The Cabinet Room

Larry sat at the head of a long table that took up much of the cabinet room in Number 10. The gang were seated along its length. Barrymore was pouring out shots of Havana Club at the very cocktail cabinet after which, so it was said, the room had been named. It was all 1950s Formica and mirror glass on spindly legs.

“Rum for the boys,” said Barrymore, “and what will you girls be wanting?”

“A Mah-Jongg cocktail for me, please,” said Flo.

“Ooh, what’s in one of those?” asked Beryl.

“Dry gin, white rum and Curaçao.”

“Oh yeh, I’ll have one of those too.”

“Tiger beer for me please,” said Lady Augusta, “And Zelda will have a dandelion and burdock.”

The young punk sighed, “But…”

“Small sherry please,” said Aunty Stella, “I’ve things to do this afternoon.”

“Now,” said Larry, “let’s get down to business. Situation reports please.”

Boz coughed, “The counter revolution has collapsed. The Yanks are somewhat averse to failure, particularly spectacularly embarrassing and public failure. Following on from the Überkatzen disaster the Multinationals have withdrawn funding from the British Government in Exile. There will be no more trouble from that quarter. Consuella and the Kittens will shortly be returning from Jersey, by air.”

“Les Chats have remained conspicuously inconspicuous since their ticking off,” said Lady Augusta. “I think now would be a good time to take Zelda home and for me to return to Shambhalla.”

“Looks like you can go back to not being in charge, Mr Acting Prime Minister,” said Flo.

Larry gave a satisfied sigh.

As the pals sat back, tucked into their drinks and wondered if biscuits would be arriving any time soon there came an edgy whistle from outside. They crowded the windows in time to see a fireball glowing emerald green and gouging a smoke trail across the sky. As it passed there was the double bang of a sonic boom and the whistle tone dropped an octave. Soon after the object passed beyond the horizon there was a momentary intense white flash that cast deep, sharp shadows even within the cabinet room and, some seconds later, a dull rumble like distant thunder.

“What now?” asked Larry.

*

The good ladies of Maldon clustered at the landward end of Northey Island’s tidal causeway. A sudden shockwave had shattered windowpanes, dislodged roof tiles and chimney pots in their town and a disgruntled deputation had marched to the source of the explosion. Many carried infants within the folds of their shawls, most were knitting ganseys for their men folk as they surged forwards. At the far end of the causeway a menacing assemblage of junkyard scrap metal crafted into the form of a humanoid robot stood sentry, gleaming chrome-like in the watery Essex light, Behind it a freshly ploughed crater still glowed dimly and smoked. The mayor’s wife pushed through the crowd and stepped onto the narrow land bridge. A small creature dressed in a silvery space suit with a bubble helmet approached from the island.

“Now look here. Someone’s going to have to pay for all our broken windows.”

“Madam, we have come to negotiate the retrieval of a long lost artifact, whose power is beyond your comprehension. Take me to your leader.”

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Shad Thames

The Anchor Tap nestles between towering warehouses in Shad Thames, a corner pub on a cobbled street criss-crossed by walkways two storeys or more overhead. Inside, the furniture is distressed, the shabby décor predominantly faded blues, and the floor is bare boards. The cockney barmaid welcomed them with practiced bonhomie. Slasher got a round in for the ship’s company by way of thanks to the Kronstadt sailors. Somewhere round about the second pint the sailors began to sing, the gang relaxed into an alcoholic reverie and Barrymore walked into the saloon bar.

“Barrymore! How did you know we were here?” asked Boz.

“She would,” said McGoogs.

“It’s my job to know,” Barrymore replied. She stood, paws on hips. Her bottle-green cap and blazer were causing something of a stir amongst the stevedores and seafaring clientele of the dockside hostelry; mainly on account of their doing nothing to hide her silky, long, bronze and buff with a touch of red legs, her furry buttocks, or elegantly curved tail. Grabbing a bentwood chair she turned it to face her and straddled it. A collective sigh spun round the saloon bar.

“Finish your drinks. Larry wants to see all of you, pronto.”

“All of us?”

“Not the Ruskies, just you reprobates,” Barrymore gave an apologetic nod towards Augusta, “And you and your Tibetan if you’d be so kind, your ladyship.” She picked up the nearest pint and downed it in one, ushered the company out into the street, put her fingers to her lips and gave a long piercing whistle that started low, rose dramatically and ended in a baroque twiddle. With a purring of its vectored thrust Stanley steam-turbine aero-engines Larry’s dirigible runabout manoeuvred overhead, came to a halt and dropped a rope ladder.

“Not another ladder,” exclaimed Ferdy. “Can’t we take the tube?”

Slasher McGoogs melted quietly into the shadows and was gone.

“The underground is not running,” replied Larry’s factotum. “Up you go. One at a time.” She was last up.

“There’s a selection of single malts in the cocktail cabinet,” she said as she made her way to the empty flight deck and took the helm. Boz appeared in the doorway.

“How do you do that?”

“What?”

“Control this airship from the ground.”

“Confidence.”

Before long they were standing in Downing Street.

“Evening all.” The policeman on duty outside the gloss black door with its brass number ten below the Georgian shell fanlight nodded to Barrymore and directed the party inside. Larry was at his imposing mahogany desk in the old Cabinet Room.

“Can you rustle up a pot of Earl Grey for eight, Barrymore? And perhaps some scones?”

Barrymore gave Larry a reproving glance and left. After a few minutes she returned with a tray, perched her bum on a corner of the desk and poured out nine delicate china cups of builders tea, including one for herself.

“It’s PG. Scones are just coming, there’s only raspberry jam I’m afraid.”

“London seems very quiet,” observed Boz.

“Evacuated. Les Chats have overrun the underground. We’ve tried to board up as many stations as possible. Limehousesailortown is so cosmopolitan quelques Chats more or less makes no difference and it’s business as usual on Ratcliff Highway. But much of the city is deserted. Fortnum’s is locked up and the staff have left town.” Larry whimpered. “I don’t feel I’m in control any more.”

“You never were,” said Ginsbergbear.

Palmerston of the F.O.

larry-and-palmerston“Aunty Stella and her gang of cats are going down to raise a Revolutionary Insurrectionary Territorial Militia for the defence of the Jurassic Coast. We can’t leave the mainland undefended; this Jersey thing might just be a diversion. The Hampshire Light Horse are mobilising and I’ve had an e-mail to say the Snake Pass Zapatistas are moving west to secure the Manchester Ship Canal.” Barrymore was sitting in mock formality before Larry’s ginormous desk whilst he idly picked tuna from between his teeth. “The Limehouse Irregulars and Brick Lane Zapatistas have assumed responsibility for the docks so we should be OK at home. The rest is down to Bozzy’s counter invasion fleet. Oh, yes… There is however an uncorroborated report that the US Navy Sixth Fleet has been observed leaving the Mediterranean.”

“That can’t be good.”

Larry’s phone rang.

“Switchboard here. I have a call from Humphrey.” Humphrey had been the incumbent mouser at Number 10 some time prior to Larry’s arrival. Following his sudden disappearance and rumours of assassination he was found to have retired to a recently modernised, twelve bedroom, thatched cottage in Chipping Norton.

“Put him through.”

“Larry? It’s Humph here. Look, I was down the Chequers the other night, having a few bevvies and a fish supper, catching up with some old mates from Downing Street. All the talk was about Palmerston of the FO. I thought you should know he’s concocting some sort of leadership challenge.”

Barrymore had been listening in.

“I’ll send the PC next door to collect Palmerston.” The policeman, whose arduous duty was to stand outside the door of No10 looking stern, had been retained by Larry, though the post was, in this age of liberty, predominantly ceremonial.

“Bugger! As if I don’t have enough on my plate. Well, thanks Humphrey. I’ll have to pop over to your local some time. If this job gets any more stressful I’ll be considering retirement myself.” Larry had no sooner rung off than…

“Evenin’ all. ‘Ere ‘e is, sir.” P.C.69 had coughed politely before speaking.

Palmerston, as ever, wore his Colonial Officers’ tropical uniform, complete with Marlborough helmet and Generals’ swan’s feather plumes. The hat was askew and the overall effect tempered by the fact that the tuxedo cat was dangling by his scruffed neck from the copper’s densely muscled hand.

“A leadership challenge? Now? Really?” Larry asked. Palmerston continued to dangle.

“This Jersey affair should be handled by the Foreign Office. You are exceeding your authority. We have…” Palmerstone began, only to be cut short by Larry.

“I can’t exceed my authority, I have no authority. Neither do you. Let me explain. Outside, now!”

When Larry returned to his office he was carrying his union jack bow tie, the elastic had snapped, dusting the street grime from his second best suit and pulling a paw through his ruffled fur.

“He’ll be back. But it’ll be a while before he can blow his nose without it smarting.”

Barrymore experienced a Machiavellian moment.

“Why don’t you make him Governor General of Jersey? We could parachute him in. All the indications are that we are going to fail big-time out there. Let him cop the blame.”

“I know it makes sense. But I’m a cat and we’re all notoriously possessive. This is my disaster. It has my urine all over it and no jumped up Battersea foundling in a daft hat is going to take it from me. He’s going to have to find his own colonial war.”

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Slasher’s Plan

Corsair Destroyer of WorldsA thick, aromatic fug obscured much of the interior, a fug almost dense enough to muffle the jangling, stannic notes of Sam playing Jelly Roll Blues on an open fronted upright. Entering deeper into Bozzy’s Bohemian Babel and adjusting slowly to the atmosphere Larry discovered Phoebles doing duty behind the bar.

“You’re not the regular bar staff. Where is Dark Flo?” Larry coughed as a swirl of sweet smelling smoke diverted from its random meandering to insinuate his left nostril. A feeling of unaccustomed light heartedness came over him, “Is Mr Boz in?”

Phoebles wiped a tumbler with a corner of his apron, “Flo’s on her hols I suppose. And…”

“…Boz is over there,” announced Barrymore as she strode towards the front bar. Sam’s playing rose to a crescendo.

Boz was sitting at his favourite table in the bay window, affording a comprehensive view of activity within the den and the pavement outside. He was with Ginsbergbear who’s Peterson appeared to be responsible for most of the surrounding smog and, as it seeped out through a fanlight above the door, for a hint of gothic noir in gaslit Narrow Street. Barrymore pulled out a chair for Larry and then seated herself opposite Boz, elbows on the table and glaring uncomfortably closely into his face.

“OK, let’s have it. Dark Flo doesn’t take holidays. And you and your gang aren’t the sort to sit around doing nothing while an adventure is unfolding.”

Boz gazed innocently back at her. “We’ve been a bit worried about Ferdy and the Kittens. They would appear to be lost in the thick of all that mayhem in the Channel Islands. Have you heard about the invasion then?” One eyebrow raised as he tilted his head inquisitively.

“C’mon. Give me more.”

“Oh… OK… Slasher wanted you two kept out of the loop for as long as possible. He and Flo have gone up north to talk to the pirate king, Rotskagg Blenkinsopp. Alongside the Kronstadt Coastal Patrol he sees the Corsairs as our only hope of successfully fighting back. Cod knows how he finds things out, but he says the Corsairs are upgrading The Destroyer of Worlds. They’re fitting banks of von Ohain HeS1 turbojets in the hope of getting her back up as a GEV, that’s a ground effect vehicle,” he added helpfully, “and replacing the missile tubes with six sawn off Japanese Type 94 naval guns. Big bangs, not too much accuracy.”

Larry slid down in his chair. “So we do have a plan. Can we go home now?”

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Refugees From Sark

Whilst beyond the storm tossed Channel the forces of repression advanced inexorably across the verdant interior of beleaguered Jersey, in a sumptuous office at the heart of England’s capital three bedraggled figures stood, stooped and spiritually broken before a vast mahogany desk. They were dressed in ill fitting white roll-neck submariners’ jumpers, dungarees and plimsolls donated by charitable sailors, crew of the Coastguard armed trawler that had plucked them from the sea off Brighton pier after intercepting their dangerously overcrowded pedalo. They wrung their knitted woollen beanies in their gnarled hands.

“Coping with the whims of our feudal Seigneur was tough enough in the Tyranny of Sark, but this King Emperor is threatening our livelihoods. He inflicts burdensome taxes, criticises our architecture and imposes farming methods unsuited to our tiny island. We have risked all to escape. You must do something to help us.”

Larry tried to look compassionate as he faced them across the desk.

“Actually I don’t have to do anything. That is the point. I am the temporary, acting, titular head of state in a federation of autonomous anarcho-surrealist collectives. My job is to do nothing.

“I am, of course fully aware of the invasion and of your plight. I have formulated a plan, a plan so secret that none but my trusted aide even guess at its existence.”

Barrymore entered with a tray of scalding hot mugs of cocoa, smoothly gliding across the carpet on Rookie Retro V2 roller skates. As she skidded gracefully to a halt before placing her tray on the desk Larry leaned over and whispered in her pointed tortoiseshell ear:

“Do I have a plan yet, Barrymore?”

“No sir, you do not. I have refuelled the dirigible runabout and would respectfully suggest we make an excursion to Limehousesailortown.” She turned to the Sarkees, “I’ll get someone to take you down to the kitchens. You must be famished.”

Barrymore adjusted the elevator wheel and Larry’s runabout gently descended from sunshine into the clouds below. The ever-present Vwoooh given off by the churning propulsion blades changed pitch ever so slightly, the Stanley Steamer aero-engines chuffed reassuringly and, as condensation began to form on the observation ports, she switched on the windscreen wipers.

Shortly they broke out of the cloud and the silver ribbon of Limehouse Reach sparkled up at the airship. Barrymore blew sharply into a speaking tube and the resulting shrill whistle was answered with a, “Huh?”

“We’ll be there in five minutes, Mr Prime Minister. Do you want me to fetch Boris up or are you planning to visit that den of iniquity in person?”

“Take her down and anchor as close to the shore as you can manage. We’ll take the launch in.”

Larry stood in the bow of their tiny inflatable while Barrymore rowed. Once alongside and with the craft moored to a handy pile, he scrambled up a precarious vertical ladder to the balcony at the rear of Bozzy’s Catnip Den and marched unannounced through the French windows into the lounge. Barrymore scurried to catch up.

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The Brass Band Competition

Brass Band Competition SOutside, a stretch of lawn had been cleared, and groups of bandsmen were polishing their instruments, shaking out the accumulated spittle and setting up music stands. Each Brass Band was similarly uniformed, somewhat like bus-conductors, with peaked caps, but distinguished by colour. There were mills’ bands in maroon or navy, miners’ bands in scarlet, charcoal or green, and a Sergeant Pepper tribute in shimmering pink, yellow, sky-blue and crimson satin.

The SPZ and Brick Lane Zapatista Massed Marching Mariachi were on the brink of being disqualified for not being Traditional and were being defended vociferously by Themoonband Megadeath Morris, already barred on account of not remotely resembling a brass anything. The resultant loud squabbling had drawn a crowd. Eventually it was agreed that the trumpet section from the Massed Mariachi along with a small contingent of buglers from the West Surrey Mounted Makhnovchina could compete, but there were to be strictly no guitarrón mexicano or fiddles.

Unseen behind one of the moot hall’s open windows, and with his back to it so that he would not be influenced or prejudiced by any prior knowledge regarding the contestants, the competition adjudicator sat waiting to pass judgement on each performance. The order of play was determined by the drawing of lots from a venerated cloth cap, donated by Keir Hardie himself in times gone by – and, after much fumbling and faffing, the competition was under way.

By the third rendition of Mull of Kintyre Phoebles was becoming fidgety and Boz had dozed off. He woke with a start as the Zapatista Mariachi launched into The Birdie Song. Their chances of winning were looking slim, but Snowdrop was wolf whistling and shouting “Encore!” While he slept they had been joined by Anna and Bui. Aunty Stella was there too, having changed from her Subcommandante’s uniform into denim jeans and a salmon-red and black bee-striped fuzzy jumper. She had Googleberry with her and he had acquired a large Italian ice-cream cone.

“Some foreign chap with a black eye was giving them away before they melted, from a Galatia tricycle with a bent wheel and defunct freezer. Looked like it’d been blown apart by a minor explosion.”

As the competition results were announced over the Tannoy system there was loud applause from the crowd, and some grumbling from the competitors.

“Look. Over there.” Ferdy had spotted Barrymore striding jauntily towards them across the green. She was beckoning furiously for them all to meet her half way.

“Larry wants every one out front of the main stage as soon as you’re finished here. Who won?”

Phoebles shrugged, “That bunch with the tubas and trombones and stuff, I think. Or that other lot with trumpets and French horns and a drum. Or maybe…”

“Never mind.”

Behind them a fight had broken out. Two bandleaders were at war over the competition trophy, grasping a handle each and tugging in opposite directions. More and more bandsmen joined in, swinging their instruments like halberds.

“Jocks awaaaah!”

There was a sudden surge as a wave of screaming Reivers and wildcats plunged into the fray. And then, scattering combatants in all directions, Rotskagg Blenkinsopp was in the midst with an ululating Dark Flo balanced precariously on his shoulders.

“Someone is going to get hurt,” said Barrymore. As Boz and Co watched the spreading mayhem the Ranters moved in.

“Peace and love, man.”

“Group hug.”

“Karma.”

Ducking fists the Ranter menfolk distributed flowers and spliffs. Girls, wriggling in between the grappling factions, handing out catnip mooncakes and kisses, began to calm the situation. As the violence subsided Rotskagg and Flo emerged from the crowd.

“Well that ended a bit disappointingly,” she said to Boz, “Blenkinsopp and I barely got started. Who are those hippie kill-joys?”

Barrymore resumed, “Larry. Main stage. All of you. Don’t hang about too long. Oh, and Mr Boz, Larry says someone has to pay for that airship he lent you. Have any of you seen Slasher McGoogs. The acting PM would like a word with him too.”

Googleberry started to whistle innocently, which is not easy with a mouth full of ice-cream.

“Not really his kind of scene, this,” said Boz, “Doubt we’ll see anything of him today.” He tried to put a conspiratorial arm upon Barrymore’s shoulder, but couldn’t quite reach that high. “Erm… About that airship…” he almost whispered.

The APD Airship of State

APD Airship of StateWow man, like…

That Larry, he’s the man. That’s some pad he’s got. And we talked… and drank… and smoked… and drank… and ate… Those mooncakes… out of this world. Some quality catip in the mix. Bet Barrymore made them. Not much she can’t get hold of.

Sky. I can see the sky. Sky’s all around?   Wow!

[Ginsbergbear wakes, or ‘comes down’ as some would say, on the upper observation deck of the Airship of State, beneath a geodetic Plexiglas dome. We will discover why he is there before too long.]

Woah! Sky up ahead. Sky up above. And fluffy clouds… And birds. I like birds. But what’s that behind me? Behind me there’s… funnels. Big bronze smoking smokestack funnels And this is? A spiral staircase… that goes… Wayhay! Down and… down and… down and…

Round and… round and… round and… round and…

The gang were gathered in The Airship of State’s sumptuous lounge. Boz, Slasher and Phoebles were huddled in a circle of light-weight armchairs discussing McGoogs’ plan, Ferdinand was studying the Scotland double page spread in The New Pictorial Atlas of the World, Odhams Press Ltd., 1926 Edition, and Barrymore was doing something mildly erotic with a cocktail shaker whilst chatting to Wing-Comrade Polly Karpova. Polly had been overseeing the tethering of her crimson warbird within the dirigible’s midships aircraft hangar, before coming forward and joining the others.

“Woah-haaay!” There was a protracted rumbling bumping sound and a bear rolled out from the bottom of a spiral staircase to halt with a thud against the leg of a coffee table.

“Mr Bear, how good of you to join us.” Barrymore and Ms Karpova advanced sinuously upon Ginsbergbear, the contents of their uniforms animating the coarse fabric like eels in a flour-sack. Barrymore proffered a glass containing a raw egg, Worcester sauce, Tabasco, vinegar, and a generous measure of Balkan vodka. “This will pep you up.”

Ginsbergbear took the glass and drank the contents without looking. His eyes opened wide, then opened wider. “Ay carajo! That smarts – what is it, distilled aviation fuel?”

Barrymore smiled and patted his shaggy head. Polly sashayed over to the others and collapsed into a vacant Lloyd Loom armchair next to Phoebles. She swung her army booted feet onto the intricately inlaid rosewood coffee table, flashing bare legs and thighs smooth as a barrister, taut as banjo strings. She removed her officer’s cap and dropped it on the deck, copper-red hair cascading about her shoulders. As she lounged back her jacket fell open to reveal a body hugging, telnyashka-striped, thermal teddy. Suddenly the temperature in the cabin felt uncomfortably warm and sweat began to form on Bozzy’s brow.

“So gentlemen,” she purred, “What have you in store for us?”

Ferdy joined them, still holding on to his atlas; his dodo cool untouched by the provocative antics of the young air ace, “We’re going north from Carlisle, following the A7 deep into Reiver territory. Larry has lent us the Airship of State in the hope that it will impress the natives. We are wholly and deliberately unarmed so let’s hope he is right.”

The SL102 Airship of State was Britain’s most impressive dirigible, 978 feet long, with a polished aluminium skinned canopy embellished with bronze tracery and powered by four 1200 horse power in-line Stanley Steamer aero-engines with a funnel each.

“Our destination is Gilnockie Tower, ancestral seat of the Gilnockie of Gilnockie. He is nominally the Reiver Head Honcho and has agreed to meet us to discuss an acceptable way out of the current impasse. That’s if The Kittens haven’t already set the Lowlands ablaze.”

Ferdy paused as Polly took a catnip roll-up from the tin that Phoebles was offering round. She struck a Swan Vesta on the hobnailed sole of her boot and set light to the end of the spliff.

“And I don’t get to shoot anyone?”

“Not unless the whole exercise turns to cold custard,” interjected Slasher McGoogs. “But if we find ourselves up to our bum holes in angry crocodiles you’re the only hope we’ve got.”