Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Fine Dining

"Well, I have no sympathy for you," she scolded, "You've brought it on yourself. I have told you over and over again that trying to eat that much meat was bad for your health, but would you listen..."

He grasped his stomach and winced, silently.

He should have known better than hope for any sympathy from her. It was, he supposed, mainly his fault. He wouldn't have said anything at all, but the dreadful noise had alerted her to the fact that something was amiss. She had gone outside to find him curled up in agony on the floor. Now, as well as the dreadful pain in his belly, he had to listen to her rant.

He looked at her. Her loose fitting, green dress hung just above her knees, showing off her thick set, hairy calves. She was barefoot, as always, and he admired each massive, hammer like toe as she paced backwards and forwards in front of him. 

"Portion size!" she screeched, jabbing him in the arm with one of her stubby fingers. "Portion size! I'm always telling you about portion size. If you'd just eaten sensibly none of this would have happened. Why do you always have to be so greedy?"

"Well..." he began, but his voice quickly trailed off as he caught sight of her thick black eyebrows being raised dangerously towards the fuzzy thatch of jet black hair that framed her podgy face. This was not the time for explanations, he realised. It had seemed like a perfectly reasonably course of action at the time. The arguments had been very persuasive. However, as he was now lying on the floor in agony, he could see why his wife would be unwilling to accept his attempts at justification.

"And don't give me any of that 'they talked me into it' nonsense," she continued, "I know what you're like. I heard them just as well as you did. The difference is I didn't have to go chasing after them, did I? You could have just ignored them and let them go on their way, but OH NO! you had to be Mr. Big didn't you?" 

"Ignored them? You're the one who told me to go and put a stop to all that 'trip trapping' on the roof," he argued.

"Well I just meant go and growl at them or something. You always take things too far. Your eyes are bigger than your belly - and that's saying something."

She tutted, loudly and rolled her huge green eyes. They seemed to sparkle even more brightly than the first time they had met. Perhaps it was the large black rings around them that made them stand out more. Perhaps it was because she was so furious. Whatever the reason, he could hardly take his eyes off them. 

He felt the pain easing slightly. He was starting to get some wind back into his lungs. Easing himself gently back onto his feet, he walked slowly towards her and planted a soft kiss on the end of her long, wart speckled nose. 

"Sorry," he whispered into her cavernous ear.

He looked at her, still grimacing a little, and she softened. She playfully punched him on the shoulder and a grin spread across her face, showing all four of her wonky teeth.

"Idiot," she scoffed, more gently.

"I know," he conceded. "But you must admit, it did sound like a good offer."

"Not really," she said, looking at the floor.

"Liar!" he replied, giving her a gentle dig in her podgy belly. 

"Well, perhaps it was a little tempting, but if you'd just gone and eaten the first one you wouldn't have ended up rolling around on the floor in agony, would you?"

He thought about telling her that he had just been caught a little off guard by the size of the third offering. The first meal had certainly been too small. The second one was perhaps the one he should have chosen, but the thought of that third one had caught his imagination. Of course he could have managed it if he had been ready. 

"I'll get them next time," he said, defiantly.

"Of course you will," she said, sighing, "Now, how would you like me to make you a nice dinner to make you feel better?" she asked.

"That would be nice," he said, gratefully, "What have we got?"

"Well, there's a nice piece of goat in the fridge," she said, chuckling to herself.

He looked ruefully at the two large, horn shaped bruises that were starting to appear through the thick hair on his belly.

"Perhaps just a salad for me today," he groaned.

Monday, 16 March 2015

You shall go to the ball

"You shall go to the ball," beamed the Fairy Godmother.

Cinderella smiled weakly and wandered across the garden to retrieve the toy from the bushes, while the dog sniffed around hopelessly trying to find it.

It was the Fairy's favourite line and it always brought a smile to her lips. Cinderella had stopped finding it amusing a long time ago, but didn't want to hurt the pensioner's feelings by saying anything. It wasn't just when the dog got confused that the Fairy chose to use her line.

Every time the old metal bell by the front door was jangled by a visitor she'd chuckle, "You shall go to the hall."

'How had it come to this?' Cinderella wondered.

She looked across the garden of her simple cottage and surveyed the scene. There, in her favourite garden chair, sat the elderly Fairy. She had long since stopped wearing the sparkly dress. Instead she preferred the comfort of some baggy pink trousers and a hand-knitted, chunky, purple cardigan. Neither of these really matched the silver tiara that she insisted on wearing - or the magic wand, but the Fairy was old enough not to care what anyone else thought of her.

A gentle snoring was coming from the summer house. Cinderella sighed and strolled over to wake the dozing pair. She knew that if they slept too much in the afternoon, they'd be unable to sleep properly that night and then they'd be grumpy tomorrow. Popping her head round the door, she saw them both, lying back on the velvet cushions, mouths wide open, sound asleep. She remembered the first time she had seen them. How wonderful they had looked in their gold waistcoats and crisp white shirts.

What a night that had been: the magical coach and horses, the dress, the excitement of going to the palace, dancing all night with the most handsome man she'd ever seen and the shoes. How could she forget those shoes?

Of course she should have realised something was wrong the next morning. She had spent all night gazing at the prince's face. She felt like she would have recognised a single hair from his head. Certainly one look at those dark brown eyes would have brought the whole of the previous evening rushing back to her. What did he need to convince himself that she was one who he had fallen so in love with?

"Just try this glass slipper on will you?"

Oh, how foolish she had been. She was young and in love and she would have done anything to be with that dashing young prince. But really...

 "Whoever this slipper fits will be my bride."

She could have kicked herself.

"Come on you two," she whispered gently to the two old footmen. "It's soon time for tea."

Two heads shot up from two chests.

"I wasn't asleep,"

"Just resting my eyes,"

"I was just thinking about something,"

"Of course you were," she soothed, smiling gently.

The two old men looked guiltily at each other and then lovingly at Cinderella. How lucky they were to have such a beautiful young lady looking after them in their old age. They remembered how stunning she had looked on the night of the ball. They had watched all the other guests enter the Great Hall as they waited patiently outside for the ball to finish. There wasn't a single lady who went in who came close to being as beautiful as Cinderella.

They also remembered her coming out of then hall. What a rush that had been. She came leaping down the stone steps at such a rate they were sure something was wrong. They clung on to the back of the coach as it sped along the country lanes on the way back to the little cottage.

The next morning they were lying on a rock, soaking up the warmth of the sun, when the prince had arrived searching for Cinderella. It seemed like her dreams had come true. They couldn't imagine anyone being happier, or more suited to being a princess.

They had watched as she left the cottage and imagined what her life would be like at the palace. They never imagined it would end like this.

"Come on," smiled Cinderella, "I'll lock up behind you. You go and help Fairy Godmother back into the cottage. I've made a fire. You can wait in the front room while I finish off making tea."

Slowly, the two old men rose to their feet and shuffled their way to the door. Cinderella helped them down the three golden steps and watched as they made their way along the small, stone path between the vegetable patches. She sat down on the red velvet cushion and gazed round the summer house.

It had been an amazing way to travel. She had turned a few heads on her way to the palace that night in such a fine coach.

'What would have happened if they hadn't decided to surprise the prince?' she wondered. 'Would they still be together? And if they were, would they be happy?'

She winced slightly as she stepped out of the house. Stupid toe playing up again. Probably a sign of rain. She locked the door and made her way back to the cottage.

Slumping down into the old comfy chair next to the stove, she pulled off her boots and rubbed her toe. The scar was there for all to see. It reminded her of that day, although it was hardly a day she was likely to forget.

She looked over at the mantelpiece. The photographs of her two sisters glared down at her. She had forgiven them for their behaviour long ago and actually felt sorry for the way their own lives had turned out. One had featured heavily on a Channel 4 reality series about ugly people cooking for each other in houses that celebrities were trying to sell. The other one had misheard someone talking about BOTOX injections and had tried to inject some of her own bottom into her forehead in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles.

Next to the photographs was a single glass slipper. 

At first she hadn't minded wearing the glass slippers all the time. It seemed only fitting, after all, that she should wear the very things that brought her and her prince together. However, as the years past she began to grow weary of cramming her feet into the cold, hard footwear. Her feet began to suffer and eventually the royal physician decided that an operation was needed to correct the toe problems she was suffering.

It wasn't just her toes that were suffering. The prince had seemed more distant. There was less dancing. Not that she minded. She was glad to be off her feet. But she missed the closeness. She felt as though he was drifting away from her.

That was when she had the plan. The annual ball was quickly approaching. she was determined to have recovered enough from the operation to be able to wear the glass slippers once more and sweep her husband off his feet, just as she had done all those years before. And then, while she was lying in her hospital bed, her Fairy Godmother had appeared.

 She was ready for one last piece of magic, she had said. Cinderella sent a servant off to her little cottage to find the necessary items.

A few hours later and Cinderella was riding away from the hospital in her magnificent coach. The footmen were standing proudly at the back of the coach, just as they had all those years before. The horses, although a little slower than they had been, couldn't have been any prouder. She walked up the stone steps at the front of the palace and approached the large glass doors that lead to the Great Hall. She was ready to sweep her husband off his feet once again.

And then she had seen him, dancing with his arms rapped tightly round another, much younger woman. Cinderella had barely been able to breath, never mind move. She had looked at the imposters feet and noticed, with anger, the glassy footwear. The two dancers  had shared a deep, lingering kiss. Cinderella had turned and fled.

The two footmen delivered a message to the prince the following day. He said nothing. There was nothing to say. He would make sure that Cinderella was looked after financially, but he had moved on. He couldn't be seen at official engagements with someone with feet like hers any more.

She eased her feet into her soft, woollen slippers and turned on the kettle. The stew was simmering nicely on the stove and the smell of freshly baked, crusty bread was filling the kitchen. She called to the three pensioners in the front room. She was glad that the last piece of magic had not been reversed at midnight on that evening when she had discovered the betrayal. The coach made a beautiful summer house. She loved the sumptuous seats and the way the gilt decoration caught the light as the sun set. But most of all she loved the company. Her little cottage was full again, after years of being deserted while she was up at the palace.

After all these years she was back to taking care of the other three people who lived with her. How different from her life before though. She still cooked and cleaned. She was still the first one to rise in the morning and the last to go to bed at night. But she did it for love.

She looked at the three wrinkled faces sitting round the table. The gazed back at her, with love and understanding in their eyes. She really wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. She pulled he curtains and shivered slightly as she felt a draught from the windows.

"Sit here, dear - next to the stove," offered the Old Fairy.

"No, you stay there," she smiled, "I can go and put something warm on. There's that lovely..."

She stopped herself, but knew it was too late. She looked over at the Fairy and saw that familiar twinkle come into her eye. She took a deep breath, knowing only too well what was going to come next.

"You shall go for the shawl," chuckled the old fairy, making her tiara wobble slightly.

Cinderella smiled and nodded as she went to her wardrobe.

Although it wasn't quite what she had expected, she thought that this probably was Happily Ever After.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Why do they always run away?

I had spent the morning doing some DIY repairs on the home. The previous night's winds must have blown some debris into the place because there were a few holes that needed to be patched up. I'm not particularly good at DIY and certainly not all that neat, but the repairs seemed to hold together well enough.

It is one of the problems, being situated where I am. It can get a bit draughty. Still, it's better than my cousin's place. He was very smug when he found it.

"It's perfect," he announced, proudly. "Just look at the craftsmanship. And it's beautifully sheltered from the wind. I'll be nice and cosy here."

Of course we tried to tell him that it wasn't quite the paradise he had assumed it to be, but he wasn't to be told. He has had a dreadful time but that's the price you pay for making your house in a flood risk area. He gets washed away every time it rains. I'll give him his due though. He is not easily put off.

"Everything will be fine," he says. "The sun will come out and dry up all the rain." It must be great to be so optimistic.

I do have a great view from my spot. It's lovely and shady in the summer, which makes it a popular spot for people to come and have a sit down just below where I live. That's when the trouble started really.

There are all sorts of people who come to rest in the shade and enjoy the tranquillity, but there do seem to be a larger number of single ladies who come to enjoy the surroundings. I'd like to get to know them a bit better, but I am terrified of them. I suppose I realise that I'm not the best looking character they would have ever seen and that makes me a bit nervous to start with, which isn't a good start. I have tried a few times but whenever a beautiful girl gets close, I panic and scuttle off into the shadows as fast as my legs will carry me. I suppose I feel a little less self conscious lurking in the gloomy spots, where people don't notice me as much. Just once I'd like to have the courage to stay around and see what might happen, but I never manage it.

Of course there are all the stories about how cruel the pretty women can be. I'm not sure I believe them all. I'm sure some are exaggerated. Then, of course, there is the fact that some of their behaviour is completely justified. I have a friend, well more of an acquaintance I suppose, who was convinced that the way to meet these women was to wait for them in places where they were most likely to visit. I suppose his theory was reasonable. I just didn't realise that the place he had picked out was the bathroom. I haven't seen him for weeks. There were dreadful rumours going round about what happened to him. Makes me shudder just to think about them.

Anyway, as I said, I had been busy all morning repairing things. I was quite hungry after all that work so I was delighted when my handiwork was rewarded and I was able to grab a bite to eat. It was a bit too much for me to have all in one go so I wrapped it up and left it for later.

Then I spotted the most gorgeous girl, walking towards my patch. I gazed at her, dreamily for ages. I couldn't believe any of my eyes when she stopped, right below my homestead and sat down. This was my chance. She seemed to be setting up for a picnic because she took out a small bowl and a spoon, sat down on her little stool and made herself comfortable.

I took some deep breaths and gave myself a talking to. What is the worst that could happen? She could only say "No." Well, actually, she could have done to me what the girl is rumoured to have done to my acquaintance, but I couldn't think like that. I plucked up all my courage and decided to go and see her. I moved closer to her - as smooth as silk. I sat down beside her. I was too scared to do anything else. I just sat there.

I must have been very quiet because she didn't notice me at first. She just kept on eating her picnic. It didn't smell all that appetising, but each to their own. After a couple of minutes, she happened to glance down at me. I nearly panicked and scuttled off, but I didn't. I just sat there, trying to look handsome.

It didn't work. She dropped her bowl and spoon, screamed, and ran off. And there I was. Left behind again. I stood there, covered in sloppy cheese, admiring her beautiful tuffet, as she disappeared into the distance.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

An Island Paradise?

“You said it was romantic at the time,” he spat, his eyes boring into her very core.

She turned her back disdainfully. “That was three years ago,” she replied huffily. “I was expecting things to have moved on a little by now. I’m fed up with the whole thing. I’m always picking sand out from between my toes. I’m sick of this place. And when are we going to have something different to eat! Every day, the same old thing. I can’t stand it any more!”

“You said you liked it,” he began defensively.

“Not every day!” she hissed. “We don’t even have any proper cutlery. My mother warned me about going out with a musician. I wish I’d listened to her. She always said you wouldn’t amount to anything. She knew what a rotten singer you were. ”

“Oh I might have known your mother was behind this. You loved my singing. ‘Charmingly sweet’ I think you called it.”

“Oh I didn’t know what I was talking about then. I was high on sea sickness tablets – bobbing about in that dreadful urine coloured dingy of yours.”

“It’s not urine coloured it’s…” he spluttered.

“Oh I know what colour you think it is, but look at it! A year and a day I sat in that thing. A YEAR AND A DAY! I know what colour it is, mate!”

“You’re just upset because all the honey has gone. Don’t worry. I’ll think of something. We still have plenty of money. We haven’t even broken into that fiver yet.”

“I’m not surprised we’ve still got plenty of money. There’s nothing here to spend anything on is there? That’s why I’m still wearing a ring that smells of pig!”

“Look, maybe we need to go back and talk to the turkey on the hill. Perhaps a bit of counselling might help. I’m sure he’d be just the person to help us talk through our problems.”

“It’s too late. My mind is made up. I’ve been busy while you wasted time strumming on your small guitar.”

He looked confused and watched her stroll nonchalantly over to a rock. She reached behind it and pulled out a surprisingly well made fiddle.

“Where did you…” he gasped.

"I made it,” she replied. “From finest bong tree wood.”

“But how did you…”

“Well, that runcible spoon is quite sharp,” she explained.

“And the strings?”

“Pig gut!” she snapped back, menacingly.

“You don’t mean…”

“Well, it was him or the turkey. Where do you think all the mince was coming from?”

He sank to the floor, too shocked to move.

With a flourish, she whisked the fiddle away and set off for the boat.

“There’s a fine moon tonight,” she shouted over her shoulder, “I’m off to find a particularly athletic cow!”

And with that she was gone, leaving him alone on the beach with a small pile of quince, wondering where it had all gone wrong.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Humpty's Race

"How," Humpty wondered, " have I managed to get myself into this position?" He looked down. It was a very long way and he wasn't entirely sure how he was going to reach the floor. Jumping down seemed to be rather foolish. There didn't appear to be any way that he could climb down and turning back to walk along the thin plank of wood that had lead him to this point wasn't an option. He stared once more at the drop and his legs grew even more wobbly.

"Come on Humpty!" yelled a small but enthusiastic group of supporters far below.

He had been grateful for their support half an hour ago, excited that he had been the one chosen to end the great debate for all time. Now though he really wished he had just kept his big mouth shut and stayed where he belonged, under his mother.

His mother, an elderly brown hen, had been completely taken by surprise when he had wriggled free of the nest that first morning and started to run around the barn. Of course she knew, like all mother birds, how important it was to keep sitting on the eggs at all times. She knew that, unless they were sat on, all eggs were likely to run off. She often chuckled to herself at the people who visited the barn and seemed to be under the impression that the eggs were sat on to keep them warm. The first 12 hours were the most important of course. After that, if they weren't used, the arms and legs would get weaker and weaker until they eventually dropped off altogether after about a day. However, if a young egg was given the chance to use the limbs, they would grow strong and then it was nearly impossible to tackle them and sit on them for long enough for them to drop off.

She remembered her old aunt, who had been forced to chase one of her own eggs for nearly a whole week before getting it back under control. Her aunt had only stood up to get a better view of the handsome new cockerel that had moved into the barn and in that split second her egg had jumped out of the nest and scampered under a nearby trough. Scraping and pecking at the floor, her aunt had tried to get the egg out from it's hiding place, but with no success. The egg simply jogged backwards and forwards in the shelter of the trough, stopping only to do the occasional set of press-ups.

After several days of egg chasing the poor old hen was quite exhausted and all the other hens in the barn were very nervous. They imagined the chaos that would be caused if this one rouge egg encouraged any of their new born eggs to escape the nest. They were too old to be chasing after youngsters. A meeting was called and a plan hatched.

Deep in every egg, is the natural survival instinct to avoid certain dangers. It is a knowledge that is passed from generation to generation, without the need for explanation. The hens knew exactly what to do. They waited until the escapee had taken shelter once more below the trough. While it rested there, the hens set the trap. A large hen leapt onto the trough and stamped her huge feet. The egg awoke with a start. He opened his eyes and what he saw set his heart racing. His shelter was nearly completely surrounded by small rectangles of toast. The dreaded eggy soldiers! He spotted a gap in the army and ran for his life. In his panic he didn't look where he was going and he ran straight into the huge, feathery bottom of his mother. She quickly sat down and didn't move a muscle until she was quite sure the legs were powerless.

It could not be said that Mrs. Dumpty was unaware of the dangers. It was just an unfortunate accident. She was getting old and she felt the cold more than she had done when she was a spring chicken. A thoughtless kitten on the prowl had left the barn door open and a draught had blown right up her tail feathers. She only shuffled round a little to see who to scold, but it was enough time for her little Humpty to leap clear of the nest.

"Oh dear," she thought, "this is going to be trouble." She had no idea just how right she would be.

It wasn't long before Humpty had run his mother to a standstill. She was old and tired and quickly gave up the chase. The young egg felt brave and invincible. He taunted the other hens in the barn as he raced between their flapping wings. "

"You'll never catch me," he cried. "Eggs are much better than chickens."

A wise old bird, who had been watching events unfold, stepped forward.

"Young egg," she began, "perhaps you think you can solve the age old problem."

Humpty stopped, intrigued by the old hen's words.

"What problem?" he asked, his interest aroused.

"Oh, you know," replied the hen, calmly, "the one about who would come first in a race, a chicken or an egg."

"That's easy," scoffed Humpty. "That's no contest at all. The egg would win that every time."

"Hmmm," clucked the wise old hen, " you seem very sure of yourself. Would you care to make a deal?"

The egg looked at her carefully, as she continued pecking at the dirt.

"What sort of deal?" he asked.

"Well," said the hen, "if you think you're so fast, I suggest a face against the fastest hen in the barn. Our champion against you to decide once and for all who is the best. If you win, you can go on your way. If the hen wins, you have to get back under your mother and stay there until someone comes to get you. Do we have a deal?"

Humpty didn't need to think twice. He shook the hens wing and set off on a training run round the hay bales.

The race was organised for the next day. Luckily, the barn was on the royal army training base so it was decided that the egg and hen should race over the assault course. They lined up at the start of the course, with all the formidable obstacles lined up before them. The goat, the battalion's mascot, had been asked to act as referee and he gave the two competitors their final instructions.

"To begin," he yelled, officiously, " you must crawl under the fifty metres of barbed wire. Then you must crawl through the concrete pipes before swimming through the big of doom. After that you must scramble under the netting..."

Humpty gave a shudder. the word 'scramble' had sent sent a shiver through his shell, although he was unsure why. The goat' swords were a drone in the background as the small egg gazed at the first obstacle. His heart thumped in his shell and adrenaline coursed through his yolk. This was it. This was the moment he'd waited for. He would go down in history. Children for years to come would know his name. He would be the one who finally claimed victory for all eggs and end the debate that had raged for so long. He breathed deeply and focused on the barbed wire.

"...and finally you swing across the swamp to the finish. Good luck to both of you." The goat nodded at the starter to indicate that the instructions were complete. There was a shrill blast on a whistle and the competitors were off.

The first few obstacles saw the egg and hen swap places several times. Humpty scuttled under the barbed wire quite comfortably, while the chicken got several feathers ruffled. The mud delayed the egg and allowed the hen to make up lost ground. However, the quick early pace had taken it's toll on the feathered one and Humpty had opened up a reasonable lead. he had teetered across the plank and was now at the top of the large wall and regretting ever having left the nest.

What was he to do? He couldn't back out now. He was winning, not just for himself, but for all eggs. He would have to leap. if he picked his spot carefully, he might be all right. He scanned the floor, far below, for something to land on. There was a tussock of grass that looked hopeful, or a large muddy spot that might break his fall. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.

Suddenly there was a tremendous squawk as the hen arrived on the edge of the wall. She had flapped her way over the plank and arrived at the mighty drop,where she was so flustered by the sight of what lay ahead that she had lost all composure. The sudden, ear splitting noise shook Humpty from his focus and he span round quickly to see the cause of the commotion - too quickly. His already wobbly legs lost balance and he stumbled towards the edge of the wall. He desperately tried to regain his footing but it was too late and he tumbled off the edge. There was a gasp from the crowd as the egg toppled.

A sickening CRACK rang out over the assault course and the crowd fell silent.

The emergency services arrived on the scene quickly but, despite chickens using the most modern royal veterinarian equipment, the damage to Humpty's shell was quite beyond repair. As it was reported in all the papers the following morning, 'All the king's forceps and all the king's hens, couldn't put Humpty together again.

All was not lost however. Although they were unable to save the shell, Humpty was able to be rehoused in a prosthetic shell which had been discarded by the royal children. In fact the transformation was quite remarkable and far from being a cause of concern to his mother, Humpty became a Kinder egg - always looking out for others and helping whenever he could.

And what became of the shell you may ask. Well, it was decided that it should be ground into tiny pieces and used in special timing devices - to act as a warning to any other young eggs. Now, whenever a mother hen feels a lively egg fidgeting below her feathers, she simply gets out the Humpty timer and they settle down straight away, which is why you don't ever see eggs running around any more.

Of course, because the race was never finished, no one ever found out which came first.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Psychiatrist's Chair

Oliver had built up his practice over many years. His well renowned discretion made him extremely popular with affluent celebrities. He had lost count of the number of times tabloid journalists had offered him outlandish sums of money for an insight into his casebook. All they wanted were a few quotes from the couch or the suggestion of a syndrome that could be attached to a well known face. Oliver, however, remained tight lipped. He had listened to enough celebrities, at a very generous rate per hour, to ensure that he had no need of any of the grubby cash incentives offered to him by the sort of person who called him in the middle of the night and spoke in hushed tones.

Of course he had stories to tell: plenty of them. He had, over the years, seen every sort of quirky mental issue imaginable - as well as a few that even the wildest imagination could not have concocted.

This afternoon's appointment really intrigued him though. He had seen the distinguished gentleman on several occasions previously, but there was still plenty of work to be done to uncover the source of the man's issues. Part of the problem was that much of the previous session had been spent talking about his wife's eating disorder, rather than than man's difficulties. Although Oliver had found the problem interesting and was happy enough to listen to the description of the unusual diet he really wanted to probe the mind of the man himself. It was undoubtedly one of the more interesting cases he had come across; so many layers to be unwrapped; so many issues.

There were a couple of obsessive compulsive traits which were interesting on their own and, while one feature of behaviour was common enough, one was particularly unusual. Then there were the phobias. Ornithophobia was fairly common, but the other one was one that he had never encountered before; nor was he able to find any reference to it in any of the medical journals. If he could get to the bottom of this it could pave the way for international fame - not just because of the prominence of his patient. This could be the chance to name a syndrome!

First though, he'd have to find the cause of the problem and that, so far, had proved elusive.  Oliver had initially thought that it was a classic case of a childhood trauma. However, discussions about the gentleman's life growing up were lacking in any evidence of discomfort. There were memories of his grandfather, who he remembered fondly as a happy character who enjoyed his food. It was probably his grandfather's influence that instilled his love of music, particularly the violin. In fact the only possible clue from that particular link came from his grandfather's smoking habit, possibly indicating an inherited addictive personality. This gentleman's issues were far more complex than a simple tobacco craving though. Oliver decided that he would have to delve deeper; much deeper this week.

There was a knock on the solid oak door and Oliver walked across the plush carpet of his office to welcome his client. He had done away with receptionists long ago. The fewer people who were involved in the practice, the fewer tongues there were to wag to the press.

"Good to see you again, Oliver," said the gentleman, shaking Oliver's hand warmly.

"It's good to see you , sir," he replied, with a slight, dignified bow of the head. As he bowed, he glanced down at the gentleman's tailor made trousers. He noticed the large bulge and smiled to himself. The obsession with carrying things in his pockets was clearly continuing. "How's the wife?" he asked, hoping to get that discussion out of the way early this week, to allow the session to continue without being sidetracked.

"Oh, still the same, Oliver," he replied, "I've got as sweet a tooth as the next man, but I just don't understand how she can eat that day after day. And it makes her fingers dreadfully sticky. And we've had to take on an extra two apiarists just to make sure she has a constant supply of the stuff. The baker's a bit upset as well. He thinks the fact that she constantly spreads the stuff so thickly is a reflection on his loaves. It's all very difficult indeed." The gentleman sighed and thrust his hands into his pockets nervously. A few seeds fell to the floor.

 "I thought we'd try a little hypnotherapy today, Sir, if that's okay with you," Oliver continued. "I think it might hep us to get to the root of your difficulties. It seems to me that there may have been an event so dreadful that you have completely blocked it from your consciousness so that all you're aware of are the dreadful phobias."

"I'm willing to try anything," said the gentleman, settling himself into a large, leather armchair.

Five minutes later, his eyes were closed and he was mumbling quietly to himself. Oliver decided to start simply, with the obsessions, before moving on to the phobias.

"What would you like to do today?" he asked, quietly.

"Count," replied the gentleman eagerly.

"Okay, let's count," continued Oliver, smoothly. "What shall we count,"

"Money," said the gentleman quickly, "always count the money. Must make sure we have enough money. I have a special house you know, just for the counting. We must always make sure we have enough money."

Oliver looked at the obviously wealthy gentleman relaxing in his chair. 'Why the need to check on the state of his funds,' he wondered. 'Surely this was one person who never needed to check his bank balance.'

"What is the money for?" he enquired.

"Seeds," came the quick reply, "We can't run out of seeds,"

Ah - a link at last. Oliver wondered how the compulsions of money counting and filling of the pockets with grass seed could possibly be tied together. He investigated further.

"Okay," continued Oliver, gently, " tell me about the grass seed."

The gentleman visibly stiffened in the chair and his hand went to his trouser pocket. "Where are they?" he gasped. "Are they here?"

"Are who here?" asked Oliver, a little shocked at the fear in the man's voice.

"They're coming aren't they?" the terror stricken man continued. "Quick cover your nose. I'll throw this seed to distract them." And with that he took a large handful of seeds from his pocket and scattered it around the office.

Oliver sat back, amazed at what was taking place. The nation's leader was cowering behind his leather chair, grasping hold of his nose and flinging seed around the office as if his life depended on it.

"Who is it?" asked Oliver, " Who are you afraid of?"

"They pecked off her nose you know. We'll be next. They're after all of us,"

Another piece of the jigsaw was falling into place. It seemed the man had witnessed some sort of bird attack on another person and that had lead to his aversion of all things ornithological. Oliver was delighted with the progress. He had to press on. Now, if he could just work out why he was terrified of pastry products his work would be complete.

"It's okay, your majesty. They've gone."

"Are you sure," whispered the King, still hiding behind the chair.

"Yes, Sir, quite sure. They took off. I can see them way up high!"

"A pie!!" screamed the King, diving for cover, "NOOOOO! the singing. Stop the singing. Two dozen of them hiding under the crust. Get them out! Get them out!" he screamed, before collapsing unconscious behind the sofa.

"Well, that was a very successful session," said Oliver, after reviving the King and bringing him carefully out of the trance. "I think we made some real progress. I have a much better idea about the route cause of the problems. We can certainly begin to work on that next time."

"That's excellent news," said the gentleman, sipping his cup of tea and nibbling a biscuit. He felt completely drained, but had no recollection of the events from earlier on.

"Another biscuit, Sir?" offered Oliver.

"No, thank you," the King replied, "I'd better not. My better half will only complain that I've spoilt my appetite again. I think she was preparing a special tea. She's got a new batch of clover blossom honey and some crusty bread."

"I'll see you next week," said Oliver, as he showed the King to the door.

"Yes indeed," the King replied, " I'll look forward to it, " and he shook Oliver warmly by the hand,  pressing his usual tip into the psychiatrist's palm as he did so.

Oliver closed the door quietly and looked at the coin: always a shiny sixpence. 'Perhaps,' thought Oliver, 'we'll address that next time.'

Friday, 30 January 2015

Fallen Hero

A small group of family members had gathered round his bed. Now and again one of them would whisper something but they were mainly silent, just watching the small form lying beneath the crisp, white sheets. The chiseled features were still evident. The self assurance remained. But although the spirit was willing, the flesh was exhausted. A life, lived to the full, was taking its toll.

There were those who argued that he had been presented with all the advantages life could offer. True, he had been born in 'the big house' and that had been an excellent start in life. The double barrelled surname opened many doors that might have remained firmly shut to others. But only the most mean spirited person would have argued that he had not made the most of every opportunity that had been presented to him.

Now everything ached: every healed bone, every torn muscle. If he'd had the energy, or the inclination he could have mapped his adventures injury by injury. But he didn't have the energy for such nostalgia.

The sound of children singing drifted into the room. Was he conscious? He had no idea. The song, always the same song, had seemed to follow him wherever he went since that awful day. It didn't matter whether he was awake or not, the song was always there. He half opened one eye. Faint, familiar figures leaned forwards expectantly. What were they expecting him to do? Hadn't he done enough already? He breathed out slowly and closed his eye. And still the words of the song ran through his mind.

The group gathered round the bed looked at one another. Moist eyes glistened as they gazed fondly at the broken hero.

"Do you remember..."began one of the well wishes, but of course they did. They all remembered. The whole country remembered. How could they forget?

His life may have begun in the big house. He may have been received countless lucrative offers but he didn't follow the easy path. His brothers and sisters had all followed the accepted route into government or the civil service. That was not the path for him. Sitting behind a desk? Not a chance!

He went straight into the military as soon as he was old enough. It was immediately obvious that he was destined for great things. His intelligence, bravery and steady paw quickly saw him working on the front line. Thousands must have owed him their lives thanks to the number of booby traps he had disarmed in his career. He'd seen them all in his time. But he was never complacent. He'd seen what they could do when you got lazy. His back legs told the story of what could happen.

It hadn't been his fault. A couple of youngsters had come across it and, despite all the warnings, their stomachs had got the better of them. He saw them heading straight for the small blob of peanut butter. He hadn't stopped to think how foolish they were to be taken in by such an obvious trap. Leaping forward he managed to push them both out of the way, but his paw flicked the trip device and the spring slammed the metal bar down hard onto his rear legs. There was a sickening crack as the bone shattered. Somehow he managed to wriggle free and drag himself back to the base. He refused a desk job and was back on the job as soon as the legs would allow him to move.

The small glass beside his bed had a further evidence of the impact of his years in the service of others. The set of dentures lay at the bottom of the glass, untouched for several days now, since his appetite had waned. He'd been so proud of them when he first got them. Almost as proud of them as he was of his old, broken tooth which lay on the plush, red cushion in the military museum. There it lay, a constant reminder of the trap he had bitten through to release the three hostages who had been lured inside by the smell of a small piece of Cadbury's chocolate button.

Yes - the traps had taken their toll, but it was the ambush that had finished his army career. The scars could still be seen through the balding patches on his belly. He'd been escorting family groups of refugees to safety. Large amounts of chemical weapons had been deployed in the attic and a mass exodus was taking place. He was guarding the passage into the garage. It should have been a routine operation. The route had been checked and the only booby trap had been disarmed easily. He'd let his guard drop. He hadn't heard the soft, padding footsteps approach from the rear. The large tabby had crossed the border and had managed to get within striking distance undetected. She pounced and took him completely unawares. With one flip of the paw he was smashed onto his back. Sharp claws raked across his belly and he squeaked in agony. That was the last thing he remembered.

He woke under a bush. Dried blood matted his fur and his tail throbbed but he was alive. He had no idea how but he was alive. The official report cleared him of any negligence. 'An ambush could happen to anyone,' they had said. He was lucky to be alive. He had been grabbed and dropped in the kitchen. A few hours later the house giant had swept him into a dustpan and dumped him under the bush behind the oil tank. The powers that be would have been happy for him to continue his duties, or push him upstairs to enjoy an easy retirement. It wasn't for him though. He'd lost focus and, for him, that signalled the end. He couldn't trust himself any more and he left.

A couple of weeks into civilian life and he was bored. He needed the adrenaline rush of living life on the edge.

Then he got a call from a relative in the States. A stunt double was needed for a new star. It was dangerous work, but well paid. The money didn't concern him, but he was intrigued by the element of danger. He left immediately and was soon installed on the film set.

Over the next few months he was swallowed by cats, whacked with brooms and had all manner of objects dropped on him. His small face was flattened into the shape of an iron, or anvil more times than he could remember (possibly as a result of all the concussions). The money was good, the Hollywood lifestyle was a little extravagant for his tastes, but the thrill was there every day and he was enjoying the variety of death defying moments. Then the call came from home. He was needed.

Things in the old house were desperate. New owners had taken over and they were less sloppy than the previous inhabitants. Biscuits were packed in plastic boxes. Cereal was sorted in airtight containers. And a large, ferocious pet had been installed. The population were slowing starving to death and they were too scared to explore to find alternative food sources for fear of the cat. The call had gone out for help and two willing heroes had returned to the house.

He had first met Juan during his early training. The Spaniard had found his way to the big house in a shipment of cattle for the estate. He'd been welcomed into the community and had proved himself to be an excellent scavenger, scaling the highest cupboards to find the tastiest rewards for the families. After a few months in the house, he had become restless and set off in search of new challenges. He too had been attracted by the film makers. A cameo appearance, popping out of a biscuit tin in a popular sitcom, had been his highlight and he'd drifted into obscurity. He'd also had the call for help and, like Hickory, he'd responded immediately.

Ah, Juan. Hickory flexed his paw, painfully. His brow furrowed and his whispers twitched as the events of that day came into sharper focus. They never really left him. How could they? No matter where he went, it was all folks wanted to talk to him about. It was all that was ever written about him. And then, of course, there was the song.

He realised it was meant as a tribute. Just as the accolades and the medal had been seen as recognition for an act of incredible courage, an example of selfless, heroic endeavour. At least those had been the headlines. How could they say that? To him it had been a simple act. An attempt to save a friend. A failed attempt. How could that be celebrated?

He remembered the day vividly. Juan had kissed his wife on the nose. She had given him a tiny, red and white polka dot handkerchief, which he had tied round his neck. With that, the two had set off to find food. There had been rumours that the master of the house often left half eaten bars of chocolate in his jacket pocket. The jacket was hung on the pegs in the grand hallway. Above the pegs was a single shelf. The only way to get to the jacket would be to scale the large grandfather clock, swing across to the shelf, abseil down to the pegs and swing into the pocket. As if that wasn't dangerous enough, at the end of the hall was the door with the cat flap.

The two heroes set off at midnight. The house was in darkness and the giants had long since retired to bed. The cat should be prowling outside, ensuring that the local village cats didn't stray onto her property. They made their way to the base of the grandfather clock. Watching the massive pendulum swing back and forth, they gazed towards the summit. It seemed an extraordinary task. The highly polished, wooden casing reflected the light from the dying embers of the fire in the front room. They slipped on their climbing shoes and attached the first rope. Tiny vibrations ran through the wooden wall with each mighty tick, but slowly they made their way up the outside of the clock.

Hickory checked his watch. 12:29. They were making good progress.

"Hold on tight," he whispered to Juan. Juan checked his own timepiece and nodded.

A low rumble began to build within the casing. Metal wheels whirled and chains rattled. The large metal finger on the clock face clicked round and the hall was filled with a mighty clang of a bell. The entire clock shook, but the climbers hung on tightly. The shuddering passed and they continued, sweat dripping from each whisker.

As they passed the jackets, hanging tantalisingly close, they both breathed in deeply, sniffing the sweet chocolate aroma. The rumours were true. There was food to be had, if only they could make it to the shelf.

After climbing the sheer face of the casing the next part was simpler. A small ledge ran below the clock face and this provided an opportunity to rest before scampering up to the summit, the clock hands and intricate holes carved in the clock face giving excellent paw holds. They were soon on top of clock, but there was no time to admire the dizzying view.

Juan expertly swung a crawling hook over the gap and onto the top,shelf. It snagged in the colourful feathers of a fly attached to the master's tweed hat. The other end of the rope was quickly attached to the clock and they made their way across the divide.

The abseil from the shelf was fairly straightforward and they both managed it without difficulty. Scuttling down the jacket they were met by a bewildering mixture of scents. They both winced at the smell of cat that lingered near the lapels. A faint whiff of soup lingered near the breast pocket, the remains of a quickly eaten meal dribbled on the jacket during a particularly frantic period of shooting. But it was the smell from the side pockets that had both their noses twitching eagerly. They dived into the darkness and were met with a wall of sweetness. The long climb had left them both ravenous and they nibbled hungrily at the solid block.

After satisfying themselves they quickly got to work, chipping off lumps of chocolate and stuffing them in the bags they had brought. Hickory checked the watch. Time to go. He motioned to Juan, but he shook his head. They couldn't leave all this when there were folks starving at home. He refused to leave. Hickory tried to argue with him. They both knew the plan. They both knew they had to get moving, but Juan remained steadfast.

Hickory pushed past him. There was no pint collecting food if they were unable to get it back to the others. He left, slinging the bags onto his back. He made his way up the rope, harder now with all the extra weight. He clambered across the rope from the shelf and back onto the clock. He checked his watch again. 12:57. He looked anxiously at the cat flap.

There was a scuffling from the jacket and a huge mound of chocolate appeared over the edge of the pocket. There was a grunt from inside and the chocolate toppled over the edge and crashed to the floor. The minute hand gave a loud click and swung forwards.

"Come on," hissed Hickory.

Juan grinned and scrambled up the rope to the shelf. The plan was to unhitched the crippling rope and swing back to the clock. He pulled at the tiny hooks. They were caught firmly in the feathers.

"Leave it. There isn't time," Hickory called, glancing at the cat flap.


The hooks came free with a jerk and Juan rocked back, dangerously close to the edge of the shelf. He regained his balance and breathed deeply. That had been close. He swung back across to the clock and began to climb the last few in chest to the summit to join Hickory.

There was a low rumble.

"Hang on!" yelled Hickory.

The wheels whirred once more and the giant clapper smashed against the bell. The vibrations at the summit, so much closer to the mechanism were tremendous. Juan was jolted from the side of the clock. One paw lost its grip on the rope. He dangled, desperately trying to catch the rope with his other paw. Hickory leant over as far as he dared as the aftershocks shuddered through the polished wood. Juan's grip slipped. Hickory thrust out a paw and briefly their paws met before Juan's grip failed completely and he plunged down, landing in a heap beside the smashed chocolate bar far below.

Hickory stared in horror. Quickly he flung a rope over the side of the clock and he slide to the next level. Another rope thrown and another slide. He could see his friend, moving slightly, his fall broken a little by the toe of a dis guarded slipper. He threw the rope down again.


His heart leapt into his mouth and his head snapped round. The cat flap swung shut and the large, black and white frame padded up the hall. It stopped and the fur on its neck rose. Juan struggled to his feet.

"Lie still," implored Hickory from above, but it was too late. The slight movement had proved too much and the cat sprang forward, clattering into the slippers and sending Juan spinning across the floor. Hickory raved down the final few feet and dashed over to save his friend. He sank his false teeth firmly into the cat's tail. It hissed and spat loudly as it span round, sending Juan into the skirting board and Hickory diving for cover behind the umbrella stand. The cat pounced, knocking the stand and umbrellas all over the floor.

Lights flashed on upstairs and angry voices called. Heavy footsteps thundered down the stairs. The cat was quickly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and unceremoniously dumped outside, accompanied by muttered curses. The umbrella stand was straightened.

"Bloomin' thing was after me chocolate!" thundered the master, picking up the smashed bar. He took one look at the tiny teeth marks and tossed it into the wicker waste basket.

Hickory dashed over to the the skirting board where Juan lay, motionless. He cradled his head in his tiny paws.

"You've saved them all you know. There's enough chocolate there to keep them going for months," he whispered.

Juan's eyes flickered and a tear rolled down onto the handkerchief. "Tell her I love her, " he breathed and with that his eyes closed. Hickory gently untied the knot, laid the polka dotted material over his friend's face, sat down and sobbed.

He'd felt numb for weeks afterwards. At the funeral, at the medal ceremony, the first time he'd heard the song; it was all a blur to him. He was still half way down a clock, staring at a crumpled body on the floor.

He lay, with these thoughts running through his head, as the visitors looked on. The song outside seemed to be growing louder, as if more voices were joining in. Did they know the pain it caused him? He couldn't be proud of his actions that night. He should have been firmer with Juan when he knew time was running out. He should have held on tighter when Juan needed him to. He should have got down the clock quicker and bitten the cat harder.

It should have been him.

He had no wife and children to leave behind.

His thoughts turned to Cecilia, Juan's widow. He hadn't spoken to her since the funeral, when he had passed on Juan's final words and left quickly, feeling nothing. He couldn't face her and was sure that she would have no wish to see him again after all he had been responsible for. Why should she?

He breathed slowly, painfully, his whole body aching with the effort of drawing in breath. His time was near. No longer would he have to listen to the song. No more would he have to wonder what might have happened if he'd handled that night better. A single tear slipped down the greying fur on his cheek and he was still.

There was a hush among those gathered at the bedside. Then one stepped forward and gently wiped the tear from his fur, with a tiny red and white polka dot handkerchief. The group bowed their heads, alone with their own memories of the hero, as the words of the sung drifted around the room as a constant reminder of an extraordinary life lived to the full.

RIP Major Hickory Dickory-Dock.