International Writers Magazine: Little England
Once Upon a Widdecombe Day - London 2012
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They felt quite
smug, even as they read the quite complicated customs declaration forms
on the flight into 'England'; formally known as Great Britain. With
pandemic outbreaks now covering half the African continent and some
key tourist cities in southern Europe in quarantine themselves, the
pound at four to one Euro meant the holiday package to London was a
real bargain. Mrs Valois had so enjoyed her trip to London ten years
before she was keen to do it again. Of course, living so far away as
they did in Martinique they did not really keep up with the news, or
read the papers, they just knew that that the Government of 'England';
had changed sometime to one that was perhaps less friendly
to the outside world than the last. Their friends had all tried to discourage
them, but they were determined. 'At this price', she told them, 'London
is practically free.'
Their arrival had
been awkward, at best. The five hour delay in customs was embarrassing,
the questions rude, but all their papers were in order and they signed
the agreement that they would guarantee to depart no less than seven
days later before 9pm or face quite extreme financial penalties. Mr
Valois had pointed out to the immigration officer that they had return
tickets but that had not seemed to have impressed him. Eventually, after
paying a refundable deposit of £4000 on his credit card they were
allowed to catch the train to London itself. (Or would have had it been
running, but all underground trains ceased now at 9pm in line with the
nationwide curfew orders)
The cab driver was taking a risk he told them, but for £250 cash
he was happy to take them to their hotel at Hyde Park Corner.
The hotel was worth
the wait. Comfortable and luxurious but practically empty. They had
a choice of rooms and they took one overlooking the Park. They understood
that the hotel was up for sale following an inexplicable drop in overseas
visitors. Mr Valois opened a bottle of champagne. Even though they were
exhausted, there was still time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
Mrs Valois was a little disappointed to discover that only three plays
were currently on in the West End and only one musical ‘Alfred
-The Story of a King’. Luckily there were sales on at all the
big stores, 70 percent discounts too. She would have a wonderful day
The hotel porter
was the first to approach them after breakfast. He met them at the bottom
of the stairs, the elevator being out of order. The Valois knew from
his expression that he found it awkward, whatever it was he was going
'I really don't think you should go outside today.'
Madame Valois laughed at him. 'Why ever not, Monsieur. It is a beautiful
The Porter shuffled embarrassed. 'The hotel would like to recommend
that you enjoy the facilities here. We can send the girl out to shop
for you if you would like. She has a comprehensive list and knows the
Mrs Valois had never heard anything so ridiculous. They had flown all
the way so she could shop in Oxford Street. 'No, I have come here to
see London. But merci, it was a sweet offer...'
She suspected that this 'girl' would be getting a kickback from the
shops and besides, who could choose for another woman?
'It is a bad day, I mean to say... you go out at your own risk. Monsieur?
He tried to involve Mr Valois, but Mr Valois knew his wife. This trip
had been her idea from the start. Back home he was a prominent businessman
with good connections. This was certainly absurd. London was the capital
city, was he suggesting it wasn't safe? He hadn't come all the way from
Martinique to spend a week in a run down luxury hotel. 'Monsieur, we
will walk. We appreciate your concern, but this is London. We shall
The Porter sighed, he had tried his best. He turned away shaking his
frowned when the Valois handed in their keys.
'Monsieur, Madame, you are going outside? Perhaps you do not understand,' she whispered.
'It is Widdecombe Day.'
The Valois shrugged. They were not familiar with this term. They knew
someone called Widdecome was the name of a former British politician
and celebrity, but had no idea why a whole day was named after her.
It was probably an English custom to celebrate this with a special day.
The English had a special sexual fetish for large self-righteous political
women, it was well known.
'Nous allons,' Monsieur Valois stated firmly. He was tired of this nonsense
The Valois departed their hotel.
They walked across
the road, where there was little traffic. This itself quite a surprise
as Monsieur Valois remembered a time when London was choked with cars,
particularly on a Saturday morning.
They strolled towards Green Park encountering no trouble at all. London
was as it always was. A little shabbier, but that was to be expected
given economic conditions these days. Madame Valois took him up Bond
Street towards all her favourite shops. Lacroix, Ralph Lauren, Dior,
but she was a little confused. The shops were closed, all boarded up.
Only Fenwicks was open, and she had no plans to shop anywhere so mundane.
Monsieur Valois was worried. No only were the famous New Bond Street
stores boarded up, but the boards were covered in Government posters
that did not look very friendly.
Graffiti both ugly
and illiterate was scrawled around the posters. There was another poster.
Madame Valois noticed it first and Monsieur Valois was forced to agree
that the picture of the black business man with his arm around his pretty
blonde wife looked a lot like him, looked a lot like her and he didn’t
like the fact that the man was also holding a bundle of Euro notes in
the other hand. He was reminded of something, but could not quite put
his finger on it.
'Oh look Bernard, this store is open. Let's go inside.'
Monsieur Valois let himself be led into the famous English fashion store,
quite a relief really from the depressing scene outside. They hadn't
gone more than ten feet inside the store when two security men descended
'Identification?' Monsieur Valois queried. 'We need an ID to shop here?'
'It's the law. You foreign?'
'We are French,' Madame Valois declared with some pride.
'We don't take Euros.'
'We have credit cards,' Monsieur Valois stated.
'English credit cards only,' One security man stated.
Madame Valois noticed that they were beginning to attract a crowd. 'But
we are tourists, we want to look.'
'Appointments only,' the other security men declared, going to the door.
'Get your hotel to make an appointment.'
The Valois could
not believe this. Embarrassed they began to leave. In the background
they could hear someone snicker and voice say something about the cheek
of it - bloody Johnny Foreigners...
'We don't want trouble,' the security men told them, more than once.
Confused the Valois' found themselves hustled out into the street again.
They walked on, silent, confused, humiliated. At the back of Monsieur
Valois mind was a glance he had made into the shop and how little stock
there had been in there.
Behind them the
security men watched them go - shaking their heads as if they could
not believe the foreigners gall. 'Can't believe they're out here on
the street on bloody Widdecombe Day. They're either brave or incredibly
The Valois' approached
Oxford Street. Nervous now and alert. It was true the street did still
have shoppers in them, but there was hardly anywhere to shop. The streets
were full of litter, like snowdrifts against the crumbling storefronts.
The people around them looked poor. London had never looked like this,
surely. What used to be Selfridges was now boarded up. The same Johnny
Foreigner posters covering the walls and windows. A little way back
at Bond Street underground a crowd of people were spewing out. They
looked young, they all wore the same black leather jackets and more
disconcertingly, they carried clubs and baseball bats.
'Bernard?' Madame Valois muttered nervously.
Monsieur Valois had seen them, they reminded him of the Paris Flic,
the undercover cops who had once beaten him when he was a student there.
He needed no urging.
'Come, we'll go to a cafe,' he suggested, 'I don't like...'
He didn't need to complete his sentence. A young girl nearby them in
a similar black jacket and blue torch flame insignia had blown a whistle
and was pointing at them. 'Johnny Foreigner,' she was shouting. 'Over
'ere, quick, Johnny Foreigner.'
The Valois' began
to run across the street towards a Café Albion (the words Nero
still visible under the scruffy paintwork). A cry went up behind them.
The Valois' began to panic as they ran. Monsieur Valois felt his heart
pumping, recalling his bypass surgery six months earlier.
'Get them, get the bastards,' a cry went up behind them. A shout went
up, the mob began to bray obscenities as they began to run after their
The Valois' reached the Café and opened the door. A sea of white
faces stared back at them in astonishment. They could see and hear the
mob closing in behind them.
'You can't come...,' the manager was saying, but never finished as the
first brick sailed through the window, sending glass everywhere. People
hit the floor in panic, some screamed. Monsieur Valois saw a reflection
of the clubs and baseball bats waving in the air in a mirror. He sensed
that he was going to die.
A man in a black suit with a blue flame torch insignia like the child's
stood up and gripped Monsieur Valois' arm. 'Don't you know it's Widdecombe
Day?' He hissed.
'Throw them out,' another voice shouted. Madame Valois felt giddy with
fear. 'But we are French,' she cried out.
'Kill Johnny Foreigner,' the cry went up from outside. Another brick
smashed the other window.
'Give them up,' someone was shouting.
The people inside the cafe were as afraid as Madame Valois, they knew
from long practice what the Widdecombe black jackets could do.
'The back way, someone suggested. Some began to surge towards the rear
of the cafe.
'It's blocked', the Manager shouted. 'There's no way out but the front.'
The mob were gathered
outside now. Someone had lit a rag torch, a blue torch flame burned.
They meant business. The Valois' suddenly, but with immense clarity
understood the significance of Widdecombe Day.
touched his wife's hand momentarily as he said. 'Leave me, save yourself,
ma petite.'; He stepped aside to avoid a brick that was hurled at him.
Madame Valois, instinctively moved back, merged into the white crowd,
just another blonde in a sea of them. A man made her sit down.
'Out,' the Manager called, pointing at Monsieur Valois. 'Get out.'
The mob caught his remark and began to shout 'Out, Out, Out...'
turned to leave. He faced the mob, he heart in his mouth, his lips dry.
For his wife's sake, for the three children, he had to face down the
mob, let them have their blood. He stepped forward expecting the worst.
The mob unexpectantly
parted, a flash of blue lights caught Monsieur Valois' eyes, some men
in heavy armour pushed their way through to him.
'Oui?'; He was astonished to hear his name.
'You are under arrest for disturbing the peace. Your civil and human
rights are suspended. Come with us.'
Tight plastic wrist bands were placed on him and a loop was placed over
his head. He was literally pulled through the mob by this collar, some
of the crowd took the opportunity to kick him, leering and laughing.
Monsieur Valois noticed for the first time that some of the faces in
these leather jackets were black, many were female.
'England for the English,' someone shouted. Others immediately took
up the cry as Monsieur Valois was bundled into the armoured police van.
He was kicked in,
the door slammed behind him and he fell hard into a seat. As he adjusted
to the semi-darkness he could see that six other black or brown men
were in with him and one Asian woman. He was astonished to see Monsieur
Freynard - the junior minister for culture - also from Martinique. He
too was under arrest. They had been on the plane together. Monsieur
Valois was about to say something when the minister shook his head and
indicated a microphone, several microphones in the roof of the van.
The van began to
move, the driver turned the radio up. Fists pounded on the sides of
Monsieur Valois thought of his wife who must be terrified.
The van stopped again, five minutes later. The door opened and for a
moment Monsieur Valois could see a huge poster on a wall with the Prime
Minister depicted, his arm around a little blond boy. 'Together we shall
teach Johnny Foreigner a lesson,' the poster declared.
A bloody face appeared.
Another hapless Polish man was bundled in, wrists and legs bound. He
was left on the floor and the door slammed again.
'We're full,' the driver announced. 'Call the next van up.'
Madame Valois emerged
from the café watching the mob running away, people calling to
each other as they took instructions on their mobile phones. The black
suited man was standing there watching them, his own mobile in one hand,his
other picking glass out of his hair. She thought he would know, so she
'Where will they take him?'
He turned and looked at her with undisguised contempt. 'The tunnel.
They take them all to the tunnel.'
Madame Valois was confused by this answer. 'But the tunnel is closed.
It has been closed since England left the EU.'
'Of course it is closed,' the man answered. 'It's only 26 miles. He
can walk can't he?'
Madame Valois swayed a little, stumbling a little in the debris left
by the mob. She thought about her husband walking for twenty-six miles
in a dark underground tunnel. His heart. His bad toe. She thought about
her children back in Martinique, she suppressed the urge to cry. 'Thank
you,' she remembered to say to the man .
He smiled at her, his yellow stained teeth and pinched face so perfectly
English. 'Go home,'; he told her. 'Go to your hotel. We don't need your
She made her way back. Aware that at every step there was a picture
of her husband and his little blonde wife on every boarded shop window.
She had done this. She had brought him here, she had made him come.
She wondered if she would ever see him again.
A little blonde girl came up to her selling something. 'Buy a blue torch
Miss, help save England from Johnny Foreigner.'
© Sam North 2001 (updated 2008)
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