The start of the Easter holidays dawned dry, cold and grey. Over breakfast the kids learned in various ways that they were signed up for a fortnight-long Football Sports Camp — a new Council initiative in response to the fact that many more mothers go out to work. This news was greeted with a very mixed bag of emotions ranging from Pete’s delight (“I get to run some more? Cool!”) to absolute horror from titchy Tommy who despises all physical activity. Generally the gang agreed that there were better things that they could do with their time and lack of adult supervision was not at all a problem. Nonetheless they were all delivered unto the sports camp on time, loudly protesting in one case, to discover that it was being held on the sports field of their own school. There was no doubt that being back at school over their holidays was depressing. To Tommy’s absolute horror the camp was being led by his arch-nemesis the P.E. teacher Mr Thompkinson, ably assisted by a batch of new trainee teachers. The field was heaving with about a hundred kids in a wide range of kit. There was a small administrative delay when they discovered that (a) Robbie’s place hadn’t been paid for, and (b) she was actually a girl. Robbie scuffed her way home to spend time with her young pteranodons and seek sympathy from neighbouring Mrs Fossett. She noticed some posters on a nearby streetlight about a missing pet rabbit.
Back at camp training started with a forced run up the hill and back, with reluctant laggards at the rear motivated by Mr Thompkinson’s electric cattle prod. Mr T. being an ex-Army officer of the old type who had little time for wimps. After their bracing run the kids lined up for penalty shoot out and, on the basis of that performance, were roughly sorted into four pools of four teams each. The gang ended up in the final pool and made up the ‘Overkill’ team. This pool was loosely supervised by nice Mr Charlie. Andy set out to charm the naïve coach. Over lunch break everyone passed extra food to Kin who had been put on the latest F-Plan diet and Kin’s lunch was disposed of to nearby pigeons. The afternoon comprised of basic tactical training in an attempt to break up the cluster habits of playground footie. It was a tired batch of kids who staggered off to find Robbie at the end of the afternoon. Mr T. was accosted by an irate Mrs Fossett.
The next day, after feeding her colourful proto-birds, Robbie snuck back into footie camp and rejoined the gang. Mr Charlie was fed some plausible story by Andy and did not appear to realise that Robbie was a girl. Mr T. opted not to notice her at all. Training was relentless as ever with both Kin and Tommy ending up exhausted. Tank’s lunch sandwich was snatched away by a raven. Tommy’s hand-held Gizmo pinged with a screen prompt ‘>Login to Cloud?’ but the prompt disappeared after three failed password attempts. After footie Andy went home to look after his exhausted mum and new baby brother, while Tommy went home to rest and listen to his parents worrying about cabbage wilt in the farm fields. Kin also returned home to develop some film but suspected tampering as his character shots of a local tramp didn’t develop at all. The rest of the gang ended up at Robbie’s to deal with her missing Big Blue chicken and uncomfortably witnessed a nasty fight between her and her big brothers over their trashed bedroom. They briefly investigated the missing rabbit and discover other missing local pets. On their return they were relieved to find that Big Blue had reappeared. Robbie added a number padlock to its cage.
Wednesday’s camp was slightly delayed as families dodged an unusual number of crows and starlings around the railway station. Tommy managed to be team substitute for long enough to notice that a new echo sphere (known locally as Nellies) had appeared in a corner of the school tennis courts. Although it looked rusty and the tarmac and netting embedded around it as if it had always been there, Tommy was almost sure that it hadn’t been there yesterday. Kin and Any helped him dig it out. The rest of the gang were spooked by hearing the voices of little people through the school hedge. When they peeked over there was no-one to be seen in the ploughed field, just a couple of pigeons flying off. After camp they decide to check on Robbie’s pteranodons, which they have decided to call chickens for their own safety. To their relief all three were still inside the cage, but a raven was lurking menacingly on the fence nearby. Robbie nabbed it before it could fly off and, after a brief debate, the kids decided to feed it to the chickens. The chickens made a short meal of it. Afterwards the kids noticed something glinting in the grisly remains. They hooked it out and discovered that the raven had a tiny chip embedded in its skull.
The next day started badly for Pete when mum discovered a missing school report detailing his abysmal grades and teachers’ comments. He completely failed to convince her that this was unimportant and was set extra homework to complete each day after camp. Andy was also having a bad shock; his early morning tasks included taking the dustbin out for weekly collection and during this he noticed a discarded letter from the NHS confirming that his mum was definitely not anaemic and asking her to attend clinic for more tests. Something that she clearly has not done. On a happier note Kin got an invitation from his neighbour, the renown photojournalist Mrs Moss, to accompany her to Greenham Common Nuclear Airbase and photograph the Women’s Peace Camp that weekend. At football camp the coaches tried to teach ball control between sprinting sessions. Tommy was distracted when his Gizmo pinged a ‘warning: spore alert’ mid-session. During lunch the kids were intrigued to note that some nearby pigeons were poking seeds out of the earth with twigs, and generally acting organised. They tried to lure the birds closer with bread and get them to talk, but without success. Unfortunately, they failed to notice the approach of Mr T. who spotted Tommy’s electronic Gizmo and promptly confiscated it until the end of the week. A huge bird shadow passed overhead.
On Friday morning Robbie noticed that her chicken cage was being intently watched by a number of nearby crows and ravens. Her chickens are getting bigger and hungrier. Football camp progressed as chaotically and noisily as usual, but Mr T.’s attention was mostly on the better and more promising teams which he wanted to show off to visiting FA coaches. He announced a tournament to be held the following week, causing much excitement amongst sportier kids. The gang largely ignored this and fed sandwiches to the friendly pigeons but were more than a little spooked when the pigeons said “thank you” as they flew away. The afternoon camp finished with an explanation of the tournament rules and then the kids were allowed to go home early. Gizmo was retrieved. The gang biked over to their hideout where they met up with Ash (a hippy friend with no interest in footie) and Sean (a US military brat whose idea of football is… different). They decided that their first priority was to move their chickens to a safer place. Tank and Tommy returned home to borrow discarded bits of hardware and scrounge buckets of animal feed.
Saturday blew in cold and clear but everyone had a free day at last.
Kin, Tank, Ash and Sean took the bus over the hills to Newbury where a short walk brought them to Greenham Common and the main gate of its U.S. Air Base and, of course, the Blue site of the Women’s Peace Camp just outside. Ash waved to her mum and took the kids around a few ‘bendies’ (tarp shelters) to meet some of the local organisers, especially Margaret Downs and Jean Kaye. Mrs Moss was busy photographing protestors and the local constabulary were attempting to set up crowd control. The kids lingered around the campfires and scrounged food for awhile, and so were in a good position to watch Thames Valley Police kick off an unusually vigorous bout of protest clearance. This quickly escalated into a massive scrum involving civilian police, M.o.D. police, American gate guards, male and female peace protestors, new age travellers, local and national journalists, nearby local residents and some very excitable dogs. As Mrs Moss was arrested she threw her film cannister to Kin and yelled “run”! They ran. Ash led them off around the south side of the base and past Green Camp into deep woods. Here she lifted one of the overgrown iron grids covering WWII storm drains from the old A339 road that went across the base. This led conveniently under both security fences to come up just by the nuclear missile silos.
Peering cautiously over the bunkers Kin was startled to be able to take his own photo of a Star Wars X Wing fighter half hidden under tarpaulins. When he urged the rest of the kids to take a look, there was merely a large nuclear ICBM there. Ash didn’t seem at all phased by this disparity. Once they’d looked carefully and established that the runway was clear they made a short dash across to the main U.S. living quarters where Sean’s age, accent and familiarity with the base ensured that they went unchallenged. They indulged in some real American food and candy and debated whether to watch an early screening of Iceman at the cinema. The military kids also had an awesome skatepark. Eventually they made their way back out of the base and caught a bus back to Dedcot before dark, thus sadly missing the very first ‘covert deployment’ of the ICBMs.
Meanwhile, back in Dedcot, the rest of the gang had been following a trail of escaping chickens and pigeon teamwork back to a hidden roost over near the cooling towers. Approaching this required some thought and careful timing, partly because the warehouse was inside a patrolled British military zone, but mostly because they had to cross railways tracks where high-speed Intercity trains came around a blind bend. Eventually they too managed to get under their security fence and climbed up to chat to some very nervous pigeons who were trying to defend their nests against the ‘others’. These rough barricades were scavenged from landfill junk and Pete managed to get hold of a piece stamped with IEX-4Z32. Their encounter was cut short by a shout from an approaching Army Landrover on patrol, forcing the kids to scarper off-site as rapidly as possible. Back in their hideout Tommy tried inputting IEX-4Z32 on Gizmo and up on screen came a full schematic of an old magnetrine vehicle complete with its registration documents. These showed that it had been decommissioned and dumped in a nearby landfill pit some years ago.
The following day, after a good Sunday lunch for most, the kids met up and set out northwards from Dedcot to try and find this landfill site and mysterious wreck. It soon became obvious that the network of gravel quarries, landfill sites and flooded pits north of Dedcot were heavily patrolled by all sorts of birds, and that approaching beyond a certain point was likely to get them attacked by crows and ravens. They regrouped back at their hideout and deployed their new knowledge of bendies and chicken coops to construct a reinforced bird hide which could be carried further into the quarries. Sheltering under this they slowly made their way around the pits eventually spotting a likely hulk far out in the middle of the water surrounded by a mob of birds. They also tripped over the corpse of a hapless tech who had been killed by the bird mob earlier. Luckily his amphibious little maintenance vessel still appeared to be functioning.
Clambering atop this spidersub, still with a bendy sheltering them, the kids set off for the wreck with Kin piloting. The voyage got quite scary once the birds had stripped off the tarp and started to pry open the chicken wire to get to them. The kids reached the wreck of the IEX-4Z32, scrambled inside and after a scrappy fight manage to sabotage the bird chipping machine despite sustaining several injuries. Kin helped their escape by bashing the wreck further into the lake where it eventually sank. Getting away was equally precarious but the birds seemed to have been thrown into disordered confusion. Kin opted not to complicate matters by mentioning the huge, black, writhing thing which crossed his underwater window. Back at the hideout the kids spent the rest of the day bandaging their wounds, talking about all the weirdness, and moving the Cretaceous chickens into their own derelict railway carriage.
The kids still had one more week of the Easter holidays left so, come Monday, they were right back at the football sports club. All except Pete whose mum had withdrawn him from all sporting events until further notice. Tommy and Kin were surprised to find that they were noticeably fitter this week and hardly got tired at all. This may have been helped in Tommy’s case by a notification from Gizmo, “Auto XNA Spore Trap Activated’; certainly he wheezed a lot less. Robbie excelled under the new coaches who were ignorant of her family, and she seemed all set to become the star football captain. Andy unusually failed to charm his team coaches, instead getting moody and distracted after his mum came down with a low grade fever and rash. His granny and grandad turned up to help with the farm for a few days, and Tommy helped out too by reading the new tractor manual and getting its onboard computer booted up properly. Tommy’s own farm was much improved once his parents called Harwell Biocontainment to burn out the ‘cabbage wilt’, but their lower fields will remain unfarmable for some time. Tank discovered that the girls’ Drama Club hope to put on a performance of Starlight Express later in the summer and has big plans to take part and impress Natalie. Andy obtained a bootleg cassette of the music for him and Kin built a super-responsive set of roller skates which Tank can’t yet stay upright on. Kin also received a postcard from Sean apologising for being locked up on base for a security alert. The postcard was franked by the Royal Mail in 2015. Mrs Moss’ photos came out well and were published by the Observer. Kin’s photo of the X-wing remained baffling, and in addition he had some photos of a tramp who wasn’t there when the pictures were taken. Also Robbie’s medicines went missing.
By midweek the sports camp was ready to begin Mr T.’s showcase football tournament. He had even invited FA talent scouts to visit on Thursday! There was some dissent in the rank about whether to sabotage or assist this, but Robbie managed to rally her lads for a good effort. The Overkill team even won their first match. The second match turned sour when Tank inexplicably became disorientated during the game and Robbie suffered from a mysterious stomach ache. Convinced his mates had been nobbled, Andy launched himself at the Nightrider captain and landed a fine punch on his opponent’s nose. It got him into considerable trouble for a short while. By Thursday Tank had recovered but Robbie was still feeling dodgy. Their third game went well right up until the Invicta winger slammed a belter of a ball directly into Robbie’s abdomen. She collapsed in agony. Adults and kids rushed onto the pitch and Mr T. left his kit bag unattended. Tommy had been waiting for just such a distraction and darted in to take out that cattle prod. An ambulance was called for Robbie and as she was helped off the pitch a clear voice right next to the talent scouts could be heard saying “Oh! Is that a CATTLE PROD?” Sadly, that was the end of football camp for the Overkill team. Robbie spent the night in their hideout and was hobbling about the following day. She refused to discuss it. So now the kids are planning to start teaching falconry to pteranodons instead. What could possibly go wrong?
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Playground Football: rules of the game
Episode 1: Life on Mars Bars
Episode 2: Twix a Rock and a Hard Place
Episode 4: Time for a Picnic
Episode 5: Marathon Man
Episode 6: Careless Wispas
Episode 7: Bar Noir
Episode 8: It Takes Allsorts
Episode 9: Jolly Tots and Candy Bots
Episode 10: Double Deckers and the Trusty Tube
Episode 11: Bounty Hunters
Episode 12: A Ripple in Time, Part 1
Episode 13: A Ripple in Time, Part 2
Episode 14: Smartie Pants
Episode 15: Reality Bitz
Episode 16: The Welsh Confection
Episode 17: Aero space
Episode 18: Curly wurly Timey wimy
Episode 19: The Malteser Fulcrum