It’s April review time

Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain, you know, (It’s raining violets,)
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

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So it’s time for the showers folks, showers of praise or a rainy squall.
Whichever it is, this is where your shower should fall,  preferably wrapped up neatly in a comment on our April Reviews page.

And for those who would like a little musical accompaniment while they ponder, here it is … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLoCQzzIo7Q

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The September 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition: Where to find the stories and how to vote

 

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All tcwg site members (and any other interested parties) are invited to read and enjoy the stories entered in the September 2016 TCWG creative writing competition.

If, having read all the stories, you would like to register your vote for the winner and placings, then please follow the voting instructions set out below. This is not obligatory, but if you choose to join in, your participation will be very much appreciated.
JUST FOLLOW THE LINKS TO ALL THE STORIES (which are listed below), AND YOU WILL FIND EACH STORY IN TURN.
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The deadline for entries into the July 2016 Creative Writing Competition passed at Midnight on the 30th. September 2016.

The topic for the September stories was set by the winner of the July 2016 competition , Peter Barnett who graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

11 members have entered a total of 13 stories, and thanks are due to them for their efforts. Advance thanks are also offered to all those group members who I hope will now support the competition by reading the stories and registering their vote in the form of a comment below on this post.

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VOTING PROCEDURE.

As in previous months, when voting it will help if voters will make sure to quote the name of the story when posting their vote, particularly in the case where an author has entered more than one story.

Voting can now commence and will continue until 11 p.m. on Monday the 10th of October 2016.
There are no restrictions as to who is allowed to vote, all that is asked is that the voter reads all the stories and votes according to their preference. A brief reason for the choice is welcome but not mandatory.
Voters are requested to vote 5 points for first place, 3 points for second, and 1 point for third place.
Please do not submit any other point combinations such as 3/3/3, 4/4/1, 5/2/2, etc.
Writers are requested not to vote for any of their own entries, and voters are asked not to comment at length about the stories or record any thoughts that you may have on them, until after voting closes.

There will be no detailed summaries posted as to how the voting is progressing throughout the voting period but as soon as possible after voting closes a tabulated list of results will be posted separately and the winner declared. If then you wish to describe in detail the reasons for your choices, or comment at length about some or all of the individual stories, a separate page will be set up at the end of the voting period and after the result has been posted.

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List of entries received. (If I have inadvertently missed an entry or entries, please advise.)

JAVA LAVA. Written by Peter Barnett

https://aasof.com/2016/09/23/java-lava/#more-20343

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THE ROAD TO HELL. Written by Charles Stuart.

https://furryfeatures.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/the-road-to-hell/

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TEEING OFF WITH A BOILED EGG. Written by Atiller.

https://atiller16.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/a-september-2016-ctwg-short-story-entry/

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BETHANY’S CHAIR. Written by Capucin.

https://davidgoodwin935.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/bethanys-chair/

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A FUNERAL. Written by Colmore.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/setember-2016-ctwg-story/

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THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY. Written by Araminta.

https://detectivemouse.wordpress.com/2016/09/28/the-persistence-of-memory/

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THE AUCHENSHUGGLE BIRD. Written by Lostinwords.

https://lostinwords2.wordpress.com/2016/09/27/september-2016-competition/

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THE FINAL MEETING. Written by tp_archie.

http://tparchie.deviantart.com/art/The-Final-Meeting-637202826

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THE RED SWEATER. Written by ExpatAngie.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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TWO SIDES OF A DIFFERENT COIN. Written by Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-two-sides-of-a-different-coin/

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BRIAN LARA LOVES BATTING. By Danthemann.

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/sep-comp-entry-brian-lara-loves-batting/

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INVENTORY OF A BEACH BAG. Written by Seadam.

https://seadamsblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/inventory-of-a-beach-bag/

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Mme. ROSE. Written by ExpatAngie. (To find … Scroll down from The Red Sweater.)

https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/september-entry-short-stories/

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Pleasant reading and please  remember to vote.

 

 

The September 2016 CW Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the September 2016 Creative Writing Competition.
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The topic for September has been set by the winner of the July 2016 competition Peter Barnett who has graciously agreed that there should be an open topic with each writer choosing his or hers topic of choice.

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The length of the story in September has been set at between 250 and 750 words and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted on as many different topics as each individual competitor chooses
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Friday the 3oth. of September 2016.
The period for receiving votes will be announced when the competition closes, and votes will not be accepted until after the competition closes.
The “prize” for winning this September competition will be to set the topic for November 2016.

Voting.
After the competition closes there will be a vote to decide the first three places.
Just after the closing date, details of how to vote and a vote collection point will be set up here on this competition blogpage.

How to enter.
Post your story on your personal WordPress blogs and post a link to your story in the form of a comment below.

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And a reminder to those still without their own WordPress site.

WordPress is not the most user friendly of sites but if I can manage it (admittedly not without some frustrations), then I am sure that we all can  … help in setting up your own blog is available, so please ask.

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For those unfamiliar with the workings of the monthly competition a list of detailed rules for the competition can be found here …
https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/competition-rules/

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Pleasant writing and good luck with your stories. After the encouraging increase in the number of entries last month it seems that we may at last be coming to terms with the new arrangements … please can we make September a bumper month.

 

The August 2016 TCWG Creative Writing Competition. Full details of how to enter.

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A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL!
Details of the August 2016 Creative Writing Competition.

The topic for AUGUST has been set by the winner of the May/June 2016 competition  Seadams who chosen “ISLANDS” and has commented as follows …

ISLANDS.
“I’ve been thinking about islands and their connotations recently. I am quite fascinated by islands, and the idea of living on one permanently (but then, I suppose I already do.)

Island – isola – isolate…insula – insular…

I propose for August we write a story with an island setting – be it desert, tropical, luxurious; real or imaginary; legendary or metaphorical; Channel, Canary, Balearic, Pacific, Hebridean, Caribbean…stacks, reefs, atolls, archipelagos…but no cheating, please: no peninsulas.”

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The length of the story in August will be the regular “between 500 and 3000 words”, and competitors are reminded that multiple entries can be accepted, particularly of the shorter variety.
Closing date for entries will be Midnight on Wednesday the 31st. of August 2016.
The period for receiving votes will be announced when the competition closes, and votes will not be accepted until after the competition closes.
The “prize” for winning this July competition will be to set the topic for October 2016 when I am proposing that we will have a lower limit of 250 to 750 words, giving an opportunity for some writers to make multiple entries.

Voting.
After the competition closes there will be a vote to decide the first three places.
Just after the closing date, details of how to vote, and a vote collection point will be set up here in this competition section.

How to enter.
Post your story on your personal WordPress blogs and post a link to your story in the form of a comment below (“Leave a reply” panel.)

For those unfamiliar with the workings of the monthly competition a list of detailed rules for the competition can be found here …
https://tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com/competition-rules/

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Pleasant writing and good luck. There are still a few teething problems (some more aggravating than others), but please persevere, and with Autumn approaching let’s try to get back into double figure entries once again.

Remember … help with your problems is available so please ask.

The lost days of Christmas – Dec entry

Jane’s face went a pearly white as she pulled out of the shopping centre car park into a sorry stationary stream of still vehicles as far as she could see.

“It has to be a pink phone. Your mother is quite adamant. You know what she’s like,” her father had said. The local out of town tech shop happened to have a good 27 MatureSmart handsets in, which Jane’s childless brother was quite adamant was the perfect phone for their mum – even though a suggestion he get his well-suited arse out of his solicitor’s office to the shop would have been unthinkable to make. Unfortunately all 27 handsets at the local shop were black. Which is how Jane found herself setting off at 4pm on the last Friday before Christmas embarking on a 35-mile drive to a tech shop the other side of Uppington with a five year-old and three year-old in the back.

“On the first day of Christmas my two love gave to me, a party and a pear tea,” Jack sang as the rain lashed the windscreen. Jane sighed.

“Mummy, what’s number two?” he asked.

“Number two what, love?”

“Number two in the days of Christmas song…” he asked.

“Oh it’s…two turtle doves,” she said, pleased to take an image off her mind of dozens of black MatureSmart phone handsets dancing around and taunting her.

“That’s it!” said Jack excitedly, “on the second day of Christmas my two love gave to me, two purple gloves and a party and a pear tea!”

Jane trundled the car forward a few yards until the lights turned red again. Well, peace and quiet would be a dream, she reflected, but keeping Jack busy would be a decent second best, while noting in the mirror that his sister Lizzy was fast asleep.

It continued to ‘three French Jens, four drawing words, five old kings all the way to 10 phones a-ringing, 11 wipers swiping and 12 mommas jumping.’ It brought a smile to Jane’s face despite the slow progress of their journey, as she made a mental note to try to recount it all to her husband, George, when he returned from work – if indeed he didn’t get back before them today.

Jane had just made it onto the motorway when Jack screamed.

“What’s number 13? I said!” he shouted with his hands folded “why won’t you listen?”

“Sorry Jack, I must have missed what you said while I was concentrating on the road. Errr…well I think it’s 13 trolls a tweeting, if that makes any sense?”

“Not really. And what was 12 again?”

“Listen Jack, can we just take it easy for a while I concentrate by driving to the shop?” she said as she scanned the signs and tried to remember whether it was junction 7 or 8 she wanted to take.

“Take it easy! No!” said Jack, kicking at the inside of the door.

“It’s just it’s quite an old song actually, so I don’t remember it too well, and I think there’s actually only 12 days of Christmas, honey.”

“Hmmph!” said Jack, “I suppose I’ll have to speak to someone old then.”

Then Jane had a brainwave. When the car next stalled to a halt in traffic, she reached to her phone and dialled her parents’ house – on the landline of course, as her mum didn’t have a mobile yet and her dad never figured out how to answer his in time.

Her father answered and she put the phone on loudspeaker.

“Err, Dad, I’m in a little traffic doing the err…seasonal errand for Mum we talked about…Jack is a bit bored and asking me what the days of Christmas are in the song, ‘on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me’. I can only remember up to 12, unfortunately, would you have any idea what was given on the 14th day of Christmas?”

“Jack, you have to remember something,” said his grandfather as she passed the phone and left it between the two child seats at the back. “What was given on the 14th day of Christmas is a secret. I was one of very few people told it by one of the Queen’s messengers in 1962…and…I never thought somebody would ask, but if you promise to be good and patient for your mummy, I will tell you, is that ok?”

“Ok, Grandad,” said Jack.

“Alright, it was ‘on the 14th day of Christmas my true love gave to me….14 charter ships a-mooring…model ships I think they mean, like the old dinkies.”

Jack listened attentively. “And that about on the 15th day, Grandad?”

“Well, then, let me see, I think that was 15 tops a-spinning, and I believe 16 was 16 ropes-a-swinging. Skipping ropes of course. Both popular playground games those, before all of these computers were invented.”

“Go on, Grandad…”

“Well 17, that’s a tricky one to remember as it’s 17 pork pies a-cooking, and 18 is 18 young ladies a-twisting. I can tell you a bit more about that one when you’re older.”

“And 19?”

And so Jane’s father continued, as she sat there happily mystified at the ability of the oldest generation she knew to pass on knowledge to the youngest, even when speaking complete nonsense. By the time she’d angled her car into a much-coveted space in the packed car park of Uppington retail park, they’d made it all the way to 88 runs a-running.

“And not out, nor will that particular batsman be for a while yet,” said her dad.

“Mummy, can I stay in the car and keep talking to Grandad?” asked Jack as Jane cut the engine.

Stuck in the Chimney

STUCK IN THE CHIMNEY

Santa swooped low towards Bristol, his flurry of visits to Bath and its environs complete. The recent snow had abated and Donner and Blitzen could stop showing off their advanced navigational skills, though to be fair, it had come in handy around south-east England.

“Airliners,” Santa would harumph. “So slow and dirty and noisy – and they do make life tricky for really important flights like ours, especially in bad weather.”

Goldilocks and Jenna agreed with the Boss but, as the newbies on the team, kept quiet. This despite their mentor Vixen telling them to stand up for female rights and to aspire to become leaders over time. They’d remembered Vixen’s partner, Comet, nodding sagely in a corner of the room and yawning. The two young’uns weren’t sure if Comet was tired or had simply heard it all before and was getting bored.

“Now,” the Chief Elf called out. “Special delivery to the big house on the right with the garden. He’s got a birthday coming up. We had a very well-written letter from his family saying that their grandfather was going to be eighty-seven and that over the last year or two, he’d begun to believe once again in the magic of Santa Claus. He even believes Bristol City football club are going back to the Premiership but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with us – we only deal in reality. We were asked to do this specially. Plus he’s got all his family with him, so we’re going to make all the adults wake up and take notice of Santa Claus.”

“We’re not going to break the golden rule are we?” Santa looked anxious. “Not landing on the lawn in full view.”

“No, no,” came the reply. “Roof landing as per normal procedure. No emergencies here. But we’ve got some extra presents for him and his family.”

“But looks like a big home anyway. Why’s he need these socking great parcels?” called out a junior elf from the top of the cargo bay.

“It’s a retirement home. But a home for retired writers of stories where the residents can all share ideas and stories and gain inspiration. Sounds like a jolly interesting place. Fifth chimney stack on the left. Number four chimney,” called out the navigator elf. “ Visibility good. Crosswind 20 mph; roof conditions NFTY.”

The sled landed smoothly on the snow covered roof. Santa and an elf jumped down and the presents were fed down the chimney – children’s first, then their parents’ and then two parcels marked “For Bleda”, the first a normal sized parcel and the second a big spongy parcel.

“Hope the big parcel doesn’t get stuck,” the elf sounded concerned.
“It’ll be fine,” Santa responded. “Now let’s get cracking. Lots more to do. Best get off to Somerset and Devon.”

In the morning, the grandchildren were up early. Bursting into the sitting room, the squeals of delight betrayed the discovery of presents in the hearth. Paper was torn off and thrown aside eagerly in the urge to get at the presents – battery operated cars, dolls, make-up packages, models….. All there. And the adults…. Scent, after-shave, jumpers.

“Wow,” exclaimed one of the children, “Santa has been generous this year. And look, presents for Grandpa too. And I thought Grandpa didn’t believe in Santa cos he’d got too old to believe.”

He picked up the parcel and ran over to Grandad who examined it carefully as if it were a suspect package before gingerly cutting the scarlet ribbon and unwrapping the paper decorated with happy Santas. He did a brief double take when he thought that one of the Santas was actually waving to him. Inside were a thermal vest and leggings plus a thick woolly jumper decorated with a picture of Rudolf. As Grandpa held it up, he could have sworn Rudolph winked.

‘Can’t be time for a drink already,’ he thought. His hands seemed steady enough; vision OK. He looked again at the presents and muttered to himself, ‘But I’m not going out in the cold.’ Then he looked at the fire and realised it had gone out overnight.

“Hey, girls,” he called out, “the fire needs relighting. It’s all very well relying on the central heating but Christmas demands a good log fire. Fetch me some wood and newspaper. “And who drank the port and ate the mince pies by the fireplace?”

Nobody heard him so Grandpa went off in search of some wood for the fire, wondering which of his family had consumed the drink and pies that had been left by the hearth last night, secretly wishing the port had lingered longer. At the time, he’d thought it a waste but he began to wonder who’d snaffled them.

“And the blasted fire won’t light,” Grandpa was grumping as the smoke billowed round the sitting room. “Looks like the chimney’s blocked. We’ll have to get a sweep in as soon as we can.”

“Don’t fuss, Dad,” the children answered. ”It’s quite warm with the central heating. The chimney can be swept after the holidays.” Grandpa muttered something about Christmas just not being the same without a roaring log fire.

The next two days passed happily enough with family games, brisk walks and grandchildren trying out new toys. It dawned bright and crisply cold on the 27th December. The grandchildren were up early. Grandpa stayed in bed dozing until about eight o’clock when his grandchildren banged at the door, shouting,

“Happy Birthday, Gandpa. Time to get up and open your presents.”

The presents from family and friends were unwrapped, Grandpa taking care – as usual – to open presents so as to preserve the wrapping paper for future use. Meanwhile the cards, socks, jumpers and books piled up. Then just as the ceremony of the unwrapping was about to end, a strange rumble was heard from the chimney and a large bulky package fell into the grate, the golden wrapping paper betraying a few smoke stains from the abortive attempt to light the fire two days earlier.

“What on earth?” Grandpa exclaimed….

The family looked dumbfounded and two of the grandchildren approached it gingerly, inspecting it as if it were a mystery visitor from another world and then poking it.

“It feels like there’s a box inside,” one of them pronounced.

“A box. It might be game of some sort.” the other speculated. “And look, it has an envelope attached.”

The grandchildren bore the parcel to their grandfather, now sitting in the main armchair looking quite goggle-eyed.

“Open the box!” alternated with “Open the envelope!” reminding Grandpa of a TV quiz show he used to watch. He opted for the envelope and gingerly loosened the flap to withdraw a large birthday card decorated on the outside with pictures of holly, snow and reindeers.

“Who’s it from?” the children and grandchildren. Grandpa open it and stared, utterly speechless, at the copperplate handwriting.

“It’s from Santa Claus,” he croaked in disbelief and then, after more encouragement from the others, continued.

“Dear Bleda (Francis), Your friends from the CTWG sent me a special message by chimney post telling me you had a birthday over the Christmas period and they know it’s hard when your birthday is so close to Christmas so they wanted you to feel special.

Please will you and your family be at the top of the fire escape at eight o’clock tonight. You may need to open the box beforehand. Make sure you’re all wrapped up warm.

Happy Birthday,

Santa, the Reindeer and the Elves.

PS You’re going out for supper.”

Grandpa stared at the card in disbelief then turned to the box and loosened the tape. Taking the top off, he was first met by the sight of a hologram of the reindeers – plus Vixen as choir mistress – singing “Happy Birthday”. Then delving into the box he retrieved a thick red coat and trousers and furry boots together with a cap with a bell on top. Then more clothing all matching and fitting his family beautifully.

Ten to eight and the sky over Bristol is clear, a sharp frost hardening the snow round about. Bleda and the family wait expectantly dressed in their presents from Santa and feeling self-conscious. What if the staff catch them up here? How do they explain? They chatter nervously. They didn’t dream it did they?

Then from the north comes a clear jingle and the sounds of guffawing laughter. A speck appears in the sky growing brighter and a team of reindeer appears with a large sled in tow.

“Happy birthday, Bleda, please hop on board all of you,” chorus the reindeer and Santa, two of his elves and an extra reindeer sitting in the back drawing up to fire escape and hovering. Bewildered at the sight and the spectacle of talking reindeer, Bleda and the family follow their instructions, the grandchildren gasping at the sight.

“Now,” the reindeer sitting next to them, who smiles and introduces herself as Vixen, (Head of Communications and PR at The Big Hut) announces, “you’re all off for a birthday treat and meal in Finland at the real Big Hut. Sit back and enjoy.”

“Hold tight,” Santa bellows. “We’re off.”

“Oh, Bleda, we understand you write stories – I’ve read them on the web,” Vixen sounds almost seductive as she whispers in his ear and lays her hoof on his wrist. “ Perhaps you can tell us a story or two over dinner.”

[ (c) Colmore December 2018]

Jolly Joe’s Shadow – Nov entry

It all started when I was a shadow for a week.

Most of the lads went shadowing at factories or accountancy offices. One lucky geezer got to shadow the station master. And one poor sod was shadowing at the butchers, although that was less actual shadowing and more slicing up tripe at the back of the shop.

As for me, my old man was a gasman, a meter reader. “You could read numbers at the age of four lad, ain’t no point shadowing me. I’ve had a word with Joe Jenkins, biggest businessman in town, if not the whole of Buckinghamshire, and he says he can teach you a thing or two.”

I don’t know if my old man knew. I’m guessing not, or at least I like to think not. I was always too afraid to ask him just in case he said otherwise. I couldn’t bear the thought that my own father would encourage his own son to get involved in all that.

You see while Company House had Jenkins down as a carpet trader, it wasn’t the whole truth. Sure, he had a lot of carpets hanging around the warehouse, including the one I was lying face down on in my folks’ living room when I curled up in a ball weeping my eyes out at the end of the week.

You can wrap a lot of cash in carpets, you see. You need a big old’ lorry or seven to move them around the South. Stack a few up by the trailer door and in no time you’ve got yourself a little hidie hole at the front. Ain’t nobody gonna check them out either, well not in those days, and not when you’ve got most the bobbies in Buckinghamshire on your payroll.

No, I know what you might be thinking at this point. Joe Jenkins, master criminal? Never heard of the fella. Of course! It’s only the real master criminals who don’t get caught. Let’s put it in perspective though. Every criminal has a patch they control, OK? Heard of the Krays? They had a two mile by three mile patch in East London. Joe’s patch stretched 70 miles from up past Northampton all the way down to around the M25 – well there wasn’t an M25 in those days of course, and you know why? Joe never would have allowed it. He wouldn’t be giving those Essex and East End lads easy access to Slough and Heathrow, which was an important route for him to move stuff out the country.

You never would have guessed Jolly Joe was such a big shot from his gaffe. It was the biggest house I’d been in at that stage of my life alright. While it was all two up two down on my street, Joe had three up three down. He also had a pond in front, or was that just a puddle that didn’t drain? Can’t remember, though there was a fair bit of rain that week, which is how I got to leave all those footprints for the coppers to follow. Oh, and gravel on the drive. Never had seen that before.

“It’s so I can hear everyone approaching this place. Just in case,” Jolly Joe said to me with a wink on my first day of shadowing.

He really would wink a lot. Was probably one of his ways of keeping everyone onside. Like, obviously he’d wink when he was telling a bit of a porkie as people did those days like saying he got his giant fridge-freezer from the back of the lorry, but then even with a little statement like “bit nippy out today”, he’d flash you a smile and wink away.

Now, shadowing means following someone around as much as you can. The odd master criminal or two might not be too happy with all that, but not Joe. He showed me everything. Wasn’t all the glamour or danger that you might expect, to begin with at least, it was moving a grand here and there, doing a drop over there, chatting to associates on how to keep this official or that “sweet”. He showed me into the warehouse, and took me straight to where the carpets roll over to reveal the trapdoor to the basement. That was where he kept all his “good stuff” [wink]. Towers of cash running up the ceiling, a few paintings hanging around, a rifle locker and a hell of a lot of tellies.

Those days being those days, there wasn’t any of your drugs and automatic weapons at all. It was tellies and rifles. He got them all in acquisitions. The tellies that is. The way Joe pronounced it, acquisitions, it sounded all official and posh and everything, but basically it meant stopping the London to Manchester freight train late at night between Bedford and Rugby, and unloading a couple of TVs.

“Everyone’s onside with it” Joe explained, holding his wink so that I knew more was coming, “train drivers get a little cut, Northerners can claim for the lost tellies from the insurance co for more than they’re actually worth. We only take a couple each time, and my golden rule is nobody gets hurt. After all, I’m a gentleman, with a small g and a big m.” Then he winked.

One day, could have been the Tuesday, could have been the Wednesday, I asked him if I could go along to an acquisition as I was supposed to write an essay about the whole shadowing thing and list all the activities when I was back in school.

Joe looked taken aback.

“We do them at four in the morning, son. You need to rest for your shadowing.” He winked. “Who’s your teacher again?”

“Mr. Rogers,” I said.

“Ah ok, good to know”, he replied.

So, before you know it Friday morning has come around. I say before you know it but it actually felt like the longest week of my life. All the lads off shadowing said the same, apart from the one at the butchers who didn’t say a single word for the next six months.

Anyways, Joe’d just put the phone down and suddenly he wasn’t looking all that jolly. Not in the slightest actually. His face was had gone as white as an old dame. I’ve seen him go into the kitchen, kick the shiny fridge freezer and curse.

When he’d calmed down he came over to me – I was waiting in the living room with the door closed pretending not to notice anything.

“Seeing as it’s the end of your week and you’ve been a proper stellar shadow and all, I’m gonna give you a little responsibility. You up for that?” he asked, and I knew he was much better already as the wink was back.

“Sure,” I said, thrilled to have earned his trust.

“It’s just a little job but it is very important to me,” said Joe. He raced into the kitchen and came back in no time with a piece of paper with an address scribbled on.

“Go here please, son. Ask to speak to a fella called Doug Thomas. Now make God damn sure it is Doug Thomas, alright. And say to him – remember this son, as I don’t want you to write it down ‘Joe says stop messing around, or else’.”

“Or else what?” I ask.

“Or else, or else,” he said, “let’s leave the little rat sweating about what it all means”, he muttered.

“Oh and how old are you again, son?”

“16”

“Hmm, if you come across any bobbies today by any chance, just do yourself a favour and tell ‘em you’re 15, will you?”

“Umm ok,” I said.

You can’t imagine the thrill I had when I left Joe’s house a few minutes later. He said I should go as soon as I’d helped unload a shipment of carpets at the warehouse. He left me with the key to warehouse too! I was touching my pocket to keep checking it was there and laughing.

So anyway, I’m thinking all the time how I could handle this little job just the way Joe probably would. It sounded a little dangerous, truth be told, with all the talk of the coppers, so when the van had shot off with the carpets all safely received, I took a little detour when locking up the warehouse and got myself a rifle, which I tucked under my overcoat.

And there I was, calm as you like, at Doug Thomas’s place, ringin’ the doorbell and pushing at the rifle so it didn’t bulge the jacket too much.

Then I heard a bit of motion behind the door and the calmness just evaporated. My heart went a flutter. Then it even went wooh-wooh and I began feeling dizzy. And sick.

“What you want?” asked a stocky middle-aged man who opened the door.

“Hi, err, Joe, Jolly Joe said…are you Doug Thomas?”

“Ey! Are you carrying?” he said, staring at my jacket.

I had no idea what to say, so I instinctively turned around.

“Nobody comes to Deadly Doug’s home carrying!” he shouted, “I’m getting you done for illegal possession of a firearm!”

It was scary, I’m not going to lie, getting cuffed and bundled into the police car, getting asked 100 times where I got the rifle by an angry inspector. Then the cell. That was something else.

Now lots of people suspected Joe used his connections to get me off. He must have just assumed his men inside the police were doing him a favour. He never suspected I’d gone undercover for a small group of honest boys in blue determined to dismantle his Buckinghamshire mafia. Not when I turned up a year later asking for a job. Not when I’d been on acquisitions and gotten details on his whole organisation and tracked how he got his money turned into jewels then flew it out to a safe in Switzerland.

I’m not gonna lie, he did me a huge help allowing me to shadow him like that. Don’t know why he did it really. Must have felt he could trust me. Maybe he thought I’d be as slow as my old man.

Anyhow, the moral of this story, at least I think, is that people can gain so much from just shadowing someone for a little while. I’d like to think that as I end my 44 years in Thames Valley Police – might have even been 50 if I hadn’t been made an early retirement offer I couldn’t refuse – someone could have shadowed me every day, and learnt something, and not in my case how a master criminal operates, but how we uphold the law for everyone through honesty, sheer hard work and a can-do attitude. And if we don’t, like all the bent coppers Jolly Joe paid off back in the day, we get rooted out in disgrace.

700 police officers in the conference hall rose to their feet to lavish applause. Well, 699 really, as one was only pretending to be a police officer. One 82-year-old, whose own hard work in the prison gym over 40 of the past 44 years made him look a good 20 years younger, had managed to sneak in with a police uniform he had bought online. Joe Jenkins took in every last detail of the retiring officer as he applauded at the back of the room and began to think where and when he would exact his revenge. He sent the speaker a little wink for good measure, but he was too busy soaking up the praise to notice.

Sep/Oct entry – The Only Witch in Hogglhausen

“I can’t consent to that” said Father Johannes. “Witches? In Hogglhausen? We are but a village of 400 souls – every one of which I can attest attends mass. How many Satanists do you suggest are living in this quiet valley and walking along the babbling stream?”

Father Tobias gulped, realising Johannes was only going to get more enraged.

“One would suffice. Should that be all a thorough investigation discovers, of course.”

“Huh!” Johannes grunted. He wanted to throw his old friend from the seminary of Ulm straight out of the rectory. He knew well he couldn’t, and that was more than a little painful. The question of what kind of investigation Johannes was expected to conduct lingered in the tense air, unspoken.

“Well, you could do worse than to see if anyone may be present in the forest at night,” Tobias said. “Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum says forests make perfect cover for devil worshippers.”

Tobias looked sternly and said in a hushed tone: “A group of thirteen was found holding a black ritual in a forest just outside of Augsburg recently.”

“Thirteen!” said Johannes, slapping his thigh as he let out a nervous laugh, “what a very convenient number.”

A spasm of tense energy carried Johannes to his feet and to the fireplace before he had even thought about going there. He took the poke and prodded the logs on which the flames were already roaring quite nicely.

“At the Prince Bishop’s palace there is a sister who tends to the fire and fills our wine in an evening,” said Tobias. “It’s a luxury one gets used to. A Dominican originating from Spain actually. A fine lady with the most splendid skin.”

Johannes winced. Whether it was thanks to the mountain air or placid village society, Johannes had no trouble keeping his vow of celibacy in his 20 years serving in Hogglhausen. Tobias’s glinting eye and drooping chin when he described the nun would be a good thing to think of as a deterrent should he ever encounter any temptation. His old friend was, after all, every bit the kind of oafish priest, warped by a failure to meet the responsibilities of his position, that Johannes worked to avoid ever becoming.

“Who really thinks this is a good idea?” asked Johannes, looking into the flames for he now preferred them to Tobias’s face.

“Why, it is quite clearly what the people want,” said Tobias, “and in this new, confusing age, the church really must heed the will of the people.”

“Ha!” said Johannes. “Was it not the church who sowed this confusion with decades of talk about heretics ever since Luther’s day? Is it not our fear and weakness that drives us to follow the blind superstition of fanatics? By lending our support to these forces, do we not legitimise them and turn our people against the weakest in their number?”

Johannes turned and faced Tobias, who had put a hand over his chin to think. He could see that Tobias, who was lazy rather than stupid, secretly agreed with everything Johannes had said.

There was a big crackling sound as a flame ripped a log in pieces.

“It is the policy of the Prince Bishop,” said Tobias eventually. Tobias himself was now looking into the fire instead of facing Johannes. “My journey here should be understood as a mission to enforce this policy across the principality.”

“But we do not have any witches here, Father.”

“Well, of course I take your word for that as an old friend, but there may be some at the palace who find that in itself all a bit suspicious.”

“So I myself might be a witch?”

“No, no, no, no! Good Heavens, Father! That is not what I was suggesting. I can only repeat that we are expecting a suspect or more to be sent to the next witch trial in Augsburg from here.”

“But I could not even start to suspect any of my parishioners of devil worship.”

“Well, that’s not what Mayor Friedrich says. He is of the opinion there are a good number of suspects.”

Father Johannes felt an urge to grab his visitor by the neck. He resisted it, as in the current climate he imagined it might be reported to the Prince Bishop that satanic spirits had possessed him and driven him into a frenzy.

“Mayor Friedrich and I agreed that by the onset of winter, the investigation here would be complete and a report dispatched to Augsburg,” said Tobias. “Of course the mayor is bowing to your holy authority when it comes to identifying any possible suspect or suspects. Who will then be given a due and balanced trial, of course.”

Johannes turned to gaze at the fireplace and Tobias left in silence.

The leaves were barely browning in Hogglhausen on the occasion of Father Tobias’s visit. Two weeks of cold mist across the valley followed, and many of the tall trees that shadowed over the village had dumped generous collections of leaves at their feet.

After the Thursday mass that followed the lifting of the miss, Frau Schmidt, a blacksmith’s wife, was sat opposite Father Johannes in the confessional box. We shall try to respect the sanctity of that environment by not revealing details of the lady’s confession. Needless to say her sins were not of the grievous kind and some years previously an incident of pocketing excessive change from a fishmonger had sent her into a long period of guilt. What she said just before leaving the box was not part of the actual confession though, and given its importance to our tale we report it in full, as follows:

“There are many unusual things about the Brugel boy, Father, and I must say that it causes me quite a lot of thought.”

“We are all unusual in some way,” answered Father Johannes. “God made us unique, after all. The Brugel boy is but a lad of seven.”

“Yes, but I mean really unusual. The way he stares into open space like he is seeing things the rest of us do not. The way he flaps his hands. I am not suspicious by nature, but all these oddities combine into a picture that makes me rather uncomfortable. We have all seen him cover his ears when we sing a requiem.”

“Given the musical ineptness among us, I myself have been tempted to do that on occasions.”

“Well there is one thing I lately realised that especially troubles me. The boy does not respond to his own name. What good reason could there be for a well grown child to refuse to acknowledge his Christian name?”

“Well, I do not know, but his family are of very good keeping.”

“Oh I don’t think the devil cares too much for well-heeled families, Father. Of course I am not suggesting that, well, I know nothing for sure. Perhaps you can use your spiritual guidance to act in this situation somehow though? Better to deal with these problems now before the child becomes an adult and heaven knows what great tragedies might befall us all.”

“Frau Schmidt, you can be assured I am monitoring this situation like all other spiritual matters in Hogglhausen, and I shall do my all to avoid ill harm falling upon any of us.”

Frau Schmidt was the sixth person to accuse the Brugel boy of witchcraft in conversation with Father Johannes.

The neat perfection of the small square on which the modest white bricked Rathaus, church and rectory were located soon gave way to a very different Hogglhausen behind. Father Johannes now walked up the haphazard paths connected the scattering of small wooden abodes located on one of the hills of the valley. The homes were densely packed in places and elsewhere separated by great swathes of meadow through which the lightest and narrowest of trails had been trodden.

After he had cleared the generous homes of several carpenters and the village’s sole doctor, Father Johannes placed his hand on a rock and paused for a moment for breath as the hillside increased in steepness. The fear of where this whole rotten business would end seemed to tug on him and call him back to the sound of the gaggling stream and thwacking of market stalls being set up in the village centre below. A desire to do some real good for once pulled him upwards though, right to where the settlement ended and the mass of forest began.

The Brugel father was a woodcutter – the village’s most common profession. While a visitor at this time of the morning to the Brugel family might have expected to hear a shout from the dark soup of trees just beyond the house or spot the swing of an axe among all the trunks, everything was eerily quiet today. That in itself was no surprise though after their neighbour had rushed, red-faced and panting, into the rectory half an hour earlier to tell Father Johannes that Brugel and his wife wanted to see him immediately.

As Johannes approached the sturdy wooden door to the family house, he heard weeping inside. He knocked as loudly as he could on the open door. He was knocking purely out of politeness though as the woman sat crying on the floor by the stove was already looking straight at him. The man beside her nodded towards the threshold.

“It is unfortunate, but my lady is of the realisation that what folk say about our second born son must be true,” said Brugel, gulping.

“Do you want to tell him?” he asked his wife, who put her hands to her face and shook her head.

“Very well. One problem is he continues to refuse to play with other children. For instance, last Sunday we retired by the stream after mass and while our firstborn recreated the battle of Breitenfeld with the other children there, our second born was using a twig to fight an unseen creature whom he called the Lord of Fire – a spirit perhaps.”

“Please allow me to interject there, Herr Brugel,” said Father Johannes, “after many a year of serving the Lord in our village I have witnessed many children struggle to reconcile the world of their imaginations with the world we see around us.”

“That may be, Father,” said Brugel, “but everything about the boy points to the same unfortunate thing. I have tried repeatedly to hand him a small axe to train his woodcutting on saplings, just as I did for his brother. Yet every time he drops the axe and counts instead the number of trees he can see. What a futile thing to do! There is only one thing I know of that could plant the curse of idleness in a person, and I dare not say its name.”

“I can understand your distress, but you must consider his young age,” said Johannes.

“But soon he will be a man, Father. His appetite increases all the time. What use is an extra mouth to feed if the hands that belong to that mouth will not also labour in the forest?”

“Life is not easy,” said Johannes, “there is a war raging across our land. Our valley is peaceful and plentiful though. I regularly send messengers to the Prince Bishop’s palace to request more alms in case ill fortune should befall any of us.”

“Alms? I will not hear talk of anyone in my family receiving alms! That is the lot of idle city folk!” said Brugel. He was angry now.

“Drop your quarrel and ask Father Johannes for the help we require!” said Brugel’s wife in an admonishing tone.

“Pardon Father, my wife is quite right!” said the husband, “we must deal with this problem. We have been seeking a cure. When summer was upon us I rode to Sandlstegg to seek a woman who sells potions for the bewitched. The potion did not work though. It only sent our boy into a violent sickness and no improvement has been seen in his general condition. We have considered sending for the physician, but we want no written record or too great a scrutiny of his condition, as we know well what might await him if news of this spreads beyond the village. We believe time is short. We must find a cure or risk his sorcery bringing ruin on our family.”

Father Johannes shook his head while remaining stood on the threshold.

“The truth is your second born cannot be cured as he is neither possessed nor sick nor evil nor – ”

His explanation was cut out by anguished sighs from the two parents. Johannes’s logic was lost on them. The sad fact was that he was probably alone in the whole village in not believing in the presence of witchcraft. As he trundled back to the village square he berated himself for not tackling the issue in any sermons. He had warned against gossip, against superstition, but always avoided direct mentions of witches for fear of what kind of debate and passions might ensue among the village folk.

‘I’ve failed them,’ he thought to himself.

—-

The smell of fir was combined with a pristine dampness in the village air when the first snow of winter fell several weeks later and dropped a spectacular white blanket over the trees ringing the village.

Father Johannes was sat by a roaring fire as he contemplated his impossible dilemma. Ignoring the demand from the Prince Bishop’s palace to send a suspect to the witch trial wasn’t an option. He found it hard to truly believe the palace might suspect him of witchcraft in revenge for denying their request, but it was a worry that flickered in the back of his conscience like a lone candle – rarely overwhelming him but never going out. The church had been operating just one degree below sheer lunacy, with hundreds if not thousands executed across the German lands with their blessing, including many women and children, and yes, priests too. If it didn’t come to that, he could still be punished for his resistance by being sent to work in a tough environment like a sick house. With Johannes moved out of Hogglhausen, Tobias would get what he wanted anyway with Mayor Friedrich’s help – the Brugel boy and maybe even some others for burning on the stake.

Johannes had done his very best to keep the witch hysteria from reaching and overwhelming Hogglhausen. Getting moved out while a witch hunting commission moved in would undo all that work. Much as he hated it, he realised that the only option was to give in and relent to the request.

The Brugel boy was the last of the parishioners he wanted to hand in. His vocation, his life even, would become totally worthless if this innocent boy was killed thanks to him. It couldn’t be.

Johannes gulped and sipped some wine.

If he was going to play ‘pick a parishioner he’d least mind seeing executed’, someone like Frau Schmidt would come close to the top of the list. Her gossiping and judgementalism was in no way worthy of such a brutal punishment though. Nor, for that matter, was any other sin he’d heard of down the years in the confession box in Hogglhausen.

There was only one thing to do. It wouldn’t be easy.

Johannes reached for some parchment, a quill and a jar of ink. His hand began to shake as soon as he took hold of the quill. He wanted to cry. Then his mood became buffeted by a gust of positivity, a realisation he was taking the bravest option, the best option. However absurd it was, he had found a roundabout way to do a great deed.

He brought quill to parchment as now he just wanted the thing over with. He began to write:

I, Father Johannes Seilhardt of the parish of Hogglhausen, hereby make an important announcement that must be told as widely as possible forthwith. The truth is I too have fallen sway to the great monster sweeping our lands. ‘Tis a long story, and impossible for another soul to truly understand. It started when I found a prohibited text under a rock in my parish and out of greed and gluttony I embraced the creed of the devil. I would regularly creep out to a nearby forest in the thick of night to smear animal blood on my face and partake in satanic rituals. I shed my vow of celibacy to have intercourse with evil spirits and returned, always hungry for more. I devoted my life to Beelzebub and took great pleasure in deceiving the village folk while I corrupted the garment of a priest. It was with huge disappointment that my many efforts to convince residents of the village to join me in my evil pursuits failed. The truth is they are to a man, woman and child, decent, hard-working and devout folk. Or from my satanic perspective, weak-willed sheep following their pointless herd. I was and am the only witch in Hogglhausen.

Johannes added his church seal and slumped to place his face on the writing table. He let out a very deep breath and composed himself to pray for the Brugel boy, for the boy’s parents, and for the whole of the village. Then he hailed the messenger and – cleverly having avoided the need to be first taken to a torture rack due to his comprehensive confession – waited for his date on a pyre.