Little Daniel Boyd was lost.
The seven year old thought he was clever, when he ignored his teacher’s command to hold the hand of his classmate on a trip to Dan-yr Ogof caves in the Glyn-Neath Valley.
True, it was an act of revenge by his teacher, Mr Don Oxbridge for his recent behaviour in class at Gwaun Dowlais Primary School in Merthyr Tydfil.
Dan had sulked because he didn’t want to be paired with gypsy, Gustavo Worrell from the local travelling community that lived close to the Slip Road in the former mining Town, as he more ‘bugs’ than a spy from GCHQ in Cheltenham.
Whilst Gustavo was a lively character, he was too easily distracted to learn from books, as all his family were illiterate and he had no intention of being the ‘white sheep’ in amongst that flock.
The children all knew that Gustavo used to pick his nose and eat it with his blackened fingers that were not cleaned from one month to the next.
His class nickname was ‘Fun Gus the Bogey Man’.
Daniel looked around him at the dark limestone cavern trying desperately to find a way out.
He had long since given up trying to retrace his steps, as he had no idea of direction and with the only light coming from the front of his miniature pith helmet, he couldn’t see any obvious exit in the gloom.
He decided to pause and lean against a rock to try and get his bearings.
His lip began to tremble and the tears began to roll down his little ruddy cheeks.
He longed for the comfort of his Mother but being from a broken home knew that his estranged Father would have no sympathy and would tell the little seven-year old to ‘Man Up’ otherwise he would get a smack.
He promised himself that if he got out of this situation alive he would never run off again.
He had tried shouting for help but his feeble soprano voice was drowned out by the sound of rushing water in the caves which was magnified by the hollow echo chambers of dripping limestone that surrounded him.
He had lost track of how many caves he had squeezed his way into as part of his little adventure.
He had pretended he was Indiana Jones looking for treasure, as his fertile imagination ran riot being outside of the confines of the classroom, with his 20p pick n mix of sweets having to be rationed.
After a brief spell, in which he devoured both his packet of swizzles and his sticky pink n white drumstick, he decided that he would follow what looked like a pathway on the low floor of the cave in a downward descent.
Something instinctively told him he would find a way out in that direction.
In the main chamber of the caves, school teacher Miss Adventure was busy pointing and explaining the different limestone rock formations to the young children.
“These long finger-like features that hang from the roof….can anyone tell me what they are called?” asked the young teacher more in hope than in expectation.
“ Daggers?” asked one of the local urchins called Wesley Hermon, originally from the Dowlais Flats area of Merthyr .
The flat complex was a pile-them high attempt at cheap housing in the valleys to help with the surplus population after a massive slum clearance from the Town that died.
“ Knives?” asked another called Gwernllwyn Close.
Miss Adventure was well aware that a lot of her ‘flock’ were on the Social Services ‘watch list’ being allowed to play the violent Playstation game, Grand Theft Auto and of course subjected to Video nasties such as ‘Child’s Play’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.
She shook her head- as she wanted to engage her audience without alienating them from the class.
“Suzy….do you know?” asked the teacher of her class pet.
The little Chinese girl looked up at the teacher and announced proudly that there were called stalactites and were made of limestone.
The daughter of the local Chinese Takeaway ‘Wok around the Clock’ was always Wong but was always right too being exceptionally bright and was determined not to fall into her parent’s trap of working every hour Buddha sent to make ends meet.
“Correct!....You are such a clever little girl!” praised the teacher.
Suzy glowed with pride.
She loved all her teachers but Miss Adventure was her favourite.
The rest of the girls in the class glowered at Suzy with envy.
“And now boys only -what are these called that grow up from the floor?” demanded Mr Oxbridge in a sharper more expectant tone.
After a minute silence and no takers, the teacher tried to encourage a male response.
“ Sounds like Stalactites….!”
“ Stalagpricks?” asked Wesley not so innocently.
“ Stalagcocks?” offered Gwernllwyn catching on.
The class began to giggle at the rude words.
“Wesley, Gwernllwyn, you pair have about much hope of getting a good job in the future as I have of finding a mate!” said Mr Oxbridge.
“ Go and stand over there by Gustavo!” ordered the disciplinarian.
“ Gustavo….stop eating your headlice there’s a good boy!” said Miss Adventure.
“ And where is Daniel?” she continued.
“ Dunno….!” said the child scratching his head and shrugging his shoulders- in doing so sending lots of nits to their death on the cold stony wet floor.
The two teachers looked at each other in horror as they realised that one of the children in their care was missing in a very dangerous environment.
They like Gustavo, did an impromptu headcount.
Again, just like Gustavo they were one short of a picnic and their emergency plan had to kick in.
“ You stay with the children….ordered Mr Oxbridge ….I will retrace our steps and see if the little ‘Duffer’ is sitting on a rock further back on the trail eating his packed lunch or something!”
Daniel carried on slowly in the dimly lit cave hoping to find signs of life.
As he rounded a big rock, he suddenly froze, as he could make out a dark shadow of a human reflected on a wall.
He could make out the muffled sound of a voice which was almost whispering.
After a few seconds , he realised that a phrase was being repeated over and over again.
“ When I catch you I will eat you!”
Daniel was horrified- he was petrified that he had stumbled across a real life Gollum from the film, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and that he was next on the dinner menu.
Whilst he was tempted to run as fast as he could backwards- he was oddly pleased to hear a human voice again.
He stared at the shadow on the cave wall which appeared to show a large one-armed figure in silhouette touching his head.
“ When I catch you I will eat you!” the voice continued.
Daniel had seen this shape before recalling his classmate Gustavo dirty habit.
The little lost boyo plucked up some courage and rounded the corner realising that it was a man sat on the floor cross-legged dressed in some rags with his finger up his nose.
“ You dirty bugger!” said the seven-year old.
The shock of seeing a Caucasian child challenging his eating habits shocked the man into reply.
“ Who are you infidel?” said the stranger through bogey encrusted teeth.
“I’m Daniel and I am not an infidel….unless that’s what you call someone whose parents are not married…is that an infidel?” asked the youngster.
Daniel stared at the dirty unkempt figure sat cross-legged before him.
“ And why do you have a dirty bath towel on your head?”
The stranger smiled.
He had forgotten how innocent a bastard child could be.
“ Are you Father Christmas’ dirty brother?”
Daniel somehow felt less scared being with a new companion.
“ No….Daniel…my name is not important!” replied the stranger.
“ But have you been a good boy this year?”
“ And what would you like for Christmas?” he continued.
“ A gun!” spouted the child without any inhibition.
“ You are in luck….I have lots of them…!” said the stranger.
“ When I was your age in Saudi Arabia I had plenty of British made guns and ammunition to play with!”
“ On your list of demands ….did you ask Allah…sorry Father Christmas for which ones….An AK47 perhaps or a Stinger Surface to Air Missile launcher like the one that I used to play with in the poppy fields of Afghanistan?”
Daniel felt at ease with his newfound friend-they had something in common to talk about which was their love of playing soldiers.
Daniel did what came natural to a child and offered to share the remainder of his sweets with his new pal.
“Chew?” asked Daniel offering a blackjack to the stranger.
The stranger’s demeanour suddenly changed, as he went into a rage ranting that he hated all chews especially Zionist ones.
For the first time, Daniel started to fear the beard.
He had developed pogonophobia when his Estranged Father had grown one for Movember and then left his Mother for a Gurnos Woman, who had done the same for Fanuary.
“Come closer, my little friend ‘, begged the stranger using a softer tone of voice.
“Sorry, for my little outburst but those sticky sweets take my fillings out and I already have a toothache, as I haven’t been to register with a NHS dentist as I am not supposed to be in the Country”
“Officially, I am dead to the Western World and I wish it to stay that way!” continued the stranger.
Daniel was a little more wary at the mention of a dentist….he had already lost all his adult teeth from his sweet only diet- he shivered in the cold dank confines of the cave.
“ I see you are cold little soldier, why don’t you put on one of my specially made vests that are very popular in Somalia and Sudan….they will keep out the cold….although be careful not to pull this string on the front….!” Warned the stranger.
“ Is it like an Action Man?” asked Daniel.
“ My Father bought me one from a car-boot sale and if you pull the string he says
‘Action Man patrol fall in’.
“ Yes…this is a real ACTION Man vest but you mustn’t pull this cord until I give the order….as soon as you hear the phrase Ali Akbar you pull the string okay….!” he said glaring at the child like Rasputin and commanding obedience
“You see I am the Sargeant in the Suicide Squad whereas you are the private and you must obey only MY orders!”
“ Is that clear Private Daniel?
Daniel stood upright, clicked his heels like he was a reincarnated member of the Hitler Youth and marched toward the stranger in character.
Children have wonderful imaginations.
He stood proudly as the vest was fitted around his waist and chest.
“Remember Private Daniel this is an Order …do NOT pull this cord until I tell you!” insisted the stranger with mesmeric eyes poking out from under his turban.
“ Are you hungry Soldier?” asked the stranger.
“ Here is your chocolate ration!”
He handed him a square of dark chocolate.
“ Aren’t you having any?” asked Daniel.
“ I already have a bounty on my head!” laughed the stranger making eyes towards the turban.
The joke was wasted on the wannabe child soldier.
Mr Oxbridge was glad he was thin and able to pass easily through the narrow passages between rocks, as he tried like a Red Indian scout to follow the path the little boy had taken.
Luckily, just like Hansel & Gretel, he had left a trail behind him.
Coming from Merthyr, the little boy had no qualms about dropping litter and every so often, Mr Oxbridge would find a remnant of a 20p mix by way of sweet wrapper as a sign.
As the floor got wetter, there were child-size footprints on the cave floor, so unless he was following Wee Jimmy Krankie or Dennis Wise, he knew he was on the right pathway.
Mr Oxbridge was glad that he had joined the Scouting Movement as a child and read that Baden Powell Handbook from cover to cover, otherwise he would have had no chance of tracing the boy.
He needed to find him before word got out about a child going missing in his care.
If he found him alive and well then, he would keep his job.
He was already on report with the Headmaster for chapel farting next to the slow children making them think they had shit themselves- as he loved to see their confused expressions.
That teaching assistant, a paid- up Member of the Green Party, had never liked him and had ‘ratted’ him out to the Head over his emissions and methane fart-print.
As he squeezed passed below the main Cathedral Cave and the Bone Cave, he felt certain he was closing in on his quarry, as he felt he heard voices and assumed the little lost boy was keeping up his spirits by talking to and answering himself.
He often did it himself, as he had no friends and lived the life of a lonely bachelor like most male Primary School Teachers.
As he rounded a rock, he realised that Daniel was not in fact talking to himself or to Hank Marvin or any other member of the shadows, but an Arab man whose face was very familiar.
He did look like the man that served him a kebab when he was drunk on a Friday night but he couldn’t be certain it was him.
As he joined the pair, he suddenly recognised the face of the Arab man before him and couldn’t believe his eyes.
“ Greetings Infidel , welcome to my cave!” said the stranger.
The teacher nodded suspiciously at the man, in the same way he would nod at a paedophile passing the closed school gates.
“ Do you know who I am?” asked the stranger.
Mr Oxbridge knew he daren’t say he recognised him or he and the child would not leave the cave alive.
The teacher looked nervously at the array of weaponry, all within close reach of the Arab, who sat cross-legged like he was practising yoga.
“ No…I am only a primary schoolteacher and the only Arab I know of based in a cave from Western culture is that of Ali Baba!” said Mr Oxbridge trying to bluff his way out of trouble.
“ I don’t think he cuts hair….look at the state of his beard…!” said Daniel unhelpfully.
“ Not Ali Barber…..Ali Baba!” said the teacher in a gentle tone of voice designed not to frighten the child.
“ He was the one with the forty thieves!” said the stranger.
“ Another bias Western portrayal of the nature of my Countrymen!” he continued.
“ Was he from the Gurnos too?” asked Daniel.
“ No… he was a fictional character contained in the book 1001 Arabian Nights!” said the Teacher.
“ It was every much a work of fiction- just like your Holy Bible!” declared the stranger hitting back.
“ If there are any thieves then they are ALL Jewish ….imagine trying to say that Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel indeed!”
Daniel looked back and fore at the two adults and sensed that they would not be big friends in the playground.
“ You KNOW who I am don’t you?” pressed the Arab.
“ I know who you CANNOT be!” replied the Teacher.
“ Who CANNOT I be?” asked the stranger, as the conversion took on a surreal turn..
“ He told me he is Uncle Sam!” interjected Daniel.
“ Uncle OSAMA if you please!” replied the outed Saudi.
“You can’t be he….he was killed in a compound in Pakistan as part of Operation Neptune Spear by US Navy Seals!” said Mr Oxbridge clinging to life by a narrow thread.
“ Sharks -yes- said Daniel ….but not Seals no…!” said Daniel tugging on his teacher’s sleeve to correct him.
“ Do you think that that desert rat Montgomery and your fat Prime Minister Winston Churchill are the only persons important enough to have body doubles?” continued the Saudi.
Hearing this statement made Mr Oxbridge as effectively dead as the passengers on the hijacked planes involved in the 9/11 plot.
“ If you in fact are Osama Bin Laden and not just some lookalike wannabe ….prove it….you look more like John Pertwee dressed as Wurzel Gummidge to me!” said the teacher trying to muddy the oasis water.
“ Okay….what if I told you that I was not responsible for that whole New York thing and that it was an elaborate insurance scam all set up by the Jews to pay for a defective building that was due to crumble anyway inside 5 years!” said the Saudi.
“ Then I would believe you without question….!” Said Mr Oxbridge.
“ When I read the Merchant of Venice….I am always on the side of Portia and Antonio against that evil Shylock …charging interest rates in line with Wonga.com….who does he think he is….does he not have a Jew’s eyes, organs, dimensions etc….and as for that unmistakable nose….!” Said Mr Oxbridge suffering a little from Stockholm Syndrome.
“ But we have a problem don’t we Sir!” said the Saudi.
“ You KNOW who I am and you cannot be allowed to tell anyone!”
Mr Oxbridge gulped.
He knew what was coming next.
“ Child….pass me that AK47 please!” said the Saudi.
In a split second, the hyper intelligent Mr Oxbridge questioned as to why the Arab hadn’t moved towards the gun himself.
He called upon all his authority and ordered Daniel to STOP.
The little boy stopped midway between the pair, unsure who to listen too.
In his tiny mind, he felt the burning eyes of the Arab against the voice command of his teacher.
It wasn’t so much a Mexican stand-off it was more of an Afghan one.
Mr Oxbridge suddenly realised that their captor hadn’t moved his legs in the entire time he had spent talking to him.
“ What’s the matter with your legs then Mr Pertwee?” asked the teacher trying to confuse the Arab.
“Very observant of you SIR ….I stood on one of my own IED’s didn’t I….and now I have even less in the testicle department than my idol Adolph Hitler….!” Said the Arab.
“ IDOL ?” asked Mr Oxbridge.
“ He didn’t recognise those trespassers in Palestine either he had his own solution for them!”
“So let me get my history straight….the Arabs are the true land owners and the Jewish people just squatters?” asked Mr Oxbridge.
“So if they wanted a desert place to live in….why don’t they just go and live next to Las Vegas in Arizona?” asked the teacher trying to find ‘common ground’ with his hijacker.
“ You make a good point!” said the freedom fighter, playing the teacher at his own game.
“ Boy…bring me that gun!” he whispered to Daniel.
“ STOP Daniel….you are in a veritable lion’s den and if you give that gun to Uncle Osama you nor I will never see your Father again!” pleaded the Teacher.
Daniel had taken one step closer to the gun but now stood frozen to the spot, just like a jackrabbit caught in the headlights of a US Marine jeep.
The child was extremely confused.
He had common ground with the stranger and had always disliked the teacher intently.
His comment that he would never see his estranged Father again left him in a quandary.
Daniel was a free spirit but was slowly being indoctrinated by the teaching profession, as to how he should think, react and behave according to society rules.
On the other hand, he was standing in front of the ultimate rebel- a man from a millionaire family who was fighting American Imperialism and oil exploitation of the Middle East and multi-national Companies who sold arms for a living to wreak havoc in underdeveloped nations pitting brother against brother in the process.
Daniel didn’t understand World politics or the concepts of greed or evil.
He just wanted to be a child soldier.
He suddenly became aware of the string attached to the belt around his chest.
He remembered what his Mother used to say back home when he was in a fight with his younger brother over his 20p mix sweets.
“Now…you two … STOP arguing and pull little fingers OR I will pull this string!” he threatened.
Both Osama & Mr Oxbridge put their hands up as one asking the little boy NOT to pull the string.
Daniel was delighted with his new-found power.
He felt like he was role- playing his biological Father, on the many occasions when he had come home from the pub drunk and was ordering his Mother around under the threat of violence.
He felt like those times he had sat crying on the top of the stairs in his Spiderman pyjamas hadn’t gone to waste.
Mr Oxbridge was worried.
On the one hand, he knew that at some point the Company that owned the cave would send rescuers to look for him and Daniel and if they did, his time at the ‘chalk face’ was numbered.
Besides, he did want anyone to be held hostage by a desperate terrorist with no legs and little reason to live.
Surely, the Arab must have a helper above ground bringing the cripple some food?
The answer to this mystery didn’t take long to reveal itself.
Out of the cave shadows stepped another Arab.
His face too was familiar to the teacher.
As he strained to pull little fingers with Osama he realised that there was a Terrorist Cell operating in the South Wales Valleys.
He was also so tempted to drop one bomb of his own at the thought of ‘pull my finger’.
The other man was local Cynon Valley Kebab shopkeeper Mustafa Kemal.
Mr Oxbridge was a regular at the late-night eatery even in his local Environment Health Department had given the establishment ‘Two Food Safety Stars’ in their ‘War against Botulism’.
In the window, meats of all kinds cooking on skewers, some of which looked decidedly humped, with their delicious smell wafting down the littered streets, enticing late night revellers for both hot food and the chance of a good punch-up.
Mustafa himself was always subjected to racial abuse and many a time had chased some of the local youths with meat cleaver in hand.
He was particularly upset when lost in translation he was asked ‘if there was Saladin’.
Mr Oxbridge could see by the way Mustafa was looking at him that he had peeled many a Westerner in his Iraqi Torture Chambers under the Saddam Hussein Regime.
The key to this whole sorry episode was how Daniel would react.
One false move and he would be blown to Kingdom come and he didn’t think that the other 71 virgins would be pleased to see him intruding on their Turkish Delight.
He had managed to grab Daniel’s tiny hand in the dark and began to take small backwards steps in the direction he had appeared from.
Mustafa was slowly trying to outflank him to block his escape.
In one movement, he reached down to Daniel’s legs and lifted him Fireman Osama style like he was carrying a body in a Persian Rug.
“ Quick! ” he shouted to the stunned youngster, as he pinned his arms to try and prevent him pulling the detonation cord by accident.
Slipping and sliding over the wet limestone rock, the teacher ran for his life, followed in pursuit by Mustafa Kemal who had produced a curved knife not dissimilar to a scimitar.
Fortunately, the teacher had been a cross-country champion in his college days and despite his spindly legs and knobbly knees, he was more adept at covering the difficult terrain than his pursuer, whose turban had started to unravel after a fall and began to slow him up.
Daniel kicked and screamed, just like his Mother had done, the time his drunken Father had tried to knock her unconscious with the intention of using her as foundations for his patio.
Mr Oxbridge didn’t have a clue in which direction to go but took guidance from the Yazz & the Plastic Population song- ‘The only way is Up’.
He stumbled about in the dark, whispering to Daniel not to make a sound or the ‘bogey man’ would get the pair of them.
Mr Oxbridge knew that Mustafa must be close, as he could smell the spices that oozed out from his pores.
At one point the Arab passed the pair, metal skewer in hand calling out like a Middle Easterner version of the Child-catcher from the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Daniel to reveal himself.
It took all of Mr Oxbridge’s strength to keep the boy quiet.
After waiting for several minutes, which seemed like ‘double mathematics’ to both pupil and teacher alike in the inky blackness, the Teacher felt it was now safe to head out from the sanctuary of the crevice that had hidden them from view.
Following the cave in a Northerly direction, the former hostages made their way in the opposite direction they had come, hoping to find a way back to the main chamber.
Miss Adventure was starting to get really worried.
Mr Oxbridge had asked him to give him one hour to find the boy, after which she was free to raise the alarm with the relevant authorities.
As he held her mobile in her hand about to ring the Headmaster and spill the beans, both Mr Oxbridge and Daniel emerged blinking into the light from behind a series of rocks a couple of yards away from the main school party.
The children cheered loudly, as did Miss Adventure at the relief the pair were safe from danger.
However, when it comes to school outings then peril is never far away.
This peril came in the form of Mustafa who leapt off a high rock with the skewer in his teeth like a mad pirate about to swash-buckle John Phillip Law in a Sinbad Film.
Unfortunately, for the would-be Cynon Valley Assassin, a loose fold from his turban got trapped around his neck and became lodged in a fissure in the rock and what a cry that started as ‘Ali Akhbar’ petered out to Ali ARRRGGHH.
As he hung there choking the schoolchildren all cheered as they thought it was part of the school outing.
After all they had been to see Merthyr comedian Owen Money’s pantomime Aladdin and watched him die a death on stage in that.
Daniel started to raise his hand towards the string-pull on his chest as if acting under a trance.
As the skewer dropped from the mouth of Mustafa, as he struggled to breathe, the two teachers looked at each other as they realised they now had a way out of their ordeal which might now save their face, their jobs and get them on the much coveted BBC Wales Six O’Clock News slot.
All they had to do was to let the Arab die in front of the children by asphyxiation.
“Nothing to worry about children…..he is just a practical choker!” said Mr Oxbridge making eyes at his fellow teacher, nervously farting like a trooper next to his slow children.
“ Why has he gone red in the face?” asked Wesley.
“ My Father used to go that colour when my Mother used to put his pillow over his face when he was snoring!” said Gwernllwyn.
After a brief version of Michael Flatley’s Riverdance – the Arab suddenly became more Flatliner than Flatley.
Mr Oxbridge on the other hand was no longer flatulent.
His job was safe, as was his pupil and there had been no harm done.
Save as to a terrorist cell member and a man that was already listed as dead.
And that is the way it would have stayed if Gustavo hadn’t spotted the ring pull on Daniel’s shirt.
He wanted to beat his hypnotised classmate to it.
He loved Action Men too.
After the explosion everyone was in denial, except Daniel and Gustavo who were in pieces.