Thursday, May 26, 2005

Over the Top

Luke hawked a chunky docker's oyster from the deepest reaches of his throat and skilfully sent it sailing through the air towards the back of the social worker's head. It missed by an inch and landed unnoticed in the mud.

"Doh!" exclaimed Danny in disappointment, flicking a glowing roach high over the bank. Jake took a can of red paint from inside his jacket, shook it with the furious vigour of adolescence, and began spraying some sort of hieroglyphic on the wooden slatted wall of the trench. His companions seemed to know its significance but to an outsider it looked just like the language they spoke - the incomprehensible gibberish of congenital idiots. The three began making strange noises, something between a squawk and a grunt, flapped their arms around, and then giggled helplessly like the silly children they were. They pulled their hoods and the peaks of their caps lower and furtively passed round cigarettes among themselves.

A lot of people object vociferously and write letters of outrage to the Daily Sketch when they hear of young offenders being taken on luxurious foreign holidays at the taxpayers' expense, but most of them, I suspect, would approve of this one. It was the brainchild of Bert Klaxon, whose aristocratic cousin in Flanders was handling the European end, and it had been organised in conjunction with the Clapham Ambulance Children's Charity, a radical body dedicated to funding and implementing innovative solutions to the problems of teenage delinquency.

Almost two years in the planning, this particular scheme sought to bring together from all over England boys who had been already written off as nothing but persistent trouble-makers and anti-social scum, and demonstrate to them that there are options available in life beyond the narrow and restrictive cul de sac of drugs, violence and petty crime. All in all there were nearly ten thousand feckless hooligans taking part in this massive exercise, in what would prove to be the most memorable experience of their futile lives.

An enormous man with a huge moustache blew a loud blast on a whistle and other similar men followed his lead until the sound of perhaps fifty whistles filled the air. At this signal, the boys swarmed aggressively out of the trenches and up a grass slope to the crest of a ridge and began to charge down the other side towards a wood which lay about half a mile away, wielding bats, knives, chains and all manner of home-made weapons. Luke, Danny and Jake ran side by side, not wanting to be separated in the confusion, their habitual sneers turning to laughter as they started to enjoy themselves, yelling loudly with the sheer joy of youthful physical exertion and the prospect of a fight with some foreigners.

From the shadows behind the tree line, Hauptmann Adolf von Klaxon watched the shouting boys advancing towards him across the muddy field, thousand upon thousand of them in their uniforms of hoodies, trainers and trackies. He raised his Zeiss Silvamar field glasses to his eyes and calculated carefully, gauging the distance between himself and the charging Englanders. He looked left and right down the line, checking for the last time the readiness of the heavy machine guns with their belts of three-inch bullets snaking to the ground, making sure his Maschinengewehr Feldwebelen were waiting attentively for his signal.

Satisfied, he raised his right arm and held it steadily aloft, counting the seconds. And then, with Teutonic precision and decisiveness, he brought it sharply down, slapping it against the side of his breeches.