Jonathan Gyrth Phillips

DRAWINGS
AND
PAINTINGS




Jonathan Gyrth Phillips
+ 1 604 321 8094
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Biography


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Categories of WRITINGS are shown in a list as follows:

Short Story Collection:
- Winning is a Bonus
- Far Flung Places
- Sooner than Later
- This, That and the Other

Children's Story Collection:
- Chloe and the Bed Time Stories
- Ursula and Petula
- Just a Phase
- Olivia
- Evan and the Vagabonds
- Henry the Steadfast

A single Film Script - Hardly Pianissimo

A Poem collection - Pacific Verses

Now you carry on with the first Short Story, namely, Winning is a bonus




WINNING IS A BONUS

Author’s Note

As an avid tennis player, I decided to write a collection of short stories. Some are true with very little embellishment. It’s up to the writer to decide which are pure fiction.

 

LOVE ONE

 

Steven has trouble finding people willing to play with him. He met Peter, the last chap before me, when he partnered him during an afternoon of doubles. It didn’t take him long to berate his newfound victim for not coming up to the net. He kept at it throughout the game, which they lost. Afterwards, they were still on speaking terms.

     “Why didn’t you come up to the net?” Steven said. “It’s almost impossible to break serve with you diddling around in the center of the court.”

     “Well, I didn’t like to tell you, but I’m blind in one eye and I’m hopeless in close,” said Peter. “I lose all perspective.”

     Steven leapt on this and lined up a singles match the very next day. After every point, he pumped his fist in the air accompanied by a loud, long drawn-out “Yessss.”  He won most points by hitting the ball as hard as he could straight at his opponent. 

     “In the land of the one-eyed, the two-eyed man is king,” he scoffed to me later. Peter declined any offers for a return match.

 

 

THE UPSTAIRS ROOM

Annika wore a splendid gossamer gown and Kevin put on his tropical suit. Both were handsome and, as they entered the embassy grounds, she grasped his arm; not through nervousness, but because she wanted to claim ownership. She moved him towards her Swedish comrades and, after formal introductions, he went off to fetch her a cool glass of Wagga Wagga Sauvignon Blanc. He returned to a rather solemn Swedish conversation and surreptitiously slipped away.

     Annika watched him drift towards a lively crowd that was toasting all and sundry. Kevin picked up on the strange Australian accent and joined in a verse or two of Waltzing Matilda. In no time he was happily shaking hands. The Australian nurse was there in the middle of things enjoying herself. Her eyes creased up when she smiled. When she laughed, her head snapped back as she let out great guffaws that resonated all around the serenely manicured grounds. Her laughter was infectious and Kevin wanted to say something funny so that he could become part of the gathering rather than an outsider. His opportunity came soon enough.

     “Did you arrive today?” she asked, drawing him into an animated conversation.

     “Rather than to die, I was hoping to live out my contract; with a little help from you in your official capacity, of course,” he said, with a straight face.

     She threw back her head and roared with laughter.

     “Kate Mulligan,” she said, and held out her hand.

     “Kevin Hughes,” he said, and rather than shake her hand, he made a great show of kissing it.

     She cradled her glass of Fosters and they chatted about Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong and the life cycle of the Malaria protozoa. He felt very comfortable with her. If the role of a nurse was to make one feel well and healthy, the Australian nurse passed with flying colours.

 

 

BRIEN

 

Brien chose the kitchenette space that housed the miniature television set and the refrigerator that hummed on and off throughout the night. I had a room with a door all of my own. The bed was not as firm as I would have liked.

     Brien makes a big kerfuffle as he gasps and sighs and splutters about nothing in particular when he wakes up and again when he settles down to go to sleep, something that my wife objects to when I adjust to sitting down or standing up in front of the television at home.

     Brien comes from Romford. He is an Essex man. He went to Romford Grammar. His mother was a Geordie. Jeff Hunter is a Geordie. My mother was a Cockney. I think Brien became a surgeon psychiatrist.

     Brien calls himself a coffee snob. He brought his own individual filter for his latest discovery – Allegro Dark French Robust. He refused my offer of a piping hot cup of my fresh Nabob Gourmet brew and I felt a pang of rejection.

     There always is a problem with a humble motel. It’s normally to do with plumbing. The basin water in the bathroom took hours to flow away and it turned out that the lavatory flushing mechanism behaved erratically and can be termed as a one turd toilet.

 

 

A COURSE IN ETIQUETTE

 

“I’d like to talk to someone about applying for a government grant,” Seth said, sounding as if it were the most natural request in the world.

     “Hold on,” said the sweet voice. “I’ll transfer you to Athletic Support.”

     “Thank you.”

     “Yes,” said one of those athletic voices that sounded as if it didn’t want to be interrupted. Seth remembered that the World Wrestling Federation was showing a three-hour special on TV.

     “I’d like to apply for a grant, please.”

     “What sport?”

     “Tennis.”

     “Sex?”

     “Both.”

     “How can you be both?”

     “No. No. The grant is for both males and females.”

     “You want Group Athletic Support. I’m Individual Athletic Support.”

     “Oh, dear, I’m frightfully sorry.”

     “I’ll transfer you.”

     “Yes?”

     “I want to apply for a grant, please.”

     “Yes, of course. What sport?”    

     “Tennis.”

     “What organization?”

     “The Burnaby Tennis Etiquette Foundation,” he said quickly, realizing that his application had to have some weight behind it.

     “Oh, yes. You’ll have to fill up a form.”

     “Yes, of course.”

     “What’s the size of the grant?”

     “I thought fifty thousand dollars.”

     “That’s not very much. You stand a better chance if it’s six figures.”

     “Well, I could go to one hundred and fifty thousand.”

     “You’ll have to show a cost benefit.”

     “I suppose so,” he said, sounding a lot more confident than he felt.

     “I’ll send the form out this week.”

     “I look forward to getting it. How long before I will know the grant will be granted?”

     “Well, that’s a good question. Most of us are starting our summer holidays about now. Won’t be for three months, I shouldn’t think. And then there’ll be the review.”

 

 

DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY IN A POLITICAL COMMUNITY

 

The forester was slow to ask a lady to join him in the mixed doubles event. He wanted to partner the Pakistani Princess, the reigning champion, because she was a hard hitter and her style fitted with his own. But this time around she was disqualified due to their having won the previous tournament.

     Soon afterwards the forester met an attractive woman who moved gracefully around the court. She was just what he was looking for. She was attending a conference on the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. When he heard she was keen on free trade issues and how she wanted to influence the world, he thought that anything free must be worthwhile. He got into a rather clumsy conversation with her. 

     “I’m afraid I’m not a political animal,” the forester said.

     “No, you’re just an animal.”

     He had never blushed before until then. The GATT lady told him that she would be at the conference for only a few days and so therefore he would have to find someone else.  

 

 

CURRENT ADDICTIONS

 

Most handymen get the hang of using ladders. Older people do not climb up single ladders. They will climb on step ladders, but very carefully. Not long ago, an older person went up a step ladder and reached out to dislodge a piece of ceiling plasterboard. He knew all about gravity but he must have forgotten about fulcrum physics. He toppled off to land on his back in a porcelain bathtub. He banged his head and bruised some ribs. He was lucky the tub wasn’t full of boiling hot water, or even cold, for that matter. It was fortuitous he wasn’t addicted to playing tennis – he jogged.

     Some reckless, older people will push themselves beyond the call of duty. They will dig up the garden, or carry heavy furniture around, or climb up ladders to fix gutters and roofs, or manhandle tyres that have been punctured. As Clint Eastwood once said:

     “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

 

 

WEBBERS

 

Towards the lower slopes a stray dog caught my scent and, I suppose, suspected that my tennis racquet, shaped like a bone, was something good to eat. Despite a few practice backhands aimed at its head, the dog persisted. It assumed that pleading look but it didn’t glower or bark. I began to wonder whether I would ever find the courts when a tall, swarthy fellow, with an El Greco beard, also carrying a tennis racquet, emerged from a side-street but a few yards in front of me. This was a godsend and, just as the stray dog followed me with my tennis racquet, so I followed the swarthy fellow with his. He soon led me to a cul-de-sac at the end of which was a small, wooden door. Once the swarthy fellow disappeared through that door, I knew I had reached my goal.

     There were three clay courts separated by high, green, tired-looking hedges. The place had that dilapidated charm so prevalent in developing countries. Boisterous men’s doubles occupied two courts but on the third an Amazonian sort of woman was about to hit with a young mestizo. She was most hospitable and invited me to join in.

     “We can go halves with the cost,” she said.

     I acquiesced. Linda was from Jamaica and every time she made contact with the ball she exhaled a single blast of air that sounded like the gasp you make when you hit yourself on the thumb with a hammer. She always got good shots away but, whether her blast of hot air in that rarified atmosphere changed the ball’s trajectory, I will leave it up to your own imagination.

 

 

IN THE PINK

 

     “Mr. Ineptat, we will have to determine what the damage is. You may have to massage me.”

     “Yes, of course, Jonquil. How can I help?”

     “It feels like a bruised tailbone.”

     “Oh, yes.”

     “Turn me over on to my front. Pull my dress up.”

     “Like this?”

     “Yes, fine. Perhaps you should straddle my thighs so that you can get at me. Now, starting from my neck, run your fingers down my spine. Slowly.”

     “How’s that?”

     “That’s fine. Ouch!”

     “What, Jonquil?”

     “Nothing. It hurts where the last lumbar vertebrate joins my coccyx.”

     “What can I do?”

     “This time start from the lowest spot and work upwards. Gently.”

     “There, shall I do it again?”

     “Yes, that’s right. I think I’m lucky. Just a little tender.”

     “Perhaps some of that lotion would help. What do you call it? Tiger Balm?  I could smooth it in.”

     “Well, yes. But first you could get some ice. That’d help.”

     He wrapped chunks of ice in a plastic bag. His feelings of at last touching Jonquil, rather than being touched by her, almost overwhelmed him and he had to lean against the cool of the open refrigerator to compose himself. After a few minutes of the ice treatment, Clarence spread the lotion on both palms and boldly smoothed it over her back. Earlier, he had pulled her dress up but he had not dared to pull her panties down. The moment of truth arrived.

     Jonquil sensed cool air on her exposed bottom and she became aroused. She discovered a wild eroticism beyond her dreams and she willed Clarence to touch her bared flesh. At the same time, Clarence could no longer keep himself in check and he felt her bottom cheeks all around with slender, firm fingers. He heard her sigh:

     “Oh, Mr. Ineptat, that is lovely. Yes. Yes.”

     “I’m sorry, Jonquil. I couldn’t stop. Your bottom is exquisite.”

     She turned over and fumbled and clasped him close and they moved in unison. Clarence and Jonquil opened and closed their caressing mouths as if they were two goldfish gulping.

 

 

A RADIANT SMILE

 

     One, bright sunny morning, Daphne made a special effort to start earlier but she was too late and again had to watch as we warmed up.

     “Ed is with his group just around the corner,” I said. 

     “Will it be all right for me to play with them?” said Daphne.

     “Don’t see why not,” I said. “Give it a whirl. He’s the organizer.”

     Ed was the ninety-four-year-old phenomenon, who played immaculately. He published a newsletter and he was very much on the ball.  He liked to be busy. I enjoyed playing with him on occasion and wondered if I should be going just as strong in another twenty-five years or so.  Chuffed up, Daphne wandered over to the adjacent courts. There were several people playing. 

     “Any chance of a game?” said Daphne, assuming it was a forgone conclusion.

     “You can’t play with us,” said Ed.

     “Why on earth not?” Daphne said.

     “You don’t smile and you look miserable all the time,” said Ed.

 

 

RUTHLESSNESS

 

Then, Melissa had an inspiration. It all came back to her - the intense guilt she suffered as an adolescent, the sanctity of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, the priest’s compassion when she unburdened her soul. She had described to the priest every detail of her lust for the altar boy and how she had stolen wine from the Eucharist plate. God had not struck her down with a lightening bolt. The priest had assured her that God would grant forgiveness.

     Melissa found the church easily enough. The aged priest had long forgotten her. He settled her in the confessional.

     “What ails thee, my child?” said the priest. “God is ready to hear your sins.”

     “Oh, thank you, Father,”

     “You may begin. Be assured He understands.”

     Melissa did not waste words and the truth spewed forth like lava from an erupting volcano, which she couldn’t have stopped even had she wanted to.

 

 

DESMOND

 

Later that day, I recalled one of my vet friend’s tales: he had recently checked the SPCA kennels where he discovered a Labrador that suffered from gum disease and had had all its teeth extracted. To feed it a decent amount of protein, since it couldn’t chew, it was given minced hamburger meat. On that diet, the dog became energetic and very happy, particularly when it had a chance to run after tennis balls, catch them cleanly, and return them without dropping them. The dog’s gums became as soft as a sponge and wet with saliva. 

     It took me little time to resolve the Desmond Problem. I made a huge sacrifice, adopted the Labarador, and started to train it. I called it – Juggles.To make him comfortable, I bought him a king-size wicker basket.

 

When I took Juggles along to the courts the first time, Desmond was very impressed. Earlier, he had wanted to hire a ball-boy but found modern youths surly, and thought they demanded exorbitant fees. And now, thanks to my brainwave, here was the perfect substitute – Juggles. To get the ball rolling, Fetch became the magic word. Juggles would retrieve the ball and promptly return to the end of the court, where he would sit, drooling, as he watched Desmond send down yet another ace. Desmond wore a towel around his waist to allow him to give the salivated ball a quick dry. He was very considerate: when the foursome switched over after every odd game, he kindly placed a water bowl

 

 

NEVILLE THOMAS

 

Neville quickly responded to physiotherapy. He was back on the courts after a month. The ladies were relieved and once more enjoyed morning coffee on the patio. He didn’t give much thought to Gerard, or Virginia, for that matter. During postoperative care, Neville was infatuated with his private nurse, Rosemary, who gave his leg muscles gentle touching and squeezing. When she started massaging other parts of his body, Neville knew his goose was cooked.

     He invited her to stay in the cottage where he felt committed to sharing with her what was left of his life. But for Rosemary, it was not to be. Despite enjoying exotic, massages and often laughing aloud at the same dark, self-deprecating jokes, she sought more than the constant physical presence of an old man. It was as simple as that she had had her fill. 

“It’s me, Virginia. I thought you might need cheering up. I’ve brought my leek soup along.”

     “Wonderful. The last time we were on our own, I remember you gave me a massage.”

     “Perhaps we should have another go.” 

 

 

THE LAST CHANCE

 

From that moment, the match ceased to be a game; it became a war. The glimpse of the golden Pahlavi around the Canadian’s neck ignited a passion deep within Bayati that knew no bounds, and he started to play for the lost glory of the Shahanshah and against all the ferenghis, the foreign devils, who had caused his country’s downfall. Those watching had never witnessed such brazen foot-faulting and erroneous line calling by one player, and absolute deference by the other. Bayati took the next two sets and the match.

     At the end of it all, they sat down side-by-side, the Iranian upright and proud, staring sightlessly into space, the Canadian slumped over with his head in his towel, both too exhausted to congratulate each other. Hunter knew what was in store. At last, he reached out to shake that cold, clammy hand. This time the hand did not respond, and Bayati, and his racquet, toppled off the chair to land with a clatter on the hard surface of the court. The Iranian would never play again – he was stone dead. Hunter had been so close to beating him. Only later, over a beer, did it dawn on him that he had missed his last chance.

More excerpts from short story collections.

 

 

FAR FLUNG PLACES

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

My story ideas come from what has happened in my life. I have known places and met people, slightly or intimately. Fact and fiction have been intermingled.


A story starts off when something becomes larger than the mind. It’ll be an image, a story told, or a memory. From the image, a simple thought will keep coming back to last for a few weeks or even for a year. Then, suddenly, a sentence or two will be spelled out. The essence of the idea is formed into a melody as a composer would a creation. Then, writing becomes hard work. I admire Somerset Maugham and Colm Tobin. They have expressed the same thoughts. “You Tube” provides a great source of knowledge.
I think a true story shows the way it was, though there will be some embellishment. Fiction will always have a smattering of truth. 

 

 

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

 

This premonition stayed with me all the way to Arusha. Despite the physical discomfort of the last leg from Dubai, on Ethiopian Airlines, no disaster struck. On arrival, I chatted to fellow passengers and did not mind being one of the last through passport control. I was met by an array of unsmiling faces, typically found on passport officers throughout the world. One of the officers consulted a list, hidden under the counter, to check whether I was an undesirable. There was no correlation. I was asked for proof of my Yellow Fever inoculation and, in triumph, handed over my International Health Card. The unfriendly face took on a smug smile then a grim scowl as its owner found what he was looking for. Once more, I had that nauseous, sinking feeling. I was told I would be bound over to quarantine for seven days. There was no mistaking the date on the certificate. The injection had been administered on November 17, 1989, only three days before. Regulations called for the Yellow Fever serum to reside in the human host for at least ten days prior to entering Tanzania. For several seconds, I stood motionless and then, rather than being distraught, I smiled and took it all in my stride.

     “I know how to solve that,” I said, as I grabbed back my International Health Card. “Don’t worry about a thing.”

     With a flourish of my pen, I changed the date from November 17 to November 07. After a few seconds, the full meaning of what I had done sank in, and the scowl changed to a dazzling smile. The passport officer stamped the passport with a resounding thwack:

     “Welcome to Tanzania. Have a nice stay.”

 

 

THE GREAT ONE 

 

“I would have thought you should be in British Columbia where you have all those unsolved forestry problems,” said The Great One.

     “It’s interesting you should say that,” the Canadian forester said. “You know Laos and B.C. have one thing in common. Lao forests are 100% owned by the people and B.C. forests are about 93% owned by the people.  Wouldn’t you think the owners of the forests should be able to say how they want their resources managed? Don’t you think the government, as the custodian, should be able to exert some control?”

     “But, how could that be so?” said The Great One. “You know and I know that government is almost always in the pockets of big business.”

     Unlike Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the Canadian forester had not had such vast pertinent experience, or the facts at his fingertips to pursue the argument further.  Perhaps he should have pressed on and explored The Great One’s thoughts about keeping politics out of the Civil Service and the elimination of patronage appointments.  But, in debate he was slow off the mark and his political acumen was not very high.

     The two Lao gentlemen politely listened to this exchange and nodded at all the right moments as if they understood every word. The Canadian forester realized that the idea of smoothing a palm here and there, whether it belonged to a politician or a businessman, was not exactly foreign to the ways of Southeast Asia. 

 

 

THE FOURTH NATIONAL CONGRESS CUP

 

The match hung in the balance until a few minutes before the end when a disastrous clearing attempt from the International XI’s penalty area gave rise to the final score. The culprit was in the process of booting the ball to safety when his plimsoled feet skidded from beneath whereupon he smacked into the mud flat on his back. He lay dormant, stuck like a hornet in a jar of honey. The Laos scampered in for the kill and drove the ball home. The climax earned a standing ovation and the crowd cheered and whooped it up until the final whistle blew. As the impartial referee ambled off the field, he said to the Cuban captain:

     “The game’s the thing; winning is a bonus.”

     But the Cuban looked askance and said:

     “Vonus, kwat is dis?”

     For these were the days before glasnost and perestroika.

     Players from both teams intermingled and warmly shook hands. The group took on the appearance of a happy, racial mosaic that would have elated the idealistic founders of the United Nations. The awards ceremony was a delightful affair. The Cuban captain praised the worthy opposition. The Ministry XI captain beamed and accepted the trophy and hoisted it aloft for all to see as if it were the World Cup itself. The Cup had been fashioned from a squat, brass shell-case; a relic of the war. Ornate handles had been welded on two sides and it sat on a rosewood base that was engraved in Lao on the front and English on the back with the words:

 

“THE FOURTH NATIONAL CONGRESS CUP”

 

 

BIG LITTLE BOSS

 

The forester noticed that the insurgent scares always coincided with that time of the year when raw opium was on the move. The poppies grew well in the rich limestone soils of the hill country. Various secret routes from the highlands to the Mekong followed forest ridges and gullies so it was not surprising that they led through the very State Forest Enterprise that was under the control of Big Little Boss. Quite understandably the military was called out to track down those transporting the drugs just as it would be to deal with the insurgents.

     On this occasion, the forester did not doubt that it was the insurgents who were causing the trouble. He was informed that an infamous general, Thonglith Chok Beng Boune, supposedly supported by American fanatics, sworn to depose the communist regime, had crossed the river to create havoc among the villagers and to gather supplies for his followers. The general had taken a Volvo truck hostage and wanted three hundred kilograms of rice as fair payment for its release. When Big Little Boss fearlessly met with the general and settled on two hundred kilograms of rice instead, the Minister of Forests, safe in Vientiane, did not send a telegram of congratulations but rather questioned whether Big Little Boss had behaved honourably under the circumstances. On his campaigns, during the fighting in the good old days, the Minister of Forests had always fought to the death. Surrender, to his mind, was tantamount to treason.

 

 

PLADOR MON AMOUR

 

Liana groves were the prime sources of food. Pladorian staple diet comprised birds’ eggs, insects, roots, skunk cabbage, fruit and nuts. Most recipes called for a liberal sprinkling of dried liana leaves. It was an age-old custom to have some sort of frog dish on Fridays.  The frog population was thus controlled quite by chance. The Pladorian’s diet could be called balanced, and provided ample energy for a unique, uncomplicated lifestyle.

     It was rumoured that in a strange country called Austerica, beyond the Mai Tee River, across the vast seas, the inhabitants did nothing but play with computers and, when sitting in rocking chairs, they found it soothing. Most fell in love with their computers because they seemed always to push the right buttons. The computers were obedient and never answered back.

     The Pladorian’s propensity to give everything away resulted in the lowest income per capita in the world. Even so, their standard of living was every bit as good as that of better-off nations like Russia, Syria, Turkey and Serbia. When the incumbent Austerican President, Wormwood Scrub, who acquired a genuine Pladorian rocker very early on, learned through his thirty billion-a-year intelligence agency that Plador showed no income per capita at all, his heart filled with compassion. He rocked back and forth pushing buttons right, left and centre, and yelled out in an effort to appease his conscience.

 

THE REUNION 

 

“How can you make something out of nothing?” muttered Roffey, to no one in particular.

     “No, no, you don’t understand,” said Jana. “I take the tea leaves, pour onto them boiling hot water and the tea is made.” Jana did not want to be dragged into a pointless, philosophical argument.

     “But where did the water come from in the first place?” said Roffey, alert and pleased that Jana had chosen to live up to his reputation of teaching in parables.

     “You are quite right, of course,” said Jana. “The water is very salty. But the well goes deep into the coral bed and a little sea-water always seeps in.” Jana had cultivated a taste for salty tea.

     “I am not concerned with how pure it is, but how it can exist at all,” countered Roffey, unable to see what Jana was driving at.

     “Oh, I see,” said Jana. “It is the essence of the tea itself that concerns you.” Jana sniffed the subtle aroma coming

from the teapot.

     “Yes, the essence, the fundamental source,” agreed Roffey, now impressed by Jana’s grasp of the profound.

     “Ah, the sauce,” said Jana. “A lot of energy goes into the sauce.” Jana was thinking of the delicious curried shrimp and mango and ginger concoction that he was to prepare for supper.

     “So, the source must have energy,” said Roffey. “What is the energy?”  He was mystified and his eyes darted around and his fingers twitched.

     “What is the matter?” said Jana. He thought Roffey was on the verge of a relapse.

     “Eureka” yelled Roffey, overjoyed. “Therefore, matter equals energy.”

 

 

CONVERSATIONS

 

Tattoo Man

When I first saw Tattoo Man in his white singlet, I wanted to ask him whether he was Persian, what with all the peacocks tattooed on his arms. But as he collected his stack of hot cakes and eight or nine sausages and sat down beside me, I thought better of it. He wolfed down his breakfast and, as he manipulated his fork, I noticed steroid-fed muscles rippling beneath the peacocks.

     I wanted to burst into song:

“He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK,

He drinks all night and he works all day.”

He cuts down trees, he eats his lunch,

And goes to the lavatory.

But instead I settled for:

     “Pass the butter,” and was careful to add, “Please.”

Double Entendre Lady

Double Entendre Lady, one of the bullcooks, was a plump, jolly woman with a dimpled smile that rarely left her face. Double Entendre Lady had been married five times and I told Dave over breakfast to watch out or he’d be number six.

     “How’s that fancy truck performing?” said she, always looking for a chance for a jolly exchange. 

     “Well my window still goes up and down automatically, but it’s a bit shaky,” I said, in all innocence.

     “You sure you’re talking about your window,” said she, with a wink and a nudge, just like Eric Idle did - of Monty Python fame.

     Dave, with a smirk, got up with his breakfast dishes and left me to fend for myself.

 

Hooded Man

I could tell Hooded Man was not a morning person by the way he came into breakfast with a black hood hiding his face from the world like a Moslem woman.

     “He’s such a sweet person,” said his secret admirer, when she observed me staring at him.

     “Is he?” I said.

     “It’s not rejection, he simply takes a bit of time to adjust to other peoples’ faces,” she went on, admiring the hood with its deep folds and thinking how nicely it would go with her hippie cloak she wore at gatherings back home.

     “He looks like a monk at Matins,” I said, feeling

uncomfortable.

     “Funny you should say that. He is a bit religious.”

     I never did talk to Hooded Man. It was not a good idea in the morning and after supper he seemed always to have his head buried in a book - a black-leather bound book, with gilt-edged pages. 

 

 

WIFE

 

Lovelorn Boy couldn’t help but notice that California Girl was well preserved.  She had a smooth complexion and her hair had been tinted just the right shade of blond. Whether she had had a facelift, he could not tell and he was too polite to ask. She announced that Husband Number One, Bill, had been a Roman Catholic. Number Two was not mentioned. The current husband was Number Three. He turned out to be a decent enough chap and Lovelorn Boy hoped that California Girl wasn’t looking for Number Four.

     After the Californians returned home from Vancouver, Lovelorn Boy received a heavy parcel from Canada Post with several American stamps plastered on it. Lo and behold, it was the handsome Eskimo sculpture well wrapped in cardboard.  It had suffered from several blows during its existence: there were small chunks of soapstone missing and it looked as though someone had tried to use it as a dartboard.

     “I have enjoyed your Eskimo for the last thirty-five years,” California Girl wrote. “Now, it’s your turn.”

     This smattered of closure and that was the end of it, though Lovelorn Boy was aware that a fantasy unfulfilled is never forgotten.

 

 

THE BELLA COOLA TRIP

 

Having tried the local hotel restaurant, I settle for coffee. I think myself invisible as I observe the local colour and sit sipping in my booth with the high, vinyl-covered back. The demographics of remote places suggest that patterns are the same as those found in large cities. Statistics show that events like murders and horrible road accidents and wife beatings and husband bashings, occur with the same frequency in small places as they do in the rest of Canada, including Quebec. With this in mind, I notice that the people around me all seem underweight, which means, either that people in Bella Coola are lighter than the national average, or that there is a skewed distribution.

     The latter is borne out when the fattest man I have ever seen enters, gathers up his special stool, and sits on it at the head of the table in the next booth. He lights a cigarette and the waitress is quick to bring him a cup of coffee. From my view, the back of the booth hides his bulk. I see his face quite clearly. He has dark, well-groomed hair. He sports a closely trimmed, Errol Flynn moustache. His complexion is ruddy and gives the appearance of health and vigor. For a few minutes he is serene, but then he becomes troubled. He sucks hard on his cigarette, and, with mounting consternation, mops his brow. A decisive moment comes about, and he calls the waitress and orders a large plate of french-fries, and a bowl of gravy on the side.

 

 

THE FIXER

 

As Bahram was leaving, a wild-looking fellow outside tapped on the office windowpane with a tin of caviar.

     “Caviar, Mistah?” he mouthed, confident of a sale.

     “Who’s that?” Halstead said.

     “Just a fisherman,” Bahram said. “He wants you to buy

a tin of caviar.”

     “Well, why is he out there?”

     “He’s not really supposed to sell it locally.”    

     “Won’t he get into trouble?”

     “I expect one of the guards is in on it.”

     “Do you think I should get a tin?”

     “I don’t see why not,” Bahram said. “It’s the best in

the world. Spread it on some nan and knock it back with chilled Russian vodka.”

     “I mean is it legal?”

     “It’s a bit mischievous, but you won’t get into trouble. Khodafez, Agha Halstead.”

     Bahram signaled to the fisherman through the window and left. Halstead exchanged a five-dollar US bill for a large round tin with a grubby sticker depicting a grotesque sturgeon swimming in a choppy Caspian Sea.

 

 

AHAR

 

     Bob could tolerate neither aloofness nor officiousness and he was at his most belligerent. He’d said nothing so far but now broke his silence, and in Farsi addressed the black-uniformed officer, as if he were a waiter in the hotel, and asked whether they were still serving lunch. The officer’s expression changed from disdain to fury. He asked Bob who he thought he was and Bob quickly butted in and said that his name was Mister Brown. The officer, not to be outdone, from then on called him Brun, as though he were a second-class dishwasher.  The squabble continued, Bob speaking Farsi, his opponent, English. The officer demanded to see his passport. Bob handed it over and stated that he was an American citizen. The officer scrutinized the document, then tossed it amongst the dirty dishes on the table and announced that we could go to our rooms. Bob demanded back his passport and refused to budge an inch. The inevitable climax of the battle of wills never did come about for at that moment the chief flicked his cigar ash onto the floor and suggested to his colleague that there would be no difficulty picking up the passport later. The officer in the black uniform agreed, but held the passport in such a way that Bob had to reach out awkwardly to retrieve it.

 

 

THE DRAFT DODGER

 

Phipps Minor had been told to attend the annual summer C.C.F. training camp at Robin Hood’s Bay in the vicinity of Scarborough. He had been allocated Tent 7 and the twits told him that as Tent Leader he was on trial. Phipps Minor fell for it because, at last, he thought he might qualify as lance corporal, or was it corporal?

     He found the compulsory square bashing on the parade ground absurd and washing up greasy dishes and cutlery in tepid water one of the more stupid instructions he’d ever been given. Over a couple of years, he’d picked up a Marksman badge, though he wasn’t invited to compete at Bisley, and he’d become a signalman, where he got the hang of “Able, Baker, Charlie”, but never the Morse code. He learned to manoeuvre in blobs, arrowheads and single file. He felt the most comfortable in a blob. He knew how to survive in battle where one had to organize, assault, and consolidate.

     The idea of “cannon fodder” came close to reality when a particularly gormless cadet, a member of Tent 7, was at the firing range. The private held his Bren gun as though it were a Sten gun and, on being given the order to shoot at will, let fly the whole magazine in one continuous burst. He started firing at the gravel embankment target, then turned to see whether the other cadets were admiring him. The twits in charge had never in their lives seen a contingent hit the deck so fast.

 

 

BASHER SMITH 

 

 

It was inevitable the paths of Basher Smith and young Thurgute should cross somewhere in British Columbia. But it did not happen for several years. Basher had been watching a rugby game in Windsor Park. He’d played for many years and had at last hung up his boots. He had been invited to be a selector for the Provincial team. He could spot good talent.

     “That fellow, Brkich, is a jolly good bet,” he said the other day to the President of the Rugby Union, as they strolled up and down the touchline.

     On the occasion he met up with young Thurgute, then in his late fifties, Basher had almost jumped out of his skin with fear on hearing the command:

     “Heel Etler.”

     But it was not the fleeting fancy that the Third Reich, had at last taken British Columbia that made him jump; it was the sight of two little black longhaired sausage dogs, tangled in twin leashes as their long, wet noses sniffed the ground.

     “I say, Basher, Basher Smith, isn’t it,” exclaimed young Thurgute. 

     Before shaking hands, Basher had time to recover and all young Thurgute noticed was an expression of shocked surprise.

     “This is Etler and this is Krummel,” said young Thurgute.

     Basher backed away as the little dogs tried to bounce up and lick him on the lips. They fell short in a tangled heap as they reached the ends of their tethers.

 

 

THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER THEODOSIA

 

     I wasn’t long in his company before he divulged that he had done time for assault and battery and that he used to be an alcoholic. “Watch out,” I said to myself. “Don’t be too flippant with this Boyo, or he’ll have you flat on your back with a broken neck in the twinkling of an eye.” Lennard is built like a Brahmin bull and what with his ancestry could pass as a Sumo wrestler.

Lennard has turned out to be “Born again”. We have theological discussions. He tells me to read John 3:3 and James 3. There is a Gideon’s version in my hotel room tucked away with my clean socks. Only in the morning as I get dressed do I remember that I have not read John 3:3 nor James 3. Later, I confess, but Lennard is biding his time for he knows he’s going to have to be very patient if he’s to have any chance of a conversion of my caliber on his hands. But I know he’s praying for me because Sunday did turn out to be nice and I did get some tennis in at the local club where the owner of all the excavators introduced me around. And, despite all the rain and the rivers in spate, the bridge is still intact and drivable. The project goes well.

 

 

THE CASHMERE TENNIS CLUB

 

I arranged to play on Tuesday mornings where I met Neville; he had a way with the ladies and jokes that I couldn’t catch because of his funny accent. Wednesday evenings were for men, where I found it strenuous. On Saturday afternoons, it was quite relaxing with all and sundry. I managed to keep up with most of the members and maintained my New Year’s resolution by being polite and charming. I enjoyed nice cups of tea, and cakes, and the odd sticky cinnamon bun.

     Neville told me one of his jokes more than once – not because he repeated himself, as a lot of old men do, but because I asked him. I couldn’t remember the punch line.                                                                  

#

“My old friend, on his deathbed, adored hot scones, scones baked by his wife. He was addicted to the aroma and, as saliva flowed into his mouth, he would do anything to have a bite. On his deathbed, he smelt delicious hot scones and he crawled out of his bed, clambered down the stairs and crept through the hall to the kitchen. He made a huge effort to reach up to the table where he was about to grab a hot scone. Suddenly, his wife rapped his knuckles with her spatula.

     ‘They’re for the funeral,’ she said.’”

 

 

THE BENEFACTORS

 

Mark took two days to recover from exhaustion. They had said little after Anke moved behind him to admire the painting. She dropped the crumpled gown and embraced him. He leant back to enjoy the exquisite feel of bare flesh.

     When she tried to pull down his shorts, he resisted. He darted behind an armchair. She came after him. From there on, the chase became a game. Anke allowed Mark to escape from her clutches over and over again.

     The tryst ended in Anke’s bed on the top floor. In the middle of the night, Mark gathered up his clothes, though he never did find his shorts, and crept out into the darkness.

 

FIT TO BE THAID

 

During the night, my plumbing system told me I was coming down with amoebic dysentery. That morning, I had to be in tiptop shape for our pending flight to Luang Prabang, the old Laotian capital. I did as I was told and, besides gulping down electrolytes, swallowed some Imodium and a couple of Norfloxacin thrown in for good measure. If Katherine swore by them, it was fine by me. 

     If you ever have a fainting fit, try to be in the horizontal position. I landed on my head in the Chiang Mai airport after an attack of nausea waiting in the departure lounge. I became aware of Katherine dabbing the left side of my face and forehead while I crouched in a puddle of blood on the linoleum floor trying to beat the ten-count like a felled prize-fighter. I was trundled off to an ambulance where I was disappointed the siren hadn’t been turned on.

     At the hospital, a doctor patched me up, gave me a Tetanus shot, stood me up and sent me back to the airport in a taxi. We were fortunate our flight was delayed for a couple of hours due to technical difficulties; otherwise our trip would have been cancelled.



THE CRUNCH

 

   “I should be most honoured if I could take you out for lunch,” he carried on. He hoped to atone for an apparent display of bad manners.

     The girl saw his offer as an opportunity to improve her English, without which she knew she could never advance. She admired his caution, though could not understand the need for it.  She assumed he was a bit gullible and out of his depth:

     “I delighted to come. Mr. Ling stay here.”

     With a graceful bow to the silent gentleman, she followed Tom into the street where a sudden rainstorm had cleansed the air. She led him to a chic restaurant from which emerged strange and exotic aromas They were ushered to a secluded table.

     “Better to eat potato here. Rice sometimes too tough,” she said with a wry smile, as they studied the menu.

     She was eager to talk and unsuspecting while he probed her with questions. He corrected her English and she was flattered that he found her pronunciation almost impeccable. He learned that Mr. Ling was her father and a very astute businessman. He understood and wrote English perfectly, but embarrassed by his accent, declined to speak it. Many foreigners in his office, unaware of his linguistic talent, had rambled on when they should have kept their mouths shut.

 

 

CHLOROPHLUENZA

 

His pal Dylan, a keen virologist, resided at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Every now and again, Ivor would bounce things off him just as he had as a lock-forward.

     “I suspect a new human influenza is being transmitted by footballers,” Ivor said. “I think their brains have become addled.”

     “Pull the other one,” said Dylan.

     “There’s another thing,” Ivor said. “Footballers have become far more antagonistic. That fellow Wayne Rooney’s a prime example and look what Yazid Zidane did when he head-butted Marco Materazzi at the World Cup Final.”

     “Come off it,” said Dylan. “They’re just hooligans.”

     “I know it’s only a hypothesis,” Ivor said. “I’ve nothing to go on, that’s true.”

     But Ivor had an inspiration just as Albert Einstein had brainstorms on relativity and Frances Crick had insight into his two-stranded twisted helix. That night, Ivor’s dream was more like a nightmare with snakes slithering

through Old Trafford where their spittle gleamed on the freshly-mown grass. As footballers slid down onto the ground, a green slime oozed into their flesh.

     He woke up that morning with the sun blazing.

     “Eureka,” yelled Ivor, as Archimedes had expostulated all those years ago. “I’ve got it!”

 

 

KEEP AT IT

 

Hugh could no longer write long handed but, despite the shakes, he managed to push the right buttons on his key board and manipulate his mouse.  Never to give up, he felt capable of re-editing his original stories. He came to rely on this, his only pastime, particularly since he had started to forget his initial stories; the plots; the characters.  He was fascinated to reread them and found them amusing; their absurdities; their humour. Towards the end, as his memory failed for the worst, he attempted to transfer a couple of his stories into film scripts. He submitted them to a Los Angeles contest. Wondering whether he would ever hear from the Americans, his catalogue of greeting cards showed up in his sock drawer. He was genuinely amazed. He heard himself say “Good heaven’s, did I do that?”

Perhaps Hugh could hear Cicero speaking from his soul:

 

 

               Don’t think that when I’ve departed from you, I’ve ceased to exist. Even

               when I’ve been with you, you’ve not seen my soul, but you knew it was

               in my body from the deeds that I’ve done. We can see that when a body

               dies and decays, all its elements return to their origins. The soul alone

               remains invisible both when the body is alive and when it has passed away.

 

 

 

(Further excerpts from short story collections.)

 

SOONER THAN LATER

 

Author’s Note

These stories are to do with the deceased. Wishing for someone to die is a waiting game unless you take matters into your own hands. You can keep quiet about known hazards until a fatal accident occurs but the uncertainty is a bit bothersome. Your best way is to come up with a perfect murder on your own. You will be alert to unexpected opportunities and if you execute properly you will get away with it.

 

 

COMPOSTING

 

“Ed, get yourself over here on the verandah. It’s 6 o’clock already. Bring your secateurs. You’re going to prune the rosebush before we take off.”

     “You want me to reach over the balcony?”

     “Yes. I’ll hang on to you.”

     “I think you left the compost lid off, dear.”

     “Don’t worry about that. I’ll get it when you’ve finished. For God’s sake, can’t you reach out a bit farther?”

     “Well hold on to my ankles then.”

     Enid positioned Ed perfectly aligned with the compost bin below. She let go of Ed’s ankles and gave him a little nudge to help him on his way. Under the force of gravity at 32.2 feet per second, per second, Ed’s mass was sufficient to propel him to plop straight into a gooey, squashy, tomato muck.

 

 

FAT CHANCE

 

“You’ve a nice spot here,” the young man said. “Mind if I join you?”  

     “No,” said Queenie. “There’s lots of room.” She hoped she hadn’t put her foot in it because there was hardly any room at all. Even though his kimono hid his torso, she could tell he was a person of mammoth proportions.

     “I’m Alfred,” Alfred said, as he unfolded his lawn-cart and placed it alongside Queenie’s deckchair. “Alfred, the Great. Who are you?”

     “I’m Queenie,” said Queenie, who thought Alfred’s name suited him.

     “Do you come here often?” Alfred said, as he took off his kimono to expose a hairless expanse of white skin.

     “Well, yes,” said Queenie. “I’ve never seen you before.”

     “That’s because I just got in from Yokohama,” Alfred said. “I’m a Sumo wrestler.”

     Before long, Alfred had talked Queenie into rubbing his body down with olive oil. That first time, she disguised her pleasure. Her fingers made him tingle and he was delighted. She started with his back and, when he turned over, his delight was only too obvious. She knelt beside the lawn-cart and reached across his chest to get at him. It was not only her fingers that touched and soon Queenie tingled as much as Alfred.

 

 

JUST MY CUP OF TEA

 

“Do you mind standing inside my teak chest for a moment?  I want to show you a trick or two.”

     “Better give me a hand. Feeling a bit woozy.”

     Cullditch didn’t even have the decency to say en garde. Unscrupulously, he balanced the kirpan in his hand and, without a thought, but with a lot of skill, pierced me in the stomach. I winced and leant over and he gave me a fearful slash on my buttocks. A perfect chance, you might say, to give me a real pain in the bottom. I didn’t feel a thing. I even watched my blood trickle into the teak chest and thought how clever Cullditch had been to spread a waterproof tarpaulin to contain spills and splotches. 

     “Here, specially for you, Young Philpins. Something to remember you by. Fisticuffs at the gym, bruised ankle in the quad, and swiping you in the gonads on the hockey field. Please try to be still while I sever you into small cubes like tins of Assam Superb packed in a Fortnum & Mason hamper. You saw my motor launch. She’s very seaworthy. I’ve a handy little trolley for trundling stuff so that I can stow my gear on board. The last anybody will see of you will be in my teak chest loaded with a few cannon balls at the bottom of the Channel. Hang on, the weather’s turning nasty.”

 

 

THE WIDOW

 

“I’ve found a lovely spot,” said Claude. “There’s a lily pond with a footbridge. The garden is a delight. I could paint here forever.”

     “It’s a bit in the wilds, wouldn’t you say?” Alice said. “Giverny looks rather ramshackle.”

     She watched him move from one enchanted space to another. During the early years, Claude had painted portraits. His favourite was one of Alice caught in the glaring summer light beneath her parasol. He never relinquished that painting. In Giverny, Alice would hang Lady with Parasol in her bedroom.

     The estate agent forgot to tell Claude about the mosquitoes. They got everywhere, not just in the potting shed. They swarmed through the kitchen and the French doors and the upstairs rooms.  

      “Buyer beware,” the estate agent said, once Claude sealed the deal.

When they settled, Alice saw that Claude’s landscape phase had taken hold. There would be no more portraits to flatter her under her parasol. She grumbled about the mosquitoes that she knew would thrive in the murky shallows beneath the lily pads to become a constant pest.

     “Well, you will paint lilies,” Alice said. “You’re asking for it.”

     “Can’t you do something, Alice?” said Claude

 

 

A CHAIN OF EVENTS

 

Marion lost track of Katrina and Francis. She supposed Edgar was somewhere close by but really didn’t care. She took off her clothes. In the living room she threw her shoes onto the carpet and dawdled towards the French doors and through to the pool beyond:

     “That’s nice. Someone left me with a bottle of Drambuie and my sleeping pills. The pool cover has been conveniently left unrolled.” Marion did not notice that someone had removed the touch pad control.

     She tumbled into the deep end and was delighted with dark shadows and dim lights set along the pool walls.

     “What’s that glittering down there? Not gold? But yes, my Yazd chain.”

     She dove under the water and saw the Yazd chain tied on to a heavy dumbbell and came up spluttering.

     “Some prank. Not funny. Who would do that?”  

     She took a deep breath and again descended to the depths where she tried to loosen the Yazd chain. She ran out of air and broke through to the surface:

     “What’s going on? The pool cover has been rolled up tight. I can’t budge it. I’m trapped. I can’t breathe.” 

     Marion simply ran out of energy. As her lungs filled, she became too weak to struggle. She felt her body relax and sink into oblivion.  

 

 

THE CHECKER-MAN

 

Minutes later, his self-imposed peace was shattered.  The hillbilly youth of yesterday, up and at it, had aimed his mini 14 and fired at a bedraggled mouse that had ventured out after the storm.  The mouse ran, zig-zagging, sticking to high ground between randomly spaced puddles.  He headed for the sanctuary under Marvin’s shack. The bullets spattered in the pools.  Flying mud and water glistened in the evening sunlight.

     Marvin was first outraged by the desecration and then fearful as the mouse neared its goal.  Because the barrage did not cease, Marvin grabbed his Enfield 303, opened the door of his shack, and yelled out in the name of the Lord.  His voice was drowned in the awful noise and went unheeded.  Impulsively, Marvin raised the gun and, knowing in his subconscious that thirty rounds had been fired, he let off one of his own. 

     Instinctively, he aimed at the youth’s neck. He nicked it in the left carotid artery. Bleeding, the youth crumpled to the ground and stared, unmoving.  Marvin exchanged the gun for his Bible and, as if to claim righteousness for his deed, approached the hapless youth.  Now, the youth, stunned and shocked, pulled himself together sensing danger as the checker-man came close, and just as though he had seen a violent video in the cook house, he twisted to his side and shot his last round straight at Marvin’s heart. The bullet lodged in the Bible and only the muffled impact caused any damage.  Marvin was spun around and fell and broke his leg.

     Later he was told the youth haemorrhaged and died quietly. His logger colleagues, oblivious to the commotion, had heard nothing untoward. Marvin, recovering in the prison hospital, with his Bible at his side, he learned that he had suffered a spiral fracture.  He told the rehabilitation psychologist that he felt no remorse and that only his pride was hurt.  Marvin felt his reputation as a checker-man had been tarnished.  He never did learn whether he had miscounted at the crucial moment or whether there really had been one bullet up the spout.

 

 

JONNY LONG COAT’S MAGYAR MASTER

 

Matters came to a head between Jonny Long-Coat and his Magyar Master during a very wet autumn. Premature snows, melted by warm rains, had caused severe flooding along the forest roads. Jonny Long-Coat had struggled to maintain the roads by fixing washouts and unplugging culverts. He had been summoned to an emergency meeting in his boss’s office. He found his boss scowling, his smile for the moment put aside, so he knew he was in for a rough ride.

     “Dis is de vorst ting dat has ever happened to me,” the Magyar Master said.

     Jonny Long-Coat winced at his boss’s inability to place the tip of his tongue under his upper incisors. At the same time, he could not for the life of him imagine what terrible thing had happened to his boss, a survivor of the brutal Hungarian uprising.

     “It is cows out dir, complete cows,” he said.

     Jonny Long-Coat looked puzzled and thought poachers had got at the elk herd that roamed the forest under his protection.  He blinked but then it dawned on him that it was not the elk at all.  It was some sort of chaos that the Magyar Master was on about and he nodded with understanding.

dead with seat belt buckled, retained his fishing tackle and three handsome trout.

 

 

ALAS

 

But it wasn’t just a tic; it was a full-blown epileptic fit. Philps’s whole body stiffened out straight and he hit his head on the ceiling roof. He reacted violently by grabbing the driving wheel with one hand and the door handle with the other. Alice fought to push him loose but to no avail. Instead of treading down hard on the brakes, she hit the accelerator. The car smashed into the metal divide and took off like a shuttle in orbit. They flew somersaulting over the cliff edge to land in the icy cold water of Howe Sound. Alice had never lost absolute control before in her life and, now that she had, she didn’t like it at all.

 

Upside down, backwards, the impact against the waves sheared off the passenger door causing a flood of water to submerge the cabin. Buoyancy forced Philps, unbuckled, to pop up miraculously to the surface. He dogpaddled to the rocky shore and clambered, exhausted, to the Sea-to-Sky highway. An ambulance escorted him to the emergency room at the Lions Gate Hospital where he was apprehended, questioned and released.

 

 

GLADYS

 

Stanley had a premonition at the same time Fergus was about to carry out his nasty deed. He sensed Fergus a couple of paces behind and he executed a side-step equal to anything Cliff Morgan, the Welsh fly-half, had ever achieved during his heyday. With great satisfaction, Stanley watched his father and his wheelchair plummet to the rocks below. Sea birds and a few rabbits were the only creatures to witness foul play – other than Stanley and Fergus that was.

     The coroner expressed a lot of sympathy. There was no suspicion of malevolence. At the funeral, Gladys wondered whether William was pushing up the daises somewhere in an Australian coal mine. She hoped William’s parents and Penny and Florin and Fergus, ensconced in matching graves, were resting in peace.

     Stanley was pleased that it all went so well. Mavis returned to being a masseuse at the village beauty salon. She had lost some old clients but she made up for it when she met up with several new cricket club members. Stanley thought he should spend some time playing cricket as his grandfather had. He caught on quickly enough and became an accomplished slow, left-break bowler. His googlies became renowned throughout the county. Gladys was so happy to be included in the village cricket club clique after so many years of banishment. Her fish paste sandwiches and her scones, with dollops of clotted cream and oodles of strawberry jam, became the talk of the village. Though the family had been drastically diminished, Gladys often found herself smiling with fond memories and those still to come.

 

 

TOMMY AND HIS UNCLE REGINALD

 

Tommy extricated himself from the snow-bank none the worse for wear and waited for the next bus home. He was happy enough not to visit his grandmother and, with a chubby fist still clutching what was left of the bag of dough-nuts, gave a bemused look around and wondered what next weekend would bring.

     Tommy did remember Reginald had arranged to drive his grandmother to a series of Spring Festival concerts later on at a town nearby. It did cross his mind that Reginald might take his grandmother for a spin. He doubted his uncle would bother to get the car door fixed.

     Now the protective blanket of winter snow had melted, Tommy hoped his fragile grandmother would not suffer too much from being pitched out of the car door to skid along some poorly drained road with potholes and remnants of black ice. Tommy knew there were precarious bends along the Spring Festival route where poor driving had resulted at least one fatality every year.

 

 

HIT AND RUN

 

Chester was ready at the rendezvous long before Doug Zi-dong arrived. He had parked Plum Blossom a short distance away. As he watched Doug Zi-dong park the Mercedes on Hawks Street and walk along the narrow alley, Chester took the Mercedes key out of his pocket, slipped on his gloves, deftly opened Doug Zi-dong’s Mercedes, and made himself comfortable. Chester was glad Willy mollycoddled his car. The motor started instantly. There was hardly a sound as he entered the alley. He turned the headlights on to high beam and accelerated. Zero to sixty in two seconds, so the brochure claimed. There was nowhere for Doug Zi-dong to go and he was hit in the midriff by the front bumper. The impact caused the car to swerve and Chester could not help but collide with the alley wall.

     With far more effort than he had bargained for, Chester heaved Doug Zi-dong’s body into the trunk, stripped off Doug Zi-dong’s suede jacket, and used it as a rag to mop away the blood splatter adhered to the bumper. He dumped the jacket and his gloves in a convenient industrial tip. The fact that down-and-outs, who frequented that part of the city, would comb through garbage, did cross his mind.

 

 

LET US PREY

 

When eighteen years old, James met up with twins, Rosemary and Daisy. One fine summer day, the three of them wandered towards the oak groves nearby. They found a sheltered spot between two hollowed trees and, with rugs in disarray, explored in earnest. Albert knew about James in the oak groves and he set out on a spy mission. Albert heard chuckles and sighs from the youngsters and crept close. He peeked over one of the hollow trees and stood gazing at a ménage à trois in a tangled mass. As Albert was about to jump into the fray, a wild boar charged him with terrifying speed and gored his legs. The boar pulled him to the ground where tusks ripped him to pieces. Though James and the twins were scared out of their wits, they stayed put. The boar ate a few choice body parts and scampered off squealing presumably to tell its pals. The twins ran helter-skelter to the village. They managed to describe the carnage in the oak grove. Without stopping, James rode off to the Manor looking for Emma.

     “Em Ma,” shouted James. “There’s been a horrific accident. Albert has been gored by a wild boar.”

     “Stay there,” Emma said. “I’ll get hold of the Squire. He’ll know what to do.”

 

 

WILMOT

 

On a glorious day, along Wrynose Pass, between Eskdale and Little Langdale, a boulder, embedded in a steep escarpment, loosened from seepage, gathered speed to fly into the sky towards the open-topped charabanc, where it landed plumb on Nanny and Rose crushing them to instantaneous oblivion. The metal frame, supporting the seat in front of Wilmot, was twisted into jagged strands and Wilmot’s right foot was mangled into unrecognizable flesh and sinews.

     The charabanc driver saved Wilmot’s life by stemming the blood flow with a tourniquet made from a thick elastic rubber band that had been used to fasten a lightweight Mackintosh and an umbrella to a haversack. The driver contacted the rescue mission at the hospital in Keswick. The doctor had no choice but to amputate Wilmot’s right foot below the knee. From there, Wilmot was transferred to the Manchester Specialized Ability Centre.

                                                                                                              

 

Further excerpts from short story collections

 

 

THIS, THAT AND THE OTHER

 

Author’s Note

My previous short stories fit into broad categories. All the rest have been left out which end up in quite a haphazard collection. I am incapable of writing novels. My short stories should express a theme succinctly. Background should be touched on; not filled with pages of superfluous space.

     Some prefer non-fiction. They dwell on the truth where reality is absolute and confined. Imagination is denied though dabs of embellishment to enhance sneak in. Dialogues are rarely quoted verbatim.

Some take to fiction where make believe is encouraged. They may prefer plausibility rather than the bizarre and supernatural.

 

 

FIANCÉ

 

Looking back, John thought his first coherent conversation with a gorgeous girl was at the tennis club where a new member had wanted to learn the backhand. On the secluded practice court, they hit it off straight away:

    “A short back-swing gives you more time to prepare.”

    “Prepare for what?”

     “Well, you have to step in and rotate your hips.”   

     “What, at the same time?”

     “After you have your feet planted, then you can twist.”

     “I’ll end up flat on my back.”

     “Ah, but you steady yourself by bending your knees and you swivel on your toes. The subsequent trajectory is far more pleasing.”

     To demonstrate, he held her from behind so that he could steer her through the motions of a short back swing.  The touching was exquisite and their senses were alerted to a pending crisis. But when he pulled her back against his taut body-length, he seized up like a wet saltshaker.

 

 

THE DINNER PARTY

 

I had to be off. Peter kept talking, happy with such a captive audience. He connived a promise that I would keep in touch and visit him soon. He told me of a scrumptious, hot chocolate concoction and wrote down a suet pudding recipe that had been in his family for years. He assured me that he lived very comfortably and with a superb view. To prove the point, he pulled out a photograph of his apartment high above a bay. It looked west to the setting sun and a broad spectrum of sea and mountains. There was a small verandah with a fire escape beyond. He stored rock samples and displayed a variety of potted herbs on the verandah. The railing was a flimsy, scanty thing. Peter had become massive after his accident and the sedentary life.  The railing would be no match against his bulk. I mentioned that I suffered from vertigo and that it looked unsafe. He stared at the photograph for several seconds.

          “Not to worry,” he said, as if he had only just appreciated the fact. “I rarely use the verandah. Besides, you know, it’s the only way out in an emergency.”

SCHOOL BOYS

 

Of an athletic nature, with time to spare before the start of Bruff Emtage's mathematics’ classes, we amused ourselves by projecting a tennis ball from a slate blackboard mounted on wheels and a swivel. Davies and I manipulated the blackboard while others took turns throwing the ball. Somehow Davies, I would never have been so clumsy, got out of sync and pushed the blackboard over with too much force. True to Newton's second, or was it his third, the slate smashed to smithereens when it hit an immovable desk. 

     A few moments later, Bruff Emtage entered and stopped on the threshold.

     "Who did this?" he spluttered, and his face went through various colours like a traffic light sequence starting at amber.

     Davies and I were marched down the corridor to receive a caning from Sydney Adams. I suspect he was more upset by the destruction of the antique blackboard, a relic of the 1800's, than the naughtiness of two miserable schoolboys. He did not spare the rod on that occasion, though with my bottom towards him I could not ascertain whether he had illegally raised his cane above his shoulder during the back swing.

 

 

SPOOF

 

May 1, 2008


Dear Sir,

I hereby sue the entity, Bancroft’s School, for psychological damage unwittingly inflicted upon me. The headmaster, Sydney Adams, gave authority to have me beaten on my bottom with a cane, not once between 1947 and 1953, but five times. The truth of this allegation can be verified where the scrupulously, honest headmaster, Sydney Adams kept a meticulous record of all the naughty things that occurred. Now, as a sensitive boy, it has come to mind that the trauma I suffered from Bancroft’s School resulted in irreparable harm as to what I have become without what I should have been and I now suffer from various nauseous conditions.

 

Whereas I had climbed up a roof, three stories high to retrieve a tennis ball where we played “assy”, a rudimentary game of football in the asphalt playground, I was caned. Until that first time, I had never had symptoms of vertigo. Since then, many years ago, I became nauseous every time I climbed the stairs.

 

Whereas I clambered from the tower through the rafters above the dormitory ceilings to explore what might be going on there, I was caned. Until that second time, I had never had claustrophobia. Since then, many years ago, I became nauseous every time I went into the broom cupboard.

 

Whereas I had catcalled at a longhaired yobo out of a charabanc when Davies Minor and I were on our way home from a Colts XV game, I was caned. Until that third time, I had been a brilliant rugby player. Since then, many years ago, I became nauseous whenever I remembered how I had not been selected for my country.

 

Whereas I had always had trouble with languages at school and Taffy Jenkins, my housemaster, made me stand on the desk-lid as an example of a useless academic to teach me a lesson and Tomlin, my French master, had me caned for idleness. Until that fourth time, I had always tried.  Since then, many years ago, I became nauseous when I attempted to speak French. I have practiced saying, “Comment ca va?” with an immaculate accent and all I get from Francophiles is, “Do you mind if we speak English?” 

 

Whereas of an athletic bent, Davies Minor and I were good at a game we invented at the start of Emtage’s mathematics class where Davies Minor and I held a slate blackboard so that we could swivel it when we threw a tennis ball at the blackboard with the goal to project the ball with devastating force at some other boy who merely sat around watching and the board toppled and the slate was smashed into smithereens and Emtage had me caned for being naughty. Until that fifth time, I had been a decent tennis player. Since then, many years ago, I became nauseous whenever I tried to play the game. 

 

Having sued Bancroft’s, I am not sure how I should proceed.  I have no money where I have recourse to lawyers. I have no money where I could visit London and make my case personally at Draper’s Hall. What do you suggest?  Obviously, I need help. 

 

I should be happy if the School and the OBA would like to advertise my predicament. I am sure other sensitive boys found themselves similarly nauseated as the years have rolled by.  Perhaps I should organize a class action.

 

Thank you in advance for your indulgence and your anticipated reply.

Yours truly,

Jonathan Phillips, B.Sc.F.

Copy to: Headmistress, Mrs. M.E. Ireland, Bancroft’s School.

 

 

THE HOST

 

Protozoa lived in this saliva and were transferred to his blood stream in the form of sporozoites. They lodged in his liver and, after a short dormancy, emerged as active merozoites that eventually changed into male and female gametocytes.  The single-celled gametocytes in turn linked up randomly whereby a fresh crop of sporozoites was born to complete the cycle. 

     The hospital got Roffey just in time. Most of his blood cells had been ripped apart into fragments by rampaging merozoites. The internist had never had a malaria case and, enthralled, visited Roffey after he had been hooked up to an intravenous supply of nutrients and water. A fancy, digital thermometer was stuck in his mouth to record a temperature of one hundred and five degrees. The internist did all the talking and assured Roffey, if he could hang on another day or two, until all the pills had been rounded up, there would be a good chance he would survive.

     The chemicals in the pills were lethal to the merozoites.  The prescription was straightforward and, though it sounded more like a poison than a cure, the latest research showed a high success rate. The pills were capsulate and brightly coloured. The dosage was precise - there were exactly: 28 Tetracycline, 40 Quinine, 10 Sulfadiazine, 6 Pyrimethamine and 14 Primaquine.

 

 

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

 

As Rebecca’s puberty came around, her first sexual awakening happened in the austere dormitories of Miss Jamieson’s when she turned to Hannah for warmth and comfort. There was some petting and kissing. It was a mild affair. As the girls grew older, their habit of sleeping together ceased as naturally as it had begun.

    During that spring in the woods at Miss Jamieson’s, a tumultuous event took place to change Rebecca’s awareness of her mundane life. She had been dozing off, comfortably perched behind an oak snag, when she heard the sounds of sighing and gasping. Dazed, she found herself peering through an apple orchard. There, blatantly, was a young gardener with his hands stroking the bared breasts of Miss Jamieson. He stood with nothing on below his shirttails, except where his trousers had caught up in his ankles. In wonderment, Rebecca recalled Miss Jamieson hoisting up her skirt and trying to loosen her drawers.

     Rebecca shrieked and fainted. Miss Jamieson and her gardener frantically covered up and looked in the direction of the oak snag. Rebecca collapsed and disappeared into the undergrowth where she struck her temple on a rock lying in a clump of lavender. As she recovered, a vivid dream penetrated her brain, She became obsessed and the dream became a fantasy. She wondered whether the fantasy would ever be fulfilled. 

     From then on, Miss Jamieson and her gardener avoided the apple orchard. They became guarded and took up in the boathouse adjacent to the lake. The girls and other members of the staff knew the boathouse was out of bounds. 

 

 

FACIAL PEEL

 

Jonathan,

Thanks so much for your understanding note. I've only been putting this filth, this guck, on my face for a full week, so you're well ahead of me.  Only my forehead is starting to look like your face did at the moment. I'm worried really about how forehead should be pronounced these days. I learned "forrid", to rhyme with "horrid", as a child, but explaining to Shirley, my new Chinese hairdresser today, just across the street from Hagers, I wondered if "fourhead" was now the style, and Bernard Shaw would approve of that - that's how it's spelt, that's how you say it.

Writing my prescription was almost the last thing Thomas the Spots did before fleeing to one of the Emirates to join his wife, another Dr., who has some fancy job in Dubai, I think. Do you think the wogs get what we've got? Lawrence of O'Toole told Jose Ferrer that he was a Circassian, when he wanted to do something unspeakably Turkish to him in that film.

The people who make Efudex don't hesitate to tell you how awful you'll look and feel, but they don't seem to mention the fact that my skin starts to itch and stays itching, day and night, and that the only thing that would relieve it would be to sharpen ones fingernails and have a good scratch.

The best.

 

Bill,

I knew your Thomas the Spots, D. Richard Thomas M.A., M.B., B.S., FRCPC, as Spotty Dick, but not to his face. I seem to remember, he told me his wife was going to develop a hospital in Qatar, (the Americans pronounce it Cutter). Spotty Dick has managed to set up residence at the hospital as dermatologist, good with skin laser surgery. My God, (Allah, that is), how the money rolls in! Once I told Spotty Dick that I had an irritating itch inside my right ear. “Scratch it,” he said, and I did, and have, and still do. I’m going to ask Gordon Jung, if he has any ideas.

Cheers.

 

Jonathan,

I never heard him called Spotty Dick, that's quite good, but I got Thomas the Spots from Evan, who went to school with his sons.  They are excruciatingly clever, apparently.  I wonder if they can speak Welsh, too?  I like Thomas the Spots because it does sound so Welsh. The undertaker dealing with my poor brother's remains in Llanfairpwll was called Jones the Death.

I thought the place our doctors were emigrating to is Quatar, mispronounced by Americans and, I'm sorry to say, CBC announcers as Codder. Sorry to hear about the itch in your right ear.  I have a very good ENT man, and I would certainly recommend him except I have temporarily forgotten his name.  He's Jewish, from Montreal, I think.

 

A bientot.

 

 

FRAUD SQUAD EFFIE

 

“An accident involved two vehicles and one of the motorists has alleged that you caused it,” said Effie.

     “That sounds a bit serious,” I said, liking the word ‘alleged’ that kept turning up. “I’m sorry but I have no idea what you are talking about.”

     “We shall want to talk to you,” said Effie. “We have a spot on Tuesday at 9.30 in the morning, or noon, or 3.30 in the afternoon.”

     “The earlier the better,” I said. “I’ll be there at 9.30.”

Despite my alleged innocence, I became more nervous as Tuesday morning approached. 

     “How are you today?” said Effie, as if she really cared.

     “I have to admit I have slept better,” I said, as I arrived punctually on the dot of 9.30.

     “I don’t have to inspect your car,” said Effie, as she glanced at my magnificent Corolla gleaming from its sparkling carwash. “Just step in here. We’ll take a statement.”

     “You know I’m still in the dark about what this accident is all about,” I said.

     Effie explained that a motorist alleged that I had moved into the motorist’s lane and, to avoid me, he had swung over into a third lane where he had caused another vehicle to scrape along the curb. 

     “My goodness,” I said, with as much regret as I could muster. “I’m terribly sorry, I just don’t recall the accident.”

 

 

THE LIFE OF BRINE

 

Katherine noticed one of my upper cuspids the other day. It had a brown reddish tinge. Sarah saw it, too, when we went to Feenie’s for dinner. Both Sarah and Katherine kept quiet because they didn’t want me to get upset. When I swallowed a glass of water, feeling a bit abstemious, Ward spotted my tooth and blurted out straight away.

     “You’ve messed up your tooth,” said Ward.

     “Yes, it has a dead look,” said Sarah.

      “You’ve a dead tooth,” said Katherine.

       I had been dismissed like an inferior creature dug up in a midden. Who were they to be so judgmental? I’ll show them.

     “I haven’t got a dead tooth,” I said, knowing how serious my predicament was. I hated going to the dentist.  My dentist is very clever. He is so familiar with the inside of my mouth. I am a shy person. I hate the enforced intimacy. 

     “If the nerves are shot, dear, at least we’ll have a decent dinner at Feenie’s,” said Katherine. “We’ll have to fix your tooth on Tuesday, dear. Your dentist doesn’t work on Mondays.”  

     “But I don’t have a dead tooth,” I said. “It’s a piece of cabbage. Look.”

     I opened my mouth and, to my surprise, I peeled off a coating of something sticky from the side of my upper cuspid. 

     “There you see,” I said, in triumph. Well, it wasn’t cabbage. I hadn’t eaten cabbage for years. It was

 

 

DENDONTOTIST

 

A hideous sound shattered the solitude of the endodontist’s office. Never had the endodontist or the endodontist’s assistant or the endodontist’s secretary or the other clients witnessed such a shriek of agony.

     “I must have got the wrong one,” I said, and winced, not because of the hurt, but because of the embarrassment.  “That must have been number 27 was it?”

      The endodontist was exasperated. Instead of looking forward to a diagnostic challenge, he was now stuck with mundane root canal surgery.

      “Don’t worry, old chap,” said the gracious endodontist. “We all make mistakes.”

       I humoured him before he told me to open my mouth, big. Knowing how keen he was on golf, I thought he might enjoy my favourite golf story:

      “I got a hole in one, once.”

      “I say,” said the endodontist, with admiration.

      “Trouble is, it was the wrong one,” I said. “I was going for the sixth green and pulled my shot on to the fifth instead. My ball ricocheted off a wall, then a tree, to land plumb into the cup. The Japanese foursome on the fifth fairway was quite put out. I had to take a drop and, when I asked a Japanese to interpret the rules, he was not at all amused.”

       Nor was the endodontist amused and I could tell he was irked by my getting it wrong on both occasions. But he was a professional and did a wonderful job on number 27 and there I was with a superb, temporary filling.

 

THE TRY-OUTS

 

“Make sure you show up tonight,” said the coach.

      “Miles has a soccer match this evening,” I said.  “Sorry, we can’t make it.”

       “Evidently, I haven’t made my point quite clear enough.” said the coach. “Of course, you’ll be there, right?”

       As it happened, the soccer game was rescheduled and Miles did attend the skating session. Afterwards, while waiting in a cold, draughty corridor, I talked to the coach:

      “Why are you pushing so hard without the season even having started.”

       “If I had my own way, ice-time would be held every day of the week,” said the coach.

       “You’ve got to be joking,” I said.

        My last comment must have precipitated the final act and its execution. I received a terse phone call from the coach.

       “Miles will not be on the Pee Wee team,” said the coach.

        “Why’s that?” I said, not amused.

       “Miles doesn’t listen,” said the coach. “He doesn’t understand instructions. It’s obvious.”

       “You’re sure you’ve got the right boy?” I said.

        “I don’t make mistakes,” said the coach. “Miles has a bad attitude. No question about it.”

        “What nonsense,” I said, and hung up. 

       There was no room for discussion. The final word had been pronounced.

 

 

THE MISSING LINKS

 

On this particular morning, she reached a turning point. While Eldrick buttered his toast, she dressed and steadfastly went down the stairs. She carried her niblick and helped herself to a strong cup of coffee before Eldrick had a chance to help himself. 

     “Can I come?” Elin knew it was out of the question.

     “Not today,” Eldrick said. “You know the rules.”

     “That’s what you say every time. Go on, let me come.”

     “Not today.” He ignored her and threw his clubs into the back of the car and started up the engine.

     “I’m coming with you.” She had her niblick at the ready. He had no idea she was seething with anger. He should have caught on but he was a typical alpha male, selfish to the core.

     “Better not,” Eldrick said, and he slowly drove away.

     It was a warm night and Eldrick had left the windows open. Elin caught up with the car and swung her niblick in the direction of the driver’s side door window. He felt a glancing blow on his brow and he lost control and slammed into a fire hydrant. She saw him lose consciousness and watched a little blood flow from here and there. She felt his pulse.

 

 

FOOT LOOSE

 

Fred and Sam met in the hospital at the same time they had their accidents. Fred lost the lower part of his left leg halfway down from the knee and Sam lost the lower part of his right leg halfway down from the knee. During convalescence, they became firm friends and encouraged each other to come to terms with what was left of their lives but more to the point, their legs. The saddest episode about their ordeal was that Fred and Sam’s wives decided they needed a change. The women couldn’t see putting up with incapacitated men for the rest of their lives. They decided divorce was the best option.

Fred and Sam were survivors and moved into competitive mode. They enjoyed the challenge of wrist wrestling. Isometrics built up muscle and bone mass and their overall physique improved no end. Fred discovered he could balance on his right leg like a sleeping flamingo, while Sam could balance on his left leg like an inert ballerina pointing.  They stood still for minutes at a time. Hopping would come later. The nurse was very impressed by their determination and she raided the kitchens and doubled their protein intakes. She provided them with steroids for further bodybuilding enhancement.

 

 

SOJOURN ON SONORA

 

On the fourth day, we came across several squadrons of killer whales in formation heading at about fifteen knots along Calm Passage, steadfast in their resolve to reach their hunting grounds as quickly as they could. We observed them as we slowed to a crawl. The pod was made up of about thirty whales in five or six groups. A large yacht, flying an American flag, was keeping pace with them in their midst.

          “Stop chasing the whales,” I yelled, in a theatrical, foghorn voice to no avail.

          I yelled a second time and the yacht veered away through one hundred and eighty degrees. The skipper may have thought we were fisheries people. I wore my Tilley hat and the gawking Americans must have taken it to be some sort of Canadian uniform.

      On the last day, we quit early because the excavators had to be juggled around. We skimmed off to the Moe Creek estuary, just on the other side of Phillips Arm where I spent some time last summer. There were lots of beer, three rods, and five of us. Kyle struck first after half an hour. He hooked a Chinook. The experts could tell by the colour of the tail that flashed in the foam every so often.  Perhaps ten minutes later, Doug netted the fish. It turned out to be a twenty-five pounder. Al almost nabbed a Coho but it escaped. He landed a fifteen-pound Chinook ten minutes later.

 

 

ERNESTINE

 

Again, there was no response, and this time, utter stillness in the hall. Ernestine was not used to a throng of inert, sweaty bodies, and she hoped a leader would soon be found.  She thought none of the good guys were pushy enough to be leaders.

      “Someone has to stand up and be our leader,” boomed out the other pal.

          At that moment, Ernestine could bear the sweaty heat no longer and she reached up to pull on a lever that controlled the air-conditioner. She was the only one in the hall to move, let alone raise a hand.

       “There’s our man,” yelled the three pals, from the dais. They pointed at Ernestine, who still had her hand held high, because the lever had stuck.

         The good guys, near Ernestine, hoisted her on to their shoulders and forced their way through the throng, which roared its approval. They deposited her on the dais like a stuffed mailbag.  She protested as she got to her feet, but the throng drowned her out as it started to chant:

 

“Ern….nest…tine,

 Ern….nest…tine,

 Ern….nest…tine,

    Hail to the Queen.”

 

MODEL

 

This time, I did not buy my model a coffee.  As the first half-hour pose approached, the ancient man made himself as comfortable as he could.  He stared at me like a religious zealot with a gleam in his eye.

    “Oh, no,” I said.  “He’s giving me the Full Monty ultra licitum.”

He stooped down on his knees.  He pointed his posterior straight at me and, unabashed, exposed a purple pink hemorrhoid of huge dimension.  I suppose Leonardo da Vinci would have been fascinated but I almost fainted.   I looked away from Lily Koo and the congregation and gathered my things.  I scrambled away to the parking lot where Buster’s had not towed my car.

     “How was it, dear?” my wife said.  “You’re just in time for a nice cup of tea.”

     “That’ll be lovely,” I said.  “I think I’ll go back to doing my flower and vase water colours.  I’ll give Life Drawing a miss for a while.”

     “Perhaps you could do some birds, dear,” she said.

     It was time for a change.  It did cross my mind that exotic flowers, with their extraordinary pistils and stamens, were a bit naughty and suggestive.  

 

 

KATHERINE AT QUAYSIDE

 

Suyin, always in a hurry, tosses the newspapers helter-skelter some distant away from the garden path. The newspapers sometimes land on the doormat but more often than not. Katherine, full of understanding, knows the Chinese are easily frightened by hidden trees and shrubs because, as the Chinese claim, generous spirits are denied access and evil spirits constantly lurk. Suyin can hardly wait to run away to perform her other deliveries in safe, open spaces. 

     When it rains the newspapers invariably get wet and sometimes soaking wet. Katherine puts the newspapers in the oven to dry, and so far, she has not started a fire. This year, Katherine discovers Suyin has absconded with Victor’s gift. Katherine feels mean not having left a Christmas gift for Suyin. She does not blame Suyin for stealing Victor’s gift. Now, she wants to give her something special. To make amends, Katherine will give her a new year’s gift later in the week.

     The next morning, early, as usual, the newspapers are tossed over to land close to the doormat. To Katherine’s amazement, leaning against the front door is Victor’s gift wrapped in the same envelope, untouched. Tears are brought to her eyes and she smiles, and the sound of festive music floods through from the living room gramophone where she hears the magnificent first cantata of Bach’s

     “Christmas Oratorio”. Such is the omen of things to come.

 

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

 

I struggle hard to find least cost items for Christmas presents. It is so much easier to choose expensive ones, but then I do like a challenge. Yesterday, the day before Christmas Eve, the Christmas Spirit got to me when, in the London Drugs parkade, in readiness for my big Christmas splurge, I carefully lined up my Toyota Corolla into a rather narrow parking slot.

     “That’s my place, if you don’t mind!” said a voice, full of menace. The man got out of the passenger seat glaring at me with fists clenched.

     “But you’re facing the wrong way backwards and not moving,” I said, concentrating on where I was going.

     “That doesn’t matter,” the voice said. “I was here first. You’d better watch it. You wouldn’t want anything nasty to happen to you.”

     “You know what? You’re the spitting image of George Costanza of Jerry Seinfeld fame.”

      Fortunately, the man with the voice couldn’t keep a straight face.

     “How did you know my name is George?”

 

THE FAGOTTIST

 

It was during her first solo that Veronica’s feelings changed.  After her opening note, synchronized with the downward thrust of Humphrey’s baton, she kept her eyes glued to the music.  But, when she raised them, there he was, beaming down with pleasure, so unexpected, so spontaneous and genuine, that her self-confidence soared.  In a flash, the esteem, that she had craved all her life, was granted for the very first time.  From that moment, she played brilliantly.  In turn, he was delighted.  She warmed towards him with a gratitude that aroused thoughts of comfort and longing, not felt since her school days.  She was flustered, as an adolescent, when later they talked about the bars and stanzas that she had interpreted for his great enjoyment.

     Had she known that her impact on Humphrey at the start of her solo had been purely physical, she may not have felt so elated. But it was the truth.  It was simply that, when she blew on the delicately curved stem of her bassoon, the pressure built in her cheeks to form two perfect dimples on each side just below the level of her lips.  When she gasped for air, they disappeared only to return on the very next note with even more appeal.  Humphrey was enraptured.  He knew that beauty spots were meant to be coquettish but, to have them appear only at the moment when they were giving the greatest pleasure, almost overwhelmed him.

 

 

CRESCENDO

 

Anna turned away and drifted back to the bar where she hoped the Liebfraumilch had not run out.  With a thousand people milling around and the free drinks freely flowing, the noise level had increased from a polite pianissimo to a rather crude mezzo-forte.  Feeling a bit tipsy, Anna sought sanctuary in the stalls of the theatre and she wandered down the aisle with her eyes fixed on the hideous ruby-red velvet curtains.       The phrase, Until someone rips them down, had lodged in her subconscious and, as she knocked back half a glass of Liebfraumilch, she wobbled up the side stairs onto the stage.  Other members had found their way into the theatre and, as Anna recovered her balance center-stage, a few applauded.  More people, curious to see what was going on, came in from the foyer and started down the aisles.  When Anna bowed and doffed her new hat and polished off the glass of Liebfraumilch, they also applauded and shouted Encore, Encore.  One fellow clambered on stage with a bottle and replenished Anna’s empty glass.  Before she knew it, the stage was full of noisy people showing off and displaying a wit that, had they been sober, would not have been amused by.  Those who remained in the aisles booed lustily and someone shouted derisively:

     “Bring down the curtain.”

     Encouraged, the more musically inclined started to chant:

 

Bring down the curtain,

 Bring the curtain down.

 Bring down the curtain,

   Bring the curtain down.”

 

 

A CREATURE IN THE BATHROOM

 

A very kind soul, who lived on the other side of the road, was happy to help them in their time of need. The kind soul fearlessly entered their bathroom wearing heavy gloves holding a stick with a hook intent on capturing or shooing the creature away. But the squirrel had happily settled in the ventilator shaft hoping for generous helpings of peanut butter that it could smell from a leaking jar on a shelf in the larder. It had no thoughts whatsoever of vacating – after all, it was minus five degrees outside. 

     “I don’t mind a squirrel or two but I can’t abide rats,” said the kind soul. “If you really can’t stand living with a squirrel, the time has come for you to engage an expert exterminator.”

     “You know, Michael, our heritage house is starting to fall apart,” said Jane. “The roof beams and joists are rotting. There is an infestation of termites. Quite a few shingles fell off after the latest windstorm.”

     “You’re right,” Michael said “And I wouldn’t be surprised if the old furnace gives way any day. It wouldn’t take much to start an accidental fire.”

     “We must find out how to recover insurance claims should the whole place go up in smoke. We could build a bungalow from with the insurance money.”

     “It’d make things easy for me, not having to climb up and down the stairs.”

     “Well, yes. And the squirrels won’t be able to get in.” 

     It’s a shame Little Nutkin will end up incinerated.

 

 

NINE LIVES

                  

When your twin brother becomes carsick near Bradwell, on the Essex coast, and you sit next to him on the backseat while your mother drives the T-Ford, your mother will momentarily turn to sooth your twin brother and she will crash into a telephone pole. Since you are an unanchored item, you will fly over the front seat into the cubbyhole and your face will get stuck and it will get cut up a bit. The doctor, who lives close by, will sew one of your ears back on and try to make a good show with the stitching around your cheeks, your forehead and your chin. You might bleed to death.

 

When you fall as a small boy into a huge, concrete reservoir in Morecambe where crabs live in slimy, green seaweed that coats the inner wall designed to hold back masses of seawater from the ebbing tide, you will learn to swim through necessity. If you lean out with your hand-held net and trawl as far as you can reach and topple in and swallow a mouthful or two of seawater and splutter to the surface and kick throughout the full width of the reservoir, you might drown. Your best chance is to dogpaddle. 

 

When you drive off into old growth forest to locate a logging road near Sayward on Vancouver Island to enable you to harvest timber, you will be surprised by the remnants of typhoon Freda with gusts of one hundred and forty-five kilometres per hour. You will hear the cracking of mature trees smashing to the ground and think that you are listening to a fireworks display on Chinese New Year.  If you decide it is time to drive helter skelter back to camp for your life, you might become splattered more than once.  But then, you might get away with it.

 

 

ITS JUST A PIECE OF PAPER

 

In 2018, I was instructed to visit the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia office for the issuance of a BC Services Card to replace my Care Card. The bureaucracy wanted to examine all my pertinent documents. The humourless lady at the kiosk was perturbed and claimed that the name I have had for 81 years is invalid.

     “Your Certificate of Canadian Citizenship shows your second name to be Gurth and not Gyrth,” she said.

     “But the only second name I have ever had is shown on my Birth Certificate,” I retorted. “Every document I have shows me to be Gyrth.”  Birth, Burth, Berth – what’s the difference, I wanted to ask her – but I refrained.

     “The only valid Canadian document you own shows you to be Jonathan Gurth Phillips,” she said. “Ellen L. Fairclough, Minister, and George F. Davidson, Deputy Minister, signed your certificate on 14th May 1962. Your Birth Certificate derives from England and we accept Canadian documents only. Why didn’t you correct your name on your Certificate of Canadian Citizenship initially?”

     I could not give her a reasonable answer. What I should have said was:

     “Why didn’t Ellen L. Fairclough, Minister, and her cohorts get my name right in the first place? They had had every opportunity with my existing birth certificate, passports, drivers’ licenses, and so on.

     Now that my new drivers’ license and my new BC Services Card show me as Jonathan Gurth Phillips who am I to make a fuss? What does it matter that the bureaucracy now has my name wrong.

     I wanted to ask the humourless lady about my Social Security Number for tax purposes. But then I thought:

     “Fohgiddaboudit  –  it’s just a piece of paper.”

 

 

FOR THE YOUNG AND THE NOT SO YOUNG

 

Author’s note

I have wondered whether a child comprehends the meanings of words and sentences appearing in a story. Is a child stimulated by seeing pictures appearing in a story? Without pictures will the child find the exercise of mere reading too difficult a task and simply give up? Do pictures cause the child to lose the magic of imagining its own ideas and images of events and things in a story? Do adults, who attempt to help a child to comprehend, brainwash the child and impose their own ideas and images upon a child?

     The first stories are those for young children and then those for not so young children and last of all for those in their second childhood.

 

 

CHLOE AND THE BED TIME STORIES    

 

Author’s note.

I told these stories to Chloe at bedtime when she stayed at our house now and then in the first half of 2009. She was almost 4 years old. As an active child, and constantly stimulated by her Granny, she just wouldn’t go to sleep. A few of my relatives, whom we shan’t mention, found my stories to be the most boring they had ever heard. Of course, Granny encouraged me to tell my stories to Chloe. The good news was that Chloe went out like a light: the bad news was that my stories were as boring as she thought they were.

 

  Chloe and the Kiwi Bird

Once upon a time, there was a very happy fairy called Chloe.  She smiled all the time and her eyes twinkled especially when she found a bright star shining in the dark.  Chloe made sure she stuck the bright star on the end of her wand.

     When all the little furry and feathery creatures in the forest saw the bright star, they were very happy.

     “There goes happy Chloe lighting the way,” they said.

Chloe’s friend, Kiwi Bird, who could actually see in the dark, made happy little noises and chirpings.

     Chloe was very happy with her bright star as it shone into the forest depths.   The little creatures and Kiwi Bird wanted to give Chloe a hug. 

Then, one day, Kiwi Bird heard Chloe weeping.

     “My bright star has gone out and I can’t see anything,” she said.  “A full black darkness has come into the forest.”

     From a very happy twinkling fairy, Chloe became a very unhappy, blubbering fairy.  You would never know she was a fairy.

     “Please don’t cry anymore,” said Kiwi Bird, who had sensitive ears.  “It just makes you more unhappy.  Just try to go to sleep until morning.  I’ll make some little noises and chirpings.”

Chloe at last went to sleep and her tears dried up.   In the morning, the sun came out and Chloe was happy again.

     Kiwi Bird, who could actually see in the dark, left a note:

     “Your bright star has become unhitched from the end of your wand and it needs an extra dollop of glue.  See you tomorrow.” 

 

Chloe became so happy with the good news and she made up her mind never to cry again, ever.

 

Chloe and the Crow

In a heat wave last summer, Chloe decided to cool off under the sprinkler in the garden. She skipped and splashed on the grass and enjoyed every moment.

     Then, just like Monsieur Corbeau sur un arbre, a crow landed on the sprinkler hose and pecked the living daylights out of it.

     Before Chloe knew it, water leaked from a big hole in the sprinkler hose and the sprinkler itself simply dried up.

     “Oh, look what you’ve done,” said Chloe, almost in tears. “I was having such fun.”

     “I’m so sorry,” the crow said. “I couldn’t stop myself. I thought I was pecking at a worm.”

     “But the hose is green,” said Chloe, incredulously.

     “I’m so sorry,” the crow said. “I’m colour blind.”

     “That may be so,” said Chloe. “But how are you going to plug the hole in the sprinkler hose?”

The crow’s conscience bothered him so much that he thought he should make amends. He flew up into the sky and landed on his favourite spruce tree, Picea sitchensis. There he found a quid of resin gum and he grabbed it and took it back to the sprinkler hose. Dextrously, he fastidiously plugged the hole.

     “Did you manage all right?” said Chloe, admiringly.

     “I did,” the crow said, and the sprinkler sprinkled.

     “Thank you,” said Chloe. “Perhaps you will find a worm over there in the grass.”

     While Chloe cooled off in the sprinkler, the crow searched for a worm.

     “Did you find one?” said Chloe. “I mean a red one?”

     “No, I didn’t,” the crow said, eyeing a watering hose that belonged to a neighbour next door. 

 


The Hose Pecker

A crow pecked the sprinkler hose

                                                                                And why he did it, no one knows.

But when he did, he hurt his nose

            And some one shouted, Stone the Crows.

 

 

URSULA AND PETULA

 

Author’s note

The names of the twins in this story are exactly what I was looking for. One little girl, Ursula, was full of spirit, the other, Petula, was thoughtful and considerate, quite opposite to being petulant.

     The origin and history of the name Ursula, little bear, is a form of the Latin word ursa, she-bear. Saint Ursula was a legendary princess of the 4th century who was martyred by the Huns while returning from a pilgrimage.

     The meaning of the name Petula is to seek; to attack. It is a Latin baby name.

 

 

URSULA AND PETULA

 

One spring day, there was still ice on the pond nearby. The twins went for a walk.

     “Don’t get your shoes wet,” Big Daddy said.

     Why he didn’t tell the girls to wear their gumboots, Little Mummy had no idea. Ursula liked to glide on the ice. She could slide twice as far as Petula because she was so much heavier.

     “It’s too thin,” said Petula, as she heard ice cracking. “You’ll go through and your shoes will get all wet.”

     “It’s fine,” said Ursula. “Come on. You’ll love it.”

     The ice collapsed under Ursula’s weight. Fortunately, for Ursula, the water was shallow and she sank only as far as her knees. Ursula thought her shoes would dry if she jumped and hopped up and down.

     “We had better go to the house and face the music,” said Petula. “I’ll do the talking.”

     “Oh dear, I was so looking forward to sausage rolls for supper,” said Ursula.

     “Ursula,” Big Daddy said. “Where have you been? Your shoes are soaking. Just a little while ago I told you not to get your shoes wet. It’s bed for you, my girl, without supper that’s for sure. Off you go this minute.”

     “But Daddy, it was me whom pushed Ursula into the pond,” said Petula, who wasn’t all that fond of sausage rolls. “It was my fault.  I did it.”

     “Well, there you are,” Little Mummy said. She didn’t want Ursula to go hungry. Big Daddy thought he handled the disciplinary problem very well. Unknown to Big Daddy, Ursula hid some treacle tarts in her pocket for Petula. Petula far preferred treacle tarts to sausage rolls.

     “You’re so nice to me, Ursula,” said Petula, after she devoured three treacle tarts.

     The twins slept the whole night through. Big Daddy put Ursula’s shoes on the hearth to dry.  Little Mummy was happy and played some lullabies on her Nordheimer.

 

 

JUST A PHASE

 

Author’s note

Have you asked why Chickens, and Kiwis, and Emus, and Ostriches, can’t fly? Where do flightless birds seek cover when their wire netting is left to deteriorate?

     It is particularly difficult for flightless birds to have Aphasia, the inability to comprehend and formulate language because of dysfunction in specific brain regions. Aphasia is most often caused by a cerebral vascular accident (CVA), which is also known as a stroke. 

 

 

JUST A PHASE

 

Not long ago, five hens lived in a ramshackle henhouse on a desolate estate in the oat fields of Sayward looking over Hkusam Mountain on Vancouver Island. Bits of chicken wire had fallen off and the roof had collapsed. There was little of the henhouse left.  

     Henrietta, Scruffeather, Squawkchik, Henpeck and Eggcup were all hens. Henrietta, who had a handsome comb, Scruffeather, who was always scruffy, and Squawkchic, who squawked in the early hours, were Tomboys. The Tomboys were untidy and never preened their feathers. They spent long hours playing around in the dirt and dust trying to get comfortable.

     Henpeck was fussy and always scolded the Tomboys over their uncouthness.

     “Gosh, Henrietta, and you, Scruffeather, are absolute messes,” said Henpeck. “And you, Squawkchik, you’re incredibly noisy. I wish you’d just shut up. You’re worse than a rooster.”

     Henpeck never found fault in Eggcup. Henpeck admired Eggcup’s coiffure and how quiet she was and because she churned out two or three large, brown eggs every day.

 

One day, a farmer, Louie, bought the Sayward estate. He found the five hens abandoned along a stone wall near the orchard. The farmer’s wife, Sarah, heard the hens clucking. One of them made an awful din. Sarah discovered that the hens had been tagged round their ankles. She spelled out their names and before long they talked Pidgin English and they became friends.  

     The five hens did not have Kwakwaka’wakw names though they did sound as if that is where they had come from. Louie suspected that Henrietta and Squawkchik were from Europe but wasn’t sure about the others – perhaps they were English. Louie put them in an old caboose against a cedar hedge. He repaired the chicken run and the water-pump and re-shingled the roof.  Sarah installed a new bin for whole-meal.

 

 

OLIVIA

 

Author’s note

Despite children’s learning curves, children seem not to deviate all that much. Where they pick up their attitudes and feelings about life is difficult to say. Perhaps a vivid event or some sort of trauma will briefly stick in their minds.

     Whatever the reason, children’s personalities seem not to change very much, though sometimes an increase in various hormones will affect them. They may become more aggressive or gentler. As Sir Alex Ferguson said: “The best for all would be a balance between both traits.” But how on earth could a child ever achieve that?

 

OLIVIA

 

Olivia was all of eight years old. Tony knew Sam loved Olivia with a tender heart. Tony was not a very nice person and he knew how to hurt people’s feelings.

     “Olivia got married,” said Tony, on April fool’s Day. 

     “Oh, no,” Sam said. “She said she’d wait for me.”

      As a nine-year-old, Sam was more gullible than his pals. He believed in Father Christmas. His Fairy Godmother put sixpences in the Christmas pudding. The Tooth Fairy still came to call.

     Tony and his gang were cruel to Sam. They phoned him to meet at a certain time and place. Sam always went. Tony and his gang never showed up. Sam did not doubt his pals for a moment. He knew they were easily distracted. There were so many things going on.

     “Olivia, you didn’t get married after all,” Sam said, when he met her on the swings.

     “No. Give us a push.”

     Sam liked to feel Olivia’s sturdy back as he guided the swing. He noticed her knees were knobby.

     “Are you going to join our rugby team?” Sam said. Olivia reminded him of Jonny Wilkinson – his favourite flyhalf, now that Andrew Mehrtens had retired. 

     “I am,” said Olivia. It was just wishful thinking on his part.

     Where Olivia came from, parents saw to it that boys were boys and girls were still girls. Sam was heartbroken when Olivia didn’t show up for the first practice. He wanted to see her run and sidestep and kick penalty goals.

     “You didn’t come,” Sam said, when he saw her at the school ground the next day.

     “Come where?”

     “To rugby practice.”

     “I had to go to sewing classes. I’m a girl.”

 

 

EVAN AND THE VAGABONDS

 

Author’s note

I laughed aloud at one of the Pink Panther movies by the antics of Inspector Clouseau, a villain, and Peter Sellers, a dentist. In one of the stories, the affect of laughing gas allowed the good guys to get rid of the bad guys. It may be politically incorrect to introduce laughing gas into a child’s story in view of the weakness of 30 million Americans struggling with substance abuse, but I think the story works quite well.

 

EVAN AND THE VAGABONDS

 

After lunch, Redwald glided into the harbour.  He anchored and put his men ashore to join Egbert’s.  When Redwald found out that Egbert had boarded his own ship, Redwald rowed his dinghy to Egbert’s ship to find out what was going on.  Much to Redwald’s surprise, he was met by hysterical laughter from Egbert and his two bodyguards.  They pointed at Redwald and were very rude.

     Ashore, Redwald’s men, too, were laughed at soundly.  Because their feelings were hurt, Redwald’s men got very angry.  The angrier they became, the louder the laughter.   Redwald’s face got redder and redder to match his forest of red hair and he became so fed up that he stamped his foot and stormed off in a huff.  He rowed back in his dinghy to his own ship where he rounded up his angry men and they sailed away for good.

     Egbert’s men waved farewell and sniggered and they rowed back to their ship.  With tears running down their cheeks, they smiled at their captain who smiled back even though he really wanted to scowl and dish out a few strokes of his cat-o-nine-tails.

     As the crew inevitably burst the balloons, it was Egbert who exploded and he did so with great guffaws.  They slapped their thighs and rolled on the decks and giggled.  Egbert realized attempts to capture the castle were senseless and, under full sail, he followed Redwald into oblivion, never to be seen again.  The noise of laughter carried along the shoreline and the villagers sighed a huge sigh of relief.

Unknown to everyone outside the castle-walls, the apple-juice had been mixed with bubbles of laughing gas that the Royal Dentist always kept on hand.  Evan had used the same gas to inflate the last of his balloons.  The way the laughing gas had made the vagabonds helpless with laughter was talked about for years.

     Another huge barrel of apple-juice arrived, this time to commemorate the defeat of the vagabonds.  The villagers happily drank down every last drop.  With all the merriment and laughter, you could not tell whether bubbles of laughing-gas had been mixed in with this new barrel of apple-juice, or not.

     “Thank you, Evan, for all your help,” Queen Maude whispered.

 

 

HENRY THE STEADFAST

 

Author’s note

Now that I have entered my second childhood, I am keen to give the stories a bit of a jolt. I must try to persuade the children to at least complete one story in one sitting. I don’t want to give children bad dreams by touching on scariness or the macabre, though those in their second childhood might enjoy a bit of shock treatment.

 

To help my readers to comprehend better, I have included a glossary.

 

CONTENTS

                          HENRY AND THE DRAGON                                                      

                          HENRY AND EMILY                                                                   

                          HENRY AND THE THREE RATS                                               

                          HENRY AND THE FLY                                                                

                          HENRY AND THE HENS                                                            

                          HENRY AND THE CIRCUS                                                         

                          HENRY, BLACK RAT, MERMAIDS AND SEA HORSE           

                          HENRY AND THE UNICORN                                                      

                          HENRY AND THE FROGS                                                          

                          GLOSSARY 

                                                                                

HENRY AND THE DRAGON

The villagers heard that Henry was a relative of St. George (1) and they told the Squire (2) it would be nice if Henry were to slay a dragon (3).

     “I think you should slay a dragon for the Harvest Festival the day after tomorrow,” the Squire said.

     “I’ll see what I can do,” said Henry, always prepared to make the Squire happy. With no time to lose, Henry, astride his Clydesdale, Clyde (4), jogged off to seek a dragon.

     Knowing that Henry was related to St. George, the Squire hoped that Henry would amount to something. Actually, Henry thought that St. George’s dragon had had a raw deal. It wasn’t the dragon’s fault its salivary bacteria was toxic and that its breath smelt. The townspeople, who lived near St. George, claimed the dragon caused a plague and they started to sacrifice sheep and even children to appease it. When a maiden was taken, St. George came by and rescued her and captured the dragon. He told the villagers that only if they became religious would he slay the dragon. The villagers went along with it. St. George was obliged to use his lance (5) with which he made a bit of a mess and had to finish it off with his sword. Henry didn’t like the blood and gore that went along with slaying dragons. He wondered how George could have qualified as a Saint (6).

“What do you want?” a dragon said. He watched a swain (7) riding a horse.

     “I’ve come to slay a dragon and I’m Henry and this is Clyde,” said Henry. “Actually, I don’t really like killing anything at all. To be honest, I quite like dragons.”

     “Glad to hear it.”

     “The thing is, the Squire wants me to slay a dragon for the villagers.”

     “Tell you what, I’ve got a few spare dragon tails in my cave and I could give you one. You could have a leg, too, if you want.”

     Over time, the dragon had kept several spare tails and legs in a huge, transparent beaker of formaldehyde (8).  Unknown to the Squire and villagers, dragons could carry out self-amputation (9) and sever one or more parts without any harm. The lost parts regenerated later.

     “Could you really give me a real dragon’s tail and a leg?” said Henry. “I do have a large paper bag just in case I need to carry stuff.”

     The dragon picked out a tail and a leg about the right size.

     “Perfect,” said Henry, and he wrapped up the parts in his paper bag making sure the prong of the tail stuck out.         

     “Well, there you are,” the dragon said. “I’m glad you didn’t have to slay me.”

     “Me, too,” said Henry, who headed off to the village.

 

 

HENRY AND THE FROGS

 

Henry was made very welcome in the castle and he ate a small McNugget for lunch. Henry noticed there were a lot of frogs playing around in the moat.

     “Your frogs are huge,” said Henry. “Look at their fleshy, plump thighs.”

     “Once we went to France on a trip and found out that a lot of French people ate frogs,” Will and Geoff said. “They were delicious.”

     “How could such ugly, slimy things be edible?” said Henry. 

     “They’re a delicacy,” Will said. “I liked them most sautéed in olive oil.”

     “Fried in butter was my favourite,” Geoff said.

     “Well, there you are,” said Henry.

     “What do you mean - there you are?” Will and Geoff said.

     “We’re going to launch the most exciting gourmet discovery of all time,” said Henry.

 

With a lot of help from Will and Geoff, Henry concocted a very tasty marinade (63) for the frog thighs. Only then did he remember that he was supposed to capture a dragon for the villagers.

     “Are there any dragons hereabouts?” said Henry. “I’m supposed to take one home for the Squire.”

     “You’ll be lucky,” Will and Geoff said. “There aren’t any more dragons left in the whole wide world.”

     “I’m so glad you told me,” said Henry. “I never did fancy myself as a dragon slayer.”

     With that, Henry wrapped up several chunks of sautéed, marinated frog thighs and put them in a hamper and drove back to the village. Clyde was glad there weren’t any dragons to bother him, but he was nervous about meeting up with a gryphon.

     “Squire, I’m sorry to tell you that dragons have become extinct,” said Henry. “Perhaps these will help to make you feel a bit better.”

     “Oh my goodness,” the Squire said. “What on earth are these scrumptious, delectable, mouth-watering little morsels?”

     “McFroggets, (64)” said Henry, and he watched the Squire gobble up a McFrogget in two mouthfuls. “Perhaps your Welsh friend, Gwarthegydd, and his gryphon would like a bite or two.”

 

 

HARDLY PIANISSIMO



Author’s Note

 

This is the first film script I attempted. It is a tedious task because the format has to be perfect without which the editor will discard it.

 

HARDLY PIANISSIMO

 

            MAURICE

(Mavis stops playing.)

I haven’t heard that piece before. Nice lilt to it.

            MAURICE (V.O.) (CONT’D)

I think you missed a few notes – not important ones – but then who am I to say – I’m tone deaf.

          

            MAVIS

(Smiling.)

Schumann’s Einsame Blumen. A bit tricky. It’ll take a while for me to catch on.

 

            MAURICE

You play so well.

 

       

            MAURICE (V.O.) (CONT’D)

Better than banging out the exercises again and again.

 

           

            MAVIS

My piano fits in beautifully. My own wonderful music room. My Steinway needs a tune-up.

 

 

            MAURICE

It’ll be your inspiration

 

            MAURICE (V.O.) (CONT’D)

I’m glad the music room has double-glazed French doors and almost sound proof.

DISSOLVE

 

6. INT. MUSIC ROOM. - RESUMING.                                                                                                     

Mavis does not hear Maurice stop mowing the lawn but continues to play her piano.

 

7. EXT. GARDEN. - RESUMING.                                                                                                        
    

Maurice hears Mavis playing her piano. He winces and puts away his lawnmower in a shed. He grabs his secateurs.

 

            MAURICE

(Yells at Mavis who can’t hear her but can hear the piano.)

When are you going to stop that frightful racket? If you need me, I’ll be at the front.

.

8. EXT. GARDEN. - RESUMING.                                                                                                         
Maurice moves to the front lawn. With his secateurs, he contemplates one of his English boxwoods. Instead he starts to prune the apple tree.

10. EXT. TENNIS CLUB. DAY.                                                                                                           
Half an hour later, Maurice at the tennis club, attired in tennis whites, carries three racquets and his tennis bag.

He approaches one of the courts and heads to a bench where his partner, VLADIMIR, his family doctor, also in whites, sits waiting.

Maurice opens a new tin of balls and loves to hear the popping sound.

          MAURICE

Great weather. You look like you’re in good form.

           VLADIMIR

(Stands and pulls out his racquet.)

I’m feeling great. How are you? All set to beat the hell out of me?

 

            MAURICE

(Sips a glass of water from his flask.)

Well, odd you should say that. I had a bit of gasping earlier. I’d been fussing about pruning the apple tree. You’re my doctor. Should I take it easy and give it a miss?

 

            VLADIMIR

I suppose you do look a bit pale in the gills. You’ll be all right. Just don’t overdo it. You’ll know when you’ve done too much.

            MAURICE

Amazing how quickly I recover. Takes about half a minute, I suppose.

 

            VLADIMIR.

Yes. It’s your arrhythmia. Sorry. Not much I can do about it. Just take your Warfarin pill once a day.

 

           MAURICE

(Trying to be amusing.)

Goes with the rat poison, does it?

 

           VLADIMIR

True enough. You have to get your anticoagulant dosage right. Don’t want your blood leaking out all over the place. You’d make a bloody mess – if you’ll excuse the pun.

DISSOLVE

 

12. INT. PHELPS’S STUDIO. MORNING.                                                                                                   

Mavis arrives middle morning.


The studio has two pianos, a few music stands, a large table with several music books, sheet music, and a couple of sofas.

Mavis sits at an ordinary Nordheimer Upright and plays the first of 24 preludes.

Fredrick tries not to wince. 

                MAVIS

That first Chopin Prelude is giving me a lot of trouble. You always give me the most difficult ones.

 

                FREDRICK                                                                       Well, there are 24. You can always try the next one. Nobody has ever said playing the piano is easy.

 

                MAVIS                                                                          You’ve told me it’s all to do with timing. I seem to be getting the rhythm right. I just don’t seem to get the pacing.

 

                FREDRICK                                                              Technique is so important. But then, you don’t want to play like a robot. But without technique, you’ll not be able to enjoy your own interpretation. You’re a bit heavy with your right pedal.

                

                 MAVIS                                                                          I know. Practice makes perfect. I’ve tried to vary the loudness. And You claim my playing is so pianissimo. I just can’t get it louder. Fortissimo isn’t in my nature.

 

                FREDRICK                                                                         Let’s have a break. I’ll put some coffee on. Relax. Have a look at some of the photos of some of my favourite most beautiful pianists. Don’t worry, they are a bit risqué.

 

                 MAVIS                                                                                    What’s all this to do with being a pianist?

 

                 FREDRICK                                                                          My idea is that once relaxed, you’ll be in creative mode. By taking on a few risks, you’ll get a genuine feeling of how the compositions should really sound when you play. Perhaps your husband, Maurice, is it, could help. He must enjoy your playing.

 

                 MAVIS

Well, Maurice does have his moments.

 

                 FREDRICK                                                                        Just one more question before we start up again. Have you ever thought about composition? Most musical people make up all sorts of songs in the shower.

 

                 MAVIS                                                                          (Adamantly.)

I know I can’t compose. I have tried. But as CLINT EASTWOOD said, Man’s got to know his limitations.

 

 

DISSOLVE

 

 

PACIFIC VERSES


Author’s Note

                                                                               

Many John Betjeman’s poems rhyme. I think rhyme develops novel ways of putting things, not necessarily contrived. I prefer metre and rhyme and I’m not fond of obscure verse that appears complicated prose rather than poetry. Strict rules of English grammar should be upheld, not those loosely held by the likes of E.E. Cummings that do little to help me understand better what he tries to say.

 

ANY EXCUSE

There was once a cricketer from Amberley

Who was quite cautious and played somberley.

As a matter of fact

He had a cataract

And that was why he batted so wobberley.

 

WATCH IT

With being thin

It’s hard to please.

Take too much in,

You become obese.

 

 

BIRTHDAY IN-LAW-MUM

My birthday falls like ripe black plums,

Early in September,

Just like that of my in-law mum’s,

Easy to remember.

 

JUST ONE

Andrea drinks Tequila

With a rim of salt.

She loves a Marguerite.

Billy prefers malt.

 

BLUE FLOWERS

These flowers are blue,

Pure and true,

As a child.

 

These flowers are wild,

Self-styled,

Through and through.

 

These flowers are two,

Me and you,

Reconciled.

 

LITTLE GEOFF THIN

Ding dong dell,

Pussy’s in the well.

Who put him in?

Little Geoff Thin.

Who pulled him out?

Little Henry Stout.

What a naughty boy was that,

Trying to drown pussy cat

Who ne’er did any harm,

But killed all the mice in the farmer’s barn.



REVELATION

When Moses saw flames of fire within a bush

That didn’t burn up, he thought he was insane.

How wrong he was. He had ocular migraine

 

Saul thought he saw a light shine from heaven flash,

And when he fell down, did he ever complain.

He’d had a bout of ocular migraine.

 

In the dark, John thought he was a glowing lamp.

To the ignorant, he wanted to explain,

But he made a glitch, ‘twas ocular migraine.

 

 

ON THE WAGON

Sixty-five is party time

Ready for a bash.

Just mix up a slice of lime,

Two cubes and a splash.

 

Andrea drinks Tequila

With a rim of salt;

She loves a Margarita;

Billy prefers malt.

 

What with all the malarkey

They were told to go

Through a spell of cold turkey;

A very low blow.

 

And the next year Andrea,

At last, had a drink.

And there was a helluva

Huge almighty stink.

 

THE PRIME OF LIFE

You touch your toes;

You hit high Cee;

You play Chopin;

Enjoy your tea.

 

You have your teeth,

And all your hair;

Your legs are straight,

So why the glare?

 

Does your head ache?

Is your back sore?

Does something sag?

Is that the score?

 

Now, come on, Dear,

Life’s like that.

Win some, lose some;

That’s a fact.

 

 

THOSE WERE THE DAYS

As your suitor,

When your nose was out of joint,

I pulled your leg;

Cracked a joke; made you laugh.

You had no need of a chiropractor.

 

I would persist

And kept you on tenterhooks;

Up and down your spine,

I gave you pins and needles.

You could hardly spell, acupuncturist.

 

Was I obtuse;

I rub your back; you rub mine.

I knew precisely

How to raise your muscle tone.

You never even dreamt of a masseuse.

 

LAMENT

Wherefore art thou, my Testosterone?      

Hath Impotence usurped thy throne?        

What use thy scabbard without thy sword,

Noble King of Kings and Lord of Lords? 

 

Wherefore art thou, my Adrenaline?       

Hath Cholesterol, to thy chagrin,            

Seized up thy pump, stemmed thy flow?  

Please sayeth that it just ain’t so.            

 

Wherefore art thou, my Vitality?            

Is Complacency the end of thee?           

How sweetly doth Euthanasia sing,                                        

When spent Life no longer cares to cling.

 

LET’S GO OUT TO DINNER

Let’s go out to dinner.

Yes, you and I alone.

For just desserts, my darling,

You give to me a kiss.

 

Let’s go out on the town

And kick our heels up high.

For, when all is said and done,

We do have a good time.

 

Let’s go out in splendour,

Dolled up to the nines;

For one last nightcap, Darling,

I take you in my arms.

 

APRIL REIGN

I came across an Angel

In the April rain.

I was spellbound as if I

Had mislaid my brain. Didn’t have a brain.

 

She was searching for the sun,

That was pretty plain.

When I found her bright and gold,

How could I complain?

 

She sang away the rainbow

In a sweet refrain,

And dried her wings and warmed

My soul, once again.

 

SO MUCH FOR THE BONUS

Watercolours piled thick in the garage,

Testimony to failure,

Got him all mad and fed up. He took umbrage

And thought about his future.

 

“A masterpiece is quite out of the question,”

He blubbered on for a while.

Instead he wrote a film script. Brilliance shone

And he found his unique style.

 

His manuscripts were stacked in the cellar, 

Since space took up the garage,

Where even the Salvation Army refer

To his best stuff as garbage.

 

I would persist

And kept you on tenterhooks;

Up and down your spine,

I gave you pins and needles.

You could hardly spell, acupuncturist.

 

Was I obtuse;

I rub your back; you rub mine.

I knew precisely

How to raise your muscle tone.

You never even dreamt of a masseuse.

 

 

CHRISTMAS STOCKING

With this lolly,       

I’d like to see        

Some lingerie.       

 

You’re my Dolly;    

It’s up to you.         

If it’s see-through   

 

Not to worry;         

Any hue, even blue,

On you, will do.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

You turn life into

Sweet memories

That never leave.

 

And when you air them

Like some fragrance

For me to breathe,

 

You rejuvenate

My sense of love.

I do believe.

 

BIRTHDAY WISH

In April, the honeysuckle blooms

When the hummingbird comes home to reign.

Always it happens every Spring;

In time for your Birthday once again.

 

Now a hummingbird, so I’ve heard,

Is a very lucky, little beast.

He probes his tongue in a tranquil sheath

To lap and suck a sugary feast.

 

I do so envy that little bird

His sweet, fragrant, honey-nectar taste.

Do you think we could enjoy the same?

Let’s find out, come with me, make haste.

 

KOTA KINABALU

You stepped off the plane in loose attire;

Your scent just the same, to me, pure desire.

We embraced and held hands in a queue,

Then we raced for an instant or two

To a cab, where we grasped enclosed,

In no hurry and dreamt and supposed.

 

You knew the jungle and wanted a trip

To a clearing where alone you could strip

And dive in a pool and swim in the nude.

You thought the wild calls would capture your mood.

Without a care, you would let yourself go,

While I would just watch with the hint of a glow.

 

We climbed Kinabalu through the forest,

Along steep paths where we just had to rest

And gulp cool air for our warmedup blood

That surged back and forth to cause a flood

Of feeling and unendurable strain.

All of a sudden it started to rain.

 

We sailed to a tropical island.

Under the palms we walked in the sand

To the water’s edge and into the sea.

Frightened of fishes, you clung to me;

So, I carried you back to the shore

All salty and damp and full of allure.

 

On the way home you remember the bliss

And savour the moments you most will miss.

You descend from the sky out of the West.

You come down to earth and hope for the best

In the cluttered world of the mundane

Where you may never escape from again.



LET’S GO OUT TO DINNER

Let’s go out to dinner.

Yes, you and I alone.

For just desserts, my darling,

You give to me a kiss.

 

Let’s go out on the town

And kick our heels up high.

For, when all is said and done,

We do have a good time.

 

Let’s go out in splendour,

Dolled up to the nines;

For one last nightcap, Darling,

I take you in my arms.


BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY

When you have a birthday anniversary,

It’s absolutely necessary

To get proper up-to-date car insurance,

Or else life will become a nuisance.

 

While at it, will you check your driver’s license?

You want your Volvo sitting in silence?

Buster’s could tow away your automobile:

Take your key and lock up your steering wheel.

 

In spite of the cause of much consternation,

You could provide a perfect solution.

No more would you suffer from back seat driving;

You would be usurped; I could be King.

 

APRIL REIGN

I came across an Angel

In the April rain.

I was spellbound as if I

Didn’t have a brain.

 

She was searching for the sun,

That was pretty plain.

When I found her bright and gold,

How could I complain?

 

She sang away the rainbow

In a sweet refrain,

And dried her wings and warmed

My soul, once again.

 

AUTUMN ENCOUNTER             

Laird of the clear-cut blueberry patch,

Black, massive and of fierce demeanour,

Belly full of fermenting fruit, sniffs

The odour of an interloper.

 

Propped up against a hemlock stump,

Alert to danger from the stranger,

He yawns, gives a resonating belch,

And topples over in a stupor.

 

HANNA HOYOS – THE BIRTHDAY GIRL
Hanna Hoyos reminds me of someone I was knew.
She was good-looking and had lovely hair.
She stood no nonsense from the boys – it’s quite true.
How could any other girl scarcely compare?
Yes, she was that gorgeous girl I knew – and still do.

 

 

DISILLUSIONMENT

A blight struck my Sarah from a foreign land.

It was breath taking and more than she could stand.

She succumbed like a fern in Summer heat,

And was conquered utterly and complete.

 

There was no nurture from this invading force;

It merely took selfishly without remorse,

And, once satiated, went back whence it came,

Leaving Sarah to convalesce with the blame.

 

This happened in the Autumn in the rain,

But, later, winter weather numbed the pain.

My Sarah knew that time healed everything,

And, she looked fondly forward to the Spring.

 

Then, in April, exuberance won the day;

Cautiously, she found time again to play,

Whereupon the world blossomed out around;

My sweet Sarah had her feet back on the ground.

 

THE BRIGHT LIGHTS

The bright lights in Moung Mai

Glare from neon bulbs

As the generator purrs.

The ceiling, glossy white,

Becomes a table

Where a gruesome feast occurs.

 

Geckos, with round, besuckered toes,

Upside down, await their unsuspecting foes

Who land bedazzled in the lamplight heat,

And, singed, are snaffled up complete.

Stick-dry insect legs distinctly snap

As lizard jaws clench shut to form the perfect trap.

 

This protein fix stirs a carnal urge eager to begin.

Greedy eyes now glow with lust

And smolder, ruby-red, against a pallid lizard skin.

Two, cold-blooded, heated creatures, suspended, couple up;

Thanks to the evolvement of a suction cup.

 

So, the illuminated, pure, white plane,

Once besmirched, is besmirched again.

In early morning Moung Mai, bright lights fade at last

To herald in a short, slow, long awaited, fast.

 

 

GET WITH IT, VALENTINE

Expectation on Valentine’s,

When I am yours and you are mine,

Will have me more than look at you

And say, “You are a dream come true”.

 

My energy must up a notch,

Else you might just lie back and watch

Television.  I would be hurt,

Losing out to Martha Stewart.

 

No, my love, I would turn that knob

To off, and have you all agog

With keen murmurs in your sweet ears;

You, the answer to my prayers.

 

Time would fly by.  You cry, “How late”.

But, surprise, you yield to your fate.

“Not all that bad,” you condescend,

And Valentine’s comes to an end.



CONTINUUM

The cosmic crunch

Cast a single speck.

The big bang burst.

What would you expect?

Mass flew apart

For eons of time.

Then it stopped

And the god said, “I’m

Glad about that.

Those people on earth

Make such a mess.

A bonny new birth

Is what I want.

Gravity will suck

The whole lot back,

With a bit of luck.”

After a while,

Another big bang

Flooded the skies,

And the angels sang.