Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Far Flung Adventures 4

Elliott crouched down at the foot of a crumbling, sun baked wall and watched the daily market assemble itself around him. He rearranged his filthy rags, set out his battered wooden begging bowl and spat noisily into the dust.

Before him was a mad cramped jostling space, a brief release from the dark labyrinthine alleys whose complexity made the Souk virtually unnavigable. Traders, whose hovels opened onto the tiny square, opened their shutters and drew out wares from dark interiors. Others arrived carrying their goods on their heads. Each had an appointed place, and each wanted a little bit more, so the air was filled with imprecations and appeals to the Almighty.

Nobody paid attention to the scrawny beggar from the hill country, and Elliot prided himself on his disguise. His own mother wouldn’t have recognised him. He had an eye for detail, an instinctive appreciation of local colour and fifteen years with the Colonial Police had provided him with plenty of opportunity to study those he was spying upon.

If there were any truth in the rumours of unrest and insurrection, they would manifest themselves here, amongst the gossiping tongues of the marketplace. All he had to do was remain unnoticed and alert.

A fat man padded past, and then drew himself up before returning to Elliot and standing in front of him, looking down affably.

“Baksheesh,” croaked Elliot in perfect hill tones.

The fat man sat beside him, and mopped at the sweat running from beneath his turban. He fixed Elliot with an ingenuous smile, displaying an impressive array of gold teeth. Then he leaned in closer. Elliot’s nerves were taut. Was this to be the confidence that completed his mission?

“God be with you, Engleesh,” the fat man said warmly. “You want to buy some feelthy postcards?”

Monday, 21 December 2009

Far Flung Adventures 3

Half way through a vicious Klondike winter, Muscat discovered his companion in the tiny cabin was a full-grown grizzly bear. The fug of the stove, the pervading reek of unwashed clothing and a working still of virulent moonshine had served to delay this discovery by six weeks.

Muscat lay on his fetid bunk, paralysed with fear. Six feet across the splintered floor, the hulking brute sprawled across the bunk it had occupied since the avalanche had engulfed them.

Muscat tried to shake his head clear of grain alcohol and assess the situation. If he hadn’t noticed his companion was a bear, the bear had seemingly made the same mistake about him, or remained indifferent to the presence of man. But, bears were never indifferent where food was concerned. Soon it would feel the ravenings of hunger, and this unnatural truce would end in bloody attack.

As his vision cleared, Muscat made out the stock of his shotgun on the floor beside him, protruding from the dangling filthy blanket. He edged a hand down slowly toward his salvation. The bear grunted and shifted its huge bulk; but after one juddering snort, it returned to its deep snoring.

Muscat’s fingers closed on the stock and he drew the gun out from beneath the bunk, wincing as its steel scraped on the rough timber floor. He brought close it up to him, to see the two cartridges nestling in place. Then leaning across as far as he dared, he placed the barrels against the sleeping ursine mass and pulled both triggers.

The noise was deafening and the cabin filled with smoke and the reek of cordite. Snow on the roof, two meters deep, cracked. The bear sat up with a blood-curdling shriek and, in its death throes, transformed itself into Muscat’s brother Raymond.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Far Flung Adventures 1

Midshipman Dainty became separated from the water party through that most innocent of impulses, a love of nature. Despite orders to secure water inland and return to the bumboats without delay and despite sightings of cannibal war parties in the archipelago, Dainty succumbed to the beauty of an orchid overhanging the narrow pathway. Sending the party on under the temporary command of a burly bosun, he settled back with pad and pencil, to commit the marvellous bloom to paper.

The party had lumbered on, with water barrels on makeshift barrows. Cutlasses and muskets at the ready, they scanned the dense foliage for rapacious head hunters. While Dainty, a slim, golden-haired youth, smiled dreamily at the bromeliad and strove to capture its exquisite lines.

Half an hour later, on completing a satisfactory study, he registered the complete absence of brawny, naval ratings hauling heavy equipment back down the path. A furrow of doubt and vexation creased his perfect brow. Then he heard voices on the shore.

He dashed back to the shore line, in time to watch the bumboats making their way back, through the breakers, to HMS Vantage. He looked at the sketch of the orchid, still clasped in his hand, and shook his head as he reflected that he and it were two natural beauties lost amidst the leafy Polynesian shore. He sighed poetically.

At that moment a massive Polynesian war club, with multiple knobbles and ridges, flattened his golden curls. The second blow shattered the perfect symmetry of his handsome face. The muscled warrior desisted from a third, not wishing to ruin his trophy’s profile nor afflict his lunch with irritating bone fragments.

From the poop deck, Vantage’s captain captured the moment in his spyglass. Not much to Dainty, he reflected, beggars would be hungry again by tea-time.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Family Secrets 3

For ten years after her mother’s death Jennifer looked after Aunty Winnie. Unlike Jennifer’s mother, who had been generous, cheerful and accommodating, Auntie Winnie was irascible and demanding. She was a martyr to her own digestion and a tyrant to everybody else. She sucked strong mints and gave no quarter.
Jennifer’s mother was all too accommodating to pancreatic cancer and died suddenly, leaving Jennifer a small seafront home and an inveterate invalid.

Winnie retired to the top bedroom of the tiny house and refused to respond charitably to any overtures, not even her nightly glass of warm brandy in milk. She would listen grimly to the radio at full volume, scowling at the seagulls circling above her dormer window. Throughout the night she would hobble heavy footed to the bathroom, slamming the door so that Jennifer would be fully aware of her indisposition.

Jennifer, never overly social, watched both her life and her health dwindle as she scrabbled exhaustedly up and down the narrow stairs to minister to Aunty Winnie’s remorseless requirements. She worked mornings in a greeting cards shop, returning home each day in dread of accusations of neglect and demands for fresh sheets, ironed nighties and fillets of sole in milk. She persisted for her mother’s sake. Even though on some nights she surprised herself with visions of Aunty Winnie’s spite-filled face disappearing once and for all beneath a smothering duck down pillow.

One unusually calm morning, Jennifer crept upstairs to face whatever onslaught Aunty Winnie was silently preparing for her, and discovered her lying dead beneath the dormer window, some crumbs of bread in her hand, waiting for the seagulls for all eternity.

Probate proved a problem; for when Jennifer sat down with the family solicitor, she discovered Aunty Winnie wasn’t related to her mother at all.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Lost Worlds 5

The Count prodded at an errant log with the toe of his gleaming hunting boot and steered it back into the monumental hearth. Around the stone mantel wildebeests, antelope and bison stared down neutrally; in a corner a huge brown bear stood on its hind legs, clawing at the air, complacent, glassy eyes belying its snarling mouth.

“Estates in Carpathia!” he spat. “Mother can you seriously consider aligning the most ancient house in Ruthenia to these whey faced yokels? All for a few thousand acres of scrub, bedevilled by diseased peasants and flyblown cattle. I am cousin to kings!”

His mother waved this aside with a bejewelled hand; she was not going to be deflected by mere bombast. The Count paced in front of the roaring fire, his hands clutched behind his back. He paused to pour himself a glass of Tokay, drank it in one impetuous gulp.

“It’s practically miscegenation,” he scowled into the flames.

His mother placed her hands together in her lap and drew herself up. “You will marry Anna-Sophia,” she stated, quietly, unequivocally. “She’s lumpen, docile and three months pregnant, if her doctor is to be believed, by any one of her brothers. Carpathian families are deplorably close.” She stifled his protest with a flick of the glove. “It will save you the burden of attempting it yourself.”

“I will not demean…” he began.

“You are a ham-fisted invert, whose sole interests are slaughtering wildlife and molesting farmhands. You are also the only man in the Empire who believes this to be a secret. Anna-Sophia, almost a total ignoramus, will be a dutiful and incurious wife.”

She smiled coldly at him as he dashed the Tokay glass into the fire, his shoulders heaving with despairing sobs. The family name was safe, for another generation at least.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Lost Worlds 3

Click on picture to enlarge

The mist came down so fast they had no chance of making it back to the valley by nightfall. The expedition party halted, strung out along the path they’d hacked through the thicket, while Colonel Arbuthnot consulted Professor Dawkins on their safest course of action. The air was humid, the mist fetid and clammy. Above them loomed ancient trees.

“We’d better climb out above this,” opined the Colonel. “Spend all night chasing our own tails if we try to pick our way back down to the river.”

However, the weather and the forest closed in and, after many hard hours, the Colonel and the Professor found themselves alone, exhausted and disorientated.

Round and round they went, hacking at seemingly endless undergrowth until just when all hope seemed lost, the Professor pointed ahead, “What’s that?”

The jungle ended suddenly at the brink of a chasm, plunging into sightless depths. On the other side was a rock wall with a path cut into it. From nowhere came the scent of jasmine on a light refreshing breeze.

Spanning the chasm was a narrow, rickety wooden bridge. At the far end stood a tiny man in saffron robes. He held a golden bowl heaped with unknown fruits.
“Welcome gentlemen to the land of peace and plenty. Cross now that we may offer you solace and nourishment.”

Tiny monks, similarly attired, appeared behind him, each carrying a golden platter, some with food, and others with scented towels.

“Come on Dawkins,” said the Colonel, “We must get into shelter.”

Both men stepped tentatively onto the fragile, swaying walk-way and instantly plummeted through it. They fell shrieking into the distant depths.

“Not again!” cried the tiny Abbott. He turned to the monks, who were holding onto the rock wall helpless with laughter, “It’s not funny!”

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Lost Worlds 2

Social Services had spirited away the remains of the late, intestate Arthur Curtis. They had done as much as was humanly possible to reconnect the deceased to the living but had failed to trace any next of kin. And so they sent in the house clearing agency prior to redecorating and reallocating Arthur’s small, top floor council flat.

Henry Seasons and his assistant Marek took the lift, which for once was working. They left Martin in the van, a necessary precaution in the ASBO age. Both were habituated to the poignant nature of their work. They had encountered all kinds of unsettling interiors, from the squalid to the stomach turning. They were not prepared for Arthur’s eyrie.

At first sight it was the familiar, discreetly shabby last refuge of a UK senior citizen; the tired furniture; the yellowing table cloth on the tiny table; the vase of dried grasses on the narrow mantelpiece.

Then Marek opened up the sideboard. Inside were dozens of tiny ballerinas. Figurines, models, toys and dolls in porcelain, china, glass and latterly plastic. A riot of tiny dancers sequestered together, frozen in the middle of some wondrous performance.

They filled the kitchen cupboards, the chest of drawers in the bedroom, the bathroom cabinet, and the meter cupboard. Every private space was filled with Little Swans, Sleeping Beauties, Sylphides et al. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, in graceful poses, staring loftily into space. Henry and Marek looked at each other and shrugged.

Henry braved the heavy wardrobe; behind the rumpled suit, the faded tweed jacket and the formless twill trousers, hung a silvery tutu with glittering skirts. It too was sagging and well worn. Under it, Henry found a pair of battered silver ballet pumps, in a large size.

Arthur Curtis had danced his final solo.

This is our 70th posting

Friday, 30 October 2009

Lost Worlds 1

Dinosaurs lived at the end of the coppice. They lurked in the shadows down there, waiting to snatch up eight year old sisters and devour them. Despite this, Mary insisted on following Ben and Harry on their expeditions through the garden fence and into the lowering mysteries of the tatty patch of elms and scrub.

Mary would scoff loudly at these monstrous inventions, as they negotiated the narrow path winding through the thicket, under the sticky leaves of the few surviving trees. She’d point out there were no tracks. There were always tracks. And dinosaurs didn’t fly, well some did, but they couldn’t fly through trees, could they? Why didn’t the boys just stop fibbing? She was coming along anyway.

Ben and Harry would scour the little track and dusty brambles for some plausible spoor but, as ever, all they could find were single shoes, shattered bottles of cheap cider and unpleasant clumps of tissue paper containing grown up things they didn’t want to know about.

Then, there’d be some unidentifiable sound from the other end of the coppice. Foliage would rustle, branches would sway and Mary would suddenly accept the presence of ravenous, scaly giants. With a squeak of fear, she’d take off back down the path to safety. She’d be too scared to stop and stick her tongue out at her brother and his horrid friend, until she’d gained the sanctuary of the garden, where she’d turn and pull hideous and vengeful faces in their direction.

Ben and Harry would carry on their expedition unencumbered.

One day it happened just like that, only it wasn’t the noise of an imaginary dinosaur they all heard, but something much worse. And Mary stood in her garden, pulling vengeful faces in the direction of what was rapidly becoming a crime scene.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The Perfect Crime 5

The bloodstain was still there on the fireside rug where the major’s body had been found in the library, the assegai protruding from his back.

Inspector Cutler and Sergeant Walsh walked back out into the hall and closed the door. The houseguests were assembled in the drawing room, the staff confined to their quarters; they had time to take stock. Cutler ran through the facts, which Walsh ticked off with a stubby pencil in his notebook.

“Time of death: eleven to eleven thirty. Mrs Prendergast was walking into the village with the vicar. The Batterby’s were seen on the golf links. Dr. Johnson was attending Daphne Hewitt in her room. Cook was with the gardener in the kitchen garden, seen by Boucher from the road. Boot boy on his bike coming back from Admiral Bascombe’s with the handbag Miss Glamis had left there.”

“Miss Glamis?” Walsh squinted at his notebook.

“On the ten forty five to Worcester,” sighed Cutler. “Makes no sense. Everyone’s in the clear.”

“Somebody isn’t, sir,” replied Walsh, tersely.

“Time for a smoke eh, Sergeant?” Cutler never carried smokes of his own.

Walsh walked over to where his raincoat was draped across the post table and rummaged in the pockets.

“My lighter,” he cried, “It’s gone!”

“You must have left it at the station, man,” replied Cutler dismissively.

“It was there when I came in, sir!” insisted Walsh, “It never leaves me. Solid gold. Anniversary present. My wife’ll go potty.”

“At home, then.”

“It was in my pocket when we rang the doorbell, sir,” Walsh persisted, “I remember making sure. I knew you’d be cadging a...” he faltered.

“Well, forget it,” snapped Cutler, “We’ve got more important things to do.”

Up in the attic, the boot boy fingered his gleaming prize. Nobody would be bothered with him.

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Perfect Crime 4

When Bernie the Weasel decided to pull off the heist of the century, he knew only the best team would do. His recruitment was slow and meticulous. Finally in a secluded villa set well back from the Cote and the Casino they were to turn over, Bernie assembled his troops.

Cigar in hand, he called the roll. “Mad” Marco and his Balkan Bastards needed no introduction; their capacity for indiscriminate slaughter was legendary. “Boom Boom” Detroux, “Electrical” Wilson and “Wheels” Larsson shook hands. They had either worked before or knew each other by reputation. Until they came to Nobody Jones.

“What’s he do, this Nobody?” growled Mad Marko, measuring the portly, little man for a shallow grave.

“Absolutely nothing,” replied Nobody Jones, cheerfully, “I can assure you of that.”

“While we do the job, he goes on a camping tour of the Camargue,” rasped Bernie, “with his wife.”

There was a deadly quiet. Nobody Jones smiled amiably at everybody.

Bernie spelled it out, “Nobody Jones is the finest innocent bystander in the business.”

The silence continued, more puzzled than deadly now.

“If he’s spotted with us, he’s so clean it confuses every Law Agency in the world. Ain’t a Database built can work a connection. He’s insurance.”

There was a general buzz of approval. Someone opened a bottle of slivovitz; Jones went off to polish his camper. Bernie pulled out the maps and diagrams.

Two days later, while Nobody Jones was cruising through Montpelier, the gang knocked over the Casino for eighty million euros. It worked like a dream.

Jones retired to a small but beautiful cottage in Dorset to contemplate his garden. He had made substantial sums of money and, occasionally as he clipped away at his topiary, he would reflect that his career had been the perfect crime.

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Perfect Crime 3

“Do you know who I am?” the old woman glared up at the floorwalker like a pug with toothache.

“Of course, Lady Malmouth,” he tried to pacify her. “We meet so often.”

“Then, why are you molesting me in this appalling fashion?” she bellowed, and the entire jewellery department stopped and stared.

The floorwalker prevailed on her nurse-companion, Bridget, “I must examine Lady Malmouth’s handbag. I fear she might inadvertently…,” he had said this so often, he could hardly bear to string the euphemism together, “...again.”

Bridget nodded, and then whispered in Lady Malmouth’s ear, “Shall we leave this for Christopher to settle, my lady? And go home and put our feet up?”

Lady Malmouth gave a peremptory nod and then emptied the contents of her bag onto the counter. She sniffed at the floorwalker, “If your staff were more attentive, one might not be forced to help oneself.”

Her son, the Honourable Christopher would soon be in, brusque and embarrassed, to sign the cheque; later, he would draw Bridget aside to upbraid her for taking his mother back into London’s finest store, when everyone knew what was bound to happen. Bridget would protest she had no control over her ladyship and offer notice, which Christopher would hastily turn down, having even less control himself.

The floorwalker escorted them to the side entrance, Lady Malmouth brushing his effusions aside.

Back in the Mayfair mews, Lady Malmouth sank back onto a gilded sofa, with a gin. Bridget went to her room. She took the platinum note-clip and the pearls from her coat pocket and examined them. They were of her usual high quality. At this rate she’d be able to buy the beach-house in Goa within two years. Providing Lady Malmouth didn’t do anything stupid, like die on her.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Perfect Crime 2

Half-way through the afternoon, and three lines into his poem, Peter heard the doorbell ring. He tried to ignore it, but it rang insistently. He strode to answer the door, hoping whoever it was would tell by his icy, tight-lipped expression that they were guilty of the most unpardonable interruption. He would not be drawn into any vulgar complaint; he would simply direct a glare of such mordant disdain, they would apologise profusely and retire, abject and ashamed.

He opened the door to discover there was nobody there. His rage became incandescent. Then he noticed that on the outside doormat, in place of any cringing interloper, was a very large paperbag. It was on fire. Huge flames leapt up from it, along with the smell of lighter fluid. They licked at his chest; the fumes tore at his nostrils.

Peter’s rage turned upon the instant to panic and, regardless of the effect on his slippers, he stamped down on the inferno with both feet. His frenetic fandango had an immediate effect. As the oily flames capered and receded beneath his onslaught, he became aware of a pulping texture beneath his thin leather soles, and a disgusting stench rising up amongst the benzene. Someone had filled the bag with dog faeces and he was now treading them, warm and pliant, in all directions.

He looked around for help, for answers, for some sense of purpose. His poem was as ruined as his trousers; his socks and slippers didn’t even bear thinking about. Stranded, nauseated and helpless on his own porch, he realised life had not equipped him for this.

“Did you know him?” asked one of the perpetrators, as they strolled away.
“Not in the slightest,” replied the other, “but he’ll know why we did it.”

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The Perfect Crime.

Mrs Bell was the last long-term resident in the Windermere Hotel, Surbiton. She had a small room, well away from the sales reps, filled with dust, lily of the valley talc and Readers Digest. She received no mail, talked to nobody, wore small black hats, tired cardigans and had continuous trouble with her spectacles. Her sole pleasure seemed to be tormenting whoever was waiting on her at dinner. She always sat at the same corner table, eyeing even the cruet with suspicion.

David, on his gap year, had drawn the short straw and Mrs Bell’s table. He brought her the day’s hors d’oeuvre.

“What’s this?” She poked at it with umbrage.

“Egg mayonnaise,” explained David.

“I don’t want this muck on it.” She poked at it again.

Under her baleful stare, David returned reluctantly to the kitchen where the chef, a malevolent chain-smoking Scottish dwarf, snarled and bustled.

“Mrs Bell doesn’t want the mayonnaise, chef,” he croaked.

MacLeish stared at him like a cobra with heartburn and then seized the plate. He pushed aside Fidel at the cleaning station and, clamping a nicotined hand over the contents, thrust Mrs Bell’s egg mayonnaise under the soapy hot tap, sluicing the dish back to three dark lettuce leaves and a severely hardboiled egg. He flattened out the lettuce, now steaming faintly and smelling of lye, and crushed the egg halves into their centre. Then he handed the plate back. “Give the old bitch that fucker,” he ordered.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, David sleepwalked his way back to Mrs Bell’s table, and placed the dish in front of her. She inspected it closely, sniffed at in, and prodded it with her fork.

“That’s much better,” she snapped.

David floated back to the kitchen; he was now a made man.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Love is a many splendoured thing 4

Brooke received a singing telegram on St.Valentine’s Day. A circus clown; red nose, huge shoes, whirling bow tie and voluminous trousers, arrived at her open-plan office, and positioned himself in front of her desk. While Brooke, red-faced and mortified tried, to ignore him, he threw out his arms and announced a song of Andrew’s composing. This detailed, at full volume, endearing characteristics like her snoring, her predilection for junk food and her comprehensive shaving habits. It then moved on to a sentimental pronouncement of forgiveness and a resounding if fatuous declaration of undying love, “I love you lots and lots and lots/ My sweetest, darling farty-bots.”

On this, the clown produced a klaxon which he honked suggestively, before planting a wet kiss on Brooke’s crimson cheek, with a final cry of “Happy Valentines, you hairy old slapper!!”

He then strode away, his shoes slapping on the parquet flooring, his job well done.

Most of Brooke’s colleagues had frozen in a rictus of embarrassment, but her closest friends fed upon the spectacle greedily. Brooke refused to run, tear-sodden, to the ladies washroom. Instead she speed-dialled Andrew and told him he had a very small penis and bad breath, and that her Yoga coach, Darryl, was an infinitely better screw. Plus her brothers were now looking for him, to break both his legs. She rang off, to spontaneous if sporadic applause, and attempted to get on with her morning.
Ben from IT, who had worshipped her from afar, tried to restrain his elation. Aware that the odour powering out from his trainers might betray his joy, he slipped into the men’s washroom to commune his silent triumph to the roller towel. The coast was clear. Brooke was there for the taking. He wondered what doggerel he could inflict on her from Darryl.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Love is a many splendoured thing 3

Brenda had never considered cosmetic surgery; she was quite happy with the body God had given her. God clearly had a penchant for short redheads with moon faces, small breasts and chunky thighs. Everyone else would just have to make do.

Until she met Eamonn. They both hated the same things and enjoyed long walks in the country in proper boots. Eamonn bought her a new rucksack to carry their waterproofs and so she knew it was the real thing. But then something hinted to her that Eamonn might not share God’s taste in women. He kept looking at Britney Spears videos, singing her songs, mooning over her pictures in magazines.

There was nothing for it, she concluded, she would have to despoil God’s creation and become a big breasted blonde with cow eyes. She didn’t tell Eamonn about his lovely surprise; she told him she’d be away for a few days with her job.

When Eamonn next went round to Brenda’s flat, he was confronted with an angry blonde with black eyes, a weasel’s nose and aggressively large breasts. She daren’t move her mouth and her breasts felt like someone had taken a wrench to them. How the hell could he put her through all this?

Chastened by her transformation and her quiet fury, Eamonn suggested a weekend on Dartmoor, their old favoured hiking country. She sulked all the way down the motorway, and overnight at the hostel. Her breasts chafed under the rucksack straps. She could hardly breathe through her tiny new nostrils. She couldn’t even snort with impatience at him.

Next morning, she stormed across the moors in silence. Eamonn put a spurt on, striding ahead until his muscles screamed. Perhaps he could lose her by the Tor. After that it would be up to helicopter rescue.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Love is a many splendoured thing 2

Brendan had spent ten of his thirty years of marriage inside. He thought this was a natural consequence of being a career criminal. His wife, June, who’d brought up their two boys alone, thought it was a consequence of Brendan being pig thick. She tried not to dwell on it.

June’s friend, Winnie, whose Dave was a serially unsuccessful robber, said her marriage wouldn’t have lasted without Dave’s lengthy prison sentences. Absence made the heart grow fonder, she said. June hadn’t noticed this, but kept it to herself.

June found herself becoming close to Terry, her next door neighbour, well past forty, who worked for the council and lived with his sister. Terry ran June around, dropped the boys off at football and fixed things around the house. June wasn’t sure what she’d do, if Terry made a pass at her but was somehow disheartened this never seemed to cross his mind.

Brendan was in Wandsworth, looking at another three years, when June surprised herself by fondling Terry’s bottom beside the airing cupboard. Terry pretended not to notice and went on replacing the landing light bulb, so June persisted, almost petulantly. They ended up under the quilt in the second bedroom, where Terry went through his aerobics apologetically and June hung on for dear life. At last, she was meeting her own needs. Terry persisted conscientiously until she gave a little hoot of triumph, whereupon he got off and went downstairs to make a pot of tea.

Their affair went on for three months until, for once in his life, Brendan was acquitted for lack of evidence. On his second night back home, he met Terry at the local pub and Terry bought him a large scotch. Brendan thought he’d never seen the man looking so free and easy.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Love is a many splendoured thing 1

Daisy always had the Blues in her blood. In her prepubescent years while her friends were being witches or West Life fans, Daisy would sing the blues in her bedroom, loudly. Her mother was tone deaf, and her father wanted a quite life in other ways, so Daisy remained uninterrupted.

Around her fourteenth birthday she met Phil, and let him listen to her perform old Bonnie Rait numbers in her bedroom, while her mum was hanging out the washing downstairs. Phil, whose sex life had been chiefly a thing of fantasy, said he thought she was wonderful. She told him he had a lot to learn. Blues was not wonderful. It was searing and intense. But she slipped his hand up her t-shirt by way of encouragement

As they grew older, Daisy tried to start a band, but it was difficult. Fellow musicians drifted away, usually after the first rehearsal. It was only Phil’s determination, his white van and his overtime money from the Post Office that kept her going. She worked as a hairdresser, humming all the while, and sung in pubs at the weekend. There was never more than one gig per venue, but Phil assured her she needed the exposure.

One day during a lunchtime gig, after the strippers, she saw somebody recording her on his digital camera. He and his friend seemed to be smirking about something, so she faced them out and asked to see what was so funny.

She listened to herself in horror. “Phil, I sound like a foghorn!”

“You do, love,” replied Phil, gently. Then thinking to console her, he added, “But you could suck a golf ball through a garden hose.”

She’s given up the blues now. And she’s given up Phil, for letting her go on so long with it.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A natural history of bankers 4

Sheila had fought every step of the way in her banking career. She’d endured team meetings in lap-dancing clubs, testosterone-charged banter, exclusion from the coke binges in the men’s washroom, the yobbery that spanned classes and ages throughout the bank. She’d evaded the cul de sac of trackers and analysts and pushed her way in amongst the dealers and managers. She was on the up, and she intended to keep herself there.
She knew all about glass ceilings. She’d seen the dominant males up there on high, urinating down on her, but she’d persevered. She had to be twice as good to earn half as much. Her bonuses were paltry; her Porsche wasn’t a turbo; her flat in Mayfair wasn’t exactly paid off; but she was still in the game.
Until one morning she found herself out on the pavement with her belongings in a cardboard box and news photographers snapping away. She stood there in a daze. She cost half as much as her peers, worked twice as hard and brought in more money. If there was any advantage in being cheap, she’d expected the recession to point it out to the over-cologned bison running her department. She hadn’t lost billions trying to compensate for the size of her penis, after all.
It was all so dreadfully unfair. She walked into the bijoux City pub across the road, pushed her way through the uber-redundant, drowning their sorrows on vintage Crystal before their credit cards were torn up, and ordered herself a scotch. The moment it arrived, she burst into tears of exasperation, not caring for a moment that her profile was faltering and her make-up blurring with it.
“It’s so unfair!” she wailed.
“You’re right, there,” agreed the antediluvian barman. “In China, they’d have shot you.”

Monday, 27 July 2009

A natural history of bankers 3

Click on picture to enlarge.
When her dad’s pension fund dwindled to beer money and he was required, along with fellow employees, to take one month’s unpaid holiday, Harriet Walker felt more apprehensive than is customary about bringing home her new boyfriend, Oliver. Oliver was presentable, with Home Counties, privately-educated provenance, no overt addictions or twitches and a reasonably restrained taste in sports cars. He worked, nonetheless, for a bank in the City. He had received bonuses for diligence and assertive behaviour, which, no doubt her father would see as the fruits of rampaging greed, and other men’s gullibility.

The moral standing of a coprophagic child abuser sat easily on Oliver’s shoulders, as he entered the garden where Harriet’s father was listlessly cutting back wisteria. Oliver’s guileless demeanour reflected a complete innocence of his profession’s tarnished reputation in the Walker household, and indeed the world at large. Oliver was a personable young man and determined to be liked by everyone he chose for the privilege.

“My God, Mr Walker,” he offered politely as he surveyed the truncated shrubbery. “You do have green fingers.”

Mr Walker hyperventilated at this sudden intrusion; he forestalled cardiac arrest by inquiring, “Are you Harriet’s bloke?”

“That’s right,” Oliver saw the state of Mr Walker’s gardening gloves and decided to forego shaking hands.

“Met her at that damn estate agents, I suppose,” Mr Walker essayed.

“Oh, no. I work for a City bank,” smiled Oliver, and added with mock sincerity, “Sorry about that!”

“Come on you two! I’m sure lunch must be ready!” Harriet sprinted down the garden path, wondering how on earth she had missed Oliver’s arrival; all her nightmares about to take shape, all her precautions redundant.

.As they walked into lunch, Mr Walker stuck a garden fork into the back of Oliver’s leg; he hoped the brute got tetanus.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

A natural history of bankers 2

Jeremy worked for a merchant bank. He didn’t have the emotional abandon to be a rock star, so he muddled along playing guitar in groups, whose members were similarly encumbered by professional day jobs. He bought expensive equipment and worked diligently on his song collections. He also rose to some prominence at the bank, being known for his diligence and his ruthlessness. However, the amoral rapacity he brought to financial matters just wouldn’t transfer to his creative ambitions.

His latest group broke up when the drummer was transferred to a litigations specialist in Hong Kong, and Jeremy felt himself at a crossroads. He could not be both banker and musician. To his colleagues’ disbelief, he resigned and went to follow his dream, saving them a considerable amount of severance money as the crunch came.

Jeremy found a job playing in a Riverside café frequented by the bohemian middle-classes. He told the manager his history and his dream, and the man took him on immediately. Jeremy would sit on a stool with his guitar and work quietly through his repertoire. The customers would drink coffee and eat recherché salads and ignore him. After a few days however, this lack of appreciation began to irritate him. Next day he turned up with an amp, cranked it up, and began to sing out his soul, a banker no more.

The manager terminated his residency immediately.

“I’m a musician,” Jeremy protested, “I deserve to be listened to.”

“You’re shit,” replied the manager, “I just didn’t notice till you turned up the volume”

Jeremy carted off his equipment, to tell his girlfriend he was between gigs again.
“Thought a singing banker would be a laugh,” the manager explained to his chef. “But there’s nothing funny about them at all, is there?”

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

A natural history of bankers

Ray cruised his Bentley Turbo through the suburban streets to the house he and his fellow hedge-funders had had converted into their state-of –the-art office. Parking was a nightmare with all the middle class women whingeing on about their school runs or getting the ambulance in for granddad’s outpatient visits, but he could ignore them with ease. It was handy for Heathrow, the races and a little state-of-the art oriental girl he maintained in Wimbledon. It was his big joke. He could make money anywhere. And he could spend it exactly how he wished to.

That was all changing of course. The money he’d made had been drastically reduced, and hiding it away was becoming ever more complicated, but times would change. And when they did, he would be there at the front of the queue. The market belonged to marketeers. It was the natural way of things. He parked up and went in to make money.

When he came out again that evening, he was dumfounded. Gouged into his Bentley’s gleaming bonnet were the words “USELESS EVIL GREEDY BASTARD!” He gazed about him in utter disbelief at the quite road, with its pollarded trees and recycling bins laid dutifully out for the following day. Who on earth round there could do something like that?

Ray went back in to his desk and called the police. They took an hour to arrive, a statement and no further action.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Family Secrets 2

Pat and Mary Reagan were outwardly proud and privately relieved when their youngest, Barry, joined a religious community. Barry was never likely to follow his brothers into the family firm. His first attempt at hod-carrying had ended in tears (his) and a broken foot (his father’s). He suffered from asthma and vertigo, so his Uncle Tom’s scaffolding firm was equally denied him.

He was not one for a drink or a bet, and on family occasions would be found with the women, listening to them bemoan the moral standing of friends and neighbours. Barry sat quietly by, eyes sparkling, taking in every nuance of the feminine pecking order.

The women set him up with Maureen from the post office. A large girl with thick wavy hair and no obvious impairments, she watched him weep inaudibly in the bus shelter on the way home from their first date, and consigned him, loudly, to the role of Village Nancy.

Barry finally secured a part time position in the Chemists, where he dutifully doled out mouthwash, haemorrhoid cream and sanitary wear to the small community. The younger women objected to his whey-faced involvement in their intimate requirements, but the elder forbore with him, such a nice boy, if a worry to his mother.

Finally the parish priest, Father Nigel, arranged for Barry to become a lay brother at a small religious community in the back country. It would give him a purpose and keep him out of trouble, Father Nigel opined.

“My own son a bride of Christ,” grumbled Pat Reagan over a pint of porter, as Barry was shipped out to his vocation.

“Bride of Father Nigel, more like,” muttered his brother, Tom. “Still, good luck to him.”

Barry had kept Maureen out of the family; they could afford to be charitable.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Family Secrets.

Nobody would ever talk about Auntie Irene. She appeared as a teenager, ghostly thin and with protruding teeth, at the edges of black and white family photographs, staring into the camera with lop-sided intensity. She wore shapeless floral frocks and sandals, seemingly in all weathers. Sometimes she stood beside her sister June, whose dazzling smile and extravagant perm cast her into shadow. There was one faded photograph of Irene as a baby, squinting in disbelief at the lens, from her mother’s lap. There were no pictures of her in adult life.

If Auntie Irene remained peripheral in family photographs, she was entirely absent from family conversations and history. Something happened during her teenage years that effectively wiped her off the map; although her death certificate, nestling beneath the same photographs in a battered biscuit tin in the attic, showed her to have died, of pneumonia at the age of forty seven.

At first Penny thought her auntie was a spy, leading a romantic double life far away from dull family routine in Tring, where June, Penny’s mum, had ended up the wife of a dyspeptic dentist. Every time Penny asked her mum about Auntie Irene, she was brushed off with a terse, “We don’t want to go into all that, now.”

But Penny did want to go into all that. The less she knew about Auntie Irene, the more she wanted to be like her. Until one day she heard her mum and dad arguing, and her dad capped a particularly heated altercation by yelling, “You’re as mad as poor old Irene!”

“You leave my sister alone!” her mum screamed back.

“Pity your dad didn’t,” retorted her father at the top of his voice. “She might have had half a chance.”

After that, Penny didn’t talk about Auntie Irene either.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Old dog, new tricks 4

Mariusz had always been a carpenter. His father had been a carpenter, and his grandfather. He’d been through every conceivable state certificate and qualification and had worked with his father, as soon as he was able to hold a saw. If you asked Mariusz about himself, the first thing he’d tell you was that he was a carpenter, born and bred. He may not have been much of a conversationalist, but he could do wonders with wood.

Until he came to England, to work in the building trade. In England he found there were more than enough carpenters. They weren’t as good as him, young men with slapdash ways, but they took precedence with the gangers, because they had been there for longer. So Mariusz worked as a labourer while the carpenters bodged jobs in front of him. He was earning money, true, but gradually despondency overtook him.

Jerzy, the site foreman and an old friend from home, had a great idea. “Mariusz, you’re a shit labourer.” He told his old friend one day. “And you look like shit, too.”

“I’m a master carpenter,” Mariusz moaned. “I wasn’t meant to shovel.”

“We got too many fucking carpenters,” replied Jerzy, “Be an electrician.”

“I don’t know anything about it!” protested Mariusz.

“Who the fuck does over here?!” laughed Jerzy. “Follow the fucking diagrams. Long as you’re not colour blind, you can’t go wrong.”

So Mariusz became the gang electrician. His first job burned to the ground two days after the plasterers had finished. A month later he shorted out High Wycombe. After that, three scaffolders died when a Chelsea renovation went suddenly live.
Jerzy, site foreman on each job, was dismissed for an unacceptable level of delay. Mariusz is site foreman now. He’s really taken to it.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Old dog, new tricks 3

Rosemary got her grandson Neil to bring her knitting machine down from the attic. It was going to be the source of a much needed second income when her husband was alive and, as her pension dwindled, it looked like it was going to have to fulfil the same function again.

She went through all the patterns in her instruction book, still safe in its plastic bag after all these years and saw, sadly, that the cardigans and jumpers of a bygone age was about as attractive as the room dividers and lava lamps that the models wearing them were posing beside. Some jumpers had motifs knitted into them. One even boasted something like a Smurf or a Troll, she couldn’t remember. Even so, they simply wouldn’t do. Rosemary looked out of her flat window in search of inspiration, and saw that someone had spray painted “Pussy Posse” on the wall by the garages down below. That sounded modern and something to do with cats and cowboys so it should appeal to girls and boys alike. She rummaged through her bags of wool, saved over the years and pushed to the back of the cupboard beneath the stairs. She chose apricot and rose and set to work.

Rosemary’s oldest friend June modelled her new creation at the Community centre where she went for senior citizens yoga. Everyone was very taken. Glenda from the Bowling Club said she’d like four in team colours (Lilac and pale grey) and Enid ordered two as Christmas presents for her nieces in Australia.

Word soon spread amongst the elder ladies in the area and Rosemary was kept very busy with the demand. Her housekeeping increased considerably. Now, all she had to do was produce something that appealed more directly to the men.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Old dog, new tricks 2

David knew he was a cliché. A man of his age hanging round with a woman twenty years his junior. It was pathetic, doomed and irresistible. It was also adultery, but he put that on ice. He and his wife went back a long way; theirs had been a primeval romance and they had evolved, he told himself, into different species.

It was different with Katie, a junior executive in a sister department at his conglomerate. With Katie, there was passion, originality, lots of laughs. She didn’t think he was a played-out irritation, she thought he was worldly and capable. She admired him, and she told him so. Nobody had done either of those things for years, if ever. This had to be the real thing.

He bought a baseball cap. And an i-pod, which he could just about operate, without breaking it or dislocating his thumb. He tried to follow, understand and tolerate TV dramas, documentaries about dogs coming back from the dead and the extraordinary effectiveness of the primal scream. An essential part of his pre-sex supplication was an update on modern culture and Katie required him to hold his own, before she held his for him.

He ate vegetarian meals. He folded up the bigotries of decades and threw them away. In return he got a new life, a reborn vitality and an entirely new sense of self worth.

Until one day Katie told him they’d have to stop. And went off to a different job and persons of her own age.

David thought he ought to be grown up about this, but he found that in his time with Katie, he’d forgotten how. He wished he could be an old dog again, but the new tricks kept getting in the way.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Old dog, new tricks.

Colin had spent twenty five years as an engineer. He started off in the field and ended up doing fifteen years air-conditioned soft labour in middle-management in the Gulf. He built up a prodigious set of golfing stories, a confirmed way of doing things, and very few friends. The longer he stayed in place, the more he was singled out as a target by other, younger, hungrier engineers. They felt he was cocooned. They felt he had been cocooned years ago, and had dried out in there. He was best hoovered up discreetly.

Colin continued to pump out his complacent bonhomie, with his short-sleeved drip-dry shirts and multicolour biro, until finally he was sucked up by someone in human resources, based in Houston, and spat out at Heathrow, with a small remittance and no career prospects.

He found a job as a limo driver; shuttling those still rampant on the career ladder to the airport or other significant destinations. He always had an anecdote handy; a cheerful recollection from his past to mirror or cap whatever the suit in the back seat was going through. He was cordially detested by those who bothered to listen to his observations and advice.

Until one day the culls began, and the suits in the back seat began to look ashen and stressed. As the days went on, they talked about downsizing, changing careers, opting out, trying anything

“Whatever you do,” advised Colin, “Don’t touch the chauffeur business. It’s a disaster.”

This time he had his eye on the competition.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Absurdly mismatched pairs 3

It was quite a shock when Julie discovered she had been discreetly possessed by Lucifer. She tried to offset this by casting off her Goth regalia and impersonating a lyrical hippie girl in love with the universe and at one with nature. She had some hope that Satan would be so disgusted by an insipid flower child, that he’d vacate the premises and move somewhere more appropriate. Like Gillian from next door, who already had a wall eye and seemed eminently suitable.

Satan on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the street theatre, the haikus, the incense and even the brown rice. He whispered observations on the stylistic limitations of Khalil Gibran and the advantages of bestiality but in the main seemed content with a passive role. Maybe it was the marihuana, maybe the patchouli, but Julie’s demonic possession stayed a relatively balanced affair.

Until the third day of a music festival out in the country when Julie’s tepee collapsed under the continuous torrential rain and she found herself wading through mud on the first day of her period, with her sanitary protection stolen along with her handbag by persons unknown.

She was queuing in the rain for the overflowing ladies portocabin behind a number of similarly bedraggled women, when a girl in teased hair and patchwork tights pushed in front of her and told her, drunkenly, to “get over it.”. Julie took her by her satin lapels and wrenched out her throat with her teeth.

As the interloper’s arterial blood pumped across the mire, the queue seemed to clear instantly and Julie was safely ensconced on the loo when the police arrived. She opened the door on a tableau of gore and disapproval.

“Whatever possessed you?” cried someone.

“Just a friend.” replied Julie.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Life imitating art 1

Daniel Morris was quite a useful fast bowler. He played for the Sunday side of Swafham and was counted on to dispose of the major threats amongst the opposition, so that Swafham’s captain, the portly Reverend Kershaw and his fellow opener, Constable Burrows, could amble out and safely knock off the required runs. They would then retire to the Dog and Pheasant, for a few pints and a gloat.

Swafham’s success made them an irritation in the fixtures table, but their beautiful ground offset the inevitable pasting from Morris’s bowling and the trundling run acquisition of Kershaw and Burrows.

One day they were drawn against a side of mini-celebrities, past sportsmen, media personalities and the inevitable recuperated rock legend. The mini-celebrities provided champagne and orange juice at pre-match drinks, but Morris was careful to restrict himself to the orange juice. To the inexplicable amusement of the recuperated rock legend, he sunk three glasses in succession.

Half way through his run-up, Daniel Morris felt an elation he had never experienced before; his legs felt immensely powerful, his chest expansive, his arms supple and strong. The ball felt like a metal projectile weighted perfectly in his hand. The breath streamed through his nostrils in an icy gush. He focused past the dwarfish umpire to the awaiting batsman.

The batsman seemed to morph into an excoriated form of David Gower. His face became a fleshy blur. His legs, encased in bandage-like pads, straddled the wicket. He gave a hallucinatory leer and flexed goatish muscles.

The effect was raw, venomous and terrifying. Without knowing what impelled him, Daniel Morris shrieked with terror and speeding ever faster, raced down the length of the wicket, past the crouching batsman, past the keeper, over the boundary ropes and across the fields.

He has retired from the game.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The bigger picture.

Tony was called up during the first days of World War 2 and sent to Norway. He was eighteen with prominent teeth and a concave chest. Apart from summer holidays at Broadstairs, he’d never been outside Rotherhithe before and the sea voyage, despite the U-boat threat, entranced him.

Not very long after they had landed, they sat Tony beside a fjord with a Carr’s anti-tank rifle and told him to cover their retreat. A column of Panzer tanks was imminent and it was his job to hold them up. He left with a very small quantity of chocolate, even less ammunition and an encouraging pat on his helmet.

He lay there in the glorious sunshine, his anti-tank rifled trained on a distant bend in the road around which the first Panzer tank would soon rumble, and thought how wonderful the morning was. The air was crystal clear, the waters glittered and a soft breeze rustled through the green, clean grass.

A roly-poly famer’s wife appeared round the distant bend in the road with a cow on a halter. Tony listened to the tinkling of its bell on the wind and averted his aim. He hoped she would be well clear before the Panzers arrived, and then tried not to think about the Panzers at all.

As the farmer’s wife and the cow made their way slowly towards him he could see she had an affable smile on her face, to match the morning. He wondered if he should say something as she passed. Something sociable, to dissipate the tension in him, the fear he couldn’t quite acknowledge

As she drew near he shouted over a polite if nervous, “Good morning!”

“Bollocks!” she called out genially. Then, having observed the necessary proprieties, she walked on, leaving Tony waiting for the Panzers.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Stereotypical drama.

When the bombardment finally stopped the mud still seemed to churn and shift. Corporal Alfie Parsons smiled grimly at this from the bottom of his dugout. He was probably the only man to suffer sea sickness ten or twenty miles inland. He certainly seemed to be the only man alive in his trench. He watched his hands stop shaking then after tidying up a dragging puttee he crawled out into the main alley to see if any of Ypres remained.

Cruelly, it was a beautiful sunny day. A light breeze played on the shattered mud-smeared world around him and plucked at the twisted limbs of the raggedy dead and the splintered wood and tangled wire of their failed defences.

He looked instinctively up at the outer wall, in case the Hun were about to fall upon him, and gasped aloud as a butterfly fluttered into land on top of a shrapnel pocked periscope. Its breathtaking beauty and open fragility stilled the earth beneath Corporal Alfie Parsons. Tears welled in his eyes as he reached out to cup the unattainable.

He felt it flutter and then settle in the doting prison of his fingers and drew it to his grimy face. To breath in its innocence before freeing it.

A sniper’s bullet entered his clavicle and ricocheted amongst his ribs. Corporal Alfie Parsons retched out gouts of blood and sank to his knees. The butterfly resettled on some nearby cable. The trench was retaken by evening.

(Arnhem, Naesby, Im Jim, Khe San,Waterloo, booby trap ulster, baggage train at Agincourt)

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Disasters narrowly averted

Click on picture to enlarge.

When Julian jumped in front of the train, he felt a great sense of release. He had considered his life at length. He’d run through his prospects, his relationship with other people at work, the dim light in which he was held by his family, the exaggerated absence of his sex life, his incompetence at any kind of social endeavour, sport, hobby or pastime. Above all, the boredom that ravaged him from the moment he got up to face the meaningless selection of a variety breakfast cereal.

Each day, from the moment he opened his eyes, his life went down hill, inevitably, interminably, irrevocably. It was beyond his understanding, and beyond his control.

Now, for once, he was going to take control of the one aspect of it that remained in his power. He was going to cease breathing. The rest could do as it liked.

He pondered the methods open to him. He’d heard alcohol and pills could be both agonising and unreliable. He was far too squeamish to try cutting anything, and he couldn’t afford to fly to some clinic in Switzerland, to say he was feeling terminal. Finally, he decided on a Central Line train coming into North Acton station. Access was easy. The platforms were low, so there wasn’t far to jump. And it would be quick.

He bought a ticket to Holborn, so as not to arouse suspicion, went down to the eastbound platform, waited for fifteen minutes and then, as the train arrived, he jumped.

The train stopped short. Everybody stared. Now he was in real trouble.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Thwarted dreams 2

Colin would sit in the back of the classroom and disembowel Mr Stewart. Mr Stewart would plead and whimper but to no avail until the lump of chalk bounced off Colin’s head returning him to the terror and humiliation of Mr Stewart’s maths class.

Mr Stewart frightened Colin into a maths qualification. Two years later, Colin left for University where he took a First in modern languages. He was haunted throughout by paralysing flashbacks of Mr Stewart ,the fear before his lessons, the rages during, the scornful disregard in the playground.

Colin knew he would only find peace if he returned and exorcised the monster. He had to reduce him to a cowering old man in front of his current charges, thus saving them and salving his own soul. After two years he got the pluck to do it.

The return was not what he’d envisaged. The school was somehow smaller. The staff room was shabby, the younger staff surly and the older staff sheepish, as if they didn’t want him to see them like this – not grown ups but abandoned in term time.

“Colin! You’ve come back to see us,” Mr Stewart rushed towards him joyfully

Colin rehearsed his cold eyed condemnation as Mr Steward hustled him to the staffroom kettle, elbowing a geographer aside. “I had to be so beastly to you, didn’t I?” He winced at the memory, “But every college wanted maths, didn’t they? Even for you poets.” He fixed Colin with a soft, indulgent smile, “And we had such hopes for you, you talented man.”

He patted Colin on the knee and sat down. “Please, tell an old crock all the wonderful things you’re going to do now.”

So Colin put down the disembowelling hook and started to outline his plans.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Thwarted dreams 1

Terry Bremner had always wanted to escape the family business, a butcher's shop, and because he had always been good with figures, he decided he could make a go of it as an accountant.

So he moved to a different town and worked for the Parks Department, and took evening classes in accountancy with people who - he was happy to note - came from all walks of life.

After two terms however, Terry's father died, and he had to return to the shop to oversee the funeral arrangements and put the Estate in order. There he found that the business was in such a mess and his mother in so distraught a condition that he was obliged to postpone his progress towards certification and turn himself to breathing new life into "Bremner's, The Family Butchers".

By the time the business was red-blooded and his mother laid to rest, Terry had quite forgotten how to do anything else. His time was more than taken up.

However he married reasonably well, had two children (girls), and drank rather more single malt whisky than his wife thought was good for him.

Friday, 27 March 2009

The Cruel hand of fate 3

Raymond was forty five, married with children and lived just outside Cheedle. He caught Aids one afternoon in a plush hotel in Frankfurt through a site specialising in glamorous and adventurous Escorts for international businessmen.

Raymond reckoned he qualified. After all he was a long way from Cheedle. When he saw Ana’s photos, he decided to do more than just scroll through the site. He made the call.

By the time Ana arrived at his room, Raymond’s anxiety was at manageable proportions. Ana was beautiful and dressed in lingerie he had only seen in magazines. She slipped his money into her designer bag. Then she dropped to her knees

Raymond barely recognised the man in the mirror standing over her. Then he lay back while she applied a condom and straddled him. He became young again. Then as he withdrew to adopt a more adventurous position he noticed the condom had split.

He showed Ana in a panic but she just shrugged, said she hardly ever used them and threw it away. She drew him into her deeply and continued to ply her trade until she noticed Raymond was in a rictus of fear

She got out of bed and shouted at him. Did he think she was diseased? She had regular tests! Something was wrong with him! She dressed in seconds and stormed out. Raymond knelt on the bed in the first stages of Aids.

Back in Cheedle, Raymond wouldn’t go near his doctor because he couldn’t bear to hear the diagnosis confirmed. He wouldn’t go near his wife, because he didn’t want to infect her too. He couldn’t explain because the guilt and fear would break him.

So he went into a depression. And sat in it till he noticed the world had left him quite alone.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Cruel hand of fate 2

Click picture to enlarge

Kurt slipped into the Four Seasons as part of the plant maintenance crew, his Canon Eos 10 secreted in his apron, a baby palm in his arms. He flanked the lobby into the fire escape, set the plant down and tore up the stairs.

He made his way to the top secret rooftop pool. Leading Lady Number One would be up there, humping. She earned her millions smiling winsomely into the camera. Off camera she was a sexual animal. Kurt would make sure America found out.

He’d paid well for the tip off. He didn’t know who she was humping but he didn’t care. He listened carefully to her animal grunts through the service door, checked his equipment and burst through to the pool.

Leading Lady Number One was thrashing about on the poolside tiles alone. Convulsed by epilepsy rather than passion, she barked and juddered and foamed. Kurt framed and reframed. The price had gone up. This was hard news, European syndication, the works.

Her feet kicked a lounger into the pool as Kurt dashed back down the stairs to deliver and collect. He sprinted into the underground car park, leapt onto his Motoguzzi, revved it hard and lurched for the Exit.

A Japanese tourist lost control of his rented Chevrolet and scooted backwards into Kurt’s path. Kurt tried to steer round but lost it and skidded in a shower of sparks into the plant maintenance van.

The Motoguzzi’s tank exploded immediately, blinding Kurt and filling his lungs with flame. The Eos 10 crumpled into the bike frame and burned along with the rest of it.
The sirens were the last thing he heard.

Kurt didn’t make the news. The big story was the death by drowning of Leading Lady Number One, during one of her tragic seizures.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Cruel hand of fate.

When Andreas saw the bend in the river he knew he was home. He built a makeshift shack so that Elsa and Britt could nurse their mother and set about clearing enough land to set out the foundations for a plantation house.

If Bergit had been stronger he would have started clearing the plantation itself. The rainy season was weeks away and he needed the soil turned for the first sowing. But with his wife’s fever unremitting, Andreas resolved to get at least a kitchen and a family room constructed and then prepare whatever land he could before the storms broke.

The horses were tired and the trees deep-rooted but slowly the house site appeared before them. Elsa fished and cooked while Britt nursed her mother, wiping her sweats away. Bergit’s breathing racked her constantly. Mercifully, Andreas collapsed into bed each night, smelling of earth and horse sweat, too exhausted to worry.

Within a month, Bergit and the girls were in the rudimentary back rooms of their future home. Water boiled over a woodstove in the kitchen. Blankets stretched out to air. Beds were filled with dried grass.

Andreas turned towards the forest, and sparing neither himself nor the horses, carved out the fields where their cash crops would grow. Bergit watched him from a porch still sticky with sap. She saw the steadfastness in him, the will to provide. She loved him beyond measure.

Her breathing was easing, her appetite for Elsa’s interminable fish soup growing. As the farm was growing, she was being restored to her family.

At this point, Andreas suffered a deep gash to his forearm from a splintered fencepost. The wound turned septic, the poison sprinted through his debilitated frame and he was dead within three days. His new farm had killed him.

Friday, 13 March 2009

The bigger picture 1

Theresa knew that a handsome man like Andrew Rawson would pass her by. And he did, leaving her plumped on the sofa with her plate of egg and cress while he loomed over her cousin Amy with his most disarming smile.

Amy, a natural flirt, entranced him in turn, with her sun-kissed ringlets and gossamer skin. Her eyes flashed and fluttered, her breasts rose with excitement at his witty reposts.
Theresa returned to her sandwiches. Amy had him hooked. She would wait.

Andrew made as many calls on Amy at Theresa’s rose garlanded cottage as propriety would admit. Theresa had made over the back bedroom to Amy in her hour of need and inevitably Amy started to entertain Andrew on an impromptu and nocturnal basis. Theresa heard Amy accept Andrew’s eventual proposal through the bedroom wall. Not long now, she thought.

Amy went to live with Andrew and prepare for her wedding. Theresa’s cottage returned to its tranquillity. Until late one night, Theresa set down her warm milk and her book to answer the insistent phone.

Andrew was beside himself and slashed about the arms and chest with a boning knife. Amy was locked in the bathroom, naked and screaming, slashing at herself in turn and vowing to cut out Andrew’s intestines and spread them over the walls.

Theresa offered honeyed words of calm and promised to hurry over, once she had contacted Amy’s old clinic. Andrew had nothing to worry about. Theresa would take care of everything.

Amy is back on her medication. Her ward is secure. As is her future.

Andrew is recovering under Theresa’s constant care. His nerves are slowly restoring. In fact on days when the sunlight outlines her figure through Theresa’s loose country gowns, that he feels the sap may one day rise again.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Stereotypical drama: The battlefield butterfly.

Captain Whitney spotted a rare butterfly on a piece of blasted scrub outside the observation post he and his Company were occupying in war torn Lebanon.

It made him think of his schooldays, when he had been very keen on Nature Studies and Gym but not on Latin, and rather lucky that the Officer Training Corps had recognised his true if rather limited capabilities.

He moved stealthily over to the shrub, intending to cup the butterfly in his hands and bring it back to show to his men, as a slight but enriching interlude to the crisp tedium of military stalemate.

He was less than three meters from the post's sandbagged entrance, the butterfly encased in the soft, protective custody of his hands, when the rocket struck, obliterating his Company, his Observation Post and, through a wickedly twisted piece of shrapnel, both his arms to the elbow.

His wife went to work in a Garden Centre owned by a close friend.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Random Acts Of Kindness 2

Miriam Keaton had spent most of her adult life working in a seaside souvenir shop. She dispensed cunningly fashioned seashells and artful displays of coloured sand alongside postcards, beach paraphernalia and the obligatory rock. Rain or shine, she met every hard-pressed holiday maker with a sunny smile, displaying a saint like patience at the simian antics of their fractious offspring.

Once, Miriam had been a tripper too. The railways were still nationalised when she first lugged her suitcase from station to boarding house. Then, overwhelmed by the ozone and the pebbles she tripped down to the sea in unsuitable sandals and a frock that threatened to blow up around her ears with every awkward onshore gust. Although, from experience, she knew few men would be interested in a glimpse of her lingerie.

Within five minutes she had turned her ankle picking her way through the rank and drying seaweed and skidding on a concealed slick of what appeared to be tar. Blinded by tears and pain she leant against a breakwater and smeared lichen down the side of her frock. She stood still, stranded and unsighted, her holiday release at an end.

When he appeared at her side, he seemed too slight and a little too old to be of any help. But he knelt and bound her ankle tightly with his paisley muffler, and then courteously ignoring her protestations that she really was far too heavy, he lifted her in his arms and carried her back up to the promenade, to sit her in the bus shelter.

He then tipped his trilby and disappeared.

Miriam holidayed there every year after that and eventually took the job in a souvenir shop. She made many acquaintances but never reacquainted herself with the slight, older man, whose paisley muffler she yearned to return.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Random Acts Of Kindness

Kathy watched Ron – an accounts clerk in his late twenties - come into the West End bar, riffle through his change for the price of a pint and sit in the corner. He stared at his glass, throwing occasional burning glances at girls at the surrounding tables.

She looked at Ron’s cheap suit and the anguished hunger in his eyes. Pasty and knobbly, he looked like a throwback from black and white movies. The girls around him, media secretaries and the rest, ignored him. Kathy, returning to the States the following day, had a spare evening on her hands and something stirred deep within her as she watched him trying to ignore his loneliness.

Although Kathy was very attractive, it took almost two hours to get Ron to pick her up. He seemed to think that a girl like her showing an interest in him was against natural law.

She inveigled him for a Chinese meal, where he pushed noodles about and back to his room where, with an apologetic smile, he pushed his noodle into her. She spent the night, giving him every attention, unconditionally. Then at around seven in the morning, she took a cab back to back to her hotel, picked up her luggage and flew home to the West Coast.

Ron held onto that night as an unmerited and uninflected glimpse of paradise. He married a girl from Despatch called Tricia, large and prone to blushing. They made diffident love and three babies, one of which suffered from sensitive skin.

As he trudged his way up through the generations, Ron would sometimes stop and wonder why Kathy had singled him out. He developed a warm appreciation for her generosity. But sometimes the anomaly made him shake the tears away.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Noble Gestures 4

Old Martin Holborn came upon a young mother sneezing herself towards a structural fault beside a fine display of azaleas in the Isabella plantation. He was surprised she’d ventured out. Even allowing for seasonal fluctuation, an allergic reaction like that seemed severe enough to keep the sufferer indoors all summer. A small, fat boy with a face covered in half eaten chocolate held stolidly to one of her hands and rocked with the seismic shocks of her nasal explosions. The young mother, in track suit bottoms every bit as colourful as the azaleas, snatched feebly at her pockets as her eyes watered and her face turned rose red.

Holborn mounted an annual expedition to view the Isabella Azaleas. An expedition that became annually more onerous and significant. For as long as he could shuffle down to the wondrous blooms and colour swathes, Holborn knew he would live the year out.

The young mother’s asphyxiation continued unabated so without hesitation, Martin pulled a clean silk handkerchief from his sleeve and proffered it to her. She seized it and evacuated her nasal passages deeply into its soft paisley folds. Then drawing in breath like a warhorse she gathered focus enough to see her son’s chocolate spattered face. She grasped the back of his head and scrubbed at him briskly till his skin started to appear through the smear. Then indulging in three or four good extra nose-blows for luck, she held the hankie out to Holborn. “Ta.” She said.

Martin drew his hands back from the squelching mess. “No, no. Please. Keep it.”

She waited till the old fart had hobbled round the corner before dropping the sodden silk bundle into a litterbin. She didn’t want it either.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Noble Gestures 3

Doctor Aziz gave up his seat to a heavily pregnant woman on the train and smiled benignly down at her. She gave a half smile and then read her magazine.

How soon we forget, thought Doctor Aziz as his knees buckled slightly at the hurtling onrush of the train over the points. I have given. I am forgotten. She must be around seven months gone. Another screaming mouth to feed in a world plagued with too much pollution and not enough soul. Another being destined for junk food, junk culture, unemployment and pension shortfall.

The train stopped briefly at Reading and a young man got up to get off. He tapped Doctor Aziz on the shoulder to indicate his seat was free and the Doctor sat with some relief.

The young man watched him closely as he closed the carriage door. Dirty bugger, he thought, staring at her tits like that. She’s six months pregnant if she’s a day.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Noble Gestures 2

Pentimento. This image may be more faithful to the text. Oscar

Lady Evangeline Dupont clambered back out of the lifeboat to permit a mother with two young girls to squeeze into her place. She was eighty nine and belonged with the men. In fact, looking at some of the men, mere boys scrambling oily and terrified over the hull of the beleaguered ship, she felt some of the elder women ought to hand over their passage to them too.

As the lifeboat pushed off into the tumultuous night, Lady Evangeline felt a calmness overtake her. Somewhere out there was a preposterous submarine, filled with boorish, diesel slicked fascists. All around were choppy and sour smelling waters. She was far better off here. A better class of demise.

She turned to offer some quip to this effect to her neighbour, but lost her footing and slid directly over the side. The cold, coarse salt water surged up her crepe de chine skirts. It really was too vulgar.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Noble Gestures 1

Mr Basham was not a rich man to start with and his policy on healthcare bit deep into the family budget. He made little sacrifices and so did they. One of his sacrifices was to do without a mobile phone. Accordingly when he was referred to the Cromwell Hospital for exploratory ex-rays of an agonising left knee and he wished to tell his wife the results had proved sadly inconclusive, he was sent down to the basement in search of a public phone.

A clutch of Arab women in burkas surrounded the phone. One held out a scrap of paper with a local number on it and a handful of pound coins. They stared silently at him until he took the scrap, dialled the number and inadvertently fed in his last twenty pence piece.
Somebody barked at the other end and he handed the receiver across. The woman jabbed her handful of money at him so insistently that he made an embarrassed gesture, turned away and left the hospital.

He took the train home with a modest sense of moral wellbeing until his knee produced a twinge so violent that he grimaced with pain to the consternation of some children sitting opposite.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Moments of realisation 3

Gordon came from a poor but happy family. He had two elder brothers and a sister. His dad had been a bus-driver, who had steered his bus through the Blitz.

The family scattered to the four corners of London. Tony and Joan worked in banks while Kevin was a driving instructor. Gordon worked on the Underground. Unlike the others he didn’t marry. They came together at Christmas and other big family occasions.

Gordon was short and blond and thickset. He was slow moving and affable. His brothers and his sister were tall, birdlike and dark. Their dad, long dead, had been spindly too, clambering into his bus like a balding stick insect.

They were all together for Easter at Kevin’s house, Gordon now in his forties. They were sitting around Mum’s old table knocking back Kevin’s home-made wine when Gordon noticed Tony and Kevin were now very sparse on top. Like Joan, they both sported thick bi-focals and now the boys were beginning to look exactly like their dad.

And Gordon realised he didn’t. In fact he didn’t look like any of them. He took another slurp of wine and stared closely at them all. His brow furrowed.

“Why don’t I look like you?” Gordon asked finally.

Tony, Kevin and Joan tried to laugh it off.

“Not enough beauty to go round, Gordie.” joked Tony. “Sorry.”

“I don’t look anything like you. Nothing like.” Gordon’s voice rose. “You look like Dad.”

“Wine’s stronger than you think, old mate,” admonished Kevin.

Tony eased Gordon into the lounge while Kevin called him a cab home. They all waved him off from the porch.

“I’m not telling him,” said Joan, “ promised Mum.”

“Break his heart,” replied Tony, “better this way.”

But Gordon knew.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Moments of realisation 2

Louis looked down fascinated at Miranda screaming on the bed beneath him. She was staring up at him as if searching for the answer to some insoluble, universal conundrum whilst bouncing about like a cod on a boat deck.

He wasn’t entirely new to sex although most of his experience had been downloaded off the internet, but things did seem to be going uncommonly well. He applied himself.

Miranda moaned and juddered. Then she flung her arms around his neck and hauled herself up to stare wondrously into his eyes, “God, you’re good,” she cried, “You’re so good!”
At this the breakthrough came, a revelation that wouldn’t be gainsaid. He was good at something at last. Very good at something. It was nothing he could tell his old teacher or his probation officer or his worrying mother but he had an aptitude. The realisation surged up his spine from deep behind his knees through his belly and into the arms that clasped her. He applied himself again

Monday, 19 January 2009

Moments of realisation 1

Clare and Louisa went to ballet lessons like any other small girls of their class, age and size. Their teacher watched their development closely. Some weeks later as their mother arrived to take them home from class, she was called to one side and told that while Clare would never be more than energetic, Louisa had the making of something special. She might even be a prodigy.

Their mother worried about this all the way home. Clare and Louisa were too close to be separated by cruel divergences of talent and her husband was in no way predisposed to invest money and time in a ballet prodigy. His sport was boxing.

Try as she might she could find no way to broach the subject within the family routine. It hung over her as a Witch’s Curse. Until she saw a classic setting of Swan Lake was being presented at a most prestigious venue. She pressed her husband to buy tickets and he, pestered by three balletomanes, duly obliged and on the night drove his little chorus up to town.

They sat in the front row and when the Little Swans came into sight, glimmering in swathes of silver and arctic blue light and the music washed around her like a crystal cut sea, Louisa seemed suddenly enrapt. A great realisation swept over her with the strings and as she stared wide eyed at the graceful creatures, she knew what she had to do with her life. She knew for sure. She would become a veterinary surgeon.