As a small child one of the small moments of anxious excitement was the moment a parent removed the sheet of corrugated iron from the compost heap. I cannot remember if back then we composted everything, cooked food as well as non, I imagine there would not have been much of it as we were still being rationed and food was not a commodity which got thrown away. Whatever we did throw on this heap attracted rats. Maybe they came for the darkness and warmth. Removing the iron cover exposed them to agitated flight and our pet dogs and cat to a frenzied chasing and sometimes killing spree. I would watch from a distance some primitive blood lust thrilling to the excitement of the frenzied barking and growling and the more tender hearted side of my childhood feeling sorry for the rats.
Feeling sorry for the rats?
I can only suppose it was Ratty from Wind in the Willows who turned me toward thinking rats were okay people. I think I was too young then to have a sense of fair play and a ‘pick someone your size’ attitude. I will blame Kenneth Graham:)
But where did I get the idea that one could have pet rats. Did I look up rats in a book. There was no TV in the house. Had I seen one at the local pet shop - I hardly think so. The fact remains I desired above all things to have one. To sit on my shoulder as I coloured in pictures, drew maps and such stuff.
They are clever I told my mother, they are clean I argued, they are different from the ones on the compost heap I pleaded. She wasn’t listening. Rats were vermin and would always be so. She wasn’t alone, not many people understood my desire.
As a sop to my distress she bought me two pet mice!
I didn’t want pet mice.
This was not what I had planned.
They were forbidden to come out of the cage, the cage had to stay in my room.
Endlessly I listened to them going round and round on a tiny treadmill.
Like an enslaved beast.
I hated it.
Back then children didn’t complain, didn’t have much of a voice.
Those mice reminded me of the big cats in the zoo pacing pacing back and forth in tiny concrete boxes, knocking their heads at every turn (back when zoos were barbaric)
Was it my border line claustrophobia that made so aware of the cage? Would I have enjoyed the experience more if they had been free to roam?
It was a disaster.
The replacements Mum bought, before I had even learnt of their demise, killed each other.
No more mice.
I sulked silently and un-noticed for a while and then informed my parents that the day they died I would have a pet rat - so there! I was exceedingly young!
It wasn’t that I disliked mice as such. I thought them pretty enough. Was torn between rescuing them from the cat and letting the cat do what a cat does. Childhood can be a very confusing time. I broke my heart over a dying mouse at Kew Gardens, I had found it in the shrubbery with a nose wound and held it in my hands,sitting with it until it expired. I cried I remember.
It was the rats I admire the most. I used to sit on the bank of the small stream running past the house and watch the water rats sliding in and out of the water. I liked them. My very own Mr Rattys.
I didn’t know about Weil’s Disease back then.
When I grew up it appeared to me that all the rodents vanished from sight. Maybe I wasn’t near enough to the ground any more to spot them. However I have had encounters with them all through the years, more of that another day.