Alan was inflatable. Everywhere he went people would tell him he was inflatable. Some people would ask if they could top him up. Some kids once let him down for a laugh then filled him full of helium. He had to cling to the top of a lamppost until a tall man was able to get him down and replace the helium with a denser gas.

He finally lost it when his wife took up knitting. ‘Don’t you realise how dangerous that is for me?’ he shouted. She didn’t seem to care.

He now lives alone in Switzerland. The air is good there and his dry cleaning business is thriving.

Winning isn’t Everything.

There must have been over a thousand in the town hall on the night of the annual beard-of-bees competition. In previous years I’d been a member of the audience. An enthusiastic spectator. But this year I was competing and I felt sick. I felt sick because soon I’d have to step out onto the stage without even the most rudimentary facial-covering. I was clean shaven. In the context of the evening it wasn’t a good look.

Arctic Jim was strutting about backstage. His beard must have been at least eighty pounds. A coterie of groupies were following him around braving the swarm. Sleazy Carlos was there too. Even he had a fair covering. A light stubble.

I, on the other hand, had not even managed to get a single wasp to grace my cheek. I’d tried. I really had. I’d spent hours hiding in the herbaceous border, my face painted like a flower. I’d doused myself in nectar and lain down in a wild meadow. I’d sat below a hive and sung the special bee song and done the special bee dance, waggling my arse in time to my guitar strums. But bees, you see, are intelligent creatures. They can tell a fraud straightaway. If deep down you don’t really want them to swarm onto your face, they won’t. And that was my problem; I didn’t want bees on my face. I didn’t want to be the town’s beard of bees champion. The bees knew this.

So why was I in the competition? Well, because of my father. He’d been town champion the previous year. And every year before that for twenty years. And before him there was my grandfather, and my great-grandfather. For close to a century a male member of my family had carried away the annual beard of bees trophy. You see the thing is, if you’re a man, to be anything in this town you have to be able to charm the bees. And the men in my family could charm the bees the best, therefore they were the manliest men in the town. Well, up until I came along that is.  So that’s why I’d lied to my father. Told him everything was coming along great, that there was no doubt I’d be champion. I just couldn’t admit to him that I could no more charm a bee to my chin than I could charm a fish out of the sea.

I peeked out from behind the stage curtain. There was my father in the front row and my grandfather beside him. And beside them there was the urn containing my great-grandfather’s ashes. Three generations. Three-fold disappointment. In the last row I caught a glimpse of the mole-catcher’s daughter. In truth, I wanted her much more than I wanted to win this competition. But why would she want me, a man who can’t even muster a beard of bees in a town where that is the minimum and sole qualification for manhood?

When the time came, I’m still not sure why I stepped out onto the stage, my face naked and bee-less. I think I wanted to make some grand speech about how we should be judged on the things we do and say – our compassion, our understanding, our generosity – rather than our ability to cover our faces in stinging insects, but in the end nothing really came out. My face turned red and hot and I fled the stage before the judges could announce their decision.

Fully expecting the walk home to be a solitary one, I was surprised when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the mole-catcher’s daughter.

“So you can’t get bees to form a beard on your face” she said. “So what? I can’t catch moles.”

We walked together in the twilight on the road out of town. The bees left the flowers in the hedgerow as we passed.

A Seasonally Inappropriate Dialogue

SANTA:  So what is it you wanted to tell me?

ELF:  I don’t think we can see each other any more.

SANTA:  What? No, listen, we can make this work.

ELF: How? We’re both married. We should end it now before someone gets hurt.

SANTA: But, my wife, she’s nothing. It’s you I want to be with.

ELF: I want to be with you too, but it’s just not possible. I’m an elf. And you’re Santa.

SANTA: That means nothing.

ELF: I wish it did. But people would never accept it. We’re different species. Technically. I think.

SANTA: Oh screw people. Let’s run away together. We’ll get on my sleigh, fly somewhere hot. Away from the snow and the endless tinsel.

ELF: We can’t. What about Mrs. Claus? What about the present factory? What about Christmas? You’ve got a good thing here. I can’t be the one that spoils it.

SANTA: Just one more weekend together.

ELF: No, we have to end it now. My husband’s already starting to suspect something. Asking where the sherry keeps going. Why there are Reindeer hoof prints on the roof. The other week he found a half-eaten mince pie. I had to pretend it was mine, but he knows I hate them.

SANTA: I’ll be more careful then. I’ll clean up my pies. I’ll bring my own sherry.

ELF: No, you don’t understand, it’s over.

SANTA: So, what? You’ll just stay with your husband?

ELF: Yes, Phillip’s a good man. OK, he doesn’t excite me in the way you do or give me the same shuddering orgasms, but he’s got a good job and he’s well respected in the elf community. I could’ve done a lot of worse.

SANTA: So this is it then?

ELF:  This is it.

SANTA: I’ll miss you.

ELF: I’ll miss you too.

SANTA: One last kiss?

ELF: OK…. oh.

SANTA: What?

ELF: There’s some mince pie your beard.

SANTA: Sorry.

ELF: No, leave it. I like it.



Fête Accompli

I kissed the girl from the coconut shy behind a large oak at the edge of the fete.  She tasted of Dubonnet. I’d won a bottle of it earlier on the Tombola and we’d shared it sitting together against a root nodule.

It had been a good day so far. Also in the Tombola I’d won a bag of Doritos, a Chinese waving cat, and a pocket Russian phrasebook from 1976. I was substantially up on my investment.

We’d shared the Doritos too. They were cool original flavor. The flavor from which all other flavours of Doritos are derived. A flavour unlike anything in nature.

She told me she liked the way I kissed. That I was gentle yet courageous.  I tried not to be too pleased about this. After all, I wasn’t sure she had much by way of comparison. I’d heard from her sister that she’d only kissed one other boy before. That it had been a tryst with the butcher’s apprentice in the cold storage and that it hadn’t lasted long as she’d run off after discovering a piece of liver matted into his hair. Perhaps what she appreciated about me was nothing more than an absence of raw offal.

Before she could kiss me again I decided that I had to ask her the question. The fete was nearly over. It had to be now.

            “The pig,” I whispered to her, “how much does the pig weigh?”

Every year, the centerpiece of the village fete was the “guess the weight of the pig” competition. The prize was the pig itself. Every year I entered the competition. Every year I failed to win the pig. I was determined not to let another year go past pigless. This is why the girl was vital. As well as being head of marketing and PR at the coconut shy, she was also the daughter of the farmer who donated the pig. She would know its weight.

She hesitated then gave me the answer. I thanked her, pressed the Chinese cat into her hands, and told her I had to go. She mumbled something about having to get back to the coconut shy. Her pigtails hung limply, and looked nothing like the tails of actual pigs.

As I left I felt a pang of regret sharp enough to pierce the haze of Dubonnet. At the time I thought it was just a subconscious admonition over my cheating, but now I’m not so sure it wasn’t something else.

When I returned later, my prize in tow, the coconut shy was packed up and gone. There were husks on the ground. The girl wasn’t there. I shepherded the hog around the skittles, the duck fishing and the prizewinning vegetables. Nothing. Finally, I returned to the tree where we’d kissed. There was the Chinese cat, waving, golden in the fading light.

Then I saw the her. She was with the butcher’s apprentice. They were by the vicarage. Her hand was in his. As I stared what appeared to be a lamb’s kidney fell from his hair.

The Importance of Admin in Staging a Protest

Stewart had been chained to railings for quite some time. He didn’t have a watch on, but given that the sun had sunk almost entirely below the horizon, his best estimate put it at somewhere between nine and half and ten hours.

He’d received an email about the protest early that morning, and had rushed out of his flat soon after reading it, full of the promise of another day spent challenging  injustice and fighting corruption. Always a fan of punctuality, he had been pleased to reach the site of the protest before anyone else, and had set about eagerly securing himself to the railings with chains and a padlock that even Houdini himself would have found troublesome.

Now, Stewart was well aware that his commitment to punctuality was not universally shared, but after an hour chained to the railings, and with still no sign of a fellow protester,  he couldn’t help mentally tutting to himself in silent  disapproval of their tardiness. After two hours the tutting had turned to audible swearing. By mid-afternoon he was almost certain he’d misread the email.

It had been very early when the message flashed up in his inbox. So early in fact, that Stewart had read it without the clear head he normally got from his morning latte. He must have got the date wrong he reasoned. In fact, thinking about it now, he wasn’t even sure he knew what he was supposed to be protesting against. He had a vague inkling that it might be something to do with tax. Or cats. Or tax on cats. That didn’t explain why though he had chained himself up outside a disused branch of Londis. He couldn’t be sure of anything anymore. He made a mental note to alter his morning routine. From now on, emails would always come after coffee.

He looked down at his chains. They really were very tight. There was absolutely no way he was going to get out of them without the key to the padlock. This rather made him regret the decision he’d taken earlier in the day to swallow it. What was courageous that morning, in retrospect now seemed foolhardy. He guessed it would be another couple of hours before nature took its course, so he put his head back, cleared his mind, and wriggled slightly in order to restore the circulation to his legs.

Farage’s Barrage.

Nigel Farage stood on top of a cliff near Dover. A vein on his temple was throbbing and engorged. Earlier in the day he’d become angered when he’d read some briefs on a new set of EU fiscal policies.

He was now hurling insults across the channel.

“Piss off Europe!” he launched in the general direction of Calais.

“Europe you silly bitch!” he screamed, and threw a crumpet into the waves.

“Keep your red tape away from my island you continental cunts!”

On this his clenched fist caused his sherbet fountain to explode, enveloping him in a fine cloud of powdered sugar.

Worn out by his tirade he sat down, cracked open his fifth can of Ruddles County and sucked deeply on a Lambert and Butler.

A Lovers’ Discourse

Timmy was stuck fast. The sugar pine sapling that he had taken an axe to had fallen the wrong way, trapping him under its young bulk. His mutt Lassie was only a few feet away, but seemed almost oblivious to the unfolding events, her attention focused on tending to one of her claws.

He shouted for her, but aside from a slight ear twitch she did not react. He shouted a second time but again her reaction was only minimal and autonomic. Only on his third shout did she finally come over. She seemed weary though, and without her usual sense of urgency.

In fact, she had been acting off with him all day. He pondered what he could have done to cause this. Perhaps it was that schnauzer from the day before. He had been playing fetch with it on the neighbouring farm when a brief but intense storm had forced him to stay the night. Although he had insisted on separate beds he suspected that its musk had still been lingering on him that morning. This must be why she now seemed reluctant to even meet his eye.

“Go get help!” he urged her, but instead of running all she did was squat down. “Quick!” he said, “it’s-” but then he realised what she was doing. It’s not so much that he minded her choosing that moment to do it – after all, he could see that it was beneficial for her to unload weight before making the journey back to the farm – but he did question whether it was really necessary of her to park it quite so close to his head.

She finished up and loped off, pausing to take a long sniff around a nearby trunk.