The 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 in 2013 – 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.
Next morning the company awoke to the smells of yet more cooking. Gallons of kedgeree, mountains of snorkers and fresh baked bread attracted small, eager faced children, fed-up with gluten-free muesli, who were beginning to gather hopefully around the field-ovens. As the aroma of toasting crumpets spread round the camp troopers began to emerge. Boz and Co. had been cosy in their allotted yurt with its central, pot-bellied stove, but the shrieking of owls, barking of foxes and coughing of feral mountain sheep had intermittently disturbed their slumber. They rose to be greeted by an infuriatingly boisterous Slasher.
“Are we all fired up for the mission?” he asked, to be answered with general mumblings, scratchings and yawnings. Ginsbergbear was grabbing a quick fix of catnip shag as Phoebles emerged, wide eyed, from behind the latrine screens.
“It’s disgustingly primitive in there.”
However a good breakfast soon saw the heroes raring to go.
In preparation for their foray into Castleton our quintet disguised themselves as ramblers in heavily dubbined hiking boots, red socks, knee-length corduroy shorts, anoraks and bobble hats. To his outfit Slasher McGoogs had added Groucho Marx specs complete with moustache, eyebrows and nose. They carried Leki Treckies and Bergen rucksacks packed with Kendal Mintcake, Ginger Beer, a Saturator AK-47 water pistol each and several fully loaded magazines.
“I have put fresh batteries in all the assault rifles.” Boz took out his one-inch OS map – somewhat out of date, but it was still true enough, the natives of the Dales only reluctantly embrace change – folded it neatly to expose the section covering Edale and the Hope Valley, and slid it into his map-case. He consulted his trusty Dan Dare Space Cadet compass and waving the others to follow set off on foot over Hollins Cross into Castleton. It was a tough climb along the winding path taken in older times by the deceased of Edale to the cemetery in Castleton. But the view from the ridge was spectacular. The descent was paved for much of the way and easier, though precipitous.
Once they reached the outskirts of Castleton the gang could see that the Goth Festival was still in full swing. In the centre of town they squeezed their way between blue haired, dark eyed maidens in black lace; shock haired, pale faced youths in black frock coats and dead man toppers; tall vampires with even whiter skin, redder lips and yellow fangs. They pushed betwixt cyberpunks and diesel punks; took note of pale cats with brass goggles, dark glazed in ruby or purple, swathed in white leather great coats, mingling conspicuously with the glum revellers; and veered away from zombies that jerkily lurched in festering groups from one pub to the next. Once they were over Cross Street, Castleton’s Main Drag, and out of the crowds the ramblers ducked up Castle Street, with its grey stone buildings and grey stone walls, where Phoebles managed to trip over the slumped and sobbing form of a diminutive EMO. As he scrambled to his knees and she rubbed a nasty bruise that was developing on her ankle, she observed Phoebles through her tears, “You can’t win you know. We are all flushing headlong down the toilet-pan of existential ennui towards the cesspit of despair. Our fate is inevitable. Turn back! …Oh, and avoid the zombies.”
The gang were disappearing up the road apparently unaware of Phoebles’ absence and the wan and excessively body-pierced creature was inconsolable.
“I’m really sorry. Wish I could cheer you up. Try not to fret. We’re going to do our best. Got to go now.
“Er… Guys!” Phoebles cried as he rushed to catch up, “There’s a sad heap down here might have something important to tell us.”
By the time Phoebles had caught up with his companions the zebra haired harbinger of doom was out of sight and all but out of mind. He was gasping for breath but managed to recount a redacted version of her warning. Boz was the first to reply.
“Don’t worry about the zombies. The Chats Souterrains should prove more than enough to contend with. Impending doom is undermining people’s confidence. Action – that’s what’s required. Let’s crack on.”
The little group made for Bargate, winding up hill and out of the town, and soon found the claustrophobic canyon entrance to the jagged gash of Cave Dale which, carved by melt water at the end of a long past ice age, climbs south from the town to the moorland above. The narrow gateway, hemmed in by limestone cliffs had boasted a natural arch well into the age of industry, though it was now but a memory. The lower reaches of the dale are overseen by the glowering Norman cliff-top castle and Ferdy could make out white-furred and darkly begoggled faces under pickelhaubes and sallets peering down from the crenulated battlements at the jolly hikers so very far below.
Ginsbergbear broke into ‘I Love to Go A Wandering’ in a growly basso profundo.
“Try to look happy,” wheezed Boz; for theirs was a relentless, up-hill slog. The party hunched their shoulders, stomped down with their Leki poles and whistled along with the bear.
As they climbed, the dale widened. Where the steep rocky sides met the grassy bottom tubby, brown birds chattered, fed and fluttered. Gnarled and stunted trees clung to damp crevices in the moss-cloaked rock. Meadow flowers buzzed with pollinating bees. Soon the hiking party had rounded a bare pinnacle and were out of sight of the watchers on the keep. Pausing to peruse his map and check his compass Boz veered off along an indistinct track and with the gang following as quickly as they could, discovered a low orifice at the base of the cliff. On reaching the small cave mouth they found the apparently deep but restricted vent was secured by an iron gate that bore a yellow sign inscribed:
Danger of death!
After a brief sit down and the partaking of a square or two of mint-cake, Ferdy produced his Victorinox Spymaster Multitool Swiss Army Ensemble and, utilising the magnifying glass attachment, examined the lock. He considered for a moment and then folding out two long thin lock-picking tools began to fiddle. After a fruitless few minutes he re-examined the lock under the magnifying glass, flicked out two more attachments with twiddly bits on the ends and began again. Several tense minutes of deft manipulation later there was a click, the gate swung back in well-greased silence and they had gained access to a steep ventilation shaft.
Pausing only to take out their Petzl Pathfinder 21 head torches and fix them firmly over their bobble hats they warily began their penetration of the realm of Les Chats Souterrains.