I sometimes feel as if I am living inside an unpublished chapter of Cold Comfort Farm, here. Like when Charlie says things like
‘Arrr, they comes in from the field, them rats. And in the summer they goes back there.’
How does he know that? I mean, there is a field at the end of our road – acres and acres of one featureless field that stretching so far into the distance that its boundaries are invisible. It grows – field stuff. Stuff that changes colour with the seasons and at least once a year coats everything with a kind of fine chaff. Sometimes it needs ploughing, and it is ploughed. The ploughing seems to go on all through the night and the tractor has a light on it. That is about all I know about the field.
I mean, how has he even got into the field, since we are disbarred from it by a rancid, weedy ditch full of rubbish and brambles, and an old hedge? And assuming he, being a country person, has managed to get in, how has he learned the ways of the local rats? Has he spent many hours standing in the middle of it, like a scarecrow? Indeed, now I think of it he would make an excellent scarecrow.
That’s the trouble with having been born and spent the first twenty-one years of your life in a suburb, among bungalow-rows and metalled roads and tame suburban trees – you never quite fit in anywhere else. Deeply, deeply uneasy in the big city, you are equally out of your depth in rural – by which I mean the real, shabby, workaday rural England, not leafy Surrey with its secluded mansions – though I would probably feel equally ill-at-ease there.
So, the rats have come in from the fields, apparently. And will return there, apparently. I have my doubts. If I was a rat and found a ready supply of tinned cat and dog food, plus bits of bread fallen from the bird table, I think I might decide to stick around, but who knows how a rat thinks? Maybe Charlie really is tuned in to rodent thinking. He certainly seems to be one with the soil, and all that.
When he departed, to sort and deliver several hundred parcels that had just been dumped on his driveway by the gigantic daily lorry, I thought again about poor Mystery Dog, and his plaintive woofs in the pitch-black garden around midnight, when he found his giant bowl of dog-food absent. I thought I had made a grown up decision for once, a sensible decision, in discouraging the ever-burgeoning colony of rats in my garden, but the thought of that little woof… And such a big dog, who must have been so very hungry these past two nights…
I have noticed, every time I make a grown-up decision it turns out to be the wrong one. I should obviously be following my instincts rather than trying to think. So I put more food out. Maybe the rats will have forgotten that there ever was food here, after two days of no food. How long is a rat’s memory, for goodness sake? I suspect it is pretty long since they can work out mazes and stuff, and press buttons in complicated sequences to get grapes – or is that monkeys? But still I put the food out.
I think maybe Mystery Dog himself will have forgotten, after two nights of misery. Maybe he has packed his belongings in a spotted handkerchief and set off for pastures new. But this morning all his food was gone. The stray cats’ dishes were polished too. So it’s either him or – as Charlie suggested – a fox. Or a hedgehog capable of eating three times its volume in supermarket meaty chunks.