Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Woodpecker at the End of the World

I wrote the goodbye note and left it on my desk in my bedroom, for my family to find. I was sorry… for everything… for my failures of the past and the pain I was inflicting on them with my impending suicide.

As had been a pattern in my life, I found the breakdown of close relationships excruciatingly difficult… and this woman… I believed she was the elusive one – the love of my life, my soulmate…

Before we met, physically, we had talked on the phone every night, wrote long, rambling emails filled with hope and unguarded expressions of affection. I eventually moved down the country to be closer to her, and we’d share long nights full of laughter and love-making… well, I was making love… she just used to shout a lot, but that was still quite nice!

Losing her felt like the greatest tragedy of all the tragedies I had filled my life with – and perhaps the sting of sorrow was even more acute because she looked a lot like Princess Leia, and we never did get round to the gold bikini thing. She’d promised me… it was just another betrayal.

I walked out of my house, at dawn, with a ligature made from knotted, plastic refuse sacks and headed off to the woods I used to explore and play in, as a child, in carefree days when girls had germs and they smelled.

Venturing deep and far out of sight of the path, I settled myself down behind a large tree and readied myself, ligature in hand. I looped it and made a slipknot.

I couldn’t see for tears and my shoulders were shaking from sobbing, but my teeth were clenched and I didn’t make much noise.

I felt worthless… abandoned… unloved and unlovable. I looked back on my life and - from my teenage years, onward - saw nothing but chaos, misery, error after error that I never learnt from, all wrapped up in crippling depression.

I wanted it to end. I wanted to leave. I just wanted peace.

There’s nothing cowardly about suicide, and there’s nothing brave. When you reach that point, it’s the end of the world…

… the mental pressure is overwhelming… you can’t see a way out… you can’t find a reason to want to see a way out…

I didn’t go into the woods because I wanted saved. There was no more crying for help. I just wanted to be over.

Lost in my dark thoughts, I put the ligature around my neck and closed my eyes, ready to pull it tight.

Then I heard a tapping… the rapid hammering of a woodpecker against one of the trees in the wood. I opened my eyes and while I listened, the early-morning Sun shone on my face through the branches. There was such warmth from it, against my skin, after sitting there in the cold Spring dawn.

I was enthralled by the noise of the bird, all of a sudden. There would be periods of hammering, then quiet, and then the hammering would begin again from another area of the woods.

I’d stopped crying. I’d stopped reflecting on those dark thoughts. Though I still had that make-shift noose around my neck, the urge to destroy myself had left.

I don’t know much about woodpeckers, but I knew it was banging its head against the tree. I imagined, when it fell silent, it had had enough at trying at that particular trunk and simply moved on to another. Maybe it was feeding, but I pictured it looking for a surface giving enough to peck a home in.

There was a lesson there.

And I smiled… listening intently, with the Sun shining on my face…

I didn’t realise it then, but I had been dragged into the moment… into an exquisite peace where all my thoughts vanished and I was just being – and by listening, watching and feeling, I saw the beauty of my surroundings, and of life.

It felt like someone or something was telling me that it wasn’t my time to leave.

I went home.

That was about four years ago. There were still many mistakes to be made before my awakening, last February… but that was my first recollection of experiencing the bliss of present awareness.

I know, now, that I wasn’t in love with that woman. It wasn’t pure. It was an egoic thirst to feel needed and wanted, and real love doesn’t exist in the mind… it bubbles up from the soul. That’s not to say there was no love there… love – just like the song says – is all around. It would be shared between everyone on this planet, if we just had the clarity to feel it and express it freely.

Love is the strength of being, within, that allows these precious souls to leave your life… and as much as it hurts, you wish from your soul the best for them – except for crap sex, obviously.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Let go and Live

Old scars
“The teacher and the taught, together, create the teaching.” – Jade Goody

Sixteen months ago, I was a heartbroken wreck, mourning the loss of 'love' from a woman I had convinced myself I needed more than oxygen in my lungs. Each morning, when I awoke, I wished I hadn’t. I looked back over my life and it seemed nothing but a long and slow, torturous shadow-life of depression and failure. I wanted to destroy myself, but the fear of death must have been stronger than the fear of life… though that delicate balance was edging closer to my suicide.

Fifteen months ago, I was happier than I’d ever been. I’d wake with a smile on my face, and in my heart, and each moment was exhilarating – filled with a joy I’d never experienced. All the pain in my life had been dissolved. I could search my mind and look at things that used to shred me, and they had become nothing but benign curiosities. I was at peace.

What happened to facilitate such a dramatic shift of perspective?

I woke up.

A spontaneous, spiritual awakening.


(There are other sections of my blog that describe this process in more detail – particularly the ‘Awakening’ posts in November and December of last year – so check them out, if you wish, if you haven’t already.)

I feel the time has come to start teaching others how to find this same state of peace within themselves (and it is within and available to everyone), so I’m looking for a small team of volunteers to work with, for our mutual benefit.

Naturally, I need the experience of teaching to become a better teacher, so there’s going to be an element of trial and error to begin with… but I’m not lacking in passion or commitment, and I’ll give as much time as needed – for free, of course.

I should point out that this is not a religious thing. Lesism is just a word and I’m not attempting to start a cult, here! I won’t be asking for donations towards a billboard campaign, and I promise not to make you drink anything.

The only thing needed to take advantage of this process is an open mind.

If you’re not happy in your life… if you’re depressed and anxious, maybe going through a rough patch and you’re not sure what to do… or perhaps if you can’t get to sleep at night because your mind won’t stop racing… then I’m sure I can help.

If I’m not describing you, here, but you feel any of that fits for someone else you know, then have them check through my blog and get in touch?

There may be a resignation that you’ve tried everything else, so there’s no point contacting me – that there’s nothing I can offer that will change things – but I’ve been through long years of having anti-depressants thrown at me by my GP, speaking to community psychiatric nurses and psychologists… I volunteered myself on two occasions to spend time in a psychiatric hospital… I’ve got the scars on my wrist and the memory of near-fatal overdoses…

This process of ‘present awareness’ is the only thing that has worked, and it has changed my life beyond recognition.

If you imagine a smooth, convex dish – or an upturned bowl – I would describe, before I learnt how to do this, that trying to be happy was like attempting to balance a ball-bearing on the top of it. Even if I did manage to keep it dead centre and still for a moment, it would take just the smallest of bumps for it to slide off.

Now, it’s like a concave dish, and no matter how bumpy life is and how much the ball-bearing rolls around, it always returns to the centre, and to stillness.

Peace is your natural state of being.

All of my blogs without (Tags) are either about or a result of my awakening, so please have a check through those and – if you’re intrigued and want to know more – email me at:


Everything you say or write to me is completely confidential, and my time is completely free… so if you’re unhappy and don’t want to stay that way, you have nothing to lose by contacting me.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

McKinnon, Obama, Two Mothers and Honouring 'The Fallen'

I went to visit this woman’s grave yesterday morning.

I’d never been before, though I’d meant to.

I never met her, in life.

Her name is Corporal Sarah Bryant and she was killed in Afghanistan - along with three of her colleagues - when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by the blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) on 17th June, 2008.

She was the first UK servicewoman to die in that country.

She’s buried at the Methodist cemetery in Wetheral… a small village about two miles away from my own, and I walked there in the wind and the rain so I could get a photo of her gravestone, for this blog.

At first, I went to the wrong place… to Holy Trinity Church - a 16th Century, sandstone chapel which stands overlooking the River Eden.

This was where her funeral service took place… in the same church she was married in, two years before her death.

The vicar read out a tribute from her husband, Carl, during the service: “She was my best friend and soul-mate and I will never stop loving her.”

The Lych Gate at the entrance to the churchyard is adorned with plaques of all from the parish who fell during the two World Wars, and now – added to names and dates going back to the early years of ‘The Great War’ - there’s a new, oak plaque with Sarah’s name on it.

However fitting a tribute, it looked so wrong, and what caused further discord in my mind was that there was so much space underneath…

I searched the churchyard and found only ancient graves and tombs with crumbling stone and barely-recognisable names, before I realised that she must have been buried somewhere else.

I walked back up through the village and found a public footpath sign pointing up a narrow lane towards the cemetery, and followed it to find as picturesque and English a burial ground as there can be, surrounded by vibrant, green trees with gravel paths and orderly rows of gravestones… and there were so many.

I began to walk the path, looking left and right at the names of people I never knew… it was pouring with rain, but I didn’t rush. I didn’t know Sarah, either, so it felt right to pay my respects to everyone buried there.

I think I did visit every grave.

There was a boy of 15 who died in the 1970s and beside it, the grave of his mother, buried in the ‘90s. I wondered how hard it must have been for her to live all that time without him. I had tears in my eyes.

The gravestone of a Major in the Army, who died aged 31, but two weeks after the end of World War II?

Jeremy ‘Jem’ Stedman. Aged 17. He was in my brother’s year at school and I could see his smile the moment I read his name. He was killed in a gale in 1988, when his car was hit by a truck blown over in the wind.

I couldn’t find Sarah’s grave until it seemed I’d read all of the others. I even backtracked and re-read names, and then I noticed a similar stone to the Major’s, standing alone at the edge of the cemetery.

With relief, I read her name, took my hat off and stood there for a few minutes, rain trickling down my face, in silent thanks. I took a few photos and made my way back home.

This guy is Staff Sergeant Olaf ‘Oz’ Schmid.

I never met him, but my brother did. They were friends and colleagues and Oz used to babysit my brother’s children – my niece and nephew.

S/Sgt Schmid was a bomb-disposal expert who had successfully disarmed 64 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before a newly-developed Taliban device he was working on detonated. He received ‘devastating injuries’ and died.

At his inquest, it was quoted that ‘several comrades told how he was "impatient" and "frustrated" after his five-year-old stepson Laird told him: "Daddy, time to come home."

Oz’s widow, Christina, received his posthumous George Cross, for his bravery in disarming all those devices over the course of just five months. He undoubtedly saved an awful lot of lives… both from the Allied forces and ordinary Afghan people.

My brother is alive.

He’s eight years older than me and he’s been in the Army since the age of 16, and he was in the Army Cadets for two or three years before that.

A life-long soldier and true warrior, he has – apart from the Falklands Conflict in 1982 – served in almost every theatre of war the British Army has been involved in for almost three decades: Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Northern Iraq/Kurdistan, the second Gulf War and Afghanistan…

He - like Corporal Sarah Bryant and Staff Sergeant Schmid - dedicated himself to service for his country. Whatever you may think about the governmental motives of military action, there is no doubt that our servicemen and servicewomen are a staunch and courageous force.

They put their lives on the line… some of them pay the ultimate sacrifice… though none of them want to.

In the Spring of 2003, my brother was among hundreds of thousands of troops that began the push from Kuwait, into Iraq, with the intent to topple Saddam Hussein.

Of course, all of this was on TV… the ‘Shock and Awe’ air strike on Baghdad and 24-hour reporting was probably more popular than Big Brother, that year.

I remember, a few days into the conflict, seeing my mother standing in the living room of her house, watching the television, and she was shaking. There were tears in her eyes as she listened to some reporter talking about a push towards, I think, Basra, and that there were an awful lot of British troops involved.

She started to sob… it was heartbreaking. I put my arms around her and she couldn’t stop crying.

Her little boy – who she’d carried and given birth to, held in her arms in the first moments in this world, then loved, protected and adored for all that time after, was thousands of miles away, in danger of death.

There’s no consoling that fear.

Hugs don’t work.

Words of reassurance don’t help.

That’s her little boy in danger…

Now… time to make sense of all this…

Gary McKinnon was arrested nearly ten years ago for ‘hacking’ into US government computers, including systems for NASA and the US Air Force.

He used a computer ‘script’ to search for blank passwords and entered these systems to look for evidence of UFOs and suppressed free-energy technology. (He was smoking a lot of cannabis at the time.) He also left some silly messages that he shouldn’t have, but… sticks and stones…

In the year of his arrest – 2002 - having admitted his ‘crimes’, it looked as though he’d go to court in the UK and get a community sentence.

This is from Wikipedia:

“McKinnon remained at liberty without restriction for three years until June 2005, until after the UK enacted the Extradition Act 2003, which implemented the 2003 extradition treaty with the US wherein the US did not need to provide contestable evidence.”

Now, because of this act – which was ratified a year after Gary was arrested – he faces up to 60 years in a US prison for the crime of walking through already open cyber-doors, looking for UFOs.

He has also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – an Autism spectrum disorder, which explains so much in regard to the obsessive behaviour which got him into trouble in the first place.

Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure to communicate with… she is a true heroine, a remarkably passionate and glitteringly good soul who has been doing everything she possibly can – over many years, now – to stop her son… her little boy… from being taken thousands of miles away and put in a place he simply would not come back from.

His life is shattered. He’s been on the edge of suicide for years and only the constant care of his mother, girlfriend, cats and some exceptionally dedicated members of the mental-healthcare community have kept him alive.

Take him away from all of that and of course he’s going to commit suicide. I know I would do the same, in the same position.

The thing that frustrates me the most about this case is that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg supported Janis wholeheartedly before they ‘came to power’. They gave her assurances that they would stop this extradition, if elected.

This is an excerpt from a Daily Mail article, with words from David Cameron, in 2009:

Mr Cameron said he did not believe Britain's extradition proceedings were set up to apply to cases like Mr McKinnon's.

'It should still mean something to be a British citizen - with the full protection of the British Parliament, rather than a British Government trying to send you off to a foreign court', he said.

And this is part of an article on Nick Clegg, who appeared alongside Janis in a demonstration, before he ‘came to power’:

Mr Clegg has been a high profile supporter of their efforts and dismissed claims by the previous government that it had no power to intervene. 

In an article last year he wrote: “It's simply not good enough for Alan Johnson to shrug his shoulders and claim that nothing can be done. 

“It's completely within his power to enact amendments from the Police and Justice Act, which would allow Gary McKinnon to be tried over here. 

“Or he could urge the Director of Public Prosecutions to begin proceedings.”

Now that they’re in office, they’ve distanced themselves from their words, their oaths and their promises to stop Gary being extradited.

President Obama is visiting the UK this week, and there is so much hope focussed on the possibility that he could bring the good news that the US is going to relinquish their demand for Gary to be tried in the US.

To relinquish demands to extradite and imprison a mentally-ill man - already on the edge of suicide – who was looking for evidence of ‘little green men’, by walking through open doors in lax security systems of a Superpower.

What I’d like to see these three men do, together, is visit the graves of Sarah Bryant and Oz Schmid, and all of the other British troops who have been killed… to talk to their families and all those who loved them… to meet the maimed, injured and traumatised troops that survived… all the dedicated, brave troops who have ever fought these wars… all the families and mothers who have held that aching fear of their loved-ones being killed in far-off lands… look them in the eye and tell them:

“It is because of your dedication and sacrifice that dangerous terrorists like Gary McKinnon can be brought to justice.”

And then I hope those people spit back in their leaders’ faces so hard that their phlegm lubricates their eye sockets for weeks afterwards.

If Gary McKinnon is taken from this country, it would be the greatest, most disgraceful disrespect to the memory of the fallen…

It has to stop, now. It’s time for Gary to be freed from this, and it’s time for Janis to be able to live her life again… with her little boy safe and well.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Wise Boy - Chapter Four (Fiction)

Men Walking Dogs

It’s an almost invariable fact that ‘men walking dogs’ are responsible for the recovery of bodies throughout the United Kingdom. If it weren’t for ‘men walking dogs’ the countryside would be littered with corpses and skeletons, and there would be considerable delay in life assurance payouts. That the police force don’t suspect ‘men walking dogs’ are actually ‘men who have killed while walking dogs’ is almost certainly an issue of government funding and police training failures. Nonetheless, it was one of those ‘men walking dogs’ who found the body of Officer Valentine a little after eight in the morning…
    “Hello?” said Derek Regis, who was more than a little spooked to have his morning stroll interrupted in such a manner. His Yorkshire terrier, Winston, stood still at his feet, sniffing the air and looking worried.
    “Are you okay?” asked Derek, ever hopeful.
    The corpse didn’t respond. It just lay there, oblivious to the dilemma Derek faced on reporting his find; he well knew that something like this would bring national publicity, and with three wives around the country, that wasn’t good news by any means.
    “Crikey,” said Derek, his face flushed and mind racing. “What to do?”
    The easiest thing would have been just to walk away and pretend this didn’t happen, but he wasn’t a man to shirk his responsibilities, and they were many - three wives, seven children, two grandchildren and three Yorkshire terriers, all called Winston. It was the dog’s fault, he suddenly realized. If it wasn’t for the dog’s toilet needs, he’d still be wrapped up in his warm bed with wife number two.
    “Stupid dog!”
    Winston lowered his ears and sulked.
    At that moment, the corpse spasmed and let out a rattling sigh. Winston bounded away in fright and Derek nearly dropped his breakfast. He was a good ten leaps away himself when his senses reassured him that an injured policeman wasn’t half as newsworthy as a dead one. Heart bouncing in his chest, he hurried back to the officer and knelt at his side.
    “Hey fella! Can you hear me?”
    Valentine’s eyelids opened, revealing bloodshot, unfocussed eyes. He lifted his arm and grabbed on to Derek’s shoulder. “Help… me…”
    “I’m here, don’t worry. Are you hurt?”
    Valentine gulped and looked agitated. His grip on Derek’s shoulder tightened.     “Shhh…” he said, rolling his eyes from side to side. “Maeglems!”
    The officer’s arm dropped limply, and his head lolled to one side, eyes sliding shut. With relief, Derek saw he was still breathing, though not without some effort. He took off his coat and draped it over the policeman’s shoulders.
    “I’m going to phone an ambulance. I’ll be right back!” said Derek, before lurching into a jog, his sizable midriff wobbling out of sync with the rest of his body. Winston raced from the bushes he’d taken refuge in, and fell into step along side his master, yapping at the excitement of it all.
    The jog had turned into an urgent walk by the time he cleared the woods, and he reached the phone at the bottom of Cairn Close in a state of utter exhaustion. His face was almost as red as the old telephone box the local residents had successfully petitioned to save years back, which he cursed now as the tight spring arm on the door resisted the urgency of his pull – something ‘popped’ in his shoulder and he cried out in pain. It took a moment to think past it, then he changed arms, pulling the door more patiently this time, until it gave enough for him to squeeze inside.
    “You’ve got to be kidding me?” said Derek as he picked up the handset, to find the lead which should have been attached to it was hanging from the side of the console. “I’ll swing for those bloody kids!”
    He replaced the handset and went outside, then wandered up the crescent to look for signs of life. Winston trotted behind him.
    Derek rapped on the door of the first house he found with open curtains. His anticipation turned to annoyance as the seconds ticked by, until he realised it was old Mrs. Arnold’s house… he’d seen her last week, sort of, when the Hearse she was traveling in made a stop outside the pub for one last half of Guinness.
    Hopping over the hedge to the next house, he knocked hard on the living-room window as he passed, then again on the front door.
    Winston yelped, unable to jump so high, then growled to himself as he was forced to take the long way round. As he pushed the gate, into the garden, the bathroom window directly above Derek opened abruptly and an even more abrupt head poked through.
     “What the..?” said the head, which belonged to Sammy Crabtree, or ‘Crabby Samtree’ to those who had no intention of being his friend. He was wiping shaving foam from under his chin with a flannel. “Can you knock a bit harder next time?”
    “Call an ambulance,” shouted Derek.
    “What?” said Sammy. “Why?”
    “Just send it to Three Corner Woods, pronto,” said Derek, making his way out of the garden. “And call the police, too!”
    “Why?” asked Sammy again; intrigued now, rather than annoyed.
    “That new copper…” puffed Derek, over his shoulder, as he started back towards the woods, “… looks like someone’s had a go… he’s bad.”
    “Heavens,” said Sammy. He watched the fat man and his dog waddle off down the street, then pulled the window shut and went to make the telephone call.

*   *   *   *   *

Chris woke with a start, sat up in his bed and looked around the caravan. Pox was lying fast asleep on the chair. Nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was silent, except for the twittering of birds from outside. He scratched his beard, wondering what it was that had taken him from his dreams: one moment, he’d been exchanging hilarious anecdotes with a beautiful young French girl; the next, she was opening fire with a machine gun… and then he was back here, surprised and confused, and in need of a cup of coffee.
    He pulled on his trousers and stood up, still with the creepy feeling that things weren’t quite right. Pox raised an eyelid to check what was going on, then closed it with a sigh and went back to sleep.
    Lighting the gas jet, Chris put the filled kettle on to boil. He put the coffee, sugar and milk in his mug, then opened the curtains to let the morning in. It was half past eight, just gone. Young Barry was due at nine.
    Chris jumped at the loud banging.
    He took a moment to allow his heart to find its normal rhythm again, then unlocked and pushed open the caravan door.
    “Good morning!” chirped Barry.
    “Speak of the devil… and who should appear?” said Chris, catching his breath.
    “Mr. Wise?” began Chris, “Are you planning on a vocation in the business of repossession?”
    Chris shook his head, then smiled. “Never mind. Do come in.”
    “Thanks,” said Barry, stepping up into the caravan. “Hey, there are police cars and an ambulance parked near the woods. What do you think has happened?”
    “Yeah, do you think somebody’s been murdered?” grinned Barry.
    “I do hope not,” said Chris. He picked up Pox and transferred him to the bed, still sleeping, then gestured for Barry to sit. “Killing is a terrible, terrible thing. Not to be enthused about.”
    “Oh, well… I was only saying.”
    “That you were.”
    Barry sat down in the chair as Chris prepared another mug. “So, what do you think has happened?”
    “I really wouldn’t know,” said Chris, as the kettle began to whistle.
    “But we’ll still be able to find my key?”
    Chris poured the boiling water into both mugs, stirred them and handed one to Barry. “I’m sure we will. Oh, and the vicar has a metal-detector, so I’ll ask him for a short loan of it, I think. That should make our job some easier, yes?”
    “Great!” said Barry. “I’ll have to be home by noon, though, with the key, or I’m in poop park without a scooper.”
    Chris chuckled and swigged on his coffee. “You’re a funny boy.”
    Barry smiled.
    “So, did that policeman turn up at your house?”
    “Nope,” said Barry, before blowing on the surface of his drink. “And nobody even knocked on the door, or I would have heard.”
    “That makes me curious. Why would he check here and not there?”
    “Maybe he checked before? I don’t care, really. I’m glad he didn’t, or I’d probably get sent to the asylum.”
    “The asylum?”
    “Yep. Mother said so. That’s why I mustn’t answer the door to anyone when she’s out, or they’ll take me away.”
    Chris stared in disbelief. “Young boys don’t get sent to any asylums because their parents abandon them, Barry.”
    “Pff… I’m not abandoned. And yes they do, anyway. There was a boy from town who was sent to an asylum last year. He answered the door to a stranger and that’s what happened to him. Don’t you read the newspapers?”
    “Oh, I do recall reading something like that. But I seem to remember that it was a truant officer who knocked on his door, and the lad attacked him with a lump hammer. And he was sent to a Young Offender’s Institute, not an asylum. It’s not quite the same. Your mother should stop scaring you like that, the rotten thing.”
    “Don’t call my Mother rotten!”
    Chris poked out his tongue and smiled.
    Barry huffed.
    “Okay, then she’s a mischief. She shouldn’t be saying to you about asylums or laboratories when it’s her who’s in the wrong for leaving you alone like that. It’s true that she could get in a lot of trouble, but you, my boy, would not. You’d probably be put with some family who would look after you better.”
    “I don’t want that! You’d better not tell anyone, either, or I’ll… I’ll get you.” Barry raised an accusing finger and pointed it like a pistol.
    “Hehe. You do have some spirit, young Mr. Wise. I’m not sure I’d like to be on the wrong side of you again, so you have my word as a gentleman – I won’t tell anyone.”
    Barry drank his coffee and the look in his eyes cleared of suspicion. “Does the vicar like you? Will he lend you the metal-detector?”
    “Ah, he’s a nice fella. I do some weeding and whatnot in the grave-yard now and again, to say thank you for him letting me stay on the church land and he sometimes pops round for coffee and a game of cards. I’m sure he’ll have no objections to lending it.”
    “Ace. I’ve always wanted a metal-detector. Can I have a go?”
    “Of course,” said Chris, finishing his coffee. He took the empty mug from Barry and set them in the sink, then moved to the door.
    Barry shivered, looking at the mugs. “Aren’t you going to wash them?”
    Chris looked around. “Um, when I come back, aye.”
    “That’s grotty. I’ll wash them for you?”
    Chris gave a look of concern. “You’re a strange one. I’ll wash them up later, or do you want us to waste more minutes that we could be using to get that key of yours?”
    “I suppose not. I just don’t like mess.”
    “It will be a mess to clear up later. Don’t you trouble yourself over it.”
    “But Mother says…”
    “That people who don’t wash their cups and plates get sent to the abbotoir?” said Chris, with a wink.
    Barry slit his eyes. “No. She says that we should always tidy up after ourselves.”
    Chris opened the door and stepped outside into the cool morning air. “Good point, but we have more important things to do right now, don’t you agree?”
    “I suppose.”
    “Then come along. Let me go see the vicar, and let’s find that confounded key.”

*  *  *  *  *

The ambulance arrived a few minutes before the police, and a reporter from the local paper followed a short while later, with a photographer in tow. After leading the paramedics to his find, Derek had tried to make an exit, but one of the police officers asked him to stick around for some questions. There was quite a swarm of excitement now, with a scenes-of-crime team foraging around in the undergrowth for any evidence, and even the Chief Constable had made an appearance. The woods had been cordoned off and a group of villagers were gathered, trying to look through the trees for a glimpse of strewn body parts, but the injured officer had already been taken away, lights flashing, to the hospital.
     “Right, er, Mr. Regis..?” said the young policeman, who looked like he might have to start shaving soon. He had his notebook out, pen poised.
    Derek noticed the reporter point across to him and his photographer companion lifted his camera, so he took a step to his side, putting the policeman in the line of fire.
    “Mr. Regis?” said the policeman again. “Are you okay?”
    “I'm fine,” said Derek, rubbing his shoulder. “Can we hurry up please? My wife will be frantic.”
    “I just need to get a few more details from you. Shouldn't take a minute.”
    The photographer was skirting around the cordon tape, to set up a better shot. Derek grimaced, a sick feeling rising in his stomach.
    “Did you see anything unusual this morning, before you found PC Valentine?” asked the policeman. “Anybody else in or around the woods?”
    “No. Nothing.”
    “Did PC Valentine give you any indication who attacked him?”
    “No,” said Derek, aware of the photographer edging closer. "I think I might have left the cooker on."
    “Huh?” said the policeman, looking up from his notebook.
    “I really need to use the toilet.”
    “Are you okay, Mr. Regis?” said the officer, with concern. “Maybe we should get you checked out by a doctor?”
    “I'm fine.”
    “You seem a little disturbed. I'm sure things have been upsetting for you.”
    “Is he supposed to be there?” said Derek, pointing out the photographer, who had crossed over the yellow tape.
    The policeman looked around. “Hiya, Dave,” he said. “What are you doing sneaking up on us? Anything I can do for you?”
    “Just wondered if I could get a photo of your man there?”
    “No,” said Derek, putting his hand up against his face. “I'm very sensitive to flashes. I'm think I’m epileptic.”
    “No worries,” said the photographer. “There's enough light.”
    “I'd really prefer not to...”
    “Give the guy a break, Dave,” said the policeman.
    “Just a quick snap? I heard you're a lifesaver.”
    “I didn't do anything. I just took the bloody dog for a walk.”
    Winston cocked an ear and whined.
    “Well,” said the photographer, “that's not what I heard. You're quite a hero, you know?”
    “A hero? Nonsense,” said Derek.
    “Well, that's big of you. Just one…”
    “Bigamy?” shouted Derek, his cheeks crimson. “That's a damn lie!”
    The photographer raised his eyebrows and took a step back, quickly lifting the camera to take Derek's picture.
    “No!” shrieked Derek, reaching for the camera, just before he clutched his chest and fell to the ground.

*  *  *  *  *

The doctor opened one of Valentine’s eyes with his thumb and forefinger and shone a sharp beam of light into the pupil. The patient’s face grimaced and his iris tightened, but he remained unconscious.
    Doctor Taylor replaced the penlight to his breast pocket and turned to Detective Inspector Harris with a shrug of his shoulders. “He seems okay, physically. His body temperature is beginning to return to normal and there are no external injuries other than a few scratches and some bruising. His X-rays are clear; nothing broken and no bleeding.”
    DI Harris’s face was tight. “How long before he can talk to us?”
    “That’s a toughie,” replied the Doctor. “He’s had a shock to the system. The hypothermia isn’t serious, but it can take it out of a guy. Just have to play it by ear. I’d be surprised if he’s not up and about by this evening, though.”
    Banks covered his mouth with the palm of one hand and thought hard.
    “I’ve got to get on,” excused the Doctor.
    “Right,” said Harris, snapping out of his deliberations. “Thanks.”
    Doctor Taylor left the cubicle with a swish of curtain and, immediately, Detective Constable Bragg entered. He looked at the patient, then to his superior. “Valentine was looking into the disappearance of a young lad by the name of Barry Wise before he finished his shift last night. Couldn’t locate him. He said he was going to check the boy’s house and last location – the woods he was found in - before he headed home himself. If he didn’t live in the constabulary house, we would have known he was missing earlier. ”
    Bragg looked down at the deathly pale Valentine, wrapped up like a turkey in a silver, thermal blanket. “Going to pull through?”
    “It seems so.”
    “Any idea what happened?”
    “What now?”
    Harris blinked, then put on his overcoat. “I’m going to see what forensics have. I need you to go to that boy’s house – find out if he’s turned up yet.”
*  *  *  *  *

Barry swept the metal detector from side to side, just as Chris had shown him, but he was increasingly frustrated that it didn’t bleep.
    “Are you sure this stupid thing is working?” he said, shaking it a little.
    “It’s fine,” said Chris, scanning the ground with his eyes.
    “I don’t think it is. I think it’s broken.”
    “Look,” said Chris, taking his own keys from his pocket and dropping them in the undergrowth. “See if you can find them?”
    Barry moved the head of the metal-detector over the spot where the keys fell and, immediately, there came a high-pitched squeal, like guineapigs mating.
    Chris leant down and recovered his keys. “See? It works. Now we just have to find the place where you dropped yours, and we’re in business.”
    Barry sniffed and surveyed the woods. It all looked the same. Each large tree seemed familiar and promising, but each one he searched brought further disappointment as the metal-detector failed to react. To make matters worse, they were getting closer and closer to the police cordon.
    “I wish they’d go away,” said Barry, nodding to the two remaining police officers who were guarding the perimeter line of yellow tape, further into the woods.
    Chris followed his gaze. “Don’t concern yourself with them, Barry. There are a lot more trees outside that tape than in.”
    “But what if the key is inside? What do we do then?”
    “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it. There’s no need to panic.”
    “Yes there is!” said Barry, checking his watch. “It’s nearly eleven o’clock now. I’ve only got an hour before I have to be at home, and I have to have my key.”
    “Then we should concentrate on looking, not worrying. Do you want me to take over for a little while?” said Chris, putting his hand out for the metal-detector.
    Barry moved it from his reach. “No, I can do it.”
    “Okay, then. Now, let’s think again where you would have been last night?”
*  *  *  *  *

There seemed to be nobody at home when DC Bragg knocked on the front door of the Wise residence. He walked around the side of the semi-detached house, down a path overgrown with a thick, twisting thorn bush. An angry branch clawed against his trousers, cutting into his thigh. With a toothy hiss, he gingerly pulled the branch to free himself from the shark teeth of the plant. As it sprang back, he noticed a short length of ripped cloth hanging from the thorns. The frayed fabric on the edges was white and clean; it was recently torn. With a tease, he pulled at the rag and placed it in one of the small plastic envelopes he always kept about himself, then he put the envelope in his pocket and carried on down the path.
    The back door was locked tight. He knocked, but again there was no response. Peering through the kitchen window, all he saw was a dim emptiness and absence of life.
    Of interest, though, was the window itself. The white, wooden framework held a depression he’d seen often. Flecks of paint had cracked, showing a slight splintering of the timber beneath, and the pale yellow wood was freshly exposed. Pressing his fingers against the underside of the frame, he pulled. The window juddered open.
    Pulling it wide, he leant into the kitchen and listened. Not a sound.
    “Hello? Police!” he shouted. “Is there anyone in there?”
    Nothing but silence.
    Withdrawing, he took his mobile phone from his jacket pocket and phoned the station. The call was answered almost immediately.
    “Simon? Tom here. This spate of burglaries... have a check if 14 Willow Way is on the list, will you? Got signs of a break in.”
    Bragg rested the mobile between his shoulder and ear, retrieving the rag in the bag. He held the envelope up, inspecting the cloth carefully.
    “No?” he said into the phone, frowned in thought. “You want to send a scenes-of-crime down here anyway? It’s new. Looks like someone’s forced entry with a screwdriver. Could be some dabs. It’s that missing kid’s home. Yeah. I’ll hang around until he gets here. Send a uniform too? I need to be getting on. Right. Catch you later.”
    As he looked down to end the call, he saw something else. Kneeling, he brushed back a clump of dandylion leaves growing under the window. The concrete had crumbled around the kitchen drain, filling with mud, and imprinted in the mud was a footprint – the toe of a boot.

(To be continued...)

Friday, 20 May 2011

The Barnsley Identity - Excerpt (Fiction)

 The Barnsley Identity
Barnsley Bear - Episode II

(This is an excerpt from a work-in-progress sequel to my short story, Barnsley Bear, which is in the November 2010 section of my blog. You may want to read that first, if you haven't already, or this excerpt will perhaps make no sense at all. However, even if you have read the original, this excerpt will perhaps make no sense at all...)

PC Polar extended his baton with a sharp flick and smashed it down on the spider that was gamboling towards him as he sat on the garden wall of 37 Honeydew Drive.

“Busted!” he said, triumphantly.

“It’s still moving!” said Detective Sergeant Panda. “Quick!”

PC Polar leapt up and ran away. Spiders creeped him out.

Panda pulled out his Taser and fired a shot, but the darts bounced off the brickwork and sizzled in a clump of flowers. Throwing the weapon aside, he jumped on the wall and stamped his heavy boot, grinding the assailant into nothing more than a stain and a memory.

He sat again and pressed a worried palm against his chest.

“Did you get him, sir?” shouted PC Polar, from down the street.

“Yes, lad! Justice has been served! You’re safe!”

Polar panted back and picked up his carton of sandwiches.

“I bloody hate spiders,” he grinned, a little embarrassed. “My brother put a tub of spiders down my underpants once.”

Panda raised a curious eyebrow as he chewed his sausage roll.

“It turned out they were just the top bits from tomatoes, but you try telling a cub to rationalise the difference in the heat of the moment? It’s a post-traumatic thing now.”

There was a knowing silence.

Polar sat and opened his sandwiches.

Panda sighed.

“What’s up, sir?” said Polar.

“This whole place – this village,” he said. “I’ve half a mind to put in for a transfer.”

“Transfer? Like a footballer? Can we do that?”

“I’m an intelligent bear,” continued Panda.

“You are, sir!”

“I didn’t sign up to the force to lecture cubs on road safety, break up matrimonial disputes, or herd cows from traffic. I took this… calling… to make a difference.”

“Difference to what, sir?” said Polar through a mouth of bread and ham.

“To crime!” said Panda. “And what crime is there here?”

“Crime is a bit sparse, yes.”

Detective Sergeant Panda swallowed the last of his pastry and stood up. He threw a wave of his arm to the removal men across the road. “I mean just look at this place? All I want to do is fight crime, and people are moving away. And the fewer people who live here, the less chance there is for crime to thrive.”

“You’re totally right, sir.”

“I’m getting depressed by it all, to be honest,” Panda said, sitting again.

Polar finished his sandwich and patted his mentor on the shoulder. “Don’t go getting yourself down about it, sir. Think of the positives!”

“Such as?” grumbled Panda.

“Well, the less crime there is, the less paperwork we have to do.”

“There is that.”

“Would you have such an excellent handicap in golf if you’d had to spend five hours a day filling in forms and babysitting prisoners?”

“Um… I suppose not…”

“And there are other advantages. We don’t have to stop at traffic lights; we get free food from the corner shop; free booze from the off-licence; free meals at the restaurant; free golf passes and club hire; we got that ‘consultation’ trip to Las Vegas paid for, with expenses…”

Panda snorted a laugh. “And those girls were bloody expensive!”

“But best of all… sir… best of all… we have power.”

“Power!” said Panda, with a faraway look in his eyes. He clenched his fist and held it before him. “Yes!”

“A policeman’s lot is not such an unhappy one, eh?”

“Perhaps you’re right,” said Panda, standing once again. “Perhaps I shouldn’t grumble so much. I could be in a much worst position.”

“Agreed! You’d be serving life in jail if they’d found the body of that bear you murdered.”

“I manslaughtered him! It’s not the same!”

“Regardless, it’s another perk to the job, eh? And you know what, sir? If it makes you feel better to do a bit of crime work now and again, maybe we can do something about that, too?”

“How?” said Panda.

“Lend me a tenner?”


“Lend me a tenner for five minutes?”

Panda shook his head, took out his wallet from his jacket pocket and passed across a crisp, ten pound note.

Polar smiled to himself.

Mrs Kodiak was shuffling along the pavement towards them, holding on to her flaking Zimmer frame for dear life.

“Watch this,” said Polar.

As she passed, he dropped the note behind her, then coughed.

“Excuse me, madam?” he said.

She carried on.

“Madam?” he shouted.

Mrs Kodiak looked around slowly and gave a toothless grin to the police constable, turning an ear and hearing aid towards him.

“Did you drop this?” he said, bending to pick up the note. He waved it in front of her straining eyes.

“I… I don’t…”

“This would probably buy you a lovely bottle of gin, and maybe you’d even have enough left for some boiled sweets, or a tin of meaty chunks for your cat?”


“Is it yours, or should I take it to the station and put it in lost property? Because that’s all that’s going to happen to it.”

“Well, I suppose it could be mine. Yes.”

Polar leapt and grappled the old dear to the ground, pushing her face into the dewy grass on the verge. He pulled out his Taser gun and jammed it into the back of her neck.

“I’m arresting you on the suspicion of littering in a public place. You have the right to remain silent, but it may harm your defence if you fail to mention anything that you later rely on in court.”

Detective Sergeant Panda grinned, then winked. “I’ll get a squad car!” 

* * * * *
Barnsley Bear pulled back his living-room curtains and opened the window. He smiled and breathed in the start of another beautiful day, then noticed that his prized rose bush was on fire.

“What on earth?”

He rushed to the kitchen and filled a mop bucket with water, then hurried out to the garden and emptied it over the burning bush. The flames were extinguished with a sharp hiss and a cloud of perfumed steam rose into the air.

Mrs Bear screamed from the front doorway. She must have seen everything.

“It’s not what you think, dear!”

“You killed God!”

“I promise it’s not the rapture, my love,” said Barnsley, moving carefully closer. “Some cubs must have set fire to my rose bush. That’s all!”

He put down the mop bucket and offered his hands to her. She gripped them tightly and fell into his arms, then began to sob. “When the Virgin Mary talked to me in the car, you told me the rapture wouldn’t come then, either…”

Barnsley had thrown their new GPS route-planner into the very first litter bin he saw.

“I promised you it wouldn’t, didn’t I? And I’m promising you now, my sweet.”

Looking to the sky with flitting, nervous eyes, she said: “He’s coming for us. That man at our wedding told me he’s everywhere!”

“The vicar should have known better than to give you silly ideas like that,” said Barnsley. “I told him what you were like after reading Harry Potter.”

She clenched him tight and looked up with a tearful smile. “I love you!” she said. “You’re my rock in dark places.”

“And I love you!”

Her eyes strayed to the smouldering stems on the other side of the lawn and she flopped her shoulders with sadness.

“Oh, Barnsley,” she said. “You loved those roses!”

“I did,” he said, turning. “And the judges at the village fair would have too.”

“The fair!” she said. A slug of drool dripped down her chin. “The ferrr...”

“Let’s get you back inside, shall we?” said Barnsley.

“The ferrr… ferrrrr… ferrrrrucking roses make me want to spew!” she yelled, shaking his hands off her. “You can stick your ferrucking flowers up your ferrucking crack and dance for me, but I still won’t make you any breakfast!” And with that, she stormed back into the house, slamming the door.

Barnsley rubbed his forehead and gave a heavy sigh, then went over to the remnants of his prize rose bush and knelt beside it. There wasn’t even a clipping salvageable. It was ruined.

He stood and stepped over the garden wall. The removal men across the road were busy carrying a heavy, steel box towards the back of their van, but there was nobody else on the street. Whoever did it was long gone… unless they were hiding nearby so they could gloat at the reaction to their crime?

“I ought to call the authorities!” shouted Barnsley to any concealed saboteurs.

There was a loud ‘clunk’ from across the road, and one of the removal men reached for something inside his jacket.

“Breakfast’s ready!” chirped Mrs Bear through the window. “Beans on toast okay?”

Barnsley winced. There hadn’t been beans in the house since the ‘vampire incident’. He felt a sudden, terrible sense of dread for the tadpoles he and his son, Barnaby, had collected in a jam jar the night before.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Illusion of Loneliness

Sunburst at dawn, on Ben Lomond
I have come to consider myself as an expert mountaineer. Not because I’ve bloodied my fingers climbing up sheer cliffs or scaled particularly arduous or high peaks, but because when I get up there, I watch, listen and feel, and so enter a state of exquisite peace.

It is one of many gateways to present awareness – the state of true consciousness – where thinking falls away and the illusion of division from this Universe you live in vanishes. You are merged with nature. You are simply being.

I worked at a hotel in Borrowdale, in the English Lake District, last year (an area which has no mobile reception, at least for my carrier, Vodafone) and would walk up to the summit of Grange Fell (1,363ft) every few days to check my text messages and make a few phone calls.

I recall sitting there one day, looking down the valley towards Keswick, some five miles to the north, and realising – though there was nobody else around but me – that not for a moment did I feel ‘lonely’ when walking in the mountains.

It hit me that, like I’ve said about emotional pain in previous blogs, loneliness is also a phantom of the mind – the product of critical over-thinking. It’s why people say they can feel lonely in a crowded room. It is the mental dialogue that creates that sense of loneliness, rather than the actual situation.

Now, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I never feel lonely. Yes, sometimes I am alone, but there is a great distinction between those two words: loneliness is a psychological illusion, fuelled by the egoic need to be recognised, whereas being alone is a physical fact and nothing to get down about.

These are some of the places I haven't been lonely... click on the images to see them full size:

The Watendlath Path - Borrowdale

Sunburst over Borrowdale

10/10/10 - Perfect Peace in Borrowdale

Grange Fell, Borrowdale, overlooking Derwentwater & Keswick

Loch Lomond, from about 3,100ft up Ben Lomond

Close to the summit of Ben Lomond

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Mr Sheep & Other Stories (Dodgy Art)

Like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder... and while some of you may wish - after looking through my loosely-termed artwork - that you didn't have eyes, they made me chuckle when I created them...

Please click on the images to see them full-size, or use binoculars...

The original, and still the worst...

This has never happened in real life...

Mr Sheep is NOT a documentary
He was totally okay, afterwards...
Safety announcement...
Love in the 21st Century
My sister just didn't get this...
A Siamese Cat
A very angry cat...

Octomog - King of the Birdwatchers!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Flash Fiction (Fiction)

This is a selection of ‘Flash Fiction’ stories that I wrote yeeeeears ago, when it was all fields and the policemen looked older…

These were challenges from an old writing community I was part of. We’d get a key word or phrase and a limited word-count (between 200 and 500 words, generally), so it was quite an exercise in literary discipline – which I later learnt to apply to Twitter… with punctuation and spelling, too! Hurrah!

Anyway, hope you enjoy some of these. If not, then talk to my hand!

Cocoa Nut

Mary had searched all the cupboards, but there wasn’t a tea-bag to be found. Two days until she could draw her pension and only 14p in her purse… Two days without tea? It was a daunting prospect.

There was a jar of cocoa at the back of the cupboard which her son, David, had bought before he moved to work in Amsterdam.

It was a bugger to get the lid off the jar, with the arthritis in her fingers, but she soon had it and put the kettle on to boil. She mixed two heaped spoons of cocoa with sugar and milk, then stirred it as she added the water.

Settling down in front of the television, she sipped the cocoa as she watched her soaps. Before too long, she felt much more relaxed… even her old fingers seemed to loosen up.

She had six mugs of cocoa before she wobbled off to bed.

David rang in the morning…

“That cocoa is lovely. Very relaxing. I don’t think I’ll be buying tea this week,” said Mary.

“My cocoa?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Mum, that’s for special use.”


 “I crumbled an ounce of cannabis into it. God. Are you okay?”

The End

* * * * *


Omar turned the air conditioning on full and sighed, looking through the windscreen at the traffic jammed up to the junction ahead.

His hand drifted from the gear-stick and rested on the aluminium briefcase, lying on the passenger seat.

He couldn’t be late. They’d planned this for months.

At amber, he lurched the Mercedes into the bus lane, the wheels squealing as he turned the corner onto the main road. Free traffic brought relief. He’d make it.

“You can’t stop here,” said the policeman at the barricade.

Omar shook his head and climbed out of the car. “I am Dr Omar Rahman.” He held up the briefcase. “I have important documents for the Home Secretary and I am late.”

“Dr Rahman!” shouted the Home Secretary’s PA from the conference centre entrance. “Officer, could you park the car? We need to get in.”

“See? I am in demand,” smiled Omar. He gave his keys to the policeman and ran up the steps to the waiting PA.

“Do you have the plans?” she asked, hurrying him along.

“Indeed I do.” Omar unlocked the case as he followed, opening it on his arm. “Wait!”

“What’s wrong?”

“This is not my briefc…”

The End

* * * * *

Flight or Fight

Stan dropped the wrench into his toolbox and closed the lid. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of an oily hand, picked up the box and made his way out of the hangar for the final time.

One last job finished...

After a career spanning almost fifty years, it was all over.

Months back, when it finally dawned on him that he had to retire, he’d shivered at the thought of entering into obscurity. No wife; no family; no friends to speak of. The job was his life. Without it… he would become nothing.

They’d given him a carriage-clock. Sure, the pension was good, but there was nothing to spend it on. His house was fine and he’d seen the world. They didn’t even entertain his request to work on.

He’d have died a rich man, utterly alone.

Showered and changed, he took his suitcase to check-in and boarded Flight 409 – the last 747 he would ever service.

Sitting alone, he looked out of the window, across the wing, then checked his watch.

Eighty-nine minutes.

He’d used the carriage-clock as the timer for a couple of pounds of blasting gelignite, hiding it just above engine three.

The End

* * * * *

I Was So Sure…

“I was so sure it was her,” slurred Jason, one hand pressed against the wall, staring at the ground, unblinking.

Simon hooked his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “I know you did, mate.”

Jason looked up, his eyes glazed and confused. His lips trembled as tears broke and ran down his cheeks. He sniffed hard, rubbed the back of his hand across his face.

“Come on, lets go get a taxi,” said Simon, guiding Jason’s stumble away from the bass boom of the nightclub, to the early morning city centre.

“It looked just like her though, didn’t it?” Jason lightened. “She was gorgeous. The spit of Katie.”

“Yep, she really was. I think she was a bit freaked out, though.”

Jason stopped, swayed and thought. “Must have been.”

“I shouldn’t have forced you back to a nightclub.”

“No, bro… It’s been more than two years since she died. I should be coping better.”

The End

* * * * *

Shop ‘Til You Pop

Mr Fenwick closed the door behind him and smiled at the shopkeeper as he approached the counter.

"Hello, sir!" said the shopkeeper. "What can I get you?"

"Do you have some rice?"

"Indeed. Which would you prefer? Long-grain or the tuppenny budget?"

"Tuppenny, please.”

"How much would you like?"

"Hmm - I think eight ounces will do."

The shopkeeper weighed the rice into a paper bag and placed it on the counter. “Anything else?”

“Yes, I’d like some treacle.”

“Certainly. And how much?”

Mr Fenwick looked in his leather pouch and poked the coins with a podgy finger. “Eight ounces, thank you.”

The shopkeeper poured the treacle, from a larger container, into a jar, then sealed it with cloth and string.

“How much is that?” asked Mr Fenwick.

The shopkeeper rang it up on the till. “Five pence, please.”

Fenwick emptied his pouch onto the counter. Exactly five pence.

“That’s the way the money goes!” said the shopkeeper.

A loud bang startled both men and they looked to see a cage explode at the side of the shop, sending a spray of blood and guts over them.

“Damn,” said the shopkeeper, “I’d forgotten I’d put that weasel on the hotplate.”

The End

* * * * *

It’s For Your Own Good

Tristram scratched his scruffy, blonde hair and sat down on the couch. “Where the bloody hell could she be?” he asked, palms upturned.

“She never was one for punctuality,” sniffed his mother, Hilary, with distaste.

“Four hours late, though?” said Tristram, frowning. “Are you sure she didn’t phone?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

Tristram looked to his backpack, propped up beside the living-room door. Finally, a chance to take a break from his pain-in-the-arse mother and see the world… but Stacey’s no-show threatened to blow his plans. India, Thailand, Australia – he sure wasn’t missing out because his scatty girlfriend lost her passport.

“If she’s not here in half an hour, I’m going by myself.”

Hilary smiled. “That’s the most sense you’ve made since you met the awful girl.”

“Oh, shut up!” frowned Tristram, stomping through the kitchen to the utility room.

“What are you doing?” shouted Hilary.

“For goodness sake, I’m only getting a pizza,” he said, lifting the lid of the chest-freezer, as his mother appeared at the utility-room door looking uncharacteristically flustered.

“Wouldn’t you rather I phone for a delivery?”

“I don’t have the time,” said Tristram, taking a pepperoni pizza, “Stacy could be here any… argh – what the fuck?” He jolted back, dropping the pizza box which had been covering Stacy’s face. Her frozen grin stared through bags of petit pois.

“It’s for your own good, Tris,” said Hilary, closing the freezer. “Now, Mrs Saint-Claire’s daughter, Jemima, is a lovely girl with a first in English Literature…”

The End

* * * * *

The Sting

“I now pronounce you man and wife,” said the vicar. “You may kiss the bride.”

Applause erupted from behind as Paul moved closer to Jessica, but he knew straight away something was wrong. Her face was pale and creased with discomfort.

She leant against him and whispered in his ear. “I think I’ve been stung.”

Paul’s eyes flashed. He put his arm around Jessica’s waist and guided her to the vestry door.

“Oi! Can’t you wait a few hours for that?” came a shout, accompanied by a rumble of laughter.

David, the best-man, was as their side in seconds.

“Ambulance,” said Paul, then he lead her into the room.

David pulled the mobile from his suit pocket as he sprinted up the isle and outside.

“Your fucking mother,” spat Paul as he took an epi-pen from the emergency bag. “Trust her to go overboard on the flowers.”

“It’s not her fau…”

“Shh!” said Paul. “Don’t speak, just sit.”

Jessica slumped into the leather armchair and Paul lifted her dress and thumped the pen against her thigh, holding it firm, then counted, calmly, to ten.

Paul looked up at his wife, shook his head, smiled, then winked.

“In sickness and in health....”

The End

* * * * *

Three’s a Crowd

Mary sat nervously at a table in the far corner of the bar, giving her a discreet vantage point to watch the door. She sipped her orange and vodka, hoping to subdue the tremble in her hands before Stanley arrived.

It was their first live date since they’d found each other in an internet chat room two months previously. From the first moments of their exchange, she felt like an old friend had returned to her. It was love at first type – like the text of others on the screen faded away, leaving only his bold, purple lettering. They made passionate cyber-love that same night, so beautiful that she’d had to buy a new keyboard the next morning.

Just then, the door opened and in he walked, carrying a box on his shoulder. He saw her immediately and made his way to the table,

“I’ve got a problem,” said Stanley, shaking his head.

“Oh…” said Mary. “What’s wrong?”

Stanley cringed. “My brother wants to know if he can join us for a while. He’s been nagging me since I told him we were meeting up.”

She laughed. “That’s fine. It would be wonderful to meet him.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. Is he waiting outside?”


“He’s more than welcome.”

Stanley hesitated. “Well, okay…”

With that, he lifted the box, revealing cheeky smile on the face of his Siamese twin.

Mary’s jaw dropped.

“Good God,” burst Gerald, “Look at the tits on that! You lucky bastard,” he said, turning to his brother.

“Shut up,” said Stanley. He returned his attention to Mary. “I’m so sorry. He’s always like this. Can you see why I was reluctant to introduce you?”

“It’s… it’s okay,” said Mary with a nervous laugh.

“Thank you, but it’s not. He gets intimidated by beautiful women and overcompensates.”

“Ha!” Gerald mocked. “Beautiful? Idiot. Nice tits – shame about the moustache and the wonky eye. But what do you expect from a porn website? You should mmm-mmm…”

Stanley covered his brother’s mouth with his hand. “I’m sick of you.”

Gerald’s arm wrestled Stanleys wrist away and pinned it to the table.

“He’s got a tiny cock you know?” gasped Gerald, with a wink.

“You bloody hypocrite! So have you!”

“And you would believe how much he wanks…” Gerald continued. “He wakes me up at night - ‘wank, wank, wank’. The bed squeaks like a mouse brothel. It’s disgusting.”

“You lying bastard,” shouted Stanley. He threw an arcing punch, hitting Gerald square on the nose.

“Stop that!” shrieked Mary. She stood, grabbed her handbag and burst into tears. “I can’t do this.”

With that, the two men watched as she fled to the door and out of the bar.

Gerald let out a deep sigh and rubbed his nose. “Really, this is the last time I’m doing your dirty-work for you, Stan.”

Stanley frowned, a look of shame on his face. “Sorry, bro’. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but she just wasn’t my type.”

The End

* * * * *


"One hundred and fifty seconds to reach one point five mach - and that's from standstill," boasted Archie to his young apprentice, Den, who loitered beside him.

As the senior technician of Caledonian Aerospace, Archie felt such a swell of pride as he watched the ‘Euroforce Clansman’ fighter-jet - his nurtured fledgling - make her first flight. She rose up from the runway with a roar of freedom, trailing vortices on the tips of her wings as she arced skywards with more grace and majesty than he’d ever witnessed.

“Archie?” said Den.

She pitched into a steeper bank, darting to the heavens, her fuselage glimmering in the morning light.



“What is it?” said Archie, quite annoyed at the interruption.

Den looked guilty. Held out in his hand was a greasy lump of metal with colourful wires hanging from it.

“What’s this bit do?”

The End

* * * * *

You Asked For It

Stewart rubbed the lamp frantically. “Come out you little, bastard!” he yelled.

“Sod off!” came a tinny voice from the spout. “The management does not accept responsibility for wishes granted. Read the small print!”

“What small print?” said Stewart. He shook the lamp, trying to dislodge the occupant.

“The small print around the edge of the lid!”

Stewart held the lamp closer to his face. No imperfection marked the shiny gold surface, certainly no wording.

“There isn’t any fu…”

“You’ll need an electron microscope. It’s very small,” interrupted the Genie.

Stewart roared in anger and threw the lamp. It bounced off the bathroom wall and landed in the toilet bowl.

“AAAAAK-A-OOOOOO-A-OOOOOOOOOOOO,” came a piercing screech from outside, so loud it shook the whole house, throwing Stewart to the floor.

“Help me! I’m drowning!” squealed the voice from the toilet.

Stewart scrambled across the floor and recovered the dripping lamp. “Get rid of it,” he hissed.

“No! Rules is rules.”

He submerging the lamp for a few seconds more, then pulled it back out.

“Okay, okay,” spluttered the Genie. “But you asked for it.”

Stewart gritted his teeth. “No! I asked for a huge cock, and you deliberately misinterpreted me.”

The End