Cybil and Jeffrey make home made Sloe Gin

The Duck Pond

It was a balmy May night in the sleepy little village of Fartson Parp on the Wye. 

Swans slept at the side of the pond, necks curled under their wing. The sun played peek a boo with the fluffy, wispy clouds and red faced children hung over the bridge waiting for their pooh sticks to emerge. A few confused children were waiting for their poo sticks. Flies fussed over the water (possibly something to do with the poo sticks) as boatmen skimmed and skated on its surface. Cybil and Jeffrey sat on their favourite riverside seat and watched the evening draw to a close.

“Jeffrey?”

“Mmm?”

“Isn’t it beautiful tonight?”

“Isn’t what beautiful dear?”

“It, Jeffrey. All of it.”

“I suppose it is dear. I’ve never really thought about it that way.”

“You’re a Philistine Jeffrey. An utter Philistine.”

Jeffrey’s face twitched. His facial tics were a constant reminder that Cybil was most often right and that he was a mere man. And, therefore, most often wrong. 

He sighed, opened his copy of The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western and flicked to his favourite chapter where Cameron and Greer met Magic Child in a brothel. Jeffrey loved this book as indeed he loved all Brautigan’s books. 

Cybil thought they were a strange read. Certainly a strange read for a retired accountant. Perhaps it was Jeffrey’s love of the surreal which blinded him to the beauty of nature? Perhaps it was a gin induced neurosis? Jeffrey loved a tipple.

Cybil threw chunks of crusty bread to a motley crew of passing gangsta mallards. It was the height of the mating season and unattached mallards would have a pop at just about anything. They were the geezers of the duck pond. As the bread hit the water it was hoovered up and met with anxious quacks for more. 

A passing cyclist stopped beside Cybil.

“Bread’s bad for ducks” he said. “Full of empty calories. You should feed them frozen peas.”

Cybil looked at the young man quizzically. 

“Frozen peas? But that can’t be right.”

The cyclist thought for a moment.

“It must be. I read it in the Gruniad.”

“But what sort of peas? Mushy? Marrowfat? Garden?”

Cybil’s tone pitched as she become more exasperated with this intruder.

“Is everything all right dear” said Jeffrey.

“No it’s not Jeffrey!” Exclaimed Cybil. “That frightful young man told me off for feeding the ducks bread!”

“Now listen here you Cycling thug!” Said Jeffrey with the authority and pitch of an elder. “Push off and annoy someone else or I’ll set my dog on you!”

“But you haven’t got a dog” said the cyclist.

“I’ll go and get one if you don’t go away! You hooligan!”

The cyclist left, mumbling under his breath about old loonies and who cares about ducks anyway.

Jeffrey put his arm around Cybil’s shoulder and kissed her gently on the cheek.

“There, there dear. The rude young man has gone.”

“Oh Jeffrey! You’re my hero! I think you deserve a nice large Gin!’

Jeffrey blushed.

“I’d love a Gin Cybil, but we’re completely dry.”

“Dry?”

“Not a sausage.”

“No sausages either!?”

“That was a euphemism Cybil.”

“Ah.” 

A Sloe Gin Comedy of Errors

Back at home, Cybil regained her composure and was manically rooting though every cupboard and drawer of their tiny cottage. 

‘There must be a bottle of Bombay Sapphire here somewhere’ she thought.

“Cybil?”

“Mmm?”

“Have we still got that bucket of sloes we gathered?”

“Yes. I think so. Try behind the Barry Manilow cushions on the chez longue.”

“Got them! Why did you put them there?”

“It’s as good a place as any dear.”

Jeffrey inspected the sloe plums. They were still firm and purple and decidedly sloe like. 

“What do you want the sloes for Jeffrey?”

“Sloe Gin dear.”

“You are clever Jeffrey.” Said Cybil. “What else do we need?”

“SHALL I COME INTO THE KITCHEN DEAR INSTEAD OF SHOUTING FROM THE LOUNGE?”

“GOOD IDEA JEFFREY!”

They sat on either side of a small, sturdy wooden kitchen table and Jeffrey powered up his laptop. 

“It’s not Friday is it Jeffrey?”

“Friday?”

“Friday phrases dear!”

“No Cybil. It’s Monday but Friday phrases will be a bit of a damp squib without Gin!”

“Good point Jeffrey. Are you looking up the recipe?”

Jeffrey googled Sloe Gin. 

Sugar. Check.

Sloes. Check.

Gin. Ah. 

“Cybil, I think we may have a small problem.”

“What is it Jeffrey? You don’t sound very happy.”

Jeffrey took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.

“I’ve been reading the recipe and ignoring the fact that sloe gin takes at least three months to mature, and Friday Phrases is just four days away, the recipe also calls for…you’re not going to believe this….Gin!!”

“We need gin to make sloe gin? What nonsense!”

“Apparently we do dear.”

“Off licence Jeffrey?”

“Can we stop for pizza on the way back?”

“Why not! Shall I drive?”

“I’d rather you didn’t dear.”

Later that evening Cybil and Jeffrey were relaxing in their favourite recliners. The sun had long since dipped below the horizon. The ducks had fallen silent. And there was a report on TV that a cyclist had crashed into the back of a slurry spreader and was stuck in the outlet pipe. 

Cybil and Jeffrey were happily smashed. 

“Another Gin Jeffrey?”

“Yes please!”

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Time for my tramadol

4am

my sciatica
is giving me gip

the pain in my hip
is enough to drive a man insane

enough to drive a sane man
to kill dead things

still

it’s quiet in the early morning gloom
I’m listening to the arctic monkey’s mardy bum

while drinking my ginger root organic tea
prone on the couch doing my prone stretchy thing

and there’s not a sound except for a distant snore
of my other half fast asleep on a distant sleepy shore

solace

and my sciatica
is giving me HUGE, HORRENDOUS, HORRIBLE gip

it’s enough to make me bite my lip
make my brain flip, it’s time for my tramadol

time to take that pain free trip.

Kim and Tim and Timmy (the schoolboy) and Bubbles and The Bandit and Cybil and Jeffrey annex Greece

It was a breathtaking morning in Kos town. Kim and Tim sat in the warm sunshine in a small cafe beside the harbour and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of melons and pastry washed down with cool sparkling orange juice. The melons were the biggest that Tim had ever seen. 

The cafe was a stones throw from their hotel. They’d measured it at 220 feet. A stellar throw. 

They’d chosen the cafe carefully. From its cobbled terrace they had uninterrupted views of the harbour and could see all the comings and goings and the goings and comings too. To avoid drawing attention to themselves, both were dressed as garage mechanics.

Tim ordered more coffee. Kim peered into a little compact and relined her lips. 

“How do I look Tim?”

“Is this a trick question?”

“No…”

“It’s a little trout poutish dear”

“What if I toned it down a little?”

“You’ve smudged it now. Not a good look Kim!”

They were distracted by a large yacht sailing through the mouth of the harbour. Tim peered through his binoculars.

“It’s her Kim! It’s Plaistow Patricia!”

“Can you see them?”

“I can just about make out…”

Then. Suddenly. The lights went out. 

Meanwhile, in a dusty railway bar outside Bogota, Bubbles was knitting a Fez. It was for The Bandit’s birthday. He’d lost his puce thinking cap and was looking a little more lost than usual. 

Hernandez lay in the shade of the old water tower. He wasn’t allowed in the bar, not since that rather unfortunate incident with the owner’s dog and a Swiss meringue.  

“Hey Hernandez! Wake up! It’s time to go. It’s almost nightfall.” 

………Bandit was keen to leave before anyone realised who they were and called the Policía (or the lunatic asylum for Hernandez)

The wanted posters on the wall of the bar were almost invisible in the dim shuttered light. They weren’t very good likenesses anyway. They were almost ten years old and the Bandit’s beard had doubled in length in that time. It was plaited into tight dreadlocks. He’d gone through a Bob Marley phase. Bubbles had dyed her hair bright pink and it was in a tight bun held up by a gigantic paper clip. 

And Hernandez. He was insignificant. He wasn’t even insig……..

“You too Bubbles. Let’s go. We have a flight to catch!”

“I’ve got one last row to knit Bandit. Then I’m all yours, metaphorically speaking of course!”

Back in Kos, the sky began to brighten. The lights came back on.

“Look Kim!”

Tim pointed skyward.

“What on earth…..” 

Kim visibly paled.

“It can’t be!”

“OH YES IT IS!” Boomed a pre-pubescent voice. “IT’S TIMMMMMMMMY!”

Above Kim and Tim, blotting out the Mediterranean sun, was an enormous space ship in the form of a Cajun alligator. They could just see the tiny figure of Schoolboy Timmy standing in one of the alligator’s eyes. Schoolboy Timmy. The words struck fear into the hearts of Kim and Tim. 

“What now Kim?”

“There’s not a lot we can do until we hear his demands. Coffee?”

“And banoffee pie?”

“Nice rhyme Kim!”

“Thanks Tim!”

Under the cover of darkness, the yacht, the Plaistow Patricia, had moored in the harbour. Onboard a rather twee and eccentric English couple sat in the garish Laura Ashley decorated saloon.

“Gin Jeffrey?”

“Yes Please Cybil!” 

(Watch out for part 32 not anytime soon)

The snakes who had a hissy fit and why children should be allowed to smoke e cigs.

The common man in Ireland has no knowledge of snakes. Our patron Saint and all round do gooder, Patrick, caste them out in a fit of pique after being bitten by one. He summoned the wrath of Jehovah himself. The big man upstairs. The eternal being. And with a mighty smote the snakes were smitten never to return until…..

E cigs are the obvious nicotine fuelled alternative to tobacco based products. With only a few chemicals and an exhalation value of nil, they are safe to use in almost any environment except airport departure lounges and supermarkets. Multiflavourous and entirely innocuous, the common man should be encouraged to vape and throw his filthy disease ridden fags into the nearest bin. 

‘Suck in that goodness’ I cry, as I rally the common man to the e cig cause.  

Meanwhile at Dublin Port, a huge Chinese container ship docked. The sea was rough, white tipped, foaming with menace. (This has nothing to do with the story, purely decorative.) It was laden with a cacophony of goods. Tractors, tractor parts, parts for tractors, toys (including toys of a dubious and rather personal nature) clothing of all sizes and styles, e cigs and a family of venomous stowaway snakes.  

An army of stevedores fussed over the huge container ship like bad tempered ants. Enormous cranes picked up the heavy corrugated boxes like a steel giant with Edward Scissorhands hands. Lorries puffed and groaned and creaked as axles sunk under the weight of the laden crates. And then with their cargoes on board the busy little lorries took to the grey early morning streets of Dublin and on to their destinations. 

At a freight yard in Fartrim, County Cavan, cold calloused hands grabbed big fluffy bacon baps. It was breakfast time. A throbbing air horn cut through the slobbering bacon munching sounds. The first lorry of the day had arrived.

The lorry backed into the loading dock and seals unsealed, it’s goods were picked, stacked, separated, labels licked, cages filled, and a sea of clingfilm wrap wrapped a sea of deliveries. Destinations sorted, cages were loaded onto empty wagons, drivers assigned and convoys bade farewell with a jaunty Bon adieu! 

In a cage of various corner shop comestibles and consumables, bound for Hardy’s grocery shop in Muff, was a box of assorted e cigs, e liquids and a family of hungry venomous snakes. 

The journey was uneventful enough. Pearce, the driver, was a solid strapping chap with a thing for tattoos and Tinder. His journey took him through coasting green countryside and small sleepy Irish hamlets. The sun peeked out from behind blueish grey clouds and Johnny Logan crooned on the CD player. 

He turned into Muff’s busy Main Street, pulled up outside Hardy’s shop and put on his emergency flashers (which as everyone knows allow lorries to legitimately park in congested areas.)

‘Morning Hardy’ said Pearce.

Hardy didn’t reply. He was a man of few words and even fewer clothes. Despite it being the middle of March and an outside temperature of barely 7 degrees, Hardy wore running shoes, shorts and singlet. He was a man in his late 50’s but in his youth had been a local Gaelic football hero scoring the winning point in the 1983 County semi final match against Cavan Town. He relived that moment every day. That was his groundhog moment. His 15 minutes of fame. 

‘Two cages for you today Hardy’ said Pearce jovially. ‘Two cages of Fartrim Distributor’s finest.’

Hardy was unmoved by Pearce’s Bonhomie. He hauled the cages into the small crowded stockroom at the back of the shop and set about checking the inventory. When everything was accounted for he signed the paperwork and handed it back to Pearce without the merest hint of pleasantry. 

‘Well. I’ll be off then’ said Pearce. ‘Top of the morning to you.’ ‘You miserable old bastard’ he muttered under his breath. 

‘I heard that’ said hardy.

In the shop, more of an Aladdin’s cave than a shop, with just about every consumable substance and thing known to man. From a dustpan and brush to a jar of bovril and freshly pulled pints of the black stuff: whatever your heart desired, Mr Hardy and his wife Bernie would sell you. 

But time’s had changed. The common man, woman and child of Muff had answered the call of the Irish Surgeon General and embraced e cigs with cigarette eschewing abandon. Every flavour was in demand. For the hardened old men there was high nicotine dosed Marlboro flavour. For the laughing old girls fond of a lunchtime nip, the allure of menthol and the red faced kids took to blueberry, banana and cherry (nicotine free of course) like fleas to a dog. 

A population weened off the evil tobacco plant their addiction supplanted to a much more healthy alternative. 

But this was a rampant insatiable addiction. It wasn’t a simple matter of opening a packet, taking out a brown tipped cylinder, flicking a lighter and sucking in the sweet addictive smoke. Oh no. There was hardware to be considered. See through glass bottom filling tanks. Disposable coils. And everything in a rainbow of colours. And each contraption promised a better throat hitting vape. More flavour, more ‘smoke’ more pleasure. 

The variety of flavours, in a variety of nicotine strengths, was equally bewildering. Much debate was had over a pint or two in O’Flanagans as to the best flavour, the most intense hit and whether the working man could safely smoke blueberry flavour without appearing to be too gay. 

News of the consignment of e cigs products at the back of Hardy’s shop, fresh off the lorry had circulated around the town like an epidemic. People huddled in doorways within sight of the shop waiting for the shelves to be replenished. Waiting for their healthy fix. Mothers brought their children. Since the revolution children were no longer placated with soothers or sweets and God forbid that a child should munch on a Pink Lady! Children were arbitrarily supplied with e cigs and a selection of nicotine free liquid and left to quietly puff as mothers sipped their afternoon gins and gossiped about this and that and the other.

‘Mr. Hardy?’ Enquired Bernie. ‘Are we ready to put the stuff out? They’re champing at the bit here. Old Mrs Murphy is foaming at the mouth and if she doesn’t get her 18mg Dorset Apple Cider liquid I fear for the worst!’

Mr Hardy unwrapped the film from one of the cages. He thought he heard a hiss from deep within the stack of boxes. ‘Mmm’ he thought. Mr Hardy’s propensity for thought matched his propensity for speech. As he unloaded box after box, the hissing got louder and louder until he lifted a box which lurched and squirmed in his hands. He peeked inside?

‘MARY MOTHER OF JESUS!’ He yelled.

Bernie heard the commotion and alarmed by her husband’s profanity and the fact that he uttered anything at all, flew into the storeroom.

Hardy had dropped the box. It lay on the floor its lid ajar. The head of a snake licked the air and flicked its forked tongue. It hissed. It was having a hissy fit. 

Bernie hitched her skirt up above her  knees in hasty handfuls and ran screaming into the street.

‘SNAKE!’ She shouted. ‘SNAKE!’

Onlookers gave her a worried look and surmised that she had been at the poteen again. A brew known to induce madness amongst other things.

Hardy soon followed although his escape was more of a nonchalant affair in keeping with his personality. 

A crowd of children saw their opportunity to skim some liquid loot and ran en masse into the storeroom. They stopped. In their tracks. They had only ever seen pictures of snakes. St Patrick had chucked them out. They didn’t look that terrible in real life. Just noisy. And slithery. And slippery looking. 

The biggest of the boys took hold of a heavy shovel and pounded the box full of snakes until the floor was wet with essence of snake and the hisses fell silent. 

They quickly filled every available pocket with dozens of bottles of assorted e cig liquid and fled to the beach to lie hidden amongst the grass topped dunes and vape until they could could vape no more.

Mrs Murphy did eventually get her fix and a seizure was avoided.

Mr Hardy never spoke of the incident again. 

Bernie remains traumatised. 

And Pearce? 

He met a lass from Derry on Tinder and gave up the haulier business to set up an e cig shop in Donegal. 

And the common man?

The common man is the backbone of Ireland. He is the sounding post for everything. He is a marker. And the cause of the common man is distilled into every piece of folklore. Every whisper and every thought. The common man is the essence of us all. 

And he likes his e cigs. 

Soup is dangerous

Soup is dangerous (as are vegetables)

When faced with a choice of farmhouse cider apple and pork pate, a medley of sweet spring vegetables, an eclectic collection of breads and oils or a bowl of soup, the common man experiences unbelievable stress. The expectation is that a starter will deliver a small but perfectly formed tasting experience. The foreplay before the main event. A kiss on the nape of the neck. A nibble of an earlobe. A starter should tease and excite. It shouldn’t be too large or it will overexcite and spoil the anticipation. It shouldn’t be too small either. Size is important. It should be just right. Just enough. 

So. Soup. The health obsessed lovelies from the tablet feature pages love soup. It’s a healthy and nutritious starter. It can be delicate or robust. Smooth and clear or dense and clumpy. Soup shrinks your waistline and bestows a feeling of easy calm. It feeds your belly and soothes your soul. Or so they say.

I disagree. I say to the common man that soup is dangerous. It is as dangerous as swimming in a crocodile infested river or travelling to space without oxygen. Soup is to the common man what the plague was to the world in the dark ages. Avoid it all costs.

Allow me to illustrate my contention by relating a tragic real life event.

I was lunching at a well known bistro. The menu was formally presented to me. I started with my choice of starter, being an organised and virtuous fellow. The establishment had softened the angst of making a choice by offering only two alternatives; a cream of asparagus soup and a cold rabbit terrine with seasonal leaves and a balsamic dressing. 

The waiter fussed and hovered. He fidgeted with his pencil and pad then, at my earnest request, brought me a chilled bottle of Sauternes and a jug of water cooled with ice and adorned with floating slices of bright yellow lemon. 

He enquired as to the status of my order. I asked for a moment to consider. I’m not a lover of terrines and against my better judgement and contrary to every warning I had ever received I ordered the soup, well aware of its vagaries and the potential for disaster. 

I was content in my surroundings. The wine was crisp and evocative. The decor was plain and subdued only lifted by the crisp red and white gingham table cloths. The other diners were a motley crew of young lovers, business men and an elderly couple, they sounded of German descent, who sat in the corner table beside the loos feeding scraps to their dog which lay at their feet. 

My soup arrived innocently enough. A plain white bowl sat atop a large plain plate. It was accompanied by a small wicker basket full of slices of artisan bread. The soup was pale cream in colour and a faint mist of heat rose from its surface. I grasped a spoon lightly in my hand and skimmed into the soup. From front to back of course. Then everything started to go wrong.

The first spoonful touched my lips. It was excruciatingly hot. It burnt my tongue. I let out a scalded yelp. My knees, in a knee jerk reaction, slammed into the underside of the table. I stumbled and as I did I grabbed the gingham table cloth and as I fell backwards, my mouth on fire, in slow motion the contents of my table slid and slewed and my soup bowl went airborne. It tumbled and twirled and landed on the old German couple’s dog its contents masking the Alsatian face. The dog went berserk. It rushed for the waiter who jumped through the restaurant window. The glass smashed and a shard the size of a man impaled the wretched waiter. He died instantly. His face a contortion of horror. 

The dog crazily pawed its face, streaks of red hot asparagus soup stuck fast to his muzzle. It ran around the restaurant in ever widening eccentric circles. I cowered beneath my table as I watched the young cooing couple trying to flee through the kitchen. I heard a sickening cry as they slipped on the greasy floor then a crackling fizzle as they fell into the industrial deep fat fryers. The police arrived and immediately cordoned off the area. A marksman felled the insane dog with a single well taken shot. On hearing the shot the old German couple, perhaps with childhood memories of advancing Russian soldiers, surrendered and lay flat on the floor of the apocalyptic bistro. 

As chaos ebbed and order was restored, we were led to waiting cars and taken to see a therapist for trauma counselling. 

And dear friends, all of this could have been avoided if I hadn’t chosen soup as my starter. 

Soup is dangerous.

As are vegetables. But that’s another story entirely.

As Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek once said…

Canada
goes up in smoke
as each legal toke
as each gooey brownie
reduces a nation of
frontier men and townies
to a giggling, whitey induced
vomiting mess…

OH L@@K! A MOOSE! DRESSED AS A UNICORN!

Winter’s coming.
wouldn’t it be nice
to don Minion suits
and slide on the ice
of a frozen Nunuvut river?

BANANA!

somewhere wild
somewhere cool
somewhere where we
can play the fool
somewhere where we
can be free
legally.

and
say sorry with a smile
apologise with a giggle
smoke a blunt over dinner
smoke a bowl for that niggle

but always remember,
as Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek once said…

‘Smoking dope and drinking beer
is like pissing into the wind’

you’ve been warned my Canadian friend.

my weekend

all around is mediocre ochre,
dusky yellow like dirty sunshine.

toned and matched with metallic grey,
safe and soulless, comfortingly neutral.

asymmetric geometric patterns abound,
hip, industrial and limitlessly artificial.

plump rugs are scattered nonchalantly,
knee burners, dust collectors, floor beds.

chenille cushions bounce in the showroom lights,
comfy and soft, soothing and matching, opulent hugs.

this is the world of soft furnishings,
a world of conspiracy, Orwellian globalisation.

tricky contrast stitching sings for attention,
anti-matter piping, non-conforming and very, very nice.

a melange of home accessories, eye popping necessities,
difficult, petulant, ballsy, cringeworthy, daring and wrong.

revealing open storage, end-of-pier, naked and visceral,
chaos and ugliness, showy accessibility, boring and unfinished.

splurgy pouffes dot about like lumpy hummocks,
restful foot sanctuaries, emergency coffee tables.

keeping up with the Joneses Orla Keeley prints,
smell of common naff, although, in small doses, pretty.

mundane e14 led bulbs shine a light on the collection,
bright and white, modern and functional mini energy saving suns.

like sheep, following the flickering directional arrows,
conformity and order mixed with ‘excuse me’ rebellious discord.

to Ikea and a land of 90% crap and 10% must have design genius,
meatballs meet Abba, porn meets functional particle fibre board.