We brought our first female Labrador, Czeta, over from England on the car ferry from Portsmouth. She behaved beautifully except when left alone in the cabin, locked in the shower room for hygiene's sake. Then she howled and JP was summoned by the steward. As long as people were in attendance, she was fine.
And she was fine in the car, too, especially since Harry and Clea were leaning over the back seat to talk to her through the grill. (This was before compulsory child restraints). About an hour away from home, we stopped at a friend's house to say 'hello' and let Czeta out for a short rampage and the necessary physical functions. As still inexperienced Labrador owners we did not realise the extent of the breed's omnivorous characteristics. Czeta licked clean a plate of rat poison pellets.
Total panic. In our first year at La Chaise we had called in the rat-catcher who had skilfully placed his delicious pink granules in strategic places. Within 24 hours we were finding feral cat sized rat cadavers in the barns and out-houses, on what would hopefully one day be a lawn. JP became a one man rat burying platoon.
Full of this memory we looked up the nearest vet who was some 10 kms away – did I mention this was a Sunday? – and rushed over to him. He injected Czeta with a purgative and said, if she had not 'voided herself', either end, by the following mid-day, to go to our local vet. We drove home as fast as prudent, conscious of the fact that there was a dog in the boot who might either be sick, or shit, or die, within the next few hours. To cut my dear readers' suspense short – Czeta lived a longish and happy life and eventually gave (controlled) birth to eight puppies, one of which became Edward, the Black Prince.
But we became faithful clients of the rat-catcher – which is a bit of a misnomer as he placed poison, rather than traps. He certainly never proposed to come with gun and rat-catching dogs. After the first blitz we had many fewer rat corpses to deal with and very seldom saw any mouse remains. We followed where he placed the poison in the first few years, noticed how carefully it was situated where domestic animals – ducks, children or dogs - were unlikely to be able to get at the tempting pink grains. Then we let him get on with the job, even when we started bulk stocking winter grain for the sheep. Once a year either he would call us when he was in the area, or I would call him and ask him to come by. He came with his pails and his poison, did his job, got paid and went away.
However, this year the usual telephone call was late and slightly odd. A chirruping voice said the rat-catcher would be in our area the following day – would it be possible to call? Naturally I said yes and thought no more about it. Duly the following day the usual small white van arrived and I went to greet him. Only he was a she, slight with long curly hair, a short skirt and tight tee-shirt. She opened the back of the van, got out the buckets of pink poison, the neat tube containers and her dungarees. I recovered slightly as she was pinning up her hair and stepping into the dungarees.
'Umm' I queried, ' where is M. le rat-catcher'? She replied cheerfully, working on another site, 'shall I start with the farm?' I said yes and went back to the kitchen to recover. About an hour later she knocked on the door, back in her civilian guise, and sat down to make out the usual bill. Curiosity got the better of me. 'Who are you?' She looked surprised: 'well, I am Amelie, M. le rat-catcher's daughter. I am working with him now.' Oh, says I weakly. 'This is a much better job, more fun,' Amelie confided as she pocketed the cheque, 'I used to be an accountant.'