Joe2stories

Stories from a Dublin Scientist

Month: September, 2012

Picture it and write: The Tracker

Hi everybody, this is my offering for this weeks picture it and write from Ermilia’s Blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy.

The Tracker

I want to start off by saying that I am very good at what I do. I kind of have to be, to have been doing it for as long as I have been, over twelve years now. You need to be good and have a good team behind you. Not only that, you also need to be incorruptible. That has to be the most important thing of all.

I suppose it would help if I was to explain what it is I do. Not knowing much, you might be forgiven for describing me as a bounty hunter. But I am a lot more than that. I would be more specialised, more selective than a mere bounty hunter. You see if an individual, organisation, or the occasional government has been done wrong by someone and they can’t find or get at the person, then they call in me. I can track down that person, anywhere in the world, extract them from where they’re hiding and then return them to the injured party so that they can receive whatever justice they have got coming to them. I am a tracker and through the years I have tracked down men who’ve slept with their best friend’s wives, accountants who have embezzled mob money, and in one very interesting case, a thief.

Kate Madison was rapidly making a name for herself amongst the burglary fraternity. If all of the suspicions, half sightings and rumours (none of which stuck, by the way) in her police dossier were to go by, then she must have been responsible for a good quarter of all the high-end robberies in Manhattan in the last three years. She was doing quite well for herself and it was only through dumb luck that she went on to hit the house of Brenda Colavita, noted actress and mistress of Vincenzo the head of the Campani crime family.

Needless to say, the Don was very upset and set his boys to work to recover all of the jewellery that he had given to Brenda. The found the fence in a few hours. The poor bastard didn’t last long, if he’d have lived he would have been in a sorry state, and he quickly gave Kate’s name. The Don’s men then went to get her, only to find that she had gone without a trace. That was when I was called in.

Now I have said before that I am very good at what I do. It took me only a couple of hours to find that within one hour of the fence being grabbed by Campani’s goons, Kate’s blonde Doppelganger, going by the name of Marie Downing, got on a BA flight from JFK to London Heathrow. She had the vegetarian option I believe. Upon landing in London ‘Marie’ passed through passport control and entered a bathroom, coming out ten minutes later as ‘Charlotte Upton’, a rather fetching brunette with glasses. ‘Charlotte’ took a BMI flight from London to Manchester after which she took a taxi to a B&B in the city centre. After three hours the Raven haired ‘Louise Pickering’ then took a Taxi to Manchester Piccadilly station and boarded the three fifteen train to Edinburgh. ‘Louise’ then entered a taxi after exiting from Waverly station which took her to another boarding house near the Zoo at approximately half past eight that night. It was at that time that I was boarding my private Plane to fly to Scotland.

Ideally everything I do is quiet, unobtrusive. A fake interpol badge flashed to the staff at the boarding house prevented any interference from people who don’t know any better. They even gave me the room key, very helpful. My men stood at all the exits, keeping in radio contact to prevent the chance of her escaping. Myself and two others made our way to ‘Louise’s’ room. The key turned effortlessly, with bated breath I made my way inside.

The room was bare except for a utilitarian bed, the TV hanging from the ceiling. There was a travel bag on the floor, open and half empty. Not much, but well-chosen. No one was there, my heart half expected a further chase but there was a sound through the door of the bathroom, water running. It stopped, the sound of a towel being moved, then the door opening. My first real sighting of a woman previously only viewed through photographs and video feeds. Slender, athletic body, covered in a barely there, figure hugging shirt and black panties. Her hair, long and auburn, grey eyes, a real looker.

She paused for a second, startled, terror in her eyes, then calmed regaining her composure, a real pro. “Kate Madison.” I announced, right hand in my coat pocket, holding something heavy, “You know why I am here. My men surround the building. Escape is hopeless.”

She looked at me, then through to the two others outside the room. She then smiled. “You know. I earned a lot of money before I ran. A lot more than I know what to do with. How much would it cost to make you look the other way?”

Bribery is always their first port of call. Like I said, you have to be incorruptible to last long. “Sorry Kate. They paid us plenty to bring you in, more than enough. Besides; my name is worth more to me than you can give.”

She looked a little stunned at that. Honesty amongst people in our circle tends to be rare. But she was not easily fazed. “I can give you more than money you know” she started to move seductively towards the bed, “I used to be a gymnast!” At which point she started to contort her body, moving her limbs and back in ways that looked like they would break, all the time looking straight at me. It was an impressive display, liable to ignite the imagination of any man with a pulse. The slight gasps from behind me told that Kate had found at least two interested parties.

“Let me go” She purred “and before I leave I will show you things that you have never even dreamed of.” I smiled a little stepping back to close the door behind me, the curses from my men barely audible. She grinned seductively at me “You made the right choice. Why have money when you can have so much more?” She sprawled herself onto the bed her arms extending down to the floor. “Come here and get what’s coming to you.” I walked slowly, my right hand still in the coat, coming to the foot of the bed, her feet moving to caress my trouser leg, up, past my crotch, to my shirt. My right hand moved.

zzzzzssssttt! The taser dug into the flesh of her leg. She was knocked out, a slight smell of urine in the air. I opened the door and my men came in to prepare Kate for transport back to New York and Vincenzo. I noticed that her left hand had made it all the way to the bag on the floor. She was holding a switch-blade. Meant for me no doubt.

There was never any chance of me falling into Kate’s trap though. I’ve said it before you have to be incorruptible to last this long. And I have been at this a long time. In my years I have been to some of the seediest places that you can imagine. I have seen and done some things that would make all of the delights that Kate was planning seem like the fumblings of a blind nun.

I’m incorruptible because I’ve been to it all, seen it all, and done it all. All I have is the job, all I have is tracking. And I am very good at it.

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That photo

Just past nine in the morning and I walked into the office, a fresh cup of coffee warming my hand. I was one of the first in the office, which was a bit unusual for me. I was alert and ready for anything, I felt that today was going to be a good day. I should have been wary from that moment.

Turning on my computer without much trouble I quickly opened my e-mails. A quick scanning of my inbox showed a message from the American Chemical Society. They had uploaded my paper onto ACS Nano. Yay! Now before you go and congratulate me, it was a literature review. Basically a overview of the state of the art. Very little of my own work, but it is useful. I now had basically the introductory chapter of my thesis written, to join the pile of documents that was visible on my desktop.

I clicked on the link that they had provided to me, it was a PDF of the full paper. I opened it and started to read through. It started out alright, my name and that of my Boss, Abstract and introduction going to the bottom of the page where there was the author bios. With loads about the boss, a little about me and two photos. Oh jaysus!

He used it! The photograph that I told my boss not to use after he took it, sticking the camera lense into my face after suddenly announcing that they wanted a photo.

He used it. I had not cut my hair in over six months. He used it. I had been punched by and ex’s brother the previous day. He used it! I had been out until 3AM that night. He used it! I was hungover. He used it!

It was a disaster, like all your worst childhood photos rolled into one. The only good thing was that the others hadn’t seen the paper yet. I had time.

But sniggers from behind me told me that something was going wrong. On impulse I checked my inbox again. There it was. The same message from the ACS forwarded by the boss to everyone in the group. Shit! The game was up.

I had to be careful from then on. The last guy to have a photo in a paper ended up having it photoshopped onto a “50 sporting legends” poster which was hung around the department for nearly a month. He overreacted a bit! Like a red rag to a bull things only got worse.

The sniggering was getting more pronounced “Nice picture Joe” said Damian, from the desk behind me. “How many times did they drag you through a hedge before they took it?”

That got a laugh from everybody. Let the games begin.

I had entered the office thinking that that day was going to be a good one. Thanks to the photo it was going to certainly be an interesting one.

Picture it and Write: Formulation Five

Hi there! This is my offering for this weeks picture it and write by Ermilia’s blog here. The picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway Enjoy!

Formulation Five

I am sitting on my favourite chair, there is a roaring fire in front of me. I can see the snow building up on the windowsill outside. It must be cold, yet I am nice and warm. I am happy. I feel a slight touch on my arm. There is a sweet smell in the air. The long auburn tresses confirms it. It is Natasha, my wife. She strokes my arm in that way I like. “Alexi?” She asks “Mamma and I want to bring you and the boys a gift tomorrow but we have forgotten our way. Could you write me a map?” I see no problem in that. Looking down, there is already a pencil and paper in front of me, perfect. I start to draw, everything is right.

Of course, that is only what Alexi sees. To the rest of us he is in a barren concrete room, lightly tied to a chair, only his hands free to write, his head and arms connected to a suite of monitoring devices. He is being interrogated by Cassandra, my assistant, the best in the business, and he is breaking nicely.

First off, I have been involved in Intelligence since my college days. I was in the reserves at that time. I was a Psyche Major and I quickly found that I could get more and better information from ‘captives’ during war games than the others could by using threats and cajoling. A good talent is a terrible thing to waste and I soon found myself travelling the country, teaching my techniques to specialists across the services. I wasn’t particularly interested in a military career and I went instead into Grad School, earning a PhD in neuroscience. Still my interest in getting the truth and the mechanics of lying never left me and I gradually became an expert in the field.

The army never forgot either and offered me a deal. Tenure and unlimited resources in an out-of-the-way college and all I would have to do is a little “freelance work” from time to time. I always wanted to do what I can for my country so I agreed and for the last ten years I have been living a double life. To all the world I am a simple college professor in a little East Coast campus while I am also part of a well oiled machine developing and using techniques to gather information from otherwise ‘intransigent’ individuals.

Take Alexi for example. Earlier that day, agents from the agency, I can’t say which, It pays not to ask these things, raided this guy’s house in the Urals, gassed him and stuffed him onto a plane. They kept him drugged up to the nines, ideally never waking before he reaches us.

The shadowy men in suits, handed us Alexi and a sheet with some personal detail and the questions they need answering. That is all we need to get to work. That and Formulation Five.

I have been involved in this kind of thing for a good few years now and I have to say, that Formulation Five has to be some of the best stuff we have ever made. I am going to keep the exact details secret but suffice it to say, it is a grand cocktail of neurotransmitters, sedatives and analgesics, guaranteed to blow your mind. The basic effect of these agents is to make the mind totally open to suggestion. It can turn a virtual marble statue when it comes to believing into a salesmen’s wet dream willing to believe and accept anything. Right before Alexi woke from the drugging he was injected with a dose of Formulation Five. When he then woke Cassandra told him, in her passable Russian, that she was Natasha, and he believed her, he had no choice.

And here is the really screwed up part, that was all we had to tell him. One he got it into his head that Cassandra was his wife, his mind changed reality to fit with that idea. The six and a half foot blond Californian became a Five Nine, red-haired Russian. In his mind, she exhibited all the traits he associates with her, from voice, the way she moves, even smell. If he was to look back, he would be convinced that it was his wife he was talking to. It is called confirmation bias, it is why religious fundamentalists, climate change deniers and bleeding heart liberals tend to insist on things that don’t fit the facts. As far as they are concerned their reality is fact. With Formulation Five, you get that on overdrive.

Alexi continued his drawing under the careful observation of Cassandra. It was a fairly detailed map, showing gun emplacements and mine fields, plotting several safe routes into the camp. When he was finished Cassandra thanked him and gave him a shot to knock him out. Our studies have shown that on the rare occasions were the subject remembered the interrogation, they usually considered it just a dream. Still Alexi was likely gone for a few days by now, the agency had probably faked his death during the extraction and it would be ‘inconvenient’ to keep him around. I have no illusions about what goes on here.

The fresh map was handed over to a man with no name skulking at the back of the room. He seemed pleased, giving a smile that could chill you to the bone. Great use would be made of that map I could see.

Colleagues of mine often talk at great lengths about ethics, about what we can and cannot do. Well, I slept soundly the night after Alexi was wheeled out of my building and I will continue to sleep well long after. The information I get saves lives, ours and even theirs. I have done jobs and have watched the new to see where my information has fitted into the grand scheme. I am proud that I have made my contribution to making my country safe.

But more so I am proud for another reason. In my office, at home, I have a rather gruesome collection. It includes thumb screws, racks, and a heretic’s fork. All instruments of torture, from a time that people thought that pain was the only way to get the truth, you use the stick and the truth will come out. Turns out they are wrong. Pain means that people will say anything, everything, to make it stop, makes things very unreliable. The carrot is better, offers of reward either real or imagined work so much better. With Formulation Five I have found a way for people to tell their secrets not just willingly, but eagerly. I have found the ultimate carrot, far better than any stick.

Don’t you agree that this is better?

The emergency

The summer of 1941 was an important time for me, it was the time that I left the restrictive confines of school and made my first stab at trying to make a living. Of course in the grand scheme of things, my own trials and tribulations didn’t matter that much at all. The whole world had been gripped in war for nearly two years. Most of Europe was under the grip of the axis powers, the Nazis were still poised for their big offensive against the Soviets, and the Japanese were running riot against the Chinese.

Of course we didn’t know any of that at the time. Old Dev had declared Ireland as strictly neutral. This meant that there was censorship of the newspapers, death notices were edited to remove mention of the war, the army was called up, and ‘dissidents’ were interned in the Curragh. Though we weren’t at war, we were in a state of alert, a time we all came to call the emergency.

Because of the general mayhem going on all around us, shipping coming in and out of Ireland became more and more infrequent. That meant, that food, fuel and other essentials were in increasingly short short supply. Rationing was on the cards for all of us and our use of everything from electricity to transport heavily regulated. One of my many duties around the house was to keep watch for the ‘glimmerman’ a studious bollix who would check in the windows of the house to look for the tell tale blue glow of a gas hob in use outside the permitted times.

Because life at home was in many ways even worse than in the countries at war, many young people at that time took the boat to Britain. The pay was better over there for the skilled industries and you could get some decent grub if you worked in a protected industry. I could see hundreds of people getting on the mail boat, sailing over to a new life. Four of my Aunts were among them at the time, all getting jobs serving the British war effort, three never returning. Although Ireland stayed neutral, and some may have called you a traitor, during the war there was no prohibition on going over to fight. It was a simple manner of going to the appropriate foreign mission and joining the British, or if you preferred, the German army. Both of these factors meant that I entered the workforce into a severely depleted labour market.

With most of the young men and the like gone, this meant that there was plenty of vacancies for a young gurrier such as myself to find a decent job. It was kind of a win-win really since as I was so young, it meant that I would get some paid employment and that whoever I was working for could get someone to do the job at only half the cost of the people that I was replacing. I think that everybody was happy with this arrangement.

I was told by my Granddad within only three or four days of finishing school that I was to attend the GPO in the morning the next day to be inducted as a telegram boy. Induction as they call it now, or showing the ropes for you more modern people. The job didn’t need much in the way of training, we were there to bring telegrams and post orders to houses all through the Dublin area.

I was assigned to the Liberties, over in the southside, on the off chance that I wouldn’t know anyone there. That was high hopes at the best of times. It turns out that there were seven distant cousins on the route of my first delivery. They made sure I bowed to the request of everybody else on the route for certain ‘concessions’.

That basically meant that if it looked like money or a way of getting money, like the western union money orders, then we were to rush it to the recipients. If on the other hand, the letter beared the post mark of the council, the tax man, or any of the other likely sources of bills, then it would be expected that we would look the other way if they were to fall off the bicycle, under the nearest tram, then got eaten by a dog, while it was raining. If you kept your side of the bargain, then you were virtually guaranteed a good tip from each of the houses you visited. It came to be that Bills would only get delivered when they were at the final demand, last notice, the bailiffs are ready to knock down the door stage, these had to be delivered by courier, harder to bribe them. Of course the lads running use knew exactly what we were up to, but sure they did the exact same thing when they were our age. So they never said a thing.

Of course the powers that be did have to look like they were doing something about the blatant corruption so we were regularly shifted to different routes. I must have delivered to all of the houses in the city. I have to say that I rather visited the more modest regions of the city, you got better tips from the Liberties or out around Inchicore, than you ever did from Clontarf or Sandymount. I think they appreciated us more. The little money order from England or the States was often the only lifeline a young mother or ageing widow had.

It wasn’t just cycling around delivering post that we did though. There were other duties for young lads in the office. Our favourite had to be collecting the post from the mail boat. There were all kinds there, husbands and sons preparing to travel to England, and potential danger, some even to go to war, mothers and wives waiting for news, sometimes a body. All of that over the realisation of all entering the boat, that the U-Boats were still on patrol and they never paid heed to the Tri-Colour on the stern of the boat.

David, his real name, but he insisted on being called Daithi, was the Van driver who would bring me over to the Dock from home early in the morning would point out all of the subtle interplays happening underneath the scene. He would point to a woman saying goodbye to a young man and say “See her. That is the fifth man that she has waved goodbye to this year. She has another too on the go in the city, one a Guard and the other a pilot in the Air Corp. I drink in her local. I don’t think they know what she does with the others. A right slut she is!”

He would also point out to me two shadowy figures who would wait in the alleys by the boat, “That there is ‘Gunther’, the other is ‘Klaus’. I don’t know their real names, that is just what everyone here calls them, they’re Germans, up to no good.” Gunther or Klaus would be there nearly every morning we were. Often they would meet someone who would get off the boat, or hand over packages to other shady characters before they got on. Once or twice there would be someone new with them. Someone we had never seen before.

I always thought that it would be wise to not say anything but not Daithi. He didn’t give a shite! I remember him once calling over to one of them,  Gunther I think it was, while he was leading this other lad to the gang plank. The waved at them shouting “How is it going Lads! Guten Morgan! Heil Hilter!” Gunther just stopped and stared while the other man stood to attention and nearly raised his arm. Daithi wasn’t phased a bit, He finished what he was doing, and came back giggling to himself. “You should have seen Gunther’s face after your man went to salute!” He said to me “He’s not going to  last long!”

Of course the war didn’t just intrude with that kind of closed-door intrigue. Sometimes it came very close to us. The German bombers sometimes got lost and dropped their bombs on us. I remember the raid on the North Strand, I was only a few weeks in the job and still tired from the change in the routine. I was waked by loud bangs like thunder. We all went outside, still in our pyjamas, and watched the flames coming from down the road. I knew a few people who died that night. Some of them had worked with Granddad.

Still we did not get it as bad as those up the North. We had all heard the stories from the Fireman who had gone up to help in Belfast, about how bad it would get. We knew how lucky we were. Others also knew how comparatively safe Dublin was. Soldiers stationed in the North started to cross the border, to take advantage of the peace. While we were neutral, if they took off their uniforms, the authorities had no problem with them. You could still spot them in the crowd. Especially the Canadians and later, the Yanks. They were so much better fed than us, built like they could win the grand prize in the spring fair. There wasn’t very many of them, but if they more than made up for it with the impact they made.

My mother got to know a fair few of them. She did better with then than she ever did with sailors. She would come home with gifts from them, nylon stockings, fancy clothes, even, lord oh lord, chocolate. I never had chocolate much when I was young, even in peacetime, I made out like a king. In the winter of 1944, she met one fella, a bit older than the rest. He took a real shine  to her and asked her to wait for him. I don’t know what came over her, but she agreed to it. She quietened down a lot and stopped most of her wanton ways. At the end of the war she got a letter, asking he to join him in Canada. It also had some money for the trip. Now Mother loved me, I know she did, but she hadn’t raised me, she knew I was better with my grandparents. She left in the night, bound for Cobh and the boat to America. We hardly heard from her again. I thought I was going to cry more, but I was growing up, and I just took it with typical Slavic stoicism.

With the war over the shipping lines reopened and things got back to normal, or about as normal as they could be here. By then I was fifteen, turning on sixteen, getting too old to work as a telegram boy. It was time for me to get a real job.

I should have expected it when Granddad came in a announced that he was going to get me in as a trainee driver down the docks, so I could follow him, like a son should. I should have been polite, refused gradually, or even took the job and treated it like a stepping stone, but I wasn’t like that. I had spent all my early years learning about this big, wonderful world and I could just sit there and let it slip by. Adventure is in my blood and I wanted to make some of my own.

I told him then and there no and before he could argue, I marched out of the house and down to the docks, to find a ship, a job and a new direction in my life.

And that, is the next part of my story

Picture it and write: Back

Hello there, here is my offering for this weeks picture it and write by Ermilia’s blog found here. The picture is not mine, I just use it for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy.

Back

I woke with a shock, finding myself lying on wet grass. My first thought upon standing left me somewhat confused. I was surprised at how easy that was, as if I expected more of a struggle. I was in a forest and as I wandered aimlessly, little pieces of memory started to come back to me, first as a trickle, then as a torrent. Who I was, what I did, the agreement, all came flooding back followed by the realisation, the revelation, that I had died, again.

I have to say that I am getting sick of dying. It is bad enough to have to do it once but I have done it many, many times and it doesn’t get any easier. I would like to say that that wasn’t what I signed up for but I just know that He would find a way of getting around that, He always does.

I quickly found my bearings and walked my way through the trees back to my old cottage. I wasn’t very surprised to find that it had been burned to the ground. My memory of what had happened were still a little hazy but they almost always burn down my home after they kill me, it’s safer that way, they think. They usually leave my things though, too scared to take anything, so there’s plenty left to salvage.

I surveyed the damage, the place had been burned down almost to its foundations. The ashes were sodden,  it must have rained during the night, putting out the flames but there was still a little steam coming from the deepest piles of ashes, better to keep clear of there for the time being. Most of the stone and metal-work seemed intact however, more than enough to get started, especially with the practice that I have had.

There was some movement to my left. I turned expecting a fight only to find a cat, sitting down, looking at me. “So you survived” I said, and then, deeper “Well? What happened?” Most people who talk about my kind seem to think that Old Nick comes to us in animal form and speaks to us directly. They love the idea of our ‘familiars’. I doesn’t work like that though. He can’t take form in this world, the Big Guy won’t let him. All he can do is influence, and it is far easier to influence an animal than a man. He can even take total control of them. Also we find that if we look at the animal when he is in control it is easier for us to hear his whisperings in our minds. Pretty elegant really, but try to tell that to the writers. But that is just a pet grip of mine.

The cat stared into my eyes. It is best not to discuss it. I was a little perturbed by that, I still couldn’t properly recall how I had last died, I could remember all the other times. Had my memory been purposely expunged? I asked again. “Was it really that bad?” The cat gave the same, impassive look it always did. I’d rather not talk about it.

That bad huh? Well if he wouldn’t tell me I still had some tricks of my own. I searched through the debris in what used to be my workshop, shifting through blacked beams until I found it. It was an oval mirror, with an ornate frame. It looked so delicate but it was so much more, mere fire could not harm it. As I lifted the mirror, I felt something rub against my shins. Looking down I saw the cat’s stare. You really shouldn’t do that. “And why not?” I asked getting increasingly annoyed. I don’t want you to get hurt again. You mean too much to me. I stared right back at the feline “You were never that sentimental! You just think that if I’m traumatized then I won’t be able to do the job for you. How can you even think that? With all of the years that we’ve worked together, all of the things that I’ve done, the countless time that I’ve DIED for you! How can ANYTHING disturb me any more?”  The cat twisted its head a little, what I’ve come to read as its attempt at shaking its head. Very well. But don’t say that I never warned you.

I picked up the mirror and looked into it. It was the first time that I saw how my new body looked. I was young again. With long black hair, pert breasts, milky white skin, and a thin face centred with sky-blue eyes, I was absolutely beautiful. Damn!

People don’t respect power in beautiful women. The first thought most men have is “Oh! Please don’t seduce me! Well maybe if you have to!” It always means more work to ‘convince’ them that I am a force to be reckoned with. I hate that! I looked over at the cat “You know, for once maybe you can make a mistake and leave me deformed. Deformed I can work with.”  That is not part of our agreement. was the reply. “Things change, everything changes. You, above all, should know that!” The reply was quick and silenced me. Our agreement does not change. It was an old grumble of mine, the vanity of youth meant that I had to spend far too much of my existence as a young person. How inconvenient!

Thinking no more about my looks I instead stared deeper into the mirror. I whispered in my softest voice “Show me how I last died” The face, my face, started to fade. It was replaced with murky clouds that swirled into nothingness and then coalesced into images. I saw myself, my previous self, an old crone of a woman (sigh!) sitting in my chair, tending a fire. There was a thumping at the door and I watched myself hobble from my chair to open it. No sooner had I turned the latch then the mob, twelve men from the village burst in and surrounded me.

A funny thing happened as I watched the scene unfold. Somehow, the prompt of the third person caused my memory of the event to be unlocked in sickening real-time. As I watched I simultaneously relived, every image, every sound, every smell and every sensation of what had happened. I watched while they repeatedly hit me before I had a chance to defend myself. I listened while the pastor accused me of causing all the miscarriages and crop failures that had ever afflicted them and then prayed for my soul as the men worked. I smelt as they burned the skin of my arms with the coals from my fire. I felt the bones in my body break as they threw me about and violated me with their swords and clubs again, and again. And finally, I remember lying there, unable to move, all the while the feeling of the oil coating my skin as they poured a barrel throughout  the room. Then they left, all except their leader, John Riley, who stood on the threshold long enough to cast a lamp into the fire, filling the room with flames.

I was a little stunned. I lowered the mirror and looked out into thin air. Without thinking I said the first thing that came into my head “Well that wasn’t very nice. Was it?”

At the absurdity of that statement, perhaps coupled with the tension that had been allowed to build, I suddenly started to laugh, a light childlike giggle, suiting my new young frame (Damn!). Slowly the laugh changed, becoming darker, more malicious as I thought about the men, about what they had done, about how foolish they were to have crossed me, and EXACTLY, in all its glorious detail, what I was about to do to them.

I had an evil smile on my lips when I turned again to the cat and asked “Where is it?” The cat, who was doing a passable impression of professional concern, relaxed somewhat. How could I ever have doubted you? It’s where it always was. It pointed in the direction of the hearth.

I found the rough spot from memory and started to dig. There was a lot of ash and charred wood lying there but I quickly made my way down to the flagstone. Pulling it out I then removed what was held in the chamber within. There was really no doubt this would have survived either. It was a small chest, labelled with script that was not of this world. I had gone everywhere with it. It was my one constant through all my lives. I have cherished it always. But not just for sentimental reasons though, but also for what it holds inside.

Long ago, many lifetimes previously, I went by the name of Pandora. I became somewhat famous for my exploits but there were a lot of changes in the telling of my story (Damn writers again!). The chest was a constant though. The amount of trouble I caused with it, I can’t imagine it not being. One major thing they got wrong though, whatever else is in this chest, there is most certainly not hope. John Riley would be the first to find that one out.

I wrapped the chest in some unburned cloth I found and looked back at the cat. But it was just a cat again. Old Nick had gone, nothing left to say, just content to watch, and enjoy the show.

It was of no matter anyway. All was set for events to unfold. I was back, I was ready, and I was going to have some fun!

An Edyukayshun

I suppose that it would be pretty obvious since I have been able to actually write these memoirs that I must have gotten at least a very basic education. To be fair, I would readily concede that there is a lot to the world that I remain ignorant of. But  the path to realisation that I know so little has to have begun when I was young.

I started my learning, in fact did most of my learning, with my granddad while I was still learning to walk and talk. He was a big fan of reading and an even bigger fan of reading out loud to whoever he could capture long enough. Most of my aunts must have had to go through the same process day after day, but since I was the youngest I was the read-to guy during my formative years.

Granddad would read pretty much anything to me, from the racing section of the newspaper to the pamphlets that those fellas with the crazy eyes would hand out on O’Connell street. The thing we used to enjoy reading the most though had to be the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Granddad had bought a second-hand edition  in the Dandelion market before I was born. He told me that he had just bought the first volume, the A’s and B’s, but he had gotten so engrossed reading it that when he finished it he went straight and bought the next part. In the end the man at the stall knew Granddad to see, he told me that he gave him the last volume, X to Z, for free. “Sure no one would buy that part anyways” Granddad said he told him.

Together me and Granddad read that encyclopedia from cover to cover. As we read we would talk about all of the wonderful things and places that were included within those leatherclad pages. Like my grandfather, I was fascinated by the parts about machines. The parts about particular steam engine would cause Granddad to wax lyrical about the what he had heard about how it handled from me men who drove it. I suppose it is possible that he did really know them, not that there is a club or something but who am I to criticise what a man tells to his grandson.

As a result of these daily readings, by the time of my 5th birthday I was a fairly proficient reader, had memorized the encyclopedia and was coming along nicely with maths. It was then that two serious looking men from the department of education came to the door and announced without any explanation or chance for anyone to intervene, that I was to attend the school on the East Wall Road on the following monday morning or someone was going to go up in front of a judge.

So that morning, wearing a blazer, short pants and a good pair of boots, I walked into my first day of school. It was like walking into a different world. Surprisingly, there were many of people from my previous world there, many of the children from my road went to this school. That was nice. After the hiding I had given most of them over the years, they still gave me a wide berth. They also, thoughtfully, warned their friends that had never heard of me to also stay on my good side. As we waited to go inside I was starting to think that I might get on alright here. Any thoughts of that were quickly dissuaded when I walked through the door.

Saint Joseph’s in East Wall was a reconstructed parish hall consisting of three classrooms, and a little office for the principal/parish priest. There was no toilets, sinks and only the most rudimentary heating. “Wear more layers” was the common advice given during winter. We sat on rickety long desks twenty to a room, two classes to a teacher. When he was teaching one class the other just had to shut up and write quietly.

Used as I was to vigorous intellectual debate with my granddad. I was somewhat shocked to find that that was not how school worked. All of the teachers in Saint Joseph’s were priests, that means they worked in the church, that means they reported to the pope, and the pope was infallible, that means that they were infallible. It meant that any questioning of them was a direct attack on the validity of the church. It wasn’t like things they are now, all softly softly. Back then, punishment was quick and harsh. A clip around the ear for minor offences, ten of the best with a cane or leather strap for more heavy stuff. As you can well imagine, questioning the teacher was high up there. I lasted all of ten minutes.

Father Brendan Quirke was listing through the names of all the class when I came up “And it looks like we have a new boy here! How do you pronounce this? Eeeeenrickooo?” “It’s Enrique!” “Enrique what?” “Excuse me” “Enrique what?” At which point he gave me a clip on the ear “Listen here! When you speak to me, you end every sentence with Father. Do you understand me boy?” “Yes father!” I learned quickly.

Of course we weren’t done there. “What kind of a name is Enrique anyway? Did your parents not like you?” I was, and still am, very proud of my name, and I felt my latin pride starting to swell “It’s Argentinian Father!” “Argewhat?” “Argentinian Father from South America Father.” I then went on to recite the encyclopedia entry on the country. Buenos Aries, main exports, the Pampas, climate, language, the works.

For a man who had probably never been further away than Maynooth in his entire life, the idea of such a knowledgeable five year old was probably too much to bear. “Enough of your Lip O’Brien! Come up here!” Not knowing what was about to happening I didn’t hesitate to come up, only slowing when I noticed the look of horror on the rest of lads faces. When I reached the top of the class Father Quirke reached into his desk and said to me “Stick out your palms.” I did so before noticing the leather strap he had taken out.

Whack! Whack! a single smack on each hand, getting off lightly apparently, and I was sent back to my desk. It stung like a bastard. Not that I was going to complain. Even if I told my family, it would only mean that I got in trouble at school, with a priest no less and I would just get a smack from them as well. So I stayed quiet, I learned quickly.

Over the next week, I got on the wrong side of Father Quirke a few more times. It was the worst when he found out that my primary source was the Encyclopedia Britannica. The Priest was about as Anti-British as you could get. He had a relative who had died on Vinegar Hill and he often boasted with pride about how he had sheltered one of Dev’s men in the vestry after the assault on the customs house. “If there is any more mention of that Book” he told me, his words dripping with menace “I will knock you into next week. Is that understood O’Brien?” What more could you say?I learned quickly.

After that I realised that it was better just to keep quiet and not try to be smart. I did all of the homework I was given and did well enough on the tests. But I kept so below the radar that I might as well have not been there. Most of what we did there was kind of beneath me anyway. I kept up studying with Granddad, we had started reading a series of pocket novels from the Reader’s Digest, going through the classics. It was what I looked forward to after a hard day not being noticed.

That wasn’t to say that I found school completely useless. During the breaks, while many of the lads would go home, I would stay and talk to the lads who hung out behind the bike shed. They were the oldest kids in the school, some nearly twelve and they knew everything. They taught me about, how the world worked, how to get by, the talked about girls, about drinking. One or two even had cigarettes sometimes, I remember my first drag, I nearly died. They said that I had turned green from it, nearly got sick. But taking the odd puff soon became a regular thing.

That was how things went for the next six years, me learning more at home and behind the bike sheds than I ever did in the classrooms. In the end I came to be one of the lads behind the shed, dispensing advice and the occasional smoke. Thus the circle turned.

When the time came for us to sit the primary certificate, the results proved a little confusing and embarrassing for all concerned. Not only did the highest results in the whole class, the whole of North Dublin even, not belong to the know-all  Swots. But instead to the boy who never seemed to apply himself, that piece of deadwood at the back of the class, Enrique Ivan Hamish O’Brien.

Needless to say there was a bit of a stir in the parish and Father James O’Malley, our principal, and confessor, who until that time had never even acknowledged my existence, made it a point to visit my home that very evening.

“An education is a great gift” he told us, saying nothing we didn’t already know “And the opportunity to extend that education is not something to be turned down lightly. With little Enrique’s excellent cert and a glowing letter of representation from me I would have little doubt that he would be readily accepted into the Christian Brothers college in Clontarf. I could well imagine this intelligent boy going on to great things for him in the future, a civil service or a clerks job, perhaps even further study, perhaps a vocation.”

We were all interested in the possibilities that had been laid before us and very tempted until Father O’Malley mentioned that, while he had every confidence that a scholarship would be made available for me, an advanced payment would have to be made. That was really the deal-breaker. Times had been tough for us, what was more Mother had caught a dose of the clap from some Swedish Sailor and was neither earning and eating into our savings for hospital fees. In the end we had to send Father O’Malley on his way.

It was in that week, at the start of May 1941, that I ended my flirtation with formal education. I am happy to say that I have never lost my love of books and I still consider them a valuable investment. With my nights still spent with reading it was time for my days to change, to enter the great big world of work. This, of course, is the next part of my story.

Ping!

Ping! I was alerted by a noise coming through my headphones, I suspected who it might be. The Facebook tab at the bottom of my screen said a name, but I already suspected who it was, Sean, one of the other guys in my group, one who had not yet been banished from the main office over to virtual exile in the Naugthon Institute while they were writing their thesis.  “Hi Joe!” the message said “What you doing?”

I looked at the open tabs on my computer screen. I was post submission, pre viva. But that did not mean that I was free and easy. Alexi, my supervisor wanted to meet with me in three days about writing papers. That really meant that he wanted to see drafts of what I had written.

I had some of it written, I swear, the draft was open on my desktop. It was just that after three months of writing I couldn’t really find the motivation to write more on A High Throughput method for the production of Bi-Metallic nanoparticles with a small size distribution. For that reason I also had my E-mail open, Facebook, a draft of the latest poem for my Blog and a Wikipedia article on Piracy on the South Seas, circa 1800. Looking at all that I had to reply “Nothin!”

Sean continued, “We’ve got a newbie here” That wasn’t something particularly surprising, new students and post docs were always showing up. “This one knows you Joe! :-)” Sean went on. That interested me “Who is it?” Sean’s reply was almost instant “Her name is Aurielé”

That name brought back a flood of memories, Aurielé was a project student some two years previously. I wasn’t in charge of her but we spent a lot of time together, often just talking while we waited for the instruments to take their readings. She was a little cutie but I thought there was nothing going on between us. Imagine my surprise when we held a going away party for her and the rest of the students that summer. She cornered me near the end, while the drinks where flowing and told me that she fancied the pants off me and had cherished the time she spent with me. She promised that she would be back and with the one kiss, was gone. I hadn’t heard a word from her since that night and had almost forgotten about her.

Sean was still typing, “She said she used to be an undergrad here. Must have been before my time. You seem to have made an impression. She looked like she was going to cry when we told her that Willy had taken your desk. She says Hi by the way!”

I responded with “Say Hi back” which was followed by “I’m going to go over to Di Napoli. I think we’re all going to go. So Joe, Wanna get a coffee?”

I didn’t really have to think about it, the woman had fulfilled a promise she had made all that time ago. It would be heartbreaking, rude even to ignore her now. So I typed in the one word, “Yep!” Locked my computer and got up to leave. Wondering what the future had in store.

Picture it and write: The regular

Hello everyone, this is my offering for this weeks picture it and write for Ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, it is used for inspiration. Anyway, enjoy.

The regular

I used to, for a time, work in a printing shop. It was an ok job, made enough to pay the rent. I considered it a bit of a stop-gap so I could develop my true calling, writing. You all know how that turned out so I won’t bore you any more about it.

The shop had a mixed clientèle. It was only a short distance from the college so we got a regular business of printing out theses, reports and posters for the students. I suppose that we really shouldn’t have laughed, but I have to giggle a little for the young men who’d come in on a Friday afternoon, half an hour before the deadline, with nothing but a memory stick and the hope that we’d have his work printed and bound in time. More than a few were shed across our desks on that account.

Apart from the college work we had, there was a lot of work from the local businesses. Menus, flyers, posters, often in job lots. When I started we had our own graphic designer but he was let go since anybody can do most of the work they want on a computer now but if they still need anybody I know my way around on a computer enough to help anyone that needs it with designing. It was much cheaper for the shop when I did it.

We also had our fair share of crazies that came to use our services. From the religious nuts and cranks printing out pamphlets to hand out on Main Street or at the Bus station. There was also that self-important fellow who got books of poetry bound for selling at the weekend market. Above all the regular that I looked forward to seeing had to have been Grace.

Grace was a bit of an enigma. Nobody knew what she did or what part of town she came from. None of the other regulars could place her either. It was as if she would come out of nowhere at the door of the shop and then cease to exist when she went back across the threshold. I didn’t care though, I thought she was gorgeous.

That Grace was a beauty was a popular opinion around the shop, she had that innocent, girl next door kind of look. Long auburn hair and the cutest little smile I had ever seen. Yep! it was not difficult to see what the attraction was.

Of course, in a university town, attractive young women come a dime a dozen. What really go me besotted with Grace was what she came to the shop to do. Every week or two, she’d bring in a bout a hundred sheets of A4 paper to be soft bound into a book. Over the time that I knew her, each page was different.

Most of the page was left blank but in the corner, at some part, there was always a lovely design on them. It could be anything, blue skies, stars, animals. Flowers were her favourite it seemed though, because they dominated. A seemingly infinite variety of shapes and colours, some obviously based on real life, others mockeries of botanical possibility. Moreover each page had a light scent, rose oil I think, it was similar to what Grace wore herself, as if it had rubbed off into the pages. Why she made these little books, I had no idea. I did try and broach the subject with her a few times but was always politely brushed off.

Apart from that, I had no other contact with Grace. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t occasionally think about this mystery customer. But I tried to get on with my life. Until this one time.

I was up early for work and I decided to stop in at a cafe on the Main Street to wait for Jim the manager to get in and open up. I got a coffee and sat at a table near the window so that I would have a view outside. I checked my phone and was about to take a drink when I noticed something.

On the table next to me, which looked like it had been recently vacated was a soft bound book, Just like what we made. The cover had a picture of flowers, it was one of Grace’s. I found that my sense of curiosity beat whatever right to privacy  I deemed to hold. I opened the book.

Each page was filled with writing, in a smooth flowing script. It was a hodgepodge free-form assemblage of pieces of verse, quotes both famous and day to day, diary type entries and little stories. It was as if the contents of her, admittedly slightly puzzling, mind was spread over the pages. What was most interesting was that I was quite prominent in it.

23rd of June, I went to the printing shop to get my new book bound, Graham talked to me while I waited (sigh!). He did that little thing with his hands again. I find it so cute. I find him cute. I also found an ode to a book-binder and a sonnet on the plaid shirts I tend to wear. I was both intrigued, surprised and a little scared when I heard the door open and a little gasp. I put down the book to find Grace looking at me, her face rapidly reddening.

Before I could say anything, she had grabbed the book and ran out the door. I had never realised. It was a full three months before I saw her again. Cooler heads prevailed and I was able to get my apology in for reading her book. For a second I thought that that would be it. But Grace plucked up the courage to ask me what I thought of what I found. I jumped at the chance and asked her for coffee to “discuss it in detail”.

After that Grace became a much more regular visitor. Dropping in nearly every day, for a chat, show me her latest writing. When I left the printing shop it wasn’t the last I saw of Grace either, not by a long shot. We’re having our first Anniversary next weekend. It’ll be a barbeque, bring your own beer, and you’re all invited.

I suppose that I could have just told you that at the start. But I like to think you enjoyed that little story. I know I enjoyed telling it.

I Enrique

That you are reading this probably means that you have heard of me but if not then be prepared for a roller coaster ride of adventure, action, romance, and a little bit of horror. My name is Enrique Ivan Hamish O’Brien and this is my story.

I suppose that if you are going to make any sense about where I am going and how I might have gotten there, it behoves me to tell you where I have come from. I was born in Dublin on March 16th 1930, in a small two-bed house on Sheriff Street. It was my grandfather’s house, he worked in the docks, shunting trains. My mother was in her teens still living at home at the time. She earned her money by shunting sailors at the various early houses along either side of the Liffey where she plied her trade as a barmaid. It was somewhat telling that on my birth cert the doctor had cheekily written “miscellaneous” on the section for father’s name but we had an idea who my father was. Counting back from the due date, my family surmised that I was likely conceived in the second week of June 1929. Shipping records says that there was a Hungarian freighter, A Scottish Trawler and an Argentinian Naval ship in port at that time. This was were I got my name from, taking care of all possible heritages. In addition you will find that I often refer to various traits that I must have inherited from my father, either my fiery Latin blood, Slavic stoicism, or Scottish poetic leanings. I like to think that I exhibit enough of these traits to be pretty sure that whoever my father is and wherever he came from, he would be in no doubt I was his son.

With my father long gone and mother (ahem!) occupied, it was left to my Granny and Granddad to raise me. They were still pretty young, my mother was their firstborn and they had another six children, all girls. Aunt Flora, their youngest, was only two years older than me. I just slipped into the family, became the son they never had.

There were some problems though. Being a baby boy in a house of girls amounted to a prison sentence, a years long torture session of playing dress-up and being carried around like a big baby. Hand me downs were also a bit of an issue. Once you hit the age of four, I found, wearing a dress is no longer socially acceptable in a boy. It didn’t help that Granny tried to alter them into a male cut, I just looked like I was wearing floral knickers.

My Granddad, a wise man, told me that the stranger the clothes you wear, the less likely you were to get into trouble “no man would fight a man in a dress” he told me when I complained to him. It turns out he was wrong on that front, I was well and truly pasted on several occasions. It was there that Granddad told me “If  someone picks a fight with you son, You better show them that you are the craziest person they have ever met. You should go at them with everything, kick, punch, bite, make them think twice before they ever lift a hand against you again. Be too much trouble to be worth it! That’s the way to keep out of trouble.”

To say I was an enthusiastic follower of this advice would be a bit of an understatement. It must have been a hell of a sight, three and a half feet of fury, wrapped up in paisley, throwing itself, with full Latin passion, at  confused and suddenly very scared older boys. It worked, maybe a little too well. Word quickly spread that I was a little scrapper that you didn’t cross, or talked to, or acknowledge on the street.

The fact that I was universally feared by my peers did mean that I was a little devoid of friendship. But I still had one or two friends. My closest and best friend growing up had to be James O’Malley, from the house at the end of the street. Jimmy’s dad worked with my Granddad so we got to know each other from delivering stuff to the docks, me in the altered dress, him in the third hand short trousers, more hole than fabric, quite the weird-looking pair we were.

We quickly found that we had very similar interests. Jimmy’s dad had ten young children to feed so he never had any spare money for Jimmy. Sometimes though, Mother had a good day with tips and she’d give me a penny or two to spend. Sometimes we would go over to Tara street and buy second-hand comics. We loved the adventures of Dan Dare, or Buck Rodgers. Other days we’d go to see the serials in the Cinema, I’d make my money last as long as possible by buying jellies and toffee over in Aungier Street before we went in.

When we didn’t have any money, which was more often. We would go and play in our secret club house, it was an old, empty warehouse along Spencer Dock. We shared it with a flock of feral pigeons, they made much more of a mess than we ever did.  We had an old table with chairs and a cupboard to store our collection of old comic. Sometimes it would be the command centre of our galactic army, the next the offices of our successful big-city newspaper. When the pigeons were around, we used to use them as back drops, pretending we were explorers in the deepest jungle. It was great fun, so it was!

Jimmy had a lot of Aunts and Uncles, most of them had travelled away on the boats to England or the America as nearly everybody did those days. Some of them had done quite well and they were always sending parcels and gifts back to Jimmy’s Dad and his Granny. One time, one of them sent him the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It was called looked like a gun, like what they used in the serials, and it had a spring that you used to fire a little metal ball. We thought it was deadly.

We decided to try it out in our club house. There were some tin cans and bottles lying around so we laid them in a row and took turns to shoot at them. I’m not one to boast, but I was a considerably better shot that Jimmy. I got most of the cans and bottles that I aimed for. Jimmy on the other hand was a danger to anybody on the opposite side of the room.

I quickly got bored with shooting at stationary targets and, in the curious way that my mind works, I began to notice the pigeons sitting above us. “Here Jimmy!” I asked, “Bet I can’t hit those pigeons!”

Jimmy called the bet and I took aim. With a quiet whump! a pigeon fell, dead, from its roost, the rest seemed to not really notice and it wasn’t until after my second shot that they copped on and flapped off. Thinking myself an expert marksman by then I went and took aim for my third shot while the birds were flying past us out the windows. My shot went wide and hit one of the intact panes of glass with a satisfying crash.

I was about to say something to Jimmy when I heard a roar and shouting from outside the window, followed by knocking on the door. It turns out that some fella was walking along the road outside the warehouse and my shot made glass fall on him.

We legged it out of a side door but we forgot about all of the comics and sundries that we left there, most of them labelled with Property of Enrique O’Brien. Return to 25 Sheriff street or die.

The comics were returned but I nearly died from the hiding that my Granddad gave me. It must have been then that he came to the conclusion that having me wandering the streets could do no possible good and that it was time for me to go to school.

And that, of course, is the next part of my story.

Picture it and write: Peacock Inc

Hello there, this is my contribution for this weeks Picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again, the picture is not mine, I simply use it for inspiration. Anyway, Enjoy!

Peacock Inc

Like everybody else who knew my cousin Ken, I suppose I was not that surprised when he announced that he was going to start breeding peacocks. Much like the emus, the wild boar, and the deer farming ventures that Ken had tried before on Grandma’s old farm, this just looked like another get rich quick scheme, something that was again going to need just a little bit of money from us, his quickly tiring family, to succeed. Peacocks though, I don’t think anyone could say where he was going to make any money on this one. Not unless people had suddenly developed a taste for roast peacock or the peacock feathers were just too expensive from abroad and a domestic model was what the people where asking for. We all figured that we would just have to wait for Ken to get in touch with us about his grand scheme.

Rest assured within a few months we all received smartly wrapped packages labelled with the logo for ‘Peacock Inc’. Ken may have missed Christmases, birthdays, and at least two family funerals but rest assured when he is asking for money, his family is always at the top of the list. Inside was a form letter addressed to ‘Valued potential investor’ telling about a ‘exciting, game changing development’ and instructions to play an enclosed video. Pretty assured that it was unlikely to explode, I put it in and pressed play.

First on was Ken, more smartly dressed than I have ever seen him showing a field filled with strutting peacocks. He was talking some spiel about the elegance and beauty of the noble peacock, about their value as a symbol. He then introduced someone else, as his partner. Ken had never, ever, partnered with someone else on any of his schemes before so that instantly raised my suspicions. This man, a Doctor Klaus Schwimmer from Dresden, apparently, was an expert on bird colouration and the genetics of their plumage. There then followed a rather professional video showing cells and pigments and chromophoric structures in the feathers. After that, I knew more than I ever wanted about the colours of birds.

The shot went back to Ken “But there is more, working over several years Dr Schwimmer has been able to alter the colours of a number of bird species, most impressively peacocks” there followed a slide show of images of birds more likely to have come from a dream. The first was a peacock with a large patches. “partial, induced albinism’ the caption said, to a magnificent bird with each feather a different colour of the rainbow, like a living version of the NBC logo. Some even had what looked like letters on them, which lead to the crux of Ken’s pitch.

“Peacocks birds in general have always drawn man’s attention with their beauty. But imagine if their beauty also held a message, your message. This is what we are offering here, true breeding, self replicating advertisements, only a minor, genetic tinkering away. If you provide us with a minor investment of ten thousand pounds, we will be able to start supplying interested parties with our peacock model And begin development of other bird model. Imagine! Getting into a whole new world of natural advertising, first. Just for this one-time offer.”

I, of course, declined immediately, as did the rest of my family, except for Auntie Jean who has yet to say no to Ken, more I suspect, to be supportive than any actual idea that it may succeed.

I next heard about it went the news announced about police investigations into the whole deal. Apparently, a great many people were taken into the idea of “Peacock Inc” and had either invested or sought to purchase these birds for themselves. They started to appear in parklands around the county advertising everything from the local butchers to house insurance. It turns out that the colour did not last past the next generation like Ken promised. It didn’t even last the first year.It turns out the birds had been painted, every single one, with some high quality dye. It turns out that Ken and “Klaus”, an unemployed plumber from Vienna. Had been painting peacocks to order.

Of course when all of this came to light Ken and his compatriot had already fled to South America on a ‘scientific retreat’, taking all of the money . They sold Grandma’s farm to try and pay it back, but it wasn’t enough. Still, it doesn’t seem that everybody came out of this jaded. If you wander the roads and fields of the county you can occasionally hear the rustle of feather and be faced with a moving sign advertising Morrison’s Meats or O’Brien’s construction, regularly topped up by paid ‘wildlife painters. Which is just to show that isn’t an idea crazy enough that you will not find someone willing to try it.