I didn’t exactly feel inconspicuous travelling through Manchester astride the tallest grey I’d ever seen, its bells and harness jangling loudly. I was disguised behind a Mexican Rose knitted balaclava and kitted out in white jodhpurs, four ply woollen submariner’s telnyashka, a silver-grey hussar’s jacket trimmed in reddish brown fur and an excess of gold frogging, black patent leather boots to above the knee and topping the ensemble, a tall, French Marines’ shako, with a Burgundy plume. All around me were the Zapatista cavalry. There was a bronze painted 1952 Ford F1 van support vehicle, Strawberry driving the blue Chevy, packed with camp followers waving red and black flags, and Snowdrop’s tachanka bringing up the rear. My standard bearer trotted up alongside me, the black banner with its skull and cross bones fluttering in the biting, early morning wind. Her eyes smiled through the slits in her ski mask.
‘What’s your name?’ I asked.
‘Eunice Aphroditois, after the Mongolian Death Worm. Neat innit? Take the next left; we’ll enter Piccadilly Station through the goods yards. No point attracting too much attention.’
When we reached the railway and eventually found our remote and rarely used platform, Larry had done us proud. There stood a majestic, streamlined Mallard locomotive with a string of horse-box cars, one still had BERTRAM MILLS’ CIRCUS painted on its doors, a flat bed for the vehicles, two LC&DR third class carriages with varnished coachwork, a Pullman ‘Kitchen Parlour’ Car and a pillbox break van. Strawberry demanded to ride in the break van and no one was going to dissuade me from travelling at least some of the journey on the steam engine’s footplate.
Enticing the horses into the boxcars and loading the flat bed took some time but eventually we were ready for the off.
‘You’ll not be about to shovel coal in that outfit,’ said the engine driver as I clambered into the cab and eagerly eyed the array of pipes, valves and levers, ‘best sit back and enjoy the ride. We’ll be shifting at a rate of knots once she gets the bit between her teeth.’
Two hours later we parked up in the sidings in Carlisle and Strawberry and I left Snowdrop to supervise the unloading whilst two Zapatistas guided us down Lowther Street to our rendezvous at the Howard Arms. The lounge was packed. Wildcat Moss Trooper Commanders had stacked their tin hats by the door and lodged weaponry behind the bar, a gathering of minor clan chiefs was clustered around a cast iron radiator and representatives from several Border Reiver families sat around a table already cluttered with half downed sleevers of 70/-.
‘Ahaah!’ We were greeted warmly on our arrival. ‘Sit yer sells down and we’ll get to talking. Pints of heavy all round.’
We sat, and a huddle formed around the table.
‘Ye have here the cream of the faithful and we’ll pick up a few more before this evening. We’ve lost a few families to the dark side, but no so many. Have another pint. We’ll be away north of the wall soon as your gang is ready. May even liberate a few coos on the trip to Gilnockie Tower.’ And so we did.
The rest of the story you know, we apparently arrived in the nick of time. Shame about the airship. Has anyone put the kettle on?”