With the spring melting of the sea-ice the Arctic coleyfish trawler Lord Ancaster was able to extract our heroes from the little harbour at Banff and restore them to the secure comfort of their penthouse bedsit in Limehousesailortown. Aunty Stella had returned to Surrey after rounding up the scattered Kittens of Chaos from music halls and gaols across the North East. She deposited The Vicecream van and Kittens at Bozzy’s Catnip Den. The van is matte black with its Vicecream logo along the sides in a jagged, Hammer Horror font. It is the outreach vehicle for Bozzy’s Catnip Franchise and began operating in London’s dockland, emerging at dusk from dark alleys and not so much reaching out as lurking. With putrid green cones strobing, and a roof mounted megaphone blasting out a medley of jingles from the score of Hitchcock’s Psycho it rarely attracted children. A trio, hand picked from amongst the Kittens of Chaos, with tattoos and piercings in places that stretched credulity, spiked Day-Glo fur and tattered fishnets, dispensed catnip ice cream to those castoffs and groundunders that, having fallen through life’s coarse meshed safety net, aimlessly wandered the cobbled ways of nocturnal Limehousesailortown.
For a while things were quiet… perhaps a little too quiet.
The back room was windowless, untidy and dimly lit by a single tungsten bulb that hung from the ceiling beneath a conical tin shade. A massive, antiquated, cast-iron printing press dominated the space, bottles of ink and turpentine, sheaves of fresh paper and tied bundles of newly printed pamphlets littered shelves and benches that were situated around the slightly grubby walls; wallpaper lifted at its edges, moss green paint cracked and pealed. Inkblots stained the bare boards and wads of cotton waste lay undisturbed where they had been dropped. The short and balding Neapolitan owner of the establishment, the frayed cuffs of his faded flannelette shirt turned back, had been discussing a layout for the latest Broadside when Slasher McGoogs’ ears pricked to a sharp scraping sound that may have come from the street. He gave no other indication that his concentration had been disturbed.
“Your toilet through here?” he asked as he picked up his homburg and moved to a door at the rear. Without switching on the light in the cramped cubicle he removed his highly polished brogues, knotted the laces and hung the shoes round his neck. Balancing on the stained walnut seat of an ageing Thomas Crapper lavatory pan he opened a small window, screwed his hat firmly on his head, turned up the collar of his pinstriped drape jacket and slipped effortlessly out onto a conveniently situated drainpipe. He was ascending towards the roof as the print-shop door burst in.
The startled proprietor had barely had time to kill the lights and wonder why he had never preplanned an escape strategy when he was transfixed in the beams of several flashlights. The room filled with black uniformed officers in body armour.
Peering over the roof ridge, close to a chimney stack so as not to present a silhouette against the night sky McGoogs could see the unlucky printer being bundled into the back of a dark van. Policemen followed carrying clear bin-bags containing large quantities of impounded printed material, a desktop pc and back-up hard drive. He moved cautiously over half a dozen of the roofs that capped the rundown buildings of a once noble Georgian terrace and slipped through an open skylight. Moments later he emerged from a shop door down the street. Weaving through the shadows between the pools of jaundiced street lighting he crossed the road and turned sharply towards the police van, striding out briskly. Passing close to one of the burly characters who were playfully abusing their hapless, handcuffed prisoner he tipped his hat, innocently obscuring his face with an arm as he spoke.
“Good evening constable, nice night for it.” and he was gone.
Barely a league to the east, at the far end of Ratcliff Highway Boz and Phoebles were in their Limehousesailortown penthouse bed-sit, deep in contemplation. They were perusing two inflammatory pamphlets that they had picked up in the Charing Cross Road earlier that day.
“I’m convinced these are both the work of Slasher McGoogs,” declared Boz, waving one of the handbills aggressively towards Phoebles.
Yes, comrades, wake from your slumber
Scrutinise the world about you.
Think on the
Widow in her hovel,
The infant in its pram,
The prisoner in his shackles,
The lonely little lamb.
The MOGUL in his mansion
Cares nothing for these wretches.
In thrall to the Merovingian Dark Lords,
Manipulating the guardians of State and Law,
Hypnotising you with media pap,
With Capitalist trinkets and baubles
He revels in his wealth and power.
Open wide your sleep clouded eyes
And be ready
The days of retribution come!
A Metropolitan Police dirigible passed slowly by the window. It was following the London River, moving down stream, panning a searchlight back and forth across the water. Ripples and eddies sparkled in the harsh arc lighting and black skiffs scurried for the enveloping shadows of wharf and pier. A steam whistle piped shrilly.
“But if this is his too, what is he playing at?” Phoebles jabbed at the second sheet of paper.
RALLY TO THE FLAG BOYS
Rally to the cause
This land of hope and glory
This septic isle
At this point in the text Phoebles had smudged a bit of a paw print across the type and in attempting to clean it up had made a hole in the paper. However he was fairly sure that he remembered what it had originally said and had pencilled ‘septic’ in above the blemish.
The enemy is without your gates
The vandal at your door
Your country needs you
Be ready to defend those treasured institutions
That are forever
“Hm…” Boz frowned. “He’s up to something again – and it’s probably going to end in tears.”
Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk, probably a little too loud in the earphones of his i-pod – Googleberry was lying on his back on Aunty Stella’s lawn, legs akimbo, soaking up the rays.
An over excited Strawberry was urgently trying to get through above the pounding strains of Pink Floyd, “We’ve had a semaphore from Limehousesailortown. Boz says there’s a mood for revolution on the air.”
“Googleberries don’t do revolution. Someone feed me a grape.” Someone did. It tasted unexpectedly fruity and he spat it out. “Perhaps a fishy-snack-treat would be better… and a glass of sherbet.”
Something came between Googleberry and the sun, its shadow growing as it descended. Gently a shiny new, royal blue Cierva C.19 with a white saltire painted on its tail landed on the grass a safe distance from the sunbathing cats. Its engine coughed into silence and down clambered a slightly tubby, snub winged bird in leather flying jacket and helmet, goggles, short-legged jodhpurs and tight fitting lace-up boots. The autogyro was a gift from the grateful people of Strathbogie and Ferdy wanted to show it off.
“You two coming to the big festival in Hyde Park? I can squeeze you both into the front seat.”
“Norralf!” cried Strawberry, sensing another adventure, “How about you, Googleberry?”
“Too much effort, old man,” replied the recumbent feline, “Just leave the cool-bag of ginger beer within my reach, and bring me back an ice-cream.”
Strawberry was already scrabbling into the passenger seat as Ferdy kicked the engine into life. Pulling his goggles down, he engaged the clutch to start the rotor turning. He opened the throttle and, accompanied by a satisfactory roar from the single Armstrong Siddeley Genet Major radial engine, they bounced briefly across the lawn and were airborne. Ferdy piloted the little craft high above the M3 into West London, turned along Kensington High Street and headed for the patch of green that was Hyde Park. They dropped down into a packed gyro park close by the Serpentine.
The festival was vast, a riot of colour and incredibly noisy. It had been organised by the government to arouse a patriotic fervour in the population at a time of uncertainty and no little hardship. The newspapers were full of praise for the enterprise. On the television and radio, programme after programme covered the events, and the weather had, so far, been perfect. There was a steam fairground festooned in flashing lights, competing music from wheezing mechanical organs all but drowned out by squealing teenagers. A central arena hosted displays by motorcycle teams, police dogs and, currently, stiff, black uniformed soldiers mounting horse drawn field-gun carriages that wove and scissored with thundering hooves and clanking harness in time to The Galloping Major – piped over the Tanoy system. At a safe distance there were ornithopter rides and balloon rides, once round the park for five guineas. A military marching band in white pith helmets played… marches… in front of a stage from which, periodically, politicians, dignitaries and popular celebrities gave rousing speeches. Almost everyone in the crowd had a small union flag on a stick that they waved whenever it seemed appropriate. In fact the national flag was to be seen everywhere, across the stage, flying over marquees and stalls, painted, it seemed, on every flat surface. Even the hot dog sellers, attracted to this event from all over the European Union, flew union flags above their stands.
Strawberry made a beeline for the fair, closely followed by Ferdinand. The Whees, Aahs and Oohs grew in intensity until they swamped the senses and somewhere a steam calliope squeaked out a confused rendition of Jerusalem. The duo rushed past the big wheel – a very big wheel with red white and blue gondolas swaying gently as it turned – past two garish, gilded carousels twirling freshly painted and fierce eyed gallopers, past the Wall of Death to the new and experimental steam dodgems – only to find they had been shut down indefinitely since a boiler explosion on one of the cars had led to injury and the threat of litigation. Ferdy was crestfallen, but Strawberry spotted a Helter-Skelter towering in mint green and white candy stripes beyond a gently idling showman engine. Clutching a mat he dashed up the inside and whizzed down the outside, and then he did it again, then went again, and went again, and again, and again, and again… As he landed at the bottom of the slide, slithering and tumbling for the umpteenth time Ferdy snatched the mat from him.
“There’s the Shamrock, lets go on the Shamrock.” Strawberry pointed towards the Steam Yachts, the ultimate adrenaline ride. It was rumoured that a steam yacht had killed more than the occasional passenger, towards the end of the nineteenth century.
“Lets find Ginsbergbear, he is giving a poetry reading at one of the fringe events.” But on their way they saw that the prime minister was making a speech and stayed to hear it. It was bland.
“Look,” Ferdy nudged Strawberry, “now that’s interesting.” Behind the speaker, unobtrusive, yet seated where he would miss nothing, was The Media Oligarch, infamous subject of one of Slasher McGoogs’ more colourful broadsides. He had, in his youth, been the white Persian cat playing alongside Donald Pleasence in You Only Live Twice and his real name was rumoured to be Mr Fluffy. He did not notice the pair (Why would he?), but his chilling, cold-eyed smile set the fur and feathers bristling along their spines.
Far to the east, out beyond the city, a very different form of gathering was taking place. And this had been the subject of Bozzy’s now unheeded warning.
Limehousesailortown does not do politics – sailortown exists for the sailor. Whilst the ships are in dock unloading their cargo their mariners and ships cats scurry ashore. After weeks at sea battling with the elements, cooped together in small, over-familiar groups they come onto land, wherever they may be in the world, with a little money in their pockets and a desire to be entertained. Just beyond the dock gates they find dance halls and music halls, ale-houses and catnip dens, brothels and night clubs. They are enticed by ice-cream vans, burger bars, winkle stalls and pie-‘n-mash tents. Juke-boxes blare, fish and chips sizzle and dour missionaries fret after their souls.
Westwards along Ratcliff Highway the stews and doss houses peter out to be replaced by wholesale warehouses stuffed with pepper and cinnamon, teas and coffees, wines, spirits, carpets and beds, monkeys, macaws – and the contraband wares of smuggler and river pirate, produce not fanfared on the signs above the doors. At the Highway’s western end, dingy curiosity shops, junk shops proclaiming themselves to be antique emporia, ships’ chandlers and the tagareen stores of the bum-boat men huddle together between the river and the soup kitchens and meeting halls of Whitechapel. Whitechapel does do politics.
Boz and Phoebles stopped off for a light lunch in the ground floor bar of the catnip den that occupies the remainder of the building below their bedsit. Snowdrop was singing a selection of songs from Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and should probably have stuck to juggling. She was accompanied by Sam on upright and Mouse Jackson on tenor sax and they were really quite good, as was the eel pie and mustard ice-cream. Once fortified, the ginger pair set off towards Wapping High Street and onward to Whitechapel, for a little under-cover detective work.
Toynbee Hall, that vicarage-gothic edifice which might well have seen William Morris and Peter Kropotkin pass through its doors in times gone by, was hosting a debate on Class Unity, The Co-operative Movement and World Solutions to World Problems. As delegates gathered a degree of disharmony was already beginning to emerge. Old Labour was present with a Yorkshire ex-colliery brass band; Marxists and Leninists and Trotskyists and Maoists were in dispute over the subjects for discussion, procedural details and the exact fillings for the sandwiches; La Columna Internationalistas, in red neckerchiefs were acting as unofficial bouncers. Huddled in small yet noisy groups and eyeing each other suspiciously were collectivist-anarchists, mutualist-anarchists, communist-anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, anarcho-surrealists, Situationists and The Brick Lane Zapatistas. Consuella Starcluster was there with her tambourine, and the Kittens of Chaos had brought along a breakaway anarcha-feminist chapter of the WI who were starting to heckle. Boz and Phoebles, thinly disguised in matching ‘Red Ed’ t-shirts, cloth caps and mufflers, slipped unobtrusively into the hall and, with backs to the wall, quietly observed. The discord was beginning to spread to a gathering crowd outside in Commercial Street and scuffles were breaking out.
Round the corner, where an insignificant and darkly narrow passageway, plastered with faded and torn inflammatory posters and bills, opened out into Angel Alley a soapbox had been set up outside the offices of the Freedom Press. White cats in brass bound and riveted, midnight-dark goggles guarded its corners like Trafalgar Square lions and Slasher McGoogs had mounted it to address an unenthusiastic crowd.
“Comrades! You do not need me to point out the architects of your sorry condition. I am not here to itemise the burdens heaped upon you by self appointed tyrants, to list the injustices, to pick through the corruption and filth, the graft and malfeasance that has shackled the masses to a life of perpetual toil and wrung out a wealth of obscene proportions to heap on the privileged few. You can denounce your oppressors without my help.
Yet, to be just to these poor men of pelf,
Each does but HATE HIS NEIGHBOUR AS HIMSELF:
Damned to the mines, an equal fate betides
The slave that digs it, and the slave that hides!”
He paused at this dramatic climax – Silence… until one of the sinister white cats began to clap pointedly. There was a ripple from the audience followed by a Whoop and a couple of Yeahs. The front two rows of uncomprehending felinity were made up of feckless alley cats of assorted shapes, sizes and colours, but behind them was a press of black and white ships’ cats and their docker cousins. These toms were politically aware and wanted to be roused. Slasher stepped up the rhetoric, wringing his cap and waving a clenched fist.
Early next morning began the first ever mass-strike of ships’ cats. Vessels without their cats could not sail, the docks clogged up with stranded shipping and new arrivals rusted at anchor in the roads; cargos rotted and rats ran wild. Dockland fell eerily silent.
Although Donald Pleasence shamelessly tried to steal every scene that he shared with Mr Fluffy, and despite the incredible decision of the film company not to dignify such a central character as Blofeld’s white cat with a name nor the feline thespian with a credit, he became a legend. What no one knew was that Mr Fluffy was not acting. He was not, of course, CEO within SPECTRE – SPECTRE is after all a fictional organisation, but he was, even at this early stage, Lotte Lenya’s Controller and an embryonic megalomaniac.
Emerging from Pinewood Studios sadder, wiser, yet with pockets filled with sovereigns, Mr Fluffy (He was still known as Young Fluffy back then, but not for long.) bought into the Cleethorpes Gazette, which was on the brink of closure. Specialising in lurid tales of the seedier activities on the Cleethorpes sea-front and searching exposés of corruption amongst local councillors the Gazette was soon outselling every local newspaper in Lincolnshire and, at least in Grimsby, outselling some of the less popular nationals too. The time was ripe for expansion. Buying newspapers had merely been a matter of flashing enough cash, television companies could be absorbed or broken with ease, but radio proved a tougher nut to crack. To this day there were, he suspected, subversive elements operating within the bowels of Broadcasting House.
With practically the whole of the British news media in his hands Mr Fluffy acquired the defunct Black Cat Factory, which was lying derelict amidst the overgrown and neglected communal gardens of Mornington Crescent and, in one dark and thundery night, the air crackling with static and pavements wet with typesetters’ tears, he abandoned Fleet Street and moved his entire operation under one roof. Reborn, the magnificent Art Deco Egyptian Revivalist edifice, temple in equal parts to the cat goddess Bastet and the capitalist god Profit in his most concrete of forms, dominated surrounding Camden and surreptitiously stretched predatory claws out into the neighbouring landscape. From the camera obscura on the rooftop terrace Mr Fluffy could look out onto the teeming mass of humanity below and know that he owned them all; bought or cowed they would all dance when he plucked upon their strings.
‘…over the pathetic corpses of your newborn! These insufferable strikes and the economic crisis they have wrought, have forced the Government, against its will, to close Libraries, Hospitals and Old Peoples’ Homes! No longer affordable, fire-engines and ambulances have had to be offered on e-bay! This insurgency must not be allowed to continue – who are these unelected enemies of commerce, these self proclaimed assassins of Statehood? Sign up for action today – crush the subversive pandemic before it overwhelms us all!’
“I found this in the Press Tent, next to the Guinness counter.”
The gang were all gathered in Ginsbergbear’s bell tent behind the Literary Yurt, observing yet another single-sheet broadside. They were seated in campaign chairs at a green baize topped folding table, intense sunlight through the painted fabric of the tent cast deep red stripes across the group, neglected mugs of half drunk, strong Yorkshire tea cooled and congealed. The Great Patriotic Festival was drawing smaller crowds since the strikes had begun to spread out from the East End, though the Steam Fair was still popular and Ginsbergbear’s poetry readings had a small, but faithful following.
“And it is being reproduced in all the national newspaper and on the television; I know it is Slasher again. The lefty stuff he was aiming at the workers has tailed off since the strikes began though.” Phoebles was frowning as his mind wrestled with complex and conflicting thoughts.
“Word on the street is that he was pivotal in triggering the ship’s cat strikes and has been seen in the company of several of Les Chats Souterrains.” Boz had been doing some serious investigating.
Ferdy appeared distracted, “But the Chats Souterrains are real wronguns, he can’t be in with them.” Ginsbergbear leaned over to him with a sympathetic gesture, stroking the tip of one wing.
“What’s the matter, old pal?”
“Oh, it’s nothing to do with all this. Aunty Stella is upset. No one has seen Googleberry since we left him sunbathing on the lawn and that was a couple of days ago. It’s not like him to miss meal times.”
Everyone agreed that Googleberry was not the type to get into any trouble and assured Ferdy that he would soon turn up, but the gentle dodo was not to be comforted.
“Les Chats have also been seen directing rats in the looting of the docks. There’s too much double-dealing for my liking. I can’t get my head round what’s going on,” continued Boz, returning to the problem in hand.
“I thought Les Chats Souterrains were just a fairy tale told by Les Fréres Sombres. Do they really eat naughty kittens?” asked Phoebles.
Ginsbergbear sighed, “Probably not, but they are real and crave world domination. They are the pallid denizens of Agartha, the world below; and guardians of the tunnel network of the ancients.”
Strawberry was frowning. “Is Aunty Stella really worried? Googleberry’s my friend…”
“OK.” from Boz, “We need to focus. Ferdy, whiz Strawberry home in the Cierva and come straight back. Strawberry, organize search parties for Googleberry, there are enough cats back there to be thorough. But no one goes off alone and try not to lose anyone else. The rest of us are going to have to corner Slasher and ask him straight out what he’s up to. The whole situation is getting out of hand.”
“Does anyone else think contacting McGoogs might be a bit dangerous?”
Meanwhile strikes were spreading out from dockland. The Clerkenwell printers were out over the arrest of one of their own; there was a lock out at Billingsgate which was depriving the local chippies of supplies just when there was a flood of idle, hungry cats into the neighbourhood, and now there was pressure on long dormant socialists and trades’ unionists around the country to support the industrial action. For the baying Press flying pickets were the last straw. Not that, for the most part, they did much flying. One group did have the use, where appropriate, of a Dragon Rapide loaned by a sympathetic pilot from Duxford, but mostly they were utilising a small fleet of ex- YANKEE COACH LINES INC. GAR WOOD Model EFI motor coaches, liberated from a stranded container ship in Tilbury Dock, and reinforced against police truncheons.
The Search for Slasher
Under instruction from Strawberry Aunty Stella’s large and diverse family of cats split into small groups and fanned out across Surrey, sniffing under bushes, peering into windows and enquiring after Googleberry at fishmongers and dairies.
Ferdy made a daringly low level aerial survey of London in the vain hope of spotting the infamous signature grey homburg of McGoogs. Boz had found YouTube footage of the Angel Alley address along with snippets of CCTV material showing someone very like Slasher McGoogs sharing a catnip spliff with pickets around a brazier outside the gates of St Katherine’s Dock, ascending the steps between bronze-black monolithic feline guardians into the dread quarters of the omniscient Fluffy Media Corp, and sneaking round the back of Number Ten. In the snug of the Town of Ramsgate, a trawlermen’s riverside tavern in Wapping, Phoebles discovered that not only had the pub originally been known as the Red Cow, named after a particularly popular copper haired and deeply freckled barmaid from a time before juke boxes when executed pirates hung from gibbets above the London River mud and Judge Jeffries cowered in the gents ineffectually disguised as a common sailor, but that Slasher was to be seen regularly in the company of les Chats Souterrains, disembarking from a Chris-Craft Cadet finished in richly varnished walnut, at the neighbouring Wapping Old Stairs, invariably after dark. The trio of amateur sleuths was also repeatedly made aware that they were not alone in pursuing the spectral grey moggy. Wherever Boz and Phoebles investigated it seemed detectives or journalists had just left.
Montgomery Manlove McGoogs died in the early hours of this morning in a random and bizarrely incongruous collision with a runaway milk float.
Later in the day Radio 4 ran an obituary for Slasher McGoogs. It was brief and short on hard detail. He had no traceable early life, arriving in the East End with a preformed reputation for dodgy dealing and a shadowy, ephemeral persona.
The KGB, it transpired, believed him to be a double agent who had been turned by British Intelligence.
MI5 reluctantly admitted to his indeed being a double agent, but suspected his allegiance to lie with the KGB.
The CIA thought he was a minor film actor with Mafia connections who had died of a drugs overdose in the late 1960’s.
Various East End Underworld snouts reported that he was definitely in the employ of Special Branch.
Whilst a police file, withheld despite the Freedom of Information Act, but obtained through Wikileaks, listed him as a criminal mastermind.
“And now he’s dead.”
“Hmm, very conveniently… with no witnesses to the accident and his body identified by two white cats with dark glasses and thick Occitan accents. Perhaps we’ll keep looking for a bit.”
“But if the BBC…” Phoebles was by nature a little too trusting. Following a fish and chip supper whose diminutive proportions were not reflected in the price, artificially hiked by profiteering fast food vendors, Phoebles, Boz and Ferdy adjourned, for the umpteenth time, to the Town of Ramsgate to prepare for yet another nocturnal vigil, sipping milk-pale green fairies and surrounded by society’s jetsam. At closing time they purchased a large bottle of ginger-beer, emerged onto the cobbled street and melted into the shadows. Soon they were alone and as the night wore on the ever-resourceful Ferdy took out his pack of sandwiches and thermos flask of Earl Grey. There had been the gentle slap as tide mounted the worn stones of the river steps, to be followed, through the long dreary hours, by the splash and trickle of the waters receding once more. The air was thick with the scent of cinnamon from the spice warehouses nearby, the sky was starless and overcast, there were distant rumbles of thunder. With dawn approaching and the gloom around beginning to lift, a thin mist crept in from the river. Twice during the night they had heard the gentle knock and creak of rowlocks, the drip of oars, but no one had landed.
Phoebles knocked back the last of the ginger beer. “Home then… again?”
Boz was just considering the possibility that he might have been wrong about Slasher’s survival and wondering if this was the time to admit it to the others when a rope ladder landed in their midst.
“If you could pop up here for a moment, please, Mr Boz. You will be able to rejoin your companions later.”
They looked up and, hovering above them, saw a small, cigar shaped, bronze coloured airship; the canopy was banded with aluminium straps, it had a single broad-bladed propeller, slow-turning as the engine idled, and a compact gondola from which dangled the precarious ladder. In the open hatchway stood an impossibly tall, slender tortoise-shell in bottle green chauffeur’s uniform. She had exotic golden eyes, cosmeticised and kohl rimmed to emphasise their mesmerising effect.
“Please… It will be alright.”
“I’ll see you back at the pad.” said Boz, beginning to climb. Dangly pilot ladders are not the easiest things to negotiate for anyone but the most practised of pilots and Boz didn’t really do climbing. However the dirigible had descended as low as it dare and eventually, somewhat puffed, he was allowing himself to be helped aboard by the torti chauffeur. The cabin interior was fitted out in midnight blue velvet plush edged in gold cording, a large chandelier hung from the deck-head, a half open, panelled door with brass fittings led through to the flight deck.
“Good morning, so at last I get to meet the famous Mr Boz.” A tabby cat wearing a red white and blue rosette sat in a deep tub chair holding a large brandy glass, “I’m sorry, do sit down” he indicated towards a similar, but vacant seat. “I am Larry from Number 10.”
“Barrymore, see to a drink for Mr Boz, would you.” The airship had ascended, turned west-nor’westward and was flying above the City.
“Is she driving AND waitressing? Is that safe?”
“Let’s not worry about Barrymore, very competent young lady. Let’s talk about you. You’re still looking for the recently deceased Mr McGoogs.” It was not a question and Larry did not seem to be expecting any form of answer. “You appear to suspect that Mr McGoogs is some sort of secret force for good, with a plan. He is not. He is a despicable profiteer and we are better off with him dead.”
Boz was feeling very uncomfortable. The cabin was warm, he had not slept, the brandy gently burned in his stomach and the cat he now faced was terrifyingly confident. “How do you know all this? Did you have him killed?”
“People tell me things, Mr Boz. And I don’t kill… as a rule.
“We are on our way to make a hospital visit. There’s something I want you to see. Do agree to come along.”
They were crossing above the seeming random tangle of railway lines that lead into the rear of Euston Station and soon began a descent into a tight courtyard outside the entrance to an apparently abandoned hospital. Larry took Boz by the arm and led him into the building whilst Barrymore tethered the craft. Above the faux-Grecian portico, decorative brickwork spelled out ‘London Temperance Hospital’. Within, the entrance hall was deserted, fallen plaster littered the marble floor, but deeper into the interior, along a tiled corridor things began to bustle. Crisp nurses came out of doors striding efficiently in starched pinafores and black stockings, hurried past, plunged down hallways or clip-tapped up stone stairs. Businesslike chatter emitted from curtained alcoves and intimidating side rooms.
Larry opened a door and encouraged Boz into a long Nightingale ward with two rows of identical, cream coloured, iron beds. On the edge of almost every bed sat, motionless, a cat in striped winceyette pyjamas; most stared vacantly beyond their inner space into the vacuum of eternity, some shook. In the centre of one bed was a bulge under the bedclothes that twitched uncontrollably. Another cat stood to attention at the bottom of his bed, in a frozen salute. Larry ushered Boz towards him, but they were waylaid by the ward sister. Boz could not take his eyes off her chest, where she had pinned a wonderful little upside down watch.
“Best leave him. He will settle eventually.”
Larry turned to Boz, “These are all here because of your Mr McGoogs. All they needed to help them cope with the stresses of catlife was a little catnip at a timely moment, something to layback the troubled soul, hush the cacophony. And what did they get? Krapola. Honestly, that’s what it sells as, Krapola Katnip, and it’s rubbish. It’s force grown under artificial lights in vast sheds in Milton Keynes, it’s thin and weedy with virtually no psychedelic properties, and it’s not even cheap. He’s flooded supermarkets and pet shop chains with the stuff and it affords no relief. All these cats needed was a little break from reality and McGoogs denied it to them – for profit.”
The nurse kissed Boz lightly on the forehead, “The monster is dead, and good riddance. Go home and forget about him.”
“A LITTERATE IRON
All Along An Algerian Alley…
Boisterous Blue Birds Bury Bulbs.
Cats Can Cry, ‘¡Caramba!’ ‘Cos…
Dogs Do Dirty Deeds Down Drainpipes.”
Ginsbergbear’s i-phone vibrated silently in his pocket.
This blinking fair
Is blinking fun
No blinking rain
Just blinking sun
The blinking prize
I blinking won
A blinking fish
In a blinking bag
Of blinking plastic
The hoe’s reaction
The blinking wall
Of blinking death
The blinking bike’s
A blinking wreck
And blinking bolts
To the blinking deck
The Blinking engine
Coughs and stutters
The Blinking crowd
The blinking dodgems
Their blinking hearts
And blinking knickers
On blinking liquors
By pervy vicars
A blinking fair’s
Such blinking fun
In London Town”
He finished his recitation to thunderous applause, but cut short the Question-and-Answer session. Back in his bell tent Ginsbergbear read the text message.
‘Ferris wheel in half hour’
It was carnival night and most of the crowd was masked. There were twenty Captain Jack Sparrows, three Marie Antoinettes with shepherdess’ crooks, carrying their lambs, there were Spidermen, Keystone Cops and Mr Spocks, half a dozen ladyboys and gay Telletubbies with handbags. A Captain Ahab stumped along on narwhale-tusk peg leg and an agitated Ginsbergbear, in beatnik brown cords, hurried through the jostling press of revellers. Then… there was a figure standing at the foot of the big wheel, in shadow but for a slash of pulsing neon light cast across his lower face and breast. He was wearing a red and black striped polo neck jumper beneath his drape jacket, a black Lone Ranger mask and, of course, the grey homburg. Without exchanging pleasantries they mounted wide wooden steps up to a ticket office that stood next to twin turnstiles. The Ferris wheel looked considerably more impressive close too – in fact it was massive. Slasher McGoogs paid for the two of them at the kiosk and ushered Ginsbergbear into one of the cars. They had the compartment to themselves.
The wheel began to turn slowly, but when their car reached its zenith it stopped abruptly. The flimsy car swayed and Slasher McGoogs, his legs spread wide and a psychotic glint in his eyes, slid open the door. The lonely, haunting, plunking tones of a distant zither drifted in.
“You should come over here and look down. It’s really spectacular.”
Ginsbergbear was in the far corner, as far from the open door as possible, knuckles stretched white as he gripped the rail. He could see the lights of Park Lane and Oxford Street from where he was and had no intention of moving.
“What’s going on? Why have we stopped?”
“I bribed the operator. I feel that an atmosphere of uncertainty and intimidation will enhance the conversation that we are about to have.
“Now… your friends. Their activities are getting in my way and attracting undue attention.
“I want you to tell them to stop looking. I need a little space… and time.”
Ginsbergbear gabbled, “What the…? Why me? What ARE you up to? Why aren’t you dead? What on earth gives you the idea they will listen to me?”
“…No, you make them. Tell them yourself. If we’re causing you so much inconvenience then you’re going to have to trust us with some answers. No one is fooled by this accident story. Meet us somewhere safe-ish and explain yourself.”
Slasher did not appear enthusiastic, but eventually hissed a response, “Limehousesailortown is an Establishment no go area. The Den, tomorrow morning.”
On a waved signal from McGoogs the wheel started to turn again and the instant their cab reached the ground Slasher sprang from the car, vaulted the barrier and disappeared into the crowd. Ginsbergbear spent a few minutes with his head between his knees and then pulled a large meerschaum bowled calabash from a pocket in his baggy corduroy trousers, packed it with a charge of Black-Alamout Catnip Shag and sucked in several deep breaths, holding them until the world around him started to appear less unfriendly. He pulled out his i-phone and called Boz.
“…Je ne regrette rien
Ni le bien qu’on m’a fait
Ni le mal tout ça m’est bien égal
Non, Rien de rien
Non, Je ne regrette rien
Car ma vie, car mes joies Aujourd’hui, ça commence avec toi~oi!!!”
Sam the pianist was practising Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien with The Kittens of Chaos before the evening’s performance and, like Piaf before them, they intended to announce their dedication of the song to the Hunky French Foreign Legion. Following the final rasping, gargled stanza the Kittens were all coughing and retching uncontrollably.
Our quartet was having a breakfast of buttered croissants and kipper fish cakes in the front bar of the den, sat at a round marble topped table in the gentle morning light of a bay window.
“Aunty Stella’s been in touch,” reported Ferdy, “There’s still no sign of Googleberry, but he’s not turned up in any of the local vets’ so everyone is optimistic.”
They all jumped and spun round at the sound of a distant bump, as if a Chris-Craft Cadet had just come alongside the ladder that hung down to the water from out the back. Two shade-like white cats clambered over the balcony and entered through the French windows. They were wearing steampunk brass and leather goggles with deep purple lenses and identical broad lapelled white leather, ankle length coats. They were followed over the balustrade by Slasher McGoogs.
At this most unfortunate of moments a figure chose to emerge from the gents dressed in a dark trilby and a stiff buff trench coat with an ominous bulge under the left armpit. Les deux Chats Souterrains instantly legged it back over the balcony rail and into their boat. Nearby sirens could be heard and the throaty gunning of the triple Packard 12M engines that would power the River Police Fast Pursuit craft waiting in the next-door boatyard creek.
Slasher launched himself forward, barging through the customers, toppling tables and rushed out through the street door cat-flap.
“Don’t lose him!” shouted Boz – and the four of them dashed out into the morning chill of Narrow Street, just in time to see Slasher lift the cover off a manhole and drop into its depths.
Jo Bazelgette’s Wonder
The manhole was dingy and deep. Boz went first, then Phoebles, then Ferdy, and Ginsbergbear brought up the rear, replacing the cover above his head in the interest of health and safety. Clambering down a corroded iron ladder they descended gingerly into the wondrous construct that is the subterranean world created by Joseph Bazalgette. An overpowering stench of the farmyard bombarded feline noses, yet more dank and claustrophobic – like a Moroccan khazi. They were in a major sewer, and Ferdy was wearing his best Rupertbear tartan trousers. He produced a Penlight torch and flashed it along the tunnel. It just about picked out a running shadowy figure. “Got him!”
And thus began such an epic pursuit that it was to be recounted around the winter fires to kittens’ kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and their kittens and…
The glazed Victorian brickwork lined vast vaulted chambers, wide tunnels, cramped oval culverts, described elegant arches, steps and pavements, water channels and weirs. There were cast-iron stairs, ladders, walkways and a maze of intertwined piping. Ahead they would hear the clatter of heals on stone, the clank of soles on grating, the splash of shoes in water; sometimes close, sometimes far away. They ran alongside fast flowing streams, splashed through sluggish shallows, waded as fluid in the narrower passages deepened.
Eyes watched them from every side tunnel, each gaping, shattered pipe. The rats down here were the size of Gloucester Old Spots, but remained aloof, neither helping nor hindering pursuers or pursued. Sometimes eyes on stalks, emerald or mauve or both at once, popped up out of the liquor, looked around and sank again followed by a stream of bubbles.
Often our heroes thought they had lost McGoogs within the labyrinthine passageways and interconnecting tunnels, but each time someone would hear a splash or scrape ahead, and off they would go again. When, eventually, the battery in Ferdy’s flashlight died they found that many of the strange shapes floating on the liquid goo glowed a feint and unearthly green, casting just enough of a glimmer to see by once their eyes had adjusted.
Still having barely glimpsed their quarry a regular metallic ringing ahead hinted that someone was climbing an iron ladder and, half swimming, half wading under a low archway the quartet found themselves in a high chamber at the foot of a tall vertical shaft. The ladder, firmly bolted to the brick lined flue, was new and galvanised; there was a tiny circle of light at the top. Within the chamber a noisome, gaseous vapour was writhing sluggishly across the surface of the sludge, the acrid odour of ammonia making their eyes water. The climb began.
They emerged into the mind blowingly awe inspiring Pump Hall of the Cathedral of the Sewers. The great beam engines hissed, nodded and clunked to a slow rhythm, neo-gothic cast-iron pillars, arches and galleries soared in a dazzle of red lead, sky blue and gilt. They were within the Abbey Mills Pumping Station whose architectural wizardry had eclipsed the Taj Mahal, the Brighton Pavilion, and all but rivalled the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.
A door banged. The great outer double-doors had been flung back and were rebounding. The gang rushed through and out into the blighted wastelands that straddle the margins between earth and ocean. Ahead of them scrambling and lurching across the marshes ran Slasher, coat tails flapping around his bent form like a wounded bat.
“Come on!” cried Boz between rasping breaths – and they resumed their chase onto the hinterland that is the Lea Delta. Mist clung languidly in the canals and channels between tussocks of coarse grey grasses. A sullen sky loomed, a dense, low cloud mass over the land of doom, pressing fortitude and vigour down into the very boots of the exhausted questers.
Ginsbergbear was winded and beginning to split along his seams; Phoebles was germinating the hint of a possibility that his love of food was in the early stages of compromising his waistline and stamina; Ferdy was failing to understand why evolution had deprived dodos of the more useful parts of their wings without making their legs longer; and the dank, sodden salt-marsh, after so many hours wading through Mr Bazalgette’s slurry, was not helping with Bozzy’s rheumatics. They were thrashing and gasping through the mud and bog plants as Slasher McGoogs struggled onto a long and weather beaten wooden jetty – at its far end the low, rusting form of a battered old Bovril boat, belched oily smoke from its stack. This was the final destination of London’s night soil. Liquid and solids were separated and the purified water, bottled and lightly effervesced by a process known as methanisation, was sold to the Savoy Hotel as a palate freshener for those who had been tempted towards the famed civet poo coffee. The lumpy bits were loaded onto the Bovril boats and taken into the North Sea where an artificial and highly fertile reef was being built up for the benefit of the native marine life.
As his pursuers closed, a rotten plank cracked beneath Slasher and he fell forwards twisting a trapped ankle. He got up, limped a few paces and collapsed again. Phoebles was jubilant and Ferdy managed a merry, “Hussaaar!” They would be able to overhaul him at last.
But then Slasher was on his unsteady feet, splay-legged and swaying. Something cold, black and threatening sat in the hand that he waved towards them. Ferdy and Phoebles, Ginsbergbear and Boz each had the unpleasant and highly personal experience of staring down the dangerous end of a Mauser Red Nine.
“Stand still! Stay where you are. Hands where I can see them!”
No one was arguing.
“This has gone far enough. Now listen. I am going away – something of a cruise. You won’t hear of me for a while. But you lot have work to do. Boz, there’s a battle coming. Let it – you couldn’t stop it anyway. Put up a convincing fight, but no heroics. Don’t let anyone get seriously hurt and when you lose – and you will lose – no fighting to the last man. Disperse – and definitely, DON’T LET ANYONE BE CAPTURED. That last bit’s really important.
“Now, Ferdinand, soon as it’s all done get down to the Isle of Dogs. We’ve got the Dragon Rapide at a temporary airstrip on Mud Chute Farm; the pilot will have a little job for you. All of you… Don’t screw up.” He turned and began a long, slow limp down the jetty.
Several figures appeared on the Bovril boat. They had wrinkled walnut hides, faded, moth-eaten guernseys, bandanas, stubs of clay pipe. Some cast off the mooring lines, some helped Slasher over the rail. The distinctive throb of a Bolinder Semi-Diesel Hot Bulb Engine rumbled above the salt marsh, black funnel-smoke smudged a charcoal scar across the Turner sky, a lone Klaxon blast sent plovers and sandpipers soaring skyward, and the bronze screw churned water beneath the stern. The unassuming vessel left the jetty, rippled the pastel shaded, mirror surface of a Thames at slack water and turned for the open sea.
That evening the Prime Minister appeared in a simultaneous transmission on all major television channels – he was flanked by union flags, and Mr Fluffy stood behind him, one paw on his shoulder.
“Good honest people of this great nation of ours… patriots… citizens… fellow travellers through the great adventure that is our noble history – the shared journey along the narrow, up-hill path towards excellence. I know you want me to tell you that the current condition cannot be endured. It is time to call a halt.
“There is to be a rally in Parliament Square tomorrow morning and I want you all to be there. Do you not wish it so? Once assembled we shall, together, march to Tower Hill, regroup and be joined by the duly empowered upholders of law and order before proceeding down Royal Mint Street, along Cable Street and on into Limehouse and Poplar. The right-minded citizens of this fortunate isle, our happy band, will retake the docks, by force if absolutely necessary, restoring normality and stability to the nation.
“Heavens to Betsy, we are not covetous for wealth, nor care we for the mockers and sceptics. Such material concerns have no place in our desires. But if it is a sin to covet honour, we are the most offending. We do affirm that he who has no stomach for this fight should shy away – we would not march in the company of any man that fears to suffer and triumph with us. He that survives tomorrow and comes home safe will stand proud when our deeds are named. He that strives in our company, and sees old age, will yearly on the anniversary of our victory roll back his sleeve and show his scars, and tell his grandchildren, ‘These wounds I had in Cable Street.’ Then shall our names, familiar as household words, be forever remembered. We happy band of brothers – for each that sheds his blood with me will be my brother – shall tomorrow join the company of heroes. And those that sleep and cower at home shall think themselves accursed that they were not there, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks that fought with us upon our glorious day.”
The broadcast ended with the Prime Minister standing to attention, hand on heart whilst Rule Britannia and the National Anthem played out under slow mixes to old footage of Battle of Britain Spitfires and selected clips from Sink the Bismarck. The final death throes of the mighty battleship segued seamlessly into an aesthetically disappointing commercial for haemorrhoid cream.
Early next morning a council of war was convened in an upstairs room in Charlie Brown’s. This legendary dockland public house, legendary at least amongst the world wide maritime community, is more properly named the Railway Tavern. It sits on the corner of Garford Street close to the gates of the West India Dock and is always referred to by the name of its renowned, broken nosed, ex-pugilist landlord, the self proclaimed ‘Uncrowned King of Limehousesailortown’. The five storey high edifice, crowned by a copper-covered cupola and aspiring to a bastardised Baroque style, dominates the surrounding slums and hovels, a haven for the lost and homesick, refuge of the tattooed filles de joie and dispenser of lukewarm Charringtons’ Anchor Stout. The drinking rooms within are a museum of curiosities gathered from all parts of the world, gifted by seaman sailing into the docks of East London. Souvenirs from the Far East, Polynesia and Southend crowd the shelves, dried puffer fish hang from ceilings, shrunken heads and scrimshawed whalebones are nailed to the walls. Faded pornographic postcards and obscure examples of foreign currency are skewered behind the bars. The rooms above are considerably more austere and unkempt, but on this morning they buzzed and bustled with adrenalin fuelled excitement.
Boz was making a stab at chairing the meeting, which was degenerating into something of a buffet, cheese sandwiches and beer having been provided, on the house, by the burly proprietor. Ginsbergbear coughed and Phoebles banged a beer mug, freshly drained, on the table. The ships’ cats and a small contingent of Kronstadt sailors, being more inclined to action than the rest, shushed the disparate anarchist and communist factions and eventually gained their attention. Boz recounted what he could remember of his one sided conversation with Slasher McGoogs. Much of his concentration had been taken up at the time by the ugly automatic pistol that was being pointed his way and he was still a bit shaky.
It was agreed that the march that had been fanfared on national television must be stopped and that it would be halted in Cable Street near to St George’s Town Hall. The Brick Lane Zapatistas were put in charge of constructing and manning a series of sturdy barricades, whilst members of La Columna, well versed in techniques of street fighting, all be it only in re-enactments at English Heritage venues, would help to secure the side streets and alleys.
Those Marxist-Leninists, Trots and Maoists present put aside their doctrinal differences and, declaring that the time was not yet right for action, retired to The Prospect of Whitby, close by the Pelican Stairs on Wapping Wall, to wait out the coming events.
With time of the essence the company then downed their beers, polished off the sandwiches, made use of the tavern’s urinals and litter trays and proceeded down Cable Street to make their preparations.
Fuelled by strikers’ braziers and the smoke from burning police cars an old fashioned London fog had descended on the East End. A red glow from bonfires and torches coloured the smog and suffused the shadowy buildings that lined the street with a crimson light. Curling smoke formed sinuous tentacles that writhed outwards through the air above Cable Street, twisted down alleys, curled round chimneys, hung menacingly over the demonic scene.
The anarcho-surrealists in pantomime costumes were dispatched to form a redoubt at the junction of Cable Street with Dock Street. Much in evidence, as with most of the irregulars, was their weapon of choice, the Classic Burp® Gun manufactured by Ack-Ack Inc of East Detroit Michigan. They had strict instructions that theirs was to be a delaying action only, there was to be no last ditch stand. When overrun they were to fall back and melt away, their job then would be to harry and slow the marchers. They were joined at the redoubt by Snowdrop in pink ballet tutu and highwayman’s peacock feathered, tricorn hat, on her unicycle, juggling flaming brands and assuming tenuous command.
In Parliament Square the Royal Marines’ Regimental Brass Band played a medley of Elgar’s more stirring tunes before a high podium and lectern that bristled with microphones. From here the Prime Minister gave yet another rousing speech, though it transpired that he would not personally be accompanying the marchers after all – prevented by an unfortunate prior engagement.
As the pro-government marchers set off, rank upon rank of black clad riot policemen in visored helmets, already rhythmically tapping their truncheons against their shields, formed up behind the band; then came paramilitary cadre units of fundamentalist Young Conservatives and public school boy volunteer brigades, uniformly equipped, at public expense, with Saturator SIG SAUE R 556s; finally the massed irregulars with Burp® guns and assorted cheap water pistols bought, en route, from a branch of Lidl Stiftung and Co. KG.
On arriving at Tower Hill, their ranks swollen by thousands of patriotic peasants with pitchforks, flaming torches and of course, Burp® guns, they encountered the East End fog. Ahead of the column appeared the dark shape of a Metropolitan Police medium range pursuit airship which, forced to fly too high above the fog bank, was to play no significant part in the day’s events. The band struck up once more and the advance into the alien maze of streets that lay beyond the walls of the great city began.
The primary barricade spanning Cable Street, constructed from iron bedsteads, pallets, up turned carts, assorted furniture and the occasional shell of a motor vehicle, being completed and topped with red flags, black flags, red and black flags, the Brick Lane Zapatistas took up their positions. Silhouetted figures armed with STR80-AK47 Aquafire combat water weapons mounted the barricades and presented clenched fisted salutes to the featureless mist. They shall not pass! ¡No pasaran!
Consuella Starcluster with the Spanish Republican flag draped across her bodice and wearing a profondo rosso Phrygian cap with the blood, pus and scab rosette of her spiritual homeland, topped the highest pinnacle.
Kronstadt Sailors under the command of Phoebles, who was wearing a saucepan on his head and which he feared may well be stuck, manned giant rubber catapults (three man bomb launchers), in a line behind the barricade, with a plentiful supply of water bombs and flour bombs.
Track had been removed for some distance north and south of Shadwell station to prevent the Government from deploying its armoured trains. Ex-miners from Wales and Nottinghamshire had come in via the back roads to avoid police roadblocks and they were to guard the sewers and underground tunnels against surprise attack.
Slates were removed from the roof of the Italianate Vestry Hall so that Ginsbergbear could take up a commanding position above the cornice with his powerful Exploderz X Ranger 1075 hydro blaster heavy machine gun. The defences were ready.
There followed a nervous pause in the preparations until, far in the distance, the defenders heard a marching band playing Colonel Bogey. It faltered and was drowned out by the cries and clamour of conflict. The anarcho-surrealists had gone into action.
To the rear, amidst the reserve troops and baggage an ex-colliery brass band responded with the Marseilles and Internationale and a small Welsh choir sang out a baritone rendition of Lloyd George Knew My Father.
The Battle in Cable Street
The marchers smashed their way through the redoubt, scattered the carnival-clad defenders and pressed on along Cable Street. If that bunch of buffoons was typical of what they were up against, today was going to be a doddle. But a few hundred yards down the road, after swatting aside several small groups of desperate surrealists throwing bread rolls from doorways and bedroom windows, the front ranks of the Nationalist column were staring into the gaping mouth of Hell. Ahead smoke curled and flames crackled. The dark mass of the barricade loomed above them. Shadowy wraith-like figures scurried across the crimson haze. A roar of defiance from the defenders filled the air and chilled the blood. A crazed harridan, bare arms stretched skywards in supplication, screeching like a harpy, wrapped in a Spanish Republican flag, topped the barrier and glared down at them with a look that could drain resolve and open bowels.
Stationed somewhat less prominently, Boz was also on the barricade, waiting for the exact moment to signal to Phoebles and the Kronstadt artillery. He was proudly wearing his best telnyashka under a flamboyantly multicoloured bum-freezer jacket and his little navy blue Kronstadt sailor hat was perched on his head. He felt that he looked pretty awesome.
A lone bugle signalled ‘Turn Out’ and Boz waved a black and white chequered flag. Down below, an infamously outspoken motoring correspondent strutted at the head of the advancing column, wearing a union jack Stetson and waving a large flag of St George. When the first salvo of bombs hit he was floored by a wobbly, water-filled condom and stepped on by a Royal Marine Trombonist. A wavy, jiggling line of helmeted riot police rushed forward, making chuff-chuff train noises, and formed a defensive barrier between the fallen and the looming presence of the barricade, they banged their shields in time to each other and shouted a deep throated, tuneful ‘Whoa-whoooooooo, whooooooooa-ha!
There was a short, aching hiatus that seemed to last forever and strained at its seams with expectation – then pandemonium erupted. There was yelling and screaming and clattering and clashing. Everyone opened up with every weapon they had, at anything they could see. Firing short accurate bursts with the X Ranger 1075 from the Town Hall roof Ginsbergbear was having a telling effect on the Nationalists, but down below in the thick of the mêlée water was flying everywhere, there was the steady pop, pop, pop of Burp® guns and flour and water were combining into a dreadful paste. The riot police shield wall parted briefly as the Territorial Forlorn Hope led by the moustachioed Mad Jack Belvoir (Bart) of the 3rd (King’s Own) Hussars, in full dress uniform and expertly wielding the finest quality plastic light sabre that Hamley’s could supply, stormed the steepest, tallest face of the barricade. Phoebles aimed a steady stream of ping-pong balls at Mad Jack and succeeded in knocking his Busby from the balding young aristocrat’s head. Zapatista grenadiers rained a devastating shower of water, flour and dough upon the attackers. The assault waivered, halted and was turned; a bedraggled Mad Jack and his decimated band of heroes limping from the battle, drooped like wet washing across the clothes line of defeat, and fell to the rear. Some tear gas had been deployed in the early stages of the conflict, and many of the defenders had donned bandanas across nose and mouth, but the gas had clung to the fog, refusing to spread and lingering close to the ground in intense isolated pockets. Hurling their bombs over the heads of the front line combatants the Kronstadt sailors could have no idea of the havoc they wrought, so at regular intervals Boz gave them a reassuring thumbs up from his vantage point on the defences.
For the moment the Women’s Institute Anarcha-Feminists were manning (a term to which Boz was sure they would object) the field hospitals, but they were armed to the teeth and eager to join the fray on the flimsiest of excuses. The ubiquitous tea urns had been set up on a conveniently located trestle table by two pacifist Quakers and a Jewish transvestite named Manny who had not wanted to endanger her expensively manicured nails in battle. Strong, sweet and vital refreshment was already steaming in stoneware pint mugs ready for a squad of volunteer urchins to distribute amongst the defenders. They also serve who only serve the tea.
La Columna was engaging Metropolitan Snatch Squads and a detachment of Eton schoolboys in nearby side streets. The boys’ Saturator SIG SAUER 556’s and La Columna’s STR80-AK47 Aquafires were pretty much equally matched, but experience was to win out and the toffs were soon to be routed. One Metropolitan Snatch Squad was captured and, with no provision for restraining prisoners, was released on a promise that they would go straight home. Elsewhere the conflict was increasingly confused and messy.
Locked in a stalemate at the barricade the Nationalists deployed their secret weapon.
“I can see them bringing up the Mounted Police Vans!”
Two vans were indeed mounted, howdah-like on the backs of enormous GM elephants, lashed firmly in place by yards of Day-Glo pink gaffer tape. Their blue lights flashed and sirens ‘nee-nawed’, but the mutant pachyderms proved as ineffectual as they were ridiculous. They quickly faltered under the Kronstadt sailors’ artillery bombardment and were rendered skittish by tear gas stinging their eyes and trunks. At this opportune moment Ferdy arrived on the scene in the Cierva C.19, screaming out of the sky, bonxie-like in a steep dive, to unleash a stick of flour bombs with devastating accuracy. Jumbo ran amuck, charging hysterically back through scattering ranks of riot police.
Sadly, autogyros do not do dive bombing, or if they do, they do it but the once. Trailing smoke and oil and popping rivets all the way, Ferdy just managed to hold it together long enough to ditch in the chill waters of Shadwell Basin.
Meanwhile, back in Cable Street, the cobbles were drenched and slippery, gutters running with those fluid residues that are the by-product of armed conflict – and a great deal of sticky doughy stuff. The Anarcho-Surrealists had regrouped and united with the Situationist and were holding their own. Scary clowns were recklessly hurling pails of confetti at the struggling attackers. Boz was checking the last few magazines for his AK47 Aquafire and observing that water was running disconcertingly low, when Phoebles pointed to a young lad with a severe limp approaching them urgently from the rear. He was being held up by Dark Flo, erstwhile barmaid and pole dancer at the Limehousesailortown Catnip Den and leading light amongst the Anarcha-Feminists.
“Talk to him. He’s gone to a lot of trouble getting here.” She left the lad with Phoebles, picked up an abandoned Burp® gun and clambered onto the barricade.
The youngster began to gabble, “Eyyup. Me owd man’s wonnert Norrin’am miners dahn int’ khazi flues.” He gave a sharp sob. His Kier Hardie cap was awry and dried blood stained his left cheek. “Them dotty Cats Sootrins, they’s bent as butchers ‘ooks them, er bin guidin’t Bobby Snatch Squads through ah tunnels, bold as brass monkeys. Bobbies is ‘ard as nails an’ armed tut teggehs an’ wezbin trundled ower int’ sewers. Yo’s gonnageh curroff an’ surroundid. Da says I gorra warn yers.”
“Good lad.” said Boz, “Phoebles, take him to the rear and get him a cuppa… make it a mug, strong and sweet. And tell everyone back there it’s time to go; we’ll hold on here for a bit longer.”
Phoebles returned just as the howling Met Snatch Squads and an angry clutch of Les Chats Souterrains emerged from the sewers. Once on the surface they assumed a nasty tight wedge of burly coppers with shields interlocked and truncheons poking out… and charged. It was a tactic that had worked well for the Roman army and had lost none of its effectiveness in the intervening years.
Boz raised one eyebrow. “I meant you to go too.”
“I know, but…”
Heavily out numbered now the defenders battled on, periodically releasing small groups to escape through the surrounding, winding alleys and passages. One catapult crew remained with a fast dwindling supply of bombs. A ski-masked mob of Anarcho-Syndicalists – from no detachment known to Boz or Phoebles – rushed on to the barricade, unsuccessfully urging others to follow and crying “No retreat – stand firm!” They planted a Confederación Nacional del Trabajo banner securely into the rubble, “Rally to the flag!”
“I thought you said no last stand?” queried Phoebles.
“I did… and I don’t know who the hell this bunch are.” Boz was shouting above the battle’s din. “I’m pretty sure they weren’t at the planning meeting.”
Despite the confusion, no one rallied. Perhaps there were too few to rally. From his rooftop vantage point Ginsbergbear could see the circle of Nationalists tightening on his comrades. Riot Police were hammering on the main doors of the Town Hall and his position would soon become untenable. It was time to go. He picked up the X Ranger 1075 and headed for the stairs.
Separated now from the few remaining defenders Phoebles and Boz were standing back to back, one magazine left in Bozzy’s AK47 Aquafire and the last two ping pong balls in Phoebles’ Burp® gun.
“Not exactly going to plan, eh, y’old bugger.” muttered Phoebles.
“Ah, but you’ve not heard my Plan B yet, pal.”
Softly the distant, tinkling notes of Die Walküre drifted on a gentle breeze that was just beginning to clear the daylong fog.
“That’ll be the Plan B where we’re unexpectedly rescued at the eleventh hour I suppose?”
Headlamps and ice-cream cones flashed as the Vicecream van, lately returned from its Scottish adventure, still sporting heavy-duty tyres and bull bars and with a newly fitted Audi turbocharged V12 diesel engine grumbling under its bonnet, careered westwards along Cable Street and burst in on the scene.
“That’s the one!” replied Boz.
With the Kittens of Chaos balanced precariously on the roof-rack lobbing a fusillade of smoking baked potatoes down onto their hapless victims – the van had also recently been equipped with a gleaming coal fired King Edward Bake-King jacket potato oven – Aunty Stella gunned the Vicecream van through the rear ranks of besiegers and slewed round to halt within inches of the lucky pair.
“More spuds, more spuds, we’re running low on ammo up here!”
“Get in… Now!” she commanded.
The duo piled through the open serving hatch.
Nationalists were all round the van and advancing up the lower levels of the barricade.
“We’ll never reach anyone else.”
Consuella Starcluster dominated the highest point on the pile. With bodice bursting to reveal her ample and heaving breasts and waving a Spanish Republican flag, she was totally surrounded by the mysterious masked Anarcho-Syndicalists and a tightening circle of Metropolitan Riot Police. And she was screeching defiance…
“¡Vare a la mierda!”
“¡A hacer puñetas!”
“¡A tomar por el culo!”
“¡Descojonarse, mearse de risa!”
Turning to look down at the euphonically Wagnerian vehicle she produced a fully loaded Saturator STR100 Lightning Strike super hand cannon from under her full skirts and proceeded to carve a swathe through her would be captors. Springing gazelle-like down the rubble she reached the Vicecream van, vaulted through the hatch and spun round to continue firing on anyone who had been stupid enough to pursue her. Aunty Stella jabbed the accelerator pedal, wheelied the van through a tyre smoking handbrake turn and was gone.
As the light began to fade and whilst flickering street lamps shone down kindly on the growling Vicecream van retreating in a puther of exhaust towards the sanctuary of suburban Essex, the encircled defenders resisted to the last atop the Cable Street barricade – but the outcome was inevitable. Kettled tightly within a wall of riot shields they were ultimately subdued and bundled into waiting Black Marias.
Next morning the Fluffy Corp. newspapers trumpeted the government’s successes. GOTCHA COMMY SCUM! Hundreds, nay thousands, of arrests had been made – crowed the tabloids – and the courts put on special alert to take the vast number of arrestees. Following on from their victory in Cable Street the Loyalist marchers had liberated the commercial wharfs, though the media did not dwell on the fact that they found the dock gates lying open with the pickets gone and braziers cold, and the ships cats curled up innocently sleeping aboard their respective vessels.
The PM arrived at Lime Grove Studios to deliver his victory speech live to the nation. He had elected to sit at a heavy oak desk, solid and reliable. What he got was cobbled together from chipboard and lengths of 4×2, but stained and grained it looked impressive on camera. Behind him union flags, quite a lot of union flags, flanked a gilt framed portrait of Saint Margaret in sky blue twinset and pearls, displaying a winning smile and clutching the legendary handbag. He wore the dress uniform of a Brigadier-General in the Grenadier Guards – with slightly too many medal ribbons – to signify the conquest of the rebellious East End, victory over subversive socialism. Mr Fluffy sat on his lap, purring and receiving an occasional limp wristed stroke to the head.
The Prime Minister had read through his speech on the Autocue and supervised the correction of a couple of typographical errors, but would never be comfortable with the mechanics of seeing the words scrolling upwards in front of him. Make-up had given him a last primp and powdered Mr Fluffy’s nose, the cat had sneezed a smallish glob of nasal fluid onto the PM’s trousers. The floor manager was standing next to the camera, counting down with her fingers… 3 – 2 – 1.
A red light came on above the Autocue and the Saviour of the Nation began to read.
“Yesterday was a great day in the history of this wondrous isle!” Mr Fluffy rubbed an appreciative head against the clinking medals. The Sound Supervisor sighed and swore quietly to himself.
“It was a day of total victory for strong governance; a triumph for patriotic zeal forged in the white heat of battle. The crushing of the pinko-insurgent mob was a vindication of our righteous indignation: our triumph a glorious manifestation of the Big Society at work…” The broadcast continued in this vain for a full forty-five minutes, unrelieved by cutaways to relevant video footage or any of the graphic devices so beloved of the modern TV News channels. Well before the Minister climaxed all but the most patriotic of viewers had wandered off to make a pot of tea and even Mr Fluffy had hunkered down and was fast asleep.
Television ENG crews waited outside the courts for the arrival of the van loads of criminal anarchists; they waited all morning. No one came.
It was lunchtime when the first posts appeared on Twitter and the first images of arrested ‘anarchists’ in ski masks flashing their warrant cards and being released were aired on YouTube. It transpired that all those arrested had been working undercover as agents provocateurs for one government agency or another – with the exception of the three Kronstadt sailors, all of whom claimed diplomatic immunity and were escorted to an Aeroflot Tupolev Tu-114 flying out of RAF Northolt for a free trip home and a hero’s welcome.
Ferdy Finds Beryl
Ferdy was a long time in the tiny orange inflatable life raft, paddling furiously for the shore. Not that it was far, but an erratic breeze was blowing his little boat all over the dock, his plastic paddle was swivelly and badly designed and mostly he was downhearted about his best present ever just sinking like that. He had watched the bubbles where the aircraft went down, rising and popping, for quite a while. Then he got cold and decided to be philosophical about the whole day. Once ashore he managed to catch an omnibus that was not only going onto the Isle of Dogs, but all the way down to Island Gardens. In fact he alighted at the North Pole… Really. It is a common alehouse on the corner of Manila Street. From here he crossed Millwall Dock at Pepper Street and then struck out across country. In Millwall there was little indication of the fog that was bedevilling the East End further north and as he approached Mud Chute Farm Ferdy could see the Dragon Rapide, a magnificent yellow Dragon Rapide in Automobile Association livery, sitting at the end of a rough, grass airstrip.
The pilot was tinkering with one of the two Gypsy Queen inline engines, but as soon as she spotted Ferdy’s flying helmet and goggles she waved and rushed towards him. She wiped some of the oil off her palm and onto her boiler suit and shook his right wing stub, vigorously.
“Beryl, Beryl Clutterbuck. And you, I am sure, are Mr Ferdinand Desai.”
Beryl was a tall and imposing presence, but Ferdy could not take his eyes of the little saffron Dragon Rapide.
“You an AA Patrolman then?”
Beryl gave him an old fashioned look.
“She was a victim of the cutbacks. When the AA scrapped their Rapid Response Unit she was put on the market at an unmissable price. Come and have a good look over her, she’s a DH89A Dominie. Those Gypsy engines produce 200 horsepower each and she can fly at 131 knots with the wind up her chuff. I’ve got a thermos flask of lapsang souchong and a packet of Duchy Originals ginger biscuits in the cockpit. Do you like ginger biscuits?” Ferdy wondered if he had died in the crash and gone to dodo heaven.
Near to the aircraft was a khaki canvas ridge tent with a pair of Lloyd Loom chairs outside, one pink and the other painted blue. There was also an ambitious Dutch dovecote on a pole, with a brass bell hanging beneath it.
“It’s the communications centre,” explained Beryl, “The pigeons are for long range messaging and the bell is to scramble the air crew – that’s you and me. We’ll whiz up to The Gun for supper and you can tell me everything that’s been going on,” she was ushering him into a shiny black Morgan V-Twin Super Sport as she chattered. The little three-wheeler shot off towards the inn, situated close by the Poplar dock and West India lock gates, famed as a venue for one or two of Nelson’s trysts with young Emma. Ferdy found the journey to be exhilarating, a bit like flying, but with his bum only twelve inches off the deck.
Much later, replete from a supper of Adnams beer battered cod fillet, tartare sauce, mushy peas and hand cut chips followed by strawberry ice cream, they returned to the tent and settled down for the night.
Soon after dawn Ferdy was woken by the brass alarm bell and the smell of cooking. The breakfast fry-ups were magnificent, rustled up on a primus and washed down by billy-can tea. But soon it was time for their mission. Ms Clutterbuck settled herself in the pilot’s seat. In the back with Ferdy were bundles of pamphlets tied up with binding twine. With a roar and a whirr the Dominie bumped and bounded along the makeshift runway, lifted lightly into the air, banked in a wide arc and headed for West London. Once in the air Beryl started to laugh, a lighthearted tinkling laugh that persisted almost all the time she was airborne. She had the side windows open and her long blonde hair writhed in the draught. Once off the ground she was a goddess.
“We’ll start over Hyde Park and the festival and then spiral outwards, make sure we cover as much territory as possible. Ferdy, you open up the bundles and begin shoving the pamphlets out as soon as were over the target.” The young bird unhinged the cabin door and placed it carefully to one side, then he cut through the twine on the first bundle with the larger of the two blades on his Victorinox Explorer. As soon as he saw the big wheel and the Steam Fair below he started scattering the flyers.
“Ha ha, fliers eh?” he shouted to the pilot.
These were not Slasher McGoogs’ usual ranting handbills; these were factual and detailed documents. The majority of the bundles revealed the contents of the Fluffy Files – Fluffy Media Inc’s extensive archive – information on the misdeeds and indiscretions of the rich, the famous, politicians, law enforcement chiefs and judges – anyone who might one day be persuaded to do the cat a favour, or be susceptible to blackmail or intimidation. Next came the photographs – telephoto images of peccadilloes and parties, liaisons, meetings and luxury holidays at exotic resorts; fuzzy smart-phone snaps of politicians, policemen, spies, media oligarchs, bikini clad Chattes Souterraines, flauschige kätzchen. Then there were bank statements detailing payments made and received, false and exaggerated claims, frauds and embezzlements. Finally the e-mails – so many e-mails – threats and cajolings, cover-ups and conspiracies, self seeking fawnings, advancements, promises and threats.
Nor were civil servants exempt, nor bank managers, local councillors, traffic wardens, nor swimming pool attendants, anyone whose lust for power had compromised his integrity, smothered any vestige of compassion; all were named and shamed. There was Mr Fluffy laid bare on the printed page – the fantasies and lies, the threats and bribes, and his dealings with Les Chats Souterrains, so tied in with their machinations that he was no more in control of his destiny than any of his victims. And finally, evidence against Slasher McGoogs himself, the catnip scam and so much more. Was this his final joke?
At the bottom of each page was the web address where every revelation could be reread and cross-referenced. Provenances were detailed, sources revealed, and all available on line with a link to Facebook.
As the last leaves fluttered down Ferdy fell back, physically exhausted, but also stunned by what he had read. Was there not one honest soul, good and true, anywhere in this blighted world?
Planning for the Peace
As Slasher McGoogs had wheedled his way into the Fluffy empire, surreptitiously plundered the archives, planned and plotted, he had also devoured works by Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta and Rosa Luxembourg. Emma Goldman wrote, A revolution without dancing is not a revolution worth having. If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming. The Grey Pimpernel found his soul mate in Niccolo Machiavelli, I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it, and, No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed from the enemy until it is ripe for execution. He read of Ché, Zapata, the Levellers and Ranters, Nestor Makhno, the Kronstadt sailors. No revolution appeared to have achieved its lofty goals. Many failed, many faltered, many seemed won yet merely replaced one tyrant with another. In William Morris’ more radical tracts he learned that he must consider first the needs of the people. There would be no support if his actions resulted in famine and deprivation. Well before triggering the struggle he must plan for the peace.
And so it was that while Cable Street blazed, in the blackest streets of Bethnal Green, Poplar, Whitechapel, Canning Town, soup kitchens sprang up – vegetarian soup, piscatarian soup, carnivorian soup – every conceivable flavour for those who love soup. And there was crusty bread. The fish fags and tagareen wives and pleasure kittens had been baking across the day and all through the night, every variety of bread that multicultural, multinational sailortown could devise. It fell biblically from the heavens. Their aerial propaganda mission done, Ferdy and Beryl took it in turns to pilot the yellow Dominie over London’s East End, laden with bakery produce, tied by string to cotton handkerchief parachutes.
For those who craved more than soup and cobs Brick Lane became a street market of curry stalls and the rival bagel shops threw open their doors. In Salmon Lane trestles down the length of the street were laden with decorative bowls of sweet and sour pork, skewered chicken satay, sticky rice, Singapore noodles. Kelly’s Eel and Pie shop in Bow had extra tables, borrowed from neighbouring households, out on the pavement. M. Bloom (Kosher) and Son Ltd set up a take away stall next to Aldgate Station giving out salt beef sandwiches with kosher mustard. And all over town humble British chippies were frying flat out to keep up with demand.
In Victoria Park a spinning, gunmetal blue, Frisbee shaped aircraft appeared, descended and parked, only slightly scorching the lawn and crushing the tricycle of a traumatised East End urchin. The occupants of the craft emerged to set up a marquee advertising Vegan food and the resulting riot led to the visitors’ hasty departure. It would appear that they eat some very strange things on the planet Vega.
In time the Toad Lane Co-operative Franchise extended its stores beyond the confines of Rochdale; Co-op general stores, clothing stores, chandlers, butchers and grocers sprang up throughout the land, owned and run by the people, for the people.
The lending libraries reopened.
At first the government ignored what was going on around them, then they denounced the perpetrators as terrorists and traitors, ultimately they surrendered to gloomy petulance. Their spin-doctors span, and Mr Fluffy’s papers and news channels screamed for retribution without reporting any of the developments that had triggered their fury. Editors began to resign. The establishment blustered, but its ramparts were crumbling and no one cared to listen. All credibility was lost. The black bottle of deception was uncorked and the lies could not be forced back within its confines. A rising tide of repressed resentment was about to break over the privileged defences of the smug and hypocritical manipulators of power.
Issuing from the basements of Bush House the World Service was reporting the nationwide awakening of which the Fluffy Empire had been so silent. Local radio and newspapers began relaying vox pop reactions to the exposés; editorials speculated about tentative first steps into a bright new world without shabby tyrants.
As the only person left in Number10 not compromised, hiding, or attempting to flee the country disguised as a washerwoman, Larry took charge.
The City, its confidence shredded and refusing all attempts at reassurance or consolation, collapsed, imploded and disappeared from the socio-political scene. The pallid, grey streets of the square mile became deserted and silent, traffic lights cycling through their colours without anyone to see or obey them; the regular stomp of the City of London bobby, the only sound; the only activity, the fluttering of pigeons evading the stooping kestrel. A chilling, lonely draught swirled the street-dust and whipped up a flurry of discarded paperwork.
Within days an Extended Royal family departed from St James’ Park in two customised X Class Super-Zeppelins, almost 700 feet of raw airpower bound for Canada and accompanied by a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III laden with a Roles-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50, two 4887cc Silver Wraiths, a Toyota Land Cruiser, a royal blue Austin Mini Moke and an extensive collection of hat boxes and suit cases filled to bursting with fine jewellery and state regalia. They were closely followed by the entire Cabinet and Mr Fluffy in a commandeered and dangerously overloaded Douglas DC3 Dakota.
Les Chats Souterrains melted back into their tunnels after first pillaging the boutique at 430 Kings Road for its punk and leather gear.
In a Limehousesailortown penthouse bedsit a 40W bare bulb hangs above an oilcloth-covered table.
Phoebles is rolling catnip spliffs, deftly, with one paw and depositing them in an old Players Navy Cut bacci tin.
Ferdy waits for a kettle to boil, a warmed pot of Russian Caravan tea ready to receive the churning water. He has piled a large number of ginger biscuits precariously onto a barely chipped floral plate.
Ginsbergbear is composing an epic poem about their latest adventure and desperately trying to rhyme ‘Tory Prime Minister’ with any synonym for ‘Capitalist Running Cur’.
Boz is slobbing within the depths of a worn and scuffed morocco leather armchair, tufts of horse-hair poking through tears in the cushion. He has been reading a well-thumbed paperback reprint of ‘Fields, Factories and Workshops: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work’, flicking through the tedious sections and seeing if it will fall open at the racier bits.
The end credits for Apocalypse Now run through on the old black and white telly, forests burn, music clangs.
Consuella Starcluster comes to the door
“There eez a phone call. Who eez goeeng eet to take?”
Boz clambers out from the belly of his armchair and goes down to the pay phone on the lower landing.
“Hello. It’s Strawberry. Googleberry’s back. Says he got locked in someone’s shed. He has a bit of a limp, but otherwise he’s fine. Working his way through his third portion of smoked salmon and some funny fish egg things he has brought back in a tin.”
All Hands to the Pumps
Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité
Consuella Starcluster, the tambourine virtuoso, and a socialist folk singer-songwriter were jamming in a far corner of the room. Snowdrop had propped up her unicycle by the door and was chatting to the Kittens of Chaos as they spontaneously rehearsed whiplash dance moves, stretching and arching and synchronising their gyrations like cheerleaders with time on their hands.
People were gathering for a post-war cabinet to be held at the site where the first sparks of Armageddon had been struck, Angel Alley. An upstairs room above the Freedom Press had been procured and all interested parties invited.
All the -ists were there, the various anarchist and communist sub sects and every shade of socialist, they all wore different hats and button-hole badges shaped like flags and all the flags were different and it did not matter, and no-one got upset. They were also all noticeably subdued after what they perceived as their poor performance during the incident in Cable Street. There were ships’ cats and dock cats and ratters and sailors and stevedores and tagareen men and thespians and jugglers and a man who pretended to be a golden statue and an ex- Lord Mayor of London called Dick. Somewhat unexpectedly, Mad Jack Belvoir was there too, in Savile Row tweeds and sporting moustaches you could skewer kebabs on. His family had always been prominent supporters of the winning side and he had rarely been one to break with tradition.
Boz and Larry were huddled in a mumbled discussion at the head of the table.
Ginsbergbear and Phoebles warmed up the gathering with a recitation of The Lion and Albert in something close to a Lancashire accent. There was general applause augmented by loud whoops and encores from Ferdy and Beryl Clutterbuck who were perched on a windowsill at the back of the room. Then Boz introduced the representative from Number 10.
Larry eyed the Trotskyites, anarcho-syndicalists and Young Communist Leaguers and scowled, though he risked a brief wink at Boz.
“We all know how much you care. No one doubts your sincerity. But we need to win over the general population, old ladies, vicars, chartered accountants – and you have been too severe. You frighten people. Try and be a bit gentler. Smoke something.”
He turned to Mad Jack, “Isn’t there somewhere you’d rather be?”
Mad Jack flashed a feint look of confusion and then recovered his normal relaxed air of feigned composure, “Actually one was considerin’ an elopement with one’s ward, the fair and only slightly underage, Priscilla. Goin’ abroad, don’t you know. One hears St Peterport is nice this time of year. If you’re sure you can cope without one’s input…”
“We’ll do our best. Off you pop. Don’t want you to miss the boat train.”
Larry took a breath, held it and turned to the general assembly, “Around us today we have a traumatised, demoralised nation and it is up to us to step up and restore its spiritual health. Limehousesailortown, the Land of Green Ginger, all the sailortowns in all the ports in all the world can be a beacon of hope, spreading their concepts of freedom, equality and co-operation to all. Show people that they do not have to spend the greater part of their time giving orders or submitting to others, imposed upon, forbidden or compelled. They can be like the sailors and cats and entertainers and crimps of sailortown. You work together tirelessly and unconsciously for a society where everyone in port, resident or visitor, consumer or supplier can have the time of their lives. And we outsiders can have it too, by embracing co-operation and liberty, minimizing constraints, nurturing the vulnerable, setting happiness and fun on the highest of pedestals and nailing the wizened hearts and brains of the bullies to the doors of their banks and institutions. In our private lives we don’t need truncheons and handcuffs to get our way,” there was muffled giggling amongst the Kittens of Chaos and Consuella Starcluster had a severe coughing fit, “We discuss and persuade and argue and shout and sulk and slam doors and make up and compromise and grope our way towards mutual agreement.” At the mention of groping, following so closely on from the reference to handcuffs, one of the Kittens collapsed to the floor braying with unrestrained laughter. She vomited – only slightly – and had to be carried outside for some fresh air. Larry pressed on, “We get our way by getting on together; we do what we enjoy and what we’re good at; and sometimes what we don’t enjoy, because someone has to do it and it might as well be us. A new day is dawning and it is time to spread the word. Now, go out and play. But play nicely.”
For the thalassophobic townspeople, Sailortown had always been dangerous and scary and perhaps it still was, a little bit. But winkles were spreading into the suburbs and no one had the will to stop them. Limehousesailortown did not change, of course, but the world about did – and people were constantly surprised and pleased and sometimes amazed.
Larry kept on the policeman at the door of Number 10; the tourists liked him and he could live at Number 11 with his wife and children, which was handy for work.
Phoebles was made editor in chief of the independent, Limehousesailortown based broadsheet ‘International Catnip Times’ – valued as the finest fish and chip wrapping of any mainstream paper and, in the Jubilee Year of 2012, awarded the Étoile D’or at the Fishmongers’ Guild Summer Gala – which, drifting away only minimally from its 1960s underground roots under his editorship, promoted the etiquette, and social and personal efficacy of catnip consumption.
Bozzy’s catnip franchise spread out of dockland and into a grateful and receptive world at large.
Ginsbergbear won the Man Booker Prize for his writing, because all the other nominees let him.
Ferdy took the Dragon Rapide home to Surrey and gave aerobatic displays at country fairs, slowly amassing sufficient funds to set up Silvertown (International) Airways.
Googleberry got his ice cream.
And everyone could have lived happily ever after. Except that the Merovingian Lizard Kings were still in their mountain stronghold, Les Chats Souterrains still occupied the tunnel system that honeycombs the earth’s crust and Mr Fluffy still harboured a plan.