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.