Monthly Archives: June 2021

Under Lock and Keyboard

Under new legislation Irish police will have the power to compel people to provide passwords for electronic devices when carrying out a search warrant…


They had been in Jimmy’s house for an hour now, behaving as if their house-search training had been based entirely on 1970s cop shows.

They had ruffled piles of paper, mostly takeaway menus, on the kitchen table. They had opened CD cases. They had held books up by the spine and shaken them. They had gone through his wife’s underwear drawer. One had dipped a pinky finger into a jar marked “Sugar” and licked it hopefully.

They had asked for the keys to the filing cabinet, which he had handed over. The top drawer was full of old copies of Playboy. The bottom drawer contained a deep fat fryer.

Eventually the two uniformed officers stood and looked at Detective Sergeant Maguire.

“Found anything?” asked Jimmy, smiling.

“Not yet,” said Maguire.

“That’s because there’s nothing to find,” said Jimmy. “I’m not a criminal, but -”

“You’re one of the biggest coke dealers in Dublin,” said Maguire.

“True,” said Jimmy, “in that I sell Coca-cola wholesale to supermarkets. You wouldn’t believe how much money that git Ronaldo has lost me this week.”

Maguire snorted, though not in a coke way.

“As I was saying,” said Jimmy, still smiling, “I’m not a criminal, but I’d imagine that they don’t leave details of bank accounts, suppliers, storage facilities lying around on pieces of paper. You don’t write down really important things like, for example -” he looked straight into Maguire’s eyes – “where your kids go to school.”

Maguire met his gaze. “Indeed,” he said quietly. “Which is why we need the password to your laptop.”

Jimmy’s smile froze, but only for a second.

“You’d be wasting your time,” he said. “I don’t use it, I just got it so the wife could watch Netflix during lockdown. I’m not a techie at all. I’ve never even seen Cats on YouTube, which apparently is a big thing, though I don’t know why, I heard the film was shite.”

“Well then,” said Maguire, “you won’t mind giving us the password.”

“Can’t remember it, to be honest,” said Jimmy. “I think it might be ‘password’.”

“Nobody is dumb enough to have ‘password’ as their password,” said Maguire. One of the policeman reddened briefly.

“Well, then we’re stuck, aren’t we?” said Jimmy. “Perhaps it’s 1234.”

“Now look,” said Maguire, “our warrant means that we can demand-”

“Try ‘Amy’,” said a voice.

Jimmy turned in shock. His wife Linda was standing behind him.

“‘Amy’?” said Maguire, turning to the laptop.

“His girlfriend,” said Linda stonily.

Maguire typed, and shook his head. Jimmy breathed out, slightly.

Linda looked coldly at Jimmy. “‘Amy1999’ then,” she said. “She’s twenty-bloody-two.”

Maguire typed again, and stared in excitement at the screen. “It’s all here,” he said. He looked up at Jimmy. “Details of bank accounts, suppliers, storage facilities.”

“You might find that one deposit account has a zero balance,” said Linda. Jimmy’s mouth dropped open.

Linda smiled at him. “You must have been hacked, love,” she said. “It seems that criminals are just not nice people.”




Quite a Mouthful

A Cape Cod lobster diver was this week swallowed and then spat out by a humpback whale…


Deep In the icy waters of the North Atlantic, in schools of whales – where whales go to school – they teach the young the old myths.

They tell of the Humphead Whale, first of their kind, whose pride at being largest of the mammals was so great that it blew a hole in the top of his head. They tell of the Banshee Whale, whose mate left her with the dismissive expression “there are plenty more fish in the sea” and whose mournful keening was the origin of whale song. They tell of the Summoning Rock, a huge monolith near Greenland of which it is said that if you knock three times upon it with your forehead, you will see stars.

And they tell the myth of Vamtu, the whale who is said to have swallowed a demon.

The terrifying legend tells of Vamtu’s struggles as the creature wriggled and jiggled and tiggled inside her, and of her desperate hawking attempts to get rid of it for three days and three nights before she finally managed to cough it out onto a nearby shore. They call the creature ‘Jonah’, from the whale word for ‘bleurgh’.

The story has passed into everyday parlance. Yawning youngsters are told to “close their mouth before they catch a jonah”. An upset stomach is called “a touch of the jonahs”. Witnessing the state of the sea around a whale with an upset stomach is “enough to make you jonah”.

Alvis was thinking about none of this as he fished the sea off Cape Cod, absentmindedly hoovering up krill, when suddenly his mouth filled with something sleek and rubbery.

His first thought was that he had swallowed a condom – sadly, all too common an occurrence these days, but the length of it startled him, and its sudden movement horrified him.

Alvis’s mouth dropped open in astonishment. The myth was true. He had swallowed a jonah.

His mouth had opened, but he quickly realised that this was doing no good. The jonah was struggling to stay upright on his tongue, like a toddler on a bouncy castle, and was unable to reach the opening.

Alvis had to get him out of his system. There were two directions in which this could go.

Having quickly dismissed Option Number Two Alvis closed his mouth, flipped his mighty tail into the air, and dived. He could hear a cry of terror echoing in the cavern of his mouth as he did so. He went down fifty feet, turned, and launched himself at the sky. He broke the surface, arched his back and let himself fall backwards. The sea’s surface Heimliched him as he hit the water, and the jonah was torpedoed out, covered head to foot in a wet-suit and whale-spit.

The jonah hit the water, sank beneath it, then surfaced. He looked around wildly and then at Alvis. As their eyes met Alvis knew that they were both thinking the same thing.

Nobody’s ever going to believe me.




Fallen Leaves

Being the eldest brother gives you certain rights, and one of the most important is the right to do things while forbidding your siblings to do the same, on the basis that it’s too dangerous.

So when 14 year-old Tommy spotted the tree the first thing he did was start to climb it, and the second to tell the others not to follow him. 12 year-old Steve sighed, staring wistfully up into the branches and contemplating the lot of the middle child.

Ben said nothing. He was nine, and just happy to be out with his big brothers.

Tommy was well into the higher branches when he suddenly stopped, staring hard at the bark. He took his phone from his back pocket, a process that involved a brief wobbling airplane impersonation with his arms, and took a photo. He scampered down the trunk and dropped from the lowest branch to the grass below, stumbling slightly upon landing and pretending, like an Olympic gymnast, that he had done it on purpose.

“Have a look at this,” he said.

“No thanks,” said Steve grumpily, “I’ve seen a tree before.”

Tommy punched his arm. “No, seriously,” he said. “Take a look.”

His brothers peered at the photo on the screen. The names ‘Debra Miller’ and “Frank Greene’ had been carved into the bark. Between the two names was a heart with an arrow through it.

“So this woman shot this guy through the heart?” asked Ben.

“No,” said Tommy. “He was her boyfriend, he wasn’t a vampire.”

Ben shrugged. “Big deal,” he said.

Steve’s eyes suddenly widened. “It IS a big deal,” he said, “because Debra Miller is Granny.”

“Exactly,” said Tommy.

Ben laughed. “Granny couldn’t climb that tree,” he said, “because she’s ancient.”

“We’re not saying,” said Steve patiently, “that she climbed it yesterday.”

“And anyway, her name is Granny Roberts,” continued Ben.

“Because Grandad was Jim Roberts,” said Tommy. “Her name was Miller before she got married.”

“Are we going to show her?” asked Steve.

“We can’t,” said Ben. “She won’t be able to climb the tree because –“

“He means,” said Tommy, “are we going to show her the photo.”

“And are we?”

“You bet,” said Tommy.

The boys ran to their Granny’s house, with Ben chanting “Frank and Granny in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” the whole way. Tommy pushed open the back door. As always, Granny was knitting in an armchair beside the stove. She was a prodigious knitter, though not an especially skilled one, and the boys had grown up wearing five-foot long jumpers, two-foot long scarves and beanie hats so tight that their brains ached.

A cardigan was slowly emerging from the flashing needles, and already Steve could see that one of the sleeves was going to be longer than the other.

Granny stood up and smiled. “Here’s my wonderful young men,” she said.

Tommy and Steve felt suddenly unsure, as if they were trespassing. Ben did not.

“Tommy took a photo in the woods,” he said. Tommy glared at him.

“Wonderful,” said Granny. “Is it a deer?”

“Er, no,” stammered Tommy. He put his phone on the table and stepped back. Granny stared at the photo for a long time.

“I’d forgotten all about this,” she whispered. She looked up at the boys, eyes glistening. “The tree near the old well, right?” she said.

“Yes,” said Steve. “You climbed up a really long way.”

“Well, perhaps the tree was smaller then,” smiled Granny. “That would have been, well, nineteen sixty-seven.”

“So you were seventeen,” said Tommy.

“Yes,” said Granny. “And what a time to be seventeen! The Beatles, flower power, free – well, it was a great time.”

“And this Frank was your … boyfriend?” asked Steve warily.

“Yes,” said Granny. “Of course, that was before I met your Grandad.” She could sense all three boys relax slightly.

“And when Grandad came you liked him better, right?” said Ben.

Granny smiled tightly. “I loved your Grandad more than any man I ever met,” she said, “but I didn’t meet him until after Frank was sent to Vietnam.”

“Where’s that?” asked Steve.

“Back then it wasn’t a ‘where’, it was more of a ‘what’,” said Granny. “And what a bloody what it was,” she muttered. She stared into a far distance, a thousand lives away, where better people had made better choices, then looked up and smiled brightly at the boys, who were horrified to see a tear run down her cheek.

“We didn’t mean to upset you,” said Ben.

“Oh, my darlings, you haven’t upset me at all,” Granny laughed. “You’ve reminded me that I was young once, and old people should be reminded that more often.”

Her phone beeped, startling her. “I’ve texted you the picture,” said Tommy quietly. She took his hands and looked into his eyes. “Thank you,” she said simply.

Tommy nodded to the other two. “We’d better go,” he said. Granny hugged each of them, tightly.

“I’m glad we reminded you about the beetles,” said Ben, as they left.

Granny stood for a long time looking at the photo. Then Debra went and took a locket from deep inside a kitchen drawer. From the small picture inside, above the uniform, Tommy’s eyes looked back at her.

“Here’s my wonderful young man,” she whispered.