How to save the world – chapter six

Nat swung round, Rick squeaked round. Facing them was a small, brown rat. It did not look big enough to be a threat. The only problem was that surrounding it were row upon row of large, mangy, fierce and mean-looking rats.

“Good evening ladies, gentlemen!” began Nat. “Welcome to the feast I have er, prepared for you.”

“I said, come with me!” growled the rat. For a small rat, she had a loud and rather frightening voice.

“Of course, delighted.” Nat’s own voice was a little unsteady

“And you, Rick, whatever you are,” the rat continued.

“Robot, he’s a robot!” protested Nat as the large rats crowded around them.

“Whatever.” The small rat shrugged, turned and led the way along the alley away from the street lights and far into the dark. The other rats followed, propelling Nat with them. Several of the larger and mangier looking rats took up position round Rick, trying to force him forwards. As he took a step he could feel his legs beginning to seize up for lack of oil. He took another and the creak of his joints made the rats look up at him, alarm flashing across their faces. A third step; his legs were almost completely stiff now. A fourth; he stopped, stiff, unable to go any further and swaying dangerously.

“Leave the robot thing – for now,” commanded the small rat.

Nat craned his head but could not see Rick through the sea of rats that blocked his view.

“Rick!” he yelled.

“Shut it!” snapped a rat close by, baring sharp yellow teeth. ‘Tut,’ thought Nat, ‘where’s his dental hygiene?’ He decided against voicing these thoughts.

The small rat led them round the corner and into a yard filled with dustbins, piles of rubbish and a bent and rusted old bed.

“Sidownandshudup!” snarled one of Nat’s guards. Nat obeyed. Above him the small rat climbed onto the bed and settled herself down. Two large rats stood either side of her, towering over her but clearly under her power.

“Now, young man, I think you had better explain yourself,” said the small rat.

Nat looked around him. He could see no young men, nor could he see any means of escape.

“Er me?” he asked.

“Of course, who else?” snapped his interrogator.

“It’s just that no-one’s called me a young man before, or at least no-one as lovely as you.” Nat gave her what he hoped was a winning smile. It won him nothing.

“Enough of your cheek! Don’t you know who you are talking to? You white rats with your airs and graces think you are better than us. Well I’ll tell you, you are not.” She spat at him. Next to Nat, a guard poked him hard in the ribs.

“Oof!” coughed Nat. “No, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any harm, It’s just that I really don’t know who you are. You see, I’m just a laboratory rat. Brought up to do tricks for humans. I am sure you brown rats are just as good, I mean better, than us laboratory ones. I mean, at least you’ve got your freedom. The open road and all….” He tailed off, aware of dozens of eyes watching him, some with disdain, some in astonishment, some with no apparent idea what he had just said.

“I” said the small brown rat with a meaningful drawl, “am Zenobia, Queen of the rats of the Westerly Alleys.”

“Your majesty,” said Nat, bowing low and hoping that is what he was expected to do.

“Look at me!” snapped Queen Zenobia. “That’s better. Now, I should have you torn to shreds and thrown to the cats…” she paused and Nat gulped. Life as a laboratory rat may have been dull but it had been safe, or at least he had thought it had been safe before tonight and the arrival of Cedric and the woman.

“…But,” continued Zenobia. “You said something of interest.”

Nat let out a breath.

“You said that you were a laboratory rat.”

Nat nodded furiously.

“My spies tell me that there are laboratory rats in the university. Is that where you come from?”

“Er, I dunno. I mean, I think I’ve heard of something called a uni-versity, yeah Big and Bob used to talk about it, them’s the humans I used to see there, the ones what made me do all the tricks and stuff, so yeah, er, maybe…” he trailed off and tried another winning smile. This time the look Zenobia gave him was more pitying than scornful.

“Interesting…” she muttered. “That, laboratory rat, is the university over there.” She pointed behind him to the building Nat and Rick had fled from not so long ago.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s it! And how can I be of assistance?” Nat gabbled.

“You can tell us what you know. What is going on in there?”

“I don’t rightly know.” Nat racked his brains to find an answer that would please her. “I only know where I live. The humans, Big and Bob, make me do stuff, like ringing bells and going through mazes and then they built this robot, that’s Rick, and he just came alive tonight, and then these two humans came in and they wanted to take me only I was hiding, climbed up the back of a cupboard I did, and they didn’t take Rick cos something about suspicions and plans and stuff , and then we ran away and then we had pizza and then we found you and er, you know the rest. Oh, and the name’s Nat by the way.” Nat held a paw towards Zenobia but she ignored it.

“That sounds a load of cat’s breath!” snarled one of the guards. “Let’s tear ’im up!”

“Yeah!” growled another.

“Hmm!” Zenobia nodded, still thinking.

The guard next to Nat reached forward, grabbed his front leg and held it up for the others to see. “Come on lads!” he called. The horde of rats leaped forward. Nat shut his eyes.


Sky Riders

…a poem


Our silver hull cleaves the sky

Propellers drilling tunnels through the atmosphere

Gautama floats cross-legged over cumulus fractus

Shiva rides the rainbow

Cthulhu calls down the waterspout

Yeshua walks on the waters

The elements are at war within this ethereal realm

Yet Blake’s angels buoy us up

and we luxuriate in Teutonic splendour

Phoebles don’t touch that it will break   …told you

Helios scorched Icarus falls

but the sons of Hermes sail on air

Bleached felines of Duat quiver

For captain America comes

The brown dwarf Nemesis lurks beyond the Oort cloud

waiting on his rightful time

Dark Lords

the Merovingian Lizard Kings stir in the House of Snow

Furnaces roar and hammers clash

Titan’s chamber echoes to the clamour of industry

Fata Morgana fashioned in steel and rivets

Mass produced engines of doom

From the bowels of terra

And we…

A muscle-bound and fake-tanned Kronstadt sailor in neat air-stewardess uniform, pearl earrings, crew-cut and high heels enters at this moment, pushing a refreshment trolley.

“Coffee or tea?   Pork scratchings?”

“Tea, please, strong two sugars.”

“Have you got a latté?”

“Lapsang Souchong for the pilot?”

“Americana please, shaken not stirred.”


we happy few

rush towards our wyrd

Do we wish to live forever?

In the name of all things felid, what are we getting ourselves into?

Pass the catnip

Enkidu formed of clay

saliva of Aruru

heed my words

Hold the Mayan Apocalypse – till another day


Ginsbergbear, beat poet;

Mid air over Milton Keynes,


How to save the world – chapter five

The story so far

One stormy night, a lab is struck by lightning and a robot comes alive. He disturbs a laboratory rat called Nat who sees this as a chance to escape, but they are almost caught by two suspicious-looking characters. Eventually they make it downstairs and to a door…

The robot had to admit it, Nat had been right. The door led out into an alley filled with dustbins and decaying rubbish that caused the robot’s feet to slip and slide as it followed Nat’s instructions. It put out its arms to steady itself and felt that the joints were beginning to stiffen.

“Come on metal boy, straight on now…yea, round the dustbin that’s right, I’m not a common rat that has to rummage in bins you know. No, I’m above that, bred for better things. Left here. Along a bit. Stop when you get to the end of the shadows; you don’t want to draw attention to us, do you now. I mean, it’s not everyone who’d welcome a walking robot and his companion, however smart and sophisticated that companion might be. Humans are funny like that you know. Stop here, yep I was right, told you so, look, over there.” He pointed to a pile of boxes that leaned precariously against a wall.

“Pizza boxes, that’s what they are. And it follows there will be pizzas nearby. Probably in some of them boxes. Humans aren’t known for saving food you know, or at least Big and Bob never did.” Nat ran down the robot’s body and over to the pile. He rifled through the boxes, muttering to himself, words like ‘stuffed crust‘, ‘margarita’, ‘yuk, onions,’ ‘mmm ham!’ Then he turned and, his speech muffled by the presence of some particularly chewy cheese, said: “You know robot, since we seem to be having a meal together, well not that you are eating though some of this stuff is so oily you’d probably like it, anyway, since we are having a meal together I really ought to know your name.”

The robot creaked a little as it reached its hand out and touched one of the discarded pizza slices. The pizza was indeed oily. It squashed the slice in its hand and flexed its fingers. Then it looked at Nat.

“I do not have a name.”

“No problem,” Nat continued. “I can come up with one for you. Well I guess I don’t know whether you are a boy or a girl, but I’ve been calling you metal boy, so how about a boy’s name?”

“I will let you choose.” The robot picked up another slice of pizza and rubbed it into its left shoulder before moving the shoulder round in its socket.

“Rick, how about Rick?” asked Nat. “Rick the robot.”

The robot considered for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “I am Rick.”

“Well Rick,” growled another voice from behind. “I think you and your friend had better come with me!”

A Moving Story

13 Coming home
We arrived over a month ago – five weeks to be precise – and we are still unpacking. We thought we had ‘down-sized’ thoroughly, but now we are in this small thatched cottage, so different from the rambling medieval barn where we used to live, our possessions look so wrong. The huge paintings and engravings which once fitted spacious rooms, look dingy as the sunlight filters through these diamond paned windows. Turkish rugs which complemented old worn brick floors look shabby on pale carpet and much of our furniture is too big, too heavy and certainly too dusty.
So in the midst of unpacking we are also packing for another auction. Pictures fill the boot of the car, I fill a crate with lustre ware and we send off an oak chest, a pine games table and a chaise longue ripped by the cats. And at the same time we are trying to find essentials so life can run smoothly. I’m in search of a cake tin to bake banana bread and a handbag that will take me into London. M wants tablemats and his collection of music tapes.
Our move is staggered over a week, to give us space to breathe and then we begin decorating, hanging curtains, ripping out old bedroom carpet and painting floorboards, briefing electricians and builders. M’s priority is the aerial for both TV and music. Mine is making the outside utility room, which is uninsulated and inadequately heated, functional. M creates a stationery cupboard and is delighted to find the tops to all his felt tip pens, while I dry towels on the Aga.
But despite the chaos and confusion we are enchanted by this cottage and its surroundings. Neighbours welcome us with bottles of wine and jars of home-made jam. From our windows we have endlessly mesmerising views of far fields which change as the light and temperature varies, sometime green and yellow patchwork, sometimes mist-wreathed. It is like living within a Constable landscape.
And after these last few weeks, we are starting to call it home. It is still new and strange, but it is beginning to feel like home. We’ve found the tablemats and M is now is search of port glasses, but I have a cake tin and we have cake.

Forget the Fish

“There’s stuff going on we don’t know about.” observed Boz.   “Now, what about those poor coleyfish?”

“Forget the fish.” Snapped McGoogs, “You heard; our Derbyshire venture is officially sanctioned.   We’re doing the caves.”

Ferdy called up the Silvertown Airways control tower, situated in the Royal Docks, on his smart-phone and asked to speak to his chief pilot, Beryl Clutterbuck.   She was mid-channel, returning a Handley Page H.P. 42 from their aerodrome on Guernsey, but was able to be put through via the radio.

“Beryl, we need the flying boat for a trip up north.”

Once Ferdinand was off the phone they finalised some of the minor details and Phoebles voiced the reservation of the majority.

“Well, I suppose that’s settled then, but…”

To toast the venture they downed their tots of single malt and took long draughts from their pints.   Slasher licked his left paw, sprinkled a little salt on it and then in a series of swift, smooth movements, sucked the salty paw, slugged back the shot of tequila and bit hard on the lemon. For a brief moment his eyes screwed and his nose wrinkled.   Then his composure reasserted itself, “I’ll be going up to Derbyshire in the Duesenberg.   See you up there”

The 1934 Graber-Duesenberg SJ Cabriolet, shimmering ‘Outrageous Illusion’ red/gold paint job, upholstered in light tan mohair, white walled tyres, was parked, half on the pavement, opposite the Den.   It glistened colourfully against the backdrop of monochrome bonded warehouses and depositories along the narrow highway.   Slasher sauntered unnoticed, as if his Lycra one-piece rendered him invisible, through the growing crowd that had been drawn by the antics of Larry’s dirigible and its stunning tortoise-shell chauffeur.  Phoebles’ yellow, Multi spotted pantaloons, conversely, were drawing less than favourable remarks from pointing urchins with their noses pressed to the Catnip Den bay window.   A burbling roar of supercharged Duesenberg echoed off the surrounding walls; the straight 8 cylinder flat-head bored out, souped-up and the tank full of jet fuel.

“That thing’s a bomb on wheels!”

There was a grinding of gears, a high-pitched whine from under the bonnet and the Duesenberg sprang forward.   McGoogs was away through the narrow, cobbled lanes of Limehousesailortown.

The remaining foursome returned to the bedsit to pack their kitbags whilst Dark Flo prepared sandwiches of Herrings In, nautically known as HITS, on white bread, piled on a blue and white Staffordshire Ironstone plate decorated with a Flying P windjammer under full sail.   She wrapped the lot – plate and all – in cling film and placed them in a small hamper along with a bottle of Pusser’s Rum and a packet of Russian Caravan tea.

As the boys came down she was adding a sealed tin of Soma Catnip to the supplies.

“How did you get that?” gasped Ginsbergbear, “That stuff’s rarer than rocking horse dung.   Never leaves the Sub-Continent.”

“The bell-hop in the Eden Hotel in Kathmandu bunged me a bit from under the counter in gratitude for a particular favour.   Cut it with your Black Alamout Catnip Shag or Phoebles’ stash of White Goddess.   There’s not much of it and it’s expensive.”

At this they became aware of the rhythmic thrub of a dozen unsynchronised piston engines.   The Dornier Do X was doing a circuit over Bozzy’s Catnip Den and the gang rushed out onto the balcony to watch it landing on the London River in a shower of spray like an obese drake on an oily duck pond.

The gigantic silver flugschiff had had the clapped out air-cooled Jupiter engines replaced with six pairs of only slightly second hand 610 hp Curtiss Conqueror water-cooled 12-cylinder inline engines and now sported an art deco Silvertown Airways logo below the portholes along the length of the hull.

Beryl’s voice crackled over the Marconi Marine Nautilus transceiver that sat behind the bar.

“Come aboard, when you are ready”

Waving goodbye to Dark Flo they dropped the kitbags into a dumpy clinker build skiff that was tied to a ladder out back of the den.   The hamper and crew followed and an invigorating five minutes was spent tugging on a cord wound round the head of a recalcitrant Seagull outboard.   In a sudden cloud of blue smoke and with a tuc… tuc… hick, tuc… tuc-tuc-tuc-tuc-tuc the motor sprang into life and they were weaving their way out into the river, trailing a rainbow scar of two-stroke across the surface of the water.

Beryl met them at the starboard stub and deftly caught the thrown painter.   She was tall, slender and clad, somewhat incongruously, in a sheepskin-flying jacket over her flowered cotton frock; neither matched her sky blue fur-lined ankle-boots.   Inside the hull a small crew of Kronstadt sailors was lined up for inspection.   They saluted Boz as he came aboard and their Starshina (Chief Petty Officer) piped a high-pitched whistle that hurt Phoebles’ ears.

“Commodore Desai, would you like to pilot the old girl for the first part of the trip?   I will operate the throttles in the machine centre,”Flugschiff Dornier "Do X", Maschinenzentrale suggested Beryl, addressing Ferdy, “And we can swap round once we’re over Rugby.”

Star Stone Trilogy Book One: Yii. Chapter Seven (cont)

As Yii sat imagining his tribe, and wondering, some of the people who looked more like him came by, less well supervised while the Colonel was away. They were chattering away, pointing at him and laughing, though he couldn’t see why. He stared back at them, puzzled and a little concerned. He may have appeared rather fierce to them.
As part of their fun, one of them got a long stick, and started poking at Yii with it, perhaps to provoke some interesting reaction, taunting him with words he couldn’t understand. Yii found this very disconcerting, and tried to dodge out of the way, while the other men around laughed again, obviously thinking it great fun. The stick began to hit Yii, and bruise him, so after some minutes of them jabbing at him with the stick and laughing – rather cruelly, though Yii didn’t recognise this – Yii decided he needed to do something to defend himself. He was in danger of getting badly hurt; so he bared his teeth, and sprang towards them growing fiercely.
This really frightened them, and they paused and then drew back. Yii grabbed the stick, though he couldn’t wrest it from the men holding it. So he roared at them more loudly, again baring his teeth.
This time they were more frightened; he looked so fierce with his slightly long canine teeth. They quickly melted away having between them yanked the stick out of Yii’s hands, leaving him still growling ferociously.
This happened to be the moment that Dr Raybourne chose to come by, for he had promised the Colonel that he would look in at some point to see how the wolf boy was doing. Hearing Yii growl loudly and seeing him bare his teeth, he was quite alarmed, stopping still and staring at Yii.
‘Well,’ he muttered to himself, ‘Wolf boy you are, that’s quite certain. We shall have to be careful not to let you loose. In fact we shall have to be very careful of you.’

Larry’s Approval

Phoebles and Boz moved over to their favoured table in the bay that looked out onto Narrow Street and sat on the window bench.   Ferdy and Ginsbergbear pulled up bentwood cane-bottomed chairs and McGoogs perched on a leatherette-padded stool.   They huddled conspiratorially.

“My plan is that we explore the caves south of Mam Tor and discover what is going on.” began Slasher McGoogs, producing a dog-eared copy of The Potholer’s Handbook for Derbyshire, IIIrd Pocket Edition, 1956; printed on storm resistant paper.   Within the chapter headed Castleton Caverns it included a handy sketch map of the Speedwell and Peak cave system.   It did not show Titan, which at the time of printing was still to be discovered, but Slasher had roughly pencilled in the location of the gigantic chamber.

“Have you cleared any of this with Larry?” asked Boz.

“I have told Larry nothing.   I despise despots and Larry is Gato Número Uno.”

“That’s hardly fair,” chipped in Phoebles, “We and the Revolutionary Committee did all agree he should be PM.”

“And it’s not as if he’s done any harm since taking office.   In fact he’s done sweet FA.   I’m amazed he doesn’t get bored.” Added Ginsbergbear.

“If I may interject at this point.” interjected Ferdy, “Mr Larry can in no way have ‘done sweet Fanny Adams’ despite the accusations in Mr Fluffy’s Chicken News on US telly.   Firstly she was not all that sweet – she was a grubby little tyke.   Secondly, she was ‘done’ many decades ago and her story has passed into myth.   And thirdl…”

The tail end of a steel wire ladder dropped past their window into the street outside.   It was followed by the descent of a pair of improbably long legs and finally by the top half, only, of a bottle-green chauffer’s uniform.   As the door to the catnip den opened and Barrymore, Larry’s indispensable feline factotum, entered, the inmates could hear the Vwwshsh of the twin VW vectored screw engines of the incumbent Acting Prime Minister’s personal dirigible.   She lifted her goggles and perched them above the peak of her cap as the wire ladder began to drift slowly down Narrow Street.

“Stay!” commanded Barrymore into the discreet mouthpiece that curved elegantly out from under her headgear.   The drifting ceased instantly.

“Blimey!” exclaimed Boz, “Is the Den bugged?”

“Certainly not, Mr Boris.   I just happened to be passing and am graced with unusually acute hearing.   Larry wanted you to know that he intends to despatch the Coleyfishspytrawler Lord Ancaster towards Antarctica to investigate the rumours.”

“What rumours?” asked a slightly ruffled Slasher.

“Ah, Mr McGoogs, a pie without your sticky paw in it?   Makes a refreshing change.   There’s reports of unusual activity at the US airbase – UFO under the ice – that sort of thing.   Leave it with us.   You have Larry’s full approval for your own little enterprise.”

“Man… Larry knows of our enterprise?” Ginsbergbear spoke, “I’m not sure even we know about our enterprise yet.”

Sashaying over to the door Barrymore looked back over a coquettishly inclined shoulder and said, “Carry on.”

Wrapping one leg around the wire ladder with the sensuality of a trapeze artist, she ascended into the heavens.