The knowledge that, in London, you are never more than a few metres from a rat is something that, like most people, I prefer not to dwell on. This week, however, I was confronted with grim evidence of my proximity to the capital's rodent community.
At 3am on Saturday, after weeks of complaints from my flatmate about an ominous scuffling under her bed, an enormous black rat finally presented itself in our bathroom. The horror was mutual: while my flatmate and I clambered on to the nearest elevated surfaces, the offending creature dived into our toilet bowl. We engaged in some obligatory shrieking before slamming the lid and retreating to the farthest corner of our flat.
The next day, the pest control man was less than reassuring. "Yeah, it's probably coming up through your toilet," he sighed. Through our toilet? Naively, I hadn't thought that happened in real life, with the exception of freak incidents involving baby alligators – an idea I somehow find less horrible than a rat, dripping with toilet water, dancing around my bath oils. Suddenly I understood where the phrase "like a rat up a drainpipe" comes from.
While the odd mouse has a certain bohemian charm, there is nothing romantic about housing their bigger rodent brethren. Nevertheless, by Monday lunchtime I had cheerfully informed everyone I know about my encounter with King Rat (childishly anthropomorphising unappealing creatures being my coping strategy).
To my relief, everyone had a rat story of their own, some more traumatic than others. There were tales of baseball bat wielding exterminators and controversial "sticky boards", and one friend alerted me to the existence of an entire genre of YouTube clips dedicated to rats in toilet bowls.
Suggested solutions ranged from electromagnetic scarers to a puzzling "wholewheat, GM-free" poison, but I am sticking with our friendly exterminator. A chirpy man with a glass eye, he seemed to get more satisfaction from his job than anyone I know, probably because, as he pointed out, his is a recession-proof game. Tiptoeing into my bathroom each morning, it's nice to know there's a silver lining for someone.
Don't let's anglicise Paris cafés
If there is one thing for which London has always envied Paris, it is its sophisticated café culture. Wandering through the French capital recently, however, I was surprised by the Anglo-Saxon influences that have crept in since I lived there four years ago.
It wasn't the outbreak of Starbucks that dismayed me as a new generation of right-on establishments offering wheatgrass shots and table-side shiatsu massages, quite at odds with the traditional notion of the French café. After all, these were where I learnt to mainline espressos and chain smoke while debating the meaning of life – not zone out with a smoothie.
The implications are serious. Could that increasingly rare breed, the French intellectual, face extinction given this destruction of their natural habitat? The course of Western philosophy might have been very different had Sartre et al decided to swap ontology and Gauloises for reflexology and carrot cake.