Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

This has been a time of plagues and infestations in the Summerley household. But I wouldn't go as far as saying they were of Biblical proportions; not only would this be a dreadful cliché, but we do not possess any cattle and are therefore not susceptible to what the book of Exodus describes as a "grievous murrain".

Neither have I seen any sign of anyone "smiting my borders" with frogs. I'd rather like to see a frog in my borders but, despite the presence of the pond, which we built last year, I haven't seen so much as a dollop of frogspawn.

However, the warm spell brought with it a cloud of midges beneath the cherry tree, the cold spell brought violent hailstorms, and we have also had what seems to be a population explosion of mice, closely followed by, and not entirely unrelated to, a plague of bluebottles.

For the past month, hardly an evening has gone past without the cat appearing in the living room with some small creature clamped between his teeth, its tail dangling elegantly from his jaws. This is the signal for a misguided person to leap up and "rescue" the mouse.

If you've ever seen a cat with a mouse, you'll know that they go completely hyper, bouncing around the room in search of their prey like a demented furry pinball. (I've often wondered whether mice exude some sort of natural amphetamine that would account for this, but, sadly, I've never been able to bring myself to eat one in order to find out.)

While the cat is charging around, being lectured by the "rescuer" about animal rights, the mouse takes advantage of the commotion and slips away. Very often I'll find a small, stiff, body on the lawn the next morning, but sometimes they die a grisly death, unseen and unmourned, beneath a kitchen cabinet or behind a skirting board. Which is where the flies come in. Dozens of them.

My son, who is allegedly studying AS-level biology, explained the life-cycle of the bluebottle to me. "You see, Mum, they lay their eggs on dead animals or rotting meat, and these eggs hatch out about two days later. The maggots feed on the decomposing flesh and about two weeks later you've got loads of flies." Mmm, lovely, darling. Even the pesticide people agree that fly-spray is only a short-term solution, assuming that you want to use it in the first place. Eliminate the source and you'll eliminate the problem, they say, airily, though how you eliminate the source if it's behind a wall or under a floor is beyond me.

Very often the distinctive aroma of dead mouse will give the burial site away, but I couldn't smell anything in our house; well, not deceased rodent anyway. The only evidence I had that a corpse might be present was the flies.

The most useful piece of advice I found while looking for information about getting rid of bluebottles was to vacuum up the colonies of flies as they appear - they tend to cluster near a window or a source of light. A cylinder vacuum cleaner with a long hose is ideal. Empty it outside immediately so they can buzz off: bluebottles are tough customers and may well crawl out of the bag if you put it in a bin.

While my son was confident about the source and life-cycle of the flies, opinion was divided over the invasion of mice. To me it seems clear that the habit of leaving crisp packets, sweet wrappers, bits of chocolate and half-eaten bowls of cereal in teenage bedrooms is likely to attract rodents. (It's likely to attract parental ire as well, but that doesn't seem to worry anyone.)

The children, however, retorted that I was to blame (according to them I am usually to blame for everything, from lost PE kit and lack of AS biology revision to global warming and the destruction of the rainforest) because I put out bird food. "Yeah, Mum," they say, "all that stuff is far more likely to attract mice and rats. Look how many squirrels come and eat it - they're really rats with fluffy tails."

Anyway, as I write this, the mouse infestation and the bluebottle plague seem to have passed, leaving me wondering what to expect next. Locusts? Water turning to blood? Three days of darkness? Now that would be restful. Bring it on.

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