So very, very close to journeys end and still the unforgiving sun that has cursed my mission plays havoc with my balding pate the skin peeling and flaking away leaving me looking and feeling wretched. Never mind though for just the last 100 miles to go now and even though my tunic so torn and tattered as it is bears little resemblance to that of a soldier of the Queen I shall not be deterred. Notwithstanding the fact that my burnt lips cannot purse sufficiently to whistle a tune to keep my spirits up I play a verse or two of ‘Rule, Britannia’ inside my head whilst sat upon this skeletal donkey; a donkey who’s loyalty I shall never forget; the donkey who carries me, my luggage and the all-important rolling pin to its destination in Calcutta.
Of course, at the outset when we all gathered at our assembly point outside Dover Harbour there were more of us, a party of twenty men good and true, a donkey train and four tea chests each holding a gross of rolling pins. My how things have changed. There will be posthumous gallantry medals aplenty if I have any say in the matter.
It was all so very different the day the telegram arrived – the telegram that was to trigger the mission and take me half way across the globe. It read,
Brigadier Twatersley Fromage
Twatersley old chap (STOP) Need your assistance as a matter of urgency (STOP) The cooking chaps in the canteens across the Raj have run out of rolling pins (STOP) This means none of our Tommies can be fed the pasties, pies and tarts they so crave as there is nothing to roll out the bleddy short crust pastry you see (STOP) Quatermaster the tosser says that he has forgotten to order any (STOP) The fuzzy-wuzzies are having to feed our boys on bum blistering curries and such like (STOP) Playing havoc with their bowels (STOP) I myself have been praying for lumps this past fortnight (STOP) With an Indian mutiny on the cards any time now we really cannot have our soldiers defenceless all sat on the kharzi day and night with the runs can we (STOP). I’m guessing about 4 gross of rolling pins should do the trick (STOP) Leave it with you (STOP) Sorry state of affairs (STOP)
Lord Derek Carruthers
Viceroy of India
And that was it. I got hold of my old batman and had him gather together a band of the most reliable he could find amongst the lower ranks and had my housekeeper gather up a sufficiency of rolling pins to fulfil the Viceroy’s requirements plus of course the donkey train courtesy of our gamekeeper, a wily sort who always seems able come up with the goods at short notice. Our departure date was fixed for the overland trek to Calcutta.
We got off to a sound start, the English Channel a mill pond for the crossing. We made good headway those first few days even taking time out to stay overnight at the Gourd Cucurbitaceae Convent south of Paris. The Mother Superior there allowed us to pitch our tents and fed us well enough on what little provisions the nuns had to hand. She explained that there would be no tarte tatin and that we would have to put up with cucumber baguettes as they themselves had no rolling pins with which to fashion their pastries since the kitchen had been blighted by woodworm. Still food in the belly even if just cucumber – fresh from their well-tended vegetable garden – and bread proved sustenance enough for our purposes. The next day we said our goodbyes and went on our way. It was only later in the day when one donkey, box on its back appeared sprightlier than the others that it dawned upon me that the nuns had emptied one of our boxes of rolling pins – an act of theft yet plainly the gals had fallen on hard times.
We had stuck to our schedule and all was going swimmingly well, even the Ottoman leg of the journey where frankly I had concerns as I have never trusted the Turk. However when our venture took us into Arabia disaster stuck. The sands of the desert take no prisoners they say – how very, very true, although it was not the sands that did for my men but a tribe of Bedouin harlots arriving at our encampment on camel – not even side-saddle, a thing I found both distasteful and shocking. As I slumbered the Bedouin girls seduced my men with their womanly charms and hash laden Hookahs. As the chaps later slept those harlots of the dunes made off with two whole crates of rolling pins and seven of our eight donkeys. I should have realised the rolling pins were at risk when the madam of the harlots in perfect Oueens English made comment that she had rarely seen such sturdy tools in terms of both length and girth. As to the donkeys I suspect they were taken as fodder for the Arab girls for will stuff their gobs with anything in my experience. No brownie points for me that day then.
Corporal Jenkinson was first to go down with the clap, an itching in his privates initially then the burning sensation about his bell end then the fever struck rendering him most sick. In the wake of his demise the others followed, sure as daybreak one by one the same malaise. Without the appropriate medicines for such an outbreak of the clap, and now without seventy five per cent of the rolling pins there was little I could do other than to leave the brave afflicted sods in the desert to rot – sad there was not an oasis nearby, maybe then they would have had a chance.
Just me, one crate of rolling pins and a donkey venturing ever forward alone yet bent on at least getting a modicum of rolling pins to Calcutta.
It was my birthday, 30th. September when good fortune once more deserted me. Having made good progress across the northern plains of Afghanistan I took of my rest deciding that forty winks was due. As I snoozed the final crate of rolling pins were attacked by a swarm of carpenter ants. Those little blighters ate all but one rolling pin. The thought dawned upon me that this one rolling pin could well be the rolling pin that saved the British Empire from humiliation and it was thus that I remained resolute in my intent to go ever forward. Calcutta or bust!
Just the 100 miles to go and it will be short crust aplenty for our boys, the Empire will be saved……….stiff upper lip and all that.