Underneath the Arches
The Twyford railway arches. A forgotten maze of backroads leading to the station car park, taking you past rat-infested streams and wretched-looking allotments, a place where no sane adult would wonder. Which was fine with the local kids, as it provided a relatively safe place to hang out, miles away from the crushing jackboot of adulthood.
Outside the morning and evening rush hours where serious-looking people with a job in the City parked their serious-looking cars, it was the domain of the teenage loafer and the down-and-outs, with only the Blakey-like cries of "I'll get you kids!" from the station master to worry the unwary intruder. People like us, then.
If there was one thing the railway arches were good for, it was the superb echoes a good fifty metres of tunnelling provided. And for a bunch of nutters who liked to blow things up, the tunnels drew us like a magnet. The truly adventurous would spurn the road tunnel, and go down a level to the stream (part of the River Loddon, which flowed through the village, and once swept Matty's bike away in a raging torrent in an earlier episode) where the tunnels were longer, darker, and filled to brimming with supermarket trollies.
Excuse: It was dark, we needed light.
Second excuse: The station master had already told us to bugger off after letting off a whole pile of now-illegal Airbomb Repeaters in the station car park, "I'll call the police if I get any more trouble from you kids" and not to mention "A spell in the army will do you good." He was right on one front - Steve did indeed join the army and worked for several years in bomb disposal.
Third excuse: Science homework due the next day, something to do with the expansion of gasses. We needed practical experience.
Down the embankment, paddle through four inches of fetid water and soon we were engulfed by darkness. What we needed was a light. This was thoughfully provided by Matty's Zippo lighter against the blue touchpaper of an Airbomb.
There was a couple of seconds of sparkles followed by WOOMPH - WOOMPH! as the projectiles were fired from its evil mouth.
And explosion of light, and then another, and the tunnel was filled with a deafening BANG-ANG-ANG-ANG-ANG! that took several seconds to die away.
I think I might have said "Fuck" at some stage, but I couldn't tell through the ringing. We fled from the tunnel, splashing water everywhere, and headed back up the bank to our bikes.
A quick count-up - there were still six Airbombs left between the six of us.
Well, somebody had to suggest it.
Matty: "Why don't we let them all off at once? Just to see what it sounds like. Y'know."
This time, back into the road tunnel. No point getting ourselves wet with important work to be done. And none of us actually wanted to be in the tunnel when six Airbombs went off. We may have been stupid, but we weren't stu... No hang on, we WERE stupid, or we wouldn't have been there in the first place.
Steve went back to the stream and fished out an old milk crate. Ideal.
We stood the six evil-looking fireworks in the crate, and set them down JUST inside the road tunnel. After a brief argument about who was going to be damn fool enough to light them with the only source of flame available - Matty's Zippo - it was decided to use the lighter and some rolled up newspaper, so we'd do one each.
What could possibly go wrong?
Light the blue touchpaper, and retire to a safe distance.
Then watch in fear, surprise and alarm as the local copper enters the tunnel at the other end on his pushbike.
There wasn't even time to leg it.
The mere printed word cannot do justice to the firey armageddon that took place in the following few seconds. WOOMPH - WOOMPH-WOOMPHITY-OOOOMPH! BANG-ANG-ANG-ANG-ANG! times six just doesn't seem to put across the fear, pain, the whole damn son et lumiere that turned your pants to liquid as you simultaneuosly tried to run, run for your life and remained rooted to the spot wanting to see what happened next.
You've got to hand it to the Thames Valley Constabulary's finest - they're made of stern stuff. As the clouds of smoke cleared and the echoed subsided, he was there, like the Terminator, ready to dispense fearful justice on the wrongdoers.
The helmeted protector of the Queen's Peace chased us down the back roads, round the station and through the church yard, where we finally made good our escape, crouching behind Joyce Smith "Not dead, just resting". If that were the case, a few of our finest pyrotechnics would soon wake the lazy moo from her bed.
Sheepishly we made our way home, knowing full well the grief that was going to fall upon our heads. Steve, the jammy devil, got off scot-free. Not so Matty and I. We lived next door to each other. And three doors further down, ears still ringing, and waiting for parents to arrive home from work - PC Cuthbertson.