by Marie Marshall


Ratty had been emailing me faster than I could reply, not that I’m all that savvy with electronic communications. Actually I spend most of my time down my hole engrossed in World of Warcraft, deep in the wizard-world of Azeroth – I’m a Night Elf from Outland – currently operating at the fourth level of Cataclysm and on the run from Hakkar the Soulflayer… not relevant, not relevant… but on the other hand not much need for emails either.

Ratty’s emails, they went along these lines… hang on, let me open one up and cut-and-paste it for you, here we go…

“Hey Mole, I’m due to fly out to Cyprus today and go on board the Wildwood Warrior. We’re going to sail for the Gaza strip in a couple of days time with a cargo of humanitarian aid to see if we can get past the blockade. There is still nothing, Moley, absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats! LOL. Follow me on twitter @riverbankratty.”

That was last week. I can’t look at his tweets, I fear for the dear fellow. The world out there is a big place and a dangerous place. ‘Messing about in boats’ is one thing, messing about in big boats in a sea full of bigger boats bristling with guns is another thing altogether. Oh well, at least he can swim, and he always was an adrenalin-junkie, Pan knows! Like I said, I get my adrenalin rush from virtual wargaming.

Talking of which I bumped into Badger the other day coming out of the Red Lion. Bumped literally. He had his head down and his nose in his Mac Book Air, which was open. As we collided he let it slip and it would have shattered into a thousand very expensive pieces on the cobbles of the pub courtyard if I hadn’t fielded it like Alastair Cook taking a slip catch. Of course I couldn’t help noticing what was on his screen – World of Warcraft! It was an irritated ol’ Badger who snatched the lappie out of my hands.

“Hey Badgie,” I said. “Didn’t realise you were into ‘the Craft’.”

“You make it sound like the confounded Freemasons,” he said with a frown. “Yes I do the odd bit of gaming.”

“Well maybe we have crossed swords at some stage,” I said. “I’m Dalforstin the Night-Elf. Who are you?”

He mumbled something I didn’t catch.

“What was that?”

“I said I’m Kolkhatana, Warrior Princess of the Dwarves. Satisfied?” he snapped, and stalked off in moderately high dudgeon. I was silent – gobsmacked actually – as his hunched figure hurried away. He was cutting quickly round the hedge at the end of the lane when a sudden thought struck me.

“Kolkhatana? Hey, didn’t we…” I called. But he had gone. And it didn’t bear thinking about.

I decided it was time to drop in on Toad Hall. Things had been quiet there for some time. I did know that the upkeep was rather steepish these days and that Toad, bless his silly heart, had been threatening to give it to the National Trust and move into the gamekeeper’s cottage. Presumably that would mean  that the gamekeeper would have to move out – Toad wouldn’t have thought of that, of course. Anyhow, I ambled along what had once been a leafy lane… well it was still a leafy lane for most of its length but the here at the village end of it there was a tightly-packed knot of new houses – Toadfields. His Toadfulness had sold a patch of the old estate off to a developer in order to settle a tax bill. So anyhow, like I said, there I was ambling along the lane which led eventually to Toad Hall, when I realised I wasn’t on my own. Stoats and Weasels, rucks of ‘em, were popping out of the trees and hurrying excitedly down the lane. I could see the increasing crowd three hundred yards away funnelling through the lodge-gates and on to Toad’s gravelled driveway*.

Momentarily I paused. I wondered whether it was another invasion such as the one we four – me, Ratty, Badgie, and Toady – had fought off back in the day. But these stoats and weasels seemed in good spirits, not belligerent, as though setting off to have a good time. They were all relatively young ‘uns too.

I accosted a ferret in a cap and shades (incongruous those, because the sun was about to set) and asked him what was afoot.

“Hey bruv,” he said. “It’s ‘im, innit. It’s da beats, bruv, da beats. It’s totally sick, sick as aids, bruv!”

I resisted the temptation to say “No hablo Chav” and let him go on his way. Still I stood and wondered what in Pan’s name my ol’ pal Bufo Bufo was up to this time. We’d been through the camp site, the theme park, the WW2 vehicle museum, the health spa… none of those had attracted a surge of young mustelidae like this and, crucially, none of them had made any money either. I straggled behind the crowd as evening fell.

Toad hall was in darkness, but by the light of the hundreds of glo-sticks the stoats and weasels were carrying, and the luminescent screens of hundreds more iPhones, I could make out some sort of bulky structure in front of it – a stage? A dais?

Suddenly a siren sounded and a great cheer went up from the crowd. Then the cheering itself was drowned by a deafening swell of electronic music at (I guess) one-hundred-and-thirty beats per second – the unmistakeable sound of Euro-Trance. Then fireworks exploded, lasers and strobe lights flashed, the stage was lit up by spotlights and there… there… there behind what could only be a set of decks bristling with controls, screens, sequencer keyboards, all the gubbins of Electro… there in a brilliant white T-shirt, cycling shades, and headphones was Toad! Toad grinning from ear to ear. Toad punching the air in time to the music, while the stoats and weasels danced and bounced and punched the air in response.

“TOADMEISTER! TOADMEISTER!” they yelled in unison.

You could have knocked me down with a wet piece of hedge-sorrel. But as I became swept up in the euphoria, began to bounce, began to dance, began to punch the air, I realised that at last, at last, Toad had got what he had always wanted.



* I would be grateful to know, by the way, why Americans park on a driveway and drive on a parkway.