WATCHING THE RAIN  by  James Beresford  November 2012


   The gulls woke Richard at twenty past six that morning, fighting noisily over scraps of food in the road below his window. Normally, he didn't hear them until about seven-thirty, or, if he woke later, not at all, unless one or two happened to be flying overhead, screeching and laughing in their usual way.
   He had always liked the call of the gull, particularly that of the herring-gull: it was a constant, thrilling reminder of the sea and its attendant character; loved since childhood. But being fitfully woken by them, especially so early, when he was not ready, and far too soon for that first cup of tea, was, to say the least, annoying.
   It was most likely that stupid woman next door; throwing the remains of the day's bread out for them again last thing at night. He had asked her - very politely, of course - to decline the practise, if only to avoid that unnecessary racket. And why onto the public footpath? Why not her own garden?
   She had smiled benignly, and pulling a few loose strands of dry, grey hair from her right eye, explained: ‘Must feed the birds, you know, my dear. All God's creatures must be fed. Yes; even the gulls!’
   There was little he could offer by way of response. Except, perhaps, that as God might not mind being woken up at that unsociable hour: he did, however! But she, like so many of her ilk, possessed that invisible barrier usually manifested by a perfect smile, and designed to combat varying attacks from those who might just get the better of her.
   It took him three attempts to finally confirm that it was six-twenty, and not a more agreeable time like seven-thirty, or eight, when the much-craved cup of tea would enable him to start the day in its usual relished, ritualistic way: prolonged not by habit, but by desire. Strong: and for the first cup, sweet. At least last night's pain in his chest had gone. Probably the spaghetti. Pasta often gave him indigestion.
   His first effort to ascertain the time only resulted in the watch falling to the floor in his fumbling attempts to lift it from the bedside table. His second rewarded him with no achievement whatsoever, simply because he was not wearing his reading glasses, and the watch-face was merely a blur. The third, frustratingly stupid but necessarily excusable - considering the hour and his soporific state - revealed to him the fact that the watch was upside-down, and being a digital watch, caused him some momentary bewilderment. A deft twist of the wrist, however, solved the minor problem: and yes, it was only six-twenty a.m.
  Tea would be early, as there was little point in attempting the furtherance of sleep. He moved slowly from the bed, fought ritually with the inner-lining of his slippers, and slipped them on.
   Then came the major decision of whether or not to put on his dressing-gown; which was hanging on the door, or pull back the curtains to see what sort of day it might be. The curtains won, but only because they were nearer to him than the gown.
   He half pulled back the curtains - about six inches - and then lifted the gown from the hook. One of the sleeves was inside-out, of course, so that slightly delayed things. At least the belt had not slipped from the loops as it usually did.
    It often appeared that sod's law manifested itself more with his blue towelling dressing-gown, than with any other early-morning routine, especially when he was in a hurry.
   He knew from long, suffering experience, when he was able to remember, that is, that everything he did, whether it was a simple task, like drawing back the curtains, or filling the electric kettle, or more complicated tasks, had to be carefully executed to avoid clumsiness and subsequent accidents, because first thing in the morning was decidedly his most careless period.
   It was also a time when trying to gather his wits was almost impossible. He had his excuses, of course, or could they be assessed as reasons? His age was an important factor, he could argue, and having just been released from the mental hospital, after living in such conditions to allow him little by way of a normal life-style, would undoubtedly require adjustments to his new existence in a relatively sophisticated environment.
   There was a fresh blue sky; which for late December was gratifying. He pulled the thick curtains to their fullest extent, which, allowing for them being lined, heavy brocade - probably Edwardian or Victorian (from Oxfam's, no doubt) - reduced their folding capabilities by half. This meant that rather less daylight was allowed to illumine the room; already lessened by a pair of absurdly thick net curtains; coagulated with pattern, weave and corrugations. These he hated and had removed them during the late months springing into autumn: much to the briefly-voiced disapproval of Mrs Bosun, his landlady.
   In spite of the immediate prospect of a fine day, there was, however, a large lump of dirty grey cloud sitting on top of the sea several miles out, and he knew, instinctively, that the lump would creep quite incuriously inland, removing the welcome diversion of sunlight from the otherwise dull concrete front, transforming his final Christmas shopping into an event synonymous with ordinary shopping.
   But then, it was approaching Christmas, so in terms of distraction, and possible attractions, in an otherwise dead, de-touristed, small but cosy seaside town, he could perhaps overlook such propensity for incorporeal pleasures.
   He filled the kettle, plugged it in and switched it on, standing momentarily to await its voice.
   Being awake so early in the morning created a small problem: how to gainfully occupy the time; at least until the shops were open.
   He could not have a bath, because that would wake the Fitch woman, and the less he had to do with her, the better. Mr Hall, another tenant, had commented - during a post-mortem on a complaint she had made about the intolerable level of noise caused by openings and closings of various doors on the landing - that she would probably hear a mouse fart in the house next door.
   She had even complained to Mrs Bosun that: 'Mr Potter's wireless is far too loud! It sounds as if he's got the whole orchestra in his room! And in any case,' she had added, 'I don't like Mozart. Far too lively for my delicate taste.’ The music in question happened to be Brahms' Violin Concerto, played very softly late one afternoon.
   One of the intrinsic problems of living in a bedsit, in a house occupied by four other residents, was that each and every person was aware, at all times, or everyone else's presence, whether seen or not. And unlike the normal domestic intimacy of a family house, which Richard himself had not known for many months, their cloistered existence did little but compound their isolation.
   For Richard, that was not a problem: eighteen months in a mental hospital building that should have been condemned shortly after Queen Victoria died; with a room that still bore the hallmarks of that particular era, and an atmosphere which did little to embrace any bon homie in any of its inmates, had instilled in him an instinct of survival which few would be able to contend with.
   Like hospital, noise had to be kept to a minimum, and in the case of one or two of the residents, politeness - often forced - was exercised at all times, and in the case of Mrs Fitch; a crafty bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Whether she was aware of this or not Richard never knew, but always felt to be the victor.
   ‘Good morning, Mrs Fitch! Another lovely day...’ (It was absolutely peeing with rain!)
   On one occasion, as he passed her on the landing, having just left the bathroom, and smiling at her most amiably, and feeling rather more cavalier than usual - perhaps aided by an extra finger of whisky beforehand - said jovially: ‘Good evening, Mrs Fitch. I've left my bath-water for you.’ She worked hard to avoid him for weeks after that.
   Mrs Bosun, seemingly as ubiquitous as her furniture, was aware of the antipathy at all times, but realising that this involved no rancour, disregarded it all quite philosophically. Richard regarded Mrs Bosun as 'a good egg'. She'd been around, as they say.
   The other three tenants added their hues to the dull social spectrum that Richard viewed as he would a boring soap-opera. Mr Hall; crippled by arthritis, but jovial by nature, usually kept himself to himself in the same way Richard had done in hospital for all of those long months, and only left the womb of the house to collect his pension and occasionally purchase a few needed groceries.
   Mr Daly was something of an enigma. He lived; he breathed, and he clinked his cup and saucer behind his closed door. It was widely believed that he was a retired school teacher, and retained visible traces of a fraught life. Other than that, nobody knew much about him.
   And lastly, there was Mr Pye - Albert - who lived in a fantasy world of his own: trying to reconstruct his past, which had been nothing short of disastrous. Flicking from sophistry to idealism, he sometimes bored and at other times kindled similar rhapsodic thoughts to those that Richard revelled in.
   From these Richard often derived a few moments of humour, and other of escapism. ‘I could have done with someone like you in hospital,’ Richard had once told Albert. ‘Bring a touch of humanity into the sad industry of human suffering!’
   There was still the boy locked in Richard, as he had often been told, as there was in most men, even at his age of seventy, and such vagaries which were quite likely to cause some concern in others were usually confined to himself, or brought out in the presence of Matthew, his grandson, with whom he shared a puerile duality.
   This was harmless but titillating, yet on occasions it seemed somewhat embarrassing to the more rational Matthew, who, as might be expected of a nine-year-old, sometimes felt that an adult should really behave like an adult was expected to behave. Despite not having seen each other for over six months and when mild admonition would be necessarily, it was meted out to his grandfather in a mood of long-established sensibility.
   ‘Oh, don’t be silly, Granddad! Of course cars and lorries can’t have square wheels. They wouldn’t be able to move.’
   ‘Yes, Matthew, but at least you wouldn’t need to put the handbrake on.’
   But when the mood was shared by both, Matthew was quickly able to recognise the levels of irony or pure nonsense.
   ‘We’re having cackleberries with our sausages and chips tonight, Matthew.’
   ‘No, Granddad: they’re called hen fruit, not cackleberries. You are silly sometimes.’
   These were treasured moments for Richard, and following his nervous breakdown and the prolonged suffering from the added unexpected mental health problems, the deprivation of immediate family closeness was often hard to bear.
   But all was well, and feeling quite certain that this coming Christmas was going to be the best as far as the three of them were concerned, with Richard sharing the excitement and festive spirit, as he was determined to do, he could happily put the past eighteen months of uncertainty and misery out of his mind.
   The day was going to be long. He had already decided that. But there were certain things to do; like washing-up last night's supper things piled on the draining-board in his curtained section of kitchen; with a sink; small fridge; a full-sized cooker, and ample cup boarding for one person's culinary needs.
   Richard sat in the chintz armchair, staring dreamily at the wardrobe; mug of tea in his right hand, and letting the unfathomable world happen. The tea needed just that little bit more sugar, but didn't concern him enough to warrant getting up from his chair to go through the rigmarole of enhancing it. A sufferably long period of being in a mental hospital had well accustomed him to accepting even the worst of situations, where a cup of 'decent' tea had been viewed as a luxury.
   Apart from the violin cry of the herring-gulls, gracefully wheeling overhead outside, the world was silent. The earlier bread melee between the raucous common-gulls and the now defeated black-headed gulls had long since ended, leaving the patient sparrows to scavenge the spoils of war. The central heating ticked quietly, and the cooling kettle cracked irregularly on top of the fridge.
   After the second cup of tea came the washing-up, and after the washing-up came the milkman - the float whining and rattling around the small Georgian crescent - with eight pints for Mrs Bosun, (he counted) and six for the lady next-door-but-two with the cats; he lost count at five - or was it six?
   It rattled away: the brake-ratchet denoting a stop. The milkman whistled 'Jingle Bells' quietly; no doubt in pleasurable anticipation of the Christmas Box he would receive from each customer.
   The light increased, and the distant lump of cloud grew larger; now covering what he could see of the horizon through the gap between the fish and chip shop and the The Dog & Gun.
   It had rained briefly yesterday, just after lunch - just after he had hung out his bath towel and two tea-towels. But a kind, thoughtful Mrs Bosun had put them in her tumble drier while he watched the rain from his room, creating a dismal but comforting view of the seafront as a scattering of shoppers battled with the wind-swept wetness. Dear Mrs Bosun!
   ‘It's always the way, isn't it, Mr Potter,’ she said, stuffing the wet objects into the tumble drier, ‘always the way!’   
   ‘Sod's law, Mrs Bosun,’ retorted Richard. ‘Sod's law.’
   ‘Yes, I suppose it is,’ she agreed. ‘Still, never mind. Soon be Christmas.’ Which of course mollified all problems, except financial. ‘Something to look forward to after leaving hospital, won't it?’ she added, lowering her voice.
   ‘Yes. Looking forward to it, Mrs Bosun.’
   ‘Of course. Well, they'll be dry in about half an hour. Just help yourself, Mr Potter.’
   ‘Yes, thank you, Mrs Bosun - that's very kind of you to go to so much trouble.’
   ‘Daughter and grandson still coming to see you, are they?’
    ‘Yes, I'm 'phoning them later. You've no idea how much I'm looking forward to us being together. So is Matthew, of course.’
   ‘Of course. That will be nice for you. Quite a family get-together...’
   The door closed behind her. Then opened again. ‘Oh, Mr Potter - I wonder. If you're going out - doesn't matter if you're not - but if you are, I wonder, could you get me some bubble-bath from Boots? You know, their own. Peach I usually have, only I've got dear Mrs Hedges coming for lunch, and I've got such a lot to do, and of course it's Tuesday, so I expect Molly will phone - you know what she's like! Can't stop talking. Must cost her a fortune...’  She fought for breath: slightly asthmatic.
    Richard accorded a nodding agreement of her daughter's volubility, which he had suffered - for suffered can only be the right way to describe a period that reduced his freshly-run bathwater from piping-hot to the colder side of tepid, and two bare feet frozen on the Roman patterned quarry tiles in the hallway, when he was unfortunate enough to answer the phone in Mrs Bosun's absence.
   Back came the profundity of remembered times he had endured mindless verbal exchanges in hospital, listening to other residents who, with limited vocabulary, could only relate to football, what the doctor had said, and what they were going to say to the assessment committee when they saw him.
   ‘Yes, of course, Mrs Bosun. I'm popping out, later. Run out of ginger-ale.’ He'd run out of whisky, too, but running out of ginger-ale sounded more acceptable somehow. Not that Mrs Bosun would mind, but he was slightly troubled by his own set of guilt factors, which included the amount he now drank: often to relieve the disquieting memories of hospital; the fact that he was only just able to afford one bottle a week, and a silly desire to keep his drinking habits to himself.
   If old Albert knew he drank whisky it wouldn't be just one bottle a week. As much as Richard enjoyed - tolerated - Albert's infrequent company, Richard treasured his own company and privacy, which in terms of his readiness to accept the questionable friendliness of others, rendered him a lonely man.
   But he had chosen to be unaffiliated to the social pressures which might easily be a burden on his limited finances, and be expected to be sociable when it did not suit him. He had never been a gregarious person, but being in a mental hospital had cautioned him to distance himself from others in a more deliberate way, and being denied of the right type of friendship, had reduced his attitude towards others to the extent that fellow company was to be restricted to family only.
   He brooded, he meditated, he theorised, and he thought about his life before his breakdown and subsequent mental health problems, but now, here was the chance to live again: a fresh start; transporting himself from the negative aspects of hospital a fresh world of intrigue, camaraderie and challenge.
   It was now eight-forty-five. He spent ten minutes or so in the bathroom, dressed, and left the house. The blue sky was still above him, and there was just a hint of sea-breeze; at least there was in the crescent, but it grew to a chilling blow on the front.
   The tide was in and the seas whipped into tiny white horses and irregular waves. Apart from himself there were only two others on the front: a man struggling to unleash his dog, and a woman on her bike fighting with her billowing skirt.
   On the horizon, a large ship - probably a tanker, and as grey as the clouds - moved with undetectable motion. There were two - no, three, he counted - perhaps moving apart.
   Two upturned dinghies rested on the shingle and a slightly battered supermarket trolley lying on its side blocked the bottom of the steps leading to the beach. 
   One or two of the shops were already open, and coloured lights festooned their framed exotica. The town's half-hearted attempt to annually revive what little festive spirit it had, dismally regaled the shop-fronts, lamp posts and overhead spaces with dulled tinsel, lights and sadly spoiled Father Christmases and reindeer.
   There were all the expected signs, and some trades people had even decorated their shop-fronts and window displays as early as the beginning of November. Mason's, he  had noticed only yesterday, as he suffered his first painful attack in his chest, had placed their tatty plastic Christmas-tree - condemned to a life of prolonged mouldering and mauling by underpaid shop-assistants - right in the middle of a display of swimsuits and seaside paraphernalia. Had it not been for the unexpected attack, he would have appreciated the full extent of the paradox.
   But it was all going to be fun, and when he spotted the computer game at half-price in Tomley's: hoping it would be appreciated by Matthew, the spirit of Christmas edged its way a little deeper into his psyche, winkling out the almost forgotten memories of those much earlier years when Matthew was younger, and was a joy to watch as he unwrapped his presents in front of his mother and grandfather.
   The saddest loss to him, during his long months in a system designed to destroy hope and integrity, was the witnessing of his grandson's growing-up. This salient could now never be fulfilled, but at least Matthew was still young enough to sense that the past eighteen months was little more than a sad memory, to be cast aside like his favourite but well-worn trainers, or bruised knees after a fall. Now, however, much of that could be remedied by the forthcoming period, where Auld Lang Syne would be manifested by trifle, wrapping paper and a meaningful: 'Hey! Thanks, Granddad!’
   If there was one thing Richard was quite good at it was wrapping parcels; be they items to be sent through the post or as presents for birthdays or Christmas, and despite him not having wrapped a single present for well over a year, the six which sat on his small table that night would doubtlessly delight not only his daughter but Matthew also. He lifted the largest, pleased with the result of two weeks searching for the rather expensive cycling helmet his grandson had requested. And with the second glass of whisky that night, he would sleep well.
   The heavy rain came again that night, and he sat watching it cascade down the window in rivulets, sparkling in the light of the amber quartz-iodine street-lamp outside his window. He chuckled quietly to himself: he had that same lamp outside his hospital room window. And there it was again. But at least now he could go outside and revel in the light which bathed his side of the street, rain or no rain.

 

 I, Werewolf    by   Jake Darke   November 2012


The night was black and cold, and our breath left long plumes in front of us as our lungs exhaled.  The cloud cover cleared, ushered along by a stiff breeze and the full moon emerged, round and fat.  It lit up the night, and there we stood, facing each other, both breathing heavily from the chase.

I stared into the sharp green eyes opposite me, mesmerised by their beauty and magnificence.  They had widened and softened as their owner realised that resistance was futile and so we stood silently, surrounded by our own thoughts.

Her hair must have originally been jet black and shiny, but it had been infiltrated over the years by clumps of dull silver and white.  She must have been old, although you could not tell that from her eyes.  Her mouth was still set in a slight snarling grimace, teeth stained with age and gums looking a trifle sore in some places.

I smiled to myself, chuckling inwardly at my thoughts, I was about to die and there I was considering the dental hygiene of my prospective killer.  She inclined her head slightly, obviously perplexed at my wry smile, but it did not seem to alarm her.

There she stood, in all her glory, old and wise yet still strong with every movement flowing with inherent undeniable animal grace, a werewolf.  Why did I think she was female, well I am not sure.  I had not had time to really study her body but had spent most the preceding few minutes trying to outrun the snarling beast that was pursuing me, after my blood.  It was just something in those eyes, a softness hidden away, struggling to shine through.  Perhaps they were from her normal self, whoever that was.

A low guttural growl emerged from deep inside her, teeth barred she moved slowly towards me, hands or should that be paws raised.  I could see the shape of her powerful shoulders, the slight humps of her biceps but also the saggy flesh of old age that had slowly devoured her.  I stood, hypnotised by her beauty and elegance, not wanting to die but powerless to change my destiny. 

Closer now, I could smell her breath, feel her touch on my cheek, my breathing was short and sharp, sweat on my brow and scared, so scared but too scared to run anymore.  Besides, despite her age she was still fast, too fast for me.

Her face and muzzle came closer, blocking out the night, my legs weakened and I prepared for that deadly bite.  It never cam though, instead I felt her claws ripping open my neck, and the warm trickle of blood.  She released her grip on me and I sank slowly to the floor feeling all my strength drain away.  Then as the mists of unconsciousness swam over me I heard the beast howling at the moon.

The following morning I awoke in a field, the suns warm rays waking me.  I struggled to claw my way back to consciousness, trying to unscramble my thoughts.  I remembered the night before, the kiss of the werewolf but I was still alive.  I could see dried blood on my clothes, and feel it congealed on my neck.  I felt sore and ached from laying on the hard ground.  I looked at my watch, 9.17 am.  I looked around and tried to recognise my surroundings.

I was in a field near Wimblington, and all was quiet.

I managed to find my bearings and return home where I showered and tried to recollect exactly what had happened and why I was alive.  I had some pretty nasty scars around my neck but somehow I was still alive.

It wasn’t until the next full moon that I realised why.

As the full moon grew nearer I began to feel increasingly agitated, but not being particularly au fait with the lunar calendar I could not work out why.  At the next full moon though all became clear, crystal clear.  When the darkness fell I was drawn to the back garden, my breath quickened and I could feel the moon’s rays penetrating my body, filling my veins, intoxicating my soul.  My first change was frightening, but over in a matter of minutes.  I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through me and I just had to run and kill, feel the power and enjoy that succulent meat and blood of the poor unfortunate sheep.

It has been many years now, and I still remain undetected.  I know that they call me ‘Black Shuck’ and that I have inherited a curse that has been passed down the ages from one poor soul to the next.  But let me tell you that when the moon is full and fat there is no sensation to compare, the thrill of the chase, the fury of battle and of course the blood, always the blood.  Usually I feast on animals, sheep, deer or if I am unlucky rats and rabbits.  But sometimes I cannot resist the lure of human flesh.  I try to make sure that it is a soul that will not be missed by society.  I have taken a drug dealer who thought he would be protected by a trained Staffordshire bull terrier, but they are no match for my power and speed.

I witnessed an attempted rape in the park, the would be rapist disturbed by a dog waler.  I followed the perpetrator home and then come full moon I went back to see him.  Does this excuse my actions, well not really but it helps me live with them, and it gives me a sense of justification for my wanton acts of slaughter.

But now my time is near, I am old, nearly two hundred years old and it is time to pass my curse on to some other poor soul.  I have my eyes open, and sometimes, when the moon is full, I sit in the shadows at closing time outside the Anchor in Wimblington, waiting and watching.  I have not found anyone yet, so if you are visiting, don’t linger after closing time.  I might be there, watching and waiting and who knows it may be your turn.  If you see a shape in the shadows it may be me, and I am known as Black Shuck.


 

Longest 1st date ever  by  Mike Lodge    september2012

 

Chatted up a young lady on 2nd december at a mutual friends engagment party.
Being an old fashioned fella, I walked her home, 200 yards, and arranged a first date with her.  
   Being a lorry driver who was away all week and doing mobile discos all weekend and this was the busiest time of the year for me, I asked when her birthday was.
The reply was late january and on that saturday I was free, so, I arranged to take her out for a birthday meal.  
   That week I was working away as usual and come the thursday I was feeling very unwell. So much so that I booked into a pub for bed and breakfast. I was so unsure I might not make it through the night. The truck was centrally heated and had two bunks in it as well as being double glazed, so it was a properly set up for sleeping in jobby.
Next morning I woke and managed a small amount of breakfast, then drove home. This took me all day for a three hour trip and I went straight to the young lady's home to apologise as she was not on the phone. She had a 12 year old daughter who answered the door to me and I said who I was and that I was supposed to be taking her mum out for a birthday meal.
   I was extremely untidy and looked a total wreck and the daughter turned round and shouted into the house "You needn't have bothered dressing up mum, he hasn't". 
Mum came to the door, was apologised to and I was invited in for a cup of tea because she could see that I was genuinley ill.
   I sat on her sofa, drank my tea, and there I stayed for three weeks! I really was that ill with flu. The doctor was called and came out to me twice, but with flu there's not much they can do.
   Three weeks is a record first date for me, can anyone beat that?
Oh and by the way we married four years later because she wanted to marry on a saturday on what would have been her deceased fathers birthday and monday the 27th august is our silver (25th) anniversary.

Chariots of Smouldering Embers by Margaret Gumley 4/8/2012

 

“Go, girl, go!  Come on, girl! Yes, that’s the way! Faster girl: faster!”

I was pegging clothes on the line when I heard the above outburst and I must admit it shook me for a moment. After all, the loud male voice was coming from a unit just behind us: a retirement unit. What would happen next, a call for paramedics perhaps? Then I realised the excited retiree was probably watching the Olympic Games. I went back indoors and turned on the television.

Sure enough, the Olympic Games 2000 was well under way and hundreds of spectators were doing exactly the same as my elderly neighbour: cheering and encouraging their heroes.

In January 1957 triple gold-medal sprint star Betty Cuthbert was denied her ‘Sportsman of the Year’ trophy (a canteen of cutlery) due to its value being higher than that acceptable by an amateur sportsperson. I was just eight years old and, not having much call for a canteen of cutlery anyway, dreamt of being a famous sports star too. Sadly, weak ankles constantly brought my face into contact with the ground—which was something of a handicap for a potential Olympic sprinter—and I gave up trying in case I ended up looking more like a has-been prize fighter than a would-be runner.

My next attempt was at swimming. I practised regularly for several months at our local pool and was seriously considering competing in local swimming races when, one Saturday afternoon, some lovable lads decided I’d make a great ball for their new water game and began tossing me from one to the other. It was all in good fun, I think, but some boys couldn’t keep my head above water when they caught me.

Just when I was becoming really waterlogged, a sympathetic and remarkably strong young man appeared on the scene, caught me mid-flight and lifted me effortlessly onto the side of the pool. I was turned on by his show of strength but turned right off swimming. I tried archery instead. It seemed a safer option.

Archery was far more difficult than I’d imagined but gradually I got the hang of it. My only problem was hitting the target, which for some reason was never quite where my arrow was headed. Mind you, I think my instructor could have been more understanding because I didn’t do any real damage. I wouldn’t have done any if he’d been standing closer to the target.

Like running and swimming, archery wasn’t a great success (nor was ten-pin bowling, but I won’t go into that as a certain person with a limp may be reading this—sorry Charlie!)

Eventually I realised sports star status wasn’t for me: I’d be a keen spectator instead. My boyfriend took me to watch his favourite rugby league team playing at their home ground and I wanted so much to impress him by my new-found enthusiasm.

“What’s happening?” I asked, unable to see beyond the multitude of beanied heads.

“Sterlo just kicked the ball and it went dead in goal,” he explained.

“Yeh! Go Sterlo,’ I cheered. ‘Go Parra! On yer the Eels!” All those wonderful football phrases I’d heard being loudly chanted by my Parramatta-footy-fan boyfriend during previous games, when I’d been cold, hungry and bored to tears.

Blue-and-gold-clad Parramatta supporters glared at me, my boyfriend gritted his teeth. Well I’d assumed that dead in goal meant the ball had gone right where it should have done. It had hit the bullseye, so to speak. Apparently not. Sport-talk should be classified as a completely separate language.

I haven’t really followed sport since then, as I don’t think there’s much point.

However I did join a fitness club recently in an effort to regain some of the condition I’m sure I had not that many years ago.

Last week I severely strained every muscle in my body, putting me out of action for six painful days: it still hurts when I laugh. Perhaps I should confine any future sporting enthusiasm to the relative safety of my lounge room, like my elderly neighbour, though I must remember to keep my voice down!

 Hard Times in Smellswick   (by James Beresford) 1/7/2012

    Mr Jeremiah Polegrip, who although somewhat portly, could easily be described as comely, and with his fulsome beard, which amply covered his ruddy cheeks and gave him the marked impression that he might be a country squire, he added a certain gaiety to the otherwise dull and lacklustre interior of the Dog and Gun Inn, situated, as would be expected, just on the verdant edge of the village, with a long-forgotten and rotting byre on the opposite side of the road to add to the rustic character of Goose End Lane, Smellswick.
   His coat of previous good ownership, and no doubt fitting its original wearer with bespoke correctness, appeared to be well-worn and loved to a degree of authenticity that could only be recognised by those who were similarly attired.
   One in particular: the much respected game keeper, Ebenezer Flatt; who, having entered the inn with a brace of the Earl’s pheasants, waited patiently for the first to ask of their price, expecting as usual to be told that, in exchange for two full tankards of Witcher’s Harvest and a goodly slice of the landlord’s game pie, would be relieved of the burden of transporting the two fine cock pheasants to his home once leaving the inn at the usual late hour.
   ‘I trust.’ began Jeremiah, wiping a thick layer of ale foam from his commendably hirsute chin upon his sleeve, ‘That they are freshly shot this very day.’
   ‘Not longer than an hour since.’ replied Ebenezer. ‘And as ready for the hangin’ as any you might wish to find space for.’
   ‘Then two tankards of Harvest and a stout slice of pie it shall be.’ said Jeremiah, wiping the other side of his chin. ‘But mind you, Ebenezer; if I finds more than half a thimbleful of lead in the breasts, then I’ll not empty my pocket of hard-earned coinage again.’
   Ebenezer Flatt eyed the pie as Sam Appledown, the jovial but somewhat draggletailed landlord cut a handsome slice from its body, placing it on a wooden platter for all to see, hoping no doubt that its magnificence might entice an appetite or two.
   The first of the two tankards was poured from the stoneware pitcher and Ebenezer took his first draught, pausing briefly to take a breath, and then finishing it with a relish that might outdo any thereabouts with a robust thirst. The second pouring however, and no doubt as much fancied as the first, was merely broached by way of allowing it the merit it deserved.
   It would be pertinent to say that the atmosphere in The Dog and Gun that night was of the most convivial and welcoming; as might be expected after the last day of the harvest, where, with a colourful abundance of produce on the scarcity of table space; whatever accommodation might be found upon the stone flags was soon filled, manifesting the difficulty of raising a tankard to the lips of those who gave little thought to the soul purpose of being there.
   The Rev. Adam Ramstart, with his celestial smile and contrived sanctity, yet delighted by being where he was at twenty minutes past seven that night, stood engaged in mundanity with Dr. Desmond Garforth, village physician of forty years and much respected for his charming and consolatory bedside manner. Those who stood close to the two men were engaged in other matters, with impassioned discourse, voicing speculation pertaining to the Earl’s latest decision to close the wool mill and convert it into home for the destitute and homeless of Horchester.
   ‘No good will come of it,’ stated Alfred Pottledear, staring briefly into the lamentable emptiness of his pewter tankard. ‘You mark my words. Not a drop of good will come of it.’
   ‘Of what, pray?’ asked Tobias Pillthwaite. ‘Your empty tankard, or the mill?’
   Had he answered with the word ‘both’, it would have caused a moment of levity amongst the small gathering at the bar, for dear Alfred was not known for his wit or sense of humour, and as he gave no answer but to stare longingly at the pitcher of ale on the scrubbed but indelibly stained oak bar, he then nodded silently at Sam Appledown.
   ‘Same again, Alfred?’ Sam asked, needlessly. ‘Good drop of stuff, this.’
   ‘Aye.’ replied Alfred. ‘Good drop of stuff, all right. Goes too quickly for my likin’, though. It’s all this talkin’ about the mill and how times is changin’.’
   ‘Well…’ Sam Appledown cursorily wiped a non-existent puddle of ale from the bar top. ‘As I’ve always said, Alfred, there’s them what has a mind to look after the poor, and we all know how bad things are, and especially in places like London and Bristol, and if his Lordship wants to help them, then God bless him, I says.’
   ‘Aye, right enough, Tom.’ responded Sam, galvanized by the spectacle of the golden ale pouring with lustre into his awaiting tankard. ‘But my dear old dad would turn in his grave if he knew his beloved mill was to be no more.’
   ‘Progress.’ Said The Rev. Ramstart, not meaning to eavesdrop, but exercising his usual affinity towards other people’s conversations, ‘And if it means my congregation on a Sunday will increase as a result of it, then so much the better.’
   ‘Aye, right enough.’ said Tobias Pillthwaite, but your collection won’t benefit from it. Poor as church mice, they’ll be.’
   It had never occurred to The Rev. Ramstart why church mice should be any poorer than mice to be found in other places, or how they might enhance their status in the animal kingdom should they feel the need to do so, but as he had yet to actually see a mouse in his church, the matter was rapidly put aside to engage in more important topics, including the fact that the Bishop was soon to descend upon the community and bestow upon them his eminence.
   The inn closed shortly after ten that night, with all twelve of the patrons meandering their way home and trying to appear as sober as each felt necessary, and with every star individually quite incapable of maintaining stillness, and the pale light from candlelit windows and doorways appearing to move as though will-o-the-wisps, thoughts of mills, mice and impending visit from church hierarchy gave way to the more important matters of Victorian husbandry; the Dog and Gun opening its door at midday the following day and the promised increase in weekly wage by one shilling.
   ‘Course,’ said Allan Pottledear, as he collided with Tobias Pillthwaite, with both of them minded to avoid a large puddle, ‘If we do get that extra shilling each week, the question is, do we tell the Missus, or do we keep quiet about it and down a few extra of an evenin’?’
   ‘Conscience, my dear Pottledear,’ said the Rev. Ramstart. ‘It’s your conscience you have to worry about. After all, is it not your dear wife who has to bear the burden of feeding and clothing you?’
   ‘Aye, tis true.’ replied Mr Pottledear. ‘But taint she who has to perform the graft and suffer the blisters each and every day.’
   ‘Aye, and all for ten shillings a week.’ said Jeremiah Polegrip.
   Had it not been for the sudden and heavy shower of rain, much of which seemed to be concentrated on the wretched travellers as they neared their respective homes, the topic of hard-earned money would, with high probability, have seen them to within yards of their doors, but now that the harvest was over and all but forgotten and ploughing uppermost in most minds, the only one of them to savour his good fortune; albeit paid for with a few pence worth of ale and pie, was Mr Polegrip, who, with both outer pockets of his shabby coat bulging and displaying the adornment of the pheasants tails, had already decided from which of the five rusting nails in his shed they should hang.
   ‘It is singularly bewildering.’ said The Rev. Ramstart, glancing down at his mud-splattered gaiters and shoes. ‘That His Lordship can pay his farm workers an extra shilling per week, yet cannot pay for the repair to the church roof.’
   ‘That’s because the church isn’t on his land.’ replied Mr Pillthwaite. ‘Otherwise he would.’
   ‘Then who’s land is it on, then?’ asked Mr Pottledear.
   ‘The Church’s,’ replied The Rev. Ramstart.
   ‘Well, there you are then.’ said Jeremiah, eager to participate in more interesting subjects. ‘You’ll just have to ask the Bishop when he comes tomorrow.’
   This left the vicar with something of a quandary, for The Right Rev. John Gripe was not exactly known for his munificence, nor his thinking in accord with changing times, and if his diocese was suffering the austerity of Her Majesty’s apparent indifference to the troublesome plight of poor and common classes, then why should he concern himself and use money that might otherwise give more distinguishable service; like a new saddle for his horse.

 Let’s face it  By  Margaret Gumley in Australia  2/6/2012


 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Easy to say if you are gazing into a beautiful face that just happens to be yours reflected in the mirror. For those of us less blessed by the Spirit of Beauty, it’s sometimes difficult to convince ourselves that the ability to laugh at clever jokes and understand words like ectomorph and pulchritude is enough. Try, for example, snaring the object of your desire by inviting him home to see your certificate for short-story writing.
No, I’m afraid we women need more than charm, wit and intelligence to feel really at ease with the world, especially when we’ve reached ‘that certain age’. Which is why we’re so excited to hear about anything innovatively beautifying.
Starting with my mother’s Ponds Face Cream when I was about thirteen, I’ve since tried all manner of creams and lotions over the years. During the almost obligatory skin problems associated with adolescence, Ponds was replaced by an obnoxious mixture containing sulphur, which brought tears to the eyes when applied to the skin.
Eventually, aged 16, I began the serious search for answers to all my beauty and relationship needs, quite certain they were inexorably linked. My face was so lavished with rich moisturising creams that it shone. In order to hide the shine, I went in search of face powder.
Face powder, the beautician explained, needed a base. No, the moisturising cream wasn’t enough. I needed coloured foundation lotion. ‘Why not have a complimentary make-over, my dear?’ Treated to layers of cleanser, toner, moisturiser, foundation and powder, my face was soon velvety smooth and a healthy—if a touch artificial—tanned colour.
‘Lipstick, my dear, that’s what your poor, pale lips are crying out for.’ She applied Carmine Creation and it certainly made a difference but my eyes, previously my best feature, now fought for recognition. ‘Eye liner, my dear, is what you need. And we mustn’t forget the mascara. Oh, and this ultra-marine eye shadow, though a tiny bit more expensive, was just made to go with your blue eyes, my dear’. Wasn’t it Fagin who always said, ‘My Dear,’ like that?
Having spent her entire savings, this painted lady headed home: her passport to glamour and love in a pink plastic carry bag with ‘Beauty and the Best’ emblazoned across it.
Over time I experimented with texture, colour and price, but of course cosmetics, like fashions, change with the seasons and no sooner would I find exactly what I wanted, than it would disappear without trace. My biggest disappointment was when peppermint flavoured lipstick was discontinued, although it was never economic because I was always licking it off.
With the wisdom that unfortunately comes only with age and experience, I finally realised heavy makeup wasn’t doing my skin, my appearance or my purse any favours. Subtlety was the answer. I’d go for the natural look. A quality cleanser and moisturiser, tinted lashes, a touch of eye pencil and just a light brush of powder for special occasions: minimum outlay for maximum benefit.
Recently, I invested in a range of skin care products containing the new ‘miracle’ beautifier, Fruit Acids. At last a no-nonsense, low maintenance, healthier approach to beauty. Today I noticed a small article on page five of the local paper. ‘Fruit acids, initially thought to improve the skin’s texture and slow the aging process, are now suspected of actually causing skin to age faster due to a reaction with sunshine.’
Where to now? Stay out of the sun? Rejoin the ride on the quest-for-beauty carrousel? Or is, perhaps, a sweet smile and a short-story-writing certificate enough after all?

 On Rainy days.  by James Beresford  3/3/2012

 

   ‘Boing!’  said the spring, testing its leaps.

   ‘ Ping !’  said Pong, the little white plastic ball.

   ‘No, 'puk'‘  corrected the doll's pram. ‘Not 'ping' - 'puk'‘

   ‘Pardon?’  said Pong.

   ‘Puk!’  said the doll's pram. ‘You must say, puk - puk, not ping.’

   ‘Why?’  asked Pong.

   ‘Because that it the noise you make when the children make you go over the net on that big, green table. It goes like this: pat, puk, pat, puk, pat, puk, pat, puk.’

   ‘Oh!’  said Pong.

   ‘Sometimes it goes, pat, puk, pat, puk, pat, puk. And when you jump off the table you go, puk, puk, puk pukpukpukpuk.’

   ‘Oh, do I?’ asked Pong, not quite remembering what sort of noise he made.

   ‘Yes.’ said the doll's pram, which only had three wheels.

   The toy soldier didn't like the doll's pram because she had run over him and broken his sword, and everybody blamed the soldier for making one of her wheels disappear, because they said that his broken sword had made a puncture, and the wheel had to be taken away to be mended.

   But it wasn't taken away at all.

   It fell off, and rolled out of the door, and then down the stairs, and then out through the back door, and then down the garden path.

   And that is where it is now; lying in the long grass.

   All the toys gathered around to listen to the doll's pram. They all thought that she was very clever. She was really, but her cleverness came from Jennifer, the silver-haired doll under the covers.

   Jennifer had eyes that opened and closed, and she could say big grown-up words like 'mamma,' and 'potty,' and 'dadda.'

   Actually, the doll's pram wasn't very happy because she only had three wheels, and one of those wobbled a bit, and she kept on bumping into things and getting caught in the carpet when she felt a bit lop-sided.

   She was quiet now.

   ‘Look everyone. I'm going to fall off the shelf!’  said the pink piggy-bank. ‘Watch me!’

   All the toys watched as the pink, plastic piggy-bank toppled off the third shelf from the bottom and bounced onto the carpet. He nearly hit the giraffe, who was leaning up against the polar bear with the big chocolate-stain on his back.

   ‘That's silly!’  said the bag of assorted toffees. ‘If I did that all of my toffees would fall out all over the place.’

   ‘Ah, yes, but my coins can't do that because they are all safely inside me. ’ said the piggy-bank, trying to stand upright again. ‘And besides, they don't want to come out until I'm full, and I can't rattle any more.’ 

   ‘It must be Tuesday today.’  said the wind-up robot, which rushed around in small circles and made silly scratchy noises as his head lit up like a sparkler.

   ‘Why?’  asked the football with a puncture.

   ‘Because it's raining. It always rains on Tuesdays.’  the robot said, as he bashed into the cat, who hissed at him.

   ‘No, Wednesday.’ said the football. ‘That's how I got my puncture.’

   ‘Why, because it was raining?’  asked the robot.

   ‘No, because it was a Wednesday. I always get kicked on a Wednesday.’ replied the football.

   The robot didn't understand this, and decided not to ask any more questions. He carried on going round in circles. And in a few minutes, if the cat stayed where it was, he would be able to bash into it again.

   Because it was raining - and it wasn't a Tuesday, or a Wednesday: it was a Friday - it was dark in the room, so the big, fat rubber spider, who was hanging by his elastic thread from the ceiling near the door, started to swing backwards and forwards until it could reach the switch that made the little glass sun light up in the middle of the ceiling.

   One night, long ago, the little sun went ' Ping !' and it went out. And it was very dark, so the daddy man came with his step things and put a new sun in the ceiling, so they could all see again.

   Sometimes the toys couldn't find each other. Not because it was dark, but because the mummy lady came and put them where she thought they ought to be. And this made them very sad.

   But they were soon happy again because the children came and muddled them all up again. They liked that, especially the wind-up robot because he always seemed to be near the cat.

   The pink plastic piggy-bank didn't fall off the shelf any more because he was put under the bed with the fire-engine and a pair of smelly socks.

   But, best of all, the doll's pram had four wheels now, because the daddy man came and put it back on, and the toy soldier went and hid in the corner behind the waste-paper basket, and only came out when the doll's pram was taken for walks.

   The football still had a puncture but he still went out on Wednesdays to be kicked, and sometimes it rained, which confused him.

   ‘Boing!’  said the spring, chasing the wind-up robot.

   ‘Puk!’  said Pong. Pong was a very wise ping-pong ball now.

 A Spider, a Glass and a Pile of Books  by

Margaret Gumley      3/3/2012

 

  Well, I don't think it's broken after all: the toe I mean. The combined forces of a large spider, a small container and a pile of books resulted in my toe's present discomfort and discolouration which should, at least, earn me a good deal of tea and sympathy. 

  It began on Monday night when a stomach ache was preventing me from sleeping. I finally decided to go upstairs, where our lounge room is situated to take advantage of the harbor view, and read until my stomach had settled. The first thing I noticed when I turned on the upstairs light was a very large spider, fanned out against the cream-coloured wall above the glass door to the balcony. I'd had no intention of going onto the balcony---there's not much to see out there at midnight---but the presence of the spider made doubly sure I'd remain inside. 

  The spider, one of a type generally known as Huntsman spiders but no doubt also having an unpronounceable Latin name to be proud of, did not move. I edged closer. Still it didn't move. As spiders go it was certainly a fine specimen: dark brown segmented body about 2 cm long, 1.5 cm wide and at least 1cm thick. Its long hairy legs were beautifully symmetrical and splayed out so evenly on either side of the body that you'd think the spider had measured and marked the spots where each delicate foot should rest against the wall. Its leg span was some 15 cm. The two small pedipalps, were being cleaned (or perhaps the spider was picking its teeth) as I decided to get my camera and take a few photos.

   Nor did the spider appear to mind having its photograph taken, in fact it put more effort into preening, and I spent about ten minutes gradually creeping closer and closer to my subject, holding the camera high enough to take some good close-up shots.

   'Right spider,' I said, putting away the camera and picking up my book, 'if you stay there and I sit here where I can see you, we'll get along fine, you and I.' The spider didn't respond so I took that as a positive, opened my book and began reading. At 1.30 am I went back to bed. The spider still hadn't moved from his position guarding the entry to the balcony.

   When I went upstairs again a few --- too few --- hours later, I was in time to see the spider run quickly around the architrave, down the wall at the opposite side of the room and, after a couple of tries because its body was so thick, squeeze itself into a space behind a framed picture.

   That was three days ago but I didn't see the spider again until today.  It was just emerging from behind a different framed picture as I arrived at the top of the stairs. Time to enlist the help of my husband and 'The Spider Glass'. We've had a number of spiders in the house over the years and eventually discovered a perfect glass with which to catch them: a brandy balloon, with a rim large enough to go over the hairy huntsman spiders without trapping their legs (most times) and deep enough to keep the spider inside, with a piece of thin card as a lid, until the occupant has been safely shaken out into the garden (or over the fence if it's a particularly ugly specimen). Having found the perfect glass I used a marking pen to write 'Spider Glass' in big black letters around the side. The glass was then placed in a high cupboard where it waited for the next chance to be useful in the game of spider-catching.

  I should make it clear that although I will take photographs of spiders, I'm not the one who uses the spider glass: oh, dear me, no. That job belongs to the man of the house and it was to him I intended giving the spider glass this morning, if it hadn't fallen from my grasp and smashed on the kitchen floor. The replacement that came immediately to hand was an opaque plastic container, just wide enough to place over the spider, legs and all. But unfortunately it wasn't very deep and before Col could secure the piece of card over the top, the spider pushed the card away and jumped out, giving my husband quite an amusing (for me) shock. The spider, who was no doubt also suffering some type of trauma by this stage, ran and hid among some tall heavy books stored upright on the bottom, floor-level, shelf of a bookcase.

  'We might as well leave it there and wait for it to appear on the wall again in a day or two,' I suggested. But Col was not going to be outwitted by a spider, even a big hairy one. He asked me to locate a more appropriate spider trap and began gingerly removing the books and placing them in a pile on the floor. I showed him a jar I'd located behind the saucepans.

  'That should be fine. Hand me the torch, will you?'

  'I really think we should leave it alone. If a book slips it might squash the spider. If you put your hand on the spider by mistake it will bite you.' (A huntsman can, and will, bite if threatened and you can become quite ill.)

  'Just pass me the torch so I can see to the back of the shelf,' said Courageous Col.

  One by one heavy books were carefully removed and added to the pile until there was no more cover for our spider and, in the harsh spotlight of our emergency torch, it meekly admitted defeat, allowing Col to place it snugly in the jar.

  When the spider had been returned to the wild of our garden (from where it will probably make its way back inside the house next time we have some heavy rain) I went upstairs, walked past the bookshelf and stubbed my toe on the pile of books.

  Yes, I knew they were there. Yes, I had my eyes open. So how did I come close to breaking my toe? Our brains help us judge distances between objects around us without us being really conscious that we're doing it. By this means we stealthily avoid walking into things. My eyes saw the books and my brain told my feet they had plenty of room to pass those books without a problem. What my eyes and brain didn't compute was that although most of the books were of similar size, one at the bottom of the pile was wider, and thicker, than its fellows; it was with this book that my foot, encouraged by my overconfident brain, collided, my middle toe meeting the solid spine of the book with unexpected force.

  Now the books are back in place, the spider is outside enjoying the sunshine, Col has gone to work and I am wondering how much leverage this black, yellow and purple toe will gain for me. Surely there must be some compensation. It might not be broken (though the possibility is still there) but nevertheless, dinner at the club tonight can't be too much to expect. After all, how can I possibly cook when I have an almost broken middle toe?

 

 

WHATS HIS NAME?  by Bill Conroy  5/2/2012

  Don’t you hate it when people either cannot, or will not, remember your name?

“Bill” is the most common name in all Christendom, right? Nothing can be easier to remember

than the four letter word called “Bill”. So why do people call me something else?

Forget the Tom, Dick, and Harry bit, I am constantly called Bob, Noel, or Jim, and just for a

change, Connor, Connell, or Connelly. Clearly there is something wrong.

Seemingly the problem started at my unexpected birth, which my Mother described as

 “untimely”. My father was so unnerved by the whole business of parenthood that he registered my

 birth with the one name “William”and left it at that. From that time on I was known and addressed

as Will, Bill, Billy, or simply “Hey you, Dopey!”

The pages of history are peppered with the names of “William” or “Bill” .For instance there was

 William the Conqueror, William Pitt, William of Orange, William Bligh, a range of Kings

William of various models, and of course the biggest Willie of them all, the artful dodger

himself, Bill Clinton! They were all called “Bill” and no one had any trouble remembering their

names. So why do I have a problem?

Perhaps the poet Swinburne (or was it Smith?) had the answer when he said:

“And the best and the worst of this is

That neither is most to blame

If you have forgotten my kisser

Then I will forget your name”

Well said Swinley!

 

Weekend Surprise  from  Mike Lodge.....4/12/2011
 
The English Lotto can be played online, and you can buy tickets for a number of weeks in one go. If you win the organisers email you to inform you of your win, and they automatically credit your account.  This is how I played the Lotto.
 
I had selected my six numbers and entered them online for both wednesday and saturday for four weeks as I was going away for a holiday in the Greek Islands for two weeks.
 
Now I should make it clear to everybody, that I am the most unlucky person to ever play the Lotto. I never win anything, not even £1 on a scratch card.  I bought a new car and the engine siezed as I drove it off the forecourt, a new Oyster card for the London Underground that refused to work.  Then there was the new washing machine that promptly leaked all over the kitchen floor causing all the tiles to lift and needing replacement.
 
So now you now that I held no hope of a win on the Lotto as I went on holiday promptly forgetting about my purchase.  The holiday I thoroughly enjoyed, so much so, that the weekend after I arrived home, I went back to the travel agent and paid for another Greek holiday for some six months hence.  By booking early, I got a good discount and exactly the accomodation I wanted on an island I had never been to.
 
Later that evening, I booted up the computer and logged into my email account.  The first email I noticed was from the Lotto organisers and I thought perhaps I might have won a tenner.  I was quite excited at that thought as I opened the email because of my usual poor luck, and I was imagining what I would spend my tenner on.
 
My thoughts suddenly stopped as I read that I had won £250,000.  I felt numb. A quarter of a million!  More than I would ever earn in my entire working life! It had to be a hoax email.  However, just in case, I phoned the contact number given to check and they confirmed my win.
 
At fifty three years of age, I no longer have to work.  How my life has changed!

From  Bill Conroy........4/12/2011 

 
 
CHAPTER 4
 
THE NATION WAITS!
Roman Invasion Fleet Sighted!
 
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced today that a large fleet of wooden ships has been sighted in the North Sea, about 20 miles north-east of Great Yarmouth, apparently  making good speed towards the East Anglia coast. It was not possible to state that the fleet is definitely heading in to Great Yarmouth, but that seemed to be the likely destination.
 
Speaking at an undisclosed location on HMS Indefinite, his flag ship moored at Devonport, Rear Admiral the Right Honourable Sir Percy Pillock,GCMG, GBE, GCVO, CH,  Tesco Platium Card, Chief of Naval Operations, told a press conference today that two Navy helicopters had located a large group of wooden vessels in the North Sea north east of Great Yarmouth. Sir Percy said that when the aircraft had flown close to the ships they had been driven off by a curtain of arrows fired by men clearly seen in the boats. Because of this aggressive act the aircraft had retaliated by firing four air-to-surface heat seeking missiles but, because the targets were wooden hulled, and not driven by a conventional motive source, the missiles had veered off course and had hit and sunk four fishing trawlers of foreign registration operating in the Dogger Bank area.
 
Sir Percy expressed regret for the incident, and said that all the crews of the trawlers sunk had been safely picked up.  He added that no compensation would be payable because the trawlers had been sunk by friendly fire, and in essence, the incident had been an act of God.
 
Sir Percy went on to say that the helicopters had closed with the small ships and had established that they were powered by sails, and oars, and that they were carrying a large number of uniformed men and animals, including horses and elephants It was seen that some of the ships had an ornate carved sternpost surmounted by what looked like the head of a duck
At the subsequent debriefing, the pilots had identified the 40 or so vessels as mainly Roman, but with a number of large Greek trireme merchant ships, each propelled by three rows of oars on either side, and capable of carrying a large number of men and a vast quantity of equipment and supplies in its hold. Clearly a large and well equipped military force was approaching England ’s shores. On a reassuring note Sir Percy said that the government had been quick to respond to the threat, and had the situation under control. The Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence, had departed to Spain on holiday – but not together. It was not known when they would be returning to the UK /  Mr Cameron had indicated that he would be keeping a close eye on the situation..
 
Sir Percy went on to say that the Ministry believed that the approaching fleet of ships was the Roman force that so many people, especially in the Ely area, had long been expecting. He said that, provided the French Government would release the vessels on loan, a number of naval units would be deployed into the North Sea to keep a watching brief.  In the meantime Royal Navy rowing boats would monitor the situation. He added that, at this stage, there was no indication that the Romans had any aggressive intentions towards the people of the United  Kingdom, and he called for calm and a ”wait and see” attitude to see what would transpire
 
Immediately following the press conference there was a stampede of news media representatives vying with each other to be the first to reach Great Yarmouth, and soon every highway, road and track leading into East Anglia was clogged with all manner of vehicle heading for the coast. Within hours the Town was choked with visitors anxious to see the approaching fleet, and in very short order, officers of the Immigration Service had been persuaded to erect an imposing and impassable barrier of Passport Control check-points.to process the visiting Romans who would be carrying EU passports.
 
All was now in readiness to meet, greet, or defeat, the invading Romans.
The Nation held its breath!

 Devils in Blazers  from Chris Darlington.....4/11/2011

 

Peter stretched out to reach the old boxing gloves on the coat hook in the school cloakroom. He was amazed by the sheer weight of them, the feel of the well worn leather against his skin made him feel strange. The laces had become badly knotted and took an age to unfasten.

Peter tried to imagine the immense power of a huge punch from the boxing gloves coming towards him, it made him shudder at the damage that could be caused by them. He could smell the years of old sweat and lineament, it lingered in the cold air of the cloakroom. As he put on the gloves he could feel the sparks of old fights, he began to hear the roar of long gone crowds.

He wondered who had worn the gloves last and how many decades ago, even before this run down secondary school had fallen in to decay.

Suddenly, he was shaken from his daydreaming as the bell for the first lesson rang, he didn’t want to go in, he knew all to well what was going to happen, the class would soon become uncontrollable, and he would be subjected to more violence and torment from the bullies. Looking at the pathetic way the teacher was dressed and his total lack of discipline, Peter made himself a mental note not to follow him into that profession.

Outside at break time he could feel the cool of school yard and the tight knots in his stomach as he hid from the bullies.

Only the old boxing gloves had made him feel warm, for a few seconds his confidence came roaring back, he suddenly felt he had the inner strength to survive.

The tail end of his last term was fast approaching, soon, bible in hand, he would be set free on the outside world. But would it be ready for the animals of 4B? The Devils in blazers.

He saw the tribe of bullies heading towards the bus stop, school scarves tied tightly round their wrists and illegal cigarettes sticking out of the corner of their foul mouths. Should he face the torment and violence at the bus stop or take the cowards walk back home in the pouring rain?

He walked along the wet. worn out pavements and tried to hang on to the last bit of his sanity, plotting revenge with every tired step.

There was only one more day left of torturing blood and skin in the playground. The street smelled damp and of stale cigarettes, he felt sick by the time he reached home. Peter put on his calm, ‘everything is all right’ face, his parents puzzled as to why he hadn’t taken the bus again - but this was his fight, not his middle-aged mum and dad’s!

Peter sat shivering in his bedroom, turned the volume up on the record player and ‘T. Rex’ blasted out.

The next day there was a sense of relief as he walked out of the school gates for the last time, the head teacher gave him his leaving Bible but couldn’t even remember Peter’s name after four years.

The bullies parting shots were shouts of “We know where you live!” and “You wont have teachers to stick up for you anymore!”

“Don’t worry!” replied Peter, “I’ll be ready and waiting” and he raised his boxing gloved hands to the sky. In his mind he felt like an undefeated, world champion and so he walked confidently to the once dreaded bus stop. The bullies made their way to the pub, ripping up their blazers as they walked off into the distance.

From John Silkstone..........4/12/2011

 

RETRIBUTION

 
 
“Don’t die… Oh God, don’t let her die.”
Tony felt a hand on his shoulder.
“Its okay mate,” said a voice, “I’ve phoned the emergency services, they’ll be here soon.”
Tony didn’t even thank the man. He just sat cradling his injured wife while rocking to and fro. He‘d left Joan in the clothing department of the Superstore. She’d given him a playful punch at his comment about small black and lacy.
They had completed their weekly grocery shopping and rather than suffer embarrassment in the women’s clothing section, he decided to take their two heavy shopping bags to the car.
The warn afternoon sun cast a long shadow in front of him as he crossed the pedestrian precinct to the car park. On reaching his Volvo estate car, he placed the bags on the ground.
Rubbed his hands together, created a tingling sensation as the circulation returned to the deep white grooves in his fingers that the heavy bags had made.
Removing the keys from his trouser pocket he unlocked the rear door to the estate. The keys in the locked jingled as the door rose on its spring-loaded hinges. Again he felt the handles bite into his fingers as he picked up one of the bags and placed it in the vehicle.
Suddenly the roar of a car’s engine shattered the afternoon quietness as the driver floored the pedal and the wheels squealed as the driver did a quick getaway. This noise was followed by a dull thud.
Glancing over his shoulder, Tony saw a blue car speeding across the pedestrian precinct towards him. He caught a glimpse of the driver as the vehicle bounced over the small kerbstone that surrounding the car park. A flash of reflected light made him blink, as the car sped off through the exit.
“Silly young fool,” muttered Tony, as he bent to retrieve the second bag of groceries. Standing up he half turned to look into the precinct. A crowd was gathering, some staring at the ground while others looked in his direction. An elderly lady was pointing to him. He had noticed her many times before while shopping with Jean.
Suddenly an uneasy feeling stirred within him. The hairs on his neck stood up. A sickly feeling knotted his stomach and a cold shiver ran through his body. It was the same emotions he’d felt on the streets of Northern Ireland when he thought that he was under observation. His military training once more took over and he began to recognised things that most people would not even notice. It then registered that he couldn’t see Jean anywhere. The feeling in his stomach tightened.
Throwing the bag into the car, he ran towards the crowd.
The second bag of shopping hit the floor of the boot and fell over spilling its contents. A large glass bottle of tomato sauce rolled out of the car to smash on the floor. Its red stain mirrored what he saw as he fought his way through the crowd of onlookers.
A number of the onlookers turned their heads at the sound of a siren. A police car, followed by an ambulance crossed the precinct.
Two officers clambered from the car as it stopped. One moved among the crown asking for witnesses while the other pushed his way to Tony’s side. A paramedic followed him with his colleague in tow pulling a stretcher.
“Come on sir!” said the constable as he bent over Tony “let the paramedic help the lady.”
Tony still clasped his wife to his chest.
The paramedic, kneeling on the other side of Joan, firmly but gently removed Tony’s arm from her shattered form.
“Please sir, let me have the lady, I can help!”
Reluctantly, Tony released her.
The constable helped him to his feet.
“Is this your wife sir? inquired the officer.
“Yes… yes it is.”
“Then can I have your name and address?”
Tony’s mind drifted. Watching the paramedic at work reminded him of the medics during the Northern Ireland and the Falklands Conflict. Good lads he thought. Saved lots of lives they did.
The constable interrupted Tony’s reverie with a slight cough.
“Sorry officer, what did you say?”
“Can I have your name and address sir?”
“Yes of course,” said Tony apologetically, “It’s Ashby. Anthony Ashby.” He waited for the constable to finish writing, “My address is 26 Beech wood Drive.”
“And your wife’s name sir?”
“Joan,” he answered in a low voice.
“Thank you sir, that will do for now, I’ll take a full statement from you later.”
A description of Tony automatically passed through the constable’s mind, his keen eye for detail taking note: aged mid-fifties, nearly six feet tall with a good head of brown hair. A small scat sits above the left eye and the nose appeared to have been broken at some time. He has blue eyes and full lips. Smartly dressed, clean-shaven, and his stance gave off an air of authority, even in a crisis. Possibly ex-serviceman.
Joan, now covered with a red blanket, was lying on the stretcher.
“We’re taking your wife to hospital sir,” said the paramedic, “do wish to travel with us?”
“Yes,” answered Tony. Then as an afterthought, he turned to the constable, “My car, it’s still unlocked.”
“Give me the keys sir, I’ll lock it for you and return them to you later.”
Tony pointed into the car park, “It’s that Volvo over there, the one with the rear door open, the keys are in the lock.”
“Leave it with me Sir. Now you get off to the hospital with your wife.”
Climbing into the back of the ambulance, Tony sat looking at the still unconscious Joan. The driver closed the rear doors and within seconds, the ambulance was moving forward with sirens blaring.
On arrival at the hospital the rear doors were flung open and a team of waiting nurses removed Joan from the vehicle. By the time Tony had climbed out, she was on her way to the casualty department. He arrived as after a count of three, Joan was lifted onto a central table and a doctor shone a light into her eyes.
“Excuse me sir,” said a young nurse, “you’re only in the way here, why don’t you let me show you to the waiting room, the doctor will speak to you as soon as he can.”
Knowing the nurse to be right, he followed her to a small waiting room.
“There’s a food and drinks machine down the corridor,” she said, pointing in their general direction. Then with a comforting smile she left.
Tony looked at his watch, sixteen twenty-two he noted.
Four easy chairs occupied the room, while a small table cluttered with old magazines sat centrally. The pastel coloured wall appeared to restrict Tony as he paced the room like a caged animal. He opened the door and gazed down the corridor, nothing. Closing the door, he once more glanced at his watch, sixteen twenty-four, “What’s taking so long?” he sobbed.
His back was to the door when he heard it opened, turning he recognised the face of the constable.
“Your key’s sir, your car is locked and secure. How is your wife?”
“I don’t know, the doctors are with her now.”
“Why don’t you sit down and try to relax sir? I need to take a statement from you.”
Tony sat down staring at the floor.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” asked the officer, who had been through this routine many times before.
“No thank you.”
“I think you should sir, it will help you think a little more clearly.”
“Okay, but coffee please.”
The constable called to his colleague who was standing by the door, “Three coffees Bill, one with extra sugar.”
Looking up Tony noticed the other officer for the first time.
He gave Tony a nod before departing for the drinks machine.
Tony was finishing his statement when the officer returned with three plastic cups.
“I only got a glimpse of the driver but I know I’d recognise him again.”
The waiting room door opened to reveal the doctor. His facial expression spoke volumes.
Tony’s mind went blank. From a distance he heard a voice saying, “I’m sorry Mr. Ashby, we did all we could.”
Tony heard no more, he saw the doctor’s lips moving, but the words didn’t register.
“Mr. Ashby… Mr. Ashby, are you all right?” inquired the doctor.
“What? Yes… I’ll be okay in a minute.” 
 
* * *
 
Tony opened the bedroom curtains and was temporarily blinded by the Saturday morning sunlight. Later he would go down town to purchase flowers for Joan’s grave.
The last few weeks had been long and lonely. Even after extensive investigations, the police had not made an arrest.
The Westminster Napoleon mantel clock chimed ten-thirty as Tony closed and locked the front door.
The drive into town was uneventful. Parking the car, he stood waiting for another vehicle to reverse out of its space. The driver crossed his hands over the steering wheel and a flash of light shone into Tony’s eyes. It triggered an image that had been etched in his mind since that fatal day. He bent to look at the driver. The picture was complete, it was the same man! The light had reflected off his stainless steel watch.
The car drove off with Tony running after it.
Sensing the futility of his actions he returned to his car. Accelerating out of the car park, he saw the car further down the road. He followed it at a discrete distance and noted its registration.
Turning into a side street the car parked and the driver climbed out and entered a house. Driving past the house, he logged the house number in his memory with the vehicle registration.
At the end of the street he turned his car round and parked. He sat there for a long time cogitating.
Though seething with anger and a wish to rip out the man’s heart, he knew that Joan would not have wanted him to do anything stupid. Though she was gone, there were still the children and grandchildren to think of, so he decided to let the police deal with the matter.
At the police station he spent nearly an hour with the superintendent, who informed him that the man had been questioned and that he had witnesses who could prove that he was miles away at the time of the accident. Lacking hard evidence, it was Tony’s word against the man and his friends.
Tony left the station annoyed and frustrated, the superintendent’s last words still ringing in his ears. “Don’t take the law into your own hands.”
He felt that he had to bring this man to justice.
Home again; he sat down to work out a military type plan of revenge.
The clock chimed six-fifteen as a smile played across his lips. The plan for Operation Retribution was finalised. For it to be successful he would need assistance. Picking up the telephoned he called three of his old army buddies whom he’d kept in touch with over the years.
For the next four weeks, Tony followed this quarry like a private detective, photographing him and noting his itinerary. At nineteen hundred hours on a Friday night, the man started his weekend drinking in the Rose and Crown.
Today was Friday the thirteenth, the day for Operation Retribution to commence. At eighteen thirty hours Tony and his three friends left the house. Each was briefed on their task and each was armed with a mobile phone and a picture of the man.
Tony, Dave and Fred set off walking into town while Albert drove his car to the man’s house to keep him under surveillance.
In the town centre, Fred left the other two and made his way to the Red Lion while Tony and Dave continued to the Rose and Crown.
They were playing pool when Tony’s mobile rang.
“Hello?”
“Tony! Albert here, he’s on his way. I’ll follow in the car as planned. See you in the pub car park, is that a Roger?”
“It’s a Roger Albert, over and out.”
Minutes later the man walked into the pub as Tony potted the black ball to win the game. Finishing his drink, Dave walked over and placed his empty glass on the bar. He then glanced at the man at his side and as their eyes met, Dave nodded and said, “Good evening.” Turning back to Tony he said “Thank for the game, I’ll see you later.” He then left the pub.
Tony inserted more money in the pool table. As he placed the balls on the table the young man called out.
“Fancy a game old-timer?”
“Okay, but I break.”
His new opponent swaggered across the room and responded with a grin “Fine by me mate.”
Tony smashed the triangle of balls with more force than was necessary.
“Bloody hell mate! Are you trying to crack the balls in two?” asked the youth as he selected a cue from the rack.
When he bent over the table to take his shot, Tony scrutinised him more closely. His long greasy hair hung down to his shoulders, and his face was a little short of ugly. The forehead was too low, his eyes pig-like, the nose was too big and his lips…well there were none, just a gash. Aloud, Tony said, “Sorry about that, I tend to get a little angry at times.”
The man played his shot and a ball rolled into a side pocket, “Why’s that then?” he enquired, as he moved around the table to take his next shot.
Tony gave a deep sigh. “Five months ago, someone in a car killed my wife on the precinct. They never found the driver responsible, but I’ve like to find him, if only to let him know that one day he’s going to die.”
The man stopped playing; he stood looking at Tony with eyes wide open and what lips he had, trembled. He dropped the pool cue on the table, “I’m not feeling very well, I have to go.” He then ran out of the pub.
Smiling, Tony whispered. “The seed is sown.” He bid the landlord goodnight and left.
Outside, he crossed the car park to Albert’s car, settling into the passenger seat his mobile rang.
“Tony! Fred here, he’s just arrived in the Red Lion.”
“Thanks Fred, I’ll send Dave over, keep an eye on him and follow if necessary. Roger?”
“Roger it is, over and out,” Just like old times thought Fred as he switch off his mobile.
Dave spoke into his phone. I’m at the top of the High Street as arranged. Good! Red lion, okay, see you later, Roger, over and out.”
Entering the Red Lion, Dave saw the man at the bar. Manoeuvring to his side he ordered a drink, then turning to face him. “Hello there, you didn’t stay long in the Rose and Crown, was it Tony? That man can be like a bear with a sore head at time, while at other times, I think he could kill just for the pleasure of it.”
Giving Dave a quick glance, the man fled from the pub.
Out on the street, Fred followed the man for a short distance before phoning Tony.
“He’s heading for the Hare and Hounds.”
“Good, Albert and I will drive round there now, I’ll be inside; you wait in the car with Albert, see you later, over and out.”
With his back to the main door, Tony stood at the far end of the bar. The man, now pale and drawn, entered the pub and ordered a double brandy.
“Here you are Sam, one double bandy. It not like you to drink spirits, but then again you don’t look well, are you sick?”
“Not sick Betty, but frightened, there’s someone out to kill me, he’s threatened me once tonight, he told me I was going to die.”
Sam drank his brandy in one gulp and ordered another.
“Kill you?” queried Betty as she place his fresh drink in front of him.
“Yes, that’s right, kill me.” Sam grasped his glass so hard that his knuckles turned white.
Turning to face the man, Tony smiled and asked, “Do you fancy a game of pool, mate?”
Sam dropped his glass, spilling the contents across the bar, “That’s him,” he screamed, pointing a finger at Tony. “He’s the one that wants to kill me! Call the police.”
“Don’t be daft son. I never said that I was going to kill you. You’re imagining things. Maybe it’s because it’s Friday the thirteenth. You know, the day of retribution.”
Others in the pub watched in amazement as once more Sam called out, “Get the police Betty, get the police.” Then he broke down sobbing.
 
* * *
 
“Well Mister Ashby” said the superintendent, “not only has he confessed to causing your wife’s death, he’s also confessed to several other crimes as well. So I think he’ll be going down for a long stretch. He still maintains that you followed him. Though the pub landlord’s state that you were in the pub when he arrived, so technically, he was following you. He’s also adamant that you threatened to kill him!”
“No superintendent, what I implied was that he one day he would die.”
“Isn’t that the same thing Mister Ashby?”
“No superintendent, not at all, we’re all born to die.”
 
 
 

Stairway to heaven     by Marc James      3/12/2011

 
 
Humour comes in a variety of forms and what makes one person laugh, may not have a similar effect on another. Humour not only has a cultural context that often fails to translate, but can also be a psychological defence to incidents we find disturbing, anxiety provoking or inexplicable. I have to admit that my own sense of humour often falls outside all three categories and on rare occasions can be triggered by the misfortune of others, but I suppose that could fall into the category of ‘disturbing’.
 
This isn’t always the case, and in mitigation I am proud to say that I will always come to the assistance of old ladies fallen in the street or individuals in need of help or assistance. I can’t say for sure what it is, but a couple of incidents I am about to recall may give the impression that I am insensitive at the least, and at worst devoid of empathy.
 
The first incident whereby I encountered a predilection to find others misfortune a cause for mirth, was I recall in my sixth forms days at school. It had been raining heavily and as I was unencumbered by rigid classroom time tables, I took the opportunity to stand for while in the second floor stairwell and peer at the rain pinpricking the tarmac terrace below through the window. I then noticed a girl of about fourteen come into view running across the terrace below away from the  building. She wore a knee length black raincoat and had her hands in her pockets as she ran.
 
She was halfway across the terrace when disaster struck. Her feet went from under her and she flew like a log, unbending, and worse, unable to extricate her hands from her pockets before body slamming face down into the rain soaked tarmac. I immediately felt the initial tickling convulsion of a giggle in my chest, which as the scene replayed in my mind, turned into uncontrollable wheezing laughter. I saw her roll from side to side as she unfurled her hands from her pockets and managed to get to her feet. Had she looked up, the tears running down my face would have been hidden by the drizzle cavorting down the window glass. As she rubbed one knee and hobbled away into the distance, I too hobbled into the common room, doubled up in stitch like convulsions of laughter.
 
A further incident took place in the home of a girlfriend’s parents; the kitchen to be precise. Her dad had kindly made me a cup of tea and I sat at the kitchen table while he pottered around the kitchen looking for pots and pans, which he clearly had trouble locating. First he checked the top cupboards and then proceeded to the bottom cupboards. He was getting fairly agitated by this stage and hadn’t noticed that while he was bending over to look into a bottom cupboard, he had neglected to close a door on the cupboard above.
 
It must have taken a fraction of a second, but the thoughts going through my head were; an injury is about to be sustained; the door has an aluminium trim along its edge; It’s about to be incredibly painful. It was almost as though it happened in slow motion, but my eyes traced the trajectory of his nut to the point of impact. Simultaneously, his whole face grimaced and contorted in agony as he raised both arms to cradle his head as he shouted ‘CHRIST’.
I don’t know whether it was the ‘CHRIST’ bit, the face, or the stupidity of it, but I choked on the swig of tea that had just been swallowed as the convulsion of laughter took me over. He was bent double by this stage and having slammed my cup down and stood up, I had to quickly move behind him to hide my embarrassment and lack of empathy. He brought one knee up for some reason, I assume as a natural unconscious reaction as he then mumbled the word ‘Jesus Christ, f------g door’. This had the unfortunate effect of making this even funnier, to the extent where I had to leave the room and laugh into cupped hands, tears running down my red face.
 
I heard my girlfriend enter the kitchen and offer both comfort and sympathy. A chair leg scrapped the floor and I heard mumbled exchanges of conversation. I quickly composed myself and went back into the kitchen, by which time he was holding a wet flannel on the top of his head. I managed to say ‘Are you alright’, but I think the pitch of my voice betrayed any attempt at sincerity. I sat down while my girlfriend bathed her dads scalp, but had to look at anything else but the scene in front of me. Each time I looked at the flannel on his head I felt a tremor of laughter well up that I fought to contain. ‘Did you see what happened’ my girlfriend enquired. ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘I went into the front room to get some help, but you must have been upstairs’.
 
I regret to say that this affliction of mine continued, when a later girlfriend who was walking in front of me, tumbled down a complete flight of stairs. I don’t know what happened, but one moment her foot was on the top of the stairs, and a split second later he entire body was in freefall, twisting and turning and going head over heels until she reached the bottom. I can’t say what triggered me off first, the noise of bumping down every step; the shocked utterances as she tumbled, or the unnatural body configuration at the bottom of the stairs. Actually, I think it might have been one shoe which lay about ten feet away from the bottom step and the other one half way up.
 
I knew it was my duty to rush down and help, but guess what?, I actually hid for a few seconds in an attempt to control myself. I then ran down the stairs to act the concerned party, but again was forced to cup hand over my mouth when she said ‘Urrrggg’.
 
I really should work on this unfortunate trait in my personality and I could never pursue a career in medicine or the ‘helping’ services. I am trying, but nowadays it’s the stub of my partners toe and the racked expression of pain that still afflicts me on every occasion. I just can’t help it, sorry!
 
 
 

 WHITE WASHED WALLS...by  Inderpal Kallah.    3/12/2011

 

There were whitewashed walls in every direction going up back as far as the eye could see. They were staggered in all for directions like an inversed pyramid. I was boxed in but could see a square of grey sky up above. I heard a loud booming voice call my name. “Jason Lee…Jason Lee.” I turned back down the path, and saw in the distance that the door from which I came had now been bolted shut. The walls either side of me were at least ten foot tall. They were tough like enamel. There was no way I could climb or break through these walls. With the door behind me closed, the only way for me to go was further along this meandering pathway. The path turned and curved like a snake, with the walls bending with the path. The pathway itself was painted white, creating the illusion of being in a white room with no doorway.

I was startled as the voice spoke to me again, “Jason Lee come and see me.” I broke in to a brisk jog. The voice kept repeating its words like a scratched CD or broken record. I lost patience and screamed out loud, “Where are you? Who are you?” The voice responded in the same tone but slightly louder, “Jason Lee come and see me.”

The path opened out in to a circle with various archways around its circumference, and a fountain in the middle. I approached the fountain. It had a sign beside it which read, ‘You Must Be Thirsty, Take A Drink.’ I was feeling rather parched after all the confusion and running around. I climbed the three white steps up to this slightly off white fountain in this white circle, and drank the white liquid inside it. It looked, smelt and tasted exactly like chilled milk. I took a sip and felt a tingle go through my whole body and then send a shiver down my spine. It felt better than good, it felt great! I took several more mouthfuls and then turned back towards the path. Having lost concentration for a few seconds to sip from the fountain, I was unsure of which path I came from.

It occurred to me that one of these paths could lead me to safety and out of this labyrinth. I ran down one path and eventually get to a bolted door, exactly the same as the one I had come through. I guessed that this was the original path I came from. I ran back down the path and came back in to the circle. I counted that there were eight arches, with eight doorways and eight paths. I took the first one on the left and ran down it. But again I was met by a bolted door like that one I came through. I repeated the process five more times with the same result. I got back to the square and realised that only one pathway remained. If there was no way out from this last path, I may have been stuck there forever. I said the lords name under my breath, in the hope that it would indeed lead me to safety. I heard the loud voice once more, “Jason Lee, come and find me, I have been searching for thee.”

For a split second I thought that these may be the words of our lord. Until I looked up and saw a series of white speakers hung at regular intervals, about the same distance apart as street lamps, placed towards the top of the walls. I continued to march at a brisk pace, digging my heels in to the ground and swinging my arms with my fists clenched.

I saw a door exactly the same as the one I came through, but I could see that this one was ajar. I started to jog, then run and then sprint. I got closer to the door and it started to swing open towards me. There was a bright light shining beyond it. I ran and jumped through the doorway, and suddenly felt my feet hit pavement in amongst swarms of people who were brushing by me. I turned behind me to see the entrance of a tube station. I looked up at the sign and saw its name, ‘Marble Arch.’ My attention was caught by a man dressed in pink and yellow as a clown shouting ‘Evening Standard,’ I looked down at his sandwich board that read ‘Jason Lee has the gift.’ I looked back up at the clown who was now dressed in blue jeans, a navy blue body warmer, a black ski hat and gloves with the finger tips cut off. I looked back down at the sandwich board which now read, ‘New 2012 Olympic village set for delay.’

It was from that point on in my life that the psychic gift was inside me.

 

 

 

IN SEARCH OF DOGG…………….by Richard Gibbons 3/12/2011

“Mr Snipe…….excuse me…….Have you got a moment? Only…….she came in confidentially…….”Mr Dogg’s disappeared”. 

Miss Shuffle, the School secretary, just caught sight of the Headteacher’s appeal to the heavens. He put down the little multi-coloured timetabling peg and muttered something to his first deputy, who was trying to recover class 9JS from the computer; catapulted into the ether by a fault in the timetabling program.

“What do you mean, disappeared?”

 “Well, he was supposed to be covering Bobbie Batman’s lesson periods three and four, but he didn’t turn up. Then period five he was down for ICT in J70 but that little Prant boy’s just come to me and said they haven’t got a teacher.”

“Have you spoken to Cessie?”

          “Yes. She says he was in at the start of the day but nobody’s seen him since period two.”

          Snipe regarded the multi-woolied Miss Shuffle over his glasses. “How long is his contract, Dave?”

The Deputy spoke to his keyboard: “Six weeks, while Asmita’s off with her toe.”

           “He’s only on a six-week contract. I don’t know what we pay these supply agencies for at all. Get Cess to cover the groups he should have been with. If he re-appears tell him I want to see him.” Snipe returned to the antiquated timetabling board that formed one wall of his office and peered down his nose at it. Miss Shuffle sighed and left.

            “Where’s old Doggie, then? Not been in since before Break two days ago, so Norris tells me.” Dai Stevens, until recently Head of History, now re-designated Second in Global Studies Department.  

  Re-organisation…………. 

             Stevens had been on another management course. His black moustache emerged from his cup moistened by coffee.

            “Really? One of his shady deals caught up with him, shouldn’t wonder.” Sid Blackwood, metalwork teacher before the National Curriculum, now with an allowance for Lower School Curriculum Audit.

            “What shady deals?”

            “Well—I got talkin’ to Knobby Blows last week, see. He was tellin’ me all about Dogg’s antiques business. Specialises in south-east Asian art, apparently.”

            “Go on! Little Doggie?”

            “Yeah. Reckons he only just got the last consignment out before one of the factions out there blew up the airport.” With practised deftness he flicked a blackcurrant éclair from its gold paper and threw the wrapper in the direction of the bin. “I think he’s rolling in it.”

            “Do you reckon he’s got on the wrong side of somebody out there then? Somebody after him?”

            “Wouldn’t be surprised. E’s a funny one. Never held down a proper teaching job in his life. Stands to reason. All you got to do is pinch one o’ their bloody treasures and they’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth to get it back.”

“Well I’m blowed. In that case it’s a flaming good job he has done a runner then. Last thing we need is a gang of bloomin’ freedom fighters lobbin’ bombs around the place. Good riddance to him I say.”

            “Yeah. Always knew he was dodgy, with that black beard of his.”

            “What’s this? You talking about old Dogg?” Gill Rocket (pronounced

‘Rock-ET’), Head of PE, with doughnut.

            “Yeah. Just sayin’ about his tricky dealings in the East. We reckon he’s had to cut and run.”

            Gill peered intently at the doughnut. Quest for jam.

            “Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know about the money.”

            “Money! What money?” Dai leaned towards the tea-stained table.

            “He’s done a bunk with all 10BD’s French Trip spending money. He did their register on Tuesday. Collected it all in. About three hundred quid, apparently. It was supposed to go to the office, but Lily hasn’t seen it.”

            “Supply staff don’t usually register groups. What’s he doin’ with the money in the first place?

Gill sniffed.

            “According to Dave, he offered to stand in because so many people have been off sick with this bug, and Cess said ‘yes’ in desperation.”

            “Crafty bugger.” Dai checked his watch and took out his pre-year 11 compensation cigarette. “Made people trust him a bit; waited till he got a sniff of the money, then went and cleared off with it. Crafty bugger.”

            “Never did like him. I don’t trust people with their ears so far forward.”

   The new three-tone hooter, one of the many benefits the School derived free as a result of its sponsorship by a local sock manufacturing company, sounded for the beginning of the afternoon. A depressed but resigned drift of teenagers began outside. The Head entered, stood in the middle of the Staffroom and glared meaningfully into space. There was a reluctant stirring in the room.   

              The group was joined after lunch by Sue Stables, the School’s

Student Sanctuary Counsellor. “Have you heard the latest about Mr Dogg then?” She took a first bite from her Nuttie-Buttie.

            “Go on.”

            “His wife rang the School on Tuesday afternoon. Said Doggie was supposed to be going home for lunch and hadn’t turned up. Asked if we knew if he’d been delayed. When Lily told her we didn’t know she nearly went berserk.”

            “Did she, by God?”

            “Yes. Lily thinks his wife’s afraid he’s gone off with the other woman.”

            “What other woman?”

            “Didn’t you know? According to Lily, Dogg’s been having affairs for years. Wife can’t pin him down at all. Real fly-by-night. Margaret told Lily that someone told her he’s already got a wife and four kids in Vietnam.”

“It’s funny you should say that about the other woman, you know.” Gill had finished picking chewing gum off her trainer. “Because I could have sworn that I saw him last Saturday down in the town centre. ‘Course as soon as he saw me he looked away. It must have been him though….little bloke with big ears and a black beard. And do you know who he was with?”

            “No, go on.”

            “I’m sure it was Cindy Stokes.”

            “Never!”

            “You don’t mean……our..Cindy Stokes……in year 10?”

            “Yep.”

            “What the one with the…..”

            “That’s her.”

            They paused as Melvyn Broiler, Head of English, came tearing through the Staffroom, importantly flapping a pile of exam papers and computer printouts and looking pursued by hot pokers.

            “So you mean that Doggie….with Cindy Stokes…Do you reckon he’s been….”

            “Your guess is as good as mine. If he has it’s a Child Protection issue. Breaking the law.” She drew closer with a dramatic shuffle of her chair. “But I have found out that Cindy Stokes has been away all week.”

There was stunned silence.

            “No wonder his wife’s gone mad then.”

            “And now he’s off with the Stokes girl.”

            “No wonder he took the three hundred.”

   “Had to cut and run, I reckon, before they all caught up with him.”

            “Nasty little man, Never seemed to look you straight in the eye. Good riddance, that’s what I say.”

            “All those things. A thief a hundred times over; bigamist; paedophile. A right little criminal. And to think, we had him in our school.”

            “That was the biggest crime of all. Diabolical. A bloke like that. No scruples; no morality. In charge of our kids. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?”

            “How on Earth are we gonna tell THEM?”

            “Just tell ’em the truth, I suppose. Let ‘em work it out for themselves. It won’t do any harm for them to realise there are people like that about. They walk around with their eyes closed half the time.” 

            “Yep.”  

            Dai Stevens looked at his watch and put out his post year-11 recovery cigarette. He went inside. Sid Blackwood was inserting another blackcurrant éclair; Gill Rocket was attacking a meringue from her shopping-bag; Sue Stables had embarked upon another Nuttie-Buttie. The ladies from “Speedie-Moppes”, who had recently won the School’s cleaning contract, moved into the Staffroom. 

  “’Ere, sir, you seen the Caretaker?”

            Geoff Bird, Director of Cross-Curricular Studies, scratched his head. Then he saw caretaker Gary Nesbitt in the distance.

            “Yes…over there, look.” The small child revolved and set course quickly towards the Caretaker.

            “’Ere, Mr Caretaker, sir…..there’s summink in the Boiler Room.”

            It was not one of caretaker Gary’s best days. One of the school buses had skidded on horse droppings just inside the entrance that morning and scraped along his Citroen; his chimney was wobbling in the wind; a year 10 boy had just kicked a ball and struck his infected left ear.

 “Look, you….”

The small boy dodged.

            “There is, sir, there’s something in the Boiler Room. You can hear it when you go by the door.”

            Nesbitt commented privately on the boy’s parentage and went over to the door. Then he froze……There was………… something there…..characterised by a flustered, scratching noise…..like the sound of a……big rat?......... He put his hand on the keycode reader..

            Inside, at the top of the stairs, he paused. The Boiler Room was gloomy: the Supa-Shine Longlife Save-the-World Eco Bulb in the ceiling, provided by the school’s partner electrical conglomerate, had obviously burned out again.

            “Um….” Somehow caretaker Gary summoned up the courage to speak: ‘What’s there?’ seemed a somewhat inappropriate remark for a caretaker at 11.15 on a Friday morning in a big comprehensive. He moistened his lips. “Uh……...Yes?..........” The noise came again, this time much more frantic

and thick, and, this time, accompanied by a flat, wheezing sound, rather like that produced by a punctured pair of bellows. 

            It was coming……….from the corner………where the room was dark.

Nesbitt took one step down. 

            “Heeeeeeeelp.”

            “Huh?”

            “Over…..here…….”

Snipe was beside himself.

            “You seriously mean to tell me that this man was left in school for four days and nobody found him? How the Hell could he have been in the Boiler Room all that time?”

            Inspector Scuttle sighed.

            “Well, sir, you see…..When we looked for Mr Dogg on Tuesday afternoon he must have been unconscious. He was knocked out and couldn’t call. He wasn’t found because, after the class of year 7s had knocked him off balance through the open door and down the Boiler Room stairs, he’d fallen onto the electronic automatic service trolley at the bottom and had trundled along until he’d ended up right underneath the boiler itself., out of sight. It was hitting head on the stopcock that sent him out cold. And since he’d broken both his legs in the fall, he couldn’t move. Since your caretaker only has to check your new automatic multi-module electronic infra-red intelligent system boiler once a week, no-one had cause to go down there for four days. Everyone thought that Mr Dogg had gone off deliberately. In actual fact his wife immediately knew something was wrong when he didn’t return for lunch on the first day. That was why she called us. He was supposed to take her out to buy her a ring for their Silver Wedding Anniversary and he wasn’t the sort of bloke to let her down. He had a serious operation twenty years ago, and I understand he isn’t a very active chap at the best of times. Very reliable. His fifteen year-old daughter had already chosen the present with him the previous weekend.”

            “I just don’t believe it. In this modern world……..”

            “Oh, you’d be surprised……..”

 “Hello, Doggie, Old Pal. You okay now, mate?”

            “Hiya, Doggie. So sorry  about your accident, you know.”

            “Yeah, we were really worried about you.”

            “Couldn’t think what had happened to you.”           

  “Yes, we really missed you, you know……..your cheerful face in the corner.” 

 Mr Dogg, unstably suspended between two crutches, smiled in appreciation, and basked shyly in the affection of his caring colleagues.

 

 

 

You Never Know    by   Mike Lodge    30/10/2011
 
   Today I am going to dig the vegetable patch.  It’s going to be hard work.  We’ve had a long dry spell and there is no moisture in the ground.  The grass is brown and the ground is hard as rock.  I’m contemplating using my powerful rotavator, but I think even that might just bounce of the surface.
 
   This is my new vegetable patch as I’ve recently moved into a new house where all the garden is laid to grass.  The neighbours can not remember it any other way in the forty years they have been here.
 
   I’ve marked out the patch with surveyor’s spray paint, and yesterday evening sprayed it with the hosepipe, but it remains hard as rock.  I’m looking at the ground and have decided it’s a no-go, especially as heavy rain is forecast for the weekend.
 
   One of my hobbies is metal detecting and I decided that while waiting for the ground to soften in the rain, I would go over the patch to see if there is anything interesting in the ground.
 
  I prepared for the metal detecting by spray paint marking the area into one metre wide lanes, then with a new set of batteries in the detector I worked down the length of each lane.  Each time the detector beeps, I spray a cross on the ground at that point, to come back when the ground is a bit softer after the rain but before I rotavate it.
 
    When I got to the last strip, and about half way along it, the detector gave out a much louder buss than usual.  This is normally a sign that there is something large buried at that point, probably near the surface.
 
   This time I marked the spot with a circle surrounding the cross, then I realized that my forehead was wet with sweat and that I was feeling a little odd.  I also noticed that my hands were beginning to shake a little.  Although my brow was sweating, I actually felt quite cold.
 
   I swept the detector over the remainder of the strip and marked a few small buzzes with the usual small cross, then I went in doors to prepare some lunch noting with some satisfaction that the sky was beginning to cloud over and that the clouds were getting very dark in colour.
 
   Over the next two days it rained heavily continuously, causing some minor flooding in the garden.  Because the ground had been undisturbed for at least forty years, it was very compacted and the sudden downpour had nowhere to runaway and I made a mental note to go over the remainder of the grass, spearing it with a fork to aereate it in order to give excess water somewhere to go.
 
   The day after it had ceased raining, I went out with my spade and a small hand trowel to investigate  where I had marked the large, circled cross.  The ground had softened enough for me to use the spade to remove the grass as a turf and then I passed the detector over the spot again, and this time the buzz was even louder.  I felt a tingle of excitement and wondered what was buried under the earth?
 
   I pushed the spade into the earth and it hit something hard and metallic, so I abandoned it and used the trowel to remove a small scrapping at a time.  I soon revealed a square of metal that was flat and plane but not very rusty and I gently prised it out of the ground.
 
   As I lifted it out of the earth, I noticed underneath it, another piece of metal, oval in shape, about two inches long.  Using the trowel, I scrapped away the earth around it and found it to be about a foot long going down into the ground.  I tried to pull it out of the hole, but it would not budge.  It seemed to buried vertically in the ground and as I scrapped away some more earthI uncovered an ornate cross piece.
   I will admit to trembling with excitement at this point, as I grabbed what was obviously a handle and pulled it hard.  I felt it move slightly and using both hands and using the power in my legs, I pulled it out of the ground, from where it came quite slowly.
 
   What I had in my hands when I stood up was a sword, and at first I thought it was broken, because it was only short, but the point was there and true to either side of the axis of the blade.
 
   Now I was really shaking as I thought it may be a complete Roman sword and with the ornate handle it had to come from a high ranking officer.
 
   The local museum identified it as Roman and as a ceremonial sword and my find soon made the national news.  I eventually received a large sum of money and the sword underwent testing and dating.  It was declared genuine and the most complete example of its type ever found.  Now on display in our local museum, it is attracting huge numbers of visitors to the museum every year.

From Bill Conroy     30/10/2011 

 

THE LAST DUCK LEAVES THE CITY

(From our own reporter at the Ely waterfront)
 
   As the first rays of the rising sun, marking the birth of a new day, picked out the spires of the Ely cathedral this morning the last duck at the waterfront started its takeoff run along the tranquil waters of the River Great Ouse, lifted into the air, and took wing away from the City. The last duck was gone!
   What will the future now hold for the City of Ely ? Will the long held belief that the Romans will return and reoccupy the City now come to fruition? The future for the citizens of Ely now stretches ahead grim and forbidding. 
   Further down the Great Ouse, close by the Cutter Inn, a man of swarthy complexion and Latin looks, who had been lurking in the shadows closely watching the departure of the last duck, leapt on to the saddle of a waiting horse. The handsome black stallion reared up and the rider cried “ Quo Vadis Brutus. Away, let us be about Caesar’s business!” and the horse and rider disappeared at breakneck speed in the direction of the A142.
   Who was this mysterious stranger and whence did he go? 
   Throughout the day there was a flow of reports of a horseman galloping madly along the A10 to Littleport, thence to Mildenhall, and then along the A11, causing mayhem among the heavy traffic on these roads. The rider appeared to be heading north and reports said that eventually he veered off the main traffic routes and galloped across fields along what was the old Roman road known as Peddlars Way. 
   A puzzling feature of this affair is that reports from members of the public indicate that the rider was getting a change of horses at regular intervals. The question is: who is providing these fresh animals? And what is the purpose of the rider’s travel?
   The man appeared to be making for the coast and there was speculation that he was heading for Great Yarmouth .
But why? 
   At dusk reports placed the man on the outskirts of Great Yarmouth , and still traveling fast. In the evening fires were seen on the cliffs to the north of the City and there was widespread speculation that these were signal fires lit by the mystery rider to pass on a message to waiting vessels somewhere in the North Sea. 
   (Editors note: Some readers may question the feasibility of a horseman travelling the distance between Ely and Great Yarmouth in one day. In 1808 the Marquis of Huntley ( commonly known as Fred) rode from Aberdeen Scotland to Inverness (105 miles) in 7 hours on 8 relays of horses. Each horse averaged 15 mph for about 13 miles. It is not recorded why the good Marquis made the trip Possibly he was pursued by an outraged husband.)  
   Meanwhile in Ely Professor Arthur Broccolli, a lecturer in Roman and Medieval History at the University of Littleport , scoffed at suggestions that now the ducks had left Ely the Romans will return. “Rubbish” said Professor Broccolli “The Roman Empire collapsed and disappeared over 1500 years ago, there are no Romans left, and there will be no Romans coming to Ely or anywhere else” he stated.
   However a contrary view was taken by an eminent and highly respected Australian historian who is currently visiting the City. Professor Wally Lewis,  who holds a Masters degree in Broken Pottery and Ancient Roman History from the University of Coopers Creek, and who is a past winner of the Crocodile Dundee Memorial Prize, disagreed with Professor Broccolli. “Cobblers” said Professor Lewis. “Of course the Romans survived the collapse of their empire. Who do you think lives in  Romania ?  Well I’ll tell you it’s the remains of the Romans that’s who!”The Australian academic went on to say “The Romans will be back, you can put a ring around that cobber! And what is more you wont be able to stop them because they all hold EU passports!” 
 In the meantime an apprehensive City has drawn the curtains and sits and waits and wonders: can this be the apocalypse? However the City Council is taking a proactive stance and has announced plans to convert  Market Square into paid chariot parking.
 

 Marc James     30/10/2011

Mr. Tuppence 
I suspect we all have had a friend at some point in our lives we found to be frugal with their money. I had one such friend; let’s call him Ben by way of a pseudonym to protect his identity. In fact with Ben the word ‘frugal’ fails to encapsulate the true extent of his reluctance to part with even a few coppers!  A more accurate description might be ‘penny pincher; skinflint; tight wad; chiseler. 
Ben’s frugality however, extended beyond mere financial prudence, to frugality in most other areas of his life, as I am about to demonstrate, with humour and affection, a couple of incidents that spring to mind, with one in particular where this resulted in ultimate public humiliation. 
One cold winters evening I received a call from Ben on my mobile phone, to ask if I wanted to meet up for drink in a local public house, once he had finished running his weekly exercise class. When I arrived at the agreed time, Ben was no where to be seen. I bought myself a drink, sat down and called Ben’s mobile. As usual Ben was running late by about twenty minutes. I say ‘as usual’ because Ben had a habit of always being late, no matter what the circumstances. 
It is a little odd to me, that people like myself who pride ourselves on being punctual, invariably continue to arrive at an agreed time, despite knowing full well that the person we’ve arranged to meet will not be there! The reason for this social anomaly I suspect, is that even where we use the strategy of arranging to meet at 7pm, knowing they will not arrive til 7.30pm, is a strategy easily detected by the late comer, to the extent where they then won’t arrive until 8pm, leaving you seething with rage. This emotional reaction will be of no consequence to the serial late comer, simply because time does not have the same meaning to them as it does to you. I often wonder why those with an inability to be punctual wear a wrist watch at all. This baffles me because it’s so clear that they suffer with numeric dyslexia. 
When Ben arrived at the pub thirty minutes late, not the twenty minutes he had said on the phone, he placed his briefcase by the side of the table and entered into a diatribe of explanations for his late arrival, which by the way rumbled on into a litany of his entire day, to the extent that the only thing I didn’t find out, was what he’d had for breakfast. When I finally got a word in, I asked Ben what he would like to drink and purchase two pints from the bar and walked back to our table with a beer in each hand like I was balancing a book on my head. 
The conversation flowed amicably once my initial frustration subsided, possibly because I was now beginning to be anaesthetised by my second pint. after swigging down the dregs of my beer, I placed the empty vessel in front of Ben as said ‘your round’. He responded with ‘Sorry, I haven’t got any money on me’ without hint of embarrassment shame. ‘But you invited me for a drink’ I retorted in disbelief! ‘Don’t worry, It’ll be my shout next time’ he uttered with an air of innocence. I knew even as he uttered the words that such an occasion would be a long time coming. 
The second example involved a loaf of bread! Ben lived near a wonderful bakery that produced amazing bread at £2 a loaf. Ben said he’d get me a loaf, and as promised dropped it off to me one lunch time on his way to teach at the local gym. He was as usual running late and when I found I only had a ten pound note, Ben quickly delved into his pockets for change, but found them empty. The look of abject terror as he said ‘I haven’t got any change’ caused a wry grin to cross my face. He then shocked me by saying, ‘I know you, you’ll forget to give the money’, to which I responded with, ‘but you won’t forget will you, chiseler’. 
Ben looked seriously concerned that he might lose out on the deal, like a cornered and scared animal looking for the advantage of some immediate resolution to his predicament. ‘I know’, he chirped up ‘lets grab a coffee and you can change that ten quid; only I haven’t got any money for the car park, need at least two quid until I get to the cash point’. 
I reluctantly agreed and we went to a café just around the corner and told Ben to order two coffees while I went to the lavatory. You can imagine my surprise when I returned to find not only two coffees, but Ben tucking into beans on toast, out of my ten quid. ‘I’m starving,’ he said looking up with a mouth full of beans ‘I’ll pay you back next week’. I’d been had again, but retribution in the most embarrassing form was soon to be visited upon Ben. 
Every summer Ben went off on his own to go on a camping holiday to Cornwall. He had a busy job and social life, so this was his annual time to relax, contemplate and reflect on how tight fisted he had become, my interpretation, not his! Perhaps he just went on his own because it was cheaper than taking his girlfriend and he wouldn’t have to buy a round.  
When he returned from this particular trip he recounted a poignant episode of divine retribution. He had visited a small fishing village on the coast where a carnival had been advertised. While he winded his way through the crowds he was approached by a man dressed as a clown who was collecting money for charity in a plastic bucket. 
Ben being the skinflint he is, told the clown he only had some loose change on him and palmed a two pence piece into the bucket. The clown must have caught sight of this attempt to feign a reasonable charitable gift by giving what Ben recollected to be  the raising of eyebrows and a shrug of the shoulders, before the clown moved onto to richer pickings, which wouldn’t have been difficult. 
Ben then drifted off into the town to soak up the convivial atmosphere and see the sights, and I suspect grab a meal, having first checked to see what was the cheapest option for the skinflint he is. A procession then began and Ben followed the crowd into the town square, finding himself standing in the front row of the crowd of about 200 people. 
The clown made his way into the middle of  the circle of people, bucket in hand. He then spotted Ben and pointed at him. The clown then shouted aloud in his west country accent ‘There’s mean old Mr Tuppence, he only gave me tuppence, how mean is that?’. The clown then danced around the circle of people singing ‘mean old Mr Tuppence, mean old Mr Tuppence’ and got the crowd to join in the chorus. The clown entertained the crowd further by adding comments eluding to how mean Ben had been and then got them to boo him. 
Ben could only stand and take this embarrassing humiliation, being hemmed in and unable to move. All he could do is present a false smile to the crowd in the hope of turning his humiliation into part of the act. The crowd laughed alright, but also booed and pointed and joined in the chorus of ‘mean old Mr Tuppence’. Even when the crowed moved off Ben had to endure comments from people passing on his way to the car park, such as ‘skinflint’ and ‘scrooge’. Justice had been served! Despite this episode of public humiliation, Ben didn’t change much; once a chiseler, always a chiseller.
 
 

Capt Oats arrives in London                10/2011

By Bill Conroy

 

   As the dawn broke across London this morning, early risers going about their lawfull occaisions in the inner City, came upon an astounding sight.

   In Regent Street, a man, wearing little other than rags on his back, was seen lurching along the roadway, mounted on paper-thin skis, dragging a polar sledge marked "South Polar Expedition If Found Please Return To R. Scott Antartica"

   The stranger, a man of Caucasian appearance, who was in a weak and emanciated condition, was accompanied by five Emporer Penguins with whom he appeared to communicate by emitting loud, bird-like, piercing squawks and shrieks. 

   A gaping crowd quickly gathered, the man halted, and after a struggle to form the words, asked for directions to the Royal Geographical Society building.

   At this point, several police officers arrived and after searching the stranger's person, took him to a nearby shop and began to question him.  Some little time latter a police spokesman, in a brief statement to the waiting media said, that the stranger claimed to be someone called Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, formally a Captain in the Inniskilling Dragoons.

   Apparently the stranger was also known in some circles as "Titus" or "Lego" and claimed to be a member of the 1910-12 Polar Expedition lead by Captain Robert Scott RN.  Papers produced by Mr Oates, although in a filthy and dilapidated condition, seemed to substansiate the claim, but the officer cautioned that these papers could be forgeries.  He went on to say that it was likely that the stranger, whoever he was, could face serious charges, including the importation of protected marine species, failure to produce a valid pssport, and illegal entry into Britain.  In addition, the stranger could very well face prosecution for failure to pay Congestion Charges, unlawful parking and causing an affray.  The officer added that the alleged Captain Oates was too weak to make any statement to the media.

   At the mention of the name Oates, an excited murmur ran through the crowd.  The last known sighting of capt Oates had been on the night of 12 March 1912, (his birthday)when he left the tent he and his colleagues had been sheltering in after their Polar dash, and he had staggered out into the blizzard, presumably  walking to his death.

   Now incredibly Oates had re-appeared here in London.  How could this be?  The crowd had now grown to a signifcant size, and began to clamour for news about the circumstances surrounding Oates arrival in the City and called for the Polar survivor to make a staement.  The Police spokesman repeated that Capt Oates was too weak to give any public explanation of his sudden appearance.  However the officer agreed to ask Capt Oates to answer the one question which appeared to be on everyones lips.  Did he leave his companions in Antarctica with the words, "I am just going out, I may be sometime." as Capt Scott had written in his diary?  A few minutes later the Police officer returned and told the crowd that the question had been answered.  Capt Oates claimed that he had actually said, "I am just going out to hang somethings on the line.  It should be good drying with this wind."  Capt Oates added that "Scottie was always inclined to be a bit of a drama queen!"

   At this point staff from the Royal Geographical Society arrived on the scene and undertook to look after the weak, bewildered and emanciated man and his five companions.  After the paperwork had been completed, the distressed Capt Oates and the penguins were taken away for much needed food, rest and medical attention.  It is understood that the five Penguins were given a substantial meal of fresh fish and are now all resting in the Penguin colony at London Zoo.

   It is expected that a full statement will be released by the Royal Geographical Society in a day or two after Capt Oates has been nursed back to something approaching normal health.  Untill then the world waits anxiously to learn all the facts behind this remarkable story of human survival of the human spirit, and the epic journey, covering 25000 miles and 99 years, from the South Pole to England.

   Could it be a tale of man, animal and marine life against the forces of nature?  What role did the Emporer Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) play in the survival of Capt Oates?  Did other animal and marine species help to succor and protect the frail human over the years as he struggled doggedly towards his homeland?

   What a story Oates has to tell!  Could this be a case of "Titus of the Peguins"?  Only time will tell........

             

 

Lady Wolf   by Jake Darke 9/2011
    The wind and rain battered the office window. Jeremy glanced up from his desk, cursing at having pulled the late shift. He sat alone in the dimly lit office. On his desk an angle poise lamp brightly illuminated a mass of papers, an oasis of light in a desert of twilight. Jeremy was compiling facts, figures and statistics for, Mary McLean, the Marketing Manager. Mary would have to present these to the board tomorrow. He had been alone for about three hours now and apart from making himself a cup of coffee had worked pretty solidly and steadily.
    Luckily he was approaching the end of his task, merely having to staple the pages into the correct order. Just as well because he was now feeling pretty well drained, hungry and thirsty for an ice cold Pepsi that he had chilling in his fridge at home.
    Jeremy shut down his computer terminal and printer, slid into his suit jacket and then headed for the door. He passed Mary’s office on his way and left the report on her desk, carefully and symmetrically placed, just to impress. When he reached the office door, Jeremy glanced back and turned off the lights.
    He stood for a while, staring at the windows and the patterns of light dancing and flirting with the rain as it crashed into the glass. He shivered, anticipating the short cold dark and probably very wet walk to his car.   
    As he approached the exit door to the building, Jeremy heard the distinct clicking of a pair of high heels. Turning round he saw Jenny. The cogs in his mind whirred but he could not seem to find her surname from within it’s dark recesses. He knew she worked in the IT suite and had been introduced to her once, but that was probably 6 months ago.
    He opened the door and waited for her. Jenny quickened her step to reach the open door.
    “Hi, thanks very much Jeremy” she chirped. “What are you doing here at this time of the evening?”
    “Hi. Well I could say the same thing about you”
    Jenny smiled, “well you know us IT guru‘s, anti social hours to work around you very important marketing types”.
    As Jenny passed him holding open the door, Jeremy caught a faint smell of her perfume. He caught himself admiring her shapely physique, until she turned to him “do you want to share my brolly?”
    Jeremy smiled, his grin turning out to be more of a grimace as he caught a face full of wind and rain, “yes that would be good” he replied.
    The pair huddled together beneath Jenny’s umbrella, as the wind and rain buffeted them. Jeremy admired Jenny’s strength in holding the umbrella firmly against all that the weather could throw at them.
    Although there were few street lights, the full moon lit up the night, when it managed to find a gap in the cloudy skies. Jeremy noticed it’s bright and bold reflection in the puddles as he splashed his way towards the car park. Jenny chatted merrily away by his side, but for all her talk Jeremy registered very little.  
    It was her smell that perplexed him. Beneath the soft and pleasant odour of her perfume there lurked something more, well pungent. Jeremy could not put his finger on it, but it seemed vaguely familiar, vaguely canine?
    They turned into the car park just as the moon was again hidden by a passing cloud bank. Everything went dark.
    “Where’s your car Jeremy?” asked Jenny, looking at him square in the face.
    Jeremy took a breath to reply but was suddenly aware of movement from behind his colleague. Jenny grunted as she was shoved with tremendous force into him. Jeremy was taken completely unaware, as Jenny crashed into him, head butting his nose and causing him to fall backwards onto the wet tarmac.
    Jenny followed, landing on top of him. Almost as soon as she had landed her head jerked back, as a gloved hand yanked viciously at her long blond hair. Jeremy saw the look of fear on her face, but this was quickly forgotten as a boot came crashing down into his groin. A bolt of pain shot through his body, and he screamed.
    Jeremy doubled up in agony as rough hands grappled at his jacket, tearing and ripping, “shut your mouth squealer, where’s your wallet?” enquired a rough voice.
    Jeremy opened his eyes and saw Jenny lying still in a puddle a few feet away. Her hair was wet and dirty and she looked totally bedraggled.
    Then rough hands clasped Jeremy’s lapels and pulled him forcefully off the ground, to face one of his assailants. He smelt of nicotine and alcohol.
    “Where’s your wallet mate” came the man’s voice, gentle but with more than a hint of danger lurking behind it. Jeremy looked into his hard eyes, about all he could see as his assailant was wearing a balaclava.
    The man shook him violently, and then dropped him unexpectedly to the ground. Jeremy’s head cracked against the tarmac, splashing into a puddle. He felt dizzy and a different kind of wetness on the back of his head. He could feel rough hands ripping at his pockets whilst another pair of hands pinned his arms to his sides.
    He struggled to catch a glimpse of Jenny but his head received another blow, probably from a knee, he could not tell. The world started to swim, a gentle fuzziness invading his eyesight. The rain had stopped falling on his face, blocked by his attackers. Jenny, where was Jenny, hopefully she had run for help.
    Jeremy started to feel himself losing consciousness. Was this the end? Murdered in a wet and windy car park.
    He was yanked unceremoniously from the depths of unconsciousness by a low guttural growl. He started to wonder whether this was a dog from a nearby garden, but some thing did not sound quite right. It sounded bigger and very close by. He could not quite identify the sound or its owner. Another, louder, more menacing growl followed. Jeremy just could not think, his mind was foggy, but it sounded awfully close, and awfully big.
    He felt his assailants grip on him loosen and readied himself for the final blow. However, something had changed, the assailants were now breathing fast and shallow, and what was that he smelt? He struggled for a second or two and then it struck him, it was fear.
    The atmosphere was now very heavy. Time was in slow motion. And then the atmosphere was shattered by a loud wolf like howling filled the vacant air. Jeremy felt the assailants pulled swiftly off of him. There was a loud scream which was immediately cut short and replaced by a strange gurgling. 
    Jeremy tried to focus. Gradually the world came back into view. He could see someone laying face down on the tarmac in a pool of water. He focused, and then the realisation came over him that it wasn’t just water but blood as well.
    He turned his head to see if he could see Jenny, but she was no longer there. There was another man standing with his back towards him, he appeared to be rigid, rooted to the spot. From the corner of his eye, Jeremy detected movement. He felt the rush of air as something sprang from the shadows and sent the man sprawling onto the ground.
    The man squealed and cried in pain as another figure crouched over him, back towards Jeremy. Then all was quiet.
    Jeremy, squinted towards the crouching figure, but his vision was blurred from the blow to his head, and the moon was still obscured. Everything was grey.
    He could hear the figure’s heavy breathing, and a low menacing growl. The cloud began to clear, the moon peeking out gingerly to see what had happened. The figure began to swim gradually into view. Jeremy focussed, and became scared, very scared.
    As the moon crept slowly from her cloudy hiding place Jeremy could see that the figure was hairy, very hairy. It seemed sinewy and muscular, and began to turn slowly towards Jeremy.
    He could see now that this was no man. As the figure turned slowly to face him, the moon lit up it’s profile. Jeremy could see a muzzle, with a mouth pulled back to reveal rows of sharp saliva drizzled teeth. His eyes cleared and then it became clear that mixed with the saliva was blood and lots of it. The creatures neck and front were covered with blood, matting its hair.
    Jeremy tried to move, but he was frozen with a mixture of fear and pain. He could see now that the creature appeared to be some kind of wolf. Jeremy’s brain whirred away, was he now staring at a werewolf?
    The wolf’s head inclined at an angle, staring at him and it started to pad slowly towards him. Jeremy could do nothing but watch as the creature approached. He stared into its eyes, listened to its guttural growl which had now become more of a purr. He smelled the creature.
    The atmosphere was heavy, he could taste its muscle and sinew, the blood and the sweat, its raw power. But behind that, lurking deep in the background was something else, something sweet. Suddenly his mind pinged with clarity, it was perfume. Was that,…… Jenny’s?
    He stared into the creatures eyes and whispered, “Jenny?”
    The wolf bounded suddenly into the shadows and a few moments later a ruffled and slightly embarrassed Jenny appeared. Her clothes were shredded but still covered her dignity. She walked barefoot, slowly over to Jeremy, knelt gently by his side, and in a whisper asked “shall we go home now?”
    Jeremy smiled, and then winced with pain, “yes please”.
    The rain had stopped, the wind subsided, the storm had passed.

 ‘Who’s got the boots on?’      by Marc James   9/2011

 

   The two story’s I am about to tell you are true, and concern the wearing of boots, two pairs in fact, and relate to incidents and individuals separated by time and circumstance. Yet boots as items of footwear are the main theme by which I recollect these two incidents. 

   During my early teenage years my hobbies revolved around a fascination for building WWII Airfix war planes, and with a couple of school friends who shared this interest, we developed a keen interest in WWII history, which although at first occupied us with model making and visits to the Imperial War Museum, culminated in a decision being made to enlist in our local Air Cadet Squadron which we attended every Thursday night and Sunday morning. 

   With our parents signatures on our consent forms, we went along on a Sunday morning to join 266 Air Cadets based in Woolwich, South East London, where we were interviewed by Flight Lieutenant Farrell, a young blond haired officer who could easily have passed as Staffenfuerer Farrell, but for a change of uniform, who imparted on us the requirements and punishments of the Official Secrets Act, just to make it fun! 

   Farrell was probably the only real airman we ever got to meet, as the Wing Commander who came down every Sunday thereafter seemed to us boys a little improbable for some reasons. He took it all too seriously, particularly when we all had to parade in uniform and stand to attention while he inspected ‘his boys’. He always wore brown leather gloves and brown brogues, as if to really act the part, but somehow this persona got lost on us cadets. He was probably a painter and decorator during the week, but then so was Adolf Hitler! 

   Initially, all the learning to goose-step and play the bugle became a bit of a bore. All we wanted to do was get our sweaty hands on a real rifle, tackle assault courses, learn to map read and if really lucky, got to go up in a light aircraft, which sometimes happened, but never to us! We did get to do the other stuff though, and it was great fun and I’d recommend it to any teenager. 

   It did have its downside and this was mainly in the form of the obligatory bully, whose role was permitted under the guise of two or three stripes on their arm, to which standing on your toes with his nose pressed against yours was not only condoned by Mr Brown gloves, but encouraged. The odd slap round the back of the head never went amiss, or being held in a head lock and then thrown to the floor came to be seen as part of the fun and comradeship. However, our bully, who by the way also had cropped blond hair (you can see a theme building here) was 15 years old and 6ft tall, and although occasionally acted in a pastoral sense, more often preferred to give a pastoral knee to the groin.   

   One foggy Thursday evening we were split into two groups to go on a night exercise in the local woods. The scenario was that a Russian aircraft had dropped a nuclear bomb which had failed to detonate. One teams job was to pretend to be Russians, parachuted in the protect the bomb, while the other teams job was to infiltrate the protected area and secure the bomb from enemy hands. Any contact between each team would result in a fight, and if your arm band was torn off, you were effectively deceased. 

   The whole evening turned out to great fun, spoiled only by the adults, who acted as referees to prevent any real bloodshed from fist fights, individuals being jumped by three lads and being given a good working over, or lads getting lost in the dark, never to heard from again.

    As the evening came to an end, both teams met and began the long walk through the woods and back to base. Our resident bully was being particularly mouthy as we all navigated our way through the woods, until a shout went out for a ‘BUNDLE’ and everyone steamed in on top of the bully. Fists flew, bystanders gave a crafty kick into the melee, and sounds of injury pervaded the darkness. It must have been a few minutes before the adults called a halt to the japes, but our bully lay at the bottom of the pile of bodies and we could hear his muffled shouts for everyone to ‘GEROFF’. Most of us were laughing by this stage, until our bully stood up, blood streaming from his nose. ‘Who’s got the boots on?’ he shouted. We all had boots on, and you could tell by the wry smiles that ‘someone’ had taken their revenge that night. As for our resident bully, that was a hospital job for him that night.   

   The second part of this story took place when I was in my 20’s and involved my older brother, who at the time owed me five quid. When I saw him one day, he offered me instead a pair of high legged steel toe-capped boots. They were as he described ‘the bollocks’ to which I enthusiastically agreed to be well worth exchange for a fiver. 

   The following day, having left my newly acquired boots by the front door, I decided I’d try them out and walk the three miles to work in order to wear them in a bit and check out the fit. 

   The first half mile was fine, the boots looked great, were tough and did the business. After that first half mile, things began not to change. The leather was so hard that the boots didn’t actually bend, so instead your leg hand to bend. Blisters quickly began to form and my shins and calves began to ache as the leather bit into the flesh and muscle. 

   The route I had taken was a cut through across a common, and then through a streets where there were no bus stops. After a mile I had to keep stopping to allow the pain to subside and give some temporary relief to my shins and calves, which by now had red welts in a complete circle around each leg where the top of the leather ended. 

   By two miles, I was in complete agony, to the point where my breathing became laboured and my legs burned in searing pain. I stopped to take the boots off to see if I could bend the leather with my hands to afford some respite from further injury. It didn’t work! 

   The last mile was the worst and I walked into work like a deep sea diver wearing lead boots to weight him down onto the seabed. My legs would no longer bend, it was just too painful. As I walked into my office, colleagues looked up concerned and said, ‘Are you alright?’ 

   I got the bus home that night, having bought some trainers from the shoe shop at lunch time. I put the boots into a bag and when I got home, threw them into the cupboard under the stairs, never to worn again. It took my feet and legs ten days to fully recover from their ordeal with the application of ointments, plasters and foot soaks. 

   The next time I saw my brother, I told him what I had endured with the boots. He bent over double with laughter, tears trickling down his ruddy checks, ‘Yeah’, he said, ‘they did the same to me!’. Brothers eh!

 

 

 

 F1 Race Day  by MikeLodge   9/2011

  

     I am the driver of a formula one race car, and along with my team of mechanics and fellow drivers, have been at the circuit for four days.  The first day was spent trying out the car to get used to it after it had been modified after the last race and also to get to know the circuit intimately, as the slightest mistake in my road position could cost me time and therefore a place on the winner’s podium. 

    The second and third days were practice at improving my lap times, and yesterday, the fourth day was qualifying for the races starting grid position.  I managed to get on the second row of the grid in fourth position.  My best start of the season so far. 

    I go through a set and private routine to mentally prepare myself for the extreme stress of a formula one race, and I walk to the pit area putting on my driving gloves that match my fireproof racing suit, and also the very tight fitting helmet that excludes most of the ambient noise of the race track.  I am now walking without any interruption to my car, and I climb into the cockpit without assistance. 

    The cockpit is a reinforced structure that is made to fit only me and the rest of the car is built around it.  Once I am in and settled, I plug in the helmets 2-way radio system, so the pit crew and myself, can communicate with each other. 

    Next, the car is started by the pit crew, with the hand-held starter gun, and my pulse quickly increases with the whirr of the machinery, and the car’s vibrations as the engine fires and roars into life.  Now I have to concentrate on keeping the engine going without stalling it.  My anxiousness evaporates with my concentration as I ease the car out of the pit lane and onto the circuit.  I have to do three-quarters of a lap to get to the starting grid, and I weave the car from side to side to warm the tyres, so that they grip from the start of the race. 

    All the cars form up on the grid and the pit crew are telling me the way they have planned the race and all the time the car is sending information back to them.  They can remotely control the way the engine performs by tweaking the fuel management and rev control systems via the radio link, along with the turbo boost. 

    It’s funny, but the tension I felt up to this point is suddenly overridden by a huge rush of adrenalin as the starting lights start their countdown sequence, maybe it’s the huge rise in engine noise as the whole grid builds up the revs to maximum to use the launch controls and traction controls best operating levels.  At this time the driver should not blink as even such a slight lack of concentration could cost him his start position. 

   Then the start light illuminates and we’re of in a cacophony of noise and jostling for position with the sudden changes of direction this entails.  You really have to have your wits about you.  Two hundred metres and the first corner, hard right, brake down from eighty-five mph to fifty, try to cut the corner in as straight a line as possible, it’s the quickest way through, out and floor the throttle, up through the gears, to a hundred and fifty mph, then forty metres out from the next corner brake down to ninety for the left, right, left chicane.  I’m in third place when without warning, the second place car tries to overtake the leader on the right side as the leader cuts into the corner and their tyres touch, ripping the leaders, right side rear wheel and suspension from the car which slews sideways and I hit the brakes hard, jiggling the steering to avoid the debris and broken car, but I’m not successful and my tyres loose grip on the debris and my car slides into the stricken car which my front end mounts and the whole of my car lifts off the track and somersaults backwards with the engine screaming at thirteen thousand rpm.  I instinctively lift of the throttle as this is happening and the car lands, upside down and spinning whilst still maintaining forward speed and the scrapping sounds give way to loud crunching of pebbles in the run-off area as the car then hits the tyre safety wall which flips it back the right way up as all the loud noises stop, only to be replaced by the loud hissing of the automatic fire extinguisher as it does its job.  I un-attach the steering wheel and exit the cockpit quickly, assign my physical condition as I do so and am relieved to find nothing broken or hurting excessively.  The aches and pains that will come out will be from the harness that held me securely in my seat. 

    I move away from the car, and now I have to find a place of safety and sit out the race.

    I wander about not in a daze as people would imagine, but to work the adrenalin of the race out of my body.   My race is over. 

 

 

    

 Part two of The Duck Chronicals, by Bill Conroy     9/2011

POLICE IN ANTI-DUCK TERRORISM RAID!

PREDAWN SWOOP ON ELY WATERFRONT

 

From our own Crime Reporter in Ely

Officers from the recently formed Ant-Duck Crime Squad raided a number of addresses in the Ely waterfront area this morning in what is thought to have been a major search for suspected duck terrorists. It is understood that 6 men of anglo-saxon appearance have been taken for questioning to an unnamed location at the Ely Police Station. One man identified as Mr A, but later named as Mr Assid Battery, has been released without charge.

In a shock move during the operation three Canons, from the Ely Cathedral, were arrested and charged with firearm offences; they were later discharged. At a hastily arranged press conference Chief Inspector Gray Mallard issued an apology to the three clerics and said that their unfortunate arrest was the work of an over zealous Police Officer who thought the men were in possession of cannons rather than that they were canons. The Officer had been disciplined and would be transferred to another Police Authority.

Mr Mallard told the media that the Police operation had been scaled down and no more arrests were likely. He said that a review of the Operations Room tapes had shown that the call from the public, which had sparked the massive terrorism operation, had actually referred to tourists on the waterfront, and the officers on duty had misunderstood the contents of the call. However no great harm had been done and it had proved to be a good training exercise although costing many thousands of pounds which had exceeded the Police budget.

 Mr Mallard said that, during questioning of the suspects, the Police had been fishing for information, and had been successful. While it was unlikely that any charges would be brought under the Terrorism Act some of the men in custody could face charges under the Angling Act, Battered Cod Protection Act, and possible under the Fish and Chips Act. Enquiries were continuing.

 Meanwhile the Police decision to discipline an over-zealous officer was not well received in some quarters. In a statement issued later in the day Mrs Agnes Bigot, President of the Zealots Collective of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, launched a stinging attack on the Police for transferring the over zealous police officer to another Police authority. Mrs Bigot claimed that by disciplining the unfortunate zealot, who had simply been doing his job, the Police had clearly shown institutional discrimination, and in fact had been over-zealous themselves. Mrs Bigot said that the composition of the local Police Force should reflect the diversity of the population it served, and said she believed that the local zealot population was seriously under-represented in the Police, and she made a call for a more intensive recruitment of zealots into the Force.

Mrs Bigot said that her organisation would be taking to the streets to make the public more aware of the problem of institutional discrimination in the Police service.

 In another development today Mrs Brenda Shoveller of the Friends of Ely Ducks (FEDs), noted that there had been a serious and ongoing reduction in the local duck population, and the number now to be seen at the waterfront was significantly down on what it had been a few days ago, and there were only a few birds left. Mrs Shoveller said that her Organisation believed that the ducks were fleeing Ely because of their fear of an outbreak of human flue among the birds. She went on to recall the strong belief within the community that if the ducks ever left Ely the Romans would return and reoccupy the City. Mrs Shoveller said that the legend was true and that everyone should do all in their power to protect the ducks and stop the birds from totally abandoning the City. “ They must not be allowed to desert us” said Mrs Shoveller.

 

STOP PRESS:  

As this edition was about to go to press there were unconfirmed reports that a fleet of wooden boats of a strange design had been seen off the coast near Great Yarmouth. The boats seemed to be powered by sail and banks of oars but the vessels disappeared into a fog bank before they could be clearly seen. Royal Navy helicopters are currently searching the area off the East Anglian coast.

 

 

 Duck Crime by  Bill Conroy     8/2011    

POLICE CRACK DOWN ON DUCK CRIME!

From our own Crime Reporter in Ely

 

     Following a recent upsurge in Duck crime in Ely the Police have acted swiftly to put into place stringent new enforcement measures to crack down on duck knapping and duck smuggling in the City. At a Press conference held at the Maltings yesterday Chief Inspector Gray Mallard outlined new measures which are, or will shortly, be put into place by the Police to combat the alarming increase in this new type of crime.Mr Mallard said that a major plank in the new initiative will be the formation of an Anti Duck Crime Squad which will be headed by Inspector Dick Pochard. All the members of the 12 officer unit will bring specialist skills in the fight to protect the local duck population. As a first step the unit will use DNA (Duck Numerical Assessment) techniques to establish the number of ducks that currently inhabit the waterfront. When the population assessment has been completed all ducks will be named,  photographed, foot printed and will have electronic chips fitted so that they can be traced at all times. Anonymity Orders will not apply to the duck population but Duck Right issues will have to be resolved. The duck census records will be eventually loaded into a Home Office data-base and will be regularly updated at 50 year intervals as necessary. 

     In an innovative move Mr Mallard said that it was also intended to utilize the squadron of swans that operate in the area by fitting miniature cameras (Swan Circuit TV) to the heads of the birds to keep the river under surveillance at all times. For daytime supervision several Duck Support Officers (DSOs) would be assigned to patrol the waterfront. Mr Mallard said that the Government would be asked to grant additional legislative tools to allow the Police to deal with duck crime offenders. These would include the introduction of Anti Duck Behaviour Orders (ADBOs) and for more serious offences the creation of new Super Anti Duck Behaviour Orders (SADBOs – known in the Trade as Tony Blairs). Mr Mallard concluded the Press Conference by saying that the new measures will send a clear signal to any potential duck-knappers or duck smugglers that duck crimes will not be tolerated and that their nefarious activities will be swiftly detected and punished. His advice to duck villains: don’t do it! 

     In another development the Prime Minister told a hushed House of Commons yesterday that if the ducks ever left Ely the Romans would return and reoccupy the City. He said that this must not be allowed to happen and accordingly the Government intended to import ducks from Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania, to beef-up the Ely duck population.

     At the local level the Police initiative has been welcomed .When asked about the new duck protection measures Mrs Brenda Shoveller of the Friends of Ely Ducks (FED’s) said that she welcomed the new Police powers and said that her Organisation would be taking a proactive part in protecting the ducks. As a first step her members would start knitting hi-visibility vests that the ducks could wear to assist in monitoring the movement of the birds. Mrs Shoveller made a plea to the public to play its part in protecting the duck population. “After all she said “We dont want the Romans to come back do we?”

 

 Copy Cat  By Mike Lodge     8/2011

Professor Dersley was a doctor of medicine and on the 10th November 1884 he set of with his wife in a Hansom cab to go to a fellow medical professors home for dinner and a social evening.

 

At 5:30pm it was dark and the drive from their home in Hampstead, Middlesex to Mile End Old Town on the eastern side of the City of London would take a full hour and a half.  For the first half of the journey, the drive was on hard, but unmade roads, and the second half of the journey would be test for the hansoms suspension because the roads in the city were paved with granite cobbles.

 

The cab drew up outside number 170 Mile End High Road at 7:03pm and they alighted still reasonably fresh.  Professor Dersley paid the ½ crown fare and gave the driver a tanner as a tip.  The driver touched the brim of his top hat in thanks and turned his attention to the horse, giving it some hay from behind the back seat of the Hansom and a well deserved, rest.  There was a chill in the air and the steam from the horse mingled with the fog that was descending all over the City of London , where in 1884 every building was heated by coal fires.

 

After dinner, Professor Bertram Allington, the host, invited his guest Professor Bartholomew Dersley into the study for cigars and brandy, whilst their wives went into the library to sample the new delivery of sherry that had arrived from Bristol that day.

 

The two Professors chatted throughout the evening about advances in medicine and wether or not they should give any of the new generation of painkillers and the use of the even newer anaesthetics to totally sedate the patients during amputations.  Professor Allington conceded that his practice was in the poorest part of London , the East End , and that most if not all his patients would be unable to afford them, and would therefore have to continue being gagged whilst the amputation was in progress.

 

The Dersleys thanked their hosts and stepped outside at 10:30pm to hail a Hansom for the journey home.  The fog had thickened and they could only see a few yards through it, and the journey home took nearly three hours and they still had not arrived at their house.

 

As the Hansom rounded a sharp bend by the pub in Sheperds Market, Professor Dersly suddenly shouted at the driver to stop.  The professor alighted from the Hansom quickly and ran back down the road about fifty yards to where a young female lay, in a large pool of blood that was emanating from a gash in her throat.

 

He tried to stem the flow of blood by applying pressure with his thumb and was unaware of the police whistles that were nearby.

 

A hand clamping tightly on his shoulder startled him a gruff voice belonging to the policeman who also owned the hand, demanded to know what he was doing.

 

At this moment, they were joined by his wife and the cabbie, as the drivers of the Hansoms were becoming known.

 

Professor Dersley explained that he had seen a man in a tall top hat and a black cloak attacking the injured female and had shouted the cabbie to stop.  This was verified by the cabbie, who had also witnessed the attack.

 

The policeman turned out to be a sergeant and told the professor to tell him who he was and his address then he could continue on his way if they were not too shook up by what they had seen.  The sergeant said it was a terrible business, first, the Jack the Ripper murders in Spitalfields, east London, and now what appeared to be a copy-cat series of murders in his leafy suburb of Hampstead, Middlesex, but unlike the Jack the Ripper murders where they had one witness, for the Hampstead murders they now had two.

 

The professor explained that although he was a Professor, he seldom used the title and that they were proud to be Mr and Mrs Dersley of no 4 Privet Gardens and were perfectly normal, thank you very much.  They then remounted the Hansom and continued their journey home.

 

 

 *****From Marc James*****     8/2011

The Chatteris Road Ghost 

 

The Chatteris Road is six miles of meandering uneven single track, winding across the Fens, connecting the small Cambridgeshire market towns of Somersham in the South and Chatteris in the North. There is nothing in between but a vast flat plain of open farmland, a view interrupted with copses which break the horizon and form natural divides between farms. Along stretches of this road, trees encroach either side, and as you near Chatteris and rise up a hill, overhung and canopied with large oak trees and horse chestnuts, as you enter the outskirts of the town.

 

This is a road that was built on a man made embankment to protect it from flooding, so common to fenland areas. There are step ditches either side, some water filled, and it is common for vehicles to misjudge this twisting narrow stretch of road and end up either upside down of nosed into these deep ditches, which slope off at each side of the road, sometimes as much as eight feet in depth, enough to hide a crashed car.

 

It can be a lonely spot to breakdown, as apart from people travelling to and from work, outside of those hours there is little traffic and you could be the only vehicle on that road. There are only a handful of homes dotted along its six mile length, mostly refurbished or rebuilt to modern standards, the main landmarks being Holwood nursery where I often stop to collect logs and coal during the long winter months, then halfway along the Chatteris Road is a large refurbished Victorian mansion house with tall sash windows and a sweeping half moon gravel drive, half hidden by overhanging trees which line the side of the road. At the end of this road before reaching Chatteris, is a cottage which was once the Crafty Fox public house, so far out of town in fact that it is now a private residence, but retains the old public house sign. It stands on the final sharp right hand bend before the road rises up the tree canoped hill leading into Chatteris.

 

In summer, the Chatteris Road is a pleasant drive if taken slowly and you can enjoy the crimson sunsets which are remarked on as a handsome feature in this flat Cambridgeshire countryside. Toward the end of summer it is common to see combine harvesters cutting through the rapeseed fields, causing clouds of mustard coloured dust to obscure the road in the distance. Winter on the other hand can sometimes make this road unusable in snow and torturous in icy conditions.

 

Fog is also a hazard in late autumn and winter, as the flat low lying land creates and ideal nesting ground for swirling thick fog, making driving a highly dangerous occupation. It was on such a night last October, that I had an encounter on that road that I recite to you now, both as a warning and to relieve me of the burden held since that unfortunate incident changed my beliefs forever.

 

That day began as any other, leaving at 5.30am to make my way through the Cambridgeshire countryside to the M11 on my twice weekly journey to London. I returned after a long day at work which kept me into the evening running one of regular support groups. I left London at 8pm and it had been a long journey in the  dark and the weather wasnt good. Drizzle slowed the traffic onto the M11 and my eyes grimaced at the constant on off dazzle of bright brake lights as traffic slowed and moved on again as though being pulled and then released by an invisible elastic band.

 

As I approached Duxford the rain had stopped, but the radio announced heavy fog onto the A14, which was clearly beginning to develop the further North I drove.

 

By 9.30pm I was off the A14 and heading home through Willingham and then on toward Earith. The fog was very thick by now and cars slowed to a snails pace along the stretch of road which runs alongside the river toward Earith bridge.

 

Once through Earith I began to think how I had missed my daughters excitement at preparing for halloween and wondered whether my partner had taken any photos of her dressed in the witches outfit we had purchased for her the previous Saturday.

 

As I took the right turn at Somersham onto the Chatteris Road, I felt some relief that my journey was nearly over, with just six more miles before I could take my shoes off, hang up the car keys and lie on the sofa with a hot mug of tea and unwind, catching up on the days events and hopefully looking through those photos I wondered about earlier.

 

The fog was dangerously thick now and I could just make out the sign on the side of the road for Holwood nursery. The fog shrouded the road and enveloped the windscreen.  The white line in the centre of the road became less visible, revealing itself through the swirling fog, enabling me only momentarily to correct my road positioning. At that point it was certain to be difficult journey home, with my speed down to 20mph and frequent breaking when navigating the tight turns, more from memory than any vision the fog afforded me that night.

 

On the right I could just make out the window lights from Victorian mansion, made opaque through the thick haze of fog that obscured the outline of the building, swallowing it up and hiding the expanse of the building and grounds.  I was halfway along the Chatteris Road now, only three more miles to negotiate. After gingerly passing the next two bends, the road straightens out a little and I could see a small dim light hidden and barely visible, but waving up and down as I approached on the left hand side of the road. Someone had clearly broken down and were trying to warn me, but as I got nearer I could see no hazard lights blinking through the fog, just this one small light from what I assumed was a hand held torch. Perhaps they had gone into a ditch and the car was hidden?

 

The waving light was by estimation about fifty feet ahead by now, but I still couldnt make out the person holding it. I slowed and put the car into second gear, learning forward out of my seat to get a better look. It was then that she became visible, a young girl about 20 years old stood beside the road just next to a farmland track entrance. She waved her lamp again, then lowered her arm to her side. I could make out she was wearing a light coloured dress; old fashioned I guessed because it covered her neck in frills and ran straight down to her feet. As I stopped, I noted that she had long dark hair and looked pale and cold.

 

She was only a few paces away and began to walk toward the passenger door. I glanced down to my window switches and lowered the passenger window and could feel the rush of cold damp air as I leaned across to speak to her. I looked, but couldnt see her. I looked round to the back in case shed walked past, then scanned left to right along the side of the road and through the windscreen to see where she had gone. Nothing; she had disappeared into the mist and I could no longer see any sign of the yellow glow of the torch with which she had waved me down. Feeling slightly uneasy I reached for the passenger window switch and held it until the passenger window was firmly closed.

 

As I looked into the white fog through the screen in front of me a loud bang rocked the car from side to side and threw me with it, bouncing in my seat, feeling my neck jolt and strain against the sharp movement and impending panic. My arms left the steering wheel as I tried to grab anything to stop me being thrown from side to side. My mind went blank, I froze in panic and for half a second I thought Id been hit by another car. I then heard the piercing scream as clawed hands screeched their way down my side window. I looked to my right and I saw her; the young girl, her eyes were pearly black, her mouth wide open with jagged bloodied teeth, her lips a blackish mauve with rivulets of blood tricking from her lower lip and spattering the window.

 

They left me she screamed, pounding her fists against the glass, smearing the spatters of blood. They left me here to die, where have you been, where have you been she grunted and hissed, then rocked the car from side again, this time more fiercely as her anger grew. I was overwhelmed with fear, too frightened to get any words out, my hair stood in prickles on my neck, my eyes wide with horror.

 

Without conscious thought I slammed the car into gear, found the accelerator pedal and pressed it to the floor. The tyres screeched and tore at the tarmac, lurching forward uncontrollably, then stalled. I looked to my right through the blood smeared window, nothing! I could feel my heart pounding in my chest; my head felt dizzy and surreal. This is insane, this isn’t happening. I turned the ignition key, but the car failed to start. I turned it again and pressed the accelerator pedal, but I could tell that the battery was fading fast. I checked the doors; they were locked.

 

I looked about me through the fog, but could see no sign of the girl, or the glow of the light she had been waving at me. Then it dawned on me that this was some nasty hallowe’en prank and that the culprits had had their fun and run off down the track which joined the road. I imagined them laughing at my terror as they disappeared into the fog. They probably wouldn’t have tried this prank on a clear night.

 

My hearty rate was back to normal now, but I felt angry at being duped, and even angrier that this had caused my car battery to almost give up on me. I turned the key again, and this time the car sparked into life without a problem. I then decided to get out and take a look into the distance behind to see if I could trace the dim light in case they were about to try their luck with another unsuspecting motorist. As I opened the car door and got out, the cold mist swirled about me in it’s cold embrace and swirls of moist cold air made their way past me and into the car, so thick was this fog. I looked around but could see nothing; ‘buggers’  I thought.

 

I climbed back in to the car, shut the door, clipped my seat belt and drove off, tracing the intermittent centre line through gaps in the fog. I drove for about a hundred yards and slowly took a right bend past a farmers cottage on my left and managed to increase my speed slightly. It was then that I heard a hissing sound coming from the rear. Suspecting a tyre puncture, I glanced in my side mirror and wound down the window to listen more closely, but decided against stopping as by now I was nearing Chatteris, and home. The hiss then grew louder and this time was near my ear, and I could feel cold breath against the back of my neck. I looked into the rear view mirror to see the pale cold death face of the girl on the road, her doll like black eyes burning into mine. I froze in horror, this was for real and she was no part of any prank. Her blue lips parted and black matter ran down her pale gaunt chin, ’You left me BEHIND’ she screeched, and at that moment I felt her cold bony hands clasped my neck and try to dragged me into the back of the car. I could feel the seat belt constrict around my chest and I could hear the rush of blood in my veins as abject terror took hold. She pulled at me with a strength that belied her stature, and I felt my fingers slip from the wheel as I fell into unconsciousness.

 

I awoke with a jolt as a paramedic wafted an intense strong vapour in front of my face. My sight was blurred but I could see the glow of blue flashing lights reflecting about me. The car was lying on its side in a ditch and I could then smell the grass and cold damp earth that had been churned up as the car had slide into the damp peat of the ditch.

 

My recovery was swift; with an overnight in hospital, no broken bones and only superficial cuts and bruises. Police officers had visited me to make a statement about the accident and to ascertain how it happened. I did not tell the truth, simply because it would not be believed by rational thinking people, and at most it would be interpreted as a lame excuse for driving too fast in the fog.

 

A week later, I checked the archives of the local museum for any recordings of strange incidents along that road. Numerous accidents were recorded, but none attributed to ‘strange phenomenon’, except for one excerpt from a chronicle dating back to 1842, which cited the murder of a young girl who was beaten and her body thrown into a ditch, the date, 31st October 1842. 

 

During 1842 – 1890, a number of strange sightings were reported, but these faded into obscurity when they ceased. I wondered how often her spectre has appeared to travellers along that road over the years, and who would want to look foolish enough to declare it. My advice to you is, don’t stop when you see this spectre waving her lamp, and most of all, don’t look back in your mirror.

 

 *****By Mike Lodge*****       8/2011

Shona Williams

 

   Shona Williams was just four months old.  Her parents, Sharon and John, had taken her and her four year old sister Janet on a caravanning holiday to the caravan site at Felixstowe point in Suffolk .  They had arrived that Saturday afternoon and  put the awning up, then had a cup of tea  and some custard cream bisquits. 

   John had then gone to the reception to make enquiries about the baby sitting service, the children’s club and the crèche for Shona during the day.  He booked a baby sitter for that evening to look after the children so that he and Sharon could go to the clubhouse to watch the entertainment that evening. 

   Sharon cooked a meal of fish fingers, it was Janet’s favourite and she was certain to eat all of it. 

   The baby sitter arrived at 7.30pm and and Sharon and John were all dressed up and ready to go, leaving the baby sitter and the two children, who were already asleep in bed.  She said that she was also one of the afternoon supervisors of the childrens club during the week. 

   Sharon and John had a few drinks at the clud and enjoyed dancing to the 60’s tribute band and returned to the caravan at 11pm. 

  On Sunday they all went to the swimming pool and in the afternoon, went to Landguard Point to watch the container ships in the port of Felixstowe , berthing, being unloaded and leaving the port.  Janet was amazed how huge the ships were. 

   At 9.30 Monday morning, Janet was dropped of at the under 5’s club for the day, lunch included and to be collected at 5pm.  Sharon and John were given an identity card to show when they collected Janet to prove they were her parents. 

   They went into Ipswich for the day and returned to the caravan site at 4.30pm.  After a cup of coffee they went to collect the children.  John went to collect Janet and Sharon went for Shona. 

   John returned to the caravan and Janet was excitedly telling him all the activities she had been doing that day when Sharon came into the caravan crying. 

   She told John that when she arrived to collect Shona, she was met by the general manager who took her into an office and then proceeded to tell her that Shona had collapsed at 2pm. His staff had called an ambulance and himself and he told one of his staff to go with the ambulance as an escort for Shone until he could contact them.  Shona had been taken to Ipswich general hospital and the manager said to follow him there so that he could collect his staff member.  They took Janet with them and when they arrived the staff member, who was the baby sitter on Saturday night, informed them that the hospital had done a lot of tests and that Shona was stable and sleeping peacefully. 

   The ward sister came to meet them and said that the doctors had found a hole in her heart and would like to operate the next morning to repair it, but they needed to sign a form of consent, which they did straight away.  She said that Shona would probably spend up to a week in hospital afterwards whilst the doctors observed her recovery, which they expected to be problem free. 

   Her parents said that would not be a problem because they were booked in for a two week stay at the caravan site, but the sister wanted one of them to stay in the hospital all the time Shona was in there because in one so young it was considered to be a major operation.  Sharon told John she would stay and John suggested that they take each day in turn.  The doctor arrived and told them that the operation was nowadays fairly routine and that there should be no complications with Shona growing up as a normal healthy child. 

   At 8.30pm John took Janet back to the caravan and put her to bed.  She was very tired after an all out, physical day and the visit to her sister in hospital.  Just before she feel asleep, she asked her father if her sister would be allright and John said that she would be ok. 

   The next day, John took Janet to the children’s club and then made his way to the hospital.  He arrived just before the nurse gave Shona her pre-med in preparation for the theatre procedure.  John and Sharon watched almost tearfully as their little girl was wheeled of to the theatre.  The sister had told them how long the operation should take. 

  When the theatre doors closed, they went to the canteen, because neither of them had had any breakfast.  When they sat at the table Sharon asked John if he thought everything would be alright and he told her that he thought so and that he had every confidence in the surgeon and his team.  She admitted that overnight her anxiety had got the better of her and this was the first meal she had eaten since lunchtime the previous day, and that she was sure she had not slept at all through the night.  She said that until John came in this morning, she was an emotional wreck.  John told her that mirrored his evening and overnight concern for Shona and that he hoped the news from the doctor when Shona came out of theatre would all be good, and that they would both sleep well that night. 

   They were in the canteen for over two hours  and when they got back to the recovery ward, the doctor, who was also the surgeon, came and told them Shona was out of theatre and expected to make a full and quick recovery.  Sharon almost fainted with relief at the good news.

 

Reply All    by Marc James

  I try to be more sensitive in my email communications with people nowadays, resulting from an unfortunate history of excruciatingly embarassing faux pas; littered with interpretations of intent, agonising mishaps,and accusationsofmalice aforethought; none of which I plead resemble original intent. I am, I plead, a good natured sole whose intent has never been to cause injury to feeling or reputation.

  I do admit however, that I have on occasion acutley misjudged peoples capacity for humour; appreciation of the double entendre, or to view my comments as they are intended; to brighten their otherwise dull day in the office.

  Email communication has largley been my downfall and is partly to blame for unintended offence.  My partner once forwarded an email to me from a lady belonging to a well known recycling website, in which she offered a box of household objects in good condition for eight quid.  I responded to my partner suggesting that the box probably contained a load of crap and that the woman was undoubtedly too lazy to take the box to her nearest skip.  Unfortunatly for me, I pressed the Reply to All button, so the lady got to read the full extent of my tirade and resulted in my being summarily rebuked and banned from using the site for the rest of my natural life.  I blame whoever designed email boxes to have Reply and Reply to All right next to each other; let's be fair.

  Unfortunatley I didn't learn from that faux pas, because it happened again; this timemy boss was involved.  He had emailed me with an irritatingly benign request to recheck the booking of a conference facility, which I had already confirmed twice.  It was a friday I recall, and being in a jocular frame of mind I forwarded this email to a friend with some witty remarks about my boss being a complete t-----r.  My friend also succumbed to the Repl to All snare trap, and I was called into the bosses office to explain myself!  It was one of those moments when you get thatawful feeling of dread, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath between your teeth as you utter the word S--t.

  Despite some additional misinterpretations that have got me in the proverbial hot water, I am somewhat reformed and try to ensure that I think before I write, so as not be maligned as an insensitive git, and to remain employed!  However, I believe I am not wholly to blame and have received the support of colleagues to support my assumption that certain emails I have sent couldn't possibly have been interpreted the way they did, and not to worry.

  However I have a niggling feeling that not everyone sees the world as I do, and that maybe, people are a little too sensitive these days.  I do not wish to appear brash or egotistical, but let's allow room for the odd faux par eh!  The world might be a better place.

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