Our morning routine is pretty consistent and begins at around 5 am where I am usually alerted from a lovely, deep sleep by the sound of throaty purrs. Brutus, our portly cat, has materialised on the bed and is making his way to my pillow for a session of face-time. Try as I might to resist his advances, I’m no match for his persuasive talents at that time of the morning.
Brutus steadfastly inveigles himself onto my nice, warm pillow and uses my head as a radiator. A cat with unnecessarily long limbs, he’ll extend an arm, using it to great effect by gently drawing my hand towards him. This is the signal that he wants to be stroked. Failure to comply on my part then involves the subtle use of claws, which he cleverly disguises as an act of affection. I imagine it’s rather like acupuncture. Mildly perforated and still enfeebled, I quickly give in and begin stroking his head, which causes him to turn into an inboard motor. The sensation of being in a ship’s engine room might be acceptable, soporific even, but the accompanying process of gradual suffocation, as Brutus gradually drapes himself over my nose, is eventually too much. I give in, turn over and fall off the pillow.
At this stage I’m semi-awake and then start dozing, desperately trying to return to my slumbers, but it’s no good – and why? Because Brutus has begun to clean his toes. The engine room transforms into a giant rasping workshop of activity as the lick-a-thon gets under way. As unmentionable detritus, including a fair amount of flowerbed, is carelessly flicked all over me I eventually surrender. Cussing about life with animals, I tumble out of bed and do what is required of me.
With slippers and dressing gown on, and Brutus doing his best to trip me up, I stumble downstairs to meet the next challenge. The dogs – Aby and Max. I sleepily fight off loving onslaughts from our over-affectionate Australian Shepherds, who behave as though they haven’t seen me for six months.
With wiggling bottoms, and toothy smiles that light the dimness of the room, they pin me to the bottom step, moaning in delight, ready to plan the daily walk. Weakly I deliver a number of random pats, struggle free and shuffle into the utility room to prepare Brutus’ breakfast.
Fortunately this pattern, one that can only be endured by animal-lovers, is nothing that can’t be rectified by a nice strong cuppa, and also the product of my Christmas present – a juicer. This has been a true revelation to me and I adore it. With Max still grinning from ear to ear as he adoringly hangs onto the hem of my dressing gown, I drag us both to the sink, hoping not to unravel before I reach the chopping board. I reach for my random collection of fruits and vegetables and begin to hack them into juicer-friendly sizes.
Still half-asleep, I stuff the ingredients into my wonderful machine, which munches and grinds its way through the contents with consummate ease. It belches out ex-veggie bits into one container and a heady drinkable liquid into another. This can often be a strange colour but it is thrillingly stuffed with vitamins and minerals – I’m convinced it’s an act of magic.
Just enough for two glasses, I give one to my husband, Jack, who is decidedly less thrilled. His belief is that these bright green/orange/dark red concoctions containing more than six types of vegetable and at least three varieties of fruit appear much too similar to human waste, and should probably carry a gastro intestinal health warning. Disappointing though his attitude is, I shouldn’t be at all surprised given that he’s a die-hard carnivore. I’ve reminded him of the health benefits and, so far, all seems to be well down below. So, in spite of his continued scepticism, he manfully sips his way through most offerings.
The single downside to my magnificent machine is that it devours an inordinate quantity of produce. After my first few goes it quickly became clear that I would need a bigger vegetable rack to contain them. In the meantime, I made do by using three deep boxes which I left on the window ledge in the cool of the utility room.
A few days ago, following another nocturnal feline skirmish that I’d failed to repel, I was on my way to the utility room to collect my ingredients. Jack was already downstairs and commented, “I noticed a mouse in one of your veg boxes this morning. Huh, at least someone appreciates your devil’s brew mix.”
I took very little notice of him and shambled into the crowded utility room, which was occupied by both dogs and Brutus (on the worktop) all eating their breakfasts. I was about to collect a clump of celery when a head popped up between the sprouts. It was there again, but this wasn’t a mouse at all, it was a large rat. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m usually perfectly fine with rats, but they do need to be in their own place – and not mine.
I recoiled in horror and started shrieking at the animals to do something helpful. Aside from Max who raised an eyebrow, my appeals had absolutely no affect whatsoever. They were intent on eating their meal and a hysterical mum wasn’t going to get in their way.
Meanwhile, the rat, alerted to the possibility that it wasn’t welcome, calmly squeezed its bulk between my greens and started to waddle over the apples and lemons. My continued squawks brought Jack bounding in. “It’s a rat,” I ranted, “a huge one. Please do something, Jack!”
“You’ve got a roomful of so-called shepherding and hunting animals in here, can’t they catch it? If you didn’t feed them so much it might be an incentive for them to earn their keep. Anyway where is it?” he puffed with exasperation.
“Over there somewhere, behind the dogfood bins,” I replied, pointing nervously at two knee-high feed containers.
Jack fought his way through the furry mass and peered behind the bins.
“No, nothing here, it must have gone through the hole by the radiator. Useless bloody animals, catch a rat? That lot couldn’t even catch a cold. Now can you stop making such a noise please, I’m trying to watch the news.” With that he stalked off.
Feeling somewhat sheepish, I returned to the job in hand and studied my goods for signs of contamination. Our new visitor might be a carrier of several vile diseases for all I knew, a simple rinsing of my legumes might not be sufficient. Just as I was considering this important point the dogs, who had finished their breakfast, started to show a renewed interest in the food bins. At first I ignored this, assuming it was a late show of teaminess, when Aby started urgently whining and staring at me imploringly. Still under the impression that they were alerted by old scents I pulled back a bin and to my horror saw that the rat was still there and looking decidedly frisky.
In an instant both dogs exploded into a flurry of activity and started blundering around. Even Brutus looked up, mildly interested at all this canine activity.
“Jaaack, it’s still here!” I yelled.
Jack thundered back in and surveyed the perpetrator, which was scampering around in circles behind the containers.
“Quite a fatty isn’t it?”
“Yes, can you do something please, I’m frightened it’s going to escape into the house.”
Jack gave me a withering look and switched to operations mode. “Right, you take the empty bin and I’ll grab the full one, that’ll give the dogs or Brutus a chance to get it. It’s obviously too large to get through the hole in the corner, so there’s a tiny chance that one of them might have the intelligence to catch it.”
“Oh I daren’t go any closer,” I whined pathetically.
“I haven’t got any pants on.”
“Wha...what’s that got to do with anything?” he cried, totally nonplussed.
“You know what they say about rats running up drainpipes, anything could happen with me standing here with just my slippers and dressing gown on!”
With a look of irritation at my reticence he replied, “Ridiculous woman! For goodness’ sake, just get out of here then, I’ll try to sort it out with the dogs, although I dare say they’ll just continue to knock things over.”
With that I scurried out of the room and closed the door firmly behind me.
During the next couple of minutes the rooms bulged with the sounds of shouts, barks and scrambling noises, then the vacuum cleaner was switched on, which was strange. Next thing, the door was flung open and out shot Brutus looking like a mobile inflated toilet brush with the fluffiest tail I have ever seen. He galloped up the stairs, four at a time, and disappeared from view. Poor lad, he has always considered the vacuum cleaner to be a weapon of mass destruction.
One defender of the realm down, three to go. I felt sure that one of them would manage to trap the perp.
Sounds of pandemonium continued, then Aby flew through the door with an enraged-looking rat in her mouth and Max in pursuit. As she dashed around the dining room table with it I attempted to do something useful by opening the kitchen door for her, but I was too late. Max-the-misguided had decided that this was a great game and rugby tackled her just before she made the exit. Aby was floored, spat out the rat, which triumphantly scampered off to another corner of the kitchen.
“Bloody idiot dog!” raged Jack as he came into the kitchen with vacuum cleaner nozzle in hand. “Where has it gone now, and what are you doing up there?”
As a security measure, remembering my state of undress, I’d taken the sensible precaution of taking refuge halfway up the stairs. I ignored his insensitive question and pointed towards the area where our escapee was last seen.
“It’s over there. Can you shoo it out of the door before the dogs have another go?”
“I tried that last time, I got it nicely stuck on the end of my nozzle when Aby grabbed it and galloped off. Now she’s let it go again.”
“Actually it wasn’t her fault, it was Max and…”
“It doesn’t matter, they’re both idiots. Control them please, they’re causing havoc with the furniture!”
Jack went off to find his rodent-proof gloves while I attempted to control the dogs’ level of hysteria. When he returned they were both rigidly sitting to attention, on crimson alert, and whining in anticipation of the next fiasco.
“Ah, there it is,” he said, gently removing a chair with his giant red rubber gloves, “I reckon I can probably grab it now.” As he reached towards the defiant rodent Max somehow interpreted this to be a signal to advance. He sprang over Jack’s arm and pounced on the rat, which deftly swerved out of the way, scuttled through his legs and pelted out through the open door into the garden. This was Max’s second own-goal, but at least the intruder was outside.
“That idiot sodding dog!” bawled Jack, from a seated position where he’d been felled, “If he were to suddenly become five times more intelligent, he could qualify as an ingredient for your vegetable juicer.”
“Never mind, darling,” I gaily replied, “at least the rat’s gone now. I call that a great result!”
Jack gave me a disdainful look and snarled, “I blame myself. None of this would be happening if I hadn’t bought you that damned juicer, which has resulted in the utility room turning into vegetable market. Now, fascinating though it may be, it’s too early to be on safari. Please don’t bother me again about helping out with invasions of anything smaller than a wild boar, I’m going to catch up on the news.” With that he stalked back to the TV.
I then surveyed the scenes of gentle chaos. A couple of chairs had been knocked over in the kitchen, the utility room had fared less well. The empty dog bin was on its side, the other at a jaunty angle surrounded by red cabbage, sprouts and vacuum cleaner attachments. Well, I thought, at least nothing had been damaged in our early morning incident, not even the rat, which seemed to have been the calmest of us all.
Clearly I couldn’t blame any of this on my wonderful new juicer. It simply had to have its fuel. No, there was only one unwanted gift that day, and it was now happily sauntering around the garden somewhere no doubt plotting a return visit – one that I wouldn’t look forward to.