‘Rats I have known: I’ve done my best to avoid them, but not always with success’

Nov 05, 2021
Is there anything worse than the sound of tiny paws scratching in the walls? Source: Getty Images

Recently I heard scurrying in the ceiling. Now, nothing scares me more than lying awake, hour after hour, listening to the scamper of tiny paws above my bedroom.

I’ve done my best to avoid rats over the years — not always with success. It was only when I left home at 18 to enjoy life in a squalid waterside flat in Sydney (before the suburb was beyond the means of mere wage earners) that rats became a part of my life. My place was right on the harbour, so close you could dangle your fingers out of the window into the brine. It was part of a large building that saw at least one stabbing a week, with police a constant part of the scene. Our toilet flushed straight into the water.

Of course we had cockroaches. Millions of them. It was that type of place. The sort where you’d wake in the night and find them crawling up your arms, over your belly, or even … no we won’t go there.

I was willing to share my paltry food supply with a few insects but, when whole packets of food disappeared without a trace, I was puzzled. How much could a cockroach eat? It was only when I discovered a loaf of bread jammed into the gaping hole where the sink pipe disappeared through the floor, that I realised I’d been providing a supermarket for the local rat fraternity.

My flat-renting days saw various encounters with rodents. One inner-city terrace in Sydney stands out. Our downstairs landlord was fond of thumping on his ceiling (our floor) if we stayed up past his bedtime of 8:30pm.

“Go to bed,” he’d shout. He also turned his refrigerator off each night to save electricity and stored solid cooking fat in the stove’s open griller pan to economise. He attracted rats by the score who severed our phone line from time to time.

My strongest memory remains from my days in the tropics. Lying in bed one Sunday morning in that pleasant state between sleep and real life, I heard a scratch, scratch, scratch inches from my ear. Many houses up there, in pre-air-con days, had louvre windows to let the air circulate. Our louvres were lying open, horizontal and there on one sat a rat, trying to scratch his way out of the flat through the fly wire.

I woke my then-husband and immediately took off to the bathroom, leaving him to deal with the creature. In the tropics it’s too hot for pyjamas so I was only wearing a pair of knickers. There I was on the loo, my pants around my ankles, listening to the thump, thump, thump as he chased the rat around the flat with a broom.

Sadly, I hadn’t closed the bathroom door properly. The rat saw his means of escape and made a dash for the bathroom, heading straight for me.

Well … I leapt up, midstream, with a screech of horror at his approach and headed out. I’d forgotten the knickers around my ankles and, as I reached the door, managed to trip, sprawling headlong onto the lounge room floor. The rat, discovering the bathroom was a dead end, turned and, using me as an escape route, ran up and over my unclothed body.

It was still being chased by my husband with a broom.

“Get him off, get him off,” I screamed, thrashing around in naked hysteria as the broom thumped around after the creature.

In a moment of silence I heard a sound at the window and looked up to see our very proper neighbour from upstairs peering in through the louvres.

“I say,” he said. “Is anything wrong down here?”

As I said, I don’t have fond memories of rats. Perhaps it’s time to call in the pest inspector.

Have you ever had a problem with pests at your house?

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