A couple of packets of cookies had been found ripped open and the contents nibbled. Personally I suspected a tea-leaf; a member of staff helping themself to a biscuit subsidy... it happens, let’s face it.
But droppings were found. Small, black, like tiny raisins. No human could have produced such evidence unless they had a sphincter tighter than a nun’s, er, habit.
So the pest control guys were called in. They lifted ceiling tiles and trap doors, They poked around shelves and cupboards. They drank loads of tea. And below the ground floor of the building, among the foundations they found hundreds of rat footprints. They fixed their jaws and pronounced their grim verdict. We were being overrun by a rat army. A veritable rodent blitzkrieg.
Now I suspected that, given nobody has really been down among the foundations for 10 years, it could just as easily be one lone rat chasing its own tail among the dust of centuries.
The pest control guys humoured my inexpert opinion with a small laugh and then threw 250 sticky traps down into the void beneath the floor. They were expecting a big haul, I could tell.
Now these sticky traps (or rat glue traps as they are professionally called) are just like blunder traps that can be bought for catching insects. They rely on your chosen prey wandering along, going innocently about their business, and suddenly finding themselves glued to the sticky surface of the trap. Rendered immobile and very cheesed off.
I must admit the thought of having to retrieve live rats, squealing and wriggling, glued to a bit of board didn’t particularly appetize me but the advantage, when explained to me, was obvious: putting down conventional poison leaves the rat free to go off and die somewhere where it’ll never be found. Once the body count reaches the hundreds the smell is going to be very bad indeed...
So the traps were laid and we waited.
And each morning during the week’s treatment I came to work expecting to find a living carpet of rat fur spread around the foundations of the building and at its head, dressed in bright, gaudy clothes and a strange feathered cap, a strange thin man of German origin blowing very feebly into a wide-ended flute.
Instead, when bodies were eventually discovered, the rampaging rat hordes proved to be no more than 2 measly rats and 8 mice (wearing dark glasses).
I phoned the Whitehouse and told them to stand down the troops.
In a way I feel relieved (and vindicated). We are not and have never been overrun. Bubonic plague is not about to rear its ugly head in my McVitie’s Hobnobs.
But I could never be a rat catcher, for all they tried to sell it to me as the good life – go where you want, when you want, do as much as you want when you want, etc – it has a decidedly ugly side.
The live rodents have to be dispatched quickly and humanely by the pest control operatives themselves.
Thankfully this was done out of sight of me. But I did overhear one of them say to his mate: “yeah, I’ve squished this one good and proper...”
Another Hobnob anyone...?