Monthly Archives: September 2019

Frosty Welcome

Earlier this week a naval vessel on an Arctic expedition was attacked and sunk by an angry walrus…  


The silence was broken.

No, not the silence, because in the Arctic Circle there is no such thing. The air sings with the low wail of the biting wind and the low groan of the creaking ice, sounds that speak infinitely more of achingly beautiful solitude than could mere silence.

The noise, then, was broken. The throbbing hum of a diesel engine could be heard, at first from many miles off, but growing louder as a small vessel approached.


Edwin regarded it gloomily.

“Bloody tourists,” he said.

His wife Winnie sighed, which when you’re a 2,000 pound walrus means making a sound like a bagpipes being stepped on by an elephant.

“Now, dear.” she said.

She knew, though, that there was no point. In a land without horses, Edwin was about to mount his hobby-horse.

“They come here,” he began, as he always did, “and act as if they own the place. They won’t try our food -”

“We eat tube worms,” pointed out Winnie.

“Well, not our food, obviously,” said Edwin, “I mean what the Inuit eat.”

“Yak,” nodded Winnie.

“I know it tastes yak,” agreed Edwin, “but they could try it anyway.”

“No, I meant -” began Winnie, to no avail.

“Instead they bring their own stuff, their own tea, and baked beans, and black pudding, which as far as I can tell is just cucumber-shaped blood, and they heat this stuff in a microwave and every time it bings the whales think somebody is ringing their doorbell.”

Edwin was on a roll now. “And they sneer at everything. They see an igloo and ask where’s the loo. They ride in snowmobiles and complain that they’re bumpy. They see the Northern Lights and say that their village firework display is better.

“And then,” he went on, “there’s the selfies. They take selfies with us, selfies with the seals, selfies with the polar bears.”

“They don’t take selfies with the polar bears,” corrected Winnie. “They accidentally take selfies with polar bears in the background, running towards them. Their next step is usually finding out just how bumpy a snowmobile can really be, if you have your foot right to the floor.”

“Whatever,” said Edwin, waving a flipper dismissively. “Most of all, though,” he went on, and Winnie knew what was coming next, “they disguise themselves as rocks.”

Edwin’s rude awakening

This might seem like an odd slight on tourists, but Edwin had a reason for making it. In 2006 he had gone for a nap on what he had thought was a rock, only to find that it had in fact been a submarine. He had been woken when the sub began its dive, an experience that had been rather as if a human had gone to sleep on what he thought was a wooden river dock, only to wake and find that he was in fact on a raft, heading towards a waterfall.

Edwin slumped into brooding silence as he remembered this. The vessel was now chugging slowly by, and the crew were emerging to stand on deck and stare at them.

“Now, dear, just ignore them,” pleaded Winnie. “I’ll go and catch us a nice dinner, just to cheer you up.”

Edwin looked at her, and his mood lifted. “Thanks, love,” he said.

They kissed. Since both of them had three-foot long tusks this was not as simple as it sounds, and indeed in the early days of their courtship they had often ended up latticing themselves, but over the years they had perfected the process.

Winnie flumped her way off the ice and into the water. One of the sailors watched her go.

“Hey guys,” he said loudly, “get a load of that fat seal.”

Edwin’s blood boiled.

“Nobody,” he growled, “insults my girl.”

He dived into the water and shot towards the boat like a wrinkled tornado. Using the technique with which he would normally make a hole in the ice he slammed his head through the hull, then ripped the opening larger with his tusks. He let out a huge roar that echoed through the vessel, filling the sailors’ hearts with terror even as the sea filled the ship with water.

He returned to his vantage point on the ice, watching as the crew fled in a lifeboat, as their distress flares filled the sky, as the ship slipped into the sea.

Winnie re-surfaced, dinner in her mouth, and looked around her in bewilderment.

“They’re gone?” she asked.

“They are,” said Edwin. “Something about the place didn’t agree with them.”



Better Than The Cure

A German court has ruled hangovers are an “illness”, in a case against the maker of an anti-hangover drink. The firm was taken to court in Frankfurt after being accused of making illegal health claims about its anti-hangover shots and drinks powders.

“Information about a food product cannot ascribe any properties for preventing, treating or healing a human illness or give the impression of such a property,” the superior regional court’s ruling said. “By an illness, one should understand even small or temporary disruptions to the normal state or normal activity of the body.”

This, it said, includes the tiredness, nausea and headaches commonly associated with hangovers – and which the company, which was not named in the ruling, claimed its shots and powders could cure. (BBC News) …


“I have a hangover,” said Claus.

Dr Brandt sighed. She had been expecting no less.

Claus was a long time patient with whom Dr Brandt had been patient for a long time. His list of purported ailments had been both extensive and inventive – among others he had claimed flat feet (“well, I wear flat shoes”),  scarlet fever (“my hair is red”) and Housemaid’s Knee (“I twisted it watching Downton Abbey”). The advent of the internet had greatly increased his range, and while he was sometimes slapdash in his research (he once claimed to have Purple Heart) he was generally able to present with an illness Dr Brandt had never heard of, complete with a list of carefully learnt symptoms.

These ailments, Dr Brandt had come to realise, afflicted Claus at very specific times, such as on Monday mornings, at the onset of winter, or during World Cup years, and were usually curable by the issue of a sick note which Claus would present at his family’s business, who had tolerated this for many years, since he was pretty well useless anyway.

Like everybody else in Germany Dr Brandt had read the previous day of the court ruling, and she had known that Claus would see an opportunity too good to miss.

“I see,” she said now. “Any why do you think that?”

“Well, I have all the symptoms,” said Claus. “Tiredness, nausea, and a headache that would stun a horse.”

“Perhaps you have Mann Grippe,” said Dr Brandt sweetly, using the German term for manflu.

For a second Claus looked panic-stricken (wow, thought the Doctor, he’s actually thinking about that) then shook his head, then seemed to regret that move.

Nein, definitely a hangover,” said Claus. “I had thirteen steins of beer last night.”

Dr Brandt closed her eyes, as if in pain. “I hope you’re not catching it from me,” said Claus.

“Hangovers are not contagious,” snapped Dr Brandt. “Neither are they a real illness.”

“That’s not what the law says,” replied Claus.

“Then the law is an ass,” said Dr Brandt, “in every possible meaning of that word. I don’t see why I should treat you for something that you brought on yourself.”

“Why not?” said Claus. “If I got a cold from standing in the rain you’d treat that. This is no different.”

Dr Brandt sighed. “You’re right, I suppose,” she said, reaching for her pad. “I’ll give you a note to take the day off.”

“Well, actually,” said Claus, “I was hoping you’d give me a prescription.”

“For what?” asked the Doctor. “Anti-biotics?”

Nein,” said Claus. “For beer.”

“What?” said Dr Brandt, because there was no way of using the German word ‘was?’ that would make any sense to a reader.

“Hair of the dog,” said Claus, “it’s well known to be the best way to get rid of a hangover. If you could give me a prescription for, say -”

“Thirteen steins of beer?”

“Exactly,” said Claus, “then Otto could fill it for me in the bar across the road.”

“And tomorrow,” said Dr Brandt slowly, “you’d have a hangover again.”

Claus smiled knowingly, like a man who’d been giving this some thought. “You’d better make it a repeat prescription so,” he said.




The Truth Is In There

In June a student posted a tongue-in-cheek Facebook event inviting people to charge at the base at Area 51 in large enough numbers to bypass security on 20 September to “see them aliens”. Within days of its launch the event became a viral sensation, with more than three million people expressing an interest in taking part despite strict rules against trespassing at the site. However, only several dozen turned up on Friday, and just one person was arrested – for urinating at the entrance (BBC News) …. 


Today they would see them.

Their emotions were mixed – fear, awe, dread, wonder and proud defiance.

Today they would see humans.

The site we know as Area 51 was originally constructed as staff accommodation by the beings who built the pyramids. Once they had finished with this elaborate practical joke, however, they moved on to their next project, the construction of Pluto, and the building had become vacant. Then an enterprising travel agent, noticing the galaxy-wide desire to holiday in the most unwelcoming and remote places – Antartica, Uluru, Killarney – took on the lease and opened a hotel, right in the middle of a desert on a planet in the middle of nowhere.

He called it The Hotel At The Back Of Beyond.

And business had boomed, for centuries now, because the interior of the hotel did not match the bleakness of its surroundings. It had atmosphere – atmospheres, in fact, with settings to suit any visitor. It had a theme park with Earth rides, where guests could try their hand at riding a horse, milking a cow or opening a roll of Sellotape. It had a bar that sold Earth drinks, which had different effects on different species – the Xaulians, for instance, discovered that vodka made their ears glow in the dark, the Vespasians that white wine made their toenails (all forty-two of them) turn pink, and the people of Octavia 5 (the Octavia Fivers?) that lager made them belch loudly, though this is in fact true of all species.

And because it was in Nevada, the gambling laws were astonishing lax.

So the guests got to sample all of the delights of Earth, without ever having to meet anyone from Earth. Some tour operators did organise visits to sci-fi conventions, where the more intrepid holidaymakers could mingle incognito with the oddly dressed attendees, or sometimes first-time arrivals would get lost on the way to the hotel and, despite strict instructions not to, would stop and ask for directions, but generally speaking there was no contact with humans. Guests would fly in, streaking unnoticed (or so they fondly believed) across our night sky, have their holiday and leave.

Now all of that was about to change.

“There are three million of them coming,” said Klavim from Lithios. “The force field won’t be strong enough to keep them out” (people believe that the US Government guard Area 51, but in fact they simply can’t get in).

“I’ve heard that they probe you, and dissect you, and conduct experiments on you,” said Uzlo from Patria.

“And then they dump you on your planet,” said Umelborb from Keziah, “and when you tell people that you were taken by them, no-one believes you, and you become a sad, embittered loner.”

“And we can’t even fly out,” said Uzlo. “We’re forbidden from taking off in daylight.”

“We’re doomed,” wailed Klavim.

“We’ll see,” said Grunn calmly.

They all turned to look at him. Grunn and his wife Zadra had been residents of the hotel for over seventy years now, ever since they had crashed their spacecraft at Roswell on the way in. They had made their way across country under cover of several nights, surviving on a diet of berries, leaves and a strange plant that they would find growing on a thin branch linking two trees in human backyards (they had in fact been eating pyjamas), to the haven of the hotel. Their ship, though, had been destroyed, and over time they had come to accept the hotel as their home, enjoying the ever-changing company, the thrill of the “Back A Mazda Out Of A Tesco Car-Parking Space” ride, and the effects of Guinness, which enabled them to fart the theme from Riverdance.

“What do you mean?” asked Umelborb.

Zadra shrugged, an interesting sight since she had six shoulder-blades. “We’ve been watching humans for a long time,” she said. “We’re not worried.”

“Well, you should be,” said Uzlo, looking out the window, “because they’re coming.”

A small cloud of dust had appeared on the horizon. The group gathered to watch it grow larger, then realised that it wasn’t going to.

“If that’s three million of them,” said Klavim, “then they must be tiny.”

The humans drew nearer, and stopped outside.

“There isn’t even a hundred of them,” said Umelborb, sounding faintly disappointed.

He was right. It was a very small group. Some carried placards saying things like “ET come home”, “Darth, you are my father” and the almost inevitable “Beam Me Up, Scottie”. Some made “V” peace signs as they walked. Some were dressed as little green men.

“That’s practically racist,” gasped Klavim, a little green man.

“But where are all the rest?” asked Uzlo.

“Didn’t bother coming,” said Grunn.

“But what about FOMO?” asked Umelborb.

“They had something else to get FOMO about,” said Grunn. “The climate change marches are on this weekend too. They all went to them instead.”

“Well, that was a lucky co-incidence,” said Klavim.

“Was it?,” smiled Zadra, nodding at the Earth laptop in the corner of the bar. “My husband may be rubbish at landing a spaceship, but he knows how to organise a mass event on Facebook.”

Umelborb raised his glass in admiration to Grunn. “Cheers,” he said.

They all drank. Unfortunately, Uzlo had chosen ouzo, thinking that was funny, but its effect on him was to cause a bolt of lightning to shoot out of his nose. The bolt hit the cash register, rebounded onto his forehead, and knocked him onto his back.

It also caused the force field, just for an instant, to turn off then back on again.

“One of them’s got through!” shouted Klavim. Sure enough, one human was now at the hotel entrance and was looking at the key-pad. Any second now he would realise that the code was 1234, since aliens can’t remember passwords any better than we can.

“What’ll we do?” asked Umelborb.

“I’ll sort it,” growled J’h’jaz, standing up slowly.

The others looked at him gratefully. They tended not to include him in their conversations, since he was eleven feet tall, had talons for hands and a huge mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, and also because they had no idea how to pronounce his name.

He left.

He came back.

“Did you kill him?” asked Grunn.

“No,” said J’h’jaz. “I looked at him.”


“He wet himself,” said J’h’jaz.





Louder Than Words

“I remember conversations I had with my private secretary, and he had with the Queen’s private secretary, and I had with the Queen’s private secretary, not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional, but just raising an eyebrow – even, you know, a quarter of an inch, that might make a difference.” (David Cameron, revealing how he suggested how the Queen could influence the 2014 Scottish independence referendum).


He was back.

The Queen sat expressionlessly behind her desk as her Private Secretary opened the door to admit David Cameron.

Her heart sank, though her face gave no trace of this. She had trained it not to.

In the earliest days of her reign, in the world of grainy black-and-white TV, things had been easier. In 1968, for example, she had sat in her carriage the whole way around the track at Ascot looking furious, because four-year old Prince Edward had that morning written in crayon on the Throne Room wall. Nobody had noticed.

Then colour TV had been invented, and the zoom-in lens, and everything had changed.

Her dress code, to begin with. She now found that if she wore blue she was accused of supporting the Tories, and of supporting Labour if she wore red. She had taken instead to wearing shades like taupe, fawn and vanilla, and would then read that she looked washed out and tired.

Then analysts – Royal watchers, they were called, as if that was an actual job – were employed to interpret her expressions, as if they were trying to determine whether or not Timmy had fallen down a well. She countered that by developing a look that she liked to call her Resting Resting Face, and that worked for a while.

So the media started to interpret her lack of expression, and that was worse, because they had effectively a blank canvas to work with. The same look, often the same photograph, would be used as proof that she liked this person, disliked that country, disapproved of that Royal romantic match.

And she could say nothing. Her Private Secretary would issue the standard response that Her Majesty does not comment, etc, etc,. While her husband got to have some fun – to try Guinness, to insult random strangers, to crash a Rolls Royce into a tree – she remained bound to her impartial duty.

Which at the moment was to listen to her Prime Minister, and to wonder what he was up to now. The previous year he had held a referendum in which Scotland had narrowly voted to remain in the United Kingdom, and during which, when things looked to be going the other way, he had asked her for help, by the “raising of an eyebrow”.

Raising an eyebrow? That would bordering on hysterics for the Queen. He might as well have asked her to get a microphone and sing Don’t Leave Me This Way from the Palace balcony.

Now, it transpired, he wanted to hold another referendum. The Queen’s eyebrows remained unraised, her lips unpursed, her brow unfrowning as Cameron explained that it would be about leaving the EU, but that he didn’t really want to, that it would all be ok, that the people didn’t want to either.

Then why hold it, said a voice in the Queen’s head. Nothing at all, said the look on the Queen’s face.

He gave her the papers to sign, and she signed, having no option.

And people think I rule this country, she sighed to herself.

-ooOoo –

He was back. Again.

Thirteen months had passed, during which the Queen had become Britain’s longest serving monarch, had celebrated her ninetieth birthday and had turned down a huge amount of money to slip the words ‘because you’re worth it’ into her Christmas Message. Now she regarded David Cameron impassively as he stood sheepishly in front of her.

“Er, well, the thing is,” said Cameron, “we lost. So, well, er, we’re going to leave the EU. Which, well, when you think about it, is probably ok, I mean, we won’t be run by the Germans anymore, ha, h-” – too late he remembered the Queen’s ancestry – “er, I mean, we won’t be run by the Maltese and the Finns anymore. And I’m sure it will all go smoothly, and it won’t divide the nation, and -”

The Queen punched him in the nose.

Had any analysts been watching, they might have described his expression as “stunned”.

“Do I make myself clear?” asked the Queen icily.

“Yes, your Majesty,” said Cameron. “I will resign today.”

“You do that,” said the Queen. “Make up some guff about not wanting to lead the country out of Europe.”

Cameron walked from the room, dabbing at his nose. The Queen turned to the only witness present. He had worked for her for many years, and could read the expression in her lack of expression.

“I am your Private Secretary, Ma’am,” he said. “No-one will ever know about this.”






Well, Whaddya Know

Developer Johnny Ronan has offered Google, who have their European headquarters in Dublin, the option to secure all 1,000 apartments his company plans to build on land it controls in the city’s north docklands….


It was his first night in Googletown.

Dave put his last book up into his bookshelf, slumped back onto his sofa and sighed in relief. All of his unpacking was done.

“That,” he said to himself, “deserves a drink.”

His picked up his jacket, left his apartment, and set out to the pub that he had noticed on the corner.

The pub was called the Salmon of Knowledge, after the creature from Irish mythology, Dave supposed . He pushed open the door to the small bar. There were just four customers, three men and a woman, all in their thirties. They turned in silence and in unison to stare as he came in, making him feel for a second like Clint Eastwood walking into a saloon. He sat down at the bar and ordered a drink.

“You’re new here,” said one of the men eventually. The intonation was odd, it didn’t seem to be a question, more a statement of fact.

“Yes, I am,” said Dave. “First night here, starting work tomorrow.”

“Which section?”

“Google Translate,” said Dave.

The young man smiled. “It’s all Greek to me,” he said.

“Είναι όλα ελληνικά για μένα,” translated Dave, before he could stop himself. “Sorry,” he said, and held out his hand. “I’m Dave.”

“Warren,” said the young man, “and these are Christian, Karl and Emer.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Dave. He picked up his drink and took a large mouthful, some of which shot out of his nose when the barman suddenly thrust a biscuit tin at him. “Cookie?” said the barman.

“No, thanks,” said Dave, wiping his face with his sleeve. “I’ve just eaten.”

He could feel straight away that he had made a mistake.

“You have to accept the cookies,” said Warren, in a hushed voice.

“Er, ok, then,” said Dave, reaching toward the tin. The barman pulled it away.

“You have to say ‘I accept’,” he said.

“I accept,” said Dave. The jar was re-proffered, and he took a dry, oatmeal cookie, which he left on the counter. The counter was metal, as were the chairs.

“Why -” began Dave.

“Why is the sky blue?” asked Christian.

“Why am I so tired?” suggested Karl.

“Why were cornflakes invented?” offered Emer.

The others all turned to look at her. “What?” she said defensively. “It’s one of the most asked questions. Look it up.”

“I was going to ask,” said Dave, “why the counter is made of metal.”

“Chrome,” said Warren.

“O-k,” said Dave slowly.

There was silence for a long time after this, everybody just sipping at their drinks, yet Dave felt that, to all of the others, it was a contented silence. He finished his pint and ordered another.

“Where -” he began, then stopped, suddenly absolutely certain of what would happen next.

“Where is the toilet?” chorused all four customers and the barman.

“Yes,” said Dave.

“It’s -” began Warren, then paused. “I’d like to use your current location,” he said.

“Ok,” said Dave.

“Then it’s around the corner, and second door on your right,” said Warren.

The bar was silent as Dave stood up and left, silent when he returned a few minutes later, and he felt pretty sure that it had been silent for the duration of his absence. It was beginning to get on his nerves.

“As I say, I just moved here,” he said to no-one in particular. “Lure of the big city, and all that.”

“From where?” asked Karl.

“Wikipedia-on-Sea,” said Dave.

There was a horrified silence.

“You poor man,” said Emer eventually.

“Why?” asked Dave, bewildered.

“Well, everything there is wrong,” said Karl. “Anyone can say anything, the people are ignorant, and liars -”

“Karl!” said Emer sharply, nodding at Dave. “Proof required.”

“Ok, maybe not liars,” said Karl. “But they don’t know all their facts and they say them anyway. And then the other townsfolk listen to them and before you know it ridiculous things are being accepted as truth.”

“It’s just as well that you moved here,” said Warren.

“Everyone does,” said Christian, nodding. “People may try Firefox City, Edgeboro-”

“Even Explorerville,” said Emer, ” and that’s just one step up from being Amish.”

“-but they all end up here eventually,” said Christian, “because everyone knows Googletown is the biggest, the brightest, and the best.”

“It’s perfect,” said Warren.

“Perfect?” said Dave.

“‘Having all of the required or desirable’ -”

“I know what it means,” snapped Dave. “I just don’t know why you would say it. I mean, this bar has as much taste and warmth and joy as this bloody cookie here. You all just sit here, staring straight in front of you. No one speaks.”

“We’ve no need to say anything,” said Christian. “We know everything. Mention any topic and we have images, maps, news and all at our fingertips.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” asked Dave. “Bars should be about conversation. Back home you would be able to say ‘I’ve been trying to remember who sang  My Sharona –

“The Knack,” said five voices.

“- or ‘lovely day wasn’t it’-”

“Above average for mid-September.”

“or ‘aren’t United rubbish these days’ -”


“- and we would have opinions about these things, or make wild guesses when we don’t know, and enjoy the whole experience. And yes, we might occasionally believe that Dickens wrote Game of Thrones or that tuna comes from Tunisia, but that’s just part of being human.”

Dave finished his drink and stood. “Thank you all,” he said. “You’ve made me realise what a mistake I’ve made. I’m going home.”

“To your apartment?” asked Emer.

“No,” said Dave. “Back to Wiki.”

He walked out of the door, and the silence resumed, but it had a different timbre now, no longer as content. Eventually Emer spoke.

“He couldn’t be right, could he?” she said. “About people having more fun somewhere else?”

Warren sighed.

“Search me,” he said.







Supersized Hero

Fireman Sam has been axed as a mascot by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue over fears he could put women off joining (BBC News), and while I can see their point, it didn’t stop me thinking up this ….


It was night, which was just as well when your only method of contacting someone is to send a message via a giant searchlight.

It appeared suddenly in the sky, reflected back by the dark ominous clouds over the city, a huge yellow ‘M’.

It was the Ronsignal.

Ronald McDonald leapt into action and into his tiny car, and set off for City Hall. Two men watched from the window of the Mayor’s office as he screeched to a halt beside the kerb, then continued to watch for quite some time as he struggled to free one of his giant feet, which had become trapped under the steering wheel. Eventually he broke free, and raced into the building. They heard his thunderous footsteps on the stairs, and finally he burst into the room.

He gave the two men a manically happy grin, this being his default facial setting.

“Hello, Mayor,” he said.

“Hello, Ronald,” said Mayor McCheese.

“You called me,” said Ronald, nodding out at the sign in the sky. “What’s it this time? Hamburglar stealing burgers again? Captain Crook stealing cod meant for the Filet-O-Fish?”

“No,” said Mayor McCheese, looking a little sheepish. “In fact, it wasn’t me who called you.” He indicated his companion, a young man wearing a business suit and a stern expression. “This gentleman has been sent from McBase to talk to you. He ‘s from the Advertising department.”

Ronald held out his hand. “Ronald McDonald,” he said.

“Mark Etting,” said the young man.

“Seriously?” said Ronald.

“What?” said the man. “You think you lot are the only ones that can have puns as names?”

“Sorry,” said Ronald. “Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“You can sign these papers,” said Mark Etting. “We’re letting you go.”

“What?” said Ronald. “Why?”

“You’re not inclusive enough,” said Mark.

Ronald glared at him. “Is this because I’m ginger?” he asked.

“No, of course not,” said Mark Etting hastily. “That’s actually one of your strongest points – you’re representing an unfairly ridiculed minority.”

“Then why?” asked Ronald.

“Well, you’re not a woman,” said Mark Etting. “Research says that using Fireman Sam as a mascot puts girls off considering a career in the fire service.”

“I see,” said Ronald. “And what does research say about whether Henry Hoover has increased the number of men doing the vacuuming?”

Mark Etting looked momentarily disconcerted.

“Anyway, how is any one person inclusive?” asked Ronald. “I’m either male or female. Whichever one I am, I’m not inclusive of the other. Getting rid of me because I’m not a woman makes as much sense as getting rid of the World Wildlife Fund panda because she’s not a hedgehog.”

“Well, I’m sorry,” said Mark Etting, “but we know what we’re doing.”

“Do you?” snapped Ronald. “I’ve been serving this city for years. Not only have I outwitted Hamburglar and Captain Crook, but I’ve fought off the Burger King, and Colonel Sanders, and the Taco Bell chihuahua. If it wasn’t for me -”

Just then the Chief of Police burst into the room. “Begorrah, Ronald,” he said in his obligatory Irish accent, “thank God you’re here.”

“What is it, Chief?” asked Ronald.

“It’s the Starbucks Mermaid,” said the Chief. “She’s appearing on every street, and flooding the town with tepid coffee and Styrofoam cups with badly spelt names on them.”

“I’ll get on it right away,” said Mark Etting. “I’ll bring out a campaign showing that-”

“No time for that rubbish,” snapped Mayor McCheese. “Let Ronald hit her with his Whopper.”

The four rushed outside into the street, then stopped, looking around.

“Where would she – ?” began Mayor McCheese.

A large coffee shop suddenly popped up on the corner. It seemed cosy yet huge, warm yet cold, inviting yet uninviting.

“I think we’ve found her,” said Ronald.

He turned, slowly, and found himself face to face with the Mermaid. She had long hair that reached down to her fins, a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and a figure that suggested that she had never in her life sampled the Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese. She regarded him coldly.

“Ah, Ronnald,” she said. “This is my town now. No more of your fries and your milkshakes, people will want a skinny skinny latté, served with a blueberry muffin the size of their head.”

“You’re wrong,” said Ronald. “What people want is very simple. They want a happy meal.”

He flung his right hand at her, showering her with small soft discs. She screamed in pain, smoke rising from her skin and scales, then vanished. All of her stores vanished too.

“What were they?” asked Mark Etting.

“The gherkins from a Big Mac,” said Ronald. “It’s all they’re good for.”

“Well,” said Mayor McCheese, “I think we can safely say that Ronald has proved his value.”

“Er, yes,” said Mark Etting, “we’ll have to re-think our strategy. Your job is safe.”

Ronald smiled. “I’m lovin’ it,” he said.







Bring Me Sunshine

Following on from Donald Trump’s suggestion that hurricanes should be nuked to stop them forming, he has issued a checklist detailing how to deal with other weather scenarios:

Lightning: Beat it away with a baseball bat. Or, better still, a metal frying pan.

Wind: Point enough fans towards it to exactly balance it out. Admittedly, this might cause a tornado at the point where they meet, so:

Tornado: Drop a bowling ball into it. It won’t stop the tornado, but if timed right the ball could be shot out directly at North Korea.

Too dry and hot: Not sure. Ask the people who organise Glastonbury.

Drought: Shoot arrows at the sky.

Snow: Allow global warming to turn this to rain.

Rain: Move to California.

Rainbows: Follow them to the end to find the crock of gold.

Climate Change: Follow the activists on Twitter to find the crock of shit.

Hang on, you just said global warming would stop snow: No I didn’t. Fake news.

Hail: To the Chief, yes, that’s my song.

Unrelenting drizzle: You’re from Ireland, aren’t you?

Dense, impenetrable fog: Become President.



Queen Of The Road

A 1932 Rolls Royce has passed its NCT, Ireland’s roadworthiness test…


It had been a typical morning at the NCT Test Centre.

Cars had come and gone. Some had passed, others had not. Shocked millennials had found their cars rejected because of their shock absorbers, exhausted mothers because of their exhausts, balding executives because of balding tyres.

The morning then became untypical.

A car drove – no, glided – through the door. It fitted into the small workspace, certainly, yet seemed to fill it with its presence, to give off an air of being too good for its surroundings, as if the Queen Mary had just sailed into a fishing-fleet harbour.

Its registration plate read 32-D-1.

The Tester watched as the driver got out of the car, and found himself slightly disappointed that the man was not wearing a cap and driving gloves. The Tester walked over to meet him.

“Come for your NCT, have you?” he said, holding out his hand.

The Owner looked at the oil-spattered hand, and the Tester found himself wiping it on his overalls, then wishing he hadn’t.

“Yes,” said the Owner. “What exactly is the process?”

“Well,” said the Tester, “I check things like the central locking, the speedometer, the interior light, the onboard computer -”

“Ah, well then I can save us both a lot of time,” said the Owner. “Clotilde doesn’t have any of those.”


“My pet name for her,” said the Owner. “You can hardly call a Rolls Royce ‘Betsy’.”

“I see your point,” said the Tester. “But anyway, you say she has none of those things?”

“Of course not,” said the Owner. “She was built in 1932. Try thinking of her as Fred Flintstone’s car, but with an angel on the bonnet.”

The Tester looked down at his list. “What about washers?” he asked.

“The butler and the gardener?” asked the Owner. “Was I supposed to bring them?”

“No,” said the Tester. “The washers send little jets of water onto your windscreen.”

“In Ireland?” said the Owner. “Where it’s always raining anyway? Whatever for?”

“Um, well, never mind that,” said the Tester. He looked at his list again. “Demister?” he asked hopefully.

The Owner brightened. “Ah, yes,” he said. He reached into the car and took out a chamois.

The Tester sighed. “I suppose,” he said, “that if I mentioned the word ‘suspension’ you’d show me furry-dice hanging from the rear-view mirror.”

The Owner looked horrified. “Nobody,” he said, “would hang furry-dice in a nineteen thirty-two Rolls Royce -”

“No, I suppose it would be a bit tacky -”

“- because they don’t have rear-view mirrors.”

“Seriously?” said the Tester. “How do you know what’s behind you?”

“Why would you want to?” asked the Owner.

I’ve actually no idea, thought The Tester. “For when you want to reverse out of your driveway,” he said eventually.

“I think you’ll find,” said the Owner, “that people who own Rolls Royces tend to have a turning-circle at the top of their driveway. Usually with a fountain in the middle of it.”

“I see,” said the Tester.

“Are we done?” asked the Owner.

“I suppose so,” said the Tester, “but I don’t see how I can possibly pass you.”

“Did Clotilde actually fail any of the things on your list?” asked the Owner.

“Nice try,” said the Tester, “but if I followed that logic then people would pass simply by not turning up.”

“Look,” said the Tester, “Clotilde may not be able to tick all the boxes on your list, but she has experience. She has -”

He’s going to use the phrase ‘NCT of Life’, thought the Tester.

” – passed the NCT of Life,” said the Owner. “She’s like the old guy in the company who doesn’t have an actual degree, but who still knows more than the younger staff, because he’s seen it all before.”

The Tester hesitated. “Please,” said the Owner. “I only drive at thirty miles-an-hour anyway – she does four miles to the gallon if I go any quicker.”

At some times the Tester was hard-hearted, and picky, and merciless, but at all times he was a petrol-head, which was how he had ended up working on cars in the first place. He looked now at Clotilde, and basically fell in love.

He smiled. “Ok,” he said, “she’s passed.”

“Oh, thanks ever so much,” said the Owner. “I’ve to drive all the way to Killarney now for the weekend, and I feel so much happier knowing that you’ve said she’s in good condition.”

The Tester frowned. “Um, I didn’t -” he began, then stopped. “Look, just have a safe journey.”

“I will,” said the Owner. He got into the car, started it, then reached into the glove-box and took out a road-map of Ireland. He held it up and grinned.

“Sat nav,” he said.






Down With The Kids

A crazy golf course has been installed in a Church of England cathedral at Rochester in Kent to help build bridges with younger people ( ….


All morning something had been bothering the Archangel Gabriel, some sense that something was different, a gentle pawing at his brain like a puppy wanting to go for a walk. Eventually he realised what it was.

The Heavenly Choir was singing Rihanna’s Umbrella.

Gabriel sighed. What has He done now, he wondered.

He went and found God, who was staring perplexedly at a list on a clipboard. He looked up at Gabriel.

“I know I’m supposed to be omniscient,” said God, “but what on earth is Bingo Loco?”

“Search me,” shrugged Gabriel. “Perhaps it’s bingo for mad people, if that’s not tautology.”

“Mmm,” said God. “What about ‘prinking’?”

“Oh, I know that one,” said Gabriel. “It’s pre-drinking drinking.”

“What?” said God.

“You meet up in someone’s house and have a few drinks before you go out drinking,” explained Gabriel.

“That makes no sense,” said God. “It’s like having a nap before you go to sleep, or pouring rainwater on your head before you have a barbecue.”

Gabriel shrugged again. The process made his wings pop briefly above the level of his head, making him look like the White Rabbit. “Well, that’s what young people -”

He stopped, and looked at God. “I know what you’re doing,” he said. “You’ve seen where that cathedral in Kent put in a crazy golf course to attract young people, and you’ve decided to try it here.”

God nodded, a little sheepishly.

“Why?” asked Gabriel.

“Well,” said God, waving his arm around, “the people here now, well, er, they’re all very nice and all -”

“Obviously,” said Gabriel. “It’s kind of a pre-requisite for getting in.”

“- well, yes,” said God, “but they’re a bit, well, old.”

Gabriel raised an eyebrow at Him. “This,” he said, “from the being who has been around since the beginning of time.”

“True,” said God, “but this lot act old. They spend all their time moaning that modern footballers are softies, that rap music is just noise, that summers used to be sunnier. They start every sentence with ‘In my day’ and then bang on about how great it was, despite the fact that their day, depending on their age, typically featured something like the Black Death, or outdoor loos, or Dynasty. I thought some younger people might liven the place up a bit, so I’ve been looking up Generation Z, as I believe they’re called, to see what they’re interested in.”

“And what have you found?” asked Gabriel, intrigued in spite of himself.

“Well,” said God, “they think they’re the greatest generation that has ever lived, but all the generations above them think they’re feckless and entitled.”

“No change there, then,” said Gabriel. “That’s been going on since Adam and Eve thought their kids had it easy because they got to wear clothes.”

“Indeed,” said God. “Also, they are very concerned about the environment.”

The two of them looked briefly around them, drinking in the gentle warmth and sense of peace.

“Sorted,” said Gabriel.

As if on cue came a shrill drilling noise. Gabriel looked around to where St Eligius, Patron Saint of Electricians, seemed to be at work.

“Why is he standing on a ladder,” asked Gabriel, “although the ladder itself is standing on nothing and he can fly anyway, and why is he drilling a hole in the air?” (and why is it, he thought to himself, that although he’s clad head to foot in a celestial robe I still get the faint sense that I can see his butt-crack?).

“Appearances and tradition,” said God. “You know how important I think they are.”

“I do indeed,” sighed Gabriel. “St Peter’s been asking you for years to introduce automatic check-in at the Pearly Gates, says it would save him hours of paperwork, but you keep turning him down because of appearances and tradition.”

“They reassure the customers,” said God, “who expect everything to be exactly as they’ve read about. Otherwise we wouldn’t actually need the Gates at all.”

“What’s Eligius doing anyway?” asked Gabriel.

“Putting in wi-fi,” said God.

“Wi-fi?” exploded Gabriel. “What happened to tradition?”

“Meh,” said God dismissively. “We need wi-fi so that the young people can -” he looked down at his clipboard – “‘Netflix and chill’.”

There was a short silence.

“I think you’ll find,” said Gabriel eventually, “that that doesn’t mean what you think it does.”

God looked confused.

“Look,” said Gabriel, “none of this is going to make young people want to come here, because there’s only one way of getting here, and they don’t want that. They have their whole lives in front of them, young lives at that, full of fire and passion – passion for causes, and for partners, and for living. Loves and break-ups, friends and unfriendings, joy, despair, boredom, Twitter, the Kardashians, Pride parades, hysterical tears but also hysterical laughter.”

“Sounds like hell,” said God.

“Sounds like life,” said Gabriel. “Let them live it.”




Dirty Movie

An adult website has made a porn video on a litter-filled beach to highlight the problem of plastic pollution (Irish Times 31/08/19) ….


It was just after dawn, and a cold wind whipped lines of sand across the deserted beach. The tide was on its way out, leaving a line of debris to mark its highest spot – bottles, nappies, six-pack rings, styrofoam cups, a solitary flip-flop.

And a shopping trolley, because no litter scene is complete without one.

The film crew – all three of them – stood looking gloomily at all of this.

It was the actress who spoke first. Her given name, more years ago than she would admit to, had been Brenda, but when she had first fallen into the industry she had followed the maxim that a good porn name was arrived at by combining the name of your first pet and the name of the street that you grew up on, giving you something like Fifi Braxton, or Kitty Bellevue.

Her name was Tiddles Forty-seventh.

“I just don’t get it,” said Tiddles. “There’s no bed, or couch. No kitchen table, even.”

“There’s no washing-machine,” said the actor, who had taken a simpler approach to choosing a name, and was called Dick. “Like, what am I supposed to have been called to repair?”

“You’re not going to be repairing anything,” said the Director, a much younger man wearing a Greenpeace T-shirt and an odd air of embarrassment, “except the environment.”

“Ah, a problem with the air-con,” nodded Dick. “I bet my line is ‘I’ll have to get my spanner out’.”

“No,” said the Director, “you don’t understand. Just look around. There’s way too much plastic.”

“Are you slagging my boobs?” asked Tiddles angrily.

The porn movie Director blushed, possibly the first time that sentence has ever been used. “Er, no, of course not,” he said. “They’re very, um, upright. No, I’m talking about the seashore. Look at all the rubbish. We’re killing the oceans, and I’ve decided to make a film protesting about it.”

Dick’s eyes narrowed. “You’re not actually a porn director, are you?”

“No,” admitted the Director. “I’m an environmentalist.”

“Then why didn’t you just make a podcast?”

The Director threw out his arms. “Do you know how many people watch podcasts about litter?” he asked. “Almost none, that’s how many. Whereas what type of film does everyone watch?”

“Star Wars,” said Tiddles.

“Porn,” said the Director, as if he hadn’t heard her. “And when they watch this one, they’ll see all the trash washed up on the beach in the background, and it will have an impact.”

“You really are new at this,” said Dick. “Trust me, the kind of person who watches these films watches one thing only. They wouldn’t notice if we had Bigfoot in the background. In a Batman outfit. On fire.”

“The whole idea is ridiculous,” said Tiddles. “I’m going home.”

“Me too,” said Dick.

The Director looked at both of the desperately. “Please,” he said. “I’ve put so much planning into this. I’m spending all my savings on it. It’s really, really important – to me, to everybody.”

He looked so forlorn that Tiddles hesitated. “Do you even have a storyline?” she asked.

“Um, I was thinking something like, Dick here is walking on the beach -”

“Naked,” said Dick.

“- er, well, yes,” said the Director, “and then Tiddles comes out of the water, like Ursula Andress, only she has a plastic bag stuck to her face -”

“Yeuck,” said the porn actress, another first.

“- and she can’t breathe, and Dick, you rush in and help her out of the water, and you rip off the bag, and clean off all the rubbish she’s covered in, and then, well, um, then -”

“Dot dot dot?” asked Tiddles sweetly.

“Er, yes, something like that”, said the Director, by now red enough to be visible from space.

“And where is this dot dot dotting to take place?” snorted Dick. “Standing up in the shopping trolley? -”

He stopped. Tiddles spun around and looked into his face. He met her gaze. They both were professionals. They both needed the money. Most of all, they both enjoyed a challenge.

Tiddles nodded at him.

“We’ll make the film,” said Dick.

“Seriously?” said the Director.

“Yes,” smiled Tiddles. “Let’s hope it sweeps the world.”