TERRY PRONE: We should start tackling this problem like a rat up a drainpipe

If fast-food restaurants are infested with rats, the rest of us better stock up on Warfarin. Or domesticate them and keep them as pets, writes Terry Prone.

A client told me last week, at the end of a consultation, that I was like a rat up a drainpipe. He was in such good humour, it clearly wasn’t meant as an insult but, having never before encountered it as a compliment, I was sufficiently taken aback to let him leave the building without getting him to elucidate what rats do up drainpipes and why I reminded him of one. Not asking him then and there was a mistake, because it’s not the kind of thing you can retrospectively ring a client to clarify.

The man in my life, who hails from rural Ireland, nodded appreciatively when I queried this with him. His eyes misting over as he looked into the middle distance of reminiscence, he said yes, that you’d often get a rat up a drainpipe and you’d have to hammer the drainpipe in order to make it disgorge the rat, after which you would hammer the rat. This confused me even more, for two reasons. 1) It related not at all to the client and me. 2) I couldn’t figure out why you would hammer a drainpipe to get a rat out of it. The great outdoors is full of rats. You don’t want them coming indoors. So if they decide to regard a drainpipe as modular housing, why not let them at it?

In fact, now that I’m protecting the rights of rats, what is it about them that provokes such a primeval hate and revulsion in the entire human race? They are highly intelligent, endlessly resilient, brilliantly resourceful, extremely adaptive and quite attractive animals, if you’re prepared to overlook the incontinence. Yet I find when I tell people that the cats bring gifts of dead rats to me in the old building wherein I live, the people in whom I confide go all green in the face and look at the cats as if they were the anti-Christ. It seems to be much worse for the cats to bring in a rat, as opposed to them bringing in a mouse or a bird, although this makes no objective sense.

As a gift, a rat is a biggie, from a cat’s point of view, requiring much greater investment of time and effort than a mouse, so should be valued much more than presents of other wildlife. Maybe I’m hard, but a dead rat, to me, is just a disposal issue. It’s the live ones that bother me, and they have been bothering all of us a lot, recently. In the Evening Echo last week, we learned of an elderly man in Midleton who was traumatised by one of them. There he was, this elderly gent, minding his own business, seated decorously on the toilet, when he was bitten on the arse by a rat who, we assume, was swimming in the bowl of the WC. Now, there’s something that would get your attention if you were drifting off in the warmth of the bathroom. In the unfortunate man’s case, it didn’t just get his attention, it forced him to get immediate medical attention. You can imagine the dispatcher springing to attention when they got the call, because, as reasons for summoning the ambulance, reporting a nibbled posterior definitely beats, “My hearing aid fell down the sink” and “My mother fell up the stairs.”

Councillor Noel Collins wants Cork County Council to investigate the possibility of flushing rat poison through the sewer system, which should worry any dog or cat owner whose animals normally lap, when thirsty, from the recently flushed loo. Councillor Collins blames the rat infestation on recent flooding and has advised homeowners to “keep their toilet seats down when not in use,” although how precisely keeping the rats in the dark while they’re doing the breast stroke around the toilet bowl would improve things isn’t clear. Seems to me all you’d get, when you next raised the loo-lid, is a bunch of ratty rats blinking like people coming out of a cinema.

Cllr. Noel Collins
Cllr. Noel Collins

In addition to all of this, Mr Collins, a man who leaves no toilet seat unturned, has added that the locals need to “watch their posteriors”. This, too, must be acknowledged as well-intentioned advice from a public representative flushed with a sense of his responsibility to serve his constituency. It would, however, be quite difficult to do in a thorough way without using mirrors, and it might be better to keep an eye on the toilet bowl rather than on one’s own back view if the toilet bowl is where the rodents are congregating.

It’s not just Midleton that’s receiving rat attention. They’re making unwanted guest appearances everywhere. And it’s not the rats’ fault.

In Midleton, it’s because floods have swept them into places no decent rat would be found dead. Or alive, which most of them are. In south Dublin, it’s because Luas construction has invaded their territory and driven them into neighbouring houses, but again, it’s not their fault, not their choice. Rats normally eschew intimacy with humans. Live and let live is their posture, generally, but if someone runs a mechanical digger through your natural home, what are you going to do but be incontinent in their home out of spite?

The people in the houses being taken over by the rats in south Dublin are bothered by two things, the first of which is the sheer number of them. One man claims to have trapped 20 of them, which is not a mean boast. Numbers is one problem. Size is another. Remember the old song that went: “There were rats, rats, big as bloody cats, in the quarter master’s store”?

Well, the south Dublin rats are never spoken of in feline terms.

We should start tackling this problem like a rat up a drainpipe

Instead, these rats are variously described as the size of rabbits or dogs. This indicates a disgraceful inattention to and disrespect of the rodents involved, because a Chihuahua and an Irish wolfhound are both dogs, but a Chihuahua is a perfect size for a rat, whereas an Irish wolfhound-sized rat belongs in a horror movie, so when they say “rats the size of dogs” we need precision. Are we talking Springer Spaniel or Dachshund? Golden Retriever or Rottweiler?

Rats aren’t just coming into houses, biting behinds in bathrooms and growing into dog-sized threats, they’re also turning up in and getting video recorded in fast food joints. Go on YouTube and you will find one rat after another running around the warming trays in KFC and any number of other fast food outlets, usually at night when the restaurants are deserted and the rat can have free rein, or perhaps free whisker. Now, this is really serious. Even the most fastidious home-maker cannot match the hygiene standards of any of the major fast-food chains, so if they’re infested with rats, the rest of us better stock up on Warfarin.

Or domesticate them and keep them as pets.


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