Never start with the weather. It’s good advice when writing. Certainly it’s enough to say it rained, if it was raining, in the story (and if it matters). But it’s stormy here and we’re on the edge of the hurricane currently battering Scotland. Likewise avoid easy clichés. Not everything in Scotland is battered. The storm is terrible though and I’m glad our cottage was built to withstand worse, and has but it’s loud and as loud as the last bad storm when back in Shrewton our cottage was built of all the bits other cottages no longer wanted. It was indeed a dark and stormy night, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s famous opening lines to Paul Clifford* and whose name now is that of an award each year for purposefully bloody awful writing. Also, try not to digress.
That storm was worse. All night I was up because if the weather took pause to breathe then you could hear the scrabbling in the walls. Mice, or worse, and terrified too – or dancing in delight at the fury, at the pained howling without. That cottage was so close to nature it was overrun with it. Every night I’d put out traps. Every morning I’d take a mouse or two to the woods across the way. Then I stopped setting traps. Then every morning there was still a mouse left dead inside the big backdoor. It would have been nice to know, but nicer still not to.
There are of course vermin everywhere. In the country they live because that is where they live. Food for foxes. In the cities because they’re their cities too. I see them and often when others don’t. There used to be this bloody great rat at Bromley South railway station. It would sit at the end of the platform on the London service. It wouldn’t always be there but often enough that I’d notice it, even look out for it. But when I mentioned it no one else would have the first idea what I was talking about. And then a few years later I was in Leicester and in the pub with a workmate. We were talking about where we had lived and found that he had once had a girlfriend in Bromley. ‘Big rat on the platform,’ he said. I was delighted.
There were mice that lived in the guttering of the end-parade at Borehamwood. You’d see them running along in lines. There were rats in the riverbank in Salisbury, not large but fit, clean and like someone’s pets. And oh, when I moved into the Elephant one of the previous occupiers of the flat left his pet rats behind separated by gender into different fish tanks. Nothing like starving rats on heat to make for all manner of interesting noises of a night.
But it was only in Shrewton that the mice were hunted for us. Before we moved to Tolly Maw then in Broughton and there was only the one incident. There was a lot of work being done in the street and something got into the kitchen, behind the washing machine, and I was sent for. It was big and it was ferocious, and it hissed. It wasn’t a spider or a butterfly to be gently caught and let outside. So I shot it, because so too would you. It was a miracle of a shot because it could only be partially seen, it was dark and it was thrashing about – yet the shot took its head off (which was probably for the best). It’s not like I shoot things for fun. And I then picked it up and was surprised by its big webbed feet, so thought it a mole. Admittedly a mole two foot long (not including the tail) and a mole that had thrashed and threatened like a weasel. So now and really it could have been anything. Or anything.
And it’s stormy outside but when it takes breath, when I listen, there’s nothing in the walls here.
*It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.