Tuesday, 31 January 2017

THE 294th

The following story was submitted to an anthology that was being put together by Operation Shoebox - a charity for those who fought in Afghanistan. (Copyright Ray Foster - 2013)


The 294th

   He knew.
   I saw it in Jack's eyes as I walked down the steps; as I looked back over my shoulder.
   A chill ran down my spine. Maybe, it was as it should be. No point, now, in saying if only - but there is an if only.
  If the Fire Brigade, who had offered me a job, had stopped messing me about and given me a posting then I would not have re-enlisted with the army.
  Funny when you think back. It was as though Jack and I had spent our whole life growing up together - we were always getting up to mischief. Together we were the masters of mischief, mirth and mayhem. From wearing Halloween masks and scaring the Christians who were having an anti-Halloween party to dropping tomato sauce soaked chips and things on the balloon seller's head - but the strawberry flavoured Slush Puppy was an accident. Still, it was funny to watch the sticky, icy goo slide down the balloons splattering both the balloon seller and passersby. And we laughed as we were chased around the shopping centre with the security guards on our tail - hard as they tried they never caught us.
   The older we got nothing changed. Instead of being chased we did the chasing - after girls. And we got drunk together.
   We even thought about joining the Army together.
   That was where we met - at Army cadets - so it was only natural that we went down to the recruitment centre together. As I recall we were both 16 and fresh out of school. We filled out the forms but it was not until 2001 that I became a raw recruit.
   Jack didn't make it.
   By then, though, he had a steady job working as a fishmonger. He met a girl and got married and had kids. He had a stable family life. Despite that our friendship stayed firm. Over the years I would come home from Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan and we'd pick up where we left off. Mind you, no matter where I was in the world endless text messages would pass between us.
   I was prepared to get back to grips with civvy life. I wanted some of what Jack had. Except that wasn't to be. Too much waiting around; sitting around watching DVDs and playing 'Call Of Duty' on the Xbox - not that the game came close to reality. That and getting under people's feet.
 And there was the lure of doing what I knew best.
 Afghanistan changes the way people look at things. Maybe, it's the action and the excitement - though not the usual way those words get used - I guess it is the adrenaline rush. It's like a drug. In Camp Bastion I may have been a joker but out in the field I was every bit the fighting man.
 Jack tried to talk me out of going back.
 I knew where he was coming from but I needed to have a purpose in life.
 The one thing that I can say, in hindsight, is that I am glad that we never joined up together. He wouldn't have been able to live with himself if he lived and I died. I know that I would have felt the same.
  I guess when someone's time is up and it doesn't matter whether you are a soldier or a civilian  - it's up.
  You never see it coming - and, sometimes, you never hear it.
  Blind and deaf you just hit the ground screaming.
  Sometimes you can't scream - not when your face has been ripped off. Not when your throat has been carved through by shrapnel from a roadside bomb. In war there is no re-spawning to the last checkpoint as in video games - there are no second chances and the only screams you hear are inside your head.
  And I thought - God, I was going to miss Jack's birthday. I had promised him a drink when I got back at the end of June. Only I wasn't going to make it.
 The medic knelt by my shredded, legless body. He did what he could but he knew that I was as good as dead - yet he fought to keep me alive.
  It would be another four hours of endless pain before I died.


 Private Jon Monk rejoined the Army with the 2nd Battalion Princess Of Wales Regiment which was attached to the 1st Battalion Mercian Regiment.
 With Company C he was with the Danish Battle Group based at Patrol Base Rahim in the Adinzai area of the Upper Gershk Valley, Afghanistan.
On the morning of the 9th June, 2010, aged 25, he was killed by a roadside bomb.
He was the 294th soldier to die in Afghanistan.

The story, for the most part, is from conversations that I had with Jon and with Jack's recollections.
Jon's injuries were as described to the best of my information.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

JOHNNY REB - A 17 year old writes


 What follows is something  that I wrote when I was about 17 or 18. I typed it out exactly as you see it onto a floppy disc with the intention of, maybe, rewriting the book sometime in the future. The school in this existed - I went there. The class and the teachers are fictional though. 
The book is told from two viewpoints - first from Johnny Rebello's and then from Fiona's. The first three chapters were sent to agents and publishers who rejected it. So, for now, is a chance to see what this kid once wrote - and a reason why nothing should be thrown away.


Copyright - 1961 and 2016 - Ray Foster




JOHNNY REB
by
Ray Foster                                                                                                                                          Charterhouse Road curves away to the right before going uphill.  It is flanked by grass verges and bordered by an avenue of trees.  At the lower end are dark brown brick semi-detached houses with mock Tudor facings to the upper storeys.  Just past the junction with Cheltenham Road, that connects Charterhouse Road with Repton Road, which also runs parallel with it, the style changes as modern houses with blank expressionless walls take over on the right hand side of the road.  To the left are some bungalows that seem to rise in majesty at the top of the hill before it plunges downhill and then sweeps up again like a roller coaster.

     At the top of the second hill the skyline is dominated by a red brick building.  This is Orpington County Secondary School for Boys – more commonly known as Charterhouse.  Further up the road there is a set of gates and a sign that designates that there is a section of the school is for girls.  The school is surrounded by a spiked, pale blue painted metal fence behind which is a tall privet hedge.  Entrance to the school is by double metal gates one of which swings back against the mesh fence that separates the girls’ playground from the drive that leads into the boys’ section.

     Behind the main building there are two sets of huts separated by a wide concrete path.  To the right there are three blocks of concrete buildings with corrugated asbestos roofs.  The first two are divided into three classrooms each while the third is divided into a metalwork shop and a woodwork room.

    To the left are two wooden buildings which are divided the same way as the first two concrete huts.  At the end of the path and set at right angles to the other wooden huts is a toilet block. 

    Between each hut is an earth plot where basic gardening is taught and on looking at the whole it takes on the appearance of Stalag Luft 3.  Many a boy has gone through the school with thoughts of tunnelling out and making his own great escape.

    The school also has a nickname for the first sight of the school, as you climb the hill, is the tall brick chimney from which, during the late autumn and winter, black smoke plumes out.  For this reason the school earned the nickname of Auschwitz.

    In the autumn of 1959 the boilers were not fired up for a raging heat wave was still rocking the country.  For many of the boys and girls who attended the school there had been a hope that the summer holidays would be extended.

     There were no such thoughts in the mind of the fourteen-year-old boy who swung his green Hercules bicycle with the bright chrome drop handlebars, out of Cheltenham Road into Charterhouse Road.  He climbed to the top of the hill before braking and leaning back, one foot steadying him on the grass verge, to watch the stream of children as they bunched together and flowed towards their respective school gates.  It was always a strange sight for the girls seemed to dominate the left footpath while the boys hogged the pavement on the other side of the road.  It was like some mating ritual where no one was going to be successful.

     The boys all looked the same.  An army marching in a uniform of maroon blazers, white shirts, maroon school tie, grey flannel trousers and black shoes.  The girls, on the other hand, showed style.  The colour scheme was just the same but it was the way that they wore their uniforms with – well it advertised that they were definitely of the female sex.  Skirts were worn in the modern style; a school blazer trimmed to emphasise a waist and hairstyles that suggested individuality.

     The bike rider could never understand why boys, except on the last day of term, when anything was acceptable, could not use their imagination and stop looking as though they were a part of an army – and the way they slouched made him think of old newsreels that showed exhausted troops making their way to the beaches of Dunkirk.

     A sharp, shrieking scream from behind him brought him back to reality as he, slowly, turned around to see what the fuss was about.  Two boys had got a girl pinned back into a hedge where one was holding her while the other appeared to be groping her.  Well, trying to grope her but not getting there as her golden sturdy but shapely legs were lashing out keeping him at bay.  The bike rider made a clicking sound with his mouth, a sound similar to that of a gun being cocked, as he dismounted and balanced a pedal on the kerb.

     There seemed no haste in his movements but no one noticed him until he backhanded a blow to the side of the taller boy’s head with a force that sent him sprawling.  The boy that was holding the girl gave him a scared look but did not let go of her arms.  Her straining body had loosened a button to show an edge of bra and firm honey coloured flesh.  This sight seemed to have no impact on the bike rider as he stared, coldly, at her assailant.

     “Seen enough?” she sneered, loudly, her voice shaking with fear as she saw where his eyes were directed.

     He ignored her but let his eyes wander over to her captor.

     “You want to let her go?” the bike rider asked, his voice soft but firm which made the question sound more like a suggestion.

    “Piss off, Reb,” the short, stocky boy sneered as the taller one, wiping a smear of blood from his nose onto the back of his hand, scrambled to his feet.

      Don’t upset me, Spooner,” the boy called Reb mentioned.  “ You still owe me half a crown.”

     “Piss off, Reb,” Spooner protested.  “I owe you one and six.”

     “That was before the school holidays,” Reb reminded him.  “This is now and I think I’m entitled to interest.” Then to the other boy.  “I said to let her go.”

     The stocky boy looked to Spooner for instructions. When he nodded there was a touch of insolent reluctance before he released his hold on her. 

     “Spoilsport,” he grumbled, giving the girl an extra shove that sent her deeper into the hedge.  “There’ll be another time.... when Reb won’t be around.”

     Johnny watched and waited while Spooner and his pal picked up their satchels and crossed the road before he turned his attention back to the girl.

     “They hurt you,” he made it a statement for there was no point in asking her if she was all right because it was obvious that she had been distressed.

     “A bit,” she replied, bending down to pick up her satchel.

     A scratch on the side of her neck was seeping blood.  He slipped a clean hanky from his trouser pocket, slid some spit on it and dabbed it onto the cut.  The touch was soft and caring enough to prevent the girl from pulling away.  Then a touch of fear alarmed her.  She did not know the boy called Reb nor was she aware that he was different from other boys that she had known.

    “Steady,” he reassured her as she tried to squirm away.

    “Who are you?” she asked, looking at him for the first time.

    He was of medium height and build; slim but not thin.  Although there was a good-looking boy in the face there was little or no emotion in the eyes while there was something mocking in his mouth.  At the same time he seemed to be a bit of a nerd but maybe that was the way he wanted people to think of him.   The short back and sides topped by floppy fair hair and the black square rimmed glasses did nothing to enhance an image of a kid who could take care of himself.

     “John Rebello,” he stated, simply.

     “Fiona – Fiona Shaw,” she introduced herself.

     “You couldn’t be anybody else,” there was cheeky warmth in his smile as he responded to her introduction.

     She dropped her eyes and turned away from him:  “So you know about me.  What do you want then?  Want to cop a feel like the rest?”

     John Rebello nodded his head as he realised that he had said something wrong and he had no desire to upset her.

     “All I meant was that you had that name and -,” he stopped abruptly.  “Look I don’t know who you are.  I’ve never heard of you and I don’t want to cop a feel as you put it.  Got me?”

     Fiona wasn’t sure at first until she saw the set of his face.

     “ I get so used to -,” she faltered, so close to tears that he, instinctively, laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

     That touch seemed to comfort her to the extent that she allowed him to wipe away her tears.  Then she looked up and saw something that no one else had seen.  The mask had slipped and she saw concern and softness in those steel grey eyes but when he saw her looking they hardened again.

     In the fleeting moments that they had been together the pavements had cleared and both knew that they were late for school.

     “Want a lift?” he grinned.

     “Why not? she shrugged, as he pulled his bike away from the kerb.

     She swung up to sit sideways on the crossbar and shuddered when she felt his arms braced against her body as he gripped the handlebars and shoved off.  He raced down the slope so as to gain momentum for the final rise to the school gates.  He pulled up and helped her get off before he said goodbye then without another thought wheeled his bike through the gates just as two prefects were arriving.

     “Hey, Johnny Reb,” yelled one with a friendly grin.  “What’s this?  Late on your first day back.  Not like you.”

     “You know me, Billy,” Johnny shrugged.  “First time for everything.”

     Billy nodded:  “Just get to assembly – I never saw you.  Okay?”

     If Johnny Rebello had a real friend then it had to be Billy Bethnal.  They had been at primary school together when Johnny and his mother moved to Orpington.  Johnny came from North London and there was some animosity towards this outsider by his classmates. Then Billy had turned up.  Although a year older Billy could empathise with Johnny for he too had known what it had been like to be ostracised.  He had begun life as an abandoned baby and brought up in care until a family had adopted him when he was five.  Although he had been brought up in Orpington and had attended the same school from the start there were those who knew his history and let him know it.  By the time he was ten he had settled all the arguments and no one wanted to mess with him.  With Billy on his side kids tended to steer clear of Johnny until that last year – the year that Billy left for secondary school.  That was when they created hell for Johnny Rebello.

     When he came to Charterhouse he was told that he should not get mixed up with Eric Tyrell and to be ready for the initiation.

     The initiation was for first year boys to be dragged over to the iron railings by the bike sheds on the far side of the playground.  There their arms were forced through the gaps then the arms brought back and pushed until the insides of the elbows were crushed against the bars.  No one got released until they cried out in pain.

     Eventually, Johnny’s turn came but he never suffered the torture of the bars.  The reason for this was the intervention of Eric Tyrell.

     Eric Tyrell was a third year boy who stood out from the rest.  At playtime he could be found occupying the space where the bike sheds stood at right angles to each other.  He was taller than most boys his age with brilliantined dark hair that was combed straight back and neatly trimmed sideburns.  His clothes were immaculate.  The blazer was cut like a double-breasted suit jacket with narrow lapels.  He wore tapered grey trousers with a feint lighter grey pinstripe.  In attitude his stance was self-assured and if he held a fat cigar between his fingers no one would have been surprised.

     To his flanks stood the same two boys who had the look of being bodyguards.  Telfer, another third year boy, always stood to his left and was built like a gorilla with a heavy forehead.

No matter what the weather he wore a maroon pullover beneath his blazer.  The other, also tall, but broad shouldered and muscular was in Billy’s class.  This was Lee Benedict but only his friends dared use his nickname of Benny.  He hated the name because with his thatch of blond hair coupled with his facial features reminded kids of Ben the Flowerpot Man.

     Tyrell, then, was a force to be reckoned with.  Nothing seemed to happen without his say so and would deal promptly and swiftly with anyone who challenged his rule.

     The two fifth year boys who had Johnny up against the bars looked, at first, as though they were going to defy Tyrell then slowly and reluctantly they let him go.

      It’s tradition,” one of them muttered, sulkily, as he slouched to one side.

     Eric gave Johnny a thoughtful look.

     “He’s right,” Eric’s voice was almost inaudible a quiet mumble with distinct words.  “Benny give the boy a taster.”

     Benny took hold of Johnny’s arm and put it through the bars before he pulled on it.  There was no pain or hint of torture that he had seen done to other boys.  Then he was free but had no desire to walk away but he did want to know why Eric Tyrell had come to his rescue.

     “Thanks, Mr Tyrell,” Johnny said gratefully addressing the other as though he deserved that kind of respect.

     Tyrell grinned as he glanced at Benny and Telfer, his left arm swinging out in a gesture that embraced Johnny.

     “I like that,” he said, softly.  “That’s what I call respect.  It makes me feel good to be called Mr Tyrell.” Then he looked at Johnny.  “You call me Eric, you understand?”

     Johnny nodded.

     “You got a problem – you come to me,” Eric advised him.  “If I’m not around then talk to Benny or The Gorilla here.  You have friends now – you understand?”

     Once more Johnny nodded.

     “One more thing,” Eric pointed out.  “ I did this because Billy asked me.  That means you mean something to him.  Outside school he doesn’t have friends except me and Benny – but we know about you.”

     The group turned away leaving behind a bewildered and confused Johnny Rebello.

     “You going to use him?” Benny asked as they strolled back to their station by the bike sheds.

     “No, Benny, I’m not,” Eric replied.  “This one is a friend and friends I do not use.  Besides I have seen his eyes.  No Benny he has to be a friend.”

     That was the way it had been. Johnny belonged to his first gang and people regarded him with some awe.  The Gorilla had taught him how to fight and be really dirty with it while Benny took on a role akin to that of a minder.  When Johnny had a fight Benny was there to make sure that no one joined in.  In this way many people came to realise that win or lose Johnny did not back down.  There was no quit in him but he never went hunting trouble and Benny respected him for that.

     Now, except for Billy and Benny, they were all gone but what Eric Tyrell had seen in him they knew for themselves.

     During the last term of his third year Eric Tyrell had taken him to one side and they had gone behind the bike sheds.  Eric produced a packet of ten Weights cigarettes and handed them to him.

Johnny told him that he did not smoke but Eric just laughed.

     “ Listen to me, Johnny,” Eric said, softly.  “This cost a bob.” He opened the packet and produced a cigarette that he held up.  “To any kid this is worth threepence.  Think about it.  Ten cigarettes at threepence each equals half a crown.  You understand?”

     Johnny nodded: “You want me to sell fags for you.”

     Eric looked upset and offended: “ Johnny, look at me.  I’m your friend.  Never once have I treated you any other way.  You know me – you know I have kids to do this sort of thing.  I don’t need you like that.” Then he calmed down and laid a hand on Johnny’s shoulder.  “After this term I’m gone but you’ll still be here.  You understand?”

    “You want me to take over,” Johnny deduced.

    “Not quite,” Tyrell grinned.  “This is all yours – I want nothing out of it.  Take all you can, Johnny, or you’ll wind up as one of the taken.  There’s a demand and you can be the supplier.  Look take this packet and see what happens.”

     Johnny looked at the offered packet before, tentatively, reaching out to take it.  As he slipped it into the inside pocket of his blazer his free hand went to his trouser pockets and produced two silver sixpenny pieces which he handed to Eric.

     “What’s this?” he demanded.

     “You’re not out of pocket and I prefer to pay my way,” Johnny informed him.  “This packet of fags is mine – and I get to keep the profit.”

     Eric Tyrell looked into his eyes and saw the same things that he had seen just three years before.  There was a shrewdness and strength behind them than was not in keeping with the slim frame and the glasses.

     “Fair enough,” he agreed, before he held out his hand that Johnny shook.  “You’ll do good, Johnny.”

     At the end of that week Eric Tyrell quit school and on the following Monday the price of a cigarette doubled and the mugs paid the price.

      Now it was a new term and a new school year and Johnny slipped into the back of the school hall which doubled as the gym.  Johnny leaned against the wooden horse and thought of escape.  Anything was better than listening to the headmaster ramble on about something or other.  When assembly was done the deputy head took to the stage and began calling names into classes.  By the time he reached form 4A Johnny was already in line for he knew which class he was going to be in.  This rankled him a bit because his last term exam results had not been good enough to take him into the top class and, with it, as good as a free ticket to sitting his G.C.E's.  He was going to have to work hard to get to the top of the class this year so that he could go up next year.

      The new class trooped up the concrete path and turned towards the last classroom in the second block of wooden huts.  He was entering Mr. Scott’s domain.  Scott was a big boned six-foot mass that dominated the classroom and it was not just his presence that was felt.  His voice boomed with the right intonation that he sounded like James Robertson Justice in Sir Lancelot Spratt mode.  His usual attire consisted of tweed jacket with leather patches on his elbows; grey flannel trousers and brown shoes; and either a grey or pale blue shirt with the same dark blue tie.  The fleshy, veined face housed a thick nose and mouth and small, piggy eyes of a watery blue. 

     Get him in the right frame and ask the right question and half a lesson could be lost while he told everyone how he took Pegasus Bridge single handedly.

     “Of all the kids in this school I get lumbered with you lot,” he grumbled slamming the register on his desk while his piggy eyes roamed the class looking to spear a victim.  “God boy.  You? Rebello, what are you doing in my classroom?”

     “Because I am,” Rebello mentioned.  “Doing me down in history – it wasn’t enough to put me down.  Just dropped me to sixth place.”

     “Watch it, Rebello,” Scott snapped, his eyes taking up the challenge.  “This time I’m your form master – remember that.”

     Scott’s subject was history and he knew his facts and figures as long as he remembered to consult his notes.  Many regarded him as a good teacher until he made a mistake while taking a second year form and Rebello had been the boy who had to correct him.  Rebello was the boy who could do his written work and add information that Scott had not imparted to the rest of the class.  Most of all it was Rebello who made him look a fool but he was the only one who knew it.  Therefore, when it came to marking he deducted marks for cleverness.

     With one last glance around the subdued room he flipped open the register and began intoning the names recorded there.

      Abbott, Aston, Beamish….the list droned on and Rebello gazed out at the school field.  Faulkner, Fletcher, Foster…. Johnny switched off again …Hood, Hunter…still a way to go…. Kent…. so he had stayed in Johnny thought, good for him.   And so it went on until it reached his name but did not bother to answer.  Scott knew he was there.

     “Answer to your name, boy,” Scott shouted.

     “Woof,” was Johnny’s response that the class greeted with loud laughter.

     Slowly, Scott stood up his right hand reaching for the top drawer of his desk.

     “There always has to be one,” Scott announced.  “The class comedian.” He looked around the classroom his head nodding as he held a face until the smiles disappeared.  “Some of you don’t know me.  Rebello, there, does.  He knows me well and he knows my little friend.  Let me introduce you,” he became hammily theatrical as he plunged his hand into the drawer and hauled out a black size 11 plimsoll.  “to Sammy.  Sammy the slipper and he loves being in action.” He pointed the slipper at Johnny.  “Rebello get your backside down here.  Sammy wants to get reacquainted with you.”

     Johnny shrugged as he slowly came to his feet and grinned as he walked down the aisle and bent over ready for his punishment.  The slipper came down with force and as it connected with his backside he farted.

     “I needed that,” Johnny mentioned as he stood up.

     “Your filth, Rebello, you’re filth,” Scott screamed above the bursts of hysterical laughter.

“Get back to your seat.” Then glared around the classroom as though searching for another victim.   

“The rest of you – shut up.”

     The laughter was slow to subside.

     Scott stormed one of the aisles between the desks with the slipper held before him like an avenging sword as he quietened everyone with a threatening: “Who’s next?”

     Order was restored and the calling of the register was completed.

     Then it was off to the first lesson of the day which was Maths and that meant going to a classroom in the main building.  His classmates soon formed themselves into groups no doubt chatting about their summer holidays but Johnny held back.  Not because he had no friends amongst his peers but because he had no desire to be friends with anyone.  Apart from Mick Hood none of them lived near him nor had they come from the same primary school as him.  When he was done with school he doubted if he would see any of them again.

     There was only one reason why he was at school and that was to get an education.  He knew his weaknesses and the worst of those was maths.  The way he saw it was that so long as he could add, subtract, multiply and divide that was all he would need.  Things like percentages, fractions and decimals would all fall into place like trigonometry.  Who needed logarithms and algebra?  That was rubbish.  X + Y = Z.  What is the value of Y?  Who cared?

     Johnny Rebello didn’t.

     An education, though, that did matter.

     So did a matter of a debt.

     Albert Spooner was the first person to get on the wrong side of the new regime.  Right up until the first break he was resolved not to pay Johnny Rebello the half crown he had demanded.  He came down the steps by the school hall then stopped dead when he saw Johnny standing where Eric Tyrell had once stood.  Then he turned away hoping that he could hide out in the toilets but before he could make a break both his arms were grabbed.  Trying to twist away he knew that he was not going to break free of Billy and Benny who half dragged and half carried towards the bike sheds.

     “You owe me money, Spooner,” Johnny reminded him, casually.  “Half a crown.  Time to pay.”

     “I owe you for three fags,” Spooner protested.

     “You should’ve paid me then,” Johnny informed him.  “We’ve had our summer holidays and I’m out of pocket.  You’ve had my money – so I’m charging interest.”

     “I ain’t got that sort of money,” Spooner whined.  “ I’ve not got anything on me.  Look, I’ll pay you tomorrow.”

    “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” Johnny mentioned, sounding as though he wanted to help Spooner out.  “Pay me a shilling tomorrow and do the same for the next six weeks and everything will be quits.”

     “But – but that’s six bloody shillings,” Spooner protested.  “You can bloody well piss off – I ain’t paying you nuffing.”

     “Look you little shit,” Johnny said with steel in his voice and eyes.  “I’m clearing your debt.  You owe me half a crown – I’ve given you half a crown so that’s five bob all told plus a shilling interest.  I want six bob out of you – or do you want someone to beat it out of you?”

     Spooner went a whiter shade of pale and his whole body was shaking but he was quick to agree terms.

     “One other thing,” Johnny mentioned as though it was a subject that had skipped his mind. 

 “Fiona Shaw.  Leave her alone and the same goes for your mates.  If I hear that she’s had problems I’ll be coming to see you.  You understand?”

     There was a swift acknowledgement from the victim who fully understood those last two words.  Finally dismissed Spooner ran to the toilets but this time, not to hide.

     “This something new?” Benny asked after Spooner had gone.

     “Lent him the money to pay me off,” Johnny supplied with a wicked smile.  “Spooner’s lousy at maths so he’ll never work it out.  What will happen is that he’ll spread the word that if debts don’t get paid the price will go up.”

     “I don’t like it,” Billy confessed.  “You’re sounding like a tallyman.”

     “It’s business, Billy,” Johnny pointed out.  “Don’t forget what we make cuts three ways.  I make money – you make money.”

     “When you put it that way –,” Billy faltered, then grinned.  “Like they say there’s always some fool who wants to get parted from their pocket money.”

     Word did get around and boys who could not pay offered other means.  Comics like ‘Air Ace’, ‘War Picture Library’, ‘Combat’, ‘Western Picture Library’, and Sexton Blake came his way.  Also books and toys though with the latter he was very picky and had to have some value but mostly he went for Dinky Toys or the new Matchbox series.  He paid a penny for each item but made it clear that they could be bought back within a school week but at double the price.

     Cigarette cards and bubble gum wrapper cards were something else – value on resale came with how rare it was.

     Whatever, Johnny Rebello never lost out on a deal.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

TOM CLANCY'S THE DIVISION

As Black Friday approaches it seems an appropriate time to mention The Division a computer/console game from Ubisoft Massive. This game was released in March 2016

This is a third person online only shooter set against the background of a sealed off Manhatten ruled by four factions. The hero/heroine that the player creates is a sleeper agent who is activated by the crisis to take and secure control of the city.

The story opens with Black Friday underway, Scientist and eco-terrorist Gordon Amherst has impregnated dollar bills with a deadly virus that becomes known as 'green poison' or 'the dollar flu'. As the virus takes control the island of Manhatten goes into lockdown.
In Brooklyn the Division agents gather and have to take down a gang of rioters who are attempting to take advantage of the situation. After this intro you join one of the senior officers, Faye Lau, to transfer to Manhatten. However, the transport helicopter is destroyed and Lau is badly injured in the explosion.
After arriving at the base at Hudson Yards the agent is tasked with joining the Joint Task Force ( a kind of home guard) to take the Post Office to establish a base of operations. The place is a mess but as the agent finds various personnel like a doctor who is held prisoner in a sports stadium or a security chief trying to protect the Lincoln Tunnel from being flooded the place becomes habitable.
Step by step the agent becomes aware of the bigger picture as to the origins of the virus. Against the agent are gangs of rioters; cleaners who are armed with flame throwers who believe that burning people will eradicate the disease; Rikers - escapees from Riker's Island prison and the LMB (Last Man Battalion) ex-soldiers who feel dis-enfranchised who have taken over the United Nations building.

As a game it is all very straight forward - it can be played solo or in a group.

Despite a number of patches that are supposed to improve gameplay they have done nothing to rectify how scenery moves like a transparent shield that protects the bad guys but leaves the player vulnerable.

Personally, I found some of the set pieces a touch questionable.
For example a city without infrastructure the lights are still on. Everywhere the Christmas lights are ablaze but there is no one manning the power station.
The first mission sees the agent rescue a doctor who is being held prisoner with her staff in a sports stadium restaurant. At street level the JTF wait to escort them over the road to the Post Office and that is the direction said doctor goes. But no sooner has the agent rescued the doc than the order comes through to clear the roof so that a helicopter can land and carry the doctor over the road. Logic fails and I can't help wonder----why? Doesn't make sense.
In another task the agent is called upon to restore power in Times Square to switch the billboards on. Times Square is all lit up - as are the billboards so that when the quest is completed there is no change.
When the storyline is completed I found myself wondering 'what happened next?'. The bad guy disappears so the storyline is not done. There is no sign of him in the new game add-on 'Underground' but there are still two game additions to come.

Despite my gripes about the storyline there is very little wrong with the gameplay.

The game is available for PC and Xbox One and PS4 consoles.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

SAMUEL ANDREWS 1836 - 1904




Samuel Andrews was a candle maker born in Oaksey, Wiltshire but he was a technical genius who was set to change the face of America's oil production.

He arrived in America prior to the Civil War and settled in Cleveland, Ohio where he married Mary Cole in Cuyahoga County in 1859.

While working with shale oil production in the newly discovered oil fields of western Pennsylvania in 1862 he came up with a way to separate the different components of crude oil. This became known as fractional distillation.

Looking for investment for his ideas Samuel Andrews approached a local businessman, John D. Rockefeller, who saw a lot of potential in them. With investment Samuel Andrews designed and built a small refinery in Cleveland.

So was born Standard Oil which was destined to make Samuel Andrews a fortune. To show off his new found wealth he built a mansion on Euclid Avenue aka Millionaires Row but it was over ambitious and unmanageable that it was left empty and derelict for 25 years before the bulldozers moved in. All that remains is a photo.

However, not all went well between Andrews and Rockefeller. Rockefeller took the credit for marketing that capitalised on Andrews' ideas but Samuel was not comfortable with the aggressive way that the company was growing. Finally, Samuel Andrews sold out his share of Standard Oil in 1874.

He was not a poor man when he died in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1904.

                 *                          *                        *                       *                        *

Normally I would have ended this biography there - but there is a tad more to add.

As stated Samuel Andrews was married to Mary Cole who's brother John married Sarah Howe. Sarah Howe had a sister Hilary who had married Henry Griffiths. Henry Griffiths owned and ran a general store in Elyria, Lorain County, Cleveland. To cut a long story short Henry and Samuel were, for a better word, brothers in law.

As it turns out both John D.Rockefeller and Samuel Andrews had a love of fishing and both would visit Henry Griffiths who had a small fishing lodge.

The reason for this post-script draws a line under an old saying of my grandfather who, on being asked for a loan, would answer 'Who do you think I am? John D. Rockefeller?'

Add to that Henry Griffiths is my three times great uncle and Samuel turned up as past of his history and I am indebted to the Stokes family for that.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

THE DOLLY DOLLY SPY by Adam Diment

In 1967 Adam Diment was about to rewrite spy fiction.
There had been many contenders for Ian Fleming's and James Bond's throne. 'Boysie' Oakes in John Gardner's 'The Liquidator' (Gardner would take over the Bond franchise) and Doctor Jason Love in 'Passport To Oblivion' (filmed as 'Where The Spies Are'). Add to the list John Sanders with Nicholas Pym, the 'James Bond' of Oliver Cromwell's Secret Service.

So, enter Philip McAlpine. Tall, good looking and a love of fast cars, fast living, pot, sex and all manner of things mod. Truly a sixties child.
Suddenly his creator, Adam Diment, was the 'big thing'. Both he and his creation were hailed as the true successors to Fleming and Bond.

'The Dolly Dolly Spy' is told in the first person and appears to be a slow starter. McAlpine is coerced into working for British Intelligence department 6(NC/NAC) by the head Rupert Quine who is nothing like M. Quine is camp and prone to calling people 'luv' but this is just window dressing for a man who has a nasty, sadistic streak and can resort to blackmail with a smile on his face.
Recruited McAlpine is sent to work for the International Charter Inc a company that British Intelligence are interested in. On the surface the company runs package holidays for tourists to the Mediterranean island of Dathos. Underneath there is gunrunning and other clandestine activities going on. As a perk for this McAlpine is well paid and has the privelege of having his girlfriend, Veronica, live with him.
But the easy living comes to an end when he has to start earning his money and has to kidnap a former member of the Waffen SS. The only trouble is that the Americans want him too and McAlpine is not a subscriber to any 'special relationships'.

What makes 'The Dolly Dolly Spy' stand out from the crowd is Adam Diment's delivery. His hero says exactly what he thinks and that goes all the way to make McAlpine real - like you were reading an autobiography.
There were three more books 'The Great Spy Race', 'The Bang Bang Birds' and 'Think,Inc' the latter in 1971 after a gap of three years. But that was the end as Adam Diment just disappeared from the scene.

There was talk of a movie with David Hemmings but it came to nothing. Though, I do wonder if the McAlpine novels insired Austin Powers though that character does not compare.

If you liked Bond, then you will like McAlpine.


I wrote this piece a while back for a different blog.

Monday, 24 October 2016

STEVE DILLON - 1962 to 2016

Sadly one of the most popular comic book artists Steve Dillon died today.

Born in Luton (England) in 1962 Steve Dillon began his career drawing for Marvel UK's Hulk magazine. His best known works, though, are 'Judge Dredd' and 'Rogue Trooper' drawn for the 2000 A.D. comic.

He has also contributed to the Dr Who magazine and 'The Punisher' as well as being the co-creator and artist for the 'Preacher' series.

Steve Dillon died today in New York City aged 54.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

THE QUARANTINE ZONE by Ray Foster

Included in the new Indie Collection anthology Spectacular Tales 111 is a short story titled 'The Quarantine Zone'.

This is a story that has evolved over time - in fact sometime around 2000 to 2005.

Back then I wrote a story called 'The End' where boy meets girl after an unnamed apocalyptic event. Girl loses boy who rides off into the sunset after telling her that he wasn't about to play Adam to her Eve.

As a simple one thousand word piece it did a job of a kind. About three or four years ago I did an edit while I was with the writers group in Felixstowe. This did expand on the original idea but read out loud there was still something lacking.

I was about to delete it from the computer when I was asked if I had anything that could be used in a sci-fi anthology. I should have said 'no' because I didn't think that the story was really fit for purpose but the theme rather saved it.

The boy became a 55 year old man and the girl changed to a 21 year old rebel. They meet up in the same location in the aftermath of a devastating plague in an opening that has a 'western' flavour to it.

As 'Red Moon Rising' it was published in Spectacular Tales 11.

The Quarantine Zone is set in London and introduces three new characters and throws a different light on the plague. This time there is a Polish nurse, a girl shy security guard and a streetwise teenage boy - just three of the survivors trapped inside the fenced off grounds of a hospital.

That story is not 'the end' though for within a couple of days of completing that story I started on a third that would bring another character to life.

Even as I write this a plan is afoot to add some more stories. A bunch of short stories that will all link up to create a whole. An idea very much inspired by Hunter Davies 'I Knew Daisy Smuten'. This was a collection of short stories by various writers with Hunter Davies providing the finale. Add to the mix Howard Hopkins 'The Dark Riders' a western where the hero has to work out how to kill a gang of outlaws who refuse to die.

I have learned that sometimes stories don't work even though the plot idea sounds good. Near enough a decade on and it has taken on a life of it's own. Simple message there is never give up - when the story is ready it will come.