If he or she is to survive and thrive in the harsh world of the Deptford sewers, a young ratling needs to know the fundamental rules of how to be a proper rat. There is no formal schooling for those wild tearaways but some vital life lessons are to be found in the Big Book of Ratiquette which is kept by Wormy Ned, the toadying lackey of Morgan, who is himself the fawning lickspittle of Jupiter - Lord of all rats.

Here then are some excerpts from the basic rules, which were first set down by hench rats long ago.
The most important rule of all! A ratling must never forget that Jupiter is their God and tyrant. He has lived in the darkness for hundreds of years and is to be obeyed at all times. Entry to His altar chamber is strictly forbidden and to trespass there will incur the severest penalties. All praise Jupiter, Lord of All!
A rat hole should be the muckiest and stinkiest it can be. A few good dollops of grease dripping down the walls in a black sludge always give the place a cosy feeling. The odd flea jumping about the floor is good for a cackle too. It not only provides entertainment if you try and catch the little beggar but it can be nice and crunchy in the mouth. A ratling must take note and never tidy up his or her nest.
A messy bed is the mark of a true Deptford rat. The worse it is, the more admired and popular you will be. A clean nest will make you the laughing stock of the sewers and you deserve to have your head smacked and your ears pulled. Cockroaches make excellent pets. They keep you company at night, can learn basic tricks and they make a handy snack if you get peckish.
When visiting the rat holes of your nasty little pals, never wipe your feet before entering and make sure you insult their parents before crossing the threshold or as soon as possible thereafter. A common salutation is "Wotcha Grotface, you're lookin' ugly - what you been thievin' then?" but the ruder the insult the better. If you can't think of anything in time, spitting is just as effective.
This form of greeting is liable to bring you out in bruises and a fat lip but it is expected and you don't want to be jeered at for having "mousey manners". Always outstay your welcome, the best time to leave is when they get completely sick of you and are forced to kick you out. On the way try to filch as much of their stuff as you can get away with and have a cracking parting insult ready to throw at them, or failing that, a nice heavy stone will do just as well. Never leave another rat hole with fewer fleas than when you arrived.
A ratling never grooms his or her fur - the dirtier and slimier the better. If you don't feel grimy enough then go and jump in the black muds and cover yourself from head to tail. The smell of this alone is enough to make you famous for the day! Hair should be unkempt and tatty at all times.
Ratgirls may experiment with various hair styles. Tangling objects in it like spider's legs, twigs, old fish bones and filthy feathers is a proud tradition. The more outrageous the hair the better, but it must never be combed and only be washed by accident. The application of beetle juices on the cheeks is a modern fashion but quite permissible, as is the dabbing of chalk dust all over the face. If it looks ridiculous then everyone is happy.
Primness and fussiness are not only hilarious to see but have led to injury and worse. A ratling must learn from the errors of the past. Think of Wonky Sid who used to parade up and down the main ledges trying to impress Scabby Flo. She was so disgusted she hacked off one of his legs. Then there was Filthy Jack who slipped into a soapy drain and when he climbed out no one knew him and he was chopped to bits before we realised. How we all laughed afterwards!
A ratling should slouch at every opportunity, examine the contents of your snout at least once every half hour and whatever you find up there pop it straight into your mouth, never share - let them greedy snot gobblers harvest their own juicy bogeys. Big black gooey lumps are the best sort. When traipsing through the sewers, never appear too eager to reach your destination unless you're running to save your own skin.
Shuffling along grumbling to a pal or even to yourself is highly recommended. Pause to scratch or pick your feet as often as possible and draw insulting pictures on the walls. There is a fine example of such a drawing just off the main tunnel, which shows Morgan doing something very funny with a pickled onion.
The great feast of Firstblood is when those young ratlings who haven't yet proven themselves to be as wicked and brutal as their elders are given their final chance. If they fail to make the grade at midnight then they're fair game for any villain with an appetite, so don't be squeamish - get stuck in.
Many ratlings begin their fighting careers quite early on, but for those who don't and are dreading Firstblood, these handy tips may be useful. When meeting an enemy get your blow in first or you'll be the main course for them and their lousy family that night. Any dirty trick is advised and use whatever weapons are handy. Better still, get someone to do your fighting for you. Always stir up trouble between others then stand back to watch the fun.
Never try to break up a really good scrap. There's bound to be a wager on the outcome and if you spoil someone else's sport you'll be next for the chop. If you do have to fight, try and choose someone weaker than yourself. Remember, sometimes the shorties are the most vicious, so watch out. A good quick method of sussing out your opponent is by having a look at their ears.
Tattered, ripped ears means the rat is an appalling fighter who's lucky to still be breathing, so your chances of finishing him off are excellent. Hairy ears could mean he is mad, therefore be very careful as he is liable to do anything. When approached by a loony the best plan is to turn tail and hide in the nearest hole. Perfect ears without so much as a scratch or a scar are a puzzler. They could prove that the rat is the best fighter in all the tunnels and has never come off worst, or he could be a bigger coward than you and has always fled from trouble. Be very very careful.
There ain't never been any down the sewers so that's all right then. A ratling needs to be wary of certain ratwives however. They can turn on you in an instant. Learn when to stop insulting them or you'll end up in their stews.
Try and bet on a sure thing. If it's a fight then knobbling the one you want to lose is expected, but don't get caught doing it. Avoid any sort of work where possible. A ratling soon learns that a game of dice is the best way to waste a day. The most popular dice are made from the knuckle bones of some tasty victim but always check them before agreeing to play with older rats. You may be gambling away your own sorry skin.
Plan of a typical rat die
1 Go and catch a mouse
2 Jump into the sewer water
3 Singe your whiskers
4 Snatch the other player's swag
5 Forfeit a fang
6 Eat the other player
Remember, a young ratling is a hungry ratling. Always demand to be fed and constantly complain about the grub, no matter how tasty it is - never be grateful. Slurp and make as much noise as possible and perfect the art of talking with your mouth full but without losing any of the contents. Don't even think about washing your claws before guzzling.
It's a well known fact that last week's dirt makes today's nosh taste better but clean claws will earn you a much deserved slapping. Burping and other loud eruptions are always necessary, the smellier the better. The best place to find your supper is in another rat hole. If there's no one about, creep in and steal what you can carry.
Foraging for grub can be hard work and should be avoided. A clever thing to do is to wait until some poor sap comes back after a long day's slog going through dustbins and mug him. Two young ratlings can easily bring down one of the old fogeys who really should have croaked it years before, anyway. Hunting for live food is different and when you are older you will understand why. This is a brilliant way to spend the night, especially if you make a spree of it with one or two cronies.
Of course the best scoff there is and what we bless our bellies for, is fresh mouse. When you taste one you'll wonder why you ever ate anything else. These are delicious peeled while still wriggling and making their funny squeaks. The ears fry up lovely and crispy too and you can score big with your mates by having your very own genuine mouse coat, complete with tail, if you haven't chewed that as well.
© 2016.Robin Jarvis. All rights reserved Back