I SET off up the A3 in my old 1948 Alvis to Peterborough. It was a lovely drive at dawn with not too much traffic and the car, as always, was going as smooth as silk and fair licking along at a steady sixty with the promise of a long-held seventy five if ever required. Sure, traffic was going past at several illgal mph faster and that was their affair. The long grey shiny bonnet of my old bus was far more satisfying.
Somewhere along the route I stopped for tea in a layby and on getting back into the car heard a funny noise. A sort of rustle and a squeak. Thought nothing of it and the motor rumbled like a Hurricane Merlin and drew me swiftly onwards. Three hours from home, I pulled into my farmer friend’s yard with its outbuildings and old machines and was soon enjoying a bacon sandwich and a pot of tea.
“Car looks nice,” said Ben- we call him Big Ben for his six and a half view of the world beneath. “The others are giving it a good look over,” he added. “Normally they are not interested in old cars.” When he looked again, he said: “My word, they’re laughing at it- it must look very old to them I suppose.”
Yes, the youngsters were pointing and laughing at the windows. “You’ve brought passengers!” they exclaimed when I joined them. There, running about were several mice. One ran over the back steering wheel. Another was on the sill below the windscreen. “We saw two run over the seats just now. What are they? Not house mice, they are a nice sort of tawny colour,like a fox almost.”
Of course as soon as I opened the door, they vanished under the seats and inside them too, back to their nests made into post-war horse hair and tow and sacking under the leather. “I’ll take them home again after tea,” said I. “They’re yellow-necked mice all the way from Sussex. They are a plague in my home and in my car. They live in the woods with woodmice and are not all that common, being on the edge of their range from the continent southwards.
“I don’t want them in my barns,” said Big Ben. “Got enough trouble with rats.” So I shut the doors and windows tight and went to see his farm. After tea I set off home after collecting the things I had gone there to pick up. A couple of days later he telephoned. “Those cursed yellow-necks jumped ship and are now in the house,” he complained. “The cat has caught six already.” Later he trapped another three among the apples in the loft.
A few days after that I received the new copy of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society Bird and Mammal report. There was mention therein of new colonies of this same rare mouse, Apodemus flavicollis, on the Suffolk/Norfolk border, which is where my mother lives.