Home Front Alice Pitman
Alice Pitman: Home Front
As readers may recall, a rat took up residence behind the cupboards in our kitchen while we were on holiday.
More wily than its predecessor (which Mr Home Front quickly trapped a year ago), this one ignored our new hightech rat trap, containing a piece of chocolate smothered in peanut butter (as recommended by the Heston Blumenthal-style instructions on the box). And turned his nose up at the ironmonger’s poison.
Reluctance to pay for a pest controller meant we accommodated our lodger for some weeks. There may even have been a touch of Stockholm Syndrome. One night, when I was pouring myself a second glass of Lidl’s Pinot Noir and heard him scrabbling under the floorboards nearby, I felt the usual repulsion, this time mixed with a perverse creeping fondness.
But then the rat ruined things by inviting his friends round. I knew this because we kept hearing simultaneous scuffles in different areas of the house. Even we realised it was probably time to call in the professionals.
After looking through the credentials of numerous ratcatchers online, I opted for Mick. Partly because his profile picture showed him posing with a happy-looking dog. And partly because of all the glowing customer reviews. ‘My vehicle carries no signage or markings regarding pest control services,’ he promised on his website, ‘So you can be assured of complete discretion when I attend to any pest removal work.’ When he arrived two days later, it was in a van with a pest controller logo emblazoned on the side, accompanied by a silhouette of a vicious-looking rat not unlike the one I recalled from a Look and Learn feature on the Black Death.
Mick was a borderline rogue who looked and sounded like Ian Dury.
‘Well, I’m perplexed,’ he admitted
after a cursory search round the outside of the house.
‘There’s no point of entry, nothing.’ Inside, the house yielded no clues either.
‘There’s no droppings, can’t understand it. It’s weird.’
His attention drifted to the paintings of Lupin peppered around the walls. ‘Someone likes dogs,’ he remarked. I told him I had painted them. Mick gave an uncertain nod. Then he stopped before the only painting I hadn’t done. It depicted a dog sitting on a desolate railway platform in the snow. ‘Did you do that?’ he enthused. The urge to say ‘yes’ was strong. ‘No,’ I admitted, ‘I bought it in Bridlington.’ ‘Who’s the artist?’ ‘A retired clergyman called Barry,’ I said, rather resentfully.
Mick stared appreciatively at it for some moments.
‘There’s a real atmosphere to it, isn’t there?’ he mused. ‘Makes you wonder why he’s there. I mean, is he waiting for a train, or just having a rest, or what?’
Eventually, he laid down enough poison to kill a country. A week later, only the bait in the attic had gone.
Over the next few days, rodent activity returned with such reinforced vigour that I wondered if Mick had given them amphetamines. In the kitchen, it sounded as though rats were trying to break into a cupboard with a battering ram. While, from the attic, the noise of cascading rubble and the patter of tiny feet brought to mind a rodent orgy akin to the final days of the Third Reich.
Then all fell silent. And remained so until Mick’s third visit (bill so far – £175).
‘I think they might have gone,’ I said in a cheerful voice tinged with despair. Mick gave an ironic chuckle.
‘Think so? Well, in my experience, there’s probably more of them. Shall I come back in another week?’
Realising it would be cheaper to demolish the house and build a new rat-proof one than to keep Mick on, I declined his offer. Before leaving, he discovered what he claimed was a rat’s nest in an old compost heap at the bottom of the garden.
When I told Mr Home Front we had a rat’s nest, the prospect of lighting fires and killing things turned him into Quint from Jaws (complete with peaked cap). He spent Saturday burning the contents of the compost heap and smoking out the nest (no sign of fleeing rats, I noted).
‘I don’t think you’ll find any more problems from that quarter,’ said Mr HF rather smugly that night.
On cue, the familiar scraping sound from behind the sink…