Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Guess who's back, back again...?

Hello all

Yes, I am safely back in the UK after a hectic trip to Kenya. Apart from discovering a mite sucking my blood whilst attached to one of my testicles on Saturday morning I managed to escape pretty much without incident, which makes a nice change. Mrs Dr McC was particularly pleased to see me, as she worries constantly when I am abroad. For some reason she thinks I can't take care of myself. She did raise an eyebrow concerning the ladies of dangerous pleasures that I regularly encounter, but I'm so used to their lascivious looks that I barely even notice them.

Ravel is still detained at her majesties pleasure, in case you were wondering. I'll tell the full story as soon as my blogging allocation time (BAT) allows. Mrs Dr McC keeps strict tabs on how much time I spend doing this, especially when the twins are around. Yes, they are here, peering over my shoulder as I type and generally making a nuiscance of themselves. They fancy that they are rather good at all this computer malarkey, despite their tender years.


They also fancy themselves as a couple of wits, as evidenced by that last sentence. For it was Twin X who typed it whilst Twin Y was distracting me by pulling on the powercables to test their 'tensile strength'

Must go now, they have started fighting.

J Mc C

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Telegram from Nairobi

Am currently in Nairobi stop otherwise known as Nairobbery stop Having to stay in expensive hotel full of ladies of the night stop they have shown interest in me for reasons unknown stop I have nothing to offer them stop Tomorrow off to the countryside searching for new places to look for parasites stop time to destination approx 6 hours stop will be driven along newly restored highway before turning left onto unsurfaced road stop Have been told bandit problem no longer significant stop hope this is a true statement stop Will be carrying supplies and spare tyres in case of unscheduled stop stop Weather predicted to be fair en route stop Will take photographs of journey and post to blog when I next encounter an internet terminal stop All being well will return to UK on Sunday when normal blogging service will resume stop

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Where is McCrumble? I'll tell you.....

Dear all

Mrs Dr McCrumble (as he insists on calling me) here. I've been asked by himself to blog on his behalf. As if I don't have enough to do what with the recent trouble involving Ravel and his brother. You'll no doubt be pleased to know that no-one actually got themselves killed in this latest mis-adventure. I honestly don't know how he manages to stay alive though. The number of times....

But I digress. As he promised to bring me back a beautiful carving or two, I said I would send his excuses. You may guess that in fact he is not in Scotland at the moment, but has buggered off back to Kenya for a week. Did he not tell you? Well, I'm not surprised, frankly. He's about as organised as a bag full of irregular shaped marbles. It's nothing urgent, just a scheduled trip he forgot to mention.

His parting words were 'Tell them I'll blog when I get the chance...' Not, as you might expect, 'Goodbye my sweet, wish me good speed and fair weather', or even 'Cheerio darling'. It makes me wonder whether he might be taking this blogging thing a bit too seriously. I may have to intervene if I think he is neglecting his husbandly duties.

Fortunately he should be back by half term when the twins are around. If not.....well, there will be trouble like nothing you have read so far, I can promise!

Yours sincerely

Mrs Dr McC

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mrs McHaggarty (Part IV)

Dear Reader

The tale continues. Why are things not more straightforward? Do I deserve such upsets? We pick up the story at the point where the police car carrying 2 police officers, myself and Ravel's brother Miron arrive at a layby some ten miles from the current location of the Institute. that you?

The car pulled over suddenly when Miron yelled 'Here!' We had arrived at a spot previously unknown to myself, this being a layby used mainly by travellers. There were no other vehicles there, but I did see what looked like the form of a man huddled against the wall being illuminated by the lights of the police car. 'There he is....' said Miron pointing at the shadowy figure.

It was a cloudy night and very hard to see anything in the dark. The policeman told us to stay in the car whilst he investigated. We saw him walk over to the person huddled against the wall and a minute later both of them were walking back to the car.

It was indeed Ravel, clearly recognisable despite several days of growth and a miserable appearance. He looked very bedraggled, and one lip was swollen. 'Hello boss' he said, eyes downcast when he spotted me in the back of the car.

'Ravel.... is that you?.....where.....what the.....' I said, still feeling the effects of the whisky and wishing that I hadn't taken a single drop of the stuff. 'Where....Hadrian's....walking...lost?'

Ravel shook his head, apparently understanding my question despite its lack of structure. 'Boss, I must say something. Please do not get angry this time.'

He spoke slowly and with difficulty, still unused to articulating himself in English beyond the necessesties of working in a scientific laboratory.

'No anger. What happened?' I asked in what I assumed was a gentle voice.

'I phone my family one night and speak with Miron. He say he need to talk. He comes here and we meet.'

'Er......' I said, not quite understanding the simplicity of his story.

'Ok, so I don't walk the wall. I phone them because I get lost.'

'Its a wall.' How lose wall? Keep hand on top!' I exclaimed.

'Yes boss, but wall not there always. Got lost. Fall into... what is it called.....yes, bog. Lose money. No food three days. Not want to make you angry. Phoned family reverse charge. Miron tells me to wait, he is coming to help. Four days later he comes. '

By now we were all in the car and on the way back to the institute. Radio 2 was playing on the radio, which I found odd because I didn't know that police people like Radio 2. I felt that by noticing this anomaly I must be slowly sobering up, but at the same time I was disappointed that I was still unable to work out what had happened. Ravel had fallen silent and was looking at his feet.

So anyways, the journey continued uneventfully until about 5 miles from the Institute when Miron suddenly leant forward and barked at the policeman to stop. 'You let me go now yes? I do nothing wrong see?'

We were in the middle of nowhere at this point, a clear and easily discernable fact not missed by the lady policeman, who asked Miron where he was going.

'I get picked up here by friend in 30 mins. We arrange before using mobile phone. Here is phone see'.

'So why did your friend not give Mr Ravel a lift?'

'He drop me and leave on business. I not know how Ravel is then. He too weak to move. I go for food. That is all. I leave now.'

The police lady turned to look in turn at all three of us in the back of the car. Ravel was still looking at his feet. I could only shrug my shoulders with bemusement and Miron was beginning to look just a wee bit gangsterish, his eyes narrowing, his demenour slightly threatening.

'Do we have any reason to detain this man' she asked of her colleague. He shook his head.' OK then, you can go,' she then said to Miron.

We dropped Ravel's brother at a cross roads. He spoke briefly in Romanian (or was it Bulgarian? I can never remember) with Ravel before alighting from the car, and we left him standing there, smoking a cigarette in that slightly hunched way preferred by gangsters. As we moved away I was sure for a moment I saw him move his hand across his throat, but the combination of a dim light and my semi-drunken state made me immediately uncertain.

It was only when we approached the institute that I remembered the tupperware box of hedgehog stew that I had brought with me. I thought it might be on the floor but in fact I had left it on the seat. The tub had unfortunately been moved by the action of 3 grown men moving around at various junctures, and had become lodged between seat and seat back. I tugged on one corner, which did manage to release the box from the grip of the seats, but at the same time managed to dislodge the lid. In my inebriated state I thought that another tug would do the job and pulled as hard as I could.

Now what you might not know about Hedgehog stew is that, under certain circumstances,' it can be used to simulate the effects of a severe trauma that, say, involves the translocation of tissue from within the body to outside the body. A typical example under which this might work is when reconstructing the effects of a double-barrelled gunshot wound to the head. Traumas such as this have the habit of rendering stress amongst witnesses, and stress can have unpredicatable effects. So, when hedgehog stew is splattered all over the windscreen of a police-car travelling at speed in the dead of night down a narrow Scottish country lane, is not unrealistic for the occupants of that car to react. Here's a breakdown of the reactions of the occupants 0.5-2 seconds after impact....

Police lady. 'Aaaaaaaagh!!!!'

Police man 'What the fuck.....shit, hold on.....'

Ravel 'Hedgehog stew?'

Dr McCrumble 'Fucking tupperware'

Fact number 2 about hedgehog stew is that it is almost opaque, like many other stews in fact, especially if they have been thickened or are otherwise congealed.

(Ancillary fact about opaque stews: if they hit the inside of windscreen it is IMPOSSIBLE to clear them by operating the windscreen wipers)

Approximately three seconds after the hedgehog stew hit the windscreen the policeman lost control of the car when he missed a corner due to visual obstruction and ploughed (careered, skidded, barrelled - choose your favourite) into a dry stone wall. We were all propelled forward, but luckily the policewoman had insisted we wear our seatbelts and our exit from the car was therefore assured. There then followed the usual inconveniences associated with a car crash, including the policeman threatening to string me up by my balls and set fire to my toursers. I wasn't sure whether this was a form of police bullying or simply the unpredicatble effects of stress. Either way, it meant that the night was becoming even longer. Now we had to wait to be rescued. And I was still feeling drunk, though the feeling of crashing a police car had injected yet another shot of adrenalin into my system and I became aware of whiplash pain in my neck as we waited for the rescue vehicle.

At least my number one research assistant is safe, I mused as were being driven away from the institute and towards the nearest town with a police station. And maybe what Miron had said was true - after all brothers can often be very close. But would someone really come all the way from Eastern Europe to resuce his brother from Hadrians wall....this was just one of several questions that still needed asking And what else lay in store? At that moment I had no idea, but unbeknownst to me there was going to be an even bigger upset within about 90 minutes of us waving goodbye to Miron.

For something was about to happen that would leave one person in jail and another in tears......

************TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!!!!!!!!!**************

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Mrs McHaggarty (Part III)

This is the third part of the story. I have now recovered sufficiently from the events of that weekend to put fingers to keyboard.

To recap....Mrs McHaggarty, my mother in law, came to visit over the bank-holiday weekend, a visit that coincided with my annual hedgehog parasite survey. All was going reasonably well until she bursted into my laboratory and proceeded to fall about the place in a drunken manner. The result of this merriment was that Mrs McH claimed to have broken at least one ankle whilst slipping on some hedgehog blood near the operating table. My wife was forced to take her home to convalesce whilst I remained at the institute. The evening then took a sinister turn when I first encountered a hoodie wearing would-be thief in the institute, and then discovered one of my dissected hedgehogs in the stew that my wife had prepared before leaving. We pick up this story at the point where I have lowered the mangled head of the hedgehog back into its broth.


J' accuse!

Leaving the kitchen, my mind was full of doubt, suspicion, disbelief and anger. It simply was not possible that my wife would play such a cruel trick. I know that sometimes we have our differences, and that she is fond of the occasional practical trick at my expense, but this was beyond any acceptable sense of humour! There had to be another explantion, but I was at a loss to explain how hedgehog 113 had ended up as part of my intended evening meal.

The evening wore on as I paced up and down the institute, a mild feeling of paranoia beginning to creep into my mind. What if there was something I didn't know about the McHaggarty family? What if the presence of my wife's mother had somehow triggered some kind of bizarrre hedgehog-boiling instinct in my poor wife?

The half empty Talisker bottle stood lonely on the coffee table. It's dark amber liquid clinging to the sides, completely still, as if it had set, in time and beyond time, here we go again, its pure origins in the glen holding secrets of untold pleasures.....

Shut up I told myself.

The glass was half full and in my hand not twenty seconds later, Mrs McH's lipstick smeared along the rim. I turned it round and drank quickly from the other side - my first taste of the seductive firewater in several years. I didn't even notice it going down. Twenty minutes later I didn't notice that I had emptied the bottle. Had it really been half full I asked myself, a languid inner voice floating through the haze that had descended like a gentle mist over my senses. I began to laugh at the ideas that had plagued me earlier. It simply couldn't be true. There must be a rational explanation. Rational, rationale, rationing, racing, ranting, rambunctious, ribald rintintini froogle skesquash.

Oh dear, I told myself, I have allowed myself to become drunk. There is a good reason why I normally don't allow this to happen, that reason being that I become completely unable to articulate myself in my native tongue, and by that I don't mean that I become vague and slurred. It is a rare condition, something akin to the phenomenon of speaking in tongues that sometimes afflicts those with strong religious convictions. Quite literally, I start to speak jibberish....

'Is this man known to you sir?' asked the policeman.

'Kan boodle ihm qua hoopa frangle ha ha' I replied, speaking nonsense as if it were my native tongue. It was 12:30am and I had been awoken from a vivid dream by the sound of heavy knocking at the door. At first I had ignored it, presuming in my drunken half-awake state that my treacherous wife had forgotten her keys. But the knocking was too heavy to have come from her delicate knuckles and persisted long enough for me find enough presence of mind to head for the Institute's front door. I had opened it to be confronted by the sight of a policeman, a police lady and the bedraggled form of the hoodie-wearing thief I had earlier seen off the premises.

'Can you answer the question please sir. Do you know this man?'

I shook my head.

'Take his hood off', whispered the police lady.

'Hacth ja foom fluff', I echoed as best I could.

The policeman reached up and pulled the hood back to reveal an unshaven and gaunt looking young man with a full head of dark thick hair and several days of beard. He looked, even in my drunken state, a bit like Ravel, my faithful research assistant who had been missing these last few days after not reporting back from his traverse of Hadrians Wall under the premise that it would bring him 20 years good luck.

Hang on...

....that nose, those eyes, lips, cheeks.....

Good grief, it was himself!

'Habul!" I cried.

'Who?' asked the policeman. 'Are you sure sir?'

'Gamel!' I cried, unable to articulate what my eyes could now plainly see. 'Im gum splat hero me'

I'm sure I saw both police person's eyes roll from left to right simultaneously. 'We observed this man running through the village two hours ago. Upon his apprehension, he pointed repeatedly in the direction of the institute but spoke to us in a language neither of us understood...'

'Ugmanium!' I blurted, which was drunken nonsense for Romanian, the preferred language of my faithful research assistant who now stood, head bowed in front of me. I placed one hand clumsily on his shoulder and gripped it slightly to convey my feelings of gratitude that he had returned unharmed.

'Then...' continued the policeman in a somber tone, 'he said in rather broken English that his name is....what did he call himself Joan?'

'Miron' said the policewoman.

'Miron' repeated the policeman.

At the sound of this name my heart skipped yet another beat. I had heard this name only once before, one night several months ago when I had persuaded Ravel to talk about his family. Miron was the name that Ravel had given to his twin brother, a man who had turned to the dark side of Romanian society and was, according to Ravel, mixed up with some underground organisation that specialised in organised crime, a gang known locally as....the Mafia.

'Fuck me' I swore, in perfect English, the shock of being unexpectedly confronted by a gangster in place of his missing brother having the not-unpredictable effect of immediately sobering me up somewhat (likely as a result of the massive shot of adrenaline that had just been released into my bloodstream).

'Steady on, sir,' said the policeman. 'This man claimed to have been looking for some food for his brother, who is apparently living rough about ten miles away. His English is very poor and it took us quite a while to translate. In the end one of our colleagues used an online translation programme...'

' miles?' I blurted.

'You know his brother sir?'

'Course...Ravel my friend. Working here, research, very loyal. Never....him....bad!' I was not completely over the effect of drinking half a bottle of Talisker a few hours earlier. My arm was now unsteadily pointing at the man called Miron, one finger extended. 'J' accuse!' I shouted.

'Sorry sir, just what are you accusing this man of'? asked the policewoman.

'Hedgehog....boiled....bad. Wife not guilty. Miron....why? Where Ravel....what done to him? Why you here?'

The man called Miron fixed me with the steely glare of a Romanian Gangster caught red handed and desparate enough to try anything. For a few moments he didn't answer at all, then suddenly his eyes softened and he lowered his head once again. The words that came out of his mouth were slow, strongly accented towards the languages of Eastern Europe and grammatically incorrect. But they carried an emotion and meaning that was loud and clear to all present.

'Ravel.....' he said solemnly, 'Ravel in accident. Not good condition. He needs food. I come here, find dead hudgehog. My people like hudgehog stew when times are bad. Not much meat but fills stomach a little. Then he comes along and waves arms like old woman with a broom scaring chickens. I want no fight now so I go. Ravel still hungry. He need food and you delay. We must go now but you are so drunk. Look at you. No question why Ravel run away. Pah!'

I stared at the man called Miron with an open mouth, not quite sure of what I was hearing. The accused had turned into the accuser! I was at a complete loss for words. Was he telling even a shred of truth? Could we trust him?

'Miron has indicated that he will take us to his brother' said the policeman. 'As you are known to his brother, we think you should accompany us. Please get your coat and secure the institute Dr McCrumble. The car is just over there.'

I looked at each figure in turn, my mind trying to turn over the apparent facts and make sense of what was happening. A few moments later I slowly turned and shuffled back inside to fetch my coat as instructed. On my way to the bedroom I passed the kitchen and couldn't help but breathe in the aroma of hedgehog stew coming from the kitchen. I was drunk-hungry, but there was someone with a greater need than mine. So I quickly located a tupperware box and ladelled some of the thin stew into it, making sure that the head remained in the pan. Then I grabbed my coat and proceeded back outside, my head still incredibly groggy from the alcohol saturation. I had no doubt at that moment that it was going to be a long and difficult night.....

***********TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ************

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mrs McHaggarty (Part II)

Please familiarise yourselves with the story so far by reading Mrs McHaggarty Part I. The story now continues......

Frisk her!

My wife appeared looking slightly dishevelled, having wrestled with several bags of shopping from the car to the Institute kitchen by herself. Normally myself or McCavity would have assisted, but we were still being treated to tales of Mrs McHaggarty's colourful past. She took a long look at her mother before declaring 'You are drunk, mother, not broken' and heading towards the first aid cabinet.

'Ish me ankles pet. They're proper broken ah rekcon' moaned Mrs H.

'You may have twisted them slightly mother but as I'm sure Joseph has already told you - you have told her haven't you Joseph - good - that falling off bags of dead hedgehogs is unlikely to lead to broken ankles. Now lift up your feet and let me have a look.'

With the skill of a field surgeon my steady handed wife slipped a couple of tubular support bandages over her mothers thick ankles and told her to stand up. With a great deal of apparent pain my mother in law managed to rise from the chair before collapsing again complaining that her legs could 'nae take me weight now they've been weakend by the fracture'.

'Can I have a word dear?' I asked of my wife. I took her to one side whilst her mother rubbed at her ankle supports and harangued poor McCavity about conditions in the laboratory. My suspicions were already growing that she might be up to something, and I wished to confide my fears to my wife. 'Do you think she's turned into some kind of ambulance chaser?' I asked.

'Joseph, how could you think such a thing' protested Mrs Dr McC. 'She may be prone to petty thieving....

'Kleptomania I think is the technically correct description'

'Yes, OK, but I doubt she'd think we would fall for that one. I think the best thing is if I talk to her and take her home'

'But...that's a two hundred mile round trip!'

'Do you want her convalescing here? I can spend a couple of days with her, make sure she can walk unaided'

I had to concede, as usual, that my quick thinking wife had a point. I really didn't want her mother to hang around coming to any ideas about using her fall as an excuse for any money-grabbing activity, nor did I want to hear any more stories about how she was a victim of a corrupt justice system. So we agreed that they would leave immediately. 'Make sure you frisk her on the way out' I told my wife as she was packing. 'Disabled or no, I don't trust her. Check her bags. And underneath her wig.'

Did I mention that Mrs McH wore a wig? She unforunately had been suffering from alopecia for several years, and was forced to wear hairpeices. She wore them well, I have to say, and to the casual eye they were indistinguishable from natural hair. Expensive pieces I would say, and there had been some speculation as to how she could afford them. She herself had let it slip that she may have been seeing someone (her husband is currently in prison) who was keeping her at some level of luxury. The truth, as ever with Mrs McH, was probably somewhat less romantic.

Anyways, about one hour later I waved goodbye to Mrs McH and my darling wife having been assured that there was nothing about the person of my mother in law that was not rightfully hers. It was about 10 o'clock when they left , and I was now all alone in the institute, as both Denise and McCavity had been off duty for several hours. I decided that I might as well carry on with my hedgehog dissections and headed back to laboratory number 1.

As I approached the operating table my mind was briefly occupied by a childhood memory of my own mother breaking her ankle for real when she slipped on a plastic bag I had left on the floor of my bedroom. My grandmother had taken her to hospital leaving me all alone in an isolated house. They were gone most of the night, and I experienced fear like never before as I heard imaginary monsters running through the rooms.....

'Oh where the fuck has it gone?' I cried, startling myself at the use of an expletive. My exclamation was justfied, however, as I was now staring at an empty operating table. Instead of the dissected corpse of Hedgehog no 113 I saw only a thick smear of dried blood. Immediately I thought back to the sight of Mrs McH leaning over the table before falling, and I suspected that the insectivore may have simply been pushed on the floor as her hands skidded across the table. But no, there was no sign of the dead hedgehog anywhere.

My heart skipped a beat, and I told myself not to be stupid. But no-one had been back to the lab since the accident. Or at least, no-one should have been back. Everyone present had been accounted for at all times. Then it struck me that McCavity had probably come in and removed the hedehog thinking I had finished with it (he's a conscientious worker and keen to make a good impression).

My anxiety lifted and I looked for hedgehog no 114 - the last heddgehog scheduled for dissection. To my slight relief it was where it was supposed to be, running around in a a hessian sack used by Denise during her impressive hedgehog run that morning. The poor thing was in a bit of a state having been left for so long, and it looked at me with such fearful and watery little hedgehog eyes that I was minded for a moment to let it go back to the field, safe for at least another few months.

My scientific brain momentarily wrestles with the question of scientific objectivity vs compassion. On the one hand I am bound by scientific protocol and the need for complete disassociation from sny possible form of subjectivity. But, on the other hand, the estimated sample size for each survey I conduct does have a contingency 10% added in case of 'bad 'specimens. Which technically meant I didn't need the little fellow....and he did look just a little bit, well, cute...

Dear reader, journey with me now and picture the scene as I reveal what happened that night...

I place the Hedgesnap(TM) down, unsure as to how to proceed. Around me the freezers maintain their low hum. The lights dip slightly as the generator stutters, and a fox in a neighbouring field begins a high pitched bark.

My peripheral vision is alerted by something moving. Turning my head to the left, I see that outside the lab is a hooded man walking - almost creeping from left to right across my field of view. He moves slowly from one window to the next, oblivious to my stare.

I put the hedgehog down only for it to bite me before it runs to the edge of the table and disappears over the edge. I hear a small grunt and then the sound of tiny hedgehog feet trying to find purchase on the linoleum floor. The hooded figure has vanished.

I leave the lab with my heart beating rapidly. In one hand I have the Hedgesnap device, which to the untrained eye and in a bad light looks like it might be a dangerous weapon. I'm not sure, but I think the hooded person may have entered the institute. There are sounds of someone moving around, trying to be quiet. Then I catch sight of someone up ahead near the kitchen. My reaction is to shout. They turn to look at me for a moment then start running away. I briefly run after them, yelling at them to stop although in reality I just want them to leave.

I hear the main door open and then watch through a small window as the hooded figure runs towards the village. 'Ha!' I shout after them 'and don't come back!'

The figure keeps running until his shape is swallowed up by the darkness. I think about taking a walk around the institute to check for any accomplicies but then decide to lock and check all the doors and windows instead. On my way into the kitchen I notice that there is a smell of something cooking. I enter the kitchen and see a steaming pot on the hob. In my nervous state I think that what I can see on the side of the pot and the hob is fresh blood! But then I realise it its just some tomato sauce that's bubbled over. Silly me.

It all smells quite nice, and once again I find myself in awe of my delightful and thoughtful spouse. Not only has she come up with a clever ruse of relieving me of my difficult mother in law, but she has also found time to put together a stew for me whilst she is gone! What a remarkable woman!

I move over to the drawer and lift out a spoon, figuring that the stew must need stirring. As I lift the lid my nostrils are hit with the most wonderful aroma and my face is momentarily bathed in steam. The stew is bubbling violently so I turn the hob down and begin to stir. The gloopy mixture turns easily, but I'm stuck at first as to what the main ingredient might be. So I stir a bit more and lift out the spoon. All that comes up is a little tiny footpad, so small that it must have come from a very small animal. Something no bigger than....

Oh my good god. No, please no.

I stir a bit more and lift out a spoonful of tiny spines. Then another tiny leg, and finally the entire head of....

'Mrs Dr McC - how could you?' I cry in anguished confusion.

For I am staring not at a tender piece of beef, nor even the leg of a tasty chicken, but into the blackened, ruptured eye socket of none other than my penultimate specimen, the missing insectivore known to me previously as Hedgehog no. 113......

********TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!***********

Monday, May 01, 2006

Mrs McHaggarty (Part I)

Dear reader

My nerves are shattered, torn, shredded and fried. I have experienced a weekend of such furious emotion, speculation, accusation and premature judgement that I can barely muster enough wits to make sense of it all. I forewarned that these last couple of days might be a wee bit tough, but nothing could have prepared me for what actually happened. Please forgive me if emotions appear in the following entry. I hope that someone out there can offer an excuse for the behaviours I must now describe......


Slipping on Hedgehog blood

I have to say, it began peacefully enough. Mrs McHaggarty was in a jovial mood, having won £253.77 in the National Lottery the week before. She had treated herself to a pair of new shoes from Asda (aka Walmart, for my American readers), two necklaces from Elizabeth Duke, a facial treatment, two bottles of champagne, three t-shirts from TK Maxx, 1 leather jacket from TK Maxx, and five bottles of Chardonnay from Tesco. I can recite this list verbatim because I heard her repeat it no less than seventeen times during the weekend. She was so proud of her small winnings that she would push her substantial breast in the air everytime she mentioned it, as though a chance payout is some kind of personal acheivment.

I had, as promised, made a complete inventory of the institute prior to her arrival. Although Mrs McH may have been in a good mood, I did not doubt for a minute that she would still attempt to extricate one or more of my belongings from its rightful position. Three times before I had actually caught her in the act, and only the protestations of my pious wife, Mrs Dr McC, had prevented me from calling the authorities (that and the fact for some reason the police refuse to visit the institute during night-time).

So anyways, I did my best to remain scarce, and busied myself in Laboratory No. 1, the best equipped lab in the institute, with my dissection of hedgehogs captured by Angus McCavity (my number 2 research assistant), and Denise (my faithful receptionist). Ravel (my no.1 research assistant) should have collected the insectivores alongside McCavity, but he still had not checked in since departing on his traverse of Hadrians wall some weeks ago. It was the first time that Denise had been collecting hedehogs, and I was slightly worried as to whether she was fit enough for the purpose. Hedgehogs are notoriously difficult to catch at the best of times, and someone with a 30-per day cigarette habit whose only regular exercise comes from typing on a keyboard would be unlikely to be very efficient. But, needs must I'm afraid, as the other staff had strangely made themselves unavailable this particular weekend.

To my surprise, Denise performed her tasks with consumate gusto and ease. She was surprisingly spritely for an unfit lady receptionist, and even managed to catch more hedgehogs than McCavity, a member of staff who regularly keeps fit by jogging and skipping. I openly applauded her efforts on her return, and even, I think, managed to make her blush!

The dissections went well considering that I had to work alone. Normally, Ravel would have helped but as he was absent (and McCavity is not qualified for this work) I was forced to sacrifice the hedgehogs myself, using my patented 'HedgeSnap' device that swiftly delivers a fatal blow to the back of the little animals heads. They feel no pain, and death is instantaneous (I am limited by stringent ethical guidelines to a restricted number of sacrifices and have to certify that the cull is carried out according to a long list of conditions). I won't describe the operation to remove the parasites as it would require several blogs-worth of space to do justice to the intricate partings and clamping of spine-covered flesh, the slicing open of sticky abdomens, the frequent mopping of hedgehog blood, the delicate manouverings of tweezers to extract worms from each digestive tract, etc etc.

Each parasite that I retrieved was first killed, identified, sexed, and measured along at least two axes before being placed in a numbered container and stored at -80 degrees centrigrade in one of the institutes 5 freezers. This procedure allows for future experimentation without ruining the tissues of the organism. The hedgehog remains were then placed in a black plastic bin liner for later incineration.

All went well until I was on my 113th and penultimate hedgehog. It was whilst extracting a particularly long roundworm that I heard a loud stomping sound from somewhere outside the laboratory. It sounded like someone running in clogs, and I immediately realised that it must be Mrs McHaggarty. I wondered what she was doing at this end of the building just as the doors of the labopened and in she stumbled. She was quite clearly inebriated.

'Mrs McHaggarty, you really should knock before entering. This is a restricted area. There are hazardous materials here.' I said in a stern voice.

'Aah, no be worrying. I'm jush here ta say hello you daff brush.' she replied in her trademark Geordie-Edinburgh accent (topped by a Talisker slur).

'Well thanks for that but I'll be finished in a few minutes....'

'Aah, Joseph, you've nae shown me 'round like, I jush wanted to see yaz in acshun.'

'Just wait there a minute' I said firmly, motioning with my free hand that she should not come closer. I knew I had to finish this extraction quickly, for once Mrs McHaggarty got hold of an idea she rarely let it go. The worm was three-quarters out of the insectivore's gut and it just needed one more tug...

'I can do that ya know!' said Mrs McH from beside me. I had taken my eyes off her for just two seconds and now she was making for the tweezers with both hands. She grabbed hold of them before I could react and with one great tug pulled the entire worm out. Her enthusiasm made her unsteady though, and in another instant she was falling backwards towards a large bag full of hedgehog carcases. She fell onto the bag with a soft thumping sound but then seemed to twist her ankle as she fell off it, crying out in pain as her rump hit the floor.

I muttered several inclement words under my breath as I watched her falling. This wasn't the first time that she had disrupted my work and I was not best pleased that she had spoilt my penultimate dissection. But from the way she was trying to clutch her ankle and sobbing, I guessed she might have hurt some part of her bulky personage. As her son in law I felt duty bound to offer assistance.

'What's wrong?' I enquired in a cold, flat tone of voice.

'Ish me ankle Joseph. I think I've gone broken it'

'I doubt that very much. Try standing'

'I cannae. Go fetch McCavity and the two of yez can carry me out on a stretcher.'

'I'm sure I can manage. Here, let me help'. I tried to take hold of her but she waved me away and insisted in being stretchered. I knew it was fruitless trying to argue so instead told her to remain still whilst I brought the stretcher.

McCavity was not far away and it only took us a few moments to locate the stretcher. As we entered the lab we were slightly surprised to see that Mrs McH had managed to stand, and was partially bent over the operating table. On hearing us enter she turned her head, effected a startled expression, promptly lost her balance and fell back to the floor, this time seming to twist on her other ankle.

'Good grief' I muttered under my breath. 'I told you to stay still Mrs McH. Now look what you've done'

'Aye, sorry Joseph. I did nae want to put yez to more trouble. I thought I could shtand up like, but I think I shlipped in shum o' that hedgehog blood undaneath tha table. Have yez brought the shtretcher for me? Aye, let me hop on then and yez can take me to my room. I'll jush be needin a bit o resht and an eyshe pack for mez broken ankles.'

'Cankles more like,' muttered McCavity.

We managed with some effort to get Mrs McH back on the stretcher. She started telling us all about her lottery winnings as we took her to the first aid room. I called my wife (a qualified first-aider) on her mobile and told her what had happened, and said we would wait with Mrs McH until she arrived back from her shopping trip. This took longer than expected due to roadworks out of the village, and for the next 15 minutes I had to endure Mrs McH telling me all about the time she was unfairly banged up for stealing toys from the display at an Argos superstore in Glasgow (she claimed it was her friend, who subsequently moved onto bigger things by focusing exclusively on Debenhams).

I thought, at that point in time, that I had everything under control and that the weekend maybe hadn't gone too badly afterall. But soon things were about to take a strange twist, and my foundations of trust were about to be shaken to the core....'

-------TO BE CONTINUED----------