Please do not feed the birds

I arrived in London with a full heart and an empty stomach. I was just twelve years old.
It was to remain that way for several days (being hungry I mean, not being twelve – that lasted all year) until I developed a taste for pigeon. London fattens up a pigeon beautifully.
I’ve lived here now for thirty one years.
I’m not a rich man, but my needs are simple
Never did find no streets of gold, but I have written a best-selling cookbook.
Perhaps you’ve heard of it ?
101 ways to cook a pigeon.

If I’m honest with you, my favourite recipe’s still the very first one : Kentucky Fried Pigeon.

A word about catching pigeons. Don’t kill the first one you catch. He’s probably sick and he don’t make good eating. Him you got to keep alive. You ties a bit of string round his leg and then you lets him wander around near your feet. Now your pigeon’s a real nosey birdie, so them other pigeons is looking at him thinking “Coo I wonder what he knows what we don’t know ?” and soon enough their curiosity gets too much for them and they’s got to swoop down and find out what your first pigeon’s doing.
That’s where you come in with your net. You want a nice big old net, about three foot square so you don’t have to be too accurate with your throwing. A bit of lead shot tied into the edges and you’re ready to snaffle a right good feast.

Now you has got to kill your pigeon. It’s not nice, and I know there’ll be squeamish little birdies out there who don’t like the idea of putting a thin wire around the neck of a wild bird and pulling it hard until it slices clean through the sinews and bones of the pigeon’s neck … But that’s what it takes to slaughter your own pigeon. Besides they squawks rotten if you try and cook ’em live.

Once you got their head off of course the rest is easy.
You gives him a good plucking, then a quick slice with your knife down the front of the chest so he’s opened right up, then a nick at the naughties and a good delve and you’ve got his innards in the palm of your hand.
If they don’t come out first time, never mind. Wet your forefinger (get him good and wet mind, your pidgy wont thank you for bad lubrication) and shove good and hard up your pigeon’s posterior, and pull. His innards’ll be his outwards in no time.
Don’t throw ’em away mind, cause they makes for a very happy cat … and if you’re buying my second cookbook, you’ll be needing a lot of happy cats.

Now. Coat your pidgy in lard and flour, douse him generous with salt and pepper, then bung him in the vat of bubbling lard till he’s golden scrumptious.
Kentucky Fried Pigeon. It’s finger licking good.


500 words on the keyword “Forbidden” for #FairytaleFriday

Gerry goes to the library at break time. The other boys go back to the dayroom and talk about Mr Ralph’s impossible maths tests or who’s got detention this Thursday. There are pints of milk downed and handfuls of digestives shovelled into hungry mouths. It’s loud and boisterous and to all the boys in the dayroom, perfectly normal.
Gerry’s in the library. He didn’t turn left on the way out of the classroom block. He didn’t jostle down the hall through the house next door to his, bouncing the fire doors off their buffers into the boys behind. He just clutched his books to his chest and without even looking up, walked forward into the cloisters, opened the oak door at the bottom of the library steps and then ran, two grey stone steps at a time, up to the library. He walked in, was relieved to see that one of the four big chairs in periodicals was free, grabbed Time magazine and sank into the seat.

Time magazine … dense articles about American politics, opinionated news about goings on in the world from an American point of view. Fantastic photography that transported you to Berlin or Moscow or Oregon – as if they all had equal heft in the scales of global politics. Gerry didn’t pretend to understand politics, to be honest he didn’t even pretend to be interested in it, but he was interested in being out there in the world, through the thin, grainy pages of Time magazine following the waves of oily vapour that seemed to float off the newsprint to somewhere that wasn’t bloody here.

The red second hand on the electric clock on the wall didn’t tick from second to second. It smeared around the face with no respect for the orderly division of time. As it swept past twelve the minute hand woke up and jumped forward a step before settling down for a well earned rest. The hour hand was just plain sneaky. Obviously it was moving, because if you ignored it for a while it wasn’t in the same place as when you last looked, but you never actually saw it move. Devious.

Time magazine was not distracting enough today. It was coming second to a timepiece in an attention grabbing race. American elections were disappointingly bloodless and pointless compared to British politics. It seemed to Gerry that the protagonists just wanted to move the dials on tax and welfare to their own favourite spot, and not where the other lot left it.

The minute hand whittled another notch out of breaktime, another step closer to French and Latin.

Gerry straightened his back, lifted his head and took a deep breath.
Never mind. Term ends in eight weeks.
He could fly home then and see Mom and Dad and the girls.
He stood, put Time back on the rack.
No tears now. Not here.
Not ever.


A few words for #SmallTales on the keyword Waste

Flecks of ink or pixels
Thrown against the page
Jackson Pollock pictures
Incandescent rage

Blobs with tails or swishes
Jetsam from my mind
Circles joined or severed
By sweeping looping lines

Hemingway used pencil
Graphite mixed with clay
Wrapped inside a cedar case
Shavings thrown away

I don’t scratch on paper
Fingers tap on glass
Hit delete repeatedly
My errors never last

My hours spent in writing
Are reality not faced
My accountant says, unsmiling
They’re basically a waste

Roobarb, When the Fairytales Vanished

Roobarb woke up to the most terrible clattering cat in the garden.
“Hear Ye ! Hear Ye !” went the caterwauling feline,
“Today is Fan Fiction Friday ! Fairytale Friday has fleetingly flitted. It’s Fayn Fickshorn Fah-rydayee !”

“What horrible howling,” thought Roobarb, “and what sad news. I’m frightfully fond of Fairytale Friday, I’m afraid Fan Fiction Friday feels fearfully feeble next to fabulous fairytales.”
“I shall go outside and give that moggie a piece of my mind”

Roobarb opened the door and stepped into the garden.
There was Custard the Cat, stomping up and down the path, banging on a saucepan lid with his wooden spoon and yelling about fans and fairies and generally making what they call a disturbance of the peace.
Roobarb harrumphed and huffed and told Custard
“You can’t go around here making all that noise,” he said, “and you can’t go cancelling fairytales. A lot of us rely on the fairytales to keep our spirits up”
“Keep your spirits up ?” asked Custard, “That’s ghost stories isn’t it ?”
Custard laughed the kind of snorty snarf of a laugh that made you want to stroke his fur from tail to head, with an axe.
“I’ll thank you” said Roobarb huffily, “to keep your snarky snout out of my Friday”
and he threw open the door of the shed and swept dramatically inside.
Moments later a loud banging and crashing could be heard from the shed and it was clear to anyone with ears that something important was being created. Mainly out of metal things that made a satisfying kerlashing sound when hit with a hammer.
The birds in the branches were getting grumpier and grumpier – first they had had to contend with a clattery cat, and now they were having to put up with a canine Caractacus Potts.
After what seemed like an hour and forty five minutes, if you were the sort of person who owned a watch and kept tabs on that sort of thing, the shed door swung open and there was a loud “BANG! Churtle parp parp” followed by a steady “chuggerter-chuggerter” noise and an eight wheeled contraption came puttering onto the path.
“Behold the Hydraulic Automatic Fairyfactor !” declaimed Roobarb proudly.
At the front was a shiny knight’s arm wielding a broadsword, next to that was an iron dragon’s head, rhythmically belching smoke. Then a tall tower of tin cans and right at the very top a tin foil princess waving a frilly hanky and a recording (sounding a lot like a dog with a high voice) repeating “Help me ! Help me ! Set me free !”
The sword went swish, the dragon belched, the princess wailed. The fairyfactor shook alarmingly. The whole contraption was shuddering and chuntering and right there in the garden it shook itself to tiny little bits right in front of Roobard, Custard and all the birds.
Custard started chuckling to himself, snickeringly.
“Well that’s THAT fairytale fried eh ?” he muttered.

Listen to the audio version

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The Explanation

100 words for #SmallTales on the keyword “Recipe”

The discovery, at boarding school, that he could be more alone in a roomful of people than he ever could on his own.
Years spent hiding in the library where no-one spoke or in the pub where nothing mattered.
Learning to submit to the fear of failure, rather than trying to do what he wanted to do.
Actively discouraging intimacy, making sure no friend or lover could ever touch the open nerve endings at his core.
“That,” my wife told her best friend over a large vodka, “is what makes him behave like that.”


The Court of Outsiders, a #FairyTaleFriday story

In Abyssinia, no-one ever says how nice it is to see you.
No-one ever compliments you on how good you look today.
Nobody has ever said “I’ll be seeing you.”

In the darkness of the abyss, far below the lightline where the last photons of sunlight smash into the fissure wall, there is no mention of sight because it serves no purpose.
The abyss is the land of the Hearkeners, and Abyssinia is their capital.

Tuflos sits in the Court of Outsiders, in the high backed chair of the Master Judge. Every day, people travel to Abyssinia to have their cases heard in front of him. His is the ultimate arbitration. In the sharp focus of impenetrable blackness each liquid drop of sound can be weighed and considered. There are no lawyers in The Court of Outsiders – just the plaintiff and the defendant – each of them telling Tuflos, in their own words, what happened. Each of them telling Tuflos more than they know as he listens to the thud of a carotid pulse making harmonics on vocal cords, or the double thrum of a nervous eyelid flutter.
He rarely asks questions, and when he does it is often about the person and not about the case – checking his understanding of their emotional baseline, not meddling in so called facts. Facts are so mutable, turn one in your hand and it changes shape and temperature. People though do not change. People are constant, steady, reliable. It is only what they do that is changeable, what they are you could build a house on.

Today Tuflos is hearing the case of a man who tried to bring electric light to Abyssinia. Basilias the ruler himself is standing before him arguing the case. In the defendant’s chair sits Thomas, a scientist and inventor. A dreamer, whose only hope was to make progress. The ruler is angry, demanding, untrusting.
“This fool brings light to our world, light we cannot use, light we do not trust, light that will diminish what makes Abyssinia special and different and great.”
“And you Thomas,” says Tuflos, “How do you respond ?”
“Being special and different is not our source of greatness your honour. Our power comes from our willingness to listen – imagine the power we would have if we could hear AND see !”

Tuflos heard the impassioned sincerity in Thomas’ voice and the fear and defensiveness in the ruler’s.
He spoke.

“Thomas you have done no wrong. But you are wrong.
Basilias, you have done wrong bringing this case, but you are right.
“We cannot use light here. No man listens willingly, we listen because we must, and light will kill the imperative.”
“Basilias, you must pay for Thomas to travel to where his passion can be used, and Thomas, you must find a world that can survive you.”

Tuflos rose from his chair and left the court smiling inaudibly to himself.
Truly, he thought, justice is blind.


A 100 word #SmallTales story on the subject of Benefits

Good evening ladies and gentlemen and thanks for tuning in to this, the first telethon of its kind in Britain.
We’ve raised money for children, animals and global disaster victims, but now’s YOUR chance to help people in Britain without a job.
In the old days, the government used to take care of these poor unfortunates, but those days are gone. Now it’s up to YOU to feed, clothe and house them. Or maybe even employ them.

Imagine a puppy with no-one to care for it.
That’s Mrs Jones of Halifax.
Dial now or text to donate…

Hubris, Icarus

500 words for #FairyTaleFriday from the keywords Hubris and Icarus

Hugh loved a good circumcision.
The flick of the blade, the twitch of the father’s eye, the deep sense of religious duty done.
This one, he thought, was about an eight.
The chanting was rich and melodious, the infant’s mother was particularly fervent but Dad barely flinched, which kind of spoiled the snick. Maybe they had older sons.
He settled down in the window light, warming himself as he wondered at the skywalking dust sparkles that sauntered across the shaft of sunlight above him. Like all holy places, this one smelt of dust and polish – both wood and brass polish here. It was a smart joint. The kind of joint that attracted rich families and their babies – or poor families who wanted to mix with the rich and be thought of as wealthy. So pretty much everyone really.
The dust just walked around in mid-air – never seemingly in a rush, no particular place to go. Just mooching. It always seemed to get somewhere in the end; at least the old widows and their dead husbands’ torn up shirt dusters always seemed to find some. And flick, smear, brush – off it had to go, and however much seemed to be stuck to the cloth, there was still an inexhaustible supply of particles flying right back up into the light to pace the air.
Hugh wondered if you could eat dust. Someone had told him once that all dust was tiny flakes of people’s skin, and if it was skin from an animal it was basically meat. So it stood to reason that if you ate enough of it you were pretty much eating steak. When he tried it though, it just tasted of holy places with not a hint of sirloin.
I don’t suppose you should think of eating dust in a holy place what with all the dead people that came through it, but meat is just dead animal so …
Hugh shrugged and took off to the front of the place where a new family had gathered for their first born son’s bris. Hugh took a good long look at the father. This one was practically crawling with anticipatory dread. Flinch city. Excellent.
Old Rabbi Jacobs was as professional as ever – some mellifluous chanting, some words – some of them in the holy tongue, some of them not and then the flash of the blade and WHAT A TWITCH a full face cheek clench from the father and the mother was positively reeking with righteousness. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” thought Hugh, “we have a ten.”
He grinned the bold grin of a moth who has just watched the best show in town and didn’t have to pay for a ticket and set off up to the top table. What joy ! What a twitch !
What’s that gorgeous light ?
Hugh was awestruck – the flickering, dancing flame seemed to call him and up, up he flew to meet it. To meet the light. The candle flame engulfed him and he flared out.



100 words for #SmallTales

Mrs Fawlty’s cat Vincent had a voracious appetite for small prey.
Anything small, juicy and easy to catch. Birds, fish, rodents of all forms.
Try as he may her husband Basil could not persuade her that Vincent was anything other than a saint.
It was her unshakeable belief in her cat’s self-control that persuaded her it would be fine to buy a hamster. A hamster who lasted one hour before Vincent ate it.
“Basil ! What have you done with my hamster – you foolish man ! You’ve lost him.”
“I most certainly have not.” her husband replied, “He’s in Vince Sybil.”

Pogue Trader

Roll up ! Roll up. Get your incomprehensible rambling Irishman here. 
I tell you what ladies, not only does he make no sense at all, but he sings ! It’s true ! Not in your conventional ‘melodious words flowing out to lift your heart’ kind of way, but in a gravel gargling, toothless mumbling sort of way. So how much will you give me for this worn out shambling wreck of a musician ? Do I hear one hundred pounds ?
FOUR POUND FIFTY ? You’re havin’ a laugh ain’t you mate ?
Ah go on on then. I’m me own worst enemy sometimes I tell you.