To be fair, I have never thought a great deal about the difference between black rats and brown rats. If I am completely honest, I don’t think about rats much at all, aside from appreciating the actions of the Pied
Piper in ridding Hamelin of the pests once join a very long time ago. Mind you, he did then go a bit overboard, enticing all the town’s children to follow him away from their homes to pay back the villagers for their lack of gratitude. Which only goes
to show, never forget to say thank you.
But I digress (what’s new? I hear you groan) - this morning I learnt a lot about rats, both of the brown and
the black variety, from grandson Samuel via FaceTime. Did you know that in the trenches of World War I It was the black rats who were most feared, feasting as they did on the bodies of dead soldiers. Or, as Sam puts it, “the newly deceased.” He
pronounces the word “deceased” with much the same emphasis as Boris puts on the word “disease” in those daily press briefings before the Prime Minister succumbed himself to the dreaded virus.
According to Sam the black rats especially enjoyed gorging on the eyes of dead soldiers and, as a result, grew as large as cats. He relates this alarming fact with enormous relish, oblivious to me shrinking in horror. Obviously,
FaceTime being what it is, my grandson can only see a postage stamp-sized me in the corner of his screen so he probably isn’t aware of my reaction ...
am doing my bit to help Sam’s parents in the home schooling of their three super-active lads while they (as in, the parents) are trying to work from home. My job is not to play at being teacher, no fear! I see my task as getting Sam to talk about the
task he has been set - to write a war poem - and hopefully to transfer his ideas into words. It’s quite a tall order for a thirteen year old, I reckon, given that Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and the like were at least writing from desperate experience
unlike anything that has touched the life of the Eldest of my (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys. I am oh-so-thankful to say...
In order to switch the conversation
away from rats (black and brown alike), I tell Sam about the Richardson brothers - Albert the Gardener and Ernest the Farm Boy - whose stories I studied for the Great War Project some years ago. Albert returned home from the War To End All Wars but his younger
brother was lost somewhere in France where he lies in an unknown grave. Both boys wrote back regularly to their “dearest mother”, telling her nothing about the horrors they had experienced but reassuring her that they were perfectly fine, that
the war would soon be over, that one day soon they would all be home together again. What would Sam write back to his parents in the same situation, I wondered? “I’d probably tell them not to worry,” he said, thoughtfully.
Sam reflects that Albert and Ernest remind him of the brothers in Michael Morpurgo’s beautiful book “Private Peaceful.” Such a sad ending, we reflect - and I am
reminded of the visit Sam’s Grandad and I paid to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire some years ago where there is a poignant memorial called Shot at Dawn dedicated to those poor shell-shocked soldiers who were executed for cowardice as
an example to others. This particular memorial is situated at the very edge of the Arboretum, at the place where the dawn rises first. Maybe Sam might visit there one day, I suggest.
Somehow along the way, Sam’s poem takes shape until he declares himself well pleased with what he has done. Which is, in my admittedly random opinion, what learning should be all about. I reckon it’s time, I tell my grandson, that he has
a well-earned rest.
Sam wants to repeat the experience again another day. He says I can be his own Personal Tutor though I’m not sure I am qualified for
such an honourable position. What subject shall we tackle next, I wonder?
Hopefully one that is not in the least bit Rat-Related...