CHAPTER 3 (Part 1)



We left Stephanie, Julian, John and June at the abortive inaugral meeting of the newly separated Writers’ Group, about to close the meeting until Stephanie mentined that they hadn’t actually read anything of their writing yet.


The others stared at Stephanie for a second. Reading their work! That was the reason for their existence as a writers’ group, but really there had been so many distractions it was hardly surprising the point of their meeting had slipped past them.

‘Oh of course! Sorry. I was so caught up in the business stuff I forgot that.’ June said. ‘Would you like to start then Stephanie?’ She became flustered again, ‘I mean if you’d like. I mean I’m not chair am I so…’

‘That’s fine June. We can’t all read at once, we need someone to sort us out.’ Stephanie said. I’m very happy to start if that’s okay with everyone else?’ The two men nodded their agreement and Stephanie opened her notebook and explained she was going to continue her story about waking from a dream to discover that the events in it were happening in reality. Possibly. Or it may a dream in a dream. She started reading.

The others listened and all made notes. She finished and looked up, waiting for thoughts, criticisms, praise, offers of advice.

Ashby was never short of an opinion.

‘I like that. But I can’t always tell which bit is the real dream and which bit is her thinking about the dream and which bit is the dream coming true.’

‘That’s sort of the point John.’ Stephanie said.

‘Oh. Fair enough then. Success.’

‘Did you think it was too confusing though? Should I make it more obvious somehow? Will the reader get too teed off to bother working it out?’

‘Maybe you could make it a bit clearer by font or something? June offered.

‘I think you should leave it for now. Carry on a bit longer until you get to some sort of resolution and see how it feels then. The problem with judging little bits at a time is you can’t get a feel for the arc of the plot. It may hold together and become blindingly obvious or it may just be problematic. At the moment it seems okay to me but it needs some way of helping the reader sometime soon.’ Straker suggested.

‘So you were lost?’

‘No. I’m just wondering how long you can keep the average reader in a holding pattern.’

‘I thought you weren’t supposed to underestimate your readers?’ Ashby said. ‘Let them work things out?’

‘You were the one who said it was confusing.’ Straker said.

‘Aye, but it’s like you said, it’s difficult from a short piece. Now I know it’s supposed to be for the reader to work out what’s real or not, it’s like a psychological fake news thing isn’t it? It’s really good.’

And so it went on, with each of them reading a piece and then discussing whether it worked or not for them and why and what might be done or not to improve the piece. With no readers section about, matter proceeded more swiftly. No one was comparing a piece with Magic Realism and then spending fifteen minutes debating whose work constituted Magic Realism and what Magic Realism actually was. They had had that discussion some months ago until someone quoted Leal and noted that if you could explain it, it wasn’t Magic Realism. Which brought a sudden silence and then a heated discussion about logical dead ends and in Ashby’s case a declaration some people were too far up their own behind’s for their own good. Straker had a definite sense that this was the incident which had prompted the split between those interested in deep reading and critique of modern trends in literature, and those who wanted to write stories.

Straker finished reading his offering as the last piece of the evening. He was rather embarrassed about as it had been a rather mundane piece of thinly veiled autobiography dressed up in over bright clothing. It was received well, however and it made him wonder what people looked for in writing. Some of what he considered his more interesting works had received as many thoughts on how to change things as praise. Here he offered a straight piece of simple recounting of fact in thin disguise and it was praised without demur. He shouldn’t complain he supposed.

‘I think that wraps it up then.’ June said. ‘When’s the next meeting?’

‘It will be in two weeks, here in the morning.’ Stephanie said.

‘The library half day?’ June said.

‘Yes. I suppose we need to sort out a more frequent schedule as we’ve split the booking with the readers.’ Stephanie said.

‘Do you think they’ll keep meeting here?’ Ashby asked. ‘They’re a feckless lot.’

‘Well it’s what we agreed. So until they change their minds, we’ll need to think of something else if we want to carry one with weekly meetings.’ June said.

‘Why don’t we wait until a fortnight’s time and when, if, we sort out our aim and officers, we can talk about when and where we will meet after we exist?’ Straker said.

‘Good idea.’ Ashby said.

‘Suits me.’ Stephanie agreed.

‘In two weeks time then.’ June said and with that she blew her whistle softly and went a bright shade of pink.


(To be continued)


I don’t normally stray into politics but it is hard to avoid at the moment.

Given that the odd couple of A B deP Johnson and M Gove would appear to be about to go head to head  in the Conservative Party Leadership election and it is looking like the former will have his revenge, I wondered how he might be feeling in a year’s time.

Those of you who are old enough to remember the Goverment ads to encourage people to finds out what mind altering substances did to their brains and bodies will remember the exhortation to Talk to Frank (the website still exists if you were wondering).

Anyway on to Alexander’s June 2020 waking nightmare:




Boris: Oh God, no way out! No way out! No way out!

Michael: Boris, wake up, wake up now. It’s okay.

Boris: Michael. Eh? What? You!?

Michael:    Yes Boris, wake up you’re having one of those Senate betrayal dreams again.

Boris: Yes, I was trapped Michael, there was no way out!

Michael: I know, I know, but it’s all right now.

Boris: Yes. Oh wow that was bad.

Michael : What was the matter Boris, was it the Capitoline Hill all over again?

Boris: No, no it was much worse. The economy had collapsed, Wiff Waff had failed and the Praetorians were coming for me Michael. It was Brexit Hallowe’en all over again.

Michael: There’s no need to swear Boris.

Boris: Sorry Michael.

Michael: It’s all right Bozza, just calm down.

Boris: Thanks Michael.

Michael: That’s okay.

Boris. It was horrible Michael. There were people taking me seriously.

Michael: Mm huh, Mm Huh.

Boris: They were asking me to make decisions and stand by the consequences, they were making fun of me Michael.

Michael: Been there Boris, been there.

Boris: The worst thing was Michael…

Michael: Yes Boris?

Boris: The worst thing was they were planning a coup, they were going to replace me, the 1922 boys, the Praetorians were going to ask you to take over. Can you imagine that?

Michael: Yes Boris.

Boris: Eh?

Michael: Yes I can imagine it Boris, I can imagine anything.

Boris: But, but you’d never come back. Sarah wouldn’t let you.

Michael: Not in the real world Boris.

Boris: What do you mean ‘the real world’?

Michael: Boris. Why am I here in your bedroom, Boris?

Boris: I…er

Michael: Exactly Boris, exactly, THIS is the dream.

Boris: Oh God no, it’s all true!


Voice Over: Being a dope can really mess with your head. Talk to Frank.



It seemed a bit harsh to leave the Westley Literary Group in limbo, so here is the second chapter in their rebirth as Westley Writers and their first attempted meeting under their new guise. (full chapter under ‘Writing, Westley Writers’ – link at end of post)




‘So we’re free then. Taken back control. On our own. Sailing into a bright blue entrepreneurial sunrise of opportunity.’ Ashby said.

Stephanie raised a perfect, if nowadays little too highly set, eyebrow. Straker offered a thin smile,

‘We lost the readers section John. It’s not as if Lillian Dobson is Donald Tusk is it?’

‘Not as attractive.’

‘That’s sexist John.’ Stephanie chided without rancour.

‘Fair enough. Sorry love.’ Ashby said. He was of a generation and inclination which translated ‘PC’ into ‘Police Constable’ on a good day, but in reality that meant ‘policeman’ to him. The world of WPCs and Police Officers lay in a distant neverland of unimagined horror for John Ashby. Gender neutral language was on a list of works in progress that never seemed to get any shorter or accumulate ticks in any of the requisite boxes.

‘Besides,’ Straker said trying to divert Ashby from riding off on one of his many hobby horses. ‘We may have a few published authors, but we aren’t exactly brimming over with JK Rowlings or Paulo Coelhos are we?’

‘Who?’ Ashby said

‘I thought you’d have read all the Harry Potters John.’ Stephanie said.

‘Cheeky mare. You know I meant that Kwayloo bloke. It is a bloke is it Jules?’

‘Brazilian author. Wrote the Alchemist?’

‘Never heard of him.’

‘He speaks very highly of you.’

‘All right clever clogs why would we want him anyhow?’

Straker hesitated a moment, thinking of how best to explain Coelho’s work. The exploration of personal legend probably wasn’t going to sell anything to John, and the critical reviews of much of Coelho’s later works in particular would not be helpful. But of course there were the sales, the way to Ashby’s heart.

‘Because he’s made about four hundred million dollars.’

Ashby stared. ‘Bloody hell.’ he offered after a few seconds. ‘Bloody hell.’

‘Words into gold.’ Stephanie said.

Julian smiled. ‘Maybe we should write a joint effort called ‘The Philosophers Stone’ and see how much we can make.’

‘Back to Harry Potter.’ Ashby said


Continued here https://gfarrish.wordpress.com/writing/westley-writers/


I can’t remember exactly what inspired this – I think it may have been hearing a short story by Peter Dimery about his time in Pembrokeshire.

Whatever it was I can assure you and the members of my Writing group that it was absolutley NOT based on them!




Mr Straker looked around the room. Nearly a full house. Odd how the whiff of controversy brought them out, the halt, the lame and the sick. He probably shouldn’t be here himself, truth be told, but there were some things that even heart conditions couldn’t prevent one wanting to see. In the same way motorists slowed on the motorway, taking their eyes from the vehicle in front to gawp at a car crash on the opposite carriageway, folks were content to risk their own mutilation and destruction to watch the horror show unfold. The direction of travel didn’t even matter. Coming or going it was all the same.

He remembered being passed at high speed one quiet Sunday morning, north bound on the M5, by a spectacularly clad biker sporting a wasp’s head helmet, a picture in black, yellow and gold. There in the rear view mirror and gone in a second. Defying at once both the laws of physics and the Road Traffic Act. Quarter of an hour later police cars and plastic cones filtered vehicles off onto the hard shoulder. They all slowed to see the once proud machine, smeared across three hundred yards of tarmac in two lanes, and the rag doll of a wasp, still and lifeless at the end of the trail of debris. X marked the spot of the journey from hubris to nemesis in abridged form. The gods’ attention span has shortened as well as our own.

Mrs Williams was nodding and smiling, always a worrying sign. Parker and Davies shook hands with Straker. He had thought Parker dead these six months and the man’s general appearance did nothing to contradict that opinion. Undead lore notwithstanding however, Parker’s ambulatory abilities rather quashed that theory. Ashby drifted over to Straker, coffee in one hand, chocolate chip biscuit in the other. The packet said cookies but Ashby refused to accept that losing the American colonies did not mean we had to adopt their idiosyncratic mannerisms, spellings or nomenclature. Ashby didn’t use the word idiosyncratic, but Straker always mentally Bowdlerised Ashby’s speech to render it safe for recounting to his family. Straker was old fashioned enough to believe there were some words which should not be used in front of women and children.

‘I see you’ve dragged your carcass in then?’ Ashby offered, popping the remainder of his biscuit into his mouth and extending a becrumbed chocolate stained hand. Straker steeled himself and shook the meaty paw.

‘Thought I ought to you know. Given the circumstances.’ He disengaged his hand and, as discreetly as he could, wiped it on a tissue. Not discreetly enough apparently.

‘Lick it off man, that’s Waitrose chocolate that is. None of your emulsified chocolate coloured lard extract.’

Straker grimaced. ‘It’s the salt and sebum content I’m worried about John, bad for the heart.’

Ashby looked puzzled.

‘Your sweat.’ Straker explained.

‘Cheeky bugger. Honest toil that’s from.’

‘You sell insurance John, a concept antithetical to honesty.’

Ashby laughed. ‘Can’t fault you there. Do you want a coffee? Dianne’s stopped being a feminist for the night, she’ll make you one if you like.’ He nodded to the corner of the room where a slight bird like woman was organising drinks and everyone who wanted one, whether they wanted to be organised or not.

‘The doctor says I shouldn’t but, yes please.’

Ashby raised his voice over the murmuring of the hive, ‘Large one over here Dianne.’

‘So I’ve heard darling.’ said a blonde lady of uncertain years sidling through the crowd to be next to Straker. Ashby guffawed while the bird like woman glowered ‘You’ve got one John’ she piped over the background hum of conversation.

‘It’s for Julian, not me.’


There is much more (all of the first episode/chapter in fact) here in Westley Writers under the Writing Tab


This takes place in the early 1960s and displays a set of values which I’d like to think are very different from today’s youth. But underneath all the new ’empathy and understanding’ I fear we may not have come on that far.

Pierce Street ran up the hill up from Catherine Street. Half way up the hill was our school, Christ Church infants and junior. Twice a week the curate from Christ Church, where Catherine Street became Bond Street, walked up the hill and gave us Divinity lessons and general chats about vicary things. When he ran out of homilies, we got talks from visiting African church members with all the associated embarrassing questions from Ally Sinclair: ‘Sir, is it true African babies are born white and then turn brown in the sun?’ I mean I know we didn’t have a lot of sun in Macclesfield, but baby ripening? Really? On the walls the maps were still coloured pink across large portions of the globe. Our text books had detailed descriptions of the sensible layout of various imperial cities, thanks to the perspicacity of British engineers and administrators, and reassuring suggestions that there were still opportunities for adventurous British youths in continuing the work.

At the top of Pierce Street, up the cobbled hill, built much later than Christ Church for reasons that we hadn’t yet touched on in history, loomed the tower of St Albans Roman Catholic Church. Attached to St Albans was another school, cunningly named St Albans infants and junior school.

We didn’t deal directly with the Reformation as such in lessons and certainly the Catholic Emancipation acts never got a look in, but we knew the Queen was head of the Church of England, and therefore Christ Church, and in consequence our school and that she also ran all the bits of the world coloured pink.

In contrast, St Albans was in the final analysis run by the Pope, who wasn’t British and had been on the side of the Spaniards when they sent the Armada to conquer England. Something we had done in class. The Armada had been rightly thrashed by Drake on his tea break from playing bowls. Bowls was played by the old men in South Park and on the much more difficult double crown green in West Park and woe betide any child who stepped on the hallowed turf. We wondered if Drake had worn a flat cap and smoked a pipe.

Whatever Drake’s sartorial and tobacco choices, he certainly dished the Dons who we all knew had been trying to reimpose Roman Catholicism on Elizabeth. Most of us realised this was a different Liz from our current monarch, Supreme Governor of the Church of England , Christ Church and our school, but I couldn’t vouch for everyone.

Sporadic reenactments of the sixteenth and seventeenth century wars of religion would, as a result break out, up and down the length of Pierce Street at break times, and before and after school. I don’t know what version of ‘love thy neighbour’ they were being taught in St Albans but it was clearly as ineffective as ours in behaviour modification compared to the underlying ‘this is us and that’s them and they’re bastards’ message underlying the history lessons.

After one particularly intense and enjoyable exchange of stones, more hits on them than on us defined the enjoyment factor, the Head called a special assembly. Bill Lewis, Mr Lewis, or God’s Anointed on Earth, acknowledged the different confessional preferences pertaining to Christ Church and St. Albans but reminded those of us invested in such things that it was all the same God in the end. And for those of us not so committed, it was against the law and we would suffer torment, if not eternal, then certainly in this world, should we be caught defending HM the Q’s faith in such a manner again. This was before human rights and telling the under tens they were below the age of criminal responsibility.

We trooped out, having sung a suitably martial hymn, possibly Onward Christian Soldiers, which, though flying under false colours, I used to enjoy belting out with gusto. As we filed into class, Mr Bayley sought out his usual suspects and fixed us with a steely gaze.

‘I hope that sunk in’ he said.

We nodded.


As we prepared to return to our desks, he asked us one more question.

‘Who won?’

Graham Newfield beamed ‘We did Sir!’

There was a flash of a smile and a wink.

‘Good lads! Off you go.’


This and more short fiction can also be found under Writing, Short Fiction



I love Saturnalia.

No, really! I mean I know it’s fashionable to pretend to be bored of all the excess, but feasts, presents, lots of wine, what’s not to love?

I remember last year we all had a dormouse eating competition for the last night, completely mad! You had to eat a dormouse and chug a goblet of red every time someone said ‘I’. Funny as….

‘One has had enough’ Sextus said after he’d peed himself the first time. Brutus says ‘What?’ and dopey Sextus says ‘I said…’  We cried. He chundered dormouse all over our King of Misrule who was doing a great job. If you’ve never seen an Equestrian covered in dormouse puke you haven’t lived, I tell you.

No, the dormice didn’t puke on him, Sextus’ puke was full of half chewed dormouse.

Yes, we had a King of Misrule, course we did. We believe in doing things properly. Keep Saturnalia Roman I say.

I know the King of Misrule thing can be a bit of an arse, but most people are sensible about it. I mean, ‘dance naked!’ ‘jump in the river three times!’ ‘bite a dog’, it’s all a laugh isn’t it? Great fun! And nobody goes all the way with it these days do they?

Well, I mean some of the army guys do the odd beheading, but I reckon it’s all part of the service isn’t it? I mean you start trying to impose modern bloody namby pamby standards of ‘oh no, we can’t possibly sacrifice humans in this day and age’ on the military and where are you? Where are you mate? Bloody barbarians all over the place, Christians picketing  the Circus and saying the Emperor isn’t a God, that’s where. I mean the army guys need to let off steam. Their King of Misrule really goes to town, anything he says for thirty days is his command. Nothing out of bounds. Probably worth it for a bit of a throat cutting at the end of it. I mean a short life and a merry one eh?

I mean you can’t stop people letting go and propitiating the dark side of Saturn if you want the good side can you? Personally I can think of several Lords of Misrule I would happily see on the altar at the end of their reign. Taking the piss some of it is. And what’s with all this peace love and understanding stuff? These bloody people, coming over here trying to impose their mad middle eastern monotheisms on people. It’s all right for these Judaeans, they don’t have to live with the Raetians next door do they. Po faced gits with their Alpine ways. I’d like to see a Judaean turning the other cheek on one of the cheese eating mountain dwellers. They’d slap it and nick his cash.

What do you mean, ‘what do I mean’? Raetians is what I mean. All they care about is herding cows and hoarding money, other people’s usually. No, it’s true. Their valleys are full of other people’s gold. Well known fact.

I don’t get this Judaean stuff anyway. Where’s the fun in sitting around waiting for the spirit to move you or whatever it is they do? Twenty four dormice and goblets of Apullian red would move anyone, no waiting. They need to have more fun. They’re spoiling Saturnalia with all this moaning about excess. Before you know it they’ll have the bloody Emperor signed up and then where will we be? No more boiled Flamingo with dates, no sea urchin stuffed sow’s udders…

‘What? Course they’re salted, who ever had unsalted sea urchin? Where was I?

Oh yeah, and no roast parrot. It will all be unleavened bread and no pigs.

What’s that? That’s the other lot is it? Well, they’re all the same if you ask me. Whose Empire is it anyway? If they don’t like it they can just sod off. Well no. Obviously they can’t, but why would they want to? What did their weird gods ever do for them? Now, the Emperors, Saturn, Jove all those boys, proper Gods, yeah, and Goddesses, where would we be without Minerva, Venus and Diana eh? None of this wishy washy say a prayer and it will all be lovely bollocks.

Still as long as we’ve got this Emperor in charge we’ll be okay. I mean anyone who feeds two Frankish kings and their soldiers to the beasts in a triumph is all right by me, my son. That’s the proper way to celebrate isn’t it? Not singing a hymn and putting ash on your head

Still it’s the drinking and feasting and vomiting I really like. And as long as he’s in charge I reckon we’re safe from all that pacifist crap.

So here’s to him!

Long live The Emperor Constantine!

Happy Saturnalia!


(In 307AD the Emperor Constantine defeated an opportunistic Frankish invasion of Gaul and had two of the invaders’ kings: Ascaric and Merogais,  and their soldiers, thrown to wild animals  in the arena – probably in Triers.

In 312AD he formally converted to Christianity and in 313 decriminalised  its worship in the Roman Empire).



All In It Together Farm was on its uppers. Everyone said so. Especially Mr Shiny the farmer. He looked at his chickens in their long gleaming barn. He addressed them. He wasn’t sure why. To him they were simply production units. Yet something, perhaps something his father or maybe his grandfather, had instilled in him once upon a time, continued to suggest to him that it was something he should at least pay lip service to.

‘Happy beasts make rich pickings.’ Was a phrase that came to mind now and again. Of course he had the latest interactive music and soothing sounds technology installed so he didn’t need to do that. But just occasionally he felt the need to talk to something, anything that wasn’t a machine. So today it was the chickens’ turn.

‘Morning ladies.’ He said. Just because they were in cages and stupid didn’t mean you had to let your own standards of civility drop he reasoned.

They cackled welcomingly at him. At least that was what he heard. If he had been able to speak chicken he would have not basked in the glow of his imagined reception.


‘Oh God he’s back! Watch out girls, lay something or he’ll be back with the emptiers.’


‘Why can’t the fat git leave us alone? Its bad enough being cooped up in here without him droning on about his problems.’

Was a more representative sample of what the chickens were saying.

Fortunately for Mr Shiny’s self esteem, he had not the faintest idea what animals of any variety said or thought. His cows were in a concrete bovine support unit and his sheep were herded by a Romanian chap on a quad bike, cheaper than keeping a sheep dog and less fuss he had found. Thus his personal life was animal free. Personally he didn’t like animals. And as for plants…

So he spoke to the chickens out of his own need not any desire to genuinely interact. No, his communication was definitely one way.

‘The thing is ladies, we are in a bit of a pickle really. It looks like we won’t be getting any EU money shortly and I’ll probably have to let Nicolai or whatever is his name is go. Can’t really claim his abilities are special, after all a dog used to do most of his job. So we’ll have no-one to fill your feed hoppers either, unless I can get one of the layabouts from the Britannia Estate to come and do it on a zero hours jobby.’

The hens who had continued their clucking as they got on with eating, fell silent at that piece of news. Mr Angle noticed the change in noise level and looked quickly around to see if anything untoward was happening that he had not seen. Satisfied that there was nothing out of the ordinary occurring he looked back at his production units.

‘So we might have to get rid of you lot and put in a zip wire and a beetle bank or something. Can’t make enough out of them bloody supermarkets just selling food can I? Let them Europeans do it, shiftless sods.’

With that he got out his iPhone and checked a satellite picture that showed some weeds growing up in the cereals by the 40 acre. He walked out of the barn to get on his desk top and direct a spraying drone to zap the little green bastards. The practice he had got on ‘Nuke PyongYang II, This time it’s Fun’ would prove handy he thought as he slammed the door shut behind him.

The Problem with Thought Experiments

It was a box.

Just a box.

I suppose if you want to be precise, it was a small wooden crate.  It was sixty centimetres long by forty centimetres deep and forty centimetres high. It had a frame with planking sides, top and bottom, and cross pieces from corner to corner to reinforce the sides. There was nothing fancy about it. It was well made with nicely fitting joints, but it was unpainted and had no markings. Nothing to suggest anything unusual about it all.

Which, of course, was what was unusual.

Who goes to the bother of making a small wooden crate from planed wood with well jointed ends, no casual nailing or stapling here, without any markings? Everything is plastered with information these days. Size, weight restrictions, ‘this way up’, fragile, handle with care, ‘to be transported in accordance with…’ makers names, advertising, contact details for the sender, recipient, manufacturer, the delivery address, the intermediate handling station, temperature restrictions, hazard warnings, the contents.

Ah yes. The contents.

There was uncertainty about everything to do with it, that box, and nothing was more uncertain than its contents.

How it got there was a mystery in itself. No-one saw it delivered and it seemed self evident that it could not have simply materialised from thin air, the ether or a thousand other clichés that flesh and writers are heir to. Could it have popped through from a parallel universe? A bit of time travel maybe? Who knew, who knows?

We opened it of course. Well, you do don’t you?

There was a sort of humming coming from it. Not exactly a sound and not really a physical vibration but a sense of something emanating from it. Something like that prickling static feeling one gets wearing a lot of nylon or being near a van der graaf generator.

So we opened it.

I don’t really know what we expected. I know Doover wanted it to be Man U kit. Although why anyone should box overpriced sports kit so securely defeated even his logical processes. Shalene was hoping for a super secret advanced prototype of something. Possibly a plasma gun or the latest set of Kardashian make up. I don’t think I had any expectations, which was just as well.

We went round to Stevo’s with it. It felt heavier than it should have been. Stevo had a jemmy. He said it was a tyre iron, but I’ve never seen a tyre iron with a hook on it like that, and everyone knew what his night time hobby was. Doover had suggested dropping it off the walkway because the smash wouldn’t hurt his shirts, but Shalene pointed out her ray gun would either not work after that, or go off big time and blast half of the Waybury. We knew she was just worried the nail varnish and foundation bottle would smash but we humoured her, and so Stevo’s it was.

He was keen at first and we had to argue for half an hour about his cut for opening it. He wanted half as it was his jemmy, or tyre iron. We got him down to a third which was more than we wanted and less than he wanted so that seemed equally unfair to everyone. Bit like Brexit negotiations.

When we got it into his dad’s shed and he slipped the tyre iron out of its hiding place, he lost his enthusiasm. He didn’t like the humming. It was well scary. Doover said he wasn’t going to bitch out was he? Shalene said if he used that sexist crap round her again she’d bitch slap him good, so he shut it. But Stevo had lost it, so I took the tyre iron. As soon as I handled it I understood why Stevo did it. His hobby I mean. I mean I wouldn’t go robbing myself but I sort of knew why he did it. It was a cool tool.

I knelt down and stuck the slim steel end under the edge of the lid, or what we guessed was the lid; no markings remember? I pulled myself up to put all my weight down on the metal. I looked up at them.

Your faces! I laughed. They were all holding their breath, mouths open, eyes wide. What do you think is in here? And then I dropped all my weight onto the lever.

The stink made us gag, Stevo chucked into one of his dad’s plant pots, but that had a drainage hole in the bottom so it started seeping out into the shed, making it stink up worse.

Everyone swore for a bit and then I thought in for a penny, that’s the worst bit over and levered the whole top off. It crashed onto the floor, splashing puke about. Shalene swore a lot more. There were some Fs and a lot of other letters of the alphabet. Doover declared it sick and not in a good way and Stevo puked again. Nobody really bothered with him this time.

There was a smaller box inside, with one of those weird yellow and black circles divided up into segments you see on the door to X ray places. I had one when I fell off Stevo’s car at the circus. Nandridge Circus roundabout, not the one with clowns, apart from Stevo. At the other end was a small machine surrounded by broken glass and some liquid on the bottom of the box.

None of that was sick, in any sense. What was weird, and what was stinking, was a furry bag of what had once been, by the look of it, a cat. It wasn’t well. We all sat back and looked at each other, and then back at the cat. Outside and air seemed like a good idea.

Stevo went to get some water and have another puke. We shrugged. Shalene said it was only a cat, though you could tell she was shaken. Doover said he bet it was a Man City Cat, the bastard thing. I didn’t say anything. The stuff inside reminded me of something. I couldn’t quite get it. Something Scratch Wilson the physics teacher had gone on about in class at the end of one term when we’d finished the syllabus and he’d wanted to impress us. That had a poisoned cat in a box. Or was it not poisoned in his story? I couldn’t remember.

Stevo came out of the kitchen and walked down the path. We all turned to see if he was all right. He looked okay, well as okay as he ever did. Then he stopped and he dropped the glass of water he was holding. He was definitely for it. Puking in his dad’s plant pot and smashing his mum’s glass. Doover asked wtf was up with him and Steve didn’t say anything but pointed behind us. We all laughed. Yeah, very clever Stevo. You need a better schtick than that pal. He turned and ran. We laughed some more. Then we smelt it. That smell again. We all turned.

It was the cat. It had been as dead as you can get. It was still as dead as you can get but there it was hissing and spitting and stinking its way up the path. We followed Stevo and ran.

We didn’t wait to see where it went but from what happened next on the Waybury I guess we can work out what it did next. The police say they’ve contained the outbreak. They let us go after a week. We couldn’t tell them any more. Apart from the name stenciled on the inside of the box.

I remembered later what Mr Wilson had said. Well, be honest. I googled it. Apparently everyone thinks the cat is alive or dead. But of course it’s alive and dead until you open the box . Turns out he got the moment of quantum superposition wrong. Sometimes it’s alive and dead after you open it as well.

Bloody Schrodinger can keep his cat.


This picture was given some time ago to a writers group I attend, to act as an inspiration for an exercise piece. I’ll be honest: I don’t normally like ‘artificial’ inspiration like this. If I am writing to a brief for cash – fine, I’ll do it. If I am looking for inspiration for a piece of fiction, long or short, I rarely have any shortage of ideas that spur me on. Finishing a piece may prove difficult as joining that initial flourish to my destination meanders about but rarely do I feel the urge to have creation kickstarted.
So this sat around for ages before I sat down and thought about it. It has a surreal quality to it. Although a photographic medium nothing sits as photo-realism should. The car is perched, the woman’s hair and clothes are dry as she climbs over some sort of water covered ledge, and the perspective is shot to hell. And so at 0645hrs yesterday over a cup of tea and Red Leicester cheese and toast this appeared unbidden. (The photo was not present and no aquatic mammals were harmed in the writing of this piece).  

Consuela Martinez Agrande del Arroyo Norte had, she was forced to concede, been once more deserted. She knew it was in the nature of Sea Lions to be fickle but she had thought his love true. It was not as if Lester hated her. Indeed only the night before he had presented her with a lovingly arranged platter of Sea Bass. They were of course raw and bloodied where his teeth had taken their flashing silver souls, but what was an aquatic mammal to do? He had licked as much of the red, seeping life from them as he could. In his own way he understood her needs as well as anyone and knew that Sea Bass blood, however delicious and life giving, was not appreciated in some quarters. She thought of her reaction. Had she driven him away? But no. It was in the way of Sea Lions. A Seal may be for life but it was the mercurial nature of the Sea Lion that attracted her. The constant shapeshifting love that burned as the fires in Villarrica burn; bright, fierce viscous magma which can spill unconfined at the whim of God. If you wanted the plains around Madrid, stick to Seals.

She drove the Mini he had never quite mastered, a stick shift had been hubris too far, to the Rio del Sueños, and begun combing the banks for him. She had warned him against freshwater. The electrolytic imbalance drove him wild. Which, of course, was why he did it. Thrillseeker. Bad Sea Lion. She had shaken her hair in joy at the thought. And now she laughed suddenly as the car lurched and spun.

It was Lester!

His old party piece.

She had only half believed his tales of circus wildness when first they met. All Sea Lions had been on television, in blockbuster movies made by famous auteurs, or so they would tell you over a glass of brandy and tapas. But the first time she saw him flip a grand piano on his nose and spin it with his flippers, she had understood that here was a Sea Lion of veracity, mano a mano with the sea and the truth, not a pouting boy.

And now she could hear his grunting at the weight of the car as it began to spin wildly, each turn marked by a honk from his old theatrical horns. But she remembered amidst her excited giggles and laughter the flaw in his act. The cost of grand pianos when the good times dried up. One last spin and flip with his nose and then ‘Thwack!’, away with his tail flippers.

She crawled across the parapet of the Punto del Engaño to the honking of horns and Lester, once more in his pomp. barking her name.

Bloody Sea Lions.


But the heart wants what it wants.


The silhouetted figure sat back a little.

‘What do they want?’ Came the voice out of the darkness. Davies was surprised to hear a chuckle in the voice.  ‘Oh the same old thing, you know: “… by degrees, and in silence, possess themselves of the government of the States, and make use of those means for this purpose.”’

Davies struggled for a moment, realising Pendragon was quoting someone. It sounded familiar, but as he had read pages of drivel about secret associations supposedly taking over the world recently he couldn’t place it immediately. He looked to Pendragon for help and raised one eyebrow in silent supplication.

‘Weishaupt. The supposed founder of the Illuminati.’

Davies considered this for a moment. Weishaupt was the Bavarian philosopher normally credited with establishing the Illuminati.

‘Supposed?’ he echoed.

‘Do you think the idea sprang into being in 1776?’

‘The Bavarian Illuminati were real, the Freemasons kicked them out and the Elector of Bavaria banned them.’

‘He banned everyone.’ Laughed Pendragon. ‘But yes, they were real. They just weren’t the first. That was their first attempt at being more open, at hiding in plain sight.’ There was a pause. ‘Is that really what you have come to ask me about? The Goleudigion?’

‘I’m not sure. I think so.’ Davies took a deep breath as he considered how much he should, how much he could, tell Pendragon. He was so far over any lines of formal procedure that may exist for his office that he had virtually nothing to lose. In for a penny he decided. ‘Do you know about Owain Blundell?’

‘Yes. On Sanctified ground too, between uchelwydd and criafol, mistletoe and rowan. Not your doing then?’

‘Us!?  No. We don’t do that sort of thing.’

Pendragon snorted.

‘I’ve heard that said often enough after someone has had an unfortunate accident’

‘It’s true.’ Davies said controlling his anger at the supercilious tone with all the strength he could muster. ‘Anyway, Owain was working with us, why would we want to kill him?’

‘With you? Pendragon snapped.

‘Yes. That’s why I’m asking about the Goleudigion. It was his material that gave me the first real evidence they might be behind what I’m investigating. Until then it was just hints and whispers.’

‘What was he doing for you? I wouldn’t have thought you needed any help from him in esoterica.’

Davies smiled in acknowledgement of the joke.

‘No. But I was looking at some disturbances which looked to be aimed at something a lot bigger than the normal meddling. Something that could reach far beyond us here. There were people in the Assembly involved.’

‘And you used Owain to find out who they were and what they were doing. Did you have any idea of the danger you were putting him in?’

‘Obviously not. It’s no benefit to me to have a dead practitioner on my hands. I wanted to know what it was, not evidence that it was serious enough for murder’

‘I suppose so.’ Pendragon acknowledged.

‘He knew it was dangerous. He didn’t pick the farm as a meeting place by chance. He was protecting himself from the one form of attack he was fixated on.’ Davies sighed. ‘He forgot you can kill people with kinetic energy as easily as with thaumaturgy.’

‘The Illuminati’ have always been pragmatists. People think they have a Grand Design that everything is working towards.’

‘And they don’t?’

Pendragon snorted.

‘They may have an aim, which is pretty much what I told you when I quoted Weishaupt. But a universal plan with every link in the chain laid out? I think they would have made it a shorter chain if they had, don’t you?’

Davies considered this for a moment before replying.

‘I don’t know. Until a few months ago I thought they were a group of Enlightenment Masonic wannabes who died out two hundred years ago.’

‘And now?’

‘I think I may have a semi-mystical sect on my hands, who’ve killed once to protect their plans.’

‘You’re under rating them.’


‘Yes. They’ve been around for centuries. And after their brief flirtation with openness they’ve gone back into the woodwork. And, as you have seen, one hint of exposure and they’ll strike without mercy.’

‘Yes.’ Davies chewed his lip as he wondered how to ask Pendragon for help. ‘I’m sorry about Owain. I would have offered him more protection if I had realised.’

‘He wouldn’t have accepted it, I don’t think.’

‘Oh! Why? How do you know what he would have done?’

‘How do you think he gained his esoteric knowledge?’

Davies paused as the implication of the question sunk in.

‘Yes,’ Pendragon answered the question he could sense was about to tumble out of Davies’ lips. ‘He was of the Ancient Order. If it’s any consolation, he hadn’t told us he was working with you. I would have advised against it if he had.’

Davies nodded his head. He knew that despite their common interest in this matter it was almost unheard of for the Office and the Order to work together since the parting in the nineteenth century. He was surprised though. Owain had not been suspected of being with the Order. Not that that would have prevented his post in the Assembly, but the Office liked to know who had allegiances other than their own in the esoteric arts when they were near Government.

‘You have no love of the Goleudigion then?’

‘Love? Only that of a sad parent who watches a child gone astray.’


‘The Goleudigion were once part of the Order.’

‘In Wales?’

‘Across those lands where the Order had once guided knowledge.’

‘The Illuminati are druids?!’

‘They were. Many years ago.’

‘But you are not..?’

Pendragon laughed.

‘There are no feuds so bitter as those between family.’