No sooner had the travellers set foot on terra firma than a svelte white and black cat appeared, pedalling furiously towards them. It was Snowdrop the acclaimed unicyclist, and she was to be their guide. The quayside was treacherous under foot and the unique smell of fishmeal, which rode mercilessly over all other dockside sensations, seeped between the fibres of their clothing, into nostrils and under fingernails. As a precurser to rain the stench of fishmeal would escape the fish dock and invade the Land of Green Ginger, startling strangers and ensuring that the locals were rarely caught without a Mack.
A handcart was commandeered to carry the luggage and they set off, somewhat erratically in Snowdrop’s case as unicycles are not ideally adapted to icy conditions, through the dock gates and into the maze that is the Land of Green Ginger. Strawberry and Phoebles were already fighting over who would pull the handcart.
“Why don’t you take a handle each?” suggests Aunty Stella helpfully. But by then Strawberry had punched Phoebles on the nose and they were both sulking.
The lanes teemed with life. Black and white ships’ cats wandered in and out of narrow passageways, up and down alleys, sat on dustbins. Their fellow sailors rolled along as if still on the ocean, Russians and Norwegians, scrubbed-pink Dutchmen, Lascars and Chinese. Something of the aroma of boiled cabbage drifted on the air. A whaler pushed by, covered in tattoos and carrying his harpoon. Beneath each cast-iron, fluted street-corner lamp, bathed in its weak, sickly light, loitered unsuitably ill-clad ladies of the night and pleasure kittens. Eyeing them from across cobbled, slop drenched cart-ways were groups of trawlermen in their shore suits of powder-blue, mauve, steel-grey, wide flared trousers with turn-ups, single breasted drape jackets, double vented with half-moon pockets and four-button cuffs. The doors of The George in Splendour flew open and a handful of raucous corsairs with cutlasses and Kalashnikovs, wearing hooped ear-rings, bandanas or baseball caps, tattered t-shirts depicting Daffy Duck, Elvis, Ché, ‘Mum’ tattooed on their upper arms, lurched from out of the noisy ale house into the path of our adventurers.
“Nice bike missus, be ‘e lost the other wheel. Get a load o’ that ‘at. Nah darling, I be not a taking o’ the pith.” …And they were gone.
From down one street came the sound of a barrel organ, around the corner, a steam calliope. From the open doorways of Sid’s Fish, The Piece of Cod, Rick’s Plaice and The Chirpy Chippy came the enticing smell of fresh fried fish and chips. At each turn there was the ever changing cacophony of the crowd – voices raised in song, and chatter, and shouting, and “Hello Deary – only half a crown.”
Bumped and banged, pushed and shoved, down this passage, under this arch, across this yard, barely keeping the wildly cycling Snowdrop in sight, the party proceeded until they came to a halt before a ramshackle old grey-brick corner pub. “Cirque des Absurdités” proclaimed a flickering neon sign and outside was parked a strange ice-cream van, black painted, its roof-rack piled high with hampers, jerry-cans, stone pop jars, cardboard suitcases and hat boxes all held in place under a cargo net.
They were met at the door by Consuella Starcluster, the world famous tambourine virtuoso.
“Hwelcome to ourrr absurdeest vaudeveelle, catnip den and palace of pleazoor. Girls, feed ’em and pamperrr ’em. Hanyone want a leetterrr trrray?”