At the Barricade

For much of the time Boz could see little but swirling smoke and fog, hear nothing above the screams of men and beasts, the popping of Burp© fire, and then an attacker would be upon him.   For frantic seconds they were warriors testing each other’s mettle, close enough to smell the fear and fury, firing short bursts of precious water muzzle to muzzle,  bawling abuse and bravado.    And as suddenly Boz would be alone again, his heart pounding, mouth dry and desperately in need of one of those mugs of tea.   Below in the neighbouring side streets La Columna was engaging Metropolitan Snatch Squads and a detachment of Eton schoolboys.   The boys’ Saturator SIG SAUER 556’s and La Columna’s STR80-AK47 Aquafires were pretty much equally matched, but experience was to win out and the toffs were soon routed.   One Metropolitan Snatch Squad was captured and, with no provision for restraining prisoners, was released on a promise that they would go straight home.   Elsewhere the conflict was increasingly confused and messy.

Locked in a stalemate at the barricade the Nationalists deployed their secret weapon.

“I can see them bringing up the Mounted Police Vans!”

Two vans were indeed mounted, howdah-like on the backs of enormous GM elephants, lashed firmly in place by yards of Day-Glo pink gaffer tape.   Their blue lights flashed and sirens ‘nee-nawed’, but the mutant pachyderms proved as ineffectual as they were ridiculous.   They quickly faltered under the Kronstadt sailors’ artillery bombardment and were rendered skittish by tear gas stinging their eyes and trunks.   At this opportune moment Ferdy arrived on the scene in the Cierva C.19, screaming out of the sky, bonxie-like in a steep dive, to unleash a stick of flour bombs with devastating accuracy.   Jumbo ran amuck, charging hysterically back through scattering ranks of riot police.

Sadly, autogyros do not do dive bombing, or if they do, they do it but the once.   Trailing smoke and oil and popping rivets all the way, Ferdy just managed to hold it together long enough to ditch in the chill waters of Shadwell Basin.

Meanwhile, back in Cable Street, the cobbles were drenched and slippery, gutters running with those fluid residues that are the by-product of armed conflict – and a great deal of sticky doughy stuff.   The Anarcho-Surrealists had regrouped and united with the Situationist and were holding their own.   Scary clowns were recklessly hurling pails of confetti at the struggling attackers.   Boz was checking the last few magazines for his AK47 Aquafire and observing that water was running disconcertingly low, when Phoebles pointed to a young lad with a severe limp approaching them urgently from the rear.   He was being held up by Dark Flo, erstwhile barmaid and pole dancer at the Limehousesailortown Catnip Den and leading light amongst the Anarcha-Feminists.

“Talk to him.   He’s gone to a lot of trouble getting here.”   She left the lad with Phoebles, picked up an abandoned Burp® gun and clambered onto the barricade.

The youngster began to gabble, “Eyyup.   Me owd man’s wonnert Norrin’am miners dahn int’ khazi flues.”   He gave a sharp sob.   His Kier Hardie cap was awry and dried blood stained his left cheek.

” Them dotty Cats Sootrins, they’s bent as butchers ‘ooks them, er bin guidin’t Bobby Snatch Squads through ah tunnels, bold as brass monkeys.   Bobbies is ‘ard as nails an’ armed tut teggehs an’ wezbin trundled ower int’ sewers.   Yo’s gonnageh curroff an’ surroundid.   Da says I gorra warn yers.”

“Good lad.” said Boz, “Phoebles, take him to the rear and get him a cuppa… make it a mug, strong and sweet.   And tell everyone back there it’s time to go; we’ll hold on here for a bit longer.”

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A Moving Story

4 The last party

This rambling house was built for parties. Not just jelly and ice cream, bouncy castle children’s parties, but genteel Garden Club tea parties, teenage turn-that-ruddy-music-down parties, leisurely ladies’ lunch parties, an annual pre-Christmas every-friend-I’ve-ever-met party for 50 nattering women and raucous New Year parties.
We’ve filled our home with chatter and music, champagne and laughter, just as former residents of this old house have also done. When we first came here, we were told that when the pond behind the house was dredged, ladies dance shoes and magnum bottles had emerged from the mud. We haven’t thrown shoes or bottles in our time here, but we have thrown parties. Eighteen months after moving in we had our first Christmas party, inviting neighbours and everyone who had helped us settle into the house during our first year. The estate agent and the roofer, the carpenter and the decorator, all mingled as we turned down the lights, opened the courtyard doors and welcomed carol singers bearing lanterns.
Since then, after the fireside cosiness of a family Christmas, we have held a New Year house party every year, apart from one, for the past 17 years. But they haven’t just been parties marked by drunkenness and fireworks, as each one has had a different theme. From the simplicity of the Black and White dinner, with monochrome Tuscan bean soup to the Millennium ten-course feast, we have created menus, decorated tables and played games in keeping with the evening.
For Murder at the Manor we hid replica weapons around the house for a mid-course treasure hunt and ate Death by Chocolate. In a pastiche of Up Pompeii we wore togas and lit a flaming Vesuvius of meringue and ice cream. One year we recreated Cornwall for guests dressed as fishermen, pirates and mermaids, with recordings of seagulls and crashing waves, fish and chips and a beach of biscuit crumbs and chocolate shells on the table. We’ve been chased by policemen with truncheons in a Carry On party and acted out James Bond characters and eaten iced Raspberry Bombe to greet 2007. And our final New Year was End of Term at the Manor Prep School with misbehaving guests in school uniform, shrill whistling from the games master, school reports, Bad Boy Bellinis and Eton Mess.
And now it is time for one last party. The perfect house for parties will host a farewell and birthday party combined, in celebration of our 21 years here. There is no theme but there will be a festival atmosphere, with tents pitched in the garden, croquet on the lawn, great music and cocktails shaken. The barbecue will flare one last time, we’ll toast the birthday girl and the house with Kir Royale and Espresso Martinis and light the lanterns as the day fades.

A Moving Story

3 What’s it worth?

We are meant to be downsizing. That means halving our possessions. But which ones? What stays, what has to go? The house has to be empty in less than two weeks. We have to decide now. But how? What is worth keeping? What can’t we bear to part with? And how do we get rid of all the unwanted possessions accumulated in over 30 years of marriage, four previous homes and 21 years in this wonderful house. There has to be a system.
M favours sifting, I advocate snap decisions. He sorts through a drawer and finds a drawing done by my mother, while I clear a whole bookcase in five minutes. He finds the cartoons he drew in his youth which he thought had been lost years ago and I fill a bin bag with unwanted flannel sheets. He asks me who would like to have his ‘patterned shorts’ and I see he has a pile of boxer shorts and say no one wants his old pants. M opts for the stacking method while I make lists. He has chosen the books he is keeping, he says, showing me the heaps of books in the library. But the piles on the floor are staying and the books on the shelves are going. It’s a method of sorts, I suppose.
Friends offer advice. E-bay they say, as if it is a magical cure-all. But if it hasn’t solved the problem by next Wednesday there will be no more time as the men with vans will be here. M has e-bayed collections of toys, old record decks and walkmans, but it is painfully slow. Yesterday he had to meet a man at the nearest station to deliver a collection of Polly Pocket toys. It didn’t take long, but it was an hour out of the afternoon. The buyer had travelled all the way from Camden Town, just for a box of plastic.
So I have made lists. Room by room I have made a list of what to keep, what to auction, what to clear and what to store for the future. The auctioneer came yesterday afternoon to value the pieces which will be too large for our next home. Some of the figures were disappointing but many were encouraging, considering that I had mostly found our furniture in junk shops. M pointed out the heavy oak and leather chair that “Cromwell sat in” which is identical to one we’ve seen at Ham House. We’ve always doubted its authenticity but the valuer turned it upside down and said it was indeed very old.
And today the house clearance man will be here. He will take the comfy old armchairs that don’t meet modern safety standards, the heavy mirrors that no one wants now they can buy them in Ikea, the cheap bedroom cabinets that now lack handles and runners for drawers. But he will charge to take away our useful but redundant furnishings and they will be discarded and broken. I cannot bear to throw away anything useful, so friends are taking shabby Lloyd Loom, surplus china and spare curtains.
Our house is starting to look sad and neglected. Rooms are half empty, boxes are being filled, it is only half a home now. But we are keeping what has value, although it may only be significant to us. The heavy oak George III sideboard may go to auction and the armchairs to the tip, but we have our children’s’ drawings and a lifetime in photographs. M has notebooks recording his working life and I have a stained fabric coaster, embroidered in nursery school by my daughter, which will never leave my bedside table.

A Battle in Cable Street

BARRICADEChapter Nine

The marchers smashed their way through the redoubt, scattered the carnival-clad defenders and pressed on along Cable Street.   If that bunch of buffoons was typical of what they were up against, today was going to be a doddle.   But a few hundred yards down the road, after swatting aside several small groups of desperate surrealists throwing bread rolls from doorways and bedroom windows, the front ranks of the Nationalist column were staring into the gaping mouth of Hell.   Ahead smoke curled and flames crackled.   The dark mass of the barricade loomed above them.   Shadowy wraith-like figures scurried across the crimson haze.   A roar of defiance from the defenders filled the air and curdled the blood.  A crazed harridan, bare arms stretched skywards in supplication, screeching like a harpy, wrapped in a Spanish Republican flag, topped the barrier and glared down at them with a look that could drain resolve and open bowels.

Stationed somewhat less prominently, Boz was also on the barricade, waiting for the exact moment to signal to Phoebles and the Kronstadt artillery.   He was proudly wearing his best telnyashka under a flamboyantly multicoloured bum-freezer jacket and his little navy blue Kronstadt sailor hat was perched on his head.   He felt that he looked pretty awesome.

A lone bugle signalled ‘Turn Out’ and Boz waved a black and white chequered flag.   Down below, an infamously outspoken motoring correspondent strutted at the head of the advancing column, wearing a union jack Stetson and waving a large flag of St George.   When the first salvo of bombs hit he was floored by a wobbly, water-filled condom and stepped on by a Royal Marine Trombonist.   A wavy, jiggling line of helmeted riot police rushed forward, making chuff-chuff train noises, and formed a defensive barrier between the fallen and the looming presence of the barricade, they banged their shields in time to each other and shouted a deep throated, tuneful ‘Whoa-whoooooooo, whooooooooa-ha!

There was a short, aching hiatus that seemed to last forever and strained at its seams with expectation – then pandemonium erupted.   There was yelling and screaming and clattering and clashing.   Everyone opened up with every weapon they had, at anything they could see.   Firing short accurate bursts with the X Ranger 1075 from the Town Hall roof Ginsbergbear was having a telling effect on the Nationalists, but down below in the thick of the mêlée water was flying everywhere, there was the steady pop, pop, pop of Burp® guns and flour and water were combining into a dreadful paste.   The riot police shield wall parted briefly as the Old Harrovian Forlorn Hope led by the moustachioed Mad Jack Belvoir (Bart) of the 3rd (King’s Own) Hussars, in full dress uniform and expertly wielding the finest quality plastic light sabre that Hamley’s could supply, stormed the steepest, tallest face of the barricade.   Phoebles aimed a steady stream of ping-pong balls at Mad Jack and succeeded in knocking his Busby from the balding young aristocrat’s head.   Zapatista grenadiers rained a devastating shower of water, flour and dough upon the attackers.   The assault waivered, halted and was turned; a bedraggled Mad Jack and his decimated band of heroes limping from the battle, drooped like wet washing across the clothes line of defeat, and fell to the rear.   Some tear gas had been deployed in the early stages of the conflict, and many of the defenders had donned bandanas across nose and mouth, but the gas had clung to the fog, refusing to spread and lingering close to the ground in intense isolated pockets.   Hurling their bombs over the heads of the front line combatants the Kronstadt sailors could have no idea of the havoc they wrought, so at regular intervals Boz gave them a reassuring thumbs up from his vantage point on the defences.

For the moment the Women’s Institute Anarcha-Feminists were manning (a term to which Boz was sure they would object) the field hospitals, but they were armed to the teeth and eager to join the fray on the flimsiest of excuses.   The ubiquitous tea urns had been set up on a conveniently located trestle table by two pacifist Quakers and a Jewish transvestite named Manny who had not wanted to endanger her expensively manicured nails in battle.   Strong, sweet and vital refreshment was already steaming in stoneware pint mugs ready for a squad of volunteer urchins to distribute amongst the defenders. They also serve who only serve the tea.

A Moving Story

Part 2 – Where is it all going?

M is looking worried. He keeps putting his head in his hands and muttering, “Where’s it all going to go?” Like many hard-working husbands, whose wives hold the fort in their absence, M has never moved house before. He’s had a change of address, he’s signed legal documents, he’s made enormous financial commitments and he’s gone to sleep in a different house from the one in which he woke, but he has never actually moved house. He has never booked the removals company, packed valuables, informed utilities, dismantled light fittings, organised cleaning, unhooked curtains, redirected the post or cancelled the milk.
So every day is full of questions. How do we give everyone our new, but temporary address? Should we keep financial records going back to 1982? Where are we going to store everything that is currently in the attic if we no longer have an attic?
I don’t have the answer to every question but even though our last move was 21 years ago, I’ve organised three previous house moves, effectively as a single parent, whilst arranging school runs and farewell parties, so I think I know what I’m doing. But still the questions go on and the other day I finally realised why. M has more possessions than I do and he doesn’t know where they are going to go if the new house doesn’t have a wall of cupboards and shelves, or three huge walk-in attics, or large rooms to house his music collection, his books, his artwork and his collection of things that ‘might be useful’.
Aah, it’s the ‘things that might be useful’ that are the problem. I have had a collection too, but only a small one, consisting largely of wrapping paper, ribbons and interesting fabrics. And they are no more. They’ve all been recycled or dumped. I also have an extensive collection of shoes, but I’ve taken out the ones that are too scuffed or simply too out of date and they’ve gone as well. I’ve sorted through my wardrobe and my chest of drawers and managed to send bagfuls of clothes to the charity shops. But my task has been easy because I don’t have ‘spare’ VHS machines, speakers, hi fis and TVs. Nor have I kept notebooks recording the whole of my working life or files on every piece of work I’ve ever done.
No wonder M has been anxious. But when I woke on Monday morning I had solved the problem. Self storage. It’s cheap, it’s accessible, it’s nearby and it’s immediately available. So when M frowned again over his morning cup of tea and expressed concern about ‘everything in the attic’ I said that I don’t have anything in the attic, it must all be his and he can have his own storage unit. We went to see the nearest company, walked the corridors of heavy green doors, each with a strong padlock and he smiled. We looked at a unit the size of a large garage which M favoured. Then I decided that one the size of a small garage would be plenty big enough. M hesitated but then agreed.
And now he’s happy. Every day he drives to his own personal storage space with crates he’s packed himself, knowing that if he suddenly needs anything vital it can easily be retrieved. We may also use it for small pieces of furniture that we may eventually want in our next home, but on the whole the storage unit is M’s domain.
We’ve agreed that even once we’ve moved to another house he should still have a storage unit. He can graduate from a small garage, to a small shed, to a wardrobe, right down to a little cubby hole containing three VHS machines. And maybe I’ll have one too, just for the high heeled shoes I’ll no longer wear when I am a tottery old lady.

Nothing to Moa-n about

My apologies. I almost forgot to update you. But we have moved camp to a location that is a little nearer to a route to the shops (just an hour as the seagull flies). The downside is, the wi-fi connection is worse than useless.

I have been for a walk and I found a poor signal but a signal nevertheless. It may not last long but I just want to write quickly to reassure my readers that I am safe and well and happy. In fact, I am happier than I have been for a long time, for I have friends. There’s Tathra, Casey, Dennis (yes even he) and now Hoata and Etera.

Hoata and Etera? I hear you ask. Yes, these two have become important to me. I can’t tell you more, it’s confidential information of course, but I have reason to be grateful to them for the way they chased off Dr Candlewick and Ms Fosse, and I have much in common with them. What is that, you ask? That’s for me to know and you only to guess at.

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