by Peter Cook
Chillaxing in bed last Sunday, waiting for my carer to appear with the tea tray, I heard a report on Radio 4 that came from the Sydney suburb of Erskinville. Try saying that before you’ve put your teeth in!
I was immediately transported back to 1968 when we moved into a small terrace bungalow in that neighbourhood, along with our black cat “One Ball” Albert. (When we came to have him neutered that’s all they could find).
Sydneysiders – those famously egalitarian democrats – list their suburbs in order of social desirability. At the Manchester City end of this league table are places with names like Rose Bay and Vaucluse. At the Macclesfield Town end is Erskinville.
The house we occupied was let to us by a suave moustachioed Englishman. Think Dastardly of Dastardly and Muttley. As we approached the front door for the first time a wizened crone popped up from next door and issued a prophetic warning: “Watchout fer the flamin’ rets – they’ll eat yer aloive if yer ain’t careful.”
At that stage we had no furniture to speak of and slept on an old foam mattress on the bare boards. The constant sound of gnawing kept us awake more effectively than a neighbouring boogie box.
Eventually we bought a bed from a second-hand shop and carried it proudly through the streets to our humble abode.
Reclining that night 18in above the floorboards we hoped for a rest.
Imagine our consternation, round about midnight, when our bed began slowly to sink, until it was resting on its iron frame. Rats had gnawed the boards cardboard thin. The following day I was taking a bath in the room at the back which also doubled as a kitchen.
The door was open, it being unbearably hot, and looked out onto a delightful scrapheap fenced by vertically positioned corrugated sheets. The whole was overlooked by the railway where double decked commuter trains ran past on an embankment.
Reflected in my glasses was a kind of flickering which when I turned round turned out to be “One Ball” Albert pursuing the most enormous rat round and round the yard.
I screamed, leaped from the bath and stood dripping in the doorway, Archimedes style, just as the crowded 8.47 to Sydney Central pulled up at signals. The loud cheer from commuters sent me scurrying for a pair of shorts.
Meanwhile, the rat had taken refuge in a short length of drainpipe which my carer and I blocked off with the head of a broom and a brick. Having trapped it we now had a responsibility to do something.
We – that is to say she – emptied the steel dustbin and shook the rat inside, clamping a sheet of plywood over the top. We then inverted the whole thing and I grabbed a length of water pipe.
“Now you ease back the edge of the bin and when it makes a dash for it I’ll whack it with this,” I said nervously. My legs were shaking so much that the bit of corrugated iron on which I stood made a sound like a drum role.
The rat popped its head out and my carer reacted, bringing the edge of the bin down on its neck, executing it with such force that its eyes popped out. Swinging it round by the tail she then hurled it over the fence into the path of the 9.03.
After that I needed a long lie down. If only we’d possessed a bed that wasn’t in danger of collapsing through the floorboards into a den of ravenous rodents.
That house in Erskinville is the only one from which we have ever done a moonlight flit.