The Return of Glasgow's Super Rats

Glasgow Live reports a new breed of rat, resistant to pest-control, is making its presence known.

This reminds me of the Glasgow bin-men's strike in 1975, when the “super rats” ran wild. I fictionalised it in my novel The Book of Man:

The middens were infested with rats. They’d appeared in force during the months when the Cleansing Department went on strike and rubbish filled the back courts in stinking piles. When the strike was over and the rubbish was gone, the rats were still with us. They got so big that the tabloids began printing stories about “super-rats.” For once they weren’t exaggerating. They were true, the stories about huge hungry rats attacking babies in their cots, and fighting back like angry cats when hysterical mothers tried to drive them away. Nobody wanted to believe the Victorian horror stories under the banner headlines. But, in 1970s Glasgow, they were true.

Some might say that Robert just evened things up a little, scored a few points for the two-leggers. Others would say the rats were in as bad a situation as we were and so you couldn’t really blame them.

Robert had a hamster-cage. It had housed a hamster at one time, and I don’t even want to speculate about what happened to it. But with the hamster gone, the cage wasn’t redundant.

He’d put a bit of rancid meat in the cage and leave it by the midden, with its door left open. He’d stand a distance away, but still close enough to see, and wait. It wouldn’t be long until there was a rat in the cage, groping and gnawing at the bait. Robert would rush over and kick the cage door shut.

He didn’t catch the biggest ones, the super-rats, because they couldn’t get through the small door. But the ones he caught had plenty to offer him by way of amusement.

In the afternoons, he had the two-room flat he lived in with his parents to himself. His father worked for the Cleansing (I swear it) and his mother had a part-time job in the local off-licence.

Robert would take the cage with the rat up to the flat. If the rat was lucky, it might get to finish eating the bait before Robert had boiled a pot of water big enough to fill the sink.

He’d pour the boiling water into the sink until it was nearly overflowing. Then he’d plunge the cage into the water and boil the rat alive.

Peter and I stood one afternoon in Robert’s grimy kitchen and watched a rat swell to nearly twice its size, saw its eyes strain to explode from its head, saw a red- brown substance — maybe its tongue — come out of its mouth as it rolled around under the steaming water.

You could smell it on the steam. Even after we’d left the flat and were walking along the road in the sunlight, I only had to take a deep breath and I’d smell it again. The smell of boiled rat.

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—Barry Graham


Profile at Scottish Book Trust

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