CUCULUS By David R Graham

CUCULUS By David R Graham

‘Mr Miller?’
‘Mr William, Miller?’
‘Yes. And you are?’
‘My name is Edmund Varley.’
‘How can I help you?’
‘I wonder if I might speak to you about the package you sent to the Imperial War Museum.’
‘Oh, you’re from the museum. Why didn’t you say so? Come in, come in.’
‘Thank you.’
‘I must say, this is the last thing I expected when I sent those documents off.  Take a seat. Would you like some tea?’
‘Thank you.’
‘Here we are. Now then; what exactly has brought you all the way out here in this weather, and how can I help you?’
‘In your letter you sent with the documents, you mentioned a suitcase containing Second World War paraphernalia.’
‘Yes. I came across it quite by accident when I was sorting out my father’s effects, at his cottage in Falmouth.’
‘Forgive me if I am remiss. Is your father deceased?’
‘You’re not remiss. He passed away seven weeks ago. Lung cancer, I’m afraid. His smoking got him in the end.’
‘I am sorry for your loss.’
‘Thank you.’
‘Please go on.’
‘Well, as I mentioned in my letter, the suitcase is full of mementos from the last war. Those documents I sent to you where in there; mostly German, along with several different passports; French and German identity papers, assorted bric a brac, a couple of old handguns, several knives. Things my father must have collected on his travels around Europe, I expect. As I said in my letter, the museum is more than welcome to have the lot, if you think they might be of some interest.’
‘Is it here?’
‘The case?’
‘It’s upstairs.’
‘May I see it?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘There is rather a lot in it,’ Mr Miller said, hefting the suitcase onto the dining table.
Mr Varley rose to his feet.
The suitcase was an Asprey, typical of its time, with reinforced leather corners. ‘I made a thorough search for a key; but I’m afraid I forced the locks,’ Mr Miller said apologetically. He lifted the lid. ‘I imagine the contents are of more interest, though. I doubt that they are of much interest to anyone, other than a collector. I thought they might make an interesting display at the museum.’
Mr Varley examined the cases contents: A radio, concealed in a biscuit tin, a magnetic compass disguised as a coat button; five passports: American, British, German, French, and Italian, a silenced one shot pistol disguised as a tobacco pipe, a silenced .22, a silenced .32 automatic, a sleeve gun, silk printed maps of continental Europe, Great Britain and the American continent, several acetone time-delay fuses. A selection of booby-trap devices. Detonators, vehicle engine disabling kit, close quarter combat weapons: a knife, a garrotte, a weighed ball, a sleeve dagger, a machete knife for piercing helmets. A matchbox camera, a pencil dagger, hollow coins of various continental currencies; spikes for puncturing vehicle tyres, a saboteur’s multi function knife. Several carrier pigeon message canisters. A set of brass knuckles, several codebooks, 1940’s English, French, and German, currencies. A tube of shaving cream and a tube of toothpaste, and bottle corks with hidden compartments.
‘May I?’ Mr Varley asked.
‘Please do.’
Mr Varley examined the passports in turn. The American bore the name Walt Mailer, the English, Walter Marlowe, the German, Wilhelm Muller, the French, Guillaume Meunier, and the Italian, Guglielmo Mugnaio. Baring slight variations in facial appearance, the photographs were of the same man.‘Do you recognise the man in these?’
‘Yes, of course. He’s my father.’
Mr Varley examined the identity papers in turn.
The papers bore photographs and details corresponding to their respective passports.
Mr Varley held up the papers, ‘…and in these?’
‘Yes. The pictures are of my father.’
‘Why do you ask?’
‘Mr Miller, these passports, and identity papers represent five countries; America, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom.’
‘Yes. They do.’
‘The photographs on all of these documents are of the same man.’
‘Yes. I noticed that. I assumed that my father had had them made up for him; as mementos of his travels.’
‘Mr Miller, these are authentic documents issued by the proper authorities in each of the five countries they represent.’ He opened the British passport to reveal the bearers photograph. ‘Twelve years ago,’ he said, ‘in June of nineteen thirty five, this was issued to a Walter Marlowe.’
‘Well, as I said, I thought perhaps my father had…’
Mr Varley held up the passport, ‘all of these passports and identification papers were issued to the same man using variations of the same name,’ he said. ‘In Italian, Miller is Mugnaio; in French, it is Meunier, and in German, it is Muller. Granted, there are small variations in the appearance of the man in each of these passports, but not enough to disguise the fact that they are of the same man: a man with five different passports, Mr Miller.’
‘What exactly are you saying…?’
‘The moment I saw these photographs, I recognised the face. I know who the man was.’
‘How could you possibly know … look here, Mr Varley. Exactly who are you? You are not from the War Museum, are you?’
‘No, Mr Miller. I am not from the museum. I am here because of the documents you sent to the museum. Those documents were passed to me the moment they were recognised for what they are.’
‘And just what are they, Mr Varley. What are you, for that matter? Where have you come from? Why are you really, here?’
‘I represent Her Majesty’s Government, Mr Miller. You might say that I am a researcher.’
‘Are you indeed? Well would you mind telling me exactly what possible interest the Government has in my father’s … war mementos?’
‘Mr Miller this suitcase does not contain your father’s war mementos; it contains the tools of his trade.’
‘Tools of his trade…? What are you saying?’

‘Look here, all of those things in there were used by secret agents, and saboteurs, and…’
‘Spies, Mr Miller.’
‘Yes, spies.’

‘Now hang on a minute. Surely, you’re not suggesting that my father was a spy. Are you?’
‘No Mr Miller I am not suggesting that. I am stating it as a fact.’
‘What? My father! A spy…! That is the most preposterous thing I have heard!’
‘The contents of this suitcase are the final pieces of the puzzle, Mr Miller: pieces that have been missing for the past decade.’
‘But how can you be so damn sure that this Cuckoo and my father were one and the same?’
Mr Varley took a photograph from the breast pocket of his jacket.
‘Do you recognise this man?’
‘What? Yes, it’s … it’s my father. Where did you get that?’
‘It is a picture of a German spy: codename “Cuculus”.He was a sleeper agent. We knew of his existence throughout the war. He was spying for the German Abwehr. Despite exhaustive counter-espionage measures, and a continental manhunt, he was never caught.’
‘Cuculus from Cuculus canorus: the Cuckoo. Like the Cookoo,’ Mr Varley said, putting away the photograph, ‘he made his nest here in England and fed information to German military intelligence, almost on a daily basis, throughout the war. Much of that information was of a highly classified nature; the revelation of which led to the loss of the lives of many men and women across Europe.’
‘You are not seriously suggesting that my father was this Cuckoo? That he was a spy, a … traitor. It’s a preposterous notion.’
‘It is neither a suggestion, nor a notion, Mr Miller. What I have seen here today proves the fact. The puzzle is completed. The case is closed.
The Cuckoo has flown the nest.’

The Institute for Economic Research
Ruschestraße and Frankfurter Allee,
10365 Berlin, GDR.

Section 8: Code 1463

I have taken over the nest.



Web by Rachel Hilton


I don’t often write about me.  But the word web brought back a cascade of memories.  

When I was a teenager, a canary flew into our garage.  It was a bright yellow pretty little bird.  My Dad managed to catch it, and we put it in a cage.  I don’t remember where the cage came from but that’s not important.  We did all the usual responsible stuff, placing cards in all the local shops saying “Found: yellow canary” where and when etc, all the usual actions people took before social media.  We had no response so it lived in the cage in the dining room of the house.  My brother Simon, who is several years younger than me, named it Freedom.

I don’t remember how long it lived after it came to us, but I think it was a good while.  When Freedom died my dad bought another canary which my brother named Mushroom, as the little bird was various shades of brown and white.  None of us were overly happy about keeping a little bird on its own in a cage, so my Dad decided to build an aviary in one of our garages.  With Simons help he blocked the main door off so it couldn’t be opened and built some flights for the birds inside the garage and some outside too.

Once everything had been built Dad bought another little canary to go with Mushroom and placed them together in a flight.  They settled in quickly.

Between them, over time Dad and Simon kept a variety of birds.  Starting with the original canaries, Mushroom and partner, who surprised us one day when Mushroom started making a nest in the food bowl.  We quickly put out a proper nest box for her and she became a very good mum to a number a of chicks.  They were weird looking tiny bald creatures with huge eyes but they were beautiful.  It was amazing to watch as she fed them the special egg food, we had to make sure they had plenty of this throughout the day and that the little chicks crops were full when feeding time finished.

Then the Chinese painted quail, with their reddish-brown plumage on their undersides and mottled brownish feathering on their backs were really small and scratched about in the sawdust looking for food for most of the time.  They also had a nest box placed in the aviary when the little female started laying eggs on the floor!

There were several pairs of cockatiels, of various colours including the standard greys, pearled, cinnamon, lutino and pied.  I know there were others but I can’t remember them all.  The colour genetics of cockatiels is complicated and I never really fully understood it, I left that to my Dad.  

The diamond doves were small beautiful birds, with white spots and black edges on their wings, orange eyes and red eye-rings.  The female’s eye ring was less vivid than the males and she had more of a brown colour to her plumage.

Also in the aviary were Java sparrows, Bengalese finches, and Zebra finches, which were my favourite with their little cheeping sounds, all of these are smaller birds and easy to keep.

At one point my Dad bought a pair of Blue Throated Conures for which you need a CITES certificate to legally keep.  CITES entered into force to control the trade in endangered or protected animal or plant species.  It now has 180 signatory countries, including the UK and all other EU countries. All signatories must abide by these internationally agreed rules that regulate the import, export and transhipment of protected flora and fauna.

I remember there was pair of African Grey parrots for a period of time but they unsettled the rest of the birds so they didn’t stay.  Also the pretty rainbow lorikeets who looked so beautiful, so vibrant in colour, feathers of orange, blue, green and yellow, with their bright red beaks but they squirted poop everywhere so didn’t last too long.

Neither did the only bird that was mine, a pretty green ring neck parrot but he was so noisy if he was in an outside flight you could hear him down the road.  Dad said he couldn’t stay as he was upsetting all the other birds who were trying to incubate their eggs.  This could mean a disaster so I let him go a local pet shop we knew through buying birds.  The owner Graham was a helpful chap who enjoyed what he did.

All of the birds we ever bought were bred in the UK.  My Dad refused to buy anything that had come into Britain from abroad.

During the time we spent at the pet shop I saw they also sold various other unusual pets.  And I wanted one of them.  In time we ended up with a big tank in the house with one in.

The first one I ever held needed both hands to hold it. Initially I was a bit scared but I pushed that to one side while I concentrated on safely holding her, a Mexican red knee tarantula. This belonged to Graham and he said she wasn’t for sale.  That wasn’t a problem, she was far too big for me anyway! I had seen a small Chilean red tarantula with a large suitable tank. 

Once we were home I set her tank up, with large cork pieces that she could climb over, hide behind, sleep under and spin her beautiful silken web all over.  She was a light brown colour, with a shade of pink to her.  I called her Scarlet. She wasn’t exactly a cuddly pet but she could be taken out of the tank although I didn’t like holding her as I worried about her being fast in my hands and falling to the floor.  This could’ve killed her as spiders don’t have haemoglobin in their blood so if she had been hurt she could have died.  

Or, as was her favourite trick, she would become fed up and to let me know she would rub one of her legs across her abdomen.  This in turn released the Urticating hairs (Urtica is Latin for “nettle”),and can refer to certain types of barbed hairs that cover the dorsal and posterior surface of a tarantula’s abdomen. Many tarantula species eject hairs from their abdomens, directing them toward potential attackers. These hairs can embed themselves in the other animal’s skin or eyes, causing physical irritation, usually to great discomfort. 

And this is what Scarlett would do to me, in the palm of my hand, she didn’t do it to my Dad though and Simon wasn’t interested in or allowed, to get her out.  It would take several hours before it stopped irritating no matter what I tried. She appeared happier left alone to spin her webs to catch the crickets we fed her.  I remember one time we had a small box of crickets and the weather was warm and humid.  Even though they were kept in a cupboard in the dark they bred and several of the smallest ones managed to escape.  It was hilarious, when weeks later we would be watching television in the living room and out the corner of your eye you would see the carpet move. 


CITES, The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Urtica is Latin for “nettle” (stinging nettles are in the genus Urtica)

Convictions by Michael Healy


The Judge frowned at the prisoner as the chairman of the jury declared their verdict ‘well’, he said, ‘the Jury have unanimously found you guilty, you are a convict, And as a convict, you will be sentenced for your crime. Stealing sheep is infamous! That crime is frowned upon most seriously in the village in which you and your wife live Taking the livelihood from one of your neighbours must be considered evil, And therefore I sentence you to 6 years as a convict, and that you spend this time in Australia. Away from your family.’

The six year sentence was, deliberately, very hard, though he found work with sheep.

The six years passed and he had the opportunity to return to his previous family. But he had a new wife and family. His business in trading sheep was particularly successful. Eventually he made his mind up to stay and so he started to trade his sheep with the English farmers, including the farmer whose sheep had led him to Australia, his new trade and new life.

Eventually he was discharged as a convict and could return to England, but his trade was successful. Why would he want to return? A successful business in farming and selling sheep, and a new wife and family. In England he would be treated as an ex convict, with no business and a deserted wife and child. The facts are that his sentence had been a lifeline for his future.

He did not regret being a convict.

Tree by Michael Keeble



I love trees.  I mean I really love trees.  Not in the way that some people go on about trees as if they know about them, but in a much deeper way.  I cannot really describe how I feel except by saying that I am a tree.  Of course you’re not a tree, you say, I can see that you are just a human being like the rest of us, but that’s the point, you can’t see what I am like inside.  Inside I am a tree.

I can’t remember when I first realised I was tree; probably when I was in my very early teens.  I used to spend all my free time in the woods behind our house.  I tried to explain about it to my parents, but they thought it was just a passing phase and that I would grow out of it.  They became worried and refused to allow me to spend so much time with the trees.  I was banned from going into the wood and if we went for a walk they kept a hold of me when we were passing trees. 

When I was young, I went along with my parents’ wishes, and tried to beat what they had convinced me was an obsession, but the feeling never went away, and I would become very unhappy if I could not be amongst trees.  In my teens, I would find any way I could to get out of the house.  I was the most acquiescent of teenagers, always the one happy to go out for errands.  Of course, I made sure that my route went via as many trees as I could.  I was cunning, as teenagers often are, and made sure that my parents weren’t too suspicious.  I had stopped talking about trees at a much earlier age, so my parents did not worry about it so much, although my mum would occasionally refer to my tree “obsession” to gauge my reaction.  I was equal to that and laughed it off.

My single-minded focus for a university course was to be near trees, so I opted for an environment and sustainability course at Keele which has a fine arboretum.  Because we trees are a fundamental part of the environment it seemed the perfect course.  I had a fabulous time in the arboretum and got to know all the other trees intimately.  During the holidays I would spend my time in the woods while my parents were out at work, and then spend time at home in the evenings. 

My mum became a little concerned that I had never had a girlfriend and once confronted me about it.  I’m not sure who was most embarrassed, me or her, particularly when she tentatively suggested “or boyfriend”.  I tried hard not to show any shock or sentiment and paused to think of a plausible answer.  “I have dated a few girls at University, but I never got on well enough to call them girlfriends.  There will be plenty of time for that after I graduate” I said.  This was more or less the truth.  I had been approached by both boys and girls for varying degrees of liaison and had partnered a few girls in a group but taken it no further.  The absolute truth was that I had no interest in girls (or boys for that matter); trees were my only love.  This seemed to satisfy my parents and they were delighted when I graduated with honours. 

I was in much demand as an arboriculturist, but so many of the jobs required me to perform what is laughingly known as tree surgery, but in fact in most cases is simply tree butchery to satisfy some twisted human aesthetic or worse yet for financial gain.  I finally took a position as a tree surveyor which got me in touch with trees all over the country.  By now I was pretty good at conversing with the trees and could ask them how they were feeling and what, if anything, was ailing them.  Trees are pretty much like humans in their relations with other trees.  They dislike incomers invading their space and do their best to discourage them, and the older they get, the more conservative they become, but over the years they make very strong friends with other trees and some other species like birds and some insects.  On the whole they think that humans are an insignificant part of nature, that are so self-absorbed that they can have no positive impact on the environment.

I was in much demand as an arboriculturist as the woods and forests on my watch fared better than the average and individual trees prospered.  From time to time I had to take some hard decisions such as the removal of a rogue birch invading the space of a mature Beech, but overall my trees were happy.

I was hired as a consultant to survey a woodland in a vast National Trust estate in the North of England and had become very friendly with the trees in my care, so much so that I was spending nights in the woods with them.  My client paid me well, but I had no particular need for the money, so when he offered to employ me on a full time basis to look after my trees on an exclusive basis, I was pleased to accept his offer on condition that I could come and go as I pleased and had final say on what happened to my trees.  One other condition was that I was allowed to live in the woods with my trees.

I was provided with a space to build my hut.  I was offered assistance to build it which I declined.  Instead I set about collecting suitable timber from the forest floor, and with permission from the trees to which they were attached, removing dead limbs that might be of value to me.  My boss wanted me to attend meetings at the office on a weekly basis, but this soon slipped to once a month and then to whenever he could be bothered to find me in my forest.  I always knew when he was coming for me because my trees would let me know.  They would tell me exactly who was in the forest at any time, where they were and what they were up to.  If they were alarmed, they would call to me and I would run the rogues off.  By now I had become so much part of the forest that I could move through without being seen.  My hair was in long dreadlocks and my clothes (when I wore them for warmth) were made from leaves and tree bark, so it was enough for me to suddenly make an appearance for the rogues to leave.  I was always reluctant to get additional human help as I would have to go back to my hut, tie my hair up, dress in human clothes and make my way to the office to call for help.  They had given me a mobile phone and a radio for what they called ease of contact, but since I did not have any facilities to charge them, they were mostly redundant, and anyway it was they that felt the need to be in contact with me.  I rarely if ever had a need to be in contact with them.

When I was younger, I had felt an urgent need to become externally what I knew I was internally – a tree.  I had on one occasion spent three consecutive nights and days naked with my feet and lower legs planted 12 inches in the earth.  I had driven a sturdy stake into the ground and tied myself to it to keep me upright until my roots could get a grip in the earth.  It rained all the first night and it was cold.  In the morning the sun shone through the canopy and warmed my body.  I felt a sense of togetherness with the trees that I had not felt before.  The insects visited me and crawled up and down my body, and later that day, one or two birds sat on my shoulders and my head picking at the insects in my hair.  That night the nocturnal creatures snuffled and squeaked past me unconcerned.  I slept for a while until dawn woke me.  I had not felt my roots taking hold, but I was still sure that given time they would, and I would be able to gain sustenance from the earth like any other tree.

It was on the third day that an old oak that had been watching my attempts to root asked me why I felt the need to plant myself in one place when I could move around.  He told me that when he was younger he had tried to uproot himself so that he could move around like the insects and animals around him, but much as he tried to move, he could not get a root out of the ground.  He said that over the many years, he had become satisfied with his lot and took great pleasure in his relationship with the surrounding trees and nature generally.  Even humans were only a minor irritant though he had heard from other trees that were not so deep in the forest that they could be positively dangerous.  He spoke to me in this way for most of the day and night (trees speak very slowly, and once they get going, at considerable length) until he had all but convinced me that I had the best of both worlds; I was a tree that could walk and talk to humans and the trees alike.  He said that he felt sorry for my rather weedy body, but, if that’s what it took to be able to move about, then perhaps that was something that I should consider a sacrifice worth making.  And so it was on the third day I uprooted myself and made a decision to make the most of being a tree in human form.

If you are reading this, I guess some human has noticed my absence and come to find me.  If I am not here, then in spite of the trees knowing you were coming and letting me know, I have been unable to join you.  There could be a number of reasons for this, but the most likely is that my weedy human body has succumbed to some ailment and decided to fail in some respect.  If that has happened, then the chances are that it has started to be fodder for the creatures that are sustained by decomposing flesh, and as I disappear into the earth I will be on my way to help one of my friends to grow stronger.  I vaguely remember from reading something written by a human with more wisdom than most “’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished”.

Leave by Rachel Hilton

They had only been together for a matter of weeks when Cecil asked if Hayley would accompany him on a visit to his parents.  He wanted to introduce her to them and thought it would be a good idea to go for a weekend.  She wasn’t so enthusiastic and told him so.

“It’s too soon, we need to know each other better before we meet each other’s parents.”

“Nonsense, you’ll like my parents and they’ll like you.  They are so easy to get along with.”

He kept on and on at her and eventually she relented.  She didn’t want to go, it was more to shut him up than anything.

Hayley made sure she was busy at the weekends for a couple more weeks.  The car needed MOTing and a service one weekend, another she was going to the theatre with her girlfriends, and didn’t want him to spoil her plans.

Finally, she couldn’t put it off any longer.  She picked him up after work in Leeds on Friday evening and they drove over to Scarborough.  Well, she drove all the way, he pratted about with the radio throughout the journey.

Upon arrival, his Mum, Jean, gave Cecil a big hug and a peck on the cheek and then did the same to Hayley.  His Dad, Steve, was in the kitchen cooking tea but paused for a moment to come through and greet them both.  Both his parents were pleasant people.  They had a lovely house, set back from the road, with a winding driveway.

After they had finished eating Cecil and Jean had cleared the table. That done Steve announced they were all going to the pub for a few drinks and a chance to have a chat.  “Great” thought Hayley, considering she didn’t drink.  Anyway, she changed her clothes, cleaned her teeth, brushed her hair and she was ready to go.

The pub was not far so they walked.  It was rather busy when they arrived but they managed to snag the last available table.  Cecil and Steve went to the bar while Jean and Hayley sat chatting.  Hayley had already said she was drinking lemonade to Cecil, as she didn’t like alcohol, so she didn’t think there would be any problem.

The men returned with the drinks and soon everyone was laughing, joking and generally enjoying themselves.  Hayley noticed the lemonade tasted slightly different to usual, and mention this, but Cecil said it was because it was draught and she usually drank the more expensive bottled version.

She tried to think no more of it, but she did slow down drinking as she wasn’t too keen on it.  

On the walk back to the house, Hayley felt a little peculiar.  She put it down to feeling tired as she’d had a long, busy day before driving to Scarborough.  When they arrived back at the house, she went up to her room to take her shoes off and sat on the bed for a moment.  She let her bag drop gently to the floor.

There was a soft knock and Cecil popped his head round the door.  He looked at her and grinned.  “How are you feeling?” He asked.  “Just a bit tired.” She replied.  “No, actually, a lot tired.” She said, thinking about it.  “Why, how are you feeling?”

Cecil grinned all the more. “I feel fine, thank you. But then I’ve not been on the hard stuff.”  Hayley stared at him.  “What the hell are you talking about?” She asked.  “Well, you didn’t honestly think I could let you sit there all night supping lemonade, did you?  That’s no fun.”  He answered, laughing.

“What did you do Cecil?”  She asked.  “Oh, I just thought a little vodka would loosen you up, and it worked, didn’t it?  Don’t tell me you didn’t enjoy it, you were chatting to Mum and Dad without feeling nervous, weren’t you?”

She glared at him, picked her bag up and made to walk out of the room.  

“Where are you going?” He asked.  “To the bathroom.” Came the reply.  “I’m off downstairs then, Hales.  Come down when you are done.”  “Okay, I shall”.  With that Hayley left the room.  Cecil went downstairs to the kitchen, helped himself to another can from the fridge and went through to the living room, where his parents were.

“What do you think?”  He asked.  “Oh, she’s a lovely girl.” His Mum replied.  “Yes, she’s clever too.” Added his Dad. “Not your usual type, eh Son?”  Cecil frowned at his Dad, then saw him smiling.  He relaxed and smiled back.  

They all sat talking for a short while until Hayley entered the room.  The fIrst thing Cecil noticed, she had her overnight bag in her hand.  “What’s going on?” He asked, rising to his feet.  

“I’m leaving.  I’m sorry, Mr and Mrs Sewell, but I’ve telephoned my friend, Cally.  She lives about 10 miles away and she’s coming to pick me up.  Apparently I’ve been drinking, so I can’t drive, but I’ll come back in the morning early to collect my car and I’ll then be going home.”

“What do you mean?”  Asked Jean.  “I’ll leave Cecil here to explain, I’m going to go wait outside for Cally.  I would hate for her to miss the house.”  With that, Hayley turned round, left the room and let herself out the front door.  

Jean turned to Cecil, but he was already following Hayley outside.  “What the hell was that about?  A joke is a joke, but get yourself back in there and apologise to my Mum.  That was plain rude.”  “Oh, and shall I explain how plain irresponsible you are.  Spiking my drink, when I asked for plain lemonade.”  Emphasising the word ‘plain’ each time, she stood, staring at him, daring him to answer.

“Like I say, I’ll collect my car in the morning and go.”  Hayley was angry and it showed.  “How will I get home?”  He whined.  “I don’t know and right now, I don’t care”.  Hayley retorted.  “Please come back in, they’ll wonder what’s going on.”  Cecil persisted.  “If I come back in there, I will definitely tell them the truth and they won’t be wondering anymore!”  

At that point, a car headlights could be seen coming down the road.  It was Cally.  She pulled the car onto the driveway and Hayley started to walk over to her.  

“If you get in that car, you won’t see me again.” Threatened Cecil.  “Funny, I had exactly the same thought.  But it was more, ‘when’ I get in this car, you won’t see me again.  I’m leaving you Cecil!”

A person of colour? by Kevin Murphy

Kevin’s question about the trigger ‘irony’:

A person of colour?

‘Murky.’ I mumbled, as we screwed up our eyes against the deep orange sun setting on our life art class.


‘Cheek! ‘I said, ‘My dad used to say my eyes were Mersey Green. That’s pretty murky.’

‘Ah well,’ she chuckled, ‘mine don’t get commented on, of course.’

‘They’re lovely eyes!’ I said, inadvertently blurting … then blushing.

‘Colour, I mean,’ she said, turning to me with her eyes wide.

We stood inspecting each other, on the now gold steps of the old Arts Institute building, she drawing in for a closer look.

‘Yours are multi coloured!’ she said, ‘sparkling like jewels.’

‘Multi! Coloured? I see yours have a black rim around … do all Irises?’

‘I don’t know any Irises,’ she laughed and looked around to find us alone. She moved in for a very close inspection.

I could smell her sweet breath … and her breasts.

We were eyeball to eyeball and breast to breast. Warm. Soft. She was engrossed, ‘yellow, green – several shades, brown and grey.’

She wasn’t looking past my eyes and into my soul. Good thing as she may have seen too much. ‘Yeah. Not murky, but I think your dad may have meant…’ she looked across at the horizon, ‘…can’t see any sea from here, but the Mersey, as if from a boat, twinkling in a sunset. Mmm and not murky but delightful bright green.’

She seized my head in her hands and turned it full into what remained of the day. I was held like a doll. Fully.

My hands lose by my side, at ease. How so? We had only met once before at the art class. I didn’t even know her name.

‘Very pretty! Diamonds are completely clear, aren’t they? However, their appeal is in the many facets flashing out rainbows from the, er… dark side of the moon, thingies?’

‘Prisms. Refracting all the colours of the rainbow.’

‘That’s it, yeah.’

She, still holding my head, looked at my face. Her black face at my white face. And smiled. ‘Rainbow.’

Her cheeks reflected many hues of blue. Blue-black they call it, but in fact in there were silvery, turquoise and emerald sheens shed from her cheeks and forehead.

‘Your freckles – they’re light brown, but do you know they have a white perimeter.’

I didn’t, but she went on.

‘And they’re not round like polka dots, they’re all shapes.’

‘Blobs?’ I said.

‘Yeah … murky … blobs?’

‘They say I am white and you … black. I’ve been musing at the whole spectrum glistening from your silken skin.’

‘Yeah. Black hair and brown eyes. Half the world’s population – but black skin?’ She stopped. Now she looked into me.

‘Pretty ironic,’ I said, ‘I’m not a white girl and you’re not a black girl. Coloured.’

A sharp intake of breath for both of us.

‘And how ironic was that life class,’ she said, ‘drawing a white man…’

‘…with charcoal!

She holding my face, oh, so gently, we breathed in time. My breasts swelled against hers as I took in her exhaling breath. I thought of cocking my head, but it didn’t seem fair to spoil the moment. Anyway I could see deep into her soul, now. It was bright, and all the colours of the Caribbean.

She could see the welcome in my body, from the inside out.

Our breaths mingled. She let her hands fade from my face as the gap between us closed so imperceptibly, that I am now not sure … if she did kiss me.


PUBLIC DONATIONS. By Faymarie Morris.

PUBLIC DONATIONS. By Faymarie Morris.

If only Karen Wooley had known, right at the beginning, exactly how things would turn out she probably would never have contemplated it. But the unexpected offer of promotion to Marketing Strategy Assistant to Jerry Lamb, chairman of the newly formed Yorkshire Wool Initiative, offshoot of the Wool Council, had seemed too good a chance to let go. This was something she’d been dreaming of. A way to prove, after years of being ‘just Karen’, that she had credibility, was the best person for the job and… the considerable pay rise. Her husband, Joe, better known as Jumper, was finally coming to terms with his redundancy and a family holiday in the sun might be just what the doctor ordered. And Karen wanted to be the one to provide it.

Her first few months as Marketing Strategy Assistant, [she loved using her full title as that made it seem even more real], had been pretty ordinary, until April when Jerry received the first email.

“Karen, the powers that be say we need to make Bradford a more exciting place to visit. They want us to find a  way to sex-up Bradford. Sheffield used to be boring but now it’s THE place to go. So, Karen, do whatever it takes, but make sure it happens.” 

How the hell am I expected to sex-up Bradford, thought Karen, as her glasses steamed up in sympathy.

Her first thought had been to create a new red light district. No, not like Soho! A new shopping area lit only with red streetlights. That would be sexy but thankfully she dismissed it. Several other ideas were equally as woeful but she had to keep trying. Eye In The Sky? NO! Graffiti by Banksie? NO! Bicycle taxis? NO! Street pop concerts?…but all that conjured up was chaos, so a very definite NO!

Then, exactly a week after the email arrived she came up with the first germ of an idea.

Sheffield! she should be thinking about Sheffield, a city famous for steel, so the Steel Man statue in the City of Steel had proved to be a brilliant concept and a great marketing campaign.

Bradford was famous for wool so didn’t it make sense to call it Wool City? This initial idea was passed unopposed by the council, but she needed to come up with so much more.

When they erected the Steel Man statue in the centre of the Sheffield steel manufacturing district, it quickly became such an overwhelming success that people travelled miles just to see it. The ratepayers of Sheffield had been asked to choose their favourite design from several prize winning sculptors and the final choice and end product had been a triumph. Shame Karen’s didn’t turn out so well.

It wasn’t the idea or the choice of image that was bad, it was the execution. The final unveiling on that fateful day was something Karen would never forget.

The English wool market had been in the doldrums for a while due to cheap imports from China and the overwhelming popularity of man-made fibres which were cheaper, easier to launder and less itchy. Then, an invasion of new yarns, alpaca, llama, angora and bamboo, yes bamboo, threatened to swamp the market, but thankfully, Shetland, Aran, Merino and woollen mixtures made huge inroads until the saviour of the woollen industry arrived…Superwash, Easycare New Wool.

Nothing is better than the warmth of pure wool, we all know it, and the latest processing techniques mean wool can now be produced with the same durability, softness and ease of care of any fibre currently available and as Karen’s mantra had always been…English wool is…well, it’s English, shouldn’t that be how to promote the English woollen industry?

It didn’t take long for her to come up with the idea of making something massive… from wool. That had worked for Sheffield so how about a sculpture made out of wool for Bradford? Her original thoughts soon morphed into something made from coarse, untreated wool, complete with it’s natural by-product, lanolin. But what? Also, wool had always been considered a valuable commodity and in the past was used for barter and as money. It is waterproof and has insulating qualities, which helps to keep items dry, cool or warm… so maybe a boat made of wool, or a huge fridge, or how about a massive hand-woven blanket…?

That’s when Karen thought about creating a colossal golden fleece from untreated woollen waste, sprinkled liberally with bits of gold leaf for added sparkle and drama. It could even be a central feature in the foyer of the new Bradford Museum of Wool which was due to be finished soon… but how, exactly?

She had recently watched a documentary about a process called felting and although she had never actually done or seen it herself, they said it was undergoing a craft revival and because any old bits of wool could be collected and used, even the tatty old matted stuff that had snagged on barbed wire or wooden fences. In fact, this could be seen as an advantage, especially if used to help promote the variety, economy and luxury of woollen items. Maybe local farmers could get on board by donating their waste wool and might even be persuaded to stimulate interest in the project by advertising countrywide, even worldwide, that the installation was only possible because of help given by the farming community and also the local public. The call went out and suddenly things started to happen, fast. She had become really excited by all the prospects laid out before her.

After chatting to Madge Bale, her neighbour and a long time W.I. member, Karen decided to attend the next meeting, to see if any of them knew anything about felting. It turned out that several knew quite alot and were happy to explain that although it’s repetitive and time consuming, it is also quite easy. Well, easy for them.

Apparently felting doesn’t require much in the way of specialist tools or equipment, just a range of different sized felting needles and copious amounts of wool.

Wool started to arrive, thick and fast. Her garage was soon filled with bags of smelly old scraps and large canvas sacks of shearing leftovers and by the following day, even Madge’s garage was full. Madge’s friend, Elsa Sheppard, offered Karen the use of an empty warehouse for a couple of months adding that it could be utilised for storage, wool preparation and construction.

Then, to Karen’s amazement, the W.I. members voted to undertake all of the felting work if she would, on behalf of the Wool Council, make a donation to the upcoming local W.I. Summer Fayre and also help promote some of their future fund raising activities. A bit of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll’…kind of thing which she accepted, of course.

The Bradford Gazette advertised for a designer and Karen’s in-tray was soon swamped. The applicants were all good but one of them turned out to be Madge’s younger sister, Liz Ewes, who had, until recently, been working in Japan. Felting had become massively popular in Japan and Liz wanted to help make it just as popular in England, so everything was happening at the perfect time.

Bradford Council members voted to donate the money for several sheets of gold leaf and a local printing firm agreed to make the appropriate signage, when everything was finally ready. Things were coming together and Karen couldn’t have been more delighted. When this is all over, she thought with a sigh, I really will need a holiday.

Karen soon realised exactly how time consuming felting was but at least there was enough W.I. members to share the work out and the weather was warm which allowed them to take several large tables outside where they could work and sing along to the music blaring out of the warehouse speakers while the sun beat down on them. Who would ever have guessed that the community would have come together so readily.

It made Karen’s heart swell with pride whenever she heard local people calling Bradford The Wool City, as they went about their daily chores.

And the golden fleece just kept growing. Smaller sections were formed and then were fused onto the main section. Luckily there were plenty of trestle tables stacked against the warehouse walls and soon the fleece was covering ten tables pushed together. But it would need to be much bigger otherwise it would be lost in the expanse that was the foyer of the newly built Bradford Museum of Wool.

Karen had gasped the first time she saw it. “Bloody hell, Jerry. You said it was big but I had no idea how big. I reckon it’ll be perfect for what I have in mind, but.” A smug, self satisfied look enveloped her face although at that moment she’d had no idea what was coming.

The finished item was transported in a large removal van to the museum and unloaded in secret, at night. Special cleats had been made to anchor it to the walls and ceiling and were all in place and a cherry picker was parked at the ready. As they gently laid it out on the floor, it looked spectacular. Long glossy sections of fleece and tiny pieces of Gold Leaf that had been scattered through it, glittered in the spotlights. To Karen it looked flawless, like some natural, organic thing.

As it was raised and finally fixed in place, a hush descended. “If this doesn’t make Bradford sexy, I don’t know what will.” Jerry said to Karen, with a huge grin on his face. “We did it, Karen. We really did it.” And for a few seconds Karen was peeved. I did it, she thought. It was me not you. But she didn’t say anything. The following day television cameras arrived along with reporters, Michael Parkinson and other local celebrities. A festive atmosphere gripped the whole of Bradford and no-one could avoid being caught up in it. The Town Cryer announced that The Lord Mayor was about to open the festivities and everyone held their breath.

But… earlier in the week, when Signs 4 Bradford had contacted Karen, for her OK on the final choice of words to accompany the installation, she said she’d get back to them but then everything went mental and she simply ran out of time. The next day they sent a message and photo to her iPhone, which showed her actual words and asked her to please check the spelling again, carefully. She glanced at it, texted OK, then returned it.

The famous Black Bridge Brass Band were playing ‘On llkley Moor…’ as the satin curtains were drawn back. Two LED spotlights were pointed directly at the fleece, highlighting the drama and opulence of golden glints amongst the primitive simplicity of wool. The effect was dazzling. Another spotlight lit up the legend underneath as the Lord Mayor read, in his best official voice,


Television cameras were focussed on the sign as the image was relayed to an outside screen and also the 12 o’clock news. Karen gagged when she realised the full horror of what was written there while all around her the dull hum of approval was replaced by giggles, followed closely by uncontrolled laughter.