Final bells rang out the week before Christmas 1983, and up and down the land there was much rejoicing as schools closed down for the holidays. In Dedcot our gang of kids, heavily bundled up against the sleet, hurried down to their abandoned railway carriage and hastily lit up its old Valor paraffin heater to stave off the cold. Plans were made for the coming weekend: to find suitable presents for all members of their family, and afterwards to travel up to the Abingdon Regal Picture Palace and spend whatever remained of their diminished pocket money on films. Some of the kids had picked out a few ideas from the festive season’s Woolworth’s ads and catalogue, but most hadn’t really thought about it yet. The following afternoon they met up and, fuelled by Twix bars, sloshed through wet and windy streets to shop. A selection of music cassettes, cheap but pretty perfume/aftershave packs and big chocolate tins were acquired before an extremely disappointing trip to the cinema. Not only was the final Pink Panther film rubbish but Tank completely failed to catch the eye of fair Natalie, despite his mate’s best attempts to swop seating.
Sunday dawned much more promising; it had snowed overnight! Every kid in the district knows that the best place to toboggan is from the top of the Ridgeway at Scutchamer Knob, if one can get there. Fortunately our gang had an advantage since a couple of their families farm by the Hendreds on the northern edge of the Downlands, so the townies just had to get the bus out there. Sure enough, Farmer Everson was busy giving lifts to half the village with his tractor and was also willing to take up a gang of teens and their new sleigh built from a plastic oil drum. There was a slight delay while a reluctant Mrs Rawnsley was persuaded to let Andy out of her sight, but Mr Everson promised to keep a weather eye on everybody and that it was all ‘perfectly safe’. A good few happy hours of sledding took place amid the crowds up on the hill. Several snowball fights took place, lost dog notices were put up around the barrow, and some of the smaller kids managed to find some barbed wire to run into. Mr Everson agreed to take the wounded back down the hill. He handed off a sack of Christmas parcels to the gang before he left, with instructions to deliver these to family in West Ilsley on the other side of the hill: “down ze vale an follow ’ee left. Thee carn’t mizz it.”
Eventually the hill began to empty as the afternoon wore on. Snow began to fall once again and visibility dimmed. The gang set off for their final toboggan run just as an incoming cold front turned into a full-on blizzard. They overshot the shoulder of the hill entirely and ended up disorientated in a barely visible valley made more unrecognisable by drifting snow. They trudged on. When they got to a fork in the vale it was apparent that they were completely lost. They forced their way through the blizzard and deepening snow drifts. As early winter twilight fell they luckily caught the sound of distressed sheep off to one side. They stumbled up to an abandoned lambing shack with half a dozen unhappy ewes in the pens, and an enclosed shepherds hut alongside which had been thoroughly wrecked in some sort of bloody fight. They barricaded themselves in for the night and used its broken furniture to light up the stove.
Once warmth had returned to their extremities the kids set about searching the hut. They found some tinned and packet foods which made a welcome if meagre meal on the stove, torn bedding, a broken oil lamp, a scattering of shotgun cartridges and a backpack of clothes. Underneath the clothes and toiletries was a handwritten diary belonging to Ol’ Benjy, a local shepherd, who was obviously a bit nutty as he swore he’s seen dinosaurs! The last entry mentioned heading west with his trusty shotgun to find the ‘madwoman from the Loop’ who was behind it all. The kids bedded down for a deeply unsettling night marked by howling winds, screaming sheep, and a huge roaring something crashing about nearby. When daylight eventually came at 8am the kids pushed the door open against the snowdrift and ventured outside. Almost immediately their hope that Ol Benjy was just barmy was dashed when they discovered they were down one sheep, and that there were strange and bloody clawed footprints in the snow. Following one set of smaller prints into the woods they discovered some bits of a bloody corpse and a bent shotgun a short distance away. It definitely wasn’t bits of sheep. They retreated to the hut to construct a handful of bang-sticks from the shotgun cartridges and to debate their next move.
They finally decided to take the path going west through the woods and set off while the weather was reasonably clear. After an hour they became aware of ominous shapes keeping pace with them in the trees all around. Moving in for a kill was a pack of hungry velociraptors. All the kids managed to scramble up into nearby branches except for Tommy. Things were starting to look dire for him. Both Tank and Andy set their bang sticks against a charge and were lucky to strike two of the incoming predators. Their defence resulted in one kill, one injury and one helluva loud noise which temporarily scattered the rest of the velociraptors. The pack opted to messily devour their downed members while they reconsidered their prey. Their prey opted to make a stealthy retreat while the pack was still feasting. They pushed on through woodland eventually coming through an overgrown conifer plantation which was so churned up it looked like a WWI battleground. But up ahead was possible salvation; an actual farmhouse.
Upper Farm turned out to be deserted, locked up and dark; its yard strewn with snow covered machines and bits of factory junk. It looked like someone had started renovation work but it clearly hadn’t been a working farm for some time. The kids broke in through the back door and found a 1940s kitchen augmented by an array of (inert) robotic arms dangling from a gantry leading through into the parlour. In the parlour were workbenches with all sorts of interesting mechanical and electrical components along with tools and testing equipment. Kin and Tommy helped themselves to a few of those. Along the walls were framed photos of an elegant but frowning lady receiving awards from various dignitaries. Nearby diplomas (also framed) named her as Professor Leyna Thelin. All was cold and dark but there was the hum of live power nearby. Under the stairs a small door led down into the cellar where strong lights warmed some 40 eggs lying on beds of straw. More robotic arms moved up and down rotating the eggs in sequence, although some had smashed or already hatched. The mechs didn’t notice or react. There were dead chicks on the floor and a couple of live ones cheeping hungrily. Robbie put them in her pockets.
Eventually the kids explored the Professor’s study, a dim place full of science texts but with a synthesizer music book opened on the desk. An old and unusually self-possessed butler bot powered up in one corner and politely asked them to leave. A flurry of questioning from the kids revealed that the Professor had been missing for some time, and that Isaac the bot was worried for her. He offered to help the kids if they helped him. To do what? To find and rescue the Professor of course. To do this they needed to get out to the barn, a task made difficult by the unwelcome discovery of a Tyrannosaurus rex stomping around outside the farm. Nevertheless the kids bravely timed their run to a nearby dumper truck, hotwired it and drove it straight into the barn to find a large circular mechanism apparently framing a moving image of a sunny beach. It was warm inside the barn too, despite the fact that the entire rear end of the barn had been smashed down giving them a chill breeze and a fine view of the rapidly approaching T. Rex. They drove straight on through the circular frame and found themselves bouncing down a rough track leading to a sandy bay with clear, sparkling blue sea and giant birds wheeling across the sky. At least they might be birds.
Amongst the ferns and flowering magnolias the kids found themselves rapidly overheating in their winter kit. They peeled down and set off to follow the track marks which led towards a stand of pine trees on the headland. As they approached they could see a treehouse perched 20’ up the nearest pine, but they couldn’t get closer because of the aggressive Pteranodon mum nesting immediately above it. Many more occupied nests were visible in the rest of the trees. Clearly the gang had to come up with a Plan for rescuing the Professor without being viciously attacked. They came up with an epic three parter. The first, and most lengthy, part was to build a set of fish traps in the lagoon to prevent any sea creatures from swimming out with the tide. This part did allow them to splash around in the shallows and get thoroughly sunburned. They also set a few bonfires upwind of the nests for later use. Finally, they added some excellent camouflage to the bright yellow dumper truck to disguise the final approach. Then they waited. Robbie took the opportunity to pocket some eggs and Andy dug up a magnolia sapling.
Eventually the tide went out and their fish traps worked a treat with the abundant marine life of the Cretaceous. All the splashing soon attracted the attention of the Pteranodons, and most of the flock headed down to the lagoon for an unexpected feeding frenzy. Pete lit a torch and sped around the circuit of bonfires which produced enough smoke to dislodge the last dinosaurs from their nests. Finally Andy drove them all up to the treehouse in the dumper truck, and Tank climbed up the ladder to haul a feverish and grumpy Professor down and into the truck. They sped off to the portal and back into the icy barn, which was still plagued with a fine supply of nearby Tyrannosaurus and bonus velociraptor pack. Professor Thelin revived enough to use a keyboard attached to her time machine to play ‘The Final Countdown’ and close the portal, then a verse of ‘Electric Avenue’ to open a safe force field tunnel back to the house. Isaac thanked them profusely but if the kids were expecting gratitude or a reward from the Professor they didn’t get any. She told them to keep quiet about her experiment and threatened them with dire retribution if word got out. Finally, she called 999 on her advanced ‘portable phone’ to get medical help for herself. Oh and to get the kids sent home too. She powered Isaac down.
The authorities diverted a Westland WG30-200 military Helimag from its task of delivering supplies to the villages cut off by the snowdrifts. Everyone was evacuated from the farmhouse in fine style, and if the soldiers spotted anything strange in the woods they opted not to mention it. On the way back the kids even got to finally deliver a very battered sack of presents to the West Ilsley relatives. There was much rejoicing, although Andy did wonder if his Mum was ever going to let him outdoors ever again. The kids returned home to enjoy a traditional family Christmas in whichever way it was celebrated in their homes. Inevitably there was much tinsel, a satisfying haul of presents, far too many mince pies, and a lot of time squabbling over which films and TV specials to watch on ‘the box’ in the lounge. There were a few local radio news snippets about dangerous zoo animals escaping onto the downs, but the military had those all dealt with in a very short time, and certainly long before the snow melted. Allegedly.