He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Inevitably the country burst into flames. It started in the unpoliced cities that had largely become a no-go area for the indigenous population, and spread to the former industrial towns. This was no violence driven by drink, looting and greed. It was driven by a core element of society that had had enough. Civil disobedience begat violence against the invaders and their support arm, the police. This time it was sustained and organised and the zombie government and its enablers couldn’t understand what hit them. It ranged from refusal to pay fines, to failure to turn up for work, targeted vandalism of infrastructure to ultra-violence against a paramilitary police that had lost the ability to police by consent. Bristol, Exeter Plymouth burned and Edge and Moira watched, made preparations and constructed defence in depth of their property.
It soon became clear that spirited amateurs no matter how committed, could not prevail in the longer term against the authorities. They lacked expertise and an infrastructure to sustain a long period of insurrection and leadership. Ground and towns were taken back. The authorities cut off power to the areas controlled by the insurgency and petrol became very difficult to source. The Edges rode out the storm in their citadel.
“They need you, you know,” she told him one evening over a dinner of venison casserole. Poached venison, naturally.
“They can piss off. A bunch of Walts, saddies and psychopaths.”
“Not all. Daddy helps them with money and fuel. God knows where he gets it.”
“Part of me is so very glad you don’t want to join them, but another part knows that you’ll regret it.”
“This elderberry is very good. You’re getting to be quite a dab hand at this, Moira.”
Edge finally got round to fixing the loose slates on the outhouses. The rain had got in during the winter and shorted out the electrics on the generator, which had been expensive to fix. It was a cold spring morning and as he rested, he looked at the bright green new growth on the willows down by the flood meadow. The replacement slates had been raided from a disused barn and whilst not perfect, they would do.
He clocked the black Range Rover coming down from the north, through the sparse growth of the narrow lane. It slowed by the junction and pulled into the part of the drive off the road on the other side of the gate. Two men got out. One wore a long ranch-man’s coat and by the way he scanned the area, Edge knew straight away what he was. The second man was very much dressed for the countryside, but not for work. He wore a tweed jacket and cap, wine corduroys with gaiters and walking boots. He looked with interest at Edge’s improvised stinger, buried in the drive just under the double gate. He failed to notice the two home-made claymores hidden in the shrubbery, commercial blasting sticks in ice cream containers, packed with nails, nuts and bolts covering the front of the cottage. There were two more round the back.
Not plod, Edge concluded. Not spook either. Bodyguard was ex-military, not watching Edge but constantly scanning the surrounding area. This man visiting was important, but was he a threat?
“Moira, you had better fire up the AGA!”
She had been upstairs writing her long, intricate journal in the spare room when she heard Edge yell. Moira had no idea what she would do with it. It was a journal of their lives, tidily illustrated in a slightly cartoon style she used. Edge had scoffed, but he was secretly jealous of her natural style. She was quite the home-maker now that the glass factory had shut down. Nobody needed expensive and elaborate glass any more. Sometimes she helped her father since her mother had died, cycling to Bishop’s Tawton and she was as fit as a butcher’s dog. Moira opened the window and leaned out.
“Fire up the AGA! We’ve got company.”
Her stomach lurched when she saw the car and two men and ran down the stairs to the cupboard underneath, “Oh no, oh God no.”
There were two shotguns in the house. A Remington 870 in the wardrobe in constant readiness for a last stand, although Edge unloaded it each week to ease the spring and a heavier Mossberg 930 in this cupboard under the stairs. Moira grabbed the biscuit tin from the shelf and the leaning shotgun. She pointed it away, made sure the safety was on, opened the breech, and then turned the weapon over. She fumbled with the tin lid and dropped two cartridges, but fed in the first one with her thumb until she felt the click of the magazine catch. Edge had showed her how to do this for what seemed like hundreds of times. Her hands were shaking as she fed in the eight rounds, closed the breech then went through to the kitchen and cocked the weapon.
A man in a tweed suit was leaning over the gate and seemed to be conversing with Edge. The man behind was looking around, his hands crossed in front by his groin. Her bladder felt loose with fear. She sat down at the table, the Mossberg pointing at the door, waiting for the shooting to start, knowing she would be left to defend herself and the property. She flicked off the safety catch while she remembered. Fumbling kills you, Edge had told her.
The man in the jacket and cap smiled disarmingly at Edge, “I really am so sorry for dropping in unannounced, Mr Poulsom, or whatever you’re calling yourself these days.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
He introduced himself as Air Commodore _______, the Deputy Lord-Lieutenant of Devon and explained, “Former Staff Sergeant Edge, because that is who we believe that you are. We need your expertise.”
Edge recognised the man’s ceremonial rank, rather than his former military one, “Look sir, there must be plenty of other people who have served in the military and can help you form, what I expect is a militia force.”
“There’s much more to it than that, but you’re right, we have reinstated the 1921 act to call upon men to bear arms. You would be invaluable to us and we already have a network of like-minded and trained people. I would be grateful if I could outline our plans to you. Do you mind if Martyn stays outside? He takes his job very seriously.”
“I’m glad for your sake that he does.” Edge led the way into the kitchen and the Deputy Lord Lieutenant didn’t show any surprise at the Mossberg semi-automatic shotgun on the table, pointed at the door and him. He removed his hat politely and said: “How do you do, Mrs Edge. I’m delighted to have finally met your acquaintance. You are exactly as your father described you, but if I may say so, his description doesn’t do you justice.”
Smooth as a sewer rat, Edge thought and made the introductions.
“Can I get you anything?” asked Moira, moving the shotgun off the table. She put it on the sideboard where she could reach it if necessary.
“A cup of tea would be most welcome, thank you.”
“All right Air Commodore, what do I call you?”
“As I’m not on ceremonial duties, Bernard will do.”
“Ok Bernard, let’s keep it simple I’m Edge, now never mind what you want me to do, what is it that you’re trying to achieve?”
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant leaned forward earnestly, “We want to make the majority of the West Country an autonomous, self-governing area, mostly self-sufficient and able to defend itself, from “interference” by what laughably calls itself the British Government.”
“There’s more to running your own Canton than training up some hired killers. That’s the easy bit. The hard part is having all the necessary infrastructure, logistics, communications and being able to sustain this in the longer term.”
Moira put the teapot, milk and sugar on the table, “I’ll make myself scarce while you’re talking. I’ve made a mug for your chap outside.”
“No, I wish you would stay and listen to this, especially after the invaluable contribution of your father. I’ll take it out to Martyn.”
Moira and Edge looked at each other, “Walts,” he said softly.
“Let’s hear him out, Mark.”
When the Deputy Lord Lieutenant returned, he sat down and began to explain, “The Lord Lieutenant is the British monarch’s personal representative in each county of the United Kingdom. Historically, the lieutenant was responsible for organising the county’s militia. While the legitimate monarch may be in exile, the conditions must be met, should he ever return. We have recruited engineers and specialists in logistics and communications. We have financial backing and we believe, the support of the rural population. We need to be able to prevent the government from thwarting our plans.”
Edge put his elbows on the table and rested his head on his fingertips, deep in thought. He was quiet for a long time, and then it started pouring out.
“First of all, Bernard this isn’t the Good Life. You are going to have to make some pretty harsh decisions and people may well die because of them. I know you’re an ex-military man, former winged master race?”
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant shook his head, “No, I was a loggie, A4.”
Edge nodded approvingly, “That’s good. So you’re not playing at it. You will lose a lot of people, many of the younger ones I’m afraid. The ones you need. Life will be too tough for them when the government close down the mobile network or the internet and they won’t be able to cope. Some may come back and some may filter in from the cities, but it will be a self-selecting bunch. You need to induce the youngsters to stay. There are a lot of retired people staying in these parts. If they’re useful, great. If they are retired bankers, lawyers or politicians, get rid of them and make the houses available to the indigenous population. I hope you’ve managed to identify some handy and tough administrators, because one of the first things you should do is conduct a census. Put all the information together like a Doomsday Book.
Moira started to take notes on a pad.
“Forget the cities. Their populations are largely unproductive and they will take more than they would provide. They are lawless and you will never have the manpower to police them. Isolate places like Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth, although you must vet everyone who wants to leave, what could well turn into hell-holes. It’s already happened in the north with the Caliphate. Let the government look after them. You’ll need a port capable of handling large ships, I would suggest Falmouth. It’s small enough to be occupied, policed and defended. Reactivate Pendennis and St Mawes Castles that guard the entrance to the harbour and garrison them. Keep the roads maintained, but don’t worry about motorways or the major trunk routes that connect the cities. The government will want to hold onto those. You will need to move stuff by coastal convoys and these should be defended. The shipyards at Appledore have the necessary expertise to build fast boats that can be armed. These can also be used as fishery protection vessels, to get the fishing fleet back on its feet. Impound any foreign boats in the Bristol Channel and Western Approaches, and that includes Irish and Scottish vessels. Dump the crews off somewhere. Alive!
“You’ll need weapons, including heavy weapons for the boats. That will require raids into Plymouth, Yeovilton or the RM and TA garrisons. The early hours of a Sunday morning would be best because viable manpower on military bases is the lowest at these times, but expect casualties, oh and you’ll need explosive experts and heavy plant to get into the armouries. Have you recruited any pilots?”
“Yes, both fixed wing and rotary, mainly ex-military.”
“Good, start commandeering aircraft when it kicks off. Any raids will provoke the government, so you must be ready for it and go in very hard. The police already hate and fear the countryside as they abdicated responsibility for its citizens years ago. Don’t stand and fight them when they come. Draw them in, isolate them and pick them off. Remember, always live to fight another day and under no circumstances should they be harmed if they’re captured. They’re just doing their jobs for their political masters, so no repeats of that disgusting shit that happened in Leeds. Try and turn them if you can. After all, they are just plod, not the Gestapo.
“The authorities will always have the technological advantage, so fight them asymmetrically. No routine use of mobile phones and no internet. The signals can be jammed and are constantly monitored. We go back to a closed postal system, dead letter drops, and dispatch riders, to which end you’ll need shitloads of bikes and dispatch riders. You will also need a network of watchers who can maintain a permanent ear on the ground. Go with the Miss Marple option, because nothing escapes the attention of elderly women who know their community. For quick comms you will need to use mobile phones or CB radios. Go abroad and buy shitloads of pay as you go phones and sim cards. You can get cheap radios in the eastern European countries.
“Medical services are bound to decline, so we’ll have to go back to local, cottage hospitals with a more rudimentary service. People will have to become more stoic and pay for healthcare, either at point of delivery or through insurance. There won’t be any requirement for boob-jobs or gender re-assignment. Start a training programme and have one, possibly two major units. That will not be easy and to put it harshly, the long-term sick will almost certainly suffer. I hope you’ve thought about recruiting health care professionals, identifying buildings and sourcing medical supplies.
“There will be absolutely no room for criminals or freeloaders. Already we’ve noticed gangs of travellers capitalising on the lack of police. They have to be removed, either by forcing them to move out, or more permanently for the greater good. You’ll need some form of justice system, I would suggest based on the military inquisitorial system and under no circumstances should venal, smart-arsed lawyers be allowed to turn the law into their own personal cash cow. No prisons, just work gangs or banishment for the repeat offenders.
You must keep your cells of people as small as possible, and then if they are captured or turned, they can’t bring down the entire organisation. You must have contacts of former police and as distasteful as it sounds, you will need some kind of a secret police organisation. Choose your people carefully, because power corrupts.
“You might want to think about setting up your own news network, to counter the lies of the mainstream media, when people can get a signal. Report truthfully and keep it light-hearted where possible. People appreciate hearing about the latest conviction for sheep shagging and not propaganda.
“So now my bit. Out of every group of one hundred men or women who you want to fight for you, you will be lucky to end up with five who can handle a weapon and operate in a dangerous and chaotic situation. Of the 95 who haven’t made the cut, you may have to discount thirty who are just plain useless, dangerous fantasists or psychopaths. Twenty will never meet the level of fitness required. Twenty will be unable to commit in the long term and fifteen will drop out in training. Ten will drop out when they realise just how bloody awful fighting is. But don’t disregard these people, they may have the admirable skills required for the support functions such as analysis, intelligence and logistics support. I would suggest you instigate a form of psychometric evaluation for all volunteers. It will save a lot of time in the long run.
“You will never have enough weapons to issue everyone with a firearm. Make an inventory of all weapons such as shotguns or even illegally held stuff. Forget raising a host of archers. It takes years of training to draw a longbow. There is enough expertise on the farms and in garages to start producing crossbows. They are bloody effective and can be made out of old vehicle leaf springs. There’s enough blacksmiths still knocking around to make a few thousand bodkin bolt-heads, which will go through modern Kevlar like it isn’t there. The same goes for improvised explosive devices. A pipe bomb will disable a Land Rover and you can make a bloody good napalm from petrol and a few ingredients found in an average workshop and kitchen.
“Most importantly, don’t provoke the government too much. If you are completely outrageous, they will have to react to you. Only fight as a last resort and remember to fight the war of the flea. They are vulnerable and stick to main roads and no matter how scared your people will be, they will be terrified, because they will have heard a lot of bullshit about what you do to them if they’re captured.
”There will have to be a spearhead force, mobile with vehicles or even aircraft, on a high readiness state, say thirty minutes notice to move. Much like the RNLI. They must be your best troops with the best equipment. And capable of fighting anywhere. These must be carefully selected and rigorously trained; there should be enough retired Bootnecks round these parts to know the qualities you will need.”
Moira ripped the pages off the pad and handed them to the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, “Thank you Ma’am. You have certainly flagged up a couple of issues we have only just touched upon. It would be invaluable to us if you would agree to meet with our J5 Plans expert at a mutually convenient time and place. We’ve organised along the military headquarters lines, Js one to nine. It would be wonderful for us if you would agree to join the J3 cell.”
“I’ll need to have a long, hard think about that, but I will meet with your J5 people. Let me know the time and place,” Edge said cautiously.
As Edge opened the door for the Deputy Lord Lieutenant, he saw the bodyguard squatting down and rubbing the head of an old tabby cat.
“Come on, Monty. Stop being a tart,” Edge told the cat and the bodyguard stood up guiltily.
“Looks like your old puss has been in the wars,” the Deputy Lord Lieutenant remarked, looking at the jagged scar down the side of Monty’s nose, “Goodbye, Edge and you, Ma’am. I hope that we meet again.”
The bodyguard handed Moira the mug and smiled shyly. They watched the two walk back to the Range Rover.
“Well, what do you think?” she asked.
“You forgot to apply the safety catch,” he told her.
Edge did reluctantly join the insurgency and led three raids on military establishments in Plymouth and on Dartmoor and the old airfield at Chivenor. He wrote a training plan, or rather Moira re-wrote his chaotic notes and it became established doctrine for the West’s Irregulars, now rebranded as the Dumnonian Militia. It was called Rural and Urban Fighting for Irregulars, or the Art of Knowing when to Run Away. She also illustrated the manuscript and when Edge saw her drawings, he didn’t speak to her for two days. The counties of Cornwall, Devon and parts of Somerset and Dorset grew rich and prosperous, producing a surplus of crops for export. The fishing fleet was revitalised with captured Spanish and Irish trawlers and Edge was instrumental in setting up the Stop Lines on the Exe, Dart Taw and Tamar rivers. He designed the covert defensive forts, constructed along the lines of Special Auxiliary Units of the Home Guard, The Scallywags. The population decreased quickly to a sustainable and manageable level. Life was hard. People died who may have lived before and life expectancy decreased as well. But people seemed more accepting and phlegmatic and Christian worship made an astonishing revival. Edge and Moira slipped gently into a dignified late middle age. Edge absolutely refused to listen to ABBA’s Fernando under any circumstances.
Monty was asleep, lying on the grimy woollen blanket, (which he wouldn’t let Moira Mother wash) in his cardboard box in the kitchen, his legs twitching as he dreamed. It was the rare but recurring dream of the beautiful vixen and how she had sustained him with a dead chicken. Monty liked that dream.
He opened his eyes and the moon cast shadows across the flagged floor. It was a full moon and very beautiful. Snowflake was standing away from his bed in the moonlight and he gave a little yowl and purred loudly in greeting. She walked gracefully towards him and head-butted him gently. Monty was overjoyed because he could actually feel her.
Come on Bernard Law Montgomery, First Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Get up you useless bag of fur.
Monty stood up and stretched luxuriantly. The pain of his arthritis had vanished, as had the dull ache in his hind quarters. Monty stepped out of himself.
Is it time?
Will it hurt?
Are you coming with me? I’ll miss my human mother and father.
Yes. I’ll be with you for ever now.
Because we saved a human life and it’s time for both of us to move on.
Into the light?
She nuzzled against his neck, Yes Monty, into the light.
Moira was always the first to wake up, a habit from when their children still lived with them. It was cold in the bathroom while she relieved herself and as she washed her hands she looked at herself in the mirror and pouted. Bloody grey hairs. I’m beginning to look like a bag lady.
It was cold downstairs as well, autumn had given way to winter. She would get both the wood burner and the AGA cranked up to heat the place before he got up. You’re not the only one who can light a wood burner, Mark Edge. She hopped on the cold flagstones. Was that a frost under the hedge?
“Well, Monty Edge, I don’t blame you for staying in bed, coz it’s bloody cold this morning. Where the hell are my wellies?”
She went out with a trug to bring in some logs and kindling, being careful to make sure there were no lurking spiders. Back in the kitchen she looked at Monty’s bed, so she could pull it back to light the wood burner. Moira was puzzled because the cat would normally be weaving in and out of her legs, demanding his breakfast. He was still lying in the cardboard box. “You’ve got a handsome wicker basket and you prefer to sleep in a cardboard box with a manky old blanket.”
Monty lay immobile, looking so unbearably cute, “Monty?”
She touched him and he was cold. Moira gasped and sat down heavily on a kitchen chair, “Mark… MARK!”
Edge thundered down stairs with the Remington shotgun and stared at his weeping, distraught wife.
“It’s Monty. Mark, he’s dead!”
Edge bent down and examined the cat. He gently opened Monty’s eyes and both of the inner lids were closed. He was cold. Edge pulled up a chair and sat next to Moira who was sobbing. He put his arm round her shoulders, which were heaving in grief.
“He was all right last night. I gave him his cuddly mouse and he seemed fine.”
“Moira, Monty was eighteen. I don’t know how old that is in cat years, but it was his time.”
“Oh please cover him up, Mark. I can’t bear to look at him.”
Edge draped a tea towel over the box and moved it into the scullery, “He’s got a smile on his face, like he’s laughing at us. He wasn’t in pain, he just slipped away.”
They sat and had a cup of tea and waited until their grief was manageable.
“What shall we do with his body?” asked Edge.
“I don’t want him cremated with loads of other dead cats.”
“What about a Viking funeral. Cast him down the river in a burning boat, with a dead rat at his feet. Like the book Beau Geste.”
“For God’s sake, be serious, Mark.”
“Actually, I was,” Edge said quietly
“We’ll bury him under that tree in the house over the lane, where his little friend was buried when she was killed by that car. They were inseparable and Monty really liked her.”
“Do the same people live there and would they let us? How would you feel if your garden was being used as a pet cemetery?”
“Yes. The Adamson’s. Their kids have left as well,” Moira told him, as though this made them kindred spirits, “And we won’t know until we ask, will we?”
“In which case, you’d better do the asking. I think I rather scare the locals.”
Moira must have been persuasive, because two hours later, Edge was digging carefully around the roots of a by now mature beech tree. He had to go down three feet, excavating the hole carefully until he came across the little ribcage and the cat’s skull. He marvelled at how big the holes in the skull were to allow for the species’ sense of hearing. The tree had taken possession of little Snowflake, but it was as though it had left a space between the roots close to the skeleton, a Monty sized space. Edge excavated carefully with a trowel. Like Carenza’s trench in Time Team, he thought with a little smutty snigger.
No, more like… The smell of the earth made him think of another place and another time. Edge rocked back on his heels and groaned with anguish. Suddenly he couldn’t see properly and he realised with shock and a burning throat that he was weeping. Edge was engulfed with grief. He wept for a Croatian woman that he had loved and lost. He wept for his mother and not being there when she died. He was weeping for his father and uncle, for all the dead, for the years of happiness with his wife that he had missed. He thought about the way he had treated Kimberly as well as Bia Vargas, the son he had never seen and groaned aloud in guilt. He was weeping for a Puerto Rican woman whom he had held while she died in Bolivia, but most of all for a tabby cat called Bernard Law Montgomery, First Viscount Montgomery of Alamein. Edge put his head in his hands as all the years of bottled-up grief, anger and emotion buried him.
It took a long time for him to pull himself together and he excavated a space behind Snowflake’s skeleton. He picked up the stiffening Monty and gently placed the cat’s body down into the grave. It was as though Monty had died in a perfect position and Edge draped Monty’s front paw over Snowflake’s remains. He sat in silence for a few moments then carefully backfilled the grave. Moira had given him a few snowdrop bulbs which he put on top of the grave, picked up the cardboard box and grubby blanket and trudged home. Despite his monumental sadness, Edge realised with some surprise that he no longer felt afraid. The worry had gone.
That night over dinner they toasted absent friends with Moira’s elderberry wine. They linked hands over the table, like they had done years ago.
“What will become of us, Mark?”
“Well, either the government will come for us and we’ll go down in a blaze of glory, or we’ll go like Monty and hope there’s still someone around to put us under that tree.”
“And in the meantime?”
“We’ll just have to take what life throws at us. Together. And I know I don’t say it as often as you would like, i.e. constantly, but I do love you, you know. Cheers.”
© Blown Periphery 2018