‘Let's face it, we've always had an image problem. Ever since the Black Death we've known all about our situation in the greater scheme of things.
‘But it was the fleas – not us.’
‘The fleas - the fleas...’
‘But we weren’t to blame.’
‘But what good did that do? What was the point of our pristine innocence? The question I want you to consider is this: why do things have to be as they are? Why can’t we change the status quo?’ The big brown rat broke off his speech for a moment to sniff appreciatively at a piece of excrement which floated past, bobbing around in swirling grey sewage.
‘Tell us, tell us. Tell us why we have an image problem,’ clamoured the other rats who had crowded round the brown rat to listen to his speech.
‘In a word....’ Nigel, which was the big rat's name, paused for effect and gazed around at rows of beady eyes in the semi-darkness of the sewer. ‘In a word - it's media bias.’
‘Media bias - media bias.’ The words seemed to rustle and whisper round the assembled rats in a constant jingle of excited squeaks. There was a false note though - somewhere. Nigel was pretty sure someone had said that's two words, but perhaps he'd imagined it.
‘It has been said that no publicity is bad publicity,’ Nigel shouted. He waited until the echoes of his voice had died away, bouncing round inside the pipe, fading off in the direction of the sewage works. When he had their attention again, when every last squeak and rustle had ceased, Nigel continued.
‘It has been said that no publicity is bad publicity, but I say this...’ He paused for dramatic effect. ‘I say try telling it to a rat.’
‘Yes yes, try telling it to a rat, tell it to a rat, a rat....’ Gradually the murmur of ratty voices faded again and Nigel waited patiently for silence to descend on the sewer. It took a little longer than before due to the fights which broke out over a dead starling which drifted down on the sewage flow, but eventually order was restored.
‘So....’ Nigel swallowed his morsel of starling and once again he fixed the assembly with his hypnotic eye. ‘We know the source of the problem, but what is the answer?’
‘What is the answer? The answer... the answer?’ Again the rustle of rodent voices rose then fell as they all digested the dramatic power of Nigel's rhetoric along with some of the starling's chewier bits.
‘Because there is an answer my friends – oh yes.’ An expectant silence spread out again across the sleek, furry multitude. As he gazed at their upturned faces, Nigel wondered briefly if some kind of salute would be appropriate, to capture and symbolise the mood of the moment. The right paw raised just above the whiskers perhaps -
‘Start an internet blog.’ The voice came from somewhere near the back and there was an instant babble of sound as each rat looked at its neighbour then glanced behind to see who had dared to speak out.
‘What was that?’ Nigel glared contemptuously out over his audience, searching out the rat who had dared interrupt him.
‘Start a rat blog and get tweeting. Get some media attention.’ The voice came from the same place as before.
‘Start a blog and get tweeting?’ Nigel said, mustering every ounce of contempt his voice could bring to four simple words. He bristled with indignation because he had detected a note of sarcasm in the unknown rat's voice. He had a suspicion the voice belonged to Voltaire, a natural dissenter who had never quite fitted into the higher echelons of rat society. Even more reason to -
‘Employ a PR company to spin positive ratty images,’ shouted the voice. ‘Promote ratty celebrities and outlaw phrases like you dirty rat.’
‘A good idea,’ Nigel had to admit.
‘Or rats leaving a sinking ship.’
It was definitely Voltaire. The sniggering had started now, as it always did when someone lowered the tone of a serious debate. Nigel took the opportunity to demonstrate his spiritual purity and his masterly self-control when a couple of chunks of solidified chip fat floated by. He ignored the general melee, kept aloof from the feasting and waited for peace to descend once more.
‘The answer,’ said Nigel slowly and deliberately. He found he was smoothing his whiskers as if he'd enjoyed some of the chip fat himself. What was the answer? The question seemed ages ago now, never mind the answer. The whole sewer was filled with the mouth-watering odour of chip fat.
‘Wow, look what's coming.’
Nigel glanced sharply along the sewer pipe. A whole mass of chicken scraps floated towards the assembled multitude. Nigel sighed, shrugged then dived into the sewage and struck out strongly for a plastic bag full of giblets. Sometimes image had to take second place.