Category Archives: Stories

The Way to Do It: A Seaside Tale for Halloween

Punch & Judy

Next show at three o’clock.

The clock strikes. We remember the tatty window. Striped canvas framing a series of shabby events. There have been whispers of wife beating, but the Policeman avoids involvement in mere domestic upsets.

The clock strikes again. We remember the Beadle arriving at the same time as the photographer. He’s terribly attracted to Judy and considers that adultery would not be out of the question. If the circumstances were right.

In another part of the hotel Mr Punch makes plans. Judy has taken an aspirin and is lying down in their dark bedroom. Mr Punch shows tact. “No more tears in the wardrobe,” he tells her. She has concealed Mr Punch’s stick under the sink.

Is the hotel haunted? Sometimes Mr Punch’s imagination daubs white bodies across the counterpanes. He scratches improperly and giggles.

That afternoon Mr Punch watches his audience gather. His colleagues talk quietly, destined for failure, trying to elect a spokesman. The baby is the subject of some discussion. “Democracy is the refuge of nervous old men,” claims Mr Punch.

The baby is quiet now and we shall know the reasons behind that in due course. The crocodile arrives and poses for pictures.

The Policeman detaches himself from the huddle of minor characters. “In marital disputes,” he observes, “One must ask oneself, are the weights more or less evenly distributed? What was she looking for? Did she belittle him with intellectual discussion? What comments does she make about him to her friends?”

“In my marital disputes decisions are reached through compromises,” counters Mr Punch. “One must ask oneself, how heavy are the utensils? Are the advantages evenly distributed? Had she already been discarded?” In the hotel every evening Mr Punch makes comments to his friends about the women who walk through the foyer. In his diary he writes their names, which change daily.

Should the Policeman have found out the connections between his treatment of close family members and his relationship with casual callers and passers-by? Joey the Clown is now running the American operation so we can’t ask him.

The photographer arranges the minor characters in a shifting range of poses, woes paraded for the camera’s flash.

Does Mr Punch hear crocodiles every day? Next show at three, the clock says. Each person signals his desires and fears. Mr Punch is frightened each morning by dreams of his baby crying. There are teethmarks on his stick. “We become subject to the needs of our children,” he cries, momentarily impotent.

The doctor talks gently to Judy and administers the white pills. Chuckling to himself, Mr Punch reconstructs his daily fantasies.

He accepts easily the cheers of the audience. They are here as actors on his stage. All will be made to illustrate exactly what shocks them when they perceive it in others.

Mr Punch kills his baby. There are reports of crocodiles. What has been done in the name of Mr Punch? In Judy’s eyes, Mr Punch exists. “He is real,” she claims.

In the hotel room Judy is naked. Mr Punch turns on the television. There is general agreement that their hourly screams are the closest they’ll get. Mr Punch plans and giggles. Let her eyes be closed while his hand is on her. Kissie, kissie.

Judy laughs, she is young and strikingly beautiful. “Women can be ambitious, demoralised, abused even,” says Mr Punch, who has just finished making love. “Or they may scheme with the Hangman.”

Snatching shots between shows, the photographer wonders how often Mr Punch’s scriptwriters lose their nerve. His camera catches Judy smiling, the sun sparkling in her eyes and on the sea lapping.

“He is just a trickster,” Judy tells the onlookers. She is sunbathing before the next show starts. In his office desk Mr Punch now stores napalm. Judy, according to rumours, will retaliate this time. She looks in the mirror, noting what has been missed by the camera.

More talk in the hotel foyer. The Beadle arrives. Where is the baby? Everything must be questioned by the Policeman. Before the end of today he will ask the Hangman to give up his noose.

Mr Punch slips off the padded hump, removes the false nose and relaxes. Judy brings the evening papers which he scans for complaints about the quality of his performance and the number of deaths resulting from it. The comments of the children please him. Apparently in the past year his stick has been stolen by souvenir hunters nine times.

Judy arrives with a cup of tea for Mr Punch. Stirring it, he sighs, “We actors are always confused with our roles.” Judy wears the apron Mr Punch bought for her.

Mr Punch muses on his women. Their red tongues flick so, speaking as if talking is to know. He plans and giggles, ignoring his manager’s proposals to stop Dog Toby fouling his parking space and the sands where the children are to sit.

The actors gather for dinner. Soup is served as their dreams shiver in the evening light. Mr Punch will watch them play their parts as if free from observation. Their words are like flags they wave at him, flags which flap at us all, echoing the crack of the canvas on the empty beach.

The photographer reloads his camera. “Must look as if we’re busy,” croaks the Hangman, clutching his copy of The Daily Mail while swinging pop-eyed from his own gibbet. There are reports, again, of crocodiles.

Twelve hours and three deaths later Mr Punch pauses carefully for our laughter. Congratulatory telegrams and roses wait in his room, clichéd and unanswered.

The be-ribboned pavilion is empty now. Most of the children have been beaten to death with spades. The few survivors are being buried alive beneath ingenious sand-castles, topped with little paper flags on sticks. What a pity.

rjh

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Terrible Tales for Curious Kids: 5

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As an alternative to burial or cremation Mabel’s approach may be seen by many as deeply inappropriate. But is it right that we should criticise without knowing truly what her intentions were? She and her dear brother may have been animal lovers; perhaps Mabel saw her actions as respecting Freddy’s feelings as she perceived them, and thereby giving him the opportunity, in death, to provide for the animals he loved.

Mabel and Freddy at the Zoo

Mabel Eddy loved her Teddy
And her brother, Freddy, too.
But when poor Fred died in bed
She tried to sell him to the zoo.

The keeper smiled and shook his head,
“We have no use for Freddy dead.
If you’d brought him round here yesterday
We might have been prepared to pay.

“The lions and tigers think, what a bore,
With meat that lies there on the floor.
But their ears prick up to hear the sound
Of little lads that run around.

“We like our dinners quietly steaming
Not chasing up and down and screaming.
Lions and tigers aren’t the same
The chase for them’s part of the game.”

Mabel thought for just a tick,
“What if I poke him with a stick?
That might help them make their mind up,
Unless they catch on it’s a wind-up.”

So they threw poor Freddy in the den
And counted slowly up to ten.
A lion appeared and looked around
And spotted Freddy on the ground.

The keeper hissed, “Wait for my nod,
Then grab your stick and start to prod.”
The lion approached with steady tread,
But seized poor Mabel’s stick instead…

One mighty heave, without a pause,
Till Mabel reached its slavering jaws.
The moral of this story’s true…
Don’t take dead siblings to the zoo.

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Terrible Tales for Curious Kids: 4

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We should all be free to follow our dreams, that goes without saying. But sometimes such dreams, or fantasies, may have unexpected consequences; whatever we may perceive as the initial benefits. This was certainly true in the case of Henry (“Hen” to his friends) Pendragon-Brown…

A Cautionary Story

My brother’s a chicken, at least that’s what he said.
He eats nothing but cornflakes and lives in our shed.
We should call a doctor, our Sis often begs;
I reckon we could do, but Mum needs the eggs,
They’re tasty and fresh; we have them on toast.
But I’m worried about Dad… he loves Sunday roast!

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Matilda’s Magic Christmas

Last year I wrote a Christmas verse for my grandchildren, self-published as an illustrated booklet. This year I thought it might be fun to try to turn the verse and pictures into a cartoon video. You can see the result above.

It’s the first time I’ve done anything like this, so it’s something of an experiment. But I hope you enjoy it.

For those interested in the technicalities, I used a combination of PowerPoint, Adobe After Effects, CrazyTalk Pro, CyberLink AudioDirector, and Serif DrawPlus and PhotoPlus, pulling the whole thing together in MoviePlus.

Matilda’s Magic Christmas

Matilda’s a genuine penguin, you know,
Her wings are like flippers and she lives in the snow.
But Matilda’s quite special, shall I tell you why?
One day in each year she’s able to fly.

It happened one Christmas when old Santa’s sledge
Got stuck on an iceberg, high up on a ledge.
‘Twas Matilda who found him, marooned, in despair,
Santa, his sleigh, and some tearful reindeer.

“Can you help us, Matilda, we’re lost and alone.
I’d call the AA, but I’ve forgotten my ‘phone.
We left late last night with a full reindeer flight,
But Rudolph got sick and had to go home.

It was just outside Sheffield he started to cough.
He said that the carrots he’d had for his tea had gone off.
I thought that the others would be quite enough
To get round all the children and drop off their stuff.
How many are left? Well, there’s still quite a few…
Seven million, ten thousand, nine hundred and two.”

Said Matilda, “Oh Santa, I’d love to help out.
If I knew any reindeer, I’d give them a shout.
I would if I could take Rudolph’s place on the sleigh
So you could finish your journey before Christmas Day,
But though I’ve got wings, I can’t fly.”

Then Santa just smiled, and with a gleam in his eye,
Said, “If your heart has wings
There’s no end to the things you can do.”
If Santa says that, thought Matilda, it’s got to be true.
So she wiggled her wings and proudly stepped up to the trace
And at the head of the reindeer there and then took her place.

Santa laughed loud and picked up the rein,
Reindeer and Matilda took up the strain
Like eagles in flight, skyward they came,
As Santa whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen,
On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blixen;
Follow Matilda, away through the night!”
And as the stars twinkled down, they were soon out of sight.

Matilda’s the happiest penguin I know,
Though her wings are like flippers and she lives in the snow.
You see, she’s quite special, and now you know why…
At Christmas each year she’s able to fly.

So Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year
When things seem impossible, never despair…
Remember Matilda and be of good cheer,
Close your eyes, make a wish and wiggle one ear.

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Not a Door

Door_003vt
He wanted to tell his mother a joke his friend Paul had told him at school. “When is a door…” he began.

His mother turned on him, “No Peter, ‘now‘ is a door. When may be a door, but what if your when has gone? Or is lost so far in your future that you can never catch it? Tomorrow never comes, and some whens never come either.”

Peter thought about this carefully. He knew his mother was right, so he ran to his room, got out his little silver penknife and seized the moment.

He’d intended to cut a hole in it, a little secret gap that only he would know, but his young, unskilled hands whittled it into such a tiny misshapen scrap of time that from then on his mother only ever saw him in brief flickering seconds.

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