Rotskagg Blenkinsopp

Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp SProminent within the Mead Hall, even from the imposing doorway, despite the jostling crowd, was a massive bulk of bulging muscle beneath a covering of sun blackened hide, criss-crossed with livid scars and almost entirely covered in tattoos, a red beard, plaited and bowed, a stub of clay pipe, a third hand black leather Saint Laurent biker jacket, scuffed and stained with sump oil, over a pink, Eric Bloodaxe t-shirt, striped Bermuda shorts, Doc Martens 14 eyelet Black 1914s, a red headscarf and black felt hat with blacker ostrich feathers and an extra wide brim turned up and pinned at the front. It was seated on a straining Windsor oak chair with a Ranter lass on each knee and a quart pewter tankard in its gnarled fist. This was unmistakably Rotskagg Blenkinsopp the pirate king. He stood up with a roar, letting the two girls fall, giggling, to the ground.

“Anna, miri feely yog chavi, sastimos. Y kon shee deze bold ryes?” (“Anna, my young fire child, greetings. And who are these daring gentlemen?”)

“Tooti vada kushti, skipper. Mira compañeros, o famosos Boz, Ferdinand o vlieger y Phoebles kon shee nossa martini constante,” (“You look well, captain. My companions, the famous Boz, Ferdinand the aviator and Phoebles who is our steadying hand,”) replied Anna.

“You polari’s improving,” boomed Rotskagg, now in thickly accented English. He lurched forward, lifted Boz by the shoulders and shook him in a companionable way. Dropping the Boz, he grabbed Ferdy’s wing stub and shook it so vigorously that several feathers had to be straightened, once the bird had freed himself from the crushing grip. Advancing jovially towards a horrified Phoebles the corsair swept his hat from his own head and dropped it over the rotund ginger tom. It buried him. As Phoebles battled to escape, the hat twitched and it’s black plume quivered, and Rotskagg clung to the furniture, overcome with mirth. Deeming introductions to be at an end the captain turned his attention to the ragged band of wild cats, wilder Scots and scurvy sea dogs that were shambling into the hall.

“Mira wortacha, pralas, avela y schlumph, y xa. Mandi wil parlé. Eğlence daha yeni başlıyor.” (“My confederates, brothers, come and drink, and eat. We must talk. The fun is only just beginning.) Rotskagg retrieved his hat and Phoebles rejoined his companions, blinking.

“What’s all that jabber?”

“The Pirate King prefers to communicate in a bastard form of Lingua Franca. It is the common language of the corsairs,” explained Anna before she turned her attention to the ruffian band. Rotskagg had scooped up Bui and was tickling her behind one ear. Ale was ordered.

“Have we been dismissed?” asked Ferdy.

“They do seem to have forgotten us,” replied Boz.

Phoebles was edging towards the food. A long table was piled high with ornately displayed snacks. Multi-coloured catnip muffins vied with mooncakes and neat little triangular fish-paste sandwiches for the attention of prospective diners. There were exotic flans and trifle and, at the centre a life-size ice sculpture of Lady Æthelflæda in full armour and winged helmet, already melting into the brocade tablecloth. Almost before he could grab any of the refreshments there was a commotion and Snowdrop wobbled her way through the crowd on her unicycle, juggling three white mice who were squeaking Rule Britannia, not very well as they were a little nauseous.

“Come on,” she shouted, spinning round and heading for the door, “The brass band competition is about to start.”

Ferdy pulled Phoebles away from the food table, just as he was starting on his third mooncake.

“But I’m in the middle of… Do those pink things look like prawn cocktails to you? I’m very fond of prawns.”


Tamworth’s Ranters

ChristinaAs Hamish segued seamlessly into We Are Sailing, Bui grabbed Phoebles’ paw and dragged him towards a cluster of ghers, tipis and festival tents. Boz and Ferdy hurried along behind.

Near the centre of the encampment they found the ambulance. Close by a small group of pirate captains, Reivers, Moss Troopers and clan chiefs lounged around a roaring campfire. A black iron kettle hung precariously above the flames and a slight, wild haired blond crouched where a tablecloth had been spread out on the ground with a chipped teapot and collection of miss matched mugs. Anna stood up when she saw them approach.

“Mr Boz, Ferdy …and Phoebles! We’re off to find Rotskagg in a wee while, but there’ll be time for a brew first. You’ll be setting yoursels doon?”

A short while later the entire group was clambering up the slope onto a grassed earthen platform of approximately one hectare in area. On it stood two, singular buildings. To their left a three-story timber frame hall was raised up on Doric columns of black and white oak. A colourful market was spread out amongst the pillars and a sweeping stairway led up through the floor to a Georgian doorway. The dun coloured lath and plaster infill between the dark frames was pierced wherever possible with leaded windows. This sober building was the Moot Hall, the place where serious issues were thrashed out and important decisions made. Facing it, and far more jocular in nature was the Mead Hall. Entirely constructed of heavy, deeply carved oak, the main structure was windowless with a steeply tiered shingle roof out of which sprouted a tower and flying grotesques. It was decorated with intertwining ravens, deer, boar and dragons, and painted in earthy reds and yellows and a vibrant electric-blue. Smoke seeped through gaps in the roof and a great deal of noise issued from its dark interior. On the green between the two buildings our merry gang found at last the Tamworth Ranters, dancing and carousing, a motley, unkempt band. Exposed skin, of which there was a great deal, was painted and tattooed, their scant clothing, brightly coloured and patterned, hair unruly, or elaborately entwined with ribbons and feathers. Many of the aged amongst the groups, wrinkled, sagging and tanned, seemed to shun clothing almost entirely. A manic hoop dancer twirled past, her plaited hair writhing like a medusa on speed. There was a hurdy-gurdy and a flautist in a huge floppy hat, standing on one leg. Several Ranters waved and called out, laughing and grinning.

“Come, Come and join us.”

Ferdy spread out his stubby wings in apology, “Later, we have business… in the hall.” He smiled sheepishly.

With Anna taking the lead, they approached the Mead Hall. At once a slender girl burst into the open like a faun breaking cover and came prancing down the wide steps that led up to its entrance. She was stained with red ochre and decorated in strange black Cabalistic symbols, an ankle length heavy woollen, tiered and pleated skirt hung from her hips and she had tiny bells on her toes. She was towing a golden youth, a naked youth, gilded from blond hairline to the tips of his toes, He was lithe, physical perfection with cornflower-blue eyes, yet unnaturally passive. The girl winked at Anna on her way past, bound for a small orchard down by the river.

“Isn’t he just too gorgeous?”

Anna smiled back without comment. Ferdy looked stunned and, ever so slightly, bemused.

Wee Hamish

March Ör Die SThey squeezed through as near to the front as they could manage and Dark Flo lifted the vertically challenged Ferdy onto her shoulders. They were in time to see Snowdrop’s techanka wreathed in flowers with Consuella in her most exotic Carmen Miranda outfit, letting rip on her tambourine. The techanka was followed by the prancing cavalry of the Snake Pass Zapatistas led by Aunty Stella, in her Subcommandante Everyman outfit, sans ski mask, but wearing a delicate feathered purple half mask that perfectly matched her hair. Each caballerro lofted a fluttering black SPZ flag. Next came the Catnip Growers Association rainbow float, swathed in a purple haze. Bringing up the rear, with the Kittens of Chaos crammed on the roof rack, came the Vicecream van booming out the Slasher Theme from Psycho. As the last of the parade passed, the crowd spilled onto the road and followed into the Recreation ground.

Just inside the gate there were Hoop-La stalls and coconut shies and Hook-a-Duck, all the fun of the fair for thruppence a go. Beyond these they approached an inflatable paddling pool and soggy cleric beneath a sign proclaiming Dunk the Vicar. A target was contrived, by utilising a cunning arrangement of levers and gears, that when hit it would trip a precarious chair, tipping its occupant into the water below. The local boys were very good at throwing. Flo had travelled down with Boz and Co on the Æthelflæda, trusting the public bar at the Den into the care of one of the more reliable regulars, a trustworthy, conscientious and only slightly undead connoisseur of the golden nectar. She took one look at the forlorn and bedraggled priest, strode over and stepped into the pool.

“Go and get yourself a cup of tea, Pops,” she said swinging herself up into the chair and smiling sweetly at the queue of teenagers. “Come on, brats, I don’t mind a little water.” Somehow, under Flo’s withering gaze they found themselves utterly unable to hit the mark, several broke down before they got to their turn and one optimistic urchin, having thrown up on the grass, tried unsuccessfully to demand a refund.

Boz smiled, “Best crack on, she’ll be there for a while.”

As they moved further in amongst the booths and stall they were enveloped in a cacophony of sound.

“They playing Charles Ives in a fairground?’ queried Ginsbergbear. But no. As they approached each booth they could tell that it had an accompanying tune. And each tune mingled with that of its neighbour’s. The musical jumble was punctuated by tings and boings and the squealing of infants, underscored by the incessant rumble of generators. They had to shout to be heard. The irresistible scent of chips frying wafted on the air.

“Is it lunchtime yet?” asked Phoebles.

They were passing side isles cluttered with jostling fast food stalls, Egyptian Koshari, Vietnamese Pho, Bakewell puddings, Welsh cawl, Hairy Tatties from Strathbogie and, of course Harry Ramsden’s Guisely fish and chips.

“Hokey pokey penny a lump. Have a lick make you jump.” An Italian hokey-pokey man had parked his ice cream trike close by the Kittens’ Vicecream van and was attracting a queue. Within the forbidding gothic interior of the Vicecream van a plot was being hatched to remove the unwanted competition, whilst one of the less scary Kittens leaned out of the serving hatch and beamed a smile at the unwitting Latin.

Overhead the Kronstadt Fleet Air Arm were giving a heart stopping aerobatic display in their little Ratas. As the gang looked up Polly broke away from her squadron to skywrite Hello Boz within a heart across the clear blue. At a lower altitude, Beryl was taking kids on flights round the town in the Dragon Rapide.

The boys had not gone much further when they heard the soulful strains of Scottish bagpipes.

“Come on.   Sounds like we’re missing something good.”

They emerged onto a grassed plaza where, shadowed beneath the looming presence of Tamworth Castle, erstwhile seat of Æthelflæda Myrcna hlæfdige, legendary feminist and war-leader, the piper, kilted and clad in Darth Vader helmet, droned out Motörhead’s March Ör Die, blasting flames from the chanters and swirling tight circles on his unicycle. A small torti-shell was hurrying towards Boz and his pals.

“Hi, you’re here then. We made it too. Anna’s just over there with the ambulance.”

Anna Alban Pyromatrix travelled with Bui her cat in and old ambulance converted to a mobile home. It was more cramped than a Winnebago, but cunningly kitted out to provide all their basic needs.

“This,” Bui pointed at the piper, “is Wee Hamish. He came down with us.”


The Tamworth Ranters’ Gala

Queen Anne's Bounty SAlmighty Cod created the universe and all that is in it. It created cats and men and tortoises. It anointed kings to enforce its laws and appointed bishops to interpret its words. And all was right with the world.

This proved very lucrative if you happened to be a bishop or a king, but was not necessarily regarded as a good thing by everyone else. Then after eons of malcontent, the English Civil War and Almost Revolution happened and the world turned upside down. The scum on top of the placid lake that was the class system within this sceptred realm lost cohesion, began to break up and loosen its grip. And out of the silt at the bottom rose up every kind of fanatical crank and loony demanding equality, emancipation, universal suffrage. Pacifists and feminists, naturists, atheists and suffragists felt empowered to speak out; compelled to cry from atop soapboxes and from the backs of carts the length and breadth of the country. Out of this turmoil emerged The Ranters. Almighty Cod, they asserted, was not an omnipotent being somewhere out there. A little piece of Cod (a piece of Cod that surpasseth all understanding) existed, in equal part, in every living thing. They reasoned, on the strength of this revelation, that no individual had more claim to represent the laws of Cod or man than any other. Every man, woman, cat or carrot had an equal right to rule, and therefore no right over others at all. Every man, woman, cat and carrot had sovereignty over its own existence and wellbeing, unfettered self-determination.

Over the intervening centuries The Tamworth Ranters came to believe that the Piece of Cod was not a thing in itself; it was a metaphor, it was the spark of Life. All living things were free and equal. They also embraced the golden rule of philosophers and prophets to do to others what they would have done to themselves, and to love one another as they loved them selves, enthusiastically and often.   They tended to throw a good party.

June had been damp and dreary. Not that this was noted to any degree by the people of Tamworth. In Tamworth June was almost always damp and dreary. However, on this festive day the sky was clear and the morning sun already warming the recreation ground, though the overnight drizzle was still puddled on the tarmac of the vehicle park, reflecting silver-cerulean against the dark grey clinker. Boz glanced back as the gang strode out across the disused landing strip. Several airships swung gently at their pylons. Lady Æthelflæda, freshly painted, was dwarfed next to the looming black vastness of Rotskagg Blenkinsopp’s brutal Queen Anne’s Bounty. The corsair’s flagship bristled with quick-fire cannon, rocket launchers and Gatlings, her canopy emblazoned with the crimson crowned skull (crowned with a papal coronet) that was the Blenkinsopp sigil. It even had a hangar and launch port for its complement of armed ornithopters.

“The pirate king’s here then,” he said to the others, “wonder who he’s brought with him.”

“I noticed Larry’s dirigible back there too,” replied Phoebles.

“I reckon we’ve missed the parade,” chipped in Ferdy, pushing his goggles up over his flying helmet. “Told you we shouldn’t have spent so long over breakfast.”   But the bird was wrong. As they reached the row of Portaloos and temporary litter trays by the road gate they could hear the trumpets and guitars of the Massed Zapatista Marching Mariachi playing La Valentina, and see the tops of wavering crimson union banners above the heads of the spectators. The annual Gala parade always drew a large crowd.

The Andromeda Machine Takes to the Air

Andromeda Departs SOn the bridge of the Pinguin Otto von Luckner turned to his Signalsmaat, “Are you certain you sent Follow us… in English? Ficken!” He rang down to the engine room and the mighty diesels thumped into action. He sprinted to the wing of the bridge and shouted, “Abwerfen der Liegeplatz-Seile. Cast off fore and aft.” Back in the wheelhouse he addressed his helmsman, “Follow that boat.”

With her thundering pistons producing nearly eight thousand horse power and her twin screws rapidly accelerating her up to seventeen knots it did not take the Pinguin long to outstrip Ancaster. Von Luckner was on the VHF radio to Harold.

“Follow us, captain. Best speed. We want as much open water as possible between us and Antarctica when whatever it is happens.”

Easter had been looking astern, “I think it’s happening now, skipper. You’ll want to see this.”

Even at the distance of two miles they could see the ice plateau on the continent behind them begin to dome. The hump rose slowly at first and then burst in an explosion of rock and ice fragments. There was an incandescent flash. As their vision slowly returned to the momentarily blinded observers a hemisphere of boiling, glowing atmosphere was visible, expanding at an incredible rate. A rumble grew to a roar and to a screaming shriek that paralysed the onlookers. The pressure wave tore fittings from the deck and cracked window glass. The accompanying tsunami, however, passed them unnoticed. In the open sea, travelling at 500 miles per hour it barely raised the fleeing vessels a foot or two. As it approached the shoaling seabed around the southern tip of America it would pile up into a destructive wall of vindictive ocean, but out here it was benign. Back on the Antarctic mainland snow clouds gathered above ground zero and lightening bolts flashed across the sky. The trawlermen watched as powdered snow billowed and swirled; and out of the turmoil rose a vast, polished metal cylinder, its mirror surface reflecting the chaos that surrounded it. The Andromeda Machine climbed serenely through the storm into the quiet sky above, performed a leisurely pirouette and accelerated away. Within moments all was calm.

“Well, that was different,” said Easter to no one in particular.

A tinny voice crackled from the bridge loud speaker, Kapitänleutnant Otto Graf von Luckner was back on the VHF.

“We will be heading for the Rio de la Plata in the Pinguin, but are more than willing to escort you across the South Atlantic, captain. It will give us chance to compare notes and discuss the recent events. I expect you will be wanting to proceed to the Ärmelkanal, your English Channel. We may well catch you up on our way to the Baltic. It rather depends on how long we loiter in Montevideo.”

A wandering albatross tucked in behind the stern of the Lord Ancaster, skimming low over the restless swell of the Southern Ocean. Sunlight glistened off the heaving rollers and dolphins played in the bow-waves of the two vessels as they pointed their prows towards the New World.