Monthly Archives: October 2019

In The Cold Light Of Morning

The clocks went back here in Ireland last night…


The black became less black.

To the east a thin grey line appeared. It grew, then grew brighter as the grey became yellow, pale and infinitely beautiful.

It was dawn.

And Showtime.

The Blackbird was first, as always, with its short whistling song. The Robin soon joined in with a quicker tune, tinkling like angels giggling. Quickly the others began to sing too, the Wren, the Thrush, the Chaffinch, a glorious, joy-filled, joy-inspiring welcome to the coming day.

After a few minutes, though, they faltered, looking at one another in confusion. They weren’t being joy-inspiring, because there wasn’t anyone to inspire joy in. The streets remained silent, the house-lights unlit.

“Where is everyone?” asked the Wren.

At dawn on a Sunday morning, “everyone” is a relative term. Yet she was right. Normally by this time the man from Number Four was heading down the garden path to his car, on his way to play golf, the man from Number Twelve was walking his dog, the lady from Number Nine was on her way down the street to open her corner shop.

There was no sign of any of them.

“I don’t know,” said the Robin. “Maybe they had a street party last night, and all got drunk.”

“Wouldn’t stop Number Four,” said the Blackbird. “He never misses golf, ever. Even goes if it’s snowing.”

“Really?” said the Chaffinch.

The Blackbird nodded. “Yellow balls,” he explained.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Chaffinch. “He’d be freezing.”

There was a short silence. “We should see if the church is open,” said the Robin eventually. “It opens early every Sunday morning.”

They rose and flew – in V-formation, just because they could – down to the church. Not a single house-light was on as they passed. The church, too, was in darkness, it’s great door shut.

“Gosh,” said the Chaffinch. “God’s gone too.”

They flew back to their own street, each silent, alone with their thoughts. They gathered, as always, in the tree at the back of Number Six.

“Let’s face it,” said the Blackbird. “The humans are dead.”

The Chaffinch nodded. “Internet virus, probably,” he said.

“Wow,” said the Wren. “Death by Twitter.”

“Serves them right for calling it that,” said the Thrush. “It was really offensive, it implied that we talk shite.”

“Never mind that,” said the Wren. “Who’s going to fill our feeders with beer-nuts?”

“We don’t need nuts,” said the Blackbird. “We can pick berries. We can eat worms. Which,” he went on, brightening, “if everyone is dead -”

The Wren shuddered. “Don’t even say it,” she said.

“Mind you,” said the Thrush, “the ducks down in the pond will probably struggle.”

“We’ll have to find a way of feeding them,” said the Robin.

“And we’ll have to organise rescue parties for the budgies trapped in the houses,” said the Wren.

“We could fly down the chimneys in groups,” said the Robin, “we’d soon be able to break open their bars.”

“What about the apartments?” asked the Chaffinch. “They don’t have chimneys.”

“You’re right,” said the Robin. “We’ll have to break the windows.”

The Blackbird snorted, causing a small piece of blackberry to shoot from one nostril. “Have you never flown full-belt into a window?” he said. “It’s like head-butting a wall.”

“We’ll get the woodpeckers to help us,” said the Wren.

“Good idea,” said the Robin. “Then we -” 

Suddenly they heard a sound, the hushed sound of somebody trying to quietly shut a front door, as if not to wake a spouse. They all turned and watched.

Number Four was lurching unsteadily down his garden path toward his car.

“They’re zombies!” gasped the Thrush.

“Zombies with beer-nuts, hopefully,” said the Wren, still struggling with the worm idea.

The Blackbird shook his head. “He’s just half-asleep,” he said. “He goes out like that every Sunday morning. How he calls it fun I’ve no idea.”

They watched as drove off in his car, then as Number Twelve emerged from his house with his dog, then as Number Nine came out and began to walk towards the corner shop.

In the distance they heard the church-bell ring.

They all looked at each other in confusion. “So what happened?” said the Chaffinch.

“Morning was broken,” said the Wren.

“Yes, but how?” asked the Chaffinch.

“There’s only one explanation,” said the Blackbird. “The humans all travelled back in time by one hour.”

“How could that be possible?”

The Blackbird shrugged. “Some NASA experiment gone wrong, I’d say. They’ll do some sort of cover-up. No-one will never know.”

“Never know?” said the Robin. “Surely they’ll all notice that it’s brighter than it was when they got up yesterday.”

“Will they?” said the Blackbird, nodding down the street to where Number Nine, with a yawn wide enough to swallow a bear, was trying to fit her key into the door of her shop. “Though they like to think otherwise, people are not morning people.”




One Man One Vote

Our parliament, the Dáil, faced controversy this week after it emerged that TDs (members of the Dáil) have been voting on behalf of other TDs when they have been absent from the Chamber, including one who voted on six different occasions on behalf of the same colleague. A report by the Clerk of the Dáil into the issue has recommended an overhaul of the voting rules but has made no findings against any of the TDs involved and has recommended no sanctions. So that’s ok then…


Today was the day.

It was now three weeks since I had won my seat in the Dáil, standing as an Independent candidate in a bye-election in my constituency and scraping home after not being regarded as a serious threat, essentially the Donald Trump of County Wicklow.

And now I was ready, proudly ready to represent my people as their TD, and eagerly looking forward to the impassioned speeches, the vigorous but fair debates, the thrill of cliff-hanger votes.

I straightened my tie, took a deep breath, and pulled opened the door to the Dáil Chamber.

It was empty.

Well, not empty. The Taoiseach, our prime minister, was walking among the seats carrying a large clipboard. He looked up as I entered, and looked confused, then annoyed and then, as if remembering that every person is a potential vote, solicitous and helpful.

“I’m afraid you’ve missed the public tour,” he said, “but if you like I could get a porter -”

I told him my name, a little coldly, a little disappointed that he didn’t recognise me.

He looked blank for a second, then his face brightened. “Oh, you’re the new guy,” he said. “The TD for er, um -”

“Wicklow,” I said, a little more coldly. The Taoiseach was from Dublin, and was thus inclined to regard people from anywhere outside Dublin as being from the wilderness of  Anywhereoutsidedublin.

“Yes, well, you’re very welcome,” he said, “if you hang on till I finish this I’ll show you around – the Bar, the Gym, the – well, that’s about it really.”

He looked down at his clipboard, then pressed one of two buttons on the arm of the seat in front of him. He moved to the next seat and repeated the process.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“We’re voting,” he said.

“Who’s we?” I asked.

“The Dáil,” he said patiently, as if he were talking to a small child. “The one hundred and fifty-eight members are voting.” He pressed a button at the next seat, and moved on again.

“But they’re not here,” I said.

“Of course not,” he said. He saw the look of surprise on my face. “Look,” he said, “remember the kerfuffle about TDs voting on behalf of their friends who weren’t actually here?”

“I do, of course,” I said haughtily, “I thought it was -”

“And remember how the Clerk of the Dáil said it was ok to do that?”

“That’s not what he said,” I corrected him. “He just didn’t recommend any sanctions.”

“Same thing,” said the Taoiseach, waving his hand dismissively. “Well, after that the practice grew. Some TDs were coming in with lists of twenty others to cast votes for. One actually started charging his colleagues for doing it. Well, naturally we had to put a stop to that -”

“I should say so -”

“- so all the parties met and decided that just the Taoiseach should do it. For everybody.”

“That’s shocking,” I said.

“It’s a bit of a pain alright,” said the Taoiseach, “but then I do get paid more than everyone else.”

“So you’re saying that they just turn up for the debates, tell you how they’re going to vote, then sod off,” I said, getting angrier by the second.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” he said.

“Oh, good, because -”

“They don’t turn up for the debates at all,” he said.


“Why bother?” he said. “They’re not going to be voting anyway.”

“But there are official records of the debates,” I said.

“The Dáil staff draw them up,” said the Taoiseach. “Everyone sends an email saying how they want to vote, sometimes someone will say something like ‘and I if I was there I would have dragged a reference to my local hospital into the debate’, and the staff draw up a likely sounding debate from that.”

“That’s dreadful, making them do that,” I said.

“Making them?” said the Taoiseach. “They love doing it, they have enormous fun. They get to write jokes, and insults, and witty put-downs. They’ve made oratorical legends of quite a few TDs who in real life couldn’t say their own name without having to stop in the middle to think.” He stopped in front of the next seat. “This guy, for instance,” he said. “Hasn’t, according to the record, missed a vote since he was elected in 1982, passionate advocate of behalf of the people of his county, supposed coiner of the phrase ‘rain tax’ to describe the proposed water charges, and -” he pressed the No button – “I’ve never met him.”

“So what does everyone do instead?” I asked.

The Dáil in full session

“They stay working for their constituencies,” he said. “They get pot-holes fixed, or a new set of traffic-lights installed, or dig the first shovelful of earth for putting in a new bus shelter. Important stuff.”

“The stuff that gets them re-elected,” I said.

“Exactly,” said the Taoiseach. He looked down at the next seat, then at his clipboard. “Oh, this is you,” he said. And pressed the Yes button.

“Hang on,” I said. “You can’t just assume I was going to vote yes.”

“It’s the Fisheries Protocols (Special Provision In The Event Of A Border In The Irish Sea, With Regard To The Entanglement Of Nets) Amendment Act 2019, Second Reading,” said the Taoiseach calmly. “Which way were you thinking of voting?”

“Er, well, I don’t know,” I said. “I suppose I’d have researched it, talked to affected parties, listened to the debate – or, rather, read the debate, it seems, then thought carefully about it -”

“Horse manure,” said the Taoiseach. “We didn’t have an email from you because you’re new, but because you are new we knew you’d be here with one particular cause that you’re really keen to get support for -”

I nodded. “Monthly stipends for humorous bloggers,” I said.

“Whatever,” said the Taoiseach, “and for that reason we knew that in this very first vote you would side with the Government.”

I thought about it. “I suppose you’re right,” I said in a low voice.

The Taoiseach smiled at me. “Cheer up,” he said. “If it makes you feel any better, we’re going to lose this one anyway.” He pressed another No button. “Perils of a minority Government.”

I watched in silence as he went on, pushing his own Government, button by button, towards defeat.

“Why don’t you just change a few of the No votes to Yes?” I asked.

He looked at me in horror. “That would be treating democracy as a joke,” he said.





Long Distance Communication

This week Eliud Kipchoge ran the first sub-two hour marathon. It wasn’t that easy the very first time….


The last of the Persians scrambled onto the last of their ships, the last anchor was raised, and the fleet fled.

The Battle of Marathon was over.

A cheer went up from the Athenian army, but not a great, triumphant roar, more a ragged, weary “yay”, the kind that comes from men who have been fighting for many hours, men who are not so much elated at having won as grateful at being alive.

Their commander, Militades, saw it differently. As commander he had been far from the fighting, doing the important stuff like supervising and delegating, and had been in no real danger, so his overriding concern had been about his career. So now that he had won, the sooner people found out the better.

He had a look around. A young soldier was sitting on a rock, head down. Militades walked over and stood in front of him, and the soldier’s head raised. Their eyes met, yet didn’t, because the stare of the young man went through Militades and far, far beyond him, as if seeking a place somewhere, anywhere, in the vast expanse of existence where his eyes could unsee the preceding hours.

Militades, to his surprise, found himself having to steel himself before going on.

“Soldier,” he said, “what is your name?”

“Pheidippides,” said the young man.

“Seriously?” said Militades. “Well, Pheidip- er, my good man, I have a mission for you.”

“Yes, sir?”

“It is a great and glorious mission,”  said Militades. “I want you to tell the authorities in Athens about our victory -”

“Me, sir?” said Pheidippides. “If you wish, but I think it should be you who tells them, when you lead in our army or-” he looked around, “- what’s left of it, back into the city.”

“But we shall not return to Athens until tomorrow,” said Militades. “I want them to know now. The news will bring great joy, so should be conveyed as quickly as possible.”

So they can organise a hero’s welcome for you, thought Pheidippides. He looked around enviously at the other men, who were starting to break out the ouzo and restina, sighed internally, and got to his feet.  “Very well, sir,” he said. “If I could have a horse -”

“We don’t have any,” said Militades.

“Wow,” said Pheidippides, “and I thought the Spartans had things, well, spartan. Well, in that case there’s no point,” he went on. “Even if I set out now, I won’t get there before night. The rulers will be asleep.”

“Not if you run,” said Militades.

“Run?” said Pheidippides. “It’s twenty-six miles.”

“No trouble to a fit young man like you,” said Militades, clapping him on the back. “It should only take a couple of hours.”


It took more than a couple of hours.

Pheidippides had just fought a long battle. He did not have pacemakers running alongside him. He did not have people regularly handing him cups of water. He was not running on tarmacked roads, nor in super-cushioned trainers. He was running across rugged, rock-strewn terrain. Wearing sandals.

It is true that people did cheer and whoop as he ran by, but that was only because, as was customary among runners at the time, he was naked.

But on and on he ran. First one sandal broke, then the other, forcing him to run barefoot, yet on and on he ran. The sun beat down continually upon him, yet still on and on he ran.

Then after twenty miles he hit the wall.

This was because he was by now running head down in exhaustion, and didn’t see it until he ran into it.

He climbed it, scraping both knees and a nipple, and solved the problem of getting down the other side by simply tumbling off onto the ground. He picked himself up, and on and on, again, he ran.

Hours later, many hours later, he arrived in Athens. He hailed a passer-by. “Where do the rulers meet?” he asked.

The passer-by pointed up at the Acropolis. “Up there,” he said.

“Of course they do,” muttered Pheidippides.

He climbed wearily to the top of the great hill. An attendant offered him a robe, or demisroussos, but he shrugged him off and lurched past him and into the courtyard of the philosopher rulers.

He stood, swaying and breathing heavily. Several of the philosophers glared at him.

“Hush!” whispered one. “Plato is speaking.”

“How can you know whether at this moment we are sleeping,” Plato was saying, “and all our thoughts are a dream, or whether we are awake and talking to one another in the waking state?”

You could try running full-belt into a stone wall, thought Pheidippides. He moved forward a few steps.

“Well I know that I am the wisest man alive,” replied Socrates, ignoring him, ” because I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”

“μαλακίες,” thought Pheidippides. He plucked a Grecian urn from a plinth and dropped it onto the ground. Everyone turned in shock at the crash, then parted as he staggered to stand before them.

“Know this then,” he panted. “We’ve beaten the Persians.”

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than who conquers his enemies -” began Aristotle.

“Oh, shut up,” said Pheidippides, falling forward onto his face.

The philosophers gathered anxiously around him. “You poor man,” said Homer. “Is there anything we can do for you?”

Pheidippides summoned all his will to lift his head one last time.

“Teach a pigeon or something to carry messages in future,” he said. “You can call it after yourself if you like.”

Le soldat de Marathon (Luc Oliver Merson, 1869)

Le soldat de Marathon (Luc Oliver Merson, 1869)









Carry On Wordcamping

This weekend I will be at WordCamp Dublin 2019.

WordCamps are conferences of WordPress users held at various locations all over the world. Users, hobbyists, web developers, designers and business owners gather at these not-for-profit events to learn or teach more about WordPress. I got a notification about it a couple of months ago, in which they were looking for contributors, attendees and volunteers.

Neither of the first two were for me – sessions like Building a packing application using the WooCommerce REST API would not be in any way improved by my presence. To me, my posts are my musings and my WordPress blog is the copybook that I write them in. My sole technical skill is to occasionally change the theme of the blog, in other words the layout, colour scheme and font, from a variety of options offered by WordPress. This is the equivalent of putting new stickers on the cover of my copybook.

But I get that copybook for nothing. WordPress doesn’t charge me for using it, and if they weren’t there I would never have had a blog, so would never have written the stories I’ve written and never have had as much fun as I’ve had in doing it. I feel I owe them something back, so I am a volunteer. I will be at the registration desk (at 7am!!!), will be dispensing tea and coffee, will be lugging stuff around.

I hope it’s a great success – the organisers have put a huge amount of work into it, I’m looking forward to it.

The image at the top is our Wapuu – Wapuu is apparently the WordPress mascot, and for each event the organisers produce their own variation. Ours is evocative of the literary history of Dublin, so he is wearing clothes like James Joyce and is writing in a book.

I think he looks like Pikachu dressed as the Tom Baker Doctor Who, but that’s just because I’m shallow.


Goes Around, Comes Around

Every Christmas I buy Mrs Tin a calendar for the kitchen wall (wow, you’re thinking, and I know, but she’s worth it). She turns over the page at the start of each month and fills the little day-boxes with birthdays, upcoming events and all the other administration required to run the Tinhouse.

This year’s calendar features twelve paintings by Monet, and to be honest they’ve been something of a disappointment, until this months:

It called the Blue Row Boat, painted in 1887, and it caught my attention as I was sleepily making tea in front of it on Saturday morning. I reckoned that I could make a story out of it, exploring how the ladies had managed to climb into the boat in those dresses, why there were no oars, what mishap had befallen them that had led to them having seaweed on their hats, and how the lady at the rear of the boat had apparently caught a fish with her bare hands.

Take a photo of the calendar, I thought. Don’t bother, I thought half a second later, just take the picture off the internet. So I went to the room I write in and googled Blue Row Boat, stared at my screen for a few confused seconds, then went back out to the kitchen to look at the picture again. Just to be sure.

The kitchen picture you have seen, but this is what is on the internet:

The Blue Row Boat (Claude Monet, 1887)

It is on numerous websites, including, who you have to presume know what they are talking about.

So it looks as though our picture is the wrong way round, and perhaps they have made similar errors on other calendars, that somewhere there is a Van Gogh calendar showing him missing the wrong ear.

Perhaps not, though. Investigation showed that none of the other pictures in our calendar are the other way round, so what if this is another painting altogether, painted later the same day?

After all, Monet would have engaged the models for the whole day, so why not make use of them? Why not do a series, telling a story? Why not, at the very least, do a second one in case you drop jam on the first one on the way home?

This second picture might be called The Girls On Their Way Back To The Riverbank, or Les Filles Sur Le Chemin Du Retour Au Bord De La Rivière, as Monet would have called it (Google Translate has been a Godsend to this blog, expect a whole post soon in Norwegian), depicting their damp, dispirited return to dry land.

And maybe there are others, by other artists, their least-liked ones of a series, the artistic equivalent of Non-Favourite Child. Maybe there’s a Two Hours After The Birth Of Venus, where she is now clothed and being visited by adoring grandparents. Maybe there is a  Morninghawks, with the iconic loners replaced by dawn joggers ordering smoothies. Maybe there is a Tidying Up After The Last Supper.

Maybe, somewhere, there is a Mona Lisa Goes Home, showing just the back of her head as she walks off into the Tuscan sunset.

For He On Honey-dew Hath Fed

The makers of Marmite are looking for volunteers to be hypnotised into liking their product…


He had once made Mount Everest disappear.

He had made people believe that black was white, that night was day, that Milton Keynes was Machu Picchu.

In 2017, purely for the laugh and at the very last second, he had persuaded the Motion Picture Academy that they had voted for Moonlight as best picture.

Now, though, he faced his greatest challenge. Michael – Mentalist Mike to the adoring fans who flocked to his shows –  looked at the group of volunteers sitting in a semi-circle around him, and took a deep breath. At least, he thought, they look more worried than I do.

A woman in a business suit and carrying a clipboard approached him. On stage she was My Glamorous Assistant Gina, a role she detested but accepted as a necessary part of the act, but here she was Dr Gina Wilson, with a PhD in Psychology and a Masters in Hypnotherapy, and his wife.

“Ready?” she asked.

“As I’ll ever be,” he said.

“Are you sure about this?” she asked. “It’ll ruin your reputation if we fail.”

Michael smiled reassuringly. “It’ll be fine. Trust me on this.”

“Says the man who proposed to me by giving me a washer and persuading me it was a diamond ring,” she said.

He grinned at her. “See?” he said. “I’m the best there is.”

He turned to the group. There were seventeen of them, three of the chairs being vacant. This was because tests had revealed three of the original twenty to have been secret Marmite lovers, eagerly applying for a programme where they would get to eat it for free.

“Good morning, my friends,” he began. “We’re here today to carry out, not some cheap trick, but a great experiment. Can a human mind be persuaded to like … Marmite.”

The group instinctively recoiled slightly in their seats.

“Well, I believe that the answer is yes,” said Michael  . “Hypnotherapy can help people to quit smoking, to lose weight, to overcome anxiety. Why can’t it persuade people that a natural, harmless product is yummy?”

“Because the product tastes like melted wellies,” burst out volunteer Number Seven. She looked wildly around at the group. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I thought I could do this, but -”

She raced to the door and opened it.

“Sit, please,” said Michael. It was a request, not a command, yet Number Seven found herself returning to her seat, though she could not have said why.

The rest of the group looked more nervous than ever.

So Michael set to work. His voice became a soft blanket that warmed them, comforted them. It became a softly murmuring stream, carrying them gently to a peaceful island. It became a soothing lullaby, gently easing them toward the sweetest of dreams.

Then, when he judged them ready, he motioned to Gina, who approached with a tray of Marmite-spread crackers. She passed along the line, and each volunteer took one.

“Now,” said Michael, his voice almost a whisper, “we eat.”

Each of the volunteers took a bite. Each of their mouths opened in surprise (not a pretty sight, since they each had a mouthful of Marmite) and a look of joy passed across their faces.

“It’s working!” breathed Gina.

And it seemed it was. Each of them finished their cracker and eagerly took another. Great hums of pleasure filled the room as their minds told them that they were savouring the most wonderful taste in the universe.

Their taste buds and their stomachs did not agree, however, and sweat started to break out on the faces of the volunteers as these fought with their minds for control.

Their minds became confused by the internal rebellion, lost focus for a second and, since they had been opened to suggestion, fell prey to all suggestion.

Number Four wrapped his tie around his head and began to practice ninja moves. Number Twelve, a lady from Hartlepool, held one hand over her heart as she belted out  La Marseillaise. Number Eleven strutted up and down, elbows moving in and out, in the belief that he was a chicken, though he looked more like a T-Rex trying to do armpit farts. Number Nine began to play air-guitar. Number Three sucked his thumb.

Only Number Seven sat in her chair, helping herself to cracker after cracker.

Then Number Thirteen tied the sleeves of his jumper round his neck like a cape, stood on his chair, raised one hand in a Superman pose, and hurled himself forward. He hit the ground with a loud thud and with his face, got to his feet, and started to climb onto the chair again.

“You’ve got to stop it!” yelled Gina.

Michael snapped his fingers. There was a split second where the volunteers looked confused and uncertain, then one very clear certainty hit all of them.

Their mouths were full of Marmite.

All decorum was ignored as they spat it out, onto the floor, onto the table, onto themselves. Numbers Two and Fourteen wrestled with each other for Number Nineteen’s water bottle, while Number Nineteen herself kept scraping at her tongue with an emery board.

Number Five crawled past Gina, retching. “I now know what the phrase ‘eat shit and die’ means,” he groaned.

It was clear that the experiment was over. The volunteers began to make their way toward the door. Number Thirteen, tissue held to his bleeding nose, stopped in front of Michael.

“I’m going to sue you,” he said. “You’re nothing but a fraud and a charlatan.”

He stormed out of the door. Next to pass was Number Seven, who was now eating Marmite out of a jar with a spoon.

“You’re a bloody genius,” she said, and kissed Michael on the cheek.

Michael looked at Gina and shrugged.

“Hypnosis,” he said. “You either love it or you hate it.”












Worse Than Its Bite

A woman in Oklahoma was shot in the leg – by a labrador puppy (Irish Times 12/10/19) …


The gate of the yard opened, and the dogs sat up in interest. “Sounds like we’ve got us a newbie,” said Tally.

The dogs were in New Tricks, a Shelter started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, by an elderly dog-lover keen to give misbehaving dogs a second chance. She had been rewarded for this over the years by savage opposition from the neighbours, savage letters from the town council and occasional savaging from the dogs.

Now the current crop of inmates gazed expectantly, a little fearfully, at the gate, like the Toy Story toys awaiting new presents. Their mouths dropped open in unison, causing a selection of bones to clatter to the ground.

The newcomer was a Labrador puppy.

Lula Mae

“Well, I never,” drawled Lula Mae, the collie.

The gate closed behind him. The puppy looked around defiantly at them.

“What are you all looking at?” he snarled.

Lula Mae smiled down at him. “Now listen, honey -” she began.

“My name’s not Honey,” said the puppy.

“Well, I didn’t think it was -”

“It’s Sweets,” said the puppy.

There was a short silence. “Oh, you poor thing,” said Max, the boxer.


“Well, Sweets,” continued Lula Mae, “I know you’re scared, surrounded by tough dogs like us -”

“Bit people, did you?” asked Sweets, scornfully.

“We didn’t just bite people,” said Lula Mae, surprised at how defensive she sounded. “Well, Max here did-”


“Just postmen,” said Max. “I thought you were meant to, that they were delivered free, like manna.”

“Whereas Tally here,” said Lula Mae, “was put in here just because he was too slow.”

“Really?” said Sweets.


“Yes,” said Tally. “My actual name is The Tahlequah Torpedo The Third – you get names like that when you’re a racing greyhound – and after a bad race I heard the owner say he was buying a The Tahlequah Torpedo The Fourth.”

“And he put you in here?”

“Er, yes,” said Tally, “though only after, well, now that you mention it, I bit him.”

“I see,” said Sweets. He turned to the big dog beside him, a Belgian Malinois. “And you?”


“I’m Duke,” said the dog. “I was a sniffer-dog, best in the whole of Cherokee County, for more than ten years. I just had two days to go till retirement when I sniffed out a bag of cocaine in a raid. Trouble was the bag was open, I got a snout full of coke, and I started to believe that I was Dracula, and my handler was a young lady in a revealing night-dress, and, well -”

“- he bit him.” said everyone.

Sweets looked at Lula Mae, who lowered her head. “I chewed slippers,” she said, quietly.

“That’s doesn’t sound too bad,” said Sweets, surprised.

“No,” said Lula Mae, “but one day my owner invited her friend to afternoon tea, and she brought her stupid pet dog.”


“It was a Shih Tzu,” said Lula Mae. She gazed at him, a bottomless pit of guilt in her eyes. “I honestly thought it was a haunted slipper.”

There was a short silence after this. “So,” said Sweets eventually, “you all think you’re the toughest of the tough, the literal dogs’ bollockses. Well, I’m here to tell you you’re not.”

“Why?” sneered Max. “What terrible thing did you do?”

“I shot my owner,” said Sweets.

There was a stunned silence. “O-k,” said Max eventually, “that is impressive.”

“How?” asked Tally.

“It’s simple,” said Sweets. “I waved my paw like I was waving ‘hello’, it flicked the trigger of her shotgun, which she always left lying on the porch, and ‘boom’.”

“I’m not surprised,” nodded Duke, the police-dog. “It’s exactly the sort of accident that happens when folk don’t lock away their guns.”

“Accident?” said Sweets. “You reckon?”

“You can’t be saying you shot her on purpose,” said Lula Mae, sounding as if she needed smelling salts. “Why would you?”

“My name,” said Sweets, “is Sweets. That should start to give you a hint. And I can wave my paw like I’m saying ‘hello’. I mean, what dog can do that? A dog whose owner is mental, that’s who. She used to make me chase toilet rolls so that I’d look like the Andrex puppy. She dressed me in an elf costume for her Christmas card. Then yesterday I was asleep and she yelled “walkies!!!” and waved my lead in my face, flicking the side of my ear.”

“So you killed her?” gasped Lula Mae. “For that?”

“Of course I didn’t kill her,” said Sweets. “I’m not an animal.”

The others waited while he played this back in his head.

“Well, ok, I am,” said Sweets. “But I just grazed her leg. I figured that would put an end to ‘walkies’ for a while.”

“Which it has,” said Duke, “since she’s put you in here.”

“Yes, well, I have to admit I didn’t see that bit coming,” said Sweets. “I guess ‘man’s best friend’ doesn’t mean as much as I thought it did.”

“Tell us about it,” chorused the others.

Just then they heard voices. The Shelter’s elderly owner was an approaching the gate with an even more elderly lady.

“… as safe as I used to,” the visitor was saying. “There’s a lot of petty crime in our area now, and some things have been stolen from my yard. It’s hard because I live alone.”

“I understand,” said the Shelter owner. “So you’d like a nice dog to keep you company?”

“Oh, I don’t want a nice dog,” said the visitor. “I want a guard dog.”

The dogs looked at each other, then at Sweets, who nodded.

“I’ve got this,” he said.








Finger Wagging

In their coverage of the row between footballers’ wives Colleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy this week, the media have noted how Colleen figured out where the stories appearing in The Sun about her were coming from, and have dubbed her “WAGatha Christie” …


Mrs Marple had gathered them all in the home dressing room.

It was the only room large enough, since football grounds tend not to have a drawing room, and certainly not a library. Now it was filled with eleven wives and girlfriends who had been through so much together as their husbands and boyfriends had stormed successfully through the Premier League and across Europe – handbag shopping in Milan, selfieing at the cathedral in Barcelona, searching in vain for the canals in Vienna.

Each of them were so much like their husbands, and indeed the same was true in reverse, to judge from the lingering smell of hair product in the dressing room. Mrs Goalkeeper was quick to blame anybody but herself for her mistakes. Mrs Big Centre Back was quiet but utterly ruthless with her elbows at a fashion sale. Mrs Overpriced Winger thought she was better than everyone else. Mrs Club Captain looked after all the others.

Mrs Marple, 30 years old and blonde, was also like her husband, the Midfield Maestro Trevor, who was likeable, unassuming and a lot cleverer than people thought.

Mrs Rising Star, too, was like her husband, in that she was young, gorgeous and a huge media celebrity. She was unlike him, though, in that she was alive.

The Rising Star was dead, having eaten a poisoned chocolate éclair after the game the previous Saturday. It seemed he was not the intended victim, though – the éclair had been one of a tray of eleven left out for the WAGs, who had a tradition of celebrating if the team won by allowing themselves just one éclair each, so as not to put on weight – the six glasses of prosecco that each of them would down during the actual game they deemed to be calorie-balanced by the amount of jumping up and down they did.

It looked as if the WAGs had been the target. CCTV had shown the Club Mascot approaching the table not long before the Rising Star had gone into the room, so he had been arrested. The media were speculating about misogyny, jealousy, possibly a crazed obsession.

So the girls were a little unsure as to why Mrs Marple had brought them all together. It is an immutable rule of life, though – if a crime has been committed and an amateur with no jurisdiction asks you to gather, then gather you must. Now they all listened as she began to speak.

“To begin with,” she said, “it wasn’t the Mascot.”

“But he was on the CCTV,” said Mrs Big Centre Back.

“A giant furry dice was on the CCTV,” corrected Mrs Marple. This was true. The club, like most others, was sponsored by an Online Gambling company, and the Mascot was Dicey Reilly, a large furry dice. “I looked at the footage and noticed that the outfit is too big for the person wearing it, who is very, very slim. So I thought, cherchez la femme.

There was an uncomprehending silence. “It means ‘look for the woman’, sighed Mrs Overpriced Winger, who was French.

“You mean one of us?” asked Mrs Goalkeeper. “Why would we try to kill each other?”

“Not each other,” said Mrs Marple. “The killer got the victim she wanted.”

“My Steve?” gasped Mrs Rising Star. “Why would anyone want to kill him?”

“Any one of a number of reasons,” said Mrs Marple. “You yourself, for example, might have wanted to kill him because he had an affair with Nicky here.” – she indicated Mrs Goalkeeper, who was heavily pregnant.

“Now hang on -” began Mrs Goalkeeper.

“Or you, Nicky,” went on Mrs Marple, “because he wouldn’t leave his wife for you. Or you,” she went on, nodding at Mrs Big Centre Back, “because he outbid you for that twelve-bedroom house that you wanted -”

“The selfish git,” said Mrs Big Centre Back, before she could stop herself.

“Or any of you,” said Mrs Marple, “because to be honest he was a pain in the arse.”

Mrs Rising Star opened her mouth to protest, then shrugged. “Fair point,” she said.

“But what actually got the Rising Star killed,” said Mrs Marple, “was the fact that he was the Rising Star.” She turned to Mrs Club Captain. “Isn’t that right, Orla?”

They all stared at Mrs Club Captain, whose look of maternal benevolence suddenly turned to white-faced malevolence.

“Yes,” she snarled. “I did it. He was the up-and-coming hero, and he was starting to dictate to the manager. I heard him say he wanted to play in the hole (yes, it’s an actual position) and that’s where my husband plays. So I got rid of him.”

“How did you get him to eat the éclair?” asked Mrs Big Centre Back.

“I just told him they were there,” said Mrs Club Captain. “I knew he believed he was entitled to take anything he wanted -” she glanced over at Mrs Goalkeeper- “no offence, Nicky,” she said. “I also knew he’d take the biggest one -” she glanced over again.

“Don’t start,” said Mrs Goalkeeper.

“- so it was simple,” said Mrs Club Captain.

“But why?” wailed Mrs Rising Star.

“I did it for the team, of course,” said Mrs Club Captain.

“How was that for the team?” said Mrs Overpriced Winger. “He was their best player.”

“Not that team,” said Mrs Club Captain scornfully, “with their wet towel slaps and their stupid nicknames and their ‘banter’, which is just relentless slagging. I mean us. We’ve been through everything together, and he was threatening to spoil it.”

“You didn’t do it for the team,” said Mrs Marple quietly. “You did it for yourself. The team would have gone on anyway. It always has.”

“Yes, but without me in it,” snapped Mrs Club Captain. “My husband would have been sold off to some lower league side, and he’d have been playing teams like Grimsby Town or Stockport County, where lunch for the WAGs would be a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale and a Greggs Sausage Roll. I wouldn’t be in the papers anymore. I wouldn’t be invited on game shows. I wouldn’t have a million followers on Instagram.”

“Well, if you think the food at Grimsby is bad,” said Mrs Marple, “just wait till you try it in prison.”

“You reckon?” said Mrs Club Captain. “They’ll have to catch me first.”

She made a dash towards the door. Mrs Big Centre Back kicked the two legs out from underneath her, then, just as her husband would have done, held her hands up in innocence.

“It’s ok this time,” said Mrs Marple, smiling.

Mrs Overpriced Winger took out her phone and dialled the police. Mrs Goalkeeper stared in open admiration at Mrs Marple. “How did you figure it all out?” she asked.

Mrs Marple shrugged. “I’m not just a pretty face,” she said.







Wait A Minute, Mr Postman

An Post, the Irish postal service, has issued stamps celebrating Thin Lizzy’s 50th Anniversary – but a year too early, according to the band’s former manager. This comes just three months after they misspelt the Irish word for ‘moon’ on a stamp commemorating the moon landing …


“…. and in January,” said Vincent, “we’ll bring out a stamp about Martin Luther King.”

This’ll be good, thought Jane. “Er, why?” she asked.

“It’s the year his famous speech was about,” said Vincent. “He called it his 2020 Vision.”

“It was called ‘I have a dream’,” said Jane, before she could stop herself.

Vincent smiled indulgently at her. “I think you’ll find,” he said, “that that was a song by Abba.”

This time Jane let it go. She had been Vincent’s assistant for five years now, and knew that there was no point in arguing.

Vincent had started with An Post as a fifteen year old, working in the Sorting Office in a small town in the west of Ireland. Four years later he had been promoted to postman. This job requires a prodigious memory, knowing where every person on your route lives so that you can plan your route in the morning, deliver mis-addressed envelopes, and recall who is on holidays so that you can hold their post for them until their return.

Vincent did not have such a memory, but was a nice young man with a permanently sunny disposition in even the most savage of weather, so his customers had said nothing and had taken to meeting a couple of times a week for a mail swap.

In time he had been moved on to parcel deliveries, and this had not been as successful, as neighbours had learned far too much about each other’s sometimes esoteric interests. A delegation had met the local Postmaster, a word had been had, and Vincent had been moved to Dublin.

He was put to work in Stamp Design, which back then was regarded as a dead-end job – stick something like a harp on it, remember to change that to a robin in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and then sit around doing basically nothing until the next price change.

Vincent had not seen it like that. To him a stamp could be a source of joy, a history lesson, a small kernel of knowledge delivered to your very door.

Over the years he began to design more adventurous stamps, celebrating centenaries, Irish celebrities, world events. His range of subjects was inventive and far-reaching. He had only one real flaw – he didn’t have a good memory, but his experience as a postman led him to believe that he had.

So he looked up nothing, researched nothing, came up with ideas based purely on his own sketchy recollection. This occasionally led to errors in his stamps.

You might have thought that he’d have been fired because of this, but in fact he was the saviour of An Post. In an age when letters, cheques and postcards were passé, endangering the very existence of philately itself, stamp-collectors all over the world rushed to buy Vincent’s creations commemorating such things as the London 2013 Olympics, the Age of Aquarius (January 21-February 20) and, on June 16th 2004, the 100th anniversary of Bloomersday.

An Post gave him an assistant, Jane, to help with the designs. Her friends thought she was mad to stay there, but where else would she have got to design an image depicting the 20th birthday of Beatrix Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? (She had drawn Peter Rabbit in round glasses and a cloak).

Besides, all these years later, Vincent was still a nice man with a permanently sunny disposition, and Jane liked him as a boss. So now she just nodded.

I’ll do something with him in front of an optician’s chart, she thought to herself. “Martin Luther King it is then,” she said.

“Great,” said Vincent. “Anything else?”

“Well, just one thing,” said Jane, a bit reluctantly. “You know the stamps we did last week about Thin Lizzy?”

“Of course,” said Vincent. “The band were named after the Queen, you know.”

“I think that was Queen,” said Jane.

“Who?” said Vincent.

“Never mind,” said Jane. “Anyway, their manager says they weren’t founded until 1970.”

Vincent snorted. “Sure what would he know,” he said.







It Should Have Been Me

His eyes widened as he stared at the television.

This caused his monocle to pop out. His left hand opened automatically, the monocle dropped into it, and the Penguin put it back in place without taking his eyes from the screen.

He couldn’t believe it. They were making a film about the Joker.

About that loser, he raged. A failed comedian who fell into a vat of chemicals, giving him a face like Jack Nicholson wearing Bette Davis’s make-up, and a homicidal rage. Just how dumb do you have to be, thought the Penguin, to leave an open vat of chemicals lying around, never mind how dumb do you have to be to fall into it. Yet for some reason people were now making this documentary about him, presumably making him more sympathetic, offering the rationale behind his actions, depicting him as the real victim.

They were going to tell his back-story or, as it used to be called, his story.

What about my story, yelled the Penguin at the TV. Lost as a child, raised by penguins – how would that be for an opening.

It was true. His parents had been scientists, and the type of parents who believe that having a baby should in no way affect your life-style, the kind who go to football matches with infants wearing ear-protectors and think this is endearing. Therefore they had eagerly signed up for an Antarctic expedition just weeks after their son had been born. The rest was all too predictable – the vessel had sunk, the baby’s cot had drifted onto the ice, and a mother penguin, acting out of the deep-rooted maternal instinct that has protected the tiny new-born of all species since the beginning of time, had fed him tiny scraps of fish.

The colony had accepted him, and he had grown up, effectively, as a penguin, the Tarzan of the Tundra. It had been an idyllic childhood. He had learned the thrill of sliding along the ice on his tummy. He had learned how to catch fish in his mouth. He had learned how to walk, though in the manner of a penguin, so he looked like he was trying to perform Riverdance in a sleeping-bag.

Then, when he was five, his parents had showed up.

The vessel-sinking had taken deep-root in his psyche, a way of coping with his situation. The truth had been even more poignant. His parents, engrossed in their work, had laid his cot beside them on the ice, and then forgotten about him.

Now they were back – whether they had been actively searching for him or just happened upon him while studying ice migration he was never sure. What he was sure of, though, was that he was taken from his huge playful family, where he was called Hu-hu-hu-he-huh-hoo (he never knew that the name is penguin for “baldy”) and installed in his small, severe one.

Where his name was Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot.

He was bullied at school. This was only to be expected, given his name, his singular walk and his strange eating habits (he used to put his sandwich horizontally into his mouth, like a harmonica, then work it in a series of gulps down his throat), and his classmates came up with the nickname they thought would hurt him most.

They called him the Penguin. He was secretly thrilled.

He inherited his parents’ work-obsessed scientific thought processes, and after school he set to work as an inventor. His chief creation was inspired by the fact that he had been snowed upon for three hundred days a year while growing up. He invented an umbrella, but no ordinary one – the ferrule could spurt nerve-gas, stun-darts, or coffee, the canopy acted as helicopter-blades, bullet-proof shield or Sky Sports satellite-dish, the handle could serve as an exercise pulley, a knuckle-duster or a lunch-box for your banana. He launched it at a gala event at which he wore for the first time, and fell in love with, evening dress, since it reminded him of home.

His invention was not a success. The reason was that each umbrella would have retailed at two million dollars, but he took it personally, feeling again an acute sense of not really belonging. It was this that drove him toward crime, along with the fact that he wanted money. It was his tendency to over-elaboration, though, that drove him toward ludicrously compex plots, and thus to the attention of Batman.

It was never a contest – the Penguin was so strapped for cash that he had to employ henchmen so dim that they had the word “henchman” on their shirts to remind them of their job, while Batman had a seemingly infinite supply of resources, equipment and sheer good luck. The Penguin was arrested, did his time, and upon his release, stayed away from crime.

Not because he had reformed, though. It was simply that while he was in jail he invented another umbrella – one that would fold away to fit into a handbag, one that would blow inside -out in the gentlest of breezes, one that would survive about two outings before collapsing like a drunken, kilt-wearing spider.

One that brought him in more money for a rainy day, every rainy day.

And now he sat in the mansion where he had lived quietly for many years, eating fish fingers (a food, he reflected, that bore as much relationship to fish as buffalo mozzarella did to buffaloes) disconsolately watching the news report about the upcoming Joker film. They were saying that it was wonderful, the film of the year, a possible Oscar winner.

Make a film about me, he thought, then we’ll see who gets to the Oscars. I wouldn’t even have to hire a tuxedo.