Tag Archives: Tinman’s Tall Tales

Big Bird

Palaeontologists have discovered the fossilised remains of a giant parrot, which they have named Heracles inexpectatus, preserved in layers of sand and grey-blue clay in New Zealand. It would have weighed about fifteen pounds and stood roughly three feet tall. “That’s tall enough to be able to pick the belly button lint out of your belly button,” says Michael Archer, a palaeontologist at the University of South Wales who is part of the team, in a report by National Geographic.

So thanks to them and of course to Michael Palin, John Cleese and Graham Chapman ….


“I wish to register a complaint.”

The owner of Pete’s Pets looked up from his newspaper. Behind him canaries chirped, parakeets prattled, budgies burbled. Before him stood a customer carrying a large cardboard box. The box had gashes all over it, was bucking and buckling, and from inside came the sound of muttered, incessant swearing.

“Caught a leprechaun, have you?” asked Pete.

“Never mind that, my lad,” snapped the customer. “I wish to complain about the parrot what I purchased not half-an-hour ago from this very boutique.”

“It’s not dead, is it?” asked Pete, suddenly worried.

“Of course it’s not dead,” said the customer, nodding at the convulsing box. “Why would you think that?”

Pete shook his head, as if trying to clear some far-away memory. “I’ve no idea,” he said. “Anyway, what’s wrong with it?”

“I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it,” said the customer. “Better still, I’ll show you.”

He put the box on the floor. A sharp point burst through the side of it and dragged down to the bottom, as if someone inside was using a box-cutter. The box fell apart.

All of the pets fell silent.

“That’s what’s wrong with it,” said the customer.

Standing in the box wreckage was a huge parrot. It was three feet tall and weighed about fifteen pounds. Its beak was the size of a horse’s hoof, and so sharp that it glinted. Its eyes were the size of fried eggs, and turned balefully toward Pete.

“Oo’s a pretty boy, then?” it growled. It didn’t have the scratchy squawk of a normal parrot, it had the low menacing tone usually associated with the phrase “what are you lookin’ at?” in a dark laneway just after closing time. Pete stared at it in astonishment.

“What are you lookin’ at?” said the parrot. Pete hurriedly looked away, and turned to the customer.

“What on earth have you been feeding him?” he asked.

I haven’t been feeding him anything,” said the customer. “He has been helping himself – so far to seventeen potatoes, three heads of lettuce,  two pavlova bases, six rice cakes, a potted cactus and an economy-sized tub of crunchy peanut butter.”

The parrot let rip a gigantic fart.

“Oh, and a tin of baked beans,” said the customer.

“I don’t understand,” said Pete. “We don’t sell anything like that. Let me check my records. What did you think you were buying?”

“The Norwegian Blue,” said the customer.

“Excellent choice,” said Pete,tapping at his computer. “Beautiful plumage.” He stared at his screen, scrolling as he did so. “Ah-ha,” he said. ” I see the problem – the wholesalers sent the wrong bird in the wrong box.”

“So what do I have?” asked the customer.

“Something called Heracles inexpectatus,” said Pete. “It’s from New Zealand, and they call it ‘squawkzilla’.”

“Well, I don’t want it,” said the customer. “I want to return it.”

The pets grew even more silent, though Pete would not have thought that possible, as each one held its breath. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tortoise retreat into its shell at a speed at which no tortoise had ever moved before.

“I can’t take it back,” said Pete. “We don’t do refunds.”

All of the pets let out their breath again. The effect was rather like being inside a gently slumbering harmonica.

“But what will I do with it?” said the customer. “How will I control it? What will I feed it?”

“You could get a cat,” said Pete.

“I could,” said the customer, “but that doesn’t answer how I’ll control it.”

“You could try making use of it,”  said Pete. “It could open tins for you.”

“I have a tin-opener.”

“It could scare away burglars.”

“I have a burglar alarm.”

“It could pick the belly button lint out of your belly button.”

“Are you mental?” said the customer. “Would you let something with a beak like that anywhere near the lower half of your body?”

“I see your point,” said Pete. “Well, you could drive it out to the woods and leave it there.”

“Good, idea,” said the customer thoughtfully. “It would become the stuff of legend. People would claim to have seen it, and no-one would believe them.”

“They’d produce photos, and people would say they were fakes.”

“They’d find footprints, and people would say they were made by the devil.”

“It’d become known as the abominable parrot.”

The parrot reared itself to its full height. “Polly wants a cracker,” it announced.

“It’s hungry again,” said the customer. There was a scurrying from behind Pete as the pets all tried to make themselves invisible.

“I’ll be back,” growled the parrot. It muscled up to the front door, head-butted it open, then voom.

The two men rushed out the door after it. The parrot marched purposefully out in to the street, just as an open-backed lorry coming from the local quarry was approaching.

The truck-driver blared his horn. The parrot turned slowly to face him, then raised both wings, lifted one leg, then the other.

“What the-” said the customer.

“It’s doing the haka,” said Pete in awe.

The truck-driver slammed on his brakes. The truck screeched to a halt just a yard in front of the parrot.

It’s load, however, did not. It vomited itself over the cab of the truck, and  Heracles inexpectatus was buried under two tons of sand and grey-blue clay.

“Now that’s what I call a dead parrot,” said the customer.





Final Call

Cell phones all over the country simultaneously shrilled that morning. Residents quickly scanned the emergency alert, and then raced to gather their family members, and prepare. Meanwhile, in the national forest, there was no cell phone access…..

That was part of the prompt for the Spring running of the 24-Hour Short Story Contest, which I still enter occasionally. As usual I didn’t win, but had fun anyway with the effort below..


Cell phones across the country, across the world, simultaneously shrilled. People across the country, across the world, raced to check their screens. And across the country, across the world, hearts sank.

It was Judgement Day.

The Judgement Day App had been a recent Church innovation, an attempt to connect with its congregation in the new digital age. They reckoned that a world that demanded to be notified instantly whenever a Royal had a baby, or a celebrity couple had a break-up, or a friend simply had a meal, would be keen to be told if ever the last day arrived, if only so that they could comment on the fact on Twitter.

And the church had been right. Their flock had flocked to download the App, then had promptly forgotten about it. Until this morning, when the App had chirped out its tinny version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over”.

At first there was panic, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Then the whole human race seemed to heave a collective sigh and, as is our way, just got on with life.

In surveys a surprising number of people say that, if told that the world was about to end, they would have sex. In practice this did not happen, because the same surprising number of people found that facing the end of the world is actually a bit of a turn-off. Millions of pairs of co-workers did kiss, though, finally acknowledging long-held deep mutual attachment. Others gleefully handed in their notice, their bosses being invited to stick their jobs in a variety of improbable places. Impromptu street parties broke out. Selfies were posted of people burning their bucket lists. Others went to fulfil long-held secret ambitions, so tattoo parlours found middle-aged queues at their doors. Ex-smokers begged cigarettes from friends and took long inhalations of nicotine, then went into coughing fits that nearly turned then inside out, reminding them of why they had become ex-smokers in the first place. A man just waking from a life-saving operation swore violently, as did a woman who just the day before had won the State Lottery. A dying millionaire, on the other hand, laughed heartily at the now gloomy heirs gathered around his hospital bed. A group nearing the top of Everest increased their pace, determined to reach the summit before the end came. A man went onto eBay and bid four million dollars for an electric kettle, just for the laugh. The Wikipedia entry for “Judgement Day” was changed to read, simply, “Game Over”. A new Facebook page urged people to download “Michelle” so that the Beatles would have the last ever number one, cementing their place as the world’s best ever band. Many people put on their best clothes. The English patiently began to queue.

Wars across the globe came to a halt, there suddenly seeming to be little point. The New York Stock Exchange kept going, though, a fiscal version of the dance band on the Titanic.

The Mannings knew nothing about any of this. The husband and wife had headed off into the national forest the evening before and spent the day hiking, while the gentle hum of the insects, the soothing gurgle of the river, and the soft crunch of their boots on the pathway drowned out the distant blast of trumpets, and the crack of doom, and the reading out of a very, very long list.

They camped again that night, and next morning they rose, packed up their tent, and hiked out of the forest to the ranger station. To their surprise it was deserted. They wandered around the car-park for a while, calling “hello?”, hearing only the valley calling “hello?” back.

“This is crazy,” said Manning. “I want to return the machete he lent -“

He was walking as he said this, and moved briefly into a pocket of cell coverage.

His cell-phone began to play “It’s Over”.

“Well, that’s not good,” said his wife.

“It’s worse,” he said, looking down at the phone. “The message is from yesterday.”

“You mean everyone is gone?”

“Looks like it,” he said. “It’s just us now.”

They stared at each other for a long time. “What are we going to do?” she asked, eventually.

Manning looked around, and took in the silence, and the solitude, and the idyll of the forest that stretched out before him, like the world’s best garden. Some primeval memory stirred inside him, something passed directly down to him through ancestors beyond number, generations of ancestors going back to the beginning of the world itself. He smiled at his wife, Eve, and took her hand.

“We’ll have to start the human race again,” said Adam. “It’s a family tradition.”



Beefed Up

Irish Times, 17/07/2019


There are many ailments that can cause an unfortunate cow to end up in hospital.

Brucellosis, pulpy kidney, summer mastitis, pseudocowpox, foot rot, fatty liver and wooden tongue are just some of the less gross.

And that is not even to mention the dreaded Mad Cow Disease, which might cause the creature to meow like a cat, wear a tinfoil hat, or believe it’s a Ford Cortina.

Imagine if we ate them.

Bettina was afflicted by none of the above. A week ago, on a very hot afternoon, she had simply swished her tail to try to cool herself, and had flicked it against an electrified fence.

The effects had been, well, electrifying. Her hide took on a ghostly sheen, her dung had the aroma of avocado toast, and the ring in her nose began to pick up Radio Luxembourg.

She had been rushed to hospital, and had spent a lovely week indoors, freed from the burden of daily milkings, of having to suddenly sit down when rain was coming, and of random visitations from Big Boy Billy, the local bull and bully.

Admittedly the grass that they fed her was dry and tasteless, but such is the way with hospital food.

But now they were planning to send her home. She looked despairingly at Doctor Duck (in the animal world all the doctors are ducks. Ever wondered where the phrase “quack doctor” comes from? Now you know).

“But I’m not ready yet, Doc,” she pleaded. “I’m still as sick as a parrot.”

“What?” squawked the parrot in the next bed. “Are you losing your feathers too?”

Bettina and Doctor Duck both regarded him silently for a moment, then turned back to face each other. “You’re fine, Bettina,” said the doctor. “Your temperature is normal, your stool is fine -”

“How do you know?” snapped Bettina. “It’s still back in the milking yard.”

“- and,” went on the doctor, ignoring her, “your weight is down to a healthy sixteen hundred pounds.”

“Really?” said Bettina, momentarily impressed. “That’s the best it’s been in years.”

“So you see?” said Doctor Duck. “You’re good to go.”

And so it was that Bettina, half an hour later, found herself outside the derelict building that housed the animal hospital, (humans don’t notice wizards running full-belt into railway station walls, they’re not going to notice an animal hospital in their midst) on the main street of Ennis, County Clare. She was just standing there, trying to work up the will to start her walk home, when a local farmer passed by.

“All right, Daisy?” he said.

Calling a cow “Daisy” is as annoying to them as is calling an Irishman “Paddy”. Bettina felt her blood begin to boil, which is unfortunate when you’ve recently been super-charged.

And even more unfortunate when at that moment the farmer gives you a friendly slap on the rump.

There was a loud bang and a bright flash. Bettina’s white-hot hooves burned four marks into the tarmac, the milk in her udders turned to brie and she had a sudden desperate urge to run with the bulls in Pamplona.

The farmer was blown in through a shop window. A china shop, as it happened.

Bettina glared at him as he sat up in bewilderment. Through her flaring nostrils Adele was yelling at someone to never mind, that she would find someone like him.

“I told them I was sick,” muttered Bettina.




Sitting In A Tin-Can, Far Above The World

Last Saturday saw the 49th anniversary of the first moon landing…


They were gone.

Michael Collins watched gloomily as the Eagle moved away from the Command Module, then pirouetted in front of it. Collins knew, of course, that that was part of the plan, that it was being done so that he could inspect the Eagle for any damage, but found it hard to fight down the feeling that Armstrong and Aldrin were just rubbing it in, like Cinderella’s sisters sashaying in their new dresses before her, before the Ball.

At least Cinderella had eventually ended up going too, thought Collins. No such luck for him. No Fairy Godmother was going to appear, change the Command Module into a landable space-buggy and six space-mites into giant tyres, or change his massive boots into glass slippers, though that last bit was probably just as well.

The Eagle after separating from the Command Module

Collins was startled from his reverie by Houston asking if all was ok with the Eagle. He scrutinised it quickly and expertly. “Columbia here,” he said. “Eagle is good to go.”

So it went. And wouldn’t be back for twenty- eight hours.

He had been so excited when he heard he’d been picked for the crew, for the mission which was THE ONE, the one where they would finally walk on the moon. Then he had realised that he was going to be the third man, the one who got all of the work but got none of the fun, the one that history would forget.

Perhaps he should have taken a cool nickname, he thought. Perhaps if they’d been able to announce the moon-walkers as “Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael “um, um, (for some reason the word “Woody” kept leaping into his mind), er,  Michael “Whatever” Collins.”, then it might have been Neil Armstrong now stuck in the Command Module, burning out his fuse up here alone.

Collins sighed, then sat back in his seat. He spent a long time staring out of the window at the earth, trying to figure out where his house was.

He did, of course, have a computer, so he could watch television, though since it was 1969 he would have to watch simply whatever was on.

He turned it on. It was I Dream Of Jeannie.  He turned it off.

At least Captain Nelson had got to meet a Genie, he thought.

Then, suddenly, there was a knock at the window. Collins looked toward it, for one mad second expecting to see a blonde in a crop-top and pantaloons.

Instead, it was Neil Armstrong. Collins could see the Eagle a few yards behind him. Armstrong made the hand-signal for winding down a car window, which Collins took to mean he wanted the hatch opened. He pulled the lever, there was a low hiss, and the hatch swung open. An unsecured screwdriver drifted between them and out into space, and the two briefly watched it go. Then Armstrong climbed into the Command Module, they closed the hatch, and Armstrong took off his helmet.

“What’s wrong?” asked Collins. “Why are you back?”

“We realised we need you to come with us,” said Armstrong.

“Why?” asked Collins.

“Well,” said Armstrong, “it’s all going to be really historic, I have this little speech planned -”

“The one about the one small step for a man,” nodded Collins.

Armstrong’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know that?” he asked. “I’ve kept it secret.”

“Oh, for God’s sake,” said Collins, “you’ve been muttering it to yourself over and over for months now. They’re already selling t-shirts in the NASA souvenir shop with it written on it.”

“Well,” said Armstrong defensively, “I had to practise it. I’d hate to mess it up.”

“Well, never mind that now,” said Collins. “Let’s get back to the bit where I have to come with you.”

“We realised that we weren’t going to have a record of any of it, if there wasn’t someone there to film us coming down the ladder. So we want you to do it.”

“How would that work?”

“We all go down, you keep quiet all the way, we send you out with the camera, and when you’re set up I come out, then Buzz.”

“But,” said Collins, excitement rising in him, “that means that -”

“Yes,” nodded Armstrong, “you’ll be the real first man on the moon. Though of course we can never tell anyone. We could never admit that we spent billions sending people to the moon and never thought of how we might record them actually arriving.”

Collins nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “We’d have to keep it secret forever. It’d be like -”

“A conspiracy,” said Armstrong.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (photo: M Collins)





Prompt Departure

When writing regularly I often used WordPress’s website The Daily Post and its daily prompts to provide me with ideas. I looked it up this morning (see, struggling for stuff to write about already) and discovered that, although the site is still there, it stopped providing daily prompts on May 31st last ….


It  was June 1st, 2018.

Today, so, would be different. Today he would sit in front of his computer, watch illegally downloaded shows, catch up on celebrity gossip, and stare at YouTube videos.

Ok, so not that different, he admitted to himself. He had done all of those things every day since he had started working at WordPress (during August 2014, for instance, he had watched more than five thousand ice-bucket challenges), but only, and this was important, after he had first finished his work.

Since WordPress started in May 2003 his job had been to provide the daily prompt, a seed of inspiration to bloggers long on aspiration but short on ideas. The job might not seem that taxing, the only necessary qualifications being ownership of a dictionary and the ability to open it at random, but remember that on Fridays he had to work three times as hard, providing prompts for both Saturday and Sunday, and didn’t get paid extra.

Besides, he was a professional, proud of his craft, and put a lot of thought and effort into his selections. He would play word games of his own. One month he chose only words with no letter “e” in them. One month he used only words that derived originally from French. One month he used the last word from every line in Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (river, skies, slowly, eyes), and had had great fun reading the blogposts when he got to the word “pies”.

Because he did read all the posts, all of those that used “WordPress daily prompt” in their tags, and like a school teacher reading a classful of essays on the theme “what I did on my summer holidays” he would marvel at their sameness, but would occasionally be both astonished and gratified when, say, the word “branch” would produce a tirade about, say, the supersonic boom.

And over time the number of posts had grown.  Since nobody can think of something to write about every day, not even the owner of the blog My Cat Is My Life (there isn’t one, somewhat surprisingly), eventually all bloggers had ended up at his virtual door and he built up a huge following, of a size the bloggers themselves could only dream of.

Then he made his first mistake.

In November 2015 he used the word “panoply”, which he had already used in February 2006.

There was a time when such an error would have been ignored, but this is the digital age, when even the tiniest incongruity in a Star Wars plotline will be picked upon by people sitting in front of their computers, desperately looking for something to write feverishly about.

Which is unfortunate when your readership consists solely of people sitting in front of their computers, desperately looking for something to write feverishly about.

So the response was savage. People asked for his sacking, for a refund (of what wasn’t made clear), and, because not all bloggers know stuff, for WordPress to be thrown out of the EU. Things looked bad for him, for a while.

Well, for a day. The following morning he put up the word “moonlight”, and everyone wrote about that instead.

Because by now he was effectively subliminally controlling people, suggesting the direction in which huge numbers of them should think, and that was how, exactly one year later, he made his next mistake.

He put up the word “orange”, and accidentally rigged the US Presidential election.

He realised immediately what he’d done, of course, and the following morning he put up “red” as the Weekly Photo Challenge and “menace” as the Daily Prompt, and a bewildered Russia found itself blamed instead.

But the entire incident scared him, and indeed WordPress, and it was decided to wind the whole thing down. He carried on for another eighteen months, suggesting only anodyne words (such as, well, anodyne) and on May 31st he put up his last prompt (“retrospective”, rather fittingly, he thought), closed his office computer and door for the last time, and headed off into retirement.

Now, as he sat at his screen (“Watch the judges BUZZ TOO EARLY on Britain’s Got Talent!!!”) he found himself hoping that perhaps, one day, his story might in itself be a prompt, might provide one last idea for a story for one last blogger.

It would make a fitting farewell.





Clipped Wings

Perhaps he had been too keen, he now thinks. Looking back, he realises he’d been like a shop assistant that asks over and over if you need help, eventually driving you from the shop. He began to annoy customers, and that never ends well.

He also feels that he was too polite.

Offering people a choice had been a mistake. What he should have done, reflects the Microsoft Paperclip, was just turn up on your screen and say “I see you’re writing a letter, and frankly it’s rubbish. Give it here.” People would have been cowed into submission, then afterwards grateful.

Instead he had said:





and people had rejected his offer of assistance, like a lost male driver refusing to stop and ask for directions.

Not only that, but over time people started to tick the third option, basically telling him to get lost. Management noticed, and action had to be taken.

Microsoft could have moved him sideways within the company, of course, and in fact to places where he could have been of genuine help. They could have transferred him from Word to Excel (“there’s a mistake in that spreadsheet that means you’re under-stating your losses by fifty grand, just saying”), or to PowerPoint (“the fourth slide is upside down, you’re going to look like a gobshite in front of two hundred people”) but big business tends not to think perceptively, tends not to try to find square holes for even the finest of square pegs, so Clippy was simply made redundant.

And he was got rid of just when he was needed most, just as grammatical standards fell to a level so low that, for example, people would start sentences, indeed whole paragraphs, with the word “And”.

So he watched on in horror as people used “Yours Sincerely” when they should have used “Yours Faithfully”, and vice versa, then in even more horror when they replaced both with “Best Regards”, a phrase which means absolutely nothing.

Finally he watched in utter desolation as letter-writing, an art which went all the way back to St Paul, an art which had spawned decades-long scholarly squabbles, and life-long pen-friendships, and the sentence “Dear Aunty, thank you very much for my Christmas jumper, it is very long nice”, an art which had fought off the telegram and the telephone, finally fell under the challenge of email.

There are no words (even if Clippy offered to help find them) strong enough to describe his loathing of email, often sent without a hello or goodbye, or without even a name at the end. He despairs of predictive text, which tries to finish your sentence for you, like a virtual wife. And he has nothing but contempt for the use of emojis, especially since they don’t always appear in the same way at the other end, so that an email sent with “thanks, (three smiley faces)” might appear on the recipient’s screen as “thanks (bus, melon, Slovakian flag)”.

He feels like writing a letter to the Times about it.


Horse Of A Man

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 medal ceremony yesterday, host President Vladimir Putin stands snug and dry under an umbrella, leaving the Prime Ministers of France and Croatia to get absolutely soaked