24 pearls of life-changing wisdom Volume 1. December 2021 copyright © Peter Black 2021 INTRODUCTION My school-mate was a genius at copying the Beano and Dandy characters. I couldn't match his pencil-wielding skills; I just lovingly collected the comics and – highlight of the year – the Christmas Annuals. These were essentially stories from the past twelve months gathered between hard covers, and gave me a taste for similar collections. Three quarters of a century later, the penny has dropped, the light has come on, and it's finally dawned on me: I can produce my own! (minus cartoons).
This year I've learned new skills, mainly with camera and clip art, to visually enhance the writing. In fact, what started as text with some pics, evolve into pictorials with added words; a whole new mindset. This is only possible thanks to the help, patience and tolerance of my Treasured Villagers** (they know what that means).
Most treasured of all is my multi-talented daughter, singer-songwriter Evi Vine, to whom I dedicate this, a bouquet of literary flora, one or two of which some of you may even recognize and enjoy again. Some started life as writing-groups projects; others as jokes I stole and re-worked for open mics; yet others just for the fun of it.
So, welcome to my first anthology, with more to follow every year from now until forever, until either I run out of ink, or ascend to the great recycling-bin in the sky, whichever comes first. Because the entries are in alphab sequence, I've not included a contents page.
And so, dear reader, time to get stuck in and start reading! Your feedback – good, bad, indifferent – to Black.Petes.Spot@outlook.com is very important to me and eagerly awaited.
And, if you too create – write, draw, paint, sculpt, sing, dance, act, play, compose, cook – or add to our happiness in other ways, may the flow always be with you. Jack Berwitz writing as Peter Black December 2021 PS. if you've got this far, you might know others to inflict it on, so please forward it to them. Why should you be the only one to suffer? ** see LockDown Loop, summer 2021
THE ARMY GAME General's inspecting the troops. He asks a soldier: G. “What do you think of the accommodation here, my man?” S. “Oh Sir! Every time my missus comes to visit, she says these 'ere barracks are that comfy, she'd rather live wiv us than anywhere. F'rinstance, just plonk yourself down into these big fat cushions on this lovely armchair – ain't that tasty, or what? We're so cosy, Sir, all us squaddies calls it 'ome sweet 'ome! Sah! G. “Really! And what do you call your officers?” S. “Oh Sir! we loves 'em to bits. Every morning, one of 'em cooks and brings us our full English breakfasts in bed wiv the morning papers, so we calls 'em all our chums! Sah! G. “Amazing. So what do you call your NCOs?” S. “Oh Sir, they're all closer than brothers to us. Every night, one of 'em brings us cocoa in bed, reads us a bed-time story and kisses us goodnight, so we calls 'em our mates! Sah!” G. “ Wonderful. And what do you call your privates?” S. “We calls 'em our bollocks like every one else! Sah!”
Monday 1 June 1998
Cupboard Conceals Carpeted Corpse From our crime correspondent
Council workmen clearing a vacant apartment, 123 High Cliff House, East Brighton, found a rolled-up carpet standing on end in a large cupboard. Opening the carpet, inside it they found the remains of Peter Prince, the last recorded tenant of the flat. Police suspect foul play and ask members of the public to come forward with any help they can give ............................................................................... The name's Shovell, Sid Shovell. I stalk the mean streets of East Brighton on behalf of my bosses, everybody's greatly beloved gas and electricity energy company. They say my job title's Neighbourhood Arrears Assistant (that's debt-collector to you and me). So, here I am taking my lunchtime ease, enjoying the warm sunshine in the park and about to tuck into my favourite sarnie, a BLT with tons of hot mustard. I usually give the local rag just a casual once-over as I eat, but today's headline and front-page article fair spoil my appetite. Why? 'cos the name and address have an unpleasantly familiar ring to them, that's why. Pocketing my unfinished snack, I nip back to the office to check and, sure enough, Mr P was one of my clients. Or rather, he would have been if I had ever got hold of him. The trouble was I could never find him; every time I visited, someone describing himself as Mr P's son gave me all kinds of “reasons” for the guy's absence. It was either he was on holiday, or in hospital, or in London, or whatever. Not that I believed him; this may come as a shock to you – it's a closely-guarded trade secret - but clients and their nearest-and-dearest don't always tell the truth to people in my profession. Can you adam and eve it? You learn to mentally shrug, and pretend to them that you are taken in by their porkies: it's a survival technique. You can't very well call them liars; if you were daft enough to try, some of them would put you in hospital. So I finally gave up calling, and never did meet Mr P. No wonder - he was inside the carpet all the time. En tapis, as we say in the French Quarter of Saltdean. Being reasonably public-spirited (and - let's be honest here – nosy too), I nip round John Street cop-shop to spill the beans as I know them. Having said why I'm there, someone sees me pretty sharpish, but tells me they've already nicked the son for the dirty deed. “Open and shut case, mate” the affable 'tec says, “but thanks for popping in”. Nice result, I think: I never did like that son.....
DANCING IN THE RAIN a day in the life of a novice line-dancer Question: how do dancers remember their steps? Actors their lines? Musicians their scores? Is it just practice, practice, practice; or is there more to it? Well, there might be, but nothing else matters without the foundation of DPP – Daily Practice Power. Ballerina Jenifer Ringer says: “I’m often asked how we remember all of the steps to the vast repertoire we dance at New York City Ballet. Corps members might dance 20 ballets in a short six-week season. Principals might dance 10 or more, and often we will rehearse three or four ballets during the day and then perform a completely different ballet that night.”
My own line-dancing needs are a lot more modest, but I still must learn one new dance a week; in other words, having received a new routine at our Tuesday class, how do I absorb and remember the steps, so that I can present them word-perfect – or rather foot-perfect – at the next session?
Well, so far I can't! The best I've done so far is two weeks, but I'm getting better i.e. faster, by taking leaves out of Jennifer's book, and from other professionals like actors and musicians. Their memory-skills are all equally wondrous to mere mortals like me.
Last year, summer evenings would find me down Saltdean's undercliff, practicing where the eastern walk dead-ends, because it's the least populated part, and people usually ignore you. On a wet August day in 2015 – were there any dry ones that month? – one of many short, ferocious downpours hit me, but I carried on dancing in the rain.
A young woman jogger, also soaked, ran past me both ways, then came back and said: “you look like you're enjoying yourself: may I have a dance with you?”
So we waltzed for a coupla minutes, she said “Thank you!” and departed, galloping into the sunset.
The briefest of brief encounters...
DEGREES OF SEPARATION
last train to San Fernando, last train to San Fernando, and if you miss this one, you'll never get another one, bidi bidi bum bum, to San Fernando Once upon a very long time ago, in an era now so distant it seems as mythic and ephemeral as Camelot, there was a decade called The Fifties. Little did I know back then, as a teenager singing along with Lonnie Donegan, that my sister would one day find a husband in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. In immediate post-war America, the Valley was still an agricultural powerhouse of farms, orchards and ranches feeding the state's growing population. Hollywood's Warner Brothers owned a ranch there, where they churned out all those made-for-TV shoot-'em-up westerns: the Cisco Kid, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger and other horseback heroes galloped to victory – and through the ranch's same hilly, dusty scenery every week – onto our tiny black-and-white British screens. It was the almost-fabled Eden that had sung its siren song to depression-era farmers uprooted by the Dustbowl catastrophe; indestructible, hardscrabble families who might have marched straight from the pages of a John Steinbeck saga. But, seven decades later, apart from the occasional orange tree in someone's garden, much of the land is now buried under concrete, the farmers, ranchers and growers long gone. The Warner Centre is a complex of mighty skyscrapers, part of the endless urban sprawl overspill from neighbouring Los Angeles. The Valley of 2021 is home to one of the USA's most lucrative industries: pornographic movies. Nowadays this huge business is legit and almost respectable, probably because it puts food on the tables of so many families (just like its big brother over the mountains in LaLaLand). But, where there are movies, there are usually crooks, and the whispered tales you hear of cash-stuffed suitcases changing hands in the wee hours at some dark, remote location aren't all from some screenwriter's imagination. And, of course, where there are movies, there are also sleazy celebrity scandals: which, you'll be mightily relieved to hear, finally brings me to the point! You'll recall that a certain Donald J Trump was rumoured to be very close friends with a leading light in the porn movie business, a lady called Stormy Daniels. She produces her alluring masterpieces at the studios of Wicked Pictures Inc. Who is the CFO – in effect, the boss – of Wicked? Mr Damien Shields. His brother is called Adam Shields. And who did Adam marry? My sister! At last, there you have them: the six degrees of separation from Trump to me. A link to be proud of? Part of my entry in Who's Who or Debrett'sPeerage? Not bleedin' likely! I'd rather indulge myself in an innocent's adolescent hero-worship of genuine showbiz royalty. So, ladies and gentlemen, a toast to two immortal kings: to King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers; and to Lonnie Donegan, King of Skiffle. May they reign forever in our memories. Cheers!
HACK'D! the trumpety tale of the trackety trail of the terrifically truncated trees …....................................................................... Disease, aging, traffic, vandalism: all summon the chainsaw's snarling, savage blade. Result? Frankenstumps – and horrifyingly hypnotic photographs. From Patcham to Steine, over twenty arboreal casualties. I regularly walk that route, discovering my first tree surgeon's victim in Withdean Park, its stark, sinister silhouette so mesmerising I thought; what a photo! where's the others? let's create a gallery! Lots more citywide. Below, Preston Park's four, submitted to their 2022 calender competition. Snapping halted until winter strips all naked, baring their horrendous amputations to the world – and to my camera.
HALLOWEEN HAUNTING Background: when I lived in a Hove retirement block, some poor soul would tour the corridors in the wee hours, ringing doorbells and disappearing before the luckless residents woke up, got out of bed, and opened their doors. This ode began life as a satirical dig at the inept manager who couldn't catch the culprit; it later evolved into my contribution to a Halloween party .............................................................................. They seek it here, and hunt it there and chase that phantom doorbell ringer everywhere. 'Cos late-rung chime, or midnight knock disturbs your dream-filled slumbers with a shock. We search the roof, the lift-shaft too, but not a hint of hide nor hair shows through. The halls and stairs, and basements bare are scoured, yet yield no nightly prowler's lair. What of the lawns and distant trees of yew (where, some say, fairies live, with elves and goblins too)? No luck again but no surprise to me, I can't envisage prowlers up a tree. They bring in dogs to no avail, the mystery caller leaves no trace nor trail. Comes Mr Holmes (we use the best), but even he, says Watson, fails the test. It's finally clear that what we chase is far from part of any human race. It is in fact unholy ghost unseen, the very essence of All Hallows E'en. So let's abandon fruitless seeking and be resigned to spooky trick-or-treating. It may cause fright or even fear, but do give thanks it's only once a year!
Guide to SECRET LOOS of BRIGHTON Hidden relief when you need it most Introduction Call me an armchair hypochondriac, but I'm now so old they have to carbon-date me: in fact, there are some listed buildings younger than me – Stonehenge and The Pyramids f'rinstance – and when you survive that long, funny things happen to your organs. My ancient white-haired granny from Riga used to say “It's only round the edges that I'm getting sort of frayed: inside, I'm just as good as ever.” Actually she said it in Latvian, so nobody understood a word, but you've got the gist. (She never learned to read or write English, but boy, could she ever skin you at the poker table – but that's another story). Sadly I can't agree with her, at least where the male anatomy is concerned. Your GP can give you all the yummy details, but the crux is more loo visits. OK if at home or in the office, but not when you're out and about a lot. It's then that you must know where the facilities are before you need them. But, unless you're a cabbie, postie, milkman bus-driver or even debt-collector, most Brightonians don't really know their manor, and are usually perplexed when off their familiar beats. This masterpiece is intended for those poor, lost souls, as well as for visitors to our fair city. In the good old days – ah yes! I remember them well – it seemed council-run loos were everywhere; but due to crumbling Victorian infrastructure and rising costs, government Scrooges got rid of most. They (the loos, not the Scrooges) became barbers, delis, florists, pizzerias and the like: fat lot of good if you are hopping and wriggling. Those remaining are. like the Amazon rainforest (and my hair), a shrinking resource. In other words, there's a public loo famine. That's the bad news: the good news is that there's lots of other places where you can find relief if you know where to look, and out of desperation I've found several of them. Some are obvious and probably won't get a mention here, but many are well-kept secrets, hence our title. By the way, if you know an obscure gem we've missed, do please tell us so we can add it to a future edition. As a thank-you, we'll send you a free loo-roll autographed by all our editorial team. I don't expect many of you will put this work in quite the same category of literary genius as Homer, Shakespeare or Hallo Magazine, but I hope it will be a help to the desperate or the stranger. So, follow me, the Pied Piper of Secrets, and I'll guide you, if not to the land of Hidden Treasures, at least to the Place of Hidden WCs. (which, when you're squirming, is far more valuable). And, whether you're a native of Brighton or an alien, happy loo-ing.
Martin Wertheim-Gould A TRIBUTE Martin was around forever, as much a part of our city as the many locations he captured on paper and canvas. From his Preston Street leather-shop days, to his unique art, to his beloved jazz, he was woven into the fabric of all our lives. In fact – as I write this – I can see my own tiny collection of his work, each signed Salmond: That wall goes by the grandiose but affectionate name of “The Martin Gould Gallery”. One of those rare, gentle people who made you feel better for having spent time with them, he held court in his local Tesco, on one of those seats by the checkouts. Friends would stop and chat, schmooze and reminisce; you saw him glow and bask in the attention. He and I joked it was the only place in town you could always guarantee a minyan. Mind you, even he had an occasional Mr Grumpy moment; you had to tread softly when finding him and his easel at work in the park, at the beach, or on the street. If you were daft enough to intrude, he made it clear – quite rightly – he didn't like you breaking his concentration, and you'd take the hint, and slink off in shame, duly chastised. But, next day? all forgiven. As well as some of his pictures, I also have his beautiful book BRIGHTON AND ALL THAT JAZZ, co-authored with Colin Prescott: it catalogues a tiny part of his huge output. In it, he wrote To Dear Jack an old friend Martin 6 June 2012 (and, guess who he immortalised in a picture on page 14?). As you discovered when visiting his home studio, there were hundreds – if not thousands – of pictures in various stages of completion. They represented the massive result of a very hard-working craftsman. He told me he was going to create and donate a set of pictures especially for the new wing at the RSCH. If he had completed them, great. If he didn't (and if it's not too late), I ask the executors of his estate to
let the RSCH choose what they want to display from his collection
auction the rest (to which I will happily give my own Salmonds)
use part of the proceeds to fund a Blue Plaque in his honour
donate the balance to a suitable NHS charity
Finally, let me launch this Quaker prayer to wing its way to Martin. I know that all who had the privilege of being close to him, and who will keep him in their hearts, minds and memories, join me in sending it: May you dwell in our hearts. May you be free from suffering. May you be healed. May you be whole. May you be at peace. May you be happy. z'l ` Summer 2020
MUSIC LOVERS Call me an armchair ornithologist, but I do so look forward to late summers. That's when we can enjoy the migration into our fair city of huge flocks, a vast horde of fauna and a babel of exotic, alien song, plumage, size, shape and colour from across the globe. I refer of course to the annual arrival of the students. For those of you with a scientific outlook, there seem to be three main species; Homo scholastica uni sussexus; Homo scholastica uni brightelmensa; and Homo foreignensis languistini. We also have various sub-species, such as the nocturnal Homo horizontalis hangoverus. Most are gregarious and territorial, colonising great swathes of Brighton; in fact, in some neighbourhoods like the notorious Triangle, it's virtually wall-to-wall student housing. Lots return year after year, and we also see many first-timers. Last year I met one of the latter, by name Hamish, born and raised in the far north of the Scottish Highlands. He told me that on arriving here, he found himself a bedsit, then phoned his mum to tell her how he was getting on. One of the first things she asked was “What are the neighbours like?” “Well it's funny you should ask that” he replied “because on one side of me is a man who does nothing except bang his head against the wall all day, and on the other side is a woman who just lies on her carpet, moaning and screaming and crying all the time”. “Sounds a bit weird to me” said his mother “if I was you, I'd keep myself to myself!” “Oh I do, I do” he answered; “I just stay in my room all day, doing nothing except... playing my bagpipes...” HAYSTACKS and NEEDLES Writer's Block: Myth or Reality? …........................................................................ “Man must sit on chair with mouth open for very long time before roasted duck flies in” Chinese Proverb …........................................................................ It's 1969: master documentary-maker Richard Cawston shoots an intimate picture of the Windsors called Royal Family. He records 43 hours of film, of which 96% hits the cutting-room floor. Only 4%, or 105 minutes, makes it to the screen. The result? 23 million watch it in black-and-white on BBC TV, the most-viewed documentary ever seen in Britain; a further 15 million see ITV's coloured version. Question: are the unused 2475 minutes of celluloid wasted? Charles Chaplin too used up huge quantities of film in his movie-making, possibly more than all the other Hollywood studios put together. Most of this also hit the deck, but what was left became his masterpieces. The philosophy of these two geniuses was that you create haystacks of work, out of which emerge the needles of pure gold. They didn't wait for inspiration to descend from on high before starting to shoot; instead, they knew inspiration would evolve after the cameras began to roll. In other words, the mountains of scrap weren't failures, but foundations. Boris Johnson in “The Churchill Factor” tells us WC wrote more words than Shakespeare and Dickens combined. And – after writing, editing, proofing and re-writing – vast amounts were dumped too. However, the remainder earned him not only a comfortable lifestyle, but also a Nobel Prize for Literature. Ian Fleming's Bond books never qualified for a Nobel Prize; but every year the author exiled himself to his solitary Jamaican sanctuary Goldeneye, to produce yet another best-seller. (Actually, it wasn't that solitary: he and wife Ann led a pretty hedonistic life there, mingling with the ex-pat jet-set, especially their close pal Noel Coward, Ian's first choice for the title part of Dr No, the original Bond movie). So, surely all these people didn't suffer from the dreaded “block”, did they? Of course they did, because everyone does, including us. The difference is that they kept on plugging away every day regardless, aware a lot was bad, but knowing that eventually the good stuff would surface. As another writer says: “Discipline is 99% of being an author”. So, here are today's top tips to break the log-jam and get you, if not into full flow, at least trickling:-
PICK A TIME to sit down at your desk, start work at the same time every day for 7 days, and work non-stop for at least 15 minutes. I'll bet you any money you like that you'll be amazed at what you've created in that week, in spite of the inevitable “blocks” you'll experience. In fact, Ian Fleming himself said that unless he stuck to a routine “if I just wait for genius to drop from the sky, it doesn't!”
THE SECRET – if there is one – is to ignore your critical filter, the incessant “This will not be any good so why even bother?” chatterbox in your head. Instead, say to yourself “I know some of it is bad, but out of the bad comes good, and the more I do, the better I get; so I'll just keep on regardless”. After a while, something strange and inexplicable happens – your work takes on a life of its own! If fiction, the plot or characters evolve in directions undreamed of when you started. With non-fiction, unexpected arguments, debates and theories come to the surface from who-knows-where – and who cares, as long as it happens. Mind you, a bit of research helps.
OBVIOUSLY, IT'S NOT EASY: Tolstoy said “You dip your pen in blood”, and not many of us have a “War and Peace” in our heads straining to escape, at least to start with (please prove me wrong!). But even if you only squeeze out an occasional Harry Potter or Poirot, would that be so terrible? If even those are too rich for you, try something really simple, like keeping a daily diary, until you hit your stride.
PRETEND YOUR'E A REPORTER for the local rag. It's wonderful what you can create when guided by Kipling's “six serving men” – How, What, Where, Why, Who, When.
LEARN TO TOUCHTYPE. Mastery of this basic skill lubricates your output no end.
MINDMAPPING. A great tool for triggering and connecting ideas.
DICTAFONE. Never leave home without it in your pocket to capture ideas on the hoof.
FRIENDS. Bottomless source of ideas.
“Old-fashioned” REFERENCE BOOKS – dictionary, thesaurus, atlas, and whatever else on the library shelves – are great catalysts of inspiration.
New Year Resolution: No More Ex-Wives (or, Darwin's Dilemma Revisited) A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Luke 10:30 …................................................................................................. Call me an armchair historian, but please let us join together in a moment of sympathy for our dear departed monarch Henry VIII (or, as his mates down the pub called him, Codpiece Harry) and for his many matrimonial troubles. The poor man had more marital headaches than possibly any king in history apart from Solomon, who it seems had 700 wives to make his life a misery. 'Tis indeed a pity Charles Darwin wasn't around in Henry's day. As befitted his profession, Charlie took a more scientific approach on whether to wed or not; before popping the question, he drew up his lists of fors and againsts marriage. If Henry had emulated him, perhaps the six wives – and England – might have been spared much trouble and strife. Undoubtedly, Darwin's mind was made up by the most telling benefit of all: his notes highlight the phrase “A wife is an object to be beloved & played with. — better than a dog anyhow”. The outcome? his cousin and one of the Wedgwood dynasty, the sainted Emma, became Mrs Darwin and mother of their 10 children. She also had to nurse him through a lifetime of sickness, probably caused by a nasty bug he picked up globe-trotting on the Beagle. But back to present-day health matters: my GP has now diagnosed me with three major allergies; it seems I'm allergic to work, and to women, and to poverty, and I have to avoid all of them. I trust him implicitly – after all, if you can't believe your doctor, who can you believe? As we know, the only difference between God and a doctor is that God doesn't think she's a doctor. So, as the new year approaches and, after decades of trial and terror, it's finally time to say “no” to more marriages and, for me, their inevitable consequences. In other words, it's goodbye to future courtships, confetti and more ex-wives. People ask how many there are so far: I shrug and say that I'm not very good at maths. They're all a bit of a blur, apart from the most recent, a red-head: no hair, just a red head. So what, you might ask, is my ideal state of domesticity? Well, a wise man once said “Outside a dog, a book is man's best friend, 'cos inside a dog, it's too dark to read”. Was it one of the Marx brothers? Groucho? Karl? No matter, the point is well-made, because my idea of bliss is an unlimited supply of literature I can take to the beach. There I would find a congenial bar and bask in the sun with an occasional glass, reading from dawn to dusk. In summary; gimme a beach, a bar, a beer and a book, and I'm in heaven. However, just in case I've given you the impression I'm anti-romance, nothing could be further from the truth: far from it. So, in spite of medical advice (sorry, Doc), if there's a lady out there seeking a geriatric toy-boy, my email address is email@example.com: please submit a photo, a CV and your latest bank statement. Who says love is dead?
THE PICTURE OF HEALTH I'm an art restorer at the National Portrait Gallery: during the week I sleep in a modest B&B a stones-throw from Nelson's Column – in fact if Nelson was in the mood to chuck one, he could lob a rock right through my bedroom window. Weekends I'm back home in my Agatha Christie-like rural village, where news of fresh arrivals – and everything else – travels faster than the speed of light, and in the process accumulates Chinese-Whisper-type inaccuracies. I lunch on Sundays in our village pub, soaking up local gossip, usually about people I've never met. So it's with a large pinch of salt that I hear reports of bizarre and eccentric behaviour by our newest villager. It seems old age has caught up with her; and her daughter, who already lives here, has brought her close, so she and our GP are at hand to deal with mum's failing health. The old lady now lives in Duckpond Cottage, which I'll be passing en route to my place. Full of roast beef, Yorkshire pud and a pint or two, I stroll home and, as I pass Duckpond Cottage, there's an old lady sitting in the front garden. She spots me too, jumps up and beckons me frantically to her front door. Willing to humour her, I follow her indoors where she distractedly prattles away about me protecting her possessions from burglars. She drags out two ancient suitcases, and proceeds to fill them haphazardly with all kinds of stuff, from clothing to cutlery. Once they're full to bursting and the lids secured, she begs me to hide them “in a safe place”, What can I do? She's obviously unhinged, so rather than argue, I take the heavy cases outside. She closes her front door behind me: at once I go next door. Luckily they're at home and only too aware of their neighbour's plight, but more importantly know the daughter's address. Leaving the cases with them, I visit the daughter and tell her what happened. I also ask her “What do you know about the faded picture in your mother''s front room?” “Oh, that old thing? It's been in the family for generations; we've only kept it for sentimental reasons”. I explain my job and urge her to promptly contact my boss and arrange an inspection and valuation. Cutting a short story shorter, the picture turns out – as I suspected – to be a long-lost Turner. After it's cleaned up, restored and re-framed, it fetches an eight-figure sum at auction, more than enough to provide its elderly owner with round-the-clock care in a luxury nursing home for the rest of her life. PS. Nearly forgot – her family hasn't just found the home for her; they've also bought the company that owns the home. As the old City saying goes “ If you use it, own it!” PPS. As a thankyou, they've kindly given me a healthy chunk of shares in the firm.
THE PIRATES' REUNION Call me a salty old armchair sea-dog, but did you ever read Treasure Island as a kid? See the movie? Dream of tropical beaches? Me too. As a result I've always wanted to be Long John Silver, with the parrot Cap'n Flint on my shoulder screeching “pieces of eight! pieces of eight!” So it seemed that destiny smiled on me recently when I saw an advert for an auction of rare animals: a collector had died and his executors were selling off the private collection, including a parrot, reserve price only £5! I immediately pictured an impending and touching reunion between these modern reincarnations of the Cap'n and Silver (aka me). However, on auction-day, things didn't quite go according to plan: I started the bidding at a fiver, but then there was the first counter-bid of many, and we were off to the races! You know what it's like at auctions – you go in with the best of intentions to limit your spend, but then - encouraged by the auctioneer – emotions like greed, ego and all those other evil feelings take over. And so it came to pass that, altho I made the final winning bid, the price had gone thro the roof: resignedly I made my way to the auctioneer's desk to write the cheque but, just as I got there, a horrible thought popped into my head! “This parrot is a talking bird isn't it?” I frantically asked the auctioneer. “ I mean, it's not a dumb, silent animal is it?” “Of course it blooming well talks!” he replied. “Who do you think was bidding against you?”
REMOVALS MEN Well, my friend, this is one of those secrets which, if I tell you, I'll probably have to kill you. But, seeing as that might happen later, what the hell... It seems you have seriously pissed off some powerful bigshots in the human trafficking racket. They've asked us, the Removals Men, to get rid of you via their illicit transport network. Fortunately for you, your offence doesn't merit wet-work (not yet, anyway) – just exile, which we specialise in. Think of us as the caring face of damage-control, the Mother Teresas of vermin-disposal. See this coffin? You'll notice several ventilation-holes drilled in the lid, sides and bottom. You're now going to lie down in it, and our doctor here will inject you with a 48 hour anaesthetic. When you wake up, you and your container will be in a country far from here. Don't worry, we're putting a large wad of euros in the box with you, with one simple instruction: never, ever come back to the UK. Because if you do, our masters won't be so lenient or generous. Next time, they won't call on us; instead, they'll use The Painters (as in “painting the walls with your blood”). So, do us all – especially yourself – a favour: get lost. Otherwise, for you, it will be... the end. .................................. R I P Have you ever met my mates Arthur and Bob? If you had, you'd remember; they're hard to forget because of their incurable addiction – golf. Regardless of the weather – good, bad or indifferent – they're out there slogging round one course or another every day without exception. Just last week, Monday in fact, they've done the sixth and are getting ready to tee off for the seventh. I should explain here that where they are is right up against the main road; only a fence separates them. Anyway, Arthur goes first, and now it's Bob's turn. He is preparing to address the ball, when a funeral procession comes slowly down the street. As the hearse with flower-bedecked coffin passes very close to Bob, he puts down his club, takes off his hat, bows his head,closes his eyes and stands very still. Once the procession has passed, he's again getting ready for his drive when Arthur says to him “Bob that was a very kind, polite, respectful thing to do.” Bob says: “Yes, well, I was married to her for forty years.”
SHAGGY DOG TALE So it's December, and I’ve decided to treat myself to a special Christmas pressy, but not sure what. I wander up and down St James Street, Kemp Town, seeking inspiration, and discover a pet shop. “This is it!” I tell myself, as I enter. A beautiful golden retriever greets me by saying “Good afternoon sir, and how are you today?” “Golly” I say “a talking dog!” “I'm not just your run-of-the-mill average talking dog” says he “I'm rather special. When I was young, I went into show-biz. Remember the Andrex puppy advert? I was the first Andrex puppy. “I then joined Customs & Excise and trained as a drugs sniffer-dog. In fact, I was so good, they sent me to Colombia, where I helped them catch several drugs barons.” “The army then head-hunted me, and trained me to find roadside bombs in Iraq, and I saved many soldiers' lives.”. “ When I came back, I joined the police and became an illegal-arms detector.” “Eventually I felt I needed a quiet life, and became a guide-dog for the blind.” “Finally I retired, and here I am; so how may we be of service?” I say to the pet-shop owner “Is this dog for sale?” He: “Yes he is” Me: “How much?” He: “A fiver.” Me: “Only five pounds for this fantastic dog?” He: “Fantastic? What do you mean fantastic? He's NOT fantastic at all: he's a bloody liar – he ain't never done NONE o' them things!”
SPRINGTIME IN THE DEANS Prologue As well as me, who else here has incurable Peter Pan syndrome? People like us just can't grow up! Anyway, why should we? Let me quote from another sufferer – so famous that we all know him – as he revels in the new season's sights and sounds, colours and smells, the very touch and tastes of Spring: Jumping off all his four legs at once in the joy of living, and Spring without its cleaning, he pursued his way across the meadow, till he reached the further side. He rambled busily along the hedgerows, across copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding, leaves thrusting.** Whether as young as you, or as old as me – and I'm now so old I'm a listed building – can we ever find anything more evocative of Spring's birth than Mole's delight in its arrival? Please feel free to prove me wrong, but I doubt it. As the annual miracle returns, let's pretend we're kids again, following in the footsteps of Mole and his Wind in the Willows mates, looking anew at the world, with eyes of wonder and excitement: we're going down the fascinating country walk from Woodingdean to Rottingdean on a Spring adventure!. If you don't find this a banquet for your senses, I'll eat my shoes – and sweaty socks. But to begin at the beginning; we must first get to Woodingdean; so climb aloft with me, why don't you, to the crow's nest that is the front of the number two bus; we board at its Rottingdean terminus opposite Tesco Express. The fun starts as we squeeze northward up the narrow High Street. It originally catered for animals and farm vehicles – even the occasional stage-coach – but wasn't built for motor traffic, never mind double-deckers. Our drivers sure earn their pay – they deserve medals. Can we spy into peoples' upstairs rooms? Cor, not 'arf! Once past The Green and on to Falmer Road, our horizons widen out to a glorious panorama. Horses and hedges and houses and huts dot a landscape of many shades of green. This really is horse country; they're everywhere – in valleys and paddocks, across the Downs, on the skyline. Is it any wonder, when Brighton Racecourse is less than a mile away? Ignorant city-slickers like me, dwellers in the semi-suburban coastal strip, don't realise what a huge equine-based economy exists and thrives behind us, just a little inland. Later, on foot, we can enjoy in detail the pleasures of Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Woodingdean, or at least those parts we'll walk through. Meantime, our vehicle meanders round the latter, eventually letting us jump off. We could leave it at Warren Way shops, but it's a bit built-up there: I prefer to go one stop further, dismounting at the Downs Hotel, from where the view to the Channel – dominated by familiar friends, massed ranks of the Rampion brigade, benign triffids on parade – is so beautiful (you can even see the top of the racecourse stadium to the west). Need to pop into the Hotel's loo? Now's the time, remembering to leave a suitable tip for the staff. We can also top up our grub at the Co-op, survival rations for our epic trek – all two-and-a-half miles of it – to the sea. ** Wind in the Willows. Copyright © Kenneth Graeme 1908 The Walk Woodingdean From traffic lights to beach is less than three miles. We start high on the Downs and Rottingdean's at sea level, so downhill all the way except for a few flat bits and some gentle upward slopes; but if you're not used to it, you'll be surprised at the toll even this short distance takes. Perhaps, if you live in the car, or never stroll further than the bar for the next round of drinks, you should first talk to your GP about breaking yourself in gradually. This could include short daily walks that get a bit longer each outing (the Undercliff could be ideal as long as your footwear has indestructible soles, because the pebbles ruin flimsy ones, as I discovered the hard way). Blisters can strike any time, so lots of sticky plasters in reserve are a must. Anyway, given that you've cranked your body – especially your feet – up to a state of readiness, let's go! A word of caution: the road will twist, turn and bend, meaning you can't always see cars until the last second. Beware, and only cross where it's safe to do so e.g. where you can see clearly in all directions, or at designated crossings. When is a village no longer a village? Woodingdean, like Saltdean, has outgrown its original shape: it's now more of a suburb of mighty Brighton, albeit separated by a mile or so of green belt. Thankfully we soon start to leave the built-up bits behind and start to enjoy leafier stretches. You're not far from woodland and open country as you head south. The vista becomes lush, abundant and exuberant: coppices and shrubs, bushes and trees – most stark-naked in winter – are now getting dressed. They don vivid garments of bud and berry, blossom and leaf, their livery flaunting enough finery to make a rainbow jealous. My favourite trees, horse-chestnuts, unfurl hands of young leaves so that, come September, you can expect a plentiful crop of smooth, glossy, aromatic fruit, ammunition to fuel the conker wars of a new school year. Shaggy green carpets display tapestries of bluebells, daffodils, dandelions and daisies that entice vibrating, quivering butterflies of many an eye-catching hue. Let's enjoy the pleasure of bouncing through thick, springy alive grass; nature's trampoline. Among nettles and other wild roadside flowers and plants, endless oceans of blackberry brambles – their barbed-wire bristling with thorny aggression – limber up, promising another summer's vast harvest of juicy purple succulence: forager heaven. Foraging tip: if you didn't already know there are nearly as many horses as humans round here, the plentiful evidence is literally under your nose, so bring a separate bucket with shovel: they say this stuff's great for your roses. Birdsong is everywhere, but – apart from magpies – don't ask me to identify any of them: David Attenbrough I'm not. With or without Mole, there's beguiling enchantment all around: here a stile daring you to climb over and explore its hidden hinterland, there a pony willing to nuzzle the apple from your open palm. And, let's not ignore domestic gardens, where sleek, well-groomed, multi-coloured spring blooms seem to glow with glee at the promise of summer. Someone's mown their lawn; isn't that unique fragrance just so delightful? Of course, we are assuming the sun always shines warmly from clear blue cloud-free sky. But what if it's raining, or – worse – the Beast from the East returns? Well. It won't, because – before we even left home – each of us prayed and sacrificed to Apollo the sun-god: we read the entrails, consulted the auguries, and in every way possible propitiated the golden deity; so it's guaranteed he will smile on us. …........................................................................................................................... Ovingdean One mile on, at Cowley Drive, we leave Woodingdean and, though you wouldn't know it, enter Ovingdean; you discover this only when reaching Ovingdean Road. We can now stay on Falmer Road, or turn right and walk the extra half-mile via Ovingdean village. Either way is a lovely treat, so let's alternate: next time the village, but today it's straight to Rottingdean. You can still see an area of Ovingdean to our right; down in the dip are paddocks with its grazing horses; and The Vale, where my sister used to live with her first husband. Most of the village itself is unseen, as it's up, over and beyond Long Hill ridge to the west; but what does dominate the valley is the very impressive Longhill School and its athletics-field. Next door, for the even more energetic student or adult, is the Sports Centre, where you can spend a sweaty hour in its well-appointed gym. Rabbits galore inhabit the grounds; bring your shotgun and put rabbit casserole on the table tonight (recipe on request). …........................................................................................................................... Rottingdean You could write a whole book on Rottingdean alone (many have – see them in the library), so I am only going to briefly mention a few highlights. For me, the village really starts at Rottingdean Place (formerly St Mary's Home), a gated community of luxury homes so large it has its own estate office. Their enormous wall encloses immaculately maintained parkland, and seems to stretch for ever down Falmer Road. From here you can just catch your first glimpse of the top of the Windmill. My next stop would be the Cricket Club; what is more quintessentially English than to spend a sunny weekend lazily watching village-green -style play at its best? Eventually we reach one of the glories of the village, St Margaret's church: behind it – so close to be almost its Siamese twin – is Tudor Close; my sister once lived there too. at number four. Back in the 1930's it was the exclusive Tudor Close Hotel, catering for the posh and wealthy. There's an apocryphal tale that the owner used to put on murder mystery weekends: at one of these was the chairman of Waddington's who, as a result, was inspired to invent the much-loved board-game Cluedo, originally called Murder at Tudor Close Hotel. There are many more intriguing details at The Grange, both in the library, and also upstairs in the Gallery, where hangs a painting of the Close by one of its current residents. The Preservation Society's Mike Laslett is the most generous and entertaining of archivists. On the other side of The Pond, at the corner of The Green and High Street, is what I think of as one of the village's best-kept secret – The Dene, an attractive sheltered-housing facility. Run by the Teachers' Housing Association originally for retired educators, it's now much less choosy and will take anyone, even me. I'm in the mile-long queue: let's hope I get to the front before it's too late. An absolute must for your diary is the August Garden Party on their beautiful lawn. Of course, what would Rottingdean be without its Windmill? There it squats – clothed in black, like a motionless spider awaiting its prey – on the eastern flank of Beacon Hill. Its stark, sinister silhouette lurks and looms over the village. Is the mill to Rottingdean what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris? Perhaps not, but meanwhile, it also gazes out to sea at its distant, much younger cousins who ceaselessly, peacefully, silently ply their trade. From The Grange Tea Garden to Molly's at the Beach, there are over thirty places to eat or drink or both; succumbing to malnutrition is unlikely, so let's complete the journey that will end with refreshments at the Undercliff. First we must traverse the seething metropolis that is central Rottingdean; to preserve the illusion we're in a quaint old village, avert your eyes from crass commercial examples of multiple firms: modern intruders – coffee shops, convenience stores, estate agents (even traffic lights) – should play no part in our idyll. The final furlong: High Street South, with its free Rampion Telescope on the cliff-top. Take your fill of the wind turbines by day (and the stars by night). Then down curving steps to Molly's at the Beach for a well-earned, slap-up afternoon tea. We made it: well done!
STORM SURGE Our north-facing windows frame a palm tree, its long leaves the perfect windicator. On calm days, top ones lie limp – droopy, dozy dreadlocks. But even then, the lowest tremble and flicker, a pianist's hands limbering up for a Tchaikovsky marathon. In a lively breeze, they gesture like a many-armed conductor waking up a sleepy orchestra. But – when a scowling storm swaggers in, swathed in swirling, sleet-laced snow, and hustles huddled humans into hiding – they thrash incoherent, demented semaphore. Madness it is to venture out on days like those. Daft enough to try? From hillside – if you can stay upright and stop your hat blowing away – you look down on angry grey Channel crowned by murky, misty maze of sludge where sea and sky collide. Humpback waves, white with fear, flee terror and tempest, singing their song of suicide – kamikazes racing each other to death on slippery, sloping, snarling shingle. Others roar and smash at battered bulwarks, booming over seawall barriers, intent on wrapping puny pedestrians in icy, aquatic embrace and on dragging vanquished victims into oblivion of the deep. Yet finally – finally! – even storms must tire, and slink off to somewhere over the rainbow where these malevolent monsters lurk, playthings returning to their masters, there to gloat on damage, destruction and death strewn behind. And we are left in peace once more, gazing on placid, peaceful seaway gently kissing the bluest of skies. And – dominating the horizon – rampant Rampion* ranks, lancers on parade, mighty marine candles awaiting ignition on our cake of celebration. But for how long? Down in Hades, its potent, primeval, pagan pantheon – underworld warlords wielding weather-stained weapons of water and wind, earthquake and volcano – scheme and plot their next atrocity... *https://www.rampionoffshore.com/wind-farm/
A STUCK-UP SANTA “Cant shift 'im” said Mr Pole the chimney-sweep. “Have tried all me brushes n' sticks, but e's stuck solid: won't move up nor down.” It was Christmas Eve, and Santa was jammed in our chimney: muffled roarings and rumblings made his displeasure obvious, and were audible up and down the street. “Your best bet” said the departing sweep “would be to 'itch a tow from the back of the sledge and get the reindeer to pull 'im out. And a Merry Christmas to you all!” An obliging neighbour loaned us a rope: another formed a loop in one end: yet another climbed up a borrowed ladder onto the roof, thrust the loop down the chimney, and told the prisoner what was going to happen, and to hang on to the rope very tightly. The other end was attached to the sledge's back-axle, one of the elves whipped the six reindeer into a frenzy of pulling and … NOTHING! Still jammed. “Now what?” my father groaned. “How about” my mother said brightly “your mates in the tug-of-war team? They'll all be down the pub at this time of night, raring to go!” And so, a baker's dozen of heavyweights, cheered on by the pub's other customers and landlord, assembled on our lawn, while dad fixed the rope round Santa's ankles, imploring him to pop out like a cork at the first heave. Taking it upon himself to be Master of Ceremonies the landlord gave the countdown, yelled HEAVE! – 13 mighty men strained, huffed and puffed – to no avail. They just couldn't move Santa an inch. “I know what to do!” cried the landlord. “ My brother-in-law pilots an air-sea rescue helicopter for the coastguard. He'll sort it!” So, after much chat on the phone – which included promises of outrageous bribes – we finally heard the comforting sound of rotary blades flying to the rescue. Even in the dark, it wasn't hard for the pilot to find our house; by now the whole event had grown into a macabre street-party. A huge cheer went up from the crowd as a dark shape emerged from the open door of the hovering aircraft. As it was lowered towards the roof on an extending cable, I thought to myself “Wow! Spiderman!” Did they succeed in freeing Santa? Hell, no. It didn't take long for “Spiderman” to diagnose the situation and, in a nutshell, tell us we'd be better off calling in the fire brigade to dismantle the whole chimney. And so it was with great relief we all watched our local firefighters dismantle part of our roof and all of our chimney to finally free a very embarrassed prisoner. He got a huge cheer when he promised that his new year resolution would be to cut out mince pies, Christmas pud with all the trimmings AND to attend WeightWatchers for a year. But I bet everyone was also thinking “Do we really want a skinny Santa?”
SUNDAY LUNCH Abinger Pub, Brighton 1959 Once upon a very long time ago, in an era so distant it now seems as mythic and ephemeral as Camelot, there was a decade called The Fifties. They say school years are the best of your life and in my case it was true because, academically at least, I wasn't too bad. And, whenever I did something of special merit, or Mum simply wanted some time alone with my sister Elizabeth, Dad would treat me to Sunday lunch, just the two of us. I suspect he was hoping it would be a time for us to bond, but the only bonding I was interested in was with the highlight of the menu at my favourite eating-place. In those days, there was a pub-restaurant, The Abinger, at 143 Kings Road Brighton (now the ultra-chic Brighton Hotel). You could park outside, or just round the corner in Bedford Square – try that now! From the front door, you strolled through the pub to the stairs at the back which led you to the enticing, mouth-watering aromas created in the first-floor restaurant's kitchen. As you climbed, the succulent, luscious fragrances of continental cuisine – or, as my chauvinist headmaster called it “ that foreign muck!” – drew you higher. We weren't frequent regulars like some who seemed to live there, but Dad's generous tipping ensured the smiling staff remembered us, and that a good table was usually available. Once you had ordered, you took your ease on the sea-facing balcony, enjoying an aperitif (Dubonnet with soda, ice and lemon was my idea of gracious living) and viewing the Sunday crowds below, on pavement, beach and in the water. Was the sky always blue, the sea always calm, the shrieks of children combined with gulls' cries always happy? If not, amnesia has blessedly obscured exceptions. At last, we were called to table; heaven on a plate appeared in front of me – moules marinieres. Today you find them in all supermarkets, but back then the dish was exotic, foreign, glamorous; the mussels in partly-open shells lazed in their marinade of white wine, cream, butter, onions, herbs, spices and other ingredients the chef might throw in. This was not a quick hit-and-run, fast-food snack, nor one to be rushed. The longer you took to savour every part of the ritual, the more pleasurable it was. Adrian Mole-like, my naïve teenage imagination viewed this as the kind of meal the suave Mr Bond – Mr James Bond – might eat in his posh hotel, before stepping next door to the casino, there to vanquish one of the Queen's many enemies (SMERSH, SPECTRE or some other villain) with his high-stakes gambling coup-de-grace. I pictured him, victorious, returning to his room, sliding between the silken sheets, and whispering garlic-laden sweet nothings to a beautiful bedmate till the sun rose. Or, something like that... Years later, on my first visit to Paris, I found that every backstreet working-man's cafe served its own version of the dish, all at least as good as my English initiation. I now celebrate the meal every birthday, raising a glass in tribute to The Old Man, who has long gone to the great restaurant in the sky. This year I'm going Italian in Saltdean: I might choose the Roman cozze marinara at Crocodile, or the Neapolitan VIP's linguine di maro. Tough choice – either way, buon appetito! PS. Professor Google knows everything, and will kindly provide the recipes.
THAT'S SHOWBIZ Call me an armchair thespian, but I can now reveal to you – in strictest confidence – that the high point of my illustrious stage career was playing the back end of the panto horse. In fact, I was so good in this demanding part that they wanted to promote me to front-man; but I declined on the grounds of not wishing to be typecast. Instead, I took on the much less prestigious – but ever so lucrative – role of part-time lap-dancer at a geriatric men-only gay club called Old Boys R Us, in Kemp Town (or Queensland, as we queers loved to call it). I'm not there any more, of course – past it – but the true cognoscenti and aficionados of that arcane art still think fondly and speak highly of my unforgettable performances (among my choreography triumphs, I created and performed the now world-famous Whistling Ballerina routine). I've not trodden the boards since, but my life has always been enriched through friendships with the good, the bad and the ugly of show business, especially those from the world of music. Some of those friends are neighbours too: as you may know, I moved to a Saltdean retirement block, where several residents are even older and more gaga than me (it's a mystery that I'm still allowed out on my own without a full-time carer). So it's not unusual for one of them to pop their clogs, and for us survivors to wend our way to the relevant venue to say The Big Goodbye. One such was easily our oldest inhabitant; incredibly ancient, but in his heyday a very well-known and popular songwriter. Remember the Hokey Cokey Song? He wrote that, as well as many other hits. In his glory days, he lived in North Laine near Brighton station; it made it easy to get to West End theatres, scenes of his musical triumphs. Gossip had it he even wrote for the teenage Vera Lynn when she began her career in the 1930's. But finally, even he played his last note. Well, off we go to the funeral, many assembling to give him a great send-off. Sitting next to me, a tiny mink-coated figure: turns out to be none other than Our Vera herself – so perhaps those rumours are true, after all. Anyway, the service starts, but DISASTER! They have to cancel! Why? Because when they try to close the coffin-lid, they can't: first of all his left leg sticks out, then his right arm, then his left hand...
THE VANISHING VENUS Trailer Long-retired P I Hippolyte Poisson reminisces about a rare “case that got away”, the Vanishing Venus. Who was she? Did she steal millions? If so, what happened to them, and to her? Was she acting alone? Did she have a secret lover? Before it's too late, can Poisson peel away the layers of a mystery that has baffled police for decades? …........................................................................................................ Prologue 1:00 AM, 5 November 1991. Tenerife – a beach. Four ex-SBS mercenaries load equipment onto their outboard-powered inflatable craft. Having lived, trained and fought together in many a campaign from the Falklands to Desert Storm, they communicate almost by telepathy, few words needed or uttered. After Kuwait, they'd seen the light, bailed out and gone private; more lucrative and less dangerous. As gunslingers for hire – or rather, security consultants (that phrase looked better on their letter-head) – they only took on jobs that used all four as a team: there was no shortage of work. This morning's would be a highly-paid, watery, wintry walk in the park. 2:00 AM: a last thorough look at the plans of the target vessel's interior and exterior layouts, especially the victim's location; then they launch and embark. ETA 4:00 AM, which they achieve on schedule. Stopping one kilometre from the yacht, they paddle the rest of the way to its looming port side, the darker one away from the moonlight. 5:00 AM; rubber-coated grappling hooks attached to ropes fly up and lock onto the railings high above: they shin up and climb aboard. No sign of crew, not even a night-watchman. Using black-light torches, they silently check the plans again and make their way to the master-cabin. The media despot is sleeping – the leader leans over and wakes him. “Who the hell are you?” roars the tycoon, as two grasp his arms and one his legs. “ Amalia sent us” whispers the leader: following instructions, he waits till the name registers and the shock appears on the man's face, then clamps the chloroform pad over it, subduing him instantly. Deploying their mobile gurney, they load the comatose man and secure him with straps. Back at the railings, they use the ropes to lower him quietly into their boat, the leader having gone down first to guide the burden safely aboard. 5:30 AM; They set sail for Cuba; half-way there, the prisoner starts coming to life. They un-do the straps and the leader asks “Can you hear me?” “Yes I can” is the reply. “Then I repeat – Amalia sent us.” And with that, the four tip their captive into the sea. What was left of him was found ten days later. …........................................................................................................ Chapter One Mesdames et Messieurs: Hippolyte Poisson a votre service! Bonjour mes enfants: comment allez-vous? Tres bon. Je m'appelle Hippolyte Poisson. I humbly and modestly admit to having been the world's greatest private detective. So far ahead of the field was I that others in the profession acknowledged this fact by calling me, rather affectionately, M. le Grande Fromage. In 1940 my just-married parents fled Paris to join de Gaulle's Free French in London, where I was born nine months later: I must have been conceived en route. I became a thoroughly English gentleman – a bi-lingual one – yet always feeling more French than British. Years ago I discovered beautiful Saltdean by the Sea, and now live in the penthouse of its exquisite Grand Ocean complex, with incomparable views of the Channel and, at least in my mind, of my beloved France. On my south-facing balcony, I can almost taste those mouthwatering aromas of la cuisine Francaise. Moving here happened because one of the TV episodes based on a case of mine was filmed on location at this very building: they changed its name to the Grand Metropolitan Hotel for the show. As the story consultant, I came on the shoot too, which is when I first discovered this superb art-deco structure, immediately deciding to make it my home. Anyway, today I visited my doctor, a friend of many years; he gave me the results of some tests I'd had. Or rather, with typical English understatement, gently suggested I should put my affairs in order, sooner rather than later. Tears in his eyes, he embraced me as we parted, perhaps for the last time. Will I be sad to go? Now in my eighth decade, I've had a great run, been showered with honours and wealth; but my beloved passed some time ago, and I welcome that she and I will soon be reunited for eternity. So here I am in my study, sorting out papers. I've found old scrap-books, relics of the profession I retired from years ago. The musty, yellowed and brittle press-cuttings, arranged so carefully, remind me of the triumphs that made me – and my publishers – rich. (Never mind that our ghost-writer portrayed her hero as a dapper, flamboyantly-moustachioed, Humpty-Dumpty of a man, the extreme opposite of myself; his name escapes me for the moment). But not even I, Hippolyte Poisson, delivered a solution to every conundrum I was invited to investigate; for example, I've just opened the book for the mystery dubbed by the press as the Vanishing Venus. The police never solved the case or its aftermath: for reasons which will become obvious, it was one of the very few stories I never allowed to be published. But by the time you read this, I will have joined mon amour in Paradise; I will now reveal all to you, knowledge that nobody else living has ever been privy to... …........................................................................................................ Chapter Two You could set your watch by Amalia de Sousa; every morning at 6:00 the Brazilian ex-pat descended to her Saltdean beach-hut, donned a bathing-suit and dived into the sea for a long swim. Half an hour later she would rise like Venus from the waves, return home for breakfast and head off to her client of the day. To fellow-residents she was an exotic, alien enigma; her entire life was elsewhere, she didn't mix with the locals in any way, and therefore they were free to endlessly speculate about her life, which -– like gossips everywhere, but particularly Saltdean's – they did a-plenty. In fact, she was an accountant by training and banker by profession. She'd honed her skills on Wall Street as assistant to the legendary Sandy Weill, founder of CitiBank, the man called Mr Axe due to his ferocious cost-cutting methods to maximise profits. In the process, she acquired great personal wealth, which let her retire in comfort at forty, re-locating to the UK. So, what to do with the rest of her life? Become layabout or world-changer? Not layabout, but took her time choosing a mission. She decided to go free-lance, using her skills to help clients become more profitable. She focussed on certain global firms with huge cash-flows, knowing they would be bloated with bureaucracy, easy to streamline and to produce dramatic improvements. Her favourite method – after cutting workforces to the bone a la Sandy, but with generous pay-offs and assistance to re-locate – was to scrutinise all suppliers, re-negotiate contracts, or replace them with firms giving much better terms. Clients were so thrilled with her results that she had new ones queuing up for her services. Balance sheets enhanced by her magic touch caused Chairs of PLCs and their shareholders to almost swoon with delight. She was in such demand that she needed her own plane, complete with pilot, to commute from job to job. What they didn't know was that she was milking them all, using the oldest trick in the book – collusion. However, she wasn't greedy, and what she stole every year was so infinitesimal compared to the savings she created, even outside auditors didn't catch on. She and her lover had set up a shell company, which became one of her clients' new providers; he, the lover, would submit invoices for fictitious goods and services, she would OK the payments and, over the years, the moneys – laundered through several tax-havens – landed in her perfectly legitimate property company. This in turn bought up high-yield commercial and residential units, and even after the mortgage payments, produced big rental profits, rising eventually to £10 million a year. She didn't use a penny of this for herself; instead, it all went to fund good causes, everything from Appalachian Relief to Zoos in Crisis. For instance, there's at least one African ex-dictator whose departure into exile was lubricated by Amalia. It wasn't done to help the bastard, but to allow his ravaged country regain peace, freedom and democracy. But who did she fleece? She chose what she called “conscienceless criminals” in industries like arms, tobacco, pharmas, coal, oil, law, sugar, the media, and in every other unsavoury sector that wanted her. She thought of herself as a latter-day Robin Hood, stealing from the unethical to help have-nots world-wide. But she knew that one day someone would inevitably smell a rat, no matter how well she covered her tracks; so before this happened, she finally retreated from her English base back to Rio de Janeiro, safe from extradition. To the world, she had vanished without trace. And even when the penny did drop, and the British police – i.e. the Serious Fraud Office – did get involved, they couldn't unravel the plot. Which is when they invited me, the great Poisson, to investigate; but, as I've said, even I didn't help. But one of her victims wouldn't give up: the ruthless head of a USA media conglomerate swore to get his get his own back on the crook who, as he said, stole “his” money. He went to great lengths not only to find out who the thief was, but to track her down. Not being restrained by anything as feeble as a conscience, he hired an assassin; one dark night at the airfield, his killer employed the simple device of loosening a clamp on the fuel-pipe of Amalia's plane, so that after take-off, the vibration would cause the pipe to go adrift, the engine cut out and a crash ensue. The aircraft impacted and exploded in the Amazon rain-forest: forensic investigators found what was left of it and its dead occupants; and didn't take long to discover that sabotage had caused the tragedy. Which devastated me because, if you haven't already deduced, it was I, Hippolyte Poisson, who had been her lover and partner-in-crime. While she lived, I was able to obstruct the police investigation; whenever they seemed to climb a ladder, I'd throw in a few snakes. But when she died, it took me years to begin to recover from my irreplaceable loss: then, in order to exact vengeance, more time to identify the American behind her death. Actually, that was easy, because the fool never stopped bragging about it. He would brazenly bully people with threats like “ Remember what happened to Amalia? Don't push your luck!” It never occurred to him that anyone, least of all me, would bring him to justice. To do so, I consulted my good friend, author Freddie Forsyth, who for professional reasons had always taken a keen interest in my career. Without telling him why, I quizzed him about the availability of soldiers-of-fortune; after careful research, I found the ideal team. Together we meticulously planned the snatch, and the death from apparently natural causes. I was on that Tenerife beach to see off the four men, to welcome them back, and to hear them report a successful mission. Less than a fortnight later, the result of my coup became a world-wide media sensation. Revenge may not always be sweet, but in this instance was effective – and terminal. …........................................................................................................ Author's Thank Yous to Charles Chaplin's movie “The Great Dictator” in which he played Adenoid Heinkel (actually more like Mussolini than Hitler). David Suchet's book “Poirot and Me”; in it is the photo of Suchet/Poirot outside the temporarily-christened “Grand Metropolitan Hotel”, aka Grand Ocean Saltdean. The ghosts of Dame Agatha and the incomparable Poirot for allowing me to lampoon them; I'm sure at least Dame A would have enjoyed the joke (not sure about HP). John Grisham's “Gray Mountain”. Sandy Weill's biography “Tearing Down the Walls”. Frederick Forsyth's books, especially “the Dogs of War”. Friends, neighbours and other victims – especially the perceptive Joan Aylmer – who were press-ganged into aiding and abetting various drafts. Members of Saltdean Scribblers Writing Group, particularly Andi Pearson; without their inspiration, I would never have thought of perpetrating this bit of self-indulgent nonsense
VERONICA AND ALLAN'S WEDDING INVITATION 2014 and MY REPLY …............................................................................................. INVITATION We are sending out this invitation In hope you will join a celebration But if a gift is your intention May we take this opportunity to mention We have already got a kettle and toaster Crockery, dinner mats and matching coasters So rather than something something we've already got We'd appreciate money for our holiday pot But most importantly we request That you come to our wedding as our guest. Allan proposed to Veronica under the Northern Lights in Iceland. We will use any contributions towards another trip to Iceland as Man and Wife in the near future. …............................................................................................. MY REPLY to Veronica and Allan: We got rhythm, we got rhymin' Ah trust mine's to your taste 'n' timin'. Your invite brought verse most poetic ah hope you find mine's copacetic so, here goes... This couple are tying the knot Yes I'm going to be there on the dot And join other guests – what a lot! With pleasure here's my little jot To add to the holiday pot, Which might grow to such a huge tot It'll help you to buy your own yacht And sail to that Icelandic spot Where volcanoes – and passions – get so boiling hot Bons Voyages! Jack
is the pen-name of a Brighton writer
Brighton's West Pier and I
two unsinkable old wrecks
Loved Stuck-Up Santa
Wow – amazing! Love it. Well done you.
Very interesting and well written. A pleasure to read.