The travails of pet ownership are always going to feature heavily in these pages. Usually, where death is involved. This is not wishful thinking on my part, although I will admit that there is a direct correlation between size of pet and dwindling of sentimentality. Regular readers will know of the tale of the lunchtime escapades of Emily's recently deceased guinea pig and perhaps surmise that that was the end of small furry creatures at Augill.
Unfortunately an eight year old daughter has a hypnotic effect on her father and all too soon after the demise of Molly we are putting our names down for two mice at the pet shop.
Now mice and hotels are rarely a happy combination. And the combination of mice, a hotel and a young cat is asking for trouble.
I try one final appeal to Emily's logical side in explaining that the natural order of things will not bode well for the longevity of the mice. I share my feelings that mice have been elevated beyond pet status and now many have an eminently more noble calling living in labs with human organs growing on their backs but I'm not getting through. So I share with her the story of the field mouse which Harry, our cat, brought into the entrance hall of the castle just as an American family was arriving.
'Oh how adorable your pet mouse is, it's so tame, it let me stroke it and it hardly moved' said one of the parents of the visiting family to Wendy. 'Gross' muttered one of the teenagers. Something quite remarkable but inaudible muttered Wendy who, predictably, had no idea there was a rodent lurking inside the front door. On examining the creature more closely she discovered that Harry had indeed brought in a live mouse that seemed quite tame. It was making no effort to seek sanctuary behind the skirting or under the furniture, just quivering quietly. And this was hardly surprising as, from the stairs came a howl of horror from another of the Americans at the discovery of the poor unfortunate mouse's two hind legs on the carpet. Gross indeed.
But Emily is unmoved and the mice come home. They have a smart new cage which she has bought with her own pocket money. They have food, a little plastic house with a chimney stack (although when I ask Em if they also have two armchairs and forks for toasting muffins on the fire she fixes me with one of those glares reserved by daughters for their fathers which says 'weird', 'old', 'fart' and 'locked up' all in one) and a wheel with an irreparable squeak as a constant reminder to them and us of the purgatory of life as a captive mouse.
They are to live in Emily's bedroom and seem quite settled and contented in their new abode. However, after a couple of nights, the mice's living arrangements are under review. 'They stink', Emily wails. She iis beside herself as they are staying up most of the night taking turns on the wheel of purgatory and Harry has worked himself in to such a frenzy over the fact that there are two ready meals fresh for the taking in the house that he has taken to spraying Emily's bedroom door with essence of pure excitement. 'That stinks too', she howls.
The mice are relocated to the utility room on the understanding that Emily can bring them into her bedroom for playing with.
A few days on, all seems to have calmed down, except Harry. It's Friday teatime and a wedding party are arriving. I check the children are settled and poke my head into Emily's room. As I open the door, Harry shoots out and there is a scene of carnage and devastation. The cage is on it's side, there is bedding and food everywhere and in the middle of the carpet one mouse is twitching, the other is trying to get somewhere, anywhere, yes, you've guessed it, on just one pair of legs.
I run to the castle front door where Wendy is greeting guests as I am half hiding behind a tree gesticulating wildly to her, imitating a mouse with fingers for whiskers, bearing my teeth and simultaneously drawing a slit across my throat. She fails to understand what I am trying to say but does understand that this sort of behaviour is not good for business and hurries everyone inside. Finally, after what looks like a rather apologetic explanation of her husband's erratic temperament to the guests, she comes out and I explain that she must distract Emily and stop her going into her bedroom while I clear up the scene.
What happens next then descends into true farce. When Emily eventually discovers what has happened she first says she hates the cat, then she hates us for having bought the cat, then she says she hated the mice anyway because what she really wanted was a pony and only agreed to the mice because there was no pony in the shop and then she declares there must be a funeral at once.
This is quickly arranged. A hole is dug, the mice are popped in and I'm just about to cover them over when Emily says 'there must be some singing Mummy'. Mummy looks at me, I just lean on my grave diggers shovel and she sighs the sigh of a mother who knows she must do whatever it takes for the good of the family. And so she obliges with what she later claims was the only thing she could think of and across the lawn drifts a moving rendition of Ave Maria. I lower my gaze into the grave to pay my last respects to two mice and a pair of legs and Emily sprinkles a few daisies in for good measure. When I look up the entire assembly of wedding guests is pressed against the Drawing Room window and in front of them all, sitting on the window seat, is Harry and I swear he's smiling.