As soon as the weather gets cold, the little buggers slip under the door and find themselves somewhere cosy. I wouldn't mind if they spent the winter months bivouacked under the workbench. But their occupation always involves worse behaviour than an MP's stag party. Breaking and entering, noisy parties, heavy drinking, malicious damage, taking without the owner's consent: you name it, they're up for it. For months, life is one big rave for Mickey and his mates.
I've learnt the hard way that anything remotely chewable needs better protection than Al Capone. Nets are a particular favourite. There's nothing worse than putting the landing net under a hefty trout or carp and watching the thing swim back out through a mouse-made hole.
Mice are particularly partial to fishing flies. I suppose the feathers make cosy nests but they don't make the flies look too attractive afterwards. They also seem to sense when a box contains fly-tying equipment, nibbling on jungle cock hackle or seal fur. I had a lovely piece of fox fur ruined last year. You can see the headline now: Mouse Devours Fox.
Leather bags, cork rod handles and boot liners all go the same way. But the little pests are most partial to groundbait, and especially hemp. I left a 20-kilo sack of the seeds unprotected two years ago, and ended up with 20 kilos of shells. I don't know whether they smoked it or ate it.
So now it's war. I've given up on those humane traps because I'm convinced the mice immediately head back to the Elliott Ritz when I'm not looking. Now it's warfarin sandwiches, sweetcorn or potato-loaded back-breaker traps and an electronic device which is supposed to squeal at a frequency that mice hate. (Actually, I suspect they are impervious to it but it certainly sets my teeth on edge.)
And twice a year, I send in the hounds. This means moving everything out of the garage and transferring anything chewable to dustbins, while my two springers look on in anticipation and wait for the quarry to bolt. I thought of giving the occasion a little colour by knocking back a few stirrup cups and dressing in a red coat, but decided this was likely to arouse the ire of the local tofu-chewers.
Winter-cleaning and the hunt takes up a whole day. It's easy to get sidetracked when you find something interesting; neighbours stop to wonder at the spatial miracle of 400 cubic feet of assorted rubbish being removed from an area scarcely a quarter of that capacity; an imagined squeak or rustle means constructing an intricate series of barriers so mice are forced to bolt into the waiting jaws of Bracken and Ginger.
That's the theory. Actually, most of them slip out the side door when I'm not looking, and creep back when everything has been repacked. The hounds haven't caught a mouse yet, though they've flushed quite a few. Oh, you anti-hunt supporters. When mice set up a squat in your garage, you'll understand what we country folk were on about.