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To Come Unto Me

They gathered to welcome them.

There are arrivals at the Gates of Heaven every day, of course, but sometimes things are different.

So people formed a Guard of Honour at the gate, heads bowed in sorrow as the little lost souls arrived, looking confusedly around them. Some clutched small dolls. Some held the hands of best friends, now genuinely best friends forever. Some whispered ‘Mommy?’ in tiny voices in which hope faded at each repetition. All of them looked shocked and terrified, after a final hour on Earth that would be the stuff of nightmares, except that nightmares are just imagination, and human imagination has limits that their awful reality had far exceeded.

Arms were put around their tiny shoulders. Words of deep, eternal love were whispered to them.

God stared deep into the vastness of eternity, trying to control his rage and questioning, as he had to do almost daily, the wisdom of the concept of Free Will.

He sat with his own son and watched proceedings below, the panic, the screaming, the inexpressible grief.

They watched the messages from the people who could change things. They heard references to ‘thoughts’ and to ‘prayers’, but melded as always into the mush-phrase ‘thoughts and prayers’, a phrase that sucked the life from each word. They knew that there would be little thought, and that they would be receiving no actual prayers.

They watched as these people, the ones who could change things, who could have changed them the time before, and the time before that, denied the undeniable, defended the indefensible.

Jesus wept.

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.”



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.





Happy Christmas To All

To all of you who come here, my worldwide readership (there are only about five of you, but you are spread all over the world), I’d just like to say thank you. I’ve loved returning to writing this year, and it’s the fact that you are all here, reading and making kind comments, that helps keep me going.

Happy Christmas to all of you. May it be all that you hope for.


Tin x

Love from the Tinfamily

Things Go Better

This advert is on a billboard near where we live:

The Original taste? I never knew that…


…. the Third Wise Man approached. “I bring you Coke,” he said.

The other two stared at him. “I thought you were bringing myrrh,” said the First Wise Man.

“Couldn’t get it,” said the Third Wise Man. “None of the shops had ever heard of it.”

Joseph took the bottle from him. “What are we supposed to do with it?” he asked.

“If he needs to be winded,” said the Third Wise Man, “give him some of this first. You have no idea how loudly it will make him burp.”


…. Mary put her hands over her ears. “Please make him stop,” she said.

The Little Drummer Boy sat on a stool, his drum in front of him. Arranged around it were two upturned earthenware pots, the cow’s milking-bucket and, serving as the world’s first cymbals, the hub-caps from a chariot parked ouside the inn.

The Little Drummer Boy had drunk fourteen Cokes, and was now enthusiastically beating out the drum solo from Led Zeppelin’s Moby Dick.


…. Samson, stripped to the waist, pushed against the pillars, biceps bulging. After a while he stopped, and took a drink of Coke.

One of the onlooking Philistine women turned to another. “See you tomorrow?”

Her friend nodded. “Eleven Thirty,” she said.


— the shepherds were awe-struck.

A long convoy of ox-and-carts was snaking slowly along the winding road at the bottom of their hill, each cart laden with crates. A heavenly choir had begun to sing “holidays are comin'”, over and over again. An Angel of the Lord had appeared unto them.

“I bring glad tidings of great joy,” said the Angel, “and also this.”

He put a crate of Coke in front of them.

“This is great,” said the First Shepherd. “we’ll be rightly sloshed after drinking all that.”

“Oh, it’s not alcoholic,” said the Angel, and vanished.

The shepherds gazed at one another. The First Shepherd shrugged.

“We’ll use it to wash the sheep,” he said.


…. he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then jumped back with a jerk,
for the bottle of Coke he had placed in each sock
had compelled them to crash to the ground like a rock.
The floor was all covered with glass and with bubbles
and the air smelled like diesel, to add to my troubles.
And I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight,
“I’d clean it up quick, that stuff’s sticky as shite.”





Came, Saw, Yawned

Two unrelated facts: in a recent thread on entitled “Why is Dublin so bad?” our capital city was described by many contributors who had visited as dirty, dreary, expensive and with nothing to do. And the demographic of people arriving in Iceland between 874 and 930 AD was almost entirely Norse men and Irish women …


Leif sat at the bar in the Banshee’s Wail, one of fourteen pubs claiming to be Dublin’s oldest, staring gloomily into his drink. Eventually he spoke.

“We’re going home,” he said.

Behind the bar, Maeve’s eyes widened in surprise.

The Vikings had arrived in Dublin a few years earlier intent upon theft and pillage, but had been quickly disarmed by innate native curiosity, fending off not spears and bows but questions about whaling, volcanoes, and whether they had any Irish relatives. Over time they had come to an arrangement where they would refrain from enslaving the Irish and the Irish would stop referring to them as Beardy Bolloxses. They had settled in the city, drinking in the local pubs and joining in conversations about whether football would catch on as a sport, about how the youth of today hadn’t a clue, about whether Brexit would ever be over.

Now, apparently, they were leaving.

“Why would you go home?” asked Maeve, surprising herself at how plaintive her voice sounded.

Leif shrugged. “There was a vote,” he said. “We’re bored.”

“Bored?” said Maeve. “How?”

“There’s nothing to do,” said Leif.

“There’s lots to do,” said Maeve stoutly.

“Such as?” asked Leif.

“Well, the Guinness tour,” said Maeve.

“Seriously?” said Leif. “Here’s where we make it, here’s where we store it, here’s where we send it out the door. Thanks for coming, goodbye.”

“There’s the Leprechaun Museum.” (really, there is)

“True,” said Leif, “which would be well worth any admission price if it wasn’t for its lack of, well, leprechauns.”

“There’s the gift shops.” said Maeve, desperately.

“Yes, on every corner,” said Leif, “selling shillelaghs, which are just sticks, and shamrock-shaped hats, and tunics with ‘kiss me, I’m Irish’ written on them.”

Maeve lowered her eyes. Leif tried to find the right words. “Look,” he said, “you have to remember that we have the Northern Lights, and waterfalls, and glaciers. We’ve discovered America -”

“What’s America?”

“Exactly,” said Leif. “We’ve seen so many amazing things, Dublin just doesn’t thrill us. And it’s so dirty that even its drink is black.”

“That’s the body in it,” said Maeve.

“Considering it gets its water from the Liffey, that’s probably true,” said Leif. “And it’s really expensive. I thought we were supposed to be the robbers.”

Maeve, who worked in a bar that charged twice the price to visitors as to locals, blushed slightly, then looked up. “And this vote you spoke of,” she said quietly, “how did you vote?”

Leif looked into her eyes. “I voted to stay,” he said softly, “but the other side won.”

“I see,” said Maeve. “And when are you leaving?”

“Right now,” said Leif. “I just came to say goodbye.”

She held his gaze. Unspoken words hovered between them, then faded, unspoken.

Leif finished his drink, turned and left. Maeve stared for a long time at the door, at her future, at nothing.

The door suddenly burst open. Conor, her boss, came in.

“The Beardy Bolloxses are leaving,” he said happily.

“I know,” said Maeve in a low voice.

“You don’t seem very pleased,” said Conor. “Don’t you get it? The Viking Conquest is over.”

Maeve suddenly grabbed her cloak. “Perhaps not,” she said, “because there are two ways of looking at that phrase.”

She ran from the pub to the riverside. The Vikings were climbing onto their longboat, with Leif at the end of line. She touched his arm, and he turned in surprise. She saw the look in his eyes, and smiled.

“Kiss me,” she said, “I’m Irish.”



The Tooth Is Out There

The return of Docc the Neandertal Doctor, and his patient patient Ugg…


Docc’s practice had improved since we last met him.

He was now an expert in aromatherapy, clearing his patients’ sinus problems by getting them to sniff small bowls of sloth-poo. He used faith-healing, with his catch-phrase “trust me, I’m the Docc”. He used reflexology, rapping people sharply on the knee with his club, though he did use this only on people who hadn’t paid him for the aromatherapy.

He even dealt with womens’ complaints, learning as he did so that most of their complaints were about the lack of help with the cavework that they got from their menfolk.

And he had moved into dentistry, which is why we find Ugg once again walking hesitantly into Docc’s cave.

“Ah, Ugg,” said Docc. “What seems to be the trouble?”

Ugg pointed to his mouth.

“Your ugliness?” said Docc. “Can’t do anything about that, I’m afraid. I don’t do cosmetic surgery.”

Ugg shook his head, which elicited a sharp stab of agony that caused him to yelp in pain and slap his hand to his cheek, which caused him to yelp again.

“Toothache?” asked Docc.

Ugg went to nod, thought better of it, then simply raised one thumb.

“No problem,” said Docc. “Sit up onto this slab and open your mouth.”

Ugg did as he was asked, and Docc held a torch up to his mouth while he looked inside. Ugg began to sweat, which is what usually happens when someone holds a flaming torch a few inches from your face.

“I see the one,” said Docc. “I’m afraid it’s going to have to come out.” He handed Ugg a small stone goblet. “Here, take a mouthful of this.”

Ugg looked into the goblet, which contained a luridly pink liquid. He poured some into his mouth, and discovered that it had a tangy, metallic taste.

“It’s just water from the stream behind the cave,” said Docc. “I’m not sure why it’s that colour, I think some dying animal might be bleeding into the water somewhere further upstream.”

Ugg spat the liquid violently across the cave.

“Very good,” said Docc. “I was just going to ask you to do that.”

He started to work in Ugg’s mouth. Ugg could feel poking and tugging, had Docc’s fingers in his mouth and had his jaws open so wide that they were beginning to ache. Clearly, he was in no position to speak.

“So,” asked Docc, “how’s the wife?”

“Hiii,” said Ugg.

“Fine, eh?” said Docc. “And what about work?”

“Hay ho hay ho,” said Ugg.

“Same old same old?” said Docc. “I know how you feel. Going anywhere on holiday this year?”

Ugg came out with a long unintelligible sound that Docc guessed was a probably a village in Wales. “Very nice,” he said. It was only many hours later that he realised that Ugg had said “oh, for feck’s sake”.

“Now,” said Docc. “This isn’t going to hurt a bit.” He stepped away from the slab and thrust his right hand towards the cave mouth. Ugg roared in pain.

“See?” said Docc. “It actually hurt a lot.”

Ugg opened his mouth to shout at him in anger, then stopped in surprise. He realised that the pain in his mouth had gone, as had one of his back teeth. “That’s amazing, Docc,” he said. “What did you do?”

Docc went outside the cave and returned a few moments later holding Ugg’s tooth, which was attached by a piece of string to a small round object. “The idea,” said Docc, “is that you attach the tooth to a door and then slam it, but since I’ve no idea what a door is I’ve come up with this.” He showed Ugg the device. “I’ve made it circular so it will roll. I throw it out of the cave and it runs down the hill, taking the tooth with it. I called it a ‘wheeeel’, because of the noise it makes when it’s rolling.”

Ugg was almost hopping up and down in excitement. “This is an incredible invention, Docc,” he said. “We could put it on the sled that we drag carcasses back from hunting with.”

Docc stared at him. “Nah,” he said. “Sleds don’t get toothache.”


The Call Of The Sea

The waves gently rolled the hull, like a mother softly rocking a cradle. She smiled, tiredly, and closed her eyes.

She was woken just minutes later by loud knocking and shouting from the starboard side of the yacht. She leapt from her bunk, banging her head against the ceiling and her shin against her locker because, as she reflected grimly, unlike the Tardis a yacht’s cabin is not certainly not bigger on the inside.

She climbed up onto the deck and looked over the side. A man was at the wheel of a small motor-boat, looking up at her.

“Hello,” he said cheerfully.

“Hello back,” she answered. “What are you doing here?”

“Good question,” he said. “I was about two miles away, heading east, when my boat suddenly changed direction, ignored all my wheel-turning and swearing, sped over here and parallel-parked beside your yacht far better than I could ever have done.”

“I see,” she said. “Well, go away again.”

“I can’t,” he said. “My engine’s completely dead. It’s really odd. Do you have a giant magnet on board or something?”

“Of course not,” she said, “why would ….”

Her voice tailed off as she thought back over the last half-hour. She’d been pondering her perfect life – no people, no stress. She’d been lulled by the swell of the sea. She’d been warm, and tired. She’d been happy.

“And so,” she muttered bitterly, “I started to hum.”

“I’m sorry?” said the man in the boat.

“Er,” she said. She looked down at him, then sighed. “You’d better come aboard,” she said.

He climbed the ladder and stood up onto the deck, holding out his hand. “I’m James,” he said.

She shook his hand. “Sharlana,” she answered. She saw his eyes widen. “Yeah,” she said, “well, women in my family don’t tend to get names like Jane or Mary.”


“Because….” she said, and took a breath, “because I’m a siren.” James’s eyes widened further, though she hadn’t thought that possible. “Yes, yes, my ancestors used to lure sailors onto the rocks.”

“With the beauty of their singing,” nodded James.

“Exactly,” she said. “Of course, the fact that they were naked also helped. Anyway, I’m a descendant. The last of the line.”

“From men and women sirens?”

“You haven’t been listening. The female side of my family have an ability to attract sailors. There’s so much sailor in my genes it’s a wonder I wasn’t born with a parrot on my shoulder and a wooden leg.”

“So that’s why you were on about humming,” said James. “You lured me here.”

“Yes, well I didn’t mean to,” said Sharlana. “I’m sorry about that.”

“I’m not,” said James, and to Sharlana’s surprise she felt her sun-tanned face blush. “And the big yacht?”

“Sunken treasure, pieces-of-eight, blah, blah, blah,” said Sharlana. “My family’s been very rich for a very long time.”  

“I see,” said James. “And you’re telling me all this why?”

“Because no one will believe you,” said Sharlana sweetly. “You might as well go back home and say you were abducted by aliens.” She looked at him quizzically. “You seem to be taking it all very calmly,” she said.

James shrugged, “I’m a marine biologist,” he said. “I’ve seen fish that look like shuttle-cocks, turtles that look like coffee-tables, jellyfish that look like, well, jellyfish. I’ve learnt that there’s nothing that the sea can’t throw up, or make you want to.”

They talked, then, as the sun slowly set, a huge red ball sinking beneath the waves. He told her about his life and his studies, and she saw the light blaze in his eyes as he talked passionately about his work and his love of the sea. She told him of storms she had fought, and dawns she had watched, and of the simple joy of a life spent swimming, and sunbathing, and watching box sets of Game of Thrones on the yacht’s computer.

At dusk James got back onto his boat, and Sharlana towed him back to the mainland. “The engine will work again once I’m gone,” she said.

“Great,” said James. “I don’t fancy rowing around the sea for the rest of my career, I’d end up with biceps the size of that thing on a spit you see in kebab shops.” He looked up at the lights of the town behind the pier. “While you’re here,” he said, “will you have dinner with me?”

She shook her head. Don’t get involved, she told herself. You have a perfect life.

“Please?” he said. “I know a place that does seafood.”

She suddenly felt a pang, and thought about the small doubts she’d been having lately, about the increasing number of nights when she’d felt unexpectedly empty, like an emotional Mary Celeste. She thought about how she’d been trying to ignore the small clouds that had been gathering on the horizon of her soul, like a warning of an impending storm, or of a deep depression.

And she wondered why indeed she had told him her secret, so readily, instead of fobbing him off with some explanation about local currents, or faulty navigation systems, or the Bermuda Triangle.

Marine biologist, she thought. It’s basically just a sailor with an IQ of two hundred.

She smiled then, and nodded.

“Arrr, Jim lad, “she said.


The screen was blank, apart from just four words. They had been there for over a week now, waiting for the accompanying paragraphs that would justify their existence.

The four words were “I Am John’s Knee”.

David had been writing this section for the Readers Digest for five years now. During that time he had been John’s heart, spleen, kidney, lungs and scrotum (he might as well have written just the one article called “I am John‘s sausage”). He hadn’t yet been John’s dandruff, his Betty Boop tattoo or his third little piggy (the one that got roast beef), but those days would surely come soon, John was running out of body parts.

Sometimes David got to be part of Jane, when the Digest wanted to explore areas of the anatomy that John simply didn’t have. You might think that this would put David in touch with his feminine side, but you’d be wrong. After the article where he informed the world that he was Jane’s ovaries he just felt embarrassed for the whole day.

And it’s wasn’t as if he was making a fortune from this. Indeed, readers with names like Mrs J. Spalding, Sussex, were making £250 for merry snippets about their grandchildren for the “Life’s Like That” section. This worked out usually at about two pounds a word, or about five times what David, a supposedly professional writer, was being paid.

The screen in front of him remained blank. It should by now have been filled with information about the patella, the cruciate ligament and even about the fact that de knee-bone connect to de shin-bone, but David just couldn’t be arsed. Couldn’t be John’s arsed, in fact.

The words remained a forlorn foursome on the screen. David went to the kitchen and got himself a bottle of scotch. He then sat on his sofa in front of an episode of Castle and, as he had done every evening that week, poured himself a very large glass.

Oh, I am David’s liver, by the way. I’m screwed.

One Day Late

In my defence, Boxing Day was traditionally the day in the UK when Christmas boxes and good wishes were given out, so I wasn’t doing anything wrong by not being here yesterday to wish you all Happy Christmas.

In my lack-of-defence I do not live in the UK.

The day just went. We had presents, we had dinner, we watched about 32 hours of films in 14 hours and suddenly the day was over.

So belated, apologetic, but really heartfelt best wishes to every single one of you who come here. You are my support and my encouragement.

You are my friends.

I hope you all had a really lovely day yesterday and that you enjoy today and the rest of the holidays.

I will be doing other writing over the coming days, especially since Tingirl has bought me this:

26.12.12 049

Have a super day, everyone, and talk to you all again soon.