mumsnetBack along, my family and I swapped a house for a three-acre field in Devon and a leaky caravan where we lived off-grid for two years. Sadly, we failed to get the planning permission we needed to stay. We are now back within four walls, with a proper loo and everything in a cottage in Dartmoor. So this is now a blog about living ethically amid a fabulous landscape with our home educated kids while we adjust to being 'normal' - for a while... and what we plan to do with our land next

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Smelling a rat

Humans, we are told, are never more than ten feet away from a rat – and I am sure that living, as we do, in the middle of a field is likely to bring them closer than that.

But we have never seen one and only heard something that sounded like gnawing once, so I was prepared to remain in blissful denial until provided with any evidence to the contrary.

Evidence came in the shape of some strange animal droppings we found under a pallet when we moved it recently. The cats can't get under the pallets and wouldn't, I hope, dare do such a thing there anywhere. And they were too big for the desperate purgings of a mouse being vigorously toyed around with by needle-sharp claws. So, I reluctantly concluded that they must belong to a rat.

This theory appeared to be backed up this week when it became apparent that something was eating the cat food. I had left this in the awning, for some stupid reason; I think the cats were annoying me, they usually do. So it was that when I opened the door of the caravan one evening, I heard something crunching its way through the Whiskas.

Call me slow, but I figured that this was irregular, since both cats were asleep in the caravan.

I opened the door wider and in the light saw a dark and disturbingly large shape ambling away slowly, nay, insouciantly.

I shut the door quickly and addressed the caravan occupants. 'There's a freking rat out there the size of a Shetland pony,' I said.

I was somewhat freaked out.

Ten minutes later I opened the door again. The creature had returned and was knocking back the cat food. I shut the door – next time he was going to die.

I spent the next ten minutes whipping the dog up into a state of nervous frenzy. 'Where is it?' I said excitedly spinning round and looking under things. 'Where's that big old rat?'

Oody – faint of heart
With the dog primed, I flung the door open. The dark shape looked up from his dinner and headed off reluctantly. The dog backed into the caravan, lips drawn apologetically over her teeth, tail wagging despondently between her legs. It was a poor show.

The dog, I should remind you, is half a bull terrier – half an English bull terrier to be exact. A dog so menacing in appearance that it was picked to play Bullseye, Bill Sikes's nasty-tempered sidekick in the film, Oliver!. Oody doesn't have a temper, or a lot of courage come to that – she is a dog deeply in touch with her inner chihuahua. She is scared of rats and a lot of other things besides.

So, I was forced to head off to bed with the vermin issue unresolved. Once there, I sat upright, covers pulled up to my chin, unblinking eyes on the large hole in the door made by the cats as their own personal entrance system.

Soon I heard the unmistakeable crunching of cat food. I rang Gully who was still in the caravan. 'It's out there,' I hissed.

The door banged open and he came flying out torch in hand. And there, frozen with fear and blinking in the light, was a hedgehog.

So I could sleep easy after all, happy in the knowledge that I have a cute little helper hoovering up the slugs and snails in my indoor garden. But I am under no illusions that there might not be a rat ...


  1. I lived in a ground flat that had the High Street to the front and a walled garden at the back, so the cat flap was in the french doors in the bedroom. One morning I woke up, swung my legs out of bed and stood in rat droppings that trailed into the kitchen to the cat bowls. I was pretty horrified, cold squidge between the toes, yuck and the thought of a convoy of rats rushing past my bed on route to the cat food, ooh horrible. Like you, we waited up the next night and finally this young hedgehog pushed it's way through the cat flap and bumbled it's way to the kitchen, oblivious of us standing on the bed. Karen.

  2. Phew - another prickly friend to the rescue just as we thought it wasn't safe to get off the bed. We have seen our hedgehog several times since - in fact we have a pair of them. Thanks Karen!