The look she threw me mixed scorn and pity in equal measures.
‚ÄúYou promised me you‚Äôd sort out your weight.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI did,‚ÄĚ I said, ‚Äúand I have.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhat have you done? You still eat too much, drink too much, and you and exercise are total strangers.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs a bit unfair,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve become a gym ninja.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhat the hell is a gym ninja?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWell,‚ÄĚ I said, ‚Äúif you look for me at the gym, you won‚Äôt find me.‚ÄĚ And the voice in my head added ‚Äėwell played, gym ninja, well played.‚Äô
‚ÄúIdiot,‚ÄĚ she said as she walked away‚Ä¶ forever.
I was so proud of my creation. I‚Äôd undoubtedly written the world‚Äôs greatest Drabble. No writer, future or past, could compete with my gem.
Similes bounced off the page like frantic fireworks. Emotions reached out of the story and squeezed tears from the readers‚Äô hearts. And, to put the cherry on the cake, I‚Äôd already added the appropriate amount of alliteration.
But wait. There was a problem. The word count was wrong. I needed two more words to take me to the magic hundred. What could I do? Think, think. I know what the extra words should be‚Ä¶ ‚Äėthe end‚Äô.
A cold fog drifted down the darkness of the Hollywood hills and engulfed everything in its murky gloom. The young actress clambered up a rickety maintenance ladder onto the big sign before swan-diving off the top of the letter H.
Another Hollywood dream dies.
Her broken body was found along with a single shoe and suicide note which read: ‚ÄėI am afraid. I am a coward. I am sorry for everything.‚Äô
The second shoe was never found although rumours say it is buried at the foot of the letter Y‚Ä¶ a poignant reminder to keep your feet on the ground.
In 1915, Carl Laemmle bought a 230 acre chicken ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles and built Universal film studios. He kept the chickens just in case the business failed.
Soon, Universal was raking in the money with nightmarish films like Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolfman.
Things were going so well, Carl gave the chickens to his uncle, a retired colonel, on the basis he‚Äôd pay for them when he could. The colonel‚Äôs business failed miserably. Apparently there was no appetite for Californian Fried Chicken so his uncle retired again and moved to Kentucky. The chicken loan was never repaid.
It‚Äôs time‚Ä¶ time to die. Life brought me to this place and this place will take my life.
‚ÄúLast meal?‚ÄĚ they bark.
‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ I say. I have no appetite.
My ankle chains clank as I‚Äôm led shackled through the baying crowd.
‚ÄúNo,‚ÄĚ I say. I‚Äôll not perform for the tricoteuses and sans-culottes.
Tears fill my eyes as I offer up a silent prayer to my maker.
‚ÄėForgive me. Please let me see you when this is over.‚Äô
I kneel and immediately vomit when I see the face of my daughter staring dead-eyed at me from the blood-soaked basket.
The Nigerian email seemed genuine although it was littered with spelling mistakes and bad grammar.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a scam,‚ÄĚ said his wife.
‚ÄúWhat d‚Äôyou know?‚ÄĚ he said as he hit the ‚Äėsend‚Äô button and his bank details whooshed off into the Internet.
Within a day, cash arrived in his bank but this was no time for ‚ÄėI told you so‚Äô. He had been tricked, he‚Äôd expected twenty-three million pounds and he'd only got twenty-three million US dollars.
A man in Nigeria smiled. At last, someone had responded so he'd been able to return the UK aid before it was fraudulently taken.
‚ÄúI‚Äôd like to complain.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThis train is ram-packed, there aren‚Äôt enough seats.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre sitting in a seat, sir.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYes, but what about my wife?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs an empty seat beside you.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúUseless, my wife‚Äôs at home. Anyway, what if my whole family was here? Including great-grand-kids, there‚Äôd be seventy-nine of us.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúA standard carriage only has seventy-four seats.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúExactly. Anyway, look at those people standing.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre waiting at the door to get off.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThey should have seats.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThen passengers couldn‚Äôt get on or off.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou‚Äôre full of excuses, son.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou don‚Äôt have a ticket, do you?
Last night‚Äôs storm had littered the beach with thousands of starfish. Ahead of me, a young boy stopped occasionally to throw one back into the ocean.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôll die if left on the sand,‚ÄĚ he told me when I caught up.
‚ÄúThere are too many, you‚Äôre not going to make much of a difference,‚ÄĚ I said.
He tossed another starfish into the sea. ‚ÄúI made a difference to that one!‚ÄĚ
He hadn‚Äôt seen the seals which were catching and eating every one he threw. I hadn‚Äôt the heart to tell him. He was too young to have his idealistic dreams crushed.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm sorry, he‚Äôs gone,‚ÄĚ said the doctor. ‚ÄúWe did everything we could.‚ÄĚ
Sobs of sorrow filled the waiting room as the family digested the devastating news. Anger and sadness engulfed everyone in equal measures.
A different screaming and shouting could be heard in the administration section of the hospital.
‚ÄúIt was just unlucky,‚ÄĚ said the young nurse.
‚ÄúChange it now,‚ÄĚ shouted the senior administrator.
The hospital would have to rethink its new time-saving policy regarding using nurses‚Äô initials rather than their full names when filling in the patients‚Äô charts.
Nurse David Neil Richardson would probably never get over the trauma.
They hadn‚Äôt been in my restaurant before.
‚ÄúWhat would you like?‚ÄĚ I said handing them menus.
‚ÄúActually, we‚Äôve already decided.‚ÄĚ They pointed at the seafood special poster.
‚ÄúNo problem.‚ÄĚ It was synchronicity‚Ä¶ or serendipity. My new recipe trialled by new people.
‚ÄúDelicious,‚ÄĚ they said as they left. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll be back.‚ÄĚ
No one else ordered the seafood special and I never saw my Guinea pigs again. I binned the seafood recipe and replaced it with vegetarian lasagne.
‚ÄėCouple Die of Food Poisoning‚Äô proclaimed the newspaper headline a week later. ‚ÄėAuthorities Investigating.‚Äô
Serendipity, indeed. I could have lost two of my regulars.
‚ÄúD‚Äôyou know why I stopped you, sir?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNope,‚ÄĚ I said. ‚ÄúWasn't really concentrating.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúToo busy texting.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúTexting, were we?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYep, about the weed.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNope,‚ÄĚ I said, ‚Äúgrower and seller. I used to just grow but my partner died so now I sell too.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúMmmm,‚ÄĚ said the cop, ‚ÄúI stopped you for doing thirty-eight in a thirty zone.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúNot the murder?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou really shouldn't take the piss, but my shift‚Äôs about over and who needs the paperwork? On your way and drive carefully.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúThanks,‚ÄĚ I said as I wondered where to bury the body in the boot.
Ignore the unwinnable debates about economics, migrants and sovereignty because, in all these areas, there‚Äôre perfectly reasonable arguments which back up either the ‚Äėin‚Äô or ‚Äėout‚Äô points of view. Instead, let‚Äôs examine some indisputable facts which will show why leaving the EU is the only option.
Romania is a member of the EU. Fact.
Transylvania is part of Romania. Fact.
Vampires come from Transylvania so they‚Äôre EU citizens. Fact.
All EU citizens have the right to free movement within the EU. Fact.
We must get out before the vampires arrive‚Ä¶ although if we leave, garlic will probably be more expensive.
The clangs and clanks drew ever closer. The air vibrated with a deep metallic thunder and the ground itself throbbed. The enemy was close, it was just a matter of time before the epic battle would begin.
They stood proud, packed together closely, forming a perfect square ‚Äď just like their forefathers and their forefathers‚Äô forefathers had done. Ten thousand blades glistened in the sun. How could a mighty army such as theirs ever be defeated?
Within an hour, the carnage was over. It seemed that the lessons from history had still not been learnt. Flymo blades always beat grass blades.
‚ÄúThere‚Äôre two dog foods in China.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúBig deal, we've got hundreds here,‚ÄĚ said my mate preparing for another beer-inspired debate.
‚ÄúNo. Two categories ‚Äď one‚Äôs pet food and one‚Äôs for dogs you‚Äôre planning to eat.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYou shouldn't eat dogs, that‚Äôs why. It‚Äôs the Carny Code.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhat? I remember that from the Simpsons. What've the rules governing carnival folk got to do with eating dogs?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDifferent Carny Code. I mean the code where carnivores don‚Äôt eat other carnivores.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWhat about lions? Lions eat people.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúOnly vegetarians and vegans.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúI guess that‚Äôs why they‚Äôre the kings of jungle. They‚Äôre smart.‚ÄĚ
I took my lead from him, unshed tears blurred my vision.
‚ÄúIt was his time,‚ÄĚ he said.
The floodgates burst open and my uncontrollable sobbing started. Shoulders shuddering and heaving, I felt his arms pull me into the warmest hug I‚Äôve felt since my dear wife passed away.
‚ÄúIt really was his time.‚ÄĚ
He may have been right but neither his words nor his arms did anything to ease my grief.
I shuffled and stumbled to the door, avoiding the looks of the others in the waiting area. They knew the significance of leaving the vet‚Äôs with an empty lead.
Deep in the bowels of the British Meteorological Office, two senior Met men met.
‚ÄúWe should discuss the accuracy of our forecasts.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúLack of accuracy, more like.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúExactly. We can‚Äôt predict the weather an hour ahead never mind a week.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAnd everyone knows ‚Äėchangeable‚Äô just means we've no idea what‚Äôs happening.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYeah, they say we should just look out the window.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHow about getting a big computer, like the Americans have?‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWay too expensive.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúFair point, maybe we should stick to how we've always done it.‚ÄĚ
And so it was‚Ä¶ fresh cow pats and willow sticks produced the next forecast.
Time changes relationships, it does. In the early courting days with my now-wife, we were besotted with each other, we did everything together and shared our most intimate secrets. But what I valued above all, was our ability to enjoy comfortable silences. Some people need to fill every second with inane chatter, yet we could enjoy long periods of shared, blessed quiet.
As I said, things change, and not always for the better. For example, I haven‚Äôt spoken to my wife for over three months. She complains endlessly, because apparently now, silences aren't as comfortable as they used to be.
Our local council introduced fines for dog-walkers not carrying poo bags. Yesterday, Rover pooed and, as I pulled the bag from my pocket, a gust of wind snatched it from my grasp, depositing it in a nearby bush.
‚ÄúExcuse me, sir,‚ÄĚ said the council enforcement officer who‚Äôd appeared from nowhere. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs an ¬£80 fine for not picking up your dog‚Äôs mess.‚ÄĚ
I explained what‚Äôd happened.
‚ÄúNo bag? Another ¬£80 fine.‚ÄĚ
I explained again.
‚ÄúOver there in the bush? Have an ¬£80 fine for littering.‚ÄĚ
Smiling smugly, he swivelled and marched off, straight through the poo. Priceless, but not worth ¬£240.
The first news headline to catch my eye stated ‚ÄėUK Slipping Down Global League Tables in Mathematics, Reading and Science‚Äô. Apparently we‚Äôre languishing (a word few of our children would understand) behind Estonia and Poland. Why did the newspaper name those two countries? Who knows?
The next headline read ‚ÄėOveruse of Antibiotics is a Ticking Time Bomb‚Äô. It seems bacteria are cleverly adapting and becoming resistant. The growing resistance poses a bigger danger to the nation than terrorism.
Depressed, I stopped reading, it seems our kids are getting dumber, bacteria are getting smarter... this is not going to end well.
The honour among lounger thieves is enforced on ordinary sunseekers. The power of the towel on a sunbed is undeniable.
Personally, I like to move towels. I sneak down after the fanatical thieves have bagged their loot, but before the amateurs have ventured forth. I reposition a couple of towels. These newly empty prime locations are soon snapped up by delighted amateurs.
Yesterday, the ensuing argument turned violent. One man was stabbed to death.
Some folk might say I was partly responsible. Maybe, but I certainly can‚Äôt take all the credit for ridding the world of another lounger lizard pest.
Brian had had the operation; more than one, actually.
Webbed feet came first, a simple procedure which added flaps of skin between his toes. Webbed hands followed. The lung enlargement came next and then a pair of gills. The back fin was the finale. It looked stunning, but it did frighten people at the beach, and the swimming pool for that matter.
The pain and the sacrifice had all been worthwhile. He won eight Commonwealth swimming gold medals. He was proud of himself and he‚Äôd achieved it without any performance enhancing drugs. Using drugs was cheating and he hated cheats.
The newspaper headline proclaimed, in big bold capitals, ‚ÄėPunch in head turns man into maths genius‚Äô. The article told how a college dropout who‚Äôd suffered a brain injury in a mugging had emerged from a coma to find himself transformed into an academic egghead.
Cynics pooh-poohed the report. Theologians discussed miracles. Neurologists explored theories about brain re-wiring. Prison reformers considered the possibilities of the baton as a method of rehabilitation. Lexicographers devised another three letter acronym‚Ä¶ ASS - acquired savant syndrome.
Thugs, on the other hand, invented a new threat. ‚ÄėHey pal, do you want to be Einstein?‚Äô
I lowered my gaze and found myself staring into the green eyes of a Leprechaun.
‚ÄúDo you want to buy this magic jug? It endlessly refills itself.‚ÄĚ
He demonstrated by pouring out glass after glass of delicious red wine. I drank until I could drink no more. Incredibly, the jug was still half full... same as it had been when he‚Äôd started pouring.
‚ÄúFive pounds and it‚Äôs yours,‚ÄĚ he said.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think so,‚ÄĚ I slurred.
I turned and walked away. Did the daft Irishman think he was going to sell me something which was always half empty?
‚ÄúToday, Beth and Steve join us on the show,‚ÄĚ announced the host, a cheesy grin spread like Dairylea across his face.
‚ÄúSteve‚Äôs here to find out the results of the DNA test to tell if he‚Äôs the father of little Jamie. Beth says he is, but Steve says she‚Äôs been sleeping around, so God only knows who the father is.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúSo here are the results...‚ÄĚ he opened the gold envelope.
‚ÄúSteve,‚ÄĚ pause for effect, ‚Äúyou are the father!‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúAnd hold on, this is unusual,‚ÄĚ longer pause for bigger effect, ‚ÄúBeth you are not the mother.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúMum says we‚Äôre going to fly today.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúYes, fly. We‚Äôre birds, so that‚Äôs what we do, we fly,‚ÄĚ said Bill, the stupid one, stating the bleeding obvious.
‚ÄúBut what about gravity... and aerodynamics?‚ÄĚ said Bert, the clever one, analysing the problem. He understood the world.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt know, but Mum says it‚Äôs OK, so I'm off.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúDon‚Äôt forget about Bernoulli's principle.‚ÄĚ
Bill leapt from the nest and managed the short flight to the next door tree.
With questions weighing heavily on his mind, Bert leapt. The impact with the ground smashed his little face. He could have predicted that.
She said she hated him. She said she would break his arms. Then she said she would break his legs. After that, she said she would scream abuse at him and then she would kill him. Then she said she would have a glass of wine and toast his demise.
The claw hammer swished almost silently through the air and caught her with a sickening, bone-crushing blow on the nose. Her whole face exploded in a starburst of blood spatter; pasting the wall with a gory, dripping pattern of steaming brains.
"Show, don't tell," he whispered into the corpse's ear.
"... and that's when I discovered that the time machine actually works.
"Let me explain what I'm doing. I'm recording this experiment on my Dictaphone. I'm doing it because this thing may well kill me. As well as that, I believe that time travel causes amnesia, so I need a record so I don't repeat any mistakes I make. Okay, here we go. I'm pressing the 'activation' button.
"Damn. Nothing. I obviously need to adjust the equipment parameters. First, I'm going to rewind and play this message to make sure that at least the sound on this thing is working."
'Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters.'
The song lyrics resonated in her head as she stared through the glass. The nuns looked out of place here.
'When a certain gentleman arrived from Rome,'
"Will I ever be forgiven?" asked Sister Theresa.
"Definitely. He should never have touched me..." In front of you, she added silently.
"I don't have my glasses. What does your badge say?"
Sister Mary looked down. It was upside down to her, but she knew what it said.
'Arizona State. Death Row visitor.'
'And Lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man.'
My knuckles tensed white as I gripped the bridge's outer railings. The wind lifted my hair and the crashing sound of rushing waters, hundreds of feet below, assaulted my ears. Thoughts of numerous pathetic attempts filled my brain.
'This time I will do it,' I told myself. 'No more failures.'
I leaned forward and let go. I accelerated earthward as gravity took a hold. Terror engulfed me, but serenity quickly replaced the fear.
Ironically, I'd never felt so alive.
'The bungee rope should tighten soon' was the last thought I ever had as my face smashed into the freezing water.
"Her best friend saw me out with a blonde."
"And that's when the row started?"
"No. 'Just business,' I said. Then she saw the love note."
"OK. The note sparked the row?"
"No. 'It's obviously a joke,' I said, but then she smelt the perfume."
"OK. The smell brought the hell?"
"No. 'Got squirted in a department store,' I said. That's when she found the panties."
"Right! That'll be the row now, then?"
"No. I told her they were a present. 'For me?' she asked. 'Nope,' I said, 'sure you'd never fit into those'. and that's when the row started."
It was my first day. I held my mummy's hand tightly as we walked towards the big gates. Mummy was crying and I wasn't really sure why. There were loads of other mothers in the same situation, but that wasn't my problem.
"You have to be good and work hard," she said. "Pay attention to the sign."
I looked up and read the writing above the gate. black, wrought-iron letters, stark against the sky.
"Look Mummy, the 'B' is upside down. I can write better than that."
Her crying became inconsolable.
"Arbeit Macht Frei," it pronounced. "Work sets you free."
He'd been a bad boy; a very bad boy. They needed to sort out his behaviour before it got out of hand.
First, they'd tried giving him a good telling off, but he'd just ignored them. Then they'd tried fining him. They'd even tried locking him in a small room for ever-increasing lengths of time. Nothing had worked, in fact his behaviour seemed to have got worse as each day passed. There was only one thing left to do. He had to go on the naughty seat.
The naughty seat always worked. Two thousand volts always sorted out their nonsense.
He dropped the puppy and a big stone into the sack.
"You said you'd look after him. I'm off to the canal."
Sarah wailed and pleaded, but he was gone.
He parked just around the corner and opened the bag.
"Sorry pup, but she has to learn."
The puppy bit him and escaped.
No-one believed his story. He was jailed for animal cruelty once the Tetanus had healed. Sarah never forgave him. At fifteen she left home, got herself pregnant and developed a chronic alcohol problem.
And the puppy? He bought some boots, ran off to London and became mayor.
The big fir stood tall, watching over his siblings; mere saplings really. Heaven.
Then the men with chainsaws arrived; cutting a swathe though the forest. Soon it was his turn. The harsh metal teeth ripped into his bark. They tore through his trunk. He fell; felled. He screamed silently for his mother; Mother Nature.
He was tossed unceremoniously onto a truck with other fallen comrades.
Then he was standing again, but the sky was gone. No wind. No friends. His roots amputated. Glittery foreign objects weighed heavy on his branches. This was hell on earth.
Please let me die.
"I'm so sorry, love, but your twin sister is going to die."
The little girl studied her daddy's face. Unshed tears filled her eyes.
"The only thing that can save her is a bone marrow transplant and you're the only match. So you're her only chance."
The doctor then explained the procedure. He explained the needle. He explained the pain.
The little girl listened intently, hugging her Daddy tightly all the while.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.
"Yes, of course, she's my sister, but I have one question."
"Do I die straight away?"
I bob up and down, rather majestically, on a wave. Up and down.
Baaaaaaarrfff. There I go, sick again. This is ludicrous. I'm constantly seasick and I'm supposed to be a SEA-gull, for goodness sake.
I can't take this anymore. There's nothing else for it. I spread my wings and start my funny little run across the top of the water. Eventually, I lift off gracefully before the next wave drifts in. I climb steadily up into the clear, blue sky and soon catch a warm air current. I soar, rather majestically, above the hateful ocean.
Baaaaaaarrfff. Damn this vertigo.
I need to get home and I need to get home as quickly as I can. I really don't know where I am and I am frightened.
I race down the hill. I pray I'll find somewhere familiar soon. I spot the river. I've definitely seen it before. I follow its course. I round a bend and suddenly I see the sea. I'm nearly home; safe.
I fall into the cold embrace of my mother. She hardly notices that I'm back.
Then the sun comes out. Please, no. I'm evaporating. I rise towards the sky.
Bugger, here we go again.
His lawnmower had been a trusted friend and faithful servant for many years... very faithful, until the day it turned.
To be fair, it had always turned, because that's what rotary lawnmowers do. And, of course, it'd also turned at the corners of the lawn, because straight on would have destroyed the tulips and the lupins.
I am not talking about those happy days when they cut the grass together in the sunshine (the other man's grass was never greener or shorter). I'm talking about the day his lawnmower turned bad. That was the day he gave it the fingers.
The "Infinite Monkey Theorem" states that a monkey hitting random keys on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will eventually type any given text, such as a complete William Shakespeare play.
To find out if this was true, I applied for a government research grant and then set thirty-five thousand monkeys off on the task.
After nineteen years, one monkey brought me a complete play, except he had 'Help Me' as the title instead of 'Hamlet'. That was pretty close, but I will keep the experiment going until one of the little primates gets it totally right.