The Rat-catcher, aka Simon, is Karen's brother-in-law. Karen is the caretaker of the estate cottages, and I am currently staying in one of the cottages.
This cottage is at one end of a very long tree-lined drive that leads to a rather grand old house. It is usually rented by my friend Katie, but as she happens to be skiing and cooking in Zermatt for a few months, she kindly offered to let me stay while she is away. So far, so good. The cottage is in a rather blissful situation, surrounded by ancient woodland and meadows on 3 sides. It is attached to the cottage next door, and the occupants of the cottage next door, make my stay even better. They have two gorgeous dogs and a small holding of chickens, ducks and geese, all of which roam freely. Everyone that works at the house and in the gardens is wonderfully friendly and kind and I have already had numerous visits and plenty of eggs. The only thing that has taken a dislike to me is the goose, who charges me and my car with unnatural brevity.
Until a week ago I thought the goose was my only enemy. I was wrong. I began hearing noises in the night that weren't explicable. Scratching noises in the roof, small pitter-patterings above my head and in the walls, slight creakings in the floorboards below. I thought I was imagining it until one morning I went down to the kitchen and saw a half eaten tomato on the counter top. I had been very careful to leave no food out because I know that being in an old cottage in the depths of the countryside, there are mice. But do mice eat tomatoes?
The following night I made sure everything was sealed and in the fridge... apart from a rather spicy 3-bean soup I had made and left in a saucepan on the hob. A mouse surely wouldn't climb into a high-edged pan and eat chilli would it? It wouldn't risk having a hot bottom for days on end would it? Indeed it did. The next morning I came into the kitchen and saw tomato-ey footprints all over the hob, across the counter and onto the floor. I then found a pile of kidney beans (they left the white beans and cannelloni beans for some strange reason) in between the washing machine and the cupboard. I found another stash by the cellar door at the bottom of the stairs. Holy moly. Now I didn't feel so cool. Understatement.
I texted Katie, in mild panic, asking what the hell to do. I rang my mother and asked what to do. I spoke to the next door neighbours and asked what to do. I hadn't slept because I now knew we weren't dealing with a cute little field mouse. We were dealing with something bigger, judging by the size of the red footprints across the house. Yup, it was rats. And rats are clever little buggers. When I spoke to the neighbours they seemed quite blasé about it, regaling me with stories about the dogs catching them or seeing them run up the drainpipes, or shooting them with their air rifle. But when it came to how I could get rid of them from the house, everyone was stumped.
And then Simon turned up. The rat-catcher. And he came armed.
My neighbours and I were very much against using poison. Poison is not only a horrible death but it can be eaten by other animals, not just rats, and we couldn't risk that. Plus, even if it was just the rats eating the poison, if the rat was then caught by a dog or cat, then it can poison them as well. So no, we forbade poison. The rat-catcher sighed at that news and came back with 10 mousetraps, 4 rat traps and a jar of crunchy peanut butter. They love peanut butter apparently. He went around the house looking for gaps in floorboards, holes in walls, spaces between window and windowsill, and set them all up.
I am now so on edge I don't want to go downstairs. Plus I've already forgotten where Simon has put all the traps so I'm afraid I will catch a toe in one. If I hear a snap I'm going to feel terrible (and my Buddhist credentials will be out the window). If I don't hear a snap then I will forever be terrified.
Ain't country living grand? I await the bloodbath.