Mousie and some pals. Photo: Getty Images
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All I care about is wine; all Mousie cares about is bread. And now we have a new housemate – Antie

My only consolation, as I now wonder what on earth I am going to put my Marmite on besides my finger, is that Mousie will have burst like a balloon with the amount he has eaten.

Mousie is back. I believe I mentioned this earlier. He has since become more brazen, or friendly. One evening while I was holding court at the living-room drinkstation (my workstation is my bed and few people are allowed there), my interlocutor remarked that Mousie was now taking the air: pausing for a recce, as it were, beneath the heel of my right brogue, at that point resting on the crossbar of the table’s lower framework. I wouldn’t even have had to uncross a leg to crush him. Either the fact that Mousie’s great-grandfather had been destroyed by that very same heel had not been passed down the generations, or it had, but he was taking the piss. He was saying, “Look how soft you are now.”

I had learned to hide the bread on top of the fridge. It had worked. It’s a fairly tall fridge. When Laurie Penny lived here I could hide things from her on top of it. But that spot is now no longer safe. I come down one afternoon to see that my pack of Hovis multigrain has suffered an outrage. Its guts spill out of an eviscerated bag. A tunnel of bread is visible right through to the back. No slice is salvageable.

My only consolation, as I now wonder what on earth I am going to put my Marmite on besides my finger, is that Mousie will have burst like a balloon with the amount he has eaten. His actions do not suggest those of a mouse who has thought only of his family and carried the crumbs back in his little paws.

Maybe I malign him. For all I know, he is doing the right thing. I was once rebuked thus: “The only things you care about are drink, and your children.” I have suffered worse, and more inaccurate, accusations. And who knows? Maybe Mousie is not so selfish after all. Would Mrs Mousie say, as he returned, paws full with his burden of stolen bread, but a bit stuffed himself, “All you care about is bread and your mice”? She may well have used those very words to imply that although she may not have chosen the ideal mouse for keepmate of her brief time on this wretched earth, he still fulfilled the basic obligations; she could have done worse. At least it faintly amuses me to consider that the only way out of this, every other having failed, is to revert to the complex and modern technology of the breadbin.

Meanwhile, another problem has presented itself in the Hovel. This would be Antie. I may suspect that there is more than one Mousie on patrol but I see only one at a time (indeed, “he” may well be a “she”, but I was dozy and inattentive during mouse-sexing classes and am too tired to type “foraging mice statistics by gender” into Google, and I am also old and stuck in my ways, so forgive me for not defaulting to “she” here); but Antie’s name, like the devil’s, is legion. Antie is a zeugma.

There are compensations: recently, having left out the lid of a takeaway pot of some sweet Thai chilli sauce, I found Anties racing round the rim, like so many tiny speedway motorcyclists – not cyclists: these ants were really crazy fast, too fast even to take bets on individuals. But I picked the lid up and tossed them away into the void. They were probably so hopped up on nam chim that they thought it was all part of the fun.

Anyway, becoming a curator to a zoo with rather limited exhibits is only a symptom of the general decay. As I mentioned previously, my father fell and broke his hip the other week. This was all we needed to complete the family drama – or near completion. I tried once suggesting my parents give up falling over. The best way, I told them, if you do not want to follow the whole acupuncture/hypnosis/patch route, is to try to give up the first soothing fall after breakfast. Soon enough you find yourself postponing the after-lunch fall, then, harder perhaps, the post-dinner fall. After that, it’s a piece of cake.

Unfortunately they failed to listen and so here we are again. Then my computer blew up. I’m typing this on the decade-old machine I was going to throw away a year ago because it could not be rebooted. But somehow, miraculously, I got it going.

Maybe I am not, after all, as daft as I look. I was at least able to sit back and relax and not worry where the money for the next computer was going to come from. Unfortunately, at some point in the relaxing process, I trod on my glasses. Fortunately I had a spare pair, pre-dating even this machine. Maybe Mousie will bring his family the shards of the old pair to improve their vision. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Motherhood Trap

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.