‘…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.
Looking 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.
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 steady 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 sporting a Cossack crimson stripe down the leg 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.
Once 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 me 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.