Friday, July 31, 2009

Hammer Time

Hammer Time, one on the shops on Cheap Street that isn't, opened during the wave of American television shows that flooded the British screens in the eighties. It prospered for a while selling imported signs and household tat -- cocktail lounge neon lights and Starsky and Hutch wallpaper but began to flounder in the nineties until it switched to importing cheap wooden furniture from Africa and Indonesia.

By 2003 the value of the pound forced them to source even cheaper items and the products for sale became the shoddy work of British factories until a chance encounter with an Import / Export agent led them to the modern Holy Grail: Recycled Crafts.

Jasfoup takes a modest cut of the profits.

Image: Hammer by Mattias Adolfsson

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Water Fairy

Harold left flowers at the top of the old artesian well in the kitchen garden. he remembered it as a wealth of life and colour when he was a child, and the girl that tended the flowers and showed him the myriad fish that came to her call. That was when Frederick was still a young man. By the time Harold took over the manor the deforestation on the other side of the Chalk had left the well dry and he'd never seen the girl again.

"She was a naiad," said Jasfoup, placing a white rose next to Harold's bunch of hand-picked herbaceous flowers. "Her name was Melusia."

Image: The Erotic Naiad

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lord of the Bells

"Are you sure this is traditional for the Lord of the Manor?" Harold asked, studying himself in the full-length bedroom mirror. "I don't remember Uncle Frederick doing this."

"Hardly surprising," said Jasfoup. "It's only once every ten years and you were away at college for two of them."

"I suppose." Harold studied his regalia once more, one of the bells jingling forlornly as he tilted his head. "Wait a minute, though. Ten years ago i was running the Emporium. I should have seen the parade that year."

"So you did," said the demon. "But that was the night you discovered absinthe. I'm almost surprised you can remember the year at all."

"I don't remember that." Harold jingled his way to the door. "Come on then. Let's not keep the town waiting for their fairy queen

Image: Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Harold scooted his chair backwards away from the tea spill and the broken crockery, grabbing the carrycot with a practiced upswing of a bent right arm. Scalding hot tea cascaded over the suddenly empty space, lumps of date and walnut cake giving it the appearance of a vat of boiling diarrhoea poured over tiny invaders.

"I'm so terribly sorry sir," said the waitress, rushing forward to check they were both all right. "I must have tripped on something. "

"No harm done." Harold looked at the soggy mess. "Of course, I expect a replacement and the bill taken care of."

"Of course, sir, thank you." She smiled. "I'm so glad the baby wasn't hury."

"The baby?" Harold looked at Lucy in the carrycot, then reached inside to extract his copy of the latest Sandman comic. He heaved a sigh of relief it was still pristine. "Yes, so am I."

Image: The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes

Monday, July 27, 2009

Floating Angels

There were soap bubbles in the air. Eric Chambers leaned his spade against the potted apple tree he'd just bought and watched them floating over his garden, iridescent in the morning sunlight. Most caught on the high hedge and popped, but several climbed high enough to look like floating angels.

He remembered them from his childhood, a once-a-year treat when he was taken to see his nana at the seaside, the clean scent of the bubbles competing with the salt-laden ait and the sound of seagulls mingling with her admonishments about spending his money on rubbish.

"Mr. Chambers? Did you see the angels?"

Eric smiled at the tousled head peering trough the gap in the hedge. "Is that what they were, Peter? Yes, I saw them."

"Were you scared?"

"What would I have to be scared of? They were beautiful."

"What'cha doing? That's an awfully big hole."

"I'm planting an apple tree," said Eric. "In a year or two you'll be able to pick shiny red apples."

"I won't need to," said Peter. "Mum gets them from Sainsbury's. Can I help you dig?"

Eric shook his head. "Not today, Peter. Another time."

"Oh." His face fell, then brightened. "Aunty 'Rene usually gives me one of her sweets."

Eric glanced over at the carpet shrouded bundle next to the shed. Irene wouldn't be giving Peter sweets ever again. "She's not here, love. You run along now."

"Okay." Peter vanished from view and soon after, Eric could see angels, floating overhead.

Image: Soap-bubble Stories: For Children ...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Find the Lady

Frederick celebrated his sixty-second birthday for the fifth time. Not that there was any cake -- or presents* -- but there was a perpetual cup of tea and the love and best wishes of his family. He and Molly had become close over the last year or two and he tapped his teacup to make an announcement. "Molly and I are getting married," he said.

The others congratulated him. Only Harold had reservations. "Uncle," he said, "I'm very happy for you but how exactly are you going to manage that?"

"Simple," said Frederick. "We just have to put her bones in with mine, once we find out where she was buried."

"I didn't mean that," said Harold. "I meant the age difference. You're sixty-two and she's what... five hundred?"

Image: Ghost Files: The Haunting Truth

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cautionary Tale

It was understood by most that Harold was never to be told he was wrong -- not directly, anyway. Better to do it by subtly piling evidence in front of him until such point that he declares he always thought that way.

This method can be bypassed if you're under a year old. Lucy's features and general wailing certainly indicated something was wrong, even if Harold was convinced he'd changed her nappy only ten minutes ago.

Jasfoup and Julie were siding with Lucy and scent of fresh number twos.

Jasfoup sniffed. "Of course she hasn't Julie," he said. "I expect she's hungry."

Harold frowned. Better than always being right was the opportunity to prove Jasfoup wrong...

Image: The Art of Always Being Right

Friday, July 24, 2009

Johnson’s Steel Fabrication

Johnson’s Steel Fabrication Plant in James Street was founded in 1932 and has experienced both an expansion and contraction over its lifetime. Harold spent a two-week training period there as an engineer’s aide when he was at school in the seventies and it confirmed his belief that he was not destined to mill steel for a living. He was similarly not enamoured of the work that went on in the offices, though the three secretaries employed there gave him both a start in typing skills and a later fetish for support hosiery.

The board of directors includes one sleeping partner who bought a majority shareholding in 1974 and has not been heard of since. The plant diversified into plastics in the late eighties and now makes a modest trade in computer cases. Oddly, the cases biodegrade after five years, a fact that makes them ideally suited to high-end machines and yet does not deter national corporations., since it gives them an excuse to upgrade when the cases melt away.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Notification of Change of Policy

Notification of Change of Policy

With the requirements to be accepted into Heaven becoming ever more stringent and the increase in deviance from God and sin in general on the mortal world, the Almighty has initiated a policy of downsizing of all departments. Heaven has been running at an under-efficient rate since the Fall, when a full third of the Heavenly host left to pursue alternative theisms and it has come to the attention of the management that such un-required space is no longer ecologically sound.

Pursuant to Green Policy 139 services to these areas (light, heat existence etc) will terminate shortly.

Thank you.
The Management.

Image: The Five People You Meet in Heaven

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doctor Stemper

Doctor Stemper works as a general practitioner in the Cherry Tree Road practice and treats patients from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Mondays to Thursdays with an hour’s break sometime between 12:00 and 2:00 PM.

He takes his lunch in the Royal Park when it’s sunny. He always had the same thing: Caesar salad, a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a bar of chocolate, plain for preference, though as an occasional treat he’ll pick the bar with ground-up coffee beans in. he loathes nuts in chocolate.

Doctor Stemper prefers his clients plain as well. If he wanted extra nutty he’d work in the psychiatric ward of Chellington Hospital.

Image: In Stitches: The Highs and Lows of Life as an AandE Doctor

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Gillian paused at the end of Cloister Drive. Flashing lights at three in the morning was never good news and she climbed to the flat roof of number 24’s extension to get a better view. An ambulance and two police cars were parked at the end of the cul-de-sac, doing their best to make a drama out of a crisis.

“I didn’t mean to,” came the confused voice of a man in handcuffs. “I got home and there she was, sleeping with John Harris from next door but one. I just lost it, I think.” He swayed backwards against the police car. “I’m not a violent man. You ask her. Ask Jenis.”

“We will, sir,” said Police Sergeant Mike Brandsford. “My colleague is in your house talking to her at the moment. She’s in a state of shock.”

The man cheered at the news? “She’s all right then?”

“Yes sir, she’s fine.” The sergeant flicked shone a torch into his face for a moment. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of your neighbour, Barbara Harris, the lady you beat to death with a number four golf club. Her husband witnessed you doing it before escaping through the toilet window. You were in the wrong house, sir, and I put it to you that you’ve been drinking.”

“It was Larry’s birthday…”

“Nevertheless, sir, judging by the number of swings you used to cave in Mrs. Harris’ head I have one further question.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s your golf handicap?”

Image: The Search for the Perfect Golf Club

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Canine Fetishes

Julie frowned as the man came jogging up to her. “Have you seen my dog?” he said. “He’s got rubber balls.”

“You should sell him to a circus,” she said, pointedly rearranging Lucy’s blankets in her pram. “Besides, you’re not supposed to let dogs loose in the park. Someone might get hurt.”

“No!” The man smiled. “Pixie’s soft as a brush. She wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

“No. It’s you that will get hurt if your dog bites someone,” said Julie. She lowered her voice. “Why has he got rubber balls? Have you seen a vet?”

“No,” he said. “I was teaching her to ‘fetch’.”

Image: Jack & Trickster

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Strang Street

Strang Street is a short row of eleven buildings and runs from Cheap Street to Billgate (which curiously has no windows). It is home to three shops, an inn and seven offices. Notable shops include “Reluctant Heroes” which does a brisk trade in comics, role-playing and board games and TV and film memorabilia, and “Curious Chattels”, selling vintage and pseudo-vintage goods, such as resin ornaments of Laurel and Hardy, aluminium notices advertising Pear’s soap and wooden chests smelling of camphor and old leaves. The Unicorn Inn has been closed down for several years and is currently used as the meeting house for the Secret Society of the Following Tuesday.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Tourist Guide

Meinwen browsed the travel guides in Harold’s shop and WH Smiths for several weeks, looking for the perfect template for her tourist’s guide to Laverstone. Finally, one dusty afternoon, she came upon an old box of goods she half-recognised. “Hey!” she said to Harold. “This box belongs to me.”

“It does if you give me fifty pounds,” said Harold, wearing his ‘bored’ expression (‘interested’ was at the cleaners). “I’ve had that box so long I don’t remember packing it.”

“You didn’t pack it,” said Meinwen. “This is my stuff. I thought we’d lost it off the van when I moved here from ‘Dovey.

“And so you did,” said Harold. “I bought it off a dwarf.”

“But this is my old copy of the Laverstone Tourist’s Guide. I read this cover to cover before I ever saw the town.

“Very well,” said Harold. “You can have it…”

“Thank you!”

“…for a fiver.”

Image: Somewhere Special

Thursday, July 16, 2009

State of the Art

Jasfoup didn’t care how much the remote camera software was a trusted client of Google Prime*, it wasn’t a trusted client of his, despite his precautions about setting up a magical field over the top of the wifi system installed at the manor; he didn’t trust them to do the job of a physical presence. That was where Barghela came in. Gargoyles needed little in the way of love and attention but they made fantastic alarm systems if you didn’t mind their limitations.

“Wotcha,” said the gargoyle as it flew unsteadily into the shop via the kitchen window. “I have to report an intruder in the west attic.”

Jasfoup frowned. “When was this?”

“Yesterday,” Barghela said. “I was asleep. Sorry.”

"What happened to my remote camera?"

Barghela shrugged. "Sorry," he said, "I was hungry after my nap."

*Never trust a computer operating system that sounds like a Decepticon toy.

Image: Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Street Musician

Johnny Irish, they called him and few, if any, claimed to know his real name. Banned from driving thanks to his irregular epileptic episodes, he cycled through the streets with a fiddle and a banjoleli in twin panniers, hoping to supplement his meager invalidity pension with a few coppers (though preferably silvers and golds) from passers by.

He played Irish and Bluegrass, Classical and Cajun and if a bunch of children danced without a penny to put in his fiddle case, their smiles were payment enough.

It took him almost a year before he worked out traffic islands were mightily scarce with regards to pedestrians, for all the tooting of horns as the cars drove past.

Image: The Cajun Fiddle [With CD]

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pine View Road

Pine View Road held a lot of bad memories for Valerie. The orphanage was crumbling now but it had been her whole world once; self-contained and often compared unfavourably with a prison. At least the inmates in the latter were allowed visitors – nobody ever visited the orphanage.

Valerie had learned much from the Sisters of Twilight. The classics of world literature, the intricacies of particle physics and non-linear mathematics; the nuances of French, German, Russian and half-a-dozen others and how to kill a man so swiftly he didn’t know he was dead.

When she was old enough to leave they offered her a job. “Only the top 10% of students are asked to stay,” they said, “and only one in a thousand is trained as a Sister-assassin.”

Becoming a Bride of Christ brought some interesting revelations. Far beyond the outward message of Love and Tolerance, what her new husband actually desired was the redemption of large numbers of non-believers, a task she had been trained to perform. The Love of Christ was offered every time she redeemed a soul; five millilitres for each fatal cut of her knives.

Valerie had left a lot of ghosts behind when she finally left, and most of them were buried in the grounds of 1, Pine View Road.

Image: The Assassin [1993]

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Temptation of a Vicar

The Reverend Dodgson was on the verge of resigning his collar. He’d popped out to the post office to send out the parish newsletter and when he’d returned little Annie Summers – all of nine years old – was on her own in the graveyard eating an ice-cream. He approached cautiously, temptation making his heart hammer to the point where he thought it would escape his chest and fly into the sky proclaiming his guilt.

The child was humming as he approached – something in the pop charts he thought, since it sounded familiar. He cleared his throat and she turned to look at him with eyes that appeared far too mature for a pre-teen.

“Hello,” he said. “It’s Annie, isn’t it? Is your mother about?”

“Hello Father.” Annie smiled. “She’s gone to the supermarket. She said to wait here for her and I wasn’t to talk to strangers.”

“Very wise, your mother, but I’m not a stranger, am I?”

“No Father.”

“It’s not ‘Father’, Annie, it’s ‘Reverend’. ‘Father’ is for the Catholics. May I sit down?”

“Of course Fa—Reverend.” Annie licked the ice cream with her little pink tongue.

“Good girl.” Reverend Dodgson gulped, tempted to pluck the object of his desire and run. He took a deep breath. “Where did you get the ice-cream, Annie? I want one just like it?”

Image: The Last Temptation by Val McDermid

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Beyond Words

Sarah Fielding swirled the glass of wine, hoping for answers in the crimson depths. “It’s not that I don’t love him,” she said, her eyes reflecting the candles, “I do. Passionately. It’s just that I know he loves someone else.”

A tear ran down her cheek, leaving a snail-trail of mascara, and splashed onto her hand. She pun down the glass and wiped it away. “If only he loved me with such passion,” she said. “I could endure anything if he looked at me the way he does her.”

“There will be other men.” Robert’s hand brushed away the trail. “You’ll find the right one for you soon and then this whole business with Peter will be a fond memory. It’ll hold no more power over you than a bad dream.”

“Do you think so?”

“I know so.” Robert smiled and picked up her wine glass. “Here. Drink a glass of sun-ripened berries and think of summer. You’ll have no more worries, I promise.”

Sarah smiled for the first time and took the wine, clinking her glass against Robert’s and noticing for the first time how his eyes sparkled in the light.

“Bottoms up,” he said and she drained the glass.

She coughed, thumping at her chest. “Bitter,” she said. “I’m more of a sweet white kind of girl.” She struggled to breathe, suddenly beyond words.

“Red’s good for the heart,” he said, relieving her of the glass before she dropped it. “And Belladonna is so red it’s black.”

Image: Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Secret Haircut

Harold scowled. “You’re a stubborn mule,” he said. “As your employer I should order you to do it.”

“And as an employee of your father,” said Jasfoup, “albeit-without-pay-or-holiday-or-benefits-or-time-off I am well in my rights to refuse. You made the mess, you either have to live with the consequences or pay the ferryman to play the tune.”

“Bit of a mixed metaphor there, old chap.” Harold slumped into the kitchen chair, dejected. “It looked so easy in the book,” he said. “A thousand home haircuts for men and… er… real men.”

“Yes,” said Jasfoup, “but with the aid of a partner or a mum. Nowhere in the pages did it suggest you perform self-mutilation.”

Image: Julie's Haircut MP3

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rise, Sir Engineer

Delirious the imp studied the biography of Sir Harold Lauder (1798 – 1874), his finger moving along the line as his lips formed the words. “It says here,” he said, nudging his brother John, “that Harold Lauder started out as an engineer’s aide. What’s one of them?”

John scowled, mopping up the ink spill his brother’s nudge had caused. He resigned himself to a bit of work with the sandpaper when it dried. “Assistant, innit?. He started out as an engineer’s assistant. An aide assists. Sorts out the drawings, fetches the sarnies, arranges the getaway. That sort of thing.”

“Ah. I see.” You could almost hear the cogs whirring. “I’m an engineer, too. Does that mean I get a--”

“No,” said John. “Go and fetch the sarnies.”

Image: Devices and Desires (Engineer Trilogy) by K J Parker

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

When Ron was Clean

“I knew a man from another world once,” said Eleanor Wellbright as Nurse Pritchard checked her temperature and her pulse. “Ronald,” his name was, and he loved me dearly.”

“Oh yes?” the nurse stuck the thermometer in her ear and took a reading. “What happened to him then?”

“He had to leave, sudden, like.” Eleanor’s face fell. “Heartbroken, I was.”

“Bit of a Jack-the-lad, was he?” She discarded the rubber end and dropped the instrument in her top pocket. She caught Eleanor’s wrist as it hovered by the octogenarian’s mouth and counted the pulses, looking at her watch.

“Oh no, nothing like that. He loved me you see. Took me to Millennium Point and we got a pint of shrimp from the seafood van. We spent an hour feeding each other by hand.” Eleanor sighed. “Best night of my life, that was. He proposed to me but the door to the other world dragged him away before I could say yes.”

“Lucky escape, if you ask me.”

“But I don’t, dear. I don’t ask you at all. You probably think I’m off my rocker, but I often wonder what would have happened if I’d said yes sooner and gone with him.”

“You’d be divorced with seven kids by now,” said the nurse, noting the readings on a chart.”

“I don’t think so.” Eleanor smiled. “I remember his parting words. I know he would never have forgotten me.”

“What did he say?” Nurse Pritchard was interested in spite of herself.

“Eleanor!” he said. “Millennium hand and Shrimp.” *

*in homage to pTerry

Monday, July 06, 2009

Race for the High Ground

Tom Blesset put his taxi into gear and pulled off, his fare in the back seat losing her balance and dropping her phone, not having fastened her seat belt before he pulled away. He glanced in the mirror at her squeal, mumbling an apology as he slowed for the traffic lights on Paget Road. Her mobile slid under his seat and bumped into his heel. He reached blindly for it as the lights changed to red and amber.

“Thanks,” she said, beginning a text; her thumbs a blur as the keypad emitted a bleeping at just the right pitch to get on Tom’s nerves.

He put his foot down, roaring through the crossroads and heading for higher ground. Past the park and onto the Oxford road, the Cheviots rising ahead and to the right. He dropped into a lower gear for the climb.

“It won’t go,” said his passenger, glowering at the ‘sending failed’ warning.

“Another minute,” said Tom. “We’ll be there soon.” He increased speed and trees flashed past as the meter clocked up the fee. Slightly more than a minute later, he pulled into the car park by the Eastern Stone, a place of historic local significance and natural viewpoint, according to the tourist guide.

His passenger unbuckled herself and got out. “It worked,” she said. “How did you know?”

“Network T?” he said. “I saw the logo on your phone as you got in. This is the only spot for miles you can get their signal.”

Image: Apple iPod Touch 8GB

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Pitts Lane

If you ever drive down Pitts Lane, don’t do it with the top down.

Not that there’s any danger of contracting smallpox – Pitts Lane is so called because it was the site of mass burials in 1665-7 when over seventy of the townsfolk died. Pitts lane backs onto the fields of Farmer John Kelsedge who has the habit of spraying his fields with a solution of cow dung in spring water. He swears blind it works wonders on his crops and to be fair he consistently wins prizes for the biggest potatoes, the biggest turnips and the longest carrots. It would be better not to reveal what Mrs. Patterson at the Farmer’s Market CafĂ© awarded him a ‘Best of Show’ medal for.

John Kelsedge sprays his crops daily at dawn and sunset and has no respect for boundaries and users of the public road, particularly archeologists and those unfortunates who travel by bicycle to see the site of the three burial pits. Nor does he care about dry-cleaning bills.

Image: The Scourging Angel: The Black Death in the British Isles