Of all the embarrassing articles I have written — the confessional columns about my relationships, my break-ups, my sex life, that time I admitted fancying Russell Brand — none has felt as humiliating as this: confessing that I have mice.
No one admits to having rodents. I ask friends. I ask neighbours. They are all in denial. Perhaps mine is the only flat they ever visit? Perhaps they really love the interior design?
If anyone does acknowledge a past problem, they always start by insisting how spotless their home is. “The man from Rentokil said mine was the cleanest place he’d ever seen,” one person, unprompted, begins.
So perhaps I should start by breaking the mouse-shaming taboo. Anyone can get mice. Especially in autumn, especially in London, and especially when you live in a period property on a busy street crammed with pizza places and chicken shacks, as I do.
I first hear the scratching at night. I know immediately that it’s mice and my breathing stops. I don’t like to think I’m a coward, but I am petrified by the thought of small paws creeping around me at night. I wrap myself in my duvet, praying that they can’t gnaw through 10.5 togs, and frantically begin googling solutions.
The mouse is the pest equivalent of the common cold or hiccups. Everyone has a theory about how to get rid of them; few of them seem to work.
I start by scrubbing the flat from top to bottom, then buy my first line of defence: peppermint oil (£15 from Amazon). This gets mixed reviews. Some claim mice are repelled by the smell, others suggest that, being inquisitive, they are drawn to check it out. Still, I take my life in my hands and douse the whole flat in it. That evening, surrounded by the stench of toothpaste, I hear rustling by the bin.
Then I try psychological warfare, ordering electric buzzers (£17), which emit a sound so high-pitched that only vermin can hear it. (Apparently, as an added bonus, they repel teenagers, too.) For two days the mice disappear, but my paranoia only grows. The problem with mice is that even knowing they — with their tails, downy feet and sharp teeth — are near sets me on edge. Every shadow becomes a furry threat; every squeak evokes panic. I start sleeping with the bedroom light on and the radio playing.
Then — nightmare of nightmares — lying in the dark, I catch sight of a brown blur darting under my bed. I flee to the living room and jump up onto the highest thing in the room: the desk. I consider checking in at a hotel, but instead I curl up there and give up hope of ever sleeping again.
Image: FRANCESCO GUIDICINI