You can't do hearts and minds of rats

WAR calls for extreme resolve. When stakes are high, scruples must be forgotten as the righteous pursue the honourable goal of victory.

Thursday, 28th January 2010, 4:07 pm
Updated Friday, 29th January 2010, 8:49 am

I am talking, of course, about the war on rats, of which I am a recent veteran.

Rats seem to come into my life at intervals of every few years, a bit like flu.

I might as well give them a collective name. The Viet Cong were Charlie, the Germans were Jerry. My enemy I will call Roland.

When I was in my teens, Roland took up residence beneath the shed in my parents' garden.

Mum and Dad drafted in a coalition of the willing to deploy some shock and awe.

This consisted of Barry from next door, and his air rifle.

Barry took up an impressively military-looking posture on the lawn, training his weapon on the garden shed.

Sure enough, a twitching snout appeared, then Roland broke cover and scampered onto the grass. A shot rang out.

Roland somersaulted in mid-air, either startled by the gunshot or stung by a pellet. If it was the latter, the famous ratty toughness was well in evidence as the beast scuttled back to his hole, apparently unharmed.

Ground troops had failed. It was time to resort to chemical weapons and to hell with the ethics. And so my parents called upon a private militia - the pest control men - who put down some poison under the shed.

Sadly, we feared collateral damage when we saw squirrels emerging from under it, chewing greedily.

We didn't see any dead squirrels. But live ones were pretty scarce over the next few months.

Still, no rats. So we could only conclude that Roland had been thwarted, albeit at the cost of some of his more furry-tailed friends.

During the bin strike I developed a rat problem of my own, which gave me an insight into the tenacity and psychology of this most formidable enemy.

War can be a dirty business, and those of you who are eating as you read are advised to look away now.

Roland, apparently, liked to rip open bin bags and leave their contents strewn about, and was especially fond of tearing up dirty nappies.

I'm not saying he liked to eat nappies, just that he wanted me to think he did.

If this is what I do with dirty nappies, he seemed to be saying, imagine what I'd do to your face.

Taking the advice of a friend, I deployed a new weapon: broken glass.

I pushed thoughts of Roland's suffering from my mind, trying to replace them with hard-headed plans to cut the risk of disease. After all, we didn't beat the Luftwaffe by being squeamish.

Muttering Churchillian vows of warlike resolve, I smashed a wine bottle and laid the glass in the mouth of Roland's tunnel. Then waited.

I haven't seen Roland for a while. I like to think he's been out-manouvered by the glass trick and taken his nappy-munching mind games elsewhere.

But for all I know he's watching me from the safety of a nearby bush, dreaming up ways of burrowing under the house, or even - who knows? - experimenting in a dingy, subterranean rat lab, splitting atoms and enriching uranium. I wouldn't put it past him.