When I was a kid, we lived on a smallholding in the country and kept goats and chickens. They say if you have chickens then you have rats. Sometimes the rats would get into the food bins. I can still remember the high pitched shrieking of a rat that got cornered (and battered) in one of those bins.
I don’t like rats. Over the years I have encountered rats all over the world. Jungle rats nesting in the palm roof of a Gambian beach shack, dirty New York street rats jumping out of rubbish bags, rats the size of puppies strutting down the landing of a Mumbai hotel…
So that was the starting place for ‘The Patter of Tiny Feet’. An inherent fear. But it was an actual infestation which gave me the inspiration.
In the past few years I have returned to country living. One spring, after a particularly mild winter, we had a colony of rats set up behind our chicken coop. You know you have a rat problem when you see them foraging in broad daylight.
I live with 3 vegetarians. Poison was deemed a definite no. So it was at that point I started researching alternatives. A method vouched for by the traditional Devon farmer was to pump petrol down the rat hole and light a match. I heard about another farmer who would split a bag of feed in the middle of his farmyard, wait for rats to swarm and then let blast with both barrels of a shotgun.The price of petrol and a lack of a shotgun precluded me from taking these options!
It was my brother who told me about the ‘cannibal rat’. He claimed it was a Devon country practice, but research later placed it to South East Asia. To find out more, you’re going to have to read my story in Because of What Happened… The cannibal rat did not solve my rat problem. But it was a great hook for a story.
The vegetarian bloc in my family gave me such a hard time about wanting to get rid of those rats. We had arguments about it. One time I told my girlfriend she was being an ‘unrealistic hippy.’ In the end those rats overstepped the line. They started eating the organic tomatoes in the poly tunnel. It was at that point that even the vegan’s tolerance snapped, “Do what you have to do,” my girlfriend said. “Just don’t tell me how.”
And that’s when the story came together. The conflict of ideals and reality. The solution may be more organic but does that make it any better?
— Tim Lay