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Wednesday, 4 February 2009

tell the rats that it’s now the year of the ox … but never the year of the dog

My mother was born to a 44 year old widow, and a sister of 17. This sister’s first husband committed suicide, and she is now ensconced, in her 80s, in cold comfort farm, deep in the bowels of the countryside, tending to her second husband. G. He takes all day to eat breakfast, and, on finishing at 6 in the evening, finds it is only time to get ready for bed again. A repetitive business.
Recently, somehow – and, frankly, the mind boggles at the practicalities attendant on such an excursion – these 2 went on holiday. I can’t remember where, and it will have been somewhere most people wouldn’t consider. Bird watching would have been factored in, and swimming in January tides, “So bracing, Milla.”
They asked what time breakfast finished and the innocent waitress informed them that it was 9.30.
"Aahhh," said G.
She'd learn.

Small disappointments hardly break the surface of my aunt’s brand of optimism when in her element, one which is characterised as being fundamentally bleak, whether on holiday or back home, a once lovely house crumbling with defeated neglect.
Postcards note events such as, “we heard that seals bask there quite frequently. We waited all day but none showed up. Clearly busy elsewhere! G commented that the wind was bitter, but I imagine it’s worse in Siberia; we missed lunch, but no matter,” that sort of thing, accompanied by a little drawing of a coy seal. She enjoys deprivation and takes comfort in the certainty that however bad things are now, they will be even worse tomorrow.
Once home they returned to a rat inundation. In the kitchen, under the stairs. They have come in from the cold and opened an account on my aunt’s house.
“Oh,” my aunt said airily, “everyone in the country has rats.”
“Can’t you get a man in?” asked my mother.
“Oh, no. Not round here.”
My mother relayed this to me and I squeezed a genteel shudder and said, apropos of the inevitability of rats in the countryside, “I don’t think so!”
We probably laughed.

But a scant fortnight later, tit’s given for tat, petards have been hoisted and we have taken a tumble both. My mother is on the phone.
She had seen a fat rat strolling around outside her back door while I was main-lining sal volatile since the casual scrapings aside of gravel leading to a hole under the side of the house had been confirmed as a rat run. Real rats, not merely bad tempered commuters stealing a march by racing through housing estates.

I snagged the Ratman in the post office. I think he was relieved to be rescued from a chat about the Post Office Man’s teeth (him of the “Bits. Dropping from meh. Like ice from a glacier”) and scuttled out all eager, clutching his barbecue beef crisps in one paw.
I showed him the hole and he nodded eagerly, and then changed the conversation, just like that, to his dyslexia, and that of his wife and his four children. I found it interesting, to be sure, and offered my trademark kind advice, but would rather have continued on warfarin and neosorexa.
He advised that we concrete in the hole and, when I persisted, told me what it would cost to distribute poison. The quote deterred me, but I paid for my meanness in 18-certificate fear over the weekend, during which time the sounds in the walls grew. I’ve seen ‘Ratatouille’ and am now realising what a big mistake that was. I thought I had no imagination. I was wrong.

Ratman came back and took to his task with a torch. He wriggled in the loft, and “fresh” droppings were found. It’s not at infestation level, no “tail swish” was found in the sawdust – t’ank feck – and pleasing, industrial amounts of poison have been laid. Ratman is firmly in the diary, a date more eagerly anticipated than any teenage tryst, for next Monday. Death had better be widespread. I’m thinking holocaust, species cleansing, annihilation. Call it a massive failing, but I don’t subscribe to the ‘they were here before us’ mentality. We’re here now, and they can fuck right off, however intelligent and clean. I’m brighter, I’m cleaner.

Meanwhile, our neighbours, The Olds have vermin, too, of a different but depressingly familiar sort: Lolly.
Rather than finally earning her keep – I could hire her out, earn a few quid if she would but just grab this chance to shine and be useful in doing what terriers should do: catch rats – she has instead been breaking into The Olds’ garden.
She has zilch taste, for it’s a dull patch: small, frighteningly well-tended, each blade of grass personally known and accounted for. There are boring slabs (which I pray haven’t yet been crapped on) and resin weasels with handbags. Every corner of it is highly visible from just about every window in their house. Since The Olds, when not outside pinning up endless laundry in their garden or trimming shrubs by that vital centimetre, are inside up step-ladders polishing their windows or giving the nets a busy shake, the chances of our Getting Away With It are slim. In fact, they keep a lead just for returning Lolly to us, grim-lipped. And although they go out bothering other oldsters quite frequently, for tea and to watch Countdown en masse (flat-capped and car-coated in their pristine Micra),the snow has not aided my pretence that Lolly is under any control whatsoever.
I let her out yeseterday, hoping she’d rat-catch, but she disappeared like a junkie after heroin next door, the dread tell-tale trail of the addict’s pawmarks heading into the gap in the wall. Their wall, their gap, actually. I must remember to drop that into future conversation, thus steering things away from Dog Crimes.

“Lolly!” I hissed, hoping she’d detect icy fury in my voice and come a-trotting. Yeah, right.
I went further into the snowy garden and, through the Ceanothus that separates them from us, I saw the foul hound, looking frightfully pleased with herself jumping stiff-legged on their lawn. I whisper-bellowed at her, and she bounced some more, thrilled, and then ran round and round, flurries of snow flying from her paws, her trespass laid bare in documentation. There was no way I could hope that they’d think that this was an over-active robin or a break-dancing squirrel. At any moment there would be the careful returning roll of Micra wheel on gravel and fresh out of excuses I would be caught. It’s bad enough being told off for your own shortcomings or those of the children, but on account of the dog? Per-lease. Eating humble pie for a disapproving oldster catches terribly in the craw.
One problem scuttles away, another takes centre stage. As the rats recede, the bigger pest makes hay.


Elizabethd said...

Oh Milla, you do make me laugh...even through the rat saga. It's the thought of those weasels with handbags. Honestly?

KittyB said...

Pleeeease take a photo of weasels with handbags. I need to see them.

Preseli Mags said...

So funny. I loved the description of Lolly in The Olds' garden "her trespass laid bare in documentation". How fabulous that they have a lead specifically to bring her back to you. You love her really, don't you?
PS: I hope the poison does the trick. Ugh. Rats. Lolly's quite right not to touch them. Sensible dog.

Fennie said...

I know that dismal feeling so well - haring after an out of control hound intent on having fun and leaving destruction among weasels with handbags or any other livestock that may be in the vicinity. It is all so dreadfully lowering, having to apologise for a dog that simply grins inanely while you are being told off and have to bow and scrape and apologise and mouth nonsenses such as 'I'm sure he meant no harm' or 'he has so much energy!' Maybe Lolly just enjoys being chased.

Anonymous said...

The break dancing squirrel is a touch of genius! Rats, ugh. Cam't you persuade the Olds that the tracks are marauding (sp?) rodents being chased off your joint territory by the brave and dashing Lolly?

Or maybe the weasles will reveal the truth.

They're terrible turncoats.

ChrisH said...

What a naughty, naughty Lolly - wish I could have seen! And yes, yes, resin weasels please. Sorry about the rat(s) but you have made me laugh so much with the picture you've painted of the Olds.

elizabethm said...

I have never read a better description of the Olds anywhere, ever! Still smiling.
So sorry about your rats though. I am with you on the zero tolerance, ugh, vile. Can't understand why Lolly doesn't realise that this could be her finest hour.

Pondside said...

I hope the rats have been dispatched and that all is quiet underfoot and overhead.
Could you invite your aunt over to meet the Olds - serve tea, let them bond. It might serve you well if they know that you are related to someone so sensibly negative. Anyone with resin weasels would surely appreciate that quality.

Edward said...

Note to self - don't ever, no matter what the provocation, try to read one of Milla's blogs at work again. Have just been asked if I'm alright as my shoulders heaved with uncontrollable laughter, and tears freely flowed. Not unsurprisingly the concept of laughter is practically unknown here, so I was able to get away with some flannel about choking on my chewing gum.

Need I say yet another top blog?

snailbeachshepherdess said...

I have been caught like that Edward - sneezing and wheezing over Milla's latest whilst peeping in at work.
Now come on Milla be fair - she just saw a huge patch of virgin snow and went for it - any kid would have done likewise - bless her.
The olds dont know about the visitors I hope?

Cait O'Connor said...

Glad I am at home reading this, that's all I am going to say.

Ivy said...

Over active robin, break dancing squirrel? I thought Britain was still rabies free??? Lolly is such a clever dog why spoil the snow in your garden ? it will be there only for a short time to be admired. And she is clever not to touch the rats they might be poisoned already and by killing(and eating) them she might poison herself and I am sure even you would not want that would you?

softinthehead said...

Oh Milla you had me laughing out loud - such a wonderful turn of phrase, those "Olds" sound very familiar, I think they live next door to me. They have what we have named their shrine, which I thought was very bad taste until I heard about the weasels with handbags. LOL Yes definitely need a picture, don't get caught!!

blogthatmama said...

Are the weasels smartly dressed too? Ha, ha Milla, really enjoyed that one. Won't say anything more about the rats, have gone too far already..Blogthatmamax

Withy Brook said...

Why have I wasted so much of my life not reading your blogs? That was such fun - so funny and the most beautiful use of words. How I would love to be able to write like that - you are very talented.
Resin weazles with handbags? - leave the dwarfs way behind.

Maggie May said...

Milla...... I think bunging up the hole with concrete will do the trick once the ones in the house have been poisoned. That is obviously the way in and it has been dealt with and that should be that.

Ours is a more complicated thing altogether that we have battled with for 6 years. Tomorrow we are having CCTV endoscopes put down 2 drains that are going under the kitchen floor. I am just praying that something will be found that can be fixed as it is costing us an arm & a leg! (As well as prematurely aging me!)
I will be posting regularly now about events.

Potty Mummy said...

Are you sure the weasels aren't rats in fancy dress? You know, simply living up to the challenge of infesting the Olds without being noticed? Anyway, I've tagged you. Sorry...

Pipany said...

Oh brilliant Milla. I love your writing. It always makes me laugh so much. Hope the rat problem is resolved shortly. Not so likely the Lolly problem! x

Expat mum said...

I love dogs in the snow. Lolly sounds like she was having a ball.

Salle de Bain said...

Have finally found your blogs (partly due to common room hints).

Haven't laughed so much for ages...thanks!

However, I STILL believe you should concrete up the hole!!

Off to read the rest of your blogs...

Ladybird World Mother said...

I loved this. Have tripped and landed on your blog from... somewhere... and have become totally involved in Lolly and the Olds. May I come again, please?! Going now to read older posts. See you...

Frances said...

Milla, Please do give Lolly a special pat for me. She might be trouble with the neighboring Olds, but she is a muse!

Now, I will be afraid that the Ratman's potions might endanger the joyeous Lolly. Please do take all precautions. Could she perhaps have an overnight next door?

No? Thought not. Just spread some concrete on the boundaries. Let Lolly be Lolly on her own turf.

Your words, as ever, are marvels.


LittleBrownDog said...

Fantastic, Milla, as always. Every dog gone word of it.

What do you suppose might be attracting her next door? Brown Dog goes off in search of other pets' bowls of food - cats, dogs, hamsters; he's not fussy - but weasels with handbags? There must be something more (unless Lolly is secretly cleverer than you give her credit for and has been secretly reading your blogs and is determined to get her own back).

Do sympathise over the rats, though. Sounds like there's something of an epidemic. I'm with you on the warfarin...

Arcadian Advocate said...

Oh dear oh dear, rats, dogs and neighbours I am sure the combination is a well known recipe for stomach ache.

Rat men are invaluable and ours comes every 6 weeks to do his work. Rather worryingly a well known writer writes in today's Sunday column that she is feeding the rats in her tack room with granola. Does she not realise about the hazard they pose?

Makes me shudder to think about it and me country born and bred.

Keep up the good work!

Next time I am having a bad day I shall think of the weasels with handbags and that will raise a big smile.

Welsh Girl said...

She lives at Cold Comfort farm? Is there something nasty in the woodshed then?

Exmoorjane said...

LOVE the weasels with handbags - at last I have found them!
But poor G.....

CAMILLA said...

Resin weasels and handbags, eek.!

You do make me laugh out loud Milla, love your brilliant wit, excellent writing as ever.


Mervat said...

Love the description of your Aunt and her husband!!

Anonymous said...

I love it ! Very creative ! That's actually really cool Thanks.