Mirth and Woe: Toad Rage
Geoff – destroyer of sheds – was my best friend, and hardly mental at all.
Geoff liked animals.
He liked animals so much, he took me on a guided tour of his parents' enormous garden, where he showed me an animal trap of his own design, a terrifying device that could club anything up to the size of a small horse to death with a ten pound lump hammer.
Lying next to the behemoth was a very flat grey, brown and red thing.
"Oh, that was a mouse."
"It works, then."
He also showed me the bruising to the back of his hand.
"Yes. Yes it does. The trigger needs a bit of work, though."
Prodding a baited platform with a stick, there was a rush of air, and the hammer swung in a terrifying arc to snap the branch clean in two.
"Jesus", I said.
That's how he recruited me into his animal rescue organisation.
"It's called TOAD."
"We're the Twyford Organisation for Animals in Danger", he expanded.
It seemed churlish to point out that the only animals in danger round these parts was anything unfortunate enough to stumble through his hedge and into range of the Mallet o' Certain Doom.
"How many other members have you got?" I asked instead.
"Just me, so far. I've got a sign and everything."
He pointed to a large piece of scrap wood with bits of polystyrene roof tile glued to it and painted red and green.
"TOAD", it said, "fighting animal cruelty in Berskhire"
"You spelled Berkshire wrong", I pointed out.
"Don't you start."
We recruited one other member, some kid from the school playground called Phil. He passed a stringent membership test by knowing that badgers had stripy heads and "my dad run one over once. It were BRILLIANT!"
We tried a bit of the old animal conservation business, but found it too much like hard work, particularly when there were people such as vets and the RSPCA who had pretty much cornered the market. Also, my brother took the piss out of me something awful when he found out.
"TOAD?" he said, "You complete ponce."
He had a point, to be honest, and Phil didn't help matters by bringing a dead squirrel to school ("I shot it! Wiv me airgun!") to demonstrate how serious he was about the whole enterprise. He showed it to a group of girls, who had hysterics and were sick inna hedge.
With the whole project beginning to look a little limp, Geoff devised a way of getting a bit of publicity for the organisation.
"I'll add a few enhancements to the animal trap, then I'll get the local paper and TV involved. The sky's the bloody limit, mate."
He added a few enhancements, which just happened to involve replacing the ten pound lump hammer with some sort of electrical gubbins that ignited the IRA's favourite – weedkiller and castor sugar – under the poor about-to-be-rescued-from-danger animal.
The next morning, I dashed round his house to see if our unique animal rescue efforts had worked. I arrived just as the Berkshire Fire Service was leaving, having just damped down the remains of much of Geoff's garden and his father's shed. A shed, it transpired, which contained a quantity of excellent single malts and an impressive collection of continental gentlemen's literature and cine films.
"Is Geoff coming out?" I asked of his old man, who scowled at me and had to be physically restrained from ripping limbs off your humble narrator.
"TOAD!" he raged, "TOAD! I'll give you fuppin' TOAD!"
I fled. TOAD Rage nearly had me killed.