Decamot inspired by the following items: tyre lever; mausoleum; travelling salesman; fixative; Stoke Newington; marquee; buzzer; major oak; chiropractor; barn conversion
Micky Black, Stuart James and Victor Bell surveyed the scene from of the back row of the members stand overlooking the 300-yard by 200-yard expanse of manicured playing surface in front of the Guards Polo Club on Smith’s Lawn. All three shared a sense of quiet satisfaction at the extraordinary sequence of coincidental events which had created this unexpected reunion of old school friends.
At Glyn Academy in Epsom the trio had been dubbed The Three Musketeers by their classmates on account of their ‘outsider’ status. They were the only three who habitually challenged authority by pulling off pranks designed to entertain their fellow students; thereby gaining a reputation with the teaching staff for disruptive behaviour which was thoroughly deserved. It was no surprise to anyone when all three eschewed academic careers beyond the official school leaving age of sixteen in favour of earning an immediate living, but in very different fields.
Micky Black started his own DIY business which morphed into a kind of mobile version of Screwfix or Toolstation. He called it Macho Man with a Van; his distinctive vehicles, packed with tools of every description, quickly becoming a regular sight in the leafy shire lanes of suburbia, with their tasty stock of up-market barn conversions. So much so, he was able to turn the entire enterprise into a franchised operation from which he made a modest fortune by the age of 25 and an even larger fortune when it was eventually bought by Kwik Fit.
Victor Bell chose pharmacy and became a medical rep visiting NHS establishments up and down the country. He hated the term “travelling salesman” which he thought demeaning, but the truth was that he became Welcome’s top national salesman five years running before starting his own practice as a chiropractor in the London Borough of Hackney. He was now senior partner in a thriving enterprise called Natural Living based on Stoke Newington High Street with a discerning clientele drawn locally from the serried ranks of Labour Luvvies, upwardly mobile female entrepreneurs working from home, the odd MP, and a voracious contingent from the LGBT community. Stuart James was especially pleased with himself. It was his idea to invite his fellow Musketeers to a black-tie charity fund raising dinner for the BBC’s Children in Need, at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane. He had purchased a table of 12 and had two places left after allocating most to his best clients. He had opted out of financial services some years earlier in favour of a more entertaining lifestyle on the fringes of show business. His company supplied famous people to corporate events of all descriptions. His clients were often publishers of business to business magazines. One of them was staging the event at the Hilton, which is why he had agreed to take a table.
The sponsor’s marquee on Smith’s Lawn was doing a brisk trade in exotic cocktails prior to the main event, an international polo match between two well matched teams of Argentinian & English aristocrats. With four members in each team using up to six polo ponies each during a game, the attendant grooms, gathered round an enclosure to south side of the field, would be kept busy all afternoon. Gathered nearby was a generous contingent of adoring females, some in white jodhpurs, who might have gathered at a coming out ball for Debs in an earlier era, their mission to rub shoulders with royalty.
The Stoke Newington contingent was determined not to let the side down. They had won their afternoon out when Victor Bell had outbid Micky Black for the star prize donated by the Guards Polo Club. It consisted of lunch for six followed by seats in the grandstand (in reality a fairly modest structure capable of seating up to 150) and a chance to meet Major General Rowland Oak beforehand. He was the Queens’ Polo manager, who would explain the rules of the game to the uninitiated. Most had never heard of Smith’s Lawn, which was part of the Crown Estates, or realised that the heir to the throne himself would be captaining one of the two teams.
Not to be outdone, Micky Black had suggested to the Guards Polo Club representative on the night that his company would happily sponsor two special cups to be presented to the teams on the day. Both would have a banner attached with the legend the ‘Macho Tyre Lever Cup’ printed on it. One of them was to be filled with champagne and given to HRH the Prince of Wales for a unique photo opportunity when the match had finished. The presentation was scheduled to take place in front of the members stand.
The PR brief issued to the Press with the photo would simply state that the cup had been specially created by Macho Man with a Van for the winners (or the runners up) of this inaugural BBC Children in Need Charity fixture, depending on the result.
“A typical Micky Black masterstroke!” thought the other two Musketeers, as jealous as hell that they hadn’t thought of it themselves. When it came to a barter, Micky was the master of negotiation having once told his form teacher that he wouldn’t swap his council prefab for the Taj Mahal which was, after all, just some “draughty old mausoleum” It was a typically arrogant attitude which brought regular detentions but welcome plaudits for the Three Musketeers from their peers.
The actual meeting with the Queen’s Polo manager was the moment when the happy trio began to experience some collective unease about the afternoon. They were now swapping their concerns in the relative privacy of the back row of the stand as the game was not due to start for another hour or so.
“Look Stuart” said Victor Bell, “I know you will think I’m crazy, but I don’t believe that was Major General Rowland Oak in the committee room just now”
“What makes you so sure?” replied Stuart James “He seemed authentic enough to me; knowledgeable, cut glass accent, military bearing etc etc.”
“Well” replied Victor “I wasn’t going to mention it at all, but I know the Queen’s Polo manager personally, because he is a regular client of mine at the clinic. It was my motivation for bidding at the auction in the first place; I wanted to surprise you both after all these years”
“Tell us more” encouraged Micky Black, now positively intrigued not to say anxious to protect his investment.
“I know him as Major Oak or the galloping major. I have literally had my hands all over him because spinal manipulation to achieve proper alignment of the body’s musculoskeletal structure enables the body to heal itself without surgery or medication. As a Polo player, he represents a valuable source of business for me; frequent spinal injuries are an occupational hazard.”
“Wouldn’t it be cheaper to spray him with a restorative fixative from Macho Man?” joked Stuart James, in a weak attempt at levity, before opting for a more serious tone.
“The only qualm I can offer is that he said they were suspending treading in the divots at half time which is slightly odd as it is such a traditional part of Polo for the spectators to do following the second chukka. Frankly, it is something of a relief to stretch your legs when the buzzer sounds”
Micky Black now took up the questioning “Are you sure your Major Oak isn’t a fake, Victor?”
“Well, I suppose you can’t rule it out completely, but he has been coming to see me for several years. He has even shown me pictures of himself with the Royal Family on occasions. He’s a bit of a show-off but I think he is genuine – he has a flat near the Cavalry Club on Piccadilly.”
“Do you have a mobile number for him?” said Stuart James “We could call it to see if he answers.”
“As a matter of fact, I do” replied Victor “but it would be extremely embarrassing all round if we have got it all wrong don’t you think?”
“Possibly” agreed Micky Black, deep in thought but busily hatching a possible Plan B in his head. “Look” he said suddenly, “You and Stuart go and find Major Oak and keep him occupied for half an hour whilst I do a little digging around on my own. See if you can catch him out with some facts which he ought to know if he really is who he is supposed to be. Don’t panic if I miss the start”
Stuart James and Victor Bell happily followed instructions but forgot their concerns when the match started with the umpire throwing the ball towards the centre of the field whereupon HRH led the charge to be the first to whack the ball goal wards whilst being challenged by his opposite number trying to charge him off the line. The crowds now seated in the stands and at various points around the field were on their feet cheering the players on.
Whatever reservations they may have had they could all appreciated the skill and athleticism involved in riding ponies at speed. Victor Bell smiled to himself as he watched eight potential clients of Natural Living putting their spines through unnatural contortions at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour.
All seemed to be going well until the buzzer sounded for the start of the second chukka. As HRH led the charge yet again there came the unmistakeable sound of six police cars, blue lights flashing sirens going at full blast, bursting on to the field of play at maximum speed. HRH’s pony reared up throwing its royal rider to the ground. An air ambulance appeared overhead out of nowhere and hovered 60 feet in the air.
Stuart James and Victor Bell turned to see the unmistakeable figure of Micky Black throwing himself over the unconscious figure of the heir to the throne, lying on the ground, whilst 60 police officers urged the occupants of the members stand to leave their seats as quickly as possible and make their way purposefully but carefully to the opposite side of the field.
Stuart James and Victor Bell had other ideas for they had spotted Major General Rowland Oak running towards the staff car park. A quick sprint and two rugby tackles later the two Musketeers had their man pinned down.
A huge explosion suddenly demolished the club house and the members stand with it. Ten minutes later, calm had settled as paramedics moved around offering help. Miraculously, no one suffered more than superficial cuts and bruises and the Air Ambulance was recalled to its base near Windsor Castle with HRH on board suffering no more than a headache although, like all of the spectators, he was in a state of shock. His team had been leading by six points and he had been looking forward to lifting the Macho Tyre Lever Cup for the very first time.
Unsurprisingly, the incident was an immediate breaking news story the world over from the BBC and ITV in the UK to CNN and Fox News in the US. Even Al Jazeera and TASS, the Russian news agency, gave it top billing. The Guardian initially put it on its sports pages when a bright new sub editor with a degree in media studies from the University of West Mercia mistook it for an item about Polo.
A week later, the three Musketeers finally found themselves on Epsom Downs at The Rubbing House overlooking the racecourse with three pints of lager, hoping, at last, to review the momentous events of the previous week.
They had all given statements to the authorities but had been told to speak to no one about what had happened. They all signed documents to that effect under the Official Secrets Act.
Micky Black had uncovered a trip wire buried around the area of the Members Stand as it filled with spectators. It was linked to four milk churns packed with explosives in a store cupboard in the adjacent club house, with a further link to a crude but sophisticated looking detonator under the stand itself. He had called one of his customers who specialised in such equipment on his mobile and was told within minutes to evacuate the area without further delay.
The authorities managed to cobble together a half plausible story about a serious gas leak which had caused an explosion at the Guards Polo Club but, thanks to the quick thinking of the security staff attending, HRH narrowly avoided injury. The Prime Minister promised to review all aspects of security surrounding members of the Royal family but asked the House to join her in paying tribute to the brave police officers who rushed to the scene.
One of the spectators had captured a picture on his mobile phone of Micky Black lying on top of HRH. It later appeared on the front page of the Daily Mirror under the heading Unknown Hero Protects the Monarchy.
The Three Musketeers raised their glasses to propose a toast
“To Fake News!” they all cried as they all downed their pints in one.
All three were lifelong Republicans. Alexandre Dumas would have been proud of them.