I wrote this short story in my hut on a rainy afternoon a couple of years ago. Recently I recorded it and sent to my old friend Ashley Cadell in Melbourne Australia. He added the background music and produced the final product. To listen just click the link below.
Jamming with musicians at The Moonshadow in Tucker, Georgia USA in 2017. An extended improvisation of Scene Red anti war song An All American Boy.
What happened when Harri Boy Rogers and Friends under the pseudonym Scene Green got on stage at the Get Off The Grid Festival at Union County Showground, Hemptown, Blairsville, North Georgia USA. Includes live audio recording of the gig.
Episode Four. Poetry at Java Monkey then on to Get Off The Grid festival at Blairsville.
A short memoir of my first afternoon in Candler Park, Atlanta, Georgia.
THE RETURN OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON
A Fairy Tale
Thence, beyond this time, a vengeful orange coloured king with yellow hair named Oswald ruled his people with a heavy hand. The unhappy people spent their lives devising ways to make the king feel happy because in that way he might be persuaded to turn his attention to those from other countries whom he also frightened. King Oswald lived in a fortress with wife Queen Emeralda, two sons, Prince Victor and Prince Wyn and daughter, Princess Lusha.
Every person in the land secretly hated Oswald but were too scared to do anything about it. Even his wife could no longer find anything to love about him. Queen Emeralda knew enough to always wear a painted smile when ever Oswald looked in her direction. Prince Victor adopted the same traits as his father, listened to nobody, believed he was as big a genius as King Oswald professed himself to be. Prince Wyn, however, read books and understood the needs and the feelings of the people.
One day King Oswald overheard Prince Wyn speaking with Princess Lusha in the garden.
‘I wish I knew how to make our father behave better towards our subjects. He is cruel and everywhere I go people are sad and poor. If I were king I would change things. I have ideas from old manuscripts I found in the crypt below the fortress. Lusha, there is a better way, Life was once so much happier.’
‘How do you mean happier?’ asked the princess.
‘In the days before our grandfather there was a golden dragon who filled the world with peace and wisdom, all the peoples of the planet loved each other.’
‘What happened?’ she asked.
‘The dragon was summoned to another galaxy where there was much trouble and strife. He left our kind grandfather in charge and all was well until his death when our father took over and brought cruelty into the role of kingship.’
King Oswald became angry, his skin turned a deeper shade of orange than usual. He sprang out of hiding and shouted at his son,
‘How dare you speak of me, your father, your one true king, in such a disrespectful manner. I am minded to have you locked away in a cold dark dungeon for the rest of your life.’ He looked around and bellowed
‘Guards, guards, come here immediately.’
Two royal guards rushed forward and the king ordered them to seize the young prince. Princess Lusha began to cry as she loved her brother dearly and she said,
‘Please don’t lock Wyn up father, I beg you, let him free.’
The king looked at his daughter, then at the young prince and he said,
‘This is your punishment, I banish you from this kingdom, you shall be transported to the other side of this world where you must stay, never to return. Guards, take him to the harbour, put him on the next ship with the other deportees.’
As the guards took Prince Wyn away, Princess Lusha thanked her father for being merciful.
Life continued under King Oswald’s rule. The people became more miserable as the King extracted larger taxes. Oswald enjoyed starting wars just for the sake of being able to boast about how powerful he was, but, of course, he was not a warrior, as he quickly pointed out, being so intelligent and clever he could not be put into harms way because the people could not do without him. He organised gigantic displays of his might and power with grand parades and colourful tournaments in his honour that everyone in the land were ordered to attend.
After six months Prince Wyn arrived in the most inhospitable land in his fathers territory. The captain unceremoniously discharged him from the prison ship with only the clothes he stood up in, no money, and a gold ring in the shape of a winged dragon given to him by his grandmother at birth. Eventually he found poorly paid work as a stable lad and lodged with the horses. This suited him as he loved animals. By day he looked after a team of large horses used for dragging logs out of the forest. One night he dreamt as he slept on a straw pally ass. A golden dragon appeared and said,
‘Prince Wyn, you must go into the world and let the people know that I am returning. I am a long way away at present but will be back and I need a good person to prepare for my homecoming. Nearby you will find a boat builder called James Butt. Seek him out. Ask him to build a special boat to take you home. Show him the ring I gave your grandmother that sits on your finger. He will build you the finest dragon boat ever seen. You must sail home, stand in the square outside the fortress and read out a prophecy that you shall have written.’
‘Will you be there?’ The Prince asked.
‘No but I will send a sign and all will start to change for the better before I arrive.’
The dream ended and Prince Wyn awoke with sweat on his brow. The next morning he set off to seek out the boat builder. After two days he came to a small bay with a single whitewashed stone cottage, a pile of lobster pots, a dinghy, and a large open sided barn with a slipway down to the sea at one end. Beneath the barn he spied a wooden bench covered with wood working tools and paint brushes and large hunks of pungent oakum. A sign nailed above the door said James Butt, Master Shipwright. A broad man emerged from behind the lobster pots and said,
‘Who you be?’
‘I am Prince Wyn and I have been asked to command that you build me a boat.’
‘Asked to command have you? Well I don’t takes a lot of notice of commands, I only builds what I wants to build and when I wants to build. Why should I build for you?’
The Prince was about to reply when the man’s eyes fell upon the glinting golden dragon ring as the Prince held his hand out. He immediately took the young Prince, clasped him in a powerful embrace and said,
‘I’ve been expecting you for some considerable time, at last we can gets away from the madness. Come inside, I have crab and lobster and fresh made bread a plenty, we have much to talk about before I starts the work.’
The shipwright worked diligently for three months and Prince Wyn helped where he was needed. In between times he wrote the prophecy. Eventually they launched the boat. The clinker built boat stood proud and sleek made from the finest juniper and cedar woods, and at the prow James had carved a magnificent dragon’s head and neck covered in sheets of gold leaf. Two giant rubies in the eye sockets radiated a bright red light. All was ready, they toasted each other’s fine work with cups of mead. Prince Wyn carefully rolled up the vellum scroll on which he had written the prophecy and tucked it into his shoulder bag.
‘Come to my homeland James, I may need help with navigation, and besides, I like your company very well.’ said Prince Wyn.
“No I have much to do here, you will not need me now, the boat has magic properties, the Dragon Eyes will guide you home, all you need to do is let it lead you over the waves. Tarry no more young man, you have work to do.’
Once more they embraced and the Prince clambered aboard the boat. No sooner had he sat down at the stern when a strong wind blew up and the boat sailed across the bay. Prince Wyn turned and waved at the shipwright on the jetty.
The boat ploughed through the waves at incredible speed. The Prince arrived back to the harbour after only three and half months. A few merchants and sailors stood on the quayside as the dragon boat sailed into the harbour and drew up alongside King Oswald’s Royal mooring. The small crowd immediately gathered alongside the magnificent craft and marvelled at the strange light shining from the eyes. Prince Wyn threw a rope to one of the sailors, pushed a gangplank out, and sprang ashore. He spoke in a steady voice,
‘I am Prince Wyn, I bring a message for the people, follow me to the square outside the main gate to the royal fortress.’
A buzz of conversation spread amongst the crowd as Prince Wyn headed purposefully up the lane from the harbour towards the fortress. A few young sailors ran ahead spreading the word that something important was about to happen. By the time he arrived many people had gathered and the noise level rose as more came running to hear what he had to say.
King Oswald sat in his counting room with a Cappuccino as his Chancellor read out the latest figures from the treasury. Suddenly he heard a large cheer from outside, and he turned to look down into the square. He saw the large crowd and immediately ordered the royal guards to disperse the unauthorised gathering. He dismissed the Chancellor and hurried to the balcony in his main chamber that overlooked the square.
Prince Wyn stood on the steps outside the Fortress with a crowd of more than three hundred gathered at his feet. The royal guard marched out of the fortress and observed the Prince as he unfurled his scroll. The crowd fell silent and he began to read in a clear voice,
‘Herewith find the prophecy of the return of the Golden Dragon. At first there will appear in the distance afar, a small twinkling bright shiny golden star. No one will recognise this portentous sign, nor realise how blindingly bright it will shine. As it gets closer there will be panic and fear and nobody will know what’s about to appear. Flying serenely on high, way, way up above, shimmering, sun like, with peace and with love. The richest, deepest, darkest, crimson most red is found at the very centre point of the heart. This is what makes it the true colour of love. The flickering flames tinged with the colour of love will spill with a terrifying sound from the Dragons golden lips and sweep majestically across the green swards of the land, bringing the return of the very sweetest form of peace, where all the varied flags and pennants across the world will bow down in obeisance before the highest golden standard flying. When all the women and children in the world will stop cease to weep and cry, when all men will lay their weapons down and all people shall join together hand in hand in hand, when all endeavour shall be turned towards the purification of the oceans, the cleansing of the air and the healing of the land. Then shall we know that the new age of the Golden Dragon has arrived and the beginning of the end of the misunderstood days of mistake has started and the making of true civilisation will, at last, have begun. Thus will be that great magical day when we behold that mystical beast imbued triumphantly with the strongest powers of peace and of love. Then shall we behold the true magnificence of The Golden Dragon. Thus prophesy I, Prince Wyn, true servant and devotee of the bringer of happiness, peace and love.’
The crowd cheered mightily whilst King Oswald stood on the balcony becoming angrier by the second, so angry that his skin turned the colour of a tangerine. He rushed to the sill of the balcony and screamed at the Guards,
‘Arrest him, arrest him, he is a traitor and a false prophet, it’s all lies, there is no truth in what he says, the words he uses are fake, it’s all fake.’
The guards looked at him and then back at the crowds, many of whom they knew as their friends and family. They stood their ground and disobeyed the Kings orders. King Oswald, apoplectic with rage, shouted again,
‘I am your king, you must obey, seize the traitor and bring him in to me now.’
At that moment there began a total eclipse. The planet’s largest moon swiftly moved in front of the sun. The crowd fell silent.
King Oswald, dumbfounded, knew this was clearly a significant omen. At the moment of totality the people looked up into the dark sky and there they saw a twinkling speck of gold and they knew that the horrible years of austerity were almost at an end. King Oswald was no fool, he ran inside the fortress, tried to persuade his wife that they had to leave now or else something terrible would befall them, but she refused and told him that if he left now he would have to go alone, only Prince Victor stood by him and together they rode out of the servants entrance behind the fortress never to be seen again. Rumour had it that they lived in a deep impenetrable forest where they raised pigs for the rest of their lives. Prince Wyn called Queen Emeralda and Princess Lusha onto the steps as the moon moved across from the sun and the light flooded back into the world, and the people cheered as he embraced them both.
The Golden Dragon duly arrived one month later, to a forest of ancient flags and pennants that the people had been saving for just such a day. The people elected Prince Wyn as the new president after it was decided that there would never be a royal family ever again, and, as far as is known, there never has been since. The whole world lived forever and a day in perfect harmony.
1944 had one hell of a summer. Greenwich was one of those London boroughs that got a right pasting from the German bombing raids and the local mortuary in St Alphege’s passage was much busier than it had been for a couple of years. This was largely due to the introduction of the doodle bug, Hitler’s flying bomb. I guess you could say that they were the forerunners of the modern day drones, in that they were unmanned aerial vehicles. The people hated to hear the high pitched whine of the doodle bug engine because they knew that somebody was likely to die or, at the very least, get seriously injured in a short space of time.
Johnny Clemence was the attendant at the St Alpheges Field Mortuary and he had been working non stop for 36 hours solid. He decided he would go for a beer in his favourite pub, The White Hart, in Crooms Hill. It was not the closest boozer to the mortuary but it served the best beer in Greenwich by far and that was important in such times of austerity. He was careful not to waste his few shillings of beer money on rubbish and this was just a matter of common sense to him. He walked into the small public bar and there, sat in the bay window, was his best pal Lonnie Manchester. Johnny and Lonnie had grown up together, served in the First World War together and had worked as lighter-men on the Thames until the end of the 1930’s. They were such mates that people used to think they were brothers in their dockers outfits of flat caps, black waistcoats and white mufflers. Johnny ordered two pints of mild and bitter and took them over to the table where Lonnie was already shuffling the set of black and white dominoes.
“Alright matey?” said Lonnie
“Knackered.” said Johnny
“I heard there was a lot of action in East Greenwich last night.”
“Yes, Jerry blew the back end off of the Queen Victoria in Trafalgar Road. Luckily nobody was hurt. If the buggers had hit the public bar it would have been total carnage. Apparently the local wood yard sent a van load of timber round there and they have patched it up as best as they could and they were open again at 11.00am and serving cider as usual.”
“This bloody war, it seems like everybody’s so used to it that they just carry on as if it is normal.”, said Lonnie with a resigned sigh.
“I know mate, it’s going on and on. I’ve had a bellyful of it though, I need a break, you know, a couple of weeks hopping down in Kent, or some time at my sisters place down in Lancing. Even a week would do.”
Johnny got his bread and dripping sandwiches out of his coat pocket whilst Lonnie dealt the dominoes for their lunchtime game. They usually played “batchy fives” using a cribbage board to score with and counting the scores in multiples of five. Both of them were experts and knew each other’s game too well and so it was not unusual for their games to go right down to the last domino, and this day was no exception. Johnny won the game by one point, the closest of margins and he picked up the two sixpences they had been playing for and put them into his waistcoat ticket pocket. He lifted up his pint glass and drained the last of the beer.
“Back to the grindstone for me, no peace for the wicked, I’ve got a load of people to get ready for the undertakers to take for embalming this afternoon.”
“OK pal,” said Lonnie, “same time tomorrow, I want to win back me tanner.”
They both laughed as Johnny took his glass back to the bar.
“Sees yer later.” he said and set off back to work.
The afternoon sun was shining brightly as Johnny walked past the church and turned down St Alphege’s Passage. The pavement of this small street was made up of old headstones and, if you took your time, you could still read the names of long dead people from the 1700’s as you walked along. Johnny was whistling his favourite Arthur Tracy song, “Marta (rambling rose of the wild wood)”, he particularly liked the accordion accompaniment, as he walked into the small park where the mortuary stood in the far corner, next to the children’s playground. By the time he got into the staff room the weather had changed and there was a typical summer downpour. Johnny turned on the radio and tuned it to the light programme, then he put on his white overalls and moved into the main area where the cadavers were stored after autopsy. Johnny had the unenviable task of clearing up once autopsies were completed. He had taken this job after he had fallen between two barges on the river and badly damaged his right leg. He could walk OK and people never noticed his slight limp but he was nowhere near agile enough to hop from barge to barge any more and so had been retired off the river. This was a source of great sadness to him as there was not a day went by that he didn’t miss travelling up and down Bugsby’s Reach on the Thames between Woolwich and Greenwich.
Johnny looked at the six bodies on the slabs in the main Autopsy room, three women, an old man and two young children, victims of the previous nights bombing raid, and he set about carefully sprinkling them with the Chloramine powder he used for stopping stinks, and killing flies and maggots, before wrapping them in cotton sheets and putting them onto the special sliding trays for insertion into the cadaver storage room. By four o’clock he had finished this task and was well into washing down the slabs and scrubbing the floor. He was a stickler for cleanliness and always made sure that when the pathologists and forensic staff came in everything was ship shape for them. He took pride in his work and, even though it was often gruesome, he saw it as something totally worthwhile. He finished washing down at six thirty and was just spreading the Chloramine powder on the floor when he heard the sound of a doodle bug approaching. “Oh my gawd,” he thought “not another load of work.” That summer in London and the South East there were over eight thousand deaths and tens of thousands injured by these terrifying, rocket propelled, war machines. Johnny was glad that he heard this one pass on by but a second doodle bug was right behind the first and he never noticed the engine cutting out. This was the moment that Londoners hated the most because when the engine cut out that meant that the bug was about to drop out of the sky and if you heard the whining stop then it was very likely that it was going to land near you. Johnny was putting the Chloramine away in the storage cupboard when the doodle bug hit the mortuary. He hadn’t heard a thing and was oblivious as the building erupted with a catastrophic explosion.
There were a lot of people in the Lord Hood public house in Creek Road who heard the enormous detonation of the bomb and many of them rushed around the corner to what remained of the mortuary. There was a large cloud of smoke hanging in the air and Billy Cole, the local butcher, said “There is absolutely no way anybody could survive that.”
As he spoke, there appeared a figure staggering through the smoke and ashes. What a ghastly sight they saw as he came towards the crowd. Johnny was covered from head to foot in the white embalming powder. Two women started screaming and Billy said “Blimey it’s a bleeding ghost.” They took Johnny into the snug at the Lord Hood and gave him a large glass of rum. The powder storage room had given just enough protection to save him from the main blast, although his hearing was never quite the same again. His fame as a survivor spread all over Greenwich and Deptford and that was how, for the rest of his life, he became known as “Ghostie”, one of the few to survive a direct hit by a flying bomb in what was called the “doodle bug summer” of 1944.
Harry Rogers 26th June 2013
A short story by
The girl was tired. She had been traveling for nineteen hours and it was catching up on her. It was a long journey from the beach hut on Koh Kood island in Thailand. She was at the end of her tether and just wanted to be home. The coach journey from Heathrow to Sheffield was just the final straw, and she was drifting in and out of consciousness as the motorway slid by the window. Outside the weather was atrocious. The fine rain was falling in that relentlessly misty way it does in early November and she wished she had decided to stay there for another three months. If her sister had not been getting married she would have done. As it was the whole family expected her at the wedding in just two days time and she had to be there, or else her mother would never let her hear the end of it. She wanted to be there really but this journey was just too much and right now all she wanted was a hot bath and a sleep in her own bed.
The coach arrived in Sheffield amazingly on time. She packed up her I-pod and headphones, put on her leather jacket, got off and waited under the bus shelter for the driver to drag her silver case out from the bowels of the coach. He did so quite quickly and she was the fifth person away to the taxi rank. She got into a black cab, and told the driver to take her to two hundred and forty Cemetery Road. Twelve minutes later she was inside her ground floor flat. On the telephone table in the hall there were three neat piles of post that she knew her mum had tidied up for her. She had been away for fifteen months and there was a lot of catching up to do, but not now. She put her case in the cupboard at the top of the cellar stairs, before going straight to the bathroom and running the hot tap for a long soak.
After her bath she got into a pair of old pyjamas, made herself a cup of camomile tea and sat on her bed looking through the first pile of post. Most of it was junk but there were a couple of letters from Australia. She opened them and was happy to see that they were from the young guy she had met in New Zealand. She liked him a lot and when they had parted company in Christchurch and he had asked for her address she never thought for a minute that he would actually write to her. Here they were though, two letters written in that sing song way that had made him so attractive in the first place.
He was from Cork in Ireland and had a way about him that she fell for. As she read the letters she could hear his voice in just the same lilting way that she remembered from that night at the Bar Crocodile when he said that after he finished traveling he was coming to England for her. She had told him that she thought this was a load of old blarney and they both laughed. She had given him the address anyway and now was very happy that he had written. In the latest letter, dated only two weeks previously he said that he was going to be in England and would come to Sheffield to look her up. It turned out he would be arriving just two days after her sister’s wedding. She felt a warm glow inside her as she finished the tea and climbed under her duvet. Donal, who she had playfully nicknamed Donut, was coming. She fell asleep quickly, thinking about how much she had liked him during the two weeks they spent together in hobbit land.
She slept deeply for twelve hours. When she awoke the girl took a shower, made herself some porridge and a cup of Earl Grey tea. After breakfast she called her mother and arranged to meet up with her at lunchtime in the cafe at John Lewis. She knew her mother had her bridesmaids outfit waiting for to try on. She threw a few bits of clothing into a shoulder bag and set off for the centre of Sheffield, carefully locking her flat behind her.
The wedding was a spectacular event and the girl had admitted to herself that she had enjoyed it. Every one of her relations had been nice to her and were very impressed that she had been just about everywhere there was to go since she set off traveling twenty seven months earlier. She was the first one to hit the trail in the family and she could sense that quite a lot of them secretly envied her. The reception had been awesome and she had danced until 3.00 am and drunk quite a lot of Sailor Jerry’s rum. Her mum had driven her back home after breakfast at the Hotel and she was about all familied out by the following day when she arrived back at her flat.
She checked the answerphone to see whether there was a message from Donut. She was surprised to find that there were ten messages, one from Donut saying he was coming around at 11.00 am that morning, the rest of them were all blank. She decided that she would do her laundry and fetched her case from the cellar head. She set it on the kitchen table and took the key from her purse to open it with. She put the in the lock, it was a bit stiff and when she tried to turn it the key wouldn’t budge. She twisted the key a bit harder and it snapped off in the lock. The girl was a bit annoyed but decided to wait until Donut got there.
She put the kettle on to make herself a cup of tea and as she was putting the tea bag into a mug the house phone rang. She went into the hall, picked up the receiver and said “Hello?” . There was no reply and she heard the telephone being put down at the other end of the line. She was slightly perplexed but she finished making her tea and sat there waiting for Donut to arrive.
Ten minutes later there was a ring at the door and she went and opened it. There was Donut looking just the same as the last time she had seen him.
“Hello Girl,” he said.
“Donut, it’s so nice to see you again.” And with that she put her arms around his neck and pulled him down for a welcoming kiss.
They stood at the doorstep locked in an embrace for 20 seconds before she said “Come on in, I’ll make you some tea. Are you hungry? We can go down town if you like for lunch, it’s not too far to walk.”
“Just a cup of tea will do fine,” he said “This is a grand place you have here.” He said looking around the place.
“I know, my auntie left me hundred thousand pounds when she died and I bought this place with most of it before I set off on the round the world jaunt. I’ve only actually lived her for about three months all told. My mum has been keeping her eye on it for me whilst I’ve been away.”
“Lucky you, I wish I had a pad of my own to go back to when I finish traveling.”
“Are you going off again?” asked the girl
“Yes, I thought I would go to Canada in autumn and get a job working on the ski slopes over there.”
“That sounds great, maybe I could meet up with you over there?”
Donut looked at her and she looked back at him. They both started grinning together and she knew that this was the start of her next traveling adventure. They hugged and he kissed her full on the lips.
“Drink your tea,” said the girl
“OK. Let’s talk about Canada over lunch.”
“Great idea. Oh before we go out can you take a look at my case, I snapped the key off in the lock and I want to put my clothes in the washing machine whilst we are out.”
He looked at the aluminium case and the broken key in the lock. “Do you have any tools here?”
“Sure, my dad gave a full tool kit as present when I first moved in. I’ll get it.”
She came back with plastic toolbox, and Donut opened it. He took out a small cold chisel and a club hammer. “I’m going to have to break the lock here,” he said
“Go ahead, I need a new case anyway.”
He put the chisel into the gap above the key hole and gave it a big whack with the club hammer. The lock gave way instantly and he said “There you go Girl, nothing to it.”
“Aw thanks, now I can get on with the laundry.” And she opened the lid of the case.
She looked in expecting to see all her summer dresses from Thailand, but instead there was a whole shed-load of money in neat bundles, and a vacuum packed clear polythene bag containing a severed human hand. She let out a scream and Donut had to steady her as she stepped back in alarm.
“This is not my case,” she said “I must have picked up the wrong one from the coach driver. Look at all this money, look at this horrible thing,” and she pointed to the hand in the bag.
Donut stood there open mouthed looking at the money. There were about thirty bundles of fifty pound notes, each bundle containing two thousand pounds.
“There’s about sixty grand there. That’s an awful lot of money. The hand means this is a dangerous situation. Is there anything in your case that can tell the owner of this case where you live?”
“Yes, there are some letters that my mum forwarded to me about my student loan stuff that have my address on them. Why?”
“Has anybody tried to contact you since you got back here?”
“Well there have been a load of blank messages on the answer phone.”
“Shit, we have to get out of here.”
They moved quickly down the hallway to the front door and as they opened it there was a large shape blocking the doorway. The last thing they heard was the pfft pfft pfft pfft of the 9mm Glock 18 machine pistol with silencer as it despatched both of them before they could utter a word. Donut fell to the floor and the girl landed on top of him, both dead. The shape stepped over them, went into the kitchen, picked up the case and left the flat, carefully closing the front door.
CANARY IN A BAMBOO CAGE
By Harry Rogers
When he was just a young man, barely twenty three, he thought he saw the whole, of human history, reflected in the clouds, as on Afton Down he lay, in August nineteen seventy, above Freshwater Bay. Then, he carried his canary, in his bamboo cage, down the shining path, to the diamond studded beach, where the crystal waterfall, splashed on the silver rocks. He took a shower there, in his south sea bubble loons, the spray was filled with rainbows, as he shook his yellow locks, his head still filled with last night’s Jim Morrison tunes.
Later on that evening, down near desolation row, inside the Circus tent, putting on a show, Boris, Nik and Dik Mik, gave away free blow, he was very nearly certain he could hear the grasses grow.
The anarchists were liberating food stalls everywhere. Bread heads and rip off merchants could only stand and stare. French warriors gave free Mars bars to girls with flowers in their hair. The police? They turned a blind eye, they didn’t seem to care.
The smell of bedroom joss spilled out of 50,000 tents. Some dealers were still cleaning up from teenage innocents, but mostly psychedelic drugs were given out for free, sugar cubes and blotters, mescaline and peyote. Everything was going down, the fences and the sun, then Jimi hit the stage, beaming love at everyone. As he played guitar, for the people on the hill, our hero tripped all night, badly, way outside his head. His canary in its bamboo cage started looking ill, by morning the canary was definitely dead.
There was no coming back from this nightmarish scene, now he was becoming, a burnt out old has been. Most of six hundred thousand hippies on the Isle of Wight, danced ecstatic dances as they journeyed through that night. But a few were lost there as their brains were reconfigured. See them shambling, in the shadows, well and truly jiggered. These casualties of Acid never knew what they were in for, as all of their canaries twitched and died upon the floor.
Some people think that this was once a truly golden age, and it was, provided that, like underground coal miners, you nurtured your canary, in its bamboo cage!
A dystopian sci fi short story written about the singularity which, if futurologists such as Ray Kursweil are to be believed, is almost upon us.
by Harry Rogers
Alexander Heyking wasn’t quite sure why it was that he became so rabidly opposed to the whole idea of the singularity, he just knew he was. He was neither a Luddite nor a technophobe but after 6 years he just found the total nerdiness of the other Singularitarians too much to bear anymore. Not only that but the gloss of the future was definitely not as shiny as it had been at the Ray Kursweil lecture screening back in 2006 when he was a student of futurology at Aberystwyth University.
Back then the whole idea that there was going to be an incredible leap forward in the technological advance of computer power capable of solving the ills of the world was irresistible. There seemed to be so many positive advantages in what the lecturer was saying that he signed up to join the Singularitarian Society in the Student Union as soon as he could.
It was at the first meeting of Singu Soc that he met Juliana Elliott. She was astonishingly attractive to him and took absolutely no notice of him whatsoever. It seemed that she was the girlfriend of the society chairperson Luis Ray Ting. There were only five of them at that 2 hour meeting and they spent the entire time discussing The Fermi Paradox. Why was it that, even though there appears to be high probability that civilised extraterrestrial life exists, human beings had a distinct lack of evidence for the existence of such life and also that there had been no recognizable contact with other civilisations.
The title of the meeting was Fermi’s question “Where Is Everybody?”. Luis opened proceedings by putting forward the basic tenets of Enrico Fermi’s argument, firstly, there are billions of stars in the galaxy that are billions of years older than our sun. Secondly, some of these stars probably have planets similar to Earth which may have developed intelligent life. Thirdly, interstellar travel would more than likely have been developed somewhere, given that humans seem likely to do so.
Fourthly, the galaxy ought to have been completely teeming with colonisers in just a few tens of millions of years. Given these parameters Earth should have already been visited, if not colonized, but no evidence exists and also not even one confirmed sign of intelligence has been spotted either in the Earth’s galaxy or in the 80 billion other galaxies in the observable universe. This is such a conundrum and has been discussed incessantly since Fermi posed it back in 1950.
By the end of the meeting Alex’s brain was buzzing with ideas and he readily accepted an invitation to join the other four for a drink at The Scholars in North Street afterwards. Luis had a battered VW camper van and he offered everyone a lift to the pub and ten minutes later Alex was sat in the corner of the top bar with a pint of Doom Bar bitter in front of him. He wasn’t quite sure what the topic of the meeting had to do with Singularitarianism, but he was about to find out. Luis started it all off by asking “Do we all think we are alone in the universe then?”
“I’m willing to believe we’re not,” said Juliana “but in the absence of any proof I guess we might be.”
“What about you Alex, any thoughts?”
“I’m not sure there is life in outer space, at least not as we know it.” Alex responded
“Ah, now we are getting to the nub of it. Not as we know it is what I hoped we would get to. Just as Spock might have said to Captain Kirk, It’s life Jim, but not as we know it. Supposing we talk about intelligence rather than life, might that open a few more avenues for discussion?” Luis said
“I see where this is going,” said Juliana “You are suggesting that there may be alien artificial intelligence.”
“I am and more than that I believe that the whole of planet Earth is under the influence of some interference that is indifferent to us as a species but which is extremely interested in our progress towards developing our own version of a singularity.”
Luis took a large swig from his beer and Alex looked at him in a kind of reverential way. “But if that is true might we not have detected something from them, a random data transmission, or even an attempt to hack some government machine, or something?” Alex asked.”
Luis put down the glass, turned to face Alex and staring him in the eyes with a cold steely gaze said “How do you know there hasn’t been such detection? In fact how do any of us really know that there hasn’t been any contact? We only have the word of politicians and spooks that there has been no contact, but this is unreliable evidence in my book. I don’t believe what the establishment tell us on this issue for a single minute.”
Alex felt decidedly uncomfortable as Luis continued to fix his eyes with the unblinking look for another five seconds after he had finished speaking.
“How would we ever be able to find out whether there had been contact by an alien artificial intelligence?” asked Juliana
“Ah well, I was coming to that.” said Luis, “I was thinking that we might start doing some digging for evidence. There is a lot of work being done in the field at the university and I reckon that we have a good chance of accessing quite a lot of sensitive information if we put our minds to it.”
So it was that they agreed to work as a team, hunting out information related to extraterrestrial contacts from any source and it was also agreed that Luis would be the central collecting point. Over the following six years members of the group came and went but Alex, Juliana and Luis continued on with the search for proof of contact. Luis and Juliana were no longer an item and Alex had got into a relationship with her on the rebound. They had been seriously dating for the last three years.
Since Luis had amassed a simply gigantic database of information as a result of the diligence of Singu Soc members, his doctoral thesis was nearing completion and he was on course for a stunning career in futurology. Alex watched his progress with interest over the years and didn’t begrudge his use of the material gathered by his peers, in fact he admired the way in which Luis was able to extrapolate theories and ideas from what was largely a fragmentary fishing exercise. But the truth was, there was still no proof of the existence of an alien singularity, in fact not a single jot of verification, Alex was becoming bored with the subject.
That he continued to carry out any searches for information was something he couldn’t explain, but he found it hard not to carry out his usual trawl across the internet once a week, followed by the weekly email of titbits to Luis. It was a kind of addiction and he did it out of habit more than interest these days.
It was a Saturday and Alex was taking Juliana out to a gig at Rummers wine bar that evening and he still hadn’t done the trawl but at seven o’clock he quickly turned on his computer and started searching, and he decided to look at the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) website. In particular he started interrogating pages relating to the Dynamic Analysis and Replanning Tool (DART) and DRPI – Knowledge-Based Planning and Scheduling Initiative. Both of these projects had proved invaluable in revolutionising the logistics of the US military in both Desert Storm and The Gulf War and many other conflicts since. The interest in artificial intelligence was back on the military agenda in the US in a big way since DARPA had pushed the projects forward. As he scanned the information on the pages he came upon a reference to a paper on The Computational Theory of Mind so he clicked the link which in turn led him to click another link on future-predicting error-correction codes which in turn led him onto looking at brain-computer interfaces and neuro chip technology. As he surfed on he came across an interesting paper on the use of nootropic drugs linked to brain computer interfaces. This was fascinating and whilst he knew that there were students and lecturers using brain enhancing nootropic supplements he was unaware that there were people who were researching into how the use of these new super drugs could be used in conjunction with brain computer interfaces. This was new to him and he thought this might be of interest to Luis so he bundled together a selection of links in an email and sent it off as per usual.
Later that evening, whilst he was slow dancing with Juliana in a dark corner of Rummers and listening to the local soul band he glanced across the dance floor to the entrance and was surprised to see Luis walking across the floor towards him.
“Look who’s turned up,” he said to Juliana. “Can I get you a beer man?”
They both turned to face Luis and he said “No it’s OK, there is no time. It’s happened.”
“What do you mean it’s happened?”Alex said
“Contact.”, he said.
“You can’t be serious,” said Juliana “proof there is an alien singularity, after all this time? Are you sure?”
“Yes I’m certain” replied Luis. “Both of you must come to my study now please, there is something you have just got to see.”
They picked up their coats and followed Luis out to his car as the band ironically started playing their version of the Noisettes song “Contact”.
Once in the car Luis turned to Alex and said “Hey man, you know that email you sent me tonight cracked the whole contact process. It just hadn’t dawned on me that we needed to open up some neural pathways in order to get through. I missed the whole nootropic drugs connection but now it just seems so obvious, so bloody obvious.” As he finished saying this they were already at the entrance onto the University Campus on Penglais Road, Luis turned the car in and soon they were parked up outside the Computer Science block. He let them in and they were quickly standing in his study.
Luis locked the door behind them saying “We don’t want to be disturbed while I show you this.” He opened the computer on his desk and then he picked up one of three BCI (brain-computer interface) devices on his desk and placed it on his head. He had been experimenting with a computer electroencephalograph for some considerable time and the interface headset was his own design. He typed in some data using the keyboard and the screen became an active sea of coloured dots but gradually they settled into an image of Luis on the screen. Luis spoke to them saying “Watch this” and the image mouthed his words. Alex and Juliana were fascinated by what they were seeing, the image on the screen said “I have been trying very hard to get to this point for weeks but somehow just didn’t seem able to jump the final hurdle. It was only when you sent me the link to the paper on BCIs and Nootropics that the cosmic tumblers all fell into place for me. I realised that without some sort of booster there was never going to be enough power in my normal brain to get to this point.”
They both stared at the image on the screen and were not aware that Luis was not actually speaking the words through his mouth, he was thinking them and the image on the screen was speaking them.
“I managed to buy some strong enhancers from that hippy dealer in The Scholars, pretty cheaply if you ask me, and they gave me the extra power I needed to make the jump. I have some more if you want to have a go; I’ve got a couple of extra headsets too. You won’t believe what it can do for you. Not only can I upload my thoughts directly into the computer, but also I can download information from the computer into my memory just by thinking about it.”
They were absolutely astounded by this and looked at each other in an awestruck way before Alex said “OK Luis, I’ll give it a go.”
“Me too.”, echoed Juliana.
“Alright,” said Luis, “It will take about forty minutes for the nootropics to take effect so if you swallow these now, I’ll tell you about the contact.” And he handed them a couple of red and black capsules each and a bottle of water to wash them down.
As they swallowed the drugs Luis started talking to them via the computer screen again. “This is such a breakthrough, I can’t quite believe it has happened. Only six hours ago I was floundering about in the dark, sure that I was close to something, but not realising how close really. As soon as I read the paper from the link in your email I shot out of here like a hare at a greyhound track, got the capsules, dropped a couple and within an hour I was through the portal into cyberspace. I can only say that it is amazing. I got an immediate boost of knowledge which enabled me to see things in a totally new way. However, it was when I logged onto the internet that it happened. I became aware that I was not alone on the super highway. A strange intuitive feeling that there was another intelligence present engulfed me. This feeling was not however malevolent, it was kind of like being in the presence of somebody who you know is much more powerful than you, whilst knowing that you are a complete irrelevance to them. As soon as you join me you will see for yourselves. Anyway, I just opened myself up to the stream of information on the web for about ten minutes before I came out to tell you both about it. You have no idea what a phenomenal discovery this is, but I think it is only fair that we share in this together as we have been colleagues in the search right from the start.”
They had been listening intently and were completely sold on the idea of being partners in the future project. Juliana said “My God Luis! The ramifications of this are enormous, we are going to be the richest people on the planet.”
“Oh, the money is meaningless.” Luis replied, “It’s the access to knowledge and power that fascinates me. We will be able to become the saviours of the planet, nothing will be beyond our comprehension. Poverty, hunger, illness, global warming, political skulduggery, we will be able to deal with it all, nothing will be beyond us. We will be superhuman.”
Alex was liking what he was hearing. There were so many avenues they could go down, and all because it seemed they were on the verge of the singularity. He was feeling very proud of the fact that he had contributed to what looked like the greatest scientific discovery of the last 100 years.
They sat there talking for the next half hour about all the things they were going to change and then Luis said “OK guys, I reckon that’s long enough for the drugs to come on, put these on and let’s get on with changing the world.”. He handed them their interface headsets.
They eagerly donned them and as they looked at the screen it scrambled into the same myriad of coloured dots as before but then as it settled they saw there were the three of them visible on the screen. Alex was amazed that he could make this on screen avatar of himself speak just by thinking, as was Juliana and they both started laughing at the same time.
Luis said “Now, guys, before we set about accumulating all the knowledge on the planet I want you look at something.” They watched as he conjured a window onto the screen. It was an anagram solver program and he slowly typed his name into it – L U I S R A Y T I N G and pressed the solve button. The letters scrambled and reformed into SINGULARITY. Alex and Juliana looked at each in a confused way.
“What does this mean Luis?” said Juliana.
“Guess,” said Luis as he started the process of emptying both their brains of every scrap of knowledge and information they had ever gained throughout their entire lives. It took just 3.235 seconds for both their brains to empty their riches into his. He took off the headsets from the two brain dead husks that had once been Alex and Juliana, and switched off the computer. It had worked out exactly as he thought it would. All of their knowledge now resided in his memory. He had become much more than the sum of the three brains he now possessed. The birth of the singularity had started, only this was different to the way the futurologists had imagined it. Luis Ray Ting led the husks to his car, sat them in the front seats, started the engine and released the handbrake. A small shove was all that that was needed to send the car down the hill, gathering speed as it freewheeled into the traffic heading into Aberystwyth.
The singularitarian walked back to his office believing that he was soon going to be the most powerful entity on the planet. The alien singularity that resided in Earth’s cyberspace hadn’t noticed him yet, but it was only a matter of time……….
GO WITH THE FLOW
a short story by Harry Rogers
Maurice Warwick (Mo to everyone who knows him) sat on a stool at the counter in the saloon bar of The Prince of Wales with a pint of Guinness and a copy of the New Musical Express. This had been a typical 1970’s day for him. In the morning he had visited a couple of friends in Blackheath Village for breakfast where he had managed to sell a couple of rare Buddy Holly CDs he had bought at the Deptford record fair thus making a profit of £15. At midday he had gone to The Three Tuns for a lunchtime livener where he met up with a couple of members of local punk rock sensations The Prannits who were rehearsing in a famous rock stars rehearsal studio just around the corner. After a couple of pints he had gone with them for their afternoon session and watched them lay down two tracks for their next single release. The session finished at six thirty and Mo walked to the Prince of Wales where he was looking to meet up with a journalist who he hoped was going to buy one of his photographs for an article about Deptford Fun City, as the South London music scene was known. A typical day for Mo who always knew how to go with the flow. The bar was empty save for one geezer sat at the other end of the bar. Mo looked up to see him looking at him in a strange way, kind of eying him up and down.
Mo said “Hello, is everything OK here?”
“I’m sorry,” the stranger said, “I was deep in thought.”
“I thought you were looking at me.”
“Well I was but not in any threatening way, I’m sorry if you thought otherwise.”
“Oh OK, that’s alright then.” said Mo and returned to the article about Bruce Springsteen in the NME.
“Let me buy you another pint,” offered the stranger, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Well that’s very nice, I won’t say no.” answered Mo
The stranger came over and sat on the nearest empty bar stool “Guinness is it?”
“Yes Thanks, cheers.”
He ordered the beer for Mo and then introduced himself, “My name’s Billy Bleasdale.”
“Do you live near here?” asked Billy
“No man, I’ve got a short term flat in Deptford on one of those estates that the council are going to demolish soon, so they say.”
“I live in Kidbrook with my wife. Would you like to see some pictures of her?”
“Yeah, why not.” said Mo
Billy handed him a Kodak paper envelope containing half a dozen photographic prints. He took them out and looked at the first one. There was a portrait of a pretty, dark haired, young woman of about 25 years of age looking confidently out at him. He slid the picture to the back of the pile and looked at the next one, this time she was standing outside a low level block of flats wearing a mini skirt and smiling in a very beguiling way. As he shuffled through the pictures he was getting more interested in her. Then he reached the last one in the pile. This time she was standing in front of a fence at what Mo guessed was an allotment. This photograph was noticeably different to all the rest in that she was standing there with her skirt pulled up to her chest and wearing no underwear. Mo carefully replaced the photographs into the yellow envelope and handed them back to Billy remarking “Hmmm, very nice.”
“Would you like to meet her? My wife, would you like to meet her?”
“Listen” said Mo, “What is this all about, eh? What’s going on here?”
“Oh I’m sorry” said Billy looking a bit sheepish, “I suppose I had better explain.”
“Yes” said Mo, “That might be a good idea.”
“Well, as you can see, my wife, Jamie Lee, is quite a bit younger than me.”
Mo looked at Billy and guessed he must be about 35 years old.
“Yes, I can see that.” said Mo
“Well the point is, I won’t beat about the bush, we have been together since she was sixteen, in fact I married her at sixteen when I was 24. She is 26 now and we have been happily married for ten years.”
“Yes?” queried Mo
“Well about a fortnight ago we were sitting up in bed, you know, talking, like you do, and she says she wonders what it would be like making love to another man. I was a bit taken aback I must admit but she said I wasn’t to think that she was unhappy or anything but she just wondered, that was all, especially seeing as how she had never been with anybody else apart from me. So I kind of looked at her and thought to myself, well you know, I thought, I’ve had other women before her, and it just didn’t seem fair, really. Her not having had any other experience, what with being so young at the start and all.”
“I see, or I think I do, go on”
“Well I thought about it and then a couple of days ago I said to her that I thought it only fair that she should try making love with somebody else, just so that she could put her mind to rest, so to speak. She said that she wouldn’t want to go out and find somebody herself because that somehow wouldn’t seem right. So after a bit more chatting we agreed that I would go out and find someone who might do the trick for us. So here we are and I ask you again, would you like to meet my wife.”
Mo picked up the fresh pint of Guinness and took a long swig of it before looking at Billy, who was staring at him in an earnest way. He thought to himself why not, after all he would be doing them both a favour and she was very attractive, in fact he felt kind of flattered at having been selected for such a task. He thought to himself, go with the flow.
“OK” said Mo, “you’re on. When do you want me come round?”
“Well, I was wondering whether you might make it tonight actually.” said Billy
“Well I haven’t got anything else planned, so the answer is yes, why not tonight.”
“Great,” said Billy, “I’ll just give Jamie Lee a ring and let her know we are on our way.”
He went over to the payphone in the passageway near the toilets and made the call home whilst Mo finished off the Guinness.
Billy came back and said “My car is parked up just outside, my place is only a few minutes away, Jamie Lee says she is so excited and will be ready and waiting for you.”
They left the pub and climbed into Billy’s slightly battered two tone Austin Cambridge car. Twenty minutes later Billy parked up outside the flats and they walked up the stairs to the first floor balcony where he lived with Jamie Lee. It was just after eight o’clock and the sun was almost gone, the sky turned that wonderful streaky red colour that you only get in cities with a lot of particulates in the air.
Billy opened the door and called out “We’re here Jay.”.
Mo followed him into the flat and the first thing that struck him was the smell of strong bedroom joss as he entered the hallway. It was sparsely furnished with a small telephone table and wooden chair, a set of cast iron Victorian coat hooks and a Paul Klee framed print on the primrose yellow painted wall.
Billy asked Mo if he wanted a cup of tea before meeting Jamie Lee but as he had not long finished drinking Guinness he declined the offer. “Oh OK then, well she is waiting to meet you in here.”, and he ushered mo into the first door off the hallway. The scent of the joss was much stronger, almost cloying but not unpleasant, as an established hippy Mo was used to the smell of incense and liked it very well. He looked into the room which was lit only by three large multi coloured candles and as his eyes got used to the low level of light he saw that this was in fact a bedroom. The walls were papered with a deep red paisley patterned paper by Osborne and Little and there, in an ornate brass fluted bedstead, naked and wrapped in a white cotton sheet, Mo made out the face of Jamie Lee looking intently at him.
“Come in,” she said, in a matter of fact way. Mo shuffled his feet a bit before Billy gently eased him forward. Jamie Lee looked at Billy and nodded her head approvingly “He looks good Billy, real good, you chose well.”
Mo felt very awkward but before he could say anything Billy said “Well I’ll leave you both to get to know each other, I’m going to watch the rest of the European Cup match on TV. Have fun.”, and with that he backed out of the room, gently closed the door and left the two strangers looking at each other.
“Well don’t just stand there,” she said, “take your clothes off and come over here.” , and she peeled back the bedclothes on one side off the bed and patted the sheet. Mo was still a bit flustered but he took off his shoes and socks, dropped his loons and pants and stepped out of them and pulled his cheesecloth grandad shirt over his long hair and dropped it onto his trousers. He walked across the room and carefully slid into the bed beside Jamie Lee. He started to say something but before he could utter a word she put her forefinger to his lips and slid her arms around him pulling him towards her. He put one hand on her back and was immediately aware of a lissom body that was electrified with erotic expectation. They spent the next hour and a half making exquisite love three times and she was ecstatic in her satisfaction and whispered “Thank you Mo, that was just wonderful.” He asked her if he could light a cigarette and she said he could and she would have one too. He got out of bed and took two Marlborough from his pocket and lit them both. As they lounged in bed quietly smoking the cigarettes there was a soft knock at the bedroom door. “Come in Billy” she said, and the door opened and Billy came in carrying a tray with a teapot with a cosy, two cups and saucers and a plate of chocolate biscuits.
Billy looked at Jamie Lee in that hopeful kind of way that pet dogs do when they are looking for approval. She looked at him and smiled broadly and just slowly nodded to him. He left them to the tea and closed the door behind him again. Mo drank a cup of tea whilst Jamie Lee made small talk with him about his love life. Mo got dressed quite quickly and he leaned over and kissed her passionately. He knew this was the last time he would see her as it was crystal clear to him that she was totally in love with Billy. Billy came back in and Mo was dressed and ready to go.
Jamie lee looked at Mo and smiled at him as she said, “Thank you so much for a wonderful evening, I’ll never forget you. I just had to make sure I am with the right man, and now I’m certain of it.”
Mo smiled and Billy said “OK then, where would you like me to drop you off?”
There was a late night gig starting at midnight down in Deptford so Mo said “Take me to The Albany Empire please.”. They traveled in silence to Creek Road and as Mo was getting out of the car outside the venue Billy handed him an envelope and said “Thank you very very much for doing that for us, now we can get on with the rest of our marriage with no ifs or buts.”
Mo smiled and looking clearly at Billy he said “No problems, the pleasure was all mine.”
As Billy drove away Mo opened the envelope and inside he found ten crispy five pound notes.
He entered the gig grinning and muttering to himself “Go with the flow, always go with the flow.”
(Any resemblance to anybody living or dead is entirely coincidental.)
A Short Story.
I was sitting in the Cricketers Arms on Sunday evening after a long day selling my pictures on Bayswater Road. It had been a good day, I had sold well over £400 worth of kitsch to Japanese and American tourists for cash and I had three hundred and ten pounds and two hundred and forty dollars in my pocket, all of it tax free. After expenses I reckoned that two hundred and ninety quid of this was pure profit. This was brilliant for a late autumn day’s trading in 1971 and I was feeling pleasantly contented as I started into my second pint of Courage Directors bitter.
The main door to the pub opened and a head full of dark black curly hair and beard poked through the curtains and stared around the pub. Catching sight of me sitting by the window in the back of the long bar Joey Peacock pushed through the curtain and strode towards me in a purposeful way. There were a few old guys sitting at the bar who looked up as Joey passed them and shook their heads in a resigned way.
“Bloody ‘ippies everywhere, they ought to bring back conscription, that’d sort them out.” One of them muttered and the other old reprobates nodded their agreement and turned back to their beer.
Joey was a challenge to these old geezers who were born before the First World War in his bell-bottom jeans, blue shoes with silver stars on and three quarter length women’s brown fur coat with a large silver broach in the shape of fully rigged sailing boat on the left lapel and a fresh red carnation on the other. He was the epitome of the South London counter culture and as such a complete anathema to everything those previous generations stood for. To make matters worse he reeked of patchouli oil and had a permanent smile on his face just like Jerry Garcia. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers could easily have been modeled on him. He sat down at my table and immediately pulled a ready rolled joint from inside the fur coat and lit up. I was used to such behaviour from Joey, at that time he didn’t give a shit about where he was, he would smoke reefers anywhere and anytime and had no paranoia about getting busted at all and so far he had managed to avoid the long arm of the law.He took a couple of long slow tokes on the joint and passed it over to me. I took it and drew the taste of mellow Afghani hashish into my lungs. As I did so Joey asked me “What are you up to for the rest of the week man?”
“I’ve not got anything major planned” I replied “Why?”
“Fancy a trip to Amsterdam?”
“Yeah, as it happens, I do.”
“Have you got your passport up to date?”
“I always make sure of that Joe, you never know when you might need it.”
“Good. We will be travelling with Ricky and Kelvin. I’ve already booked the firms blue transit van onto the ferry from Dover to Ostend and up to four passengers travel free so you won’t need to pay a fare.”
He took the joint back from me and took another deep lug. As he did so I said “ Kelvin? I thought he was in Bexley mental hospital having a breakdown?”
“Oh he is” said Joey, casually “but he volunteered himself in for treatment after his girlfriend left him for someone else. He felt it was for the best as he was feeling suicidal. He is free to leave at any time. He keeps ringing people up and saying that he can’t carry on much longer but I reckon he just needs his mates to help him get past this downer. So this afternoon I went round his pad in Lewisham and picked up his passport and a few clothes and a couple of other bits and pieces such as his pipe and stash box. In the morning we are going down to Bexley to snatch him out of the bin and we are taking him on a little holiday to help him get over it.”
“Does he know we’re coming?” I asked
“No but he has open visiting allowed so I reckon I’ll just bowl in there and tell him that the van is outside and we’re taking him out for the day, and he will come with us. We won’t tell him we’re going abroad. Once he is in the van we’ll get him stoned and then he’ll be with us until we get back. We’ll just tell him it’s a mystery tour. It’ll be fine.”
“Ok Joey, if you say so, I’m up for it, sounds like we’ll doing him a favour really.”
“Yeah” said Joey “he needs to sort himself out. Of course he ain’t got any money so we’ll all have to club together a bit of spending wedge for him but it’s a good cause in my book.”
“What time are we off then?”
“I’ll pick you up around 10 o’clock in the morning.”
“Great stuff man, I love adventures.”
“OK I’m off to see Ricky now to make sure he is still up for it, see you in the morning.” And with that he got up and left the pub, making sure he walked as close to those old contemptibles at the bar as possible so that they got a good whiff of the last remnants of the joint he was still smoking. They just shook their heads as he floated past and carried on drinking.
I finished my pint and wandered out of there and across the road to the Greenwich Steakhouse for a mixed grill. I knew Monday was going to be the start of a crazy week, I ate my dinner and went off to my flat in Greenwich Circus, watched Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland on ITV in the psychological thriller A Child in Waiting on my portable Black and white TV before rolling a bedtime joint and smoking it whilst listening to the Floyd playing Atom Heart Mother on my bedroom stereo as I drifted away for an early night. I knew I was going to need it to set me up for the coming journey.
I awoke at 8.00am and switched on my Roberts transistor radio. The news reader was talking about Japanese Emperor Hirohito setting off on an overseas tour, I changed channel to Radio 1 and they were playing “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me” by The Tams. I switched it off and got myself a bowl of cornflakes and rolled a joint with the last of my hash. I got a small travelling bag together with my passport, a spare pair of purple loon pants, a few t shirts and a hand knitted Arran sweater, plus my super lightweight high tog goose down sleeping bag. I finished the joint, took a bath and settled back to wait for Joey to call round.
As I sat in my antique leather armchair I started thinking about how Joey and I had met and what an absolutely crazy set of people he hung out with. He was part of what can only be described as an anarcho hippy business consortium set up to capitalise on all things underground called The Deptford Dynasty. They used a psychedelic font design of the capital letter D as their symbol and it appeared on everything, letterheads, cards, clothing labels, packaging, tee shirts, their shops, and was painted very large on the side of their vans, including the one we were about to go off to Amsterdam in which had the nickname “Big D”. They ran a number of shops in South London selling a range of goods, including drug paraphernalia such as hookahs, bongs and soapstone chillums, cigarette papers, scales, stash boxes, incense holders, temple incense, joss sticks, underground records and books, clothing and footwear. They also ran two cafes and small bar. All of this had been financed by a successful smuggling operation in 1967 when they opened their first shop selling Afghan sheepskin and goatskin coats from Ghazni province, situated between Kabul and Kandahar. These coats had a very pungent aroma when first bought from the local Afghani traders and Joey had used this smell to great effect when he drove a truckload of coats back from Kabul to England underneath which he had concealed 1000 lbs of top quality hashish. That works out at 16,000 ounces, at a street value of £40 per ounce that is £640,000. Joey had sold the lot at £300 per pound, after costs of £50 per weight (lb) the net profit was a cool quarter of a million pounds which was a substantial sum in 1967. The customs dogs never came near this stinking heap of rancid clothing and the customs officers had just waved him on when he came through Dover as they did not believe anyone would be so audacious, but this was Joey all over, a total risk taker beyond belief. This half ton of dope had given them the capital they needed to set up their Big D empire. Before I had become a card carrying member of the Bayswater Road Artists Association I had trained as a plumber and met them when I was asked by a mutual friend to carry out a small emergency repair in the kitchen of their cafe in Greenwich. I had immediate rapport with Joey and from then on we had become good friends.
They owned three adjacent shops in Deptford High Street, a clothes shop, a record shop and a cafe, and they had converted the basements into a giant communal living area by knocking through the walls and strengthening them with RSJs. This led to it becoming the major partying venue for that part of London frequented by rock bands, hippies, junkies, writers, and groupies and it was just the most fabulous permanently midnight tripping space south of the Thames. I was an outside observer of the mayhem, having never taken up the offer to join the consortium but I knew most of what went on and was often included in the inner sanctum when special events were taking place. The whole set up was based on using capitalist processes to fund a totally hedonistic venture and, somehow, their in house accountant was keeping the whole show on the road, or so he said anyway. They had expanded into mail order clothing and were selling thousands of pairs of leather loon pants via full page advertising in the rock music press and had many famous rock and roll stars on their client list. Life was cushty for the Dynasty and they lived like there was no tomorrow.
Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, the sound of Joey pumping on the horn in The Big D transit van outside my flat pulled me out of the armchair and I grabbed my bag and a brown leather bomber jacket and left the flat.
Ricky Roach leaned over and opened the van door for me, I swung myself up onto the bench seat and tossed my bag over into the back of the transit. As I closed the door Ricky handed me a joint with a grin on his face,
“Alright Frenchie,” he said.
“Yeah, I’m fine man. I’m ready for the off.”
“Ok then, next stop Bexley” said Joey and we pulled out of Greenwich Circus, turned left past Greenwich Police Station along through Burney street and into Greenwich Park. Joey had been to New York earlier in the year and had come back with an in car cassette player and stereo speakers, a truly innovative revelation to me as I didn’t even know such things existed, and this was installed in Big D and as we pulled into the Park the opening notes of The Changeling by The Doors from their album LA Woman started blasting into the cab. I looked across at the Royal Observatory, the blue sky above the Chestnut trees and late summer sun shining on the big red ball above the domed telescope and I felt really happy, of course it could have been the Citrali dope that Ricky had handed me, he always sourced the highest quality narcotics and this gear was no exception. I settled back into a mellow reverie as Joey drove us across Blackheath on the way to Bexley Mental Hospital where the unsuspecting Kelvin awaited us. “Don’t You Love Her Madly” played as we headed up Shooters Hill Road, and we all sang along as this seemed the perfect lyric for Kelvin. “Don’t you love her madly as she’s walking out the door.”
Twenty minutes later we pulled off the A2 and into Dartford Heath and very quickly we drove into the grounds of Bexley Hospital and parked outside the Victorian administration building. Joey got out of Big D and said “You guys wait here, I’ll just go in and get Kelvin, this shouldn’t take too long.” And with that he breezed into the main entrance.
“So how’s it going then Ricky?” I asked
“Oh OK I suppose, I’m not making a lot of dosh these days and things are a bit slow in the building game. Still I’m hoping this trip will sort me out a bit.” He said
“Are you still seeing that girl, Julia?”
“Oh yeah mate, it’s the real thing with us I think, we’re probably going to get married later this year. Probably going to have to when her mum finds out I’ve got her up the duff.” he laughed
“Oh yeah, she told me two weeks ago and I’m very happy about it, not that I particularly want to get married but she does and if we don’t her mother will go fucking ballistic.”
I laughed as he said this. Julia was a beautiful eighteen year old from Catford and Ricky had met her six months earlier at a party in the basement in Deptford. They had shared some Mandrax and had retired to his bed where they stayed in stoned out state of mandied bliss for a full seven days. I have to admit I was not really surprised that she was pregnant as they were obviously loved up to bits and also both enjoyed being out of it most of the time.
Ricky had originally been part of the Dynasty but he had a penchant for betting on the horses and playing cards and had got himself into serious debt in 1970, so much so that Joey had to bale up by buying out his company shares for £20,000. Ricky used £10k to pay off his debts and spent the next month slowly frittering the other ten grand away culminating in losing his last £1500 in a late night poker game in a Chinese gambling den in a basement just off Gerard Street in Soho. These days he worked for Dynasty doing bits of building work for them and also he worked with a couple of old mates doing dry lining and plastering jobs. He was also a very strong opponent of the Tories and had a habit of veering off into long political rants about Ted Heath and seeing as they had won an election in June 1970 he was likely to go off on one at any time, especially if he had been smoking a lot of dope, which was most of the time to be fair. He had a flat over the top of the Dynasty shops in Deptford High Street and so spent a lot of his time partying in the basement and recently he had started to learn how to play the bass guitar and was often found jamming with any musicians that were hanging out there. I guess you could say that he had effectively dropped out most of the time and was doing less and less actual work the more he got into his white Fender Precision bass.
We were contemplating rolling up another number when Joey and Kelvin came out of the doors and down the steps towards the van. It had taken Joey precisely 15 minutes to find Kelvin and convince him that he needed a holiday. So we left Bexley and got back onto the A2 Dover Road. Joey handed Kelvin his stash box and pipe and Ricky said “Hello mate, make us a good old Kelvin special pipeful eh and we can get this journey going properly.”
“OK but can someone tell me just exactly where we are going?” he asked
“You’ll find out when we get there, let’s just say it’s a special surprise just for you Kelvin, a kind of Magical Mystery Tour.” Said Joey and we all started laughing, Kelvin looked puzzled but he opened the stash box and was very pleased to find quarter of ounce of Nepalese Temple Ball hashish wrapped in tinfoil in the box along with his lighter and a packet of his favourite Drum tobacco. “OK geezers, if you say it’s going to fun, then I’ll come along for the ride I suppose.”, and he started building the pipe.
It didn’t take Joey long to drive down to Dover and they pulled into the ferry terminal at half past twelve. Kelvin was pretty much spaced out by this time having not smoked any drugs for a fortnight and so he was out there, somewhere, but not far enough gone not to recognise where they were. “Where are we going?” he implored, “On to a ferry?”
“Don’t panic Kelvin, you’re going to be ok, trust me.” Said Joey
Kelvin murmured “OK man, whatever you say.”
As we sat in the queue waiting to embark I looked at Kelvin and thought about his chaotic life up unto this point. He was half gypsy and found it very hard to settle down to any form of straight existence. As a child his parents had been travelers, living in a trailer van, following fairgrounds from town to town and his school life had been totally disorganised. He had left home in 1961 after reading Kerouac’s On The Road, and had found his way to Soho where he had started hanging out with Fred The Carpet and all the other London beatniks who frequented The Duke Of Yorks pub in Rathbone Place and this was where his love affair with Mary Jane (marijuana) began. He never went home again and spent the next five years drifting from one sofa to another in bedsit land. He learnt to play guitar and wrote a lot of stoned poetry. Eventually he met a red haired girl called Candy who was the spitting image of Elizabeth Siddal (Rossetti’s Pre Raphaelite muse). They got married after a whirlwind courtship and moved into her studio on a plot of land next to the banks of the river Quaggy in Lewisham. She was as fiery as the colour of her hair and Kelvin and her were always arguing, mainly about his failure to do anything about making money. She was a moderately successful painter who was making waves in the modern art world, Kelvin spent his time trying to write poetry and starting novels but was mostly just too stoned to ever get it together properly and she became increasingly disenchanted with his indolence, until she eventually walked out on him and moved to New York. He was devastated by this and, as is always the way, finally realised that he had messed up big time losing the love of life and he fell into a deep depression. He had contemplated suicide but was too apathetic even to carry this out. He felt utterly rung out and this was why he had entered Bexley as a voluntary patient on the suggestion of his GP who had written a letter for him recommending this course of action. He had taken a couple of empty notebooks and a few pencils into the hospital with him and had started writing the outline for TV comedy series based on the activities of two lavatory attendants called Poe and Lavvy who looked after the Ladies and Gents on a busy railway station. Not smoking dope was good for him and he had drafted out the plot-lines for a pilot episode and in fact he was well on the way to recovery from his mini breakdown when we had picked him up, although we didn’t know this until later.
Joey drove forward to the ferry terminal window and handed over the travel documents and our passports to the bored looking official behind the desk. He looked at the passports and eyed us suspiciously before stamping the tickets and issuing Joey with the embarkation cards. He handed the passports and paperwork back and said “Head towards lane 20 for the Ostend boat and wait to be guided on board from there. Have a nice trip.”
“Thanks man, we’ll try.” Said Joey
“Oh so we’re off to Belgium then?” asked Kelvin
“Yes, to start with” said Joey and the three of us looked at Kelvin and started laughing.
Joey slipped a cassette of The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album into the player and we sat at the back of lane 20 listening to “Brown Sugar” as it filled the van with Keith Richards guitar and Mick Jagger singing “Brown Sugar, How come you taste so good” and we sang along with him.
After 25 minutes as The Stones launched into Bitch we were ushered up onto the gangplank and drove into the back of the RoRo ferry. Joey parked where he was told and we got out of Big D and headed straight for the bar. We bought a bottle of Cotes de Rhone and sat by the window staring at the lorries waiting to be loaded on.
Kelvin said, “I’m going to get a cup of tea, I’m off the alcohol at the moment.”
“OK” said Joey
Kelvin stood there looking a bit sheepish and then Joey said “Oh I’m sorry man, you aint got any bread have you.” And with that he pulled out a wad of notes and peeled of a couple of fivers and gave them to him saying “This will tide you over for a bit.” And he grinned. Kelvin smiled for the first time since we lifted him and we all smiled back.
He went off to the cafeteria and we looked at each other “So far so good” I said
“Yeah I know it’s amazing what happens when you reach out the hand of friendship, most of the time people are ready to take it and will go along with the idea of love man.” Said Ricky and we nodded as sagely as three twenty five year old freaks could and picked up our wine glasses and drank away and as we did so the boat pulled out of the harbour.
We drove off of the ferry four hours later and as we cleared customs the Stones were singing “Sister Morphine”, we pulled onto the A10 and headed towards Gent. Joey knew this road very well as he had been trading in second hand clothes from the warehouses near the flea market in Amsterdam for a couple of years for his high quality speciality clothing business supplying TV and Film production companies. We sped past Gent and Antwerp and crossing the river headed into Holland, the traffic on the motorway to Amsterdam was very light and the sun was just beginning to set as we pulled into the city at 8.00pm European time. Joey headed towards the city centre and pulled off the main road near to The Milky Way (Milkweg) at the end of Lijnbaansgracht but there was nowhere to park and after driving around for about ten minutes Joey spotted a yard with only one car parked in it and so pulled in there for a smoke.
Kelvin was asleep and I shook him gently saying “Wake up Kelvin, we’re here and we need you to build a pipe.”
He sat up and slowly rubbed his eyes, “Where is here?” he asked.
“Welcome to Amsterdam” said Joey “Now build a pipe for us before we go exploring.”
“Fuck me, Amsterdam, I love Amsterdam.” said Kelvin and loaded up his pipe.
We had just started smoking it and Big D was choc a bloc with Afghani fug when there was a knock on the driver side window. Joey turned down the tape player and opened the door to be confronted by a Dutch police officer in full uniform with a gun and everything.
“Who is the driver?” he asked
“That is me.” said Joey, getting out of Big D. As he opened the door a cloud of dope smoke enveloped the cop.
“You cannot park here. It is illegal and you must pay a fine now.” he said after the smoke had cleared away a bit.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Joey, calmly, “why is that?”
“This is a police station and you cannot park here. You must pay a fine of 20 guilders.”
“I see, I didn’t realise, hang on, I’ll get some cash out of the van.”
He opened the door to be confronted by three quivering wrecks who were convinced we were all going to be arrested for drugs. Joey calmly got his wallet out of his pack and pulled out a twenty Guilder note and handed it to the policeman. He had written out a ticket in the meantime and handed it to Joey in exchange for the cash.
“There is a public car park just around the next corner, I suggest you park there. Now please leave the police station and enjoy your visit to Amsterdam.”
Joey climbed back into Big D and we drove out of there very quickly. The cop was smiling as we drove off. We all felt very relieved and burst out laughing, it was like something from a Cheech and Chong album. Joey parked in the car park and we tumbled out onto the side of a canal and looked at the reflection of the street lights in the water.
“God I’m hungry boys” said Ricky “Can we get something to eat and quick?”
Joey said he knew a Chinese restaurant nearby and we went there for a blowout. Kelvin ordered more tea with his meal and we drank beers. An hour later we were back on the canal side in jolly mood and Joey suggested we head for the Paradiso where we would probably hear some music. After a short walk we were there and onstage was a Dutch band playing Pink Floyd style music, we paid a few guilders and went in. We were immediately confronted with a guy selling hash. “You want to buy dope man. I have good shit for a good price, come over here and try some.” We sat down at a table with him and he pulled a joint out of his shirt and lit up. It was top quality pink Lebanese hash and he wanted 20 guilders for five grammes. I liked it so I bought some.
We spent the next three days smoking drugs, drinking beer, watching bands, chatting up Dutch girls and talking with Kelvin about what he was going to do when he got back to London. Slowly but surely his mood lightened and we could all tell that the black dog had left his side and that he was forgetting all about Candy.
On Thursday morning we were just about ready to leave for London when Ricky said “Hey boys, I’m going up the railway station for a bit, I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
“The railway station? What the fuck for?” Kelvin asked
“I’ve got to report my stolen luggage to the station police.” He said
“But you aint got any luggage.” I said
“I know,” said Ricky, “it’s been stolen.”
With that he sauntered off towards Amsterdam Centraal station which was about half a mile away.
We sat it a cafe drinking coffee with two young Danish girls called Vibeke and Alana. They were hitching a lift to Berlin and we said we would drop them off near the motorway. They asked us whether we would like to smoke something with them and of course we said we would love to. We left the cafe and piled into Big D. Alana reached into her backpack and pulled out a small vial of white powder. Vibeke was putting skins together to make a joint and Kelvin passed her a packet of drum and she loaded the tobacco into the papers, Alana sprinkled a small amount of powder into the joint and Vibeka rolled and licked it.
“What’s in the joint?” I asked
“Oh it’s just a bit of smack darling” said Vibeke
She lit the joint, took two tokes and passed it to me. I had not smoked heroin before, I guess there is a first time for everything, I copied her and took two tokes as well and passed it on to Joey. He took one toke on account of he was going to be driving soon and passed it on to Kelvin who took two hits and passed it on to Alana who finished it off with two more. I settled back into the seat and looked out of the window at a beautiful clinker built botter moored on the opposite side of the canal. Everything I looked at seemed somehow sharper, picked out in vivid relief and I had a feeling akin to being wrapped in the softest woolen safety blanket whilst at the same time I felt I could deal with anything with absolute clarity of thought. This was dangerous for me because it felt too nice, so nice that I resolved then and there that I would never use Captain Jack ever again, and so it has been ever since that afternoon. I can’t answer for the others but I could sense the danger for me as I knew that I would easily be won over by the delicious comfortableness of it and as I had already lost two close friends through the awfulness of junkydom I just knew it was too much of a risk for me. We all sat there in a calm and chilled state and Joey put a cassette of John Lennon’s Imagine album on and we chilled out to it whilst we waited for Ricky to come back from the station.
As Lennon sang “And the World is so tough; Sometimes I feel I’ve had enough” in the penultimate track of the album Ricky opened the door to Big D to find a bunch of very subdued hippies lolling on the cushions at the back of the van.
“Look lively people and make me a joint, I’ve just had it right off.”
Kelvin opened his stash box and started putting three Rizlas together, I asked Ricky what he meant and he said,
“Well Frenchie it’s like this, I need a new Marshall bass stack to go with my new Fender Jazz bass guitar but I am short of wedge at the moment so this afternoon I have started an insurance claim on my stolen luggage.”
“But you didn’t have any luggage…..” I said
“Ahh you know that, I know that, we all know that but the station police don’t know that and they have just taken down a full statement verifying that I have had my large suitcase stolen on the station precinct whilst drinking a glass of old Geneva gin at the cafe bar there.”
“How does that work?” asked Kelvin
“Oh come on, get it together” said Joey, “Ricky insured a whole load of valuables before he set off, and now they have, unfortunately been nicked.” he laughed.
“Joey’s right,” Ricky said, “I went round all my mates and got them to give a load of receipts for some pretty valuable gear, I should get about a grand when I get back and put the claim in. The assessors will check things out with the station police here and, ‘cos the Dutch old Bill are so efficient at bureaucracy they will have no option but to cough up.”
We all fell about laughing, Kelvin passed the newly rolled reefer to Ricky who lit up.
“It’s time we hit the road” said Joey and he started Big D. We pulled out of the car park that had been our base for those three days of Hunter S Thompson style mayhem and headed for the Motorway. We dropped the girls off at a service station, we gave them most of the dope we had left as we were wary about going through English customs carrying, and I gave them my phone number just in case they ever made it to London. Of course we never heard from either of them again.
We got back to Ostende in four hours having had to stop for Kelvin to have another cup of tea and a final pipeful before we got on the ferry. After an uneventful crossing we cleared Dover without any hassle and were back in Deptford by 10.00 pm sitting in the Oxford Arms eating cheese rolls and downing a pint each, except for Kelvin who had yet another sweet tea.
“Well Kelvin,” I asked, “are you going back into Bexley to carry on with the treatment?”
He looked at me and a beatific smile broke across his face as he replied “Nah Frenchie mate, I’m feeling a whole lot better, just like my old self again.” He looked around at all of us and said “You geezers are just the most far out friends any one could ever have, thanks for getting me back on the track, I won’t forget this.”
I looked over at Joey and he winked at me.
A month later Ricky duly got a cheque from the insurance company for one thousand and sixty five pounds and brought the amp and speaker cab that he needed for his band The Happy Acid Star Hoppers (The HASH). Kelvin moved in with the wife of the manager of one of The Dynasty’s cafes and started writing a screenplay about fairies and dragons whilst eating lots of mushrooms. Joey and the rest of the Deptford Dynasty carried on expanding their empire and spending money like it was going out of style. I carried on selling my art on the railings for another eight years until Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, the exchange rates tightened up and the world on Bayswater Road changed forever. I don’t know what happened to Big D but it was a great van and I wished I had it now. I’m about ready for another trip to Amsterdam now that I’ve turned 65, where is my phone book……….. I must check those guys out again!
(Any resemblance to any events or anybody living or dead is entirely coincidental, know what I mean man!!)
Halloween At Henlan – a short story by Harry Rogers 2/3/2013
The railway yard was filling up with cars as people arrived for the annual Halloween night ride on The Ghost Train. Station Master Stanley Ford had decided that, this year, it would be fun to make the evening a fancy dress event with a series of prizes for the best costumes for both children and adults. Tickets had sold like wildfire and a number of local businesses had donated some spectacular items for prizes and Stan was very pleased with himself. He stood in the ticket office watching the miniature ghouls arriving with the mummies and monsters, the vampires and the werewolves decamping from the Hyundais and the Land Rovers, the witches, the warlocks, the zombies and the skeletons all gathering in front of the refreshment room and light railway platform.
Stan’s long suffering wife Arlene was standing behind a long trestle table serving two types of Halloween drinks, bright red blood coloured punch for the grownups and an amazing fluorescent green limeade concoction for the children. There were also some special beastly burgers, supplied by the best butcher in Newcastle Emlyn, and Stan and Arlene’s son Frank was wielding the spatula and dishing the onions. The Fords had gone as members of the Adam’s Family and were quite the part and, had they been allowed to enter, they would have been shoe ins for a prize.
Frank was very happy barking out his sales mantra in a blood curdling voice “Get yer beastly burgers ‘ere, they’re really ghastly and ‘orrible.”. He was doing a roaring trade. God knows the railway needed the money having been refused funding yet again in the latest round of the European grant circus. Stan had big plans for the run down tourist railway. He had worked hard developing the business plan which outlined a spanking new station bar and restaurant, new platforms, an extension of the line all the way into Newcastle Emlyn, and a beautiful replica of a Victorian ticket office and station buffet. He had also designed a new children’s play ground with under cover areas. He had really thought it all out and was certain that this time the local authority would back the application for £2,000,000 all the way, after all there were going to be quite a few new local jobs created. Yet again it had come to naught as the economic development officers in the planning department advised the politicians to support an alternative plan for a modern Celtic dance centre in Aberystwyth. They basically argued that the puffer nutter community were happy running their trains up and down the two miles of track and therefore they would have to stand aside this time. The board of directors at the trust said they were as upset as Stan was but he knew this was not true. The planners were right, the board were just a bunch of railway enthusiasts with no ambition to expand the site into a thriving and successful business, they were happy to come in on weekends and put their boiler suits and oily railway issue caps on, smoke roll up cigarettes, drink large tin mugs of builders tea and get covered in grease and coal dust. Stan was initially spitting feathers when the final rejection letter first arrived but he was sort of over it now, after all this was the third attempt they had made to lever major funding into Henllan and he was getting used to failure.
The rain was miraculously holding off and, even though it was quite chilly, everybody was happy. Stan had booked a Zydeco band called Flaky Jake and the Steaming Locos for entertainment and they were busy setting up their kit on the raised platform next to the refreshment hut. Frank and a couple of his mates from school had rigged up some stage lights and when the band started a quick sound check the lights bathed the whole stage area in a deep red glow. Frank looked up from his burger flipping and was very pleased indeed with the effect. They had hung a few white cardboard cut-outs of stars, moons, skulls and Celtic symbols against a black backdrop and the whole thing looked spooky and magical.
Stan strolled across the yard through the thronging, blood splashed, axe wielding, broomstick waving children and loped up onto the stage. He took the microphone in his hand and said, “Good evening everybody, welcome to the annual Teifi Valley Railway Halloween party, it is so great to see you here in such numbers. The ghost train will run in about an hour’s time, after which we will judge the fancy dress competition. That will be followed by more music from our band, who have travelled here all the way from London, but first they will play a few suitably devilish songs to get us in the mood so please give a great big hand for Flaky Jake and the Steaming Locos…”.
All the children started cheering as Jake stepped out onto stage with his accordion followed by the rest of the band, guitarists, sax player and drummer.
“Hello Henllan.” Jake said, “We’d like to open up with our Zydeco version of that old Boris Picket number “The Monster Mash”, hit it boys.”, and with that the band launched into a blistering swampy version of the great horror rock classic. The children went wild and started cavorting in the most ecstatic way, after all it was true to say that Henllan had not had any rock and roll for at least fifteen years, ever since the woodland theatre had deteriorated into the undergrowth. Stan still had it in mind to resurrect the open air amphitheatre in the woods and it was on the pile with all the other dream projects he had sitting on his desk.
Stan stood by the side of stage looking out over the crowd and he had a warm glow inside. This was a success, for a change, and he calculated that the event was going to make a profit of at least a couple of grand. His eyes roamed across the audience and he started looking at the costumes. “People are inventive.” he thought. There was a young man wearing full hospital surgery green overalls with cap and mask covered in spatters of blood and with a selection of blood covered plastic tools hanging from a belt, next to him was what could only be described as a cross between a vampire and the mummy, also covered in fake blood. Between them they were wheeling a blood drip stand with a genuine blood transfusion bottle hanging from it filled with red wine. Every so often they took the plastic tube dangling from the bottle, let out fiendish yells before opening the catheter at the end of the tube and taking a deep swig of wine each. Stan had them down as contenders in the competition straight away. He looked across to the far side of the stage and there stood what he thought was the best get up for the evening. A tall man with very long thick red curly hair stood wearing what looked like a matted goat skin secured on to his body with plaited leather thongs in classic Bronze Age style. He had tattoos all over his arms and legs and also on his cheeks. He was leaning on an intricately carved stick with large bulbous knobbly bit on the end. Stan thought it looked like a large shillelagh that would do serious damage if it ever got used in anger. Hanging from his side was a two foot gold coloured sword which looked as if it had fancy engraving on the blade and a jewel encrusted handle with a solid silver hilt. Circling around his biceps were two reddish golden armlets in the shape of dragons. “This guy has splashed the cash on the props here.” he mused. However, it was not the weaponry, the jewellery or the tattoos that made him stand out from the rest of the crowd, it was the blue dye that covered every inch of his skin. This was a proper make up job and it made the guy look every inch like an early Celtic warrior. Stan was convinced. He was the winner.
The band played on and everybody had a great time, every time someone shouted out the name of their favourite Halloween song the band started playing it. Stan knew he would book them again, they were pros. At nine o’clock the steam engine pulled out of the engine shed and everyone knew the ghost train was ready to roll up the track to the halt at Shaky Bridge. After a further ten minutes the five carriages were attached to the old narrow gauge mining engine and it pulled alongside the platform. The band played their final song at the end of the first set, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs’ scary number “Little Red Riding Hood”. Stan stepped onto the stage again, “OK everybody, all aboard the ghost train.”
More cheering came from the audience and everybody made their way over to the platform. The carriages were all decked out with artificial cobwebs and larger hairy spiders and Stan had rigged up a speaker in each carriage through which the eerie sounds of people wailing and screaming could be heard. A couple of small children started crying but Stan easily consoled them with a couple of chocolate chomp bars he carried with him for just this very happening.
The train driver pulled the chord for the train’s whistle and let out a long blast followed by two short ones and train slowly pulled out of the station. The train track to Shaky Bridge was only just over a mile long and so travelled very slowly in order to make the journey take longer. Alongside the railway in the trees and bushes Stan and Frank had been busy and there were life size monsters and ghosts hidden in them, with lights that flashed as the train slowly went past, and the scariest object was the body swinging from a rope on a tall sycamore tree. Also Stan had enlisted the help of a dozen children from the local school who wore black body suits with luminous skeleton designs appliquéd on them. These kids lay deadly still as the train drew alongside them and as soon as some of the kids started shouting out “Look at the skeletons, Look at the skeletons.” they all jumped up and started dancing about. This was always a winner and everybody was laughing as the bones kept on shaking and jiggling as they ran alongside the train as it pulled into the little station by the waterfall at Shaky Bridge.
Arlene was waiting on the platform with a giant sack and all the children got off the train and queued up for their little trick or treat bags. The adults were glad to see Frank there dispensing cups of tea from a giant urn set up at the far end of the platform. Stan rolled himself a cigarette and walked down to the end of the train and was slowly smoking in a very contented way when he saw the blue warrior open the gate to a footpath and make his way down to the underside of the bridge. This was not allowed and Stan followed him to see what he was up to. By the time Stan caught up with him the warrior was underneath Shaky Bridge, by the side of the Neolithic leet that drew water along to an ancient encampment in the forest.
Stan shouted out “Hoy, you. What are you doing down here? It’s unsafe in the dark. You can easily lose your footing and slip into the stream here. Please, come back to the platform.”
The startled blue man turned and looked at Stan, staring into his eyes with a fierce look on his face, then, turning, he took a leap across the stream. It was a rushing torrent as there had been nonstop rain for the previous six weeks and there was a lot of mud and leaves on the bank. As the warrior leapt he slipped on the mud, only just making it across and, as he landed, the short sword eased from his belt and fell into the raging water. The warrior hauled himself up onto the opposite bank, turned to face Stan and, shaking his club as he let out a threatening roar, he slowly disappeared into thin air. Stan stood agog for a moment then went back to the platform.
The following day he told Frank his story and they went back to the leet. The stream had slowed down quite a lot and Stan looked down into the water. He saw something glinting there and leapt in with all his clothes on. Frank was astonished as he pulled out the sword.
Two months later the chieftain’s sword sold for a record breaking ten million pounds as the finest Neolithic weapon ever found. The railway’s share of the treasure trove meant that there would be some jobs in Henllan after all.