I got home from the hardware store and opened the yellow sachet. The bait was wheat seeds impregnated with poison. It was a lurid green colour. I put it in dishes at either end of the loft. The rodents loved it; every night I could hear them scurrying above my head. The row was very disturbing, I couldn’t relax and sleep. I tried earplugs, they helped a little. Each morning I refilled the dishes and looked carefully around the loft. But apart from the eaten bait there were no signs of them. I imagined the rodents were under the insulation, sleeping off their nocturnal exertions.
This was war. I decided to escalate. I went back to the hardware store and bought four traps. The woman advised me to bait these with something sticky that the rodents couldn’t steal without activating the mechanism. She suggested I use peanut butter or chocolate. I put both on all four traps. The next morning I eagerly went up the loft ladder to see if there had been any success. None at all, I was crestfallen. The rodents were avoiding the traps but kept eating the bait in the dishes. They were smart, but not smart enough. After a week or so, the scurrying and bait eating had stopped. No trap had ever been sprung.
I looked around the outside of the house to see if I could find the holes that they might have come in through. I found nothing. Perplexed I asked a neighbour who was a builder for advice. He told me that mice can get through tiny holes. ‘If you can put a biro through it’, he said, ‘then they can get through too’. Apparently mice semi-dislocate and flex their bones to do this. Mice are also great mountaineers; with their sharp claws they can climb vertical walls. Getting into the loft of a pebble-dashed bungalow would not present a great problem. He told me to check the edges of door and window frames as these were likely places for small holes. I spent two hours going around the house investigating holes with a biro. I found three tiny holes high up above door and window frames and filled them.
I kept the bait in the loft for over a week. It wasn’t touched. I started to hope that the rodent war might have been won. I called the alarm engineer who came and replaced the cable. He advised me to remove the bait as it was an attraction, but to leave the traps. He also said the best deterrent was a cat, as rodents had sensitive noses and were afraid of the scent of a cat.
There are several groups of feral cats in the parish; one of these seemed to live in the old graveyard not far from my house. A neighbour about a mile away had been feeding a different group of feral cats regularly, they came every day for food and slept in one of her outhouses. What a good idea, I thought and put out some cat food and milk. I kept a watchful eye during the day and was very disappointed to find that by twilight my offerings hadn’t been touched. But the next morning the food and milk were gone. It might have been a fox in the night I mused, but I put the food and milk out again. No sign of anything during the day, but in the morning the bowls were clean again. This persisted for several days. Then I saw him. A muscular black cat slunk across the lawn late one afternoon. He drank the milk first then ate all the food. With a stubby tail, he looked to be a real bruiser. Pangur Dubh himself. The next day he came again. Those rodents had better watch out.