Excerpt for Penny And The Farthing by , available in its entirety at Smashwords





Published by Gavin Thomson at Smashwords


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Gripp and Rocky!

Three Lions on a shirt!

A fuchsia pink painted hall!

Ju-don’t do it like that, boys!

Pe-nny. Pe-nny. Pe-nny!

Instead of roaring, they shout GOAAAALLL!

There’s no such thing as ghosts!

The Ceremony of the Liquorice!

The Old Gits, The Pretenders and The Newbies!

We true grits!

Smile like you mean it!


Hello, Sis! Hello, Bro!

The Wars of The Bro-Sis!

You get pink!

To marry her sister’s husband’s brother!

Love, peace and harmony!

I’m a little hoarse!

Tattie tuna tombola!

Swaying trees!

Treason of the highest order!

A secret so great!

Air shoes!

Still no eye-deer!


Five turnips to four!

Weddings, funerals and coronations!

Knock, knock!

I hurry with Godspeed!

That’s put a hammer in the works!

Fünf. Fünf. Fünf!

The great escape!

Operation Three Lions is go!

Let’s wrestle!

Bye, Fenton. Bye, Filbert. Enjoy your evening!

Gripp and Rocky!

About the author!

Books by Gavin Thomson!

Connect with Gavin Thomson!


Gripp and Rocky!

“Tap. Tap. Tap.”

“Tap. Tap. Tap,” repeats the distinctive sound of bird beaks on the window pane. Penny rolls onto her side to face the window, scrunching her face to begin the pained process of awakening. She opens one eye and then the other, as she closes the first. It’s early, and she’s never been what you call, a morning person!

“Tap. Tap. Tap.”

“Alright, guys,” acknowledges Penny, stretching and yawning before throwing back her duvet and revolving her legs to sit upright on the side of her bed, shouting, “I’m coming. Keep your hair on…I mean, keep your feathers on! Talk about the early bird catching the worm!”

Penny chuckles to herself, amusing herself with this daily routine of repeated banter and difficulty in rising from her sweet dreams. She grabs a gloss black tin box from her bedside cabinet, remembering how she has only herself to blame for encouraging this morning phenomenon while relishing this unique privilege and delight, as she ventures to the window and pulls back the curtains.

“Morning, Gripp. Morning, Rocky,” greets Penny, immediately closing her eyes as the sunrise blasts through as if in desperate search of food and water. “How are you this morning?”

Penny lifts the antique metal lever and turns the equally old metal latch to open her window ajar. She unclips her tin box and takes out six liquorice sweets, placing three at the feet of each black raven, staring back at her as if to say, “Is that all! Don’t be so stingy, Penny!” As they move their heads side to side robotically, their hands held behind their backs like Halloween apple bobbers grappling for the sweet reward.

“You should thank your lucky stars,” declares Penny, closing her box ready for tomorrow’s performance and talking to Gripp and Rocky as if they understand her every word, and she understands their every squawk and caw, continuing, “especially you, Gripp…Greedy Gripp, and you, RockyRocky Balboa, stop fighting with Gripp. Be happy with yours. Otherwise, it’s reduced rations for both of you tomorrow!”

Penny reminisces back to their first encounter, last Christmas when she receives a jar of sweets from her Uncle and Aunt, much to the head shaking of her Mum and Dad! Disliking the liquorice, tarnishing the otherwise fantastic assortment, she places them on her windowsill as a gesture of goodwill for any passing opportunist. Never in her wildest dreams did she expect two of the Tower of London ravens to be the eager recipients - how was she to know that besides a diet of mice, chicks, rats, assorted raw meats and blood-soaked biscuits that they would have a liking for liquorice! “It was you first, Rocky,” remembers Penny, giving Rocky a favourable glance before turning to Gripp and adding, “but you were only moments behind, Gripp, weren’t you? It was two birds with one stone!” jokes Penny, mimicking their robotic head movements as she corrects herself, “I mean, two birds with one handful of discarded black and white liquorice!”

“Haw. Haw. Haw,” Rocky and Gripp appear to laugh, only acting to encourage Penny’s endless round of jokes and idioms, fuelled from her father’s regularly added to repertoire.

Penny knows Gripp and Rocky by name after managing to dab red nail polish on Rocky and green nail polish on Gripp and observing them in their respective cages later in the day when they’re called back for supper and bedtime under the careful charge of the Tower’s Ravenmaster.

“Are you gonna wish me luck?” asks Penny, treating Gripp and Rocky each to one more piece of liquorice. “It’s my big judo competition today. Tower Hamlets v Greenwich.”

Brarrr. Brorrr,” reply Grip and Rocky, repeating several times as if to emphasise their support. Penny, of course, reads this response as positive encouragement!

“Thank you, boys!” she responds, smiling and rubbing her eyes once more to put sleep to bed finally and welcome in this exciting new day, informing Gripp and Rocky, “If I win three bouts today, I’ll win my brown belt. The first girl under eleven at the Tower Hamlets judo club to do so…ever!”

Gripp and Rocky bid their farewells, screeching and screaming before one by one, flying away awkwardly with their purposely clipped wings, appearing to fall to earth like dead weights rather than gliding gracefully back to their preferred position outside the Crown Jewels exit - the best place for rich pickings!

Penny leaves her window ajar to let the gentle breeze of fresh air circulate and replace snore-ridden morning breath. She glances around the room, wishing she could redecorate and adorn her walls with pop heroes and judo heroines - living in the Tower of London is an amazing experience, but it has its drawbacks.

Her father, Philip, shortened to Phil, a decorated Captain of the Royal Grenadiers, is now Chief Yeoman Warder, responsible for guarding and protecting the Crown Jewels. Penny often teases her Dad that he shouldn’t be called a Beefeater but a Veganeater, given his dislike for meat and his quest to be as small a burden on the environment as he possibly can. Penny’s Mum, Elizabeth, shortened to Liz, teases him further by saying that a Veganeater makes him sound like he eats vegans, which Liz finds extremely funny, given her opposing view. Penny is indifferent. It’s all food for thought!

The other Yeomen refer to the three of them as the Royal Family - Liz, Phil and Lady Penelope!

Penelope Gladys Woodville is Penny’s full name. She is ten years old and attends the local primary school, half a mile’s walk due east. Her hair is golden, shoulder length and extremely thick, making it impossible to brush and manage. Penny refuses to tie it back and is pleased to parade her bed head for all to see, likening herself to a tomboy more likely to get her hands dirty than to sit back in subdued silence. She has blue eyes and freckles. Her natural beauty is lost on her as she smiles with an overcrowded and twisted grin, and she favours sportswear over some dress or trousers and a top. Her longing for a sibling vanished when they moved to the Tower which provides easy access and proximity to other children her age. That said, Penny is content to be alone and explore her imagination.

Phil is a stickler for routine and order. His idea of discipline may be overstated in today’s world, but Penny knows the boundaries and the lines she must never cross. Ironically, she finds it empowering and in no way inhibitive. Praise has a greater impact and reprimands act as a catalyst for improvement rather than as a deterrent. Manners and respect make perfect sense, especially growing up in the surroundings of an almost thousand-year-old legacy, riddled with stories of darker and more troublesome times, but enduring to represent resilience, constancy and social responsibility, romanticised by mythical tales of superstition and legends of historical significance. Howls of the executed cry out when the wind blows in a particular direction, and at least six ravens must remain captive within the confines of the grounds to avert disaster to the kingdom and keep the Tower from falling, contrary to the wishes of the resident astronomer before moving the observatory to Greenwich.

Liz is the antithesis of Phil. They are a perfect example where opposites attract. Phil is tall, dark and rugged. Liz is small, blond and dainty. Phil is a disciplinarian. Liz is a libertarian. Phil dresses in uniform and runs to clockwork. Liz dresses in fashionable and colourful clothes and wears no watch even though she has an uncanny reputation for never being late. Phil is calm and understated. Liz is loud and larger than life. Phil joins the army and is now a Yeoman. Liz is a travel photographer before placing her career on hold to raise Penny although she’s never seen without her trusty Nikon, snapping and recording every minute detail of their everyday life. Liz works part-time at the Tower.

Phil and Liz met at a mutual friend's wedding, and their love blossomed immediately. They are a match made in heaven. Penny loves hearing their courtship stories and their battle to conquer distance and different worlds.

After washing and brushing her teeth, Penny puts on her favourite orange tracksuit, embroidered with a large blue letter P on the back, a pair of silver and white trainers and makes her way downstairs to join Liz and Phil for breakfast.


Three Lions on a shirt!

“Cup of tea?” Phil asks Penny as she enters the kitchen and pulls up a seat at the breakfast table laden with various cereals, jams and essential condiments.

“Can I have a chai latte?” requests Penny, reaching for the bran flakes, smiling and raising her eyebrows, and begging her Dad with fluttered eyelashes. Liz sips her coffee with her back turned to Phil and gives Penny a look of support, gritting her teeth and tensing her mouth with wide eyes, awaiting Phil’s response.

“A what?” replies Phil, replacing the freshly filled kettle on its base and flicking the switch.

“A chai latte!” repeats Penny, pointing to the brand-new chai tea box next to the Tower of London tin housing Phil’s favourite breakfast brew, adding, “It’s black tea blended with oriental spices…hot frothy milk, and finished with a pinch of cinnamon.”

“Sounds like a lot of fuss for a morning drink,” dismisses Phil, shaking his head and sighing deeply, continuing. “When we were marooned in the desert, awaiting assistance to retrieve us from behind enemy lines - hot water poured over a single teabag shared between six of us…with neither milk nor sugar was the simple taste of heaven…”

“…and that’s why Penny can have a chai latte,” interjects Liz, making her way to the fridge to fetch the milk and kissing Phil gently on the cheek as she passes. “Because soldiers like you fight for and defend our freedom…the freedom to make these very choices, however insignificant they might seem.”

Phil nods and softens, smiling at Penny and Liz in turn. He is wearing his regular Yeoman uniform trousers - black with a thin red side stripe, and his mirror-polished boots, but instead of his regular white undershirt pending his black and red tunic, hanging behind the kitchen door, Phil is wearing an England football shirt.

“Why the England shirt, Daddy?” enquires Penny as she blows hard on her chai latte, marvelling at the swirling milk patterns and thinking how much they resemble an infinity of hearts.

“We’re through to the Second Round!” replies Phil, puffing his chest out and displaying the Three Lions crest with pride, enthusing, “England are playing Wales today in the World Cup.”

“Not football!” exclaims Liz, joking as she unzips her top to reveal her England shirt, cheering, “C’mon, England! C’mon, England! You can beat Wales!”

“I thought you said England had no chance,” points out Penny, embarrassed by her parents standing in the kitchen and singing Three Lions at the top of their voices.

“We did,” replies Phil as he and Liz sing in unison, “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, football’s coming home!”

“It’s the new manager,” informs Liz, finishing the song and smiling at Phil, both saying, “I love that song, but let’s not get carried away. It’s too early to start believing!”

“Yeah!” continues Phil, pressing his hands together in prayer and closing his eyes to look heavenwards, adding, “He’s taken a young team - a young team with no expectations on them, and created a fearless team…”

“…united them as a team rather than a bunch of individuals, now playing with passion and hunger,” contributes Liz, smiling like a little girl at Penny, making Penny reflect how behind the façade of responsibility, adults are just grown-up kids!

“We’ve got a great defence, a goalkeeper who’s playing out of his skin, a midfield that’s running circles around the opposition and a front line that can hit them in from outside the box or head them in at the near post,” excites Phil, placing his right hand on his England badge.

“And don’t forget the set pieces, Darling,” adds Liz, downing the last few drops of her coffee and munching her final piece of toast, “We’ve scored more goals from free kicks and corners than we’ve ever done before.”

“That’s right, Darling,” agrees Phil, nodding vehemently, “and let’s not forget the centre-half with that long throw. It’s like we get a corner every time the opposition knocks the ball out in their own half!”

Penny stares at the England crest with intrigue before asking, “Why the three lions, and what do the ten red roses stand for?”

Liz looks at Phil, hoping he has the answer. “The Three Lions are the royal crest for the Plantagenets, dating back to kings like Richard the First, the Lionheart in the thirteenth century…to lead armies into battle,” answers Phil, looking at his badge upside down, continuing. “It’s not certain, but the red roses represent the Wars of the Roses - thirty years of English Civil War in the fifteenth century when Richard of York, of the House of York and the white rose, rebelled against King Henry the Sixth, of the House of Lancaster and the red rose, waging bloody battles but taking risks resulting in his death, and passing the buck to his son who eventually defeats Henry the Sixth to become Edward the Fourth. Then Henry the Sixth reclaims the throne with the help of a wealthy landowner, the Earl of Warwick, only to lose it again to Edward, who then dies suddenly to be succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward the Fifth, who only reigns for seventy-eight days before his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, imprisons him in the Tower, along with his nine-year-old brother, Richard - the Princes in the Tower, to become Richard the Third after the Princes are denounced and mysteriously disappear. Then two years later, Richard the Third is defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field by another Henry, a loose relative of Henry the Sixth who becomes Henry the Seventh, putting an end to the Plantagenets, the Wars of the Roses with his marriage to Elizabeth - Edward the Fifth’s sister, and begins the dynasty of the Tudors!”

“So, the Three Lions crest represents a call to battle?” summarises Penny, fascinated by Phil’s succinct description.

“That’s right, Penny,” agrees Phil, contemplating its significance for the first time, adding, “although the England football team had to seek permission to use the crest, given its royal heritage. The rugby team adopts a red rose, but funnily enough, the cricket team also has three lions. It probably best sums up the complications of English history!”

“The Scots have a single lion for football and the thistle for rugby,” contributes Liz, demonstrating her keen sporting knowledge, “while the Welsh have the dragon for football and the Prince of Wales feathers for rugby!”

“What happened to the Princes in the Tower?” asks Penny, excited by their connection to her home - the Tower.

“There are many theories,” begins Phil, delighting in Penny’s interest, “but none are proven. Some say it was Richard the Third - others say it was his sidekick, the Duke of Buckingham. While some say It was Henry the Seventh, and others say they died of natural causes…although Richard the Third would have told everyone if that was the case. And some say they escaped to declare their rights to the throne later. It’s a complete mystery.”

“Weren’t skeletons found during King Charles the Second’s reign?” asks Liz, recalling information from the Tower tour.

“That’s right,” confirms Phil, nodding before shaking his head. “If those skeletons belong to the Princes, and that’s a big IF, it makes the escape theory unlikely, but it doesn’t resolve who killed them or how they died. They were imprisoned on the second floor on the right-hand side of the Tower as you look towards the river.”

“So, not the Bloody Tower?” enquires Penny, pointing towards the window.

“That was before they were imprisoned, Darling,” says Liz, looking at her watch, exclaiming, “Look at the time! Phil, you need to get to work, and Penny, we need to get to the water bus in twenty minutes. So, get your judo kit together while I clear up.”

“Good luck today, Penny,” shouts Phil as he puts on his red tunic, embellished with chest medals and a gold chevroned sleeve badge denoting his Chief Yeoman position. He grabs his hat, kisses Liz and opens the front door, adding, “I wish I could be there to see you get your brown belt, but I look forward to hearing all about it when you come to the Yeoman Warders Club for the England-Wales game at six o’clock. We’re shutting the Tower of London to the public at five-thirty in preparation! Bye!”


A fuchsia pink painted hall!

Penny knocks three times next door. Within seconds, the door swings open to reveal two beaming boys, jostling to exit first. They are brothers and Penny’s best friends away from school. Ted is older at twelve and Rick is younger at nine. They look like brothers, and in their boyish innocence, they bear a distinct resemblance to Penny - both boys sporting long golden hair, blue eyes and freckles. Many think they are all related which amuses them. They often perpetuate this by referring to each other as Sis or Bro, and Penny and Ted, being identical in height, sometimes mimic twins, rehearsing and repeating sentences simultaneously to further freak out the uninformed. Ted and Rick’s father, John, is another Yeoman, and their mother, Beth, is an art historian, expert in every detail of the Tower and responsible for a team of twelve to conduct tours all day, every day for the never-ending queue of fascinated visitors. John and Beth Suffolk are Phil and Liz’s best friends.

“Watcha, Penny,” greets Ted, winning the race to the front step and leaving Rick to pull the door closed, before spying Liz, patiently standing a few metres down the lane. “Good morning, Mrs Woodville.”

“Yes, good morning, Mrs Woodville,” adds Rick, politely and standing alongside his brother. Ted and Rick look more dishevelled than other boys with an ex-military parent, but their manners are impeccable. Beth insists on long hair, contrary to the rigid dress codes of the armed services, and they like it - it sets them apartdespite being mistaken for girls occasionally!

“Morning, Ted. Morning, Rick,” replies Liz, holding what appears to be a beach bag and turning to lead the way to the water bus. “Have you got everything?”

“Yes, Mrs Woodville,” reply Ted and Rick in unison, looking at each other for confirmation.

“Let me get a photo of the three of you,” requests Liz, gesturing for Penny, Ted and Rick to face her when they reach the White Tower as a backdrop, and instructing. “Smile like you mean in it. One, two, three, cheese!”

“Cheeeeese!” ventriloquism Penny, Ted and Rick with forced smiles and raised thumbs.

“Super,” thanks Liz, snapping five shots and examining the results in her camera’s rear display. “Right. Let’s get to Greenwich.”

“It’s England v Wales today,” says Penny, glancing at her mother with a wry smile, adding, “The Second Round of the World Cup.”

“We know,” reply Ted and Rick, unzipping their tracksuit tops to reveal England shirts, both chanting, “Three Lions on a shirt!”

“Dad says they’re showing the match at the Yeoman Warders Club at six,” continues Penny, looking at Ted and then Rick, as she accompanies them behind Liz like an advancing midfield attack. “Are you gonna watch?”

“Absolutely!” Ted and Rick exclaim before Ted adds, “Three-one to England!” and Rick follows with, “Three-two to England!”

Liz leads them diagonally across Tower Green, past the vacant Raven cages and the Bloody Tower, along Water Lane and through the main entrance to take a left turn down towards the river. Penny, Ted and Rick follow in autopilot, chatting without a care in the world, and wearing their judo kit black backpacks.

They wait at the Tower Millennium Pier, observing six minutes for the next Greenwich Pier water bus. Liz takes another few photos, this time placing Tower Bridge as the backdrop and directing Penny and Ted to replicate the opening left and right bascules while Rick makes his best impression of a high-masted clipper. Initial awkwardness is soon replaced with bellyaching laughter. So much so - even Liz must compose herself to avoid camera wobble!

Liz flashes her privilege pass to the conductor and escorts the children onto the water bus, smiling to herself as Penny and Ted pay her no attention and drag Rick to the outside deck, leaving her to follow like an unwanted chaperone of bygone courtship.

The water bus gurgles and splutters like an overloaded washing-machine and pulls away from the pier before surfing on the out-flowing tidal Thames water with the motion and quietness of a modern dishwasher.

Liz marvels at the engineering masterpiece as they pass under Tower Bridge - lost on Penny, Ted and Rick…otherwise engaged with taking selfies on Ted’s new phone, trying their best to out-pout each other!

Liz takes a photo of them without their knowledge, delighting in their dramatic confidence, usually dragged out under duress or with coy resistance.

Next stop. Canary Wharf,” informs the Tannoy with better than normal electronic diction and added reassurance, “Final Destination. Greenwich Pier.”

“Look, kids,” enthuses Liz, pointing to the post-modern architecture of Canary Wharf Tower and its surrounding hotchpotch of debatable contributions. “It’s Canary Wharf!”

Penny, Ted and Rick pause to stare in the direction of Liz’s finger only to disappoint Liz with unimpressed grimaces. It’s as if she’d asked them to smell fresh manure!

“Ah, Mum!” moans Penny, embarrassed by Liz’s interruption, “They’re just office blocks!”

Liz says nothing, snapping away for her personal indulgence.

The water bus edges its way down the Isle of Dogs revealing layers of urban evolution like a sea vessel sailing along the Dorset Jurassic Coast and observing prehistoric rock formations.

The water bus gurgles and splutters again as it repels water to park conveniently against Greenwich Pier. Liz makes sure everyone has everything, and they disembark.

They walk inland admiring The Cutty Sark and The Gypsy Moth, commenting on the risks of sailing around the world.

“Now, let me see where we need to go,” begins Liz, retrieving her phone and scrolling through her messages. “I’m sure there was an email from your judo instructor, Mr Hastings…now where is it?” she continues rhetorically.

“I’ll text my Mum,” offers Ted, finger typing his message before Liz can respond, informing her. “There. It’s gone!”

“Don’t bother your Mum at work,” says Liz, shaking her head and becoming annoyed that she can’t find Mr Hastings’ email.

Painted Hall in Greenwich,” reads Ted as he types back in full rather than text speech. Thank you and see you later. Ted x.

“That rings a bell from Mr Hastings’ email,” replies Liz, replacing the phone in her pocket.

“I hope it’s better than our painted hall!” remarks Rick.

“Yeah!” adds Penny, “Whoever thought it was a good idea to paint our hall in fuchsia pink needs their head examining.”

Apparently, one of the senior members is a painter and decorator, and he had a job lot left over from one of his contracts, and he offered to do it for free,” defends Liz, hopelessly!

“But pink!” exclaims Ted, “Why did it have to be fuchsia pink!?”

The Tower Hamlets Judo club meets in a community hall attached to the back of one of the local pubs, appropriately called The Wrestler. It has no airs and graces, but it does the job and keeps the weekly subs modest and affordable.

“Excuse me, sir,” Liz asks a traffic warden as he taps out a ticket for some poor offender, “We’re looking for a painted hall.”

“You mean, The Painted Hall!” replies the warden, pointing towards the Old Royal Naval College, “You’ll find it in there.”

Liz thanks the warden and crosses the road with Penny, Ted and Rick. They find the entrance to The Old Royal Navy College and follow the temporary signs marked Judo Competition. They say nothing as they wander the halls - everyone dwarfed by the scale and humbled by the grandeur and opulence. Then without warning, they enter the soaring domed Vestibule, and their eyes stumble into the Lower Hall and beyond into the Upper Hall.

Their jaws drop as they stand in stunned silence, fixated on the ceiling, and wrestle for words of comparison with their own painted hall!


Ju-don’t do it like that, boys!

Will Hastings, the Tower Hamlets Junior Judo Coach, ushers Liz, Penny, Ted and Rick up the full-width staircase and into the Lower Hall. Will is in his early fifties with short greying hair and a muscular physique - a true gentleman, exuding charm and tranquillity. “Hi, Penny…TedRick,” he welcomes, rubbing his hands as if it were the middle of winter instead of the middle of June, continuing. “Well done for making it in good time. What do you think of the venue…knockout…yes!?”

“This is unbelievable,” answers Liz, stepping forward with an outstretched hand. “Hi, Mr Hastings. LizLiz Woodville. Penny’s Mum.”

“Hi, Liz. Call me, Will,” he replies, shaking her hand slightly too hard for comfort, apologising. “Sorry. I don’t know my own strength sometimes!”

“Beats the pink hall at The Wrestler!” jokes Liz, changing the subject and gesturing to the painted masterpieces.

“You betcha!” acknowledges Will, pointing directly upwards. “I’ve been told that this Lower Hall ceiling celebrates the Triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny with King William and Queen Mary standing on King Louis the Fourteenth of France!”

“Fascinating,” nods Liz, ensuring that Penny, Ted and Rick are parties to Will’s description.

And The Upper Hall ceiling has Queen Anne and hubby, Prince George of Denmark, next to depictions of Europe, Asia, America and Africa, and the coats of arms of England, Scotland, France and Ireland,” Will continues as he points to The Upper Hall and motions left with his right hand to complete his description. “And The West Wall celebrates George the First and the Hanoverians, reinforcing messages of peace and prosperity and naval supremacy.”

“Wow!” remarks Liz, smiling at Will, “You should get a job here…as a guide!”

“I was so impressed by the location,” responds Will, blushing slightly, “I had to find out about it!”

“Absolutely!” agrees Liz, snapping a few shots with her camera, “You’re talking to people who live in the Tower of London!”

Penny, Ted and Rick have seen enough of the paintings and lower their gaze to the competition set-up. The Lower Hall has three rows of white coloured chairs nearside with a central aisle leading to a full-width black tatami mat construction square edging a bright orange contest area and a repeat of three rows of red coloured chairs farside again with a central aisle. Narrow walkways run down each side of the floor to ceiling windows fitted with white blinds to neutralise the sunlight.

On the face of it, the set-up resembles every other set-up they’ve been to, but somehow this unique setting increases its impact and significance. Penny’s heart skips a beat as butterflies flap their wings wildly against her stomach lining. The opposing red and white chairs make her think back to the breakfast conversation and the talk about the Wars of The Roses. She thanks her lucky stars that no weapons are allowed today!

Ted breaks this reflection. “Where do we get changed, Mr Hastings?”

Will directs them back downstairs towards the entrance where two rooms have been turned into changing rooms - red is Tower Hamlets, and white is Greenwich.

By ten to eleven, the Lower Hall is transformed into the hustle and bustle of two opposing teams and their supporters, encamping each side like Members of Parliament ready to jeer each other down. Penny, Ted and Rick sit in the front row of the red seats alongside their teammates. They are wearing their red competition judogi uniform emblazoned on the back with the Tower Hamlets Judo Club logo and wearing a coloured obi belt. Ted wears a brown belt, Penny a blue belt and Rick a green belt. Greenwich is wearing white judogi.

Liz sits behind. An organiser reprimands her for taking photographs. Now she must rely on the official photographer’s point of view…and pay the price for it!

Will walks up and down with clipboard in hand. He’s wearing his teaching judogi - black uwagi jacket and zubon trousers with a kuro obi black belt. His younger opposite number, Henry Buckingham - nicknamed, Duke, is smaller and portlier with wavy red hair and wearing yellow judogi with a kuro obi. Will and Duke know each other of old and meet in the middle to shake hands.

“Hi, Will,” begins Duke, shaking hands and quipping. “Are you ready to do battle, Hastings!?”

“Hi, Duke,” replies Will, squeezing tighter and tighter. “We are ready to conquer…if that’s what you mean!” then softening to exchange pleasantries, “How’s Kathy and the pregnancy?”

Will and Duke continue their banter until the referee, dressed in a blue blazer, grey slacks and a white shirt with a green tie comes over to commence proceedings. “Morning, Gentlemen,” he starts, standing to their side. “My name is Tony Rivers. I want a clean competition, and I will disqualify any opponent if the support becomes unruly. Do we understand each other?”

Will and Duke nod before bowing and returning to their respective sides. An adjudicator bangs the gong for an eleven o’clock start.

The morning session comprises a Round Robin. Only brown, blue, and green belt grades are competing. Each belt grade has three male or female players on each side, playing each other in a three-minute contest and scoring for throwing, pinning or achieving a submission. After lunch, the matched players from each side play each other again in a five to ten-minute contest, depending on their level. The winners score points for their team. The team with the most points receives the gold-plated trophy!

Incidentally, if Penny wins three contests, she will also achieve the next grade - a brown belt. Ted and Rick haven’t earned enough points in the season to be in this position.

The Round Robin sounds like a logistical nightmare, but each player receives three contest numbers totalling twenty-seven contests, playing one belt grade after another. Rick has contest numbers, one, thirteen and twenty-nine. Penny has contest numbers, five, eleven and seventeen. Ted has contest numbers, nine, twenty-one and twenty-seven. A flip board announces each contest and incredulously, like clockwork, it takes one hundred and eight minutes, allowing for one minute between contests!

They each win their first contest. Rick, two-one. Penny, three-nil. Ted, one-nil.

Penny loses her second contest, two-three. Rick wins his second contest, three-two. Ted is yet to fight before Penny wins her third and final contest, three-two.

Will offers congratulations or commiserations following immediately with words of encouragement and pats on the back. Duke is a mirror-image, albeit a distorted one!

Liz supplies a steady stream of refreshments from her beach bag and acts as masseuse and motivator between contests, occasionally receiving a stern look from the referee for her over exuberant cheering during each contest!

Rick loses his third contest, one-three. Ted draws his second contest but wins his third contest, two-one. It’s lunchtime. They will announce the order of afternoon play when they reconvene.

Liz suggests a picnic outside. Penny, Ted, Rick and Liz exit the Old Royal Naval college into Greenwich Park to catch the bright red Time Ball rise halfway on the observatory spire at five minutes to one. They stop to ensure they don’t miss the Time Ball rise to the top at two minutes to, then drop like a bingo ball to denote one o’clock precisely.

“That’s like me…” boasts Ted, playfully throwing Rick over his right leg to the ground, “…flooring my last opponent!”

“Ju-don’t do it like that, boys!” shouts Penny, grabbing Ted by his uwagi, tipping him backwards to confuse his sense of balance then pulling him forward while simultaneously twisting him around her body to bring him to the ground, and staring back at her with dented pride!


Pe-nny. Pe-nny. Pe-nny!

Just as Penny releases her grip, Ted grabs her uwagi, and with one swift movement, he wraps his right leg around her ankles and pulls Penny to the ground beside him.

“Ahhh!” screams Penny, forcing Ted to release, “My ankle!”

“That’s enough, you three!” declares Liz, shaking out the picnic blanket and lowering it to the ground as if she were making a bed. “It’ll end in tears, and someone’ll get hurt.”

“Yes. Me!” exclaims Penny, sitting up to grab her ankle, still trapped in between Ted’s legs. “I think it’s twisted.”

“What do you mean?” questions Ted, rolling away and sitting up.

Rick comes over and offers Penny his hand. Penny grabs hold and after some toing and froing and Rick almost sitting, Penny stands up to discover she can’t put any weight on her ankle. Liz unravels a selection of homemade sandwiches, unaware of the severity.

“OMG!” cries Penny, limping forwards then grabbing Rick as a crutch. “I can’t walk.”

“Let me look,” offers Liz, observing Penny in pain.

“Is it OK?” enquires Ted, sheepishly, realising that he’s taken things too far.

“Does that hurt?” asks Liz as she pushes Penny’s foot up and down then left and right.

“Yep!” answers Penny, grimacing then giving Ted daggers, “I won’t be able to fight this afternoon and get my brown belt.”

“I suggest you have some lunch and rest it,” suggests Liz, rubbing Penny’s ankle. “If we were at home, we could wrap some ice around it or some frozen peas.”

“Or use the magic sponge!” says Rick, trying to lighten the situation, “Like footballers use in the World Cup!”

“I wish,” declares Penny, sighing deeply and shaking her head with pursed lips.

“I’m really sorry, Penny,” apologises Ted, resting on the blanket beside her. “It was an accident. Promise.”

“Absolutely!” reassures Liz, smiling at Ted. “Accidents happen. It was no one’s fault or both your fault…depending on how you look at it. Let’s eat. Egg mayonnaise or ham and cheese?”

After food, Liz, Ted and Rick play frisbee while Penny remains on the blanket with her ankle raised on the beach bag.

“Right. It’s quarter to two,” Liz asks a passer-by, “I think we should be getting back.”

Liz helps up Penny while Ted and Rick stand either side to provide support. Liz packs everything away, and they return to the Old Royal Naval College. Penny is determined to work through the pain and carry on as usual, limping less and less as they reach the Lower Hall to read with intrigue, the Round Robin results and this afternoon’s timetable.

“I came top of my group!” declares Rick, proudly as he consults the afternoon timetable. “I have to contest my third opponent again…the one who beat me earlier!”

“Where did you come, Penny?” enquires Ted before he reveals his results.

“I came second,” says Penny, slightly disappointed, “and like Rick, I have to contest the person who beat me - my second opponent. What about you, Ted?”

“I came first,” replies Ted, trying to hide his joy before rubbing it in further, “and I get to contest my first opponent, whom I beat…just!”

They return to their seats and chat to Will about tactics before Tony reappears to resume proceedings. “Firstly, may I say how well you all contested this morning, and thank you for making everything run so smoothly. This afternoon, we have nine contests. Three five-minute contests for green belts, three seven-minute contests for blue belts and three ten-minute contests for brown belts. May I remind everyone that in the event of a draw, then the Round Robin points will be added. As you will see from the board, Greenwich leads Tower Hamlets by one point - fourteen points to thirteen. It couldn’t be more evenly matched. To make it more exciting, the afternoon order will be drawn out of a hat. So, without further ado, let the contests begin!”

The adjudicator bangs the gong at two o’clock.

The second brown belt pair contest first - two boys grunting and groaning and determined to gain a submission. Tower Hamlets wins five-four and secures a point. The third brown belt pair contests next. Greenwich wins six-three and secures a point. The third blue belt pair contests next. Two evenly matched girls fight hammer and tongs until Tower Hamlets pins Greenwich in the last ten seconds to win four-three and secure another point. Then the second green belt pair contest, initially warned for delaying tactics, eventually seeing Greenwich win three-two to acquire another point. It’s two-two after four matches. Rick is next.

“C’mon, Rick,” encourage Ted, Penny and Liz with clenched fists, adding, “you can do it!”

Rick knows his opponent has the advantage by beating him earlier, but Rick changes tack to avoid his previous errors and after five hard-fought minutes, secures a two-two draw and shares the point. Rick is delighted and sits down to cheers - it feels more like a win not to lose! Greenwich cheer Rick’s opponent but Penny senses disappointment in their tone.

The first blue belt contest ends with Tower Hamlets securing a point with a two-one win, followed by the third green belt pair contesting for a three-two win and a point for Greenwich.

It’s three and a half points each after seven matches. Will it be Penny or Ted to contest next? Ted’s name is called. He jumps to his feet like a jack-in-a-box, smacking his arms and beating his chest to psyche himself. He knows his team needs a win.

“Te-ed. Te-ed,” cheer Tower Hamlets, battling to be heard over Greenwich, cheering, “E-ddy. E-ddy.”

Somehow, Ted’s opponent emerges like another player making them even at three-three after five minutes with two minutes remaining. Another minute passes. Then Eddy moves right, sending Ted off balance, throwing Ted over his left leg to the floor and landing on Ted to incapacitate him under his now heavily panting body and gain a four-three advantage. Twenty seconds remain, and Ted is staring defeat in the face. He replicates his earlier throw on Penny, wrapping his legs around Eddy’s ankles and pulling him down to secure another point. The contest ends in a four-four draw and halves the point.

It’s now four points all with one contest to go - Penny’s! A draw or loss will hand victory to Greenwich. Penny must win. She congratulates Ted - returning red-faced and dripping in sweat.

“You can do it, Penny,” Ted whispers in her ear. “Bring it home!”

Penny ignores her ankle pain and stands opposite her opponent - the boy who beat her earlier. Humphrey. Every time Penny goes to throw Humphrey, her ankle gives way, making it impossible to score in the first three minutes. Humphrey smells her weakness and keeps wrapping his right leg around her left leg, trying to make it buckle under Penny’s weight. Penny spends all her time defending rather than attacking. Thirty seconds remain, and there’s still no score.

The crowd is going mad. “Pe-nny. Pe-nny,” screams Tower Hamlets. “Hum-phrey. Hum-phrey,” bellows Greenwich, sensing a draw and a win by default!

Penny feigns weakness, making Humphrey push, pulling him forwards and off balance. Penny sits down and draws her knees up to support Humphrey. Then with both hands on his uwagi, she rocks backwards thrusting her arms above her head and launching Humphrey into a forward roll as she lifts her knees, tumbling him onto his back. Penny and Humphrey lie on the tatami - their heads touching…both looking at Tony for a decision.

Tony looks at Penny then Humphrey then points to Penny, just as the gong goes to end the contest and the competition.

Penny wins the point. Tower Hamlets wins the competition, running onto the tatami like pitch-invading football fans, and lifts Penny into the air, chanting, “Pe-nny. Pe-nny. Pe-nny!”


Instead of roaring, they shout GOAAAALLL!

Penny, Ted, Rick and Liz sit on the return water bus - this time happy to find a place inside and recharge. Penny changed back into her tracksuit bottoms but keeps on her uwagi so that she can show off her new belt - brown and double-tied!

Will anticipated three wins for Penny and presented her with the brown belt moments after the fracas of victory.

Liz has camera withdrawal symptoms and can’t stop snapping away, recording the euphoria of success for posterity and to email everyone later.

Penny, Ted and Rick relive every minute and every minute detail, embellishing and exaggerating like an angler describing the fish that got away. As they approach Tower Bridge, the conversation turns from judo to football. Ted and Rick take off their tracksuit tops to display their England shirts, followed shortly by Liz.

“I wish I had an England shirt,” moans Penny, staring enviously at the other three. “To watch the match like a real fan.”

“We’ll get you one next week, Penny,” happily offers Liz.

“You can borrow my other England shirt,” offers Ted, seeing Penny’s face light up. “The redshirt - England’s second shirt.”

“That’s fantastic!” excites Penny, enjoying the thought of a redshirt to match her red uwagi.

“It’s the least I can do,” says Ted with a guilty smile, “after hurting your ankle.”

Penny says nothing and gives a wry smile. Her ankle is still sore.

“You better hurry,” directs Liz, spying the time on the water bus clock as they pull into Tower Millennium pier, “it’s gone half past five, and the match starts at six.”

Liz shows her identity pass to one of the Queen’s Guard, smartly dressed in a red tunic and a Busby bearskin hat and holding a rifle to his shoulder. She knocks on the large wooden entrance to get one of the Yeomen to let them in. Liz whispers the new daily password. Her friend, Brian, who’s drawn the short straw to remain at the gate during the match, makes a joke about the password being incorrect before smiling and allowing Liz, Penny, Ted and Rick to enter and return home.

They walk quickly, or in Penny’s case, limp like a wounded soldier past the occupied raven cages. Penny shouts hello to Gripp and Rocky and see you in the morning, as they pass the White Tower and the Crown Jewels to arrive at Ted and Rick’s house. Beth opens the door and quizzes Liz and Penny all about the judo competition while Ted and Rick hurry indoors to drop off their gear and return with Penny’s red England shirt.

Beth, Ted and Rick wait outside while Liz drops off the beach bag and Penny runs upstairs to deposit her backpack and change into the England shirt. It smells of Ted, but there’s no time to be fussy! She puts on her uwagi to proudly display her brown belt and limps downstairs to rejoin everyone.

“I got you kids one of these from the gift shop,” begins Beth as she delves into a Tower of London plastic bag to retrieve three lion toy headgear, “They’re World Cup specials,” she continues as Penny, Ted and Rick thank her and place them on their heads. “Instead of roaring, they shout GOAAAALLL!”

Penny, Ted and Rick are in hysterics as they look at each other with large lion noses, fat furry ears and long black whiskers, continually pressing the noses to roar GOAAALLL!

“Well done, Beth,” applauds Liz, snapping another photo. “They’re great! I wish we all had one!”

Liz and Beth follow the three lions to the Yeoman Warders Club and into a room laid out with rows of seats and a central aisle and the largest television screen, Penny has ever seen.

The room seems naturally split into white England supporters on the left and red Wales supporters on the right! Penny feels awkward sitting in red on the left side but soon realises that there are more red England shirts encamped on the Wales side!

Penny, Ted and Rick spot their friends wearing red Wales shirts and similar red dragon toy headgear. They all press their noses simultaneously to make the whole room laugh at three lions and three dragons roaring GOAAAALLL.

“Thank goodness the dragons don’t spit fire!” shouts one of the Yeomen, adding to the amusement.

Everyone stands for the National anthems. The English supporters outnumber the Wales supporters, but the Wales supporters have a distinct choral advantage!

“Well done today, guys,” congratulates Phil, handing Penny, Ted and Rick a St. Clement orange and lemon drink, “I heard you kicked Greenwich butt!”

“Oh, Dad!” winces Penny, embarrassed by Phil’s attempt to be in with the kids!

“And huge congratulations to you, Penny, on your brown belt,” continues Phil, ignoring Penny’s embarrassment, “I wish I could’ve been there, but Mum told me all about it, and I’ve seen some photos. I’m so proud of you!”

“Thanks, Dad,” replies Penny, straw-sipping her drink, adding, “I’ve hurt my ankle.”

“Yes, I heard,” concerns Phil, “I’m sure it’ll be much better in the morning.”

“I hope so,” wishes Penny, nodding at Phil.

“You three lions enjoy the match,” concludes Phil as he returns to the back of the room, cheering, “C’mon, England!”

The first half is excruciating - near miss after near miss…on both sides!

With drinks replenished, everyone settles down for the second half. The enthusiasm of the first half has waned slightly. Then out of nowhere, the Wales defence robs the ball and catch England with a counter-attack, passing the ball up the right wing as their strikers steam forward like bats out of hell, shimmying left and right to wrong-foot the England defence.

“C’mon, Wales,” shout the Wales supporters.

“Get back, England,” scream the England supporters.

The Wales winger floats a fantastic ball to the far post. The England goalkeeper is too far forwards and can only watch in vain as the Wales striker jumps into the air like a rugby line-out lock to head the ball into the back of the England net. It’s one-nil to Wales. The Wales supporters go berserk with dragons roaring GOAAAALLL. The England supporters are stunned and silent!

Ten minutes later, Wales miskick the ball upfield, slicing it into the crowd. England’s talisman collects the ball, and before Wales can regroup, he throws the longest throw of his life to fall into the five-yard box for the English number nine to flick it towards the far post and onto the end of the outstretched foot of the number seven. GOAAAALLL!

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