3:10 from Richard Branson Land AKA Part 2
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.