PART OF being a man is facing up to fears which are deeply unattractive. Fear of intimacy doesn't count - it's not really a fear, more of a dating technique. The same goes for fear of commit-ment. For a man there's no shame in either, since both can be twisted to advantage. Unfortunately, I'm afraid of neither. Nor am I afraid of success, failure, or being irrelevant. I'm afraid of mice.

The sight of a mouse creeping along the skirting board makes me jump in the air and squeal like, for lack of a less sexist term, a girl. Even writing about it is giving me a shivery feeling. You can see my problem. Attractiveness-wise, there is very little room here for positive spin. This is not what people mean by showing your vulnerable side. No one who has seen me in the company of a mouse has come away with a renewed sense of respect.

Taking this into account, I made a life plan: get married, have kids and stay away from mice. Every-thing was working out fine until, in lieu of payment for some sin or other, I was sent a tormentor. His name is Kipper.

Kipper is the mentally challenged cat brought in to replace the dear departed Lupin, after Lupin got hit by a car. None of us like Kipper; it's generally agreed that he is no Lupin. Only the one-year-old, who never knew Lupin, has any rapport with him. They can often be found sharing a bowl of cat food. Among Kipper's many bad habits, which include scratching, biting, breaking wind and being, even by cat standards, uncommonly stupid, is his custom of providing our household with one mouse per day, fresh from the railway embankment. Some of these are dead, some are dying, but a good many prove sprightly enough to escape into the walls. This idiot cat, contravening the oldest and most basic humano-cat agreement, has actually given us a mouse problem. For my wife this is a nuisance. For me it's like 'Nam all over again.

I've lost count of how many times I've come down in the morning to find half a mouse looking up at me with an implor-ing, "How bad is it, Sarge?" look. I'm not above screaming for help on these occasions, but it isn't always available. When forced, I approach the chore of cleaning up bits of mouse the same way Superman might tackle a small Kryponite spill - plenty of protec-tive clothing, a lot of swooning and a bin-liner-within- a-bin-liner.

Most days I stay in bed until the coast is clear, before going down-stairs to receive a casualty report from my wife. This morning she said, "Just a nose", and I gave my involuntary shudder.

Perhaps the carnage is about to cease. Yesterday Kipper brought home a disembowelled spring roll. While I find this infinitely preferable, my wife would rather have the mice. It seems she has an irrational fear of discarded Chin-ese food - which is precisely why you need a man around the place.

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