The naturalist and writer, Phil Drabble, gained his knowledge from some unusual sources.
He will be best known from the time he presented ‘One Man and his Dog’, but his books show his profound knowledge of the natural world came from a childhood spent with, gamekeepers, poachers and in the case of this short story ‘Rat Catchers’.
Much to his Fathers consternation the young Phil befriended the rather pungent Hairy Kelly, who’s understanding of rats fascinated the young boy.
No poison, traps or dogs for Hairy Kelly, he used a ferret and his bare hands. The cunning chap caught the rats alive, charged the farmer for each rat caught and then sold them to the pubs that had a rat pit. ‘People use to gamble on how fast their dog could kill 10 rats’.
His ferret would drive the rats from their cover and as quick a lightning Hairy would grasp one in his hand and push it inside his shirt. When the ferret emerged, the rats were then transferred to a sack which when hung up ensured the rats wouldn’t chew their way out. To accomplish this feet Hairy used his long arms with amassing speed; but reflexes were only part of the story. Hairy just seemed to know where and when the rats would bolt, they actually just seemed to jump into his hand! Mind you his did have one bit of specialist equipment, a stout belt. He seemed to not mind rats in his shirt, but migrating to underwear!
So Hairy Kelly was a rodent operative in the Black Country, when men were men and beer came from wooden barrels. He charged a tanner a rat, six olds pence, but then sold live rats. Pest control in the raw.
It’s all very different now, smart vans, clean uniforms and pest control operatives that actually wash themselves, mostly! But maybe we have lost the intimacy of a man living in touch with his environment. The bill will be bigger too!