Sunday, September 28, 2008

Of Mice and Men and American Foie Gras

Some of the smaller creatures manage to come into the house, of course. We have rustling in our roof space, especially when I am practicing my guitar – one could say that would make anybody restless. Until we managed to seal a gap between a beam and the ceiling wood, the rustling creature would every now and again send a shower of damp materials cascading into the room – presumably when hshe (another new pronoun which would cover doubts about gender - pronounce it the same as “she”, but it covers all angles, none of this “he or she” nonsense) felt it was time to clear out the nest.

We have been told that this is probably a loir (dormouse), because many houses in the area have these tucked away in various crevices – the houses are frequently very old – ours is over 200 years – and full of hidey-holes for creatures. But our house is 3 stories and I can’t imagine why a creature which feeds in the fields would want to climb all that way to deliver food to its young. I think it is a bat. There is a bright street light not too far from the house and, especially of a warm evening, the air around the lamp is replete with clouds of moths and other insects. A constant stream of bats - the Black Arrows – give an all-night display of aerobatics and feeding tactics. They must be very fat bats. They need somewhere to sleep during the day, while they dream of insects and other tasty morsels. We had our roof retiled a couple of years ago. There is a sort of plastic netting which is supposed to stop creatures from finding their way under the tiles, and either the netting is not fitted properly, or our bats are made of sterner stuff. Our guitar fan creature is obviously a bat, although clearly a tone-deaf one. Further proof is provided by the fact that on the odd evening when I both stay awake until after dark and summon up the energy to play my guitar, there is no rustling – the bat or bats are out on the town.

We have not been troubled by rats – fortunately, having seen the size of one of the local rats which dared to rear its ugly head in one of the Chalabre cafes while we were there one morning (speedily dispatched by the patron and triumphantly carried out to the dumpster in what must have been a special pair of rat-tongs). Nor have we seen any mice in the house until one day last year, when we had our baker friend Lorenzo staying with us – which may have sent sweeter aromas down the street, especially as Lorenzo also used to own and be the chef in an Italian restaurant. Whatever the reason, there was a mouse in the house and, being a close relative of Speedy Gonzales, it resisted all efforts to catch it or corner it so that we could return it whence it came.

As we are well versed in the Geneva Conventions as applied to mice, we wanted to catch it humanely and to release it behind its own lines. This resulted in an amusing incident down at the Gamm Vert, a store which supplies hardware equipment and some farming supplies. We doubted very much whether they would have a humane mouse-trap, in fact we expected to be laughed out of the shop – country types are not noted for their sentimentality. Gay, who speaks very good French, accidentally asked for a “siège” for the souris, instead of a “piège”. This caused some hilarity, because “siège” means armchair and “piège” means trap, which is what we were after. Amazingly, when the laughter died down, it transpired that not only did they have pieges, but they had the humane variety. Ingenious little device, which could trap the mouse without harming it, so that you could take it into the garden or field, open a door, and let it go. Assuming, or course, that you could get the creature to enter the trap. “Cheese”, I hear you say. Which is what I said, but Lorenzo said no, we should bait the trap with a little piece of bread smeared with peanut butter. “Works every time,” he said.

And he was right. Within five minutes of doing as he said, we looked at the trap and there was the tiny mouse. I took it into the garden and watched it bound away like a kangaroo – I’m sure its strides were a foot long.

A couple of days later, we had another mouse. At the time we had a bit of damage at the back of our fireplace, which opened up a small hole to the outside world. I suspect they were getting in there. Anyway, same story, bit of peanut butter, five minutes, the mouse was captured. The hole in the wall was mended soon after that and we have never seen a mouse in the house since. Unlike Gay’s sister in Australia, who had a bit of a mouse problem. We passed on the peanut butter advice to Dana and again the mouse was quickly captured. And the next one. And the next one. And so on. I think the score was approaching twenty, the last we heard. They must have had an awful lot of bakers in the house.

This is the time to open your eyes about peanut butter. It is difficult to find in France. And when you can find it, as in UK, it usually has too much sugar and/or salt in it. Impossible to find peanut butter without one or the other. Certainly difficult to find one to suit your own taste.

But it is amazingly easy to make peanut butter yourself. We found this out from Julia, the 9-year old American girl who lived next to us for a couple of months this summer. If you go to her father’s (Jonathan’s) blog, and look for the post entitled “American Foie Gras” you will get the recipe and you will never buy any peanut butter again. It takes five minutes, if that. Here is the address of the blog (in fact if you click on this it should take you direct to the item:

Enjoy! What I particularly like is that if you make peanut butter yourself like this, not only can you adjust the recipe to your own taste, but it doesn’t cling to the roof of your mouth like the commercial varieties do.

Just a couple more items of what Nicola calls my “Languedoc nature lessons”.

We quite often see squirrels. Again, they don’t seem to have much road sense and unfortunately many of them are dead. They are red squirrels – I don’t think the grey American invaders, so prevalent in Britain, have made it here – but they are such a dark red they are almost black. I don’t know whether that is because they are a different variety or whether it is as a result of something they eat.

Finally, snakes. As with our last home in Cyprus, there are plenty of serpents about. Some of them are huge - we have seen them several feet long. Once when we were having a nostalgic walk around the Puivert campsite we saw one coming out of a hedge, crossing one of the internal roads, and disappearing into another hedge. Its tail was barely out of the first hedge before its head had disappeared into the second. And its destination, on the other side of that hedge, was the emplacement where we had once stayed for a week or so, in a tent.

I think generally the bigger ones are harmless. But not so vipers, which are quite small. There are a lot of these about. In Coustaussa we once saw a writhing mass of them in a gutter. We have seen lots dead on the road. We have had live ones in our courtyard. We have had one in the house, which caused us to go out and buy one of those things which old people use to pick up their socks from the floor - a thing with a trigger at one end and a gripping thing at the other end.

Snakes generally are very keen to get away from humans, but one cornered in the house is a different matter. I whisked the first one out with a fly swatter - this obviously took lots of whisks or swats and the snake became angrier and angrier.

Again, we would prefer, if we capture one, to take it to a field and release it. But I think we could be lynched. The locals would think we were crazy – any other cornered snake we have seen has soon had its head removed by a spade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The score of mice totalled 27, or we caught the same mouse 27 times, it having developed an addiction to peanut butter! We only stopped having visits after we put the captured ones in the garbage bin, so they could be taken to the tip.