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It was well into the summer when the lads from our street set about building a base camp in the ‘Furry Glen’ near to our homes. Miler and Whacker were the oldest and toughest and they automatically assumed the joint command of the operation – we the younger and lesser beings assumed the humble roles of foot-soldiers. During the construction of the base camp the joint commanders worked us day and night to such and extent that they were rumblings from the ranks of the foot soldiers - but they were only rumblings. No one would dare question their authority. When the base was finally completed Miler and Whacker secured themselves inside the camp armed with a huge stockpile of sixty-four page comics. The command was issued.

“No foot soldier was to be allowed inside the base camp.”

We were distraught. We had done all the work and it now looked as if we might never set foot in there now that the work was completed. The disenchantment amongst the foot soldiers was palpable ... the lingering thought was too daunting to contemplate! For days we ran errands for ‘General Miler’ and ‘General Whacker’... sparkling red lemonade..Ice pops ..Sweets of every shape and colour. Life was never better at headquarters. Each evening we scurried round the base camp envying the two occupants, until eventually our envy turned to black hatred. Slowly the message was sinking in that these commands were for real. There was no possibility now or in the future that the footsoldiers would be permitted to enter the base camp. Our morale was sagging; our rumblings grew less with each passing day. But a tiny trickle of hope came in the guise of one John Joe Flynn. “Everyone calls me Spider”

He murmured, introducing himself.

“We just moved in to the street day”

Though Spider was not prime material to lead a coup we were nonetheless grateful for any support that might come our way. Spider had a kind of squinty eye and was the smallest eleven year old any of us had ever seen.

“You can join the foot soldiers...I suppose “

Perky uttered with little conviction. Spider nodded his head in acknowledgement. We quietly huddled round and outlined the command structure to Spider.

“Outright dictatorship”

Said Goggles. Spider was not impressed.

“And who are the generals?”

“Whacker and Miler”

Uttered Goggles almost in a whisper...”

“They can beat up anyone.”

“Is that so?”

Said Spider.

“We’ll see about that.”

The foot soldiers were impressed - this kind of talk was rarely heard round here nowadays.

“Who’s causing trouble out there?”

Shouted Whacker.

Everyone froze except Spider.

“Let the foot soldiers have a turn in the base camp”

Retorted Spider. In no time the generals were scampering to pull open the sheet at the entrance of the base camp. Whacker and Miler instantly burst out laughing when they saw Spider.

“Run along little shrimp and get back to your own road before we’ll bring you before a court marshal.”.

“And bash your little bones “added Miler. Each foot soldier was glued to the spot in which he stood.

“No pimply faced bully is going to tell me to run along”

Said Spider addressing Whacker. That was it! We knew that all hell would break lose.

“Want to take one of us on midget.”

Miler was aching for a fight. Whacker was relishing the idea of teaching this little upstart a real lesson, and right in front of the foot soldiers as well! Both generals were at this stage standing in front of Spider. We held our breaths fearful for Spider. After all he had stuck his neck out for us, but now he was about to pay the price. Spider somehow looked unconcerned as the two argued among themselves as to who would have the pleasure of teaching this little squinty-eyed blowin the severest lesson of his life. Whacker won out and wasted no time in moving forward for battle. Spider now looked even smaller up against the bulky figure of his assailant. This Whacker had a fearsome reputation, his fighting prowess was well known to the footsoldiers. He once took on a fifteen year old on the railway line near the ‘Furry Glen’ and left him for dead. Our anxiety was at fever pitch - it would be our fault if Whacker made mincemeat of Spider. But we could all see from the expression on Spider’s face that he had no notion of retreating at this stage. Suddenly Whacker made a dirty move - he thrust Spider backwards with a ferocious lounge. Spider almost toppled, but he quickly re-adjusted and his expression changed. No one was prepared for what was to follow! Spider pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, placed it in his left hand and proceeded to take out his eye. He wrapped his glass eye in the hanky and handed it to Goggles.

“Take care of this for me”.

We were dumbfounded. Whacker was unperturbed! Immediately he launched another attack on Spider... this time from Spider’s blind side, but Spider’s quick reply caught Whacker with a stinging crack to the ribs and immediately followed up with a right uppercut that almost lifted Whacker off the ground. The foot soldiers wanted to cheer but it was too early to nail our colours, but within seconds we were cheering when great big red blobs of blood were pouring from Whacker’s nose. The great big fighting machine was now fighting back the tears - but the were soon to come! Spider was in complete control now. Whacker was stuck in a headlock and finding it impossible to breath. He begged Spider to stop and Spider loosened his grip when out of the blue Whacker drew a huge kick at Spider. But our hero had all the answers. With lightning speed Spider fastened onto Whacker’s leg and spun him over leaving him like a mangled ball of useless mutton on the bloodied ground. By his stage Miler’s eyes could have rolled out of their sockets as he watched his fellow general motionless on the ground. When Whacker regained some sense of where he was, he scurried along the ground out of the combat zone and took off like a scalded cat to the deafening cheers of the foot soldiers. Miler was at this stage in hot pursuit of his colleague having lost his appetite for further conflict .The foot soldiers were delirious - their joy unconfined. There was a huge struggle to get Spider onto our shoulders. Every foot soldier wanted to shake his hand and clap him on the back and tell him how grateful we were for our liberation. The implications of the victory were slowly beginning to sink in - from now on we would have full access to the base camp. But our new found leader was full of surprises.

“We’ll raise the base camp to the ground”

He shouted.

“We’ll banish the memory of Miler and Whacker for all time, not trace of their existence will remain, and we’ll build the biggest and best base camp that has ever been seen in the ‘Furry Glen’ and we’ll build it by ourselves for ourselves.”

The foot soldiers were almost in frenzy. We hoisted Spider onto our shoulders and carried him round the old base camp like some symbolic ritual. But Spider was a practical leader and just wanted to get on with the work. He thanked his comrades and gave a special mention to Goggles for holding his eye. I was very jealous, I would have been proud to hold Spider’s eye. We got on with the work. Our first task was to rip down the old base camp and after our leaders inspirational speech we did this with vigour and relish. We were now a motivated force – a dedicated bunch of foot soldiers, and we were intent on building the best base camp in the shortest time that was humanly possible. It would have to be big enough to hold all eight of us at the same time. We collected tree branches and hundreds of turf sods from the nearby bog. The strong plastic bags were used in the construction ensured that this base camp was well capable of withstanding even the harshest weather conditions. When it was finished on the third night we lit a fire and gave Spider the privilege of naming the base camp.


We cooked sausages and rashers of bacon and big spuds and the delightful smells reached all the way to the yellow moon. Under our new leader life was certainly worth living! As each day passed our admiration for Spider grew. Though he said he did not want to become our leader, we all thought of him in those terms. The ousted generals – Whacker and Miler were no longer visible in these parts. But news of their demise and the further news of the prowess of Spider brought would-be generals to try their luck and challenge Spider. But one by one they all met with the same bloody fate. Perky, Jamie, and Goggles on two occasions, were all given the honour of holding Spider’s eye. Spider totally ignored me. And I wanted the job more that all the others put together. I wished Spider would pick me...Just once! But time was running out and my dream was fading fast. Soon we would be back in school and the arrival of the dark evenings would put an end to the base camp .It was late in the evening when my sister called me for my tea. She was older than me and Spider remarked that he thought she was a smasher. I seized my opportunity. “She was saying the other night that she had heard a lot of stories about you and that she fancied you like mad, you know that she is the best kisser on the road....maybe I can arrange something....providing, and this is the deal you let me hold your eye at your next scrap. ”

The beam from Spider’s smile would have lit up the ‘Furry Glen’ itself on a dark night.



P for Purple

I hate November.

The skimpy trees outside my house stand like skeletons, and the few odd leaves lurking about will soon be mashed into the ground; this Monday morning is still dark and an easterly wind now gaining strength is about to complete the misery.

I’m getting divorced today.

I’m closing the door on my home for the last time – the wife has fled these last few months now.

The big ‘FOR SALE’ sign will be erected today, and seven years of my life in this house will be but a memory – a bad memory.

Today I’m thinking of another November day.

I’m in my office at home catching up on the invoicing in order to get the cash in for Christmas; Brenda is long gone to work. Charlie is off school for some holiday or other, and he is scoring goals freely on the playstation. I should be doing something creative with him but my work has piled up over these last few weeks, and this is the only opportunity I have to clear the paperwork. Tomorrow Charlie will be back in school and I’ll be back on the road chasing up some outstanding sales prospects.

She rings at ten – of course Charlie is alright. She is so excited – getting promotion – always wanted that job in Human Relations and the money is fantastic too. She might be a bit late, might drop into The Grey Badger for one or two just to celebrate. I’m so happy for her; she fully deserves everything she gets with that company, she’s been a stalwart for them since the first day she joined them. As I put down the phone I remember the bin, today is collection day; couldn’t stand the smell of that bloody thing for another week; better put it out.

From the back garden I hear that young bastard from down the road; he thinks he’s in Brands Hatch in that bloody car. Suddenly the almighty sound of screeching brakes rings out.

It’s his blond hair I see first beside the car. My screams rise to the high heavens when I recognise Charlie on the ground, I rush over to him – but it’s too late.

As I raise him from the road his body falls limp.

My darling boy is dead - red blood oozing from his mouth into my shirt. Somehow I raise myself from the ground and slowly carry him towards the house.

All I can remember about his funeral is his little white coffin and Brenda’s face.

I did not want to leave him behind in that cold dark graveyard.

But I had to go.

More dark days followed – we had no reason to get up in the morning, no reason to eat or talk; not even a reason to even breathe. And so our lives went on. Well intentioned family and friends were endeavouring to carry our load with us, but the truth is that we had died ourselves. Brenda resumed her job in Human Relations and her job was so demanding that she got periods of relief simply by concentrating on her work; I endeavoured to chase sales just for the sake of doing something. When we spoke I could still sense the accusing tone of Brenda, and I was so full of guilt myself that I spent entire days reprimanding myself for being so careless.

Time rumbled on.

After a few outings with the councillor Brenda’s gloom showed some signs of lifting; she was encouraging me to follow the same route, but I told her I was not ready – I would never be ready.

I almost threw up one evening when she said that we should have another child. Of all the sentences in the English language this is one I did not want to hear.

“Replace the dog, replace the cat, how could she think like that about Charlie.”

I refused to discuss the matter with her no matter how many times she would try to bring it up.

“Tell your bloody shrink that I will not have him interfering in my life.”

By this time I was receding more into Charlie’s life. I had decorated his room for his birthday, put up the latest Arsenal posters, and arranged his toys neatly in his room.

Brenda refused to enter his room and accused me of setting up some kind of shine for him. She said she wanted to try and move on with her life; I did not.

And the arguments went on from one week to the next – until eventually we were barely communicating at all. Brenda was less and less in the house now, but that suited me fine as well for I needed time to think – lots of time.

Brenda informed me that she had to go on a business trip to London.

When she returned she had an extra bounce in her step – and a bombshell for me.

She was expecting a baby.

Yes the father was well known to me – the financial director of her company.

She had gone to London with him to sort out things and their entire plan was hatched – she was leaving that day. I was devastated and felt totally betrayed.

How could anyone be so self centred and cruel?

I branded her Judas and a prostitute with all the energy I could muster but she just turned on her heels and went straight out the door.

Soon brown windowed envelopes were coming through the letter box – Brenda was on the money trail - she wanted her portion of the house.

The auctioneer told me that it was the worst possible time to sell any house but I gave him the go ahead anyway. The offers were even worse than I expected but I told him to sell the bloody thing as I wanted shut of the whole business.

His room had to be dismantled so yesterday morning I began. Each item I took in my hands rekindled memories of his young life until my heart could not take the grief anymore, and I ended up prostrate on the couch in an uncontrollable state of grief. John and Jenny from next door took over and completed the dismantling of his room. I’ll be staying with them for a few weeks until I pull myself together. I am moving into the granny flat at the end of the garden now vacated these last six months by Jenny’s mother who is gone to her eternal reward. John and Jenny know I haven’t a tosser to my name and it is through the kindness of their hearts they are doing this for me. Madam Brenda was expecting a nice little windfall from the sale of the house; but in spite of the fact that I was suffering myself it gave me great pleasure to inform her that there was zero left after the sale – the mortgage eat up the lot. All the papers for the divorce are signed and it is now just a matter of pasting a stamp. She rang to wish me a happy rest of my life- I replied with just two words:

Fuck off!

Jenny advised me to read Tony Robins on the laptop; instead I lay back on the bed in the granny flat and gazed out the window at the birds shuffling in the big tree.

What was life like being a bird… searching for food from morning to night, coming and going for no particular reason; rearing their young and watch them leave the nest – would birds get lonely, would they cry after their young. Would they cry in the dead of the night; would they cry before they go to sleep, would they cry when they wake up. Birds are selfish I suspect. As I turned my gaze from the antics of the birds I gazed at the painting on the wall – it was Jenny’s mother – all smiley and grey and old and now dead. She lived to be a right old age though.

Does it matter if you die young or old; when you die you are gone anyway. I knew my thoughts were bringing me to a steep slope and I was not resisting going there this dirty grey day.

Would anyone miss me?

Who would shed a tear for my going?

The day was closing in now and the different shades of November darkness were enveloping the house. Earlier on Jenny had given me a few tablets to ease the pain and they were beginning to slow down everything inside my body never mind my head. I lay back on the pillow and made myself more comfortable in the big bed; this gave me a better position to see the birds in the trees. Time had indeed fallen asleep in the grey afternoon.

He was hovering just outside the window the first time I set eyes on him - a beautiful snow white dove. His body seemed to glow in the gathering darkness; he looked straight at me through the window. I jumped up and pushed open the window to get a better look.

“Da ‘tis me, your son Charlie”

“Oh my Charlie where did you come from”

“Da if I told you it would be impossible for you to understand …. Listen I am here to tell you that I am very well, very happy.”

“Oh Charlie how I miss you; you look so beautiful”

“Da I am with you all the time … I know what an awful time you are having and I am here now to tell you that all will be well”

“I cannot forgive myself for carelessness and for your death”

“Shss no more of that …it was an accident… not your fault”

“Listen Charlie I can hardly believe that it is your voice I am hearing; it’s so wonderful to hear you again”

“Now Da I want you to forgive yourself and forgive Mum, and great joy and happiness will pour into your heart, the one thing you learn on this side is that forgiveness has the magic power to heal all ills …I want you to take this to your heart because I will not be able to return to you again once I leave”

“Oh Charlie stay with me …stay with me”

“Da I have to be going now…all will be well”

There was a strong thumping on the door; I jumped up on the bed only to see the smiling faces of John and Jenny at the door.

“What a sleeper” says Jenny

“Asleep for eighteen hours”

“We had a few peeps in on you to make sure you were alive” said John.

“I have something to tell you”

“Keep everything in your head ‘till you have a fine breakfast inside you” said Jenny.

Over breakfast I discovered that they had a plan to take me out for the day and I still had not related my story to them. The image of the white dove was jumping round in my head and the strangeness of it all had my senses creaking. Perhaps it did happen; after all the window was open in the morning. I eventually decided to keep my story to myself lest they think I was losing the plot completely, and went along with the trip out for the day.

I had a new bounce in my step and for the first time in months my body did not feel heavy or cumbersome. As we were about to get into the car I stunned my two minders.

“Would you mind driving me to Charlie’s grave; I just feel like going there today”

“Of course, of course” said John.

For months I had refused point blank to go anywhere near the cemetery and the turnabout in my attitude left them totally perplexed. All my apprehension had evaporated and I felt a new peace and calm within me as I approached the grave.

Brenda had done a beautiful job on the grave – so neat and tidy – and she did not forget the Arsenal jersey either!

I had just started to bless myself when Jenny leaned forward and picked something from the grass.

“Oh look what a beautiful white feather” she cried out.

I looked upwards towards the watery sun and smiled.