I have nothing against rats. I think they are cute, charming, intelligent creatures that make very good pets.
The issue is with a former neighbour, when Bahkti and I lived in Hoole, a suburb of Chester. We noticed that one day the alley at the back of the house appeared much cleaner than usual. It had never been a particularly dirty alley, but suddenly it was almost clean enough to eat from. We sometimes saw that there were bubbles from detergents foaming from the drains. It all seemed very public-spirited at first.
Then we began to hear things about the behaviour of our neighbour. She would leap out at all hours of the day and night and photograph people using the alley to walk their dogs, although it never happened to me. She would harangue children playing in the alley, saying that the had traumatised her son, that she had videos of them and that she’d reported them to police (although how playing football constitutes a criminal offence and is capable of traumatizing a six-year-old boy is beyond me).
The next thing was that we would hear her using a hosepipe to clean the alley and, occasionally, back gates, which she would also scrub. One night, Bahkti and I were in the bath and there was a tremendous thunderstorm going on outside, with a real downpour. Above the noise of the rain and the thunder we thought we could hear a hose. We had to look. There, in the alley, was our neighbour, dressed in sou’wester and galoshes, hosepipe in hand, scrubbing the gate opposite ours in the pouring rain.
It was then that we realised she wasn’t quite right in the head.
Just a few days later, Bahkti spotted here scuttling around in the alley. She was picking up bags of rubbish, taking them into her back yard and sorting through them. Who knows what she was looking for. Bahkti called the council’s Environmental Health service, where he was told “She is known to us” and advised to call the police, as going through someone else’s rubbish is a criminal offence. He was told by the duty officer at the police station that he was the fifth person to put in a complaint about her that day.
Fifteen minutes later, two police officers turned up. Our neighbour was going about her bizarre business in the yard and the officers called her husband outside to talk to him. The policewoman then went out into the yard. “I’ve got a knife: I’ve got to defend myself. I’ve lived in the Far East and I’ve never seen filth like it. The rats! There are rats everywhere. It’s the people at Number Eight. I’ve spoken to the council and the Labour Party. They won’t do anything. They never do. The people round here are animals. They should go back to Blacon, where they belong”. Blacon is a large (former) council estate on the opposite side of Chester with a poor reputation. “Madam, please put the knife down…”
I have no idea why, but I’ve aways imagined her speaking with a pseudo-posh northern Sergeant-Major accent, so that ‘rats’ is pronounced ‘rets’. We began to refer to her as Rat Woman. The police managed to get a restraining order, preventing her from going further along the alley than outside the end of her property. She stopped cleaning it and it didn’t become noticeably more dirty. Instead, she took to cleaning the pavement ouside her house and expecially the drainage gutters in the dead of night. A few months later, she moved away.
Since then, we’ve seen rets and filth everywhere. The photograph shows some graffiti in Hitchin that I spotted shortly after moving here. We see filth spread on Windmill Hill in the summer, so the rets are obviously living there (or nearby). The stuff left behind after a market will attract rets and bring the whole area down.
I wonder what happened to Rat Woman. More to the point, I suppose, is what happened to her poor husband and son, whose lives must have been made hellish by her strange behavior.