The other night, D and I came home from my sister K’s house and were chatting idly whilst getting ready for bed.  Suddenly,  D starts squealing loudly.  I assumed she’d seen a spider and stood up to offer her assistance and comfort. “What is it? A spider?  Where is it, I’ll get my slipper.” “No, eeewww, it was a mouse!” She said, using the high pitched squeal she reserves for when she sees anything with more legs than she has, “It just ran over my foot, oh, that is so gross.  How are we going to sleep now?  And there is no door to this room…” She was really upset, and I felt for her, I really did.  But the thing is that whenever I hear someone squealing and talking about mice, all I can think of are those fat ankles with the red slippers and wrinkled stockings on them and a deep southern voice shouting “Thomas!” Still, I comforted her as much as I could, and we put towels down all around the house to block the pathway into other rooms, and she slept with me that night.  The next morning, I called the building porter.  It was Thursday.  The porter said to me: “Ok, I will send the pest control guys out on Tuesday, they usually come on a Tuesday.” I refrained from telling him how wrong it felt that we had such a pest problem in the building that we get a regular visit from the pest control guys.  I know how this works.  We live in London.  London has mice, rats, and all sorts of other vermin.  They have to go somewhere.  I would just like it not to be my apartment.  Anyway, I went online and did some research.  I didn’t want to use old-fashioned traps like the ones we all think of when we think mouse trap.  You know the ones, a piece of cheese sat on a block with a spring operated bar that is released to effectively knock the creature out/cut it in half when the cheese is nibbled on.  First of all, those only exist in museums now I would imagine, and second of all, if we did have a ‘mouse problem’ then I didn’t want to have dead bodies to deal with. I went to the internet.  After all the porter wasn’t helpful, so the internet was the next best option. I read an interesting article about ‘natural’ ways to deter them.  Sometimes, this article said, the trick is not to try to get rid of them by killing them, but to just make your house as inhospitable to mice as possible.  I thought that made perfect sense.  The article then went on to describe the kind of stuff that mice are attracted to, and what would be considered an attractive environment to mice.  My heart sank.  There may as well have been pictures of our apartment attached to the text.  Mice apparently like soft stuff like blankets and fabrics, and quiet corners, and generally comfy places to nest in.  Our flat is full of those.  It is warm – check.  It is cluttered – check.  Seriously, we have built ourselves a little mouse heaven I am as you may have gathered terrified of a lot of things.  Spiders in particular hold a terror for me only ever expressed eloquently by Phill Jupitus, but mice – well they’re… cute.  They are just about the cutest things I have ever seen, which isn’t to say that I want them living in my sleeves or my hair or even in my apartment.  I just don’t find them scary.  I mean, we had mice at our last place, and it wasn’t just one.  We had a few.  It was the dead of winter, and they came in from the cold.  I had the pest control guys come over and they were excellent.  They put poison down everywhere, and then they blocked up all the entry points so we never saw them again.  But before the pest control guys did their thing, they would come out and watch telly with me on a Saturday night.  I would be home watching TV and one of them would come, sit in the middle of the room and look at me.  I would stare back.  Eventually, it would realise I wasn’t going to screech or try to kill it, and we would settle in to watch whatever was on.  Whenever I got up it would run back to the radiator casing and then when I sat down again, it would wander out, and sit in the centre of the room facing the television.  And it was so cute.  Small and furry, no long tail like a rat (am totally freaked out by them), those round liquid eyes and the slight tremor.  Seriously, that’s sweet.  I couldn’t find it in myself to scream, chase or even hate the little beasties.   Anyway.  Another thing this article said was that there were certain things that mice hated the smell of and that was one way to make your place more unappealing to them.  The three things they mentioned were peppermint oil, cayenne pepper and cloves.  The cayenne pepper and cloves involved getting cheesecloth and making sachets and stuff which strayed a little too far into Martha-Stewart- cutsie-wootsie-I-make-my-own-scented-sachets-aren’t-I-the-original-earth-mother territory to me, but soaking cotton balls in peppermint oil and dotting them around the house was something I could roll with.  I went to the pharmacy. “I am looking for peppermint oil.” I said. “Certainly Madam, we have this essential oil [a bottle smaller than the average nail varnish costing £8] or this [Marginally bigger, not as essential and £6.50].” “Er, well, what’s the difference?” “Not much difference really, you can burn the essential oil on one of those burners, oh, wait a minute, I also have capsules.” I was imagining mice pill popping.  Of course, if I hadn’t been so embarrassed to tell her what I wanted it for, this wouldn’t have been an issue.  After all, I live in London, mouse capital of the world (apparently) and in a block of flats with 200 apartments in it.  Still, I hummed and haaed for a while after assuring her that I definitely did NOT want the capsules. Eventually I went for the cheaper option (Duh, why did that take so long?).  I got home, and my mum, who is visiting from Greece, came over to hang out.  I told her we had had a mouse sighting and I was going to use this amazing trick to get rid of them.  We got out the cotton balls I dripped the oil onto them, and put them all around the house starting where we had seen the thing and then going to obvious places like where they could come in.  After a while, my mum says: “My lips are tingling, and they feel cold when I inhale.” “Really, I don’t notice anything, what is it?” “It’s the peppermint.” she said,” It’s like I am chewing gum or something.” We settled in to watch TV.  After a while, my eyes started running and my sinuses cleared. “Wow” I said, “you’re right, this stuff is strong.” Within half an hour, it felt like we were being gassed with peppermint.  There was a burn in the back of our throats, my eyes were watering, our mouths felt cold, our sinuses cleared and we felt like we had taken up residence in a tube of toothpaste. I opened the windows.  It only added to the cold feeling and, since we are on the 7th floor, the wind howls like in a cheap horror movie. We took ourselves off to my sister K’s house to try and get away from the burning sensations. D calls when she gets home. “Maria, we appear to have been burgled by a packet of  extra strong mints.” She said. “They’ve left cotton balls everywhere, call CSI.” I explained about the natural mouse repellent. “Oh, that’s fine” she says,” good idea. I’ll put some in my room.” When I got back to the house, the smell was as strong but now it was also in the bedrooms.  I coughed and cleared my throat a few times, and then eventually got used to it.  Like living near the airport, you can get used to anything.  After years of living on the flight path or near the airport one becomes immune/accustomed to the noise and it no longer phases them.  I remember visiting some cousins of ours in Glyfada in Athens once, years ago.  They lived within 2 miles of the runway.  At one point, there was a roar so loud their entire veranda started to tremble.  My brother J and I threw ourselves onto the ground thinking it was an earthquake or something worse.  The plane flew by so closely you could see faces in the window.  Our hosts smiled and said “You don’t notice it after a while.” My ears were ringing and that fact that it happened another 20 times before dinner was not helping. We flinched every time it happened.  Our hosts would merely pause, wait for the plane to go by and then continue their sentences as if nothing had happened.  While we were enjoying our dessert another one flew by and my brother turned to me and said conversationally: “It’s true, you don’t notice after a while…” I still laugh whenever I think of the expression on his face and the comment.  It took us days to recover from that dinner and we never went over there again choosing instead to meet out in areas not directly under the flight path. Anyway, back to the apartment, we did get used to the smell and didn’t see the mouse again.  On the Tuesday there’s a knock on my door and a man is standing there. “Yes?” “Hello madam, I am pest control, I gather you saw a mouse?” “Oh, hi, yes. It was one, last Thursday, we haven’t seen it since, but I am glad you’re here, perhaps you could look around and see if there’s any evidence of a bigger problem.” I said, opening the door wide. “I think it was probably a one off.”  he answers.  From the doorstep.  I stood even further back to let him in. “Won’t you come in a take a look?” “I mean there has been a problem on the lower floors, but you are on the 7th. It was probably a one off.” I gritted my teeth.  From where I was standing, it looked like the mouse man was afraid of mice. “Come in please. “ I said. He stepped in.  I’ll put a few traps down and we’ll see what happens.  I’ll come back a take a look at them next week.  You don’t have children in this flat do you?  The traps have poison in them. “ “We do have children who visit.” I said thinking of my nieces who were due to arrive within the hour, “but it should be ok, I’ll make sure they don’t go near them.” He crouched down to put the trap behind the sofa, and I thought – wow, there’s a place for a mouse to nest right there.  You know how some guys bend down and you can see their cracks?  This was slightly more than a hint of crack.  I mean we all joke about builder’s bum etc etc, this was his whole butt, hanging out of his trousers, warm and furry just waiting for a mouse to find a home.  He picked the right job I thought as I averted my eyes. Anyway, he put down two traps in the front room and one in the kitchen. “See you next week” he says. “My name is Matt by the way.” “Thanks Matt, see you next week.” Matt the Mouse Man.  I know, this isn’t the manliest of titles for pest control people, but they always beome the Mouse Man, or the Cockroach Guy, or whatever it is their area of expertise is, they get called that.  He is now Matt Pest in my phone.  I was kind of hoping his name was Mike, because Mickey Mouse in my phone would have been hilarious. (What can I say, I am easily entertained). This week rolls around and Matt Pest knocks on the door again. “Hi, did you see anything?” “No, nothing.” “That’s good” he turns to leave. “Er, are you going to come in and check the traps?” “Well you didn’t see anything.” “Yes, but I also wasn’t sitting by the traps like David Attenborough whispering observations into the camera all week.  Please come in and tell me if it looks like there has been any activity.” Seriously, Matt the Mouse Man is not very good at his job.  He came in took a cursory glance at the traps affording me another long look at his backside and said: “No signs of activity, I’ll come and have a look in a couple of weeks. Did I put traps in the bedrooms?” “No,” I answered. ” Oh, I thought I had, “ he said “ But since you haven’t had a repeat, there’s no point now. See you in a fortnight.” Yeah, thanks for the reassurance Matt.  I feel 1000 times better now.  I am living in a giant Murray Mint, with poison on the floor and the only thing between my sister and her sanity is an incompetent mouse man. Still, we haven’t seen it at all, and we do keep refreshing the peppermint oil (which Matt assured me does nothing).  Well what is he going to say?  He wants to come over, flash and talk bollocks once a week.  I reckon it’s our efforts that have paid off, not his.  Either way, as long as the little creatures are ok and being cute somewhere else, I can totally live with it.

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