The first sections of Greg, Tiny and Big Buzzard. A story I have started aimed at young and silly adults
Unlike the other boys at St Phil’s, Greg had lost interest in the massive and unwelcome car factories that looked down on the crammed terraced houses of Salford It was from his upstairs bedroom window that Greg now, kneeling on his bed and leaning on the window sill, stared out at the dominant face of the Noffan factory. But, there was no hint of longing or curiosity in his eyes. He no longer cared what was going on behind the ugly steel doors and opaque windows. He only wished the blasted thing would shift so that he could see beyond it and what lay there. He had heard that in that direction there was another town, the town of Eccles. Greg had asked his Dad whether Eccles had as many car factories as Salford but it was one of the many questions Dad didn’t know the answer to.
Dad didn’t like to answer questions though he did seem to know more than Greg’s schoolteacher Mr Pipes. Mr Pipes said it was bad manners to ask questions. Mr Pipes had banned questions from the classroom and to ask a question, no matter how trivial, was met with ten of the best on the bottom with Mr Pipes’ slipper. Permission to go to the toilet was indicated by a simple raised hand. With this vital question eliminated no more questions were needed and though he was sometimes tempted Greg had now grown use to the no questions in the classroom culture.
Apparently in the old days people used to travel about, and Salfordians would have been friends with the folk from Eccles, but here in Greg’s world people stuck to there own area. The Buzzards forbade travel. His Dad did not remember the old days but his granddad did. He would still tell him stories of what it was like to live in the old days. He would regale him with his stories of shopping trips and things called beer sessions in places as far a field as Manchester and Wigan. That was a time before the Buzzards. Well, Buzzards had existed in the old days but only as inconsequential birds, not the burly winged warriors they had evolved into that now roamed Salford keeping everyone in check.
Greg looked down at his watch. 6 0 clock. Damn he said he would be at his friend Tiny’s house by 6. He was late. Greg grabbed his air walk jacket, which he had left on the floor and made his way down the banister in to the hallway.
His dad was trimming his nasal hair in the hallway mirror.
“I’m off to Tinys Dad”
“No problem Gregory”
“I’ll be back by 8. Don’t worry I won’t stay out after the curfew. I won’t get caught by the Buzzards”
“Right you are son” said Dad
Greg closed the door behind him and started to walk down the gravel path. He heard his dad open the door again behind him
“And make sure you’re back by the curfew. Don’t let the Buzzards get you”
It was things like that that made Greg think that his Dad never really listened to him properly.
Tiny’s mother was sitting in the front room under a huge picture of Phelphton the chief Buzzard. She was knitting a woolly flag. She was about two thirds of the way through and Greg could make out that she was knitting the word Buzzard on the woolly flag.
“Hello Tiny’s mum”
Tiny’s father came in to the front room. He’s upstairs Greg. Go right up
“Thanks Tiny’s dad”
Greg went up the stairs and walked into a bedroom, which had the sign Tiny’s room on the door. Tiny sat inside on the bed with a massive Woblerone shoved in his mouth. Four large sheets of green sugar paper had been cello taped together to form one bigger piece and lay sprawled on Tiny’s duvet in front of him. From where he stood Greg could make out thick spidery black writing and cartoon like diagrams on the sugar paper. Tiny raised an arm to acknowledge Greg, took three massive gulps and the Woblerone disappeared down Tiny’s throat.
“Did you bring some chocolate?” asked Tiny
“No, I’m not hungry,” replied Greg
“What’s wrong with you Greg?”
“What have I told you about coming round here without chocolate?”
“I was in a hurry”
“Well I’m hungry. Grab me a Picnic out of the fridge”
Tiny took a black marker pen in his hand and continued adding to the apparent mess on the sugar paper. Greg walked over to the huge white fridge in the opposite corner of the room. It was so big it only just stopped short of reaching the bedroom ceiling. On opening the fridge door two cans of Orange Tranta rolled out of the bottom shelf. One of them landed on Greg’s toe. He picked it up and showed it to Tiny.
“Can I have this please?” he asked
“ Yes no problem take what you want”
Greg put the other escaped can of Tranta back on the bottom shelf and grabbed a Wicnic from the fourth shelf down. Greg had been in the fridge so many times he knew exactly where each brand of chocolate bar was. He threw the chocolate bar over and Tiny caught it in his podgy hand without lifting his eyes from the paper.
“You came just in time Greg. I’m just putting the final touches to my master plan”
“Oh not again Tiny. When will you let it drop?”
“Not until every last Buzzard is driven from our fair city”
“You need to realise the Buzzards are here to stay. Anyway you’ll never get rid of them on your own”
“But I won’t be on my own will I? I’ll have my comrade in arms”
Greg glanced up at the small stuffed Crocodile that sat smiling on a shelf behind Tiny’s head. The Crocodile wore a red cape and had a big white C stitched in to his green belly.
“Do you mean Crocula?” Asked Greg
“No not Crocula. You Greg. You will be my comrade in arms”
Greg thought he detected a smug mocking glint in Crocula’s eye.
“If whole armies couldn’t defeat the Buzzards I fail to see how you and I will stand a chance”
“My granddad told me about them”
“Oh do you get all your information from your granddad?”
“He knows much more than you.”
“If you say so”
“Years ago when the Buzzards stated to gain power” continued Greg “ The Burnage Brigade took up arms against them and lost”
“Ah nonsense.” exclaimed Tiny. “That is the stuff of myth and legend. Now the world is ready for the legend of Tiny”
“My granddad doesn’t talk nonsense. Anyway if you keep talking like this about the Buzzards I’ll be forbidden from coming round here anymore.”
“Oh don’t worry. No one can hear us”
“I don’t think you realise how scared my Mum and Dad are of the Buzzards. My Dad says I should never take the name of the Buzzard in vain.”
“Look he’ll never find out. Now will you listen to my plan?”
“Can’t we just play swing ball?”
“The great plan can’t wait”
“Okay one game of swing ball. Then I’ll be able to concentrate on the plan better”
“Okay” said Tiny “One game”
Down in the back garden the game stood at seven games to nil in Greg’s favour. Tiny had never come close to beating Greg at swing ball in all the time he had known him yet despite this Tiny constantly claimed he was the better player. After each defeat, despite insisting on only one game, Tiny would shout “rematch”. Greg was never one to refuse as he was a natural at swing ball and loved the game. Where as Greg returned each shot with lightning power and agility Tiny’s reflexes were slow and he tired more and more with each game. A huge sweat patch had formed on the front of Tiny’s t-shirt.
Greg heard the phone ringing from inside Tiny’s parents house. He looked down at his watch and realised he had lost track of time. It was later than he would normally have stayed out.
“I’m going to have to go” said Greg
“ No way! Not till I’ve won a game. I don’t know what’s wrong with me tonight”
“ My mum and dad will be worried. If the buzzards see me out they may take me in for buzzard lectures and fine my mum and dad”
“Oh don’t be silly. Parents just say that to scare you and get you in the house before dark. The buzzards have got far more to worry about than little boys like you Greg. Now let’s get on with the game. Your serve. It’s four two to you”
“Four two? No it isn’t. It’s five nil.”
“You cheat Greg. You always add points on to your score”
“I’m not a cheat. You haven’t scored”
“Oh I can’t be bothered to argue. Have it your way five nil. Your serve”
During the altercation Tiny’s dad had appeared at the back door.
“Greg. That was your father on the phone. He insists you go home right now.”
Tiny threw down his swing ball racket in a tantrum
“Oh that’s just typical. I would have won that game as well”
“No you wouldn’t and you know it” argued Greg
“I would. I could feel it”
Tiny’s dad stepped out on to the lawn, picked up Tiny’s racket, he wrapped the ball and string round the pole and pulled it out of the grass.
“Your dad sounded concerned on the phone Greg. You’d better get going. I don’t want to be responsible for you getting picked up and taken in for the buzzard lectures”
“Wait” said Tiny “Can’t he stay. He hasn’t heard plan number 26”
“Well plan number 26, whatever that is, will have to wait Tiny” replied his dad becoming irritated“ Now come on Greg you have to get going. You can come round tomorrow”
At this Tiny sat down on the grass, folded his arms and brought his bottom lip over his top one.
“Tiny what are you doing?” demanded Tiny’s dad
“ I’m not going inside. I’m not scared of the buzzards” replied Tiny sulkily
Tiny often did this. He had a bad temper. Greg’s mother said it had a lot to do with the bad, unhealthy food he ate. The teachers at school would write in the annual reports that he suffered from a bad attitude. Miss Priest the headmistress had once said that Tiny’s attitude stank, but Greg couldn’t smell it.
Tiny’s dad turned to Greg
“You’d better get along now. Tiny’s being a very bad boy”
“Okay Tiny’s Dad. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye Tiny”
“Don’t forget to bring chocolate. I’ve run out of Lion Bars”
Greg saw Tiny stare angrily up at his father
“Some stupid person didn’t buy me any Lion Bars this week”
“That’s enough now” said Tiny’s Dad
As Greg began to leave he glanced back to see Tiny’s Dad trying to prise Tiny’s big body from the lawn. Tiny didn’t seem to have any respect for his parents. Or anyone for that matter.
He passed through the front room. Tiny’s mum had put down her knitting and now sat rocking to and fro in a rocking chair staring blankly at a TV screen. She was biting in to white tablets that she took one at a time from a small brown bottle.
“Bye Tiny’s mum” said Greg
She turned and looked in Greg’s direction but didn’t seem to see him. Her pupils looked wider than a normal persons and the whites of her eyes had faint red lines in them.
“Bye Tiny’s mum” Greg repeated
“ Oh I see” replied Tiny’s mum “Hello there”
Greg thought it was odd for her to be saying hello to him as he was about to leave but he was long past trying to work out how an adults mind worked. He left the front room and went out through the front door. It was now starting to turn dark but he was positive he could get home before he would be in any real danger of being picked up by a patrolling buzzard.
As he walked away he could still hear Tiny’s angry protests echoing through the street. “It must be difficult being Tiny’s Mum and Dad” thought Greg to himself. As he turned the corner at the top of the street he made a mental note to himself Must buy Lion Bars.
As Greg passed the familiar Noffan factory he knew he was nearly home. It was still light enough to see clearly and he didn’t think he would be in too much trouble when he got home. As he neared the factories opening driveway he saw a familiar figure letting himself out of the huge steel entrance gates. He recognised him as Mr Rider.
Mr Rider used to be the history teacher at St Phils and had left to be a manager at the Noffan factory. Mr Rider was much more liked than the other teachers. He used to play games in class which were fun but also helped the children to learn. He would tell jokes and he had a roaring, contagious belly laugh which would make all the children laugh along with him, even if they weren’t sure exactly what they were laughing at.
When Tiny had asked why he had left he had got the slipper. No-one asked any questions after that.
It was a wonder Greg had recognised Mr Rider at all. It had been a while since he had seen him and in that time Mr Rider’s physical appearance had altered dramatically. During his time at Phil’s he had been a big healthy looking man. Greg had once seen a picture of a mythical character called Father Christmas and had remembered thinking that Mr Rider would look like that when he was older.
He had now lost a huge amount of weight. He looked wrinkled and lost his hair. He looked paranoid and weak in his face. He was unrecognisable from the larger than life hero that the kids from St Phils knew and loved.
“Mr Rider” shouted out Greg
He didn’t know whether he should shout. It just felt like the right thing to do.
Mr Rider turned round and squinted at Greg. After a moment Mr Rider started to back away down the street. He stopped at an old red car. He kept turning round to see if Greg was still looking at him. He climbed in to the car, the engine started immediately and it sped off down the street. Greg had imagined that if you worked at the Noffan factory then you would drive a far more glamorous veichle than the shabby contraption Mr Rider now chugged away in.
But why had Mr Rider run away from Greg? Was he also keen to get home soon before the Buzzard patrols? Though Mr Rider had become a shadow of himself surely he was not scared of a little boy.
As Greg was about to abandon his musings and continue his journey home he heard the sound of car tyres screeching at the top of the street. Mr Rider’s old banger had come to a sudden stop and had begun a three-point turn. Steam rose from the tyres as the car now sped towards Greg. He stepped back from the road and pushed himself back against the railings of the Noffan factory. As the car momentarily drew level with him Mr Rider shot him a passing glance from the driver’s window. In the near dark Mr Rider’s complexion was ghostly ashen and he appeared to be stricken with fear. Greg’s mother sometimes wore a similar expression on waking in the morning. The thought occurred to Greg that the time had come for Mr Rider to consider wearing make-up. That helped his Mum anyway.
The tired old car and it’s weary driver now hurried as best they could away from a confused Greg and the icy exterior of the Noffan factory. He stepped away for the factory railings and watched the car disappear. It was at this point that he thought he saw a figure appear at the back window looking back at him from Mr Rider’s disappearing motor. In the fast fading light he could just make out a large, brown untidily feathered head and eyes that glowed a piercing neon yellow in the darkness. The glowing eyes seemed to light up the disappearing trail of the car. Greg wondered whether the bright yellow orbs were a warning to him. Surely that wasn’t a Buzzard in the back of Mr Rider’s car.
It was getting late now. And Greg’s imagination always worked best at night. That’s why he had such fascinating dreams during his sleep. The dark was almost upon Salford now and he decided he had dallied enough. He was surely now going to get a telling off from his Mum and Dad.
As he turned to resume his journey home he saw a sight at the top end of the street that filled him with a panic. Three huge buzzards were walking towards him. Their eyes where identical to those he had seen from the back of Mr Rider’s car. They took long authoritative strides down the street. Despite their size they moved with stealth and the clawed feet barely made a sound as they made contact with the pavement. As they approached their sharp yellow beaks opened and closed. He could hear them conversing in squawks to each other. All Buzzards could of course speak Mancunian but when speaking to each other they still reverted to their native buzzard squawk. They made no secret of the fact that they despised the native Mancunian language and described it in the lectures as the whining drawl. He could not let them see him. It was too risky. Greg had never been taken in for the buzzard lectures before and he didn’t intend to start now.
At the moment the dark was on Greg’s side but as they got nearer they were bound to see him. There were no cars on the street to hide behind. Mr Rider had just driven the last one away. He looked up at the entrance gate the gate to the Noffan factory being careful to not step in to the sight lines of the approaching Buzzards. Greg excelled at sport and was one of the best climbers at St Phils but even he had never managed to scale the Noffan fence. Neither would his athletic skill stand up in a race against a Buzzard. Their ability to fly was always their main advantage over humans and his Grandad had told him was the main reason for the defeat of the Burnage Brigade in the last century.
With nothing to hide behind there was only one thing for it. He was going to have to climb the fence as high as he could and hopefully get high enough to be out of the Buzzard’s sight lines. He began his climb with agility though the steel bars felt sharp and cold against his hands. He would have to explain the cuts and sores to his father but he would somehow have to blame it on the swing ball. Anyway he would worry about that later. There were greater and more immediate perils at hand. He began to push himself up the fence but lack of good footing and poor grips on his trainers meant he would slide back down. It was difficult to keep any momentum.
Suddenly he felt a shock run though his right hand and down to his shoulder. It felt like electric running all the way down his arm. He let go of the fence and fell back down to the pavement. Greg should have known the fence would have been electrified for security reasons. Only employees where allowed in the Noffan factory and entrance to the ground was strictly forbidden.
The chattering Buzzards were much nearer now. What on earth where they finding to talk about? Greg looked around him. It was hopeless. He was done for. It was a night in the Buzzard lectures for him. He could only hope that Tiny was right and that the Buzard lectures were a myth invented o keep young children under control. Come to think of it he had never known anyone to be taken in for them. Though two children had mysteriously disappeared from Tiny’s estate recently. They had been out playing in nearby Moss Park and had not returned home. The police had searched but they were still yet to be found.
The thought of this filled him with further dread and fear and he huddled himself up on the pavement. Though he sometimes thought his Mum and Dad were a bit weird he hated the thought of never seeing them again. His father sang funny songs sometimes though for a while and no one made crispy pancakes like his mum. What would Greg do now to be home warm and safe eating a tasty crispy pan-cake?
As the Buzzards squawks got louder and clearer he expected the worst. Maybe they friendly Buzzards? Was there such a thing as a friendly Buzzard? Or maybe they were busy Buzzards and had no time for irrelevant little boys like Greg. Oh this was all wishful thinking. He was done for.
He decided he would surrender gracefully. He stood up and began to put his hands in the air.
“I’m sorry sirs. I was just on my way home I promise” said Greg
But the Buzzards didn’t hear him. Their overpowering squawks drowned out the sound of his frightened apology. They didn’t see him either for that matter. He was about to repeat his declaration of surrender when to his great relief he saw one of the Buzzards bring out a huge set of keys that where hidden amongst it’s dark brown feathers and start to unlock the Noffan factory entrance gate. All three went through the gate and Greg could hear their awful voices fade to nothing as they must have entered the car factory.
He breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no more stopping tonight and that’s for sure. It was straight home for Greg. He started to sprint for home. He had had a very lucky escape tonight. As he ran his thoughts drifted to the worn out Mr Rider and the strange Buzzard like figure in the back of his car. Had he turned his car round because he had seen the other three Buzzards turning in to the street? Why would Mr Rider be scared of Buzzards. He wasn’t a little boy. Greg thought to himself that he would tell Tiny all about the nights events tomorrow and forget about it for tonight. He wondered whether his Mum would make him crispy pan-cake when he got home. He knew this was probably wishful thinking.