When I was a little girl, we all lived in a cottage in the country, my father, my mother, my sister and I… They loved it. I did not. We had ponies – my sister loved them. I did not. My parents never even asked me, they just assumed that like most little girls, it would be a dream come true for me. My pony hated me and I didn’t really like him… My chosen companion was our large black cat. He was tolerant to a fault, as I stripped all my hated dolls of their clothes and proceeded to dress him in paisley patterned frocks and little bonnets… I suffered from night terrors as a child so he was my defender of the dark hours and his comforting purr would soothe me back to sleep as I awoke from nightmares of being chased by mad horses and bitten by sheep.
My tabby doing what I call, ‘The Angry Bott’ pose, she wanted her toy rat back!
However, being good parents, they endeavoured to make our every wish come true…
My sister pestered for rats. (By the way, rats make adorable pets. They’re clean, intelligent, loving and very responsive – just don’t get a male and a female unless you are prepared for LOTS of babies.) Now, at this time, rats as pets were quite a novelty, but my father managed to get a pair of Japanese Hooded rats. A male and a female. Can you guess what happened next?
Nature. In due course, we had lots of lovely little baby rats. Then some more. Then quite a lot more.
My father built a bigger cage from an old cupboard, because he wanted to keep his daughters happy, with a big mesh top and glass front so we could watch and interact with our pets… One day, my sister (she’s ten years older than me by the way, so the following incident is all entirely down to her, nothing to do with me at all) said: “Let’s get the rats out!” We looked at them, wondering at the intricacy of the little metropolis they had built, full of busyness, some were playing in the corner, others were gnawing on on a cardboard tube, some were gathered around the food bowl, others were sweetly sleeping in a heap.
My sister lifted the lid. All activity stopped. The sleepers awoke. Eighteen or so pairs of beady eyes turned upwards to our hopeful, expectant faces. Then –
Little ratty bodies exploded this way and that, like furry fireworks as they left the comfort of the cage for freedom and the great unknown. Pink feet scrabbled, wormy tails swished as they disappeared behind cupboards, into skirting boards, some more daring ones dashing towards the (of course) open kitchen door. Our cat sat and watched (“I don’t recall rat catcher being part of the job description when I applied, substitute cuddly toy and dress up doll, yes…”) as my sister and I wept and searched.
I learnt some interesting new words that day… we recovered six.
“Did some of your friends have some rats?” my father asked my sister.
“Oh yes,” she lied unblushingly, “they’re really popular now.”
About six months later, my father noticed we were starting to have a bit of a pest problem. Strange damage to carpets and wiring, scratching coming from the attic. Our cat had the air of someone going about important business, with barely a moment to spare, or grab a bite to eat. (“Well, when needs must, I suppose, call it a favour to a friend…”) When I started having nightmares about trolls in the attic, my father thought it was time to call the pest control man and have a look at what was going on.
A good couple of hours later, the pest control man stumbled from the attic, looking strange… “I’m gonna have to report this mate, them’s the funniest looking rats I’ve ever seen… Might be a new breed.”
“Girls!” my father roared, as the penny dropped. We made like the rats and left – rapidly!