A few years ago I had to take my pet rat, Heydrich, to the vet’s after my youngest son threw him head first at the bedroom wall. After that, Heydrich walked oddly and began acting in an unpredictable manner, certainly not in a fit state to, say, quell unrest in Czechoslovakia. The vet prescribed a course of antibiotics and some painkillers — total cost about 50 quid — and said even then Heydrich might not regain his former glory. And then he fixed me levelly and added: ‘But, um, he is just… you know, a rat. For five quid I could…’
I paid for the treatment and Heydrich spazzed around for another week or so before pegging out, a look of relief evident on his little rat face. The day he died (solemn burial, full military honours, vicious reprisals etc) I watched that silly pet hospital programme with Rolf Harris; one lengthy section was devoted to a white mouse suffering from cancer; they’d operated, given it chemo, mouse announced it would fight the illness bravely, friends rally round doing sponsored walks, little mouse-trip to Disneyland etc. And the very next section of the programme was about a previously poorly python who was now fit and well, its grand state of health evidenced by the alacrity with which it hoovered up a tank full of live white mice — the cousins, presumably, of the brave cancer mouse in section one. Everyone was very pleased with the python.
But — ooh, it made me think, watching the back legs of those little rodents disappearing down the sinister maw of the python. At that moment I remembered too, with some disquiet, having beaten a rat to death with a shovel once, when it suddenly appeared in the kitchen of the Leytonstone squat in which I lived.