Greetings, felicitations, and fluffy dice.


Now, you probably don’t know me, so let me introduce myself. My name is Jack Rowlands, although people tend to call me Mad Jack. I can’t think why.

Anyway, for my day job, I am an Alley Cat. What’s an Alley Cat, I hear you ask? In a very strange voice, I might add. Well, the Alley Cats are the Bomb Disposal team of National Security Command. So, if you’ve got something that you think is going to blow up, just give me a ring.

It’s a real man’s life in the Alley Cats. We do real man things, like weight training, marathon running, knitting, and highland dancing. And don’t believe everything you hear. One ballet lesson, ONE. Do they let you forget? Do they drumsticks! So, by way of relaxation, I entertain the team with a few of my hilarious stories. Well, I think they’re funny.

In among my own totally awesome original stories are ones based on tales I have heard. Some of them could be described as traditional. My grandfather would have heard them. Others are more modern. Now, I have tried to establish the copyright of these stories, but I have not been able to trace the authors. If you feel I have breached your copyright, first know that it was not deliberate, and accept my apology. Secondly, please let me know, and I will be happy to amend future issues. Now, is that or is that not fair?

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Horde

Chuck pressed himself into a shop doorway, guarding his precious bag. He glanced down the street. There were about twenty of them – whatever they were – coming his way. Hopefully, they would keep going.

It had started out as as normal day until something roared across the sky and exploded over the city, spreading a sickly sweet smelling blue fog through the streets. Chuck had been on an underground train when it happened, which is probably why he wasn't affected.

When he came out of the station, everything was in chaos. Cars and shop windows were wrecked. There were screams and howls from all around him, and the people. The people. Their skin had turned dark blue, their hair bright green, and they had a look of crazed anger.

At first they were just fighting amongst themselves, then they saw Chuck. Chuck ran. He felt weak. He felt as if he was going to throw up, but, most of all, he felt afraid of what these things would do if they caught him.

The mob had gone past. Chuck was safe for a while. He picked up his bag and continued to his destination. He turned a corner, and saw a double decker bus on its side. As he approached, three blue skinned things crawled out. Chuck ran again. He realised that he was headed into the centre of town. There would be too many people.

That is when Chuck’s luck changed. He saw an abandoned car, the keys in the ignition. He knew that the owner was probably changed or dead, and he also knew it was his best chance. Chuck stole the car.

He drove as fast as he could, narrowly avoiding other vehicles that had been left behind. Sometimes there would be a mob of blue people trying to block his path, but he closed his eyes and ploughed through them, trying to blot out the awful noises they made as the car hit them.

After a hellish journey, he arrived at his home. All looked clear as he grabbed the bag from the back seat. He practically collapsed into the house, exhausted. After a couple of seconds, he was aware of a shadow over him. He looked up. It was his wife, Annabel. She was unaffected by whatever it was. She just stood there, drinking from a mug of tea.

Annabel opened the bag. “It's no good.” She said. “You forgot the milk. You’ll have to back and get it.”

Putting Life Back Into Your Clothes

No one really knows how it started. The first people to see anything strange were Doug and Jane Hargreaves. They thought they had spotted a group of rats scurrying along the road. On closer inspection, the rats proved to be socks, somehow animated, and propelling themselves like earthworms.

Later that day, a pair of trousers walked themselves down the high street, and several shirts flapped and glided through the air.

Naturally, the call went out to Doctor Roxy Muller and Danny Scurry. Muller checked the socks for radiation and chemicals, while Scurry plotted the reported incidents.

“What do you make of it, Roxy? Science or magic?”

“I don't believe in magic, and you know it.”

“Well, what's your best guess?”

“And I don’t guess. I go by the evidence.”

“OK, what does the evidence tell you?”

 “It's a substance called Nescio. It's actually made up of microbes that are supposed to digest dirt in clothes, and is then washed out. Somehow, these have formed a kind of hive mind and control the clothing, apparently bringing it to life.”

“We have to stop it.”

“We can. A mixture of these three chemicals sprayed onto the clothing will disrupt the hive mind and kill the Nescio.”

Half an hour later, Muller, Scurry and several other agents were going through town with spray packs. The clothing was everywhere; suits, dresses, shirts, underwear all creeping or walking or flying. A blast of the spray, and they became still. Just then, a call came in. There was trouble at the local monastery.

The team burst through the doors to see robes, cassocks and albs swirling around. Scurry sprayed them. Nothing happened. Muller joined in. Still nothing happened. It took all the agents to spray every every drop of chemical for the clothes to fall to the ground.

“Why were these so difficult, Roxy?”

“I guess old habits die hard.”

Chelsea Flower Show

“Good afternoon, and welcome again to the Chelsea Flower Show. I am with celebrated horticulturist and herbalist, Topher Knight. Topher, your garden is an extraordinary patchwork, Can we go through the various themes? That pole there, for instance.”

“Thank you Johnny...”



“Bob. I'm not Johnny, I'm Bob Marsh.”

“OK. Anyway, the pole with the Climbing Gertrude represents the Asclepius, The area is to remind people that most medicines are derived from plant material, which is why it is important to preserve natural areas that we have not yet fully investigated.”

“Thyme heals all wounds?”

“No. There are many herbs and plants that have medical uses.”

“Such as?”

“Well, I have a painful hand condition similar to eczema, so I made an emulsion of thyme, olive oil and water. It has proven to be very effective. I used some this morning.”

“So you have thyme on your hands?”

“Er, yes. Anyway, thyme is a very useful herb. The other day, a piece of fence fell and caught me below my right arm, bruising some ribs. I made a poultice of thyme and mint, and that took away the bruising.”

“Good thing you had thyme on your side.”

 “Look, Johnny.”


“Sorry. Bob. Is this going to go on like this?”

“I don't know what you mean. Anyway, what herbs do you have in that part?”



“Anyway, we have borage over there.”

“Good for breakfast?”



“Look. This is getting silly.”

“Well, to be frank, this is a silly garden. I mean, what are those mange tous doing in a herb garden.”

“Er, its...”

“It's a pun, isn't it?”

“Might be.”

“Well, go on, say it.”

“It's peas in our thyme.”

“And those herbs made into blocks. What are they for?”

“My assistant Norman uses them for exercise.”

“So what do you call them?”

“Thyme weights for Norman.”

“Well, I guess our thyme is up. Thank you, Mr Knight.”

“Any thyme.”

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The Assassins' Tomb

In the Eighties, the Israeli government commissioned a number of settlements to be built. One such settlement was Ain Makvim Chezh in the Negev. Work was suspended when surveyors discovered a sealed cave, partially underground. Benjamin Sukenek of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was sent to investigate.

The team marked off the area to be investigated, then took photographs and measurements.  The ground around the cave entrance was carefully examined, and the artefacts that were found were photographed in place, extracted, and then catalogued. They found several coins and pottery shards, but nothing extraordinary.

It was a full three weeks before they turned their attention to the cave itself. The surface of the cover stone was examined for inscriptions, and then a portion of the substance used to seal the stone was sent to the university for identification.

Once they had formulated a plan to remove the stone with the minimum of damage, they prepared to enter. Inside, they could see that they had found a tomb. There were six vaults along the sides five of them were occupied.

The corpses were wrapped, indicating they had gone through funerary procedures. It was likely that the bodies were well preserved. Carefully, they transported the figures to the university for further study.

Beside each corpse was a pottery jar. These jars were also sent to the university. With their usual care, the team opened the jars, which each held a parchment written in Hebrew.

The first parchment told of Enoch. A soldier in the Israeli army. The parchment told of how he had gone to Egypt and Babylon on secret missions for the King. The team soon discovered that this man was more than just a soldier. He was a spy and an assassin. The scrolls in the other jars told similar stories. These were the King's elite agents.

The bodies were scanned using a variety of methods before being unwrapped. As hoped, they were well preserved. So much so that it was evident that each soldier had had their tongue surgically removed. The explanation for this was recorded in other parchments found in the cave.

The spies were part of a group created around the 10th Century BC for King Solomon in order to keep an eye on neighbouring nations. They voluntarily allowed their tongues to be removed as a test of loyalty, to show that they would never give away the King's secrets. All their communication was in writing, or in a series of pre-arranged signs and gestures.

That is when Sukenek  realised what they had discovered, After all this time; all this searching. They had found the secret of King Solomon's Mimes.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

St Lawrence Fair

Carl always looked forward to the St Lawrence Country Show. The weather was just right - not overly hot, and with a cool breeze. He turned off the motorway onto the long road that lead to the town. In his head, he rehearses the pieces he was going to perform at the evening’s Battle of the Bards competition, when a bright red Porsche Carrera overtook him, horn blaring, and the two occupants screaming and whooping. Carl was suddenly very angry, but what could he do? All he had was his Honda Civic. His pride and joy.

He calmed down by the time he reached the showground.  He parked his car in an adjacent field and strolled into the show. He walked past the marquees and gazebos with their hog roasts, tombolas and games of skill to the main performance tent, situated strategically beside the drinks tent.In one corner of the tent was a desk, and behind the desk sat Angie, the organiser of the Battle of the Bards.

“Hi Carl, are you competing this year?”

“Of course. I might have a chance at winning. Can I sign up?”

“Well, two lads from Oxford put their names down for the last places half an hour ago.”

“So, I’m too late?”

“Of course not, silly. I’m only teasing. I reserved you a place.”

Carl bought himself a pint of Springfield’s Old Rocker, served in a plastic mug. There was loud laughter from the other end of the tent. It was the two from the Porsche. He decided to be friendly.

“Hello, lads. That’s a fine car you have.”

“The Porsche? That’s just something Daddy gave me when he got his new Ferrari.”

“Still, smooth lines and a good turn of speed. I’m Carl, by the way. That was my Honda you overtook”

“Tristram, and my friend is Hugo. Can’t say I remember your car. We drove over to take part in the Performance Poetry.”

“You mean the Battle of the Bards. I won it three years running, but I lost last year. I’m hoping to regain my crown, so to speak.”

“Oh, so you’re the enemy, then. We go around to all these kinds of things. We’ve won eleven competitions between us so far this summer.”

“You do know it isn’t just poetry, don’t you? It’s poetry, story or song, and you can’t do any more than one of each.”

“No probs. We’ve got superb singing voices.”

Out in the Display Area, local children were demonstrating their dressage skills, then prize-winning livestock and pets were paraded. Time passed. The Showground’s day visitors left, and people began to gather in the performance tent.

Angie took the mike, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this year’s Battle of the Bards. This will consist of three rounds, during which the competitors may recite a poem, read a story, or sing a song. Each piece must be the performer's own work and last no longer than four minutes.

“We have a panel of five judges. For each round, they have ten points to distribute amongst the performers.

“We start with sixteen performers for the first round. Eight will be eliminated, then four. The remaining four will compete for the first, second and third prizes.

“Now the boring part is over, here are the prospective bards. Let battle commence.”

It was no surprise that Tristram, Hugo and Carl got through the first round, and Carl had to admit that they were good. Tristram was an excellent singer, and Hugo put amazing voices to the characters in his story. Carl’s story was received with loud laughter throughout the tent.

After a break, the remaining eight were called together for the next round. Tristram was about to sing again, when the judges reminded him that he could only do one song, so he read it as a poem, and very effective it was, too.

It was Hugo’s turn to sing. His voice was almost operatic, and his choice of song got everyone clapping along.

Carl did a song as well.  He sang of heartbreak and love lost. When he finished, the tent was silent for a minute or two, then there was thunderous applause.

The three got through to the final round, together with an old man who specialised in songs and stories about cows.

For the final round, Tristram read a story, Hugo, Carl and the man all read poems.

There was a hush as the marks were totalled up, then Angie took the mike.

“Ladies and Gentlemen. The final scores are these; Hugo McLaren, twelve points. Tristram Baxter, thirteen points. But, with twenty five points, Carl Newman is, once again, crowned Bard of St Lawrence.”

The contestants congratulated one another. But Carl could not resist a dig at his rivals.

“I got as many points as both of you put together, You know what that means, don’t you? A bard in a Honda is worth two in a Porsche.”

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Family Feud

James sat heavily in his armchair. “I am fed up with this family feud. How did it start in the first place?”

Ralph settled himself into storytelling mode. “It’s complicated. You know that your Uncle Walter was Operations Manager in the factory, but you might not know that your Aunt Debbie was a Production Line worker there.”

“I did know that. They met at a Christmas party.”

“That’s right. There was a spark from the first time they saw each other. They started going out together, but had to keep it a secret from the family.”

“Why was that?”

“Well, the family frowned on work romances, especially between a family member in a position of authority and a lowly line worker.”

“So, what happened then?”

“Your uncle Arthur found out. He saw Walter and Debbie at a restaurant and told your grandfather David. David brought Walter into his office and tried to tell him to stop. Walter refused, and your grandfather sacked him.”

“That’s why Walter didn’t work for the family business.”

“That’s right. He started his own company, but never competed with the family. He was always honourable. Anyway, after a couple of years, Walter and Debbie got married, but Arthur, Horace, and Elizabeth didn’t even show up at the wedding.”

“But when Debbie died, she and Walter had been married for almost sixty years.  You’re saying that this has lasted all that time?”

“Yes. Arthur and Elizabeth never spoke to Walter or Debbie until they died. Horace still won’t.”

“But this is stupid. How can we fix this? Are they going to their graves still fighting?”

“Horace’s health is declining. He was a heavy drinker for years until he became diabetic. He became teetotal, but that was too late to save his eyes. He finds it very difficult to get around now. On the other hand, Walter has always said that his door was open. He has never borne a grudge. All he wanted was for his family to recognise the marriage. Just to raise a glass as they should have done at the wedding breakfast.”

“If I spoke to Horace, do you think I could persuade him to sort this out if I got them together?”

“I don’t know, you can lead your Horace to Walter, but you can’t make him drink.”

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Eye in Time

It was a Sunday afternoon. We had eaten a delicious roast dinner prepared by the Professor’s staff, and retired to the library. We sat in our customary seats, and glasses of brandy and whisky were distributed among the guests.

Suitably nourished, and with minds lubricated by alcohol, we were ready for our usual weekly pasttime. Our host, the Professor, stood dramatically with his hand resting on the mantel, staring into the flames below.

“Gentlemen, I would like you to consider this proposal. That, in addition to three dimensions of space, there are also three dimensions of time.”

He paused, then looked at the faces around him to see how his guests reacted. The Colonel made a sort of coughing sound, then studiously swirlled his brandy.

“Your thoughts, Colonel?”

“Load of nonsense, if you ask me. Scientific mumbo-jumbo. What good is it?”

“It may surprise you. Any other thoughts?”

The Mathematician straightened himself up, hands clasped behind his back. “It has long been accepted that Minkowski Space, with three dimensions of space and one of time, is far too simplistic. M-Theory suggests there are ten or eleven dimensions. How does your theory relate to that?”

“You misunderstand. I did not say it was a theory. I state it as a fact. Gentlemen, let me draw your attention to the screen at the back of the room. What do you see?”

The Reporter glanced quickly at it. “It’s a view of this room. What of it?”

“From which vantage point, sir?”

The Reporter examined the picture, then the room. He began to look more and more puzzled, checking and rechecking the picture. “Where is your camera? It has to be here somewhere.”

“There is no camera as such, The image comes from the machine in the basement. Now, watch this.” The Professor went to a console and made a few adjustments. The image changed. It was almost dark.

“Colonel, would you reach into your left jacket pocket?”

The Colonel did so and, on the screen, they saw the pocket open and fingers appear. “What the devil?” The Colonel fished around in his pocket, trying to find a camera.

“Let’s take this to the next level.” The Professor’s fingers flew around the console interface, and the image changed again.

“That’s us.”

“Look closer. For instance, examine the Chesterfield.”

“Then this image comes from..”
“...Last month, when our Politician friend was here. And now...”

The picture was no longer the library, but the high street. There was something strange about the view. It sank in when they realised how many cars were Ford Cortinas and Morris Oxfords. Somehow, they were looking at the town as it was in the Seventies.

“What, exactly, is going on here, Professor?”

“Well, we are used to moving relatively easily in three dimensions of space, but we can only move in one dimension of time, and that in a single direction. My viewer makes use of a dimension of time that is perpendicular to the time dimension we know. Using it, I can view any place and any time.”

“Surely, this is a trick. I am well aware of the theories. I have a computer model of Calabi-Yau that I use in my lectures. What you are claiming here, though, goes well beyond the theoretical.”

“Indeed it does. And I now offer you a challenge. Name anywhere in space and time, and I will show it.”

“Very well,” The Reporter said, “What about the assassination of John F Kennedy?”

The Professor smiled, made a few changes, and there was the motorcade coming through Dallas. They saw the shot, saw the President die. Then the Professor froze the picture, zoomed closer until they could see the bullet’s entry point. Then he reversed the apparent flow of time. They followed the path of the bullet back...back...until.

“Well, I’ll be...!”

“So that’s what happened.”

After a pause, the Mathematician posed his challenge. “Show us this planet fifty million years ago.”

Another smile from the Professor, and he set the controls.

“Well, Professor?”

“I don’t understand it.”

“Yes, the screen appears to be blank. Is this in a cave at night?”

“No. There should be something. Let’s move forward to one million years ago.”

“Still blank, Professor. Try something more recent. Say, five thousand years ago.”

The screen sprang to life. The view was of a forest. Birds flew through the air, and a wolf roamed among the trees.

“OK, go back to ten thousand years.”

Again, the screen went black.

The Professor checked the view every hundred years. It was still blank, until they reached about six thousand years.

On the screen, clearly displayed, was a message:-