From the archive: the mouse breeders of Shipley, 1983

For anyone thinking the cover of the Observer Magazine of 21 August 1983 has ‘British eccentricity’ written all over it, ‘Mouse proud – the cut and thrust of British mouse breeding’ doesn’t disappoint.Maureen Green went to Shipley in Yorkshire – ‘the mouse capital of the world’ she was told – to talk to some leading breeders of the National Mouse Club. It began with a heated dispute in the Under Eight Weeks Old class at the annual awards. ‘Although the animal itself is so minute, it’s the work that has gone into it, you see,’ said one member. ‘And when you are breeding something so small, to improve such fine points, the judging also has to be very, very precise.’
According to the National Mouse Club, ‘the mouse should be long in body, with long clean head, not too fine or pointed at the nose; the eyes should be large, bold and prominent; the ears large and tulip-shaped, free from creases, carried erect with plenty of width between them …’ There were fashions in mouse colours, too. ‘The cream is the mouse of the moment,’ according to one competitor.‘A mouse is finished by eight or nine months, it’s not a long career,’ wrote Green. ‘So the main object is to produce a stud, a strain which will turn up winners all the time.’ Even more brutally: ‘Surplus mice are knocked on the head or sold to the reptile department of London zoo.’

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: When your dog is carefully choosing the perfect place to do his business, it is because they prefer to go poop in alignment with the Earth’s magnetic field.

So what was the attraction? ‘I never go on holiday, neither do any of the other top breeders. We live with our mice. I don’t need a holiday anyway. I can relax just watching them,’ said Jack Hartley, 59.‘You’re doing something you want to do in miniature,’ explained Eric, secretary of a mouse club. ‘Why do men play with model railways? Because they can’t afford to run a railway line of their own.’

However, one thought remained unanswered: where do you pin the rosettes?