"Heres a present for you," said Gilbert the Cat. Unfortunately in order to say those words he had to open his mouth and move it around a little. The mouse that was squirming in his jaws took that opportunity to escape. It wriggled free and ran under the largest and heaviest item of furniture in the lounge, a cupboard full to overflowing with our very best china dinner service, a cupboard so heavy that the solid concrete floor beneath it bowed visibly under the weight of the china that was stuffed inside it. Gilbert looked at me with utter contempt. "Youre supposed to leap on the mouse," he explained condescendingly, "and grab it before it runs away."
"Sorry," I said, feeling utterly humiliated. I took all the best china out of the cupboard and pulled the cupboard away from the wall. The mouse ran between my legs and out into the kitchen where it vanished into thin air.
"It went thataway," explained Gilbert helpfully and he stalked into the kitchen and sat down in front of the fridge, staring at it fixedly. I moved the cupboard back against the wall and put all the very best china back into it. Then, exhausted, I joined Gilbert in the kitchen.
"Did it run under the fridge?" I asked.
"Of course it did, you moron," said Gilbert. "Cant you see and smell the track it left?"
"No," I confessed, "I cant." With Gilberts help, I pulled the fridge out of its kitchen alcove. We found a lot of dust, cobwebs and dead cat toys, but no mouse.
"I think that every time you move the fridge," explained Gilbert, "the mouse just keeps pace with you so its always hidden from view beneath the moving fridge."
"So what can I do about it?" I asked.
"Nothing," said Gilbert firmly. "The mouse has completely outwitted you. Just put the fridge back where it belongs and Ill continue to give it a good stare. If nothing else, that will discourage the mouse from trying to run away and hide somewhere else."
"Keeping it trapped in one place is half the battle," I agreed. I pushed the fridge back into its alcove and Gilbert settled down for a long stare. The fridge stared back implacably.
Nothing happened for a week or so apart from Gilbert and the fridge eyeballing each other fiercely all day long. And then one day Gilbert stopped staring at the fridge and started staring at the pantry instead. "Let me in there," he demanded.
"Certainly not," I said. "You just want to go in there and check the floor for old onion skins that you can bat all around the kitchen."
"No I dont," said Gilbert. "Honest!"
I opened the pantry door. Gilbert shot in, jumped up on to the second shelf and started poking his paw at a half-empty box of Weetbix. He pushed it hither and yon for a few seconds then it fell off the shelf and landed on the floor. The mouse ran out of the Weetbix box and scuttled back under the fridge. "You missed it again!" complained Gilbert bitterly. "Dont you remember? Youre supposed to leap on the mouse and grab it before it can run away and hide. Cant you do anything right?"
"Sorry," I apologised. I threw the remains of the Weetbix away. The mouse had clearly been enjoying its feast several of the Weetbix slabs had nibble marks on them. Gilbert went back to staring at the fridge and I went to tell Robin about the sad fate of her favourite breakfast cereal.
"Right," said Robin firmly, "its time to put down traps."
I went googling and discovered an astonishingly large number of different mousetrap designs, many of them amazingly elaborate. Clearly somebody had taken the old saying about building a better mousetrap far too seriously. One such trap was actually called The Better Mousetrap and it claimed to kill the mouse humanely without breaking its skin. No messy blood to clean up, it promised. That sounded good to me. I bought four of them.
The trap itself looks rather like a gigantic clothes peg. Opening the peg exposes a small touch plate on the bottom section of the peg. The top section of the peg is locked into place above the plate. You smear something yummy on the plate and set the trap down. The slightest touch on the plate, such as a mouse slurping up the yummy stuff, triggers the mechanism and the top section of the peg snaps down, pinning the mouse between the top and bottom peg surfaces. As an added bonus, the instructions explained beguilingly that you didnt even have to touch the mouse corpse in order to dispose of it. All you had to do was hold the trap over a rubbish bin and open it up. The dead mouse would then drop neatly out of the trap and into the bin. Simple!
"What shall we use for bait?" asked Robin.
I went googling again. The same place that sold The Better Mousetrap also sold tubes of something called Times Up! which claimed that it was an utterly irresistible mouse and rat attractant. One review said that the bait was so brilliantly effective that the trap it was smeared on claimed its first mouse after only ten minutes! "Thats what we need," I said to Robin. "What can possibly go wrong?"
I smeared a dollop of Times Up! on to the four traps and put them in strategic places near the fridge and in the pantry. Ten minutes later, I checked the traps.
Over the next few days the dollops of Times Up! slowly hardened into indigestible nibble-resistant masses of glob. It was clearly of no interest at all to the mouse. Robins breakfast cereal was far more attractive. This time, bored with Weetbix, the mouse made itself at home in her muesli.
"Something has got to be done," said Robin grimly as she emptied the box of muesli into the rubbish bin. "Perhaps we should get another cat so that he and Gilbert can work alternate shifts staring at the fridge and the pantry. That way those areas will never be left unguarded."
"Good idea," I said. "We can call the new cat Sullivan."
Robin winced. "Perhaps thats not such a good idea after all," she said. "Lets try a different bait in the traps instead."
I went googling for the best mousetrap bait. I was half expecting to find that the old cartoon standby of a lump of cheese was the way to go, but I was wrong. Mice, I discovered were not all that fond of cheese. The best bait seemed to be peanut butter
I cleaned the Times Up! off all the traps. It took a lot of scrubbing. The stuff had hardened to the consistency of concrete I wondered if perhaps I could use what was left in the tube to repair the cracks in my driveway. I baited the clean traps with peanut butter and put them back in place. Ten minutes later I checked them.
The next morning the trap near the fridge was completely clean. Not a trace of peanut butter remained on the touch plate, and annoyingly there was no sign whatsoever of the mouse. The trap remained unsprung. Such delicacy of touch had to be admired, and I was duly impressed. This was a smart mouse. The only positive aspect to the unfortinate state of affairs was that it was clear that the mouse really liked peanut butter, much more than it liked Times Up! I cant say that I blamed it. I didnt really fancy spreading Times Up! on my sandwiches so why should the mouse? Clearly this was a mouse of taste and discernment. Peanut butter! Yummy!! We were both in agreement about that.
I re-baited the trap. This time I used a smaller dollop of peanut butter and I made sure to put it more towards the back of the trap so that the mouse would have to clamber further over the touch plate to get at it. Ten minutes later I checked the trap.
Gilbert spent most of the day staring at the fridge and the fridge spent most of the day staring back at Gilbert. Business as usual, in other words. Late in the evening Gilbert abandoned his post and went outside to do whatever it is that cats do in the night. Robin and I went to bed. The fridge stared blankly at nothing at all
The next morning I examined the trap by the fridge. Success at last! The trap was firmly closed. A long mouse tail dangled rather forlornly from the side of it but the mouse itself was held firmly between the pegs. I positioned the trap over a plastic bag and opened the trap up. The dead mouse dropped into the bag with a satisfying plop!
Gilbert wandered into the kitchen and drank daintily from the water bowl. Then he curled up on his favourite cushion in the lounge and went to sleep. "Arent you going to stare at the fridge today?" I asked.
Gilbert yawned hugely. "Whats the point?" he said. "Theres nothing worth staring at there any more." He fell asleep.