Never Far from a Rat

The other day, in Bristol, I saw a rat scampering away in the bushes just feet from a main road with pedestrians walking past. It reminded me of the saying “you are never more than 6 feet from a rat”.

I know that the saying is a ‘urban myth’ but it does illustrate the problem urban areas have with rats.

The thing is, though, I saw far more people than I did rats. That should not surprise anybody but I did wonder how many of those people might be called ‘rats’, for whatever reason?

Just to show you the way my mind works, I am recalling a time when a good friend and his wife invited me round for a drink at their house. This was not unusual, we often got together for a drink at each other’s house. Sometimes there would be just the three of us, sometimes other friends would join us. Usually, the other people would be friends I had met or at least heard of before.

One evening, however, the three of us were joined by a guy I had not met before nor had I heard either my friend or his wife mention his name. I’ll call him John, because that was his name and I doubt if he is reading this. On this occasion, John seated himself on the sofa between myself and my friend’s wife, while my friend sat in the armchair to the side. There was nothing special about the conversation except that we did not appear to talk about our usual topics of conversation. It seemed that John and my friend had known each other for a long time and had been at school together. However, John did not seem to know any of our mutual friends or share any of the interests my friend and I had. This made me feel a bit left out and I believe his wife felt the same.

After a couple of hours, John got up to leave and made his farewells with a handshake. It was my friend who saw him to the door and bade him farewell for the evening, while the wife and I just looked at each other with a strained and puzzled look on our faces.

After bidding farewell, my friend came back to join us in the room. He had a smirk or a grin on his face and he said to us;

“how did you find that?”

“how did we find what?” I responded glibly.

“how did you find it sitting next to a murderer?”

It was quite clear that neither the wife or I had any idea that John was a murderer. Or perhaps I should say ‘had been a murderer’, for he had served his sentence and been released, presumably for ‘good behaviour’.

The wife and I looked at each other and I am convinced we both winced together. It was clear that the experience had not been a pleasant one even when we did not know his history, knowing it only seemed to make it worse. Being the victim of my friend’s ‘joke’ was also a little disturbing.

It was obvious afterwards why the ‘conversation’ had centred around events many years ago, as John had been out of circulation (i.e. in prison) for many years. It was difficult for him to take part in our usual topics of conversation.

I suppose that if John had paid his ‘debt to society’ for his crime and was now being rehabilitated, then I should be pleased with that but I cannot remember being pleased at the time. What I do recall then and am reminded of it now is that we can all be close to a ‘rat’ without knowing it.

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