One quality I admire in women of the United Kingdom is that they see no benefit in whining. They get on with the task at hand, no matter how difficult or unseemly the task may be. Maybe this stems from millennia of intercontinental warring, when crying would do no good— English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh women are simply too pragmatic for such antics. There is almost nothing a hot cup of tea can’t fix.
If the story you are about to read happened to me when I lived in the U.S., I am certain it would have ended very differently.
Sunday Night: As I laid in bed reading, I could hear a scratching noise coming from within the bedroom walls. This did not initially alarm me, as we have birds that build their nests just inside some of the more ornate brickwork of this 285 year old barn/house that we live in. But, as I listened more closely, I realized that this was not the noise of birds. These critters were burrowing and chewing, not nesting. I sat in my bed and concluded that they were probably mice. Pushing from my thoughts the fact that I have never heard mice so loud—these mice sounded very large—I dozed off.
Monday Morning: I called pest control. The receptionist told me that Big Andy the ‘Rat Man’ would be out within five business days—that meant by Friday. First of all—RAT man?? Who said anything about rats? The receptionist assured me that because we lived out in the country in an old dwelling, our problem would most certainly be rats. She spoke with the same tone of voice as if she was telling me about how long to let paint dry. I shuddered as I pictured Ratatouille and his mates rummaging around in the walls between my bedroom and my twin daughters’ room. Secondly, I was hosting a baby shower at my rat-infested-barn/house on Thursday. The rats, for so many reasons, had to go immediately.
I begged, I pleaded and practically cried to the receptionist to please fit me into Big Andy the Rat Man’s schedule, before Friday. She chuckled the way a parent does with an amusingly annoying child and said Big Andy the Rat Man would be out the next morning.
That night, I laid in bed again listening to the clawing, scratching and chewing of my long-tailed house-guests.
Tuesday Morning: Big Andy the Rat Man arrived right on time. He looked around the house and property and, as he strategically laid out about 632 pounds of rat poison, he gave me the Berlitz course on living in the country in an old barn/house.
1) Just like rabbits, rats live happily and prolifically in the countryside. Out here you are never further than 6 feet away from a rat.
2) Unlike bunnies, rats move into houses and barns when their nests get very wet (derrr—it rains here all the time).
3) Rats are very smart and crafty—pigs of the rodent world. If I wanted them out of my house, they had to be exterminated—killed. This gave me pause, I don’t like the idea of killing a creature for simply living its life, but there seemed to be no other choice.
Tuesday Night: The racket had stopped completely. Not so much as a tip toe could be heard in the walls of our old house. I thought about those crafty little vermin not more than six feet away from me and my sleeping children. I thought about Ratatouille and his pals. I felt a bit guilty. Then I felt a bit worried. ‘What is going to happen to all those poisoned little rodent bodies, once they have... passed?’ I asked my husband. He grimaced silently as he contemplated this.
Wednesday Morning: It had been raining for two weeks straight and was at a downpour this morning. Jeff was late for a meeting. He slammed the kitchen door behind him, then opened the door again and stepped back in the house. ‘I don’t think you have to worry about the rats decomposing in our walls.’ He said. I looked out onto the doorstep. There laid a very wet, very large, very dead rat. It was on its back, claws in the air and it seemed to be smirking. Ratatouille was about 8 inches long from snout to butt. Jeff scooped it up with a shovel and buried it under a bush.
Wednesday Night: I laid awake in the quiet thinking about the baby shower the next day. Ten ladies, arriving to celebrate the birth of little Patrick; We’d have lunch and talk and laugh and give Patrick’s mother, our friend Irish Olivia, a gift certificate to the posh day spa up the road. I thought about the menu (cream of celeriac soup with crunchy pancetta cubes, Shrimp, salmon sesame bruschettas and Asian green salad). I thought about the drinks (all sorts of flavoured fizzy waters). I thought about another rat gasping its last breath on my doorstep, just as the ladies arrive. Or worse, Ratatouille’s bigger cousin creeping into the dining room, mid-salad course. I stuck my nose beneath the warm duvet and tried to sleep.
Thursday Morning: After prepping much of the lunch ahead of time, I put on my Wellies and headed outside to scout around for more furry corpses. I found none, but didn’t know whether to feel relieved or nervous by this.
The woman of the hour, Olivia arrived first. I had just gotten her settled in the house with a drink when the next guest, Rebecca pulled up the drive. She was the only party attendee that I didn’t know. I stood on the doorstep waiting to greet her as she got out of her car. As I watched her getting her baby daughter out of the back seat, something caught my eye on the walkway. It was a rat. It was a really big rat. And it was a live rat. It was creeping down the walkway toward me and it looked pissed. I say ‘pissed’ with both the American meaning (angry) as well as the British meaning (drunk) in mind. It looked like an angry, drunk rodent.
As it walked in my direction it began to stumble. Irish Olivia had come out from the house to see Rebecca in and she noticed it, too. Nothing and I mean nothing upsets Irish Olivia. ‘Ah, rats,’ She said. ‘You’ve had Big Andy the Rat Man around, haven’t ya?’ she continued. ‘Yes,’ I whispered, still trying to smile at Rebecca, not knowing whether she had seen the rat as she moved, babe in arms, up the walk. ‘Right now, that rat is having an internal bleed; that’s how the poison works. His organs, even his brain— he is haemorrhaging— you can see it.’ Then she looked up and chortled, ‘Hi there Rebecca!’
I shut my eyes and wiped my hand over my face; my smile having faded after that play by play of the rat’s demise.
Rebecca, almost made it, got almost all the way to the doorstep without noticing the weaving vermin (who, I swear was now clutching his heart in one last dramatic gesture)—then she looked around and said, ‘I love the countryside.’ She looked down, ‘who’s your furry little friend? I guess that rats are part and parcel of living out here in the sticks, huh?’ Then, without another word, she stepped over the gasping rat and walked into the house, and made herself a cup of tea.