1459 c/o Aiden Clarkson


Tresham's Pipe


It is 2008, 1459, and 1940 -
All on top of each other, mixed, simultaneous - like the scents of sesame oil, ginger and searing beef,
rising up in steam from a cast iron wok.


-


They are sat upstairs in Noodle Bar, a modest oriental restaurant on the square at the bottom of Hertford Street in Coventry. They have checked their swords at the door. They are ignoring the mean constraints of the British Ministry of Food’s rationing legislation. They have no ration stamps about their persons. They have small sterling-silver coins bearing archaic stamps. They had used them to pay the Taxi driver.

      They are eating spicy, salty food from deep bowls. Char Sui. Belly Pork. King Prawns. Fat Udon, skinny Egg and Rice Noodles. They are drinking Tsing Tao and Tiger.

      Thomas Tresham is smoking a pale clay pipe with pursed lips. He holds it in his mouth, and uses the fingernails of the heavily ringed digits of his left hand to scratch his right wrist. He wonders about possibilities. He wonders about the possibility of sourcing some of the guns that he’s heard Chamberlain’s soldiers have taken with them to the continent. But he reconsiders. He decides that that would be deemed at best unsporting and at worst barbaric by all involved in the conflict between York and Lancaster. And he says to himself,

     -‘We have a more modest war.’


      He speaks not in the Old English you would expect if you judged him solely on his appearance. He is understandable, he speaks 20th century English. But his voice and the voices of his companions are still not modern voices, not 2008 voices.

      They have clipped diction and sternly correct grammar; the accent of Received Pronunciation. They talk like characters in black-and-white War Films. Films in which the Bosch are trampled with efficiency and honour, and no-one mentions Dresden.


      His companions are talking too loudly for the sentence that slipped around the stem of his pipe and out of his mouth to be audible to any of them. Or by the petite young waitress who has appeared at his elbow.

      She is the daughter of Korean immigrants who arrived in Cov 10 years ago, in 1998. Her accent is a surprisingly melodious mixture of that of her parents and that of those children of Coventry whom she went to school and college with. She speaks English at work and mostly everywhere, but at home she spices it sometimes with her remembered vocabulary of words from the Korea of her childhood.

     Shyly, politely, she speaks.

     - ‘Would you mind keeping the noise down? This is only a small room, and you’re being quite loud…’

      She does not mention or seem to have noticed Tresham’s smouldering pipe. Her enquiry is met with bullish laughter that drives her away, blushing. Tresham has to disguise a cringe.


-


The waitress, whose name is Cho (which means beautiful in Korean), is pretty but not quite beautiful. She returns to the bar. She meddles with the optics for twenty seconds or so, not doing anything at all, not tightening anything or checking anything, but looking as if she is.

      Then she sends her chubby boyfriend a text about arsehole northern customers with out-of-date attitudes that grate on people working in the modern service industry. She keeps the phone down at hip height so neither her manager nor Tresham and his table can see it. It is an angry text, but it ends with three big X’s because Cho and her chubby boyfriend are in love very much.


-


Tresham has pushed his food away from him, delicious but half eaten.

     In twelve years time the political tides will have turned, did turn, and are in the process of turning. And he, Thomas Tresham, will be, was, is, executed by lethal injection. In his undershirt, barefoot, weeping, on a rough wooden platform behind a Burger King.

     Videos of it will spread across the internet.

     But for now he is in charge, has limited access to the power of life and death, and understands the weight of this duty. And so he smokes his thin stinking pipe instead of eating.


-


So, in Noodle Bar, we have the group known in history textbooks as - the group who will become known as - The Parliament of Devils. They are loyalist Lancastrians, supporters of Henry VI. They are an impressive assemblage, dressed all in historical finery. They are arranged around a circular table stained with Hoi-sin and chilli oil and soy and sweet and sour and blackbean and oyster sauce.

      They are acting for all the world like drunk businessmen cutting loose on a Friday night. They are reading slightly racist, mostly sexist jokes aloud from the text message inboxes on their mobile phones. They are discussing football matches and extreme pornography which they have seen recently, using similar terms to describe both, eliciting and displaying similar reactions to both – shock, jeers, boorish masculine triumphalism, mock dismay.


-


To one side of the group of Loyalist Nobles, sat at the next table to the right, is a quartet of young women. They are prepared for a night of painting the streets credit-card-coloured. They will be doing serious drinking.

     Drinking with young spivvy WWII soldiers yet to ship out to foxholes where they’ll crouch as artillery booms,

     Drinking with men wearing FCUK shirts and clouds of aftershave who work at the same offices as them,

     Drinking with dirty and footsore Loyalist soldiers, who will have to check their swords at the doors of the clubs, and who will pay for drinks with small silver coins.

     The women are wearing their end-of-the-working-week best. They are wearing outfits that have turned them into a pubescent boy’s painting of how women should look, all black and gold material, and flesh, and gold jewellery. When they talk, they talk in the Old English that Tresham and his friends should be using. They do not smoke because in 2008 the restaurant is non-smoking.


-


To the other side, eating alone, one gaunt young man. Who limped when he got up to use the toilet, and seemed to have tuned out The Parliament’s noise entirely. He is wearing the simple, hardwearing garments available to him. His hair is short, his skin is pale, and he was wounded at Dunkirk. When he ordered his drink, he ordered it in flawless modern vernacular and idiom, but with a feminine lilt that momentarily foxed Cho. As he eats, he has a Players cigarette rested, lit, in a glass ashtray on the table next to his bowl of rice and chicken. Its smoke mixes with the tang of lemongrass and coriander coming up out of the bowl.


-


Our Parliament of Devils, from 1459 and enjoying our beer and food. They have been, (…are, were, and will be…) slipped,
like a piece of paper,
or a ribbon turned edgeways,
or a bayonet blade,
between one unlucky and yet incredibly lucky young man from 1940, and one group of professional young women from modern day Coventry.


All are waited upon by harried but professional Cho.


-


And now since Cho has been ignored and has given up, the Parliament are free to continue their too-loud talking. Their foul language is turning the air a shade of blue that clashes arrogantly with the restrained d├ęcor of the restaurant. They are relaxing before the real talk begins. They could be any group of men in any Chinese restaurant in any ring-road girdled city in England.

      Except they are wearing 15th century clothes and have 15th century bad teeth and body odour. And Tresham is smoking his pipe.

      They are working themselves up to beginning a discussion of Bills of Attainder. Writs of High Treason. Death Sentences. Tonight they will decide the terms and targets of the punishments to be meted out later upon leading Yorkists.

      They distract themselves with discussion about this (second, no less) ‘World War’ that is running concurrently with the war that they are lead players in. Despite the German bombing raids on London, they are really nothing more than impartial spectators.

      The conversation meanders. Someone mentions the Italian invasion of Egypt, which seems to have stalled near Sidi Barini, the advance coming to an almost complete stop. Someone else mentions the announcement of peacetime conscription in America, and wonders aloud if this means the Yanks will soon be entering the fray. They get bored, dismiss it as something of no real import, and can’t help but move swiftly on to discussions of their own, smaller, simpler conflict.

      Talk turns to The Battle of Ludford Bridge. They crow over the pillaging of Ludlow. They discuss Trollope’s defection. They mock York, Salisbury and Warwick’s hasty retreat into exile.

      But one of them is obviously more interested in this other parallel war then the rest of them are. He swallows Chow Mein and posits an interesting hypothetical:


If they had to identify themselves with one side of this contrapuntal war taking place in Europe and Africa, which would it be? Would they, the Lancastrians, be the Axis or the Allies?


-



One of the nobles, fat, sweating, slightly drunker than the others, bangs his fist on the table in outrage, and roars,

     -‘We’d be the bloody British of course! The bloody brave bloody British! Even if it means slumming it with the slithering French!’

      His outburst meets with a jingoistic approval from all but Tresham, who allows his peers around the table a few moments of joviality before puncturing it with a thick smoker’s cough.

     He leans forward in his seat. He scans the faces around the table, moving clockwise from one to the next, until they are ready to hear him.

     -‘I would prefer to identify us with whoever WINS…

      And we won’t know that for a while, will we?’

     The group look rebuked, but take it with grace, nodding, agreeing with the wisdom of what he has said. He is about to begin the real business of the meeting, has his slender pipe raised in hand to clank against his water glass and so call them to order, when he is interrupted by the reedy voice of another of the nobles, this one thin faced and pockfaced.


     -‘Just a thought…’

     Begins this new speaker, hesitantly,

      ‘My phone…it’s got free internet on it…I could go online and try and find out who wins? Who wins between the Allies and the Axis? So we could settle the discussion?

      So we could decide who we’re most like?’

     He has his phone in his hand. Tresham rises slowly from his seat, shaking his head as he does so. He takes the phone from the man’s unresisting hand. He drops the phone in a pint of Tsing Tao. Bubbles rise from the phone.


     -‘Let’s stop playing silly buggers, shall we?’

     Says Tresham quietly, in headmaster tones that would be funny if he didn’t hold so much authority, and wasn’t so obviously troubled by the weight of it.

      ‘Besides, if we can find out who wins their war, what’s to stop us finding out who wins our war? It doesn’t bear thinking of. If we find out we lose – not that I think we will, but still – we’ll all be hopelessly disheartened. And if we find out we win, we risk becoming lax and slapdash. I won’t have the idea of such inquiry even entertained.’


-


The group is silenced by his statement. The mood has changed- they look sobered, ready to begin the real discussion of which of their enemies, their one-time acquaintances, should be snuffed out with state sanction. Tresham, still standing, pulls a dirty piece of highweight, good quality printer-paper from his pocket.

     He unfolds it.

      On it, written in a fine, looping, calligraphic hand, replete with long S’s that to us would read as F’s, is a list of who is going to die.

      He is halfway through the first name when the air raid siren sounds. Its bellow drowns out the easily ignored traditional-Chinese-instrument version of Moonlight Sonata being played through hidden speakers.

      Above Coventry the first wave in a detachment of 515 of the Luftwaffe’s Stukas and medium bombers have begun to release their cargos. There is a long moment while the nobles are frozen in silence, Tresham with his list still in hand, before the first bombs punch into the ground, huge stones thrown into a lake of orange electrical light, each kicking up a splash of fire and brick and glass.

     Then a quick smoking silence.

     Then the petrol and magnesium incendiaries plummet down,
and Tresham and his nobles are dead,
dying,
and about to die, and with their business unresolved.


-


Although afterwards they resolve it, surviving being dead, remaining dead but being alive. Because it was resolved, it must be resolved, because it was resolved.


-


Coventry burns. Cho clears tables. The four young women who had sat on the right of the nobles have fine nights out, have ecstatic fun amongst the men of their time, the men of 1940, the men of 1459, and Coventry burns, and all of the four young women have children later in life, and were children early in life, and are born and die and give birth and die and are born, and Coventry burns, and Noodle Bar is destroyed totally and is still there open for business and the young man is wounded again in Dunkirk again and has never been wounded, and lives with the wound up until only twenty years short of catching up with himself in Noodle Bar beside the nobles, and is born and dies and has ecstatic fun and is born and Coventry burns and videos of it are spread on the internet, and we check our swords at the door and die and Cho clears tables, pretty but not beautiful, and we are born and Tresham’s pipe goes out and continues burning.