16. War and peace


Mark E Smith placed two more logs on the crackling fire and crunched into his haystack of Shredded Wheat. With hunger, the nuance of flavour packed within the golden strands was startling. Of course, Smith had once bought a box of Shredded Wheat at the start of a fitness phase – he’d cut out whisky for a while, moved onto red wine – but had dismissed the cereal as tasteless knitting wool, even when liberally sprinkled with sugar and using cream from the top of the milk bottle. He took a sip of Averna and pulled up the dusty curtain that he was using as a blanket. Momentarily mesmerised by the flames and face warmth, he thought about his socialite American wife and fellow Fall band member Brix sleeping off her hangover in a warm, clean-ish Glasgow hotel, and of Rob, his roadie pal, who he assumed must be hitching back to Manchester following their unfathomable car incident. It seemed almost a dream.

“How much wood have wa left?” Tim Healy enquired.

“Not much,” Smith answered. “Another hour. Chimney needs sweeping. It’s not drawing proper.”

“We should’ve ’ad a gander upstairs,” Geoff Boycott said. “There’d ’ave been beds or mattresses for us to sleep on. Brian’s right, this ghost yarn is plain dotty. I’m not sayin’ we would’ve all been sprawled out in our own rooms ringin’ down for room service, but we could’ve found somethin’ to keep us off this floor. There’s still a right draught from somewhere.”

“The odds of us copping a spook are lengthening by the minute,” Peter O’Toole admitted with a degree of disappointment.

“Well, be my guest if you want to go for a snoop around but I’m done in, lads,” said Healy. “My arse is staying right here in front of this warm fire, draughty floor or not. I’d suggest getting a bit of kip and taking a sweep of the premises when it’s light.”

“We should bugger off before too long in the morning,” Brian Clough suggested, cracking the Jägermeister. “Forget wasting energy on a grand tour. Get back on the trail and find civilisation. This Shredded Wheat won’t last all that long. Pity about that haul of cans in the kitchen, mind. If it was 1964 and not 1984, I’d have been tempted to find a tin opener.”

“What about this rabbit casserole you promised us, Brian?” asked Boycott.

“Aye, but we need bait!” laughed Clough. “Something tastier than grass. Do rabbits eat Shredded Wheat?”

O’Toole drained his Averna. That’s enough for tonight. He studied the dustsheet he’d been handed and flapped it to cover his stockinged feet. The thin material would provide little warmth, but he’d be buggered if he’d complain. There will be times like this in life, he thought. And this was no new territory. He’d slept rough on a number of occasions when he first arrived in London from Leeds with good pal O’Liver, who he’d met while working as a reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post all those years ago. Park benches, deckchairs, and, when nothing else was available, the cold hard ground.

O’Toole produced his reading glasses from an inside pocket and started to rifle through a fistful of paperwork he’d discovered in the nearby living room. For a time, there was little of interest other than grocery bills dating from the War, and, by the look of the lists, much was spent on gardening and maintenance.

Then he came across a scrappy collection of yellowed foolscap titled Westküste: Militäergeographische Angaben über England 1943. Interesting, thought O’Toole. West Coast: Military Geographic Information About England. But 1943? He’d always been under the assumption that the idea of conquering Britain had been scuppered in September 1940 following the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain air supremacy over the RAF. And once North Africa had been lost and the debacle at Stalingrad, the seesaw had swung in favour of the Allies and the Hun was on the back foot.

The gist was a fanciful strike at Cumbria, seizing Carlisle and, what the document called, “die weiche Schultern von Schottland” or “soft shoulders of Scotland”. O’Toole could scarcely believe what he was reading. Scanning rapidly with his semi-understanding of German, O’Toole soon realised that the radical plan involved a secondary invasion at Stranraer, prior to a two-pronged push upwards and east across to Edinburgh, cutting off the Highlands, taking control of ports and runways, and eventually knocking out the Royal Navy’s chief naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. The reason, O’Toole presumed, was to keep Norway firmly in German hands and continue its heavy water production plants and, by extension, its atomic weapons programme.

To O’Toole’s horror, part of the dastardly vision was also to take by force Dublin and a stretch of the Irish east coast, including its ports at Drogheda, Greenore and, to the south, Waterford. Was the idea that Ireland would simply roll over and accept its lot? It was difficult to ascertain.

The Isle of Man would be shown no mercy, hammered by the Kriegsmarine and, in smoking ruins, would become a de facto aircraft carrier, rather like Malta for the British in the Mediterranean. From there, Scotland was to come under the black cloak of German rule. Furthermore, the document stated that a number of Scottish landowners were in favour of breaking from the Union and the Auld Enemy – in effect, welcoming the Germans with open arms. And wouldn’t those coalfields be a rich prize to the Nazi cause?

The whole show was pure bluster from a drug-addled Adolf; for a start, it would have taken huge amounts of materiel from the Eastern front.

O’Toole thumbed through pages until the words “Hangingbrow Hall” smashed his eyeballs like arrows from Robin Hood’s bow. Now, what have we here? O’Toole shifted to ascertain better light from the grimly webbed chandelier. The page had an English translation attached to a page with a tarnished paperclip.

“Hangingbrow Hall”, Borders, England: to be secured for immediate research. Potential “Brunnen” – “Well”. 1937, British Government sealed area 4sq kms due to “unaccountable disturbances”, pending further investigation. Site of interest to Führer, Reichsführer-SS and Ahnenerbe to assist with rapid conclusion of War. Area lightly defended. Forward party of Brandenburger special forces to secure building and surrounding area prior to arrival of “Invasion Force”. Hangingbrow Hall home to collector of antiquities, Gerhard Twisteaux, born Zurich, 1888. Collection includes previously unrecorded version “The Germania”, thought to be original from 98AD, by Roman historian Tacitus. Much valued by Reich. Evidence also suggests “Receiver”, age unknown, connected to Celtic mythology, said to restore life and/or grant eternal life, is at location. Twisteaux much interest in neo-pagan ideas and occult. Corresponded frequently with Reichsführer-SS1933-36. Twisteaux further invited Germany’s scientific assistance. NOTE: G. Twisteaux possible links to German pre-history.

“Unaccountable disturbances”, wondered O’Toole, removing his glasses. What the devil does that mean?

Tony Wilson approached and crouched by O’Toole’s side, glass in hand, having accepted a Jägermeister from Clough: “Strong stuff this,” he admitted to O’Toole. “Anything of interest?”

“Can you read German?” O’Toole replied.

“Top of the year, De La Salle Grammar,” Wilson proudly proclaimed. “English too, come to think of it. I’m a quarter German, you know. I think that means I’m eligible to play football for West Germany if the call ever came. ‘Kaltz to Hrubesch… to Rummenigge, sells the dummy… to Wilson, the No.13, and Wilson scores!’ Doesn’t sound right, does it? Nice shirts though.”

O’Toole, disregarding the faux commentary, passed Wilson the documents, pointing to specific places of interest. Wilson rapidly digested the information but questioned the logic.

“You’re shaking your head,” O’Toole noticed.

“Let’s say Hanginbrow Hall had some interest to Adolf Hitler,” Wilson pointed out. “History tells us that the invasion of Cumbria and Scotland never happened. You seem pretty certain that Hitler himself wanted to check out its supernatural properties – real or not. We’re convinced the place is no more threatening than Play School on BBC2 at half-past three, and as for Humpty, Jemima and Big Ted, they’ve fucked off to God knows where. Things don’t add up. It’s cut off from society, which has to be unique unless it was some sort of a cult heavily influenced by Tom and Barbara Good. Always more of a Margo person myself. As for finding this document here – you’d have thought it would be in the Imperial War Museum archives. That’s if it’s genuine.”

“Could’ve been an oversight,” O’Toole ventured. “It was among the shopping receipts. Looks like the building was abandoned with some speed. Adolf Hitler was a poor military tactician. A blast on the amphetamines and he’d have been strutting in front of his maps concocting all sorts of over-the-top schemes. He was, in all possibility, a raging drug addict even by France, 1940. His interest in German mythology was deep. Crackpots by the pound, the Nazi top brass was obsessed with the notion that Germans were either from Atlantis or had a common ancestor called Tuisto – a god or demi-god, and the fourth son of Noah. They had an idea that the planet used to be jam-packed with giants and dwarfs, and that when these creatures were living out their fairy story existences 250,000 years ago, we had three suns.”

“And Noah divided the world between his sons,” Wilson recalled. “But I thought he had three kids.”

“Some believe four, some five,” said O’Toole. “Tuisto was the fourth and given Scythia and Germany to rule from scratch. The Nazis were selective historians.”

“I read somewhere that Hitler had a sense of humour,” Wilson smiled, putting down the papers, “He once told the story that Mrs Göring found her husband waving a baton at his underwear laid out on the bed. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked. ‘I’m promoting my underwear to overwear!’”

O’Toole let out a tired laugh. “Sleep calls, I believe,” he said, and shook hands warmly with Wilson. ‘And I say to you who have seen war like a wasp. Worse things shall be than have been. But they shall yet be better.’”

“Who was that?” Wilson asked.

“Would you believe, I can’t remember.”

“A good one, though,” Wilson nodded. “This is my favourite – and it’s pertinent for our bollocks of a situation. ‘It’s my belief that history is a wheel. “Inconsistency is my very essence,” says the wheel. “Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you are plunged back down into the depths.” The good times pass away but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away.’ A starter for ten, who was that?”

O’Toole thought, then said. “Confucius?”

“It’s a good answer, but not the right answer,” Wilson smiled. “You’re only a thousand years out. Consolation of Philosophy; Boethius. Roman guy. He wrote these words while locked up, right at the end of the Empire. Executed for treason a year later.”

O’Toole placed his cadaverous head on the edge of a tattered rug. “Ah, the dogshelf,” he spoke. “It’s been some time.”

Wilson looked across at Clough and Smith by the hearth and caught part of their conversation. “…but we beat you 2 bloody 1 at Maine Road!” Clough voiced.

Boycott was already fast asleep propped up against the wall, head slumped forwards, arms twitching as he faced the Aussies at Headingley.

Wilson lay himself horizontally and placed his head on the back of his hand. He longed to be in Manchester with his new love. “Tomorrow,” he muttered, “tomorrow.”

Go to Chapter 17: The trip to the toilet.