Rachel Johnson: House-proud? I’ve been chasing my tail…
"There’s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna do? There’s a rat in me kitchen what am I gonna
do?” No pop song’s lyrics have ever been so soaringly appropriate to my own life as UB40’s right now.
You see, there is a rat in my kitchen. Behind the fridge. So move the fridge, I hear you say. Well I can’t. My fridge is one of those huge, stainless steel American monsters the size of two coffins. It takes two grown men and a block and tackle to shift it a millimetre. It has to sit on a specially-built strengthened plinth.
It’s a gas-guzzling American fridge so, naturally, it has an engine. And the engine is on all the time – I bought it second hand before peak oil, before we all believed in anthropogenic global warming, so no letters please – creating a lovely warm nesting area at the back.
The rat makes so much noise I have to turn the radio on to drown out the sounds of crunching as it munches through vital wires and pipework. He (I presume it is a he, not having had occasion to check) even scoots out from the back of the fridge and sits there looking at me, insolently, with his bright beady eyes.
When I shout, or throw something, and only then, he saunters casually back to his lair, as if taunting me with his superiority. The dog, meanwhile, is terrified, and has stopped going near the fridge at all.
After a few weeks of torment I’d had enough. “I’m gonna fix dat rat that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna fix dat rat,” I sang under my breath as I walked to the hardware shop and spent £11 on two pre-baited traps: clear plastic boxes with red poison within.
However, I must have misjudged the size of the rat as he disdained to enter the boxes, let alone scoff the poison. The crunching and scuffling noises continued, louder than ever. I went back to Nu-Line on Portobello and bought a couple of Little Nipper mousetraps, and put salami on them. But for days the rat simply came out, swiped the salami and carried on as before.
So I went back to Nu-Line for a third time and bought a much bigger Jumbo Nipper with a steel trap that said ‘Extra Force’ on it and mentioned rats as well as mice. As I paid (£3.95), there was plenty of discussion instore about the best bait. “Cheddar,” said one man in overalls behind the till. “Peanut butter,” said another.
When I got home I loaded the trap with a cube of cave-aged cheddar (I may have a rat but it is a Notting Hill rat) and then coated it thickly with peanut butter. I laid the trap gingerly, terrified it was going to crush my fingers, to the left of the fridge, by a hard little black sausage of rat dropping.
It didn’t take long before I heard the satisfying snap of the steel trap. After so many weeks, it was hard to feel Buddhist about the fact that I had robbed one of God’s precious creatures of life and limb. Somehow the rat looked smaller and sadder and mangier, when impaled under the steel spring. I took a picture on my iPhone (I needed proof). “Sorry chum,” I said, and wrapped it in kitchen towel and put it in the bin.
I emailed the picture to my son who was out of the house. “U killed rat!” he texted within minutes. I began to feel pleased with myself. Finally, I had a result. I washed my hands and put the kettle on. I sat down at the kitchen table and resumed reading a long and enjoyable Guardian feature about the race to the Pole between Scott and Amundsen and sipped green tea.
I almost sobbed as I read about Oates going outside and Scott’s deathless diaries, and I became aware of a familiar sound. Scritch. Scritch. Scuffle. Munch. My heart froze like Scott’s on the pack ice when I heard the sound, as I realised what awfulness this sound portended, a sound that made me wonder, wildly, who was baiting who, who was ruling the roost, in my own house. I didn’t have a rat in my kitchen at all. I had rats.
So now what am I gonna do?
Rachel Johnson is editor-in-chief of The Lady. Follow her at @RachelSJohnson. She has donated her fee for this column to the Big Issue Foundation