Living Between the Lines

There’s a scrabbling and a scratching in the barn…

With the cold weather on its way back and snow threatened once again – I have been making the most of the brief respite by getting the spare beds ready for Christmas guests this morning. We happen to have a small barn in our front garden which we converted some time ago and now use as an office and guest bedroom.

With a large family, this additional space is invaluable so, this morning, there was I, trekking outside with a pile of bedding and a bag of cleaning materials. As I made my way along the path, I couldn’t help but remember last year when just a week before Christmas, the central heating boiler broke in the house. The first snow had fallen and for that week we had no choice but to use the barn for our morning showers.

What a spectacle we must have made, clad in our dressing gowns and wellingtons, shivering along the path to the barn clutching toilet bags, towels and torches at 6.30 a.m. each morning.

The cold trek to the shower in the barn...
Footsteps in the snow - early morning showers

This morning, the path was wet and a tad slippery and there was a frost on the ground but no snow. I flicked the switch for the heating to ‘on’ noting that it was not too cold in there at the moment.

I deposited the plastic bag of dusters and cleaning tools on a chair and shook out the sheets.

I had almost finished making the bed when I heard a gentle but insistent rustling coming from the far reaches of the room.

Hmmm, mice? Here in the rural countryside we are bound to have field mice and in the cold weather they do tend to seek out warm sheds and cosy barns for comfort. I hoped that there were no mice actually taking up residence in the bedroom.

I toured the skirting boards and was gratified to find everything clean and definitely not ‘micified’. The rustling continued and I swear I could hear the patter of teeny-weeny feet in the eaves now.

I went back to the pillow cases and pushed the pillows in, all the while listening…

I have reason to be concerned about mice. A few winters ago, nay, many winters ago, 1996/97, Britain Froze. The ice age appeared to have returned and lest anyone should have forgotten, the Thames froze over in Berkshire and no one went outside unless they absolutely had to. The local mouse population didn’t waste any time and moved into our garden shed. From our point of view the garden shed was now a more efficient deep freeze than the purpose built model we had in the kitchen but to the mice, it represented sanctuary.

Those were the days when I was heavily into arts and crafts and the shed was my workshop. It provided a wonderful array of nesting material in the form of boxes of soft material and was therefore the perfect home for a family of mice.

Despite such temptation , one would have supposed that any mouse venturing into that frozen waste would quickly resemble an ice lolly on a stick. True, a couple did meet with nasty ends. One was electrocuted “Tom & Jerry” style by chewing through the cable on an electric drill which was being re-charged at the time. A second I found in a paint box, coated in blue powder paint, presumably asphyxiated. A third was definitely alive and kicking and jumped out at me as I searched through the remaining boxes.

Time to call in ‘Pest Control’ I reasoned.

The Pest Control man promised faithfully to be at the house at 9 a.m. the following day.

I stayed in I recall, foregoing a much needed ‘dog walk’ (we had a lively lurcher at the time who was lovely if given enough exercise –the latter normally involving a three mile run).  Confined to the house and the garden we had then, which was not big, she emptied the kitchen bin in protest.

At a quarter to eleven I received a phone call from the ‘mouse-man’. He sounded harassed.

“I am very sorry but I wont be there today. I am out on another job and have been held up,” he apologised.

This conjured up colourful images of a pistol-toting mouse holding my mouse-man at gunpoint in the far reaches of someone else’s garden shed.

The mice earned a night’s reprieve and ate through another box of felt remnants.

After two more non-appearances, the mouse-man did finally arrive, apparently none the worse for wear and left out some tempting bowls of poison for my unwelcome guests. I had secretly hoped they’d scarper before the poison was needed. They didn’t. In fact there seemed to be more of them when I next checked. Word must have got around.

A week later mouse-man returned and left another tempting feast, this time rat poison. Had they grown so much or was he just not taking any chances after the ‘hold-up’?

I didn’t see any mice after that.

I like to think they just decided to move out.

So, back to the present and the barn. 

The noise continued, a scratching, rustling sound … I plumped the pillows and had just made up my mind to investigate more closely when the patter of tiny feet scrabbling  towards the floor, magnified. I looked up just in time to see the plastic bag of cleaning materials I had perched precariously on the arm of the chair, complete the downward slide it had obviously begun some minutes before. As gravity finally overtook it, it dropped to the floor, crackling and rustling as it went…

…I had found my mouse then!

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. ah the funny noises and working out what they are .. at least the heating worked, and I hope the mice and the cold are held at bay for you and family .. we all seem to be affected with this weather .. it’s 0 deg F here today .. but elsewhere I suspect not so easy.

    Happy Christmas with the family .. Hilary

  • Deborah Barker

    Hi Hilary, Happy Christmas to you! Yes, the weather has been pretty cold here. We did get a lot of snow after I wrote that post but it seems to have turned to ice in most places here now. I think we were meant to have more yesterday but the temperatures rose slightly so we had sleet instead. Certainly has messed up people’s plans – including my husband’s intended trip to Marseilles this week and my daughter’s visit on Saturday. (She managed to get here with baby and husband on Sunday from Maidenhead and has just gone – will be back Thursday!) No mice so far … 🙂

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. sure does seem to be messing peoples’ plans up – can only say I’m so grateful .. Mum is here & I don’t have to worry about anything .. no travel etc .. Three lots of snow in one year is a bit much ..

    Hope you and yours are safe and sound .. I’d rather be your husband .. with you .. and not in a queue .. or other ghastly place in this weather .. Enjoy everything .. and glad to hear there’s no mice .. cheers Hilary

  • Katie Gates

    You paint such a vivid picture, and I love the photograph as well — the dawn’s light is so beautiful. Great word, “micified.”

    Have a wonderful holiday, Debbie. Enjoy the warmth of your family and loved ones!

    – Katie

  • Deb

    I love the way you tell a story! I was sort of disappointed there was no mouse at the end. 🙂

    I hope our holidays were warm, wonderful, and full of joy.

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