Story of mice and men

Examples of a mouse plague on crops, a common occurrence living in the Mallee.

Examples of a mouse plague on crops, a common occurrence living in the Mallee.

"Wee sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie / O what a panic in thy breastie"

That's from Robbie Burns's poem, 'To a mouse, on turning her up in her nest with a plough', as he worried about mucking up her home and life through his farming.

Tell that to a Mallee grain farmer who has planted a crop, to go out a few days later to discover millions of what looks like minute toilet pits but are actually where myriads of mice have dug up their yesterday's meal.

To badly paraphrase Shakespeare per Hamlet, 'to plant again or not to plant again? That is the question' Not to plant means no crop, thus no income plus the fact that planting is expensive. Ask a grain farmer. To plant means that millions (billions?) of mice are anticipating tomorrow's meal.

I'll get personal, making reference to that last great mouse plague, 1983 I think.

I once tried to set 10 traps. Got to about #5 when the first one snapped. Reset it and went back to #6, Snap, snap, #2 and 4 sprung. Didn't get anywhere near #10. Traps, satisfying as they are with their snapping indicating success, were rather like trying to stop an invading army with one pistol when a nuclear device is needed.

Poison was more effective, although it didn't have the satisfaction of hearing the mouse defences working. It also meant tracking around the house picking up dead bodies, and if all weren't found, the smell the next day or so told where the corpses were. Very important if people were coming to dinner.

I had been told of an effective method: over a bucket set up a bottle that the mice had access to. Shove some cheese up the neck, oil the last few centimetres of the bottle. The mice are attracted to the cheese, slip on the oil into the bucket and no worries about trap resetting. I didn't believe the idea until I tried it. Hundreds a night, the only consideration being to make sure the bucket was large enough.

As the mouse plague kept coming, Capsicum our cat, normally a deadly mouser, eventually would only raise a lazy eyebrow as a mouse sauntered by, it secure in fellow mouse numbers. 

Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Capsicum was a bit like a person, greatly liking lobster but daunted by its price, was given it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. About a week later he would hanker for a meat pie with sauce.

The legs of beds were placed in water filled large jam tins to form a necessary moat.

We didn't until one night. 

Jill suddenly woke, screaming 'There's a mouse in the bed'. We leapt out, pulled back the top sheet. Nothing. Calmed her down and we went back to bed. Minutes later, 'There IS a mouse in the bed.' Leapt out again. I ran my hand over the lower sheet, saying, "See. No mouse.'

Then my hand felt a mouse. Almost unbelievably, it had worked its way under, then up a tight fitted sheet onto the mattress, then along Jill's leg. It (the mouse, not Jill's leg) was belted with the flat of a hand brush, we cleaned up after its murder, changed the bloodied sheet. I went back to sleep but can't vouch for Jill.

We told our friends Cam and Nancye Heighway. That's what close, good friends are for, to comfort in a misery, to share in any triumphs. They tut tutted in sympathy. About a week later, Nancye leapt out of bed with, "There's a mouse in the bed' Remembering our story, Cam straight away believed her and ripped back the top sheet. There was the small lump. Cam kept his golf clubs in the bedroom. I suppose he took any opportunity to practice his putting and chipping.

This may or may not be the golf club utilised on the unsuspecting handkerchief.

This may or may not be the golf club utilised on the unsuspecting handkerchief.

Selecting the appropriate club, he belted the lump to stillness. He pulled back the covering sheet.

Yes. He had killed his handkerchief.

Looking back, it was sort of funny, but in reality, it wasn't. 

Definitely, it wasn't funny. 

We may not like it, but mouse plagues are apart of being a Mallee-ite.

If you have any mouse stories to you would like to share, email edit@theguardian.com.au

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