I’ve been at Oxford University this week teaching on the master’s programme for creative writing. It’s a great gig because I spend all weekend talking about one of my favourite subjects – writing fiction – with a whole bunch of people who feel the same. Yesterday, I had the unusual pleasure of discovering one of the students on the course is a rat lover. We spent lunch sitting across from each other talking about rats, peoples’ perceptions of rats, how certain genetics play out in forming different colours (known as “varieties” in the rat world) and the dubious pleasure of “show rats”.
We got some funny looks at the dining table, especially when I pulled out the current issue of Pro-Rat-A, the National Fancy Rat Society’s magazine, to show her.
As it happens, this young woman goes to schools to talk about the way we are acculturated to be afraid of rats. She wants to show children that animals like rats – and wasps and snakes and perhaps any number of other dreaded animals – have a place in this world. For her demonstration, she uses a pair of roan does she adopted. They’ve been great ambassadors for rats, total superstars, but one has recently died and she’s down to a lone and elderly doe who has little time left herself.
“Would you like some morerats?” I ventured. I was sitting with other tutors and you could just see them thinking, What is all this about rats?All these years we’ve known her and we had no idea Marti was crazy.
It’s true that I keep it quiet. I’m a closet rat enthusiast, not because I am ashamed of my affection for pets rats but because I don’t like to hear them bein disparaged by people who feel differently. But the young woman did not disparage them. I watched her face light up at the notion of my hoped-for baby rats, arriving in November.
“Oh yes!” she said.
I explained I was breeding Missy to Pluto and that the babies were all likely to be black, some with Berkshire markings (splashes of white on their stomachs and legs).
“Black is good! I want them to look close to wild rats.”
I let her know that wild “brown” rats were agouti but that ship rats were black. If I could source some agouti from another breeder as well it would be great to have a mix of agouti and black.
“Take three, a trio of baby rats is a good number. And with does, we’re only talking about relatively small rats.”
“I used the bread rolls from the basket on the table to demonstrate. “A doe is about two of these rolls. But a buck can be, say, three or more. Of course, it varies. I know breeders whose does are three bread rolls and bucks are four!”
Was that maybe too much, the bread roll rats in among the bottles of sparkling water and the discreet menu card and the cloth napkins and all the linen? A little unfair to the other diners who were not quite as enamoured of the fancy rat? No, really, it’s okay. You can level with me. Better to have taken the rats back into the closet? I mean, they do like closets…