It has been some time since I have written my novel, either in this format or any other. Still the writing group concentrates the mind and demands respect. And the next meeting is looming. There have been a few chapters not published on Brits between then and now. I suppose I don't want to give it all away, for fear that Salman Rushdie or Ian McEwan will steal my work.
Or maybe not.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
Romans, 7. 24
In the days that followed it was always there; the crunch, crunch, crunch of sandals on the road on a crisp frosty day somewhere out in Essex where Epping Forest met the city.
Here the legions came down the hill, a relentless tide that represented the order of the new world, compared to the haphazard savagery of the old.
Or so they would like to think. "Picked onion sandwich anyone?" whined a legionnaire called Clive.And the ordered ranks split asunder and headed to the pub.
The Romans came to Britain in 55 BC. The tribes of this wild island had been providing assistance to the Gauls in modern day France against the might of Julius Caesar's army. Caesar, never one to let opposition go unpunished, decided to send his armies across the chilly wastes of the English Channel to teach the mysterious tribes a lesson.
In late August about 12,000 Roman soldiers landed near Dover. Like invaders before and since the famous white cliffs rose up to greet them, a citadel before the citadels appeared. Caesar saw the masses of tribesmen on the cliffs, their spears twitching in anticipation of a bath in the blood of the invaders.
Caesar changed his landing place and a fierce fight took place on the beaches that Winston Churchill would refer to centuries later when he declared: "We will fight them on the beaches."
The Romans were forced back to fight in the cool pale water as the Britons stormed down the beach, writhed in war paint and screaming. Caesar was impressed with the fighting qualities of the Britons, but he vowed to crush them.
Caesar retreated but Britain's respite was brief. He returned the next year in 54 BC. with 30,000 soldiers and this time the Britons baulked at the idea of fighting Romans on the beach. Relentlessly the Romans established themselves as a military force in Britain, taking on the disparate tribes one by one.
But Caesar had left his back door open. As the Gauls rose up against the Romans in France, Caesar had to leave Britain to put down the rebellion in Gaul.
The Roman Army did not return to Britain for over 90 years when rumors of its wealth were brought by traders. In AD 43 the empire returned. The emperor Claudius sent an army of 40,000 men.
For almost 400 more years they stayed, building roads and great cities with bath houses and central heating. Today these ruins linger in remote fields picked over by seagulls or are built deep into the fabrics and street systems of England's cities. So went my crash course in the history of Roman Britain the night before my meeting with Moriarty.
I could understand the hubris of Caesar and Claudius' desire for wealth. I found it hard to understand what made grown men like Moriarty want to stomp around the empty roads of Essex on a chilly Sunday morning dressed as Legionaries.
Yet here he was on the train heading north, his leather straps hanging loose, his tin helmet adrift over his tousled hair.
"Why do you do this again?" I asked him.
Moriary looked genuinely surprised by my question for a few seconds.
"Because it's good wholesome activity on a Sunday morning."
"Yes but don't judge the chaps too harshly. Some of them are a bit odd."
And like a general who had defended his troops, he turned his lidded eyes to the remnants of suburbia that were scuttling past the train window as if to tell me the matter was closed and he would be entertaining no more questions. It seemed to be the story of Moriarty's life.
The world of a modern day Legionary is as complex as it is time consuming. It can cost thousands to deck out a Legionary while there is the small matter of clanking around Godforsaken locations and being laughed at by teenagers and kids.
Matthias looked suddenly mournful over his pint at the Cross Hands. For a start the waitress had made a fuss about his large shield that was propped up by the door and was talking in hushed tones to the manager behind the bar, a sallow youth of not more than 25 who was obviously going above and beyond the scope of his employment with her in the beer garden after hours.
Matthias' face twitched nervously. "It's not as if there is any respect for the Empire anymore," he said sullenly.
I had kept quiet for so far, the odd man out in this sea of armor but felt I had to add: "Not really since 410 AD."
The bar went silent and chilly and a couple of the Legionaries started shaking their heads slowly. I remembered too late that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The notion of Alaric King of the Visigoths and his barbarian hordes, sacking Rome, seemed too recent for some of the Legionaries to be able to adjust to.
One of them started muttering something about the Roman empire continuing for centuries afterwards but Moriarty cut him short. "Probably time to march again chaps," he said, amidst a general slurping of pints.
I was ignored after that. I wondered if I could broach the issue of Moriarty's falling ex wife in the train on the way back but his heavy brows seemed to say otherwise. I couldn't work out what Moriarty was doing with these Romans. He seemed to derive no obvious pleasure; he seemed like a man apart.
I abstractly picked up the local rag and tried to make out the blurry words between the beer stains.
Hackney Woman Arrested over Canary Death - I think that's what the headline said.