Monthly Archives: March 2022

Twinkle Toad

The New York Times reports that a resurgence in demand for the hallucinogenic secretions of a North American toad is threatening it with extinction. The substance in the secretions of the Sonoran Desert Toad is illegal in the United States, but people are nonetheless are charging large sums for retreats and “venom ceremonies”. A synthetic version is available, but many users will not switch, saying it lacks the intensity of the “toad medicine” experience…


They came at once. That’s what friends do.

Toad stood in welcome on the steps of Toad Hall as Rat, Mole and Badger walked up the drive. He led them in past his latest Rolls Royce and into the library. There the four sat in comfortable, high-backed armchairs, sipping at huge balloons of brandy. Eventually Badger spoke.

“So,” he said. “You sounded worried on the telephone.”

“I am worried,” said Toad. “I think toads are going to become extinct.”

“Why would you think that?” asked Badger.

“Well,” said Toad, “there’s something you don’t know about us. We produce an, er, secretion that causes hallucinations.”

“Why?” asked Mole.

“To keep predators away,” said Toad. “And for years it worked,”

“How?” asked Badger.

“Simple,” said Toad. “We got princesses to kiss us.”

“I thought that was frogs,” said Rat.

Toad snorted. “Only because humans can’t tell us apart,” he sneered. “I mean, the idea is ridiculous. Nobody would kiss a frog.”

The others sat in silence, feeling that there was no diplomatic response that they could give to this.

“Anyway, the princesses thought we were princes,” said Toad. “We were given kingdoms, wealth, loads of soldiers. Best protection you could ask for.”

“So what went wrong?” asked Rat.

“Democracy,” said Toad bitterly. “Leading to a serious princess shortage. So we turned to using the venom on the predators themselves. A coyote becomes very easy to manage if it thinks you’re a dragon. So does a raccoon once you’ve persuaded it that it’s a budgie.”

“Sounds great,” said Badger. “So what’s the problem?”

“New predator,” said Toad. “Humans.”

“Really?” said Mole. “I can’t imagine that toad hunting would be very exciting. The hounds would walk faster than you could hop.”

“They don’t want to hunt us,” said Toad. “They want to lick us.”

“Um, I obviously misheard that,” said Badger, “because it sounded like you said -”

“Yes, I did,” sighed Toad. “Some hippy moron discovered that licking a toad gave him a high, and instead of being embarrassed at what he’d done he told the world on Instagram. And instead of the world going  ‘yuck’ and mocking him they tried it too. Now they have retreats where they all do it. They’re killing us off and they don’t care.”

“Honestly,” said Mole, “humans are never happy. I mean, what’s wrong with alcohol? Why not just get, er -”

“Rat-arsed?” said Rat icily.

“Sorry,” muttered Mole.

“In fairness,” said Toad. “Alcohol just doesn’t compare.The hallucinations are amazing.”

“How amazing?” asked Badger.

Toad had been dreading this question. He blushed, going the red-green of a ripening apple. “Um, well,” he said, “has it ever occurred to you all how strange it is that I live in a great hall, driving human cars at great speed?”

The others stared at him. “It is odd, I suppose,” said Badger, “but that’s just the way it is.”

Toad sighed. “At this moment,” he said, “we’re sitting on a riverbank beside an old supermarket trolley, and -” he looked to one side, apparently at a lamp-stand – “being stared at by a duck.”

In the stunned silence that followed, Mole shifted experimentally in his chair. He could feel the leather upholstery against his back, could feel the carpet beneath his uncrossed foot. He took a sip of his brandy, and felt the fire in his throat, the warmth in his veins. “It’s astonishing,” he breathed.

“Never mind that,” said Badger furiously. He glared at Toad. “You’ve been tricking us all this time. I thought we were your friends.”

“I didn’t mean to do it,” said Toad. “Just being with me for so long has set it off in you. You’ve basically inhaled the fumes. All I could do was make the hallucination as pleasant as possible.”

Badger frowned. Then he too took a sip of brandy, and was instantly mellowed by its mellowness. “Well, when you put it that way,” he said grudgingly.

“Anyway,” said Toad despairingly. “The humans have a huge retreat this weekend. They’re going to need hundreds of toads.”

His friends gazed at him in helpless concern. Then Rat spoke. “I have an idea,” he said. He went to a desk in the corner of the library, and turned.

“If we’re living the dream, so to speak,” he said, “we might as well use it. I need access to Google.”

Toad nodded. Rat turned back to the desk, which now had a laptop on it. He typed for a few seconds, then looked at Toad.

“So you’re saying,” he asked, “that you can control the hallucinations that users get?”

“He could make a princess kiss him,” said Mole, “so I’m taking that as a yes.”

“So you could get into the minds of these gobshites before they start collecting the toads?”

“I suppose I could,” said Toad. “Once they come near enough it will start to affect their minds.”

“Well it says here,” said Rat, “that humans can also get high from all sorts of surprising things. Coke. Or hash.” He smiled at Toad.  “Or skunk.”

Toad’s eyes widened, something the others would not have thought possible. Then he grinned.

“Gotcha,” he said. “Let them lick skunks.”



It’s Not Even the Past

image from

A new article in the journal ‘Annals of Physics’ claims an “anti-universe” exists in parallel to our own in which time goes backwards (Irish Times 26/03/22)….


Imagine a life in which you get younger every day.

In the Other Earth, on the far side of the cosmic divide, this is what happens. People there truly are borne back ceaselessly into the past. They die, live their lives and are born. Those lives are therefore very different.

The clocks go back in Spring and forward in Autumn, and the people there are never sure which one is the good one either. Online gambling does not exist. Anti-wrinkle cream does, though, because although those wrinkles are fading morning by morning most people are not prepared to wait.

The Other Earthlings do not walk backwards, We’re trying to have a serious scientific discussion here.

Imagine that you are in the twilight of your life. You have been with a partner now for many years. Your relationship is comfortable, warm and safe, like a big woolly jumper. But imagine knowing that this relationship is going to get more exciting, growing each day toward a climax, a sunburst, of love and intensity a few years from now. That the time after that will involve throwing off any woolly jumpers, along with everything else. And beyond that time there will be the fun of cinema trips, of kissing in cars, of wondering if perhaps this is the one, right back to the excitement and anticipation of that very first date. Isn’t that a thrilling prospect?

Of course, you know that every relationship coming along afterwards will not work out, but in each one you can wait patiently, knowing that a day will come when you have never met the person.

Imagine becoming faster and fitter. Playing sport again. Hangover immunity.

On and on your life will go, into the difficult teen years. This is not something to look forward – if that’s the right word – to, but it is better than the creaks, the twinges and the brittle bones that are moving, ironically very quickly, towards us here.

Out of your working life and into retirement. But this is not a retirement of bingo, golf and afternoon TV adverts about funeral costs. This is day upon day of play, of climbing trees, of blowing dandelion clocks, of staying out until the last rays of sun sink below the skyline.

Youth is wasted upon the young, we are told. Imagine it coming toward the end of your life, when you can really savour every glorious carefree day.

But the end of your life will be coming, just as it does here. You will lose your teeth, you hair, your ability to walk. But how different an experience to our final days. You will find every new experience a source of wonder. Your every achievement will be heralded and cheered. Your loss of language won’t matter, because adults will speak to you in gibberish, but with a warmth of tone that will leave no doubt that you are loved. They will blow raspberry farts on your belly, and you will find this the funniest thing in either universe. Your final couple of years will be pure joy.

Finally you will be born. No, I’ve no idea either.



A Tale as True as…

The Irish Times reports this week that ‘an Asteroid “half the size of a giraffe” struck the ocean near Iceland’. The same odd description was used by the Daily Mail and by Science Times…


The sound began as a low whistle.

On the small fishing boat Fjola, Steinn and Gunnar looked around, first in puzzlement, then in a concern that grew as the sound grew, rising in pitch and volume to a banshee scream as something tore through the sky. It hit the icy water beside them in a great spume of steam, and would have careered on to the sea-bed had not its progress been abruptly halted by their fishing net. The Fjola rocked as the net bulged like a football-cliché under the strain, but both boat and net were hardened by years of snaring large shoals of fish, the occasional incautious dolphin, and once a passing speedboat. The net held, the Fjola settled upon the swell, and Steinn pressed the winch button. The brothers peered over the side.

In the net, coal-black and ageless, was a rock, about ten feet wide.

Their first thought was that it had been hurled skyward by a volcano, but a look back to the Icelandic shore, hazy upon the skyline, revealed no sign of smoke or flame from the long-lived, long-named volcanoes that dotted their homeland like lava zits.

There was only one other explanation.

“It’s blue ice,” said Steinn. “Poo dropped from a plane.”

Ok then, two other explanations.

His brother frowned. “I don’t think so,” he said. “In the first place there are no contrails anywhere in the sky. Secondly, look at the size of it. There would have had to have been something very wrong with the in-flight meal.”

“I suppose you’re right,” said Steinn grudgingly. “Then what is it?”

“I think,” said Gunnar, in growing excitement, “that it’s an asteroid.”

To his surprise, Steinn did not seem as thrilled as he did about this. “Great,” said Steinn. “What are we supposed to do with an asteroid?”

“It will look great in our garden. We can tell people in the pub about it.”

Steinn snorted. “And I’m sure we’ll be the talk of said pub,” he said drily, “when people hear that we have a rock in our garden.”

Gunnar thought about this. All Icelandic gardens have rocks in them. They have, in truth, very little else.

“Then what will we do with it?” asked Gunnar.

“Sell it,” said Steinn.

“On eBay?”

Steinn thought. “Nah,” he said eventually. “What would happen if someone in LA or Melbourne bought it? The cost of postage would be huge. Besides, NASA would probably see the advert and just turn up and take it.”

The Reykjavik Grapevine it is then. What will we say?”

Steinn shrugged. “For Sale: One Asteroid,” he said. “Simple.”

“Not that simple,” said Gunnar. “People will want to know how big it is.”

Steinn sighed. “Ok,” he said. “We’ll say it’s as big as…” his voice faded.

Icelanders are not good at simile. Their habitat and weather have a uniformity that doesn’t lend itself easily to it. Their only known simile starts in ‘as cold as’ and ends in ‘usual’.

But it would not do to get it wrong. The brothers had had problems before, when they had advertised an old sofa as being ‘in perfect condition’ and had received a return visit two days later from their customer, a huge, bearded man whose spring-pierced bum had made him as angry as, well, could be.

“Let’s pick something no-one round here knows anything about,” said Steinn. “As big as, say, a giraffe. No-one can prove we’re wrong.”

Gunnar looked doubtful. “People know that giraffes eat leaves from really tall trees,” he said.

Steinn looked at the rock for a moment. “You’re right,” he said eventually. “We’ll call it half the size of a giraffe.”







Thereby Hangs a Tale

 A Texas cinema screening ‘The Batman’ this week was invaded by an actual bat (Irish Times 12/03/22)…


On dark, dark nights in dark, dark caves, when black clouds scurry across blacker skies, bats gather and speak of The Batman.

The tale has passed from generation to generation. It tells of a bat who was bitten by a radioactive human and took on some human abilities, though since bats can already fly, rest upside down and see in the dark it is not clear what benefit these extra abilities conferred.

He is their greatest hero. The names Bruce and Wayne are common among males. The story is accepted as fact, and if this makes them sound foolish and superstitious just remember that in the bat world, vampires are a real thing.

Young Barry Bat was obsessed with The Batman. He wished he could be him. From the moment he woke every night he played at being him. He would sit alone on rooftops, staring moodily into the far distance. He would use a junction stop sign as the Bat-pole, a piece of thread as the Bat-rope and sycamore helicopter seeds as Batarangs as he played out the most famous of The Batman’s triumphs, the one in which, despite huge disparities in size and habitat location, he had met and defeated a penguin.

When word went around the colony that the local cinema would be showing a film called The Batman, Barry was determined to go. He knew that humans were good at this type of documentary, where a tiny camera and a hushed voice discreetly track some rarely seen creature. They would follow The Batman’s movements and would show him catching food, foiling predators and preening like an idiot to attract a female.

They would show where he lived. Barry could visit him and get his autograph. He might possibly become his sidekick.

On opening night he left the cave and flew into the small town. At the cinema he wriggled through an air vent, flitted along a short passage and emerged into the tiny theatre.

The room was filled with humans, chattering excitedly. Barry flew to the ceiling, settled himself upside down, and waited.

The lights slowly dimmed to total darkness. The chatter stopped. Barry flew down and picked a piece of popcorn from the carton of a teenage girl sitting below him. He tugged at it with his teeth and was disappointed to find that it had the taste and texture of styrofoam.

The screen lit up. Barry watched, wide-eyed, thrilled to his soul by the bright colours, the vibrant music, the excitement in the voice of the narrator.

The Burger King advert ended. The screen again filled with images, but these were darker, the music more sombre, the atmosphere more menacing.

The Batman had begun.

Barry watched eagerly, awaiting the first appearance of his hero. Then his mouth dropped open in shock.

The Batman was just a man in a bat suit.

Barry couldn’t believe it. He knew that humans weren’t that bright, but surely they could see that this wasn’t real, that it was just some sort of Bigfoot hoax made to scam money from gullible film producers. Barry went white. Very white.

Then he realised why. He was in the glare of the flashlight of a mobile phone.

His mouth dropping open had not just been a turn of phrase. He had dropped his popcorn onto the head of the girl he had stolen it from. She had looked up, turned on her phone light and now had him pinned in its beam.

“It’s a bat!” she screamed.

Other lights were instantly waved, since nobody had turned off their phones as requested. These sent shadows darting across the ceiling, each shadow another bat in the minds of the crowd below. Some flapped wildly at their hair. Some stood on their seats. One young man hurled his raspberry slushy. This opened in mid-air, covering the audience in what seemed to be freezing blood. They went, well, batshit crazy, and raced for the door.

Time to go, thought Barry. He swooped, picked another piece of popcorn – it was oddly addictive – out of a discarded carton and looked around for a way out.

He saw an illuminated sign saying ‘Exit’ and flew towards it. Just then, on the screen, The Bogus Batman spoke. His deep growl, like a earth tremor in a bucket of gravel, completely threw off Barry’s echolocation. This would usually have warned Barry that for some reason humans put a clearly-lit and easy visible ‘Exit’ sign not on the actual exit, but two feet above it.

Barry flew full-tilt into the sign.

He fell to the floor, and had a terrifying few minutes desperately curled in a ball among running feet. Then he reached out a wing, brushed the leg of a young man in shorts, and in the small circle cleared by the teenager’s yells he forced himself to focus. He finally saw the vent through which he had entered and – same bat channel – went out the way he had come in.

Once outside he flew gratefully home. The humans watched as he went, his silhouette dark against the brightness of a full moon, like a Bat-signal.


On dark, dark nights in dark, dark caves, when black clouds scurry across blacker skies, bats gather and speak of The Batman.

The tale has passed from generation to generation. It tells of a bat who was bitten by a radioactive human and took on some human abilities, such as the ability to eat their snacks. It tells of how he once defeated an imposter by scaring off hundreds of those who might have been fooled by him. He is their greatest hero.

Barry, now older, smiles as he listens. He had wished he was The Batman. Now he is.






Who Walked a Crooked Mile

Thieves in Drogheda, County Louth have been warned that a toolbox that they stole from a parked van contains radioactive material. The item, a Troxler Nuclear Moisture Density Gauge, was stored in a bright yellow case with the trefoil symbol for radiation warning on it (Irish Times 05/03/22)….


Once home in their kitchen, they tried it out.

They opened the box with the Radiation Warning symbol on it (Michael said it was a sticker of a Ku Klux Klan ghost, though didn’t explain why such a sticker might exist), took out the bright yellow device, and tried to get it to work.

Tom thought it might be a walkie-talkie. Joe reckoned it might be a lottery-numbers generator. Michael believed it might contain missile launch codes and – here’s the thing – tried it anyway.

Everyone knows the phrase ‘thick as thieves’, but few reflect upon its true meaning.

So the brothers pressed the keypad, tugged at the aerial, even shook the box. Very little happened, though just once numbers suddenly flashed on the digital display screen, when Tom flushed the toilet upstairs.

Eventually they got bored. Joe turned on the radio, the news came on, and they learned what they had stolen. The three stared at each other.

“We should give it back,” said Joe, “like they ask.”

“Yeah,” said Tom. “They say just leave it outside the cop shop.”

Michael snorted. “While they watch us out the window?” he said. “I’m not falling for that.”

“Then what will we do?” asked Joe.

Michael took a hammer out of the toolbox. “We’ll break it up,” he said, “and leave bits in all the litter bins around the town.”

He hit the device with the hammer. The force drove the box, still intact, through the table and onto the kitchen lino.

“What the – ?” gasped Michael.

“The hammer must have picked up the radioactivity,” said Joe excitedly. “It’s got superpowers.”

They quickly tried other items from the toolbox. One twist from the spanner released an old rusted nut off the radiator and onto the floor, where it continued to spin for five minutes. A turn of the screwdriver caused a screw to fly out of the door hinge, smoking as it did so. The torch lit the kitchen like a thousand suns.

The brothers had no idea what the little line of steel L-shapes did, but they seemed to be doing it more impressively.

Joe picked up the tape measure. “No, wait,” said Michael suddenly. “We’ll try it outside.”

They went into the street. Tom took the end of the tape and started to walk. He got six hundred yards before he stopped, waved and let go. The tape retracted in a blur, whipping the tape measure from Joe’s hand and into Mrs Malone’s garden next door, where it destroyed a gnome.

The brothers raced into their house and hid, while Mrs Malone came out and glared at the damage, yelling “I know it was you!”. Memories of long lost boyhood days, of footballs, hurleys and catapults came to each of them, surprising them with regret for how their lives had worked out. Then Joe looked at Michael.

“The tape,” he said. “How did you know?”

“I’m not sure,” said Michael, then shivered.  “I.., I think it might have been…Spidey-sense?”

There is no such thing as Spidey-sense, or spiders would know not to go near plug-holes, but once he said it the idea took root in the shallow soil of their minds. Over the next few days brains of the outfit Michael – a walking definition of the term ‘faint praise’ – felt more clever, while Tom, the brawn, felt stronger.

Joe was the getaway driver. Since the streets of Drogheda are narrow and the one-way system is confusing they usually left the car at home, but the two older brothers had felt it was important that he have a designated role too. He also now felt like a better him, and was sure that he would be able to run home to the getaway car more quickly.

The trio were the pettiest of petty criminals. Their tried and trusted method was ‘grab and gallop’ – dashing into a shop or breaking into a car and snatching the first thing they saw. It was a technique that yielded paltry returns, and indeed their biggest haul to date was when they had run into the Drogheda United club shop and had come away with two hundred programmes for that evening’s match against Sligo Rovers, which had just ten minutes left to play.

Now though, emboldened by their new-found abilities, they decided to rob the town bank.

They set off at midnight. At the bank a quick viper-tongue flick from the tape measure took out the camera. The screwdriver whirred its way through the hinges on a window. The torch lit their way to the safe, which was shattered by a blow from the hammer. They stuffed their pockets with as much money as they could (they had forgotten to bring a bag) and climbed out of the window.

There were two police cars waiting outside. Sergeant O’Brien was leaning against one of them.

“Hello lads,” he said cheerfully.

Joe glared at Michael. “Spidey-sense my arse,” he muttered.

Michal stared in astonishment at the policeman. “How are you here so fast?” he said. “We were in and out in four minutes.”

“Yes,” said O’Brien, “but we knew you were coming half an hour ago.”

“How?” said Tom. “We kept to the shadows, like, like-”

“Like thieves in the night,” said Joe.

“Indeed you did,” agreed Sergeant O’Brien, “but you glow in the dark.”