In a deliberate echo of the Cavern made famous by the Beatles, the youngest members of the Resistance have their own cavern, a series of them and really caves, deep below the surface of southeast London.
This is the story of the Beat Kids from The Stuff of Heroes, a full chapter from the middle of the first book in the Semblance of Order Trilogy available at:
Read more at: https://chrisoswaldbooks.com/2020/04/27/so-who-are-the-beat-kids/
Or on Amazon at:
It looked like an ordinary office block. It was just such. There was a paper importer on the ground floor. Upstairs was a conveyancing office over two floors. The top floor often changed hands. It had been a photographic studio for a while, then empty, most recently a fruit importer, but the ‘For Let’ signs were up again. It was a modern office building, built of concrete pre-fabricated slabs trucked in on the back of extra wide lorries with little buzzer cars ahead and behind, lights flashing.
The owner was a gentleman by the name of Horace Stoakes. He was a successful butcher, operating a chain and had for many years now supplied all the meat to the RUDD kitchens. Stoakes did not own a single cow, lamb or pig. He bought and sold on, made a killing more times than he could remember, hardly ever had a deal that went sour.
“I have the bovine touch” he used to laugh. “Every time I buy a cow it turns to gold!” He laughed a lot, was popular all around, especially with the authorities.
But this was not reciprocated. For Horace Stoakes had a secret and a past.
Now sixty-two years old he had been too young for the First World War, but both his brothers had died at the Somme; one on the first day blasted to pieces by a shell, the other not until December 1916 after a festering wound to his leg had laid him up since August. He had been shipped back to England to a hospice in Bexhill. There he had lingered on through his final autumn, giving up on life on Christmas Eve, the night his saviour had been born, except there was no god and, therefore, no saviour.
Horace had visited his brother frequently in those last days, staying with a distant cousin who had moved out of the East End. He had been with him when he died.
He had also been with his son almost a quarter century later when he had died. Bernie Stoakes had been full of life, doted on by his parents and grandparents. He was the only Stoakes in his generation, both Horace’s brothers having died without children.
“You’re the one to take the Stoakes name forward, my lad” Horace’s father used to say. “We’re all depending on you.”
But that had not happened for Bernie had joined the Royal Air Force in 1938, quickly becoming a pilot. The burns he incurred during the Battle of Britain were awful. It was almost a relief when this bright young thing closed his eyes a final time and died quietly in his sleep. The invasion was over. He would not have wanted to live anyway, so in many ways it was for the best.
In fact, on reflection, Horace Stoakes and his wife, Betty, had two secrets. The first was they were Catholics, the most forbidden of all religions. They practiced at the dead of night with priest holes and clandestine masses open air in the woods, deep in the Kent countryside. Betty considered their faith all-important. For Horace it was a very close second to revenge.
The other secret was that they were beat parents, despite not being parents any longer at all. And this is where the office block he had purchased in ’58 came in.
The key was the cellar, now used as a boiler room with a large caretaker’s cupboard in one corner. Open the cupboard door, carefully remove the mops, brushes and drainage rods and fumble for a minute or two with the panels at the back. Eventually the upper right panel will move three inches to the left. Place your hand in and turn the lever one half turn to the right. Without a sound the entire back of the cupboard swings out to the side leaving a pitch-black interior. Hopefully you have remembered your torch, otherwise, for safety purposes, you need to replace the panel and retrieve it. To go on without some form of light would be foolhardy for the pitch-blackness covers a steep, winding staircase that goes down 112 stone steps, deep underground. When you eventually level off you are deep under Chislehurst, deep in a little-known adjunct of the Chislehurst Caves.
Horace and Betty had done the journey many times. They could do it without light but would not recommend you try it.
This was the home base for the beat kids. And Horace and Betty Stoakes were their principal sponsors.
“Can’t stand the music myself” Horace would laugh. “But it’s the principle that counts.”
More importantly right now, it was the perfect place to hide Georgia and Edmund.
And being a Catholic beat parent put you very close to the resistance. It was inevitable that Jo would think of location C as a hiding place for her captured pair.
The funny thing about Helmut Brandt was he was not English at all, but from the homeland. His father, also Helmut, was a Senior Engineer attached to RUDD in this sector. His job was to ensure consistency of engineering production, whether aircraft or teaspoons. He was enormously important and knew it.
But his son was different. He was a beat kid.
Helmut, being from the homeland, was assigned to look after Georgia and Edmund. He immediately demanded that they be untied and allowed some freedom of movement.
“But we don’t want them to escape” Jake had argued.
“If we untie you and allow you some freedom of movement do you undertake not to try and escape?” Helmut had asked.
“No” said Georgia.
“No” said Edmund, following his sister’s lead.
They reached a compromise. Hands tied when outside the one room they used for sleep, but so long as hands were secured they could roam through the immediate tunnels and caverns provided they were accompanied also.
“Why do you speak English?” Georgia demanded of Helmut as he led the two of them into their room.
“Because it is a superior language.”
“What?” both Nullgebens were incredulous.
“Well, what I mean is that it is more poetic, more expressive. It’s like…more artistic.”
“Stuff and nonsense” said Edmund.
But Georgia was more interested in practical matters. She asked who he was and where they were.
“I can’t tell you where we are but my name is Helmut Somebody. I am a beat kid.” Said with pride, immense pride.
Georgia had heard something of the beat kids, Edmund nothing. What Georgia had heard was not flattering. They were indulgent layabouts, wanted to wear American clothes and listen to dreadful music. Helmut was actually wearing a pair of blue jeans, carefully torn on one knee. Georgia had never seen blue jeans before. He had a rounded neck shirt on top with no collar and short sleeves, a little like a vest. It was multi-coloured with no obvious pattern, more like a toddler’s proud painting.
“It’s a ‘T-shirt’” he explained. “They’re all the rage in America. See the shape of a ‘T’!” Helmut traced the shape of a ‘T’ across his chest.
Georgia thought his shirt awful, both colours and style.
But her eyes kept coming back to the blue jeans.
At that moment someone in a room nearby put a record on a turntable and strange sounds filled the room. There seemed some structure to the music, but the melody was coarse and the backing simplistic, loud and repetitive.
“That’s Bill Haley’s ‘Rock around the Clock’” said Helmut.
“More like ‘Rock around the Bog’” replied Edmund.
“But I prefer the later music. Have you heard of Jefferson Airplane?”
Of course, they had not.
“Most of it is American, but there are some English too, a few brave souls.”
“Can you turn the volume down?” Georgia asked. To her ears the bass was a relentless thump, reverberating deep down into her ears, hurting her brain, preventing clear thought. Helmut walked to the door and made a request. The volume halved with a new song.
“The Doors” he said. He knew them all. “But wait until you hear the live music. Tomorrow, Friday night, there will be plenty.”
“Heaven save us” Edmund replied. “Only there is no heaven.”
But Georgia liked this song much better. It had a way of winding around her mind, opening doors to rooms never visited before.
They had no choice but to settle in. The rules were enforced. If they wanted to leave their room they had their hands tied. Edmund refused to leave, other than to use the bathroom which he did as seldom as he could manage. But Georgia was far more restless, hated being cooped up underground in one small room, no more than twenty feet square. She accepted Helmut’s offer of a guided tour when he came in after school on Friday. It seemed strange to see him still in his school uniform, so familiar to them, but he quickly changed into his jeans.
There was a whole world underground. Helmut led Georgia through the dance floor and into the bar, then through to the kitchens. He showed her several sitting rooms opening off the main cave, all lit with subdued lamps, casting shadows on the cave walls. There was a band setting up on the long low stage that stretched from the bar all the way along the length of the dance floor. They had large amounts of amplifiers, drums and guitars. Wires were trotted out all over the place.
“Quite a hazard” Helmut commented. “Last month someone tripped and broke their arm when they fell.”
“Gosh, what happened to him?”
“It was a girl” Helmut replied. Then, rather than explain, he took her along a dark stone passageway with doors built into openings on either side. “Dorms” He said as they passed.
“You mean people sleep down here?”
“Of course, some all the time because they are orphans and some stay over on Fridays and Saturdays when the music goes on long after curfew.”
“But you don’t have to worry about the curfew, you’re not an English. Do you not go home after the music stops?”
“No, I stay.” The way he said it made Georgia realise that here was a fellow citizen of hers, albeit nowhere near an aristocrat, but one that wanted above all else to be an English. It was an incredible thought.
“The English smell” she said. “How can you sleep in the same dorm with them?” Then wished she had not said what she had said.
“Don’t be foolish” he replied. “Everybody smells of something or other. Now, here is the sickbay. This is where we bring anybody who is hurt. This is where the girl with the broken arm came. I helped her get here. And this is our matron. Actually, she is a doctor, well sort of.”
He made the introductions. Janet Fisher had been a doctor many years ago, but was struck off in 1943 when the Zentrale Medizinische Autoritat realised that J. Fisher MD was a female.
“I got my degree from Southampton University under the auspices of the old GMC. That was good enough for me.”
“What do you do here, Fisher?”
“I look after the kids.”
“The beat kids?”
“Yes, the beat kids. Some of them live down here. I am doctor, teacher and mother combined to forty-eight of them.”
To the obvious question of where their parents were and why were they not looking after their children, Janet just sighed crossly and moved away from all possible conversation, pretending to attend to a vague medical situation at the other end of the sick bay.
“What did I say?” Georgia asked Helmut when they were back in the passageway.
“Have you never heard of the Clampdown?”
“Yes, but that was for adults who broke the law. I studied it last year in ‘Empire and Politics’. There were no children involved.”
He stopped his rapid walk quite suddenly, turned to face her in the dark, stone-chiseled passage. He was much taller than her, looked down. “Did you never think that some of those adults who ‘broke the law’ may have had children?”
“Goodness, no. You mean these children…?”
The first band started a little after 8pm. Helmut took Georgia, wrists tied securely, into the dance area. Edmund refused to leave their room, complained of the noise as soon as the band started and was ignored, kicking his boots against the rock floor, shouting insults against the tide of music sweeping through. Georgia took a half position, going into the main cave but refusing absolutely to change from her camp uniform into jeans.
“There’s no way I’ll dress like an American” she said, wondering what it felt like to wear them.
The music hit her immediately. It was like diving into a very warm pool. The rumbling, bubbling base seemed to get into her bones, seemed to be of her very self. The dark-haired singer had collar length greasy hair and a sneer as he sang. The words were too slurred for her to make out all the English but she understood it to be about his baby, his girl and dancing all night long.
Then the guitar started, gently at first echoing the singer in a haunting way. Georgia closed her eyes and saw slaves in America bussing out to the cotton fields. She had seen a film at school when she was younger.
“Are these slave songs?” she asked Helmut.
“Yes, originally but now they are everybody’s” he replied, foot tapping and body swaying.
“I like the rhythm, it sort of…”
“Yes, go on.”
“Well, it sort of talks to you.”
“Yeah, right on” said Helmet, eyes closed and body moving. Everyone around Georgia was dancing, but she did not know how to do it. She had had no lessons. The steps were confusing. They almost looked improvised.
“Improvisation has no place in music. Precision is what counts.” Her mother’s clear voice rang out in her mind, above the thump of the bass. But even if she made up the steps she could not move her arms with her hands secured in front of her. Instead her toes wriggled inside her camp boots, could not keep still.
“Can I go back now?” she asked quietly, then louder, but Helmet was nowhere to be seen.
Much later she saw him on a sofa in the corner. He was with a girl, an English. The girl had long straight brown hair but was not as pretty as Georgia. They were kissing, long slow kisses, not like the ferocious, urgent ones she had shared with Mark. These ones, to an observer, seemed to tease the senses, inviting the partner in and then shutting them out. Georgia raised both hands to her face and wiped the tears away.
Much later still he came to find her. She half lied when he asked her whether she was having a good time.
She loved the music. It spoke to something deep inside her. She loved the casualness of everyone, never thought she would. But she was totally alone, lost and friendless, acutely conscious of the differences between her and the beat kids.
Moreover, if she gave in to these new pleasures, what would remain of her and what she was?
Three weeks later, gone through her spare camp outfits, Georgia tried on her first pair of blue jeans. She and Elisa and Sarah were alone together in a small sitting room.
“Go on!” They had been urging her for over an hour.
“I don’t know. It’s so disrespectful, I mean for someone of my status.”
“Just try ‘em, Georgie.” It was still a shock to be called by her first name, let alone a derivative of it. “No one need know. If you don’t like ‘em you can pull ‘em straight off.” Sarah was all cockney, Elisa the genteel daughter of a wealthy landowner, both had lived underground since the Clampdown. Both were beat kids and orphans. Not that they did not see the light of day. They sneaked up in twos and threes to visit parts of London; the museums, the art galleries, the window-shopping. Then there was the Grove, where a long passage from the caves suddenly broke the surface and they were in a glorious secret valley no more than twenty acres in size. It belonged to a farmer, a sympathiser, who left it strictly alone, farmed instead his other acres and sold his beef to Stoakes and Co., getting the best prices.
Georgia allowed her new friends to take off her skirt and pull up the tight blue jeans.
“You’ve got the legs for ‘em” Sarah said, a tinge of envy circling her voice.
‘Too true” said Elisa. “I’d give my right arm for legs like that!”
The jeans were wonderful.
She never wanted to wear anything else. In an instant she had become a beat kid. Elisa slipped a disc on the record player and Georgia felt the rumble of the bass, the rhythm in her bones, in her soul. She was on her feet now, could not remain sitting with that beat going, feet shuffling, body bending, arms…but she could not move her arms, being tied at the wrists.
Georgia stopped suddenly, stood motionless despite the music urging her on, felt foolish being so still when all around was movement.
“It’s too much you being trussed up like a chicken” said Sarah. “I’ll be back in a jiffy.” Sarah nipped out to the sickbay and returned with a pair of scissors, just as the disc finished.
“You shouldn’t do this” Georgia said into the silence, instinct for order winning through.
“Live dangerously!” Elisa cried, holding both Georgia’s hands up high.
“Don’t fret, Georgie, I’ll square it with the ‘guvnor’! Now let’s dance.” She put a new record on, by an underground British band called the Warm Bodies.
And Georgia danced to the music as if the pent-up emotion of her entire life was let loose at once.
She also secreted the scissors, large surgical ones, by breaking two buttons on her shirt and slipping them inside.
Her plan was quite simple. Nobody had really noticed Edmund since their arrival. Some had called him the “Great Sulk” since he scowled at anybody who spoke to him, but the novelty had worn off.
They had forgotten about him. Other than three times a day to go to the bathroom, they left him alone in their room.
The bathroom was close to the steps. The steps led to the cellar of the office. The office led directly to the real world. And to rescue.
She gave the scissors to Edmund and told him her plan.
He executed it perfectly, escaping on Friday evening, when everyone was getting ready for the live music. He had several hours of darkness to get from Chislehurst to RUDD HQ at Westminster.