As a letter to The Independent pertinently pointed out earlier this week,when has there ever been a case of a human-being being hurt by a mouse? This follows the brouhaha over the revelation that most West End theatres are riddled with the little critters – except, no doubt, for the St Martin's Theatre, home of The Mousetrap.
It's perfectly true that mice aren't threatening, and besides, if people will spill their Revels on the floor, then what do they expect? Anyway, it's not as though mice are scampering through the auditorium in mid-performance, taking those Revels straight from the pack. Moreover, the image of rampaging mice might stop the kind of people who go to the theatre for the wrong reasons. I can't imagine the type of folk who go to see Equus, for example, being put off by a bit of rodent activity. But what of the three young women who went to see Equus when Daniel Radcliffe, the Harry Potter star, was in it, appearing naked, and in the middle of an earnest audience were heard to complain as the lights went down, "how are we going to see his todger from up here?" They might have thought twice about buying those Upper Circle tickets if they'd known about the mice.
I know I've told the todger story before, but I think it deserves an airing, apart from which it too derives from a letter to The Independent – all human experience is there. And to return to this week's letter, I'm assuming that our correspondent, Mr Roberts, has had personal encounters with harmless little mice. After all, he gave his address as Bramford in Suffolk, which sounds, in the nicest possible way, like a verminous part of the world.
So is rural Herefordshire, and I can tell Mr Roberts that, while it is true that mice don't, as a rule, attack humans, there should be no underestimating the effect even the word can have on an otherwise sensible, capable person. Last week, in our kitchen, I spotted a mouse. It was quite a large one, in fact it may even have been a small you-know-what (the word that has the power to terrify even more than 'mouse'). I didn't get a good look because it scurried too quickly, but I did let out an exclamation, startling my 16-year-old daughter Eleanor, who was at the table doing her homework.
"What is it?" she said. "I just saw a mouse," I replied. "Oh my God," she shrieked, three times, and climbed onto her chair. It was the first time out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon that I had seen the fear of a mouse propel someone onto a chair, but there she stood for at least five more minutes, in turn laughing, shrieking and visibly quaking in her Uggs, even though the mouse, or whatever it was, was long gone through a crack in the skirting board.
I should have thought quickly enough to invent another reason for my sudden, and I regret profane, exclamation. "I just remembered that I left my umbrella on the train," I should have said, and that way she would have stayed seated, doing her homework. It's never a good idea to report rodent sightings to one's nearest and dearest, which is why I kept to myself the spectacle, one morning last year, of a large brown rat skulking near our chicken coops. I confess that my decision was only partly to protect the cheerful innocence of Jane and the children; it was also larded with self-interest, on the basis that there'd be no chance of getting anyone else to feed the chickens. However, my cover was blown just a day or two later, when Jane and I were wandering round the garden with our friends Avril and Ian. "Bloody hell," cried Ian, as we approached the chickens. "I've just seen a RAT the size of a CAT!"
Happily, the cat-sized rat and family are no more, poisoned by our local pest control people. As a general rule in British newspapers you have to be very careful writing about killing animals – I got a right old broadside a few weeks ago after I quoted my farmer friend Tim, who is convinced that badgers are giving his cows tuberculosis. But I don't think anyone objects to killing rats which are, after all, the only creatures officially loathed by Sir David Attenborough. That's good enough for me.