If You Want This Choice Position

To celebrate the news that the film “Mary Poppins Returns” will be released later this year I am re-posting this story I wrote in October 2013, when mention was first made of a sequel…

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Mary Poppins reached into her carpet-bag.

Mary PoppinsShe took out a box of tea-bags, a sugar-bowl, a pint of milk, a packet of McVities Digestive Biscuits and a mug that said “Old Nannies Never Die, Their Knitting Just Unravels”. She made herself a cup of tea, then reached back into the bag, pulled out a rocking-chair, and sat into it.

Her mobile rang. She looked at the number, smiled to herself, then rejected it.

They wanted her to go back into the field again.

For years she had been the star employee of the Miss Chivers Till-The Wind-Changes Nanny Agency. Rescuing the Banks family from themselves had been only one of her achievements. It was she who had invented the naughty step, the restorative lollipop as a cure for grazed knees and the imaginary friend for shy children.

She had invented “quiet time”, a boon for parents all over the world.

But the world had changed, gradually, and younger nannies had come to work for the agency. They had laughed at her, at her hat, at her apron, and at her flying umbrella, which they referred to as “Virgin Airways”.

Which had been not just cruel, thought Mary, but totally inaccurate. Bert had been her lover for many years now. He was always cheerful, utterly devoted to her, and had an astonishingly long brush, which was useful for hard-to-get-at cobwebs.

He did still sound as if he was trying to chew toffee in Australian, but you can’t have everything.

Such as job security, for instance. Over time more and more of the work that came in had been allocated to the younger women, and one day Miss Chivers had called Mary into her office and had broken the news to her.

No-one wanted a nanny anymore. They wanted an au-pair.

The new star employee was Maria Poppinska, a blonde Eastern European with long legs and a longer list of things that were bad for children. Top of this list was the spoonful of sugar, which caused dental cavities and hyperactivity. She was a great believer in muesli, carrot smoothies and a vegetable she called broccoli, which Mary was sure she had invented herself.

Whilst Mary had believed in children being allowed to laugh themselves to ceiling-level, Maria believed in them being grounded, especially if they had done something wrong.

And Maria laughed scornfully at the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, on the basis that her own middle name was longer than it.

But now her job was vacant.

Mary had been, in her own words, kind but very firm. Maria, on the other hand, was a strict disciplinarian. It turned out, though, that this was only with the man of the house, and it had been the discovery of that by the woman of the house that had got her fired.

Now Mary sat in her rocking-chair on the balcony of her Cote D’Azur home, looking out at the sea.

She and Bert had lived here for many years. Having been made so suddenly redundant after spending her life grind, grind, grinding at that grindstone, and therefore facing an old-age of poverty, Mary had decided to take action. One night Bert had reverse-torpedoed himself down a chimney into the Dawes Tomes Mousely Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and had opened the door from the inside. With the Little Old Bird Woman keeping watch from the steps of St Paul’s across the road, Mary had stepped in and had emptied the entire contents of the safe into her cavernous carpet-bag.

They had escaped to France in a fishing boat belonging to a man with one leg named Smith (he had lost his other leg to a shark, so its name was irrelevant), and had made their way here.

Mary’s phone rang again, and again she rejected the call.

They wanted her to go out into the field again.

They could go fly a kite.

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Written In Stone

“…. and finally, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods,” read the Burning Bush. “Got them?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Moses.

“I suppose you’ll want me to explain what ‘covet’ means,” said the Burning Bush. “It means-”

“It means ‘yearn to possess’,” said Moses.

“Oh,” said the Burning Bush, a bit crestfallen. “You’d be surprised how few people know that.”

“You reckon?” said Moses. “Over the past few weeks I’ve had the sea open in front of me, had manna drop from the sky whenever I’m hungry, and I’m now talking to a flaming shrub. You’d be surprised how hard I am to surprise.”

“I see your point,” said the Burning Bush. “Well, anyway, what do you think?”

Moses looked at the list for a long time. “It’s a bit all over the place, isn’t it?” he said at last. “I mean, why is thou shalt not kill number five? I’d have thought it would be higher than ‘go to church on Sunday’ and ‘don’t forget Mother’sDay’, but it’s stuck down near the unimportant stuff like don’t fart in public. Which, not that I look at it,” he went on, “doesn’t seem to be on the list.”

The Burning Bush looked at the stone again. “You’re right,” it said. “We may have to do an addendum later.”

“Also, my neighbour seems to be coming out of this better than I am,” said Moses. “Which is ironic since we live in the desert at the moment, but in any case the nearest thing I do have to a neighbour is Aaron in the next tent, who’s about a hundred-and-seven, and whose wife looks like a donkey, and whose donkey looks like a clothes rack. I can’t see myself over-coveting there.”

“Yes,” said the Burning Bush, “but you have to remember that you are Aaron’s neighbour.”

Moses thought about this, and about the lovely Mrs Moses, and about the way Aaron sometimes looked at her. His eyes narrowed.

“The dirty git,” he muttered. The Burning Bush was so startled by the vehemence in his voice that its flame momentarily popped out, then back on again. The effect was rather like a sneezing firework.

“Anyway,” said the Burning Bush, “I want you to take them back to your people -”

“It’s you, isn’t it?” said Moses.

“Er, who?,” said the Burning Bush.

“God,” said Moses. “You’re just God in disguise. I mean, Zeus does it all the time, appearing as swans and stuff -”

The Burning Bush glowed white-hot, as if in fury. A single finger of flame snaked out and pointed at the First Commandment.

“Er, not of course that Zeus exists,” said Moses hastily. “I just thought that you were so amazing that you had to be him.”

“Well, he does like his messengers to make an impression,” said the Burning Bush. “He feels it helps re-inforce the message. After I’m done here, I’ve to go off and start practicing to be a Star in the East.”

“Really?” said Moses. “Well, I suppose I’d better get back to the others. Let me run through these one last time. ‘First, I am the Lord thy -‘”

“Oh, you don’t have to memorise them,” said the Burning Bush. “Take the tablet with you.”

“Tablet?” said Moses.

“A flat thing with information on it,” said the Burning Bush. “We’re expecting them to be very big one day.”

Moses put his two hands under the stone and lifted it. The top caught him under the chin, ramming his jaws against each other.

“Very big?” he snorted. “It’s smaller you should be making them.”

“We’ll keep that in mind,” said the Burning Bush.

Moses started down the hill, but had only gone a couple of yards before he caught his sandal in the hem of his robe. He stumbled, and the stone dropped onto his toe, then lay face upwards on the ground. Moses yelped and hopped in a circle, holding his foot.

“Ah-” he began, loudly, then quickly scanned the stone. “-bollocks!” he continued, almost triumphantly.

The Burning Bush sighed. “The list really does need work,” it said.

 

Heartfelt

The ball rolled slowly over the goal-line, and a two-point deficit became a one-point lead.

Eighty thousand voices rose, some in despair, some in joy. Seconds later the referee blew the full-time whistle. Pigs had not flown, Hell had probably not frozen over, but the county of Wicklow, for the first time ever, had won the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship.

Sean’s heart leapt in delight, though he wasn’t sure it was meant to do that. He felt a bit bitter, though, as he watched the TV. He should have Been There, he’d had his ticket for weeks, but then this had come up and so it was his neighbour (who had whooped and embarrassingly kissed him on the forehead when he gave him the ticket) who was witnessing history.

Sean went to roll up the left sleeve of his pyjamas, his hand slipped off and he punched himself in the chest, right where his new pacemaker was. The astonishingly sharp pain assured him that he wasn’t meant to do that.

It had all started a few weeks ago, when he’d suddenly begun to black out for no apparent reason and in every possible embarrassing situation. He had slid off a bar-stool in his local. He had keeled over in Tesco, his runaway trolley noisily toppling a a Ferraro Rocher-like arrangement of bean tins. His head had bounced via the chest into the lap of a girl beside him on the bus.

Tests had revealed that his heart-rate kept dropping to zero. He had been placed in a hospital bed, a pacemaker had been placed in him, and Wicklow had marched to glory without him. He was only 39, he hadn’t Been There, and he was feeling very sorry for himself.

He hadn’t noticed that it was visiting time, and started (he wasn’t sure that he was meant to do that) when his wife and daughter appeared at the door of the ward.

His wife smiled, though with tears of relief in her eyes. “Hello, Tinman,” she said.

His daughter handed him a card made from a folded sheet of A4 paper. “Get Well Soon, Daddy”, it read. One of the two inner Ds was the wrong way round.

“Is your heart better now, Daddy?” she asked.

On TV the Wicklow captain had accepted the cup and was now thanking the manager, the fans, the squad and quite possibly the Unitarian Church Organ Restoration Committee. Sean didn’t care. As he looked into his daughter’s troubled little face his heart melted, and this time he knew it was meant to do that.

“Yes, darling,” he said softly. “It’s better than ever.”

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It’s ten years ago today that I got my pacemaker, a small change to my body that has meant a huge change to my life, and this story is its birthday present.

The story itself is mostly fiction – my name is not Sean, I was 50 and not 39, Tingirl and her two brothers were much older than the girl in this tale.

Also, the All-Ireland Football Final takes place in September, not in January, and my home county of Wicklow are no closer to winning it than ever.

It’s A Surprise

“It’s called what?”

“Secret Santa,” said Adam.

“Why is it called that?” asked Eve.

“Well,” said Adam. “because it’s a secret.”

“And Santa?”

“I’m not sure, really” admitted Adam, “though whenever I hear the word I get an image in my head of a man with a beard, giving you stuff.”

“God, you mean,” said Eve.

“Not quite,” said Adam doubtfully. “Anyway, do you want to do it?”

“Guess so,” said Eve. “How does it work?”

“Well, you draw a name out of a hat -”

“What’s a hat?” asked Eve.

“It’s something you wear on cold days,” said Adam.

“What are cold days?” asked Eve.

Adam sighed. The perfection of the Garden of Eden very occasionally had its drawbacks.

“Forget that part,” said Adam, holding out one closed fist. “You can draw the name out of my hand.”

He opened the fist and Eve looked into his palm. “There’s only one piece of paper,” she said.

“Well, of course,” said Adam. “You can’t get yourself.”

Eve picked up the paper and opened it. “It’s you,” she said.

“You’re not supposed to tell,” said Adam. Eve glared at him. “This is a stupid idea,” she said.

“It’s tradition,” said Adam.

“Tradition?” snorted Eve. “This is year nought.”

“Well, traditions have to start somewhere,” said Adam. He picked up another piece of paper, and studied the name written there.

“Why, honey, whoever did you get?” asked Eve sweetly. Adam ignored her. “Meet you back here in an hour,” he said.

They met an hour later. “You go first,” said Eve, excitedly.

Adam handed her a fig-leaf.

“Seriously?” she said. “in a garden that has absolutely everything, including roses, diamonds, adorable kittens, and everything that you would need to build an iPhone 8, and I don’t even know what that last thing is, I just know that I want one, you decided to get me a leaf?” She sat it on the top of her head. “Perhaps I could wear it as a hat,” she said scornfully.

“I’m sorry,” said Adam. “For some reason I thought you’d really want it.”

Eve raised her eyes to heaven. “Look what I got you,” she said, handing him an apple. “It’s the only one of its kind.”

“Oh, wow.” said Adam, impressed. “You shouldn’t have.”

“You’re not wrong there,” muttered God, looking down unnoticed from above.

Adam and Eve sat in silence for a few moments. Then Eve spoke. “It’s strange,” she said, “but I suddenly feel that this fig-leaf is the best present anyone’s ever been given, ever.”

“Me too,” said Adam, surprised. “In fact, will you get me one for Christmas?”

 

Only Fifteen… In Scrabble

Today is my birthday!!!!

Typing all of those “!’s” was quite taxing (typing ‘”!’s”‘ wasn’t easy either, let me tell you) because my fingers are not quite as nimble as they used to be. Sadly, neither is much of the rest of me.

This is because today I am sixty.

It’s a tiny bit depressing, and putting it here doesn’t help much, because none of you have any idea what I look like, so can’t say “gosh, you certainly don’t look it”, like all of the thirty-somethings that I work with keep saying (it may be, of course, that they think I look eighty).

But the important part of the first sentence in the last paragraph (actually the only sentence, I’ve just realised, see, I’m rambling already) is the “tiny bit” bit. Now that it’s arrived I’m quite phlegmatic about it, and am looking forward to today, when the afore-mentioned thirty-somethings are taking me out for lunch, and may even offer to cut up my food for me.

Since it’s a Wednesday none of the Tinkids are in Greystones, but Mrs Tin and I will head out somewhere nice (the pub, who am I kidding) and all in all I’m expecting to have a lovely day.

Happy Birthday to me.

 

Party Piece

Office party, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum,
The first two hours you all stand there looking glum
The conversation is a big tedium
Until you start to feel the coke and the rum
Go to your tum
Making you numb
You’ve lost all dignity and all decorum
Trouble will come.

Two hours later, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum
You’re lacking all of your equilibrium
Your head is spinning like a dwarf being swung
You tell the HR Head that she’s your best chum
Really best chum
Bestesht besht chum
Then, you slip and fall straight onto your bum
Really dumb.

Sunday morning, pa-ruh-pa-pum-pum
Inside your head an elf is banging a drum
There’s waves of nausea coming ad nauseam
You fearfully look at social medium –
Odium,
Opprobrium.
You swear that next year you’ll drink a minimum –
This is hokum.

 

The Tooth Is Out There

The return of Docc the Neandertal Doctor, and his patient patient Ugg…

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Docc’s practice had improved since we last met him.

He was now an expert in aromatherapy, clearing his patients’ sinus problems by getting them to sniff small bowls of sloth-poo. He used faith-healing, with his catch-phrase “trust me, I’m the Docc”. He used reflexology, rapping people sharply on the knee with his club, though he did use this only on people who hadn’t paid him for the aromatherapy.

He even dealt with womens’ complaints, learning as he did so that most of their complaints were about the lack of help with the cavework that they got from their menfolk.

And he had moved into dentistry, which is why we find Ugg once again walking hesitantly into Docc’s cave.

“Ah, Ugg,” said Docc. “What seems to be the trouble?”

Ugg pointed to his mouth.

“Your ugliness?” said Docc. “Can’t do anything about that, I’m afraid. I don’t do cosmetic surgery.”

Ugg shook his head, which elicited a sharp stab of agony that caused him to yelp in pain and slap his hand to his cheek, which caused him to yelp again.

“Toothache?” asked Docc.

Ugg went to nod, thought better of it, then simply raised one thumb.

“No problem,” said Docc. “Sit up onto this slab and open your mouth.”

Ugg did as he was asked, and Docc held a torch up to his mouth while he looked inside. Ugg began to sweat, which is what usually happens when someone holds a flaming torch a few inches from your face.

“I see the one,” said Docc. “I’m afraid it’s going to have to come out.” He handed Ugg a small stone goblet. “Here, take a mouthful of this.”

Ugg looked into the goblet, which contained a luridly pink liquid. He poured some into his mouth, and discovered that it had a tangy, metallic taste.

“It’s just water from the stream behind the cave,” said Docc. “I’m not sure why it’s that colour, I think some dying animal might be bleeding into the water somewhere further upstream.”

Ugg spat the liquid violently across the cave.

“Very good,” said Docc. “I was just going to ask you to do that.”

He started to work in Ugg’s mouth. Ugg could feel poking and tugging, had Docc’s fingers in his mouth and had his jaws open so wide that they were beginning to ache. Clearly, he was in no position to speak.

“So,” asked Docc, “how’s the wife?”

“Hiii,” said Ugg.

“Fine, eh?” said Docc. “And what about work?”

“Hay ho hay ho,” said Ugg.

“Same old same old?” said Docc. “I know how you feel. Going anywhere on holiday this year?”

Ugg came out with a long unintelligible sound that Docc guessed was a probably a village in Wales. “Very nice,” he said. It was only many hours later that he realised that Ugg had said “oh, for feck’s sake”.

“Now,” said Docc. “This isn’t going to hurt a bit.” He stepped away from the slab and thrust his right hand towards the cave mouth. Ugg roared in pain.

“See?” said Docc. “It actually hurt a lot.”

Ugg opened his mouth to shout at him in anger, then stopped in surprise. He realised that the pain in his mouth had gone, as had one of his back teeth. “That’s amazing, Docc,” he said. “What did you do?”

Docc went outside the cave and returned a few moments later holding Ugg’s tooth, which was attached by a piece of string to a small round object. “The idea,” said Docc, “is that you attach the tooth to a door and then slam it, but since I’ve no idea what a door is I’ve come up with this.” He showed Ugg the device. “I’ve made it circular so it will roll. I throw it out of the cave and it runs down the hill, taking the tooth with it. I called it a ‘wheeeel’, because of the noise it makes when it’s rolling.”

Ugg was almost hopping up and down in excitement. “This is an incredible invention, Docc,” he said. “We could put it on the sled that we drag carcasses back from hunting with.”

Docc stared at him. “Nah,” he said. “Sleds don’t get toothache.”