Mr Litlove and the Animals

A little while back, Mr Litlove and I were in the study chatting, when a look came over his face that I recognised very well. In translation it reads: Oh. My. God. Do I tell her or not? If there should be any confusion in those who know me over the correct response to this question, the answer is: YES, TELL HER NOW. But knowing my husband as I do, I simply leapt off the sofa where I had been sitting and put some significant distance between myself and it. Just as well; scampering gaily over the back, mere inches from where I’d been moments before, was a spider the size and heft of a mouse.

Quite what happened next, I’m not sure, maybe I blacked out. But when I was fully functioning again, the spider was gone. Mr Litlove had wrestled it into submission and chucked it out the front door, without having indulged in his usual fun trick of dropping it once to give it a sporting chance. St Francis of Assissi could not have been more efficient.

This is something I admire tremendously about my husband: he is remarkably fearless about animals. We put this down to our upbringings in very different locations. Before we were married, Mr Litlove used to say that the distinction was perfectly exemplified by the headlines of the local newspapers in our respective counties. While his paper would say something like: ‘W. I. Triumph In Jam At Local Fête’, my local paper would read: ‘Body Of Gangland Killing Found Dumped Off A12’. Suffolk and Essex share a boundary, and we lived about five minutes either side of it, but even so, I felt very much the urbanite compared to his rural location. But what the newspapers didn’t say was that Suffolk had more than its share of carnage; the war was, however, between man and beast.

Mr Litlove grew up in a large house in the countryside where nature ran rampant. His family had always had cats whose job it was to keep the vermin population down. Occasionally they would get ambitious and take out a few rabbits as well. One of my fondest memories of my much-missed father-in-law is of sitting at the breakfast table with him by my feet, wielding the dustpan and brush and saying ‘Don’t look down! Don’t look down!’ as he removed the remains of whatever creature the cats had consumed as a midnight feast. (My favourite cat story from that time is of the whole family sitting down to tea at the kitchen table when the fridge door opened and one of the cats fell out.) To stay in the house was to feel very close to nature; always something rustling in the eaves or scuffling around the skirting boards and there was often the patter of eighteen toes behind you. In the brief period when my mother-in-law had no cats the house was inundated with mice. She bought a humane mousetrap only to find in the morning that its captives had eaten their way through it to freedom.

So anyway, Mr Litlove grew up removing half-eaten carcasses, and chasing out the lucky ones that got away.

We don’t have much of a mouse problem where we live now, but we do look out onto the village pond, a reasonably large affair with its own share of wildlife issues. We have a large population of ducks, who sometimes take it into their heads that all they want to do is cross the road (obviously some evolutionary rivalry with chickens). A couple of weeks ago I was working at my desk and noticed a woman had stopped her car, holding up the traffic, in order to get out and herd a few wayward ducks back onto the bank. The next time I looked up, I saw one had been too foolhardy; its crumpled body lay in the middle of the road.

Mr Litlove walked in at that point and said: ‘Oh we can’t just leave it there like that.’ And he went and found a plastic bag and took it away for a more decent disposal. I couldn’t have done it myself, but I was so glad that he did. Perhaps, by comparison, it was less upsetting than the discovery back in summer of not one, but two dead rats (or what remained of them) in our shrubbery. At the time, we looked at our cat, who returned the gaze levelly with his usual withering scorn. ‘Nah,’ we both said, ‘not likely.’ We’d seen our cats with mice before – they were fascinated but clueless. (Harvey was too lazy and Hilly was even spooked by butterflies.) Still the unenviable task fell to Mr Litlove again to do the necessary with the corpses.

His finest hour, however, was undoubtedly with a whole, live bird. Every day a casting line for a Hitchcock movie sits on the apex of our roof, throwing a very entertaining shadow onto the road below. Once in a while – drunk on autumn berries, or after a bit of argy-bargy up there – it so happens that a bird falls down a chimney. In the past they have been small enough to fly out into the room and, eventually, out of an open window. But one autumn, on a day when my son was at home recovering from an illness, we heard the heart-wrenching sounds of a bird fluttering in panic behind the brick walls. At first it was a distant scrabbling, scratching sound, but as the bird made its wretched way down the chimney, the noise grew louder and louder. It was awful, and I wondered how we’d put up with it until it finally died. But when Mr Litlove came home from work, he listened for a moment and then went and found a tea towel which he wrapped around his hands before fearlessly shoving up them up the chimney. When they emerged, they (and the teatowel) were wrapped around an enormous pigeon that struggled a bit with the indignity of the situation, but allowed itself to be taken out the back door and set free. ‘I thought it had to be sitting on the ledge up there, wondering what had happened,’ Mr Litlove said, a little out of breath from the exertion.

My son watched with wide eyes. ‘And that,’ I told him, from my safe distance away, ‘is one of the reasons why I married your father.’


36 thoughts on “Mr Litlove and the Animals

  1. We all need a Mr Litlove! It’s probably just as well that you live the other side of the country from me – after observing a very large spider daily repairing a beautifuly crafted web outside our living room window, I was quite upset to find it had disappeared thanks to the window cleaner. It’s back, though, patiently weaving.

    Delighted to see that you’re reading The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, by the way. Absolutely loved it!

    • Maybe you could let the spider in, Susan, to create webs indoors far from the window cleaner’s reach? I wouldn’t be brave enough but from the sounds of it, you might! 🙂 And yes, I zipped through The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop; review to come next week.

  2. LOL, I think Mr. Litlove and I would get along quite well! I have very little squeamishness when it comes to animals or dead body disposal. At a former job I was the only one in the small building who had no qualms about removing the dead pigeons from the sidewalk after they had slammed into the windows. In the college dorms my neighbor’s garter snake got out and crawled under my door and hid in my closet. The next morning on the way to the shower in the dark I stepped on it in bare feet, bent down, picked it up, knocked on the guy’s door, who was very surprised when I thrust the squirming snake at him at 6 a.m.! Currently in our garden should we find the remains of a mouse of bird we let it be, just sort of push it off to the side and let the ants and other critters finish it off. The body is generally completely gone in a few days. It’s quite fascinating actually.

    • Yes, I’ve long thought you and Mr L may be twins separated at birth! 🙂 I just love that story about the snake – hilarious! I will suggest the natural composting method to Mr Litlove the next time he finds half a rat. I should think it’s an argument he’d be open to…

    • I can’t wait to hear about your undead disposal mechanisms, Mrs C – there’s a post waiting to be written! I love that story about the cat too – my other favourite is that the worst car accident anyone had in my husband’s family was when his eldest sister ran over their mother’s wicker basket in the garage. That one tickles me as well.

  3. I ‘do’ neither cats nor birds but a friend of mine is a real cat lover, so much so that her present feline friend, Nutmeg, is still alive despite Susan having come in one day to find a dead squirrel shoved halfway under the fridge!

    We also have a local duck issue but in order to make sure that they are able to cross the road safely the city council has erected a Duck Crossing sign which so far both ducks and motorists appear to have obeyed.

    • Oh my God. I don’t know that I’d speak to Harvey again if he brought dead squirrels home – that may be beyond the pale. But I’d love for us to have a Duck Crossing sign. I should write to the Parish Council!

  4. I tend to react like you to spidery type things (though I can deal with the smaller ones). Luckily my OH sounds very like Mr. Litlove and can deal with all kinds of creature related issues, from injured birds in the garden, mice, and any kind of insect going – which is good, because being a soft hearted veggie I can’t deal with dead things (i’m still trying to recover from this morning’s poor squished squirrel at the end of the road – I hate my neighbours). So hurrah for practical husbands!! 🙂

    • Oh absolutely – what would we do without them? I too am awfully squeamish about dead animals – they seem beautiful to the point of unreality and yet awful too. I’m so sorry about the squirrel!

  5. Isn’t it a sad commentary on the state of our species’ evolution (devolution?) that we are increasingly so disconnected from other animals (for yes, we too are animals)? The truly dangerous animals on this planet are humans, not pigeons or ducks or mice or spiders or moths, all of which have their place in the scheme of things and are not out to “get” any of us. I’ve found that opening myself to compassion and acceptance towards all other living creatures has enriched my life immeasurably. I heartily recommend anybody who thinks of nature as an “us vs them” situation take a deep breath, get down flat on their bellies and say hello to a spider.

    • I think you’d very much enjoy Valerie Groves’ biography of Dodie Smith who wrote 101 Dalmatians. She was such an animal lover that she forbade anyone from killing anything in her vicinity to the point that the old house she lived in was overrun with mice and rats. Her famous story was based on the Dalmatian dogs she kept all her life. I think you’d enjoy reading about her.

  6. Mercy, way to go, Mr. Litlove! I can manage bugs (as long as they are bugs I’m used to — large spiders are Just Not On), and I permit no cockroaches to live while I have newspapers in my house to kill them with. But once I had to beat a mouse to death (unbeknownst to me, my roommate had put down sticky traps to kill cockroaches, which was insane btw because I would have gladly killed the cockroaches myself WITH A NEWSPAPER LIKE GOD INTENDED, and a mouse got caught on it, and it was either me beat it to death swiftly that morning or it would die slowly on the sticky pad), and it was just the worst ever. I cried and jumped up and down on the bag that contained the sticky pad. Mr. Litlove would have managed it much more sanguinely.

    But cockroaches! I can do cockroaches! Those three-inch long flying monsters — I give no quarter.

    • Jenny, I am hugely impressed by your prowess with cockroach extermination. Good for you! The mouse story is deep trauma, but what could you have done? A lingering death would have been worse. You were so BRAVE. I honestly think Mr L would have flinched a lot at that task too. If he’d had the option he would have sent a cat in, though as you can tell from the above, the one we have now thinks mice are some sort of cabaret, not dinner.

  7. I don’t mind a small spider but a really big one? I’ve ever seen one in our house, so I didn’t have to find out who would bring it out.
    I suppose the cat would eat it. I loves anything that crawls.

  8. Those are wonderful stories. I have some about chasing chipmunks, mice, and birds around my house with a butterfly net. My youngest cat used to like to bring them in live through the cat door. Luckily, he seems to have outgrown that, mostly. We still have a sturdy net just in case, though.

    • There’s a blog post I’m looking forward to reading! 🙂 When my son was little, he and a friend put a mouse outside with their butterfly net – repeatedly, alas, as they just hoiked it out the back door the first time, which was by no means a deterrent. I completely agree that a net is a necessary household tool!

  9. Indeed, you are so lucky to have someone put himself between you and, shall I say, vermin and malignant insects?
    My horror, my terror, my phobia has always been live mouse darting about, over the kitchen counters, across the floorboards, shriek! I’m not afraid of bears, huge eastern coyotes, or the eastern cougar, but mice! Oh, horrors! My husband helps out with them tremendously.

    • It’s the little things that get to you, isn’t it?! I’m right with you when it comes to scuttling mice – eek!! I’m so glad you have a handy husband, too. Thank goodness for them!

  10. Maybe Mr Litlove’s skills should be used as the litmus test for evaluating future husbands. Forget about whether he looks good in a skinny pair of jeans, what we really need to know is whether the guy can wrestle with a pigeon.

  11. I grew up in the country and can deal with animal pests if I need to, but I’m perfectly happy to live in a place where I don’t get wildlife in the house beyond the occasional bug, which I’m happy to just let be or dispose of with a shoe (or flush down the toilet, in the case of stink bugs, which must not be smashed). I draw the line at snakes, though. If I got a snake in the house, I’d just have to move or find a Mr Litlove to come and deal with it.

    • A Snake In The House???? I don’t think I’d cope with that very well at all. I think you are doing very well indeed, Teresa, if you aren’t drawing any lines before you reach snakes. 🙂

  12. I had to remove a terrorised rabbit from the house the other day. I dropped a towel on its head and picked its squirming body up and ran out of the house, get this, making noises in order to distract myself from the live wriggling coming from inside the towel. Twenty years have got me used to it, but not enough to stop me passing my distaste onto my kids. And not spiders either. They go up the hoover or, I’m ashamed to say, boiling water. I feel awful. What a brave husband!

    • Actually, I think that’s a brilliant idea. Maybe if I tried singing loudly next time I’m trying to trap a spider under a glass, it would help. I remember cleaning my dad’s shed with my brother when I was just a child and he had a spider on the end of the vacuum cleaner’s hose and was having a high old time wondering which would prove the stronger. Hmm, that may be where the trauma set in, now I come to think of it. You DO deal with these things so you are a wonder woman in my book!

  13. Oh, I so miss your posts like this–they are always so cheering–I am sorry I am offline so much lately….. I really need something like this to bring a smile to my face (though cats falling out of fridges isn’t all *that* amusing–was it alive or dead?). I am totally cool with wildlife–as long as it stays outside and I can remain inside and ne’er the twain shall meet, if you know what I mean. I have had the ‘pleasure’ of having a tiny mouse (surely much more afraid of me….) jump out of a trashcan in the middle of the night (I had just gotten back from using the bathroom and heard a rustling sound–thinking I had simply knocked a stray paper loose, I turned on the light, shook the can to let the papers settle and who should scurry out….yikes!). I don’t miss much about being married, but I have to say–rodent removal is one of the things I could do without. And I have had the same problem of birds falling down chimneys…. Bravery of this sort is not my strong suit!

    • I am so with you – love looking at nature, admire it and take pleasure from it. But deal with it leaping out of a trash can at night? My goodness, I’d have been halfway down the ROAD before I knew what I was doing! ‘Rodent removal’ is a great term, lol, perhaps it should be on the school curriculum? I do wonder why we never get taught any of the properly useful things to know???

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