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Grafton Maggs lets his imagination run riot with this yarn from Mumbles, Swansea
(with apologies to James Thurber)
The ZX 9-0 shuddered as the anti-aircraft fire intensified. The pilots struggled to nurse the heavily laden plane back on to its critical course. The stick of young paras was already standing; static lines hooked up, pinned and double checked. Leather chinstraps were tightened and kitbags securely strapped to right legs. Dilated eyes stared from pallid faces as sweat trickled down from under helmets, on to blackened faces. There was the smell of fear.
Ice cool, stick commander, Major Merkin Richthofen Noot, BF and Bar, stood at the open, roaring despatch door, a supercilious smile curling his lip. He glanced back to check his men, his devil-may-care attitude sending out signals of reassurance. Young though they were, he knew that this intrepid band of warriors would follow him to hell and back-- some had already done so!
By Jingo! How he loved each and every one of his special strike force!
Glancing down, he could see beyond to the distant Dropping Zone, already enveloped in a battlefield haze, through which the sporadic red flash of gunfire weaved a hellish pattern. Back went his head, out of the rushing slipstream and his right hand automatically slid down his trouser seam for the comforting feel of the scabbard holding his precious DonkerDunker knife. As his thumb ran over the six notches cut in the handle, he gave a grim smile.
One of the pilots looked back through the open door of the cockpit, raising his thumb in that universal signal of good luck and then turned back to concentrate on the most dangerous and demanding part of the flight. Regardless of flak, he slowly descended and headed steadily over the fluorescent ground-X and on to the DZ.
Suddenly, a piece of shrapnel hit the Major in the shoulder, slamming him back a pace, into the arms of the RAF despatching sergeant. It coincided with the red light flashing above the door. This was the worst possible time for such a catastrophe!
Blood soaked through the major’s combat jacket and as he regained his balance, the sergeant tried to restrain him.
“No!” shouted the Major over the buffeting roar of the windstream,
“Don’t let the men know! They need me, as does my King and Country! I shall jump!”
He could see the inferno below him and wondered if he would survive this, his eighth drop into the hell of battle. Nonchalantly, he turned to the sergeant, tapped his helmet with his forefinger and, in spite of the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, muttered,
“C’est la vie, Sergeant! …C’est la vie!”
The sergeant gasped with admiration and marvelled at the incredible self control possessed by this most gallant soldier.
Still, what else would one expect from such a man as
The gallant major turned back to the door, the smile still on his scarred, handsome face. He waited for the slap on his shoulder and the scream of, “Go! Go1 Go!”
The slap came,……
…….the hand came down on his shoulder,
“Merkin! Merkin! You’re going too fast!.....What the devil’s wrong with you, Merkin? Now watch this roundabout! Sit back in your seat! You’re all rigid!......I’m going to take you to see Dr. Midha!.....You need some tablets, or something!....Now watch that car coming down Fairwood Road!......He’s not signalling and in Mumbles that means he’s going to go right, towards the village and you’ll hit him…There, I told you, he’s pulled right across you!”
Merkin Noot pulled himself back from the doorway of the shuddering ZX9-0, into the driving seat of the brown Fiat. Mildred, his wife of forty years, was leaning forward staring, searchingly, into his face,
“I don’t know, Merkin!.....What’s come over you?......You look sometimes as if you’re on another planet! …..It’s that Shredded Wheat, that’s what it is!... I’m going to have a word with that Les Batty!.... Him and his one and a half Shredded Wheats every day! You’ve never been the same since he got you on to that stuff. .MERKIN! are you back with me now?.... Now listen! Whilst I’m having my hair done you’ve got to go to the Bank and then on to Boots for those things. Drop me off at the top of Newton Road, outside the Hair Centre. Then, when you’ve done, go and wait for me outside Joe’s. Don’t go in! I can never find you, once you’re in there, it’s so busy. You’re always hid in a corner talking to that Terry Medwin. Wait outside!
“Don’t forget the batteries for your hearing aid!
“Oh! ask about your truss! P’raps, that’s what’s wrong with you. Too tight.”
Having safely deposited his wife at the hairdresser. Merkin Noot breathing a sigh of relief, made his way to the car park on Oystermouth Square. He always came here because there was plenty of space and none of those smart knowall women in track suits, in their husbands’ BMWs, laughing at him as he tried to reverse into a space.
He splashed across the pitted car park and crossed the road by the White Rose and made his way to the HSBC at the corner of Newton Road. After the usual wrestling match with the automatic opening door, he managed to gain entry. As ever there was a queue and every one in it was a charity collector, with enormous bags of small change. He waited. …….his mind wandered…
……“Lord Noot, you have met my Chancellor, I believe?” His lordship gave a barely perceptible nod and murmured, “Osborne”. The Chancellor flushed with pleasure at being acknowledged by the world’s greatest economist.
David Cameron ushered his immaculately dressed guest, into the Cabinet Room, where the full Cabinet, reinforced by Bank of England Governor King, was seated. They all stood up and bowed, as Lord Merkin Rothschild-Bottomley Noot entered.
The PM gestured, “Please take a chair, Lord Noot”
His lordship checked his pace and, deadpan, turned to his host
“Where to, Cameron?”
For a few moments there was silence, then, the force of Lord Noot’s wit hit them!
How they roared with laughter! Tears ran down their porcine faces! Hands hit knees as bodies rocked!
The distinguished guest, settled into the offered chair and as he pulled out his 22 carat gold cigar case (an appreciative gift from Mandellson). He smiled to himself, the old Etonian wit was still as sharp as ever! He could still riposte as rapier-like as those old Oxford Union days! His late father would have beamed with delight at seeing the old family motto being implemented,
“Make them laugh. Then use the rapier!”……
“I can give you five minutes, Cameron, I am lunching with Obama at noon. What’s the gen?” (Cameron smiled to himself as he picked up the old RAF slang,-- habit dies hard in these great old Battle of Britain, Spitfire pilots!)
“Once again, Lord Noot, the Old Country, this Sceptered Isle, is in grave peril!
Not from an armed enemy, but threatened economically! …I believe you are acquainted with the fiscal deviation projections of Keynes?”
His Lordship, looked up through the haze of smoke from his Corona Corona,
“I taught him”.
“Exactly!” lisped Cameron nervously, “So, Sir, just where do we start? What on earth do we do? Ones friends are never there, when needed? …I don’t know what’s wrong with Rupert. …He’s laid up…. Something to do with a dry cough. It’s persistent and won’t go away!...
Then fiscal genius Doddy is tied up in Knotty Ash. He’s preparing for his new show at Cleethorpes…..We stand alone, Lord Noot! We stand alone!.. We can’t even fight them on the beaches! They were sold to South Korea, last year”.
His Lordship drew on his cigar, the eyes of everyone in the room focussed upon him, even Kenneth Clark was leaning forward, not easy with his shape.
The tension was palpable. The great man spoke,
“It’s those Bankers in the City square mile, Cameron!”
“Yes, Cameron, Bankers! So! for a start, Prime Minister! Book the Tower of London! Get the Gurkhas! Arm them with AB64/ Laser sub machine guns! Round up every banker in the City and take them to the Tower. Take them into the forecourt of the White Tower, line them up. Then……..”
…………….. “Mr. Noot? Mr. Noot? Come on, Mr. Noot! We’re very busy this morning! How can HSBC help you today?”
Merkin Noot jumped and went to stub out the cigar that he didn’t have.
“Sorry! Can you cash a cheque for me, please Miss?”
Some time ago, Noot, with a twinkle in his eye, had roguishly addressed the cashier by the Christian name on her badge, to be sternly put in his place with a withering glare and a derisory sniff. He took no more chances.
Nervously, he pulled out his cheque book to place before the teller, it caught on the edge of his pocket and spilled out on to the floor with bank cards going in all directions. Ready hands scooped up for him, anxious to speed him on his way.
“Can you give me as much as five pounds in one go, Miss?”
“I think HSBC can manage that, Mr.Noot. It’s unlikely to start a run on our funds”. (“I hope”, she thought, “who knows these days…”)
He laboriously wrote out the cheque and handed it over with his card.
“Can you cash that?”
“I’d like to, Mr. Noot, but the Bank needs more than your Library Card.”
Eventually, he found the correct piece of plastic and the transaction was completed.
He walked to the automatic door, pressed the button and the door opened, catching him unawares and banging his glasses painfully into his nose. He heard the cashier snigger as he stumbled out on to Newton Road.
Noot muttered to himself,
“One day, Miss Fancybadge I’ll show you who I am, just you wait!”
He made his way to Boots.
It was raining heavily as he splashed through the permanent paddling pool, at the White Rose corner and made his way through the Dunns. Outside the Co-op, he waited to cross the road. A yellow sports car, approached, its canvas roof throbbing with the beat of deafening pop music. Before he could move back, Noot was drenched by a spray of filthy water as the car drove along the gutter. He looked up to see the mocking gestures of the two grinning louts in the front seats and the fingered gestures from two painted doxies in the back.
“Typical!” snorted Noot, “Typical! They think I am nothing! If they only knew! They are the ones who are nothing! They just fill their heads with that rubbish they call music! They don’t know anything about real music like, like, Bach’s and his brother Offen!”
He crossed the road, mumbling to himself,
“Music! They call it music! I remember the great days.. Webster Booth ……..Old Bing,,,”,
…………………….his mind began to float away……………The seated audience in the Brangwyn Hall was getting restless. Ten minutes after the scheduled start to the concert and there was still no sign of the great tenor, Signor Mozarella.
The pianist sat, fidgeting nervously, at the beautiful bamboo Honda/ Bechstein.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity as the Chairman of the Festival entered the stage area, from the side door. He walked to the microphone. Blew twice into it and tapped it with his finger. A screaming whistling sound echoed from the speakers around the hall.
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Your attention please! I, er, have some, um, bad news. Signor Mozarella cannot appear tonight!”
Angry murmurs. Shuffling of feet.
“Unfortunately, he was taken ill after the magnificent Council banquet. The kebabs from that shop in St Helens Road have not agreed with him.”
The Festival Chairman continued,
“Is there anyone here tonight who could help out and fill the bill?”
Apart from the groundswell murmur, there was no response.
“Oh,come on, mun! This is Wales! We’re the Land of Song and Culture! Can any one play the mouth organ? Do a turn with the spoons? Hum a bit?
Card tricks? Whistle?. Yo-Yo?....Anything?”
In frightening manner, the angry mutterings began to grow in volume. The Chairman nervously backed of
However salvation came in the shape of a clear voice, which suddenly rent the air above the hubbub,
“Mr. Chairman! Mr Chairman! Sitting in front of me, incognito and on holiday from Italy, is …..Signor Merkin Caruso Noot! …. Principal tenor in the Turania Opera House. Trained by Penny Ryan and now recognised as the greatest Tenor the world has ever known, (with the possible exception of Cliff Richard)!”
Applause broke out. People stood up throughout the hall to try to catch a glimpse of this legendary singer. A chant started up and grew in volume,
“Noot! Noot! Noot!....”
Shyly, the great man stood up. The audience response was deafening. He looked about with a gentle smile on his handsome, olive skinned face.
With a graceful gesture, he flung back the locks of his shoulder length hair, hair which shone with the blackness of a Mediterranean night.
“How can I possibly deny you, the ultimate gift of my sublime voice? I must share this divine talent with you! Yes! I shall sing for you!”
The audience cheered.
He shrugged off his Bryn Lewis, sable-collared, vicuna coat and walked down the aisle. With athletic grace he vaulted on to the stage and approached the pianist who stood, bowed, and shook hands. After a murmured interchange, they shuffled through a few sheets of music. Signor Noot then walked across to the microphone and with a laugh, picked it up and flung it into the wings.
He advanced to the front of the stage. With a nod to the pianist, the first notes were struck.
He sang. Oh! How he sang!
Nothing like it had ever been heard before.
The memory of Ruby Murray was erased for ever.
After enthralling the audience for an hour, he decided to finish, on a high, with that universal favourite, -
"Birdy’s Custarda” in C Blunt Minor for both lungs, “.”
And what a way to finish!
He glided through the double glissanda, soared to the heights of a treble C castrata, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he approached the end with a throbbing sobbatta urinatta. The audience stood, cheering, clapping and calling his name…….............Merkin! Merkin!........
Noot suddenly snapped out of his reverie. It was Church friend Les Harris, calling from Costalot Coffee, across the road,
Signor Merkin Caruso Noot climbed down from the Brangwyn stage, the plaudits still ringing in his ears.
“Merkin! Don’t forget you’re doing the sandwiches at the Fellowship meeting on Tuesday!”
He nodded to Les and wondered, if Co-op fish paste sandwiches, like last time, would be OK.
He dripped his way into Boots and, as ever, conducted a futile search. He sought help but all he could see about him, in the busy shop, was female staff. He asked one to direct him to the batteries, this she did, with ill and contemptuous grace.
He thought, how dare she! If she only knew who and what I really am!
He lacked the courage to ask her for the truss department. Some things you can only discuss with a man. Especially the fit.
He gave up and approached the long damp till queue…his thoughts bore him away…….
There were strange scuffling sounds emanating from the till area!
”Now listen! I’m only going to say this once! Just stand still and no one will get ‘urt. This ain’t a pea shooter I’ve got in me hands!”
The loud voice with its coarse London accent, carried through the shop,
“Now, lie down on the floor and just shut up!”
Holidaying, Detective Chief Superintendant, Merkin Hercule Noot, (“Noot of the Yard”), heard the disturbance and instinctively crouched. He carefully peered . through a shelf containing mysterious unmentionable female items and looked over the heads of the panicking shoppers. There were screams and pleading shouts. Then, as the customers and staff dropped to the floor, so he had a clearer view.
Two masked men, armed with deadly sawn-off 55mm “Choppermasher”shotguns, were at the side of the terrified cashier. Noot glanced over his shoulder and, as expected, saw another pair of armed villains standing each side of the exit doors.
With customary lightning speed, he assessed the situation. There was no time to use his mobile. This was a situation that called for direct and instant action. Icy calm he dropped to all fours and made his way to the till area. Silently, he picked up a large bottle of “Thunderpurge Laxative” from one of the lower shelves and lobbed it across to the other side of the shop. He muttered to himself,
“That should move them”.
The crash of the bottle had the desired effect. The distraction gave Noot the time to swing around the corner on to the back of the nearest gunman. With the practised skill of a Ten Daniel Kushuku AgArgi, he felled him with a Pandanku Ko to the throat. Before the other gunman could draw breath, Noot launched a double Nakkerwakka, with such control of his horizontally flying body that the damage inflicted would be limited. The fearless, but merciful, Noot saw no pleasure in making a man an alto for life.
Calmly, he turned to face the two armed hoodlums at the end of the shop, by the door. He stroked his moustache and drawled,
“Right! It will now afford me great pleasure to handle this pair……..” .
………………….”I beg your pardon!!!”
The heavily mascaraed blonde beauty at the till glared ferociously through her inch long lashes at Merkin Noot, who, by now, was at the front of the queue.
He mumbled his apologies, “Sorry, Miss, my mind was on other things.
“You’d better keep it there, too! No hanky panky here, I can tell you! I’ve read about people like you, in the News of the World. Grooming us innocent shop staff for nasty things. I’ve half a mind to tell Tony Cottle about you. He’d put you in your place, I can tell you! Now! Here’s your stuff. Clear off! Next time go to the Castle Pharmacy, Mr. Cheeky.. You are real nasty you are!”
A thoroughly demoralised Noot slunk out.…
Back out into the rain, he ran across the road.
With the rain running down his neck, shoes full of water and his Russian Cossack cap plastered down on to his scalp, Merkin Noot was, indeed a sorry spectacle. Thoroughly miserable, he stationed himself outside Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour, back against the wall near the Nat West Bank. He waited for his wife.
The, ever-immaculate, Yvonne Gabriel came clacking by, so desperate to keep dry under her small umbrella that she completely failed to notice the miserable specimen of dripping manhood stood against the wall..
She nearly jumped out of her skin as Merkin Noot suddenly yelled out,
“To hell with the Euro Regulations, Grove, I’m going in There’s a Budgie trapped on the top floor!”
The irrepressible Fire Chief, Merkin Red Adair Noot, thrust aside his Deputy Chief and rushed fearlessly into the blazing inferno of the Mumbles Co-op………
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