I’m afraid I have a tendency these days to blame everything on the Chinese. Maybe you would too, if you could see the demise of Africa’s elephant and rhino populations all to feed the insatiable demand for ivory and rhino horn in the Far East. There are daily reports in the news of poaching incidents, or troves of ivory being discovered – only yesterday 2 tonnes of elephant tusks were uncovered in a Chinese resident’s house in Dar-es-Salaam buried under a pile of garlic cloves and snail shells, waiting to be smuggled away in some eagerly awaited container ship. It sickens me.
But that’s not really what this story is about.
I’ve been away from home for ages, and longed to be back. The normal French rodent patrols kept me busy – while we’ve managed to get rid of the rats that were a plague in the spring raiding the bird table (by, sadly, refraining from feeding the birds – thankfully it was a good summer and Nature provided all they needed), the dormice predictably began their search for winter lodgings as the days drew in.
Our old pusscat Noir made her journey to the Heaviside Layer (‘Cats’ lovers will understand) in the summer – and she left behind a massive void for such a small friend. Although in recent years she hadn’t done much hunting I’m sure her presence was some sort of deterrent to trespassers. But this autumn, without Noir about, the dormice were out in force. I caught 6 – sadly all separately, but diligently translocated them one by one – after a night in the DORchester – to the Faraway Woods.
I suppose I shouldn’t complain – you all know I love wildlife, and animals in general and could be forgiven for thinking that I’d enjoy the company. I have to admit though given a choice I’d probably go for a companion with two legs – and fewer whiskers and more hair (it’s those bald tails I just can’t stomach).
I wasn’t anxious leaving France this time, without the worry of abandoning Noir. Leaving Achilles with instructions to keep checking for dormice and frozen pipes, I headed home relieved to be going back to the simple life once more. Nothing could have been more welcoming on my first night home than the clatter of Sykes monkeys moving around the bamboo outside my house, tree hyraxes rattling their guttural calls from the canopy and bushbabies’ blood-curdling screams echoing around me. There was even a mournful hyena whoop in the direction of the National Park, as I drifted off to sleep.
Morning, though, brought a different story. When I went to run a bath I noticed my bar of soap had been gnawed, thoroughly along each edge – the way I eat KitKats. I knew what that meant.
Then, the following night, when I went to bed still feeling a bit peckish (my landlord had kindly left me a bunch of delicious baby bananas and a loaf of bread for my arrival, but there wasn’t much else and I was determined not to go shopping until Monday), I nibbled one of the sweet lemony bananas, and idly plopped the skin on the floor to throw out in the morning.
In the morning, the skin was gone.
The third night – last night – I was woken by a sense that I was being watched. Turning on my torch, the beam picked up an adult rodent – smaller than the swaggering French rats, smaller even than Monsieur Dormouse – scuttling along my windowsill and wriggling up the rafter of the A-frame roof, almost to the apex where he/she/it turned and stared at me from behind the hanging lampshade. After a couple of minutes’ contemplation it retraced its steps and disappeared behind my bed…
There was no going to sleep and I lay tossing and turning, flinching at every raindrop that dripped from the leaves outside. And then – a shrill mouse call – I’m almost fluent in the bloody language. It was conversation, and we all know it takes two to converse… I turned on the torch again.
A baby version of the bigger one – this one the size of a walnut – was calling for Mum and shadowing the route I’d watched the larger one take. Along the sill, up the rafter, back down the rafter, back along the sill… then, instead of diving behind my bed, it went up another rafter – directly above me – wobbled, lost its balance and fell. It missed my bed by 2 inches. Landed on the floor, shook itself and ran under the bed.
By now it was 4.00am and there was no way I could sleep. I turned on all the lights and sat – like a statue – bolt upright in bed. And stayed that way until the first birds began to call at a quarter to six as the sky slowly grew lighter. Only then did I turn out the light and fall into a dreadful sleep where I dreamed four of my teeth fell out and were rolling around my mouth like marbles (which I know means I was grinding my teeth in a state of heightened stress). It’s not funny.
As I’d kept vigil and reflected rather dejectedly on my year of playing the Pied Piper to rodents across the globe, it occurred to me it was bound to be the Chinese’s fault. This is probably the Year of the Rat, I decided. That would explain everything. But – I confess – I’ve checked, and it’s not the year of the rat. It’s the Year of the Snake (now I’m really in for it!) Giving up on astrology, I reached for my Field Guide to African Mammals.
Not having had the clearest of views of the adult, I’ve struggled to positively identify it, but it most closely resembles a Multimammate Rat which has…
up to twelve pairs of teats, and…
can give birth to 22 young at one time.
Meanwhile ‘friends’ have been contacting me to welcome me home. And I’ve told them about the reception committee lying in wait for me and how I don’t think I’m going to make it through another night like last night. If I expected sympathy, I was a fool. My tale of woe has been met with gales of laughter and unhelpful texts and emails like these:
Sorry to laugh, but it could only happen to you!! You definitely made a mistake trying to identify it! I wonder where the other 21 siblings are hanging out??????????????????????
Dear Me!! Why do these funny ‘things’ happen to you??!! Call me before you go to sleep so I can wish you a good journey (into the after life)……….. Eeeeeeeeeeeeek
and by anonymouse text
I am watching u… squeak squeak! Mousey Mousey loves your housey… Ps Thanx 4 the banana skin x
Who needs friends, when you’ve got rats?