When I was growing up, one of the books on my bookshelf was the story of Anatole, the little french mouse. Along with an out-of-print copy of “The Little Jeep”, these two books hold some of my fondest memories of “books at bed-time”, and when you look at the fabulous drawings, it’s not hard to see why.
Anatole was a happily married father mouse with three sets of twins who decided that rather than furtively gathering tit-bits from the private house in which he lived, he wanted to take pride in what he did, and set off on his bicycle across the streets of Paris until he found what he was looking for, a large, and largely failing cheese factory. Each night Anatole nibbled the cheeses, and as he went along wrote, in his typically french cursive script on little pieces of paper attached to cocktail sticks, improvements to the recipe for all those he was dissatisfied with. Needless to say the popularity of the cheeses and the prospects of the factory improved dramatically and Anatole became a very famous mouse.
As you can imagine, french mice have since always seemed to have ‘the edge’ over english ones both in terms of get-up -and go, personality, and audacity. That feeling persists to this day.
Last week, returning from the hospital after my son had accidentally been clobbered on the head by a three metre steel bar, I received a phone call from the heating engineer to say that my boiler needed expensive work done on it. Moments later I retrieved the mail from the letter-box to find a letter from the waterboard informing us that we probably had a leak as we were using an unusually large quantity of water. I sank onto the old chaise-longue in the dining-room with my head metaphorically in my hands only to look up to find myself nose to nose with a mouse. The mouse, to give him his due, backed himself rapidly under the skirting and I hurried to find some silicone sealant to seal the hole.
The following morning a shreak from the dining-room and the sight of my son standing on his chair alerted me to a re-visit from our “furry friend” who had dived out of the meusli packet as my son went to serve himself some breakfast. Clearly something had to be done, but when dealing with a mouse problem means first dispelling all childhood notions of the cultivated and civilised nature of French mice, it took me rather longer to get my act together.
Eventually, today, having been nudged in the direction of the mairie who supply sachets of mouse poison by more than one of my friends and neighbours, I had to wring my hands in dispair over the idea of willingly killing Anatole, whose bicycle was probably leaning against the garden wall that very moment, with wicker bike-basket waiting to take lumps of cheese back to his hungry family. However, as I walked into the dining-room in the clear light of day, the mouse wandered nonchalently past me on his way back to the hole under the radiator. I was galvanised into action and delved into the box of pink sachets, carefully leaving one in full view of the table and ten centimetres or so from the radiator.
As we sat down to eat our evening meal, none of us could quite believe our eyes as the mouse appeared, took hold of the sachet, and dragged it purposefully towards his hole. A few moments later I am certain I heard the engine of a motor-bike starting up. Clearly french mice are twice as audacious as I’d learned to believe as i’m positive I even caught him winking at me as both mouse and sachet disappeared out of view.
Only this time I winked back!