There’s an old wives’ tale that those of us living in Greater London are – statistically, i.e. by calculating numbers against acreage – never more than six feet away from a rat.
When I say it’s an old wives’ tale, this theoretical estimate is actually alleged to have first seen the light of day in a book called The Rat Problem, written in 1909 by W.R. Boelter.
In truth, according to a survey undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency in 2012, the figure is closer to 164 feet. As I personally live quite close to the banks of the River Thames and have a regular rodent visitor – whom I have christened Hugh – to the outside of my home, attracted by the bird food and stale bread scattered upon the terrace, I take some comfort from this slightly greater estimate of the average.
I don’t suppose I’m alone in harbouring a mild aversion to rodents, even squirrels (referred to by a pal of mine as grey rats with tails), because of a perception that they are dirty, disease-carrying vermin who will chew upon anything and are virtually impervious to the effects of attempts – up to and including the laying out of poison – to discourage or eradicate their presence.
Having registered all that, I did slightly adjust my view this morning when reading of the discovery of new species rodent-like marsupials, who have a most interesting life cycle, made by researchers on the hinterland of Australia’s Gold Coast.
Like many of us in our seventh decade, these days as my brain cranks into gear – rather less frequently than perhaps it used to – I find myself occasionally ruminating upon the vagaries of life and mortality.
That old story – apocryphal or not – of the notoriously frugal movie mogul Sam Goldwyn always brings me a smile. You know the one. At some glittering Hollywood function or another, one of his friends urged him to spend some of his vast fortune, pointing out “after all, you can’t take it with you”. To which Goldwyn allegedly replied “If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going …”
However, of course, the point is that we’re all going to go sometime. I think it was Woody Allen who quipped “I’m not afraid of death – I just don’t want to be there when it happens” and we can all empathise with where he was coming from.
I mention all this today, because when I read of the life cycle of the male long-tailed antechinus, I gained a slight sense of envy.
They only seem to live about a year and, after a four-month adolescence, spend their adulthood in a mating frenzy, going from one partner to the next for up to fourteen hours a day. They stop producing sperm at the age of eleven months and eventually die as their body’s immune systems break down from a surfeit of sexual activity. Apparently, it’s all part of the species’ evolution strategy.
I think I could live with that …
See here for the relevant report on the website of THE GUARDIAN