|A Science Fiction Fanzine||Autumn/Winter 2003-2004|
Retired from the world of forensic fingerprints, John Berry tells a tale of British good samaritanism and derring-do...
The Icknield Way is the remains of a fifth century Anglo-Saxon track running northwards from London and passing through Hertfordshire, amongst green fields and isolated woodlands, through Bedfordshire.
This July morning in 2003 was warm and sunny. Because of my high blood pressure, requiring maximum medication, my doctor suggested I go for walks every day. So Diane and I decided to travel by coach to the north of Letchworth and follow Icknield Way for a mile or so. I carried a small light rucksack with sandwiches, biscuits and a flask of coffee. We de-coached adjacent to Icknield Way, we crossed a couple of fields and found sparse segments of the trail which we followed northwards.
After half a mile or so, I noted a large hillock, presumably built by the Anglo-Saxons or earlier ancient Brits. Atop it a group of people waved energetically in our direction, shouting loudly.
We waved back, delighted at their greeting, but they persisted in their incoherent shouts, so we climbed a fence and headed towards them. They waved their arms even more frantically, and I cupped my ear, rather like a satellite dish, better to decipher their words. Diane did the same.
"They're shouting Help," she said.
We looked at each other. What could their problem be? Should we investigate?
"Let's see what's wrong," I said, and we headed towards the hillock. When we reached its base I decided not to vertically climb the large mound. Besides blood pressure problems, I also have a pacemaker, and I decided not to be so stupid as to incorporate physical stress into the scenario. So we wound our way gradually upwards to the summit in a circular motion.
When we reached the top, a strange scene confronted us.
A middle-aged man was staggering around, trousers undone, clutching an empty whiskey bottle, singing an obscene chorus out of tune.
I noted two elderly men and their spouses. One of the women was in an electrically-powered invalid chair. She pointed to the drunkard.
"He isn't with us!" she screamed.
"What's your problem?" I inquired.
"We are amateur archaeologists," a man explained, "and decided to climb the mound. Unfortunately, my wife's invalid carriage is defunct, and we cannot get to the bottom of the mound because she cannot control her descent."
The drunkard broke wind aggressively and ostentatiously urinated, fortunately against a breeze.
The other man explained that he had used his mobile phone to request assistance from police and the fire brigade, but they were quite rude and said it wasn't an emergency.
"Have you any ideas?" the wheelbound woman asked.
"By the way, if I may intrude," interrupted her husband, "I note your camera. Would you very kindly take a couple of shots of us so that we can use them for our article in our society's magazine?"
I obliged, and then pondered their predicament.
"Suppose you and your friends hold on to the invalid carriage and permit a controlled descent?"
"No, we obviously thought of that, but my husband has a bad back, and Fred here has diabetes and she has angina," said the wheelbound one.
"My husband has a Pacemaker and has very high blood pressure," announced Diane, firmly suggesting she would not permit me to partake in any physical activity.
With a horrible cry, the inebriated one sank to the ground in a drunken stupor.
"How's this for an idea?" I eventually announced. "I will lie horizontally on the grass about eight feet down the slope. My wife will assist you to gently shunt the invalid carriage towards me. When it reaches me, hold it firmly, and I will lie down again a few feet away, and you can re-shunt, and so on. The invalid carriage will thus be in complete control, because my inert form will stop it rolling down the hillock uncontrolled!"
"There isn't any alternative," they collectively mused. "Er ... in fact, it is quite a good idea!"
So we performed as I had indicated. It worked wonderfully.
We reached the bottom, I stood up and Diane pulled grass off my apparel, and rubbed away the little blobs of mud.
They crossed to a large Estate automobile and thanked us profusely. They even managed a tittle of applause.
"I suggest you dial 999 and get an ambulance for the drunkard," I said. "It is an emergency - he might swallow his vomit and choke." A man did so.
They waved goodbye as we continued our northwards trek. After a few moments, Diane suddenly stopped.
"Did you get an address to send the photographs to?"
I snapped my fingers. "Hold on a couple of moments. I will go back and get an address - thanks!"
I retraced my steps, turned a corner, and was staggered by what I saw.
A table had been erected at the rear of the automobile, and three canvas chairs placed around it, in which sat the two men and woman, sipping glasses of wine. On the table was a large cake, sandwiches, meat pies and biscuits.
They looked at me open-mouthed.
Surely they should have at least offered Diane and myself a glass of wine for our valued assistance?
I gave them an askance glance through narrowed eyelids, spun on my heels and strode away.
"Did you get their address?" asked Diane.
"Nuff said," I replied with finality.