Tag Archives: Tinman’s Tall Tales

If You Want This Choice Position

To celebrate the news that the film “Mary Poppins Returns” will be released later this year I am re-posting this story I wrote in October 2013, when mention was first made of a sequel…

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Mary Poppins reached into her carpet-bag.

Mary PoppinsShe took out a box of tea-bags, a sugar-bowl, a pint of milk, a packet of McVities Digestive Biscuits and a mug that said “Old Nannies Never Die, Their Knitting Just Unravels”. She made herself a cup of tea, then reached back into the bag, pulled out a rocking-chair, and sat into it.

Her mobile rang. She looked at the number, smiled to herself, then rejected it.

They wanted her to go back into the field again.

For years she had been the star employee of the Miss Chivers Till-The Wind-Changes Nanny Agency. Rescuing the Banks family from themselves had been only one of her achievements. It was she who had invented the naughty step, the restorative lollipop as a cure for grazed knees and the imaginary friend for shy children.

She had invented “quiet time”, a boon for parents all over the world.

But the world had changed, gradually, and younger nannies had come to work for the agency. They had laughed at her, at her hat, at her apron, and at her flying umbrella, which they referred to as “Virgin Airways”.

Which had been not just cruel, thought Mary, but totally inaccurate. Bert had been her lover for many years now. He was always cheerful, utterly devoted to her, and had an astonishingly long brush, which was useful for hard-to-get-at cobwebs.

He did still sound as if he was trying to chew toffee in Australian, but you can’t have everything.

Such as job security, for instance. Over time more and more of the work that came in had been allocated to the younger women, and one day Miss Chivers had called Mary into her office and had broken the news to her.

No-one wanted a nanny anymore. They wanted an au-pair.

The new star employee was Maria Poppinska, a blonde Eastern European with long legs and a longer list of things that were bad for children. Top of this list was the spoonful of sugar, which caused dental cavities and hyperactivity. She was a great believer in muesli, carrot smoothies and a vegetable she called broccoli, which Mary was sure she had invented herself.

Whilst Mary had believed in children being allowed to laugh themselves to ceiling-level, Maria believed in them being grounded, especially if they had done something wrong.

And Maria laughed scornfully at the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, on the basis that her own middle name was longer than it.

But now her job was vacant.

Mary had been, in her own words, kind but very firm. Maria, on the other hand, was a strict disciplinarian. It turned out, though, that this was only with the man of the house, and it had been the discovery of that by the woman of the house that had got her fired.

Now Mary sat in her rocking-chair on the balcony of her Cote D’Azur home, looking out at the sea.

She and Bert had lived here for many years. Having been made so suddenly redundant after spending her life grind, grind, grinding at that grindstone, and therefore facing an old-age of poverty, Mary had decided to take action. One night Bert had reverse-torpedoed himself down a chimney into the Dawes Tomes Mousely Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank and had opened the door from the inside. With the Little Old Bird Woman keeping watch from the steps of St Paul’s across the road, Mary had stepped in and had emptied the entire contents of the safe into her cavernous carpet-bag.

They had escaped to France in a fishing boat belonging to a man with one leg named Smith (he had lost his other leg to a shark, so its name was irrelevant), and had made their way here.

Mary’s phone rang again, and again she rejected the call.

They wanted her to go out into the field again.

They could go fly a kite.

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It’s A Surprise

“It’s called what?”

“Secret Santa,” said Adam.

“Why is it called that?” asked Eve.

“Well,” said Adam. “because it’s a secret.”

“And Santa?”

“I’m not sure, really” admitted Adam, “though whenever I hear the word I get an image in my head of a man with a beard, giving you stuff.”

“God, you mean,” said Eve.

“Not quite,” said Adam doubtfully. “Anyway, do you want to do it?”

“Guess so,” said Eve. “How does it work?”

“Well, you draw a name out of a hat -”

“What’s a hat?” asked Eve.

“It’s something you wear on cold days,” said Adam.

“What are cold days?” asked Eve.

Adam sighed. The perfection of the Garden of Eden very occasionally had its drawbacks.

“Forget that part,” said Adam, holding out one closed fist. “You can draw the name out of my hand.”

He opened the fist and Eve looked into his palm. “There’s only one piece of paper,” she said.

“Well, of course,” said Adam. “You can’t get yourself.”

Eve picked up the paper and opened it. “It’s you,” she said.

“You’re not supposed to tell,” said Adam. Eve glared at him. “This is a stupid idea,” she said.

“It’s tradition,” said Adam.

“Tradition?” snorted Eve. “This is year nought.”

“Well, traditions have to start somewhere,” said Adam. He picked up another piece of paper, and studied the name written there.

“Why, honey, whoever did you get?” asked Eve sweetly. Adam ignored her. “Meet you back here in an hour,” he said.

They met an hour later. “You go first,” said Eve, excitedly.

Adam handed her a fig-leaf.

“Seriously?” she said. “in a garden that has absolutely everything, including roses, diamonds, adorable kittens, and everything that you would need to build an iPhone 8, and I don’t even know what that last thing is, I just know that I want one, you decided to get me a leaf?” She sat it on the top of her head. “Perhaps I could wear it as a hat,” she said scornfully.

“I’m sorry,” said Adam. “For some reason I thought you’d really want it.”

Eve raised her eyes to heaven. “Look what I got you,” she said, handing him an apple. “It’s the only one of its kind.”

“Oh, wow.” said Adam, impressed. “You shouldn’t have.”

“You’re not wrong there,” muttered God, looking down unnoticed from above.

Adam and Eve sat in silence for a few moments. Then Eve spoke. “It’s strange,” she said, “but I suddenly feel that this fig-leaf is the best present anyone’s ever been given, ever.”

“Me too,” said Adam, surprised. “In fact, will you get me one for Christmas?”

 

The Tooth Is Out There

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

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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.”

 

Parting Shot

When Batman actor Adam West fell on hard times in the 1970s he agreed to be fired out of a giant cannon at a town carnival (BBC’s 10 Things we Didn’t Know Last Week) ….

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Adam West adjusted the mask on his face, straightened his cape and looked at himself in the mirror in the small changing-room that the town of Big Butte, Wyoming, had alloted him.

“Holy Broke, Batman,” he muttered.

The joyousness of the sixties had been replaced by the grimness of the seventies. Hot pants and Beatles haircuts had given way to flared trousers and massive sideburns. Hope and flower-power had yielded to strikes and recession. Sixties pop had morphed into seventies rock, with its indecipherable lyrics and twenty-minute guitar solos.

Yet inexplicably, despite all of this people wanted realism instead of escapism. They no longer wanted the fun provided by Batman and his conveyor-belt of goon-accompanied villains. They wanted dour, “normal” cops solving dour, “normal” murders.

And look where it got them, reflected Adam to his reflection. They got Kojak, a grown man who sucked lollipops. They got Columbo, with a coat that looked like he’d slept in it (he could have been in our show, as The Flasher, thought Adam). They got Charlie’s Angels, who successfully went undercover in any situation despite being the three best-looking girls in any room they entered.

Call that realism, snorted Adam to himself. For God’s sake, they had phones that they could use in their cars.

In the face of all of this, the Bat-signal no longer lit up the night sky. Adam found himself out of work, and increasingly reduced to turning up at small-town small-minded events, wearing the suit whilst putting himself through a series of soul-eating humiliations.

Such as this one. Adam sighed and turned the handle of his dressing-room door. He emerged into a field, where a crowd of people clapped as he climbed a short step-ladder and lowered himself feet-first into the mouth of a cannon. He spun himself around onto his front so that he could look out. He could see a man wearing a chain of office approaching, and, some fifty feet beyond him, a safety net.

The man climbed the ladder so that he could look directly into Adam’s face. His eyes were wild with excitement and, it seemed to Adam, glee.

“I am The Mayor,” he pronounced.

“I know,” said Adam. “You’re wearing the chain.”

“Not the mayor,” said the man, “The Mayor“.

“I don’t get it,” said Adam. “You just said the same thing twice.”

“Don’t you see?” snapped the man. “The Mayor is my super-villain name.”

“Oh, very good,” said Adam. “We’re going to do all this as characters, are we?”

“Don’t patronise me,” said The Mayor. “I know who you are …. Batman.”

“Um,” said Adam, “I’m just an actor -”

“By day, yes,” said The Mayor. “Batman obviously has to have an alter-ego.”

“Exactly,” said Adam. “He’s called Bruce Wayne, and he -”

“Oh, please,” snorted The Mayor. “A millionaire play-boy who’d fight crime when he could be partying, dating super-models, and wearing Versace ball-gowns in the privacy of his own home?”

Adam raised an eyebrow, and The Mayor blushed for a second. “Never mind that last bit,” he said. “The point is, everyone knows that he isn’t real.”

“But Batman is?”

“Of course,” said The Mayor. “Otherwise, who fights the super-villains?”

“The super-villains aren’t real either,” said Adam gently.

“Rubbish,” said The Mayor. “The Penguin, with his ridiculous walk? The Joker, with his awful jokes? Two Face, with his, well, two faces? I mean, you couldn’t make them up.”

“Exactly,” said Adam.

“So they have to be real,” said The Mayor.

Adam stared at him. There was really no answer to that.

“And they’re useless,” said The Mayor, “with their wild schemes. I am a proper super-villain.”

“How so?” said Adam.

“I am The Mayor,” said The Mayor. “I control all the planning. I buy up land, then zone it for housing. I take money from developers to let them build where they want. I knock down cottages to build factories. Nothing happens in this town without me making money out of it. I have a really tight grip on Big Butte.”

“Wow,” said Adam. “And you think The Joker’s jokes are bad.”

“And now,” said The Mayor, “I’m going to prove myself the greatest villain of them all – by killing Batman!”

“By firing an out-of work actor into a safety-net?”

“Never mind the safety-net,” said The Mayor. “I’ve loaded five times the amount of gunpowder I was supposed to. You’re going to be blown sky-high, quite literally.”

He took a match raised it to the crowd, who applauded enthusiastically, then struck it against the side of the cannon. “Look,” said Adam desperately, “you’re making a big -”

The Mayor touched the match to the fuse.

“Get out of my town,” he said.

The cannon fired, and as Adam left the muzzle he could swear that, just for a second, the word “kaboom!” appeared in the air.

He shot over the safety-net, over the hot-dog stalls and the carousel, over the ferris-wheel and out into the open sky.

And landed some two miles away, drifting gently to earth beside a long, sleek tail-finned black car. The woman in the driver’s seat looked calmly at him.

“Tried to kill you, then, did he?” asked Julie Newmar.

“He did indeed,” said Adam. “Good thing I had my Bat Air-Floating-Through Device with me.”

“Your parachute, you mean.”

“Whatever,” said Batman.

“Where to next?” asked Catwoman.

“Red Neck, Nebraska,” said Batman. “A guy called The Blacksmith wants me to advertise his forge by tying me to an anvil and dropping me into the river.”

“Another villain?”

“I reckon so. Who owns a forge these days? He’ll put on a big padlock that he hasn’t told anyone about, I’ll open it underwater with the Bat-key and you can pick me up about a mile downstream.”

“Make sure you get paid in advance,” said Catwoman.

“Always do,” said Batman.

Catwoman started the Batmobile, and they drove in silence for a while. “Do you reckon, “she asked eventually, “that the public will ever figure out that we really are the people we’re supposed to be playing?”

“Doubt it,” said Batman. “They haven’t figured out yet that Leonard Nimoy is really a Vulcan, and look at the ears on him.”

 

 

What’s Up, Docc

Neanderthals dosed themselves with painkillers and possibly penicillin (Principia Scientific International)

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Ugg walked up to the cave, and hesitated. On the wall beside the opening was a sign, in chalk, saying “Docc is IN”. The rubbed-out letters “OUT” were just visible beneath the last word.

For over a minute Ugg took a few steps toward the cave, then away from it, like a man doing solo line-dancing. Then he made up his mind and turned to walk away, but he was too late. A figure appeared at the entrance. He looked earnest, eager and way too young.

“Hi!” said Docc. “Come on in.”

Ugg looked him in panic. “Er, actually, Docc, I feel fine now,” he said. “It’s true what people say, ‘go to see Docc, you’ll feel better after it’. Thanks a lot, you’ve been great.”

“Oh, come on,” said Docc. “I won’t bite.”

“Well, of course not,” said Ugg. “I never thought that you would.”

“Not unless you’ve a snake-bite and need me to suck out the poison,” continued Docc.

“Ugh,” said Ugg. “Well, I haven’t.”

“Good,” said Docc. “Then come in.”

Sighing heavily, Ugg followed Docc into the cave.

“Have a seat,” said Docc, indicating a rock in the corner, “while I get the file.”

“I haven’t got one,” said Ugg. “I’ve never been here before.”

“Not that type of file,” said Docc.

Ugg shuddered, but sat anyway. On a small slab in front of him were a number of slates. He picked one up. It had a picture of a hand waving in the top left-hand corner, and a series of drawings showed the cave furnishings and art of a well-known couple from the village.

The slate was at least two years old. Ugg knew this because the couple were no more, thanks to a sabre-tooth tiger. Well, a sabre-tooth tiger rug, on which the woman had found the man with a younger woman.

Docc returned from the back of the cave and sat at another slab, which was plainly his desk. Ugg came and sat in front of him.

“So,” said Docc, “what seems to be the problem?”

“I have a really bad headache,” said Ugg.

“I see,” said Docc. “And do you have a really dry mouth, and a desparate need to eat something fried?”

“Yes,” admitted Ugg.

“You have a hangover,” said Docc. “You had too much Giness last night.”

Giness, shortened over time from Giddiness, was a local brew that the villagers concocted from hops, water, nettles, cayenne pepper and, to give it it’s distinctive black colour, mammoth-dung. It had a kick like a mule, and could make you fart like one.

“Well,” said Ugg, “I did have a couple with the lads after hunting.”

“A couple?”

“Three,” said Ugg.

Docc sceptically raised one eyebrow, which, since he was a Neanderthal, was the maximum number available to him.

“Nine,” muttered Ugg. He looked up plaintively. “Can you help me?”

“Don’t worry,” said Docc. “I have just the thing.”

Ugg felt that he looked supremely happy as he said this, and in truth he was. Docc was living his dream.

Ever since, when he was aged four, his mother had made the pain in his scraped knee go away by spitting onto a small piece of fur and gently rubbing the sore spot, Docc had wanted to cure others. Early attempts had not been a great success, because of the lack of anyone to train him and the limited equipment at his disposal. His most often used tool had been a small club, with which he used to make patients forget the pain in, say, their ear, by giving them a bigger pain in, say, their shin.

Not for nothing was his business called a practice.

But over time he had improved. He had learnt, by trial and error, the uses of the plants of the area. He learnt that lemon balm helped sleep, that plantains eased insect stings, that onions helped the heart. He learnt that parsley increases urine output, though he had yet to find a situation in which this was helpful.

And he discovered that that the crushed bark of the willow tree, what we now call aspirin, helped ease pain.

So now he handed Ugg a small amount of powder and a stone mug of water. “Take this,” he said. Ugg did so, and almost immediately began to feel better, just by knowing that he was in the hands of a professional.

“Thanks, Docc,” he said. “You’re a genius.”

Docc smiled modestly. “It’s not rock science,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploded View

“So basically,” said Gabriel, “you’ve got the whole world in your hands.”

It was Creation Day One, and God was holding a small orb.

“Not exactly,” said God. “In fact, it’s the whole universe.”

“The question is,” said Gabriel, “why?”

“Omnipresence,” said God. “Have you any idea how hard it will be being everywhere at once when everywhere is, well, everywhere? This way I can carry everywhere around with me, so that I’m always there and won’t have to work as much.”

God waved his hands expressively as he said this, and the universe slipped out of his palm. Gabriel watched as God dived after it. “You should put in in your pocket,” he said when God came back. “Otherwise you’re going to keep dropping it every time you wave at something, or feel the sudden urge to dance to YMCA.”

“Good idea,” said God, trying to put the universe in to the pocket of his robe. “It won’t fit,” he said. “I’ll just squeeze it a little tighter –“

“Er, that’s a bit dense,” said Gabriel, looking nervously at the universe.

“It’s not dense at all,” said God huffily, “it’s a perfectly sensible –“

The universe suddenly shrank into tiny ball of infinite darkness. God let go of it, gently, and looked at Gabriel.

“Run,” he said.

They only got a few steps before it happened.

There was a big bang.

There was a flash of brilliant light, light which expanded until it illuminated every farthest corner of absolute distance.

“Yes, well that had always been my plan,” said God. “On the first day I’d planned that there would be light.”

“Good idea,” said Gabriel, “because now we can see what’s coming next.”

Following the expanding light came, well, everything. God and Gabriel ducked as galaxies flew past, stretching as they went. Pluto flicked a few feathers from Gabriel’s wing as it rocketed past on its way to the far reaches of the solar system. Several of Jupiter’s moons shot by, like popcorn bursting from a faulty microwave. Uranus hit God a ringing slap on the bum, because schoolboy humour has been around since before the beginning of time itself.

Slowly things slowed. The universe solved its own jigsaw puzzle, and everything fell into place. God turned to Gabriel, who was wearing Saturn’s rings on his head, which would later give God the idea for the halo. He pointed to a particular planet, which from that distance looked blue and green.

“Ok, I’ll go more slowly,” said God. “I’ll start by working on that one.”

 

 

Restless Spirit

Queen Silvia of Sweden believes that her palace is haunted …. and she’s right…

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Night fell, and proper night at that, not the brief darkness of the middle latitudes, but the deep, fathomless blackness of the Arctic Circle, as winter again descended, cold, bitter and snow-laden, upon Sweden.

Through the Royal Palace came a long, low moan, as if the wind was whispering, taunting the residents with warnings of the months-long night ahead.

It was the ghost of Beowulf, sighing in deep, soul-withered boredom, and in despair at what his country had become.

Over fifteen hundred years had passed since he had defeated and killed the monster Grendel and then, well, the monster’s mother, because women back then were warriors too, magnificent helmeted creatures with breastplates the shape of hearts and voices that could shatter ice. He had then ruled as King for fifty years until he’d been mortally wounded whilst fighting a dragon.

Whilst. Fighting. A. Dragon. Small wonder that his spirit had refused to pass on.

So he had watched proudly as his legacy had been carried on by the Vikings, sweeping their way across both Europe and the Atlantic with their longboats, long swords and long, long poems, standing proudly on North American soil centuries before Columbus. Men like Ingvar the Far-travelled, who had travelled far, Eric the Victorious, who had been victorious, and Magnus the Three-balled, about whom we know very little.

By the sixteenth century Sweden had had its own Empire, and then it had all come to an end. Some blamed the Black Death, some blamed the increase in the power of neighbouring Russia, but Beowulf knew the real cause.

It was the Swede.

Once you have named after you a vegetable with the shape, consistency and taste of a bowling ball then it’s impossible to be taken seriously. Other nations stopped fearing Sweden, and over time its influence waned.

Once, very briefly, it did take over the world again, as Abba swept the globe, gathering riches beyond the Vikings’ wildest dreams from places that they’d never even heard of. But in time they, too, faded. Their leader, Agnetha the Pert-bottomed, went into exile, as all great heroines do (see the Irish princess, Enya the Baffling), living out her days high in a tower staring out over a great lake, and again Sweden fell into mediocrity.

Occasionally a great warrior will rise, like Zlatan the Arrogant, with Viking blood in his veins, Viking spirit in his soul and Viking hair in a bun, but in general Sweden is now best known for gloomy films, great healthcare (Beowulf wanted to turn in his grave at this, if only he’d been in it) and a jolly good record in the Eurovision Song Contest.

So Beowulf wanders the palace at night, dreaming of the old days, when the building itself didn’t look like a stock-broker’s house, when it had slits to fire arrows through and ramparts to pour boiling oil from, and when warriors like himself could look forward to a flaming boat burial, as Valkyries bore their proud souls off to Valhalla.