A Digression

Festival of BritainThe Festival of Britain, on the south bank of the London River, had been a triumphal two-fingered salute to brutalist reality, a barely bridled moment of joy sandwiched between a bleak past and an even bleaker future.   The sole survivor of that forlorn gesture against the post war gloom was the Festival Music Hall, now standing in solitary majesty amidst a spiritual wasteland of reinforced concrete.   Sam and Consuella regularly performed there, though it had so far avoided the misfortune of a staging of the Kittens of Chaos’ Giselle.

They are booked in for a short run during the post-panto season next year – tickets still available.

Some weeks before Slasher McGoogs’ visit to the penthouse bedsit Boz was visiting the South Bank for a lunchtime concert in which Sam was to play alongside Jools Holland – and after the set he took a stroll along the embankment.   The wide promenade is a venue for second hand bookstalls and he was idly fingering through various shop-soiled tomes when a thin, red cover caught his eye.   It was an Ordinance Survey, One Inch to the Mile, Series Seven map of the Southern Pennines and Derbyshire Dales, Sheet 111.   Printed on almost indestructible fabric-backed paper, it dated very much from the time of the concert hall’s inauguration and seemed irresistible – red AND indestructible.   His purchase was to prove serendipitous in ways he could not have foreseen.

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Star Stone Trilogy Book One: Yii Chapter Eight

Soon after the beginning of the new term, the Hilary term, Sarah had a surprise visit from Desmond. He had a problem and wanted Sarah’s help. The rowing eight were very keen to get out on the water, but their cox had not come back after the vacation, some family problem, it seemed; a funeral Desmond thought.
‘This is a lot to ask, Sarah,’ he said, ‘but we are desperate to get out and practise and we have no cox. We cannot row without a cox, and I wondered if you would consider standing in and coxing the eight, please? I’m sure you could do it.’
Sarah couldn’t believe her ears! She was quite taken aback, and also flattered. She had never coxed an eight, and it would be very different from the pair on the lake at Kingham, where she had persuaded Desmond to teach her and the twins to row and steer. They did this most successfully, and had become strong and skilled. The eight however was a truly frightening prospect. Surely it was quite unheard of for a girl to cox a men’s eight. She couldn’t see herself doing it; and even if she did cox, would she not have to disguise herself? How would she have to dress?
‘I couldn’t possibly cox an eight, Desmond,’ she said. ‘You don’t really think I could do it, do you? It would be nothing like the pair would it? Quite different from Kingham.’
‘I’m sure you could do it, you were so good on the water,’ said Desmond. ‘I shall be at stroke, so I can tell you what to do, turning the boat and coming alongside and all that. Do say you’ll have a go Sarah.’
Desmond was very persuasive. Eventually:

Edale YHA

Eadale YHAOnce over the ridge they descended to cross the River Ashop at Haggwater Bridge, clattering over the narrow stone-built, 18th Century packhorse bridge and passing beyond the lower end of Jaggers’ Clough. Above, the all but invisible dot of a skylark twittered loudly and in the valley below a whistling shepherd trained his dogs for the Hope Show, with the reluctant aid of an uncooperative cluster of grumbling White Faced Woodlands. Snowdrop gabbled incessantly.

“The Subcommandanté says you’re going down the caves…

“He says you’ve got to find out why Les Chats Souterrains have popped up round here…

“He says the Merovingian Lizard Kings are up to something…

“Are you sure that taking on centuries old international evil masterminds, manipulators of world strife and suffering, the power behind global capitalism, dictatorships, sham democracies and Fluffy News Corp isn’t a bit big for the four of you?”

“It’s just a bit of a recci, I hope. Not planning on taking any major risks,” replied Boz with a barely noticeable quiver of the lower lip. The occupants of the carriage were silenced by their own dread doubts for the remainder of the journey, the squeak of an inadequately lubricated axle and the occasional sigh the only sounds until they arrived at the YHA establishment of Lady Booth House. As the company dismounted and began to tend to their horses the warden came bustling out of the towering, grey edifice.

“I fear that we are unable to cater for such a large party as yourselves, just at the moment.”

Subcommandanté Slasher remained firmly in the Spanish saddle of his grey.   He looked down at the fit, but ageing supervisor.

“Fear not, we are totally self contained. We merely intend to camp for the night in your grounds.” Slasher’s voice was a little muffled through his balaclava mask and neither the feigned Mexican accent nor the Dunhill bulldog briar clamped between his teeth made his diction any the clearer. The conversation was punctuated by squeals from an adventure playground fenced off in front of the House. Children in hard hats, knee protectors and safety-harnesses were learning the fundamentals of teamwork around a zip-wire construct.

“What is all that?” enquired Boz as Snowdrop unharnessed the trio of horses from her techanka.

“Outdoor activities,” replied the warden.

“In a playground? You have Kinderscout just up there,” Boz indicated the looming escarpment that hung above and behind the house.

“Take them on the moor, are you mad? Health and safety; their parents would have kittens. No disrespect,” he added quickly as Boz scowled.

Ginsbergbear joined them. “If you ever met The Kittens you would be far less inclined to use that particular cliché.”

Undeterred, the warden continued to address Subcomandanté Slasher, “And if you could please keep your animals away from the kids too. Any contact and they’ll all go down with Escherichia coli, come out in an all over body rash, or worse.”

As they talked, a colourful encampment of tents, pavilions, yurts and flags had risen up around them. The Snake Pass Zapatistas really liked their flags. Smoke was already issuing from stovepipes that projected through the canopy of a large field kitchen marquee and the guerrillas were in the process of erecting trestle tables and laying them for supper.

The Snake Pass Zapatistas

SnowdropLooking to the shore Phoebles could see movement within a copse that topped the hillside and a large contingent of mounted irregulars moved into the sunlight, a wolf pack waiting, watching.   Black banners fluttered, there was the occasional glint of sunlight on gunmetal and one prominent figure on a tall grey raised binoculars to his eyes.

“That is Subcomandante Everyman of the Snake Pass Zapatistas.”

The ground effect craft skimmed across the mirror surface of the reservoir, skidded, engine still screaming, up a shingle beach and halted with a soft thud.   Something important fell off the hull near the stern and the jet flame popped out.

The boys clambered, barely shaken, out of the cockpit and onto the beach.   The pilot joined them and glanced back at his craft.   The ekranoplan sat at an awkward angle and an oily scar stretched from its tail back to the water’s edge.   Sensing an affinity between pilots and offering a fill of Ginsbergbear’s Navy Catnip Shag Ferdy tried to engage the pilot in conversation, none too successfully.   However, he did get a response.

“It’s not a plane, it’s a boat, just happens to be a plane shaped boat.   And I am a sailor.”   He glanced across the water to the great Dornier and almost smiled, “Still, I suppose that is a boat too.   Come on ‘comrade’, we have to walk as far as the road.”

On the hill a light horse drawn carriage detached itself from the Cossack group and careered down a farm track to meet the newcomers.   It arrived at the roadside at the same time as they did.   Its driver, wearing a grey Bolshevist budionovka chosen for its pretty blue and red star, was slender, hyperactive and profoundly impressed.   She looked across the reservoir at the anchored, brightly glittering flying boat with its baroque tail icon depicting Ché slaying the capitalist dragon; then down at the boys.

“Wow!”

Ferdy was the first to greet her.   “Hello Snowdrop.   What are you doing with this mob?”

”I’m M/C-Gunner Snowdrop these days.   D’yer want a lift?” she replied, “I’m sorry it’s a bit cluttered, we haven’t really got any suitable transport for guests.   You clamber up here with me,” to Boz, “and Ferdy, Phoebles and Mr Ginsbergbear, will you be OK in the back?”

‘In the back’ was indeed cluttered.   A heavy machine gun was mounted where the rear seats should have been, there were boxes of ammunition, a bundle of political pamphlets tied with string, a black umbrella, folding unicycle and, scattered on the floor, a large number of crisp packets and empty soft drink cans.   Ginsbergbear cleared a space on the forward bench and sat with Ferdy, their backs to the horses.   Phoebles grabbed the machine gun and panned it around shouting “Ratatatata,” mowing down imaginary Chats Souterrains.   They turned away from the water and set off along a steadily inclining drovers’ road, followed by the company of Snake Pass Zapatistas and with Snowdrop chatting excitedly to an unusually quiet Boz.

Before long the mounted guerrillas had caught up and were trotting past on each side, rough riders on tall horses, in leather double-breasted reefer jackets, sheep skin jerkins, bandoliers, budionovka pixie hats, Breton caps, many in well-worn jungle-green combat fatigues, khaki open necked shirts, olive patch pocketed cargo trousers and fraying forage caps.   All wore ski masks.   There was a seemingly infinite variety of exotic weaponry with a definite preference for the AK-47 and, almost universally, each carried a three or four string guitar.

As they passed by many of the brigands made jokey remarks to Snowdrop concerning her passengers’ discomfort.  Subcomandante Everyman trotted up alongside and adjusted his pace to match the tachanka.   He was flamboyantly clad in a black, heavily frogged hussar jacket, open over his blue striped t-shirt, midnight blue jodhpurs and glistening patent leather knee-high boots, with spurs.   His face was hidden by a balaclava helmet topped by a Kronstadt peakless sailor’s cap with “CHAOS” emblazoned on the ribbon.   There were bandoliers of ammunition crossed loosely over his chest, a Mauser machine pistol and Dragoon Colt at his belt, he carried a Royal Navy 1901 Pattern cutlass and, over his shoulder, an SMLE jungle carbine.   The racket from bells hung from the horse harness and on bangles above his mount’s fetlocks threatened to drown out any lengthy conversation.   Riding alongside him a young rider carried a black banner sporting a death’s-head of cat skull and crossed thighbones.   He acknowledged Snowdrop with a nod and then addressed Boz.

“We’ll talk properly when we’re camped, but welcome.   Is our machine-gunner looking after you?”   He glanced at the crew in the back, who were bouncing about uncontrollably and hanging on tightly to anything that looked to be bolted firmly down.   “This is not the best of roads.”

“Thank you.”   Boz warmed to this imposing dandy.   “Your men look magnificent.”

“My…?”   Subcomandante Everyman laughed.   “Do they really look as if they belong to anyone?”

As the cavalryman prepared to move away Boz looked searchingly into the familiar eyes that smiled behind the balaclava.

“Slasher?”

Star Stone Trilogy – Book One: Yii Chapter Seven (cont.)

‘Well,’ he muttered to himself, ‘Wolf boy you are, that’s quite certain. We shall have to be careful not to let you loose. In fact we shall have to be very careful of you.’
With that, he paused and stared again, before moving off into the house to warn the Colonel’s wife to take good care – not that she had taken much notice of Yii – she had other things on her mind. Meanwhile, Dr Raybourne would wait for the Colonel to get back with the regiment, and they would then have to decide what to do with this ‘wolf boy’. Things were looking bleak for Yii.
Left to himself Yii was feeling even more dispirited. If this were a heaven, it seemed a very cruel place. Who were these people? And why did some treat him so cruelly? For comfort, he curled up in the sleeping place, hugging himself, trying to find some consolation. Unusually, he fell asleep, though it was still the middle of the day. Exhausted and distressed by the behaviour of the people who had attacked him, his sleep was broken and restless, disturbed as never before.

He had a dream, more intense than ever. He was in a high place trying to get away from a man who was jabbing at him with a long stick. He was on a narrow path having, it seemed, run for some way. The man with the stick appeared to be trying to trip him. There was no escape on either side for Yii as he moved away, constantly looking backwards, trying to avoid the stick. On his right was a very solid rock wall, with no means to climb. To his left was a sheer drop, longer and steeper than anything Yii had ever seen. The man seemed intent on tipping him over the side of this cliff, and if he did so, Yii would fall onto the rocks below and doubtless be killed.
The man was snarling at him viciously as he wielded the stick. Yii kept moving away, trying to avoid the stick, but the man kept coming at him He looked around yet again to see if there was somewhere to escape, but still the cliff wall was far too steep to climb, nor he could not scramble down the steep drop on the other.
Ahead the path came to an end. This made for even more danger; it ended in a chasm, although there were rocks on the far side. Perhaps if he could only get a run at it, he could leap over the chasm and get a hand hold on those rocks. He needed to halt the man jabbing at him to give himself space to run. So in one last desperate effort, he turned, and, baring his teeth, he growled very loudly at the man to make him halt. Grrrrrr! The man did stop, momentarily, and Yii ran…and ran to try to leap the chasm…

At this point, shaking and bathed in sweat, Yii woke up, still tense, and ready to run and leap. The dream, so real and intense, stayed in his mind; what did it mean?

Derwent Dam

Dear reader, although the following communication has no relevance in the current adventure it, and Lt Thorvsen’s compliance, are of supreme significance later on. And it was whilst we were in the air over Matlock Bath that Larry entrusted his letter to the Downing Street post box.

 Lt Reider Cook Thorvsen

KNMS Thorodd

Dundee

Dear Lt Thorvsen,

On behalf of the people and cats of Britain I would be grateful if you would consider releasing your ship’s dog, Bamse to be temporarily seconded onto the crew of the Spyship Lord Ancaster that is to embark upon a perilous mission in Antarctic waters.   The cold weather experience of said St Bernard combined with his exemplary record for reliability and enterprise make him particularly suited to the venture.

We will make every effort to ensure that he is returned in good order at the end of the mission.

Kindest Regards,

Larry

British Prime Minister (Acting).

 

Chapter 4

“…If you could take your seats, boys, I’ll be putting her down shortly.”

Boz could see the Ladybower reservoir and stone built Derwent Dam ahead.   Woodland rushed by on either side as the Dornier Do X lost height and flew down the length of the lower reservoir. Dark trees, scattered gorse, sheep-grazed pasture interspersed with falls of scree clothed the steep sides.   The twelve Curtiss Conquerors roared as the flying boat pulled up and swept in low over the dam, between the towers, and set down on the man made lake.   The view through the portholes was obliterated by spray.   The movement slowed, the plane wallowed and the tortured, piston engine din subsided; a chain rattled.

Beryl emerged from the flight deck.   Ferdy came into the cabin from a stint in the Machine Centre and the Kronstadt Starshina also appeared, moving aft, to report, “Comrades, I’ve dropped the hook and a small craft already appears to be heading out towards us.   It’s moving too fast to be a boat.”

By the time they had stepped out onto the stub wing the silver, dart-like vessel was close, skimming just above the water.   As it neared they could hear it throttle back and watched it settle in the water only feet away.   There was a solid bump as it drifted alongside and the Do X gave a slight shudder.   The pilot emerged, blue striped t-shirt visible at the open neck of his soiled white boiler suit, black star prominent on a red beret.   He lobbed a painter to one of the Kronstadt sailors who held the two craft together as the gang stepped aboard.   Before they had time to sit there was a wheeze from a dodgy looking ramjet engine, accompanied by some spluttering, a pulsing blast of orange-yellow flame and the craft hurtled towards the shore.   The pilot scowled over his shoulder and blew a smoke ring through a stub of clay pipe.   Beryl waved them away from the Dornier’s hatchway and the line of Kronstadt sailors broke into mournful song.

Over the hills and through the dales

The Division advances to battle.

Conquer the White Cats, tweak their tails.

Infiltrate the troglodyte castle.

 

With the dark blood of ancient wounds,

Their fluttering banners stained in red,

Brave partisans who know no bounds,

Swift and dashing, fierce and dread.

 

The fame of these days shall never dim.

Fade away it never will.

Of guerrilla units, sing their hymn.

They’ll take Mam Tor, the hollow hill.

A Moving Story

14 Home alone

Ginger Jack is eight years old and has never lived alone. He was rescued from a pet shop where he shared a cage with twelve mewling, flea-ridden kittens and since then he has lived with constant feline and human company. But now there are no other cats. Jack is finally alone, with only human companions, for his big tabby mentor and protector has died and Jack is at last an orphan.
Out of all the six cats who resided in our old house when Jack first arrived, it was the largest, the strongest and the greatest hunter who befriended this feisty ginger kitten who arched his back and hissed to show that he wasn’t afraid. Old Sam took him under the wing of his long-haired striped coat and showed him how to play-fight, how to stalk the birds and how to catch a squirrel. Jack took his lessons seriously and began by dragging the squirrel tail around the garden after Sammy had demolished the entire body.
Together they ambushed the smaller female cats for fun and curled around each other in sleep, Sammy vigorously washing grubby ginger ears and fur. Together they weathered the disruption of removals, the dismantling of the only home they had ever known, where Sam was born. Together they travelled with little complaint to Cornwall for the summer and together they journeyed back again to a new home, where they seemed to both greet the green gardens and fields with a mew of relief and caught mice within a day of arriving. Together they explored the shrubbery, slept on their familiar old sofa and curled on our bed while we read morning papers.
But Sammy was fading. He was nineteen years old on the 3rd of September. He demonstrated his approval of our new home by catching and eating a field vole, staking his claim on a dry sunny patch of grass under the apple tree laced with mistletoe and peeing in the soft ash of the open fireplace. But after three weeks he was tired. One morning he went for a walk in the garden despite the wind and rain. We found him in his sunbathing spot, hunched and cold, protesting at the weather, so we carried him indoors to the sofa near the Aga. It’s too cold outside today, we said and he agreed. From then on he quickly became weaker and the following day he was barely able to stand, so we kept him warm and stayed by his side all day, with Jack looking on and wondering. The sun came out that day so he had one last sunbathe under his tree, wrapped in a blanket, soaking up the rays of the sun. That night we lay him to sleep in a bed on the floor near the Aga’s warmth and that’s where he stayed and that’s where we found him in the morning.
Now Sammy lies in the garden, within sight of the kitchen and his favourite sunny place. His grave is marked with a serene stone lion whose features resemble the dignified, gentle giant we had known so long. And Jack is now alone and needs our company more than before. He seeks us out for strokes and games, even though there are plenty of mice to play with. We’ve asked him if he’d like some company, a budgie or a hamster perhaps. But he says he’d like a kitten. And so would we.