You Doity Rats
I’d never had pet rats before. I wasn’t against it; it’s just that owning them was outside my realm of experience. My girlfriend put forward a convincing case, though: “We’re fucking getting them.”
And so it came to pass that Merlin, Ben and Jerry arrived in our home. Ben and Jerry got their names from the famous brand of ice-cream, of course; Merlin got his name because he was… like… a… wizard? Em… Yeah. (Actually, because Merlin was an albino, I named him after an albino rabbit my step-dad fondly remembers from his youth, but that doesn’t clarify things, it only serves to raise the question: ‘Yeah, but why the fuck was the rabbit called Merlin?’ I don’t know. Ask him.)
Originally, we were only going to get two rats (I wanted to call them ‘Rathbone’ and ‘Gulliver’, get them tiny monocles and top hats, but apparently that was ‘ridiculous’), but the fiendishly camp store guy at ‘Pets at Home’ manipulated us into taking the rat hat-trick. Ben, Jerry and Merlin all shared a cage in the pet store, and the man heavily hinted that were we to take only Ben and Jerry, leaving Merlin behind, then it wouldn’t be long before a heavily depressed Merlin would take a sharpened rat-nugget shank to his little wrists. What the hell, we thought. We’ll take him. After all, we’re decent human beings. Plus, rats are only six quid a pop. Cheaper than a packet of fags.
In the weeks that followed I discovered that rats are amazing little creatures, and certainly more entertaining than a 20-deck of Lambert and Butler. Were it not for the fact that I now know I’m incredibly allergic to rats, I’d be content to share my home with an endless supply of the furry blighters.
A little after the rats and cat (more on her later) arrived I started suffering from the most horrendous chest infections I’ve ever experienced. I thought I had COPD, or third-stage lung cancer. This is not hyperbole, prone as I’ve been in the past to catastrophising when it comes to my health. On the one hand, there’s a regular chest infection, which makes you cough, and feel all chesty and tight; on the other hand, there’s a severe allergic reaction, which forces you to collapse in agony and exhaustion after walking up a small flight of stairs, because your lungs feel like they’ve been filled with razor blades and hot tapioca. I would cough – painfully and disgustingly – for forty-five minutes at a time, to the point where agony and blood replaced sleep (so much for curing my tendency towards hyperbole). It got so bad that I was referred to the hospital for a chest X-ray. I had the lung-rattling, chest-kicking, abdomen-heaving cough of a 70-year-old man who slept down a coal-mine in an asbestos sleeping bag.
No cancer. I was almost disappointed. A few blood tests later, and my locum doctor held a piece of paper that proclaimed my many allergies: rats, cats and dust mites topping the list. The locum shook her head:
‘You have these animals? You must get rid of them immediately.’
Steady on, they’re not a stamp collection, love: they’re living creatures. If you had an allergy to your own children you wouldn’t strap on a face mask, load them in the boot and drive them down to your local orphanage. So I insisted on tablets and inhalers, which greatly reduced my allergic reactions. The good news? The rats could stay. The great news? The doctor deemed it too risky for me to clean out their cage ever again. Hoorah! Any time I watched my poor girlfriend boaking over a beshitted rat cage, I consoled her with the thought that it was not me she was angry at, but science.
Allergies aside, I can’t understand how any human being could dislike or fear a domestic rat. I can’t bear it when some pampered, half-witted ‘celebrity’ on that jungle-reality wank-fest ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’ screams their lungs out because a huddle of sweet, innocent, and harmless little rodents have been released into their Perspex coffin. Why are you screaming, asshole? If anything, it’s the rats who should be upset. ‘I’m not in here with you… you’re in here… WITH ME!’ Honestly, celebrities, do you think the producers would be allowed to subject you to a platoon of disease-ridden creatures that could kill you, however much they might wish to visit that nightmare upon your hideous, botoxed arse of a face? Domestic rats are as safe as they are adorable. What next?
“No, oh please, God NO, I BEG you! DO NOT release the KITTENS!”
Like cats and dogs, rats have very distinct personalities (for instance, Merlin was argumentative at parties and liked soft jazz, whereas Ben and Jerry were always the life and soul of a party, and favoured industrial garage techno). Rats will give you endless hours of pleasure and amusement as they scurry, waddle, leap and bumble about your house; they’ll happily sit and peek out from your dressing-gown pocket as you’re doing the dishes; and they’ll snuggle up in your lap, or cradle under your chin, as you’re watching a movie. Sweet, cute, cuddly and affectionate.
And then they’ll fucking die. Just like that. They’ve a shorter life-span than a pair of two-pound Tesco trousers. Just as you’ve assimilated them into your life, and grown to adore them, BAM. They’re dead.
Did I mention they’re only six quid, though?
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