Animal rights campaigners and anyone vaguely squeamish, look away now because my little anecdote might put you off your nest meal. I was having a coffee with a friend who has recently let a garden flat when her new tenant called to say she'd spotted a rat in the kitchen. As my friend choked on her latte she shouted down the phone: "A rat!" Was it definitely a rat? A live rat? Now, mice I can deal with, but rats, oh nooo… they totally freak me out.
So I'm not sure which part of my brain was in control when I said to my friend: "Okay then, let's go and catch this beast." (I think my somewhat gung-ho response had something to do with my new year resolution to do a good deed every day for a year, foolishly inspired by journalist Judith O'Reilly who wrote a book about her 12 months as a Good Samaritan.) On the way to the flat, I Googled "quick and humane ways to kill a rat" and judging from the responses, there are some pretty weird people out there. One suggested pinning it to a table then jerking its tail upwards "to snap its neck".
What appeared the best advice was to trap the rat in a pillowcase and slam it against the ground, but when we looked at the rat cowering behind a bookshelf in the corner of the kitchen, we decided we didn't have the stomach for that. Neither did we have a pillowcase. And we didn't think the tenant would want to lend us hers.
"Let's open the garden door and chase it out," I suggested. The tenant handed my friend a long-handled broom and she gingerly approached the rat, then turned back and handed the broom to me. I offered it to the tenant, who shook her head.
I shoved the broom in the direction of the rat and it shot across the kitchen. Quick as a flash my friend swiped it with her handbag. The poor thing skidded across the laminate floor towards me, I tried to sweep it in the direction of the door but it flipped round and scuttled back towards my friend, who batted it again with her bag. The whole time, the tenant was shrieking: "It's there! It's there!" as if we needed any help spotting the wretched rat, which was HUGE, by the way.
With a final swing of the broom, I thwacked the rat into the garden, where it shot off into a hedge. After we'd stopped shaking, my friend called the local council pest control team to come and inspect the flat for any more unwanted "guests".
It's hard to know who's responsible for ridding rental properties of pest infestations: landlord or tenant. Virginia Skillbeck, lettings director of agents Douglas & Gordon, told me there has been a rise in tenants reporting mouse sightings. She said moth infestations are also on the increase: the latter sound harmless but they can wreck curtains and carpets. Deciding who's responsible is always tricky, she says. It's really a question of whether the infestation existed prior to the tenant moving in.
My friend opted to pay the council's £88 charge, and I have now modified my new year resolution from doing a good deed a day to doing a good deed once in a while — and only if it doesn't involve rodents.