Bobbi Mothersdale: Winter heralds the mouse invasion

As there is always a fair scattering of spilt corn in the yard, we are frequently a stop-off place for disorientated racing pigeons. Or those who just fancy a break. The birds peck away at the grain, drink and splash in a puddle or two, then most resume their journey.

A few become resident. John does try to contact owners through the stray racing pigeon system, as it is possible to identify the birds, but owners are rarely interested in racing pigeons who do not want to race. 

One of our stray pigeons became very tame. Totally unfazed by the dogs it would amble into the porch, fly up into the branches of the grape vine in the roof and settle down for a snooze. It even followed me into the house if it could, scratting around under the kitchen table for the odd scrap of leftover lunch. Unfortunately, Millie our Jack Russell snapped one day. Literally. Unable to stand the intrusion of this confident newcomer to the farmhouse, feathers flew.

But it’s not only pigeons that are attracted to the free food principle of the farmhouse. So are mice. I would have thought that a barn full of hay and straw, troughs full of barley ration for the cattle and poultry pellets for the hens would have satisfied the mightiest of mouse appetites. But no. The lure of the bright lights of my kitchen, the roar of the crowds/TV in the sitting room, and smell of the greasepaint/everything that gets dropped on the floor, is luring them inside. As a result, the winter mouse invasion is in full swing. Things going bang in the night are probably mouse traps, not spirits manifesting their presence.

A mild autumn seems to have kept the mice out of the house until recently, but colder spells and ease of access up and then under the roof tiles, through the clinging ivy on the front of the house, has exacerbated the problem. Millie is our best defence against unwelcome intruders that slip in by the conventional open door route to the back porch and from thence dash to hide under the coat cupboard. She stands guard whining until you provoke the little rodent into making a suicidal dash for freedom by poking underneath the cupboard. End of story. Snap, snap.    

Some mice make it through, though. A pool of water on the kitchen floor yesterday can testify to this. It was not an an incontinent dog, or worse, but the result of a mouse feasting on the outlet hose of the dishwasher.

I can remember when Jo was young, reading her a bedtime story called “Ferdinand Mouse Comes To Town.” Nearing the end of the tale we became aware of a movement in the doll’s house beside her bed. Amazingly, a mouse popped out of the doll’s house door, on cue to the story, giving Jo great delight and me a shock. She complained bitterly for a week that she was in fear of having her toes nipped off as I laid a ring of mouse traps around her bed until we caught the tiny squatter.

John also recalls waking up as a child in the middle of the night to hear eerie scratches and scraping noises under his bed. Next morning all was revealed when his Mum removed a mouse from a trap she had set there. The mouse had only caught one foot in the spring and the dragging of the trap across the linoleum floor (no such luxuries as a carpet) had produced the spooky sound effects.

But recently, mysterious scarperings and rustlings have assailed our ears as we spent a few minutes at the end of the day collapsed on the sofa. The noises originated from a large bouquet of dried flowers and wheat sitting in the inglenook, adding a burst of colour to what is otherwise a dark corner. For the technically minded, the wheat variety is Viscount and I had managed to snaffle a few heads of corn before the combine went in.

Much to my annoyance, John has a habit of selecting a stalk of wheat from the arrangement to use as a handy toothpick. Additionally, he will then commit the even more heinous crime of ruining the display by just shoving the stalk back in with no concern for aesthetics or balance. I noticed discarded wheat ears lying on the floor of the inglenook. Flowers dropped out of line. Bare gaps appearing in among the dried leaves. In fact, the whole thing looked so raggedy, I decided to bin the lot and buy John a pack of toothpicks.

But tonight we became aware of gentle movements and flutterings among the remnants of the dried flowers. A tiny poltergeist seemed to have taken charge and was increasingly agitating the foliage. Suddenly there was a twitch of a nose and glimpse of a bright eye. Along with the sound of the chomp of tiny teeth on a wheat ear, hiccups, burps and I swear, the delicate wiping of a little mouth on a serviette.

A mouse, not only in the house, but worse of all, in my flowers.

Quick thwacks with the Farmers Weekly (a handy weapon at all times) among the flora and fauna not only demolished the vase and the arrangement, but also all hopes of it ever decorating the sitting room again. But the mouse has got away… for the moment.

Bobbi Mothersdale and husband John own the 81ha Lowther Farm near York. They have a suckler herd, a flock of sheep and arable crops. Two daughters, three grandchildren, three dogs, assorted poultry, an overgrown garden and country pursuits also take up their time.

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