Back in the nineteen seventies as I went through the transition from boyhood to adulthood I spent pretty much most of my spare time doing something or other outdoors. This was, of course, in the days before personal computers and the Internet, multi channel 24 hour television, games consoles and all the other distractions the modern society has for a 10 - 16 year old.
We lived in a part of Slough which was then still semi-rural but was slowly being transformed by new housing estates and building projects. Close to where I lived was a large meadow where I had spent many happy hours as a child picking blackberries and damsons or making "camps" and hideouts, but by the time I was 12 this meadow had been bulldozed to make way for an enormous housing estate and my playground was now the building site.
As I got older I wandered farther afield, often scavenging through skips to find parts for my bike. I never ever had a new bike as a kid - it was built entirely from bits and pieces I'd salvaged and gradually put together. The only thing new on it was the paint - and even that was the leftovers from something my dad had been using to paint a metal gate!
Despite spending so much time outdoors I only ever saw one rat - one early morning during the blazing summer of '76. I still recall the way it sat staring at me with those beady black eyes as it sat beside the coal bunker just three yards away from our front door where I crouched dead still. It appeared dispassionate - unconcerned by my presence as it nibbled at some tidbit it had found by the hydrangea.
Unfortunately for the rat, I was looking at it down the barrel of my trusty .22 BSA Meteor and a split second those beady eyes were bisected by a well aimed lead pellet and the rat was no more. It was the only time I used my air rifle on a living creature - not because I didn't want to, just because I never came across another rat! My BSA spent the rest of its time sinking enemy battleships or shooting down Junkers 88's that I'd assembled from a plastic model kit the day before. For someone well skilled in taking out the swastika on the tail of a 1/72 scale Bf109E from 10 yards, popping a slug between the eyes of a big fat rat from less than half the distance was simple.
Why am I going on about this? Well, primarily because in the last couple of years I must have seen a couple of dozen rats in and around my garden. They don't live in my garden - they come in under the fence looking for treats left out for the birds on the bird table. How the hell they get up there is a mystery to me, but somehow they do and they are big fat ugly things.
I'm no gardening fanatic, but I like to keep it looking fairly decent and I like to relax in my garden when the weather suits - but not everyone is like that. Indeed, there are fair number of gardens close by which the owners seem to think is a convenient place to chuck their rubbish. Most of the rats come from the garden directly behind me which is less like a garden and more like the municipal dump with old fridges, cookers and washing machines nestling against my back fence along with piles of old carpet and rubble.
As I said, there are a fair few gardens like that around me - I know them by sight, but not by name although I would lay money on none of them being called "Smith". The other problem is the proliferation of decking. Rats love decking.
Being fairly liberal and not keen on banning things for the sake of banning them I wouldn't go as far as to order a ban on decking - yet. Instead I'd insist that any body with decking would be required to have them inspected quarterly for rat infestation and have to pay for that - along with a certificate proving that they've been given the all clear.
On second thoughts, I'd ban decking. Anything that stops my neighbour clomping around on his in hobnail boots at half past six on a Sunday morning!