Monthly Archives: August 2020

Acquired Tastes

Still Life with Bottles Roderic O’Conor 1860-1940 (from

The Guinness is long gone.

He drank his last three cans on St Patrick’s Day, in patriotic fervour and in the belief that the lockdown would only be until the end of March.

Because he is 72, that didn’t happen.

Full lockdown is a problem for a man terrified of his daughter. She shops for him every two days, leaving pasta, fruit and, although she knows he doesn’t like it, broccoli, in a bag at his gate. Day after day he promises himself “tomorrow I will ask for a slab of cans”, but day after day the thought of her stony disapproval, like a grave slab, puts him off.

So he has been driven to the back of his kitchen cupboard, passing a tin of Carnation milk, a can of meatballs that pre-dates ring-pull lids, and a jar of Marmite from which just one experimental knife-scrape is missing. Here he has found the lost bottles, bought to remind him of holidays that he has long forgotten.

They are a mixed bunch.

The blue stuff is from Reykjavik. It looks like mouthwash and tastes like dishwash. The big green bottle at the front is some sort of Austrian herbal concoction that has hints of weed, though not in the good meaning of that word.

He was delighted to have found the bottle of Spanish lager, but time had not been kind to it. Opening it released an eye-watering vinegary tang so startling that he spilled most of the lager onto his slippers, which have begun to dissolve.

The pink bottle at the back is Cinzano which he does not remember buying. In fact he didn’t. Every home has a bottle of Cinzano, and where they come from if one of life’s great mysteries.

The small bottle is actually after-shave which he bought in Sicily, lured in by its promise of ‘the sultry scent of Etna’. In fact its scent is of microwaved socks, but he has discovered that it tastes better than the others.

And since lockdown he has stopped shaving, so he reckons it would be a shame to let it go to waste.


Dropping In

A man walking his golden retriever in the Chinese city of Harbin was knocked out by a cat, which fell from a balcony belonging to his neighbour (Irish Times 22/08/20)…


Li Ming

In the warmth of late lazy afternoon, Li Ming lay down in the corner of the golden suntrap that was her balcony, and stretched out her body in flowing gracefulness.

This was her favourite part of the day. She closed her eyes, rested her head gently on her paws, and dozed.

Though not for long. She was startled awake by loud, staccato bursts of noise, like lawnmower burps. Her ice-blue eyes filled with icy fury.

Huang was out for his walk.

Huang was new to the neighbourhood. He was a golden retriever, fifty pounds of snuffle and slobber that every day took his small elderly owner for a drag along the narrow streets. He was excited by everything, curious about everything and stuck his nose, quite literally, into everything, a method of investigation that Li Ming reckoned just begged for eye-watering surprise.

And Huang barked at everything. Cars, postmen, birds. Weather, in all its forms. Flitting litter. His own reflection in a puddle.

But mostly at other dogs.  It was as if he believed that he was alone of his kind, Adamdog, and so reacted hysterically whenever meeting another of his type. And the other dogs would respond, each feeding the others fury, bark piling upon bark in a growing tower of yap as their owners dragged them in opposing directions like friends separating bickering drunks.

No wonder they use the phrase ‘barking mad’, thought Li Ming.

She climbed to her feet and onto the ledge of her balcony, and looked down. Huang was barking at a café chalkboard.

Li Ming sighed, a sound like a subsiding bagpipes. Huang heard her, and looked up.

He barked.

Filled with rage, Li Ming leapt from the balcony. Huang was still moving, however, which Li Ming had not factored into her flight path, so instead of sinking her claws into Huang’s back she head-butted his owner full in the face.

The man fell onto his back, out cold. Li Ming lay stunned on his chest, with a rumbling in her ears which she gradually realised was not coming from inside her head.

Huang was not barking for once. He was growling, low and menacing, readying himself to strike.

Li Ming ran. Huang ran after her. She had expected to be much quicker than him, but he was propelled by rage. The loop of his lead caught in a postcard stand, dragging it over, and he ran even faster as he was pursued by its bouncing metal clattering.

As she passed a supermarket, Li Ming had an idea. She veered suddenly left through the front door. Huang followed, the lead and stand lashing out to his right like a dragon’s tail, spraying postcards of Harbin across the resin floor.

Li Ming ran the end of an aisle, then stopped and turned. Huang padded slowly toward her, growling again. Li Ming turned her head to the shelves beside her, and Huang’s gaze followed hers.

The shelves were lined with frozen chickens.

Huang was a retriever. As Li Ming had hoped, generations of breeding whispered to his mind, urging him to pick up the dead birds and bring them to his master.

He launched himself at the chickens, recoiling in surprise at their cold hardness but doggedly (it’s called that for a reason) wrestling first at one then at another, trying to get one into his mouth. Staff rushed from all over the shop, shouting.

Li Ming slipped beneath the shelves into Cakes and Confectionery, then out the door and home.

She leapt first onto the canopy of her building’s front door, then up onto the ledge of her balcony. She looked down into the street, where Huang’s owner was now sitting up and telling people who had come to his aid that he had been attacked by a ninja tiger.

Li Ming settled back down in the sun, stretched luxuriously, and fell asleep.




A Tail Of Woe

“What made them blind, Daddy?”

“Er, I don’t know, Sweetie. Anyway, see how they run-“

“How could they run if they were blind?”

“Um, maybe radar?”

“That’s bats.”

“Now hold on, young lady –“

“No, it’s bats that use radar. Miss Buckley said.”


“So how could the mice run?”

“Maybe they could still make out shapes.”

“Like zombies?”

“Um, I don’t think zombies are blind –“

“Zombies are dead, Daddy. They must be blind.”

“Look, maybe this story’s a bit too scary. How about-”

“No, go on about the zombie mice. What happened next?”

“Ok. Well, they all ran after the farmer’s wife –“

“What?! Mice chase you?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“But they’re chasing her.”

“Maybe they don’t like her.”

“What if they didn’t like me?”

“Of course they’d like you, Honey. Everyone loves you. Anyway, she cut off their tails –“


“She cut off their tails with a carving knife.”

“But.., but.., but they were nice mice. You said they liked me.”

“Well, yes, but -”

“So it turns out, when she ran away first, she was just going to get a concealed weapon.”

“I suppose she – where did you learn that phrase?”

Paw Patrol. Anyway, basically she tricked them. She lured them after her then pounced. She’s a wicked old woman.”

“Really? She’s usually seen as the hero of this story.”

“Well, she isn’t. She’s like the witch that trapped Hansel and Gretel. In fact, I bet she’s the one who blinded them in the first place.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t-”

“I bet she did. Stabbed them in the eyes with her stupid knife.”


“What happened next?”

“Um, don’t know really. It just says ‘did you ever see such a thing in your life’ and then ‘Three Blind Mice’ again. It’s a bit lame, to be honest.”

“I bet they kept after her.”

“I’m sure they didn’t.”

“I bet they did. That’s what zombies do. They couldn’t see but they just kept coming, and now they had no tails but they would’ve just kept coming, and then she’d have cut off their heads and they’d have just kept coming, and she’d have run and run till there was nowhere to run to, and then she’d have fallen into her own mousetrap and they’d have eaten her like cheese.”

“Now, honey, don’t go scaring your-“

“Serves her right.”

“Oh. Well, good night, Sweetie. You’re not too frightened to sleep, are you?”

“Of course not, Daddy. That was the best story ever. What’s tomorrow?”

“Humpty Dumpty.”

“Is he a zombie?”

“No. Actually, come to think of it, probably yes, in the end.”

Nothing On In The Park

A video of a nudist chasing the boar that stole his laptop has gone viral. When I read about it yesterday I read the word “boar” as “bear”, and by the time I realised my mistake I had most of this written… 


Yogi Bear’s head rose, cocked to one side, as he listened. His heart rose too as what had begun as a low hum grew, unmistakably, into the sound of a car.

After months and months of emptiness, Jellystone Park had visitors.

Yogi did a brief dance of glee, then bounded across a clearing and into a nearby cave.

A low snore came from the figure lying in the corner. In his giddy excitement Yogi raised one paw, with one finger extended. Then stopped.

You do not poke a sleeping bear. Even bears don’t.

Yogi crept back outside, found a dried bison-pat, picked it up and lobbed it into the cave. He heard a loud, stinging slap, followed by a loud, startled yelp.

He stepped back inside. Boo Boo was sitting up, his gaze moving perplexedly between the pat and the cave ceiling. “Hey there, Boo Boo!” said Yogi cheerily.

“Oh, hi, Yogi,” said Boo Boo. “I think my cave’s been infested by giant bats.”

“Never mind that now, my little friend,” said Yogi. “The Park has visitors. And what do visitors mean?”

“Selfies,” said Boo Boo.

“Picnic baskets,” said Yogi.

He waited for a reaction. Boo Boo was cautious and worried by nature, and would usually greet any hint about taking picket baskets with the phrase ‘Mister Ranger ain’t gonna like this, Yogi.’ But the objection didn’t come, instead a wistful look flashed across Boo Boo’s face. Suddenly Yogi understood.

The pair were not hungry. The park had more than enough berries and leaves to feed them. But since the humans had stopped coming there had been no lucky dip element to their diet, and Yogi knew that Boo Boo’s moral compass was being deflected south by memories of chicken-legs, ham-and-pickle sandwiches and the addictive awfulness of squirtable cheese.

“Are we going to steal one?” asked Boo Boo hopefully.

Yogi smiled and turned towards the path through the forest. “Does a bear go in the woods?” he said.

They crept through the wood until they reached the picnic area. Yogi peeked out between two trees. His eyes widened.

“Can you see anything?” whispered Boo Boo, from behind him.

“You could say that,” muttered Yogi.

A man was sitting at one of the wooden tables, tapping away on a small black open rectangle. It was like watching someone trying to read a bible by braille, sideways.

He was facing in Yogi’s direction, and was completely naked.

“Is there sausage?” asked Boo Boo.

Suddenly the visitor stood and swung his leg backward over the fixed wooden seat, a sight that Yogi knew would haunt his dreams forever. The man hopped his other leg out after it and walked to his car. Yogi took a deep breath and dashed silently to the bench, closed over the rectangle and carried it back into the trees. Boo Boo stared in disappointment at the haul.

“Is that it?” he asked, dolefully. “Flatbread?”

Yogi was about to reply when they heard an angry yell. The naked man was running towards them, picking up a large stick as he did so.

“He’s got wood!” yelled Boo Boo.

“Run!” shouted Yogi.

They crashed through the woods, but Yogi’s progress was hampered by the fact that he was running on three paws, and Boo Boo’s by the fact that he had short legs. The increasing volume of the wheezing from behind them told them that the man was gaining.

Suddenly Boo Boo stopped.

“Hang on,” he said. “We’re bears.”

“Good point,” said Yogi. He turned, looked into their pursuer’s eyes, and roared.

The man fled. As he ran he was slapped repeatedly on his bare flesh by a lot of twigs, something he would have paid a lot of money for in a Finnish sauna, so Boo Boo salved his conscience by reflecting that the man’s day wasn’t a total loss.

Yogi put down the object. Boo Boo it picked up in his front paws and tried to bite off one corner. He shook his head, sadly.

“I think we’ve made a mistake here,” he said. “It’s like the day we thought that spare tire was a giant donut.”

Yogi smiled at him. “You forget, my pessimistic pal,” he said, “that I’m smarter than the average bear.”

They went back to Yogi’s man-cave, beside his actual cave. There, from material collected from litter-bins over many years, he used coat-hangers, wires and discarded batteries to construct an energy source and a primitive aerial.

He switched the laptop on.

“No more waiting around for visitors for us, Boo Boo,” he said. He tapped a few keys, then turned the screen to face his friend.

It was set to a website called

“From now on,” said Yogi, “every day will be the day the teddy bears have their picnic.”








No Dog Left Behind

A rescue team has had to rescue Daisy, a 121-pound St Bernard dog, after she got into difficulty on England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike…


Daisy was dozing in her basket, tongue lolling in the summer heat, when she smelled it.

The smell of fear.

Someone needed help up on the mountain.

Daisy sighed. I’m getting too old for this, she thought.

For many years she had been the star of the Scafell Pike Mountain Rescue Team. Weekend after weekend she would watch as morons headed up the trail clad in trainers and t-shirts, and would nod lugubriously to herself. Sure enough as the day went on the sun would sink, the mist would rise, and then the calls would start to come in from concerned families.

Daisy would be sent rushing off to find the lost souls. She would do this by following the smell of fear, the growing terror of the idiots above as they realised that mountain tops are known for two things, their low temperatures as night falls and their total absence of wi-fi.

And Daisy would find them, every time, would proffer brandy from the barrel around her neck, would lick slobber all over their face – this served no purpose, she just reckoned they deserved it – and then would start up a deep, sonorous bark that would draw the humans of the team with foil blankets, hot coffee and strong words of admonition for the rescued.

And with treats for Daisy. Lots of them. As her age rose so did her weight, until she was the size of a Shetland pony. On missions she now moved at the speed of the Baywatch lifeguards, with the difference being that they were being filmed in slow motion.

So she had grown tired, especially since In recent years she had noticed a new phenomenon, of people getting lost deliberately just so she would find them. These were people, she realised, whose insatiable need for adrenalin had led them to adopt an Extreme Bucket List, in which Get Brandy From A Saint Bernard featured just above Swim With Piranhas and just below Be Waterboarded In A Foreign Prison.

This year all that had stopped. To curb the spread of some virus among humans they had all been restricted in their travel. The rescue team remained at home, since there was no one to rescue. One of them would arrive each day to Team Base to feed Daisy and to attempt, usually unsuccessfully, to walk her. Other than that she saw no one. The mountain had fallen silent, majestic in its seclusion.

That was why the scent of fear was so surprising.

It was very faint, meaning that it came from very high up on the mountain. Daisy groaned inwardly, and was tempted, just for a second, to ignore it.

The thought shocked her into action. She leaned against the side of her basket until it tipped, then rolled out. She climbed wearily to her feet and lumbered off up the mountain. On and on she went, slow yet sure-footed.

The scent was confusing her now, close yet still faint, but moving quickly. She sped up, bursting through undergrowth, skirting large boulders, hurdling fast-rushing streams. Well, wading through fast-rushing streams. Finally she found herself in a small clearing.

A rabbit was staring, terrified, into the eyes of a fox, just yards away.

Such sad brief encounters took place all the time on the mountain, of course, but it was only now, with no human smell to mask it, that the scent of the rabbit’s terror had attracted Daisy’s attention.

She stood, panting heavily from her exertions, surveying the scene. The fox looked at her, almost scornfully, and took a step towards the rabbit. Daisy barked, once.

The fox fled. The rabbit hopped it.

Daisy smiled to herself, turned, then stopped.

She had no idea where she was.

Daisy knew almost nothing about the layout of the mountain. She had never needed to. She found her rescuees by scent, not by orienteering, then called in the back-up, who took her home, sometimes by helicopter.

But the back-up weren’t here now. And weren’t coming.

She raced around in increasing panic, trying to find any familiar landmark, but the rabbit’s darting path had led her to a part of the mountain that she did not recognize at all. Eventually she slumped to the ground, exhausted. She rested her chin on her brandy barrel, cursing the fact that it was not designed to be opened by paws.

She closed her eyes, like a canine Captain Oates, and waited for her final sleep.

But she had barked at the fox. And that bark had rolled across the mountain-side, echo picking up echo as it passed caves and gullies until it arrived into the village below as a low rumble.

So they came.

Daisy awoke to the sound of voices and looked, scarcely daring to hope. But there they were, every single one of the team, risking their safety just to save her, as they had done for so many others.

Her heart filled with joy, love and pride, though her expression did not of course show any of this.

They lifted her onto a stretcher, and one of them patted her on the head.

“Come on, old girl,” he said, “let’s get you home.”