I dreamt last night Blodwyn wanted my foals. What on earth would she want with an old Rouncey like me? Pulling a wagon load of personality disorders around in all weathers from gig to gig; listening to their whining and whinging. They call themselves Prankstas and I am Banjo and it’s a wonder that I am still black and not white after two years of this drudgery. Still, there’s a few miles left before I get put out to pasture if I am lucky; or eaten if I’m not. That’s if this most uncivil war don’t get me sooner.
‘I know, Banjo, I know.’ said the nightingale on my nose.
This is some succour after last night’s near death experience on the main road north. A close run thing and that’s how we ended up here: Toker’s Green, a wooded crossroads and some respite from the troubles for a wee while, but not for long so if the owl was right last night. Things are boiling up all over and our chances of making it to King’s Oak for the first night of the Aristophanes are bleak.
‘You’ll be just fine, just fine’ said the nightingale and gave me a kindly peck.
‘Things will work out. No need for the long face, Banjo!’
I snort and shake my head and the cheeky little bugger scoots off to the ploughed field over the way to find some morning goodies.
There goes Seth in his chicken clobber with a peg on his nose to fetch sticks in the copse. Blodwyn comes sashaying over and we share a companionable lump of meagre greensward; a starter for the main feed when Seth gets the fire on. He is good like that.
‘Seth, where are you? What’s that bloody smell?’
It’s little Bolshie Annie – heart of gold underneath all the fuss and bluster – calling to her man to be. He doesn’t stand a chance resisting this feisty little juggernaut of love. Mind you, he doesn’t want to; she just doesn’t know that yet.
‘Dover deer dust detting dood dove!’
‘Sorry Pet, clothes peg on me nose. The wind changed in the night’
‘What is it, though? It’s nothing like ordinary muck’
‘Human slurry, I reckon’ Seth posited preoccupied with matters at hand.
‘Human?’ Annie quizzed
‘Can’t you smell the fast food?’
‘Your pulling my leg!’ Annie suspended disbelief or credulity or both.
‘Not yet I’m not! There’s some clothes pegs on the buckboard: they work’
‘You’re all heart’ she chuckled as she dropped down from the second of the covered wagons: Pranksta two, we call it.
‘Would you get the kettle and stuff out? I’ll be back with the wood in a minute’
‘What about Blodwyn and Banjo?’
I love this woman sometimes!
‘I’ll sort them out, but you could fill the pails. There’s an old pump over the road. You never know, might work’
Annie looks strangely fetching in her penguin suit as she waddles across the road with a pail in each hand. Seth returns, imperious in his cockerel garb, carting firewood. Like clockwork these two – quite a pair, I reckon. I hear a familiar whistle in the distance. What is that tune? St. James Infirmary or Basin St: it’s stopped, like it heard me hearing it. No, that’s mad, it can’t be. Not here.
‘What on earth is that dreadful stench chaps?
Blimey, it has even permeated Hugo’s heightened state!
‘Chicken vindaloo, mushy peas, four season’s pizza, donerkebab, more mushy peas, falafel, and anchovies and flat lager and sangria at the last count: Morning Hugo, how the devil are we?’ Seth explained setting the fire.
‘Hi Seth. Whatever are you going on about?’ Hugo was struggling with the climb down and holding a conversation; but, disappointingly, did not fall and ruffle his raven outfit too much.
‘Fast food fallout in other words. The wind changed’ Seth got the fire burning after a couple of goes.
‘I see.’ Hugo did not see at all as he focussed on his adjusting his head.
Annie left me and Blodwyn a pale of lovely sweet, fresh well water and we tuck in. Nice.
‘The pumped worked miraculously. Unless the mobs have turned it Deadlock is three miles east and Wedlock is four north. Morning Hugo, oh good you got the fire going. I’ll fill the kettle. Have you seen all those birds?’
‘So maybe those devos weren’t talking crap last night and really did blow up the sewage farm.’ Seth stoked and mulled.
Hugo, after a preen in the mirror, hopped over.
‘And I thought it was the bloody nags!’
Steady on boss, you’re living dangerously! I old fashion him with a guffaw.
‘Got any of the poncey coffee we liberated from Hemlock?’ Annie asked him putting the kettle on.
‘Just the Quillalamba, tragically’
‘Prat!’ said a crow above me.
‘Well, make yourself useful and get it while I see to Blodwyn and Banjo, will you?’ Seth ordered curtly and Hugo hopped off for a rummage in Pranksta One.
‘Shall I call Tilly while I’m here’ Hugo yelled.
‘You just have’ grumped Tilly from Pranksta Two.
We get the nosebags and have our oats. Blodwyn glides off to see Tilly now she’s had a good rest after last night’s hassle and I hear that whistle again. It’s getting pretty close now and it is Pal Joey and he doesn’t mind me knowing because he knows it’s me. The birds are really flappy now. This is going to be a strange one.
‘Here we are’ Hugo hops back with the coffee in his beak
‘You could use your hands sometimes, you know’ Annie’s tamps at the silly bugger.
‘It’s the method, darling: the method! The more you become the part the more it works!’
‘There’s plenty of idiots in The Birds for sure’ interjected Seth seeing a ruction in the offing’
‘Quite’ Hugo went for a flap.
‘Mind you, the method doesn’t work if you’re bursting for a crap first thing.’
Hugo halted mid prance and hopped off to the woods. I laugh and Annie laughs. Seth smirks bashfully and Tilly Red Breast emerges from the second wagon, smiles, and gestures the hedge.
My binocular gaze is transfixed with Blodwyn’s comely chestnut rump as she ushers her significant human to a place of safety.
Cuckoo clocks my arrival at the crossroads.
The congregation of birds wait in the trees, the Prankstas are in conference,
The Prankstas, huh, some kinda minstrels or weirdos? For my part and for the purposes of today I am Pal Joey: International troubleshooter and bearer of Weenies.
As I approach in this guise there is the usual anxiety. People could never get used to my crushed cotton white suit. It might have something to do with my albino black skin and seven feet of height. Ma always told me to make a lasting first impression and she was always wrong: Poor Beulah.
‘Good morning, Sir. Who might you be?’ inquired Hugo, flourishing a wing and mawking a bow.
‘Good question, Mr. Raven. A parliamentarian one, if I can make so bold, and one worthy of such a response as this: None. Just call me Pal Joey’
That got the rest giggling. The Raven guy’s a stooge prop: Bad pressure valve – like Nixon.
‘Coffee, Pal Joey’ sad the Penguin lady: ‘My name is Annie, the raven is Hugo, and these two are Tilly and Seth’
‘Hello!’ the Robin and the Chicken shook my mittened hand.
Good honest grips.
‘Neat costumes, dudes. Aristophanes; Birds?’
‘Got it in one! Would you like a boiled egg’
‘Yes, please ma’am. Have you some Welsh in you?’
‘I beg your pardon’
‘A traditional repast for the traveler in mid-Wales,’ I explained remembering the weenies, ‘do you eat hot dogs?’
‘Not I, sweet wayfarer, I am vegan’ announced Hugo ‘my days gorging the flesh of beast and fowl are ended’
‘Rather, you become the inside of a raven!’
Not bad, not bad
‘The air would not be so foul if all of Deadlock were vegan, Mr. Pal.’
‘True Mr. Raven, so true’
‘If you are what you eat then we will be hotdogs after those this’ said Tilly metaphysically.
‘Or bird dogs’ thought Banjo so loud I nearly choked on my coffee.
‘All the more for the rest of us then, cheers Pal! Are you okay?’
‘Slipped down the wrong way’
Annie put a saucepan of for the weenies. I got the rolls and chili sauce out of my carpet bag and Seth ripped one off a string around his neck.
‘Coq au Vin is my destiny’
What the hell is he on about? These guys are a bit whacked!
We supped and feasted. Makah, who they called Banjo, was listening hard trying to figure out what I was up to. But, hey, I got no secrets. These guys are in the eye of a storm and they had better get out before the scum turn up.
‘So where are you heading next?’
‘We’re aiming for King’s Oak’ said Seth taking a pause from the hot dog.
‘That is rough country, Mr. Chicken. I struggled to get through the Doums in Wedlock and that was on foot. Two wagons, the horses and you four is advertising trouble.’
‘We got to get there for the opening night of the play’
‘Next Friday but we need to rehearse and prepare well in advance of that’ interjected Hugo.
‘So, Wednesday latest: two days is a big ask in this chaos: Yessir, one tall order.’
They don’t stand a chance with those crazies all over the show.
‘Can you postpone, chief? Civil strife and all that jazz?’
Here we go, Makar. Sorry, Banjo! Banjo sighed and shuffled behind me. He knew they were in a bind; known it for a long time if you ask me. Uproar and recrimination invade the camp fire place. Let them have a spat for a couple of minutes till they’re out of puff. I see what old Banjo makes of what’s here name? Rhiannon, no Blodwyn. I get mussed up sometimes with all this Celtic guff; have done ever since my time back in New Orleans hanging out with Ken Toole in The Irish Channel. Sad loss, Ken!
‘…well, if we stay here we’re sitting ducks. At least we agree on that, don’t we’ Tilly summarised sharply.
‘She’s not wrong, Prankstas. Wedlock’s out, Deadlock’s chaos after the bomb at the sewage works, back is the great road north, and west is Diddums heartland, Bullock. There ain’t no way out but up or down.’
I look up at the overladen trees like a thoughtful Satchmo album cover.
‘Preposterous, we have no shovels!’ Hugo blurted.
I heard Banjo’s heart flutter as the penny dropped and he remembered the Alamo. Man, us Pookas go back a long way! Hippocampus days.
Shoot, who are those guys? The media already; yes, it is. So, the revolution is being televised after all, Gil.
‘Get and rig up the horses and put your gear on! Quick now, I’ll go and delay them’
‘Delay who?’ said Annie
‘Whom!’ said Hugo
She chased him over to the horses with the saucepan.
‘I shall return, as my old pal Doug said when he left the Philippines’
‘Macarthur you mean! Who are you?’
‘Pal Joey to you, Mr. Chicken’
I better get going there’s a lot to do and the hen smells a rat: Banjo is in charge here now. I’m strictly backroom from hereon. Shalom, Banjo. Where’s my staff? You can’t get decent ones these days. There we are and her we go. Whistle while you walk!
Go Down, Moses.
Let my people go-go!
Feeling trippy from the intuition water, Pal Joey won’t be back.
‘Showtime, Banjo, old son.’
What’s this Seth’s putting on my head? Not that bloody caparison; yep, know the smell. Blinkered now, sod it. Now the harness, getting rigged up: Clunk, clank. Blodwyn too. Where are we going? The forces are at work, but I am scared. Plopetty-plop. That’s better!
Up, up, and away
Over the canopy
Up, up, and away
Above the tree
Up, up, and away
So chanted a throaty mynah in my right lug, like a voice box after a cancer op: the cameras and reporters are swarming, the noise is mindwracking…
Lights, camera, action: