A Life Less Scary
"The interesting and varied life of Scary Duck, Genius, French Cabaret Chantoose and small bets placed."
A Ford, recently
I used to live in a village called Twyford. The name - as we were told endlessly at school - derived from the fact that there are two fords (a point where a road crosses a river or stream) in the village. As a matter of fact, there is only one, some bright spark built a bridge over one of them, and no-one had the heart to rename the place Monoford. To further confuse the issue, the remaining ford isn’t actually in Twyford at all, but in Land’s End, somewhere down a country road between Charvil and Hurst.
“Don’t play in the ford,” our parents told us, “The water’s deep, there’s cars and all sorts of people hanging round there. It’s downright dangerous.”
With these words of wisdom ringing in our ears, we hopped onto our bicycles and went to play at the ford.
It was a bloody long way out there. You have to cycle out along the Old Bath Road (affectionately known as the “Bends of Death” for their prediliction of throwing the unsuspecting driver off the road and down an embankment where the bloke with the scythe was waiting), through Charvil, under the railway and up into Land’s End. By the time we got there, we were all completely shagged out. Good thing there was a lovely, cool river to dip your red hot toes into.
On a normal day, Nige, Matty, John and myself plus-or-minus one or two others, would gather at the top of the rise above the ford. Then one of us, invariably with a blood-curdling scream (what else is there?) would thunder off down the slope and into the waters of the Loddon, feet up in the air, water gushing everywhere, with just enough oomph to get out the other side without pedalling.
If you did it really well, you’d get out the other side without getting wet. If you buggered it up, you’d meet a car coming the other way, and you’d end up soaked from head to toe and pedalling like crazy to get away. Often, there’d be the added distraction of other gangs of local layabouts throwing sticks and stones at you an your way through. These were usually the Hurst boys, mono-browed yokels, who one day might even be allowed to marry a close relative. This added an extra element of danger into the whole enterprise, and cheers would go up if there was a direct hit, or best of all, a biker toppling head first into the drink. You had to be careful though. If the Hurst boys got hold of you, it was Lord of the Flies time.
Unfortunately, this was not a normal day. Even though the sun was shining, and the sweat was coming off us in buckets after the marathon ride, this came on the back of a week of typically English weather - relentless, neverending rain. The river, to be perfectly honest about it, would be a tad swollen. This didn’t matter to Matty. He was going in, and anyone who didn’t follow him was a girl and a chicken.
Well put me in a frock and call me Amanda, but there was no way I was going to follow him. As the lads raced down the hill, I hung back, clucking quietly to myself. Matty was well in the lead, pedalling like fury, increasing speed so he could make it through to the other side all in one go. He rounded the final bend, and saw the river for the first time. The water was at least four feet deep and running in the kind of cascading torrent you only see in adverts for white-water rafting holidays. The bloke with the scythe had given up his vigil on the Bends of Death, and was beckoning Matty on the other bank, his face the rictus grin that the Grim Reaper just can’t wipe off his face.
“Oh fu.uuuu..uuuuuu!” he said, pulling on the brakes. Too late. His wheel rims were already wet from the water already in the road and, if anything, he continued to pick up speed.
He hit the river like a newly-launched ship down a slipway, and fair play to him, he made a brave attempt at getting to the other side, but before Matty knew it, he was in up to his neck and quite literally swimming for his life. Damn good thing he was the school’s best swimmer, or this story would have ended here. The rest of us screeched to a halt at the river’s edge just in time to see Matty, looking like a drowned rat crawling out of the drink about fifty yards downstream. His bike was nowhere to be seen such was the fury of the torrent.
He cared not one jot for his survival. “My dad’s gonna kill me when I tell him about me bike,” he said. We couldn’t agree more, and we couldn’t wait to stand outside his house to hear the fireworks going off.
Instead of more trying-to-drown-ourselves shenanigans, we trudged back home, this time across the old gravel pits, and out into the village behind the mill. It didn’t take us too long as this route is far more direct that going along the roads.There was also the off-chance of throwing things at Russ if he was fishing, as this pastime had recently become our life’s work.
We walked alongside the river, which was still flowing like a bugger and threatening to come over its artificial levees. Every so often a lump of tree would flow past on its way to the Thames at Wargrave. And there, in the race near the mill-pond weir, was Matty’s bike caught up in the bushes by the bank. It had come the best part of three quarters of a mile in less than an hour. With no little effort, and at a considerable risk to Matty’s life (there was no way any of us was going to lean out into that current, I can tell you for nothing), we eventually dragged the thing out.
“My dad’s gonna bloody kill me!” said Matty.
“The pump! I’m going back in to look for the pump!”
Matty is alive and well and living in Australia. Bar the unending ways of getting killed rather painfully by the wildlife, it’s safer there for people like him. As a rule, they’re not allowed water.
While this story is based on actual events in the life of Scaryduck, certain identities and venues may have been changed to protect the innocent.