The first time I saw a tame rat was in SuperU. Don't tell the manager, but the kids who were sitting in front of the books - waiting for their mothers to finish in Persil aisle - were playing with a pair of large glossy rats. These animals were called respectively Venus and Jimmy Hendrix.
Venus was white and sleek with a long pink tail and shiny dark eyes, while Jimmy H was multi-coloured, skinny and acrobatic. Both of them were doing tricks such as disappearing up a sleeve and re-emerging from the collar.
To be honest, I don't suppose a pair of pet rats lurking up a school kid's jumper pose a massive public health risk and to be fair I didn't actually see them nibbling the peanuts or scampering over the bananas, but I couldn't suppress a shudder. However sweet their little faces are with their intelligient expressions and cascades of silver whiskers, I can't forget Tom Kitten and the roly-poly pudding.
When asked if I wanted to hold them, I confess to having ruined my street cred by recoiling with a sour lemon mouth and bulging eyes: no bloody fear!
But that wasn't the end of it. Before long, I realised that a visiting child had actually imported a pet rat into the house. What a nightmare. Luckily, the child removed herself and her unwelcome pet prontissimo once I pointed out that the cats were ready to welcome the intruder in a particularly feline ceremony known as hunting.
Then, last week I saw a news item on the BBC site about pet rats in France. There are already in the region of 5 million pet rats in France, claims Auntie, and according to L'Association de Promotion du Rat comme Animal de Compagnie (site in French only) interest in rats is booming. Apparently the success of the brilliant film "Ratatouille" has inspired every schoolchild in France with the longing to own a gourmet rodent of his own.
I daresay adult revulsion to the sight of a child with a rat poking out of his t-shirt only adds to the attraction. Anyway, at least half the kids I know - presumably those from non feline-dominated households - now go to school with a rat curled up in their satchel.
The local collège has played right into the trap, sending out letters to all parents warning that pets will not be tolerated on the premises, and that any animals discovered will be confiscated and handed over to the SPA.
What idiots! Every schoolchild knows that no teacher is going to want to confiscate a live rat. I mean, think about it. Unless Miss just happens to have a rat-cage tucked away in her handbag, what is she going to do with a live rat? Pop it into her pocket? Stuff it down her jumper? Of course not.
What Miss is going to do is pretend she never saw the rat sitting up on the corner of Amelie's desk eating crisps, and hope that it quietly goes away.
The result of which is that I now have in my possession a grainy video shot on a mobile telephone of a harassed maths teacher apparently exhorting a chubby, mist-grey rat to make more efforts with his fractions.
What is the world coming to?
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