Wednesday 29 April 2009

How now! a rat?

'How now! a rat? Dead, for a ducat, dead!' (Hamlet, Shakespeare)

We have had a visitation of rats. A house not far from us has been overrun with rats, the elderly lady living there unaware that she was sharing her quarters with them until her usually absent sons decided that refurbishment was in order – an eye to the future, maybe? There is a stream that runs at the end of the gardens and nearly every house has at least one compost bin and one bird-feeding station so there are rich pickings to be found in this middle-class, middle England, mildly affluent suburban community.

We have taken advice and regularly refill the locked rat traps with rat poison, keep an eye on the rat electrocutor, make sure the sonar deterrent is plugged in but still they come, not in droves but sadly, rather endearingly, in all sizes from fully adult to wide-eyed juvenile. Understanding that it is the youngest and the elderly that are forced to emerge in daylight hours, we realise that we are not seeing the full range of rodents. I imagine a King and Queen Rat presiding over their court, sending out their minions to ascertain the whereabouts of the most toothsome of treats. I have to admire rats; they are intelligent, resourceful, loyal, cunning and the carriers of disease, just like people really, though I don't believe they've caught on to the possibilities of air travel. (I don't think people are always loyal or compassionate, either . . . look at the Milgram experiment!)

Nonetheless, knowing that we cannot continue to host these clever creatures Barry bought an air rifle and is to be found on many a late afternoon honing his marksmanship. To date he has killed two dozen or so rats in varying stages of growth and poisoning but the remarkable thing – apart from his obvious skill (cough,cough) - is that the last half-dozen have disappeared within an hour of being shot.

At first he thought they must have been injured, severely but not sufficiently to prevent them dragging themselves off to a quiet place of death. Thus he ensured that he pumped enough rounds into them that they were almost minced (I exaggerate, of course!). Today he killed a young rat and before I had a chance to go out and verify the kill the corpse had disappeared.

We have a lot of crows in the area – they feature in the name of our village - they are clever, opportunistic birds. We think they have realised there is free food to be had, not only from the feeders on which they balance so precariously, not only from the pond, full of fish food, tadpoles and frogs but also when the thwack of lead against flesh advertises fresh meat for the taking. I just hope they're not susceptible to lead poisoning.

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