We decided not to mention the rat problem to the neighbours. After all, the rat man had it all in hand. Dead within a week or so, he said. I expressed concern that the bright green ‘pest control’ branding on his van might give the game away, but he winked and tapped his nose. Ants. That’s what you say, apparently, if ever you have an undesirable pest problem. Just tell people it’s ants, and everyone will shake their head and tut and tell you about boiling water and not leaving the biscuits out.
So we didn’t tell the neighbours, and gradually the bright blue bait was nibbled away, and we thought we’d got away with it. All that was left to do was to tip up the compost heap, retrieve the bodies from the nest, and no-one would be any the wiser.
The children had a play-date last week. Nice children. Children who hadn’t been to our house before. I threw them all out into the garden to catch a rare flash of sunlight before tea.
‘THERE’S A MOUSE UNDER THE TRAMPOLINE!’
I shot outside, darting between the trampoline and the tribe of children, whose excitement surpassed anything seen this side of Christmas morning.
‘LOOK! LOOK! A MOUSE! A MOUSE WITH GREAT BIG TEETH!’
I intercepted an inquisitive toddler, bent on investigating this furry play-thing, and herded all the children to the other side of the garden like an extra in One Man and His Dog. Come-bye.
‘Just calm down,’ I said, not feeling in the slightest bit calm. Where precisely was the rat? What if it wasn’t dead? What if it was even now running towards me? I danced around a little bit, to deter it from running up my trousers.
‘There’s no need to get excited,’ I told them, ‘it’s just a little rat.’ I turned round and peered under the trampoline. Blimey, quite a big rat, then.
‘A RAT?’ my son bellowed, the sound bouncing neatly into each neighbouring garden. ‘A REAL RAT? A RAT IN OUR GARDEN?’
‘Don’t keep saying it,’ I hissed.
The rat was definitely dead. Two huge yellow teeth protruded from his open mouth. I shuddered.
‘Can we play with it?’
A plastic bag was fetched, and the rat deposited gingerly inside, whereupon all the children insisted on taking a proper look.
‘Wow’, they sighed, ‘a real rat! How exciting!’
Let’s hope the neighbours agree.