Long Train Running

It’s now possible to travel by train all the way from Yiwu in eastern China to Barking in East London.

The train will take about two weeks to cover the 12,000 mile journey, carrying a cargo of clothes, bags and other household items. It will pass through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before arriving at Barking Rail Freight Terminal.

(BBC’s 10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week)

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The final few miles were travelled at almost walking pace, as always seems to be the way with train journeys. The train clanked past sheds and warehouses, past sidings with single carriages on them, past the back gardens of small suburban houses. At last a platform appeared alongside, and the train slowed even more before finally, with a jolt and a huge burp of steam, the Orient Express came to a halt at Barking Railway Station.

The door to the dining carriage opened and a small man stepped out and hurried from the station. He stopped and looked around in confusion, then spotted a blue lantern with the word “Police” on it outside a small building across the road.

Sergeant Wright was on duty behind the desk when the man came in. He hastily moved the Daily Mirror to one side and looked at the newcomer, taking in the obviously dyed black hair, the astonishingly polished patent leather shoes, and the extraordinary moustache, carefully combed into a point at each end. The tune from the Go Compare ad popped unbidden into Wright’s mind and would, he knew, be there for some time. He sighed.

“Can I help you, sir?” he said. “Lost, are we?”

The man drew himself haughtily up to his full height, which didn’t take very long. “I do not get lost,” he said. “I am Hercule Poirot.”

Wright raised one eyebrow.

“The great detective,” hinted Poirot.

“Never heard of you,” said Wright. “You’d be surprised how little time we spend here following the career of French detectives.”

“Belgian!” snapped Poirot. “I am Belgian!”

“Ok,” said Wright. “Same sentence as before, with the word ‘French’ changed to ‘Belgian’.”

“But how can zis be?” exclaimed Poirot. “I thought that I was famous throughout Scotland Yard. Which, by the way,” he continued, looking around, “is a lot smaller than I was expecting.”

“Ah,” said Wright. “This may be the cause of the confusion. This isn’t central London. This is Barking.”

“What!?” said Poirot, because sometimes the word ‘pardon?’ just isn’t strong enough.

“We are in Barking,” repeated Wright.

“Where’s Barking?” said Poirot.

“Well, it’s here,” said Wright, accurately though not very helpfully.

“Then where’s London?” asked Poirot.

“About nine miles away,” said Wright.

“What’s the point of that?” said Poirot. “Why have a 12,000 mile journey that ends up nowhere near its destination?”

“Search me,” said Wright. “Perhaps the company’s been taken over by Ryanair.”

Poirot massaged the front of his forehead, just where he reckoned that his little grey cells would be. “Very well, you will have to do,” he said. “It’s murder. On the Orient Express.”

“I’d say it is,” said Wright. “Two weeks of cellophaned sandwiches and drinking coffee that tastes like burnt vole from cardboard cups.”

“No,” said Poirot. “Well, actually, yes, but that’s not what I meant. I mean someone was killed on the train. We found him stabbed in his room.”

“That’s terrible,” said Wright, getting to his feet. “I’ll just get my notebook, and then I’ll start taking statements.”

“Zere is no need,” said Poirot. “I have solved the case.”

“Really?” said Wright. “Who did it?”

“Everyone,” said Poirot.

Wright smiled. “You’re wasted as a Belgian detective,” he said. “You should have joined the KGB, they had a very similar approach to apportioning guilt as you do.”

“It’s true,” said Poirot. “The man that they killed was an evil man, and the twelve of them acted as both jury and executioner.”

“Then we’d better hurry,” said Wright. “They’re probably getting away.”

“They aren’t,” said Poirot. “I have them under arrest.”

“How?” asked Wright.

“There was a cargo of clothes on the train,” said Poirot. “It included 11 policewoman fancy-dress outfits, and I used the handcuffs from them.”

“I thought there are 12 suspects,” said Wright.

“There are,” said Poirot, “but once Colonel Arbuthnot saw Princess Natalia in the policewoman outfit he opted to stay voluntarily. So now we can take them into custody and lock them in your cells.”

“Cell,” corrected Wright, “and even then I’ll have to move my bike.”

The two of them looked at one other. “The thing is,” said Wright, “this is a small market gardening town, the nearest thing we get to crime is when someone belittles someone else’s marrow. I spend my days here stamping passport applications and handing out leaflets about hosepipe bans. Plus it’s my lunch-break in twenty minutes. I’m not sure I want to arrest twelve people about a murder that didn’t even take place here, in fact we’re probably not sure which country you were actually in when it happened.”

Poirot sighed. “You’re probably right. I’ve been stuck on a train for twelve days now, wearing these ridiculously painful shoes, and I’m just so tired. Plus I have to be in London this evening, I have tickets for The Mousetrap. And they did, after all, kill an evil man.”

“So we’ll let them go?” said Wright.

“Very well, ” said Poirot, “though I do feel they should face some punishment.”

“Don’t worry about that,” said Wright. “The next train back isn’t until midnight. They’ll have to spend the day in Barking.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bit Part

(From the Independent, CNN, BBC and a load of medical websites recently ……)

A new organ has been discovered hiding in plain sight inside the human body.

Known as the mesentery, it was previously thought to be just a few fragmented structures in the digestive system, but scientists have realised it is in fact one, continuous organ.

Although its function is still unclear, the discovery opens up “a whole new area of science,” according to J Calvin Coffey, a researcher at the University Hospital Limerick who first discovered it.

The research has been published in The Lancet medical journal. Following its reclassification, medical students are now being taught that the mesentery is a distinct organ. Gray’s Anatomy, the world’s most famous medical textbook, has been updated to include the new definition.

It was described by the Italian polymath Leonardo da Vinci in 1508, but it has been ignored throughout the centuries, until now.
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I am Joe’s mesentery.

Joe doesn’t think about me very much, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read in the Reader’s Digest about Joe’s casual relationship with his body parts. Joe doesn’t think about his heart either, or his nose, skin, larynx, tongue or medulla oblongata, though possibly in the case of the last one it’s because he thinks it’s a star system that was once visited by the Enterprise.

This is because Joe is a dick, fittingly the one organ that he thinks about almost non-stop.

So Joe’s ignorance of my existence doesn’t annoy me at all. What does is the fact that it is only now, almost two million years after mankind first stood on two legs so that it could scratch under one armpit, that medical science has recognised me, and even still has to admit that it has no idea what I do.

I’ll tell it what I do. I and the other organs of the intestinal system are like the factory workers in a huge global conglomerate – the unsung heroes, the ones who do the real work, the ones who make sure that shit happens, quite literally in Joe’s case.

Seriously, if medical science wants to question the function of organs, it should take a look at the earlobe.

What really gets me to vent my spleen (yes, I have one, and it has organs too, you humans are like Babooshka dolls) is that Leonardo da Vinci told people about me more than five hundred years ago. After all, he turned out to be right about the helicopter, the calculator and the teenage mutant ninja turtle (hang on, that might be the wrong Leonardo) so why didn’t anyone listen to him about me?

Still, better late than never. The Lancet, supposedly the bible of medical knowledge, has finally admitted that I exist. It’s the journal’s biggest back-down since it had to acknowledge in its May 1543 issue that the Adam’s Apple is not, in fact, a fruit.

And I’m going to be included in Gray’s Anatomy. Hopefully I get to sleep with Meredith.

Dragon’s Den

Saint Enda took a long, deep breath and, holding his offering in front of him as if for protection, stepped bravely into the Dragon’s lair.

The lair was large, and not quite round, more oval-shaped. For a second St Enda thought that it was empty, but then, from a throne at the far end, the Dragon arose and padded menacingly towards him.

The two stood facing each other – both proud, both haughty, both ginger. It was like watching a family row between the Weasley twins.

“Who are you?” growled the Dragon.

“I am St Enda,” said St Enda, “the patron saint of Ireland.”

The Dragon’s eyes narrowed. “I thought that was St Patrick,” he said.

St Enda snorted. “God, everyone bangs on and on about St Bloody Patrick,” he said. “All he did was chase snakes – basically over-fed worms – out of Ireland. Whereas I saved our country from ruin,  re-built its economy, scrapped taxes on its water -”

“Didn’t you bring those taxes in in the first place?” asked the Dragon.

“Um, yes,” said St Enda, “but the important thing here is that I scrapped them. And I drove the fearsome, three-headed Troika from our shores by, well, by giving it everything it wanted. And after all that the other guy’s still more revered than I am. Honestly, it’d try the patience of a saint, and obviously I’m not just that as a turn of phrase. I mean, he wasn’t even born in our country.”

The Dragon nodded. “I know exactly how you feel,” he said. “Bigly.”

“Anyway,” said St Enda, “I brought you this.” He held forth a glass bowl containing some green plants.

The Dragon snorted, with far more impressive results than when St Enda had a few paragraphs ago. The saint could feel his eyebrows smouldering gently.

“I think you’re mixing me up with Popeye,” said the Dragon. “I don’t eat spinach.”

“It’s not spinach,” said St Enda. “It’s shamrock. It’s supposed to be lucky.”

“If it was all that lucky,” said the Dragon, “it wouldn’t be cut up and lying in a bowl. Anyway, why are you giving it to me?”

“I have come to entreat with you,” said St Enda.

“Er, what?” said the Dragon.

“I need a favour,” said St Enda. “You have fifty thousand of my people in your land who shouldn’t be here.”

“I see,” said the Dragon. “And you’d like them back.”

“God, no,” said St Enda. “I want you to keep them.”

“Why?” asked the Dragon.

“We don’t want them,” said St Enda. “They’ve got used to proper public transport, and real summers, and they’re three series ahead of us in Blue Bloods.

“I see,” said the Dragon. “And why would I want them?”

“They’re Irish,” said St Enda simply. “Everyone loves us. Everyone knows that.”

The Dragon thought for a moment, then began to speak. St Enda noticed that as he spoke he would raise one front claw and bring the tips of two of the talons together, as if he was trying to do a shadow-puppet of a rabbit on the wall behind.

“Very well,” said the Dragon. “Because they are Irish, and because of your, um, generous gift, I will let them stay.”

“Thank you,” said St Enda.

“Would you like me to build a wall around them, to keep them here?” asked the Dragon.

“Trust me,” said St Enda, “I don’t think you’ll find that’s necessary.”

 

 

You Are What You Wear

They say that history is written by the winners, but sometimes it is simply written by the embarrassed.

When the people of Sharovia tell the story of their emperor’s new clothes, a tale which has been picked up and gleefully re-told around the world in mockery of the stupidity of the rich and pompous, there is an important part that they leave out.

It is the fact that between the emperor first appearing in his birthday suit (the suit had been commissioned for his birthday) and his subsequent outing, in every meaning of that phrase, at his ceremonial parade, over seven months elapsed, seven months which are as invisible in Sharovian history as an emperor’s codpiece….

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“This isn’t going to work,” muttered Marx.

“I know,” whispered Spenzer, his brother, “I don’t know how we thought we’d get away with it.”

When the Tux Brothers, Tailors to the Royal Family, had first realised that the material they had ordered had been shipped to neighbouring Sharabia by mistake, they had been seized by panic, then by terror, then by desperate inventiveness.

Only the vest had been due for delivery that first morning, and since they had promised the emperor one made of the finest, sheerest, lightest silk ever seen, they had come up with the pretend vest, simply to buy themselves time. They had mimed holding it up for him to see, mimed pulling it down over his up-stretched arms, and had refrained from miming tucking it into his trousers, because they hadn’t wanted to treat him like a gobshite.

Now, standing behind him as he gazed into his mirror, they could see the futility of the pretence. They looked over his shoulder at his reflection, and could see his paunch, his chest-hair, his moobs.

The emperor, looking at the same reflection, could see only the ridiculously high price he had been quoted.

“It’s magnificent,” he breathed.

“Er, what?” said Marx.

“Magnificent,” sighed the Grand Vizier.

“Truly wonderful,” said the Court Jester. “No, seriously,” he said, as the emperor glared at him.

The rest of the courtiers broke into applause. One of the Ladies-in-Waiting burst into tears of joy, then fainted.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Marx, “before they come to their senses.”

“Good idea,” muttered Spenzer. “Your majesty,” he said more loudly, “we shall return soon with the rest of the outfit.”

“I want it made of the same material as this vest,” said the emperor.

“All of it?” gasped Marx.

“Every stitch,” said the emperor. “I can feel my skin breathe on my chest. I want to feel that all over.”

The brothers bowed, and backed away towards the door of the throne-room. Just as they reached it, however, the Captain of the Palace Guard grabbed Spenzer’s arm, and his heart sank.

“When you’ve made the outfit,” said the Captain, “I’ll give you two hundred crowns for one just like it.”

“So will I,” said the Lord Chamberlain.

“Me too,” said the Master of the Hunt.

-0O0-

Back at the showrooms of Tux Brothers, the two argued long into the night. Marx said it would be immoral. Spenzer said it was what the customer wanted, and the customer was always right. Marx said the Royal Household couldn’t all be that deluded, and Spenzer pointed out that even though cars hadn’t been invented yet, they had a Master of the Rolls. Marx said that they would never get away with it, and Spenzer said imagine the craic if they could. Marx said you wouldn’t have to imagine it, and they both started to giggle.

The material actually arrived the following morning. They sent it back.

The next day they delivered the underpants. The day after that they delivered the shirt, and the following day they delivered the trousers, the stockings, the ermine robes (no animals were harmed during the making of this suit, an unexpected side benefit), seven pairs of gloves, a hunting jacket, a smoking jacket, a hacking jacket, a range of colourful ties, and a pair of Spider-Man pyjamas, because it’s amazing how quickly you can weave when what you’re weaving is a story.

They then fitted out all of the courtiers, and the courtesans too, who found themselves surprisingly more alluring when they wore their new outfit.

The whole thing took less than a week.

“Thank God that’s over,” said Marx. “Can we flee the country now?”

“We’re only starting,” said Spenzer. “There’s a whole population out there just waiting to be fleeced, though not in the exact sense of that word.”

“No way,” said Marx. “The public won’t pay out huge sums just to look like the rich and famous.”

Marx was a little naïve here, though in fairness he had never heard of the Rachel hair-do, the Beckham football boot or the Paisley tie.

They opened a shop, called it after themselves (no, Tux Bros) and watched both the customers and the money pour in. Whatever you wanted, they always had it in stock, and always in your size.

You might think that once everyone had bought one complete outfit, sales would dry up, but Spenzer was a marketing genius. Each week he would announce new ranges, and people would come back again. He held sales (all stock must go) and people would buy twice as many items as they had intended to. He invented the invisible hat, or fascinator as it’s now known, and women needed a different one for each wedding they attended.

He brought out a winter collection, and there was a queue all night outside the shop.

Besides, people were always losing clothes, leaving their jacket in the tavern, their scarf in the hair-dressers, their underwear at their mistress’s house. They would go swimming and be unable to find their clothes on the beach, necessitating a complete new wardrobe.

Others would spill red wine down the front of their chest and buy a new shirt, convinced that they would never be able to get the stain out of the old one.

But all good things come to an end, and so too do bad ones, and one morning six-year old Samm was putting on his birthday present.

“These aren’t Nikke trainers,” he growled. His parents blushed, they hadn’t been able to afford them and so had gone for a cheaper brand, but before they had time to explain that Samm, who was a bad-tempered little brat, ran over and kicked his bedroom wall in frustration. This was a mistake.

“In fact,” he howled, “they aren’t trainers at all.”

The words hovered almost visibly in the air, glowing, slowly melting the mist that had veiled the land for the past seven months.

His father, Friderik, looked down at himself, then across at his wife.

“For God’s sake, woman,” he said, “put some clothes on.”

Friderik went next door and told his friend Johunn, then the two of them went to the town square, where the emperor was just passing in his carraige.

“Oy, Emp,” yelled Johunn, “I can see the Royal Sceptre.”

Soon there was a mob on its way to the door of Tux Bros.

Perhaps it had been premonition that had warned them, perhaps it had been the sound of fifty pairs of bare feet slapping their way up the street, but in any event Marx and Spenzer were gone.

“There’s nothing here,” said Johunn.

“There never was,” said Friderik bitterly.

-0O0-

The rest is history, or rather it isn’t, because the people of Sharovia agreed never to speak of it again. So while news of the emperor’s folly did break out, because people love to expose celebrities, no mention was ever made of the part played by the public, of the undignified scramble over the next few days at the few clothes shops that were still in business, of the gradual recovery of the health of the population, all of whom had mysteriously had colds for the past seven months.

It was the ultimate cover-up.

Family Matters

 

Those of you who followed this blog during its most productive years watched as the Tinkids grew, joining in the celebrations of their birthdays and their various achievements, and thrilling me with how much you all cared about what happened to them, so obviously I have to update you on what they are all be up to now.

Prepare to be astonished, by the next sentence, at the passage of time.

Tinson1 is now twenty-five. After a lot of study and a long time trying to get a job in post-crash Ireland he started work 15 months ago as a medical physicist (no, I don’t know, either) in the Oncology Unit of a hospital in Waterford. Waterford is about 100 miles from where we live, so he has become the first of the Tinkids to leave home. He has an apartment that he loves, a small car that he is slowly learning to drive (and hopefully learning to drive slowly) and a job that he really enjoys.

Tinson2 (twenty-two next month) is in Canada at the moment, where he is nine months into a two-year student visa. He works in a restaurant in the ski resort of Whistler (minus 10 degrees there last week, according to my iPhone), and shares a house which has a stream rushing alongside, snow on its roof (it’s called a snow ‘fro, apparently) and racoons under its deck. It has also had, though only once so far, a bear in its back garden. He’s having the time of his life, and looks really happy whenever we talk to him.

Tingirl, our baby, is now twenty, and is in first-year at college in Carlow Institute of Technology, where she is studying media and public relations, hoping to make a career in radio. She absolutely loves the course, the college, the Foundry (Ireland’s biggest nightclub, situated in Carlow, Wednesday night is Student Night) and her housemates.

Yes, housemates. Carlow is about 60 miles from Greystones, so she has to live there during the week, and although she’s at home every weekend (she’s in the sitting room watching This Is Us with Mrs Tin as I write this), it means that during the week Mrs Tin and I are empty-nesters.

And Mrs Tin? Still the best, supportive when I was sick, supportive when I cut my working week, putting a brave face on the fact that I am at home for two extra days each week to drive her mental. I’ve talked before about her sense of humour, and it’s best summed up by what we have in our kitchen now:

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Hast Thou Been

I’ve not written anything for over two years now.

They say time flies when you’re having fun, and apparently it flies when you aren’t.

Through 2013 and 2014 my posts were getting less and less frequent, but I was still trying. Then 2015 came along. My role at work changed, mostly because had I asked for it to. They asked me would I be interested in working for our UK Finance Department, and I said yes. This meant that my boss was now in Edinburgh, and I had to travel regularly to visit both her and our office in Lichfield.

I had 30 flights during that year. Very glamorous, very exciting, very look-at-me-I’m-a-proper-high-powered-business-executive-at-last.

Or not.

Each of these involving getting up at 3.20 a.m. to catch the 4 o’clock Aircoach, to get me to Dublin airport in time for a 6.30 flight on a tiny propeller-powered plane to Edinburgh or Birmingham. Each two-to-three day trip involved me eating dinner in Burger King in Edinburgh or McDonalds in Lichfield every evening, because I’m not the kind of person who sits alone in a restaurant. I am, however, the kind of person who sits alone in a bar, so that’s what I would do, buying a different newspaper each evening and marvelling at the blatant bias, in both directions, of the UK press.

It might all have been great if I’d owned the business, or if I’d been in sales and felt that I was achieving something, or if I really wanted to be a proper-high-powered-business-executive, but I was just an office worker with a really long commute. Add to that the fact that there were problems adapting the way I’d been doing things in our Irish office to the way they were being done in the UK, and I quickly realised that I’d made a mistake.

Well, I would have quickly realised if I’d any sense, but this is Tinman talking, so I just thought things were a bit challenging.

Then, on January 18th, 2016, I had to fly to Edinburgh, where our auditors were waiting to begin our annual audit. At 3.20 a.m. I sat up in bed, then lay back down again. I didn’t go to work for another eight weeks.

The office were great. I met with the CFO and the HR manager while I was off and we agreed that I would come back three-days-a-week, and that I would do only the payroll, the only part of my job that I believed to be really important.

So that’s what I’ve been at for the past year. I’m happier at work (I was astonished at the number of people who commented on how rested I looked, and how much colour I had in my face, when I came back, so I must have looked really shite during those last few months) and I’m slowly getting used to having four days a week off. (During my first month back I felt guilty at how little time I was spending at work, and kept thinking “how are they letting me away with this?” and then the first payday came along and  I thought “oh, that’s how, they’re paying me sod-all”).

I’ve spent the extra time off going to the gym, and reading an awful lot, concentrating on books that I’ve always wanted to read but never got round to (I got 130 pages into Ulysses, which is 80 pages more than my previous record) and every now and again I’ve sat in front of my laptop, determined to write something, and have spent two hours instead reading stuff about the Kardashians.

But slowly I’ve got back in to it, half-writing stories, or writing half-stories, never finishing anything in a way that I’m happy with, but getting the urge back.

So I’m giving it another go, not trying for every day, but just trying to get back to doing the thing that I love doing best.

 

 

 

 

 

We’re Going Where The Sun Shines Brightly

liverpool-a-case-history

This is another story based on the above Flash! Friday photo, which had to be set on the Moon…

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It’s not easy being married to someone who works nights.

Mrs Moon had known that, but had given up her life as a Siren to marry the Man in the Moon anyway. To her it was simple – she was in love. How could she not be – he was a wonderful soul devoted to making life more beautiful for the people below. She loved to watch as his artist’s hands skilfully moved the moon’s light along a range of shades, everything from scythe-narrow crescent to full, werewolf-waking brightness.

And she watched as he made the moon wax and wane, though she had no idea what either of those words meant.

And she watched him tire. She saw how Jupiter had twelve moons, with twelve Men to share the load, while he toiled alone, night after night after night.

So she came up with a plan. He argued against it, but she was a Siren, and could pretty well make men do what she wanted. Besides, he loved her, so would have ended up doing it anyway.

So tonight he used those brilliant hands to move, nudge, inch the moon sideways, forwards, until it was directly in eclipse behind the sun.

They’ve gone to Finland, with its six months of daylight.