The manhole was dingy and deep. Boz went first, then Phoebles, then Ferdy, and Ginsbergbear brought up the rear, replacing the cover above his head in the interest of health and safety. Clambering down a corroded iron ladder they descended gingerly into the wondrous construct that is the subterranean world created by Joseph Bazalgette. An overpowering stench of the farmyard bombarded feline noses, yet more dank and claustrophobic – like a Moroccan khazi. They were in a major sewer, and Ferdy was wearing his best Rupertbear tartan trousers. He produced a Penlight torch and flashed it along the tunnel. It just about picked out a running shadowy figure. “Got him!”
And thus began such an epic pursuit that it was to be recounted around the winter fires to kittens’ kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and…
The glazed Victorian brickwork lined vast vaulted chambers, wide tunnels, cramped oval culverts, described elegant arches, steps and pavements, water channels and weirs. There were cast-iron stairs, ladders, walkways and a maze of intertwined piping. Ahead they would hear the clatter of heals on stone, the clank of soles on grating, the splash of shoes in water; sometimes close, sometimes far away. They ran alongside fast flowing streams, splashed through sluggish shallows, waded as fluid in the narrower passages deepened.
Eyes watched them from every side tunnel, each gaping, shattered pipe. The rats down here were the size of Gloucester Old Spots, but remained aloof, neither helping nor hindering pursuers or pursued. Sometimes eyes on stalks, emerald or mauve or both at once, popped up out of the liquor, looked around and sank again followed by a stream of bubbles.
Often our heroes thought they had lost McGoogs within the labyrinthine passageways and interconnecting tunnels, but each time someone would hear a splash or scrape ahead, and off they would go again. When, eventually, the battery in Ferdy’s flashlight died they found that many of the strange shapes floating on the liquid goo glowed a feint and unearthly green, casting just enough of a glimmer to see by once their eyes had adjusted.
Still having barely glimpsed their quarry a regular metallic ringing ahead hinted that someone was climbing an iron ladder and, half swimming, half wading under a low archway the quartet found themselves in a high chamber at the foot of a tall vertical shaft. The ladder, firmly bolted to the brick lined flue, was new and galvanised; there was a tiny circle of light at the top. Within the chamber a noisome, gaseous vapour was writhing sluggishly across the surface of the sludge, the acrid odour of ammonia making their eyes water. The climb began.