Most of us travel to an office, school, factory or garage to go to work, but Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers there are many Sheffielders whose job is anything but the 9-to-5. In the first feature of an ongoing series, Rachael meets the man who exterminates the city’s rats, mice, pigeons and fleas among other creatures.
CLAD in a white disposable suit, Malcolm Dent looks like he’s wandered off the set of ET - the part of the film where ET is dying and the scientists move in.
But he’s not a scientist and his job hasn’t stretched to capturing aliens.
Not yet, anyway.
Malcolm, aged 51, from Handsworth, runs his own pesticide business, ridding Sheffield’s homes of unwanted and often unpleasant guests.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘normal’ day doing this,” he says. “It’s definitely not a regular 9-to-5 job.
“We get around 12 to 15 calls a day and they could be about anything from rats to fleas. Some days we get as many as 20 calls if it’s busy, but it depends on the time of year.”
The seasons also determine the ‘guests’ Malcolm has to deal with.
“At this time of year it’s mainly bees and wasps and then, as the seasons go on, towards autumn and winter, we will get lots of calls about squirrels.”
Malcolm’s job means he’s able to observe - albeit indirectly - trends in nature.
“I’ve noticed this summer that there are more bees around now than there are usually at this time but not as many wasps as there usually is - it’s this strange weather, which has gone from hot to cold to hot again.”
But bees and wasps’ nests are tame compared to some of the callouts Malcolm’s had over the years.
“There was one customer who called because they could smell this awful stench coming from the attic.
“When I lifted up the insulation in the loft there was a huge flattened out dead rat. It had started to decompose and filled a supermarket carrier bag entirely. That was horrible.”
And, even without seeing a creature, Malcolm can tell what species is troubling a household just by looking at its droppings.
“Mouse droppings look a bit like broken pencil lead,” he revealed. “Rat droppings are about 10 to 12mm long and torpedo-like in shape, and rabbit droppings are like sheep droppings, only about five millimetres in width.”
But the real horror stories are the pigeons.
“We have to wear full protective disposable gear when we deal with anything involving pigeons, including respiratory masks, because pigeon muck carries so many diseases.
“We often get calls to empty neglected buildings when people want to convert them and it’s always a real mess.”
Malcolm gets equally kitted up for his household jobs involving fleas and bedbugs.
“It’s not something that people really talk about but it’s not uncommon,” he says.
Malcolm deals with about three bedbug cases each week in Sheffield alone.
“I suppose you wouldn’t walk in to the pub and start telling everybody about your bedbug problem, so it’s all a big hush-hush.
“We have to get kitted up for that, though, as bedbugs and fleas will jump on to anything and we spray chemicals so we need to use a mask.
“People shouldn’t feel too bad about it - they can come from anywhere. Someone could pick them up in a hotel bed and bring them back.”
Of all the flea types, cat fleas are the worst, according to Malcolm.
“They will jump on to anything whereas most other fleas live only on their ‘host’ - hedgehog fleas never leave the hedgehog, for example,” he says.
“But cat fleas can end up anywhere.”
As soon as Malcolm finishes a job, he throws all his gear into the bin.
But going into homes and fumigating insects or exterminating rodents gives Malcolm an insight into people’s lives too.
“You find out some very strange things about people,” he says.
“There was one job where we discovered the husband was secretly stashing all his porn magazines on top of the kitchen cabinets and we have to move them all to deal with the job!
“His wife was okay - she said she knew about it - but I bet he wasn’t okay when he got home that night.”
Malcolm takes calls around the clock.
“Weekends are my busiest time, as that’s when people notice the funny smells or the nests outside their house. During the week they’re too busy working.”
His website offers a call-back message service but some, he laughs, are cranks. “There was one time when someone called pretending to be a mouse and asked me to exterminate the humans in the house!” he grins.
But, although he already deals with up to 20 calls a day, Malcolm believes that he will be about to get busier, once Sheffield Council prepares to enforce fortnightly bin collections instead of weekly ones.
“People will start leaving bags outside and that will be terrible for rodents and foxes,” he warns.
As for foxes, he hasn’t added them to his pesticide repertoire - and, indeed, he has his very own fox problem. “We have one that sunbathes in our garden! I saw it the other day and it got up and looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing in my garden?” he laughs.
Rodents are the most abundant order of mammals. Rice and rats reproduce at an alarming rate - female black rats can breed every 21 days. So act quickly if you think you have a rat problem.
Try to block up all small holes in your house and clear up the garden or backyard - litter and discarded food attract rodents.
Peppermint is a deterrent to mice so try sprinkling peppermint oil around the home and - if possible - plant peppermint near doorways.
With fleas it’s a case of treating your pet and then the home. Make sure you wash bedding at 60 degrees as a minimum, as fleas do spread onto sheets and covers.
Treat carpets with insecticide chemicals, especially at the edges of the carpet, as that is where bugs are most likely to reside.