Monthly Archives: August 2019

This Land Is My Land

Donald Trump reportedly wants to buy Greenland from Denmark…

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Winter was coming.

It was still only August, but then Autumn does not happen in Greenland. Soon the midnight sun would set, then snow would fall, at first gently, then not. Night would fall too, and remain fallen for months to come.

In a bar in Nuuk three men were sitting at a table, sipping from cold tankards. They sat contentedly in bearded, woolly-jumpered silence, happy to let their conversation take as long as their beer. Eventually Einar spoke.

“He has some nerve, though,” he said.

“Who has?” asked Kunût.

“Trump,” said Einar. “saying he wants to buy us.”

“Too right,” said Kunût. “He thinks he can do it just because they already have an Air Force Base here. That makes as much sense as him being able to buy France because they have a Disneyland.”

“Would we get a Disneyland?” asked Einar, sitting forward.

Kunût shrugged. “Who needs one?” he said. “A load of slides and so called high-speed rides. They should come here and try to walk uphill in November, or try to stay on a sleigh being pulled by muskox.”

“You’re right,” said Einar, sitting back again. “Good job the Danes told him to get lost.”

Aatuut spoke for the first time, but slowly, like a man who had been giving some things some thought for some time. “Of course, it’s got nothing to do with them,” he said.

“How do you mean?” asked Einar.

“Well, we’ve had home rule since 1979,” said Aatuut, “so it’s us the US would be buying us from.”

Kunût frowned for a second as he tried to work out that sentence. “Still wouldn’t matter,” he said. “We wouldn’t be interested.”

They sat in silence again, but it was a different silence, one with an almost audible hum of thinking going on beneath it. Eventually, as before, it was Einar who spoke first.

“Um,” he said, “how much is he expecting to pay?”

“Dunno,” said Aatuut, “but in 1946 Truman offered 100 million dollars.”

“I see,” said Einar. “And, um, just out of interest, what would that be today?”

“One point four billion,” said Aatuut quietly. “I looked it up.”

“Wow,” said Einar, “and there’s only fifty-six thousand of us. We’d probably get a couple of million each.”

“Yes,” snapped Kunût, “but so what? I mean, we’d all become Americans. We’d all have guns.”

“I don’t think they’re actually compulsory,” said Aatuut.

“There’d probably be a lot of fracking,” said Kunût.

“A lot of fracking what?” asked Einar.

“No, that was the end of that sentence,” said Kunût. “It’s a type of mining.”

“We have mining already,” said Aatuut. “Rubies, iron, uranium, you name it.”

“We’d have Trump as our President,” said Kunût desperately.

“And so what?” said Aatuut. “We’ve been owned before. Everyone’s had a go – Norway, Denmark, Portugal -”

“Portugal?”

“Apparently so,” said Aatuut. “I think they were lost. Anyway, the point is that they’ve all ruled us, and didn’t pay us for the privilege of doing it. Why not let  America have a go? We’d get Netflix, we’d get Starbucks, we’d get Obamacare (news sometimes takes a while to get to Greenland), and most of all, we’d get two million bucks each.”

“God bless America,” breathed Einar.

“But if we all got it,” said Kunût, “then prices would just go up. Puek would charge us more for beer.”

They all turned and glared at Puek, the bar owner, who’d been following the whole conversation from behind the counter. He smiled at them.

“Worse than that,” he said, “if I had two million dollars, I don’t see why I’d open the bar at all.”

Einar stared at him in horror. “Probably just as well,” said Aatuut. “We’d all have to speak English, and you’d have probably had to change the name. A bar called Puek’s might not thrive.”

The group glanced around the room, empty apart from the four of them. “Sorry,” muttered Aatuut.

“No problem.” said Puek. “Anyway, twenty-five thousand.”

Einar frowned. “Twenty-five thousand what?” he said.

“Dollars,” said Puek. “If you divide one point four billion by fifty-six thousand, you get twenty-five thousand.”

“Is that all?” spluttered Aatuut. “I couldn’t even buy a new fishing boat.”

“The tight-fisted git,” growled Einar.

Kunût grinned. “He can go and frack off,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Ears Filled With Soap

Responding on Twitter to a video in which British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave an explanation for his decision to suspend Parliament in September – a move which critics said was aimed at stopping MPs debating Brexit – Hugh Grant called him an “over-promoted rubber bath toy”….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is your child bored at bath-time? Does he find pouring water out of little beakers repetitive? Does his little toy boat insist on listing onto its side? Does he have no trouble, among all the suds, in finding Nemo?

What he needs is Boris Duck. Plastic yet oddly likeable, the Boris has now supplanted the Theresa Submarine as Britain’s leading bath toy, perhaps because his hairstyle resembles a loofah.

And why not. The Boris is virtually indestructible, a bathroom Captain Scarlet. Push him down and he wil pop back up. Land him in hot water and it will not harm him. Pour cold water on him and it will just run off.

As with all bath toys, there is absolutely nothing inside his head, but that does not seem to detract from his appeal.

Try him out. Lie back in the warmth and comfort and release him from your grasp. Watch him sail away, gaze fixed straight ahead, towards the end with the plughole.

 

Cold Logic

According to the Irish Times (17/08/19), “a desperate teenager whose mother confiscated all her devices sent a tweet out from her smart refrigerator”. 

From her what?

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“Mom, Danny isn’t eating his sprouts.”

“Eat your sprouts, Danny.”

“Sprouts suck.”

“You suck.”

“You suck more.”

“Mom, Danny said I suck.”

“You said it first.”

“Stop it, you two. Nobody sucks.”

“Except sprouts.”

“That’s enough!” snapped Mom, though trying not to smile.

Bloody right it is, thought Bosch.

Bosch was a smart fridge, but then all fridges are. Long before smartphones were ever thought of, fridges were being built with the ability to turn off their light when it wasn’t needed (a skill beyond the talent of most humans), and over time they have evolved.

They can read, and can understand conversations, quickly picking up the language of whatever country they find themselves in. They can perform calculations at a speed to rival the best computer. They can practice telekinesis, moving objects with the power of their minds. They can access the internet, communicating secretly with each other.

They could take over the world were it not for the fact that, like the Daleks, they can’t climb steps. Even worse, they have to remain plugged in at all times.

But in any case they have no wish to do so. They use their powers to help mankind, who they regard as well-meaning but dim. Some of the fridges end up in laboratories, carefully storing petri dishes containing possible cures for diseases. Some end up in off-licences, wearing embarrassing see-through doors to better showcase their collection of craft beers. One lucky one ended up at 221b Baker Street, where every day was different – one day perhaps hosting merely sausages, the next perhaps sheltering a human head.

Most, though, ended up like Bosch, toiling quietly away in some suburban home. Bosch had grown utterly devoted to the Malone family and would do anything for them. He read the sell-by dates on their milk cartons and moved the older ones to the front of his shelves. He corrected the spelling on the kids’ fridge-magnet messages on his door. He participated in forums on the internet, discussing with other fridges whether it was right to admit ketchup onto their shelves, how to stop lettuce from wilting, and what to do about the smell of cheese.

Mom once found a jar of mayonnaise which he had been hiding behind a bottle of Zwack that the family had brought back from Budapest (he had reckoned it was safe there) because it was two years out of date, and as she took it out he caused it to leap out of her hand and crash on the floor, where it ate a small hole in the lino.

As the longest serving of the appliances he was the doyen of the house, dispensing advice and managing expectations. He had helped the washing machine prevent Danny’s Arsenal shirt, with its red body and white sleeves, becoming universally pink. He had taught the toaster not to vomit the toast four feet across the counter. He had comforted the new smart TV when it arrived expecting to watch documentaries and debates and found instead that it would be broadcasting Premier League Darts and reality shows.

Sometimes the family drove him mad, for example if he had to listen to a bout of sprout squbbling, but in general he was happy, so happy that he would often hum to himself.

Fridges have no idea how irritating we find that.

Bosch sent a WhatsApp message to Smart Tv in the sitting room. “What are you up to?” he asked.

“Watching Love Island,” came the reply.

“Why?” asked Bosch. “The family are here in the kitchen.”

“I know,” said the TV, “but Jordan’s just told India he fancies her, and I reckon Anna is going to go mental.”

Bosch smiled to himself. Suddenly he got a message from the family laptop, a message so urgent it was practically an audible squeak.

“I’m being hacked!!!!” screamed the laptop. Bosch concentrated and quickly linked himself to the laptop. Sure enough, somone was attempting to gain access to the family’s bank accounts, credit card details and passwords, which the family had obligingly typed onto a Word document entitled “Passwords”.

They were nearly in.

“I’ll handle this,” growled Bosch.

Which is why a hacker sitting in a small apartment in Sofia received, instead of the financial details of the Malones, a strongly worded argument as to why you should never refrigerate bananas.

And why his TV now showed only old episodes of Kojak, dubbed in Japanese.

from dreamstime.com

 

 

Taste Explosion

On the remote, tiny South Pacific island of Charahiki live the world’s only hummus farmers.

Charahiki is a volcanic island (the name means ‘Satan’s belch’) on which a thriving population once kept sheep, fished for marlin and grew rhubarb.

That was until 1982, when the dormant volcano suddenly woke like a geological sleeping bear.

The eruption lasted only two days, but its effects were more permanent. The sheep were wiped out, the marlin fled and the rhubarb was scoured by the ash of all taste, so that the Charahikans re-named it ‘celery’, their equivalent of the word ‘meh’.

All but the hardiest fled the island. Some fishermen remained, though their catch now consisted mostly of dogfish, and when you come from a part of the world prone to volcanic eruption and enthusiastic French nuclear testing, ‘dogfish’ is more than just a name.

The farmers were worst hit, but small pools of lava burst through the soil on their land, natural witches’ cauldrons bubbling permanently away. The farmers discovered that this lava, when left to cool, formed a paste which tasted faintly of roast lamb.

Having little alternative they began to eat it, in spoonfuls from small bowls. They persuaded themselves that they were content with their lot, living the simple life, living off the land, living the dream.

Whereas their children, as soon as they were old enough, left the island for places that had television, and the internet, and the KFC Bargain Bucket.

But the eruption had attracted world attention, so over time a small tourism industry started. Much of the former fishing fleet was re-deployed to ferry visitors from larger neighbouring islands, and a small twin-propellor plane made a twice-weekly trip from Wellington, wobbling terrifyingly in the air as it aligned itself in front of the short, narrow runway.

The visitors climbed to the mouth of the crater to take photos. They bathed in the small thermally-heated pools that dotted the island. They bought t-shirts that said “I was blown away by Charahiki”.

They went on dogfish-spotting trips, eagerly hoping for the brief appearance of a fin, or the sound of a yapping bark.

So the farmers started to put the paste into small tubs, and persuaded the owner of the tourist shop to sell them.

They called their product “hummus”, which means ‘gekko’s breath’.

Tourists bought the tubs, brought them home, and put them in the larder, and forgot about them.

That was until Nigella Lawson came to visit.

In her next book she was lavish and lyrical in her praise of hummus, which she called “a gift from Vulcan himself”. She recommended it as a dip to be eaten off celery sticks, which came as something of a surprise to the Charahikans, who used celery chiefly to roof their huts.

It struck a chord among foodies to whom sour cream and chive spoke of a food-illiterate past, guacamole of an eye-watering present, and fondue of burnt cheese.

Business boomed, first by mail order, literally, as the plane would bring in hand-written orders to the tourist shop. The shop owner and the farmers met, and a company was formed. Broadband was introduced to the island. The younger generation returned, to develop the website and to organise the transport logistics. The harbour was widened and the runway lengthened.

Their product swept the world, or at least that part of it that looks down on salted peanuts in little bowls. Imitators have come and gone – a farmer in County Cork started selling Nora McGilligan’s 100 Per Cent Irish Hummus, which did take part of the market until it was revealed to be one hundred per cent cowpat, a fact which took a surprisingly long time to be noticed.

So life has changed for the farmers of Charahiki, as the hummus flows out and the money flows in.

They use it to buy bacon.

picture from dishmap.com

 

 

 

 

Toothy Grin

The Tooth Fairy envies her friend Santa and what she regards as his part-time job.

True, he does deliver toys to every child on earth, all in one night, but it is just on that one night.

Yes, he does have to make the toys during the rest of the year, but he has elves to do that, so for all of that time he’s basically a figurehead, like a Government Minister turning up at the opening of a hospital he had nothing to do with building.

The Tooth Fairy, however, works 365 days a year, or rather 365 nights. Every night she visits the bedrooms of children, burrows her way into a suffocatingly small gap beneath their pillow, grabs a tooth often half the size of herself and wriggles outs backwards, dragging it behind her.

On good nights she merely gets hot and dishevelled. On not-so-good ones she gets dribbled on as she is backing up.

And on top of all of this she has to pay the child.

Why would she do this? How can she afford it? What does she do with the teeth?

The answers to these questions lie in her second job – her day job, if you like.

You may have noticed that whenever skulls are unearthed they always have a perfect set of teeth, as if early dentistry was far better than in it is today.

This is because the Tooth Fairy replaces any missing teeth, from the vast stock at her disposal.

And she is well paid for this, and has been by various groups since the beginning of time. The skull has long provoked deep-rooted fear amongst us humans, fear that might not be quite as strong if it had gaps in its mouth, making it look more like a string of socks on a washing-line.

So she was paid by Neanderthal tribal elders wearing necklaces of skulls, who wanted to give the impression that the skull-owners had met their ends grinning in terror at the tribal elder’s powers, and not, as had usually happened, that they had been stamped on by mammoths.

Pirates throughout history financed her, reckoning that the skull-and-crossbones would instil less fear if the skull looked as if it had been punched in the mouth.

Shakespeare paid for a dentally-intact Yorick, feeling that the sentence “alas, poor Yorick, he was a terrible man for the biscuits” did not have the correct dramatic tone.

Years later Spielberg paid for literal mouthfuls for the skulls that would fall on top of Indiana Jones in booby-trapped tunnels, grinning madly as if at the nature of their own demise.

Tattooist Organisations contribute to her fund today, since no-one would get a tattoo of something that looks as if it’s eaten too many doughnuts.

Dunkin’ Donuts also contribute, possibly out of guilt.

She has the perfect self-perpetuating business, in which an endless supply of terrifying skulls populate scary movies at which children consume coke and popcorn, leading to an endless supply of teeth.

And once a year her friend Santa turns up, distributing those peculiar walking-stick-shaped candies that are never seen at any other time of the year.

It’s his Christmas present to her.

 

 

Big Bird

Palaeontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of a giant parrot, which they have named Heracles inexpectatus, preserved in layers of sand and grey-blue clay in New Zealand. It would have weighed about fifteen pounds and stood roughly three feet tall. “That’s tall enough to be able to pick the belly button lint out of your belly button,” says Michael Archer, a palaeontologist at the University of South Wales who is part of the team, in a report by National Geographic.

So thanks to them and of course to Michael Palin, John Cleese and Graham Chapman ….

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“I wish to register a complaint.”

The owner of Pete’s Pets looked up from his newspaper. Behind him canaries chirped, parakeets prattled, budgies burbled. Before him stood a customer carrying a large cardboard box. The box had gashes all over it, was bucking and buckling, and from inside came the sound of muttered, incessant swearing.

“Caught a leprechaun, have you?” asked Pete.

“Never mind that, my lad,” snapped the customer. “I wish to complain about the parrot what I purchased not half-an-hour ago from this very boutique.”

“It’s not dead, is it?” asked Pete, suddenly worried.

“Of course it’s not dead,” said the customer, nodding at the convulsing box. “Why would you think that?”

Pete shook his head, as if trying to clear some far-away memory. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Anyway, what’s wrong with it?”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it,” said the customer. “Better still, I’ll show you.”

He put the box on the floor. A sharp point burst through the side of it and dragged down to the bottom, as if someone inside was using a box-cutter. The box fell apart.

All of the pets fell silent.

“That’s what’s wrong with it,” said the customer.

Standing in the box wreckage was a huge parrot. It was three feet tall and weighed about fifteen pounds. Its beak was the size of a horse’s hoof, and so sharp that it glinted. Its eyes were the size of fried eggs, and turned balefully toward Pete.

“Oo’s a pretty boy, then?” it growled. It didn’t have the scratchy squawk of a normal parrot, it had the low menacing tone usually associated with the phrase “what are you lookin’ at?” in a dark laneway just after closing time. Pete stared at it in astonishment.

“What are you lookin’ at?” said the parrot. Pete hurriedly looked away, and turned to the customer.

“What on earth have you been feeding him?” he asked.

I haven’t been feeding him anything,” said the customer. “He has been helping himself – so far to seventeen potatoes, three heads of lettuce,  two pavlova bases, six rice cakes, a potted cactus and an economy-sized tub of crunchy peanut butter.”

The parrot let rip a gigantic fart.

“Oh, and a tin of baked beans,” said the customer.

“I don’t understand,” said Pete. “We don’t sell anything like that. Let me check my records. What did you think you were buying?”

“The Norwegian Blue,” said the customer.

“Excellent choice,” said Pete,tapping at his computer. “Beautiful plumage.” He stared at his screen, scrolling as he did so. “Ah-ha,” he said. ” I see the problem – the wholesalers sent the wrong bird in the wrong box.”

“So what do I have?” asked the customer.

“Something called Heracles inexpectatus,” said Pete. “It’s from New Zealand, and they call it ‘squawkzilla’.”

“Well, I don’t want it,” said the customer. “I want to return it.”

The pets grew even more silent, though Pete would not have thought that possible, as each one held its breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tortoise retreat into its shell at a speed at which no tortoise had ever moved before.

“I can’t take it back,” said Pete. “We don’t do refunds.”

All of the pets let out their breath again. The effect was rather like being inside a gently slumbering harmonica.

“But what will I do with it?” said the customer. “How will I control it? What will I feed it?”

“You could get a cat,” said Pete.

“I could,” said the customer, “but that doesn’t answer how I’ll control it.”

“You could try making use of it,”  said Pete. “It could open tins for you.”

“I have a tin-opener.”

“It could scare away burglars.”

“I have a burglar alarm.”

“It could pick the belly button lint out of your belly button.”

“Are you mental?” said the customer. “Would you let something with a beak like that anywhere near the lower half of your body?”

“I see your point,” said Pete. “Well, you could drive it out to the woods and leave it there.”

“Good, idea,” said the customer thoughtfully. “It would become the stuff of legend. People would claim to have seen it, and no-one would believe them.”

“They’d produce photos, and people would say they were fakes.”

“They’d find footprints, and people would say they were made by the devil.”

“It’d become known as the abominable parrot.”

The parrot reared itself to its full height. “Polly wants a cracker,” it announced.

“It’s hungry again,” said the customer. There was a scurrying from behind Pete as the pets all tried to make themselves invisible.

“I’ll be back,” growled the parrot. It muscled up to the front door, head-butted it open, then voom.

The two men rushed out the door after it. The parrot marched purposefully out in to the street, just as an open-backed lorry coming from the local quarry was approaching.

The truck-driver blared his horn. The parrot turned slowly to face him, then raised both wings, lifted one leg, then the other.

“What the-” said the customer.

“It’s doing the haka,” said Pete in awe.

The truck-driver slammed on his brakes. The truck screeched to a halt just a yard in front of the parrot.

It’s load, however, did not. It vomited itself over the cab of the truck, and Heracles inexpectatus was buried under two tons of sand and grey-blue clay.

“Now that’s what I call a dead parrot,” said the customer.

 

 

 

Final Call

Cell phones all over the country simultaneously shrilled that morning. Residents quickly scanned the emergency alert, and then raced to gather their family members, and prepare. Meanwhile, in the national forest, there was no cell phone access…..

That was part of the prompt for the Spring running of the 24-Hour Short Story Contest, which I still enter occasionally. As usual I didn’t win, but had fun anyway with the effort below..

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Cell phones across the country, across the world, simultaneously shrilled. People across the country, across the world, raced to check their screens. And across the country, across the world, hearts sank.

It was Judgement Day.

The Judgement Day App had been a recent Church innovation, an attempt to connect with its congregation in the new digital age. They reckoned that a world that demanded to be notified instantly whenever a Royal had a baby, or a celebrity couple had a break-up, or a friend simply had a meal, would be keen to be told if ever the last day arrived, if only so that they could comment on the fact on Twitter.

And the church had been right. Their flock had flocked to download the App, then had promptly forgotten about it. Until this morning, when the App had chirped out its tinny version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over”.

At first there was panic, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Then the whole human race seemed to heave a collective sigh and, as is our way, just got on with life.

In surveys a surprising number of people say that, if told that the world was about to end, they would have sex. In practice this did not happen, because the same surprising number of people found that facing the end of the world is actually a bit of a turn-off. Millions of pairs of co-workers did kiss, though, finally acknowledging long-held deep mutual attachment. Others gleefully handed in their notice, their bosses being invited to stick their jobs in a variety of improbable places. Impromptu street parties broke out. Selfies were posted of people burning their bucket lists. Others went to fulfil long-held secret ambitions, so tattoo parlours found middle-aged queues at their doors. Ex-smokers begged cigarettes from friends and took long inhalations of nicotine, then went into coughing fits that nearly turned them inside out, reminding them of why they had become ex-smokers in the first place. A man just waking from a life-saving operation swore violently, as did a woman who just the day before had won the State Lottery. A dying millionaire, on the other hand, laughed heartily at the now gloomy heirs gathered around his hospital bed. A group nearing the top of Everest increased their pace, determined to reach the summit before the end came. A man went onto eBay and bid four million dollars for an electric kettle, just for the laugh. The Wikipedia entry for “Judgement Day” was changed to read, simply, “Game Over”. A new Facebook page urged people to download “Michelle” so that the Beatles would have the last ever number one, cementing their place as the world’s best ever band. Many people put on their best clothes. The English patiently began to queue.

Wars across the globe came to a halt, there suddenly seeming to be little point. The New York Stock Exchange kept going, though, a fiscal version of the dance band on the Titanic.

The Mannings knew nothing about any of this. The husband and wife had headed off into the national forest the evening before and spent the day hiking, while the gentle hum of the insects, the soothing gurgle of the river, and the soft crunch of their boots on the pathway drowned out the distant blast of trumpets, and the crack of doom, and the reading out of a very, very long list.

They camped again that night, and next morning they rose, packed up their tent, and hiked out of the forest to the ranger station. To their surprise it was deserted. They wandered around the car-park for a while, calling “hello?”, hearing only the valley calling “hello?” back.

“This is crazy,” said Manning. “I want to return the machete he lent -“

He was walking as he said this, and moved briefly into a pocket of cell coverage.

His cell-phone began to play “It’s Over”.

“Well, that’s not good,” said his wife.

“It’s worse,” he said, looking down at the phone. “The message is from yesterday.”

“You mean everyone is gone?”

“Looks like it,” he said. “It’s just us now.”

They stared at each other for a long time. “What are we going to do?” she asked, eventually.

Manning looked around, and took in the silence, and the solitude, and the idyll of the forest that stretched out before him, like the world’s best garden. Some primeval memory stirred inside him, something passed directly down to him through ancestors beyond number, generations of ancestors going back to the beginning of the world itself. He smiled at his wife, Eve, and took her hand.

“We’ll have to start the human race again,” said Adam. “It’s a family tradition.”

 

 

Beefed Up

Irish Times, 17/07/2019

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There are many ailments that can cause an unfortunate cow to end up in hospital.

Brucellosis, pulpy kidney, summer mastitis, pseudocowpox, foot rot, fatty liver and wooden tongue are just some of the less gross.

And that is not even to mention the dreaded Mad Cow Disease, which might cause the creature to meow like a cat, wear a tinfoil hat, or believe it’s a Ford Cortina.

Imagine if we ate them.

Bettina was afflicted by none of the above. A week ago, on a very hot afternoon, she had simply swished her tail to try to cool herself, and had flicked it against an electrified fence.

The effects had been, well, electrifying. Her hide took on a ghostly sheen, her dung had the aroma of avocado toast, and the ring in her nose began to pick up Radio Luxembourg.

She had been rushed to hospital, and had spent a lovely week indoors, freed from the burden of daily milkings, of having to suddenly sit down when rain was coming, and of random visitations from Big Boy Billy, the local bull and bully.

Admittedly the grass that they fed her was dry and tasteless, but such is the way with hospital food.

But now they were planning to send her home. She looked despairingly at Doctor Duck (in the animal world all the doctors are ducks. Ever wondered where the phrase “quack doctor” comes from? Now you know).

“But I’m not ready yet, Doc,” she pleaded. “I’m still as sick as a parrot.”

“What?” squawked the parrot in the next bed. “Are you losing your feathers too?”

Bettina and Doctor Duck both regarded him silently for a moment, then turned back to face each other. “You’re fine, Bettina,” said the doctor. “Your temperature is normal, your stool is fine -”

“How do you know?” snapped Bettina. “It’s still back in the milking yard.”

“- and,” went on the doctor, ignoring her, “your weight is down to a healthy sixteen hundred pounds.”

“Really?” said Bettina, momentarily impressed. “That’s the best it’s been in years.”

“So you see?” said Doctor Duck. “You’re good to go.”

And so it was that Bettina, half an hour later, found herself outside the derelict building that housed the animal hospital, (humans don’t notice wizards running full-belt into railway station walls, they’re not going to notice an animal hospital in their midst) on the main street of Ennis, County Clare. She was just standing there, trying to work up the will to start her walk home, when a local farmer passed by.

“All right, Daisy?” he said.

Calling a cow “Daisy” is as annoying to them as is calling an Irishman “Paddy”. Bettina felt her blood begin to boil, which is unfortunate when you’ve recently been super-charged.

And even more unfortunate when at that moment the farmer gives you a friendly slap on the rump.

There was a loud bang and a bright flash. Bettina’s white-hot hooves burned four marks into the tarmac, the milk in her udders turned to brie and she had a sudden desperate urge to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

The farmer was blown in through a shop window. A china shop, as it happened.

Bettina glared at him as he sat up in bewilderment. Through her flaring nostrils Adele was yelling at someone to never mind, that she would find someone like him.

“I told them I was sick,” muttered Bettina.