The Siege of Somerstown: Being a Portion of the Records of a General of the Fifth Hants Involuntary Air Rifles Concerning an Infantry Sortie on Behalf of the Crown and Portsmouth City Council’s Department of Colonial Warfare
After leading an infantry charge against the recalcitrant subjects of the Empire’s outer reach – or Somerstown to use the native designation – General Sir Eugene Nicks finds himself detained by the infamous headman known only as Kev. To survive he must depend on his wits, his courage and his enormous regulation moustache.
Waking all groggy and bugger-eyed, my first thought was they’ll hang me for desertion from the guava trees on Somers Road for zonking out like this on the battlefield. My next thought was that I was dashed lucky to still be alive when so many of my fellow soldiers must now be face-down in the dog excrement bins. ‘There go I but for the grace of Peter Griffiths,’ I mumbled.
My vision came back presently and I beheld a mortifying sight: the infamous headman who’d been causing such bally turmoil for the old Department of Colonial Warfare. He was resplendent in the shimmering insignia of his high tribal office. Wrought with primeval technique by the master artisans of the canton, his necklace, earrings and sovereign rings were luminous symbols of Nature’s bounty hereabouts that we good Christian soldiers sought to plunder through war-war rather than jaw-jaw, simply because war-war’s so much more fun, wouldn’t you agree my dear reader? The headman’s polo shirt was as pink as a pink gin, his training shoes as white as the coconut milk I’d used to wash my walrus moustache that morning.
Genuflecting at his feet were two most exotic concubines; plump middle-aged women wearing tight leather trousers and scarlet-lacquered false nails to rival the length and heft of my own M1917 trench knife. ‘Allo sweet’eart,’ they croaked seductively between drags on menthol-aroma cigarillos. A most unladylike habit in the civilised world, of course, though here in the boondocks it’s as normal as voodoo sacrifice, ancestor worship and addiction to daytime television.
The headman arose and removed his Nike baseball cap. ‘Oi oi mush,’ he hissed. ‘You’s up shit creek naah, int’cha.’
I’m sorry to say that many years ago, before I was first shipped out to the colonies, I was an absolute duffer at the Someranian language element of basic training. Alas, therefore, I cannot very well translate for you his vocalisations.
‘I’s Kev, who da fuck are you?’
Believing I had comprehended some of his curious foreign jabber, I struggled to my feet and saluted. ‘General Sir Eugene Nicks, Fifth Hants Involuntary Air Rifles.’
Kev clapped his hands and henchmen appeared on my flanks. They were, as is the wont of their animalistic sub-species, bare-chested and emblazoned with tattoos referring to association football; a barbarian amusement, if ever there was one. With hyena cackles, they seized me by the epaulettes and forcibly returned me to a prone posture. One of them proceeded to haul my head backward while the other inserted a gourd into my mouth.
I knew their game; this was the dreaded ‘water cure’ torture, wherein the victim’s ‘sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown’, so a good chum of mine once expressed. I suppose there was a measure of poesy-justice happening here; Donna only knows we’d doled out the same and worse to these scoundrels before, but for an Anglo-Saxon-Southseaonian to be treated this way was a ghastly reversal of the Natural Order of Things.
‘I won’t give you a damn shard!’ I tried to say despite the long, wide, hard, stiff object wedged in my orifice.
‘Don’t want ya to tell me nuffink,’ said Kev, running his fingers through the peroxide blonde tresses of a concubine. ‘I’s just want revenge, mush.’
‘Curse you all the way to the infernos of Southampton,’ I attempted.
‘Right, dis one’s for da cahncil tax raise, you numpty!’ yelled Kev.
The henchman tipped the gourd. Only the devil himself could have tolerated the abhorrent melange of alcopops and supermarket own brand cider. Fortunately, my moustache soaked up the lion’s share of it, and my tormenters did not notice. I did some mental arithmetic, comparing the volume of liquid they’d likely be throwing down me with the area and density of my whiskers.
‘Dis one’s for da cuts to our domestic abuse staff!’
I exerted all the muscles in my upper lip to ensure that my man-bush caught the next torrent. Still the fiends hadn’t noticed my strategy.
‘Dis one’s for da mental elf and drug ‘elp!’
I swear on Viceroy Harris’ life that they attempted the water cure a baker’s dozen times before they rumbled me. And they’d have been imbeciles not to, for, by this time, my moustache was so logged with native potion that it had swollen to the size of a Stokes mortar bomb.
Kev’s eyes went all wide and ludicrous, and he evinced what, with my poor grasp of the tongue, I understood to have been a lofty sentiment: ‘Fackin’ ‘ell!’ He, his concubines and henchmen all froze just as our Civic-Colonial Governess might if the rest of her body suddenly became the same temperature as her heart.
Ten seconds passed and still they were gaping in puzzlement at the massive wet thing on my face. It was as if the whole mob of these degenerates had gone into a trance. I slid on my back away from the henchmen, yet only their eyes followed me. Could I now escape back to Christendom?
Photography by Moshe Tasky