~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, May 30th 2012
My husband, not an animal lover, has struck a deal with the children over pets. If they can catch one of the mice that occasionally skid across our kitchen floor, they can keep it. But I’m worried that we may find ourselves honour-bound to welcome into the family something altogether nastier: not Mrs Tittlemouse, but Samuel Whiskers.
Last Sunday in London, enjoying the heat in our suntrap garden, I was amazed to see what I took for a gecko shinning up the wall through the clematis. On closer examination, I realised it was the tail of a large rat. I screamed, it jumped to the ground, skittered about horribly close to me, then dived through the trellis to meet the neighbours.
It’s not our first visitation, nor our worst. A couple of years back, lured by chocolate muffin crumbs, a shabby, moth-eaten specimen sauntered through the kitchen into the playroom, and curled up among the footballs. It was slow and dopey. Easy to evict, then? Not a bit of it. When my husband approached with a shovel it reared up on its hind legs, bared its yellow teeth, and spat.
And shortly after we moved into the house, an appalling stench alerted us to the fact that rats had taken up residence in the cellar. A pest control officer from Hammersmith Council—a woman in a shower cap and boiler suit, carrying a bucket of poison and a giant spoon—came to inspect. She frowned and shook her head. A thoroughly kindred spirit, she was as appalled as I am by the quantities of my husband’s books and papers cramming the cellar from floor to rafters. She’d never, she said, be able to discover where the vermin were gaining access.
That same day, however, a friend visited from the country. Lifting the sodden, stinking matting, she revealed that the rats had clawed their way in from the drain, and along the washing machine’s exit pipe. That night we set a Little Nipper rat-trap (like a Little Nipper mousetrap, but with “EXTRA POWER”). In the morning, clamped in its jaws, was the largest rat we’d ever seen. Pimlico Plumbers’ Rat Team came and, at eye-stretching expense, removed it, and sealed up its front door.
It was only after they’d been banished that I realised the rats were actually on my side. Consulting his travel section, my husband discovered that what appeared to be a row of books had been reduced to a row of lightly-gnawed spines, behind them a wet, stained, pulpy nest where the rats had made their home. The books were beyond salvage, and for a brief but blissful spell I delighted in a stretch of clear (if smelly) shelving. There’s always a silver lining; a twist to every tail.