Digression 3 - Daredevils and lethal weaponry

Foreman: You know, whenever chaps get together a dare devil usually emerges to be the leader. When I was a kid we used to go round in a gang and we used to elect a leader pretty well every Saturday. We liked having elections because it was a good way of showing that you were matey with someone if you put him up as a candidate for leadership. Also we got to vote on a new name for the gang once a week and you could come up with swashbuckling names like "The Red Hand Gang", "The Blue Devils" or daft ones like "The Fuzzy-Jock Straps", "The Wurzel Prang Gang" "The Cow Clat Wangers" etc. It was nearly always Geoff Hands (aka Diddles, or Tiddles) who got to be the leader because he was a real dare devil. He would be the first to think up some mad idea, then do it and show the rest of us the way. For example when we came to a big bank with about a fifteen foot drop above a stream, none of us ordinary mortal kids had the slightest thought about using it for anything. It was just a big bank, but Geoff would look at it as a possibility, a challenge. Geoff had the immediate idea of using the height to take a running jump and clear the water. What a mad cap!! He'd break his blooming neck doing that!! But no, off he goes, takes an almighty leap right across the stream and lands with a thud in the mud on the other side. Of course then all the rest would follow or be called a cowardy custard. We could do it of course, because Geoff had shown us that it could be done. Same with rigging up a rope from a tree branch and swinging out over the river, or hiding in the tunnel when a train was due by, or jumping off a wall field boundary on to the back of a cow and seeing how far you could ride it. He was the guy who suggested it first, show that it could be done and the rest of the gang would follow his lead. I guess the chaps who organised war bands in the Hundred Years War were a bit like Geoff Hands. We certainly had plenty of gang fights and the best element of these was evolving the weaponry and tactics. Standard equipment was a catapult made from a forked stick and special thick rubber, which was sold especially for he purpose. There was a great art to choosing the stick and fashioning notches at the top of its forks. You then bound a couple of pieces of soft leather to the two forks, cut a slit in the leather and attached the folded over elastic to the leather strips with tightly bound twine. Ball bearings were the best ammo but clay baked marbles called "Alleys" or any small stones would do.

Robin: Alleys ?

Foreman: Yes. You could get glass Alleys or clay ones. That's the big marble you use as a shooter. Good example of a borrowed foreign term that. "Allez" in French = "Go on", what you call out when you flick the marble at the target. But back to the other weaponry. We also used the standard stuff of the murderous primitive. Spears and arrows were tipped with nails. The best types were made from floor board brads that had been flattened by being placed in the path of a train on the railway line. You could buy your brads by the pound and lay them in along line on the track and manufacture a whole year's supply of arrow-heads at one pass of the locomotive. These flattened brads could be bound into a notch cut in the end of your arrow/ spear shaft. A flat arrow-head always seemed to shoot more true than a rounded one.

Robin: By gum, it does sound a bit Iron Age !

Foreman: Ah yes, but we also had rocket age technology! Yes all the latest weapons of mass destruction were in use I'll have you know. We were very progressive! Bonfire night always brought the inclusion of explosive weaponry as we adapted thrupenny rockets by packing the head with the charge from a penny banger. Four old pennies for unadulterated terror! These rockets could be fired from a pipe rammed at an angle in the soil or more daringly, you could sling the pipe over your shoulder by a piece of rope and fire the rocket from the hip like a bazooka. This was years before Rambo appeared in the cinema, you know. Rocket fire was not very accurate but the sight of them whizzing about always had a daunting effect on the enemy (usually the Catbrook boys) I remember one day we set up a rocket launcher in the tree platform which was one of the gang bases. A mate of ours called Martin Cooper was arriving late for a gang tryst (tryst is a good word) and we decided to try out the launcher on him. He was just climbing over a fence about 150 yards away when we shot a rocket speculatively in his direction. It zigzagged all over the place en route but with a dogged inevitability it zoned straight in on him as he was straddling the fence and it hit him on the leg and then dropped right into his Wellington boot. It was one of the funniest things I've ever witnessed. He leapt up in the air about six feet and then went hopping about trying to get his boot off and yowling like a cat - we could hear him even at that distance. Poor chap had a terrible burn up the side of his leg, but I'm afraid that all sympathy was eclipsed by the hilarity of his reactions.

Next: Digression 4 - The Big Cat