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The brave adventures of Admiral John Byng

In This Country It Is Wise To Kill An Admiral From Time To Time To Give Courage To Others ~ Written by Sean Millington Dedicated to my nieces and nephews, born and unborn. ~ Illustrated by Katie Wheeler


I

am sitting in my armchair. It is a very delightful armchair, it is very deep and has tiny buttons on the leather where I rest my arms. Two buttons in fact that are exactly the same colour as the rest of my chair, yet are distinctly buttons. British Racing Green is the colour, and my favourite colour at that. Leathery cold when I’m not home, and very warm when I’m sitting on it in front of my log fire. It is soft and dry slippery like the underneath of an otters chin. This is my armchair, but I am much older now to when you think of me sitting in my armchair and how I am going to tell you of me, in my armchair.


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or then I did not have rusty ankles or rotten hips. For then, my whiskers weren’t so long. I did not have a wrinkly dry nose. For then, my nose was wet and shiny. I was rich in amber, and for then I still sat in this very same armchair in front of my roaring log fire. My arm ran a strip of orange to burnt red resting down the green armrest with two buttons prodding out of it, it was met by a dry brown slivery long glove, holding a cold glass, with two pieces of ice crashing against the sides floating in an orange oaky sea.


I was nestled up into my armchair aboard my ship…HMS Gibraltar. The British racing green ship leapt out of the screaming sea and crashed, plunging its nose into the sunset lit waves silencing its shout. “Sir” A stout sliver green pigeon stood before me, his feathers smooth reflecting the low royal blue sky. “Yes Lieutenant?” “Admiral Byng, it’s the French, I believe they are to attack. To attack at 9:00 hours.” “How are you to be so sure?” “Admiral, the seagulls have been in touch.”


As the green nose of the HMS Gibraltar thudded the wet wavy floor again, the two pieces of ice that were crashing in my glass, crashed again. They left my glass and crashed in mid air leaving an orange oaky drip that splashed back down into my glass. The ice skidded across the floor spinning clockwise until it hit the polished black boot of lieutenant Py.


My ink pen scratched dry as my quivering hand jotted down in the top right hand corner of my page, ‘May 20th’. I couldn’t even finish the date. I had left my comfy armchair and had thrown my pen across the room; I was now standing on the bow of HMS Gibraltar. The air was crisp, as I breathed in it felt like a salty ice cube was placed on the back of my tongue and the air sucked in was breaking tiny shards off the ice, they fell down my throat and melted into my lungs. Cooling down my deep apprehension. I looked down at the calm sea spraying gently up the ship; the racing green paint flaked off a little with every wave as it rose back up from the water. The sun sparkled against the sea that reflected against the ship revealing its cracks and worn out sides. A deep, light shadow crept up the side of the ship, swallowing the cracks and flaking paint, gradually restoring HMS Gibraltar to its racing glory green.


The creeping shadow was cast from the front towering sails attached to the boat that was passing mine. From HMS Gibraltar I looked along the line of the eleven leaking ships progressively getting smaller west to east. The white yellow light that was rising over the glassy water line reached around the ships leaving the furthest one away from me a mere shadow of a line ship. The sun sparkled mischievously into my eyes, I moved my sight down from the bright sea to the glistening wet wooden floor and continued to my toes and up my brown polished boot. The brown on my boot was the exact same colour as my long slithery glove that was holding my silver pocket watch. It was 9am and I faced twelve French flags whipping in the wind, perched on top of twelve luxurious ships that all had details beautifully carved and painted a rich red and gold that I could see through my spy glass telescope that I held in my right hand and pushed against my right eyeball that left a circular dent in my fur when I removed it.


“We are under manned and have not had enough time to prepare, but we shall defend the garrison with honour, loyalty and bravery”. I sent my strongest ships first in at an angle, to gun down on the French while the other ships and my flagship sat back out of firing range. Not out of cowardness you see, no. It was all part of my cunning plan. The French took the first move, three burly French hens rolled the dusty cannon ball into the cannon, the ball fell into place with a silencing click. The chickens counted to three with their feathers stuffed in their ears. “Un, deux, trois” The cannon ball screamed out of the muscular French ship, a tail of thick grey smoke following it. The ball was heading straight for our first ship, denting the seawater as it passed above it. The sickening crack of the wood splitting as the ball tore open the ship was followed by a moment of complete silence.


‌The storm had begun. A manic squawk of laughter echoed across the sea that broke from the beak of a black backed gull. A dark cloud of gunfire, screaming and shouting had taken over the blue sea and hot yellow sun. A horizontal line of thick grey smoke and flashes of red and orange fire could be seen connecting the ships like bridges. From above the hot smoky air drew a bead of sooty grey sweat from the neck of a British Peregrine falcon, the bead of sweat rolled from his neck to be clinging onto the gliding black feathers of his wing tip. The bead of sweat lost grip and plummeted into the doom of the ocean, at the exact moment that the bead left the feather the falcon dropped towards the French boat, its wings tucked back like a black arrow falling from the sky.


The talons extended with a sharpening glint. Orange feathers exploded across the deck as the falcon met the unexpected chicken and the sooty bead of sweat met its watery grave. My cunning plan was working, the French ships were edging forward to be able to get the flagship in firing range; they were being lured in through a destructive path of wood floating in the smoky sea. The part of the plan that was not working so effectively was that they were over powering our already unmanned and leaking ships. A series of repetitive shots, each one like the next ripped out of the French ships, an orange flash followed by a thunderous roar. One after the other, orange explosions escaping the side of the ships like a small volcanic eruption.


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ur undermanned, beaten and battered ships pulled back in a last ditch effort to defend and ensure that the French would not pass. After five hours of cruel and punishable fighting the French eventually accepted that their bombardment was not enough to break through our defence and retreated with their ships barely displaying a scratch. The misty smoke of the aftermath had turned every little bit of white on me a bitty grey. The lumps of wood floating in the sea slapped the side of the ship in an unsettling repetitive calmness. The blue sky and yellow sun had taken over the grey sky again with beams of light tearing through the smoke. “Gentlemen” I announced, “we shall return to Gibraltar”, exhausted cheers and sweaty claps fell low into the air. “We shall fix our ships and send for reinforcements, you all fought bravely and loyally for the life and honour of Great Britain” Our battered ships slowly ached their way into Gibraltar port on an unusually miserable day; a dark rain cloud hung low hovering above the rock. My fur scruffy with smoke, my mouth purple and dry from red wine, my eyes tired and sore like cut wood.


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et my nose was awake and uncontrollably sniffing, the smell of the port air was sickeningly sweet, a purple sweetness I spotted was coming from a group of seven monkeys, standing rigid as HMS Gibraltar approached. They stood gingerly brown with large protruding beards sticking from their faces; they all had short hair that stood up on end all over the tops of their head, as if each individual hair was stretching up towards the electrical sky. They stood in an arrow formation pointing at me. “Admiral John Byng?” the eldest looking of the monkeys said in a strong stern voice, standing at the point of the arrow.

“And you are?” was my reply with a distinct growl in my young voice. A younger looking monkey at the back left, as I saw the arrow spoke up. “We are here to relieve you of your duties Admiral.” My orange eyes flashed red like a cannon and my neck snapped as it jolted left to view the monkey that spoke. “Are you?” I questioned through my dry purple stained teeth “on what grounds?” “Failure to hold fort St. Philip” growled back the elderly monkey standing closest to me. His composure cool and collected in a smart black jacket that ran down to the back of his knees, his white socks ran from under his hairy knee down to a polished black shoe that was tapping impatiently.


My view moved from the tapping toe, along the floor to the feet of the monkey standing at the back right of the arrow, I looked up into his eyes and to each set of eyes standing before me, I breathed in the rich purple port smell that filled my lungs and stuck my chest out towards the monkeys face. “I would like to wash, I would like a fresh pair of clothes and a large glass of red wine, room temperature�. The seven monkeys escorted me to my room without allowing time for me to thank my crew. By the time I had washed and changed into my fresh clothes and started drinking my red wine that tasted wetter than the sea and richer than a whole vine of grapes, before I had time to talk about my leaking ships in Minorca or undermanned crew, to explain the reasoning or going back to Gibraltar for reinforcements and fix the ships from sinking, I was on my knees, just off the coast of home soil on the upper deck of HMS Monarch.


The sea was calm and the wind was salty. There was a lot of background noise from what I remember, occasionally hearing my name and other words too. “Admiral John Byng…” But me, I was interested in hearing what the sea wind was saying as its salty fingers gently brushed through my fur. “…Failing to do his upmost…” My hand covered with my smooth leathery brown glove grasped around the crystal cut wine glass where the wine sloshed within it like red waves of the British sea. “Ready, aim...”


My last sip of red wine had warmed in the sun and spilled from my mouth down onto my chest, where the red stain seeped through my fur sticking the hairs together, I felt the warm liquid touch my skin like cold steel.


First Printed In London 2010 Vulpes Vulpes

Sean millington and Katie Wheeler  

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