The younger grandson, Klynton, four, has got in the habit recently of thrusting his hands in my trouser pockets and tearing up and throwing away whatever he finds there. He goes about it with energy and application, snarling and growling like a lion, and it’s bloody annoying. Because he is impervious to physical pain, a smart cuff around the cranium only makes him press his attack more violently, like a brave bull ‘insisting’ against a picador’s lance. If there is a sofa handy, I pick him up, throw him across the room into it, and he comes back at me as if rebounding on a length of elastic. Most often he robs me of cash, but the other day his assault was rewarded with an hour-old MOT certificate that was ripped apart in the ensuing tug-of-war.
We’ve got mice in the house again at the moment. Headquarters is somewhere under the floorboards with an exit hole in an upstairs cupboard. Judging by the mess, it is cosily and attractively lined with shredded pink lavatory paper and navy-blue rucksack material. I set a conventional mousetrap baited with superior peanut butter and caught one the first night it was laid. The mouse had entered between the trap’s jaws in a straight line, as the instructions showed it would, and was cleanly killed. He was a big and sleek adult and his eyes were nearly popping out of his head with astonishment. I released the spring, removed the still-floppy corpse by the tail and dropped him into my trouser pocket. Then I went around to my son’s house and let myself in. Immediately, Klynton came running at me like a wasp to the attack.
The assault was perpetrated with the usual ecstatically violent élan. I made a show of fighting him off, then allowed him to delve his little hand into my pocket. I could feel his fingers encountering and tentatively exploring the furry softness within, and their reluctance to grasp fully whatever it was and take it out. ‘’S’at?’ he said. ‘It’s Little Tommy Tittlemouse,’ I said. ‘Who lived in a little house and caught fishes in other men’s ditches. Take him out and say hallo.’
He dragged the dead mouse out of my pocket by the head. When it was fully out, and he found himself in full possession of it, to do with as he pleased, and with no further objections from the owner, his feelings about it were transparently mixed. I left him in the kitchen dubiously holding the mouse, and passed through into the sitting room, which was occupied by my boy and my other grandson, Oscar, aged six. They were watching some crap on telly. ‘Game of chess, anyone?’ I said.
Oscar has a simple, mostly happy heart and he jumped up and down for joy as he always does when invited to play chess with his grandfather. He’s been learning chess for about three years, and in the past six months his game has improved dramatically. Before, I would warn him if one of his important pieces was in danger, and while he studied the board calculating his next move I could watch the Antiques Roadshow. Now I have to give the board my full attention and fight for my life from beginning to end, and more often than not he beats me.
We set up the board and arranged the pieces. Oscar is always white because white goes first. He moved the pawn in front of his rook forward two squares. I moved mine to meet it. Then Klynton came into the room with the mouse still in his hand and he chucked it down in the middle of the board. That was his move. I took the dead mouse with a horse and handed it back to him. He threw the mouse down again. I picked it up and lobbed it at his father, who was oblivious to everything except the TV screen, and almost in a coma. It landed on the arm of his sofa. He looked at it first with casual curiosity, then with incredulity, then he shank away from it in disgust.
‘Where did that come from?’ he said. Klynton’s speech is rarely easily translatable. But here he spoke up clearly, articulately and with conviction. ‘Grandad’s pocket!’ he yelled. My boy looked at me and shook his head with sorrow and disbelief. ‘Well, get rid of it,’ he said crossly. ‘I’m not touching it.’
Klynton was given the honour of carrying the mouse into the kitchen and ceremoniously dropping it into the pedal bin. Then we all lined up in front of the kitchen tap and thoroughly washed our hands. ‘Whose move?’ I said as we dried our hands. ‘Mine,’ said Oscar authoritatively, as he always does, whether it’s his move or not.
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