Tuesday, 10 March 2009

[Turtlewind] T For Turtlewind

On a dark and stormy night in the latter days of the nineteenth century, a boat ran into trouble off the coast of North Devon.

We all know that the Lynmouth lifeboat crew dragged their craft over Countisbury Hill to launch from the calmer waters of Porlock, but who were they? What were they like? Did they run with the red deer over the rugged heath of Exmoor? Or bum goats in the Valley of the Rocks?

History remembers only the idea, and tells us nothing of the men. But it was a man that I knew... or near enough.

I left my cottage later than I had intended, and the sea mist was rolling up the Lyn as the sun set over the Bristol Channel. I knew the cliff railway would be closing any minute, so I quickened my pace as I reached the putting green.

Along the road, I could see the streetlights sputtering into life as the sun prepared to dip over the horizon. I had to hurry, and there was only one thing I could do. I vaulted the low hedge around the putting green and scampered across as a short cut.

I had just cleared the hedge on the other side when a heavy hand clamped down on my shoulder. ‘Spare some change, miss?’ a whisky-drenched voice slurred in my ear. I’d been so wrapped up in my journey that I’d forgotten the tramps that lurk by the swings and pretend to be dogs so children will give them choc ices. Already I could see another one approaching to my right, waving a dog-eared comic that filled me with dread.

‘You’re – Bigissuers,’ I gasped.

‘Oh yes, Miss,’ the voice leered. ‘And we’re going to put our rancid willies in your ear, cos with all this “Working, not Begging” shit, people are starting to say the homeless aren’t hard any more.’

I was caught somewhere between being pissed off and slightly nervous, but I kicked them in the shins, told them to fuck off and spat on their transient arses anyway.

I was about to resume my journey – God, I’d have to sprint down the seafront if I was going to make it – when I heard the voice from one of the lengthening shadows.

‘Hello, I’m Charley’s Aunt from Brazil, where the nuts come from!’


‘It was going to be Hamlet, but the Boys Who Throw Stones got the Complete Works on long loan. Anyway.’

A shape unfolded from the shadows and darted towards the recumbent tramps. After a couple of seconds of confusing action there was a bright flash and both of them burst into flames.

‘Hee hee hee,’ the shape giggled girlishly as he clapped his hands and watched the vagrants burn. ‘Watch this, the flames go blue if they’ve been on vodka.’

‘Who are you?’ I couldn’t help asking, even as the stranger turned to me and I saw he wore a heavy mask.

‘I’m not telling YOU,’ he snorted. ‘Girls are different and they smell.’


‘Oh, OK... I am Master of all I survey. Of a time, tempted into tyrannous travails by non-tractable types, I typically teach tall tales of turtle terror in taverns to terribly turgid turds. Terroristically tutoring the tautological teams of teammates to terrify and tantalise tits. But tonight you can call me The Mysterious Mr T, Esq. I pity the foo.’

He fell silent, but I could have sworn that he ended this litany with a breathless ‘yay’.

‘So why the dog mask?’

There was a brief pause as The Mysterious Mr T, Esq shrugged his shoulders, lost in a world of alsatian-faced private pain. ‘Some burly men on my getaway barge gave it to me. They were wearing them too so I thought I was going to be in their gang, but they just played some music and tickled my naughty bits.’

Definitely time to leave. The railway would be shut by now so I turned for home.

‘What’s your name?’

The question was so plaintive, I answered without thinking. ‘Emilia Turquoise.’

T shrugged. ‘Near enough. Emilia... do you like experimental German jazz?’


‘Good...’ T rubbed absently at a nasty dark stain on his long coat. ‘Then come with me and watch me blow stuff up!’

He scampered away into the gathering dark. I looked briefly back at the putting green but the sprinklers had started up so I was best off just following the madman.

I’d assumed we were heading for the cliff railway, but T paused in front of the Exmoor Visitor Centre. He pressed his muzzle against the window and stared into the ancient Tourist Information Centre.

‘They brought me here the first day of every holiday,’ he said softly. ‘They said it was the original Overland Launch lifeboat in there but I’m sure it was just a replica.’

I didn’t know how to reply to that but he definitely seemed to be waiting for something.

‘Some boys threw stones at me once when I rode my brother’s mountain bike,’ I ventured.

‘There’s something very wrong with this hamlet,’ T mused. ‘The Boys Who Throw Stones will be held to account. Tonight.’ And then he was off again, scampering down the seafront to the funicular railway, shielding his mask with his coat as he passed the fish and chips shop.

I found him in the carriage at the Lynmouth station. Somehow we’d managed to catch the last train up, and as the bell rang to signal our departure and the tanks started to drain away, he gazed up at the almost perpendicular tracks in what I could only assume was awe.

As the bright green carriage began to rock and shift gently from the buffers, he started to mutter again. ‘This is supposed to be the world’s oldest funicular railway. Or the longest. Or something. Whatever, it goes clank and saves people a five minute walk.’

‘It is a five minute walk up a cliff,’ I reminded him gently.

‘I once ate my way out of a Dagenham mudslide,’ he retorted, and in the half-light in the carriage, I caught a brief glimpse of a scorpion scuttling around his shoulders before it darted into his collar. ‘That’s what being suave MEANS.’

He was fidgeting with a rolled up narrow strip of red paper. ‘This is a roll of toy gun caps. Available over the counter of any toy shop in the country. Harmless individually, but combined under certain circumstances...’

He fell silent then, as we passed under the first of the cliff path bridges. He saluted the few people trekking up the path at that twilight hour. Then one of them threw a stone at his head and shouted ‘Fetch.’

‘Are you going to sabotage the railway and blow up the Exmoor Visitor Centre?’ I asked.

‘Would you prefer a lie, or the truth?’

‘But why?’

Again, T let out a girlish giggle. ‘Why did you shoot that duck, asshole?’

‘That’s not Hamlet either, that’s John Malkovich in In The Line of Fire.’

‘They made TWO versions?’

With a clank and a jolt, the carriage halted at the Lynton station. I took a quick look down the track as I disembarked, and had the usual dizzy fantasy about how cool it would be to slide down those dead straight tracks on a tea tray or something, straight into Lynmouth.

T was chasing moths around the tree in the garden next to the station while the driver shut up the little ticket booth and wandered off to the Valley of Rocks Hotel bar. When the last person had left the little yard, he returned to me, a translucent wing poking between his masked teeth.

‘I have something to show you, Emilia.’

We reentered the carriage, which was now awaiting the new dawn before it would chunter down the cliff path, bearing at least twenty stressed commuters anxious to rejoin the rat race of selling clotted cream ice-cream to disabled children in Lynmouth.

‘Where are the explosives, then?’

T just gestured dumbly at a carrier bag that was half-propped against one of the benches. I gingerly opened it to see it was half-full of the red paper rolls.

‘Folded in half lengthways and wrapped around a 2p coin, then covered with sellotape, a roll of toy gun caps can create a most surprising cacophany,’ T explained enigmatically.

‘But you’ve not even folded these!’ I exlaimed.

‘Er, no,’ he said. ‘I got bored. Some of them are folded at the bottom of the bag though, they’ll go off a treat. Oh yes. You can touch my naughty bits now if you like.’

I ruffled his hair, the scamp. ‘No thanks.’

T shrugged and strolled from the carriage. ‘Well, anyway, it’s all set up, you just need to press the bell and this marvellous old water-powered conveyance will do the rest. Cheerio.’

I chased him back out into the yard. ‘You mean you’re not even sticking around to set it off?’

‘No, Emilia.’ He paused in what he probably thought was a grave and significant fashion. ‘This new world that I create is for you and your esteemed kindreds. It is not for me and will only taste like ash in my mouth. Plus if you get caught ringing the bell they don’t let you ride the train again until they’ve all had mysterious concussion.’

And with that he was gone.

I was left in the dark with a cliff railway full of weak indoor fireworks, a deadly weapon trained on a West Country visitor centre. I rang the bell for the hell of it and ran down the cliff path to the bridge.

There was a strange round little man waiting there, already gazing down into Lynmouth harbour expectantly.

‘Good evening,’ I ventured, cautiously.

A plummy voice assailed me, quite different from the nasal whine of Mr T, Esq. ‘Oh no! A bally girl!’

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I wouldn’t expect you to understand, you common fool,’ he sighed in exasperation. ‘Can’t you just leave me to contemplate the latest step in my grand masterplan?’

There was a slight buffeting as the cliff railway passed beneath our feet, gathering speed. I looked at the repulsive little gnome. It couldn’t be... ‘T?’ I asked.

‘How dare you?’ he squealed. ‘I am the archduke of crime, Roger Foxby, and you have the brains of a Tom Holt novel. Of the tedious kind.’

From the bottom of the cliff there was an ear-splitting bang as a carrier bag full of low explosives fell off a bench. I looked down to see a faint glow from the carriage as rolls of toy gun caps ignited and were blown through the glassless windows.

‘Oh blazes,’ snarled Foxby. ‘Gimp! Time for plan B!’

I ran for it as soon as I saw the man in the leather suit step from the shadows. But in the still night air their voices carried.

‘Are we going to look for lottery tickets in the bins behind Barbrook Post Office again, Roger?’

‘Later, Gimp! First we return to the barge. I’m pretty sure they were about to let us join their gang of alsatian warriors...’

Just as I’d reached the seafront, however, the windows of the visitor centre exploded outwards and a flaming lifeboat soared out on to the street, over the harbour wall and into the swollen Lynn estuary. Within a minute it was lost to view, until the sky lit up with fireworks, culminating in a huge glowing letter T hanging in the night sky above South Wales.

He was Mr T, and he was me and he was you and he was Long Distance Clara.

And he was your Mum.

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