BOYS AND MEN
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.
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?”
“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?”
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”
“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.
‘THE FORT KNOX OF THE FURRY GLEN’
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.