Thursday, 8 June 2017

Jeff Tracey - Family Ties

This short tale is set in the Thunderbirds universe and was the result of a creative writing exercise to "Take a character from a film, TV show or novel and tell a variation on their story". 

It examines the relationship between patriarch Jeff Tracey and his five sons.

Jeff Tracey - Family Ties

Jeff was relaxing in his green-striped recliner alongside the kidney-shaped swimming pool, open novel overturned in his lap, when Virgil emerged from the house and approached him, descending the winding stone stairway. Hearing the advancing footsteps, Jeff opened his eyes and blinked away the glare of the sunlight.

“Virgil,” he said, greeting his third son, “I thought I heard your plane arrive.”

“Father,” Virgil acknowledged, “Yes, Gordon’s inside talking to Kyrano.”

Adjusting the recliner to a sitting position, Jeff watched his son settle in the adjacent wicker chair.

“How was Penny?”

“Lady Penelope was great, father. She made us both feel at home.”

Virgil faltered, and Jeff regarded him curiously.

“Something on your mind, son?”

“Yes, father,” said Virgil, clearly considering his words, “and it’s been there a few days – although I didn’t know exactly what was bothering me. It was only when Lady Penelope took us to meet her neighbours in the lodge I realised.”

“Go on.”

“It was their lifestyle. Comfortable. The simple domesticity, I guess. A couple happy with their work, their kids, their life in general.”


“It came to me. Here we are – five brothers living alone with their father…”

“Hardly alone, Virgil. There’s Grandma, Kyrano, Tin-Tin. And don’t forget Brains.”

“Yes, yes. I know, father. But we seem happy to carry on without… companionship. Even Alan. He’s barely out of his teens, but he seems to be going the same way as the rest of us. I thought he was attracted to Tin-Tin, but even that…”

“You want to take him on another trip to Thailand?”

“No! It’s not that, father. Really, it’s not.” He stared into the sky, gathering his thoughts before squarely meeting Jeff’s gaze. With deliberation he continued, intent on making his point.

“It’s not a sex thing. It’s a family thing. Doesn’t it seem a little odd that we haven’t shown the slightest inkling to start a family of our own?”

“We have responsibilities, son. International Rescue is important. Surely you realise that?”

“I know father…”

“And who else but family could I trust with the Thunderbirds?”

“That’s just it, father. Family. You had mother…”

“Not for over twenty years, Virgil.”

“Yes, but she was there. And she gave you five sons. The way things are going, we’re not going to get the same opportunity you had.”

Jeff reached out to the patio table by his recliner, took a glass and the covered jug and poured himself some iced water. He gestured towards another upended glass on the tray but Virgil shook his head. He took a long drink and regarded his son.

“I hear what you’re saying, boy. And it’s understandable. Are you saying you’re unhappy here?”


“Because if you’re unhappy and you want to leave, I won’t stand in your way. I won’t stand in the way of any of you. But first consider this. How many families have you saved – directly or indirectly – by the work you’ve done in Thunderbird Two? How many children have fathers that they would have lost had it not been for your actions?

“International Rescue isn’t there for corporations. It’s there for people. For saving people. For saving families. It may be a sacrifice for you and your brothers, but who else is there to make that sacrifice? And I’ve made a sacrifice too. Whilst I love your mother, wouldn’t it been easier to have someone else share in your upbringing when she was no longer there? I’m not saying your Grandma wasn’t invaluable, particularly when I was out earning, but I never visualised a life without – companionship, as you call it.”

Virgil remained silent for a while. Jeff could see that his son was processing the information, realising that if any of his sons would start to question their lives it would most likely be Virgil. He was the sensitive one, the musician, the one who seemed most at ease when visiting Creighton-Ward Manor and socialising with Lady Penelope’s set. Scott and John seemed happy with their technical prowess. Gordon’s sense-of-humour and preoccupation with swimming and all things nautical gave him direction in off-duty hours. Alan – well, Alan was still developing; potentially a bit of a loose-cannon, but the prospect of family was not on his radar. The question was, had he forestalled Virgil’s concerns?

Virgil stood, looking down at his father. “You’ve given me something to think about, I guess. But I don’t know how long it can continue this way.” He turned to go.

“That’s all I can ask, son,” said Jeff. “If you’re going back indoors, would you ask Kyrano to come see me?  Thanks.”

He watched his son climb the steps back towards the balcony and the house. He thought he could see Gordon. Minutes later, Kyrano emerged and made his way down to the patio and across to Jeff’s side.

“Kyrano,” Jeff said, “Thanks for coming so quickly.”

“Yes Meester Tracey,” said Kyrano, with an involuntary bob of his head.

“it’s just that I think Virgil and Gordon may have spent too long in England. Virgil seems to be distracted.” He took another sip of water. “We may need to increase their dose of androbenetocin to make sure that their minds are at rest; so that they concentrate on the job. Just for a while though. Until their levels are consistent with those of the other boys.”

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Auntie Norma

Past lessons in my creative writing course supplied a Scrabble board with ten pseudo-random words. The challenge was then to incorporate those words in your own piece of writing. On my Android tablet, I play a type of Scrabble game "Cross Craze Free" (highly recommended!), and I thought it would be interesting if I could fit a complete game's worth of words in a piece of writing. This is the result.

Auntie Norma - Cross Craze Challenge

Those who were aware of her at all knew her as Auntie Norma. She could be found in the early part of Wednesday evenings, sitting in the window of that fast food place on Moor Lane, usually making a good job of devouring a plate of fish and chips. I met her one particularly busy night when we had to share a table and we got talking. Thereafter, it became a regular event.

She told me how she’d been involved in Chinese medicine and how there was an art to each potion she’d mix. I even learned the meaning of ‘qi’ beyond its use as a potential high scorer in Scrabble.

The best stories were of her youth, and I recall her description of the time in the States when she’d been loaned a jeep by a character she only knew as “El Capitan”, a member of the Nu-Theta-Kappa fraternity house at the neighbouring university. She had used it to drive to a dance hall at the other side of town. This is how she described the following events:

I remember it was in the late Sixties, and most of my friends were spending time with the guys who were on leave from Vietnam exchanging naval duties for dancing frugs and other dances of the day.

I’d paired up with a sailor called Ed, an ox of a man who had seemed really nice. It started to change once he’d had a few drinks. He started to reveal his ill-bred nature by talking dirty, and I was looking for an avenue of escape when this weedy chap walked up to our table and said “Hi. Ed, isn’t it? If you can’t refine your behaviour, perhaps you should go away and have a kip.”

He appeared so inept that I expected Ed to paste him, but nothing happened. Zilch. Instead of fireworks it was just a damp squib; Ed pushed himself up onto his feet, and then he walked away, his legs stiff-like. He appeared to be leaving a wet trail in his wake.

The weedy chap examined Ed’s seat before sitting. He placed a wax effigy on the table and nodded towards the doorway where Ed was disappearing. “There’s always some leakage,” he said, and beamed the widest smile I’d ever seen.

He told me how he’d studied with a Yogi on the Indian subcontinent, spent some time learning about voodoo in the West Indies, and made secret pacts to learn what his own future holds.

The music and the hubbub around me seemed to diminish to a series of drones. The only clarity was in his voice. He had won my complete attention.

“I was told I would meet my future wife being harassed by a large sailor in a dance hall.”

Re what followed; suffice to say, I still owe El Capitan one jeep.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Arthur Podge

Arthur Podge

The room was old-fashioned. The décor in assorted shades of caramel, the dado rail supporting a row of painted plates denoting birds of prey, the record player and integral speakers built into a piece of Sixties’ period furniture, the wooden standard lamp topped with a shade of autumnal foliage; the only nod to more modern technology was the digital set-top unit attached to the huge wooden box that was a television. The three piece suite had seen better days as well, but it suited the small rounded man who sat in an armchair near to the gas fire. He was old-fashioned too.

Arthur Podge tapped his foot in time to the music. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass were playing Spanish Flea. The slight smile on his fleshy face showed he was enjoying the tune. It was a mild diversion from the trad jazz music that usually occupied his turntable and, after all, it wouldn’t do to be too stuck in his ways. Any sense of irony in this thought would have been lost on him.

The song reached its end and the stylus arm clicked and returned to its cradle. Arthur sighed and heaved himself out of his chair. He pulled at his grey corduroy trousers where they had wriggled into his groin, and walked towards the window. The evenings were getting a little lighter and it was notable that the inhabitants of Little Benton were taking full advantage of the extra daylight.

He saw Johnny Perry turn the corner by Mrs Whelk’s bungalow. Johnny had calmed down since his arrival in the village two weeks ago. The youth no longer repeatedly kicked his football at Mrs Whelk’s door. The requests to stop had been ignored, but when every kick of the football began to rebound into Johnny’s face, the habit was cured. Arthur noted that the two black eyes were starting to fade.

A shadow flitted across the window, interrupting the evening sun. The door chimes echoed down the hallway. Arthur pulled the edges of his cardigan forward and shuffled to the front door. He looked down at his slippers. Nearly worn out, he would need new ones soon.

In the hallway he saw a figure distorted by the frosted glass panels in his door. Arthur nodded to himself. It was his neighbour, Ellie Mayberg. She’d said she would come when she had an update on her current domestic situation. He caught sight of himself in the hall mirror. Was he suitably dressed for company? A button on his shirt had loosened due to the strain imposed by his belly, so he moved his knitted tie accordingly and tucked it into his pants. His hair was neat enough, premature balding helping in that respect. Yes. He would do. He opened the door. Ellie was smiling.

“Mr Podge, I’ve got some great news. Can I come in?”

“Yes, Miss Mayberg –“

“Ellie, I’ve told you.”

“Ellie. Yes. Come in.”

They moved into the room Arthur had recently vacated. Ellie sat down on the sofa, clearly eager to speak. Arthur eased himself back into his armchair.

“First, that weasel Barry Harwood was found out. His manager came across from Manchester and called me back in to work, told me that Harwood shouldn’t have fired me, and that they want me to replace him. He’s out on his ear.”

“When did this happen?”

“The firm found out about him yesterday, around the time I was in here talking to you. They told me this afternoon. I can hardly believe it.”

Arthur nodded. “That is good news, Ellie.”

“I was so worried. Sorry for being a mess yesterday.”

“I’m pleased it’s worked out for you.”

“It has, hasn’t it? And that’s not all. Paul has been dumped.”

“Paul who used to be your Paul?”

“Yep. And he had the gall to come crawling back to me this morning.”


“No one treats me like that. I gave him the knee.”


“I just had to come and thank you for listening.” She came to her feet and kissed Arthur on his cheek. “You’re a good friend, Mr Podge. Arthur.”

Arthur reddened. “Thank you. I’m happy things have turned around.” 

Ellie’s smile widened. “They have. I just had to tell you, but I can’t stay. I’m expecting a pizza delivery.” She moved towards the hallway. “Don’t get up. I’ll let myself out.”

Arthur listened to her leave, reflecting on her words. A pizza delivery. The village was beginning to change. He slowly shook his head, stopping when the telephone rang. He reached towards the side table and picked up the receiver.


“Hello. Is that Mr Podgy?”


“Ah. My name’s Eric. I’m calling from Microsoft support. We are detecting problems on your computer.”

“My computer?” Arthur sighed. Another scam call. He reached into his pocket for his briar pipe and gazed at it whilst the voice on the telephone continued to speak. He didn’t smoke, but it he found it soothing to handle its smooth wooden stem, a habit he had acquired many years ago. He resumed listening to “Eric’s” accented voice.

“…it is something that will not be identified by your virus control software…”

Arthur put the pipe in his mouth, clamping it with his teeth. The mouthpiece was cool on his lips. He breathed out through his nose, listening to the caller. Something was happening in the background – an increasing commotion of voices threatening to overwhelm Eric, who was still intent on informing him of a problem with a non-existent computer. The background voices grew in volume.

“…there’s a problem with the entire network… …something’s burning… …we’ve lost the entire database… …oh no, the sprinklers…”

There was a single tone as the line went dead. Arthur replaced the receiver, took the pipe out of his mouth, smiling as he put it back in his pocket.

He was still smiling as he made his way back to his record player and flipped over the Herb Alpert long-playing disc. Time to listen to this before he made his tea. Perhaps he would try a pizza one of these days.

He didn’t consider himself a superhero. Superheroes deal with international issues, whilst he was content to live in his old-fashioned house in Little Benton.

Arthur Podge. Karma Man.

[This short piece is in memory of my best schoolfriend Chris Simister who sadly passed away towards the end of last year. Chris created a doodle of Arthur Podge when the rest of us were drawing superheroes. I attempted to duplicate the drawing above. RIP Chris.]

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


“I don’t know why they publish this sort of stuff,” said Diane, throwing the paperback onto the garden table. “I mean, talk about clichés – ‘it was all a dream’? Do they think we’re stupid?”

“You didn’t like it, then?” said Mark, struggling to keep a straight face as he raised himself up from weeding the borders. “And you paid full price for it, too.”

Diane looked at her husband over the top of her Yves Saint Laurent sunglasses. He could see that she wasn’t amused and waited for a suitably acerbic retort. He didn’t have long to wait.

“You know what? The book may be a cliché, but no more than our marriage. Do you think I have fun living in this house, this oh-so-precise garden, having to cope with your super-nerdy workmates talking about computer programs – I wonder why I put up with it all.”

Mark looked at his wife – the botoxed forehead, the thin lips, the corded neck, the expensive jewellery, the carefully manicured nails on her claw-like fingers – paying particular attention to her expression as he formed a reply.

“Why do you put up with it all?” Mark said, taking off his gardening gloves. “Perhaps it’s because it pays for your lifestyle, your jewels, your cosmetic surgery, your affairs and even the trashy novels you criticise.”

Diane’s mouth dropped open.

“You seem surprised,” said Mark, “I don’t usually have the audacity to reply, do I?”

“You can’t talk to me like that–” began Diane.

“Not usually, no. But today’s different. Today I asked myself why I put up with it all.” He reached into a terracotta planter, shifted some hessian sacking and withdrew a sawn-off shotgun.

Diane visibly shrunk back into the garden lounger as Mark lined up the twin barrels.

“You know, it wasn’t that difficult to come up with an answer.”

Two shots rang out.

Mark closed his eyes and sighed.

There was a beep, and a synthesised voice resonated in his ears. “Simulation forty-six completed.”

He opened his eyes and took in the familiar surroundings of the computer lab, pulling off his de-activated goggles, removing the headphones and the sensor-enhanced gloves.

So. Sure, it was all a dream, but it’s one way of coping. Especially when Diane buys a new book.

[Another "Scrabble Challenge". This time, the ten words to be incorporated were publish, dream, like, paid, saint, fun, house, cope, super, shots.]

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why? I'll Tell You

We’ve been here around half a million years. Well, that’s the theory and I’m not going to argue the toss. That’s when we became a part of human evolution.

My name? You could argue that I don’t have one, but for convenience I suppose you could call me Richard as I effectively share his brain. I’m a part of his genetic make-up, you see. You don’t? Well, don’t feel stupid – it’s an unusual story and… let me explain.

Back in prehistory, you had some ancestors – Homo heidelbergensis, I believe. For want of a better word, we “merged” with a proportion of them. Now don’t try and pin me down on what we were or where we came from – it doesn’t bear too much scrutiny. Bacterium, virus, alien invasion? I doubt we’ll ever know. You’re in the same boat whatever our origin.

The point is, we became part of their mitrochondrial DNA. As millennia passed, evolution split these ancestors into two subspecies. We were part of those that eventually became Homo sapiens. The others became Homo neanderthalensis.

We developed a shared consciousness over time. Perhaps that gave us Sappies an advantage over the Neanderthals: social interaction, coping with changes in environment, having the edges over them in logic and instinct… Or it could simply have been a genetic resistance to disease.

Anyway, sorry to drone on. You’ll want an answer to your original question.

We become passive as a result of alcohol. And that’s why you think you’re witty when you’ve had a pint.

Another "Scrabble Challenge" exercise. This one was to include the words toss, brain, stupid, story, bear, boat, edges, drone, witty, pint

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Dentist

“Fling your coat over there, love,” said Cathy North, “Back of the armchair, that’s right. Now come and give your mum a hug.”

DC Sean North edged past the glass-topped coffee table, avoiding stubbing his toe on the ornate eagle-clawed feet, and wrapped his arms around his mother. He broke away and sat on the sofa, smiling as he did so. He always felt comfortable here, having spent his teen years in its unchanging surroundings. 

“I was in the area and couldn’t leave without calling in,” said Sean.

“Are you involved with the doings down the road? At number twenty-six?”

“For now, yes, but probably not for much longer.”

“What’s it all about?”

Sean hesitated. “You know I shouldn’t talk to you about it, mum.”

“I thought we didn’t have secrets from each other?”

“Well…,” he began, “if it goes no further – and I mean that. Not even dad…”

“You know your father. If it’s not about snooker, the old goat isn’t interested. But you have my word. Whatever you tell me will be strictly between us.”

If Sean had been honest with himself he would have admitted that’s one of the reasons he had called in. Talking things through with his mother always seemed to clarify his thoughts. And events were moving quickly.

“Okay mum, so long as that’s clear.” He cleared his throat. “There’s been a murder.”

“Oh my God. Who? Not Diane?”

“You know her?”

“Not well. I sometimes see her in the corner shop. What happened?”

“They’re still working on the exact cause of death. But they’ve found enough to – and again, I have to stress that this is confidential – found enough to suggest that she’s the latest victim in a series of killings.”

“A serial killer?”

“Yeah. And that’s why they’re bringing in the big guns. One gun is the Serious Crimes Analysis Section from the National Crime Agency. They deal with behavioural analysis and have been involved with the previous killings.”

“What makes them think it’s a serial killer?”

“It’s to do with the teeth. Each victim has had their front two teeth removed – post mortem – and had them replaced with those belonging to the previous victim. Stuck in with super glue.”

“Oh Sean…”

“I know. They’re calling the killer ‘the Dentist’, but are keeping it hush-hush. The Press would undoubtedly pay for this sort of information and you know the greed of some people.”

“Shouldn’t people know?”

“Not my decision. As I say, I’m not likely to be working on this much longer. Scenes Of Crime Officers are moving out, but they’re keeping the house sealed for now. I have to go back to the station to give a final briefing, so I should make tracks.”

Sean stood and moved over to the window, looking towards his car.

“Oh, typical. Someone’s boxed me in.”

“White van?”


“It’ll be picking up Denis next door. You won’t have to wait long.”

“Right.” He looked back at his mother. “You say you didn’t know Diane Morris that well?”

“No, love. She didn’t leave her house much. Borderline agoraphobic. I once saw her come home in a taxi after she’d had to go to the town centre. She was in a terrible state.”

Sean frowned. “So it’s not likely she’d travel to London?”

“Oh God, no.”

“That’s odd. I wonder why she had a new Oyster card?”

The Dentist was another "Scrabble challenge" where original narrative had to include specified words - this time: fling, eagle, goat, _un, dentist, greed, tracks, boxed, wait, oyster.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Collector

Moogie quietly closed the oak panelled doors behind him. He stood in the gloom, watching the eager flames dance in the fireplace at the far side of the drawing room. This provided the only light, throwing a high-backed leather chair into silhouette.

Not only was the room larger than his entire flat, the paintings on the walls were probably more expensive than his entire building. He reflected how easy it had been to gain entry into Edwin Morely’s home.

A cultured voice startled him. “Ah, it’s the other one. Which one are you, Butch or Sundance?” A somewhat feminine laugh followed. “Come forward where I can see you.”

Tentatively, Moogie walked towards the fireplace and, circling the chair he saw, seated there, the owner of the voice. It was an elderly man, his face resembling a deflated balloon, his purple lips drawn back in parody of a smile. He lifted a liver spotted hand and pointed to a small display case beside him on an occasional table.

“I’m a collector,” he said, “as you probably know.” He dropped his hand so that it rested once more on the chair arm. “Your friend knew this, and he paid me a visit too.

“You no doubt thought it was easy to get in here. He did. Well, my security team are well hidden. They will have followed you in.” He gazed at Moogie with unexpectedly clear eyes. “When I was younger, if I wanted to trap an insect I used a jam jar. It could get in, but it would torture itself trying to get out.”

Moogie stared at the old man. “I’m only here to find my friend.”

The smile reappeared. “Ah. He’s no longer here. Well, most of him.”

Moogie slipped his hand into his coat pocket. “What do you mean?”

With obvious effort, Edwin Morely sat forward in his chair. “I told you, I’m a collector. Come see.”

Moogie leaned forward to look into the display case. Pinned there, like a butterfly collection, were a set of what appeared to be dried figs. Two were not dried.

Morely’s smile grew wider. “What do you people say, ‘pin back your lug holes’?”

Moogie didn’t really think it through. He just knew it was time to exact revenge. From his pocket, his hand shot out, holding a combat knife. He plunged it into Morely’s throat.

The old man sank back in the chair, pink froth on his lips. The smile was no longer there.

The Collector was another "Scrabble challenge" where original narrative had to include specified words - this time, gloom, home b_tch, liver, insect, torture, exact, knife, pink, smile.