Remembering St Patrick’s Day, when Fabien chased the rats out of Tyrone

In the latest instalment of his weekly diary, our intrepid correspondent Fabien McQuillan turns John Rambo after an encounter with rats

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan

Fabien McQuillan writes a weekly diary about getting to grips with his new life in rural Tyrone

The rat escaped safely back down the sewer after being rescued (Berufstierrettung Rhein Neckar)
I’m no fan of rats, but I kinda felt sorry for the fella

I hadn’t meant to skip past St Patrick’s Day but I suppose I had to let a week or two pass before I could fully absorb all that happened.

Sometimes when I have an amazing day, I think of Ulysses by James Joyce, and how he charted all that occurred from the moment a man wakes up in the morning, until the moment he falls asleep that night.

I think, what if I did that, for this particular day? In minute detail. Every incident and all my thoughts, and all the thoughts of everyone I come into contact with. I would leave out the warts and all, for the sake of discretion, though Joyce didn’t.

Anyway, I woke up on St Patrick’s Day to a scream, the like of which I have never heard before. It was Fionnuala, and I bolted down the stairs, arms and legs akimbo, hair akimbo, pyjamas akimbo. Well, pyjama bottoms akimbo. I don’t usually wear a pyjama top to bed. I feel it round my neck and it tends to waken me – a dream from long ago, me stepping into a noose on a cold spring morning in a small town in Ireland; a bored crowd.

When I got down to the kitchen Fionnuala was pointing out the back door to the fence, her eyes agog. “What the hell is wrong?” I barked, looking around feverishly. The children were all there, so that at least was not the issue. But where was the dog?

“Rats!” Fionnuala blurted out. She kept checking the doors were locked and paced back and forth like a zombie. “There. He was there.” “Big.” “Big rat. Up on the table.” “Staring at me.” “And then another one.” The scream again.

Now, just to clarify, I’m no fan of rats, but growing up in Belfast meant I saw a fair few scooting about. There was a hotel at the top of our road and when I was going up to get the bus for school, the odd rat scurried across the street. I never really got used to it, and I admit it wasn’t the most chipper start to the day, but I kinda felt sorry for the fella. Having to risk the open terrain because everyone and every thing was trying to kill him. And I had read somewhere that rats laugh if they are tickled. Actually laugh.

When all was calmed down and we were drinking coffee, Fionnuala was still glancing out the window. “We have rats, Fabien. What are we going to do?”

I had never seen her like this. It was genuine fear, and I wondered had I, against the normal stream of things, actually acquired the upper hand.

“Rats are everywhere. They’re like property developers,” I ventured. But the joke went over her head.

Rambo: First Blood Part II was a violent Reagan-era fantasy
Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo

“Look, sweetheart, you know what has happened. I told you feeding Eric outside was a bad idea. The rats have a food source now, with no threat, Eric being a chocolate teapot. And they’re emboldened.”

Fionnuala looked deep into my soul, her grey eyes shadowed with vulnerability. Imogen had come over and sat on her mummy’s knee.

“Daddy, are you gonna kill the rats?”

“No petal, I’m going to help them move house.”

“Just kill them, Daddy.” Fionnuala hugged her close.

That morning I was John Rambo. The swag of me, opening doors and windows to shrieks of “Stop that”. King of the castle Fabien, telling tall tales about giant Belfast rats the size of tom cats

It turned out I had to do virtually nothing to sort out the problem. We got Eric’s food bowl moved into the utility room, with a special non-slip mat, and a neighbour brought his Patterdale Terrier down for a couple of days on the trot and there was never another sign of the rats.

But that morning I was John Rambo. And the swag of me, opening doors and windows to shrieks of “Stop that!”. King of the castle Fabien, telling tall tales about Belfast rats the size of tom cats.

Even the reminder by Fionnuala that I was reading at Mass, though admittedly an unexpected gust of wind on the motorway in the dead of night, couldn’t puncture my St Patrick’s Day gusto…