Inspired by the following Decamot items:
crater, weather watcher, tongue, ball, philanthropist, reward, mug, Wales, anaconda, barn
The invitation to attend Matthew Martin’s 12th birthday party simply read:
Please come to my Birthday Party
Saturday 1st June
2.00 pm – 6.00 pm
We meet at the Bleak House Pub Car Park At 1.45
COME IN SCRUFFY CLOTHES AND BRING A RUCKSACK
Peter Finch, one of Matthew’s classmates, handed the card to his Mum who put it in the family diary making a note to be sure her car was available for delivery and collection. Later that day his dad saw the invitation and cursed quietly to himself as he would need to go one better in the return fixture. It was so much easier in the old days, he thought, when all you needed to do was to kick a ball around for an hour to satisfy your offspring’s birthday expectations.
Now there was inevitable peer pressure to come up to the plate with something unique or risk appearing a mug in front of your own progeny. Last year he reckoned he had come out on top by matching Stanley Martin’s swimming pool games with a hot air balloon extravaganza at Brands Hatch. Simon Finch was “something in the City” and highly competitive.
Further down the same middle class suburban road, another invitee’s mother wondered whether she should let her son go at all but thought it would look selfish to object although she had come to rely on the emotional support of her son Adam following the premature death of her husband six months earlier. George Smith’s demise in a car crash in Wales had made the local Surrey papers because he had been manager of Woking football club at the time. Penny Smith was now struggling in her dual role of mother and father to her son.
Another invitee lived in a new Huff house erected on the site of an old barn which had once been used for rearing chickens. Quite how they had obtained planning permission in this bastion of NIMBYISM on the outskirts Ripley no one quite knew but they had succeeded in creating a unique five-acre site which even traditionalists conceded had tidied up the area no end although some were nervous when rumours began circulating that Tom Robinson was thinking of introducing regular car boot sales. Young Jimmy Robinson was one of Matt’s best mates and always the first to RSVP as instructed.
Matthew Martin’s birthday parties were legendary affairs involving most of his best mates from school or youth club. Run by his enterprising Dad, aided and abetted by his older son Gavin, they took place in unusual locations; often involving competitive games and always ending with a celebratory barbecue.
Saturday 1st June 2017 was no exception, but it had been unseasonably wet in the run up to the big day so 15 excitable boys had become permanent weather watchers in the preceding 48 hours in the hope that Horsell Common would be dry enough underfoot.
Woking is an unremarkable town whose development should have been meteoric with the coming of the railways in 1838 but had to wait until 1854 for the London Necropolis Company to breathe new life into it by burying London’s dead on heathland to the south west of the town.
It claimed marginally more fame in 1898 when HG Wells chose similar heathland to the north west of the town for his Martians to crawl out of a crater of their own making in his classic science fiction novel War of the Worlds. Ironically, it took another 100 years before the state of the art McLaren Technology Centre was built on 500,000 square metres of further heathland butting on to the Martian landing point.
The very crater where the Martians landed was the site chosen by Matthew’s Dad, for the barbecue finale. Fifteen aspiring, prototype Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s gathered round Stanley outside the Bleak House to receive their instructions, all eager to get started.
“You will be in three teams of five – red yellow and blue – so you can start by putting on these coloured training bibs which I have borrowed from Woking football club”
Gavin handed out appropriate red yellow and blue bibs to each team member plus a copy of a special map of Horsell Common which he had created the previous evening.
“On the map you will see there are three entry points to the common – one on this road, one on Shores Road and a third at the Sandy Track Car Park. Once I am satisfied you understand the game, we will drop each team at one of the three entry points. In the centre of the map the crater where we will be setting up the barbecue is clearly marked. You should aim to get there by 4 o’clock at the latest”
Each team had three treasure points on the map to get to in sequence. Having reached the first, they then made their way to the second, and then to the third, in a strict order according to their team’s instructions. After reaching their third treasure point, they must then head directly to the crater for the barbecue finale.
Gavin and Stanley had been out in the morning and driven three rounded timber tree stakes into the ground at different locations on the Common with red yellow and blue ribbons attached indicating that this was a treasure point. Here they would find buried treasure in a variety of cardboard boxes, but they could only take one item of treasure per team member. All three teams had the same treasure points to reach but in a different order.
“Now” said Stanley, “Here is how you can gain extra points for your team. All teams will be going to the same treasure points but in a different order. There will be an extra reward for the team or team member who can complete the circuit without being spotted by one of the other teams”
An immediate buzz of excitement went around as they realised that they would need to operate like the SAS on a secret mission as they went in search of the hidden treasure.
“I suggest” continued Stanley “Before you go charging off, you spend 15 minutes at the drop off point to devise a strategy that you think will work best for you. You might like to elect a team leader and a competent map reader with the compass and, maybe, a look-out guide to watch out for other teams approaching. Any questions so far?”
Jimmy Robinson put up his hand to ask a question.
“What if we can’t find a treasure point?”
“They are all clearly marked. I would be surprised if you failed to recognise one but if you are not sure and are worried about time getting on just call me on my mobile! Gavin will now explain how the compass points work so that you can work your way from one treasure point to the next”
As soon as Gavin had finished his explanation the three teams were taken to their respective entry points and told to listen out for a gunshot sound which would be their signal to start the treasure hunt. When it came 15 minutes later they all set off in search of glory.
The yellow team, led by Jimmy Robinson, opted for maximum invisibility and crawled most of the first quarter of a mile on their hands and knees pausing every five minutes or so for a signal from Jimmy to carry on. They looked for all the world like a giant centipede on the march pausing intermittently to refuel by munching the surrounding fauna.
The red team, led by Adam Smith, approached their task as if on a mission to free hostages being held by terrorists in a series of imaginary buildings en route to the treasure point. Having identified a tree forty yards ahead, Adam would dash to that point, look left and right then, having satisfied himself that it was safe, waived frantically to his team to join him tout suite. This was what Stanley later called the elastic band method; it was as if all the team were attached to Adam by a length of rubberised rope.
By way of contrast, the blue team were very laid back reflecting the character of its leader, Peter Finch, enthusiastically encouraged by the birthday boy himself who convinced his colleagues that his Dad would have planned the routes in such a way that the likelihood of bumping into another team was remote. He was an actuary after all which meant he was an expert on the laws of probability.
“It’s a device” he argued, “to slow everybody down thus enabling the adults to build and prepare the barbecue uninterrupted”. Semi reassured, the Blue team strolled nonchalantly towards its first marker point when suddenly Peter Finch issued an urgent instruction to “Hit the deck!”
He thought he had seen, fifty yards ahead, a yellow training bib crawling towards him.
From the middle of the pack, Freddie Dawson, who was against the team strategy all along, wanted to say, “I told you so!” but bit his tongue as he lay face down in the mud, his nose perilously close to some freshly minted dog poo.
The boxes Gavin and his Dad had buried near the treasure points were not too difficult to find being ostentatiously camouflaged by a heaped mixture of leaves and dry twigs. As Adam Smith reminded his team at their first stop “Don’t forget we have to take one treasure each only – but hurry – put one in your rucksack while I work out the compass co-ordinates for the next section”
All three teams re-buried the treasure taking care to cover the boxes with twigs but leaving the boxes very near to where they had found them. All three debated whether to make it more difficult for the next team to find but decided against. As Matthew Martin said to his team “It would be counterproductive as we would be reducing our chances of more treasure at the final two treasure points by a factor of two thirds”
His fellow team members were not altogether convinced by yet another actuarial explanation but went along with it anyway.
The Blue team led by Peter Finch were the first to reach the crater to find a roaring camp fire alight and the smell of cooking sausages, beef burgers, mushrooms and baked beans.
“Well done lads” said Gavin, “Grab yourself a plate and help yourselves to the food”
Soon all three teams were tucking in and found themselves naturally forming a giant circle eager to swap stories and compare their accumulated treasure.
No team went around completely incognito although the yellow team were the least observed. Mind you, some of the claimed sightings took some believing as when the entire Red Team claimed to have spotted a member of the Blue team relieving himself against a beech tree; and similarly, when an unsuspecting young couple were supposedly surprised in a moment of intimacy by the sudden emergence through the bushes of a giant yellow centipede.
But it was when they came to look at the treasure they had selected for themselves that the whole event took a completely new, unexpected direction.
Jimmy Robinson held up a lady’s handbag which had several little compartments and appeared to be made with crocodile skin.
“Which one of us did you have in mind for this, Mr Martin?” said Jimmy to chuckles all round.
Gavin and his Dad looked at each other with genuine puzzlement etched on their faces.
“Where did you find it?” said Gavin
“In one of the treasure boxes”
“Are you sure it was inside one of the boxes and not just lying on the ground?”
“Quite sure Mr Martin”
Stanley took the bag from Jimmy Robinson and looked at it more closely. It was high quality leather and made by GLENI a leading Italian brand. It looked relatively new, but Stanley could not guess its value. He opened the double zip and looked inside. It was empty apart from what looked like an old lottery ticket tucked in an inner compartment.
“I’m sorry Jimmy, but neither Gavin nor I put it in the box. I am no expert, but this looks expensive. I think I had better take it with me and make a few enquiries to see if we can find out who it belongs to”
Jimmy looked a little disappointed but accepted the situation. He had hoped that it might be a useful item for his Dad’s new Car Boot Sale venture but thought it wise not to mention it.
“And you are quite sure you found it inside one of the treasure boxes?”
Jimmy nodded his head adding “Definitely!”
The party ended with a conducted group tour of the circuit by everybody to collect the treasure posts and generally re-live their afternoon exploits, the Red team taking great delight in identifying the very beech tree that they claimed had been soiled by a member of the Blue team.
Jimmy Robinson was compensated for his handbag with an autographed football and was well chuffed. By the time they re-assembled back at the Bleak House pub carpark there were 15 scruffy exhausted members of the prototype junior SAS squad with rucksacks stuffed with treasure, ready to be transported home by anxious parents, the party having overrun by 45 minutes.
Later that evening Stanley Martin sat down with his wife Iris as well as Gavin and Matthew to review the afternoon’s activities when, to their astonishment, their attention was caught by the opening credits to the latest Crimewatch Roadshow on BBC1. Sophie Raworth was intoning …. “And in a departure from our usual format, we will be asking if any of you has seen one of these!”
She then held up a handbag which looked remarkably like the one sitting on the floor in front of Gavin.
“This is only a replica of course - the one we are looking for is a special edition Gleni anaconda leather bag, which was stolen from a house near Woking two weeks ago. More later in the programme but do call our number if you think you have seen it”
After picking up the bag, Gavin was first to break the stunned silence.
“Assuming this is the bag, I just don’t understand how Jimmy claims it was inside one of the treasure boxes do you? If it was, someone must have put it there between 8.30 this morning when we laid the trail and 3.00 pm this afternoon when Jimmy found it. Perhaps we should call that number now and not wait for the item to be covered again. It certainly looks like this bag but what about this lottery ticket? It was for a draw that took place three weeks ago”
Stanley picked up the phone and within 30 minutes the local police arrived in the persons of detectives Adam West and Martha Scott. They were now all seated in the Martin’s kitchen diner sipping tea whilst Sophie Raworth was able to tell viewers that a very promising lead had been telephoned in, so they were dropping the item, with enormous thanks for the instant response. Stanley and Gavin gave the police a full description of Matthew’s birthday party and how they had prepared and executed it and how Jimmy Robinson had found the bag.
“But,” insisted Stanley, “I would not want to implicate Jimmy in any wrong doing. Before we go any further, can I ask you to give us some background information? There were 14 families represented at the party – none of them rich enough, as far as I know, to own a special edition anaconda handbag worth £50,000, let alone be in a position to throw one away!”
“OK, fair enough Mr Martin, but I would ask you to keep what I am going to tell you as highly confidential. My colleague Martha has been involved in this case from the outset and is best placed to fill in the detail.” Detective Sergeant Martha Scott took a deep breath and gave the Martin family most of the salient facts.
“The bag belongs to a Lady Borthwell who lives by herself on the edge of Horsell Common in a house which was once owned and lived in and indeed built, by the Bedser twins who I am sure you will remember were very famous England cricketers. The surviving twin died in 2010 and Lady Borthwell might even be a relative of theirs – a niece or a cousin perhaps – but, either way, she has inherited the twins slightly eccentric requirement for extreme privacy. She is a bit of a recluse”
“Two weeks ago Lady Borthwell was disturbed in the night by a noise. She got up and was confronted by two burglars who had gained entry via a downstairs kitchen window. One of them pushed her aside but grabbed the handbag from her bedside table before beating a hasty retreat. She fell and banged her head so it was an hour or two before she was able to contact us. The only item that they ended up taking was this handbag”
“Is she alright?” said Gavin, fearful she might be on a life support machine somewhere.
“She is but no thanks to our burglars who seem to have decided to cut their losses and scarper. The fact that you found the bag on Horsell Common not more than a quarter of a mile from Lady Borthwell’ s house, would suggest that they simply threw it away as they made their escape through the woods”
“But that doesn’t really add up” said Stanley “The bag is in excellent condition despite the wet weather we have been having – in fact we nearly called off the party for that reason. And Jimmy Robinson is adamant that he found it inside one of our treasure boxes”
“In that case” said Sergeant Scott, “One of your party guests must have put it there!” Stanley Martin had to concede that this was a possibility as they had all arrived with rucksacks. It would have to be the first team that arrived at this particular treasure point. He looked at his notes and saw that it was the Red team led by Adam Smith. He was now faced with a moral dilemma. Should he reveal the names and addresses of the red team, of whom four out of five members must be innocent, even by arcane actuarial logic?
“Can I suggest?” he said to Sergeant Scott “that you and I interview Adam Smith before you rush into the whole team; Adam lost his father recently and I would feel awful if we added to his woes unnecessarily. After all Lady Borthwell’ s property has been recovered however it got there”
And so, the very next day, Stanley Martin, Adam and his Mum Penny, all met with Detective Sergeant Martha Scott at the Woking police station for a chat.
Martha set the scene by explaining that nobody was accusing any body of any wrong doing but they needed to find out how the bag had got there because it really had been stolen three weeks earlier. It doesn’t mean that who ever put it in the box was the same person who stole it.
“Because you were elected the red team captain” Stanley added looking straight at Adam, to the obvious pride of Penny his mother, “I told Martha we could rely on you to tell us the truth – did you see any of your team put the handbag in the box before you set off for the next treasure post?”
Adam put his head in his hands, shifted towards his mother and said quietly to her before breaking into tears “I’m sorry Mum I thought I was helping you”
Stanley and Martha swapped glances both knowing that the full story would now emerge at its own pace if they simply kept quiet.
Penny Smith put her arms around her son to console him and said, “It’s alright sweetie, I should have done something about it myself some weeks ago, but the shock of your Dad’s death knocked the stuffing out of me. It’s me that should say sorry to you”
George Smith’s estate had been in a mess. Although his mortgage had been covered he had no other life insurance but owed his brother Ralph, a petty criminal who Penny had always hated and refused to have in the house, a sum of around £10,000 which Ralph claimed was a gambling debt. Ralph had offered to ignore the debt if he could use one of her sheds in the garden to store equipment connected to his various business ventures. Adam had heard his Mum arguing with his uncle who had threatened to go to the newspapers “and what would that do to the reputation of my goody two shoes brother eh? Gambling on football matches whilst managing Woking football club”
Ralph Smith and two associates were arrested and charged with multiple offenses and Adam commended for his bravery in coming forward.
Lady Borthwell was re-united with her special edition GLENI anaconda handbag to her obvious delight and asked if she could meet Adam and his mum to thank them personally. Six months later a statue of the late George Smith was unveiled outside the Kingfield Stadium. It was paid for by Lady Borthwell with a small fraction of the proceeds from her winning lottery ticket.
The plaque on the statue states simply “Woking Football Club is indebted to a local philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous”
On hearing all about his exploits from his son Peter, Simon Finch conceded defeat and booked a group visit to Chessington World of Adventures for his son’s birthday party.