You know how it is. You've been married a number of years, and you're in - well, a rut is probably a bit strong, but, say, a state of pleasant and ever so slight boredom. It's not that you don't love your dear heart just as much as ever, but what with young children and jobs and life, your marriage is feeling a bit...stagnant. Well, I have two words for you, my friends: "Get rats!"
How To Get Rats
There's a number of easy ways: slovenly living, moving to London or a farm, having a nice warm airing cupboard...
In our case, we have some neighbours who dug up their garden when we least expected it and thus dislodged a family of rats. Who could blame the refugees for scampering along the nearest branch available, straight into the cosy loft of the new family next door?
How To Identify Rats
I was lying in bed alone. My husband was away for work. I was woken by a scuffle on the roof. On the roof? Or in it? I lay frozen, hardly daring to breathe as I listened for more. Another scrabbling sound. Oh God. Then a loud kerfuffle followed by...silence. As the moments ticked by, I exhaled slowly and my mind began working its revisionist magic. Being very tired, I let it trick me into believing that it had in fact been a bird landing on the roof, losing its footing and then sliding down the tiles that made all that noise. This seemed to satisfy my leaden eyes and I fell asleep. As if a bird, whose very life depends on its ability to fly and land silently, would have made such a racket!
It wasn't till a week later and my husband was back that I heard the noise again. This time there was no mistaking it.
"That's a rat," said my genius spouse.
"It sounds like it's putting furniture together," I replied in a strangled voice.
"They, you mean," he replied.
We looked at each other in horror, our eyes gleaming with terror in the dark.
How the Rats Spiced Things Up
There are a number of ways marriage counsellors suggest you can improve your relationship. Who would have thought that they could all be put into practice with such unlikely consorts as the common rat?
1. Keep communicating
The next morning, my What'sApp was going nuts with messages from my husband updating me on where he'd got to with booking a pest control company. He even left me a voicemail message - with actual words, not a sigh and a click - for the first time since about 2009. I rang him to confirm that I too had spoken to said company, and the rat-catcher would be on his way at lunchtime. How appetising.
The rest of the day was alive with report and counter-report, as my husband and I relayed Googled rat wisdom to each other. By the time Frank the Rat turned up, we'd all but decided to build a second wooden rampart round our house, in the manner of a medieval fort, complete with mini boiling oil buckets for our rodent friends.
Frank talked for 40 minutes about mice, hornets, roaches, wasps, squirrels, and, of course, rats - your basic pest spectrum. Then he popped upstairs. I waited with bated breath, half-expecting to hear a giant struggle as if he were wrestling colossal rats to the ground and throttling the life out of them.
No such drama.
He came back down after a minute or two and said it was definitely rats, he'd lay some poison and come back and check on them next week.
Meanwhile, he put us on RatWatch, which involved intense and extensive inter-spouse communication.
"Did you hear that?"
"You're imagining it, shut up and go back to - oh God, it's the Rat Parade!"
2. Touch more, not just for sex
There's nothing like creepy noises in the loft to make you cuddle up. We were clinging together like babes in a wood.
3. Talk about something other than the children
I don't know about you, but even their father doesn't want to talk about the children as much as I do. How many date nights have you spent scrabbling for conversation that doesn't involve the offspring? With rats, you're never short of news! A fresh sprinkling of droppings spotted! Daytime activity in the Big Rodent house! Rumours that it might be killer squirrels from the mums at school!
4. Nurture your "in-jokes"
To evade the horror, we span our own little sitcom about the "friends upstairs".
When the tapping started again, I quipped:
"Sounds like they've been to EEKEA again."
On the night they sounded like they were having a party:
"They've just been down the Rat's Arms and got a RatDonalds."
"And now they're going to watch 'Mouse of Cards' on Ratflix..."
I tell you, it was a shaky, grossed-out laugh a minute.
5. Foster a common purpose
There was one thought occupying our marital mind, and one thought only: Those rats must out! I don't think we've ever worked with such equal fire towards the same goal. Yes, raising the children is a fairly key mutual goal, but there's something about rats that has a certain immediacy about it, raises a certain fire in your belly. If the kids don't learn to read this week, it's not the end of the world; if the rats don't leave by Sunday, I will.
6. Have a bit of healthy distance
I couldn't bear the noise - or, worse, the silence, waiting for them to come in from the watering hole and start assembling flatpacks again. So I moved into the spare room.
It was awesome.
All the perks of breastfeeding - bed to yourself, pile of books and magazines on the side, light on as long as and whenever you want - without the frequent wake-ups and nipple pain.
My husband, meanwhile, toughed it out in our room, grimly determined to monitor the movements of our squatters, in order to report any death throes.
It meant we were forced to catch up on the day before retiring for bed. Which is a definite plus for anyone whose husband tends to fall asleep on them when you're trying to tell them something important.
7. Try something different in the old conjugal relations area
Think Mr Darcy creeping along the corridor, all open blouse and dashing cheekbones. The hero and heroine have not seen each other get changed for days. The creak of the floorboard. Someone stirring. The heroine hardly able to contain her excitement...
Before getting up to put the toddler back in bed.
8. Create shared memories
The rats have gone. Or else they've laid carpet and muted the TV.
But we still have the memories.
And we are that little bit further entwined, our marriage is that little bit stronger - all thanks to our nimble pals in the loft.