Thursday, October 13, 2005

An unexpected guest

It was about 11 o'clock last night and the rest of the Weedons were asleep. The weather changed yesterday from fine and warm to wet and windy and there is a promise of great birding weather at the weekend. I was quietly reading in our green sitting room at the front of the house, when I heard a rustling among some papers in the corner. I seem to remember how Hardy's Gabriel Oak noticed creeping creatures, slugs and spiders and so on, moving in odd ways when the weather was on the change, using small beasts to predict the weather. But surely this was not the sound of a large spider: this was a mouse.

A couple of years ago we had a mouse problem. They were in the house, eating the carpets, making holes in the skirting boards and generally pooing and peeing their way to total domination. After months of trying to catch them humanely, I caught two, one night, in live traps and released them in some woodland. Miraculously, that was it: we never saw or heard one again.

But here, last night, was the unmistakable sound of one nibbling at paper, probably trying to make a nice shredded-paper nest for itself next to my record collection. I crept as softly as I could toward the corner, to see if it I could see the irritating little nibbler and work out where it had come from and how I could catch it. The room didn't have that nauseating pungent mouse-pee smell yet, so he must be a new arrival.

I stood still and the rustling continued just near my feet, followed after a minute or so by a sound like a big bit of paper sliding down another.

Then I saw it, a little dark nose just moving at a seemingly-casual pace for a mouse, poking out from a bit of paper and crawling into the open. My first thought was that it was quite small even for a mouse. My second was the realisation that it wasn't a mouse at all, but an inch-long toad, an animal I'd never even seen in the garden, let alone the house. Maybe, there is something in this beast-watching weather folklore after all.

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