A Knight’s Tale (117: Fumigation)

Some time in the 1990s a neighbour of mine reported having seen a squirrel, probably one of a number, entering our loft. He offered to provide me with a trap. The following morning, against the trunk of one of our trees, I found a large metal cage with a strong latticed grill beside a bucket of water, a hammer, and a pair of strong leather gauntlets. Inside the cage a frantic creature with a bloodied nose repeatedly threw itself at the sides of the container.

No way could I carry out the obviously intended process. I rapidly unlocked the door of the cage, backed away, and watched the animal disappear into the shrubbery. My neighbour was most disappointed when I explained my inability to commit murder.

Some years later, when Louisa and I were still living in Lindum House, and I was down in London working for a couple of days, she telephoned me to say there was something wrong with the shower water.  It had a disgusting smell.  I said I would sort it out when I got home.  Thinking that my daughter (although that was never her wont) may have been being a bit fussy, I climbed into the shower cubicle to sample it……   No way was I going to shower in that!  I instantly recognised the most unsavoury stench as that of a dead rodent.  Before Louisa had existed we’d discovered a dead rat in our Soho flat and that smell, once experienced, is never forgotten.

I ventured into the loft and, sure enough, floating in the albeit securely covered water tank, were the putrid remains of an adventurous squirrel.  How it got in there is a mystery.  Removal of the corpse was an extremely delicate task.  Imagine trying to scoop up a furry  jelly which hasn’t properly set. 

Having drained the tank several times the water was still nauseous.  Knowing that Matthew would be able to advise on the problem I telephoned him.  He suggested a trip to the local swimming baths – not for a shower, but for a solution.  I just had time to get there before they closed, and a very kind young man, at some risk, he assured me, to his job, provided me with a bag of stuff.  This was to be applied to the water and subsequently drained off.  I needed to do this three times before either of us dared contemplate a shower.  I hope the young man has risen up the ranks.

In 2008 I was living in a rented three story house in Bayswater’s Leinster Mews when such a malodorous hum next beset my nostrils. This was thought to be the scent of a rodent which had met its demise in one of the walls. The estate agent organised fumigation, but the stink lingered, and I was forced to see my clients on the flat roof at the top of the building.

They say that if you live in London you are never more than a metre from a rat.


  1. Oh, Derrick, I so agree with you. The sickly stench of a dead rat is instantly recognisable the moment you are unfortunate enough to smell it again. It’s no wonder the phrase I smell a rat is used so often when something is amiss. That same saying ‘never more than a metre away from a rat is used up here too.

  2. Yikes, never more than three feet from a rat? Eww. I’m glad the stench was finally removed from the shower! I would have no issues with dispatching the rodent… Did that for years back home in Michigan, living in the country.

  3. You are bang on about not forgetting the smell once introduced to. You were fortunate in the help you received from the young man. We had decomposed pigeons instead, more than one, in our water tank —perhaps they were one thirsty couple who wanted a shower after an intense procreational enterprise.

  4. In the country, you are never far away from rodents, either. Usually, mice but sometimes squirrels. I cringed when I read your description of a smell I know all too well. It has wafted from my coat closet, my linen closet, and once even under my bed. Oh, my!

  5. Dead rodent in the walls is something many of us have experienced at some point. It is not pleasant waiting for the stench to away.

    I would not have been able to dispatch the squirrel you caught either. I would have released him out in the forest, far away. 🙂

  6. What a horrifying experience. I know the smell of dead rodent. When I taught at a rural school in Virginia, field mice would die inside the cinderblock walls.

  7. Somehow it falls to me to remove rats caught in the trap set in the kitchen now and then … I suppose growing up in the country inures us to such experiences in the way my urban-bred husband cannot stomach. I would have let the squirrel go too. Some years ago I woke to find large rats coming in through our upstairs bedroom window. Enough! Husband was dispatched to get so-called ecological rat poison from the farmer’s co-op the next morning while I shinned up a ladder to prune all growth away from the wall and smeared car grease all the way up the lightning conductor … thankfully, that was the end of that!

  8. The first time I smelt that smell, I called the gas board, thinking we’d got a leak! They were very understanding, and told me it wasn’t the first time they’d been called out for dead rats.

  9. Very kind of you, sir, to spare a life, a rodent’s life at that. A lesser soul would have grinned with his success and bragged about its demise over a beer or two on Men’s Night at the local pub. And that’s quite a saying. It likely applies universally.

  10. It’s a good job you didn’t kill the squirrel in that way. That would have been a criminal offence. We had a rat infestation a couple of years ago because the builders decided to put in (x) new sewer pipes but to connect up only (x-1). They were inside the walls and across the ceiling until “Rat Man Ron” killed the lot with his irresistible (apparently) pale blue poison blocks.

  11. I know it’s true that you are very far from a rat, but I do not want to thin about it. On the other hand, I know that when humanity will have managed to destroy itself, a civilisation of rats will emerge and take over.

  12. Oh yikes! Fortunately, we’ve only had live rodents in the house, but we did have one that died somewhere in the car’s engine. I was driving my then teen daughter and her boyfriend at the time somewhere.

    1. I just realized live rodents in the house might sound like our house is teeming with them. ? We’ve had mice just a couple of times that the cats caught, and we once had flying squirrels in the attic.

  13. The sound of a possum thumping onto the roof and then clambering around in the rafters is familiar to many an Aussie living in the bush. Couldn’t begin to think of eliminating them, but people often put a wide metal band around their trees to reduce the ability for them to climb up and into the roof in the first place.
    I, too, find the smell of a dead rodent to be “a once experienced, never forgotten” aroma.
    Then again, I find the sickly sweet cloying scent of marijuana equally unforgettable. I was once on a student charter flight when it began wafting down from the back row of seats…

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