The Rats

(some of them are probably small enough for a mouse trap)

In discussing the Year Sevens at my school one particularly tangent-heavy history lesson, we tried to come up with a name for them: one suggestion was ‘fish’, because they move about in a fluid, school-like formation, swerving around obstacles and rejoining seamlessly. A far more accurate description, however was calling them a hoard of rats.

This description is much better for a few reasons. Firstly, ‘fish’ doesn’t accurately convey the violence of these strange creatures; they do not move with a silent grace, flowing from room to room, but with an insane intensity, to streak along corridors to get to lessons before everyone else, and prove to their totally interested teachers that they are the greatest and most enthusiastic student. Also, the swimming of fish is associated with near-silence, with the odd blub as a fin slips through water; the Year Sevens, while they do not snarl as such, they yap and chirp like excited puppies as they storm to their lessons, adding an element of chaotic sound to their journeys.

Also, fish are streamlined, and graceful, while rats are prone to have more weird bits of flab or muscle dangling off them at random points; the vastness of bag size of these Year Sevens (seriously, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to conduct an experiment in stuffing a few of them into one of those bags, and hypothesising that a good five could fit in there before the zip broke) adds a random, misshapen element to their whirlwinds.

Furthermore, these bags move separately to the people carrying them, so an individual running relatively gracefully will have a bag bouncing up and down on their backs like a space hopper on a trampoline, making all of their movements somehow more random and energetic.

This may just be me, and my limited, land-based appreciation of sea life, but I also associate schools of fish with uniformity and consistency of identity across a group, both in terms of their outward appearance, and their behaviours: they will all take the same line around an obstacle if they can. However, the hyperactive brains of the Year Sevens, as yet unguided by career plans or uncynicalised by experiences in reality, result in random movements from these tribes; some will run around you, some will stop and be clattered from behind by a friend, and some will genuinely try to run you down, like a donkey on steroids, motivated by the carrot-like promise of a merit sticker in a classroom.

And I associate rats with this kind of randomness, like a pack of orcs; everyone is slightly different, not to the extent that they are not obviously of the same group, but to the extent that any idea of group harmony is replaced by the idea of this being a group of egotistical and self-interested classroom-rushers.

But my bitterness is not limited to these poor eleven-year-olds (or the Year Twelves that my friend kindly distinguished from the Year Sevens by calling them the ‘big rats’), it extends to me when I was that age; if I’m honest, I’m almost jealous of those vermin-like individuals, with all the enthusiasm of knowing they’re at a pretty good school and are doing well at it, and having no greater cares in the world than their lessons: for them, a ‘bad day’ is likely to be not being extensively rewarded by a teacher, which must be a blissfully optimistic experience when you think about it.

So while I don’t want to dart around school hallways with the size and weight equivalent of a baby hippo strapped to my back and piss off everyone around me in the process, it may be beneficial to at least try to get lost in the specifics of life, and focus on individual tasks and projects I’m working on, rather than constantly remind myself of the inherent temporality and loneliness of life.

I suppose there’s a rat-child in all of us.

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