A mysterious Easter weekend assignation with the Crusaders of Calais

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"WHAT are you doing for Easter, then?"

It was the man next to me in the pub who had asked me this innocuous but challenging question. It took me unawares. This was partly because I had no idea what I was doing for Easter, and partly because I had no idea what I should be doing for Easter. My religious convictions keep me out of churches at Easter time, and my lack of forward planning prevents me from spending the Easter weekend milling around airports.

"Well," I said, "I thought I'd just drive aimlessly up and down the motorway looking for Easter Fayres, or, failing that, Alton Towers, or, failing that, a car boot sale, or, failing that, a grim but vital end-of-season bottom-of-the-division relegation battle, or, failing that..."

"Know what I'm going to do for Easter?" said the man.

I should have known.

He wanted me to ask him what HE was going to do for Easter.

"So, what are YOU going to do for Easter?" I asked him.

"I'm going on a crusade."

"Oh, that's interesting. A crusade against what?"

"Just a crusade. One of the crusades, you know. You've heard of the crusaders, and Richard the Lionheart, and all that?"

"Oh, you're going on a Crusade?"

I mentally changed the small c to a capital C.

"That's right. Reclaim the Holy Land. Bring it back from the infidel."

"I thought we'd done that already?"

"Nothing of the sort. At the moment the Holy Land is in the hands of two types of infidel, the Israeli and the Palestinian, and we aim to sweep both of them out and reinstate old-fashioned Christianity."

"You'll need a bit longer than the Easter weekend for that, won't you?"

"I've done a lot of this sort of thing before," he said ruminatively, ignoring my question. "First it was with the Sealed Knot, recreating old battles. Then it was with the Sealed Flask..."

"Sealed Flask?" I said.

"The medical arm of the Sealed Knot. We used to mount spectacular pageants to recreate long-forgotten diseases. Scurvy, bubonic plague, Black Death and so on. Great fun. I'd show you my warts if I had the time. But now I'm with Sealed Orders."

"Sealed Orders?"

"It's a new organisation which recreates mystery assignations. Anything a bit clandestine. Man In The Iron Mask. Princes In The Tower. Monty's Double - that sort of thing."

"And now you're going on a Crusade?"

"Sssh!"

The man looked round.

"We're trying to keep it as secret as possible. We don't want the infidel to know we're coming. But if you should happen to read next week that the Arabs and Jews have both been evicted from Jerusalem, you can remember this conversation."

"Won't there be immense practical difficulties?" I said.

"Well, nothing as bad as what the Crusaders themselves faced. Most of them self-inflicted, of course. Charging into battle with a red cross on a white front is about as provocative as you can get - and provides the best possible target! No, we're going to be more subtle than that..."

"How many of you will there be?"

"Six... maybe a few more..."

"But surely..."

"We only took four of us when we recreated Hannibal crossing the Alps. It was quite enough. Nobody spotted us."

"Did you take elephants?"

"No. We wanted to but we thought we'd try and see if Hannibal could have done it WITHOUT elephants."

"And how far did you get?"

The man suddenly looked a little apologetic.

"Well, to be honest the weather turned nasty early on, so we called the whole thing off at... at Calais."

"CALAIS!"

"Yes. So we just loaded the van with as much cheap booze as we could and came back."

Enlightenment began to dawn.

"And would you say there's a very good chance that your Easter Crusade reconstruction will also be curtailed at Calais?"

"More than likely."

"And that you will come back laden with booze again?"

"Almost certainly"

"Not really in the Crusade spirit, is it?"

The man looked indignant.

"That's where you're wrong! Don't forget that half the Crusades never even got to the Holy Land! And that half the people involved were only after the pillaging and plundering and profiteering! To turn round at Calais and come back after buying booze is directly in the spirit of the Crusades!"

He went on to tell me that this summer the Sealed Orders movement is thinking seriously of recreating some of the Scarlet Pimpernel's exploits. But I can't help thinking that most of them will also take place in Calais.

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