Regular readers of my twitter feed, will realise that I write. A lot. Much of this eventually ends up in print, of some sort of other, but there is always a swamp of stuff which is hard to place or fit into a book. I often use sites such as goodreads or allpoetry as ‘dumping grounds’ but this often attracts the sort of vitriol which seems to be associated with social media use.And, to be honest, I am bored of the in-fighting.
I do enjoy interaction, so, with the understanding I am posting this from work, in that flat time between Popmaster and Costa time, and our high tech browser struggles with anything later than steam techonology, and not in an exciting steam-punk way, here is one of those odd pieces of writing, which I am proud to deposit here. Its an idea piece, which I will eventually return to and correct minor details- spelling, punctuation etc.
I have long had an idea to write a superhero story, but being a particularly downmarket one. i.e employed by the council. As will quickly become apparent-it is set in the north of England, in the era of austerity, post WW2.
Council Avenger Heads South
After the drama of the Saturday Morris, life in little Murkfield soon settled back into its cloud-wreathed greyness. There was still the odd incident where the boys in blue needed the assistance of our two superheroes, but crime fighting slipped back into its regular routine. CA and UT were taking tea. CA had an idea for new crime fighting apparatus-the self-levelling jelly-level and was illustrating its use to UT. Their busy stillness was broken by the dropping of an embossed notelet onto the laundrette’s mat. UT picked it up. The blue font gave away its sender.
The Inspector calls…
Next morning, both were taking tea at Police HQ. Inspector Vesta was waving a stubby 2B and outlining plans.
“Chaps, we have a pickle which demands your attention. Biscuit? And, err, chaps”
Both superheroes eagerly leaned forward. A double-chap consultation was the first sign of trouble. Vesta took a deep breath.
“Well, chaps” (three-now very serious.) A situation is developing, in the err, south, which, we think requires your attention.”
“We, Inspector?” asked Turban, taking a custard cream.
“Yes, the Council.” Vesta double-tapped an iced ring. “Following our fame, as a result of the Morris War, the Council have been asked to send a cultural delegation to an event in the south, and, err, would like you both to attend, in an official capacity, and, err, provide the requisite levels of security. When not required, we don’t mind you free lancing, superheroing etc.”
Vesta smiled weakly and sipped tea. He looked across his teacup at his crime-fighting colleagues.
The Avenger narrowed his eyes and replied
“Where, and why, Inspector?”
“How far south?” added Turban.
“It’s at the Crystal Palace” responded the Inspector.
“As in Crystal Palace nil, Manchester City three” asked CA.
“That’s them. It is just up the road. Preparations are in hand. Mrs Basset-Hind has everything…”
“We have not agreed, yet” butted in the Avenger.
Next morning, both heroes were at the station, wrestling their way through asthmatic engines. A small crowd, plus band, entertained by mayoral speeches, and a magician sculpting balloon dogs. Someone had brought bunting. Two stout lines of policemen were parading in front of a gleaming black engine, which had attached a small, smart train of coaches. The railway had done them proud. A pair of first class carriages sandwiched a pair of camping coaches. Hilda spotted her superheroes, and aiming her excited bosom, beamed at both.
“Gentlemen, you have agreed! Thank you, thank you!” and gave both a hug.
“I think this is wonderful” she continued “our very own little train.”
The band played a fanfare, all crashing cymbals, and flat notes. HBH carried on…
“Now, listen please. I have confirmed the sleeping arrangements and asked Mrs Westward Ho! and Miss Stepping-Hill, to accompany you and take responsibility for all catering arrangements. I have given Vernon (Inspector Venn) and Sgt Swann strict instructions on etiquette and appropriate manners. Ladies of the London W.I will meet you upon arrival, but Wilhelmina and Constance are more than capable. Both ladies waved upon hearing their names. They were rectangular women, all pearls, and lily-of the-valley.
With nice hats and slight sagging.
Sgt Swann appeared, flushed and under-gymmed.
“We are taking enough food to feed an army. It weighs a tonne.”
Both CA and UT winced. Criticism was not something HBH took lightly. Even from a soon-to-be-decorated veteran, such as Swann.
“My good man, with all due respect, I am in charge of catering. All you have to do is lift it, and then eat it. Do you seriously expect the Murkfield W.I. to send its menfolk, to London, under catered?”
“No ma’am, I wouldn’t expect you would.”
“Precisely. One more thing Sgt”
“Yes?” a worried Swann added
“Please look after my Vernon for me. I pass him into your care.” Hilda wandered off to supervise an unfortunate railwayman who was loading foodstuffs into carriages. She looked back
“Good luck at the Palace, Caractacus”
Sgt Swann had an appointment with Her Majesty. His bravery at the final battle had earned him an obscure, Empire decoration. Rather chuffed, he wiggled his toes in excitement.
“Righto, lads. By pairs; into the carriages. Be quick with you. … Get yourself a haircut, lad”
The crowd cheered as the train pulled out. Small boys waved flags. The enterprise had begun.
Thanks to the ever, efficient railway, the southbound journey passed without incident. The English landscape was a matching tea set and side plates, wobbling in green glaze. As the train hurried south, the weather brightened, and by the time, Watford is gapped, the worried coppers were applying sun cream. The two W.I stalwarts rustled up an impressive tea and the happy band settled down to buns.
“It’s not only elephants who need a bun a day,” mentioned the Avenger.
“Inspector,” asked Miss Stepping-Hill “do you have more details of the event?”
“Indeed I have. Here is the programme.”
To a symphony of cooing, he read out:
“The Lancastrian Cultural Cohort includes:”
“The Crewe Station Formation Train Spotters”
“Manchester Collieries Show Jumping Pit-Ponies”
“The Famous Fighting Finches”
“The Angry Anvils. Farrier Martial Arts”
“And my favourite, Sid’s Steam-Roller Racing (sponsored by Salford Sloe Gin Ltd).”
“I’m sure we all agree that is a fine night’s entertainment.” With that, he suggested that it was time for ovaltine and an early night.
After a peaceful night in a comfortable siding, CA rose early and went exploring around the station. The rhythm of the mainline filled the space as the train shed dusted off the morning. First shunting had rearranged northbound carriages whilst sleepy railwaymen smoked and swore into sunlight. CA soon found a friendly face and he was happily chatting, about wheel balance weights and torque, to the fireman of tank engine, when Vesta interrupted.
“CA, we have a situation. Our friend, Man from the Ministry, had forwarded me a note. It’s serious.” With that, he handed over an official looking buff envelope.
“This seems official,” commented Avenger.
“Indeed. In addition, ‘Top Secret.’ Read what it says.”
CA’s mouth moved as he read the typescript. Reading was not his finest superhero strength. After re-reading and asking his new fireman friend for assistance, he looked across to Venn
“We need to go to the ministry. Just us two and Turban. But first, breakfast and then I need to make a phone call.”
Back at the camping coach, the indomitable ladies were over-egging breakfast. Shirt-sleeved policemen were mashing tea and slicing bead. The aroma of bacon and eggs quickly fugging up the windows. PC Miles Platting was taking post on the platform and he popped his head in
“Inspector, a dispatch rider has delivered this. It is for your eyes only.”
“Thank you, Platting. Were there any other messages?”
“No. sir, but he is waiting for a response.”
“Well, invite him in lad. There is enough for all.”
It soon transpired the rider was a jug-eared soldier from Stockport by the name of Albert. Finishing his bacon and eggs, like all good troopers, he let the clucking WI ladies spoil him with another. Once the lad finished, Vesta had a response.
“Albert, please relay that we understand the threat and will travel, after breakfast, to the ministry. Vesta and Avenger watched the soldier splutter away.
“It’s a level blue situation, Avenger. Quite serious.”
After settling their particulars, IV, CA and UT were transported to the ministry by the Metropolitan Police. The building was one of those impressive, yet unremarkable building, which hide in dark London alleys and spend their days baffling tourists. Outside, two bayonet–eager guards owned psychotic stares and supervised by an excitable, snarling Sgt Major. His demeanour changed from overtly aggressive, to mainly moody, once he confirmed identities. Marching them inside, he pointed to where a familiar face greeted them.
“Thank you Sgt. Major. I will take over from here.”
It was Gladstone Bagger. The Man from the Ministry. As he shepherded them along marble corridors, he filled them in with a few more details.
“Gentlemen, thank you for coming. We have a meeting on the top floor. In the department.”
The utter seriousness of the developing situation necessitated the use of the express lift. This quickly deposited them on the ‘plus one’ floor, high in the rafters. The smell and voices of the London pigeons were both pungent and persistent. The attendant, thanking them for his tip, directed them out onto an expanse of government Wilton. Turban thought it was quite nice. The floor was a series of frosted-windows and whispering offices. All of the doors had stark ‘SECRET’ warnings liberally applied. Avenger suspected that the office inhabitants were high-tempo, university types, all partial to coffee.
“Never underestimate the malign influence of coffee, Turban.”
Bagger led them into the vestibule of an expansive office. As they snuggled on Chesterfields, he confided
“You are meeting Miss Daisy Hill, ex SOE, and other, less friendly, institutions. Miss Hill is also very high in the WI. Her walking stick is notched. Each notch is an ex-SS man, and they did not voluntarily retire. Within the top draw of her desk is a Webley, so avoid sudden movements and only speak when spoken to.”
With that, a buzzer buzzed and all four moved into the inner sanctum. CA thought that the lighting was a little severe and the wallpaper dated. It was, however, an office where decisions are made. Standing at the window, was a petite, over-bunned woman sipping at a glass of malt. She turned and motioned for the four to sit. Vesta was delighted she was a distance from her desk, as he had a sneeze developing.
“Gentlemen, thank you for your time. Bagger has briefed me about the Morris. All good work. I see Sgt Swann is to receive an honour. Good man, Caractacus.”
Vesta forgot to sneeze, wondering how Miss Hill knew Swann.
“To continue. Word has reached us that a situation is developing. We believe it involves… Her Majesty. Sadly, we have very limited details.” Rapping on the carpet with her stick,
“Felicity! Tea and Scones, please. Hold all my calls.”
“Bagger, brief our visitors on what we know. Who would like jam?”
After the brief, Avenger felt under–briefed, but accepted the brief, brief was correctly briefed. It was a brief, brief. Miss Hill rose and resumed looking out over London. She had another glass of malt.
“Gentlemen, you will understand why I have had to move outside normal channels. Once the palace is involved, it becomes a very delicate situation. Not even the WI have yet managed to obtain information, but what we do know is that something will happen and it will be on Cup Final day.
THE MORNING OF THE CUP FINAL
Broke. Fine, warm and sunny. Inspector Vesta and the Murkfield coppers seconded to the Met for the day. A moustachioed superintendent claimed it was most irregular, but found them spots on Wembley Way. Vesta supervised from a blue control box. As normal, both teams were from the north, so the chap’s language skills came in useful to local Bobbies. The two superheroes had taken post within one of the towers and were attempting to see abnormal behaviour. *Abnormal for London.*
Avenger was perturbed. They had no real clues. Luckily, he had remembered to make his phone call.
“Turban, I’m perturbed. We have no real clues and according to the Cup Final programme, HM will be here in a few hours.”
Turban nodded but deep in thought. He had spent the morning looking around, but apart from a couple of rainclouds, nothing seemed capable of spoiling the day.
Just a couple of rainclouds.
Sgt Swann puffed up.
“Just to let you know… nice view; the inspector has gone to the first aid tent. Something has triggered his allergies.”
“Turban” teased Avenger “The inspector was with you-what did you do to him?”
“Nothing, we just cycled around the stadium. Apart from a couple of rainclouds and a very, odd pong, there was nothing wrong.”
A couple of rainclouds, plus a very odd pong.
The gears whirred into place and synapses fired. Turban clicked his fingers. He had it!
“Sgt, take PC Heaton Norris and warn the inspector. Tell him that the situation has developed. Avenger, get to the phone box and issue the code word. And, then.”
Avenger dashed off. Fighting his way through the early crowds, he reached the police box. Inside, he lifted the handset, waited for the click and said;
Then, he waited.
THE INCIDENT OF ABIDE WITH ME
The stadium was full. Singing was disjointed and slightly continental. No doubt, when the massed bands arrived and Her Majesty smiled, all would improve. Walter the Wireless Weatherman was already on air, broadcasting to the world that the day was Cup Final perfect.
All of this was irrelevant to a pair of flying fruitcakes currently gaining altitude and heading for the stadium. The pair are old pals of the Avenger. This is neither the time, nor place for a full resume, but briefly, aviators Bertram Bryant and Mavis May had learnt to fly at the end of the big scuffle with the Kaiser. After marrying, they had procured an old Sopwith one and a half strutter and ran away to join the flying circus. After a series of adventures, at the beginning of the last unpleasantness, they returned home and offered their services to the Navy. Inland Command, RN, found them a role patrolling the inland waterways of Britain looking for U-Boats. Avenger often called on their expertise, which is why, they were battling rainclouds and shivering at 8000 feet. Bertram yelled back at his wife
“Get ready, Mavis, we are just northwest of the stadium. I can see the bands massing.”
“Mavis nodded and knotted her scarf a notch tighter. She also checked and cocked her Lewis gun. Bertram sighted his Vickers and fired a check burst. Below them, the stadium was full and the strains of Abide with Me lilted upwards. The experienced British aviators looked around. Mavis tutted, the thick black clouds were hampering visibility. However, Mavis knew her stuff. During a break in the clouds, she spotted a pair of circling biplanes. Thumping Bertram on the shoulder, Mavis pointed. Bertram eased the stick over and the elderly Sopwith swooped down. Both of the biplane pilots fully occupied, with their navigators tipping chemicals into the atmosphere. None of the quartet noticed Bertram and Mavis approaching. Bertram, seasoned veteran that he was, skilfully closed the gap. At the very last moment, the biplanes’ crew looked up. Bertram and Mavis, smiled, waved, and opened fire.
RETURN TO THE MINISTRY
Someone deserved an explanation. That someone was Miss Daisy Hill. Subsequently, Miss Daisy Hill was listening intently.
“So,” began Turban. “I realised something was afoot when I spotted the rainclouds.”
“It never rains on Cup Final day,” added Inspector Vesta.
“I know that!” spat Miss Hill, fingering her desk drawer.
Turban continued, “It was the smell that gave it away. Someone had been seeding chemicals into the atmosphere. To make it rain…”
“Why?” asked ever-gormless Vesta.
“Inspector!” snapped a clearly exasperated Miss Hill. “It never rains on Cup Final day. Imagine the consequences of one hundred thousand people without coats or brollies. The Massed Bands would be soaked and Her Majesty dripped on. How, under those circumstances, could we all enjoy Abide with Me?”
“We would be a laughing stock” chipped in Turban. “Think of the shame.”
“Oh, I see,” admitted Vesta. “The downed flyers-have we any ideas?”
“None, I’m afraid. Bagger is investigating. He is very good at this sort of thing,” said a stern-faced Miss Hill. “However, our lines of enquiry are pointing to the usual suspects.”
“The French?” asked the Council Avenger.
“Indeed” confirmed Miss Hill. “Mark my words; they have gone too far this time. I will enjoy my revenge.” A dark demeanour occupied her face- and gave no indication of departing.
On that note, but after cake, they all departed. Miss Hill promised to drop a note to the council and thanked them for their efforts. It seemed appropriate to sing Jerusalem.
Oh, finally, when Sgt Swann collected his medal from Her Majesty, she used his first name.