It’s a boom time for rats, as those of us who live on boats already know

Along the mooring of boats where I live, the conversation these days is near-exclusively of rats.

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Trumpeting a slew of 2020 programmes parlaying “imaginative solutions” to practical problems, Radio 4 started with the weeklong series Positive Thinking (from 30 Dec 2019, 9am). An episode about solving food waste featured an entrepreneur who didn’t actually turn up to the final debate because he was “on a silent retreat”. The icy wither in the voice of episode presenter Fi Glover when relaying this nugget was a highlight.

Another edition considered rats, and new efforts to control their rise. It seems that a possible 81 million (yes!) exist in the UK. Heavy rainfall forces them, seething, out of the sewers. This came as no surprise to your correspondent. Along the mooring of boats where I live, the conversation these days is near-exclusively of rats. Immense specimens have been spotted: bold as brass, coloured like steel. Day and night the towpath cats prowl, dragging fat corpses, rewarded at intervals by residents bearing salmon-flavoured treats. 

Rats have no bladder. Basically the world is their urethra. As one rat-catcher on the show gloomed (to the rattle of what sounded like a box of knives), “When there’s a rat inside a place, there’s never just one.” Ahem, I beg to differ. My neighbour Henry endured a lone and bionic rat on his boat for three weeks. It tunnelled through his insulation and had him ripping up the interior following its hyper-destructive and intelligent scuttle along vents and ballast. Truly, this was Die Hard. The towpath was agog. His girlfriend left. Like Gene Hackman at the end of The Conversation, the human in the equation sat with nothing but splintered floorboards and a tenor sax. “It used to lick four traps clean every night,” Henry recalls. “Mocking me.” Ultimately, an indigestible wedge of peanut toffee spelled its doom.

Anyway, you have no idea how cheerfully aghast this kind of talk (and programme) makes boaters. In a now near rat-free New Zealand, so the episode went, whole families spend weekends going about merrily enforcing a zero tolerance approach, luring their foe with Nutella, oats and cinnamon. “I was kinda grossed out but now I’m like yeah, whatever!” a child recalled, triumphantly shaking her trap, the dull thud of a body inside. Veganuary not

Positive Thinking: Boomtown for Rats
BBC Radio 4

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 10 January 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Trump vs Iran