_Paul_And_Land_

More Nonsense From _Paul_And_Land_

Month: February, 2015

Listen, Do You Want to Know a Secret, Let Me Whisper in Your Ear (Oh-No and Mull of Kintyre) aka Chapter Four

Chapter Four

Big Helga was walking back to the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, Ms Lennox had finished reading the poetic poem to the Straifs and Ways and was walking young Leavenworth back to Mr and Mrs Singh’s Shop (the other Straifs and Ways were reading each other their own favourite poetic poets whilst she did this and, as she left the Home, Little Cheerful Charlie had been reading ‘The Mysterious Visitor’ by Vasily Zhukovsky in the original Russian. “They are so very clever”, she thought to herself) . And she was right, of course, because she knew the secret. Then again, everyone in _Paul_And_Land_ knew the secret, all except for the three strangers in the bar of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ and their confidante with whom they were presently in conversation. Even ‘Snarl’ knew the secret and right now, ‘Snarl’ was thinking about the secret and was contemplating how he could let Big Helga know what he knew.

Also in the bar of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, the tattooed untattooed man was now checking out the 4:05 from Plumpton (17 runners, over the jumps, 25/1 bar seven). Not surprisingly, for the tattooed untattooed man at least, he had predicted the first, second and third in the last race from Lingfield. Not only that, he had predicted fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. He had also predicted that number six would fall at the fourth (which it did) and that number three would be pulled up two from home (which it was). To the tattooed untattooed man, this was just a bit of fun and a way of checking that his predictive algorithm actually worked. It surely did, as the last time he’d been wrong had been the 3:20 from Market Rasen on Wednesday the 8th May 2013 when a badger had run across the course causing the 22 length distant back-runner to rear up and throw it’s startled rider. So affected by his inability to correctly predict this outcome, the tattooed untattooed man had, since the episode, paid for the PTSD treatment for the jockey (anonymously, obviously) and had bought the horse (now known as Daisy) and paid for it’s care in _Paul_And_Land_. Oh, yes, the tattooed untattooed had predicted that the distance would have been 21 lengths. Curiously, if anything could be more curious, Daisy was now discussing the role of the horse in Assyrian history with the four (now three) stranger’s horses in the corner of the Big School’s sportsfield.

Daisy thought that at least three of these newcomers were incredibly arrogant and, in her opinion, they had absolutely no reason for that arrogance. The one who referred to himself as ‘Blackheart’s’ horse was probably worst but for Daisy this was easier than eating sugar-lumps. “Listen up, smart-croup, who’s this clown ‘Blackheart’ anyway? And, unless you’re about to start a career in racing, what makes you think that you are in any way memorable to anyone? You’re a horse, for goodness sakes’. So unless you’re in for a bit of Incitatus action a la Caligula style, wind your neck in. And another thing, you kick another horse ever again and us horses in _Paul_And_Land_ will sort you out, understand? I’m guessing that you’ve never read ‘Human Farm’, have you? Well we’ll whop your front legs off tout-suite and you’ll be holding up wallpaper quicker than you can say ‘boucheries chevalines’ and you’ll probably not do that very well if your example as a social horse shows”.

‘Kid’s’ horse smiled at Daisy, this was the most sense that ‘Kid’s’ horse had ever heard or experienced. ‘Kid’s’ horse was sick of the limelight and just wanted to pull a milk-cart about, he wondered if Daisy and her friends in this place could help him get rid of the stupid human who had dragged him down to this level of unhappiness. ‘Kid’s’ horse would talk to Daisy alone later.

“What do you think we pay you for?” said ‘Blackheart’ to the new member of the quartet, who were still sat in the corner of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. “There’s something going on here and we want to know what it is” ‘Blackheart’ continued, “you’ve been taking our money for months now and what do we know? I’ll tell you, Sweet FA”. The last three syllables were delivered by ‘Blackheart’ complete with three threatening prods to the sternum of the, what would appear to be, mole in the bank. Talking of moles, as we are, in Icelandic moles are called ‘moldvarpa’ which literally, or even actually, or even really means ‘Dirt Tosser’, a description, we think you would agree, most apt for the bank mole.

“I can’t help feeling that there’s something going on” Helga whispered to Ms Lennox, when they met mid-way between the Home for Straifs and Ways and Mr Singh’s Shop. Helga didn’t want to speak aloud because Leavenworth was within earshot. Not that Big Helga didn’t trust Leavenworth, he was as much a _Paul_And_Land_er as anyone else but she was still concerned about the disappearance of the stranger and the potential problems that this could create for _Paul_And_Land_. “Stay calm, Helga” replied Ms Lennox, “you get back to the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ and see what’s happening. There is something going on for sure but we’ve all been careful and these strangers will soon tire of finding nothing. See what ‘Snarl’ has to report and see if Daisy has found out anything and let the tattooed untattooed man know. I’ll have a word with Big William before he leaves and cancel tonight, under the circumstances that would be sensible. Just until these characters get bored”.

This is all becoming a bit surreal, is it not? Talking animals, animals communicating with humans, suspicious characters prodding each other (well one prodding another, if we must be pedantic), people with telepathic powers and moles. And if that’s not strange, ‘Blackheart’ had just noticed that throughout his time in the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ (which was in excess of one and a half hours), he’d only heard the cash register ring once, and that had been when he had purchased the three halfs of lager shandy and their accompanying snacks. “True”, he thought to himself, “everyone could be using credit or debit cards but I’ve not heard that wierdo behind the bar utter the usual ‘enter your PIN number'” to which he added, in his own thought “please”. Not only that, he continued mentally, ” at least one and a half hours, at an average of, say, three and a half minutes a record. Even allowing for changes of record and the odd bit of Lynryd Skynyrd, let’s call it five minutes, that’s eighteen records, and I haven’t heard anyone put a penny in the jukebox”. In true ‘Dragon’s Den’ style’, ‘Blackheart’ decided it was time to start drilling down into this place’s finances.

Big William was not due until the ten past five from Richard Branson Land which gave Ms Lennox ample time to get Leavenworth home, have a quick fifteen minute chat with Mrs Singh on the role of the Dhammapada within modern society and still be on time, so that’s exactly what she did and she was. Although in saying that, we are, chronologically, getting ahead of ourselves but what the devil, let your hair down, relax those shoulders, are you sure you’re not working too many hours? How’s the diet going? And the kids? They must be how old? You are kidding me, it seems only yesterday that it was the day before today, see what happens when you mess with chronology. Let’s continue…

Big Helga, heading in the opposite direction, stopped in at Ms Lennox’ Home for Straifs and Ways as she was won’t to do. Through the slightly ajar door to the Parlour, she could hear Lu Marks and Spencer reading Rubén Dario’s ‘Leda’ aloud and so, rather than bother the Straifs and Ways, Big Helga slipped back out of the front door (what a strange language: back out of the front door. Who knows, perhaps Big Helga was about to front the three strangers at the back door of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ but we doubt it, for several reasons; one, because there is no back door at the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_; two, because there is only a front door at the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ , and; three, because if you drew a Venn Diagram of External Doors and _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ there would only be one circle and it would be labelled ‘Front’). Big Helga entered that particular door and, as she did, ‘Snarl’ looked up with a sort of Cheesy Wotsits look in his eye. At the same moment Helga entered, ‘Blackheart’ started drilling and over in the corner of the Big School schoolfield, Daisy started taking pretension apart….

“Oh, and don’t think I’ve forgotten you”, Daisy said turning to ‘Red’s’ horse. “I’ve seen you eyeing yourself up in the water trough. You really do think you’re something special, don’t you? Just because you appeared on the telly. Yeah, well so did I and not just running across some open moorland with a flappy tail. I’ve been on the telly from Redcar, Thirsk, Ripon sodding twice, Beverley and Pontefract. And usually with someone on my back, at full tilt. You want to try that Mr La-de-da, some of my best pals ended up with a tent around them, laid on some soulless nowhere track with a vet pulling a trigger on them”. Daisy was getting angry now as she remembered the horrific way in which some of her friends had ended their days. “You see, you don’t know what reality is, you ponce. Millions of horses have died, in industry, in war, in sport and just through plain cruelty so that you can live. So get off your high human or you’ll find yourself on the menu at Tosco and believe me, Pretty-Boy, I’ve got the contacts”. Such was the ferocity of Daisy’s outburst that someone’s roses were going get an extra helping of growing ‘compound’ in the not too distant future courtesy of ‘Red’s’ Horse but, at the moment, several flies were happier than pigs in muck and at Dung Beetle Travel, Rift Valley Branch, the phones were red hot. Strange world. From the corner of her eye Daisy saw ‘Kid’s’ horse visibly grow a pair. “It’s just a shame that the rider can’t do the same” thought Daisy.

‘Blackheart’ was starting the full Black and Decker treatment, on hammer action, with tungsten carbide tipped drill bits. Imagine Larry Olivier on drugs. And then some. You’re halfway there. But the recipient works in a bank so pas de probleme as they say in Marseilles. Hang on though, ‘Blackheart’ is a baddie too, how can this work out in any way good? Maybe some saliva will get into the electrics of the drill and ‘POW!!’ throw ‘Blackheart’ against the wall with smoke coming out of his ears. We doubt it though, and you know why? Because this is only metaphorical drilling. It was a nice thought however. ‘Blackheart’ was actually putting ‘Moley’ under a bit of pressure regarding filthy lucre: “okay, so maybe you want to let me know just how succesful this hick bank is, eh?” he questioned, staring directly into ‘Moley’s’ eyes. “Well, err, sir, from what I’ve been able to ascertain” began ‘Moley’, “yes, from what you’ve been able to ascertain” interupted ‘Blackheart’, leaning forward to whisper in ‘Moley’s’ ear, “listen, old son, we don’t pay you to effin’ ascertain, we pay you for facts. You know what a fact is, my old son? A fact is something I’m good at covering up, such as the business to do with a mid-ranking bank official caught, shall we say, inflagrante with a Hoover Turbopower 3 attachment. Or a mid-ranking bank official caught, shall we say, exploring his sexuality with 14 caddies at a certain golf club in the West Midlands. Or a mid-ranking bank official who has, for the past 4 months, been depositing sizeable amounts of bank notes, in his personal off-shore account, which have all been tainted by the old Colombian Marching Powder. So now, my old son, let’s talk facts”. ‘Moley’ was beginning to feel just a tad intimidated, not surprisingly.

Even from the other side of the room, Big Helga could see the sweat on the top lip of this new character in the opposite corner of the bar at the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. She’d seen the perspiring man somewhere previously but she couldn’t recall exactly where. ‘Snarl’ however was on hand to offer an explanation, at a price, and Helga knew the price of extracting explanations from ‘Snarl’. Even though she’d only just sat down, she got up, walked to the bar, let out a long sigh and said to the tattooed untattooed man (in a heavy Cheshire brogue, if you recall) “have you still got any Family size bags of Cheesy Wotsits, please? Give me four, this is an emergency”.

On the edge of his vision and mid “let’s talk facts”, ‘Blackheart’ noticed the, for want of better words, large, muscular woman with multiple inks on her bare forearms approach the bar. He noticed her mouthing words and then the passing of four large bags (possibly Family size thought ‘Blackheart’) of what looked like Cheesy Wotsits by the wierdo behind the bar to her outstretched hand. And what a hand, thought ‘Blackheart’, even from a distance he estimated it to be larger than a Fiat 500, possibly even the size of a Fiat Panda, although not quite as big as the original Punto or even a Kia Picanto but certainly roomy enough for a small family to use as an urban runaround. Another thing that struck ‘Blackheart’ regarding this transaction was that, once again, no cash changed hands. ‘Blackheart’ thought “time to drop the metaphorical Black and Decker and bring out the metaphorical Kango 110V Breaker”.

Ms Lennox was stood at the bus stop (or nascent _Paul_And_Land_ International Transport Interchange as we should call it, considering the plans on the desk of Colin Whelk’s desk), she had checked her watch several times (as one does at bus stops), had read the bus schedule several times (as one does at bus stops) and had tried to make small talk with other travellers (as one does at bus stops). The final attempt to fill time had amounted to naught given that Ms Lenox was alone at the bus stop but, finally, at sixteen minutes past five (5:16 or 17:16 if you fancy) the bus rocked up, with Big William at the wheel. “Sorry we’re running a bit late, Ms Lennox” Big William said apologetically, “but the crossing gates on the Richard Branson Land Inter-Urban Expressway were stuck down. Something to do with an allegorical Virgin train which couldn’t enter the tunnel under the River Richard Branson, took a whole five minutes for a trained train psychologist to coax it in. Very messy, Ms Lennox, very messy. By the time the crossing gates were opened, there was a build up of traffic reaching back at least one deep and, if there had been any passengers on this bus, I’d have had to go round with compensation claim forms. It’s a high pressure world is bus driving, Ms Lennox, high pressure world”. “Not to worry Big William” soothed Ms Lennox, “should you ever have need of the bus timetable translated into Romansch, it’s all up here” and Ms Lennox tapped her temple, continuing “I don’t waste a moment Big William, not one moment. Oh, and by the way, cancel operations for the next few days. Just until these strangers leave town, eh?”

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Last Bus to Richard Branson Land or even Part Three

Chapter 3

That sneaky little sneaky peek into the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ had confirmed Miss Lennox’ fears, there were more than the one of them. Charlie had said only one had been guilty of the attempted soap powder arson attempt at Mr and Mrs Singh’s 24 hour Convenience Store (Fully Licensed) but had then been bullied (as in de-doughnuted and de-Tizeresque soft drinked) by four horseman. And yes, there were three more characters she did not recognised: one of them looked rather like he was having words with the tattooed untattooed man who was working behind the counter whereas the other two were staring at her pal Helga’s pet which appeared to be getting a little aeriated. Miss Lennox was well acquainted with ‘Snarl’ as he often popped around the Home to play fetch and give the various Straifs and Ways rides around the garden on his back. He also loved to have his tummy tickled but right now ‘Snarl’ was straining at what appeared to be a lead comprised of something more associated with mid-50s Clydebank whilst baring his not insignificant teeth. Also in the bar were Helga (or Big Helga from Crewe as she was more readily dubbed, one because she was built like a brick out-house and two, strangely, because she was from Crewe), the Landlord of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ (who was well known for wearing lounge suits and singing in the style of Tony Bennett), Mavis Davis and Hermione Greer (the dusty ladies from the Post Office), a significant number of the Men who enjoy Fisticuffs along with the entire staff of the First National _Paul_And_Land_Bank_, Big William (more of whom later) and, shockingly, far too many fourth and fifth formers from the _Paul_And_Land_ Big School. Shameful thought Miss Lennox but let’s stay focussed on the problem in hand.

Inside the bar, things were getting tense. ‘Blackheart’ and the tattooed untattooed man were at stand-off, Mexican style, but there were no shooters involved in this particular stand-off. Just raw nerve. ‘Blackheart’, his throat dryer than a very dry thing on National Dry Day in Dry-Land, cracked first and he hissed out “please”. “So what can I get you stranger?” replied the tattooed untattooed man without a hint triumph in his voice. “Err, make that three halves of lager shandy, err, please” replied ‘Blackheart’ “and two bags of Cheese and Onion and…. Hey ‘Kid’, you want a bag of crisps?” ‘Kid’ actually fancied a bag of Cheesy Wotsits but looking at the behaviour of the wild animal in the corner he decided against it and instead opted for a bag of Pickled Onion Space Raiders. “You boys go careful” said the lounge suited landlord, “don’t you go affecting my profits, you hear. Helga, put the jukebox back on love, I put a quid on there earlier and I haven’t heard anything by Barry Manilow yet”. Helga flicked the switch and Boney M spluttered back into action “…… Rah Rasputin, Russia’s greatest love machine, there was a cat that really was gone” (or something like that).

Hearing the music restart, Miss Lennox sneaked another look through the window whilst at the same moment, as if they were psychically linked, Big Helga looked toward the window and saw her friend. Big Helga winked and Miss Lennox immediately knew that the situation was under control. Silently, Miss Lennox gave the signal for the Straifs and Ways to stand down from their positions of heightened readiness and she led the group across the street. Once on the other side, she promised them all Chinese from _Paul_And_Land_’s only Chinese Takeaway which, given it’s unique status, was called the _Paul_And_Land_ Chinese Takeaway and was owned by Pan Yan (you have to be a certain age to get that one so ask an adult if you don’t get it).

Back in the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ things had calmed, ‘Snarl’s’ snarling had receded although he was still staring at the three strangers as they took seats in the furthest corner of the bar. He was still aware of their presence as was Big Helga. The three strangers, sat in the corner, were speaking quietly among themselves and the conversation centred on ‘Mad-Boy’, he’d now been outside finishing his cigar for some fifteen minutes and it wasn’t like him to waste valuable drinking time. ‘Red’ stood up, walked to the door which he opened and looked out. There was a strong smell of chlorine in the air, there was a Panzer Tank parked outside and there, lying on the ground, was a still burning cigar but no sign of ‘Mad-Boy’. ‘Red closed the door and returned to his seat in the corner. The quiet conversation continued. Helga, in need of another Cranberry Juice, got up from her seat and walked to the bar. The untattooed tattooed man knew her favourite tipple and reached for the carton in the fridge whilst Helga listened intently to the conversation. She heard the words ‘Mad-Boy’, liability and missing and put two and two together and decided that she would need to step into her office (also known as the Ladies. And if you didn’t notice there were four ands in that sentence and now seven, if you count the ones in the brackets. Is that some kind of record, I wonder?).

In the _Paul_And_Land_ Chinese Takeaway, Miss Lennox’ mobile phone rang, she answered (as most people do) and explained to the caller what had taken place over the past half hour or so. All about Charlie, the fire at Mr Singh’s, the mobilization of the Straifs and Ways, the Lennox Gang’s favourite maneouvre and the disappearance of one of the four horseman. “So where is he he now?” asked the caller, to which Miss Lennox replied “honestly, I don’t know. Mr and Mrs Singh took him away in their Caravanette so maybe he’s at their shop. Helga, this line is very echoey, are you in the toilet?”

‘Mad-Boy’ was indeed at Mr Singh’s shop and was at this moment awakening from a chlorine induced snooze. He looked around him as he could and thought “why do I appear to be stuffed into a large barrel?” He lifted his eyes to where the light was entering his curious prison cell and his gaze was met by two sets of very dark eyes and what looked, to him at least, Muslim faces. He was still gagged by the cricket box so was unable to speak and, although things were still a little hazy, he was almost sure that he heard the words ‘Garam Masala’

The good people of _Paul_And_Land_ were, if truth be told, an adventurous bunch although not adventurous enough to get through numerous sacks of spicy spices that Mr Singh had bought on the opening of his shop. He had tried many ways of shifting the stock: decanting the contents of the sacks into small jars, providing meals to the Big School, utilising some of them in his home cookery courses and even offering various spices to Pan Yan at cost price. Even so, he still could not shift it all and most of it was now well beyond its obligatory ‘sell by date’. However, in the ‘Say and Waive’ section of the shop, anything was possible. So now he had two of his sons, scoops in hand, ready to empty the ground mix of peppercorns, cloves, cassia, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, bay and caraway into one of the large barrels. ‘Mad-Boy’ saw the first scoopfuls enter the barrel and quickly shifted his head so as to remove his eyes from the fall of whatever was being poured into the barrel, scoopful by scoopful.

Big Helga entered Mr Singh’s shop just as the two sacks, now almost empty, were being upturned to get the very last bits into the barrel. For once, Big Helga had walked (a fact that was not lost on the few _Paul_And_Land_ residents who had seen her in this curious, for her, pursuit. So curious, more than curious actually, so flipping weird that jaws had dropped, eyes had boggled and bowels had emptied. Yes, that flipping curiously weird) from the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, stopping en-route to stick her arm through the Panzer Tank’s turret hatch and pull out an aluminum case which she now placed onto Mr Singh’s shop counter.

In a heavy Cheshire brogue, Big Helga spoke: “na then, Hardeep, yer rait?” (that may be nothing like a heavy Cheshire brogue but let’s pretend, shall we? The old willing suspension of disbelief as Samuel Coleridge Taylor called it. And on the subject of poetry, back at Ms Lennox’ Home for Straifs and Ways, the assembled Straifs and Ways were getting stuck into their takeaway).

Ms Lennox had decided that the Wedgewood plates and Mother of Pearl handled silver knives and forks would be best for this meal. She’d got enough for the girls too and the Marks and Spencer sisters (Mylene and Lulu), Grace ‘Welsh’ Jones’, Kathy Kirbymoorside and Lulu Marks and Spencer’s half sister, Lu, had joined the boys for the meal. Mr Singh’s youngest, who had been concieved on a holiday in the United States, also joined them, he often did and was great friends with them all. It was young Leavenworth Singh who spoke first above the rattle of expensive cutlery on priceless plates, “this is lovely, Ms Lennox, thank you for letting me eat with you and all my friends. And how did you know that my favourite tea is Sweet and Sour Haggis?” Ms Lennox smiled at Leavenworth and replied at she made it her job “to make sure everyone is happy”. She did a fine job of it did Ms Lennox as the various burps, belches and trumps attested whilst the crockery was being cleared away. This being Tuesday, it was poetry night and all the Straifs and Ways gathered in the Parlour to hear Ms Lennox read them a poetic poem written by a poet. It was at times like this, even though he loved his Mum and Dad and his two brothers, Vauxhall Victor and Room 213 Hotel de la Paix Bruges (Mr and Mrs Singh were big on naming their young ‘uns based on place of conception), that Leavenworth sort of wished he could be a Straif and Way.

“This evening”, said Ms Lennox, “I’m going to read a poem by one of my own country’s greatest poetic poets” and she opened the big book of potic poems. All of the Straifs and Ways and Leavenworth Singh sank a little deeper into the Queen Anne sofas and chairs awaiting their journey to rhyming heaven (or just straight paradise in Leavenworth’s because he was Mr and Mrs Singh’s atheist son) and Ms Lennox began to read.

Big Helga on the other hand was beginning to question (for the sake of clarity, we’ll drop the heavy Cheshire brogue, you know, sort of Samuel Coleridge Taylor style. Just for clarity, you understand, but if you want to read it in a Heavy Cheshire brogue, please feel free. I suppose you could even seek out a translation into Heavy Cheshire brogue but that’s your prerogative and we cannot guarantee that some of the plot, yes there is one, may actually be lost in translation. Back to Big Helga now, and beginning to question). “So, Hardeep, the last time anyone saw this ‘Mad-Boy’ character was when he was bundled into your caravanette and you drove off from the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. Yes, we all know what went on in the shop and with Little Cheerful Charlie. And it does appear that this ‘Mad-Boy’ was something of a psycho but the last thing we want is a visit from, shall we say, the Authorities. So, when did you last see this ‘Mad-Boy’, Hardeep?”

Mr Singh could not lie, it was not in his nature, but he could be economic because that was not really lying. So, being economic, Mr Singh answered Big Helga, “well Helga, this man was in my shop and then he disappeared. I cannot see him anywhere, he has disappeared”. Very economic.

“Is that the truth, Hardeep?” pushed Big Helga. Mr Singh retained his position of economy in his answer “Miss Big Helga, he was here and then gone, disappeared. Please Miss Big Helga, ask my family. Ask Mrs Singh, ask Vauxhall Victor, ask Room 213 Hotel de la Paix Bruges. They will confirm that this ‘Mad-Boy’ has disappeared”. Mrs Singh had just come down the stairs and through the door that led to the Singh Family’s upstairs flat. She had been upstairs watching Tipping Point and was, as usual, thinking “what is this rubbish and why do I feel the need to watch it?” As she had been upstairs, she was unaware of ‘Mad-Boy’s’ fate and therefore did not need to be economic. Big Helga asked the question and Mrs Singh turned to Mr Singh “what is this Hardeep, this man who would try to destroy our lives, he has disappeared. How could this happen? Sometimes Hardeep, I wonder why I married you!”

Mrs Singh’s outburst convinced Big Helga and she relaxed. “Come on Hardeep, take the case off the counter before someone comes in”. Mr Singh slipped the aluminium case behind the counter breathing a mental sigh of relief but his relief was somewhat short-lived as Big Helga continued “what’s that new smell Hardeep?” “That’s some Garam Masala, Miss Big Helga, but it’s not very nice. I’ve tried it and it leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth”. For once Mr Singh was not being economic.

In the bar of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, one of the group from the First National _Paul_And_Land_ Bank had joined the three strangers in the corner and the four were now engrossed in conversation. Still very quiet conversation and had Big Helga been in her former seat, she may have noticed the envelope sliding across the table, prior to sliding into the newcomer’s inside pocket.

Back at the Home for Straifs and Ways:

Oh wert thou in the cauld blast,

On yonder lea, on yonder lea;

My plaidie to the angry airt,

I’d shelter thee, I’d shelter thee:

Or did Misfortune’s bitter storms

Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,

Thy bield should be my bosom,

To share it a’, to share it a’.

Or were I in the wildest waste,

Sae black and bare, sae black and bare,

The desert were a Paradise,

If thou wert there, if thou wert there.

Or were I monarch o’ the globe,

Wi’ thee to reign, wi’ thee to reign;

The brightest jewel in my crown

Wad be my queen, wad be my queen.

3:10 from Richard Branson Land AKA Part 2

Chapter Two.

It was ten past three. Or 3:10. Or, if you feel all continental, 15:10, and things were happening. Over at Mr Singh’s 24 hour licensed emporium, the cleaning up was almost complete; Mr Singh had replaced the damaged soap powder boxes, the boxes which were merely singed had been put on sale at half price as “Fire Damaged Stock” adding to the selection of Perry Como “Christmas Hits” CDs (buy now to avoid disappointment), the “Water Damaged” bars of Imperial Leatherette soap and the “Vintage” 8 Track Cassettes of Winifred Attwell and George Lazenby’s “Themes for Bond Lovers”. Mrs Singh, for her part, had swept up all the spilt soap powder and had recovered all the boxes beyond recognition as soap powder and was now emptying both the sweepings and the charred contents into a large barrel at the back of the shop.

This particular part of the shop was Mrs Singh’s iniative and a large carboard sign, slightly askew, hung from the rafters, stated that this part of the shop was the “Say and Waive Section” (the same signwriter that Miss Lennox had employed on the ‘Miss Lennox’s Home for Straifs and Ways’ had been utilised by Mrs Singh. But no-one was that bothered. That’s the way it works in _Paul_And_Land_). Mrs Singh was no-ones fool, damaged Corn Flakes packets, slightly iffy currants, questionable Weetabix type breakfast biscuits all found their way into a large barrel at the back of the shop. “Waste not, want not” she would say to the unbeileving Mr Singh and he would shake his head. That was back in the day, Mrs Singh now had a chain of 342 “Say and Waive” shops across the whole of the UK and was expanding the business into Lithunia, Estonia and Northern Lancashire. Tough market in Thornton Cleveleys and Morecambe. Even tougher in Lancaster. Mrs Singh, being Mrs Singh, hadn’t done it for personal gain though and at this precise moment, in the plush London offices of Whelk, Crustacean and Parvenu (Architectural Consultants), the final drawings for the Mrs Singh Big School Extension and integrated Transport Interchange were being pored over by Colin Whelk and Alberto Costa de Los Angeles San Antonio Parvenu. Crikey, all thanks to cheap cardboard and careless delivery drivers.

Meanwhile, talking of integrated transport systems, the 15:10 motor coach from Richard Branson Land drew to a halt outside the aforementioned Big School. The driver, Morris Micklewhite, had tears streaming from his eyes. He was happy in his work, really happy, really, really happy but the overpowering aroma of chlorine had assaulted his body throughout this journey rendering him an almost gibbering wreck. His eyes burning, he bade all the young would be Esther Williams’ bye-bye through various snorts, sniffles and sobs and, as the last young person left the bus with a friendly wave and a warm “thank you Mr Micklewhite” he reached for the Smart Price Tissues and emptied the contents of his streaming nostrils whilst fighting open the driver’s window and gulping in lungfuls of clean, fresh air.

Mr Micklewhite’s former passengers, unaware of his discomfort, headed off toward their home (and, as we now know, Miss Lennox’ home and Little Cheerful Charlie’s home) with duffel bags stuffed out with damp swimming togs, snorkels, goggles, towels and the whole selection of swimming accessories fresh from their recent Jacques Cousteau-like outing to Dickie Boy’s Lido. Unlike Jacques Cousteau’s world however, Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus was not welcome at the Lido in Richard Branson Land (unless you were a member of a club which cost a fortune and attracted some of Richard Branson Land’s most annoying types who speak with plums in their mouths and spent too much time in The Seychelles or Southwold). Fortunately some of Miss Lennox’ charges had passed their swimming proficiency badge and could recover a brick from the deep end whilst wearing pyjamas. Quite what this skill was to be used for in the world was in question as few, if any, bricks required rescuing from the deep end and, even more confusing, why would anyone consider such a thing whilst clad in pyjamas. I mean, do you recall Rebecca Addlington or Mark Spitz or Duncan Goodhew or that Australian chap Thingummy Thorpe swimming in the Olympics in their pyjamas? No, probably not.

All of the returning young people who were returning to Miss Lennox’ Home for Straifs and Ways were unaware of what had occured earlier in the day to Little Cheerful Charlie. At this moment in time Charlie was more Tearful than Cheerful, he had run through every room in the house sobbing Miss Lennox’ name. His good deed for the day, getting doughnuts and Tizeresque soft drink for his fellow Straifs and Ways, had been wasted by the four horseman who had ridden into town. If only Charlie hadn’t lent his braces and belt to Big Bobby last weekend then he could have gone swimming with the other kids. Big Bobby, as his name implied, was bigger than Little Tearful Charlie and both his braces and his belt had stretched under the strain of Bobby’s somewhat capacious frame. The stretched braces and belt meant that if Charlie had gone swimming then his crocheted swimming trunks would have not stayed in place, embarressing both Charlie and the other swimmers. And Little Charlie could never have lived that shame down. And now, Charlie, tears streaming down his cheeks, as struggling with the injury of his friends having no doughnuts or Tizeresque soft drink. Miss Lennox was consoling him, saying that his friends would “understand” and that Charlie should “wipe his eyes and blow his nose” as she handed him a soft handkerchief with a delicately laced edge.

Meanwhile outside the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, the Four Horseman had pulled up their horses and were staring at the Panzer Tank parked on the street. It’s not everyday you see a fully functioning Panzer Tank parked outside a fully licensed public house. Well, outside of _Paul_And_Land_ it’s not everyday that you see a fully functioning Panzer Tank parked outside anywhere but in _Paul_And_Land_ it was completely normal as this was Big Helga from Crewe’s usual mode of transport. And at the moment Big Helga was in the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ nursing a cranberry juice and feeding ‘Snarl’, her pet Rottweiller/Brown Bear cross, Cheesy Wotsits. ‘Snarl’ was actually lovely and cuddly but could sense nastiness and right now ‘Snarl’ was starting to snarl quietly. Helga, was somewhat taken aback by ‘Snarl’s’ snarling, she’d only heard ‘Snarl’ snarl once before and that was when she’d purchased her Panzer Tank from The Martin Borman Used Tanks and Militaria Market Stall in Nuremburg. Not Helga’s best day admittedly but she loved her fully loaded Tank even though it had a pretty dubious history.

Right now though, Helga was more concerned about ‘Snarl’s’ snarling. No-one else in the _Paul_And_Land_ Arms_ had ever heard ‘Snarl’ snarl before, not the men who enjoyed fisticuffs, not the landlord in his lounge suit, not the tattooed untattooed man who now stood behind the bar tapping his fingers along to Boney M’s “Rah-rah Rasputin” which was playing on the jukebox. It made a change from Mitzi Gaynor at least. Right then the door was flung open and ‘Blackheart’, ‘Red’, ‘Kid’ and ‘Mad-Boy’ walked in. Boney M ended mid ‘Raspu….’ as Helga pulled the plug and silence descended on the _Paul_And_Land_Arms. A deep deathly silence that could almost be tasted, a slightly sour taste rather like some American Shock-Jock on a rant mixed with lemons (and not the lemons who listen to American Shock-Jocks but real lemons) and Pine Fresh Bleach (do NOT try this at homes, it’s not nice). Not at all.

And ‘Snarl’s’ snarling grew louder. Much louder. So loud that the windows began shaking. So loud that the Straifs and Ways over at Miss Lennox’ could hear it, and Mr and Mrs Singh, and even Morris Micklewhite (through his tears and sniffing) could hear it above the sound of the Charabanc engine. Cheesy Wotsits suddenly became secondary as Big Helga eyed the strangers up and down and then down and up and then, before she anchored ‘Snarl’ (who’s snarling was reaching fever-pitch) to the floor with a chain recovered from the Lusitania, she looked them up and down once again. The tattooed untattooed man, looking up from his paper (the 3:20 from Lingfield was looking an interesting proposition) tried to cut the atmosphere. “Can I help you … Err … Gentlemen? And this is a no smoking establishment, if you don’t mind, sir. If you wish to finish your cigar, step out onto the porch”. This was the second time in less than ten minutes that ‘Mad-Boy’ had been reminded that his habit was not welcome in enclosed public places however this time he took notice. That wild looking animal in the corner was taking his attention, the other wild looking animal now chained to the floor by her side was also concerning him. Greatly. So ‘Mad-Boy’ decided, given that individually he was outnumbered by wild looking animals, decided to finish his cigar, on the porch. That was not his smartest decision of the day, not by a long shot….

As ‘Mad-Boy’ stepped out onto the porch to finish his ill-gotten cigar, a large number of Miss Lennox’ Straifs and Ways were similarly stepping out, down the front path of Miss Lennox’ Home for Straifs and Ways. They’d found their friend, Little Cheerful Charlie, sobbing in the back garden into Miss Lennox’ pinny. They’d listened to the story Little Charlie had had to tell and angered at the way their Cheerful friend had been treated, they’d headed the sports cupboard to tool up. Muhammed and Ali, both keen cricketers had donned cricket helmets and pads and had, just in case, slipped a cricket box down their shorts. Each of them carried part of the netting they used in their practice sessions and a dustbin lid. Proper looking Russell Crowe’s they looked. Joe and Louis, were more gymnastic and were struggling under the weight of a vaulting horse reminiscent of Stalag Luft III but not in monochrome as both lads were clad in brightly coloured vests and shorts. Laid on top of the vaulting horse were the ropes they both used to spin around in aerobatic ballet which they had untied from the banisters on the stairs. Sugar, Ray and Leonard, for their part, were wearing their matching trunks. Wrestling trunks, for they were the Lennox Gang, All-Comers Champion Wrestling Tag Team. They also wore matching boots and matching capes and looked the part, spinning around, jumping up and down and shoulder barging each other, shouting “Atcha, Atcha, Atcha!!!”.

At the head of the group, Miss Lennox with an ancient fireman’s helmet on her head and a garden fork in her hand. She looked just like _Paul_And_Land_’s answer to Boadicea. All she lacked was a chariot but this was about to change as Mr Singh drew up outside the gates of the Home for Straifs and Ways in his Caravanette. Mrs Singh sat alongside him in the driver’s cab but on seeing the group emerging from the gates, she leapt out and ran around to open the side door on the Caravanette for Miss Lennox. With that, they set off for the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. A classic pincer movement if ever there was one.

Back at the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, ‘Blackheart’ approached the bar unfazed by ‘Mad-Boy’s’ antics, the loud snarling of the semi-hound in the corner, the palpable atmospherein the bar and the sudden lack of Boney M. He was completely unfeeling to reality and looked around him with an aloofness that was so aloof it had won him competitions on the World stage. “Give me a drink” he snapped at the tattooed untattooed man behind the bar “and one each for my friends”. “Just the one drink then, Pal” answered the tight-lipped bartender, “and didn’t you forget something” he added, pointing to a sign on the wall. The sign read “Manners cost nothing, major facial reconstruction does. And we won’t phone an ambulance either”. Blackheart sneered at the tattooed untattooed man, “don’t mess with me, you weirdo” he spat out, “just give me the drinkor some people around here are going to be very sorry”.

Outside the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ there was a squeal of brakes as Mr Singh’s Caravanette drew to a halt. The Straifs and Ways surrounded ‘Mad-Boy’ as he finished his cigar. Completely unaware of Sugar’s presence behind him ‘Mad-Boy’ attempted to face down the strangely clad group. Sugar was down on all fours, his back directly in line with ‘Mad-Boy’s’ knees. It was a classic Lennox Gang move, a simple push to the chest from Leonard, a slight step back by ‘Mad-Boy’ and then the backward trip over Sugar. Before he’d even hit the ground, Miss Lennox had the garden fork at his throat. Just as quickly, Ali slipped his cricket box over ‘Mad-Boy’s’ nose and mouth rendering him silent as he was bound with the gymnastic rope by Joe and Louis before he found himself unceremoniously dumped into the back of a Caravanette. Looking up, ‘Mad-Boy’ met the gazes of Mr and Mrs Singh and for once ‘Mad-Boy’ felt an amount of fear as Mr Singh struck the Caravanette’s engine up and slipped the vehicle into reserve gear.

It was 3:20. Or it could have been twenty past three. Or 15:20 if you felt continental and ‘Mad-Boy’ felt the somewhat cold slop of what looked like swimming trunks across his face before chlorine filled his lungs and all went dark. The last thing he heard was a Sergio Leone soundtrack and the last thought that went through his mind was “what the ……”.

Outside the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_, Miss Lennox’ group regrouped, as only a group could regroup and Miss Lennox sneaked a peek through the window.

Bad Day At _Paul_And_Land_ Chapter 17 (AKA One)

Chapter One

It was hot, too damned hot, in _Paul_And_Land_. The sun was as high as hippopotamus’ eye and not a breath of wind whispered through the happy streets. The population were resting, not surpringly, alongside fans with pitchers of chilled water on hand. The landlord of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_ was doing steady trade, his brow bathed in perspiration, as many of the local folk, aware of his hissing air-conditioning system, sought to feel the cooling kiss of chilled air.

And this being a national holiday in _Paul_And_Land_, the place was rammed. It was Tuesday Weld, not to be confused with Sheffield Thursday or Girl Friday. Or indeed Friday on my Mind Day. Mr Singh, of Mr Singh’s 24 hour Convience Store and Off-Licence, now open late on Sundays, had his doors and windows open, a small fan c/o Argos (Richard Branson Land Branch, pre-space travel) attempting to pull what small pockets of cooling air existed into the shop.

Some of the young people of this place, had taken to wearing skimpy garb and a certain number, eager to show off their ink, had even de-vested. Some of the even younger young people had decamped to the Richard Branson International Swimming Lido and Leisure Centre, over the Sunny uplands. Indeed, the 11:34 bus from outside the Big School had been overflowing with towels, swimming clobber, goggles and large inflatable rubber tubes as the even younger young youngsters sought the cooling effect of hippy boy’s waters. Stop making up your own innuedoes, what do you think this is, The Frankie Howard Show?

Meanwhile, high on the sunlit uplands, reminiscent of a very poor poor remake of a poor Greek Art House Movie “The Four Horseman of the Acropolis”, four desperate horseman mopped their foreheads and looked down on our happy town. All four horses were black and their pale riders (A Sheffeel joke), ‘Mad-Boy’, ‘Kid’, ‘Red’ and ‘Blackheart’ licked their lips at the sight of the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. Yes, even the horses were licking their lips at the sight of the_Paul_And_Land_Arms_ as it meant a brief respite from the hard riding of their hard riding riders. Maybe they could even find some grass and buttercups to fill their grumbling tummies, poor old horses. Even horses have allusions: the steed on which ‘Red’ rode had had a succesful career in International Bank Advertising, ‘Mad-Boy’ sat astride a black horse shamed of it’s present rider whereas ‘Kid’s’ mount just didn’t have a clue – plucked from the obscurity of a milk round and thrust into the limelight of very bad stuff. Poor old horse, every morning ‘Blackheart’ kicked him. Some would say he deserved it for mixing with the wrong crowd but he was only a horse, after all it was his rather simple rider that had dragged him into this miserable life

And so, drawn on by the thought of hitting the Sasparilla, these four desperados rode down from the Sunny uplands and into town. At the sight of Mr Singh’s shop ‘Mad-Boy pulled his horse up, proclaiming that he was going for cigars. Climbing down from his shame-faced horse, ‘Mad-Boy’ gazed about paranoically. He was big on paranoia, was ‘Mad-Boy’, everyone was out to get him and, in his reckoning at least, the best form of defence was attack. So that’s what he did, constantly, and in this shop he saw yet another opportunity to be defensive. He strutted in like he owned the place and shot a gaze at Mr Singh, a long hard gaze from cold, hard and very cold, hard eyes. Mr Singh, on the other hand was as warm and friendly as ever and greeted the stranger like a long lost friend. Even though there was no please in the question, Mr Singh handed the stranger his cigars

A further question was snarled at Mr Singh to which he replied that no sir, he was not a Muslim, he was a Sikh and his wife a Buddhist. This confused ‘Mad-Boy’, outside of his own stunted brain, everyone was a Muslim and as Mr Singh continued to tell him that his three sons were Greek Orthodox, Anabaptist and Aetheist his brain almost exploded. His temples throbbing, ‘Mad-Boy’ turned on his heel and struck a match to light his cigar. Mr Singh reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to smoke inside the shop because of European Legislation. At this point, ‘Mad-Boy’ saw red, blew a gasket, split his trousers and threw the still burning match into the display of soap powders before stalking out. The cardboard boxes caught flame and from the back of the shop a small voice hollered that “I’ll put out the potential inferno, Mr Singh”. It was little Cheerful Charlie, as he was known; one because he short in stature, two because he was Cheerful and three because he was from Warrington. As you do

True to his word, little Cheerful Charlie, doused the blaze like some latter day Kurt Russell or even Gordon McQueen. Or was it Alexander. Or Steve? What? This is confusing. Nevertheless, the young fella me lad was in Mr Singh’s 24 hour Convience Store and Off-Licence Emporium purchasing pop and out of date doughnuts for his pals at Miss Lennox’s Home for Straifs and Ways (she wasn’t big on spelling, but she can knock up Chicken Broth can Miss Lennox). Quick as a wink, Charlie was on it. Like a tiny aforementioned Kurt Russell, he shot those flames down without a care in the world for the back-draft or whatever. Doughnuts do have their uses, it would seem, as they blocked the oxygen of oxygen to the flames and, simple chemistry here, the raging pyre of soap powder slowly fizzled out.

Wiping his brow, once again rather like some minature Kurt Russell, little Cheerful Charlie sashayed to the counter. A ten from Len, or Maurice. What a mover, if my walnuts could crack, you’d be eating walnuts. Thank goodness they haven’y gawt tha likes a tha in _Paul_And_Land_ (that’s Miss Lennox talking, by the road. She can’t be doing with the likes of Len from ten or anyone associated wth the number ten actually. We digress).

Just imagine, Don Giovanni, “a one from Don” or Clive Woods (what a fine sportsman) from Clive, a nine. Or Ford Cortina, the little known Italian American radio star of the early thirties, “fromma Cortina, a fourteena”.

Where the flip were we? Oh yes, little Cheerful Charlie, nice lad, trousered in ragged trousers, buying stuff for his pals. We shall continue..

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, ‘Mad Boy’ had caught up with the three other vagabonds (careful use of language there) as they approached the _Paul_And_Land_Arms_. As they arounded the final corner on their journey however, they were halted in their tracks by _Paul_And_Land_’s most grandiose building. One after another, they tipped back their Stetsons and stared in wonder at the magnificent edifice. “That’s some place”, said ‘Mad Boy”, jealousy coursing through his alcohol and nicotine encrusted veins, “I’d sure like to know who lives in that joint”.

At this point, or that point, or some point who should walk up but Little Cheerful Charlie, his arms overflowing with doughnuts and Mr Singh’s home branded Tizeresque drink. Mr Singh claimed that the stuff was made out back of the shop but everyone knew it wasn’t really. One, because out back of Mr Singh’s shop (now open late on Sundays and public holidays including, you will note with some interest, Tuesday Weld) was actually open to the public and two, because everyone had seen the stuff being delivered by a large truck all the way from Blackburn. Or was it Blackpool? Nevertheless, Mr Singh’s home branded Tizeresque drink was not made out back of the shop however no-one in _Paul_And_Land_ wanted to offend Mr Singh by calling him a big fibber. And his wife was a Buddhist which, in terms of _Paul_And_Land_ at least, was a pretty cool thing, pretty cool indeed. Unlike the weather and certainly unlike the four horseback riders staring at _Paul_And_Land_’s fanciest gaff.

Talking of which, as we were, and the four desperados out front and the approach of the heavily doughnut laden Little Cheerful Charlie, if you recall. And Mr Singh’s home branded Tizeresque soft drink but let’s not go down that route again. No, let’s not Marjorie. Hang on a minute, who the buggery is Marjorie? And what has she got to do with the price of fish in Fleetwood, that’s what I’d like to know. Well, it’s as plain as the nose, or chin, or something like that on your face. Marjorie off of ‘To The Manor Born’, that’s the kind of house we’re talking about but Marjorie didn’t live here in _Paul_And_Land_. One, because she wasn’t real (it was an actress, honestly. Sorry to burst a few bubbles there but life can be cruel at times) and two because somebody else did. And Little Cheerful Charlie was about to spill the beans. Metaphorically, so to speak. He had no beans, only doughnuts and Tizeresque soft drink. If he’d had beans, he could of spilled them but only if he’d have had a tin opener, which he didn’t, so we’ll stick to the metaphorical if you don’t mind.

Right, enter stage left, followed by a bear, Little Cheerful Charlie (his arms now aching from lugging those doughnuts all over the place). And ACTION! Charlie, I’ll lead you in with the last line. ‘Mad Boy’ has just said “I’d sure like to know who lives in a joint like that…” and we’re rolling.

LCC: I can tell you who lives there gentlemen.

BH: Oh yeah, you grubby little individual, and who might that be then? Come on spill the beans.

LCC: I don’t have any beans, sir. Or a tin opener. But I know who lives there. I do!

(BH, K, R & MB exchange glances. LCC recognises MB from the encounter earlier and a look of fear enters his eyes)

BH: So you live here, eh? Tell me another fairy story, you lying little scrote

LCC: Yes sir, honest I do, with Miss Lennox and all the other Straifs and Ways. Honest! And that man there (LCC tries to point to MB but cannot because of the doughnuts and Tizeresque soft drink) tried to set fire to Mr Singh’s shop just a few minute ago.

BH: (turning to MB) This right Mad Boy? What’s the idea? (winks at MB) You tryin’ to cause some tension?

MB: Me, Blackheart? Cause tension? As if I would. You know I’m a good, law-abiding citizen. (looks at LCC) So who’s the dame? Lennox, you say, what’s her game? C’mon, you better start talkin’ or you’ll be sorry, No-one crosses me and gets away with it.

LCC: Miss Lennox looks after us sir, she cares for us and feeds us Chicken Broth every night. She’s like a a real mother to us all, all us Straifs and Ways. Why there’s Joe and Louis, Muhhamed and Ali and not forgetting Sugar, Ray and Leonard…

MB: Muhhamed and Ali, they sound kinda Muslim (spits) maybe, I’d like to meet these Straifs and Ways, I’ll be in the bar…. (menacing) all day! Now gimme those doughnuts (lunges for doughnuts) my horse is mighty hungry

BH: Mine too Mad Boy. And I guess yours is as well Kid, get yourself some doughnuts Kid and you too Red… (BH kicks LCC and the doughnuts drop to the ground. The bottles of Tizeresque soft drink smash on the pavement and LCC falls among the shards of glass and the Tizeresque soft drink)

(LCC sobs)

MB: C’mon boys, let’s get a drink….

And thats a wrap! No not quite, as the four ride off, Little Cheerful Charlie picks himself up. Tears are burning his cheeks., his ragged trousered trousers, soaked in Tizeresque soft drink, clinging to his boney frame. Only one thought in his mind: he must seek the solace of Miss Lennox.

And cue the Eastenders theme music…