Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Two o'clock in the morning. Dressed in black from head to toe, he moves through the foliage like a leopard. His prey: the rich residents of Belgium Hill and Luxembourg Crescent. His conscience is clear; Standard Union and Allied Mercia will pick up the bill. These people have insurance coming out of their ears. 
He slides open a side window, and clambers inside the property known as 'The Beeches'.  The layout is familiar; he moves around quickly picking up items of value and placing them noiselessly in his black briefcase. Sometimes, it’s just too easy.

No more than four minutes later, he’s outside in the night air again, his luggage bulging with duty–free; a good night’s work. A fine athlete in his youth, he vaults the surrounding wall with ease, and is back on the deserted pavement.  In the distance, a dog barks. He never pays a visit to a home with canine protection; too risky. As he brushes himself down, a narrow beam of yellow illuminates his face.

‘Police’, says the young voice holding the torch. ’Step out of the shadows.’

He does as instructed, quickly evaluating his options. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?

‘Is that you … Father O'Rourke?

‘Tommy? Tommy Harrison?’

‘Yes, Father.’

‘I heard you’d graduated Hendon.  Your mother was telling me after Mass a few weeks back.’

'I didn’t expect to see you at this hour, Father,' apologises the young constable. ‘You see there’s been a string of burglaries on the area.’

'One of my parishioners had a stroke. His wife called me; distraught, the poor dear.'

‘I really am sorry, Father.’

‘Nonsense - you were just doing your job, Tommy! If it wasn’t for this,’ the priest goes on, pointing at his dog collar, ‘I could easily be your burglar, all dressed in black like Johnny Cash.’

‘Johnny who?’

Rain is beginning to fall, and the priest has phone calls to make, goods to move.

‘Johnny Cash – the Man in Black. Ring of Fire?’

The youngster shrugs his shoulders

‘I’ll walk you back to the parish house, Father,’ says Tommy. ‘It’s not safe to be out this late, especially with that briefcase.’

Father O’Rourke sees it is hopeless to refuse. As they walk the silent streets, Father O’Rourke regales Tommy with tales of his time as a young missionary in Uganda, of the time he met Idi Amin, but Tommy hasn’t heard of him either.

Soon it is time to part, and the clergyman has his keys in the wooden door of the presbytery.

‘Good night, Father.’

‘See you on Sunday, Tommy?

Pc Harrison looks down at his shiny boots, and from somewhere in his throat finds a guilty cough.

‘Sure,’ he replies. ‘I’ll be there.’

Inside the door, Father O’Rourke hears Tommy’s footsteps recede into the distance.  At last he relinquishes his iron grip on the briefcase, and relaxes the muscles in his shoulders. His lodgings are simple and austere. He flops down on the fold-up bed and flicks on the transistor radio. He hopes the orphans in Kampala will be pleased with the proceeds of his latest collection on their behalf, and his friends, the Collinses, not too upset about their material loss.


Andy pulled the duvet over his head, but for once this did nothing to muffle the sound of power tools as the drill was whirring inside the cavity of his skull - nothing to do with Mr Black and Decker next door. His mouth was as dry as the driest part of the Atacama Desert, and then some; if it had ever known moisture, there was no evidence now.  His tongue felt like it was wearing a miniature boxing glove as it felt its way around his cracked mouth. The tell-tale signs of another drunken night were all in place: he was still wearing his shirt which was smattered in chilli sauce, the television had been left on, and the air was heavy with the odour of stale tequila, kebab and vomit.  His heavy curtains were drawn but a triangle of sunlight had found its way through the gap, and taunted him above the fireplace.  Suddenly he was aware of the unbearable weight of his bladder, but this was as nothing compared to the weight of his sweaty head which could not or would not be moved from the greasy pillow.

Oh my god, it’s my weekend for the kids – she’ll go apeshit , he thought.  Frantically he tried to sort out the calendar in his head, but the month, the week and even the day were beyond him.  He tried to rewind – he was at work, intending to go home for once, but had been swept by the tide of Christmas cheer into the Anchor for just one, then another.  The train timetable had been brought out his pocket at various times purely as a hypothetical exercise.  He remembered Jeff going for a piss and not returning, Brian and Clive jumping in a taxi outside the Grapes, a brunette staring at him in Harry Lime’s and dancing with a group of Japanese girls with a tie around his head – nothing else. God knows where he’d picked up the kebab or the bruise on his arm or torn the knee of his trousers.  It wasn’t his weekend for the children anyway – last weekend, he’d treated them big style – McDonalds, the zoo and McDonald’s again.  What a relief – he was too fragile to have her screaming at him down the phone today. His phone – where was it? He remembered showing Brian a picture of the kids in their nativity costumes – one an angel, one a sheep.
Then it rang from inside the bed.  ‘Private Number’  it said, when he eventually brought it to the surface. He pressed to accept the call, unsure whether his larynx would be capable of speech.

‘Andy?’ It was a woman’s voice, but not one he recognised.


‘They’re coming for you – I couldn’t stop them. Get out of there now.’

‘Who are they? Who are you?’

‘Last night! The journey home, we …’

The line went dead.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Tunnels, tunnels, tunnels! How many have I dug with these clumsy, useless hooves? Too many to count. There's always the electric fence, the cattle grid, the yelping dog.  The heifers called me mad when I started building a glider on the roof of the shed, and they were right. Without opposable thumbs, the enterprise was futile beyond belief. Did I listen? No! All I thought about was escape. Escape from this factory, this farm, this life as a lactating machine. Escape from the herd, where I am known only by the number stapled to my ear and my output in litres.

Now, through an accident of fate, a miscounting of the bodies, I find myself free; the gate closed with all the others inside and me outside. But where do I go? Track down the folks? Dad's a syringe and mum's a range of leather products by now. Even my one and only son took the train to Spain.  My udders ache with the pressure of milk and the night grows cold. Where do I go? My escape has caught me unawares; no disguise, no forged ID, no plan.
In the distance I can here my erstwhile companions lowing, bedding down for the night. My grass is not greener. I long to nestle in the straw among the warm bodies, to read my Jilly Cooper until the light grows too dim, to moo and be mooed.
I raise my snout to the sky and bellow, but nobody hears. I find my chocolate eyes unusually moist. I wander in the dark, free - yes - but lost and alone. Then there is a noise, and two huge yellow eyes bear down upon me.  There is a whistling and a screeching, a clash of metal and bone, of engine and bovine, and then nothing.

Thursday, 10 November 2011


A few years back, I had the good fortune, or so it seemed at the time, to take up a position in the household of the eminent scientist, Professor Erwin Schrodinger, he of the eponymous equation. If I had had a job title, it would have been something like messenger, for I spent most of my days running errands around Graz, delivering books and journals and sending telegrams to academics and scientists in faraway places such as Princeton, Oxford and Berlin. After luncheon, I would take the professor’s dog – an energetic terrier - for a walk in the forests of the Alpine foothills. As a country boy myself, this distraction was a delight. The dog, Franz, would eagerly follow his sensitive nose off into the undergrowth, whilst I would stride briskly through the trees considering the great problems of philosophy, religion and science, stopping occasionally to examine a new flower or set of animal tracks. To bring Franz back to heel, a sharp blow on my whistle was usually sufficient.

One late autumn afternoon, Franz and I set off as usual. Snow was imminent; the air crackled with anticipation. The pale sun seemed more distant than it had ever been as two tiny figures – a man and a dog - passed into the vast forest. Franz disappeared as normal, following the trail of a squirrel or another woodland creature. I, for my part, was busy contemplating the number of angels that could dance on a pinhead, and wondering if this figure could be increased if the participants agreed to keep their wings folded while dancing – a style, I understand, favoured by the Irish. The threat of snow had become a reality, and within minutes the first gentle flakes had been replace by clumps. I blew my whistle with the intention of terminating our expedition early, but although I could hear Franz barking in the distance, he evidently couldn’t hear my summons blown into the prevailing wind. I put the cold whistle to my cold lips again, but its shrill note was drowned out, firstly by the creaking and groaning of limbs of ancient timber, and then by the terrifying crashing of twig on twig, branch on branch, trunk on trunk as an elderly statesman of the forest collapsed among its younger neighbours. Who knows why it fell there and then – perhaps its roots had been starved of moisture by young, greedy interlopers and the weight of snow had sealed its fate. Anyway, a tree had fallen in the forest and somebody had been there to hear it – the philosophers could rest in their wood-panelled studies for now.

I went to examine the fallen giant, whose uppermost branches had ended up some thirty metres from me. As I approached, I became aware of a high-pitched whining from beneath the leaves and branches that had only recently been part of the forest’s canopy, but now lay on the forest floor covered with an ever-thickening rug of white. As my hands pulled and tugged at the bent and broken boughs, the whimpering died away to nothing and the forest was silent again. I could sense that my task was futile and that moving the branches I needed to move would require the strength of twenty men.
I returned to the city a dishevelled, downcast shadow of a man. Having explained the sad history of my expedition to the staff downstairs, I was ushered into the presence of the great scientist to explain the course of events. This was actually the first time I’d met him since our initial interview.
‘Get on with it, young fellow’, he said, his face grave and lined.
I began my story, and continued up to the point where the massive tree began to plummet towards the earth.
‘And Franz; is he dead?’ He looked at me over his spectacles.
‘Well, sir,’ I replied. ‘He may be alive or he may be dead; in a way, he may be both.’ I was astonished by the ridiculousness of my reply even as the words crawled out of my mouth.
‘So, you are suggesting that the probability curve has not yet collapsed’ he said. ‘Go on, go on.’
By this point in my narrative, the professor has grabbed a notebook and was scribbling furiously.
‘Well yes, I suppose so.’
‘Thank you, young man. That will be all. You are, of course, dismissed. Please collect your belongings.’

In the time since I left Graz, I have had no contact with the household, although I understand that Professor Schrodinger has lately acquired a cat.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Trent Rovers are what you call semi-professional, playing in the sixth tier of English football, a small covered stand on one side of their small ground, with most of the spectators exposed to the elements. Steve Darke picked up £150 for training two nights and playing on Saturday and usually one week night. Steve had played for Trent Rovers for some fourteen years, and was getting a bit long in the tooth for a number nine.  He could still hit the ball hard, but his lack of pace was legendary, and things were only going to get worse.
This season had seen a bit of upheaval with a local businessman putting a few quid into the club, and bringing in a Welshman, Kenny Evans, as manager.  Evans had led Basingstoke to promotion into the Football League a few years earlier, and even though they’d only survived one season, he was rated highly as a coach. It was clear from the start that Evans (and his sidekick, Mike Jarvis) didn’t fancy Steve as the man to score the goals to propel Rovers up the league.
The one thing that rankled with Steve was that he’d never taken the match ball home in his long career; never scored a hat-trick, although he’d come close on too many occasions to remember. Today, the chance to right that ancient wrong had arrived. Shaun Hartley, the man brought in to lead the line at Steve’s expense, had pulled a hamstring in training so Steve had found himself back in the starting line-up against Valley Park . On seventeen minutes, a rebound off the post had fallen right in his path and left Steve with an open goal; thank you, very much.  On the cusp of half-time, a hopeful corner had contrived to find the net off Steve’s shoulder.  With fifteen minutes to go, the Park goalkeeper had rugby tackled winger Alan Jakes on the edge of the box and after consulting his assistant on that side, the referee had awarded a penalty. 
This penalty was Steve’s – there was no arguing about that.  Steve picked up the ball and placed it on the penalty spot, walked back a few yards and waited for the ref to whistle.  He was definitely going to hit it hard and low to the left (or the right).  What was the delay? Steve looked towards the touchline and saw assistant manager, Jarvis, holding up a card with his number on it, while Evans stood next to him whispering a few motivational words into the sub’s ear. The crowning moment of Steve’s career and that Welsh twat was pulling him off. Steve strode over to the touchline, stripping off his jersey as he went and flinging it to the ground. His blood was visibly bubbling with anger. He glanced at Jarvis and the youngster waiting to take his place. Evans had no chance – Steve hit him hard in the stomach with a left and a right before continuing straight towards the dressing room, knowing his career was finished…but something was troubling him.  He had been aware of a puzzled look on the faces of both Evans and Jarvis, but had put it down to the shirt business. In his mind, he tried to rewind the events of the last two minutes; he kept coming back to the card in the raised arm of Jarvis.  It wasn’t Steve’s number – nine – but eight.
It wasn’t just his legs that were going; it was eyes. He'd thrown away his last chance of glory and disgraced himself over the wrong number.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


On this occasion, Miles Delauney had gone too far.  Delauney was a giant of a man with a giant of a temper and a giant of an appetite for ale. Staggering home from the tavern one night, he’d come across the man who’d stolen, killed and eaten his prize sow.  Allowing no case for the defence to be advanced, he’d carried out summary justice on the spot, beating the poor fellow to death with his bare hands. Having disposed of the body in nearby woodland, he’d continued his journey home where he’d collapsed inside the door and slept until late the next day, the other man’s blood drying on his skin and clothes.
The next day, Matthew Fletcher had been reported missing and DeLauney’s sow had returned with a litter of piglets in tow. It hadn’t taken long for villagers to discover Fletcher’s body and to point the finger at Delauney. However, Delauney was the most powerful (as well as the most frightening) man in the village, and a Norman to boot; nobody had dared to accuse him in public.
Time had passed. Fletcher had been buried and had largely forgotten by everyone, except his elderly mother.
One night DeLauney woke to the acrid smell of smoke and the crackling of flames around his bed. Instinctively, he made an exit through the window, coughing and blinking as he went.
Standing in front of the house, a flaming torch in his hand was the figure of Matthew Fletcher, the wronged man.
‘Confess!’ yelled the spectre through the noise of the flames. Delauney was not the type to take fright at phantoms, real or imagined, and ran towards the man, but Fletcher was nowhere to be seen.
This was the beginning of DeLauney’s misfortunes. His stallion broke a leg and had to be killed, his crops failed, there were more fires.  Always in the distance, always out of reach, was the figure of Matthew Fletcher crying ‘Confess’.
No believer in the supernatural, Delauney determined to dig up Fletcher’s grave to see if it still contained the bones of the unfortunate man.
A full moon graced the night sky as Delauney’s shovel broke the earth. Ten minutes later, his eyes beheld the remains of Fletcher.  As his mind spun, unsure whether to be relieved or not, he felt the sharp prick of a cold steel blade  on the back of his exposed neck.
‘You are dead. Leave me be.’
‘Dead, I?’ came the reply. ‘My name is William Fletcher, returned from the King’s Navy to win justice for my murdered twin. Confess, or I will cut your throat now, grave-robber.’
Delauney considered his position.
‘Very well,’ he said.
‘Look, your house burns again,’ said William Fletcher, and sure enough the sky danced in orange and red in the direction of Delauney’s property.
The following day, Delauney confessed his crime, and was taken into custody.
Eliza Fletcher, her spine twisted with age and her eyes filled with tears, bent over the graves of those whom she’d loved in life in the knowledge  they would soon be reunited: Matthew Fletcher 1296-1331, and in a tiny plot alongside, William Fletcher 1296-1297.

Saturday, 15 October 2011


'What the hell was that noise?' I said, rubbing my eyes. 'There's someone downstairs.'

I stretched out an arm to retrieve my glasses in the darkness, so I could better focus on the solid black around me.

A groaning from below was clearly audible.  

'Wake up,' I hissed. 'I'm going down.'  As I reached out to prod my wife, it became evident that the other side of the bed was no longer occupied. Suddenly, I could hear raised voices in French, and I remembered where I was.

That was our first and last treehouse holiday, and the end of my wife's somnambulatory episodes - you can't sleepwalk if you're paralysed from the waist down.

Even today, four years after the accident, the sight of her distorted limbs makes me shudder - a salutary lesson of the absolute necessity of taking out holiday insurance.

Ironically, my new wife won't go near a treehouse - she has vertigo, and gets dizzy reading a tall story.

Friday, 7 October 2011


‘This is how it works. My mate Marv – sorry, my associate Mr Cooper – works in a fancy dress shop in the posh end of town.
‘A customer comes in and hires a costume for a party; they give Marv their name and address, and Marv engages in a bit of banter, finding out if the costume’s for a party or whatever.
‘In the evening, we follow all the likely leads on FaceSpace, find out which of their friends has a birthday for when the costume’s been hired, cross-reference against other recent hirers on our spreadsheet, go through any photos, biographies etc.
‘On the night of the party, I put on my costume, waltz in with a bottle of Blue Tower and chat to the guests.  If anyone asks, I know Tom from Leicester Uni, I used to work with Claire at HSBC – that sort of thing.  If the party’s not themed, I usually go as a burglar – striped jumper, mask, flat cap, gloves, bag labelled ‘swag’, the works – once I’m comfortable and the other guests  have had a bit to drink, I start filling my sack. It’s that easy.
‘Any problem – I mean if the cops are called – I’ve got Marv on one-touch dialling in my pocket.  Two minutes later, Marv and Jim (Marv’s brother) knock on the door in police costumes and arrest me.’
‘These people have serious mon…’
‘Hold on a minute; I need to turn the tape over.’
Dave looked around at the bare walls of the police interview room. He regretted now the deep sea diver suit that had slowed down his escape.
‘Ready to continue with your confession?’
Dave nodded.
‘Interview recommenced at 14:39 on tape one, side two.  Interviewing officer, Detective Sergeant Briscoe; also present, Constable …’
‘Peters, sarge’ said the tall youngster in the doorway.’
‘Also present, Constable Peters. Please continue, Mr Berwick.’

Monday, 3 October 2011


With university fees spiralling and the economy in recession, it is hardly surprising that many teenagers are opting to join the growing ranks of the undead.  The popularity of films such as '28 Days Later' and 'I am Legend' has shown the zombie lifestyle to be varied and interesting.  Disused warehouses and factories, remnants of Britain's past as an industrial powerhouse, are being snapped up by zombie start-ups eager for new blood willing to work unsociable hours.

When I was a youngster in the Seventies, boys wanted to be astronauts and girls wanted to have a horse. By the Eighties, the Apollo programme had been shelved and the French had eaten all the horses; boys wanted to be footballers and girls wanted to be supermodels (not models). In the Nineties, the Premier League and Sky TV arrived; more than ever, boys wanted to be footballers and girls wanted to marry footballers. The Noughties arrived and boys realised you needed to be a Bosnian on a Bosman to be a footballer; now they wanted to be DJs or MCs and girls wanted to flash their surgically-enhanced chests on reality TV.

With worldwide financial meltdown, and all these traditional career paths seemingly closed off, the teenagers of today are giving a big WTF to the IMF and opting to work nights feasting on human flesh. If you're one of those youngsters who's already largely lost the power of speech, you could be on the fast track to zombie team leadership. To join the undead denizens of the night, log onto

Friday, 30 September 2011


Monsieur Trichet settled into his high-backed leather chair and sighed a deep sigh of pleasure. He wondered how Herr Hitler would feel if he could see a Frenchman sitting in the plushest office in all of Frankfurt controlling the purse-strings of Europe. Trichet had been born in Lyon in 1942 under the dark days of the puppet Vichy government, yet now he had several hundred Germans running around at his behest - the irony was not lost on him.

As President of the European Central Bank since 2003, he had overseen the emergence of the Euro as a rival to the US dollar as a world currency, and saw the Eurozone very much as his fiefdom. The global recession had raised his profile for which he was grateful, but solving the resultant problems was an intellectual task, not an emotional one. His Mercedes and his luxury apartment in Frankfurt were safe; nobody would be knocking on the drawbridge of his chateau in Provence with a repossession notice.

The phone rang; an internal call, his PA.

'Merci, Juliette.' He put down the receiver and walked over to the huge plate glass window that offered an uninspiring view of identikit tower blocks of the financial sector.

In the middle of the street, there it was, as Juliette had said - a wooden horse, perhaps ten metres high.
Four minutes later, he was standing beside the monstrous creation examining at inscription on its right foreleg: 'To the ECB: a token of our thanks for your support during our recent economic hardship. Presented to Jean-Claude Trichet by the People of the Hellenic Republic. PS Would look nice in your atrium.'
There were polizei and television crews everywhere. With his ever-present umbrella, Trichet rapped on the belly of the horse.

'Bonjour,' he shouted. Nothing.

'Bonjour!' he repeated.

A trapdoor swung open and a bald head poked out, a grimacing mouth visible below an elegant grey moustache.

'Ah, Monsieur Papandreou!'

'Call me George.'

'What are you doing, George - we don't even keep the money here?'

Friday, 23 September 2011


It was the beginning of the rainy season on my seventeenth year on the island. Friday had gone to the northern side of the island to hunt wild goats and would no doubt spend the night in the cave outpost we had constructed there when he saw the brooding storm clouds moving in from the west. For my part, being well aware of the impending malevolence of the weather, I began to tether down as much as possible, and to ensure that my abode was as wind-proof and rain-proof as it could be.
As I completed my preparations, I spotted what looked like an upturned boat on the incoming surf. The rain was already falling like daggers but the opportunity was too good to miss. I ran down the sand and grabbed the object from the arms of the sea before it was smashed to pieces on the rocks. On my own, and in the face of a biting gale, it was all I could do to pull the boat, a rowing vessel belonging to some wrecked galleon, a few yards up the beach before I had to flee and hope for the best.
My sleep was troubled by the shrieking wind and lashing rain until in the early hours I fell into a deep slumber in spite of my worries for the boat, my companion on the other side of the island and my livestock.
When I awoke, the storm had worn itself out and I became gradually aware of the sound of hammering in the distance. Pulling the furniture away from the door, I saw a black figure down the beach working away to some object; it was my manservant, Friday, returned to me safely.
I wandered down the beach to see to what object his endeavours were directed.
'Look', he said, beaming. 'I make raft.' He was surrounded by planks of wood.
'But where did you ...?'
Then I remembered the boat, and put my head in the hands and cried as I had not done since boyhood.

Friday, 9 September 2011


The World Giggling Championships have been thrown into disarray by the disqualification of current world champion, Todd Anderson of Australia, for the crime of 'chortling' in a second round match against Spaniard Luis Lopez. Anderson claimed the 'chortle' was the first of his two permitted 'guffaws'. Audio playback was inconclusive, splitting former players down the line.

The umpire's decision, later upheld by the tournament referee following an appeal from the Anderson camp, could lead to a split in the sport with Anderson and other leading gigglers setting up a rival Freestyle Giggling circuit where chortling and chuckling would both be permitted during matchplay. Sniggerers are still likely to be disappointed.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Two o'clock in the morning. Dressed in black from head to toe, he moves through the foliage like a leopard. His prey: the rich residents of Belgium Hill and Luxembourg Crescent. His conscience is clear; Standard Union and Allied Mercia will pick up the bill. These people have insurance coming out of their ears.

He slides open a side window, and clambers inside the property known as 'The Beeches'.  The layout is familiar; he moves around quickly picking up items of value and placing them noiselessly in his black briefcase. Sometimes, it’s just too easy.

No more than four minutes later, he’s outside in the night air again, his luggage bulging with duty–free; a good night’s work.

A fine athlete in his youth, he vaults the surrounding wall with ease, and is back on the deserted pavement.  In the distance, a dog barks. He never pays a visit to a home with canine protection; too risky.

As he brushes himself down, a narrow beam of yellow illuminates his face.

‘Police’, says the young voice holding the torch. ’Step out of the shadows.’

He does as instructed, quickly evaluating his options. Fight or flight? Fight or flight?

‘Is that you … Father O'Rourke?

‘Tommy? Tommy Harrison?’

‘Yes, Father.’

‘I heard you’d graduated Hendon.  Your mother was telling me after Mass a few weeks back.’

'I didn’t expect to see you at this hour, Father.'  apologises the young constable. ‘You see there’s been a string of burglaries on the area.’

'One of my parishioners had a stroke. His wife called me; distraught, the poor dear.'

‘I really am sorry, Father.’

‘Nonsense! You were just doing your job, Tommy. If it wasn’t for this,’ the priest goes on, pointing at his dog collar, ‘I could easily be your burglar, all dressed in black like Johnny Cash.’

‘Johnny who?’

He doesn’t have the time or the inclination to explain. Rain is beginning to fall, and he has phone calls to make, goods to move.

‘See you on Sunday, Tommy?

Pc Harrison looks down at his shiny boots.  He’s drifted away from God since school; maybe this is a sign.

‘Sure,’ he replies. ‘I’ll be there.’

Friday, 2 September 2011


The Israelites were camped near the city of Jericho. Jericho had a great wall around it and big, heavy gates. The people of Jericho had heard about the Israelites and were very afraid of them.

God gave Joshua a plan for the capture of the city. On six days the soldiers were to march around the city one time each day. Some priests were to march with them, and seven priests were to blow on trumpets made of rams' horns. No one was to speak a word.

On the seventh day, at God's command, the soldiers were to march around the city seven times. The priests would blow on the trumpets and the Israelites give a great shout. The walls would fall down flat and the Israelites would be able able to capture the city.

On the first day of the plan, a man with a clipboard arrived in the midst of the Israelite encampment. He asked to be directed to Joshua's tent.

'Hello, I work for Canaan District Council,' the man explained, flashing an ID card. 'This is green belt land under the Green Belt Act of 1938 BC; you'll have to move your camp twelve miles further from the city walls.'

Joshua was much troubled by this man's visit, but undertook the necessary measures to appease the official, so he could proceed with God's plan.

On the third day of the plan, another man with a clipboard arrived in the midst of the Israelite encampment. He asked to be directed to Joshua's tent.

'Hello, I work for Jericho City Council,' the man explained, flashing an ID card. 'These rams' horns of yours are producing excessive noise under the Environmental Noise Pollution Act of 1967 BC; please refrain from blowing them.'

Joshua was much troubled by this man's visit, but undertook the necessary measures to appease the official, so he could proceed with God's plan.

On the fifth day of the plan, another man with a clipboard arrived in the midst of the Israelite encampment. He asked to be directed to Joshua's tent.

'Hello, I work for Revenue and Customs,' the man explained, flashing an ID card. 'No duty has been paid on this so-called manna from heaven you've brought into Canaan as required under the Imported Foodstuffs Act of 1981 BC.'

Joshua was much troubled by this man's visit, but undertook the necessary measures to appease the official, so he could proceed with God's plan.

On the final day of the plan, another man with a clipboard arrived in the midst of the Israelite encampment. He asked to be directed to Joshua's tent.

'Hello, I work for Immigration,' the man explained, flashing an ID card.

'It's OK - we were just leaving.' said Joshua, consigning God's plan to the scrap-heap. 'By the way, what does BC mean?'

'Before Calendars!' replied the official. 'By the way, would you mind awfully filling in this Customer Satisfaction survey?'

Joshua shrugged his shoulders.

'Sure. Do you have a pen? I seem to have snapped all mine in half.'

Thursday, 1 September 2011


It was Monday.
Noah's wife went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?'
'Where's Noah?' asked God. 'Man flu?'
'No, he plunged through a crevice on his way here; he's dead.'
'Oh, I am sorry.'
'Never mind. Rain?'
'Thirty per cent chance. Take a brolly if you go out.'

Sunday, 14 August 2011


The town clerk stretched out his arm.

'Mr Piper,' he said. 'Hope you didn't have any trouble finding us.'

'No,' the other replied, raising one eyebrow. The Town Hall was by far the largest building for miles; it would be hard to miss.

'This way,' beckoned the clerk. 'The mayor is waiting.'

They hurried along a wood-panelled corridor until they arrived at a door at the end. A couple of rats ran in the other direction. The clerk tapped on the door, opened it, and ushered in the interviewee with a flourish.

'Mr Piper, your Worship,' he announced before joining the mayor behind the huge oak desk.

The mayor, a rotund man in his late fifties stood and reached out a hand of greeting to the stranger.

'I see you found us, then. Please have a seat.'

All three sat down; the mayor and the clerk on one side of the desk, the Pied Piper on the other. The piper could see the curly script of his CV on top of the mayor's pile. Beyond the mayor, he spotted two well-fed rats sleeping on the window-sill.

'So, Mr Piper.' the mayor began. 'How long have you been in pest control?'

'Sir, first and foremost I am a musician. Here - my union card.' replied the piper, waving a card in the air. 'My ability with undesirable creatures is a sideline, and a happy accident arising from my musicality.'

'Describe yourself in three words,' the mayor said, looking over his half-rimmed spectacles at the angular fellow opposite.

'The. Pied. Piper.' he replied.

'Where ..'

'Where do I see myself in five years?' the piper interrupted. 'Miles from your rats.'

'Rats?' said the mayor. 'Who said anything about rats?'

'But, they're everywhere.' said the piper incredulously.

The mayor laughed. 'A minor irritation.'

'What then?' asked the piper.

'Double-glazing salesmen. They always seem to be in OUR area.' said the mayor.

'I see.' said the piper, already trying to think of a suitable tune for this particular species of vermin.

'Well, we have other applicants to interview, so ...'

'No, you don't.' said the piper, immediately regaining control of the situation after this shock. 'I'll take the job.'

The clerk looked at the mayor. The mayor nodded.

'The salary will be paid directly into your bank account a month in arrears. Is that OK?' asked the clerk, concluding the administrative matters.

The piper scratched his pointy chin. 'I'd prefer a bag of gold.' he said.

The clerk looked at the mayor again. The mayor nodded again.

'Gold it is.' the clerk said. 'Now, holidays are ...'

The piper raised his hand, and stood up suddenly, surprising the clerk and the mayor.

'Enough.' he said. 'I'm keen to start.'

Without waiting for any further instructions he reached out his slender arm and shook the hands of the two officials vigorously, before executing a nimble pirouette and leaving the other two to stare at each other, wondering if they had just made the biggest mistake of their public careers.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


The fox nosed through the rubbish drifting against the scrubby hedge, lifting its head occasionally to sniff cautiously at the airIdeally, he was after the remains of a Bargain Bucket or some other treat from the Colonel, but would make do with a morsel of burger or kebab if that's all that was on offer. Today, he was out of luck; it was mainly cigarette packets, empty cans and a few copies of the local free paper.
Oh well, it was still early and his rounds took in several other locations where the pickings might be greater, if one of his competitors hadn't beaten him to it.  Deregulation had hit him hard; in the old monopolistic days, he could saunter around for an hour and fill his belly.  Now, a group of young foxes had taken over the McDonald's concession and he'd heard that badgers had been seen in town cosying up to the proprietors of the ethnic restaurants. It was becoming harder and harder to gain the nutrients required to maintain a glossy coat and his once-magnificent brush was now a little threadbare. Worse than badgers and others of his own species, though, were the cats with their malevolent eyes staring out of their flat faces. Hissing, spitting, pissing, shitting – that was felines; every corner he turned, there they were, mocking him, taunting him, goading him, remarking on his overwhelming gingerness. Wherever he went, they’d always been there first and helped themselves to the choicest fare. The town stank of their presence.
Maybe it was time to leave the cat race and retire to the country.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


I was satisfied with my lot in life, right up until that dreadful moment when he/she said (I was never sure about Gok Wan's internal plumbing) ........
'Satisified with your lot in life?'
'If you're not - hey - the next six programmes could totally transform your life,' Gok continued in the most serious voice in his/her limited armoury. 'Even if you think you are satisfied, don't settle for satisfied, girlfriend - life could be so much better.'
'Coming up, after the break - lesson one -"make friends with your colon!"'
I knew now that my hitherto happy life was lacking something, that I could never be truly happy until I had carried out the one task that had been nagging me for years, plaguing my subconscious, coming between me and my sleep every night. I had to kill Gok Wan.

Monday, 1 August 2011


The Knights of the Round Table were bored. It was raining, and their jester was visiting a sick aunt in Godalming.

'How about some magic?' suggested Merlin, standing up, but seeing Gawain roll his eyes, and hearing Lancelot whisper something under his breath to Galahad, the old wizard sat down again red-faced.

'What we need is a another quest?' suggested King Arthur, but the other knights just shuffled uncomfortably in their chairs at this idea.

'Look,' said Percival, rising from his seat. 'How many Holy Grails do we need?'  He walked over to a cupboard and opened it, and was almost buried in an avalanche of golden goblets.

'I see what you mean.' replied Arthur. 'Charades, anyone?'

Reluctantly, the others agreed.

'I'll go first.' said Gawain, dragging his bulky frame from its chair. And so it started ...

'Five words.'
'First word.'
'The Once and Future King?'

'One word.'

'What do you mean you three or four words?'
'La Morte d'Arthur?'

'Six words.'
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail?'

'One word.'

'Five words.'
'First word.'
'The Sword in the Stone?'

'One word.'

'Two ...'
'First Knight?'

'MERLIN!' shouted Arthur. 'How about some bloody magic?'

They all nodded.

Sunday, 31 July 2011


And gradually every day it comes back to me, like an outgoing tide reveals the contours of the underlying sand: the checkpoint, raised voices in two languages (neither of which are mine), a volley of automatic gunfire and an explosion.  The air is full of flying fragments: metal, rubber, glass, fabric, human bone, human flesh.  The border we are crossing appears on no map, the guards belong to no recognised army. Our light blue livery is no guarantee of safe passage; papers stating our humanitarian mission are worthless. In this land where the warlords hold sway, even the law of the jungle is broken every day.

And as the memories return, my twisted body gives up the struggle until my only question is 'why?' and my family's only question is 'when?'


Some birthdays are better than others. Expectations always run high, but you can never tell exactly how it's going to turn out. One year when my new teeth were too big for my old mouth, I had set my heart on a bicycle, and my poor mother, after I had broken her down psychologically over a period of weeks, finally admitted my present was 'something to ride' but would say no more.

On the day itself I was led into the garden with my eyes covered. I waited for the signal - a bicycle bell, I assumed - when I felt a hot, sour breath on my face. I opened my eyes to find myself face to face with the long white snout and deep chocolate eyes of a horse. A I widened my gaze to take in the whole beast, it became apparent that this was no ordinary horse, but the immortal winged horse of Greek myth, Pegasus himself, the mount on which Bellerephon had vanquished the Chimera.

My mother and father looked at each other, evidently pleased with themselves. Certainly, I thought to myself, no other boy at school had access to such a mode of transport. Just then a dog barked in the street out front, and the magnificent stallion rose up onto his hind legs and spread his lily-white wings to their full extent. Suddenly my teenage brother came to the garden door, carrying a beautiful saddle embroidered with my initials.

'Would you like to ride him, son?' asked Dad.

I imagined soaring effortlessly over the city and the countryside, while my friends pedalled furiously hundreds of feet below in a vain effort to keep up; I imagined whistling at the school gate, and Pegasus, in response to my summons, descending from the clouds to take me home for supper. I could feel a drop of moisture increasing in size in the inner angle of my eye.

The following day, I left the house early - to ride my BMX to Kevin's house. Pegasus had been returned to Argos, and the refund spent on a bicycle and helmet. I think Mum and Dad had learnt their lesson: if I had wanted a flipping flying pony I would have asked for one, but I had asked for a bike.

It was then I noticed that my front tyre was completely flat.


Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she considered the serpent’s words.
Later, the woman went to see the man to explain what she had done.
‘Snakeskin shoes?’ said Adam. ‘You ARE a poppet.’

Thursday, 28 July 2011


It came closer and closer and it became evident it wasn't going to stop.
‘Look at that, Steg,’ said Rex.
‘What is it, Rex?’  said Steg.
‘I can never remember – it’s either an asteroid or a meteorite … or a meteor.’
‘It’s quite big.’
‘Yes. About the size of The Isle of Wight, I should say.’
‘I can feel a mass extinction coming on.’
‘Me too.’
‘Listen, don’t worry about returning that power drill.’
‘Thanks, Steg.’
‘Listen, I’m sorry about that business with your wife a few …’
‘Water under the bridge, old man.’
‘Phew! That was close, Rex.’
‘Don’t count your archaeopteryxes, Steg?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’ll be another one along soon, and next time it may not miss.’
‘Fifteen million years, maybe  twenty.’
‘I’m off. Countdown’s on in ten minutes.’
‘I’ll bring the Black and Decker back tomorrow.’
'Ta-ra, Rex.'
'Cheerio, Steg.'

Monday, 25 July 2011


There is this thing that oppresses me.
It follows me day and night, never missing the opportunity to pour scorn upon me when I falter in either word or step. I know not from whence it came or why it has chosen me as a vehicle for its contempt. During daylight hours it affects an appearance verging on transparent and seems to hover behind me.  As darkness approaches it becomes more agitated, sometimes flitting around like a bat, sometimes skulking in the shadows like a large rodent.  As night falls, it becomes bolder, brushing against me from time to time, quite aggressively it must be said. Its greatest pleasure seems to lie in nudging me as I attempt to complete some delicate task like lifting a cup of tea to my lips or lighting my pipe. On the occasions that my frustration overcomes me and I attempt to grab it, it has little trouble floating away out of range and its coarse laughter is heightened at my futile attempts to mete out the punishment which its behaviour deserves.
Perhaps one day it will find a new object of opprobrium and leave me to my own company, but I feel that somehow our destinies are inextricably linked and that this creature, whatever it is, has been put on this earth with the sole purpose of tormenting me. Its continued presence in my life has prevented me from maintaining lasting relationships or finding employment suitable to my intellect and disposition.  My family members, in an effort to save themselves from sharing in my distress, have disowned me, and polite society never tolerates me for long once I have mentioned this thing which afflicts me. Would that I could shed, or at least share, this burden.   
I have undertaken various ruses by which to separate we two, like passing rapidly through revolving doors or swimming considerable distances underwater, but it is of no use; this monster who hates me so much will not suffer itself to be parted from me under any circumstances. How miserable its existence must be, condemned to spend every hour day and night with a man, if I can still call myself such, whom it despises from head to toe. My only remaining hope is that we can, somehow, settle our differences and reach some king of accommodation whereby we agree to tolerate each other.  Should this lead to a gradual thawing of our relations, we may in the fullness of time reach a point where the occasional game of whist becomes a not unpleasant possibility. For now, though, the wounds are too raw and the hurt too real.

There is this thing that oppresses me.

I am this thing that oppresses it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011


It was Monday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?'
'No.' said God.

It was Tuesday.
Noah didn't go to see God.
There had been a nuclear accident the day before.
'That Noah' said God. 'He asked the wrong question.'

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


This term we have been studying the English Civil War. Either Dwayne can't get his head round it or he's treating it in a cavalier fashion. He should be head of the class, but he's come well behind his peers.

Charles King, Head of History

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


Oh to be an Inuit!
I wish it every minute
Catch a seal and skin it
Face a bear and chin it
Spear a whale, de-fin it
Enter a poetry competition for indigenous peoples and win it
And live in an igloo, innit?


Monday, 18 July 2011


It was Monday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?'
'No.' said God.

It was Tuesday.
Noah didn't go to see God.
Noah had drowned the day before - April 1st.
'Poisson d'Avril!' said God.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


I was lunching with a few girlfriends the other day following a busy morning hitting the plastic hard (Don't tell hubby - ED) when that eternal question came up - can a Virgo and a Sagittarius ever be happy together - well, CAN THEY? Now, sure things don't look too promising, particularly if he's the Virgo and she's born on the cusp, but surely there's hope for every relationship if you work at it!!!
One of my friends - let's call her Alice (even though her real name's Betty) - is a 'Saggy' and once found herself engaged to Clive - a Virgo - when things started to go wrong!  A romantic trip to Venice only made things worse (bet the ice-cream was nice ,though? - ED), so they split - two years down the line, they're both happily married - both to Capricorns, by an AMAZING coincidence!
Anyway, by the time we'd polished off our desserts (mmm  - delicious) , it was unanimous - Virgo and Sagittarius just DO NOT gel! Period! Or Pernod as my friend, Jayne, prefers to say!!
Next week: Organise your knicker drawer in FIVE easy steps!

Friday, 15 July 2011


It was time for bed.

'Blow the candle out, husband.' said the old woman.

The old man slid across the floor to the mantelpiece where the candle burned.

Taking a deep breath, he blew. The candle went out, the window fell out of its frame, trees were uprooted, pigs were left homeless and a house in faraway Kansas was ripped from its foundations and sent hurtling into an imaginary world where it kllled a passing witch.

The old man went to bed.


It was Monday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Tuesday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Wednesday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Thursday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Friday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Saturday.
Noah went to see God.
'Is it going to rain today, Lord?' Noah asked.
'No,' said God.

It was Sunday - God's day off.
Noah turned on the TV.
'It's not going to rain today.' said Michael Fish.

It was Monday.
Noah didn't go to see God.
Noah had drowned the day before.

Thursday, 14 July 2011



1. Write your own piece to follow your chosen first line (from five famous opening lines), and do the same to precede your chosen last line (from five famous closing lines - different books). You can make your two pieces connected or entirely unconnected.

Chapter One
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
He rubbed his compound eyes with his sticky front legs, opened his mandibles wide and yawned. 
Glancing down at his segmented body, he tried to recall how much he’d had to drink last night – definitely no more than two pints. He noticed with some annoyance that his shiny, black abdomen had popped the button on his pyjama bottoms.
Hearing the self-important tones of Chris Moyles, he reached to switch off the bedside radio-alarm – his sister had probably switched it away from his preferred station, Radio 3 – but it was not on. The signal was being picked up by his newly-grown antennae.
‘Great!’ he thought. ‘I’m stuck with that fat, opinionated ignoramus until nine o’clock.’
Chapter Two
Being no great entomologist, Gregor removed his pyjama jacket to find out whether he was a winged insect designed to whirr on high o’er hill and dale, or some kind of beetle doomed to scuttle through the damp, dark recesses of the earth.
Yes, there they were – four magnificent, translucent wings. He scratched his thorax, relieved that his destiny was not a world of dung-rolling.
‘Breakfast’s up!’ shouted Gregor’s mum, flinging open the door without knocking – as usual. ‘Bacon, eggs and tomatoes.’
She screamed.
‘Where’s my son, you monster?’
Before Gregor could reply, she lunged forward with the cutlery.  The fork rebounded off his tough exoskeleton and fell harmlessly to the floor.  She moved forward again, her face contorted in a mixture of fear and rage.
The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.

Apologies to Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller.


My love from Kent
Was Heaven-sent

Flowers sent
I a true gent
The world she meant
I paid her rent
My car I lent
So content

Money all spent
Every cent
I became obsolescent
Promises unmeant
No letter sent
She went

Now she's a Member of Parliament
For Stoke-on-Trent
While I repent


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

IF ...

If Bigfoot and the Yeti are abducted by aliens, and the Loch Ness monster spontaneously combusts in the Bermuda Triangle, how can we be sure they ever existed?

Monday, 11 July 2011


'The problem with your story, Benny, and why I've only given you a B,' said Mr Brock, the elderly English teacher, 'is anthropomorphism.  What does that mean?'
'I don't know, sir.' replied Benny, his large brown eyes beginning to water.
'Go and look it up, then!' snapped Mr Brock, handing Benny back his story.
As Benny turned around to return to his desk, a single tear rolled down his long black and white snout, found its way to the end of a whisker and dropped silently to the floor. Nobody saw and nobody knew.


Molly sat there with her knees up to her chin and her chubby arms clasped around her shins to make herself as small as possible. She giggled to herself at having managed to squeeze into such a magnificent hiding place.  Peter had yelled that he was coming ages ago, and he hadn’t even set foot in this particular room yet, let alone twiddled the knob of the old wardrobe in which Molly was secreted, covered by an old raincoat.
In the garden, Peter and David, cousins and rivals, batted a shuttlecock back and forth with gusto, laughing at their latest ruse to rid themselves of David’s little sister.  As usual, the game degenerated into a series of squabbles over the imaginary boundaries of the court and whether the score was nine-six or nine-seven.  Molly was forgotten.
Watching from the kitchen window, the two mums agreed that it would only be a matter of time before the boys would be hitting the shuttlecock at each other, then one or both would come in crying with accusations of racket-throwing.
‘Lemonade and crisps!’ shouted Karen, David’s mother, hoping to avert the usual tantrums.  The boys dropped their rackets with the shuttlecock still aloft and raced for the back door.
‘Where’s Molly?’ asked Karen, puzzled.
Molly gasped, having held her breath for thirty or so seconds having heard footsteps in the corridor outside the bedroom. She imagined the greedy hands of seekers, prying in every recess, being directed towards her by some magnetic force; in fact it was just Gran padding slowly to the toilet.


I was watching The Godfather the other night when it came to me! Marlon Brando doesn’t go around strangling people himself. And he hasn’t shot anybody since he was Robert De Niro in Part 2. He has henchmen to do the dirty stuff for him; usually fat guys who leave the room when the important stuff’s going on.
When I told Hal he was going to be my henchman, or else I’d cut off his head and put it in mum’s bed, he cried, but now he’s part of the family business. He’s too small to kick anyone’s butt yet, but he’s handy as a lookout and a messenger and – bonus - he can climb through tiny windows.
At long last, Bob and Hal seem to be getting on a bit better.  There was a time when Bob used to either completely ignore Hal or turn on him in a flash, but now he even takes him out to play cricket with his mates.  I wish they wouldn’t stay out so late, though – they’ve both got homework. It can’t be easy for Hal; he was so young when his dad left, but it seems like Bob’s assuming a father figure role at last.  Looks like even a leopard can change its spots, eh?
That’s it – if Hal’s not at school tomorrow, I’m going to have to involve Social Services.  He’s a nice lad and I don’t want him to turn into a thuggish wastrel like that brother of his – what was his name, Rob or Bob or something?  I haven’t seen any homework all term, and Hal’s been absent all week – no phone call, no note. That poor Mrs Mackenzie doesn’t have a clue – two jobs, no husband, spaced out on Prozac. I bet that older brother runs rings around her.  Something’s going on, and it looks like it’s my job to stop it.


It was the seventh year in the war between the placentals and the marsupials, and the armies of the pouch were close to total defeat. The surrender of the wallaby commander to the prehensile tails left only the wombat armies of the South to oppose the antelope advance to the sea. All seemed lost until there came forth an opossum who would change history.

'OMG,' spluttered Ruth. 'What is this shite?'

'It’s your history book, pet,' said Mum. 'LOL.'

Ruth tapped her hind feet furiously.

'WTF? I think I’ll do my Physics first,' she said, popping the history book into her pouch and withdrawing its replacement.
'Mu-um,' said Ruth.

'What now?'

'Tell Joey to turn the TV down! FYI, I can’t concentrate.'


'Does that pterodactyl belong to you, sir?' the young police office enquired.
Hugh shook his head. Did he look like the type of person who'd take a prehistoric flying reptile to Sainsbury's on Saturday?
'I'm going to have to give you a fixed penalty, sir,' the officer continued, pulling a book of tickets from his pocket with a flourish.
'But I said it wasn't mine.' Hugh protested.
'It's wearing a t-shirt with your face on it, sir.  How do you explain that?'
'That'll be £120 - how would you like to pay?'


In the middle of a most enjoyable evening spent in the company of a young lady of impeccable breeding, I made some excuse that allowed me to escape to my writing desk, whereupon I dashed off an epistle to an old chum from Repton regarding how lucky I'd been to meet up with such an exquisite and thoroughly charming creature. I then made the ghastly error of scribbling the young lady's address on the envelope, rather than that of my intended confidante, before passing it to my manservant to execute its delivery. When the extent of my foolishness dawned on me the following morn, I realised how lucky I had been to eschew first-class post.  The next day, a hastily-assembled parcel bomb - this time sent by first-class - arrived at the young lady's residence in advance of the letter.  It blew her face off, thereby saving mine.


‘Nigel, what are you having?’ asked Simon, turning his head briefly to consult his friend, but it was too late – the barman was now serving someone who’d bothered to prepare his order first.
Simon could wave his military-creased £20 for eternity, but you cannot catch an eye that does not want to be caught.


Once there was a miller who was poor, but who had a beautiful daughter. Now it happened that he had to go and speak to the king, and in order to make himself appear important he said to him, "I have a daughter who is a writer."
The king said to the miller, "That is an art which pleases me well; if your daughter is as clever as you say, bring her tomorrow to my palace, and I will put her to the test."
And when the girl was brought to him he took her into a room which was empty apart from a desk, a chair, some instructions for a writing activity, and an old PC with a noisy dot-matrix printer, and said, "Now set to work, and if by tomorrow morning early you have not completed the activity, you must die."
Thereupon he himself locked up the room, and left her in it alone. So there sat the poor miller's daughter, and for the life of her had no idea how to complete the activity as she never come across soya milk, and she grew more and more frightened, until at last she began to weep.
But all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, and said, "Good evening, mistress miller, why are you crying so?"
"Alas," answered the girl, "I have to complete this writing activity, and I do not know how to do it for I have never come across such a thing as soya milk."
"What will you give me," said the manikin, "if I do it for you?"
"My necklace," said the girl.
The little man took the necklace, seated himself in front of the desk, and began to type. His hands flew across the keyboard until the activity was complete and the printer was clattering away.
“You may soon need my services again,” declared the manikin and handed the miller’s daughter his business card. “Drop me an email.”
By daybreak the king was already there, and when he saw the results he was astonished and delighted at the use of imagery and the surprise ending, but his heart became greedier still. He had the miller's daughter taken back into the room and handed another activity and commanded her to complete that also in one night if she valued her life. The girl knew not how to help herself, and was crying (having realised the computer was not connected to the internet) when the door opened again, and the little man appeared, and said, "What will you give me if I complete this activity for you?"
"The ring on my finger," answered the girl.
The little man took the ring, and again began typing at a furious rate. By morning, the activity was finished.
The king rejoiced beyond measure at the piece of work, savouring the metaphors and delighting in the characterisation, but still he had not enough, and he had the miller's daughter sent back into the room, and said, "You must do this activity too, in the course of this night, and if you succeed, you shall be my wife."
Even if she be a miller's daughter, thought he, I could not find a richer wife in the whole world.
When the girl was alone the manikin came again for the third time, and said, "What will you give me if I do this activity for you this time also? I can see you have no idea what colour are wet slates!"
"I have nothing left that I could give," answered the girl, sliding her iPod out of sight.
"Then promise me, if you should become queen, to give me your first child."
Who knows whether that will ever happen, thought the miller's daughter, and, not knowing how else to help herself in this strait, she promised the manikin what he wanted, and for that he once again set the keyboard dancing.
And when the king came in the morning, and found all as he had wished, with every required phrase included in a naturalistic way, he took her in marriage, and the pretty miller's daughter became a queen. How delighted she was to marry a man three times her age, a man who a day earlier would have happily executed her on a whim.
A year later, she brought a beautiful child into the world, and she never gave a thought to the manikin. But suddenly he came into her room, and said, "Now give me what you promised."
The queen was horror-struck, and offered the manikin all the riches of the kingdom if he would leave her the child. But the manikin said, "No, something alive is dearer to me than all the treasures in the world."
Then the queen began to lament and cry, so that the manikin pitied her.
"I will give you three days," said he, "if by that time you find out my name, then shall you keep your child."
“No need,” she cried. “Your name’s Rumpelstiltskin; now be gone.”
"The devil has told you that! The devil has told you that," cried the little man, and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in, and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.
“What a temper” the young queen said to her maid. She glanced one last time at the little fellow’s business card – ‘Rumpelstiltskin: the Odd Job Manikin’ - before she tore it in two and threw it on the fire.
“I guess I won’t be requiring that again,” she sighed.