I thought it was time to revisit what I think of as my juvenilia, though what it says when stuff written by a twenty-eight-year-old is classed as ‘juvenile’, I don’t rightly know. Even more so when it was revised at the age of forty-two.
So I got the scanner out and linked to an online OCR site (that’s my excuse for any gobbledegook that’s survived the proof-reading) and made a start with this piece, which Yrs Trly submitted to Games and Puzzles magazine, when, in lieu of getting a life, he went to various board game clubs (a phenomenon becoming popular once more with the loser community).
It all started when I got a genuine pang of conscience while playing Monopoly and replacing a row of houses with an hotel. What about the poor bleeders I was making homeless? Why isn’t the game packaged so that their cries of despair ring out with every such development?
I told you I was a loser.
Anyway, in early 1980 I rattled off this story and submitted it to David Parlett, the then editor of G&P, and author of such bibles as The Penguin Book of Card Games. A very nice reply said that they didn’t really do fiction, however relevant. He also gave some good advice about writing and practice to loosen up my style (sadly, all ignored). He said he thought the writing felt too stilted. In a way this was a compliment, as Mr Stropley, the narrator, is a stuffy character, which by reducing our sympathy makes his ordeal funnier (it says here). But I could see that too stilted a style could alienate the common reader before it had chance to entertain.
Two years passed and there was a change of editor and editorial policy of the now struggling organ (no, this isn’t a callback to last week’s blog). I’d even been negotiating with its legendary founder, Graeme Levin, about opening a branch of his Hanway St. Games Centre in York (where I lived at the time). But it seemed that the new editor, Nicky Palmer, might be open to silly stories in his mag.
I did a bit of rewriting, taking on boad some of Parlett’s wisdom, hopefully without making Stropley much less of a prig, and sent it off.
Palmer preferred the original. He loved it and thought it would be ideal for the new look. It would be in a forthcoming issue and the fee would be rather nominal, much less than the £80 I was getting for silly articles in the computer trade press (which may well appear here one day). As if I cared. I was in a well-paid job and only wanted publishing ‘cos I was and still is a complete tart.
That issue never forthcame of course, nor did the fee. The magazine stopped struggling and died completely. But here’s what I wrote. With notes at the end, since many of the games referenced will be probably be unfamiliar to anyone under fifty. Clubs are playing very different games these days, even away from the ubiquitous hand-held shoot-em-ups. Though I suspect the Monopoly and Cluedo references will never die, whatever they do to the pieces.
Enjoy (if you can)…
Do Not Pass Go
My alarm clock insisted that I wake and face another bright summer morning. Opening my eyes, I had cause to doubt its accuracy, since the room was but dimly lit as with the first light of dawn. Still uncertain, I went to the window and peered out between the curtains. The sun was indeed shining but my house was being shaded from its rays by a massive, silver-grey column standing in the middle of the road.
I believe I was justified in being furious. Pulling my clothes on, I rushed into the street. All was quiet and the street was empty, but for what I now saw to be a huge metal dog, towering over the whole area. I stormed indoors and rang the police.
“There’s a huge metal Scottie outside my house!”
The officer was understandably sceptical. In fact he refused to believe a word I said and made impolite comments about hoax callers. I failed utterly to convince him that I was the victim, rather than the perpetrator of a practical joke and finally he hung up on me. Exasperated, I went back outside. The dog had gone!
I concluded that I must have been hallucinating after all and turned to go indoors just as the bulldozer turned the corner. I spun round to look at it just as the lorry turned the corner.
“What on earth is going on?” I asked myself just as the mobile crane with the heavy metal ball hanging from it came into view.
“What on earth is going on?” I shouted to the lorry driver.
“We’re demolishing this row of houses, mate,” he replied as the heavy metal ball swung back.
“Hey, wait a minute! This is my house!” I cried as the heavy metal ball smashed in the front wall.
“I wouldn’t know about that, mate.”
“But you can’t just knock my house down like this,” I shouted as they just knocked my house down like that.
“Sorry mate, but I got my instructions. We’re to knock these houses down to make way for a new hotel.”
“This is ridiculous!” I raged. “I’m going to the police.”
“Please yourself, mate,” the man said and I marched up the road while my house was reduced to rubble behind me.
Even after my ordeal, the policeman at the station was still unsympathetic. Perhaps I should have left the dog out of the story, as he seemed to treat me as suitable for care in the community from the moment I mentioned it. Nonetheless and wearily, he took a handful of forms from a drawer and started filling them in with Name, Address, Inside Leg Measurement and Nature of Complaint. As we were starting on the umpteenth form a door marked CID swung open and disgorged a rotund, red-faced man in a tweed suit. He was obviously about to leave but as he saw me he stopped with a look in his eyes that I didn’t like at all.
“Aha!” he shouted suddenly, advancing menacingly and pointing his lollipop at me, “Were you or were you not at Tudor Close on the night of the 13th?”
“No. I’ve never heard of the place,” I replied.
“Don’t give me that! Sarge, got anything on this specimen?”
“Nowt sir, but he’s a rum’un all right.”
“Aha,” he said again. “I accuse you of the murder of Dr Black. I put it to you that you found him in the library all alone. You saw your chance, seized a nearby candlestick ”
The sergeant coughed politely and handed a small card to the man who studied it for a moment. He seemed puzzled but soon regained his composure and continued.
“… seized a nearby length of lead piping and beat the good Doctor to death. Then you dragged him to the top of the cellar stairs and threw him down. Finally you escaped through the kitchen window.”
“But I’ve never even heard of …”
“Come off it son; you don’t fool Mustard of the Yard so easily. Take him away and lock him up lads.”
Despite my protests and struggles I was manhandled into a small cell, but only an hour or so later was told I could leave if I paid £50 bail. Luckily my wallet was in my jacket so I paid up and went out into the street. The events of the morning had left me too numb and scared to argue my case any further and, realising I no longer had a home to go to, I decided to head for my brother’s home in the Midlands.
“Dynamite on the track ahead”
I noticed that my train was quite old fashioned and decided that it must have been a special run laid on for enthusiasts. I settled back in my seat and stared despondently out of the window. Soon we had left the city behind and were passing through green fields and small villages, with quaint names like Flibwich, Mintoft, Buffalo Creek …
The train lurched to a halt in a surprisingly arid landscape, hardly recognisable as Southern England. The other passengers fidgeted nervously and talked among themselves in hushed whispers until a guard appeared,
‘Nothing to worry about, y`all – just some dynamite on the track. Fireman’s a-shiftin’ it now and we’ll soon be movin’ on,” and he passed into the next carriage.
Everybody seemed to take this news quite calmly. Much more calmly than they took the sight of a tribe of what I believe are now termed Native Americans on horseback who attacked the train a few seconds later. A party of braves entered the carriage from one end as I ducked through a door at the other and jumped to the ground.
But not to safety. A brave on horseback had spotted me and was beginning to charge.
“Your horse has lost weight with excessive galloping”
At that instant a great cry went up and my attacker stopped in mid-charge. With great equestrian skill, he swung his horse round through 180 degrees and was knocked off it by the open door of the train, to which he had been a little too close for such a manoeuvre. He lay senseless on the ground while his more fortunate companions grouped together and rode off into the distance, crying, “Death to Custer!”, “Geronimo!” and, “Today, the Little Big Horn, tomorrow, Flibwich!”
I seemed to be the sole survivor of the raid. The brave’s horse was my only companion and my only hope of returning to civilisation. Having no idea where I was, I mounted and rode alongside the railway line into the West. Finally a town came into view and on the outskirts I read a sign directing me to the “Stables: 2 miles”.
But, not unlike myself, my steed was hungry and tired, so I was glad that the first building I came to bore the legend “Forage Merchant”. I purchased food for the horse which cost me £25 and we continued on our way until a man in a white coat accosted me.
“I’ve been watching that horse of yours,” he said. “Very good; should do well”
“Er, thank you,” I replied nervously. “In what walk of life, may one ask?”
“Not a walk. Oh, no.” He chuckled and rubbed his bony hands together. “I mean in the race of course. My card, sir.”
He handed me a small card which was totally black. I thanked him politely and began to ride off but he ran after me.
“That will be fifty pounds please,” he said breathlessly, as he strode along beside me.
“What on earth for?”
“Why, vet’s opinion, of course. And the card. Now pay up or return it. Though I must say that I’d keep it if I were you. That’s a fine steed you know.”
“If you like him that much,” I said, dismounting, “you can have him.” And with that I placed his card and the reins firmly into his hand and strode off.
My only hope now seemed to be to find a phone and contact someone in London. Back at work people would be wondering where I was. In fact, I was wondering where I was.
I soon found a kiosk and dialled the office. A rough, unfamiliar voice answered so loudly that it could be heard plainly with the receiver at arm’s length.
“Look here, Smallpiece, that story of yours is unprintable. What do you think you’re playing at man? It’s libelous, obscene even. OK, I think it’s worth following up but you’re going to have to do a rewrite. What say you redo it, leave out the donkey and we’ll get a few nude birds and a model dressed as the Bishop for some ‘reconstruction’ pics for next issue, hey?”
“Sorry, wrong number,” was the most constructive reply I could come up with.
I tried again.
“Stropley’s products, ‘ere” answered a more familiar voice.
“Smedley,” I said with a question mark.
“Yus, mate,” replied the janitor, with no more than a full stop.
“This is Mr Stropley speaking Why are you answering the phone? Where’s Miss Flintwarp?”
“She’s left sir. Said she was offered a better salary elsewhere.”
“I’d better speak to Harigalds then.”
“Sorry, sir. Mr ‘Arigalds left too sir. Got a job as Sales Manager for British Fings Limited. All the staff ‘ave gorn actually. There’s just me ‘ere at the moment — and Mrs Brunt, the tea lady.”
“Good man, Smedley. At least I can rely on you. Anyway, I can’t … ”
“Well,” he interrupted me, “I’m afraid it’s like this, sir. I’ve been offered a better job. At British Fings, sir. Mr ‘Arigalds put in a good word for me, so, er sorry, sir.”
I put the phone down, utterly shattered.
“Take one lorry …”
There was another man waiting to use the phone. The driver of a large truck which was parked across the road and loaded with two large pyramid shaped containers. I waited for him to finish his call and asked him for a lift. He said he was taking his cargo to the docks at Newport and I’d be welcome as far as that.
The journey took us through hilly country on our way to the coast. Although it was uneventful, my companion’s conversation was no help to my anxious state of mind, with talk of frequent landslides, bandits and hold ups on blocked roads. To say the least, I was glad when we arrived at the docks and I could get out of the cab with profuse and partially sincere thanks for his kindness.
I sat on a bollard by the harbour and thought about my next move. Perhaps I could risk setting foot in a police station once more, if only to get my bearings. I got to my feet and walked towards the harbourmaster’s buildings to ask for directions.
“PIECES OF EIGHT”
“Hold hard there, Landlubber!” a voice boomed out suddenly. I turned and looked at the vessel I was passing. It was a fully decked old sailing ship which I had assumed to be some sort of floating museum. At the top of the gangplank stood a tall figure dressed as a pirate captain, complete with eye patch and parrot. I thought he must be seeking my custom as a tourist.
“Sorry; no time,” I called back. “Must be on my way. Got to get to London.”
“Oho, must ye now? he roared. “You b’aint going to London; you be coming with Black Jack to sail the seven seas: next stop Treasure Island.”
No, I’m afraid I must refuse your offer of a boat trip.” I called, staying remarkably polite in the circumstances. The last thing I wanted was the jaunt round the bay which I thought he was selling.
“It be no offer, ye scurvy knave” he bellowed, with less good humour than before. “This be my port and I’m claiming ye as crew! So get aboard afore I have ye dragged aboard and ye have to spend the first half o’the voyage in irons!”
He waved his hand and a number of most uncouth looking fellows appeared at his side. They didn’t look the sort to listen to reason, let alone a story about giant metal dogs, so I ran for it.
I ran faster than I had ever run before, the shouts of the pursuing pirates ringing in my ears. I reached the countryside beyond the town and still they followed. I turned a corner and climbed over a stone wall. I crouched down behind it just in time to hear the yelling horde dash past.
I lay on my back, exhausted but relieved. Then my relief turned to despair as I thought about my situation. Then my despair tinned to stark terror as I looked into the clear blue sky. Two vast cubes were falling through space: one of them directly onto me. I just had time to make out a pattern of four large black circles on the nearest surface before everything went black.
“Move up one position”
I woke up bathed in sweat. Sunlight streamed into my room through the gap in the curtains. Outside, birds chirped and milk bottles rattled on a passing float.
I breathed a long sigh and made a mental note not to eat so many toasted cheese sandwiches during late night Formula One sessions.
Wondering what the time was, I turned to look at the clock but something else caught my eye that made me gasp in surprise.
On my bedside table, beside the clock, were a large pile of carrots – and three lettuces.
(1980, revised 1982 and 1994)
The chapter headings are from the cards or other instructions drawn during the relevant boad game, marketed by Waddingtons in the UK in those days.
Do not pass GO … obviously from Monopoly®, the classic property trading game.
? … Cluedo, Inspector Mustard being usually one of the suspects
Dynamite &c … Railroader, in which players lay track and then move small trains through the Wild West
Your Horse &c … Totopoly, the horse racing game, in two sections; the training part, in which cards can be collected to give horses extra goes in the race section.
!!! … Scoop! The gimmick in this game, the object of which was to fill and publish your newspaper first, was a randomizing cardboard ‘telephone’, which could see the editor praise or condemn the poor hack’s efforts.
Take one lorry … Later The Business Game, but originally Mine a Million. Players mined tiny plastic pyramids in the hills and then had to truck them down to the coast and sell them at the docks or abroad (via lorries and cargo ships).
Stropley then finds himself in the game of Ratrace, where running one’s own business is as fraught as in real life.
PIECES OF EIGHT … the classic Buccaneer, where pirate ships had to be crewed and sailed to amass the best fortune of gems, pearls or small barrels of rum
Move up one position … and the final denoument, the classic then I awoke and it was all a dream twist, for which the authorial head now hangs in shame, was a quote from a game developed by Mr Parlett himself, called Hare and Tortoise, using a novel replacement for dice, where a player chose how far to go in exchange for the energy stored in a collection of carrots and lettuces. Awake, our hero has left Waddington World, as H&T was made by Intellect Games (and later by German games giants, Ravensburger)
And there you have it (if you’re still with me, poor, tired reader). Maybe more of this rot will be dug out soon. At least with one’s early writing, one can say, I was younger then. It’s the current crap I have no excuse for.