Friday, August 13, 2004

Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare

Matty lived next door to me. His house was on the corner of the street, so he had a huge garden, mostly laid over to mud and a half-wrecked caravan which doubled up as a death-trap when attached to the back of their car. One summer this all changed - Matty's gran was coming to live with them. She was selling her house, and Matty's dad was to build a granny annexe on the side of the house, the garden turning from muddy bomb-site to muddy hole in the ground.

To save on money, Matty's dad did away with professional builders and spent weekends and holidays on the vast project - an entirely new granny-friendly wing on the house. The first thing he did was hire a digger and spent a day or so excavating the foundations. Then he had to go back to his real job, leaving the back garden closely resembling the trenches of Belgium in the First World War.

So that's what we did, Matty, Nige, John, Squaggy and I. We played war, running around shouting "ner-ner-ner-ner-ner!" with toy guns, and taking his little sister hostage. And I thought I'd grown out of all that. It was also good for setting up stunts on your bike, which we did until we were told to stop by Matty's mum.

Then it rained. It must have rained for a whole week, because I looked out of my bedroom window one morning to see the contents of Matty's garden slowly floating downstream on a tide of mud. If the building site resembled WW1 trenches before the storm, it was now like the Somme, with his Dad losing one of his boots in an impromtu site inspection, which he never saw again. Also missing was the cement mixer, swallowed up by the quagmire.

With our main avenue to the Planet Fun now blocked off, we passed the days in Matty's bedroom playing computer games on his Commodore 64, and typing in random "peeks" and "pokes" to see what colour the screen went. There was a rumour going round that if you typed in the right numbers, you could mess up a C64 for good, and how I tried.

Totally engrossed with trying to bugger up Matty's computer in the name of sane, upright BBC Model B ownership, we were totally unprepared for events out of doors. Above the sound of the rain hammering on the windows, we heard a scream. A terrible, blood-freezing scream of horror and despair that seemed to go on forever.

"Oooh!" it went, "Ooooo-ooo-ooooo-ooh!" For quite some time. "Ooh!"

"Did you hear that?"


"Oooh! Ooooh-ooh-ooooh!"


"Oh. Wonder what it is."

We drew straws to see who would go out into the deluge to see what had happened, expecting severed limbs at the very least, and I grudgingly edged out of the front door, under cover of the porch and poked my head round the corner to see the cause of the Banshee-like wailing.

It was worse than my worst nightmares. Far, far worse. Terrified, I called for backup, and I was joined in the lashing rain by Matty and John. We were confronted by a blackened spectre rising from the swamp of the flooded garden. It was filthy, it smelled like death, and from its almost human lips came a not-quite-human groan.

"Help me out of here you bastards!"

It was no monster. It was Squaggy, taking a short-cut across the garden, forgetting the small detail of the flooded foundations. Running like a short, fat dervish to escape the rain, he had fallen in head-first, thrashed about screaming, before scrambling up a plank to safety.

If that wasn't bad enough, an even more dread thought crossed his mind: "Me mum's gonna kill me."

We saved his life, dragging him down the Launderama for a quick wash and tumble-dry. If only we'd thought to bring some spare clothes with us...

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