Things are quiet here at the moment. Well, actually, that's horsecrap - they aren't very quiet at all. Pablo is fast learning to speak (albeit in the voice of a panicked budgie), Bootsy has been giving the Bear some rather vocal bollockings for the very fact of his existence, and that weird white cat from across the road who likes to tart its tail in Janet's face keeps waking me up in the middle of the night with its Eartha Kitt purrmeow and its heavy-footed landings on top of the conservatory roof. But listen closely and there is a difference between the sound of this spring and the sound of other springs before it. What is missing is a panicked, high-pitched sound: a sound much more panicked and high-pitched, even, that the one Pablo makes when he hears the food drawer opening. What is missing, quite simply, is the sound of slaughter.
I have no idea what has caused my little serial killers to lay off the homicide this year. Have they heard something on the grapevine about that Bernard Matthews factory down the road and decided to play it cautiously with their feathered friends for a while? Is there something a bit "off" about this year's crop of rodents? Or have they just become too fat and lazy? Whatever the case, there have only been two mouse arses on the carpet in the last two weeks, and just one small bit of blood and bird bone on the parquet upstairs. It is impossible to emphasise just how different this is from 2006, 2005, and 2004, when I started to wonder if it had, after all, been a good idea to move to a house next to a haven for birdlife, and became so used to clearing up mouse intestine that the process very nearly became as unemotional as wiping some unusually adhesive curry off the kitchen work surface. Not to mention the three baby moorhens that, by this point last year, I had chased around the living room in a re-enactment of the Wacky Races.
What does it say about a pet owner when, upon noting that their pets have become less bloodthirsty, their sigh of relief is drowned out the question "But what's WRONG?" I'm sure that, even by bringing this up, I am jinxing this sedate, shrew nose-free period, and that tomorrow I will come down to my study and be greeted by two fresh coot claws and a pheasant wing, but, before the inevitable happens, I thought this might be a good time to commemorate my natural born killers' most memorable and plucky victims. God bless the poor little critters, but, as some - well, Delawney, probably - would say, "Those fuckers had it coming..."
1. Fat Rat (May, 2002)
The too-remote, too-dark starter cottage is on the market. D and I have been watching House Doctor religiously for what feels like the last seventeen years, without stopping. Colour schemes have become neutral. Surfaces have been Flash-wiped to within an inch of their lives. Coffee has been brewed. And that large, suspiciously brown leaf has been picked off Janet's big fluffy posterior at the last minute. Mr Newman has arrived. "It's like the Tardis in here," he says. "Nice garden, too." But, oh, what's that? It's the world's biggest rat, leaping out out of the antique po cabinet, and running across the room squeaking comically! That smooth operator from Selling Houses never had this trouble.
2. Dumbo Pheasant (June, 2002)
My most bloodthirsty ever cat, Brewer, might have had the mewling voice of a pathetic, incontinent human child, but by the time he was six months old, his diet was beginning to look like a dress rehearsal for the Serengeti. Vole was followed by mouse which was followed by rat which was followed by rabbit which was followed by weasel. The next step on the ladder was inevitable. Norfolk pheasants are notorious for their stupidity, but this one really walked into the lion's jaws. The ensuing scene was strangely reminiscent of an overweight striker being brought down by a small, yet unusually vicious defender in a Sunday League football match. It also provided an early indication of Delawney and Shipley's extensive goading talents. It was one of the saddest moments of my life when, three months later, Brewer was run over and killed. The peacocks at the nearby rest home, who were clearly starting to get worried by this point, may have viewed the matter more phlegmatically.
3. Melancholy Wood Pigeon (June, 2004)
"I think we have to put it out of its misery," says D, as we survey the light grey catastrophe at the top of the stairs. I agree, but I have never put anything out of its misery in my life, with the possible exception of a chicken casserole I made in Home Economics when I was 13. Plus, it would be a lot easier if Woody - and, even if this characterful creature is not called something as obvious as Woody, it is clear he deserves some kind of name - stopped staring at me in that way that seems to tell me he will be right as rain just as soon as he can get that broken wing working again. Putting him in a cardboard box, and pulling my best "What you gotta do, you gotta do" face, I place him amidst some shrubbery, in the hope that, soon, he will drift off peacefully into a never-ending sleep. Over the next five hours, I make four return visits, each of which end with me moving Woody slightly further into the shrubbery, as he looks at me more and more imploringly. I am a bad person. The next morning, I check to see if he is there. He is not. Delawney has a pleased-with-himself glow. But Delawney often has a pleased-with-himself glow. "Who's to say that Woody did not learn First Aid in the night, repair the damage, and fly home to his family?" I tell myself, until I see Shipley trying to spit a feather out of his mouth.
4. Twangy Stoat (April, 2005)
The length of a human intestine is approximately 22 feet. The length of a stoat's intestine, meanwhile, is not notably shorter. I know this. Why? Because I have seen one stretched out to its full length across my lawn.
5. Forlorn Blobby Mass (March, 2005)
Just because your identity was nebulous, do not think that you do not merit the term "plucky". You did not go to the wheelie bin without a fight, little man/woman/thing/viscous gloop - you were an absolute bugger to get off the entrance hall floor, and you will be remembered.