The Left and Right Hand Gang - Four Go Mad in a Shed (part one)
By Jane Hyphen
'The sticks must all be the same length - and thickness,' shouted David. Wiping some wet mud off his brow he continued, 'And if they're not then you must hack off the extra bit. Remember what Dad says, if the framework isn't balanced then the whole thing will just fall apart!'
It was the first day of the school holidays and brothers David and Edward were brimming with creative energy; six long weeks of freedom and adventure lay ahead of them and they were wasting no time building a den in the overgrown no-mans land at the bottom of a neighbour's garden. Dressed in matching orange boiler suits, their regular 'play-wear' , they crawled around in the dirt, collecting sticks and large rocks and arranging them around the trunk of a gnarly old pear tree.
Edward was struggling to find enough sticks. He peeped over the top of the hedge, looking rather like the frolicsome pagan rabbit in that curious scene from The Wicker Man. His front teeth stuck out as he moved his head slowly from left to right to see if any neighbours were about but all he saw was some peculiar white mist swirling about in the garden next door, odd he thought, to see mist in July. There was no sign of people so he decided to sneak into the formal, perfectly-maintained part of the garden to steal a few choice branches. It occurred to him that his attire would make him stand out like a beacon so he got down on the ground, folded his arms and rolled over in the dirt a couple of times to dull the glow. Then he paused and listened, listened for posh voices, barking labradors, The Archers, the crinkling wrapper of a Fortnum and Mason's pork pie; hearing nothing he crawled across the damp grass, clutching his Swiss Army knife until he reached a suitable shrub and began hacking meniacally at the base.
Meanwhile, pasty-faced chums Gideon and Dave C were wiling away the afternoon in a far more gentile manner with arts and craft activities around the kitchen table.
'Who the devil is that in your garden?' said Gideon, dropping his glue pot and letting his half finished mosaic of Princess Ann slip off the table and sashay onto the marble-tiled floor.
Dave C looked up from his perfectly copied, almost finished painting of Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino. 'Oh,' he said meekly, 'Don't mind him, that's just Edward, one of our more eccentric neighbours. We think he's harmless, for now, but best steer clear, Father says he's dopey now but he'll be different at eighteen, dangerous at nineteen and downright deadly at twenty.'
'Mmmmm - and how old is he now?'
'I believe he's around thirteen Gids.'
'He's trepassing Dave, the bad-mannered little beast, he has no right. It's a jolly cheek and no doubt about it!' Gideon felt suddenly very brave, he puffed up his plump chest and said valiantly, 'Fetch me your father's rifle at once, I want to take aim at him!'
'Oh goodness gracious! Sit down Gideon. There's a right of way runs across the bottom of all these gardens, sometimes we get wanderers, from all walks of life, the road gets a bit rough at the one end - it's no big deal, we cope with it. And I need to finish this painting before Mother gets back from her National Trust pow-wow. Oh how those meetings always put her in a perfect rage! Hopefully my hard work will pay off and she'll calm right down when I suprise her with this.'
Gideon got up again and paced about, having been couped up for a few days, he was more than ready to become quite enraged and said, 'Well I think you should go out there and give the blighter what for, get your father's rifle, sling it over your shoulder and go tell him to get off your land! Bliggarts! He's cutting your plants Dave, look! He's hacking at your lilac, he's a brazen criminal, a perfect ruffian!'
Edward was sweating now as he lay horizontally across the flower bed, one elbow buried in the lightly tilled earth, the other going backwards and forwards as he sawed at the wood with his inadequate little knife, keen not to let down his elder brother.
'Can we sleep in the den tonight, after Dallas?' He called out hopefully.
'Yes,' said David, 'but only if you do what I say.'
Dave C was standing at the window now, frowning and wondering what to do. His father was in Panama City avoiding tax, his mother wasn't due back for another two hours at least and his housekeeper was in the bath. He put down his paintbrush and said, 'Oh Gideon, will you go out please, tell him he can play but not to tread on the herbaceous borders or cut anything; we're doing open gardens in August - with tea and jam tarts, everything's got to look perfect.'
Gideon rubbed his chin and thought for a few seconds, then said, 'No - I shan't. You're the eldest Dave and I don't like the look of this dark-haired intruder. He quite resembles a neolithic caveman, just look at his hair! He's untamed and unwashed, like stig of the bloody dump.' Gideon screwed up his eyes and peered out of the window, then said, 'Tell me Dave, is he wild or educated?'
'Is he wild Gids? Well he attends what they call a a con - contradictive school I think.'
'A - contradictive school?'
'Yes, it's just down the road. You go there to learn but not to learn, well not too much anyway, if you learn too much you get picked on - by the bullies, they box your ears and put ants in your Marmite. Apparently it's quite a thing of terror to get full marks for something.'
'Oh yes, yes I know,' Gideon nodded firmly. 'A comprehensive school, I've heard of it, for years I thought it was a myth or a legend or perhaps just - a fable, but yes, it fits with some of the children I met at the Scouts jarboree last year. Frightfully beastly children with rings in their ears!'
'Yes, Father says not to-'
'Oh fibberts Dave, there's another one, in the same outfit! Gosh this fellow looks postively simian; I think they've missed out a couple of evolutionary stages. I'm not going down there, not without an automatic weapon, it would be pure madness.'
'Edward!' David shouted to his brother, stepping out of the hedge, 'What are you doing out there? They'll shoot you or set a hound onto you. Get back under cover you tweeble!'
At the window Dave C dithered and wrung his soft white hands, blushing slightly he banged rather weakly on the pane. 'Yes, that's the brother,' he said, 'there's two children in that family, two boys, similar looking, both of savage appearance.'
'Just two? How very suburban Dave. And tell me, what does their father do?'
'We're not sure exactly. But he's a dark-skinned man with a very evil face, a gnarly frame and hands; a man of all work I'd say.'
Edward looked up, his brown eyes shining like those of a startled deer. He rubbed his filthy fingers nervously across him bum-fluff moustache, then, dropping the knife, he sprinted clumsily back into the shrubbery. 'I think they've seen us,' he said panting.
'Well you should have stayed here in the bushes. You got greedy Ed and you know what Dad says about people who get greedy! Nevermind, let's carry on with our mission.'
'I only wanted to get the right sized branches. You said they must all be the same size and there's no suitable ones left in this bit - and now I've left the knife in the flower bed.'
'Well you'd better go back and get it then HADN'T YOU!'
Edward was a little scared of his elder brother, although secretly, somewhere deep inside, he KNEW he was the brighter of the two; over the years he'd observed little things which seemed to pass his brother by; how to fit the star into the shape-sorter when they were just toddlers, all those unanswered M's on Blockbusters: mosquitos, Moomintroll, Madagascar, Midgure, not to mention David's rather pathetic Rubic's Cube time record. Yes Edward was the quieter, he even stammered on some occasions but all that hesitation just gave him more time to think, to be more calculating and one day he would trounce his brother David, he didn't know how yet. Perhaps it would only be at Monopoly, no hang on, they NEVER played that! Perhaps Philosopher's Guess Who (a home-made game featuring John Locke. the long-haired libertarian, the copiously moustachio'd Nietzche, but this game had a sticking point; the near-identical physical features of Plato and Aristotle) or possibly Scrabble or Who Can Blend In The Most But Still Change The World (this game hadn't been invented yet, not officially but their father liked to play it inside his own head). Well, whatever it was, it was going to happen, and their father would see that it was HE Edward who was the one with the brain, the wit, the charisma, charisma that didn't make him stand out or give him an unfair advantage, he would have to work on this. He lay face down on the wet grass and began to slide along, commando-style towards the pristine, Gertrude Jekyll inspired herbacious border to retrieve his knife.
Gideon opened his little briefcase, the one he always carried, removed a bag of sweets and dropped a sherbert lemon onto his tongue. 'He's on your lawn again Dave,' he said thickly, 'The boy's scuttling along like an overgrown beetle now. I think you should do something, at best he's damaging your father's turf.'
Dave C huffed and rubbed his head, slightly flustered with indecision now he said, 'Okay I'll go out there - no hang on! What if he bites me? He might have Rabies or Beriberi or anything! Yes I'll go out, be brave, be brave - Dave. No! I've got it, get Mrs Apron out of the bath Gideon, go down to the cellar and knock the door. She'll be alright with it, she's only languishing in table salt, the kitchen floor was very dirty this morning, I dropped a plate of smoked kippers and Monty had an accident, she strained her back with the mop, poor dear.'
Gideon shook his head and said airily, 'I'm not going down there - not to the servants quarters Dave, I'm eating, it would surely be unhygienic.'
'Alright alright, I'll deal with it,' said Dave with a roll of the eyes. 'I'll get sensible Nicholas from number six to come over, he'll know what to do.'
'Oh - he's got a friend round, I saw them playing catch with a rugby ball in the front garden dressed as Massai warriors, they had French Au Pars with them, watching and giggling they were.'
'Aauagh! He has all the fun! Well let's both go down to the garden together then and politely ask them what they're doing. I want to go to the shed anyway, there's something I want to show you, something I've been working on.'
Gideon picked up his briefcase and handed it to Dave C. 'Take this, we may need it for negotiations.' Then he removed Mr C's rifle from the top of the kitchen dresser and slung it over his shoulder.
Dave C paused and gave his friend a questioning stare. 'Are you sure about that Gids? I don't think we really need it, do you even know how to use it?'
Gideon shrugged and they walked out of the kitchen, through the orangery towards the garden. Gideon felt very powerful now, he held up the weapon, struggling under its weight and lifted the barrel clumsily toward the open back door. 'Is this thing even loaded?' he said, then fired a single shot, the force caused him to fall backwards.
'Bloody Hell Gideon! What the -? By jove, you've killed one of my mother's cacti, you absolute arse!'
Gideon got up and observed a large hole blown out of one of the tall cacti which stood in the orangery, watery latex oozed and ran down its fleshy green body. He looked a little startled but put on a brave face and said shakily, 'She's got more. This beast is heavy though, perhaps I should put it back in its resting place, we can always come back and fetch it if things get out of hand.'
'Yes, please do put it back!' Dave said firmly, 'I didn't think it was loaded, Father only uses it to scare magpies and threaten people with those ghastly charity envelopes. The intruders have gone now anyway, there's no sign of them, you scared them off with your wild antics Gids!' he laughed now and continued, 'Let's go down to the shed and think no more about it.'
David and Edward were carefully arranging their sticks around the tree. It was a serious business and they barely spoke as they attached hessian sacking over the timber framework. David suddenly stopped and put his hand up to his large, flappy ear. He frowned, tilting his head as he heard the other two boys approaching. 'Oh no!' he whispered to his brother, 'It's Morph and his shiny-eyed gimp.'
'His what David?'
'Just carry on. We have every right to be here.'
David walked confidently from the den and began to break off flimsy branches of laurel to place over the hessian and act as a wind-break and camouflage.
'Just look at those branches shaking!' Gideon exclaimed as they approached the small wilderness area. 'You simply can't let them invade your garden Dave, it's simply not polite, not without permission.'
Dave C was beginning to feel a bit spineless in front of his younger friend. He wanted to show him that he was no pushover but he hated confrontation and his father had warned him never to speak to those brothers since they were sure to grow up dangerous. 'H hey you there!' he called out rather thinly. 'Do you have permission to play there, there on my mother's vegetable patch?'
There was a short silence and some whispering from the brothers. 'I see no veg,' David called back with a sort of forced indifference.
Dave and Gideon looked at one another. Dave shrugged, Gideon frowned and began to walk towards the wilderness, parting laurel branches to make his way and letting them fling back and hit Dave C in his soft, unformed face as he followed behind nervously. It was spitting rain now and the brothers were crouched inside their newly constructed den, removing bark from a peice of rotten log and searching for bugs to eat. Dave crept up to the den, put down Gideon's briefcase and lifted a clenched fist as if searching for something to knock.
'Aherherhem!' Gideon coughed.
'Who goes there?' answered David,
'Tis I, the rightful and proper owner of this piece of land - is who!'
'Steady Gids,' said Dave C, 'It's my land and I don't want any violence.'
David came out, his thick black hair standing on end. 'Violence? I thought I heard a gunshot back there, and there'll be no violence, certainly not from us,' he said calmly. 'But the small matter of land ownership-'
'What about it?' said Gideon, folding his arms defensively.
'Well-' David put down his head and walked around in a circle as he said, 'Well how does a person become the rightful owner of this, our shared earth, and indeed, how far down do you own it? Do you own it right down to the bedrock, the crust, the fiery core, and what of the dwelling creatures, the mice and worms and beetles, do you own them too on this green and pleasant land of yours?'
Dave C looked flummoxed. Gideon parted his soft red lips and began to sing, 'And did those feet in ancient times tread upon England's pastures green-'
Dave tutted and gently grabbed Gideon's elbow. 'Not the time Gids, not the time, save it for choir!' he said.
At this point Edward crawled out of the den with two woodlice on his wrist. 'Look!' he said.
Gideon jumped back in horror. 'Good God! Is he - alright? I mean is he a hermit or or-'
'He's my brother,' said David.
Dave C bent down to inspect the bugs. He smiled and said gently, 'Look they're friends, they're stepping along together. Just imagine being a small woodlice in a log, never tasting fresh crab sandwhiches on a windy Cornish beach or indeed an ice-cream in the park on a hot afternoon. At least they have each other. I say, perhaps they're married!'
David frowned hard. Gideon huffed and said, 'Don't be silly Dave, insects can't marry!'
'But they should - it it's more respectable isn't it. When I'm prime minister I will make it law that insects can marry, and small brown mice too.'
David blushed and ground his teeth together. Privately it was in HIS mind that HE would one day be prime minister. His eyes lingered briefly over the competition and he began to grin; surely there would be no contest with this limp-wristed, art-loving toffle peddlar. Gideon put another sherbert lemon into his mouth and offered one to Dave C who shook him head and said, 'No thanks, I'm trying to get picked for the hockey team.'
Gideon filtered a mocking laugh down through his nostrils,