Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Things that go Bump in the Night

Things I Like About Sydney No. 57: Things That Go Bump In The Night

We had been left some scattered clues in the days before out-and-out warfare began - a ripped-open plastic bag here, odd scattered crumbs there, faint sounds of rustling behind the dish-washer as we turned in for bed. But it was only when things became obvious, when stealth turned to cheek, that we realised we needed to take action...

One morning Daniel groggily got out of bed to fetch his customary breakfast of cereal doused in lashings of milk. Padding barefoot across the corridor he felt something unusual beneath his feet. Readers of this blog might remember the time he trod on a Leaf-Tailed Gecko in similar circumstances and will hopefully sympathise with his subsequent wariness of coming across unidentified objects whilst barely awake. Looking down this time however he simply saw a discarded sunflower seed shell. Much less alarming, you'd think...But the plot immediately thickened as he discovered that this was not a single husk but the beginning of a trail of shells which he could follow, like poor old Hansel and Gretel, from the dish-washer in the kitchen right to the front door and its source - the bag of seeds lying there handy for feeding our daily visitors - the lorikeets, Thangam and Kevin, and our King Parrots, Simon and Rosie.

It seemed that during the night something had invited itself in for dinner, gorged itself on seeds whilst we slept the sleep of the ignorant and unwitting, and then disappeared leaving us to do the clearing up...

Those early scattered clues could no longer be ignored. Let us turn to the lyrics of UB40 for clarification because, bloody hell,

There's a rat in the kitchen, what are we gonna do?
There's a rat in the kitchen, what are we gonna do?

Obviously we're going to have to

Fix that rat, that's what we're gonna do, we're gonna fix that rat!

Or rather Daniel is, I'm not going anywhere near it...

We were not completely ignorant of the rat situation here in Glenview Street before this unwelcome guest. We've seen them scuttling along the balcony enough times, making daring foraging raids in broad daylight. And having seen them so clearly we know that we don't want then INSIDE the house for they are ENORMOUS and BLACK and PRETTY SCARY. They have long tails, scaly and sparsely-haired, which make them look  bigger and longer than your average British rat. And obviously they know their way around a kitchen, escape routes and all.

And, oh my, this particular rat was extremely clever. What followed felt like the Seven Years War, a battle between man and beast ("General Daniel and the Black Rat") that seemed to have no end. Until it did. A very abrupt one.

We firstly had to come up with a strategy. So we sat down with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Plutarch's Life of Caesar and a History of the Borgias for some guidance. We soon decided against the poisoning route for two reasons - what if our furry friend feasted on the poison, crawled away and only made it to the back of the dish-washer where he or she would then die and lie there decomposing slowly for the roaches to feast on and for us to smell? And there was the Sniff issue. Poison that kills large Black Rats kills small, defenseless I'll-eat-anything dogs...

So, we had to get some traps. Daniel decided against anything nimby-pimby and, taking his inspiration from the leaders of the French Revolution, bought some steel-enforced guillotines from Bunnings that looked like they'd kill an elephant. And me, and Sniff...

And now began the elaborate plotting and subterfuge. The traps could only be laid when Sniff was absent because they'd certainly do him in. So each night, Sniff would be banished from the kitchen last thing, his water bowl removed and placed in the living room, and Daniel would lay out a series of traps on the kitchen floor in patterns which made it look like one of those intelligent tests for mice. He'd carefully put some peanut butter in the traps in order to entice Ratty in. And when that didn't work, he started to delicately balance sunflower seeds on top of the peanut butter.

But Ratty had been reading his own books for inspiration - Houdini's memoirs perhaps - for somehow he managed to snatch a few sunflower seeds from the jaws of death and wising up to the traps, avoided his fate for over a week. We fancied we could hear the faint echoes of rodent laughter as he dived for safety beneath the dish-washer each night, D'Artagnan of the underworld.

Every morning, the traps had to go back into the cupboard before Sniff could be let loose and Daniel could disconsolately go off to work. I never quite got the hang of how to disarm the traps myself, and before I could have a cup of tea would have to either make Daniel de-mine the kitchen or go in there myself and throw things at them until they sprung shut. And not being the best shot in the world this could be quite a business...

After two or three days of this, I was sitting having my own breakfast (sourdough toast and marmite, cereal's for rabbits and guinea-pigs) when out of the corner of my eye I saw a monstrous being sauntering across the kitchen floor. Ratty was out and about hunting for food, brazen as can be. I screamed, he fled and Sniff belatedly did what terriers are supposed to do and went ballistic, running around in circles, his fur raised all along his spine, barking, whining, seeking the RAT.

Who was long gone.

Several days of stalemate later, I came home from taking Sniff out for his lunch-time walk and on unlocking the front door found another trail of seed husks. This new trail led from the front door, across the carpet, over the hearth and behind the wood-burning stove where, lo and behold, there was a great pile of empty husks, evidence of quite how many days of leisurely feasting??? "THIS HAS TO STOP!!!" I cried.

Daniel steps up his game. He lays out more traps in ever-increasingly cunning patterns with tasty tidbits balanced just so. Our resources are fully mustered...Could we be on the verge of victory at last?

The traps are out, Sniff's in bed, the kitchen and living room lights are switched off. We're reading - Daniel The Guardian on his iphone, me Harrison Ainsworth's The Lancashire Witches - and suddenly, there is the loud thunk of a closing trap...We look at each other and simultaneously throw back the covers, leap out of bed and rush to the kitchen.

The end was quick and violent. We saw but a few twitches before Ratty breathed his last. Daniel's elephant traps proved efficient and, in their swift way, merciful. Our foe finally lay vanquished before us: a large, sleek, well-fed Black Rat.

We both looked down at our rat with a certain sadness, feeling somewhat less than triumphant. We had, after all, secretly admired our adversary and almost enjoyed his mischievous peregrinations into our world and the problems he caused us. We were both sad that a life had to come to an end but grateful that the Seven Years War was over.

Victory, as all Generals know, often has a bitter aftertaste...


  1. you have amply filled the space in my saturday left by Lucy Mangan. Thank you and thank you Ratty xxx

  2. Ratty would be gratified to know he caused fear and loathing,but to have been the cause of humour anmd sadness as well would have cheesed him off no end, as it were.