New Chapter: Becky
Let me introduce Becky Pitt to you. She is David Wright’s granddaughter. She is a lively girl who likes maths and wants to become an actress. We talked to her and I found her an interesting personality. She reminded me of Becky Thatcher from ‘Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ by Mark Twain. I imagined Twain’s character just like Becky!
Below you will find an article by David Wright about Becky’s new pet.
A Sticky Problem Solved by Toffee
My daughter, Barbara Anne, whom we mostly call simply ‘Anne’, has a 10 year-old daughter, Rebecca, who is mostly called ‘Becky’ for short. That makes Becky my granddaughter. They live in a village called Helsby, just a few miles from my home in Runcorn. The other day, they presented* me with a diplomatic dilemma!
It all began when their cat – I don’t know what the cat is called – caught a tiny1 field mouse in their garden and brought it indoors unharmed2. You may think this story is beginning to sound like the earlier one about the stone marten3 which my Dutch friends found in their garden, but this one is rather different.
English field mice are fairly harmless4, timid5 creatures, unlike their larger cousins, the house mice which carry all sorts of unpleasant diseases and parasites with them. As their name implies6, house mice like to live in close proximity7 to humans where they usually find free board and lodging8 in our warm homes filled with all kinds of attractive9 food. Sometimes the food they find is our own food improperly stored, perhaps just in cardboard boxes, and sometimes it is stuff10 which has been accidentally dropped on the floor or spilled on shelves or in cupboards. A cardboard box is no defence against a hungry mouse which will chew through plastic and even lead-covered11 wires with little trouble, just to keep in practice as it were, and to prevent its continuously growing teeth from getting too long. A mouse’s skeleton is very flexible and they can squeeze through gaps12 and holes in ways which you would think utterly13 impossible. It is small wonder that people have devised all sorts of ingenious devices to catch and kill mice and formulated different chemical mixtures to deter14 or poison15 them. Despite that unpleasant side to their character, they do have some uses, for example as laboratory animals where their habits of rapid reproduction16 make them particularly useful for scientific studies of various kinds: genetic experiments, pharmaceutical development, etc. But these laboratory mice are chosen carefully and kept as hygienically and humanely as possible, so instead of being a threat, they are important aids in the development of new drugs and the investigation17 diseases like cancer in us humans.
I am sure you will have various kinds of mice where you live too as they are fairly18 ubiquitous19 in temperate and tropical climates at least. I read recently that in parts of China, snake had become a popular dish, so much so that field mice which were the snakes main prey, multiplied20 greatly in the absence of their predators. But recent flooding had driven the mice from their nests in the lowland fields and the ever-resourceful21 Chinese were soon enjoying mouse on their menus. Their popularity is such that Guangzhou entrepreneurs22 were reported by local media to be paying US80¢ for a kilogram of live mice to be served at banquets. If their field mice are like ours, it would take an awful lot of mice to make a kilogram!
Becky’s mouse was very tiny and she wanted to keep it as a pet. However, her mother was not at all keen23 on that idea and wanted Becky to set it free in their garden whence it came. Both of them appealed to me for support!
That was my dilemma. Naturally, I wanted to make them both happy, but that seemed at first to be impossible. I could well understand why my daughter didn’t want to have a mouse indoors; one which might well escape24 and attract other less desirable25 mice into the house. On the other hand, I remember how I used to keep pet mice as a boy and how much I learned by watching, breeding and reading about them at the time. Any pet which needs feeding and other kinds of care and attention does help a child to develop a sense of responsibility. As it happens, field mice have become rather rare in this country due to intensive farming practices, reduced26 areas of agricultural land as houses spread across the countryside and the general use of various pesticides27, so they are now a legally protected species. That means that it is illegal to keep them in captivity. That does seem rather strange when the Chinese are selling them by the kilo. What should I do? I could not advise Becky to be disobedient28, but she was so enamoured29 of the little creature that it seemed she would be heartbroken to lose it.
This was my plan.
While Beck’s mum and my friend Nadezhda were shopping for clothes, Becky and I went to a nearby shop which sold all things necessary for many kinds of pets: food, cages, toys, bedding30, etc. We spoke with a very helpful lady assistant who explained that field mice didn’t really make good pets as they couldn’t be tamed31 and would probably die very soon in captivity. Becky is a sensible girl and she understood all that, but the lady quickly explained that there were other creatures that would be much more suitable and a lot more fun too. She showed us pictures of possible pets. We soon decided that rabbits, rats and guinea-pigs took up far too much space and suggested we consider either tame mice, gerbils32 or hamsters33. Becky agreed that that would probably be the best idea, so we bought a plastic ‘container’ for small animals. I don’t know what you would call it really. It was not a cage as it had no bars, but it was a complete living environment, with different areas for eating, sleeping, playing and climbing up and down on different levels. It was small and convenient enough to be kept in Becky’s bedroom, much to her delight. We added a bag of suitable food and hid our ‘loot34’ in my car. Then we went off to find Anne and Nadezhda who were still busy looking at clothes. After that, we all went off to my house where Anne was pleased to hear that Becky had happily agreed to let her mouse join its ‘friends’ in the compost35 heap in my garden.
After a welcome cup of tea, while Anne and Becky assembled36 the ‘mouse house’, we all set off37 once more to find some pet mice. The shop we went to didn’t have any mice, but as we looked around we saw a lovely little hamster peeping38 over a log39 in its cage. All four of us decided at once that this would be the perfect pet!
Then Becky and her mum went off home with the hamster (which is now named Toffee40 – from its colour, I presume41) and I heaved a sigh of relief42 at the successful conclusion to my diplomacy. The last I heard, Becky was sitting in an empty bath letting Toffee run around so that he could get used to her scent.
- by David Wright (UK)
* ‘Presented’, not ‘gave’, here because I am giving the account a pseudo-official gloss for effect. However, the verb in the explanation is simply ‘giving’ because there is nothing special or formal about it.
1 tiny – крошечный
2 unharmed – невредимый
3 stone marten – куница каменная
4 harmless – безобидный
5 timid – робкий
6 to imply – подразумевать
7 proximity – близость
8 free board and lodging – бесплатные еда и ночлег
9 attractive – привлекательный
10 stuff – материал, вещество
11 lead-covered – со свинцовым покрытием
12 gap – щель, дыра
13 utterly – весьма, крайне
14 to deter – отпугивать
15 to poison – отравлять
16 reproduction – размножение
17 investigation – (научное) исследование
18 fairly – довольно
19 ubiquitous – повсеместный
20 to multiply – размножаться
21 resourceful – находчивый
22 entrepreneur – предприниматель
23 keen – (зд.) полный энтузиазма
24 to escape – убегать
25 desirable – желанный
26 reduced – сокращенный
27 pesticide – пестицид (средство для борьбы с вредителями)
28 disobedient – непослушный
29 enamoured – без ума
30 bedding – то, что служит постелью; подстилка
31 to tame – приручать
32 gerbil – песчанка (грызун, похожий на мышь, водящийся в песчаных или глинистых равнинах и степях)
33 hamster – хомяк
34 loot – добыча
35 compost – компост (органическое удобрение – смесь перегноя с землей или торфом)
36 to assemble – собирать, монтировать
37 to set off – отправляться
38 to peep – выглядывать
39 log – бревно; полено
40 toffee – ириска
41 to presume – полагать
42 to heave a sigh of relief – вздохнуть облегчённо
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