Saturday, 19 February 2022


We’ve all had the occasional ‘lightbulb’ moment, mine was being inspired to open possibly the greatest outlet for lightbulbs in the UK. This might sound boastful but I stock over four-thousand different types of bulbs—a fact that speaks for itself—in ‘Watts Going On’, which is a play on words. When I was a boy, I was always intrigued by the expression: ‘Many hands make light work.’ Now, in my store, I tell my customers: ‘You only need one hand to make lights work!’ The joke is slightly tenuous but I often find it lightens the mood. Many people express surprise when I tell them how many different bulbs there are. So, I explain it’s not just about whether they’re screw or bayonet-fitting, it’s about wattage, size, shape and colour. I could talk about bulbs for hours and by the time I’ve finished no one’s in the dark anymore. Naturally, not everybody takes an interest. You can’t expect everyone to share your passion, but I have to say I take a dim view of them. Hopefully, they’ll see the light eventually.

  Anyway, I opened ‘Watts Going On’ ten years ago and sometimes the business struggled. But being a born optimist, I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel. My confidence was fully justified because now I’m a millionaire. That’s one in the eye for all those early detractors who said my business was a flash in the pan. I showed them by designing a saucepan with an inbuilt light so people could cook in the dark.

  Of course, a lot of my custom is online now, you have to move with the times. I had no qualms about adapting; I’m equally happy serving customers in the store or over the internet, it’s easy to switch between the two. One of my biggest online orders came from a chain of garden centres who wanted to bulk buy bulbs for their garden sheds. I was happy to oblige and when I despatched their order, I attached a light-hearted note that read: ‘Hope this sheds some light on the situation.’ Knowing full well that it did!


Something that gets on my wick, is the candle shop that’s opened a few doors down from my premises. It’s owned and run by a bloke called Wayne and he’s named the shop ‘Wax and Wayne’—a feeble pun if ever I heard one. I don’t like him at all, although we’re civil to one another when we meet, which, being neighbours, is quite regularly. He acts all pally and cracks the odd joke or talks about the weather, like an ordinary person. But his dress-sense makes his odd-looking appearance weirder and I mistrust the furtive look I’ve noticed in his shifty eyes. His breath smells bad too and his teeth look wonky when he cracks his lopsided smile at one of his own jokes. He looks like a dishonest fishmonger running away from his past. I don’t know if he's married or got a girlfriend, but if so, I suspect he’s really mean to her. As for his stock… Well, he’s got shelves full of different scented candles aimed at the New Age lot and a little section of tiny candles for birthday cakes, and God knows what else! I don’t know and I don’t care; I think he’s backing a loser and is well behind the times when it comes to lighting. His shop’s only been open six months, but the way he larges it strutting up and down the street and beaming at passers-by outside his shopwindow, you’d think he was Lord Sugar or Richard Branson. Muppet!

  One day, somebody chucked a brick through ‘Wax and Wayne’s’ window—no, it wasn’t me! It was an inebriated vandal with mental health issues. Of course, the police didn’t want to know, even though Wayne offered a full description of the culprit. He had to go through his insurance to replace the window and then his premium went up. I did feel a bit sorry for him but only about 13-15%. The other 87-85% of me thought it served him right and that he’d got what he deserved. I knew the headcase who’d done it as it goes, he was a familiar face around the neighbourhood. He was an unemployed alcoholic called ‘Big’ Oscar (although he was only average height and build). Apparently, he’d been traumatised as a child after being made to walk barefoot on Lego pieces by his sadistic parents. They’d abandoned him on his tenth birthday to tour Scandinavian countries demonstrating various uses of Velcro to displaced Norwegians with learning difficulties. Oscar had been adopted by a philatelists’ co-operative until—weeks later—tragedy struck and the caring collective were decapitated by an out-of-control JCB, driven by an inebriated misfit with issues of their own. At their trial for manslaughter, the JCB driver claimed, as a child, they were forced to walk barefoot across polystyrene copies of Lego pieces. They got sentenced for twenty years in prison but, after serving two years, they were transferred to a mental health facility. I felt slightly sorry for Oscar, more than I’d felt sorry for Wayne, but only about 25-27%. The other 75-73% of me wondered if I could find him and persuade him to carry out further attacks on ‘Wax and Wayne.’

  It turned out to be very easy to find Oscar, he never strayed far from a six-street radius of mine and Wayne’s shops. By 10.30 am, most mornings, he’d be staggering drunk from the cans of lager he’d shoplifted from the supermarket. I also found he was open to persuasion when I not only offered him cash for continuing to damage Wayne’s business, but I added that Wayne was a notoriously cruel parent who forced his toddler son to walk barefoot on Lego pieces. I suggested trying something different to throwing a brick through the new window. Specifically: arson! I had to supply him with the matches and a Molotov cocktail, as well as wait until he’d consumed thirteen cans of Brain-Rot Brew (8.2%) lager. But my patience paid off as Wayne’s shop was set ablaze. Wayne ran out all tearful and panicking. It was about quarter of an hour before the fire brigade turned up but too much damage had been done. I could tell Wayne was going to lose his shop and couldn’t help laughing. Even though I felt about 11-13% sorry for him.

  ‘Oh, Wayne, mate, I’m so sorry!’ I lied to his crumpled face, shouting to be heard above the sirens of the fire engines.

  He was sobbing like a molested girl, I thought, or someone who’s been made to walk barefoot over Lego pieces. Fair enough, he’d lost his business, but still about 77% of me thought he looked like a contemptible wimp and should have tried to get a grip on himself.

  ‘Poor guy…’ A pedestrian muttered, walking past, their eyes drinking in the spectacle of Wayne’s misfortune.

  ‘What’s happened? What’s going on?’ Voices were heard from the crowd gathered on the opposite side of the road gawping at the scene.

  ‘There’s been a fire, hasn’t there?’

  ‘Ooh, dear, oh dear. Was anyone hurt?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’


  About 44-55% of me thought they sounded disappointed.

 Someone asked one of the firemen: ‘Think it was deliberate?’

  I assumed they’d know immediately, based on their professional experience, that it was. Needless to say, Oscar was nowhere to be seen—having legged it instantly after firebombing Wayne’s shop. It occurred to me I’d need to make sure he didn’t incriminate or implicate me if he fell into police hands. I realised I’d have to get to him first. But what should I do then? I wondered. Maybe I should not seek him out after all; focus instead on misdirecting Wayne. Yes, that seemed to make the most sense. Feign compassion for Wayne’s fate, then tell him about Oscar and his weird and destructive fixation with Wayne’s shop. Tell him about the Lego abuse he'd suffered as a child, that had sent him spiralling into joblessness, alcoholism and misplaced bitterness. Frighten Wayne, if I could, with the image of Oscar as a vindictive maniac who’d stop at nothing to achieve his insane goals. Maybe I could terrify Wayne into attacking, even killing Oscar. After making up stories about seeing him firebombing the shop and make claims of his history of extreme violence specifically involving, perhaps, candle-sellers. That’s when I got the idea I was about to put into place.

  The following day, I sought out Wayne. He was dismally surveying his burnt-out premises.

  ‘Oh, hello, Wayne…’ I said gently. Not that his abject demeanour had genuinely inspired my pity. But I wore an expression of sympathetic supplication. ‘I thought I’d find you here. Oh, dear, oh, dear. Is there anything you can salvage?’

  Wayne shook his head, dislodging a mass of dandruff in the process. It was disgusting! I knew then I hated him, that I was going to destroy him because he was a contemptuous fool who deserved it. I started talking about Oscar and how I thought there were things I ought to let Wayne know about him. I was thrilled by the look of concern on his face as I elaborated on my theme and exaggerated for effect.

  ‘My God! What am I going to do?’

  Wayne was clearly terrified. Feeling calm in the moment of approaching victory I sensed was mine, I hesitated before answering.

  ‘Perhaps you and I should take Oscar for a drink?’

  ‘You what? You can’t be serious! The man’s deranged and dangerous! You said so yourself.’

  ‘I know, I know,’ I nodded. ‘But he’s not to know we know how off the wall he is. Just think: it might well be to our advantage to pretend we want to befriend him. Using his weakness for alcohol as a tool for controlling him. Do you see?’

  Wayne looked uncomprehending, but fear made him clutch at the straws he failed to completely grasp, thanks to my cleverness. But, I knew, I had to be patient a little while longer and not rush things. I had a plan of action that had to be carefully executed or it could fail. So, I decided to play it cool and let Wayne mull over our conversation before taking my next step.

  ‘Look, tell you what, I’ll seek out Oscar and arrange we all meet sometime tomorrow, ok?’


  ‘Don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright. Did I mention I have friends who are senior-ranking police officers? I’ll have tipped them off to our rendezvous in advance, and then we’ll get Oscar pissed and trick him into making a full confession. Alright?’

  I was going to tip off the police, alright.


 Wayne still looked doubtful.

 ‘Leave it all to me. Unless, of course…’


 ‘You haven’t got any pieces of Lego, have you?

  ‘I’ll see you here tomorrow, Wayne. Let’s say around 10.30, ok?’

  Wayne nodded as I briskly walked off, stifling my laughter.


The next day was a Saturday. Normally, I’d be in my shop all day, there’s plenty of trade at the weekends. But, today was special so I closed early and strolled along to the burnt-out shell of ‘Wax and Wayne’ to meet hapless Wayne as arranged.

  ‘Morning, Wayne!’ I said with false cheer. ‘How are you feeling today?’

  ‘Frankly, like shit,’ he bleated, his face frozen in an expression of self-pity. ‘So, what’s the plan? Where are we meeting Oscar?’

  ‘The Nose Stuck Inn. I said I’d buy him a drink.’

  ‘Really? That place is a right dive.’

  He was right, it was a filthy hovel run by alcoholics for alcoholic customers. The average life-expectancy of its regular customers was forty-five. Not just because of their chronic drink problems—the pub and its cellar were notoriously dirty and fights were also a regular occurrence. No wonder Oscar was in his element in there. When I’d offered him a drink there he’d jumped at the chance, his bloodshot eyes glistening at the prospect. Well, he was going to get more than he’d bargained for on this occasion and it’d serve him right, the dysfunctional parasite! Wayne would get his come-uppance too and I couldn’t wait.

  ‘Oh, it’s not that bad. Come on, let’s go!’

  The sordid pub was only a five-minutes-walk away and I set off briskly whistling a tune with more insincere cheer. Wayne fell in beside me, his shoulders slumped, betraying his air of resignation and dejection. I stopped whistling after about thirty seconds and we continued our journey in silence.

  When we arrived at the pub, I gestured for Wayne to go first. When he brushed past, I managed to slip a certain item into his jacket pocket unnoticed. I could tell Wayne was uncomfortable as he deliberately swaggered to the greasy bar and placed his hands palms downwards on top of it. I saw Oscar at a nearby table and nodded to him.

  ‘What’ll it be?’ A purple-nosed woman said from behind the bar. She had to shout to be heard over the blaring jukebox playing speeded up bagpipes’ quartets, recorded underwater.

  ‘I’ll get these,’ I moved alongside Wayne. ‘Three pints of lager, please, darling.’

  ‘One of them’s for Oscar.’ I said to Wayne as the woman poured the drinks with surly resentment.

  ‘Shit! What’s he going to make of me being here?’ Wayne asked.

  ‘Don’t worry about it, all he cares about’s his booze.’

  According to the clock in the pub it was just gone 11am when we joined Oscar at his dirty, rickety table. A few old men sat on a couple of barstools and a couple of heavily-tattooed lesbians were arm-wrestling on another table. Other than that, it was empty.

  ‘Alright, Oscar, my mate? Here’s yours.’

  ‘Cheers,’ he said, immediately taking a huge sip.

  When he did, I pulled a hipflask out of my pocket and poured the contents into his pint.

  ‘It’s just a little something to make it a little more interesting.’ That was one way of putting it, it was a super-potent rat poison. I just hoped the taste wouldn’t put him off. It didn’t, he quickly drained the glass.

  ‘Fancy another one? Get them in, will you, Wayne?’

  Wayne, who’d been looking at a blood-stained patch of the carpet and hadn’t touched his pint, jumped up like his seat was spring-loaded. He went to the bar with sheepish compliance and wasted a smile on the woman with the purple nose, while I grinned at Oscar. The police wouldn’t be long, I reckoned and noticed Wayne’s jacket over the seat he’d just left. That’s handy, I thought putting my empty hipflask into his pocket. Taking care to choose the opposite pocket to the first, which I’d slipped the rat poison can into as we’d entered. I started nattering about some crap about deliveries for my shop, distracting Oscar while Wayne was at the bar. My hands were under the table, in one of them was the hypodermic syringe I was hoping Oscar wouldn’t notice me sticking into his leg to inject him with more lethal toxins.

  ‘Ouch!’ I said, grabbing my own thigh the same instant I stuck the needle in his thigh. ‘Something’s bitten me!’

  ‘What’s up?’ Wayne returned with the drinks. Amazingly, and much to my relief, Oscar hadn’t noticed a thing. ‘I thought something had bitten my leg.’

Standing up, the syringe concealed in my closed left hand, I rubbed my knee with my right and shuffled about a bit to get behind Wayne.

  ‘Really? That’s strange.’

  ‘Watch out, Wayne!’ I said banging into him as I pretended to stumble. He spilled some of the pints on the table and while he was focussed on that, I managed to plant the syringe in his jacket. ‘Sorry, mate.’ I apologised, sitting back down.

  ‘Cheers!’ Oscar greedily raised the fresh glass to his lips. He looked an unhealthy colour, I noticed a sweaty film on his face and forehead, but he always looked like that. But after a couple of minutes, during which he finished his second pint, he started panting and looked flushed.

  ‘Fancy a short, Oscar? Whiskey?’

  He nodded, his bloodshot eyes bulging noticeably in his now hot and profusely sweating head. Wayne was too busy nervously avoiding eye-contact with the arm-wrestling lesbians to notice anything, as I ordered a large whiskey and another pint for Oscar.

  ‘I need to take a leak.’ I said after I returned with the drinks. I didn’t, but the Gents was near the side doors of the pub, where I planned to make a quick exit. A momentary lull in the music from the jukebox coincided with my decision. Not a moment too soon, I thought, as Oscar began choking, his face matching the shade of the barwoman’s nose. Standing up to head in the direction of the toilet. I heard the wail of sirens, presumably the police, approaching. I took one last look at the table. Wayne was looking nervous and awkward, as Oscar suddenly fell forwards and his head crashed onto the table. Things had worked out perfectly. As I left the pub, I thought maybe I’d open up the shop in the afternoon.

 Julian Cloran 2022.

Monday, 20 December 2021


'Bling’ Crosby was dreaming of a Gold Christmas, just like the bronze he used to know.

While a troupe of method actors coated themselves in luminous paint,

Knowing there’s no business like ‘glow’ business.

Environmentally-friendly grocers aren’t as green as they are cabbage looking,

Particularly if they used to box and have cauliflower ears.

Ears of corn can’t hear, naturally, even if you raised your voice or used force.

But we take certain expressions for granted, as a matter of course.

For example, there are ‘horses for courses’ and blood ‘courses’ through their veins.

Courses can be educational, there can be courses of action, treatment and antibiotics.

Although why anyone should be against ‘biotics’ is a mystery.

Mysteries, by their nature, are mystifying, which sounds like mist-defying,

Which sounds like someone who doesn’t have the foggiest; being completely mystified.

Personally, why Edward Elgar composed his Enigma variations is a mystery to me.

‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ was Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel,

But lots of people have never finished any of his books.

These days, many people read with Kindles, others listen to audiobooks,

I always think if someone has a library of audiobooks it speaks volumes about them.

Language is a funny thing for sure, English in particular,

Where we find ‘deed polls’ do not refer to the actions of Polish people.

Similarly, we discover that a pole vault is not an eastern-European prison,

(Nor is it a secure environment for the storage of scaffolding)

Anymore than the economic term: ‘pink pound’ describes a ‘gay’ prison.

Friday, 23 July 2021


Fishes below RNLI lifeboats, riptides and strong currents, 
A lighthouse scans the waves, a fisherman saves his sandwiches for later. 
Scratching the psoriasis on his belly’s skin, he imagines himself coated in batter, 
At home safe and dry, his wife will natter with the neighbour’s wife. 
‘Life at sea’s the life for me,’ says the impressionable Joseph Conrad fan, 
His innocent plan: to board a ship, to join the navy wearing navy blue waterproofs. 
Roofs leaking, kids peeking through net curtains, while nets ensnare fish in water, 
Unfathomable experiences happen at sea, kids are in the sea. 
It doesn’t matter, it’s a drop in the ocean, oceans apart, 
The fisherman’s heart yearns for his estranged wife, 
As he reaches for a knife…
'IN TWO MINDS' Recent drawing, framed, ready to hang. FOR SALE: £50 from my Etsy store.
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Saturday, 3 July 2021

'VALERIE'S GLASS BEADS' My most recent colour drawing:gel pens on cartridge paper. Framed, for sale on my Etsy store:

Saturday, 28 March 2020


Hell, met by helmet-wearing Helmut.
His well-protected head never thought being told to go to hell ill-considered advice.
‘ADD-A-VICE’ is on a sign to advertise a hellish special offer,
That, like everything else here, is a damn con!
Helmut carries on gazing upon all manner of infernal sights
Unimaginable tortures inflicted through eternal nights.

For their sins, damned denizens are forced to endlessly watch Australian soap operas,
Musical accompaniment comes from the soaps’ cast members,
Badly singing their one-time hit songs with their cheesy grins.
The only thing worse than a never-ending torment is one that never begins!
Dread of the dead fills Helmut’s shielded head,
Perhaps he should have heeded Dante’s warnings or those of Milton instead.

Too little, too late, Helmut muses as a procession of tardy midgets on the march,
Count out loud with each and every step.
Putting his best foot forward, he feels a wave of overpowering guilt,
For assuming his stationary foot’s somehow inferior or not as well-built.
Guilt-ridden and confused, he stands still feeling ill.

Patting himself down with neurotic, sweating hands, finding he’s mysteriously bruised,
Confused and contused, Helmut wonders why he’s being punished…
If a connection exists between his present and some forgotten victim he’d abused in the past?
‘Bloody hell!’ he cries: it never rains it pours: he’s drenched by a sudden downpour of blood,
Helmut suspects anyone can get wet in hell but no one ever dries.

Saturday, 11 January 2020


On his way to Malcolm, Stefan walked through the town centre. Passing somnambulistic pedestrians window-shopping and a number of beggars, one of whom, Stefan thought, muttered something to him.
‘Uh?’ Curious, he turned to look before he could check himself. What did most beggars want? Money, of course, he sighed inwardly.
‘I said: a wise man listens.’ The beggar said clearly, quietly and winked.
Stefan turned a blind eye and hastened on his way, accidentally kicking the hind legs of a guide dog in the process. The well-trained Labrador’s placid temperament was undisturbed apart from the reproachful look it gave Stefan over its shoulder, before being pulled towards its blind owner who was wanting to cross the road. The pair was at a pedestrian crossing and the lights were just changing to red. Half a dozen cars in each direction began slowing down as Stefan hurried round the blind person and their dog, nearly twisting his ankle as he slipped off the kerb.
‘Shit!’ he exclaimed.
‘Er? What… What’s wrong?’ The blind person asked no one in particular, their unseeing eyes futilely flitting behind a thick pair of dark glasses.
‘It’s nothing,’ Stefan said, coughing. ‘I slipped, that was all. Everything’s ok.’ He noticed the guide dog was giving him a funny look again and felt his already hot face redden.
‘Oh, dear,’ said the sightless one, ‘are you alright?’
Stefan was crossing the road, despite being startled by the sound of a car’s horn tooting. He was already halfway across, swivelling his head to check no cars had jumped the lights, when he shouted back. ‘Hurry up, the lights are about to change!’
‘What?’ A weak voice said and the dog barked, startling Stefan as much as the car’s horn. On the other side of the road he took a deep breath and upped his pace. Malcolm’s house was only ten minutes away. He thrust his hands into his coat pockets and trudged quickly, his gaze fixed firmly ahead. A suited man walking in the opposite direction was whistling jollily but Stefan froze him with a malevolent stare. Two minutes further on, a trio of aggressive-looking youths jostling each other and shouting veered so close to him, Stefan could smell their alcoholic breath. He avoided their eyes with an affected nonchalance he was hoping conveyed an air of such intense preoccupation that he had not even noticed the edgy group. They passed each other in a couple of uncomfortable, for Stefan, seconds. Spitting, swearing, the threesome shouted insults at Stefan who bowed his head and became fixated with the pavement, speeding up unconsciously.
His heart was pounding for a while after passing the hostile group. He sucked in a couple of deep breaths and forced himself to calm down. In no time, he reached the familiar corner of Malcolm’s road and turned into it with not inconsiderable relief.

‘You took your time.’ Malcolm reproached him in his front doorway.
‘I got here as soon as I could,’ Stefan said. But he muttered under his breath: ‘All things come to those who wait, Malcolm.’
‘Have you seen what somebody’s done?’ Malcolm spilled out of his house flapping his arms at his defaced property. ‘Who would do such a thing?’
Stefan shook his head. Then, acting instinctively, he looked behind him at the houses directly opposite. As he did so, two sets of curtains dropped back into place behind their respective windows.
‘Why? Why?’ Malcolm pleaded. ‘Why me?’
‘Yes,’ Stefan hesitated, looking away from the curtain twitchers over the road, ‘it doesn’t look like anyone else has been targeted.’
‘But why? Why? Do you think it’s personal, Stefan? Has somebody got a grudge against me? But what does this mean?’ Malcolm whined pointing at the graffiti.
Stefan shook his head. ‘Don’t know, mate. Who can say? It was probably just a completely random act.’
‘By whom, Stefan?’
‘God knows! Some drunk…’
‘Oh, my God! What are the neighbours going to think?’
‘Who cares? It’s none of their business.’
‘They’ll think I’m embroiled in some weird personal vendetta, I’ll be shunned and ostracised. For God’s sake, let’s go inside, Stefan.’
Panicking, Malcolm bundled Stefan through the front door, which he closed behind them.
‘What are we going to do?’
‘We?’ Stefan was flabbergasted; he’d never seen Malcolm this distraught.
‘You’ve got to help me, please,’ Malcolm ran to his front windows and peered through them with an anxious expression, as if he’d received a huge bill he was unable to pay. ‘I can’t clean this mess off all by myself. It looks like spray-paint, doesn’t it? I don’t know how to get it off, do you?’
Stefan shrugged. ‘Ring B&Q or somewhere and see what they recommend.’ He thought Malcolm was pathetic.
‘Good idea.’ Malcolm reached for his mobile phone and typed into the search bar for B&Q’s number.
After fifteen or twenty minutes of anxious bleating, whining, explaining and questioning over the phone, Malcolm finally hung up.
‘Right, that’s it!’
‘Uh?’ Stefan looked up over the paperback he’d snatched from the coffee table and had been sat engrossed in while Malcolm had wittered.
‘That was B&Q I was talking to. They recommended something called Clearoff Graffiti Remover. Let’s go and get some before they shut.’
‘What time is it now?’ Stefan’s reluctance was obvious.
‘Nearly half-past-eleven…’
‘Jesus, Malc’ and what time do they shut? Seven, eight o’clock tonight? We’ve got ages…’
‘Not if we’re going to get it all scrubbed off while there’s sufficient daylight, allowing for the time it takes getting to B&Q and back.’
Stefan could not see why the entire process had to involve him. Nor any of it, come to that. Seeing Malcolm reduce himself to this neurotic, panicking heap was embarrassing; Stefan found him a contemptible spectacle and could not wait to distance himself from it. But vestiges of decorum and tinier still amounts of guilt forced him to hesitate in Malcolm’s plaintive presence.
‘Well, Malcolm, you know…’ Stefan rose to his feet slowly, struggling to find the right words that would neatly excuse him. ‘Not really sure if I can… Er, don’t know what, er, exactly I can…’
‘Come on, Stefan, man!’ Malcolm found it somewhere within him to abruptly sound assertive. Before immediately reverting to plaintive bleating mode: ‘You know I can’t stand these ghastly DIY warehouses with their endless wide aisles and shelves stacked from the floor to high above your head with all manner of strange products, and speeding forklift trucks screeching around behind you and leaving skid marks on the grey lino flooring. I hate the smell of these places… And the service, I bet I’ll get stuck in a queue a mile long, which is a nightmare when you’re on your own. Besides I might get the wrong product and…’
‘Alright, alright, I’ll tag along if it’ll make things more bearable. If you really need the moral support that is…’ If Stefan had hoped with this, Malcolm would be stung into jumping in with assurances that he’d be alright on his own, ‘if you put it like that’, etc, he was disappointed.
‘Thank you, Stefan.’ Malcolm clasped his hands together and raised them to his chest in an effeminate, camp gesture. ‘So it’s settled then, we’ll go together. Now what did I say that stuff was called? Clearitoff something Graffiti Removal Fluid?’
‘Something like that,’ Stefan sighed. ‘Didn’t you write it down?’
‘Ooh, no, I don’t think so, oh, God!’
‘Relax, we’ll just ask in the store.’
‘Oh, do you think so? Oh, alright, if you say so… Are you ready?’
‘Yep,’ Stefan slammed the paperback back down on the coffee table. It was called ‘Astral Sex’ by a Dr Lesley Portal-Finder. Its creased spine and grubby pages revealed how well-thumbed it was: one of Malcolm’s extensive collections of ‘Esoteric Self-Help and Enlightenment Books’, Stefan didn’t wonder, published by the Chakra Developments Press or some such outfit aimed at naïve New Agers. ‘Let’s go!’

‘£27. 99?’ Malcolm gasped at the till in B&Q. ‘For this tiny bottle?’
‘That’s right, sir.’ The bespectacled face, saturated with oozing acne, nodded at him behind the till. It was nearly time for their break and there were already six people behind this geezer—if only he’d hurry up, pay and fuck off!
‘It’s only half a litre,’ he looked round at Stefan who was avoiding eye contact with him. ‘Only half a litre, I said. Do you think it’ll be enough? Stefan? STEFAN?’
‘Er, well what does it say on the label?’
‘Enough to remove 9 linear metres of aerosol paint from all surfaces, including brick, glass, metal, masonry and plastic.’
‘Should be,’ Stefan nodded.
‘I should hope so at this price,’ whinged Malcolm. Stefan did not feel alone as he felt like smashing the bottle on the top of Malcolm’s cranium. People behind them in the queue shuffled and coughed. They heard loudly whispered comments like: ‘Come on, ’urry up,’ and ‘Get on with it, will ya?’ Malcolm’s sweaty, stressed face reddened. ‘Oh, very well.’
Outside the store, Malcolm nearly dropped the expensive bottle and screamed like a young girl in horror.
‘You’d better carry it, Stefan. I’m too stressed, I’m shaking. We can’t afford to lose it.’
There was that ‘we’ again, Stefan bristled but he took the bottle from Malcolm and slid it into his jacket’s inside pocket.
‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ Malcolm asked several times as they walked back to his home, half-an-hour away.
Stefan was determined not to get pressganged into helping remove the graffiti when they eventually returned.
‘Look, Malcolm, I’m sorry, mate but I just remembered there’s some shopping I need to do for my aunt. I’m going to have to go…’
‘No! Oh, really? Are you sure you can’t stay for a little while?’
Stefan shook his head, looked as sorry as he could.
‘Oh, go on. Not even for half-an-hour? Twenty minutes? You don’t have to do anything, just make us both a cup of tea and keep me company while I get started. Go on…’
‘I really can’t, I, er, promised my aunt I’d see her at two…’ That was his mistake: specifying a time.
Malcolm seized on it. ‘Oh, well, it’s not even one o’clock yet, I don’t think,’ (it was five minutes past) ‘you’ll have plenty of time to see me get started and time to spare.’
Stefan groaned. ‘Well, I said I’d meet her…’
‘Oh, do be a love and put the kettle on will you? While I just read these instructions and fetch a bucket and a scrubbing brush.’ Malcolm went over his checklist, ‘What do I need? Rubber gloves: check! Plastic bucket: check!’
Meanwhile, fuming, Stefan went inside. After angrily switching on the kettle and snatching a cup, he grabbed a teabag, which he stuffed down the back of his trousers and pressed against his anus before farting on it. Tipping it in the cup, he finished making the drink for Malcolm and took it outside.
‘Here you are,’ he proffered the cup to Malcolm, who reached out for it with a hand in a pink rubber glove. Then, glancing across the road at the house opposite he noticed a trio of women outside looking in his direction. ‘Oh, shit! No!’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘It’s Mrs Crushing, the neighbourhood gossip and a couple of her pals from the Women’s Institute by the look of it.’
Stefan shot a look at the senior, concerned-looking women who appeared to be coming over.
‘God, that’s all I need!’ Malcolm muttered under his breath and took a large gulp of his tea as the women crossed the road.
‘Coo-ee, Malcolm! Only me,’ Mrs Crushing called, unnecessarily waving as well, flanked by her reedy cohorts.
Malcolm groaned and shot Stefan a conspiratorial look, but said, ‘You made a nice cup of tea, Stefan. Where’s yours?’
Stefan shrugged, ‘I really don’t want one. In fact, I really ought to be going…’
‘What? And leave me with these three witches?’ Malcolm said in a stage whisper. The women were nearly upon them.
‘Well, there’s not a lot I can do,’ Stefan said.
‘Oh, my goodness, Malcolm,’ Mrs Crushing said, alighting on the pavement outside Malcolm’s house, ‘what on earth’s happened to your lovely, little house? “Pride comes before a fall”, but what’s it mean?’ She shook her head contemplating the sprayed words, her two companions shook theirs in sympathetic unison and Malcolm shrugged.
‘Some random hooligan struck last night,’ he said, groaning inwardly as the three old crones made noises expressing their incredulity at such a thing and then more noises aimed at conveying their collective sympathy for him. He knew that Mrs Crushing would stand there prattling and watching him all the time as he washed the paint off. He shot a glance at Stefan who had smiled nonchalantly at the women and was now preparing to take his leave.
‘Okay, Malcolm, like I said I’ve got to get going. Good luck with this. I’ll give you a call sometime tomorrow; see how you’ve got on. Ta-ta!’
‘Mmm,’ Malcolm’s face was beetroot red, he looked livid.
Stefan turned abruptly and, as if struck with an afterthought, approached Malcolm and leaned close so he could say something quietly in his ear: ‘Don’t they say bad things come in threes’?’


Friday, 20 December 2019


‘What goes around comes around,’ said the man standing next to a roundabout.
‘Right you are, Malcolm,’ said the younger man standing further away from the roundabout, nearer to the swings.
It wasn’t hard to agree with Malcolm, who was wise. The younger man, Stefan, always agreed with him; he was his mentor and friend. But not out of blind trust—Stefan could see the veracity of Malcolm’s words from the way he delivered them. A good example of his unique delivery had just happened, Stefan realised. The carefully arranged proximity between Malcolm and the roundabout had provided the perfect visual analogy for the words he uttered. Words that, issued from lesser mouths, would sound clichéd. From Malcolm, with the aid of a visual prop, they were pearls of wisdom resonating with profound truth and universal significance.
‘Shall we depart, Stefan?’ Malcolm asked.
Stefan enthusiastically nodded, ‘Yes, let’s. But where to?’
Malcolm smiled, raising a hand in a gesture that was halfway between dispensing a benediction and offering supplication. ‘We’re off to join a flatulent man.’
Stefan frowned, finding, as he always did, Malcolm’s cryptic statements unfathomable. He shrugged and quickly fell into step alongside his friend, who was an impenetrable mystery to him. The two men set off purposefully, yet at a relaxed pace.
Ten minutes later, Malcolm abruptly halted to say, ‘Let’s take the bus.’
‘Er, okay,’ Stefan hesitated, knowing Malcolm seldom carried cash. Meaning he’d have to pay for their fares, as usual.
‘We need a number 2A,’ Malcolm said. ‘There’s a stop just across the road.’ Ignoring Stefan, he set off in that direction.
Fortuitously, the bus arrived soon after they reached the bus stop. ‘All things come to those who wait, Stefan.’
They sat together quietly as the bus set off. Malcolm looked out of the window serenely.
Eventually, Stefan asked: ‘Which stop do we want?’
‘Next one,’ said Malcolm calmly, standing up.
They got off the bus outside the main entrance to the town’s park. Leading the way, Malcolm strode along the tree-lined path that led to a fountain. Further ahead, there was a cafeteria and public toilets. On either side of the path were wooden benches, on some of which elderly couples sat, others afforded young parents with their kids some rest. Deeper into the park, they became aware of how busy it was. A group of large women, pushing buggies, vied for space with numerous dog walkers—in both directions. There were plenty of sporting types of individuals, too; holding or bouncing balls of all descriptions.
‘Shit!’ Stefan exclaimed. Malcolm gave him a quizzical look. ‘A pigeon’s just shat on me.’
‘Oh, it’s supposed to be lucky, I believe.’
Stefan didn’t feel lucky, running his hands through his hair and brushing his clothes. But they were nearing the toilets by the cafeteria, which Stefan decided to clean himself up in.
Malcolm said, ‘I’ll wait outside.’
‘Let’s have a cup of tea,’ he said as soon as Stefan was finished.
I suppose I’ll have to pay for that, too, Stefan thought—immediately feeling guilty for it. He knew that spiritual people were usually poor, nonmaterialists: spiritually rich, materially poor.
The cafeteria was busy so they ended up sharing a table with a man of advanced years.
‘Course I don’t mind,’ the man had said, proffering with his hand and belching. ‘Be my guests, gents. Oops! Pardon me.’
Stefan sat down grimacing as suspect odours from the man assailed his nostrils. This had to be the ‘flatulent man’ to whom Malcolm had referred, which was impressive, Stefan grudgingly acknowledged. As well as constantly burping and breaking wind, the man turned out to be a lonely natter box. With selfish neediness, the man, who was called Colin, capitalised for the next twenty-five minutes on his new audience. Regaling them with an autobiographical diatribe that was as poorly structured and rambling in its presentation as it was boring in its substance. But like most people who are emotional needy, Colin was impervious to all emotional signals from other people. It did not, because it could not, occur to him that anyone else might find him less interesting than he found himself. It is an impossible concept for one who’s totally self-obsessed. With the Colins’ of the world, it’s not arrogance, they don’t even think about other people enough to favourably compare themselves with them. It’s a form of mental illness, a delusional mind-set, brought on by their isolation. It’s like they are overcompensating for the sad reality of their insignificant existences by assuming a ‘psychic security blanket’ of complete self-absorption/fascination.
When they eventually stood up to leave, Malcolm had warmly shook Colin’s hand, while Stefan seethed with extreme irritation.
‘My God!’ he said, outside the café. ‘What a chronic bore. Did you get a whiff of his farts, Malcolm? They were lethal.’
‘He was kind enough to offer us seats. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to use the café.’ Malcolm said.
‘We’d have been better off. Why didn’t you hurry up and finish your tea so we could have cut loose?’
‘You’ve missed the point, Stefan.’
‘Which is?’
‘He was kind, yes. Wouldn’t you agree?’
‘I suppose so. So what?’
Stefan recognised that ulterior motives are often well-served behind acts of kindness. It seemed to him Colin had got more out of his ‘kind’ gesture than they had.
‘Colin is the embodiment of the sentiment: it’s an ill wind that blows no good.’
You’re kidding, thought Stefan, conscious for the first time of doubting Malcolm.
They walked out of the park and stood outside the gates.
‘Well, I’ll see you tomorrow, Stefan. It’s been a long day.’
‘Oh,’ Stefan faltered, ‘okay, then.’
He walked away headed for his home, feeling as if he’d been dismissed.

The following day, Malcolm wanted to return to the park.
‘What for?’ Stefan asked.
‘You’ll see.’
‘I’m not up for another dose of that fartbag, Colin!’
‘He’s not the reason why we’re going.’
‘We’re going?’ Stefan was already following Malcolm. ‘I suppose you want to take the bus?’ he said, already patting his pockets for the change that would inevitably be needed.
‘No, not today. Let’s walk.’
The park was less busy when they arrived. Walking up the main path, they saw fewer people sat on the benches and fewer pedestrians. Dogs barked somewhere in the distance. A breeze rustled the branches of trees on either side.
‘Look, Stefan!’ Malcolm pointed at an impressive apple tree, rustling in the wind. Some fruit fell from a couple of branches to the grassy ground. ‘The apple does not fall far from the tree.’
It’s true, thought Stefan. But he felt like a bit of a sap.

That night, Stefan stayed up late writing a story called ‘The Apple that Did Fall far From the Tree’ on his laptop. When he’d finished writing, he printed the story off and read it through. He was surprised to find he’d written nearly 1, 500 words; and, he wasn’t used to writing fiction. The story involved a man who planted an apple tree on the edge of a cliff, so when it bore fruit some apples fell directly over the clifftop. Stefan contrived for one of these apples to roll further away from the bottom of the cliff and into the sea. The tide took it out to a small boat that was passing. A member of the crew saw it bobbing about and grabbed it; and, thinking to eat it later put it in his pocket where he forgot about it. The apple was rotten when, weeks later, he arrived in Australia, thousands of miles away from its starting point. It could have been better-written, Stefan realised, but overall he felt satisfied with his efforts. He sealed the story inside an envelope and, the following morning he posted it, anonymously, to Malcolm. That night, he slept extremely soundly, waking in the morning feeling smug and refreshed.
When he saw Malcolm later in the same day, he acted as he always did. Not that he regretted sending the story, far from it. But he had no desire to identify himself as the author; in fact, the secretive nature of what he’d done gave him an excited feeling inside. He wondered what Malcolm would make of it when the story arrived in the post. The idea amused him and increased his internal frisson.
‘Is there anywhere in particular you fancy going?’ Malcolm asked.
‘I’ll follow you,’ Stefan shrugged—it immediately crossed his mind that he’d made an unconsciously submissive response. No wonder Malcolm always took the lead; he might as well be an obedient puppy on the end of it!
As they passed Caffeine Heaven, the town’s trendiest coffee bar, they were assailed with its pungent coffee odours and the high-volume babble of customers seated outside. A woman shrieked having scalded herself pouring her coffee over her white blouse. The men around her table tried not to be seen looking at her ample cleavage as she dabbed away at herself with a napkin.
‘Is everything alright, madam?’ Asked a waiter who’d suddenly appeared with a tea towel and a concerned expression.
‘Yes, yes,’ the woman waved him away. ‘Just a silly accident.’
The waiter hesitated, accidents led to lawsuits he’d been trained to think. ‘If you’re sure you’re okay. You might want to get your chest looked at.’
The woman’s chest was indeed bright red, as were the men’s faces furtively watching the shape of her breasts within the soaked blouse.
‘Honestly, there’s no need. No need at all.’ More embarrassed than hurt, the woman wanted all the attention that was now upon her to cease.
‘Very well, madam.’ The waiter scuttled off with an obsequious bow, breaking wind in the process. This caused the equally embarrassed male companions of the woman to laugh raucously; partly with mirth, and to dispel their own discomfort.
‘He might have left me the tea towel,’ the woman grumbled.
Three of her friends leapt up at once. One of them said: ‘I’ll get it!’
‘Don’t bother, he’s coming back.’
‘I’m so sorry, madam. The manager wants you to know there is no charge for you and your friends today.’ The waiter said, dabbing away at the table with a cloth. His face frozen in an expression of abject contrition.
‘Oh, well…’ The woman was disarmed, she half-smiled.
‘That’s a result, Mo,’ said one of her friends.
‘Fair enough, no harm done.’ Was echoed by the others.
Walking on, Malcolm turned to Stefan to say, ‘There’s many a slip between cup and lip, eh?’
Stefan wasn’t surprised. But how was he to react? Would it appear out of character, to Malcolm, if he kept silent? He wondered. Although uncertain, he just nodded and they walked on.
A little further on, they drew alongside the solicitors: ‘Grasp, Gloat and Gullet’, whose sign boasted, ‘Specialists in Legalised Forms of Revenge.’ It was an imposing, some would say an intimidating, three-storey-building with the business façade on the ground floor made up of a row of black-glossed, cobbles set in cement above and frosted glass below, with the names and their slogan hand painted in an old-fashioned font and silver paint. Heavy oak, double doors with highly polished brass handles hang to the right of the windows. Both men noticed the FLAT TO LET sign outside, which referred to the flat upstairs above the business.
Mischievously motivated, Stefan turned to Malcolm. ‘You know the expression: no man is above the law, don’t you?’
‘Ye-ees…’ Caught off-guard, Malcolm hesitated.
‘Well, it won’t be true if some bloke rents that upstairs flat!’ He laughed loudly, falling into step with now quiet Malcolm.
Outside the solicitors, a man driving an expensive car pulled up alongside the only available parking space.
‘He’ll be lucky!’ Malcolm shook his head.
The space truly looked impossibly small. But as Stefan shared Malcolm’s doubt, the driver casually swung his car into reverse and, apparently effortlessly, in one smooth, fluid manoeuvre parked perfectly.
‘Wow!’ Stefan exclaimed and Malcolm gasped.
The driver swung his car door open and emerged from his vehicle with such an air of haughty superiority, looking down his nose at the pedestrians watching him, like Stefan and Malcolm. A few individuals had stopped and admiringly witnessed the man’s skilful parking, but his obnoxious manner getting out of his car was so tangible and repellent; their previously respectful glances turned to scowls of derision and they hurried on their way. Alighting on the pavement without looking where he was going, the driver clicked his remote car alarm/locking system, and promptly stepped in a pile of runny dog shit.
Malcolm looked at Stefan; they both raised their eyebrows. Walking away, he said: ‘Pride comes before a fall!’
Stefan knew the arrogant man hadn’t heard what Malcolm had softly said—maybe it was just for his benefit, he thought.
They continued walking for another ten minutes or so, in silence, before Malcolm cleared his throat and began mumbling something about something he’d just remembered needing his attention.
‘Well, er, I’ll see you soon, Stefan.’
‘Okay. Probably tomorrow.’ Stefan nodded as Malcolm scuttled away.

That night, Stefan, dressed in black overalls and wearing a balaclava and gloves, snuck over to Malcolm’s house. Malcolm lived in a respectable neighbourhood and it was dead quiet when Stefan got there at about one o’clock in the morning. He’d have to be quieter than a mouse so as not to disturb Malcolm or his bourgeois neighbours; it was a good job he’d rattled the aerosol spray can thoroughly in the car beforehand. He’d parked a couple of streets away and arrived on foot, pulling the gloves and balaclava on at the last minute in case anyone saw him. But save for a cat sitting on a garden wall blinking at him, he’d not encountered a soul. After a last look round to make absolutely sure no one was around he set to work, spraying in foot-high, red letters the following phrase on Malcolm’s front wall, windows and door: PRIDE DOES COME BEFORE A FALL… UNLESS IT’S A PRIDE OF LIONS!

The next day, Stefan was woken by his mobile phone ringing—he’d forgotten to put it on silent—it was Malcolm! Still remembering the glorious dream the call had interrupted, Stefan took his time before answering. He’d dreamed that he was a Roman Emperor who’d had Malcolm fed to a pride of lions in an ancient arena filled with thousands of people baying for blood. He and the crowd had revelled in the gory gorging of the lions on hapless Malcolm’s hysterical form.
‘Hello? Malcolm, what is it, mate?’ It was only half-past seven, Stefan registered.
‘Stefan! I can’t believe it, someone’s vandalised my house!’ Malcolm sounded distraught.
‘Uh? You what?’ Stefan, wide awake, feigned the tiredness in his voice. Did Malcolm suspect it was him? He somehow doubted it but couldn’t tell.
‘My house! Some bastard’s daubed a weird slogan over the outside.’
‘Oh, dear…’ Surely Malcolm did not suspect him. Why would he? ‘Er, what are you going to do?’
‘What do you mean?’
What do you want me to do about it? Stefan thought, but said, ‘Have you called the police?’
‘No, do you think I should?’
Stefan hesitated, running through his mind the possibility that he might have left evidence that could incriminate him. ‘It’s up to you.’
‘Can you come over?’
‘What for?’ Stefan didn’t mean to sound anxious.
‘I could do with your company,’ Malcolm, too preoccupied to notice Stefan’s manner, whined. ‘It’ll be a job and a half cleaning the graffiti off. I don’t even know what to use, do you?’
‘Er, no. Depends what it is. Look it up online.’
‘Good idea. What time can you come round?’
‘Give me a couple of hours.’
‘A couple?’ Malcolm sounded plaintive.
With resentment towards Malcolm’s neediness smouldering in his chest, Stefan glanced at the time before answering.
‘I’ll be there as soon as I can.’ Then, abruptly he hung up.


Friday, 11 May 2018



EST. 2015.



By our Warwick Affairs correspondent, Delia Probes.

Shocking reports have reached us here at the Warwickshire Gazette and Post of a sick cannibal preying on the praying community in the area neighbouring Nuneaton. Nuneaton itself has long been stigmatised for the attraction it holds for both bankrupt restauranteurs (and others from the catering industry who failed miserably) and, no less ironically, anorexic support groups. Now, it has proved itself the controversial capital of Warwickshire again with the discovery of the half-eaten remains of a nun outside a church on the outskirts of the town.

The gruesome discovery was made in the early hours of yesterday morning by Alan Snoopins, a retired traffic warden from Coventry, who was on holiday at the time.

‘I woke at the crack of dawn, yesterday,’ Mr Snoopins, 70, said. ‘The toilet in the B&B was blocked, so I decided to go for a walk. I was about ten minutes away from the B&B when I saw a church that looked pretty. Only, on closer inspection, I discovered it was anything but…’

To his horror, on the pathway leading to the church of St Botolph’s, in Credence Lane, Mr Snoopins saw a pack of Alsatian dogs fighting over the remains of a nun.

‘To my horror, I saw a pack of dogs, Alsatians they were, all fighting over this poor nun’s dead body.’

Nauseated, Mr Snoopins immediately alerted the police.

Det. Chief Inspector Alan Mason praised Mr Snoopins for his public-spirited response to what he described as ‘an atrocious end to a nun.’ DCI Mason, who heads what, is now a murder case, has issued the following statement:

‘Thanks to the public-spirited actions of a retired holidaymaker, police are now investigating the suspicious death of a nun, found by the holidaymaker being eaten by a pack of dogs. The dogs themselves were quickly ruled out as the prime suspects in the case as forensics revealed the time of death as some hours previous to their unsightly feast. Further clues point to the perpetrator possibly being male, with a fixation about nuns specifically, or uniformed women in general. Most disturbingly, the number of bite marks on what remained of her body that could not be blamed on the dogs could suggest she was cannibalised.’

The nun has been identified as Sister Veronica Barnacle, from Coventry’s Convent for the Piety and Purification of Our Lady’s Humble Servants. She was aged 55, and believed to have been visiting Father Brawny McGuigan at St. Botolph’s to discuss an inter-diocese funding of a local charities event.

Father McGuigan’s reaction to the police statement was one of ‘complete shock and the deepest revulsion.’ He simply ‘could not imagine,’ he said, ‘what type of monstrous being would do such an appalling thing to a sweet little nun like Sister Veronica. Despite his vocation, Father Brawny spoke of his incredulity over the news. ‘It’s hard to believe, I pray to God for help in understanding the depravity of such a person’s warped psyche. Killing a nun’s bad enough, but then eating her? I pray to God this sick man doesn’t make a habit out of it.’