I was listening to BBC Local Radio on the way into work this morning, as I so often do - It stops me staring dejectedly out of the side window of the car into the bleak rain, like someone in a black and white Jimmy Somerville video that's just discovered his true sexuality and is running away from his closed-minded parents to the teeming Metropolis of Manchester, to live a brand-new life that involves many fabulous cushions, ostrich feathers and quite a lot of bumming.
Anywho, there was a 'Pest Control Executive' on there this morning, warning us all about the danger of a new breed of Super-Rat that was resistant to all of the commonly used poisons. But he said that we should not worry, we should not all start looking on the Internet for contractors who will charge us our life-savings and then some, to rat-proof our homes because there is a miracle spray that we can use which discourages them.
Have you ever seen a discouraged rat? Me neither, but I assume that it looks a bit like this:
Note the drooping whiskers, the general hang-dog expression and the look of rodenty resignation. He's either just had a good, hard, discouragement, or he's about to get killed to death with a shovel. My money's on the latter.
Now, I think I may have missed the bit where it described whether you actually had to spray the stuff on the rat itself, like fly-spray, or whether it was a prophylactic (And no, I don't mean that it magically caused a little rat condom to appear out of thin air - And even it if did, I would suggest that you use tweezers to put it on the rat, at arms length - They're bitey little buggers, I mean that you sprayed your worldly goods and it made them less attractive to rats.)
At one point, the interviewer asked his guest, 'So, am I right in saying that if you have decking, you've probably got rats?' to which his reply was, and I can only imagine that he did that thing we all do at Halloween, where you use a torch under your chin to uplight your face 'No, actually, if you have a shed, you've probably got rats.' - I mean, he didn't actually go 'MuhahahahahHAHAhahHha!' but you could tell by his voice that he really wanted to.
He did try to console the general populace by saying that rats don't often come in through your catflap though.
Let's just take a minute there... If you'd asked me yesterday whether having a rat coming in my catflap was a real worry, I'd have laughed like... Erm... I don't know... Like Christiano Ronaldo looking at my payslip, with the general absurdity of the question.
Now I'm having trouble thinking about anything else, and I haven't even got a catflap!
Don't get me wrong though, I'm not totally anti-rat. I mean, they have a bit of a bad name, what with the whole Leptospirosis / Weil's Disease thing. Not to mention the small matter of that whole outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the 17th Century killing somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 people in England depending on who you believe (Yes, I know that technically that was down to the fleas on the rats rather than the actual rats, but that's like saying that you actually get shot by a bullet rather than a gun. Saying things like this within earshot of me will normally result in you getting a thorough 'Belming', or a half-hearted 'Chinny Reckon' behind your back if you're bigger than me).
I mean, I remember many happy nights in the 1970's sitting outside my parents house and watching some fairly large rats run across the rooftops from house to house, it was the highlight of our Saturday nights. There are even people who keep them as pets you know? And they will tell you that they're amazing, clean, intelligent creatures (That's the rats, not the people who keep them, obviously. They're just weirdos.) who can be taught to do complex tasks and do not just urinate everywhere, chew through your electrical wiring and get caught in your hair... Hang on, thinking about it, that might be bats though, not rats - They're pretty much the same animal when you get down to it aren't they?
They're as tough as old boots too, they're radiation resistant to the point where, after the big button gets pressed and we all disappear in a bright, nuclear (or New-cue-lar, for our Colonial readers) flash it'll be pretty much just rats and cockroaches as far as the eye can see. They are also quite easy to muck about with on a genetic level, scientists have bred whole species of rats that are predisposed to obesity and / or diabetes so that they can be used in researching treatments.
I suppose that, when you think about it, it's a tough old life being a rat - Very few sane people like you, you're hunted to almost extinction, chased, trapped and exterminated wherever you may be, experimented upon, if you manage to live past your first few weeks after being born (which 95% don't, believe it or not.) Your average life span in the wild is about two years. You're even thought of as a delicacy in parts of Africa, China and South-East Asia - But don't tell the tourists OK?
And... there's the ever present danger of Toxoplasmotic Zombification. We've all heard of Toxoplasmosis right? That thing that pregnant women use as an excuse for getting someone else to empty their cat's litter-tray (And let's face it, it's usually the women who decide to get a cat, right? If the choice of house-pet was left up to the men, we'd all have eagles and crocodiles and badgers running around the house wouldn't we?) - The disease is caused by a little parasite, made of a single cell, called Toxoplasma Gondii (Pron. Gone-dee-eye) which only really grows and reproduces in cats. However, the way it gets into the cat is pretty odd. It's a well known fact that rats eat pretty much anything up to and including steel - One of those things is cat poop (ewww, right?) If the poop is infected with the parasite, it rages through the rat, to it's little rodent brain and flips a switch, the one that normally says 'You really, really, don't like cats, avoid places that smell like cats, specifically places that smell like cat urine' so that it now says 'You know what you feel like right about now? some cat urine, find things that smell like cat urine and hang about in their general vicinity.'
So, what do you often find near cat urine? That's right, a cat's backside, which is often connected to a cat's frontside, which, ninety nine times out of a hundred, comes complete with a head, mouth, teeth and the sunny disposition of a wet ninja with hemorrhoids.
The rat's lifespan is then measured in femtoseconds, there's a squeak, a bit of a scuffle and it dies, but not without infecting the cat (which I suppose is a bit of a cold comfort for it, all things considered) and the magical circle of life continues on.
Poor, poor Ratty
But on the other hand, and who, other than some of my teenage girlfriends, knew I had so many hands? A rat did kill one of Mrs Dandy's cats once. Not through any heroic beastial fight for its life, not by giving it some nasty parasite, not by causing a grand piano to fall on it in a Tom & Jerry stylee. But by choking it to death. I opened the back door one morning and saw one of the most pathetic, but at the same time blindingly funny things that I have seen before or since. There was the cat, quite dead and stiff, lying on its side on the patio, with this huge rat's back end sticking out of her mouth.
She was old and didn't have any teeth you see, so she couldn't chew...
She'd attempted to swallow it whole...
We gave her a viking funeral, it's what she would have wanted.