looked as if it was used to put up bunting to celebrate the end of the war – the Boer War.
Then, a torch.
I once had three good torches but, as usual, when the children have finished with them, they’re knackered.
Still, a couple of new batteries and a bulb later, and I was ready for the darkness.
Next, a chewy muesli bar.
Perfect for harvest teabreaks, children’s snacks, and mousetraps.
And the mousetraps themselves?
They, I hoped, were still on site from last year’s war.
Let battle commence.
I tiptoed up the ladder, clutching Muesli bar and torch, up through the hatch in the bathroom roof.
Sure enough, there were the two traps, both sprung, one with one of last year’s victims still in it.
Just as I was negotiating my way across the rafters, I spotted another; alive, asleep, curled up in a little fist-sized hole in the lagging.
It’s fairly hard trying to hit a target by torchlight when the torch is your only source of light, but I managed it.
With the traps reloaded, I emerged from the roof, triumphant. First battle to me.
That night was noisier than ever.
There was the usual rustling, followed by the satisfying clunk of one of the traps.
Gotcha, I thought. Minutes later, there was more rustling, followed by the other trap going off.
Two in one night, I thought. Easy.
Then the rustling started again, even more loudly – or so it seemed.
The morning revealed one empty trap, one dead mouse.
The next night was terrible.
Both traps went off early, and both failed to catch anything.
A rodent victory.
So I changed to malt loaf on one trap.
Both traps went off soon after house shut down.
Emboldened by a couple of pints, I decided to check the traps at once.
I resisted the alcohol-fuelled urge to fetch my pump gun, and quietly reset the traps.
The next morning revealed one sore head (mine), two sprung traps, and no dead mice.
Again, victory to the rodents.
The next night was the turning point.
Two clonks in the darkness – and then silence.
A proper night’s sleep at last.
Next morning, one victim in one trap, one trap empty – but sleeping next to it, looking a bit sorry for himself, a large mouse.
It’s payback time, I thought, as I raised the torch for the killer blow.
It went out.
In the total darkness, I missed the mouse altogether.
By the time I shook the torch back into life, the mouse had moved.
I tried again;
same thing happened, except that by the time I got the torch working again, the mouse was under my feet.
Instinct took over.
I stamped on it.
However, the bits between the rafters in a Georgian farmhouse are fragile.
There was a terrible tearing noise, but luckily, no hole.
There was one stunned mouse – stunned enough to be despatched quickly.
Clutching my two dead friends, I checked the damage in the bedroom ceiling.
A lot of flakes of paint in the bed, a slight dip in the roofline.
Victory – but only just.
It has been quiet since that last battle.
Perhaps the long hours of drilling have made me too tired to hear any more mice.
Perhaps I have finally cleared them out.
Perhaps they are out recruiting reinforcements.
I’m not scared.
I’ve got plenty of malt loaf and muesli bars – and the number of a good builder for repairing ceilings.
When you’re ready, mice, whenever you’re ready.