I recently wrote a post from my time as a pest controller where I discussed a lady's fear of cockroaches. Phobias are always good to hear about as they are both cruel and funny, like giving Kendal Mint Cake to an elderly aunt with badly fitting dentures.
It reminded me of a time when I was contracted to clear a particularly impressive rat infestation from a farm in deepest, darkest Berkshire, where racehorses roam freely from sauna to hydrotherapy pool, where tiny, rich ex-jockeys from Ireland stare up at you and hope you haven't noticed their pointy, pointy ears, and where people who pop the collars on their polo shirts in the unfathomable belief that it's cool drive "Discos" or "Scoobies" which are always, without fail, green.
Occasionally, in amongst the unnaturally flat fields of the racehorse training grounds, you might come across a real, proper farm where they grow crops and worthwhile, useful animals like cows and pigs.
Don't get me wrong, for these farms are very different from the olden days where, heaven forbid, a real, actual farmer would own and live on the premises. Here, the farms have been bought out by large companies that have converted the buildings into desirable barn conversions that local people can't afford and, for the crops, send in a locum farmer a couple of times a week to make sure things are still alive. For this reason, any old farm buildings can become quite neglected and a haven for pesty critters.
Here was a good example of a wide-spread infestation left to run riot for many years, and centred on a dilapidated old barn once used as an animal feed store.
I considered contacting Bonzo for some mercenary assistance, but he specialised in battles, and this was a war. Also, he didn't like coming down past Nottingham because he thought the cops would be on his tail. Literally.
The substitute farmer met me on site as I arrived to set up the pest control measures (which consisted of, in technical parlance, a shit-load of poison). Once again, I was treated to someone eager to tell me about their phobia. I'm not sure why. I must look like I'm not going to take advantage. Here, the farmer said he didn't like rats. Properly didn't like them. Brought him out in cold sweats.
"What about you?" he asked.
"Me." I scoffed, "Nah. I've got no phobias."
"Really?" he asked, genuinely interested. "None at all?"
I thought for a moment and shook my head. "Nope," I boasted, "No phobias. No fears. No panic attacks. No anxieties. I have a psychology of steel. I wouldn't even flinch." I wish I chewed matches so I could have taken it out of the corner of my mouth, before saying "You can't. Not in this line of work."
Being twenty-five and enthusiastic, as well as being less likely to chew matches because I might get a splinter and, you know, mouth ulcers are ever so, ever so sore, I proceeded to give him a demonstration about why it wasn't good to be too scared of rats, because they were everywhere in a place like this. I thumped the corrugated iron cladding on the side of the barn wall in which we were standing, and was rewarded with a huge amount of scuttling and running as the hordes of rats behind scrambled for deeper hiding places.
Unfortunately, one of them decided that a better escape route would be from a hole in the cladding above my head, where it leaped to freedom, landing on the nearest available tall thing in the vicinity.
Or in particular, the bit where my head joins my torso. I believe it's called the neck.
I may have shrieked.
In fact, I may have made a noise that I wasn't even aware I was capable of making since before puberty, so high-pitched with surprise that all dogs within a two mile radius sat up and wondered who was whistling.
"Golly!" I said, (or something similar) "Look at that one!" I pointed as it ran down the entire length of my body, jumped to the floor from knee height and rushed back to it's peers behind the wall. I turned for moral support to the farmer, only to find an empty space echoing only to the sound of running foot falls outside.
He wasn't taking any chances, he later told me when we met up later for a cup of thermos-cool tea and a sandwich, as he didn't want anything like that happening to him, demonstrating a strange take on working-class solidarity.
Although I may not have developed a fear of falling rats, I did from then on show a healthy respect for overhead infestations, as well the leaping ability of our furry friends and the overatedness of thermos flasks.