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

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.