I don’t exactly jump on a chair and squeal at the appearance of a mouse in the house but it’s always a bit of a shock to find traces of rodent activity. Their euphemistically named ‘traces’ are, after all, faeces and I am told that the wretched things are chronically incontinent – they micturate as they move. I may have mentioned before that the smell of white mice is one the most abiding odours of my infancy. Some kind person had made me a gift of a blue tin cage with two white mice in it – all pink eyes and tails. Mice being mice, they fructified and multiplied at astonishing speed. Mrs Sarson, shuffling in on her dropped arches to help with us tots and do the ironing, would ostentatiously hold her nose – “Pooh! I tell yer!”. This became such a common theme (and maybe there was something about prolific mouse fertility that disturbed all of us) that the creatures were finally “given away”. That doom-laden phrase…
But they certainly smelled, that’s for sure: a sour musty animal reek which I can just about remember but which is quite hard to find these days – certainly not in the modern disinfected supermarket style of pet shop. As to mice in the house we’ve only had one problem infestation, and that was caused not by LW dribbling crumbs or flour about the place but by emigration from two houses along. When the dear old Greek lady died, they found she had divided her home into 40 cubicles which she’d been rack-renting since the last War. The builders moved in, the mice moved out and sideways.
We had them only in the sitting room: the poor girl downstairs discovered them even in the bed and the airing cupboard. Her beautiful black and white tomcat was far too laid back and contrary-minded to be a deterrent. Combings of his coat left lying about had no effect either.
Traps didn’t work and neither did poison (not really): in the end I got rid of our little visitors by dint of two tips passed on by folk wisdom and fellow sufferers. First thing, by placing icons and statues of St Martin de Porres (patron of small vermin) in their areas of ingress and access. The saint calms and reasons with the mice; persuades them to move on and out for good. To accelerate this exodus I bought a vial of oil of peppermint.
Now mice cannot abide peppermint – in an emergency, if you’re temporarily out of oil, smear toothpaste on wads of Kleenex or pour a kettle of boiling water into a bowl on top of a tube of Polos. The mice run a mile. Consequently, having cleared out the pests in short order, I found I had the best part of a bottle of neat peppermint on my hands. This was the roasting August of 2003, the summer when thousands died of the heat and boiling London buses cooled their engines from church fonts. I thought to myself, I’ll take a delicious cooling peppermint bath.
Unfortunately I overdid the oil and instead of a few carefully measured drops I sloshed in most of the contents. Like Elsie in What Katy Did At School the heat had made me feverish and reckless. I hopped into the bath and a wonderful freshness enveloped me, as though wrapped in soft snow. But all too soon, like Socrates with the hemlock, an iciness began to invade me, creeping up from my toes. Taking fright as my knees and then thighs turned to livid marble I very fortunately then had the sense to clamber out while still able. A terrible shivering and shaking seized me: I had lost all my body heat. A form of hypothermia had set in and despite the air temperature being over 30•C, I had to put myself to bed with quilts, jumpers and a hot water bottle. “You might easily have died” a skilled aromatherapist friend told me next day. “NEVER fool around with peppermint!”
So, take heed! I wonder what the smell of it does to the poor mice?