Monthly Archives: February 2020

Fly Fishing

The townsfolk talked but she didn’t care. Day after day, she lugged her saw, a bucket, a homemade fishing pole, and bait across the frozen lake. Once there, she sat shivering while waiting for the telltale tug from a creature of the deep. This torturous task wasn’t for the fairer sex but what choice did she have? On that particular day, as clouds and a north wind rolled in from the mountains, she noticed two little boys at the edge of the lake, shouting and pointing…

This was the topic for January’s 24-Hour Short Story Contest. As usual I didn’t win, which suits me because now I can post my story here…


God, thought Anna, people actually do this for fun.

It was her fourth day on the lake, the fourth day on which she had walked gingerly out across the ice, cut a hole and sat in front of it, the line from her pole dangling in the water. It was the fourth day on which she had felt colder inside than out, and had begun to believe that if she looked she would be able to see her bones ice-blue beneath her skin.

It was the fourth day on which nothing had happened.

Suddenly she heard shouting from the lakeshore and looked up. Two small boys were pointing and talking excitedly. Her eyes followed their pointing fingers, up the road that led into the small town, and watched as a sleek sports car bounced down the gritted track and came to a halt beside the lake. It was the kind of car that looked as if it had a top speed in three figures, finger-light steering and machine-guns behind the front grill.

Anna smiled grimly. She had been expecting this.

A man got out of the car. He wore an immaculately fitting coat and aviator sunglasses. His suit looked expensive and his shoes shone in the wintry sun.

He should have just worn overalls with “Homeland Security” printed on them, thought Anna.

The man looked down at the ice, hesitated briefly, then strode confidently forward. As he came to a halt beside her one foot slipped slightly, causing his cocky smile, just for a second, to be replaced by a look of panic. He recovered quickly.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Caught anything?”

“Possibly pneumonia,” Anna replied. “Other than that, no. They’re not biting today.”

“Nor yesterday, apparently,” said the man. “Or the two days before that.”

“Wow,” said Anna, “the townsfolk really do talk about me, Mister -?”

“Davis,” said the man. “And you’re right, they do talk about you, but that’s not how I know. We’ve been watching you, Anna Voloshin.”

“So it seems,” said Anna, “but I don’t know why. I’m here to fish. Look, I have bait.”

“And I have boxer shorts,” said Davis, “so I’m Muhammad Ali.”

“Look-“ began Anna.

“No, you look,” said Davis. “We know your name is Anna Voloshin, and that you arrived here from Russia five days ago. Your visa says that you’re a marine biologist and that you’re here on vacation, but we both know you’re a spy.”

“We don’t have spies in Russia anymore,” said Anna. “We Google stuff.”

Davis smiled. “We know you’re here to recover your drone,” he said.

“Our drone?”

“Yes,” said Davis. “The one you were using to spy on the canning factory just outside town.”

“Sounds like a waste of a good drone to me,” said Anna. “It’s not as if the building is actually, say, a research facility.”

“Which of course it isn’t. Anyway, your drone was damaged and crashed. It went through the ice and into this lake. We know this because our drone shot it down, and filmed it all happening. And you’ve been sent here to get it back.”

“I’ve told you,” said Anna, “I’m just here to fish.”

“It’s a closed lake,” said Davis. “It’s filled purely by rain and melting ice. There is no stream into or out of it, therefore there are no fish.” He saw Anna’s eyes widen for a second. “You should probably have Googled that.”

There was a brief silence.

“No wonder the townsfolk kept talking about me,” said Anna eventually. “They must have really enjoyed laughing at the idiot tourist –“

There was a sudden beeping noise. They both looked at Anna’s rod. At one end it looked just like an ordinary fishing pole, but on the handle, where the sound was coming from, were a number of buttons and a small red light, which was now flashing.

“Well, that could have been better timed,” muttered Anna.

“Perhaps I was wrong about the fish,” said Davis. “You seem to have caught an electric eel.”

Anna smiled sweetly at him, then pressed one of the buttons.

There was a soft boom, a flash of light from underwater, and a faint shudder along the ice. The overall effect was as if the lake had tried to hold in a sneeze.

“What the-?” gasped Davis.

“Oh, come on,” said Anna, “how did you think I was going to get it out? With a worm on the end of a piece of string? I was never trying to get it back, I was just sent to make sure you lot didn’t get it.”

She dropped her rod into the water, kicked her bucket skidding along the ice, and poured the remains of her bait onto his shoes. “See you around, Muhammad,” she said.

She began to walk away towards the shore.

“I can’t believe you blew it up,” said Davis, shaking his head.

Anna turned. “Don’t get so cut up about it,” she said. “If it makes you feel any better, remember that those drones are putting you and me out of a job.”


Wanna Be Your Man

“Precarious masculinity” has been cited by psychologists as a possible reason why only 24 per cent of vegans are male (BBC Future 18/02/20)….


Ugg (image from me)

Ugg trudged wearily into the cave, flung his spear into a corner, then flopped cross-legged to the floor.

“Honey, I’m home,” he said.

“Hello Dear,” said Ogga. “Dinner’s almost ready.”

Ugg lay onto his back, letting the tension of a long day’s hunting ease from his muscles. Gradually, though, he felt uneasy. Something was different. He sat up with a jerk when he realised what it was.

There was no smell of bacon.

“I thought you said dinner was ready?” he called out.

Ogga came out from the back of the cave, looking nervous, and held out a stone plate. Small cubes of food were piled upon it. Ugg raised one eyebrow, this being the maximum number available to him.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Ogga gave him what she hoped was a bright smile. “It’s tofu,” she said.

Ugg glared at her. “Have you been hunting?” he asked.

“Hunting?” said Ogga, startled. “Why would you think that?”

“Because I certainly didn’t catch this,” said Ugg. “I’ve never even seen a tofu, with its beige skin and -” he looked down at the plate “- its apparently square testicles. So you must have caught it.”

Ogga (image also from me)

“No, dear,” said Ogga “It isn’t -”

“Is my hunting not good enough for you?” said Ugg. “Do I not catch enough boars, and oxen, and mammoths?”

“You’ve never caught a mammoth,” said Ogga, before she could stop herself.

“Well,” said Ugg defensively, “that’s because they’re huge. The clue’s in the name. You should try it sometime -” he stopped, realising where this was taking him “- actually, no, you shouldn’t. Leave the hunting to me.”

Ogga sighed. “I’ve been trying to tell you,” she said. “Tofu isn’t an animal. It’s coagulated soy milk.”

Ugg looked in disgust at his plate. “You’re not really selling it with that sentence,” he said. “What’s soy milk?”

“It comes from soybeans,” said Ogga.

“You milked beans?” said Ugg. “You must have used an awfully low stool. Anyway, why bother? Why not just roast some boar, like you normally do?”

This was the part Ogga had been dreading. “Because we’re vegans now,” she said.

“You’re saying that like it’s an actual word,” said Ugg. “What’s a vegan?”

“Someone who doesn’t eat meat, or fish, or eggs,” said Ogga.

“You’re thinking of vampires,” said Ugg.

“No, I’m not,” said Ogga. “I’m thinking of people who believe that animals and humans should share the planet, with no killing.”

“You should tell that to the bears,” said Ugg. “Anyway, if we don’t kill animals, there’s nothing to eat.”

“There’s loads to eat,” said Ogga. “There’s fruit, and vegetables. There’s seeds -” she saw the look on Ugg’s face, and hurried quickly on “- and pulses. Grain and rice. Nuts.”

“It certainly is,” said Ugg. He put down his plate and looked away from her, into the fire, the fire that he that morning had lit. He stared into it, through it, far off into an unfathomable distance. His meal remained untouched, and eventually Ogga took it silently away.

Then she came back, sat down beside him, and put her arm through his.

“You’ll still be my man,” she whispered.

“Will I, though?” he burst out passionately. He turned to look at her, imploringly. “I hunt. I catch our food. That’s what men do.”

“That’s not all that men do,” said Ogga. “You’ll still be my protector. You’ll still fart louder than I do (Ugg knew that this wasn’t true, but also knew enough not to say so). You’ll still understand the offside rule, though neither of us have any idea what its purpose is.”

She nodded at the fire. “You’ll still make my fire burn.” She hugged his arm tighter, and winked. “In every meaning of that phrase.”

Their gaze met and locked, bonded by a shared life, shared respect, shared love. Eventually he shrugged, then laughed.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I’m just thinking about the cave artists,” said Ugg, “having to draw men with spears, chasing a potato.”



The Watcher In The Wild

A specially trained Irish guard dog is being sent to South Africa to help protect rhinos from poachers (Irish Times 22/02/20)…..


God, thought Duke, rhinos are hard to herd.

All morning he’d been circling the group, trying to get them to follow him. He had run at them, he had weaved in and out between their legs, he had raced away suddenly as if he’d just spotted something really interesting that they really should come and see. All to no avail.

He had barked insults at them, also to no avail, though this came as no surprise to him since rhinos are the living epitome of thick-skinned.

The collective noun for rhinos is a “stubbornness”, and Duke could fully understand why.

Herding sheep, back in Ireland, had been simple, because sheep are simple. Duke would just go up to one that was trailing behind the others, nudge it gently with his nose, and the sheep would, sheepishly, join the rest of the flock.

The first time he’d tried that with a rhino it had nudged back, propelling him sideways into a confetti bush.

Try herding this

But Duke had persevered, because he had moved on to being a guard dog, and these creatures were under his protection.

Being a guard dog back home had been easier, too, the one requisite skill being the ability to growl. Mostly he had done it without even having  to get out of his basket.

But here was different. Here he was not dealing with hapless and easily scared-off burglars. Here he was up against real evil, against ruthless people prepared to kill in pursuit of their goal.

Which was rhino horn. These thugs were willing to sacrifice an entire animal just for one small piece of it, which made as much sense as killing a frog and then eating only its legs.

And for what?  Because it’s an aphrodisiac? It’s made of exactly the same stuff as toenails, fumed Duke, see how sexy you find that.

The reason he fumed was that he had come to love these charges of his, loved their placid nature, their amazing, though rare, high-pitched squeal, their simple joy when they soaked in mud.

So he fussed endlessly over them, trying to keep them where he could watch them, fiercely determined to keep them safe.

Now the rhinos suddenly gathered in a line, like the world’s ugliest identity parade. Duke wanted to believe that they were finally obeying him, but knew that it was simply their time to go to the water hole.

The rhinos went there at the same time every day. Duke knew that this was a bad idea, like a shop owner lodging his takings every Friday at noon, but he had been unable to persuade them to vary this routine. So now he watched, not them but in all directions, as they contentedly lined up at the water’s edge.

Suddenly he saw movement in the bushes, less than fifty yards away.

Please let it be a wildebeest, he thought. Please let it be an impala. Please let it be a leopard. No, hang on, forget the last one. Please let –

He saw a glint of sunshine reflecting off a rifle barrel.

“Kak,” thought Duke in Afrikaans.

He ran at the rhinos, barking furiously, imploring them to move, to run, to hide in the bushes. They ignored him, continuing to lap thirstily at the water.

Honestly, thought Duke, it’s like trying to give instructions to a two-ton cat.

He looked up as the poacher emerged from the bush. He saw the cruel smile as the man lifted his rifle.

Duke put down his head, rhino-like, and charged.

The poacher had a gun. He could have shot Duke with it. He could have clubbed him with it. But a profession such as his is not built upon courage, so he turned and ran, back towards a distant village.

Duke ran after him, snarling, growling, striking terror into the man’s heart. Though the safety of the village was getting ever closer, Duke was gaining, and he readied himself to leap, to clamp his jaws into the poacher’s thigh. He was so close, just another few –

The man vanished.

Duke skidded to a halt, staring wildly around him in confusion. Then, just ahead, he heard a low sound, as if the earth itself was moaning. He inched forward, then stopped.

The poacher had fallen down a well.

He looked up as Duke peered over the edge. He raised one hand, as if beseeching help.

I think you’re mixing me up with someone else, thought Duke.

He turned and padded slowly away.


Float My Boat

A ‘ghost ship’ was this week washed up onto the shores of County Cork, brought in by the bad weather that lashed Europe in Storm Dennis….


Their first inkling was, fittingly, a bump in the night.

“Land at last, lads!” shouted the Captain.

The ghost crew of the pirate ship Santa Sharlana leapt from their beds and scrambled up on deck, then looked around in astonishment.

“I knew we’d died,” muttered the First Mate, “but I didn’t realise we’d gone to Hell.”

The sky was black and cloud-filled. The wind would have whipped their breath away, if they’d had any. The rain somehow managed to sting their spectral faces. Occasional flashes of lightning revealed that they were rocking on rocks off a coastline of grim, grey starkness.

The spirits of the spirits sank. This was a final straw in their boater of humiliation.

Their voyage had been cursed from the start. Their rum was not the customary black Jamaican type, but some clear liquid called “Bacardee” that tasted like rust-filled bilge-water. Their wheel was jammed and would turn only to starboard. Their map collection turned out to be street maps of towns in North Wales.

Their binnacle was broken, though that was ok since none of them knew what it did.

Nonetheless they had set out, planning to get rich by plundering the trade ships of the colonies. It was a plan, like so many, that had lasted just until first contact with the enemy.

On June 14th 1717 they had encountered the galleon Susanna Mae two hundred miles east of Bermuda. After a long circular approach (the ship had unfortunately been to their left) they had hoisted their Jolly Roger (printed sideways, they discovered), armed their cannon, and lit the fuse.

As they did so the cannon had rolled forward, its mouth catching the rail of the deck. This had pushed it upwards, and the crew had watched expressionlessly, Wile E Coyote-like, as the cannonball shot directly into the air and then down through their own ship.

So a life on the ocean wave became an after-life below it. And, as people do, they adapted. They studied the fish that teemed around them. They made musical instruments with holes for the tides to flow through, so that the sea played music to them. In later years they amused themselves by doing knick-knocks on the sides of passing submarines.

But all the time they’d been drifting, scraping slowly along the ocean floor, and all the time they dreamt that one day they would wash ashore. The problem was that this dream, seemingly etched into all our psyches, involved a desert island with just one palm-tree and yet an endless supply of coconuts.

This was not where they now found themselves.

“What is this ghastly place?” gasped the Bosun.

“It’s -” the Captain looked up, confident that he could read the stars. There weren’t any. “-er, um…”

“It’s Ireland,” said the ship’s Doctor, beaming like a man who hadn’t got to give an opinion in a very long time.

“How can you tell?” asked the First Mate.

“The rocks are littered with Guinness casks,” said the Doctor.

There was a short, sad silence.

“No palm trees then?” said the Second Mate eventually.

“No coconuts?” said the Bosun.

“Afraid not,” said the Doctor.

The crew looked at each other. They sighed, then shrugged.

“Top of the mornin’ to ye,” said the First Mate.

The Santa Sharlana






She’s Leaving Home

It was just like in the song.

This morning – Wednesday morning, as it happens – at five o’clock, as the day began, Tingirl left home.

What was unlike the song was that she didn’t have to sneak out, leaving a note that she’d hoped would say more. Mrs Tin and I were up with her, enthusiastically helping her pack two massive suitcases into our ancient car, driving her to the airport and accompanying her in to bag-drop in case either case failed the 20kg test (this wasn’t the case, 19.7 and 19.9) in which, sigh, case we’d have returned home with several pairs of discarded shoes.

Our baby girl is moving to London with her degree in Media and PR, pursuing her dream of writing for TV and radio. She is excited and scared, and so are we.

We will miss her – her beautiful smile, her cheerful chatter, her ability (unique among the Tinfamily), to take a good group selfie. I will miss watching Bones, and Love Island, and Doctor Who with her.

But we are sure that she will do well. She is a lovely girl with a warm personality, and is diligent and hard-working (she worked here in a really stressful job that included all-night shifts, to raise the money to fund the early part of her stay). In media she has found something that she loves, and has sailed through every exam associated with it.

So best wishes, my lovely princess. May all of your dreams come true. You deserve it.

We are sad that you are gone. But so very, very happy for you.

Dad X


The Look Of The Irish

Irish men have been branded the “undisputed ugliest” in the world by a dating website – –  that allows only attractive people to join….


Can you imagine my feelings as I read the above sentence this morning?

Outrage. Hurt. Patriotic Indignation.

Well, no. What I actually thought was boy, it took you all long enough to notice.

We Irish men know well that we are not oil-paintings, unless that phrase refers to paintings of spilt oil. Evolving on a gale-swept, sunshine-less rock has given us the a complexion the colour of porridge, ears pressed forward and outward by the incessant tail-wind, and a brow set in a permanent frown due to aeons of peering through driving rain.

The thing is we don’t care.

Guess which one is Plug

Whilst growing up our favourite one of the Bash Street Kids was Plug, and indeed as I type this, with fingers that are knuckle-grazed from scraping the floor as I walk, I realise that he is the only one of them whose name I can still remember.

Our compliments would be insults anywhere else. The words “deadly”, “gas” and “savage” all mean great.

We’ve never had a Mister Ireland contest. We don’t do charity policemen calendars. We don’t have an Irish version of  Love Island.

Look on our looks, ye mighty, and despair.

While we don’t. We know that we are stunning, though in the second meaning of that word, and use it to our advantage. St Patrick chased the snakes out of Ireland just by looking at them. The Vikings fled after just a couple of years, with staggering migraines. The Romans didn’t even bother coming, startled by the English (the land of Churchill, the bulldog, and the Mitchell brothers) telling them that the people on the island next door were even uglier.

We have slipped, unnoticed, into film. Chewbacca was played by an Irishman who’d given up shaving for Lent. Another Irishman served as Boris Karloff’s stunt-double in Frankenstein. The march of Sauron’s orc army, supposedly computer-generated, is actually just a shot of commuters walking out of Tara Street train station.

We have replaced good looks with wit, friendly charm and the unfailing belief that everybody loves us. We count ourselves lucky that our amazingly beautiful women (even the website admits that) are still interested in us, though we suspect that it’s only because the Romans, who are essentially the Italians, never turned up. We don’t care about the opinion of, because we’ve no interest in meeting anyone vain enough to register there.

We believe that handsome is as handsome does.





Let Nothing You Dismay

Radio channel Christmas FM rebranded itself, just for this week, as Kissmas FM….  


Mike put his hands over his ears. Here it comes, he thought.

Slade had just started their final rendition of the chorus “So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun,” and Noddy Holder was about to bawl out “It’s Chrisss-musss!!!” just as he did everyday.

Every. Day.

In a world of year-round Christmas shops, year-round Christmas movie channels and year-round Christmas adverts (“only three-hundred and sixty-four days to go!”) it was inevitable that somebody would come up with a year-round Christmas radio station, catering to Yuletide obsessives, to people who like to make-believe, even in mid-June, that the bells are ringin’ out for Christmas Day.

Mike had been a DJ at Christmas FM for four years now. Four years of playing Frosty the Snowman. Four years of playing Jingle Bell Rock. Four years of playing Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer.

Lucky Grandma, thought Mike. Noddy’s yelling finished, the song came to its slow, harmonic end, and Mike turned to his microphone.

“That was Slade with Merry Christmas Everybody,” he said, “and next up-” he looked down at his playlist, and sighed inwardly – “we have Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine.”

He stared gloomily out of the window as Cliff blathered away about logs on the fire and gifts on the tree (seriously, Cliff, thought Mike, you can’t put a PlayStation on a tree). The job was getting to him. He couldn’t hear somebody mention a list without mentally adding ‘checking it twice’. He would describe the traffic on his commute as ‘top-to-toe in tailbacks’. He was starting to pronounce ‘sleigh-bells’, like in White Christmas, with four syllables.

Roy Wood had once sung that he wished it could be Christmas everyday. Trust me, Roy, thought Mike, you really don’t.

Just as Cliff’s song ended Mike’s producer came into the small studio. Mike looked at him in surprise, but carried on with his job. “Wasn’t that wonderful?” he said into his microphone. “Now we have -” (he could feel a small piece of his soul die) “- Elton John with Step Into Christmas. Stay tuned right here to Christmas FM, where the weather outside is always frightful.”

He saw his producer frown but looked placidly at him. “Hi,” said Mike. “What’s up?”

“Well,” said his producer, “listenership figures are down a bit” (Mike kept his expression carefully neutral) “so we’ve come up with an idea.”

“Really?” said Mike.

“Yes,” said his producer. “Since it’s Valentine’s Day this week, we’re going to rebrand ourself, just for seven days, as Kissmas FM.”

Mike’s heart soared. He could play Someone Like You. He could play Unchained Melody. He could play Angie.

“This is a great idea -” he began, then realised, too late, that the producer had eyes full of tinsel and fire.

“Yes,” said the producer. “You’re to play I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus on a continuous loop.”