It was a gloriously sunny, bright and stiflingly hot day, at the very beginning of the school summer hols, and fifteen year old twins, Tugboat and Martina Browne were busily packing cases in their bedroom.
Even though the huge 16th Century manor house they inhabited had eleven spacious bedrooms, they absolutely insisted upon sharing. They shared everything; they were extremely close in that unique fashion that most identical twins tend towards.
But certainly not in any weird or unnatural way.
Or so they claimed.
The twins were outrageously excited - almost manic - eagerly anticipating spending a couple of holiday weeks - which is as good as a fortnight - down at Aunt Peg's delightful chocolate box like cottage on the spectacularly rugged Cornish coast.
"I'm really looking forward to seeing Aunt Peg again," Martina enthused, as she crammed a thick, chunky fisherman's style sweater into her suitcase. "It feels like an eternity since I clapped eyes on our precious Peg."
"Yes. I'm jolly well looking forward to it with eager anticipation too!" Tugboat said. "It'll be lovely to get away from it all for a few days. Also - it'll provide the perfect opportunity to reunite with the gang - The Spiffing Six - and we'll almost certainly get wrapped up in some sort of adventure or other. As we always seem to do."
"I expect so," Martina said. "Such things appear to be the norm in our hectic lives." Then she paused, seemingly distracted. "Tuggers?" she asked, eventually.
"Hmm? What is it?" Tugboat looked up from the cigarette burn in his favourite Harry Potter tee-shirt, which he'd been studiously examining for many seconds.
Almost a full minute, in fact.
"I've been thinking about the gang quite a bit lately, Tuggers..." Martina said thoughtfully.
"Well...I suppose it's concerning the name of the gang really..."
"What about the gang name?"
"Don't you...think...that...perhaps it's high time we rebranded?"
"What do you mean, Sis? Rebranded?"
"Isn't it about time that we revamped the entire package, to sort of come into line with the cut and thrust of the twenty first century?"
"What exactly, do you mean?" Tugboat frowned.
Sometimes - and he'd be the first to admit it, Tugboat could be a tad mentally relaxed, a little slow to detect subtlety of any description, most frequently in matters of a conversational nature, not to mention life in general.
"Well..." (Martina tended to say 'Well...' a lot, particularly when touching upon delicate subjects.) "You see, Tuggers, old sport, it's like, The Spiffing Six - Spiffing!? - all rather 1930s art deco retro chic, don't you think?"
"Not really," Tugboat looked wounded. "I think 'Spiffing' is an absolutely spiffing word."
Martina slowly shook her head, for effect.
"No Tuggers. It isn't. It's a word a Spitfire pilot might have used in the Battle Of Britain. It sounds horrendously dated and awfully upper clarss in a totally negative way. Nobody could possibly take us seriously as teenaged adventurers with a name like 'The Spiffing Six'"
"So what do you suggest?" Tugboat snapped. Rather irritably, it must be said. The gang name had originally been Tugboat's idea, and he didn't take too kindly to having any idea of his, pooh-poohed.
Possibly because Tugboat rarely came up with an original idea in the first instance.
"I don't really know," Martina admitted. "I haven't given it that much thought, to be brutally honest. A replacement name, I mean. As in rebranding."
"So, we'll just have to stick with what we have," Tugboat snarled.
That is as close as one gets to a declaration of intent, from Tugboat. In effect, it meant that he was digging his heels in.
"I don't think so Tuggers. You see, it isn't just the 'Spiffing' part - it's the 'Six' too."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Tuggers, for starters - there are only four of us. It doesn't make sense to be called 'The Spiffing Six' when there are only the four of us."
"Ah," Tugboat started to explain. "I did think about that. Gave it a great deal of consideration, in fact. There was a rather thorny problem, though - all the other numbers had been taken up. There was, The Dynamic Duo, The Holy Trinity, The Fantastic Four, The Famous Five, The Birmingham Six, The Secret Seven, The Masturb Eight, The Nifty Nine, The Twattish Ten - you see? All the numbers have been used up. Even The Eggy Eleven and The Dirty Dozen had been used. I only had number six left - and that was a bit iffy, what with The Prisoner, and the old Number Six fags and that - I got sort of got left with The Spiffing Six. I didn't have much of a choice, truth to tell."
Martina puckered her lips, a sure indication that she was in thought. Either that, or just zoning out.
"I hear that, Tuggers," she said presently. "But we must give due consideration to our street cred."
"Our street cred."
"What's that then?"
"Oh, my dearest, sweet Tuggers! You're so hopelessly out of touch! Quite unbelievable! Street cred, is like, when you're walking down the street, and how you don't want to be stepping in dog mess and stuff. One can't have street cred with dog's eggs on one's Ugg boots or similarly fashionable footwear type soles, stinking the place out. That's a definite no-no. It's just so uncool."
Tugboat could only manage to look dim, and somewhat bewildered, in the manner of a child watching a magician.
Flummoxed is probably a better word.
"I'm sorry Martina," he shook his head again. He was thinking that at some point, all this head shaking was going to give him a headache. Or haemorrhoids at the very least. Although he would have found such a thing difficult to explain. "You're going to have to run that by me again. I didn't catch your drift at all. Not even fleetingly. Indeed, it galls that you seem to be spouting crap."
"Okay," Martina nodded. "It's like this...sort of...it's like, if we want to avoid stepping in nasty things - which quite frankly, in the real world, one ought to harbour no desire to - then we have to be...erm...forthright, confrontational even, when absolutely necessary. We can no longer simply afford to duck issues. By the same token, perhaps we should give due consideration to changing the name of the gang. That's street cred in action. That's what it's all about."
"Really?" Tugboat looked positively bewildered once again. Probably to a greater degree than when he'd initially posed the question. This, in and of itself, was hardly surprising, as Martina frequently failed miserably to understand whatever it was she was rabbiting on about herself. Maybe she just enjoyed the sound of her own voice. Who knows? Some people do.
Not, know - I mean, enjoy the sound of their own voice.
Tugboat however, wouldn't hear about any of this nonsense, because at all times, he thought that his twin sister was absolutely and utterly brilliant!
"Tuggers," Martina said, earnestly. "Think about it! Doesn't one think it would be rather more appropriate were we to call ourselves the something or other Four? As opposed to The Spiffing Six? In my humble opinion, such a superbly structured reimagining would constitute the perfect solution to our current identity crisis."
"But I don't have an identity crisis!" Tugboat protested.
"Well I'm terribly sorry Tuggers - but I do! We're called The Spiffing Six, and that's just stupid when there are only four of us. I keep looking for the other spiffing two!"
"Hmmm..." Tugboat mused. "So what do you suggest we call our little gang, sister dearest? Do you have any actual ideas?"
"I do consider brother dearest, that it ought at least to be something with a four in it."
"I can see the logic in that," Tugboat grumbled. "Any ideas regarding exactly what? With a four in it?"
"How about 'The Plughole Four'?" Martina ventured.
Is she taking the piss here, or what? Tugboat found himself wondering.
"Dont you get it Tuggers? We all live in houses! Houses all have sinks, and sinks all have plugholes! It's perfect! It's a common bond between us! It's totally relevant and deeply meaningful. In a sort of suggestive kind of way."
"There's just one problem Sis," Tugboat said.
"What do you mean, Tuggers?"
"A problem? It's a question posed for solution," Tugboat explained. "A knotty point to be cleared up. Something which isn't quite right, and needs resolving."
"Yes, yes, I know what a problem is, but what is the problem?" Martina snapped.
She sort of looked like she was getting rather irked. Tugboat elected to tread carefully, because his twin could cut up rather rough, when unduly riled.
Which could sensibly be described as a frequent occurrence.
"The problem...let's see..." Tugboat selected his words carefully, with great deliberation. "On the face of it, from the coalface, so to speak...It isn't such an insurmountable problem...if indeed, it's a problem of sorts. At all. So to speak...Oops - already said that. Fiddlesticks!"
"But?" Martina hissed menacingly. She didn't much care for having her ideas pooh-poohed either - and as has already been mentioned, she was rather more volatile than her sibling.
"But...erm..." Tugboat ventured. "Surely everybody has a plughole of one type or another - with the possible exception of homeless people - so, it's hardly something that's unique to our happy little band. We need something unique to us, like a signature, or a trademark or something. If we're going to generalise, in such slap-happy fashion, we may as well call ourselves the Habitat Four, or the Samsung HD TV Four, or the Calvin Klein Underpants Four, or the - "
"You bastard!" Martina hissed, looking for all the world like something as dangerous as a King Cobra - or any other kind of hissing thing that's dangerous, for that matter. "Tugboat! Sometimes you are a despicable little bastard, and an utter creep, you really are!"
"What!" Tugboat protested.
"Well, here I am, trying to put a positive spin on things, trying to be creative, trying to be constructive - and all you seem to want to do is take the bloody buggering piss!"
Martina's eyes blazed like twin fires. (Ouch! Sorry about that - Ed)
"I wasn't taking the piss," Tugboat muttered.
"No?" Martina looked positively psychopathic. "So, 'The Calvin Klein Underpants Four' isn't taking the piss?"
"I didn't mean -"
"I shall belt the bastard head off you!"
"Nnnoooo!!!" Tugboak wailed, as Martina launched herself across the bedroom at him, like a pouncing puma...
Half an hour later, Tugboat and Martina, had packed their cases, loaded them aboard the family stretch limousine, in the spacious boot. They were sitting together in the back seat, patiently waiting for their dearest Papa to drive them to the nearest railway station, some nine miles away in the town.
Martina, who absolutely detested having her creativity stifled - much less, criticised - was in somewhat improved spirits, since she'd treated Tugbout to a 'friendly scragging.' She was smiling and humming a little tune to herself, in harmony with the air conditioning, resplendent in her very best summer hol adventuring togs - plain white cotton blouse, hand knitted, cable stitched grey cardigan, grey worsted wool skirt, and sensible leather soled, heavy duty kicking shoes.
Tugboat sat in a silent sulk. He too was sporting his summer hol adventuring togs - lumberjack shirt, knee length tweed knickerbockers, grey knee socks, and hobnailed boots with highly polished toecaps. Tugboat was sulking because he had a bit of a bump beneath one eye, aching ribs, and a dull pain in his groin region - all of which were the direct result of Martina's attempt to 'belt the bastard head off' him.
For such a well developed young chap, he looked quite pathetic like that. Even his crew cut appeared to be sulking. He simply sat there, sporting his most studious expression, and repeatedly flexed his not inconsiderable muscles.
"Oh, Tuggers!" Martina chided. "Do cheer up! You simply cannot afford to allow one pithy little punch in the plums to reduce you to a deep depression! I can hit much harder than that, you know. Head Prefect admitted as much when he regained consciousness after I'd knocked him out with a quick one-two on the rugger field at school. Don't you know."
"Oh shut up Martina!" Tugboat snapped, irritably as any irritable bowel could ever snap. "I don't think you fully appreciate the consequences of a severe and violent knuckle sandwich to the gonads. I can assure you that it's extremely ruddy well painful!"
"Big Mary-Anne!" Martina scoffed.
"Am not!" Tugboat protested.
"Oh, you so are too!"
"I bloody buggering well am blasted so NOT a big Mary Anne!"
At which point, their father made a grand and timely entrance, by hurling himself so violently into the driver's seat that the entire stretch limo rocked on its springs.
The twins' father was a big man, with a balding pate, a neatly clipped moustache, and the devil of a squint. Obviously an ex-military man, a one time career soldier, and a General, no less.
"Atten-hut! What in the blue blazes is going on here then?" He even sounded like a General, with his classic military bark of a voice. He was a very loud man.
"Nothing General!" The twins chorused. (They always referred to their father as the 'General' as a means of respecting his long years of distinguished military service, and partly because he, himself, insisted upon it.)
"Gadzooks, children! I shall not tolerate offspring of my own loins, and twins at that - rowing with one another like common drunks. The pair of you can cut it out right now or I shall bally well have you up on a charge - the pair of you! Do I make myself clear?!"
"Sorry General!" the twins declared in unison.
"Jolly good show! Now then, troops! Synchronise watches!"
The General held his his right hand up in front of his face in order to scrutinise his watch, although, with his terrible squint he appeared to be looking somewhere way off over his own left shoulder. "I make it, one zero hours and...seventeen minutes...precisely!"
"We have synchronisation General," chirped the twins.
"Splendid! Splen-did!" Stickler for efficiency on all levels, the General. "Righty ho, chaps! Off we jolly well go! To the railway station post haste!"
The General, looking in the approximate direction of the front passenger side window, floored the accelerator, the skidding tyres spraying gravel chips all over the expansive driveway, as the limousine hurtled forward, in much the same manner as might befit a randy rhinoceros.
"Excellent!" Martina squawked, clapping her hands with gay abandon. "The General's flooring it and we're off on our jolly hols!"
"Pretty soon we'll be having the spiffingest of times!" Tugboat roared. Then he started clapping his hands like an absolute moron too. All thoughts of aching ribs and painfully sore testicles appeared to have vanished completely. Even his temporary downer appeared to have lifted, which tells a story, somehow or other. But probably not here.
"Got the blighter!" the General roared, as he crushed an overly adventurous vixen beneath the limo's squealing wheels.
The General, though, did not clap, or punch the air in triumphant salute.
The General was an extremely safety conscious driver.
As he proved en-route to the railway station, by taking blind country lane corners at over eighty miles an hour, accelerating as he approached a humpbacked bridge, appearing to look in every direction bar the one he was supposedly heading, and swerving recklessly in the direction of any wild animal or bird careless enough to stray within striking distance of the roadway.
Other than one or two similarly minor aberrations, the remainder of the journey to the railway station was uneventful - at least, that is, until such time as they arrived at the centre of town.
They were a mere two hundred or so yards away from their destination, when a red traffic light prohibited further progress, forcing the general to bring the limo to a bone-jarring halt in the busy High Street.
At this juncture, two rather unkempt figures darted out amongst the stationary traffic, each bearing a squeegee, a bucket of soapy water, and a wiper blade. These miscreants then proceeded to openly harass helpless motorists by washing their windscreens, and demanding money with menaces for this completely unsolicited service.
One of the pair made the grievous error of approaching the General's stretch limousine.
"What the Dickens!" the General exclaimed, as a dirty, leering, besmudged visage, hovering menacingly above a sopping squeegee, loomed up in the windscreen. The General almost suffered a full blown coronary, as the transient set about washing his windscreen.
"By jingo!" he bellowed. "There's a ruddy barbarian hun making free with a blasted squeegee on the windscreen of my treasured blithering stretch limousine!"
With that, the General snatched his trusty over and under Purdey from the shotgun rack fitted to the inside of the driver's door, wound down the electric window, held the shotgun one-handed out of the window, and fired off one barrel.
"Bullseye! Direct hit! Plugged the bugger!" the General crowed, as the squeegee man was blasted ten feet into the street, minus a significant portion of his upper torso.
People scattered in all directions; women screamed, mothers grabbed their children and fled for cover, grown men hurled themselves full length onto hard pavements, all desperately seeking sanctuary from the seemingly crazed gunman.
One elderly lady suffered a heart attack, an old man had a serious stroke, and a rather scruffy wine drinking type chappie chipped two front teeth and almost choked on his bottle of cooking sherry.
The General wasn't finished yet.
He aimed one handed at the second, fleeing squeegee man, and squeezed the trigger. The hapless small time entrepreneur yelped like a chastised puppy dog as several pellets struck his right leg, but, having escaped the brunt of the discharge, he managed to retain his momentum, and - as such types as himself may well have decribed it - had it away on his toes around the nearest corner, out of the line of fire.
"Damn, blast and bugger it!" the General grunted. "I only managed to wing the blighter!"
"Bloody fine shooting General!" Tugboat roared, in a most encouraging manner.
"Wonderful marksmanship!" Martina could barely contain her excitement. "Go General! Shoot another oik!"
Unfortunately, (Or fortunately, I suppose, depending on where your sympathies lie, providing of course that unlike Clark Gable, you actually do give a damn.) there were no more oiks left within range. The General found himself suddenly overwhelmed by conflicting emotions - on the one hand, he'd bajaxed one oik good and proper, but the jubilation of that was tempered somewhat by the disappointment of only winging the second miscreant. Then again, discharging both barrels of a twelve bore shotgun, one handed, with the arm fully extended, from the window of a stretch limo, at a moving target which wasn't exactly bad marksmanship in anybody's book.
When the General really thought about it, one vixen, two rabbits, a dog and an oik was quite an impressive tally for a run-of-the-mill nine mile drive to town.
All in all, a splendid day's hunting!
When the twins arrived at the station a couple of minutes later, they were greeted enthusiastically by a tremendously excited cousin Spanky.
Cousin Spanky was a big strapping lad, for his size. He had a shock of wiry ginger hair which sprouted wildly from his scalp in all directions, topping off a pair of seemingly always spaced out brown eyes. (Spanky referred to them himself as his 'Baghdad Eyes' because they looked permanently bombed.) Cousin Spanky was rather proud of his burgeoning reputation as an enthusiastic amateur substance abuser.
"Tugboat! Martina!" he cried, by way of a greeting. "How absolutely wonderful it is to see you both again! It feels like a whole lifetime or even two whole lifetimes, since we last met!"
Cousin Spanky tended to overelaborate what should have been a relatively straightforward greeting - but then, that always was cousin Spanky's way.
"Spanky!" Martina shrieked shrilly. (Try saying that when you've had a few.) Grinning from ear to ear, she ran to Spanky and flung her arms around his neck.
"Spanky! You old bugger! Come...here...!" Tugboat took his turn to embrace his cousin in a male chest bumping, buddy bonding, macho kind of a way, once of course, Martina had disentangled herself.
"How the devil are you both?" Spanky asked. "And where on earth is Abigail?"
Having assured Spanky that both were hale and hearty, they informed him that they had arranged to meet up with Abigail - the fourth and final member of the Spiffing Six - at the station, at Puddleby Cove, far away in distant and mysterious Cornwall.
"Excellent!" was Spanky's response.
With that, they gathered up their luggage, checked their rail tickets, said their fond farewells to the General, and headed onto the platform.
"Brilliant! Spiffing!" they cheered. "We're off on our jolly holidays at last! Who knows what adventures await?"
Who knows, indeed...
As a footnote to this latest development, it should be related that the General was quickly picked up by dedicated members of the local constabulary in connection with the shootings, the heart attack, the stroke, and all the subsequent mayhem which had occurred on that eventful day as a consequence of the General's Purdey related exploits.
A stern faced desk sergeant informed the General that he was treating the High Street 'incident' with the utmost seriousness.
The General was given a cup of piping hot tea and half a packet of digestive biscuits.
The sergeant then apologised profusely to the General for any inconvenience caused, and strongly urged him to press charges against the squeegee wielding hooligans. He further promised that even though one of the rotters was 'quite rightly and deservedly' languishing in Intensive Care, there would be no stone left unturned in the hunt for the second evil - and wounded - thug.
The General appeared to be reasonably satisfied with the outcome. On the way home, he bagged two cats, a badger, a labrador, and a pheasant...
More as we get it.