Tag Archives: Tinman’s Tall Tales

If Food be the Food of Love

Joan was not a meat-and-two-veg woman.

Her mother had been an unadventurous cook. She had served sausages on five days of the week, fish on Fridays, and bacon and cabbage on Sundays. Dessert, when there was any, was Jaffa Cakes.

And Joan had been content with this, until a school trip to Paris had taught her that ‘mouth-watering’ was not just a phrase for coughing up spit.

Back home, she had taken to reading restaurant reviews in the weekend newspapers. They used words like ‘jus’, ‘ceviche’, and ‘tartlet’, a restaurant term for a small tart. They spoke in hushed admiration of the type of place where, if you asked for chips, you would be served just one potato – cut into the shape of a mermaid, sprinkled with shaved fuchsia petals and steamed in Bolivian lake-water.

So as Joan moved out of home and into adulthood she had vowed never to cook simple food. She specialised instead in unusual meals cooked in unusual ways, always on the lookout for something different.

Her secret dream, even now, was to open a restaurant herself one day, where reviewers would write adoringly as she served dishes such as Poached Banana-skin, Sweetened Sourdough, and an empty red plate called Suggestion of Tomato.

Her second dream was that her customers would be less critical than her daughter.

Chloe was sixteen and an avatar for teenage angst. She hated school and didn’t have enough friends on Facebook. She wasn’t happy with her nose, with her figure or with the fact that she was forbidden from getting a tattoo. She was fed up with the teasing she got over her unusual surname, and with the fact that she was short.

Most of all, though, she was fed up with her mother’s cooking.

Chloe looked down now at the dish in front of her and sighed as profoundly as only a teenager can.

“What exactly is this?” she asked.

Joan smiled nervously. “It’s curds and whey,” she said.

“Those aren’t even words,” said little Miss Muffet.

“Yes, they are,” said Mrs Muffet. “Curds are what you get when you curdle milk to make cheese, and whey is the liquid part left over after that.”

Chloe thought about this sentence. “So I’m eating milk,” she said.

“No, you’re….” Joan faltered. “Well, in essence, yes.”

“Then why not just give me a glass of milk?” said Chloe’s voice. “Like normal mothers,” said Chloe’s face.

“You can have a glass of milk with it, if you like,” offered Joan.

“That makes no sense,” said Chloe. “It would be like having orange juice with an actual orange.”

Joan gestured towards the dish. “Just try it,” she said. “I’m sure it’s lovely.”

“Mum,” said Chloe. “No-one eats stuff like this. It looks as if somebody threw up porridge.”

“Lots of people eat curds,” retorted Joan. “Canadians have a national dish called poutine, which is curds in gravy. They love it.”

“Canadians live voluntarily in a country full of bears,” said Chloe. “They may have their bar set lower for life-expectancy. And what about whey?”

“It’s used in cottage cheese,” said Joan.

“We don’t live in a cottage,” said Chloe, “so why should we suffer?”

“Well, we’re not from Mars either, and you eat Mars Bars,” retorted Joan. “Anyway, that’s not its only use. It’s also in protein shakes, and taken by bodybuilders.”

“Great,” said Chloe. “So I’m going to have legs like barrels, and arms like the thing that hangs in kebab shops. While all the time smelling of cheese.”

She glared up at her mother, and to her surprise saw that she had tears in her eyes.

“I just try to give you something different,” said Joan in a low voice. “I want food to be a thrill for you, like it wasn’t for me.”

Chloe reddened with guilt. “I know, Mum,” she said. “and I’m sorry. Look, I’ll try it.” She dipped her spoon into the dish and took a scoop of the pale gunge, trying to ignore the squelch as it released from the heart of the mire. She put it in into her mouth.

It tasted like bleached yogurt.

Chloe looked into her mother’s anxious, hopeful face, Her heart filled with love, so she swallowed the caustic remark she was about to make, along with the mouthful of stodge. “It’s actually not bad,” she said, as brightly as she could.

“Oh good,” said Joan. “I have dessert too, for when you’re finished.”

“Great,” said Chloe. “What is it?”

Joan hesitated. Chloe sighed. “I’m guessing,” she said, “that the words ‘jelly’ and ‘ice-cream’ are not going to feature in your answer.”

“Um, no,” said Joan. “It’s a Cambodian dish.”

Of course it is, thought Chloe.

“It’s fried spider,” said Joan.

Chloe stood up from the table. “I’m out of here,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One’s a Barbie Girl

A limited-edition Barbie doll of the Queen has been created for her Platinum Jubilee…

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It was Happy Hour in the Pink Parka.

A group of younger Barbies were gathered on stools at the bar. Their Kens stood at far end of the room, a collection of Stepford boyfriends talking about golf handicaps.

The girls had arranged to meet – had got dolled-up to do so, in fact – to discuss the news story of the day.

“She has a tiara,” said Yoga Barbie, who had only one position, the Downward Dog, “and the Crown Jewels.”

“She has actual palaces,” said Bingewatch Barbie, who came with her own sofa, remote and giant bag of Quavers. “Nobody is going to want a Malibu Beach House if you can get Windsor Castle, complete with moat.”

“And she comes with pets,” said Instagram Barbie, taking a picture of the Quavers and uploading it. “She has corgis. They’re really cute.”

“They aren’t, they look like fudge-coloured Lego,” said Wheels, a Volkswagen Polo. This was Driverless Car Barbie – you didn’t get an actual doll, just a toy car.

They carried on with this light-hearted bitching, enjoying themselves, though every now and then they cast anxious glances at the one member of their of their group who hadn’t yet spoken.

Princess Barbie just sat, drinking morosely, staring into nothing.

“You ok, Babe?” asked Instagram Barbie.

A tear ran down Princess Barbie’s cheek, to the horror of the others.

“Don’t worry about her,” said Yoga Barbie, offering her a tissue. “People will still love you.”

Princess Barbie blew her nose, surprisingly loudly for someone with no discernible nostrils. Then she smiled weakly.

“You’re probably right,” she said, “and I know I shouldn’t mind. It’s just, I’ve always been the most popular-”

Bingewatch Barbie raised one non-existent eyebrow.

“Well, I have,” said Princess Barbie. “There’s no point in denying it. Young girls may say they prefer the career Barbies, and the sporty ones, but it’s me they really love, really want to be. I guess I just always thought of myself as the untitled queen. And now we have a real one.”

“Oh, stop moaning,” said a voice from behind the bar.

Princess Barbie started, spilling pink gin onto the counter. Behind that counter stood another Barbie. She wore a T-shirt with the name of the bar on it, and a tired expression. A wisp of hair had come loose from her bun and draped down one cheek. She had a tea-towel over her shoulder.

“Sorry,” said Princess Barbie, dabbing at the drink with her snot-soaked tissue. “I didn’t notice you there.”

“Well, I am here,” said Barmaid Barbie, snatching the tissue away and using the tea-towel instead. “And I have an opinion too, Princess, even if you have a better life than me.”

“I don’t have a better -”

“You own your own unicorn,” said Barmaid Barbie.

“True, but-”

“But nothing. Try walking a mile in my shoes, behind this counter. I can tell you it’s not easy, since I have the same ridiculous foot angle as you, and have to do it in high heels. You do think you are better than me, and most other Barbies. Why isn’t Cleaner Barbie one of your little gang, or Waitress Barbie? There are dozens of us that no-one cares about. Has anyone ever bought their daughter a Tesco Checkout Barbie, even after they were among the real heroes of the pandemic? I don’t think so. And now someone is more important than you. Well, welcome to my world.”

Throughout this speech Bingewatch Barbie had sat cross-legged on her sofa, staring entranced at the barmaid, spooning snacks into her mouth. Now she turned and grinned at Princess Barbie.

“Well, that’s put you back in your box,” she said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long Jump

A frog discovered in a bag of fresh mint in a fruit and veg shop in the north of England had survived a 6,000 km shipment from Ethiopia (Irish Times 09/04/22)…

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The fly hovered, buzzing gently, on the warm air above the Rift Valley.

Then suddenly it was gone, winked from existence like a snuffed candle by the lash-like flick of a long tongue.

Tadele lapped the fly into his mouth in a manoeuvre that involved curling his tongue like a party horn, closed his eyes and sat back contentedly on his tree branch, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the sigh of the gentle breeze and the low buzz of the fly.

Hang on, he thought, the fly is gone.

His eyes snapped open. The buzz wasn’t a buzz, it was a hiss. An Ethiopian Mountain Snake was slithering along the branch toward him. Tadele looked into its yellow eyes. Circle of life, they seemed to say and, though it had no shoulders, the snake seemed to shrug.

No way, though Tadele. Today is not my day to croak. He crouched back onto his hind legs, then leapt.

He landed in the soft undergrowth. He could hear the snake sliding swiftly down the tree like a slinky on a bat-pole and looked around for cover. He saw a bed of mint beside him, hopped to it, then turned himself green. Well, more green.

He held his breath as the snake searched for him. Eventually he heard it slither away. Tadele let out his breath.

Then his world turned upside down.

The whole clump of mint was wrenched from the soil and tossed onto the back of a truck. Tadele hit his head against the side wall, and fell unconscious. This was fortunate, as he was spared the terrors of the bumpy journey to a large factory, the ear-shattering flight in the cargo-hold of a plane, the soul-destroying atmosphere of a huge distribution warehouse.

It was unfortunate too, of course, as it meant that he missed several opportunities to escape.

He woke in confusion, in darkness, and in a plastic bag. He gasped in horror, and in that gasp inhaled the air of a tiny world that now contained nothing but mint.

The sharp freshness filled his lungs, his belly, the backs of his eyeballs. He felt as if he had been waterboarded with mouthwash.

The low rumbling and the constant bouncing told him that he was in some sort of vehicle. Eventually this slowed to a stop. A rectangle of light appeared above him, and his bag and several others were brought into a small shop. They were placed on a shelf, and he found himself alone. Now, he thought, to get out of –

His home was picked up and tossed into a small wire basket, which contained a bunch of bananas, a cucumber, a stick of celery and what appeared to be a grenade, but was in fact an avocado. The basket was carried to a counter, where his plastic bag was passed across a scanner, a process like being put through a body-scanner at an airport. In spite of himself, Tadele flinched.

“Hang on,” said a booming female voice. “Something moved in that bag.”

“No way,” said a man. “I keep this shop spotless.”

The bag was lifted. Tadele could see two huge faces peering in. He burrowed as deeply as he could into the mint.

“There,” said the woman. “It’s a frog!. It’s buried up to its thighs in the mint.”

Knee-deep, actually, thought Tadele, before he could stop himself.

“Oh,” said the man. “Er, will I take it out for you?”

“I’m not buying that,” snapped the woman, “but I recommend you take it out anyway. You’re not going to sell mint-and-a-frog in a bag, unless you can market it as a hipster ready-meal.”

The bag was pressed against the man’s brown shop-coat, and huge fingers tugged at the seal along the top. The bag opened, a great waft of mint escaped, and fresh air poured in.

Well, the fresh air of a fruit and vegetable shop, anyway.

Tadele’s lungs, now truly in mint condition, were assailed by the damp-earth smell of potatoes, the cat-pee odour of garlic, the yellow zing of lemons.

And onions.

Tadele’s huge eyes filled with water, but they were not the stinging tears of onion inhalation, but the joyous tears of delight. Never before had he known such sensation.

He leapt from the bag, hopped – no, practically bounced – across the shop, and out into the street.

He gleefully took in great gulps of town-life. He, who had known only the sweet aromas of trees and grasses, was enthralled by the gritty smells of diesel, of tarmac, even of last night’s drunken vomit.

He passed a chip-shop and deeply inhaled the glorious smell of batter and vinegar.

Then he arrived outside a coffee shop, and was filled with awe by the scent of the world’s most bitter-tasting yet best-smelling beverage.

He paused beside a wall, out of danger from incautious human feet, and looked around him. He felt truly alive. A new world had been opened to him.

Then a fly buzzed past. Tadele’s tongue whipped out, the fly was whipped in. Tadele smiled, though this made little difference to his facial expression.

I’m going to like it here, he thought.

 

 

 

Between the Light and the Dark

image from juiceman.com

He isn’t coming, Erin thought.

She had been there for an hour now, sipping at her drink, hope rising with every jangle of the bell above the door, hope falling at each entrant, some townsperson or other rushing in to get coffee or pastries, their breath preceding them like a man with a red flag warning of the approach of the phrase “man, that’s a cold one”.

Some had nodded to her in recognition but others, she thought, avoided her gaze, as if her situation was some sort of medusa virus that could be passed on by eye contact.

Erin tapped at the side of her cup with her blunt fingernail, then hid her hand quickly inside her coat. She had started biting her nails again, and was embarrassed by them.

She’d finish her drink, she decided, and go. There was no point in–

The bell tolled again, and this time it tolled for she.

He stood huge in the doorway, snowflakes speckled among the curls of his hair. He looked around, saw her, and beamed. She felt a burst of love for him, then one of rage.

He sat down opposite her. “Hello, Honey,” he said.

“You’re late,” she said angrily.

He shrugged. “It’s snowing,” he smiled, “and I didn’t come on a one-horse open sleigh. I came in a nine-year-old car that handles in snow like a drunk supermarket trolley.”

She was determined not to be charmed. “I thought you weren’t coming,” she burst out.

His smiled faded. “I’m sorry you thought that,” he said quietly. He waved to Anna, the owner. “I’m going to get a coffee,” he said to Erin. “Will you have another – what is that?”

Erin blushed. “Peanut butter hot chocolate,” she muttered.

His eyes widened. “Really?”

“It’s warming, and delicious,” she said, annoyed at how defensive she sounded. “But it does smell a tiny bit like socks, so I’ll stick.”

Anna arrived at the table, notepad open, as though two people might order too many things to be expected to remember. “Why, Greg,” she said. “Haven’t seen you in here in a while.”

“No,” said Greg. “I’ve been … away.”

He ordered coffee. Anna looked at Erin, who shook her head. The notepad flipped closed, and Anna walked away, smiling faintly.

“So,” said Greg, “she knows about the break-up.”

“Everyone knows about the break-up,” snapped Erin.

“I see,” said Greg. He sat in silence until his coffee arrived. Erin found that she was tapping at her cup again. She put her hand on the table, and noticed Greg looking at her nails.

“Is it really hard?” he asked, putting his big hand over hers. She was shocked at his stupidity, and wondered how she could possibly have loved this man. She pulled her hand free.

“What do you think?” she snarled. “I thought we had a great life. I thought I had a great life, then it all fell apart. Now I cry a lot” – she was furious with herself, but couldn’t stop – “and just keep wanting things to be the way they were before.”

“Oh Erin,” said Greg. “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Erin snorted, then panicked that she might have produced a burble of snot. She wiped quickly at her face. “Well, you did,” she said. “And don’t say that I’ll feel better after a while, like you did when you left, because this is after a while, and I don’t.”

She felt a flash of malicious satisfaction as she watched his face work out this sentence. Then she looked at him, really looked at him for the first time since he had come in. She saw that he was pale, not just mid-winter pale, but tired, unhappy pale. He looked old, for the first time ever. She felt a wave of sympathy, and was awed at the spectrum of emotions, between love and fury, between the light and the dark, that one human could simultaneously feel for another.

“It’s not easy for you either, is it?” she said softly.

He looked bleakly at her, and for a second she was terrified that he was going to cry. Then he fought his emotion, as he always did, and she was filled with illogical love and pride when the big, strong man – her big, strong man – managed a weak smile.

He reached out and put his hand on hers again. This time she let him.

She noticed him looking at the front of her coat. “Did you get my card?” he asked, hesitantly.

She smiled now, amused as always by his kryptonite, which was that he had never had sisters and so had no idea at what age girls are into what things. He had no idea, for example, that someone her age would rather die than be seen by anybody she knew wearing a big round badge that said ‘I’m 12 today’.

And she would never tell him that. She held her coat open, so that he could see the badge garishly red against her grey sweatshirt.

He smiled and squeezed her hand. “Happy birthday, Honey,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad,” she replied.

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 sciencetimes.com

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)….

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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…

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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)…

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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.

-o0o-

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)….

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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.”

 

Paper Tiger

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has asked Russian journalists, artists and bloggers to protest Russia’s invasion of his country. I am not Russian, nor a political blogger, so all I can do is re-publish this post from four years ago, the night after the 2018 World Cup Final…

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Vladimir Putin woke early, as real men do.

He sat up and stretched, his magnificent pecs extending as he did so. He sat for a moment, planning his day. He might ride a horse bareback, and indeed bare-chested. He might head off into the woods to wrestle bears. He might ski across Siberia wearing only a pair of Speedos. He might climb every mountain, ford every stream. He might sing the song that that line comes from, in a deep Russian baritone, while performing a Cossack dance. He might swallow swords. He might eat fire.

Whatever he did, it would reinforce his position as the strongman of the First World, a giant among pygmies, the true Beast From The East.

Vladimir Putin threw aside the single sheet he slept under, strode across his bedroom, and threw open the curtains.

It was raining.

Vladimir Putin went back to bed.

During the torrential downpour at the World Cup Final medal ceremony yesterday, host President Vladimir Putin stands snug and dry under an umbrella, leaving the Prime Ministers of finalists France and Croatia to get absolutely soaked