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The Witches of Chiswick

Robert Rankin

This book is dedicated to SPROUTLORE on the occasion of its tenth anniversary. 

To those who began it, Anna Casey, Eimer Ni Mhealoid, Robert Elliot and, of course, the now legendary Pádraig Ó Méalóid a special thanks.

For contributing to the Mercury, among other nefarious tasks: Tom Mathews, Peter McCanney, Darren Sant, Stephen “Wok Boy” Malone, Kaz Rathgar, Matthew Vernon, MJ. “Simo” Simpson, Chip Livingstone, C. elsewhere, Martin Gooch, Alan Holloway, Rachel Turkington, Katie Atkinson, Stephen Gillis, Mark J. Howard, Alf Fairweather, Paul Tonks, Simon C. Owen, Mark Howard, Neil Hind, Gordon McLean, Karl Macnaughton, Leanne Whelan, Laura Haslam, Mark Bertenshaw, Mark Paris, John Cross, Richard Allinson, Diana Hesse, Neil Gardener, John Flynn, Steve Baker, Daev Walsh, George and Chelle Bell, Kryten Krytennicus, Mark Stay, Nicholas Avenell, J. Oost, Alan Sullivan, J. Hagger, Ian “Red” Brown, James “Elite” Grime, Lee Peglar, Joe Nolan, Emma Jones, David Hill, Sarah Laslett, Andrew “P.A.L.F.” Bacon, Tim Keith, Stuart Lemon, Alec Sillifant, Bob Harrison, Tim McGregor, Keith Lawlor and the great Cardinal Cox, you wordy, hard-working people.

For making events what they are, and for being there since the earliest of days: Emma King, Lorraine Loveridge, Toby “Tobes” Valois, Robert and Hazel Newman. Dr Pete and Flick, Neil Johnson, Jason Joiner, Andrea Swinsco, Hillary Simpson, Dave Elder, Anne Stokes, Matt Langley, Rev. Jim de Liscard, Meike Benzler, Nolly, Rory Lennon, Sam and Greg Elkin, Liam Proven and Kjersti, John Waggott, Liat Cohen, Jonathon Baddeley, Trond Miatyeit Hansen, Anders Holmstrom, Mike “Sparks” Rennie, James Brophy, Leonia Carroll, Helena and Heidi, Ben Dessau and Heather Petty, Julie Rigby and Alex McLintock, Paul Atton, Mick Champion, Isabel and Debbie Cordwell, Lizanne Davies, David Jones, Joe Ritchie, Silas Potts, Stephen Shirras, Luke Shaw, Karl Scrammell, Nicholas Avenell, Clive Duberly, Andi Evans, Sarah Laslett, Bob Tiley, James Walker, Alan Westbury, Tony Wearing, Steven Dean and Mick and Phil O’Connor.

To those who have left this mortal coil, we bid you adieu, and toast your names: John Joseph O’Dowd and the great Gerry Conlon.

To the main movers and shakers, writers of great skill and wondrous workers: Lee Justice, Dave Baker, Billy Stirling, Alix Langridge, James Shields, Stef Lancaster, and Michael Carroll.

And finally to the guy who runs it all, surprises me with ingenious ideas, and insane capers, has a strange glint in his eye, a smile and a gift of the gab that could charm the knickers off a nun. He has made Sproutlore what it is, and what it continues to be, a wonderful fanclub. The best, to James Bacon; my sincerest thanks, my good friend.

Acknowledgements also to Sean Gallagher, who thought up the title of this book.

1

It was the day after the day after tomorrow and it was raining.

Upon this particular day, the rain was bilious green, which signified a fair to middling toxicity and so was only hazardous to health if you actually went out in it.

Will Starling would have to go out in it. He was presently employed and wished to remain so.

“Winsome Wendy Wainscot, Channel Twenty’s wonderful weather woman, says it will clear by Wednesday,” ventured Will’s mum, a moon-faced loon with a vermilion hairpiece and hips that were a hymn to the hamburger. “I could call you in sick, Will, and you could apply yourself to doing a few odd jobs about the home.”

“No, thanks,” said Will.

“But some of the jobs are really odd. They would appeal to you.”

“No, thanks,” said Will, once again.

Will’s portly father, a man who never said no to a native and took his coffee as it came, raised a quizzical eyebrow to his lady wife’s banter. “The lad has work to go to, woman,” said he, forking a sausage from the mountainous pile upon his breakfasting plate, popping it into his mouth and munching upon it. “He is now the winner of the cakes in this household, and for this much thanks, my sweet Lord of the Laminates.”

The area in which these words were exchanged was the breakfasting area of the Starling household, the household itself being housed in a housing unit in a housing tower in the housing district of the Utility Conurbation of Brentford, which was itself to be found to the west of The Great London High Rise. The housing tower was three hundred and three storeys high. The Starling household occupied a corner of the two hundred and twenty-second floor. The windows of the breakfasting area, triple-glazed in polarised polythene, faced east, which was always a blessing on Tuesdays.

(Today, this particular day, this day after the day after tomorrow, was, however, Monday.)

Regarding the breakfasting area itself, what might be said? Well, the furnishings, at least, were not entirely without interest. Will sat at the breakfasting table, upon a chair of his own design and construction, a narrow chair of wood, of antique wood, of two-by-one.

Much, of course, has been written of the wonders of two-by-one, hailed, as it was, by twentieth-century DIY enthusiasts the world over as “The Timber of the Gods”, “The Carpenter’s Friend”, “The Wood That Won The West”, and many other such appellations.

You didn’t see a lot of it about on this day beyond tomorrow, what with there being so few trees left to cut down and hew. Two-by-one was hard to find, although, in truth there were very few now who actually went searching.

Will’s father, William Starling senior, occupied a more orthodox sit-upon: it was Post Christian Orthodox, of the IKEA persuasion. Will’s father was a part-time lay preacher to the Church of IKEA (IKEA having brought out the Christian franchise some fifty years before).

Will’s mother did not share her husband’s faith; she remained true to the church she had grown up with. She was a Sister of Salisbury’s. Her seating was a family heirloom: a white plastic garden sofa, dating from the age of private gardens, and a collector’s item in itself, should the age of the collector, or indeed the private garden, ever return. The sofa’s sidearms had been cut away to afford admittance to her broad posterior. Will’s mum was a very substantial woman.

But for these items of seatery, the breakfasting area was, as all other breakfasting areas in the housing tower were, bright and orange. Just the way that the future had been promised to be, in a time before it was.

“You’ll need to put on your chem-proofs, Will,” said Will’s mum, swallowing a fried eggette (a synthetic egg, packed with goodness and minerals) and scooping up another with her spoon. “And your weather dome. Coffee, husband?” She proffered the plastic pot.

“As it comes,” replied her spouse, urging another sausage into his mouth, “that’s the way I like it.” He smiled winningly towards his son. “Take heed of what your mother says,” said he, as he chewed. “Upon this occasion she isn’t talking twaddle.”

“I certainly will,” said the son of Starling. “I never, ever take risks.” This, however, was a lie. Will did take risks. Will thrived upon risks. Sadly for Will, the opportunities to take risks rarely arose, but when they did, he was always ready and willing.

Will’s father reached across the breakfasting area and placed a mighty hand upon the forearm of his son. “You are a good lad, Will,” he said. “You make your mother and me proud of you. We care about you, you know that, don’t you?”

“I’ve never had cause to doubt it,” Will eased his arm from beneath the pressure of his pater’s portly palm, “except upon one or two occasions, such as the time that you tried to sell me to Count Otto Black’s Circus Fantastique because you needed money to buy Mum a new wig.”

“A God-feeling woman can never have too many wigs,” said Will’s mum, downing another fried eggette.

“It’s God-fearing,” said her husband, helping himself to yet another sausage. “But your mother’s right, Will. Do you recall the time that your Aunt May was caught wigless at the wedding of a tribal chieftain? That reflected very poorly on the family.”

     

 

2011 - 2018