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The Botanical Room part 3 - The wind, the mice and the valleys

Updated: Oct 15, 2022

The snow has been and gone but the wind continues to whistle around my little house running fast across the valleys. We live on a hill with a valley on either side and the oaks sit heavy and aged on two sides with apple orchards flanking the other two. At this time of year when the trees stand sleeping and we see more of the surrounding hills peeping through the still, cold network of branches, I start to think about the wildlife and how resilient and resourceful they are. How do the birds and fellow creatures manage the freezing temperatures? and where do they go to at night? They are so clever at hiding away in their 'hidy' holes.

Here in the botanical room are my mice. Show me a child that does not dream of having a mouse as a friend, a trusty fellow in your pocket, to go adventuring with and perhaps between you, cause some mischief. I was that child, I imagined a family, no, a whole host of mice who would live with me in my room and travel about with me in my pockets. Had they existed they would have been white mice, they would have been well trained or at least very well mannered and friendly and probably lived in my doll's house.

I had two significant toy mice, Mrs. Mouse was a gift from my darling godmother Sarah Manwaring White, she was only 16 when she took on the job of becoming my godmother, as her mum Edith (I will write about Edith another time as she was a delight) was godmother to my older siblings. Sarah was an exciting, exuberant lady and I was a shy and very quiet little girl. Unbeknown to her, I was a little in awe of her and although she was always sweet and kind to me, I was always a little overwhelmed by her generosity and spirit. She was a career girl, bright, ambitious, and successful, she worked as a TV director, producer and occasional presenter, her work took her into tv investigations working with Granada tv and programs like Panorama. She also worked on kids tv with Sandi Toksvig on a programme called 'No.73'. She never forgot birthdays or easter eggs and always took me on outings when she could, to the ballet or the circus, and to some big picnics in the '70s, which I look back on as quite wild and carefree events. Funny, I always felt like I must have been a disappointing child to take on trips as I spoke very little and blushed constantly.

I have to say though, Sarah was an inspiration to me and even though I was not as bright or daring, she inspired me to think bigger than myself, to think about the world and how I can play a part and be of some use, however small.

Here I go digressing once again, I was talking about mice, well, Sarah gave me Mrs. Mouse, and it was the perfect gift for me. The mouse was smaller than most toys, it would fit in my hand and pocket, it could go everywhere with me and it did. I once took Mouse on holiday with me and I dropped her on the ground at a market and she fell into some fish juice, mum had to give her a very thorough wash before I could love her again, I recall the whole saga as being somewhat distressing.

Here is the botanical bit, my love for the mouse was intense and this was the 1970s and the Wombles were 'a thing' at that time ( and we were all made aware of the problem of litter. My mum and dad were very anti-litter and trips to the beach were used as family litter picking times, we loved it! We would spend the time collecting it up and dad would either burn it or bag it up for collection. On my 7th birthday, one of my gifts was a litter picking stick, I loved it! it was made of a bamboo stick with a nail at one end.

TV Programs at the time taught us about how cans and bottles can be death traps to mice and voles and other small mammals, they can get in but they can't get out and would starve to death. I was incensed at the time and still am, how could anyone throw litter and not think through the consequences? I then became slightly obsessed with all things wild and wildlife and how it and they would survive modern times; it's essential that we all take part in supporting nature in any way we can, leaving wild spaces where we can and keeping rubbish and poisons to the minimum and more importantly cleaning up our mess.

I am to this day obsessed with litter, we kept about a mile of our road clean at our previous address, in one day we would collect 5-8 big rubbish sacks and sort it ready for recycling. My friends would laugh at me for upcycling some of the found objects and creating stories from the very weird things we would find in the laybys. We have a new stretch of road to clean now and this time of year the rubbish is easily found and sadly plentiful, so we have our work cut out.

So I have mice and rubbish to thank, for getting me closer to nature and observing things close up, and for falling in love with all things wild.

My other toy mouse is my pink fluffy 'Gonk' that would sit on the end of my pencil, this mouse was equally loved and came to school with me till the time when it was not so cool for these things (like it ever was?). This mouse, felt to me, like a self-portrait, don't laugh, I honestly thought it looked like me, so the pink mouse was able to speak for me, he (weirdly he was a boy) was shy, pinked cheeked and quiet. As you can see he is going bald but he is still quite cheerful, and has now, in his retirement become somewhat of a muse.

I never owned a real mouse but after months of badgering (sorry for the mammal pun), my fantastic dad came home with a gerbil named Poppy. Poppy was not the pet I have envisioned he would be, he constantly escaped and seemed quite uninterested in the doll's house and was quite rightly and most probably looking for a way out of this caged life. I worried and fretted about keeping him caged and once he moved on to the afterlife in the big desert in the sky, I vowed never to keep any creature caged, my nightmares were just not worth it.

Outside of my kitchen window I see the little field mouse that has made home beneath the decking, she scurries back and forth fetching seeds and such and is most active and busy before a cloud burst so is quite a little weather warning. We have voles, moles, shrews and badgers, and bunnies and a polecat, all captured on a night cam; so now when I am gardening I am more aware of what I plant and how even when I am done painting the plants they will be of some use, be it food or bedding, for the little souls that weather the hill and the wind along with me and mine.

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