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.


The petals, once glorious in scent and hue, were now blackened and shrivelled, but such was the rhythm of life in those days in the copses that punctuated the woodlands of the Southern regions of P___shire; in one such clearing by a gurgling, translucent brook, stood our cottage. I recall well how the spring tamarins gave way to a carpet of luscious sifakas while, here and there, a marmoset, resplendent in aquamarine, erupted into bloom and tilted its head towards the lemon sun of early June. Langurs with their distinctive bespeckled leaves and star-shaped flowers duelled for light with slender lorises and crimson geladas. Fragile tarsiers in orange and gold were interspersed with rapidly-growing indris while the heads of russet bonobos collapsed onto the ground under their own weight.
My idyllic boyhood was brought to an abrupt end when war came to our land and the sound of frogs and dragonflies were drowned out by that of enemy bombers passing overhead towards the industrial heartland intent on destruction. At the age of 18, I followed my father in taking the King’s shilling and swapped the green of the woodland for the blue of the Navy. Within a month, my father was dead, skewered by a bayonet in Bessarabia. Six months later, my mother too was dead, killed by a tumour that was detected too late. I sprinkled their ashes into the brook and returned to the Atlantic fleet.
When hostilities ceased, both the winners and losers retired to lick their wounds and began to set about carving a new world from the remnants of the old. Having no discernible skills, but having a strong arm, I took up a pick and spent twenty-two years hacking rubidium from underground seams in every far-flung corner of the world where that metal is desired above all others; Mesopotamia, the Yucatan peninsula, Tierra del Fuego. Caring not for life or wellbeing, I became a rich man, but at a price; my lungs are worn away to nothing by the hot, poisonous dust of the earth’s core and now I have but one desire – to smell, once again, the heady aroma of wild orang-utans in summer in the glades of my youth, before my remains too are cast into the clear water.


My mother was made of wood - there I've said it.  There's no point proclaiming her many qualities, and many there were, without stating this fact up front. When I say 'wood' you may imagine she was constructed from some exotic tropical hardwood, but not so. Neither was she made of hard-wearing pine, hewn from a renewable forest in Scandinavia. From head-to-toe, she was a creature of willow and it was willow sap that pulsed through her veins. She was lithe and supple, generous and loving and she gave me everything she had. She was still young in rings when she was taken from me, and even now in the evening of my own life, I weep bitter tears for my loss.
My father, on the other hand, was metal - and had wheels.


Geoff  Kennet was the victim’s name. He was found in the driver’s seat of his black taxi with severe bruising to the neck and torn-out pages of the London A-Z stuffed into his gaping mouth.  The meter was still running, and showed a touch under £90. 
The first policeman on the scene, Sergeant Jim Brewis, joked that the murder must have occurred in the last ten minutes as the meter hadn’t gone over £100 yet.  But to Jim’s superiors, this was no joking matter – Geoff Kennet, 56, of Balham, South London was the third cabbie to meet a similar end in the last month.

‘Bit of a rarity.’ said Brewis as he went through the dead man’s glove compartment, searching for a contact number. ‘A cabbie willing to go south of the river, even if it was just to go home.’

Martin Proud-Fox was a member of the Sioux Nation, one of a new breed of Native Americans, who’d abandoned the reservations, fought his way through police academy and found himself the first redskin in the Kansas City homicide department where he’d earned a reputation for bringing killers to justice.  Now he was on a 747 to London Heathrow on his way to a non-existent conference on forensic methods.


When I was young, I cried and cried to go on the merry-go-round. Eventually a sixpence was found to stem my tears.   The transaction complete, the man operating the ride pointed to a particularly fine horse. It being early in the day, there were no other customers, so I was to have the entire ride to myself.

I was too little to clamber onto the beautiful white horse with golden mane, so my mother placed me carefully on the saddle, kissed me and told me to hold on tightly to the reins at all costs. Her eyes were watery as she moved reluctantly away.

As the ride began, slowly at first, I found myself carried away with the music as I galloped through fields and mountains of the imagination.  My mother and father stood by the railings and waved at me on each revolution, my mother enthusiastically, my father self-consciously, but I could not wave back as I had promised to grip the reins.  On my brave stallion, I rescued princesses, vanquished evil knights and dodged the flames of dragons.  As the ride began to accelerate, I noticed I could now reach the stirrups, and that on each successive rotation, my parents appeared to be ageing, their hair going grey and their bodies crumpling under the weight of the passage of time.  Soon, my legs were longer than my horse’s and it became apparent that my mother stood alone.  Around me, children appeared briefly on other horses, some growing as tall as I now was before disappearing again. My mother briefly acquired a stick then she too was gone.

Suddenly, the ride shuddered to a halt and I was almost thrown from my miniature pony. It was cold, dark and late, and I was ushered to the exit of the park by invisible hands.


Nick rubbed his eyes - he'd been shooting Japs, impaling Saracens and driving a Pontiac Firebird around Las Vegas for four hours. He swigged the dregs from the can next to his monitor - warm, flat lager - and regretted doing so immediately.
He was just about to turn in for the night when he noticed the stern, glassy eyes of Martin Luther King staring at him from the fishbowl.
'Yeah, I know- you have a dream of being fed.'
Nick shook the container of 'Aquari-yum!', but not a solitary flake emerged. He noticed that Agamemnon and Tony were becoming agitated too.
Nick was lucky; he lived in a part of the city where nearly every shop was open 24 hours.  He scribbled a quick shopping list - 'FF' (for fish food), and added 'milk' to make the exercise worthwhile.  He pulled on his trainers, but then a wave of doubt came over him - the chances of making the journey to the nearest shop without being pestered, propositioned or threatened were minimal.  Worse still, he could find himself in the middle of an armed robbery or gang war.
The choice was stark - feed the fishes, or sleep with the fishes.
Martin Luther King would have to wait until daylight to fulfil his dream.


When the pressure of growing a moustache grows too great, you need something to fall back on.  For George, emotionally short-changed throughout his childhood, there was nothing.  To be honest, I felt more than sorry for the guy.

It is not easy to marshal unruly facial hair at the best of times, but to try to do so without an effective support network in place is folly.  George was doomed from the start, but never saw it coming until it was too late.


For years now, she had thought of doing this.

It was early afternoon.  The window was ajar, and Sarah could hear girls singing and laughing in the distance, revelling in the innocent pleasures of youth.  Beyond the garden wall, there was a school. She had been a pupil there herself; not because she was wealthy like the others, but because her mother taught music there.

She took one final, lingering look in the mirror, pushing her cheeks up with her fingers. The mirror was set in a gold frame, and she remembered the day he had bought it for her.

‘You’re so beautiful, Sarah’, he’d said, as she first looked into it.  Marriage followed, and more presents.  On the Wednesday she’d found out about his affair, he’d arrived home with flowers and a book.  Sarah had thrown the book out of the window, and the flowers at Paul; how she wished now it had been the other way around.  On Friday, it was all over.  That was five years ago, and she hadn’t seen him since.

She recalled a particular phrase her mother had once said.

‘If he seems too good to be true, he probably is.’  Paul was.  Nine years of wedded bliss, and nothing to show for it – no children, no career – and all the time he’d been using his business trips as a cover for a double life.

Mum had been around for lunch yesterday.  Her dress was the colour of wet slates according to the catalogue; just a little treat for herself.

They’d had ham and eggs for lunch again.  When Sarah brought the subject up, her mother had refused to countenance it.

‘If you even think it, I’ll disown you.’ Mum had protested, throwing both arms up. ‘And stop calling it a procedure; it’s a face-lift.  Like any surgery, it can go wrong.’

Mum was right about one thing, though – Sarah’s fear of needles.  Bravery, she knew, was often underrated, but now was the time for courage.

The doorbell rang.

‘Taxi,’ a gruff voice called from the doorstep.  Sarah grabbed her overnight bag. Looking and feeling ten years younger, she might be able to reclaim something of what had slipped through her fingers over time.


I’ve searched for years for the perfect house. Now, perhaps, I’ve found it. The problem is that, although it's clearly unoccupied, there are no obvious signs that it's for sale.
When I enquire into its ownership or history the locals make their excuses and leave, or change the subject.  All I can glean is that it once belonged to a reclusive old woman. Sure, it's in grave need of repair, but the location is perfect. It sits in a clearing in the wood and is constructed from an array of materials not typical of this, or any other, region.
Dusk is turning into dark when I visit my dream cottage to find some clues to its past; somewhere in the long-neglected shrubbery, I imagine I hear a cat miaowing mournfully, perhaps pining for its long-lost mistress.


Laura was standing by the window. She watched Adam and the boys kick a ball around for a few minutes when it became apparent that Kitty wasn’t with them.
She banged on the window, but the family’s males were oblivious to the increasingly frantic pounding of her fist.
‘Mother, what’s wrong?’ said a disjointed voice behind her. Laura span around, but still there was no sign of her precious four year-old. Something moved in the shadows and her head blazed with a brilliant fire before a blanket of black rolled over her.


It started off, as these things often do, in hospital.  One minute I was having a frozen pea removed from my nose with a pair of tweezers - how it got there is another story, and why it was no longer frozen when it emerged is something to do with thermal equilibrium - the next, I was gazing down from above on a scene that included myself. Like a helium balloon, I felt inexorably drawn towards the ceiling and could only manoeuvre myself for a better view by pushing myself off any object within reach such as the fluorescent lights.  Having seen a Channel 5 programme on out-of-body experiences no more than a fortnight before, I realised that to continue my adventure, I would have to ensure that as much space as possible was put between my earthly body and my astral projection to stop the two reconverging.  To this end, I bounced myself into the hospital corridor and made for the exit, bobbing as fast as I could. As I emerged into the hospital car-park, I was aware of sound like Velcro being detached which seemed to signal that my two selves had parted for good.  My initial aim was to go where the prevailing winds took me, and just savour the experience.


I’m in the bath soaking away the ravages of my first week as David Cameron’s Maths Tsarina when the phone rings.

‘Carol, Carol – pick up if you’re there!’ It’s Janet, my agent and publicist, squealing like an excited child.  I grab a fluffy towel.

‘Janet, hi – what is it?’

‘Guess what!’



‘Simon Cowell wants me to replace Louis on The X-Factor?’

‘But you know nothing about music?’

‘Didn’t stop me going on Buzzcocks, did it?

‘Nothing stops you going on TV.  How do you fancy being Rear of the Year?’

‘What do you mean “fancy”?’

‘Well, it’s yours if you agree to do the publicity?  Pippa Middleton’s connections turned it down.’

‘Second choice?’

‘Mary Nightingale said “no” too.’

‘OK - that’ll do. I’ll do it. Not bad for a woman of 50, eh?’

‘Your bum’s only five, though.  I’ll let them know right away.’

‘Who are “them”?

‘Wizard Jeans.’

‘Never heard of them.’

‘That’s why they’re sponsoring Rear of the Year. Bye.’

I look at myself in the full-length mirror – a few improvements here and there, a bit of Botox here, a bit of Polyfilla there (courtesy of my stint on Better Homes). Boob job? I couldn’t possibly say. 

I strut around my beautiful home sticking my backside out as far as I can, imagining my photo in the tabloids accompanied by ‘I’ll have one from the bottom, Carol!’

Every room is full of the products I’ve endorsed over the years from dishwashers to dog food, toasters to tampons.  Even the garden shed is full of Ariel. My MBE is displayed over the fireplace along with a photograph of me with Paul and Ian on Have I got news for you. The walls are covered in letters of gratitude from my charities; one thanks me for swapping vowels and consonants for bowels and incontinence – always makes my chuckle.  I’ve come a long way for a Yorkshire lass who’s good at sums.

As I place my award-winning arse in the swivel chair next to the computer to finish my latest book, I can’t resist checking the Rear of the Year website to see which other luminaries have been top of the bottoms: Nell McAndrew, Charlotte Church, Rachel Stevens, but what’s this?

I phone Janet back.

‘Janet, who’s the male Rear?’ I ask, hoping it’s Daniel  Craig or Jude Law, knowing we’ll be doing a photo session together.

‘Erm, Anton du Beke,’ Janet replies apologetically.

‘He’s spent the year dancing with Anne Widdecombe – anybody’s bum would look good next to that.’ 

I’m no fan of Anton after he beat me to the Hole in the Wall gig a few years back, but at least I’ll get the headlines.

‘Have you reminded Saga Holidays that I’m over fifty now?’ I say.

‘No. I’ll get onto it pronto. Bye.’

I return to my book: ‘Carol Vorderman’s Sudoku Detox’.  Sod it – what do they expect for £12.99? Triumphantly I type ‘THE END’.


Every night it was the same dream; a thud, a scream, the sickening sound of bone and metal being crushed by nine tons of bus; Steve jumped on the brakes, but bicycle and rider together were swept underneath the bus like a cardboard box. The victim’s face was revealed for the millionth time; his daughter, Emily, her chocolate eyes vacant, parallel lines of blood across her forehead.  All of a sudden, ex-wife Karen appeared from nowhere, dressed for a funeral, and began raining blows on Steve.

‘What have you done to my beautiful girl?’ she shrieked, her eyes red with furious tears.

‘I don’t know; I must have dozed off,’ he mumbled in reply. ‘I haven’t been able to sleep since you left.’

‘I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!’ she sobbed.

Steve awoke abruptly to the sound of ambulance sirens, and the realms of sleep and reality began to disentwine themselves. He recalled that Emily was away on her gap year following the Inca Trail, whatever that was – he’d received a postcard of a llama wearing a hat at only two days ago.  Karen was in Maidenhead, living with Tony, pregnant at forty-three. In the far corner of the dark room, a mouse rustled in the bin.  Steve glanced towards the radio alarm – 3:22am; his bladder felt heavy after yet another night on the lash, so he weighed up the pros and cons of traversing the cold passage to the toilet, and decided to stay put under the warmth of the duvet

He flicked on the radio to block out his nightmare, but all the preset buttons were set to the same channel – some easy-listening rubbish, so he gave up and returned to his silent thoughts.   

Steve was forty-five but looked older; the battle between baldness and greyness raging on his head was too close to call, and the curvature of his midriff was a testament to the countless times he’d heard the bell for last orders and rushed up to grab one for the road. His drinking had cost him everything: firstly, his job on the buses – too many missed shifts – then, in quick succession, his marriage, his home and the respect of the daughter he loved more than anything.  Now he lived in a bed-sit and drove an unlicensed minicab to make ends meet, when he was sober enough. As on many previous nights, the tears began to flow; for the wife and child he’d driven away and for himself and the choices he’d made and would have to live with for the rest of his pathetic life.

Steve turned on the lamp and reached out across his bedside table for a measure of the liquid solace that always remained within arm’s length through these troubled nights.

As he put the bottle to his lips, out of the corner of a teary eye he spotted Emily’s postcard – sent more out of duty than daughterly love. On closer inspection, it might be an alpaca.


When Tom was a pupil there nearly twenty-five ago, they’d called her - not to her face of course -  Red Rum, after the three-time Grand National winner.  It was mainly  because of the way she laughed; an equine snort with acres of upper gum exposed. If anything, her bottom was more like that of a Shire horse than a racehorse, but who knew the name of a famous carthorse?  Anyway, her hair was red, defiantly so, not auburn or strawberry blonde, and always tied up – horses again - in a pony tail, although Tom’s class thought it unlikely Miss Howden had ever touched a drop of rum, or any other alcoholic beverage. 


The big questions remain unanswered. Can space be infinite and time eternal? Can space be finite and time have just, somehow, started?  Both alternatives are clearly absurd, but if we cannot answer these questions, what is the point of cutting out money-off coupons from newspapers, sending our daughters to ballet classes or answering lifestyle surveys online?
Ten minutes ago, I picked up the telephone to complain to the council about uneven paving stones outside my mother's house, but after two rings, I began to shiver and flopped down on the sofa to contemplate the ultimate fate of the universe, leaving the receiver dangling.
No doubt my call would have been placed in a queue, before being forwarded around various departments until I eventually gave up.  Today, there is no time for such nonsense; the future of mankind is at stake.


She'd been eaten by lions in a previous life in some provincial Roman amphitheatre and while it wasn't exactly pleasant, she'd been through worse in her many reincarnations. In her current existence, she was married to a taxi driver who fitted all the stereotypes: loud. opinionated, bigoted and oblivious to other traffic. Were it not for Alf's extraordinary talent as a karaoke singer, Emma would have been happy to go another few rounds with Panthera Leo rather than listen to Alf shouting at Jeremy Paxman every night.


I thought I was going mad. How could I mislay such an important thing? I had it last month and it was in its usual location during March, April and May too. How can I possibly fill in my diary without utilising its ubiquity in our dictionary? Any consonant I could do without, but without this tiny chap, this most common of all, I was struggling, truly I was. My ring digit is drawn towards a gaping chasm to W’s starboard and R’s port (using nautical words as my only option). I am told, by our IT wizards, that Alt-101 (with Num Lock on) is a solution; it sounds hard work, though.


Roughly the size of an adolescent badger, it smells of newly-mown opals and has the texture of a peach-stone. It is cold to the touch, like a stethoscope on a bared chest on an icy St Petersburg morning. Stroke it and the tendrils contract rhythmically, shake it and you can hear the distant ocean roar deep inside. It’s old now, minted in the 'Winter of Discontent' of 1979, and beginning to lose its lustre, particularly around the cavernous mouth. The manufacturer’s emblem on the side is beginning to fade due to constant exposure to sunlight, and one of the handles remains attached by the barest of threads. A thick layer of dust lies along the top edge where no duster can reach. Many times I have considered replacing it with a new infra-red model, half the weight and twice as powerful, but when I see it coiled there in its striped pyjamas, I know its final days will be spent in my company.


After two years sandpapering weasels in his father’s factory and a further two removing elbows for Alanov, Jim was ready for a new challenge. As the months went by, it became clear that no wizard or dwarf was going to knock on his door asking for assistance in recovering treasure from a dragon, so it was time to dust off the long-forgotten ‘p’-word and be proactive. A Submaster of Achievement certificate yellowed in his drawer, testament to Jim’s lengthy and costly education, but where had all the study of planetary geochemistry and Renaissance poetry got him? Kids straight out of school were shaving stoats, and from there it was only a short step to weasel finishing.
Jim was just about to turn in for the night - after another evening firing lasers at endangered species on his PC - when the ‘message received’ notification flashed up on his monitor. Mechanically, Jim double-clicked on the minimised application, and there it was …


Suitable homes don't often become available – not for the likes of me, anyway - so when one does, you gotta snap it up. This bridge was only a couple of weeks old when I moved in; you could still smell the new paint. Boy, was it great after twenty years in a cave. Not that I’ve got anything against caves, mind – I just thought it was time for a change.
I'm a reasonable guy - I wasn't gonna advertise my presence by jumping out, yelling and making faces whenever a potential lunch came near - give me the quiet life every time. Now and again I'd take a piglet unawares as he stroked his chin on the riverbank, or snaffle up a cat as he pulled on a pair of wellingtons to go fishing. Once, a small bear, foraging for porridge, almost walked right into me - happy times. Humans I can take or leave - a tasty snack, yes - but if the alarm gets out, it's time to move on, and who'd walk away from a place like this?
I’m a guy of simple tastes – I’ve got a few pots and pans, a black-and-white television which I rarely watch except for ‘Bilko’ and ‘The Sky at Night’. My only real luxury is my music – I’m a sucker for Gilbert and Sullivan, especially ‘The Gondoliers’.
Anyway, things were great until those bloody goats moved in - trip-trapping and clip-clopping every hour of the day and night.
'The grass is greener on that side - TRIP-TRAP - no, this side - CLIP-CLOP - no, that side.' SHUT UP!
I'd take one just for fun - even though I'm allergic - but they always travel mob-handed with their stupid little beards and their incessant bleating. The worst thing is they show no respect; they look down their furry snouts at me like I’m some relic from a bygone age. Some days I just stay in bed with my headphones on to avoid the aggravation. It’s days like those you need ‘The Mikado’ and ‘The Pirates of Penzance’.
The middle-size goat is the worst. Although his horns are really quite pathetic, he really rates himself a cut above other ungulates – there’s the cigarette constantly dangling from his mouth, the reverse baseball cap and the sunglasses for starters, and now, get this, a moped.
'The grass is greener on that side - VROOM-VROOM - no, this side - VROOM-VROOM - no, that side.' Can you imagine it?
What the hell is a troll to do in the circumstances? Will the reputation of my ancient race be tarnished by these grass-chomping upstarts? No, it will not!
Tonight, I promise you, fur will fly!


'Pick up some crested newts on the way home!' she yelled as he finally departed the house, late as usual.'A big packet!'
'What if they don't have any?'
'They will.'
'But, what if they don't?'
'Something amphibious.'
'OK - bye!'
He pulled the door behind him.  It was raining half-heartedly as it had been for hours. Here and there, the late morning sun made ineffectual attempts to stab through the cloud cover before giving it up as a bad job.
At least there were seats on the bus, so he settled down with a copy of 'The Snippet' as the number 47 rattled its way through  damp, grey suburban streets edging its way towards the financial sector.
The easy su doku despatched and the difficult one exuding an aura of invincibility, he took a look around at his fellow passengers. There were two shopping robots, evidently on outward journeys as their receptacles were empty, a sharp-chinned woman with a boy dressed in a stegosaurus costume perched on her lap, and a handful of ghosts displaying various degrees of transparency.
He hopped off at Canal Street where most of the vortex management companies were based, entered one of the anonymous glass buildings and with a swipe of his card and a swish of a barrier disappeared into the innards of the corporate apparatus.
On his left hand, in blue ink, he'd scrawled the word 'newts'.
Yes, the aliens were now in control, but were things really so different?


Blue flashing lights, police everywhere, hammering at my door with cold blue eyes and clean blue uniforms, now turning my flat upside down, planting blue films on me, taking me down the station, kicking me black and blue, that's what our boys in blue like to do. 
I scream blue murder till tears roll down my bruised face.  I never cry - well, once in a blue moon.

The sergeant with blue five o'clock shadow sits down.
'I'm innocent', I say, till I'm blue in the face.

He shakes his head.

'You had the chance to co-operate, but you blew it!'


The damage was done. I pulled my coat tighter around me, and skipped away half-humming, half-whistling and pretending I'd played no part in the events just unfolded.  I stopped briefly as if to examine a tree stump, and that was my mistake.  Twenty minutes later I was helping police with their enquiries, faced with the choice of three years in the slammer or the impossible task of spinning a huge room of straw into gold for an ungrateful king.


One Tuesday you are taking an evening stroll along familiar streets in your own neighbourhood when you feel a pair of eyes burning into your skin. You spin around but there is nobody there; the street is quite empty.  Still you are not content, so you quicken your step until you are almost running. You hear a sound, but is it the echo of your own footfalls or the determined stride of a would-be assailant in hot pursuit?  A small boy with glasses is sitting on a step crying, but you do not have time to stop and comfort him. In the distance you hear the jangle of an ice-cream van but cannot distinguish the tune.  All of a sudden from out of nowhere, your own front door looms up in front of you.  The key is in your hand now but has become entangled in the lining of your coat pocket; you rip it free and joust with the lock, finally gaining entry as the darkness of night slams down behind you.  Leaning back against the door, you reach out for the light-switch but another hand beats you to it. You see a pair of dark eyes, a neatly-trimmed moustache and a flicker of lukewarm light on cold steel.  Now you are grabbing your chest with both hands and collapsing noiselessly onto the floor. The last sound you hear as you slide into nothingness is a tinny rendition of Greensleeves.