I remember seeing a rat being whacked to death with a spade when I was a child. It was a frightening experience. But there again, I had a student who used to leave her pet rat in my office at the college where I worked, because the teachers weren’t overly keen on having it in the classroom (it lived in her pocket…)

Rats don’t seem to have done us much harm, if you overlook the bubonic plague, of course, and anyway, wasn’t that spread by ticks? (Medical knowledge at fault.) They seem to be quite intelligent (leaving sinking ships is not a bad idea), and I suspect them of exchanging such tidbits as ‘You know, you’re never more than ten feet from a human.’ Children are repeatedly attacked by dogs, but it’s a long time since I read about a rat attack (other than in fiction). Robert Browning has a lot to answer for to the rodent community. I am sure that Hamelin was a one off, and that the Mayor and Corporation were taking kickbacks (actually, that’s right, they were).

Some pests good, some pests bad. Years ago, there was a food and drink programme which referred to grey squirrels as ‘immigrants’, as opposed to our supposedly lovable nutkins with the red bushy tails. In fact, grey squirrels have been in this country for over two centuries. (There is a poem about this incident on my web-site, here, and also a good blog entry on the subject on Steve Platt’s ‘Plattitude’ blog – see the side-bar.)

Now, according to Der Spiegel’s online version here, there is a plan to make the homeless of Berlin kill rats, instead of (as they apparently do at present) collecting bottles, which they return to supermarkets, something we used to do in the 1950s and 1960s, a system which has fallen into silly abeyance. They would get one euro a rat (or a pound a rat, of course, sterling having caught down with its European cousin). It won’t come to anything, because its proposer belongs to a minority party, the FDP, who have about as much clout as UKIP (that’s not quite fair: UKIP has no clout at all).

The spectre of unemployment is already, it would seem, concentrating the brain mass of the batty. If it’s been proposed in Germany, it can’t be long before we have similar schemes on the go in this country. Perhaps the bankers and brokers responsible for our current economic problems should be made to eat their firstborn, so that they do not have to shame themselves in public places like shops and high streets. Perhaps binge-drinkers should be made to drink themselves into a stupor while nailed to the shop-fronts of wine-stores. Perhaps Sun journalists should be forced to eat their words, quite a lot of them, and turn them into paper briquettes for use by the elderly. Perhaps all the credit cards in the country should be melted down and made into public transport. Perhaps rats, which, according to Der Spiegel, ‘are fast’, should be harnessed, and made to run the national grid. Perhaps we should all throw our shoes at President Bush, who could then take the surfeit of footwear, and dole them out to the widows and orphans of Iraq.

I accept that one or two of these ideas are a little infeasible, but recession brings out the inventiveness for which our country has long been so famous. The Germans have started the ball rolling – well, one of them has – and it’s up to us to follow his lead (and I sincerely hope he is put on one very soon).

‘A rat, a rat! Dead for a ducat!’ as Hamlet says – there I go, quoting him again. It’s inevitable when you live with a Hamletophile. I doubt that ducats are worth as much as a euro these days, of course. But Shakespeare seems once again to have been ahead of the game.


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