Monday, December 24, 2007

Mcrumble's Christmas message

Hello all

This year we shall be having a somewhat muted Christmas. With no income to speak of, we have called a moratorium on presents - although Ravel has volunteered to make us all something 'traditional' from bits of wood he's scavenged. He claims he spent many a happy day in the Bulgarian forest near his childhood home, whittling and carving logs into animal shapes that he would sell to tourists. I wait to see what he manages to do with the local timber.

In other news, Dolores has invited the elderly lady she works for in the village over for Christmas dinner. This charitable gesture was not popular with the twins, who told me they didn't want 'some farting old biddy' ruining their Christmas. I was minded to chastise them for referring to the lady in such a way, but then remembered how she managed to force us out of her house some weeks ago by using her downstairs toilet and leaving the door open after a particularly noisy evacuation. It remains to be seen whether she can exercise self-restraint as we tuck into the Christmas bird (a pheasant, scavenged by Ravel, cause of death unknown but most likely a blow to the head as judged by it's rather squashed beak and the splatter of blood found nearby).

Dolores has told me that I should make a new-year's resolution to get us out of the barn and into proper accomodation. She pointed at the blog and asked why, if I'm still a 'celebrity', can't I use my status to get a decent job? I did point out to her that I use the word 'celebrity' somewhat sardonically, and that any celebrity status I enjoyed has long since passed, and that she knew full well that if I could do something about our situation, I would. She reminded me at this point that I am still on probation, and told me I should think long and hard about improving our lifestyle. No 3, she said, is not going to be brought up in a barn.

My situation brings me to introspection at this time of year, and on more than one occasion I've been brought to tears with emotions of shame, self-pity, hopelessness and helplessness. As I look round my family I see people I love dearly, but my sense of failure brings any attempts at reconciliation to a short stop. Dolores is remarkably patient, but I sense that I might be on a time limit here.

Oh well, enought about me. Merry Christmas everyone!


Sunday, December 16, 2007

lab lit

Hello all is a site devoted to the improving the portrayal of scientists and science in fact and fiction. As a scientist interested in self-improvement through the medium of blogging, I felt it appropriate to respond affirmatively when asked if I would contribute an article. It just so happened I had something to say after trying to teach the twins something about parasitology (my former scientific discipline of choice).

You can read my efforts by clicking on the link below:

McCrumble's lab-lit article



Friday, November 16, 2007

Calendars galore

My marketing manager, Dr Mark Booth, has just informed me that 2008 versions of his popular calendar are now available. 'Show them the pictures!' he urged, by way of encouraging people to buy one. 'And don't forget to tell them that the profits are going to charity.' He also wanted it be know that anyone buying a calendar will get £2 off the price of my book.

So there you have it. Calendars and books. Two ideal gifts, and all for a worthy cause.



Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Taking a break

Hello all

I'm taking a short break from blogging in order to spend as much time as possible building bridges with my family, and perhaps putting together my next volume of memoirs (if demand is high enough). Those of you familiar with this blog may recall Denise, my one-time receptionist who gave up her position at the former Cumbernauld Institute to save me from being sent down for an act of self defence against my childhood nemesis, one Toby Hancock-Jones. She has been in touch to ask if I have done what I promised some months ago, namely to bring her altruistic tale to the public's attention by way of enlightening others to the value of loyalty. I had to admit that I have been lacking on that front, and must therefore devote blogging time to her story.

Stay tuned, and don't forget that I can be contacted on You can also find me on facebook from time to time. Don't forget that volume 1 of my memoirs is always available to buy - and despite my pennilessness I am determined to continue offering all royalties to charity.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leida and the Swan

The phone rang. It was my sometimes Marketing Manager. He sounded cheerful. 'Hi Joseph - did you see the review?'

'Yes I did, Mark', I said, flatly.

'Not bad, eh? Should boost sales a bit'

'I doubt it - that reviewer described my writing as "car-crash literature". Who wants to buy into that?'

'She also said it would make an "excellent" gift. Christmas is sown up, my friend. So, what have you been up to? Haven't heard from you for ages. Was your phone off or something? I was trying to get hold of you last week.'

'It's a long story. Have you seen the blog recently?'

'Aah, not as such Joseph. I've been rather busy trying to keep things going here. Very hectic at the moment. So, anything interesting?'

'If you really want to know I suggest you read the last few entries and phone me back.'

'OK. Will do. Stand by'

Thirty minutes later the phone rang again.


'Hello Mark.'

'You got yourself into some deep doo doo there mate, for sure for sure. But here we are talking on the phone, so I guess it all worked out in the end, yeah?'

'yes and no. Do you want to hear what happened?'


OK. Well, the next day was a Monday. I went down to have breakfast as usual with Mrs T, but she wasn't there. All I found was a note which told me that she would be back in the afternoon. I assumed that she must have been called away, so I had breakfast and went outdoors. I was tidying up one of the rose beds about an hour later when it started raining, and I popped indoors to get a waterproof. It was then that I heard a a muffled scream coming from upstairs. This struck me as odd in a number of ways, not least because the house should have been empty...'

'It was the housekeeper!' exclaimed my quick witted Marketing Manager

'Not as such. I walked inside to hear another scream, and quickly ascertained that the noises were coming from the first floor landing. Ascending the stairs, I heard what sounded like a moan coming from the gallery.'

'Oh yeah, let me guess they were all...'

'As you can imagine, my curiosity was piqued. So anyways, I walked down the landing and put my ear to the door. I'd never been inside myself, but Dolores had told me how it was full of erotic artefacts. Of course, she'd never been inside herself, being a bit of prude...

'Too much information my friend!'

'Sorry. I just...anyway - I tried the door and to my complete suprise it opened. The first thing I hear - before I can even get my head round the door to see what's going on - is someone swearing very loudly. Next thing - loud footsteps of someone running towards the door. I barely get my head out of the way before - bang - the door's slammed shut.'

'Ooh, could have been nasty...'

'Messy, for sure. My first instinct is to call the police. But then I think about my previous encounters with them and suggest to myself that might not be the best idea. Also, I didn't have my phone, and I'd never seen a landline in the house. So then I think about running from the place, but have no idea whether that security guard would be watching.'

'Let me guess, you tried the door again?'

'How did you guess?'

'You have a knack of launching yourself into unsustainable situations on the pretext of acting rationally, but really as a result of your intrinsic inability to correctly understand the warning signs.'

'Er, do I? Anyways, I had to really, to find out what was going on. So I turned the handle and opened the door. This time, no swearing. I peek inside and see the contents of the gallery. You ever been to a museum of erotic artefacts, Mark?'

'No, not many of them in Cambridge, as it happens.'

'Well anyways, it was full of what you might expect. Statues, phallic symbols, paintings, etcerea. Moderately interesting if you are into that kind of thing, I guess. Now, like you I expected something to be going on in that very room. But no. Whatever was taking place was happening beyond the gallery. You see, Mark, there was a door at the other end that closed as I stepped into the gallery. I just had to find out...'

'You are either braver or more foolish than me, Joseph.'

'I jogged through the gallery - stopping I must admit, but only once, to admire an original painting of Leida and the Swan - you know the one where..'

'I am aware of the story.'

'Of course. It was a very fine painting - very graphic but very well painted. Anyways, not what I was there for, so I moved on, and finally reached the second door. It was unlocked!'

'No shit - it's like they wanted you to follow them...'

'Well - let's see. So I try the door, and it opens into a completely dark room. I can't see anything for a moment, but then a candle is lit and the whole scene is laid out in front of me...'

'Huh? What scene?'

'OK - how do I describe it - you've seen those old horror films, yes, where the hapless maiden is laid out on a sacrificial altar whilst the high priest is poised with his dagger to make the sacrifice?
'Good wasn't...was it?'

'No. Not quite. But Mrs T was there, lying on a bed, and Stonemason was standing over her, carrying a knife. He was also holding what appeared to be a watermelon. Without even acknowledging my presence, he stabs the watermelon three times and let's the juices dribble onto Mrs T - who, by the way, is fully clothed and in no way restrained.'

'Er, right...'

'He then points directly at me and says - and this is exactly what he says - "Approach, stranger, and make the sign of the order in remedy of the original sin". Do you mean me? I say to him, assuming he must have mistaken me for someone else. At which point he looks over at me and shouts "What the f**k are you doing here?". The door was open, I say. At which point he throws the melon in my direction and tells me to f-off. His aim was so good that the melon caught me right on the forehead, and I fall backwards out of the door. To my complete and utter suprise the back of my head doesn't strike the actual floor, but the knees of someone standing immediately behind me.'

'Good grief...'

'As I fall on the ground I hear the word 'arseschlok' and realise I've just hit the knees of the chef. He bends over and hauls me up to my feet. By this time both Mrs T and Stonemason have left their positions in the room and are standing in front of me. They don't look happy. Stonemason then says to the chef 'You are late, you German idiot. To which the chef says " ja, sorry master - I had food from village Indian last night and today got some bad diarrohea and could not leave the toilet". Mrs T then points at me and says 'he's ruined it. He's seen it, and ruined it. We cannot continue. Under rule 27c, if any employee witnesses the remedy of the original sin, we are tainted once again and must scatter to the four corners of the Founder's Field.'

'A cult!' exclaimed my excited marketing manager.

'Exactly that, Mark. I knew something was up all the time I was living there, but just couldn't put my finger on it. Now, there I was, the central figure in the dissolution of their order.'

'So what happened next?'

They started talking amongs themselves about what to do. This clearly hadn't happened before, and none of them knew what it meant to scatter to the founder's field. Or where the field was. They started getting annoyed and pointed at me a lot. Stonemason suggested they take me with them, wherever they went. I told them that would count as kidnap, to which Mrs T said - "how do you think the rest of us got into this?". Finally, the chef says "This is a complete arseschlok. I'm leaving. Anyone going to stop me?". To which Stonemason says "Under rule 19a, no employee is allowed...". But he doesn't get any futher because the chef punches him to the ground and runs off. Stonemason gets up and thinks about running after the chef, but then Mrs T says "I've had enough aswell. Let's just leave. The owner won't bother to look for us". So then Stonemason holds up his hands and says "OK, that's it. We can't break the rules, so we must disband. Well done, McCrumble. You were destined to join us, but by some unfortunate twist of fate originating from a dodgy curry, you have destroyed us. Leave, before I change my mind. Your belongings are in my room. Tell no-one what you have seen here, or we'll be back.'

'But you're telling me!'

'I'm telling the whole world, Mark. I mean, it was hardly normal up there. They were going to actually kidnap me! I also know they won't be coming back in a hurry.'

'How come?'

'Well, I didn't hang around. I went upstairs for my things, then went to the security hut for my phone. It was on Stonemason's desk, alongside copy of the house rules. I picked both up. Rule 28b clearly states that once the ritual has been tainted, the fellows of the order may never visit the site again.'

'Phew, that was a lucky escape then!'

'Yep. Fortunately Dolores believed my story - I met her on my way out as she was on her way in to start cleaning, and explained everything. She didn't go into work, not surprisingly.'

'So you are back with your family?'

'For now, at least. Penniless again. Dolores remarked at one point that we'd still have an income if I'd let them kidnap me. Well, must go. The twins want me to watch their archery practice. Bye.'

So yes, dear reader. As you may have deduced, I have finally returned to the barn, after uncovering a cult within the manor. I am going to endeavour to put my marriage back onto the right tracks. Dolores has put me on probation, but really I think she might be just a little glad to see me home again. How do I know? Because when I got to telling her what was inside the museum of erotica, I didn't manage to finish my description of Leida and the Swan...


Friday, October 26, 2007

The TCS review

Hello all

Before I continue with the previous story, I bring notice that The Cambridge Student has posted a favourable review of the book. You can read their review here:

TCS review of McCrumble

If you have arrived here after reading the review, welcome. Do not be alarmed if you don't quite understand what is going on. I have trouble working things out most of the time, so we already have something in common. The best thing I can suggest is that you buy the book, then start reading the archives from Sept 06 onwards to find out what happened next.

best wishes


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tea for two

Hello all

Sorry for the rather abrupt end to the last post. I was in my room at the time, and heard footsteps in the corridor. It was all I could do to scroll down and press publish (remember, I am using a mobile phone with a small screen) before the door opened. Moments later, the phone was confiscated.

In case this soounds a little confusing, let me tell the story in chronological terms, picking up at the point where I was contemplating how long it would take me to sprint for the border. I was just about to set off when a rather large man grabbed the collar of my shirt and hauled me off my feet. I had no idea there was even a security guard on the premises, let alone that I had been stalked by cctv from the moment I left the second floor landing. This was explained to me as I was marched back at speed towards the house. But rather than entering, I was taken round the back and into one of the stable buildings. On the other side of a door I had never noticed was a security post, complete with a bank of monitors, a bed and kitchenette. I was told to sit down by the security guard, who then, somewhat unexepectedly, offered me a cup of tea.

'Dr Joseph McCrumble, I presume?', he said, handing me the mug. 'Sorry, no milk or sugar.'

The fact that the man knew my name was an additional surprise. 'Er, yes, and, er, no problem. And, er, you are?', I said, hestitantly.

'Stonemason.' said the guard, checking the monitors as he spoke. 'As in, that is my name, not what I do. I am the security guard here, in case you were wondering.'

'It did cross my mind', I said dryly. 'So what am I doing in here?'

'It is my job to interrogate trespassers. The owner is very fond of his privacy.'

'But I wasn't trespassing. I'm staying here as a gardener whilst I sort out my...'

'I am aware of your position, Dr McCrumble. Dolores told us what was happening between the two of you, so we agreed to let you in under the rules of the house. You are quite a good gardener, by the way.'

'She did? I mean, thanks.'

'Rule 19a states that no employee shall venture onto the grounds at the weekends without the permission of the owner. You were therefore trespassing.'

'OK...', I said, wondering where this was leading.

'Under rule 19a, employees observed trespassing are to be confined to quarters and rendered unable to communicate with the outside world until such time as the owner is convinced that there has been no breach of privacy.' As the security guard spoke, he began to roll his shirt-sleeves upwards.

Upon hearing and seeing this, my mind immediately focused on keeping calm and not revealing that I had a mobile phone about my person. It was located in my jeans' pocket, and I knew that Stonemason would only need to exercise a light frisking to bring about its confiscation. Somehow, I had to offload the mobile to somewhere I could retrieve it unnoticed after the search. Looking briefly around me, I could not see many obvious hiding places. To my left was the kitchenette, and I figured that if I could make a distraction, I could perhaps deposit the phone in the sink. It was a slightly risky venture, but the only viable option from where I was sitting.

It would have to be a fairly major distraction, or else I would not have sufficient time to wrestle the phone from my (slightly tight) jeans pockets and place it quietly amongst the pots and pans. Stonemason's attention had been caught by something on the screens. I was holding a cup of tea. Now, I'm no electrician, but I do know that tea and television monitors don't mix very well. Especially when a cup is thrown at the screens.

'What the...', cried the security guard as the lukewarm brown liquid spilled over the monitors. He looked round at me with a mixture of confusion and menace. I shrugged my shoulders.

'Sorry, it was a spasm. I get them under stressful conditions. Wait I'll get a cloth.' With that, I stopped waving my right arm around, stood up and turned towards the kitchenette, my left hand on my pocket containing the phone.

'Sit down Dr McCrumble', said Stonemason firmly. 'I'll get it.'

My heart skipped a beat, and momentarily I thought my opportunity lost. But fortunately the security guard had to search amongst the pots and pans to find his cloth, during which time I could retrieve the phone from my jeans' pocket. Stonemason then moved over to the monitors to wipe the screens. I stood up again and placed the phone carefully in the pans.

'What are you doing?' said the security guard, wiping a screen.

'I'm, er, getting another cloth. That's not doing the job properly.'

'Yes it is. It's worked fine. Sit down', said Stonemason impatiently, clearly upset by the incident. Momentarily I was pleased to see him agitated, but an image of him taking out his irration during the forthcoming search popped into my head, and I felt suddenly uneasy once again. 'Right, now no more spasms, or I'll have to tie you to the chair', he said.

'Sure, I won't move at all.'

'Yes you will. Stand up. I need to frisk you for communication devices. Do you have any you want to hand over before I search you?'


'It will look better if I report to the owner that you voluntarily submitted any devices.'

'None to submit, Mr Stonemason', I said confidently. 'Search away.'

The (slightly too rough in my opinion) frisking lasted only a couple of minutes and of course revealed nothing. Retrieving the phone was straightforward, as it was within easy reach of where I was standing, and I just had to wait for the security guard to turn away for a moment, which he did to pick up his coat. Victory is mine, I thought as I was taken back to house and up to my room. Stonemason told me not to leave the room until further notice.

The first thing I did was send a text message to Dolores, explaining what had happened. She sent a one-word response, suggesting by her choice of word that she might have considered my excuse to be slightly, or perhaps completely 'pathetic'.

I spent last Sunday confined to quarters, and wrote that last blog entry before Stonemason entered, confiscated the phone on the spot and left me totally cut-off from civilisation. Why I wasn't fired, and ejected from the manor on the spot, I couldn't work out. I asked Stonemason that very question as he was leaving the room, but he didn't answer. I was left without any answer until a couple of days later when the whole sordid picture of what was going on in the manor house was finally revealed....

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Hello all

The weeks rumble by, and I am still here at the Manor house. Fortunately I have discovered how to blog from my mobile phone, so at least I can keep in touch with the outside world - albeit slowly as I have never learnt how to use my opposable thumbs to any great effect when it comes to texting.

This week I receieved a message from Dolores that she was going to allow me a home visit. I was initially overwhelmed with positive emotion at the prospect, but then it dawned on me that I was probably just going to see how things had changed for the better in my absence. Each time I talk with my wife she tells me how much better behaved the twins are, how she has adapted to not having me around. She says she misses me, but I'm beginning to think that is just the natural grief that comes with any separation. So it was with some trepidation that I prepared for my first encounter with my family in over a month.

Dolores said she would see me yesterday (Saturday). My heart sank a little, for normally I would be penned in my small room at the top of the house under rule 18b - no unauthorised staff movements in the house at the weekend. To escape from my room would mean passing through the living quarters of the owner (who visits evey weekend with his wife and two teenage boys). Unlike the housekeeper, they have no particular schedule, and I hear the boys running around the house at all hours of the day. Luckily, they never bother entering the attic, as there is nothing up here of interest except the stash of surfboards in my room. As we are at least twenty miles from the nearest wave, and I know from the housekeeper that they never visit the seaside, it is unlikely the surfboards are going to be used any day soon.

Anyways, I decided after careful analysis of the situation that I would attempt an escape at 1300 hrs - the time when the family usually begin their lunch in the dining room. I knew I could, by treading very lightly on all fours, exit through a back door at the opposite end of the hallway without being seen. Normally I don't crawl anywhere, but in this case I knew there was no choice, as a large mirror hung in the hall would reflect my image into the eyes of the owner, sitting at the top of the table, if I was upright.

At 1pm I descended from the attic onto the second floor landing. The emotive aroma of a roast-beef dinner caught me unawares, and I was immediately transported in my mind back to the last time I had enjoyed a proper lunch with my own family, many weeks ago. The effect was so strong that I was unable to supress a tear, which I wiped away with my shirt sleeve before declaring to myself that nothing was going to stop me being re-united with the people I love.

Oh so quietly I descended the stairs onto the first floor landing, leant over the banister. and watched as the weekend chef carried a tureen into the dining room. Over the babble of conversation I heard a deep foreign voice (indeterminate origin) thank the chef by his first name (Anton). I then heard the chef reply in a crisp german accent, in terms which surprised me. Now, I'm not well up on how the other half live, nor do I have much insight into how the nouveau riche treat their staff, but is it generally true that a chef (complete with mushroom hat) would, having served up the first course, thank his boss with the words 'You are most welcome, Sir', barking out the last word as if on parade in front of a sargeant major, before clicking his heels and exiting the room?

As if this wasn't surprising enough, I then heard, quite distinctly, the chef say the word 'arschelok' in an angry whisper as he entered the kitchen (for those of you who are unaware of the vulgar words available in the German language, I will provide a literal translation - the word 'arschelok' is equivalent to our moderate term of insult 'areshole'). This short outburst was quickly followed by the sound of metal striking metal - a sound loud enough to reach both the dining room and the first floor landing.

The owner must have heard the chef, but the babble of conversation continued without interruption. Curious, I thought to myself as I slowly descended the stairs. This was the second hint that relations between the owner and his staff were somewhat unusual. Making a mental note to find out more, I stepped off the last step and onto the floor. Down one end of the hall I could see the entrance to the kitchen. Inside the kitchen was the chef, lighting up a cigarette before leaning out of a window to smoke it. Immediately to my right was the entrance to the dining room. From my position at the bottom of the stair I could neither see nor be seen by the occupants. Opposite and to the left was the mirror.

Taking a deep breath, I adopted a crouching stance and moved into the hall, turning left. My exit was about ten metres away, on my left. On approaching the mirror I went down onto my belly and crawled, commando style, until I was sure I was clear. A quick glance behind me confirmed that the chef was still smoking his cigarette, so I once again adopted a crouching position until I reached the door. Standing up, I tried the handle. It moved silently downwards, and I was able to push the door open without making a sound. On the other side was a small vestibule, with a key in the door. Holding my breath, I turned the key and opened the door.

Freedom! I said to myself as I strode from the house, gulping down the fresh autumnal air. Just half a kilometre away was my beloved wife, my children and my research assistant, all eagerly waiting for my triumphant return. There was to be no more separation. I was going to re-unite the family, re-ignite my marriage. Just half a kilometre. Three hundred metres to the end of the drive, then another 200 metres to the barn. I reckoned I could cover the distance in less than 3 minutes if I sprinted.

Notice I said 'was'. There is a good reason for this, but you'll have to wait until next time I get the chance to blog before I can tell you. I am about to have my room searched, and it is likely they will find my phone. Actually, I can hear

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Me and Mrs T

Hello all

Still living in my small room at the manor house, spending my working days in the garden for a pittance (the minimum wage does not apply here, apparently). True to human nature, I have adapted to my new situation, and begun to find solutions to my problems. The strain of the abulution issue has now been, er, eased, by the provision of a bed-pan which I keep in the second-floor landing. This happened after I was forced to confront the housekeeper with the ridiculousness of my situation. She was reasonably sympathetic, but adamant that the rules of the owner were non-negotiable.

'Does he not allow you any latitude?', I asked one morning over breakfast.

'No he does not', she replied, swirling her weak tea with the handle of a bread-knife.

'And that is OK by you?', I asked, determined to soften her attitude with a display of empathy.

'The owner was very kind in allowing me to stay here on a permanent basis', she said queietly after a short pause. 'For my part I agreed to follow the house rules to the letter. If that were not the case, the whole house would fall into rack and ruin very quickly, on account of the owner not actually being here most of the time. There are those in the village who would see themselves sitting at the dining table, you know. One small slip, and it could happen, just like that.'

Each time she spoke in her soft Suffolk accent, her bony fingers would clench as if she were in pain. She would not look me in the eye, but instead focused on the action of her swirling tea. I did sense, at that point, that perhaps all was not well at the manor, but my attempts to probe deeper were immediately frustated by the chiming of the kitchen clock. 'Time for work', said the housekeeper quickly, rising from the table, leaving her full cup of tea behind.

'Your tea, Mrs T...', I said, smiling and holding the cup out to her.

'Too much milk', she said sternly. 'I was talking too long and it went cold because there was too much milk. Now, you get to the garden.'

I left the kitchen in a good mood. Despite having taken breafast with Mrs T every morning for the past few weeks, this was the first time we had managed to break the ice. You see, the house rule about fraternisation bewtween staff extends to casual conversation at the dinner table. This is, apparently, to reduce the risk of factions emerging within the staff that could undermine the authority of the owner in his absence.

Dolores was distinctly unenthused about my theory. 'Frankly, Joseph, I don't care if they are at war with each other. I'm more interested in saving our marriage, aren't you?'

'Yes darling of course. I just, er, so - how are the twins?'

'They are behaving remarkably well. I'm beginning to think that sending them to boarding school was perhaps at the root of many of their problems.'

'Er, right. Good. But, I would remind you, darling, that they volunteered to go to boarding school, on account of our inadequate parenting.'

'Ravel is teaching them survival skills. Next week they want to go and spend a night with him in the wood.'

'Good good. I'm sure it's all good for their development. What about the baby?'

'He's fine. Doesn't seem to miss you I'm afraid. Come to think of it, neither...'

I was forced to interject at this point, lest I found out that I was completely superfluous to requirements. Later, whilst removing some weeds from the main drive, I reflected on recent conversations with my wife, and came to the conclusion that all the evidence pointed to the conclusion that I have, indeed, been replaced by Ravel. Not in the strictest marital sense, but in terms of support for Dolores. Should I allow this to continue, I summised, I might find it harder to justify returning home...

J Mcc

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Hello all

I have been banished to a small room in the local manor house for the foreseeable future by my wife, Dolores. She saw red a couple of weeks ago after a genuine misunderstanding involving a Belgian cake. It emerged that she had been planning a trial separation for some time, and that the issue of the cake merely provided the leverage she needed to force me out of the marital bed and onto a lumpy single mattress in a room that would find better use as a walk-in wardrobe. This blog is temporarily focused on my attempts to live a dignified life in exile.

My severely restricted view of the extensive grounds reflects my hypothesis that this room was never intended for habitation. Instead of gazing over a Capability-Brown inspired vista, complete with crumbling folly and a herd of rare-breed cattle munching contentedly, I see the gable of the rear East Wing extension jutting out over the courtyard. My room, you see, is in the attic, and the tiny dorma window was clearly installed to provide some natural light in the days when electricity was not available.

My other clue as to the original purpose of the room is the plethora of surfboards stacked up against the walls and furniture. To reach the single-door wardrobe I have to move five surboards onto my bed, and keep them balanced there by bracing one leg against the stack whilst I retrieve my shirt.

There is no sink, and indeed no tap anywhere in the attic. To use the facilities I must venture onto the 2nd floor landing, where there is a small bathroom. Outside the bathroom is a notice that says 'NO SOLIDS', which means I have to descend the stairs to the first floor landing whenever I need a number two. Unfortunately, this bathroom lies in the private quarters of the owner of the manor house, and as such is distinctly 'OFF LIMITS' to staff (except the housekeeper). I have been told that if I use the toilet at all I risk being ejected from the house, and I have therefore had to take advantage of movements of the staff during certain periods of the day. I won't bore you with too many details, but just to give you a flavour of how controlled I must be in my ablutions, here is the plan for the week:

2130 - 0730 - Not possible (flushing sound wakens housekeeper)
0730 - 0800 - Housekeeper takes shower - room unavailable
0800 - 0830 - Housekeeper has breakfast in room directly below bathroom
0830 - 0900 - Staff meeting (which I must attend)
0900 - 1230 - work in the garden (no access to house allowed)
1230 - 1300 - Housekeeper has lunch in room directly below bathroom
1300 - 1305 - Housekeeper walks round garden (Monday, Weds and Friday only)
1300 - 1700 - work in garden - no access to house
1700 - 1730 - Housekeeper eats her tea in the room below the bathroom
1730 - 2130 - Movement within house prohibited (housekeeper scares easily)

You can see from the above scheme that I am restricted to use of the bathroom during 3 x 5 minute slots a week. The weekends are no-go by default, as the owner of the house and his family turn up every Friday evening and stay until Sunday evening. During the weekend I am confined to quarters as the owner insists on total privacy. This means staff must vacate the premises. As I have nowhere else to go, I just sit in my room and read. Blogging is almost impossible - to write this entry I have had to feign illness and fool the housekeeper into allowing me a two-hour window to visit a doctor in the nearest town (about ten miles away).

I would like to say that I am able to exercise self discipline under such a regime, but sadly that is not the case. You see, those 5 minute slots on Monday and Friday are the times when I am allowed to talk to my wife. Dolores works as a cleaner on these days, preparing for, and cleaning after, the owner's visits. Fraternisation between staff is normally forbidden, but the housekeer has told Dolores she will turn a blind eye for 5 minutes on these two days. Our meeting takes place in the dining room, with each of us sitting at one end of the long mahogany table. Dolores asks questions related to my health and state of mind, and reports on the activities of the children - Ravel, apparently, has taken over many of the duties expected of myself, and is excelling at looking after No.3 whilst Dolores home-schools the twins. Each time we meet I tell my wife that I love her, but that I can't talk for very long as I desperately need to use the toilet. She, however, insists that we take all the time available to work through our issues, and that my ablutions cannot possibly be more important than our marriage.

This leaves Wednesday. Last week, the housekeeper did not take her walk around the rose garden, but instead decided to change the flowers in the bathroom as they had wilted prematurely. I was on my way to the room and only managed to avoid being caught by hearing the housekeeer singing something from the Sound of Music as she emptied the flower water down the pan.

You can imagine that I was absolutely busting at this point, and there was no way I could put off my visit to the toilet any longer. If the housekeeper was in the house, it meant the garden was empty. I had no choice but to run upstairs to the toilet on the 2nd floor, retrieve some toilet paper, run down the stairs and hide behind a hefty bush. I don't think I have ever experienced such a rush of relief in my entire life.

No comments about fertiliser, thanks.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Belgian delicacy (part II)

Hello all

Sorry for the long absence. Not that many people have noticed. Blogging is a very fickle way of life -you need to keep up a constant presence or else people will drift away and your name is quickly forgotten.

Some analogies there with my actual life. Since being forced out of my former Institute by an act of arson, I have been largely unnoticed by society, and the steady flow of requests by the media for stories about parasites have all dried up. I'm thinking I might have to drop the 'celebrity parasitologist' moniker, and replace it with something like 'McCrumble down and out in rural Suffolk'.

My marketing manager, the occasionally intelligent Dr Mark Booth, called me the other day and demanded to know when I was going to get back on my feet. 'My feet have turned to mud', I lamented - not a metaphor, in fact, but something close to the truth as I was standing in a very soggy patch of soil when he called my mobile.
'Come on Joseph. I know you well enough by know. You can't resist the lure of science. Sooner or later you'll want to get things going again, find a lab, start some experiments. We need you to get going Joseph. The scientific community needs you.'

I understood what he meant, of course. Parasitology is a discipline from which it is impossible to escape by means of simply burning down your laboratory. Even now, with my life at perhaps its lowest ebb for many years - even now I can't but help think that one day I'll be dissecting rats once more, making new discoveries about the parasitic worms that lurk within. It is this single shred of optimism that keeps me going.

In other news...

The thorny problem of my Belgian delicacy was finally resolved this week. It turned out to be a misunderstanding of epic proportions. The belgian delicacy in question was not, as everyone suspected, a person with whom I had an adulterous liason, but a chocolate cake with a personalised message, inscribed by one of Belgium's finest cake decorators, for my wife. I had been drunk when I made the order, and had asked Clara to use 'Belgian delicacy' as a code against Dolores knowing what I had ordered. It was my own way of trying to show her how much I care.

The cake arrived a few days after I finally plucked up the courage to phone Clara and find out what had happened. This time there was no ambiguity, and the misunderstanding was rapidly resolved. I gave her my address, and she said that she would have the cake sent by courier. It was her uncle who would decorate the cake with the message that I had specified. Five days later and the package arrived, addressed to myself. I was busy painting the coffee table that Ravel had made from an old pine door when Dolores delivered the package. My wife was not smiling, and spoke with a flat voice. 'It says here, on the package that it is from someone called Clara. Clara lives in Belgium, according to the address on the back. Coincidence?'

'No darling!' I exclaimed cheerfully, thankful that the issue was about to be resolved. 'It's something for you!'

'What are you on about? Are you taking the piss Joseph? I've just about had enough of this. '

'No really, darling. It's a surprise. Please just open it. You'll see.'

'It's not addressed to me. You open it', hissed my wife, throwing the box at me. I was holding a can of paint at the time and caught the box awkwardly. It slipped from my grasp and fell onto the door, which was lying horizontally between two wooden crates. In a reflex-driven attempt to to stop the parcel from bouncing off the door I dropped the can of gloss paint and leant over the door. The paint can landed on the floor and discorged its contents over my feet, and I missed the parcel. It bounced off the other side of the door and landed in a deep puddle. Dolores, seeing my anguish at the possibility of losing the parcel, made the immediate, and not unwarranted, conclusion that the contents were somehow valuable to me. Her reaction was nonetheless somewhat extreme. Instead of striding off in protest, she walked round to the other side of the table and deliberately stamped on the parcel. She was wearing wellingtons at the time, and the large surface area of her footprint made a substantial indent in the parcel itself - I estimated that she managed to compact the box by approximately 50%.

Satisfied that she had destroyed the contents, she walked away. I was shocked by her behaviour, but determined that this misunderstanding should go no further. 'Stop there!' I shouted, my voice full of emotion. 'It's just a cake Dolores! Please believe me. It was meant to be a surprise. It's for you. Please come back!'

My outburst managed to stop Dolores in her tracks. She turned round and paused for a moment as if thinking how to respond. When she did finally speak, it broke my heart. 'Screw your cake Joseph. Screw you, screw this place. You want to keep up this charade then do it alone. I've had enough.'#

'But it was all a misunderstanding..', I shouted. 'Please - just look inside the parcel. It was for you. It was a cake, for you. The whole thing was about a cake. The Belgian delicacy was a cake all along. Clara was the person who arranged the cake. It was just a misunderstanding Dolores. Please check the box.'

My wife did not check the parcel as requested. Instead she took several deep breaths before taking a few steps closer. What she said next broke my heart for the second time in as many minutes. 'OK, Joseph. So it was a misunderstanding. If you say there is a cake for me in the box then I believe you, and I'm sorry I stamped on it. But...just how many more misunderstandings do we need? How many times are you going to put me through the emotional grinder then tell me it was all a misunderstanding? Am I supposed to forgive and forget every time, just pretend it doesn't matter?'

'What do you mean...?'

Dolores was more than ready to tell me what she meant. For the next fifteen minutes she talked non-stop about what it all meant. By the end of her monologue I was left in no doubt that our marriage was not the rock-solid edifice I always imagined. Somewhere along the line, and I'm not sure where that happened, I had started to take my wife for granted. At the end of her outpouring she made that quite clear, before finally telling me that she needed some time alone. I had no option at that point to agree to move out of the barn for some unspecified period. That afternoon I packed my bags and moved into a spare room in the manor house. This was made possible only by the fact that Dolores works there as a cleaner two days a week, and told the housekeeper that I was going to do some gardening. We agreed that I would not pester her during her working hours, and that we will talk again in a few days.

I am now sitting in my small room, contemplating where I have gone wrong.

The message on the cake, by the way, said 'To Dolores, my everlasting love. For you, I will do anything.'


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Belgian delicacy

A couple of weeks ago, I recieved a phone call from someone in Belgium, called Clara. You can read a transcript of the conversation in the last post. I did receive a second phone call from Clara that was unfortunately overheard by my wife. More of what transpired in the aftermath of that phone call will be revealed at the end of this post.

So what else can I report? Should I tell you all how my world has diminished since being forced to leave the Institute I loved? Should I become nostalgic for a life I once was proud to live, replaced now by a a daily, almost prescribed, routine of looking after children and helping my former research assistant to continue converting the partially converted barn in which we are all sequestered? I doubt you come here to listen to such sounds of melancholy after the joys of previous posts, so I won't bore you with the depressing details. Suffice to say that I am not quite the man I would like to be at the moment. Something has changed within - I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels as if some of my joi de vivre has been extinguished.

When I look around me of an evening, I am forced to admonish myself for being so down. Here is my beautiful wife, mending the socks of our twins by candle light (they are currently being home schooled, as the local schools were full and we are awaiting news of an application elsewhere). Over in the corner of the barn are the boys themselves, climbing over bales of hay whilst playing a game of 'fox and hounds' (the exact rules escape me, but the winner gets to bite the loser until they start crying, apparently). Outside is Ravel, the most faithful person I have ever had the pleasure to meet. He is putting the finishing touches to a coffee table made from an old pine door that someone in the village gave us last week. Despite having no paint-stripper, sandpaper nor plane, he has still managed to remove 3 layers of gloss and bring up the original grain. When I ask him how he does it, he points to a thick layer of paint under his nails and tells me that he 'scrape away the paint like removing frozen ice off windscreen.'

No3 is now 5 months old, and is becoming a handful. He can't quite sit up, but tries at every opportunity. He can't crawl, but put him down on any surface and he'll roll over onto his stomach, raise his head, let out a grunt and kick his legs manically until he gets too tired. On the one hand, I am looking forward to the day he can actually move under his own steam, as I won't have to carry him around all the time on educational tours ('look, here's some grass, here's some hay' etc etc), but then I suppose when he can walk I'll spend all my time holding his hand and still doing the tours. The twins are keeping their distance, and for that I am truly grateful.

Ravel was initially keen to help with the child rearing. He told us that he had helped raise his younger brother, and was therefore an experienced baby sitter. Taking him at his word, we left he baby with him one afternoon whilst we hitched into the nearest town to visit the job centre (there wasn't one). On our return we found the baby in the field outside the barn with a piece of rope round one ankle. The other end of the rope was tied to a stake. In the hands of our infant was some sheep dung from a pile next to the spot where he had been deposited. Dolores managed to extricate the unsavoury excrement, and summoned our assistant. She immediately banned him from any more child care activities until he had read at least 5 books on the subject.

The result of her injunction on Ravel has simply put more pressure on me to provide care for the baby. I have not shirked my responsibility, you will be glad to hear, and in fact I have taken it upon myself to provide as much of a stimulating but comfortable environment as possible. To this end, I instructed Ravel to make a sling from an old shirt and I now carry the infant wherever I go, singing nursery rhymes and engaging No 3 with gurning and baby noise whenever possible. My efforts seem to be paying off, as Dolores has become noticeably less stressed in recent weeks.

Except, that is, for one occasion last week, when the edifice that is our marriage took an almost fatal blow to its foundations. And all because of a Belgian delicacy....

'Hello, is that Joseph. It is Clara here. Can we talk?' said the flemish voice. My phone had rung just as we were eating dinner.

'Er not really. I'll call you back later if that's ok?', I said tentatively. Dolores was busy feeding No.3 and was talking to Twin X, and didn't seem to notice I was on the phone. I hung up and carried on eating. The dinner finished, I made my excuses and walked to the back of the barn. Clara's number was in the recent calls list. It was an international number, so I made a mental note not to talk for long. 'Hello, it is me, Joseph', I said when she answered.

'Oh Joseph. Good. I have been waiting to talk with you for a week now. I thought maybe you were not so keen any more.'

'I er, no that's, er not it', I stammered. I still could not remember who Clara was, or where we had met, but I was somewhat worried that something had happened between us that she wished to follow up on.

'Good, so you wish to go ahead with it then.'

'I'm not sure Clara. You see I...'

'But you have already paid Joseph!' exclaimed the lady, laughing.

'I have?'

'In cash. You said it was best that way so your wife would not find out by looking at your bank statement.'

'I did?', I hissed. I was becoming increasingly confused by where this conversation was heading. Awful thoughts were beginning to form in my mind.

'Ok, you were quite drunk at the time. I think maybe our beer was too strong for you, eh?'

'Sorry, Clara, but I have to admit, I don't actually remember paying for anything. Could you just, er, run me through what happened?'

'What, the whole evening?'

'Er, yes, actually. You see, I, er, suffer from a, er, a spontaneous amnesia disorder', I said. It was a lie, but I wanted the conversation to move forward and not admit to having been too drunk to remember. Clara laughed, and I sensed immediately that she was not convinced.

'OK, Joseph, whatever you say. We had a very nice evening together you know. We talked for a long time and then you told me that you and your wife do not get along so good and I said what you need is a Belgian delicay and that I could provide you with that. You said yes, please help me. Dear Joseph, you then said I should refer to it always as a belgian delicacy, in case your wife should hear something. You seemed so unhappy Joseph, how could I refuse? Now all we need is to confirm your address and your delicay will be with you very shortly.'

'I, er, yes, of course. So, just so I fully remember, what is the, er, delicacy exactly?' I asked, my fertile mind wandering from the sublime to the ridiculous. I may have received the answer there and then, but my attention was drawn away from the phone by the unmistakable sound of Dolores coughing.

Now, keen readers of this blog will be aware that sometimes I get into situations that take me by surprise. I don't know why it keeps happening, despite my best efforts to prevent such circumstances, but I do know that my initial response is nearly always the same. It is marked by a feeling of panic, that hits my mind and spreads throughout my limbs at an astonishing rate. I can progress from presenting myself as a lucid, intelligent man to a discombobulated, un-coordinated idiot within seconds.

I'm not proud of this reaction, but feel compelled to record it for posterity, and to hopefully bring about a more complete understanding of who I am, each time it happens. I won't go into details here, and I will leave it up to you to imagine exactly what happened next, but suffice to say, within a few seconds I was weeping like a schoolboy who has just been caned and Dolores was shouting the dreaded D-word.

It took me six hours to calm her down. I had to first confess that I didn't really know what had happened between me and Clara. I swore to her on Number 3's life, that I would never be knowingly unfaithful. She quite rightly told me that that wouldn't count if I was too drunk to remember anything. Dolores then made me promise to go to the GUI Clinic, and declared she would be withdrawing herself from any physical activities for six months (the length of time required for antibodies to a certain well-known viral infection to develop).

We are one week into the six month period. I've kept my phone switched off the whole time in case Clara rings again. I have a feeling this story is going to be one those where, unfortunately, I have to say....

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

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Meeting report

Hello all

Back from Belgium after one of the longest, beeriest, lack-of-sleepiest weeks of my life. For those of you unfamiliar with the low-lying country and its foibles, let me tell you that apart from eating tray-fulls of chips and mayonnaise, the other favourite past time of the Belgians is drinking beer of strength approaching or exceeding 8% (the strongest one I tasted whilst there was a whopping 11.3%, and boy was it good).

Ordinarily, you might expect such challenges to one's physiology would be sequestered outside normal working hours. But as I have already alluded, this was no ordinary conference. For a start, the beer was flowing for the whole week, as the organisers had set up a bar in the conference centre, and the barmen refused to take any money. One could down a glass of either dark or light beer (both 8%), from the first coffee-break at 10:30am, up until the end of the last session at 6:30pm.

Had this arrangement been made in Engand, I'm sure I would not have been alone in taking more than my fair share of the malted yeast solutions on offer. Perhaps I was glad to be temporarily free of the stresses of recent months, de-mob happy as I returnd to the scientific community I consider my home. Certainly I was happy to make several acquaintances, old and new, whilst I supped at the Belgian bar, and at no point did anyone suggest I should actually put down my beer glass and listen to some science.

Were my drinking restricted to conference hours, then I am sure I would not have had to take the hair of the dog most mornings with a blood mary from the contents of the mini-bar at the hotel. This was so effective that I managed to maintain a low-level of hangover then entire trip (except on the last day, when I didn't actually go to bed, and left the hotel still feeling innebriated). The reason for this, and other, late nights was the preposterous amount of hospitality laid on by the conference organisers. Normally, the kind of conference I attend is strapped for cash when it comes to sponsorship, but here there was no shortage of corporate money, and the drug companies supplying the veterinary industry were more than happy to show their generosity when it came to food and drink.

Dolores was less than enthused when I delivered my report on the week. 'I thought you said you were going to do some networking, start a collaboration, bring in some money!', she shouted when I reached the details of the final night's hospitality (a mediaeval spectacular in a 13th century castle complete with fire-eating jesters and roast wild boar).

'Well, I did network, actually...', I countered, 'I just can't quite remember what I networked about. But I'm sure, love, that it will all come back to me. I just need a couple of days to recover.'

'You what? I've been stuck here all week looking after the twins and the baby, and you say you need some time off?'

'That's not exactly what I said, I just...'. My attempts at correcting Dolores's interpretation of my needs fell on stony ears. She turned and strode off towards the kitchen. I was momentarily tempted to follow, but then my phone started ringing. I pulled it from my jeans pocket and looked at the number. It was from a Belgian mobile, but there was no name attached. 'Hello?', I said tentatively.

'Is that Joseph?', said a female voice with a flemish accent.


'Is it alright for us to talk now?'

'Er, yes. Sorry, but can I just ask who is calling?'

'You don't remember me Joseph?' said the lady, chuckling as she spoke.

'Er, no, it's not that. I just don't recognise your voice on the phone.' At this point I glanced over to the kitchen window. Dolores was doing something at the sink. Coincidentally, I presume, she looked out of the window at the same time, and must have caught the look of slight concern on my face as she frowned.

What would you have done in this situation? I had nothing to fear or to feel guilty about, yet I turned away as if to seek privacy, and then walked to an area out of sight of the kitchen. The lady on the other end of the phone was asking me whether I was still there. 'Sorry, you're going to have to tell me your name I'm afraid', I said once I was out of sight of my wife.

'OK Joseph. It's me, Clara. I did not think I would sound so different on the phone. Do you like my phone voice. My accent is not too strong for you is it?'

'I, er, no, sure. How are you?'

'I'm good Joseph. How is England?'

'Yes, the weather is getting better, thanks.'

'OK, good. You said I should call when you get back, so I called.'

'Yes, good. Well, it was nice to hear from you.'

'OK, so I guess now is not a good time to talk. Is your wife there?'

'No, I mean, er, yes. I'd better go. Bye.'

I have no idea who Clara is, or why she rang. Honest. I only mention the conversation here to prove that I am completely above board and not hiding anything. I hope.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Conference season

Hello all

Despite being penniless, I'm still proud to be a scientist. To that end, I am about to fulfill a long-term invitation to a conference in the mayonnaise-loving country of Belgium. The olde-worlde town of Ghent is playing host to about a thousand vets from around the globe with an interest in parasitology. My marketing manager - the erudite scientist known as Dr Mark Booth, will be accompanying me, as he is speaking to the assembled vets on his favourite topic on Monday. I will be in the audience, of course, silently praying that he doesn't make a mess of things. Usually he is OK, but he does have a habit of sprouting off into some tangential subject and running over time. Many a chair has had to remind Dr Booth that there are 'only two minutes left' on the clock.

Fortunately, my expenses are being met by Dr Booth, who had set money aside to attend but then found out he was an invited speaker. He very kindly offered to pay my registration, travel and accommodation. It's the first time I have been to a conference in over a year, so I intend to really enjoy the affair. There is something comforting about sitting in a darkened seminar for an entire day, with nothing to do except listen to a string of ten-minute talks puntuated by questions and refreshment breaks. One can leave the troubles of the world behind and allow oneself to wallow in pure academia.

Dolores was initially sceptical about the trip, and accused me of abandoning the ship. I managed to placate her with a promise that I would exploit the occasion for networking purposes, and reminded her that conferences are an ideal place to set up collaborations (which often lead to grant applications). Mollified, she smiled and told me to have a 'good time', before heading off to her new job at the manor house.

Yes, that's right. My wife has found employment as a domestic help in the services of our neighbour, a foreign business man specialising in some form of 'import-export' as his secretary told us last week. He uses the manor as his weekend retreat, and likes to have it thoroughly cleaned before his arrival every Friday evening and after his departure on Sunday evening. As the manor house has 8 bedrooms , 6 bathrooms, 3 receptions, an orangery and a gallery full of - what was termed 'foreign erotica', it is clear that there is a lot of cleaning to be done. For that reason, Dolores has been contracted to work for two days a week - Monday and Friday. At her interview, my wife had asked how the position had become vacant. The secretary was reluctant to say at first, but eventually relented and told us that the prevous cleaner had been caught using an item from the gallery during her lunch break 'for personal pleasure'.

Knowing my wife's somewhat puritanical attitude towards erotica in general , I have full confidence in her ability to focus on the dusting.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cap in hand

Life continues at a very slow pace. There has been no news from the police investigating the destruction of the Institute. One of my contacts in the village near where we used to live told me on the phone that the rumour machine is fully functional. Someone apparently told the vicar that they had overheard me telling the butcher that I was fed-up of living in the area and was looking for an excuse to leave. The conversation with the vicar was overheard by the cleaner, who told her husband, who told the butcher that I was planning to burn down the Institute and claim on the insurance. The butcher told the police that there was a rumour going round that Curly was an innocent victim and that I had gone mad.

The police recently rang to ask me to tell them of my travel plans. I suggested that they concentrate on finding Curly before he does something similar, and informed the sergeant that I could not formulate any travel plans without having access to money. At this point the policeman asked if I had been able to obtain any work. I told him that there were very few vacancies for PhD-trained scientists specialising in parasitic infections, within the hamlet or neighbouring area, and hung up.

'We really do need an income, Joseph', said Dolores one night over our dinner of poached (ie, snared) rabbit and (stolen) carrots. 'Look at us. We can't even provide toothpaste for the kids. I mean, how much longer are they going to have to chew on sticks to keep their teeth clean?'

She was right, as usual. Chewing on sticks is a tried-and-tested method of tooth cleaning, but sooner or later we would need to provide more elaborate goods, like toilet roll. You see, I had spent all our current-account money on replacing essential items (microscope, books) lost in the fire, but had forgotten about the consumables. When Dolores had opened the first package from Amazon she had assumed that the book had been ordered before the fire, and that I had simply informed the company of our new address. After the seventh book (an excellent tome by the famous parasitologist Claude Coombes) arrived, she began to suspect I was making fresh purchases. I admit that I might have been a little hasty in trying to reconstruct the library (I lost about 30% of my books - mainly those kept in the lab), but it was an attempt at resolving my transition from somebody to, well, nobody.

'How much have you actually spent?', she asked, having already established that I had made upwards of twenty purchases.

'I'm not entirely sure, love, but I suppose it must be, er, somewhere in the region of just under six hundred or so....'


'Parasitology books are not mass-produced. They have a limited...'

'Our money is limited, you idiot. What were you thinking?'

'The insurance would...'


'Well, love, that's not strictly true. We are insured - I'm just not sure how much. And I thought if I could - now just hear me out here - I thought we could get going again and do some consultancy work for the - please just listen - do some work for the local vet. I've got his number and I thought if I got a microscope I could....'


And so it went on. To cut a long story short, I had inadvertedly spent all our current-account. We have some savings, but they are all investment based, and have never recovered from the crash of several years ago. Fortunately I hadn't thought of raiding them before being caught by Dolores. Same difference, really, as we are still penniless, and looking seriously towards taking on some menial work until such time as either the vet returns my call, Uncle Jake wires some money, or the insurance company become the good guys.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Making ends meet

The twins are dancing around the yard, making whooping noises as they throw small stones at the corpse of a rabbit they retrieved from the nearby meadow. This show of boodlust is most likely connected with their statement that they were going to become 'hunter-gatherers' for the summer. I laughed when they told me, my rational head pointing out the flaws in their plan within seconds.

Perhaps my derision merely spurred them on. So far, they have reaped a virtual harvest of fish, fowl, small mammal and the odd vegetable - pilfered from someone's garden. I should protest, of course, but since moving here we have been living on very limited means, and any contribution to the larder is, frankly speaking, more than welcome.

Dolores, for her part, has stoically offered to take work up at the manor house as a part-time cleaner. If Uncle Jake's money doesn't come through soon, we both might have to take advantage of the local job market. There isn't much available around here, bar some casual work on one of the farms.

I suppose I should back-peddle a bit at this point and bring you up-to-date.

We are living in a hamlet somewhere in deeepest Suffolk. The actual building is a barn that was partly converted some years ago before the cash ran dry. It belongs to a friend of Uncle Jake, and we have permission to live here until such time as we get our act together. This may take quite a long time for various reasons. First, I made the classic error of not insuring the contents of the Institute to their full value, and we are therefore very unlikely to receive full compensation. Second, Uncle Jake is having 'cash flow niggles' as a result of some dodgy accounting by his dodgy accountant. Finally, without my laboratory I am... like a polar bear without an ice floe, a mosquito without a bloodmeal, a tree without any roots - starved of purpose and unable to sustain either myself or my family.

The result of this emasculation is plain to see, and the temptation to squander my unbridled optimism and mope around in a self indulgent moray of low-level depression is growing each day. Dolores, my beautiful, strong, wife, is coping better than myself. She carries on almost as if we were still in the Institute, and has taken steps to ensure that our three children are put under as little stress as possible. Truth be told, the twins are loving the change of scenery, and No. 3 doesn't seem to have noticed anything.

Ravel is making himself useful as an odd-job man. He rises each morning at 6am and brings us tea like he used to back at the Institute, undertakes his regular exercise routine, and continues with his home improvements. The place was unfurnished when we arrived, but now looks almost inhabitable, even though most of the furniture is made from MDF (it's all we can afford). Dolores has stitched together some cushion covers from a few off-cuts she scrounged from a woman in the hamlet, and the twins stuffed them with straw. If there is one thing we are not short of, it is straw - until recently the barn was still being used as a storage facility for the dried cereal stalk.

At least the sun has come out. I took a walk today to study the manor house, which sits on a nearby hill. One of the locals told us that the hamlet used to belong to the estate, and that the current incumbent of the manor - a foreign business man, is planning to buy all the property up and turn the place into a village theme park for his children and their friends. From the dozen or so houses, three had already fallen into his hands, I was told, and the barn is, apparently, on his hit list. A visit to the manor house is due, I think.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

google my book

My marketing manager, Dr Mark Booth, has just informed me that my book is now featured on the Google books site. He's apparently allowed anyone to read 20% of the contents online. All you have to do is click on the following link

Preview the book

He also asked if I was ready to publish volume 2! What a cheek. I mean, it's not as if he's made much headway with volume 1. As if that wasn't enough, he suggested that I 'fill in some of the blanks' before submitting the manuscript. When I told him that my priority was to re-establish some kind of family life before I undertake any more writing, he simply sighed and said that it was up to me what I did, but that my readerhip might well expect something in the near future. Given that my readership is less than stable (numerically, not mentally), I'm not sure they are really expecting anything.

I turned the tables and asked what he was doing to market the book. Again he sighed, this time following up with a lamentable tale about being buy at work, finding it hard to get publicity, no-one willing to give a review etc. Given this, I said that I fail to see how going to the effort of producing another volume would be worth it. 'Aaah, but, Joseph', he replied. 'If you produce two books, that's more space on the bookshelves, more material to your name, and how many people do you know who have published 2 books for charity?'

'I'll think about it...', I said, solemnly. 'My level of enthusiasm is currently quite low.'

'Cheer up, old boy!', responded Dr Booth. 'I know you've had a hard time, but it could be a lot worse. Look on the bright side!'

At this point I looked out of the window in my temporary office. It was pelting with rain. So hard, in fact, that I couldn't see the other side of the yard. A sudden melancholy descended, and I wished Dr Booth farewell before stepping outside. Within moments I was soaked to the skin, but I remained for some minutes, reflecting on recent events as rivulets of rain water trickled over my face. The twins saw me from their room and banged on the window, telling me to get inside before I contracted pnuemonia. For a moment I was tempted to shout back and tell them that getting wet in summer rain does not, in itself, cause pneumonia, but then I remembered that a great-aunt had died under such circumstances some years ago (she had got lost during a rain storm and was found 2 days later. She died of pnuemonia shortly afterwards). Acknowledging the twins, I retreated indoors, where Dolores insisted that I remove all my clothing before stepping into a shower. What she forgot to tell me was that there was no hot water, on account of her having had a bath whilst I was on the phone.

Oh happy days, where have you gone?


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Catch Curly

Hello all

Following the destruction of my Institute, a reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the chief suspect - the man whose picture is displayed in the previous post. My Uncle Jake, who was the main benefactor of the Institute, issued the following statement yesterday, and asked me to post it on the blog in case Curly was reading this:

'Attn Curly:

You burnt down my nephew's Institute, and for that you are going to pay. I am not only offering a substantial reward of $10,000 for your capture, but I am ensuring that the British police force are given additional resources to help them in your quest. On top of that, I am launching legal proceedings to sue you for damages to my property. Yes, that's right Curly. It was I who owned the Insitute, and I do not take kindly to sinners like yourself making other people's lives a living Hell by your phsycotic actions. The best thing you can do now is turn yourself over to the British police force, to prevent me from having to actually pay out the reward.

Yours truly


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Burning down the house (Part II)

Hello all

The last few weeks have been unsettling, to say the least. Fortunately, we are now in new accomodation and connected to the internet. I can now begin to piece mine and my family's lives back together, and hopefully re-build the Institute - albeit in a different physical guise.

But first - you need to know what happened, and why I have been absent. So here is the concluding part of the final chapter detailing the end of the previous incarnation of the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology...


I couldn't believe what I was seeing with my own eyes. Inside the laboratory someone was deliberately attending the bunsen burners that were heating the charcoal that was heating the steel bath. What was inside the bath I had no idea. My previous panic that perhaps No.3 was the occupant had now subsided, which meant I was less concerned about immediately busting down the door. But there was still a need for action, and it was my duty as head of the Institute to stride forth in full McCrumble mettle.

'Ravel!, ' I called to my research assistant, who was over by the reception desk, looking at the cctv images from the lab. 'Break down this door now!.'

'Better to go in back door boss', said Ravel, still concentrating on the camera image. 'Hey I recognise this man. You see here. Look.'

I strode over to the reception desk and peered at the image. It was becoming increasingly smokey in the lab, but I could still clearly identify the person inside. It was a man whom I thought had left for good, someone I never expected to see again, and someone I never thought badly of in our previous meeting. Yet here he was, in full view, caught red-handed on cctv (woe betide anyone who tells me our surveillance society is a bad idea!).

It was Curly.

Yes, the very same man who so recently had taken advantage of my hospitality (and bike) was now in the very act of conducting what was either a) poorly planned and totally unauthorised experiment or b) an deliberate act of arson. In my state of relative calm I now vascillated between the two ideas - my natural belief in the goodness of other people advising me that he was simply an overexcited fan of experimental research who was seduced by the academic lifestyle and unable to control his enthusiasm, whilst my sceptical side suggesting that he was a lunatic criminal acting out some lurid fantasy.

'Boss, look, he is removing clothing!'

Sure enough, Curly had just stripped to his underpants. His semi-naked appearance confirmed that he was well endowed with body hair, and also revealed a medium-sized tattoo on one shoulder. It was the internationally recognised biohazard symbol.

'Right, Ravel, we need to stop him before he causes any real damage. You distract him here whilst I sneak in the back door.'

'Er, ok, boss, but maybe I go to catch him. In army days we were taught to...'

'No, Ravel. Sometimes negotiation is preferred over brute force. I could never forgive myself if I let you come to any harm. You stay here and take care of Dolores and the child. It's time I took charge of the situation.'

Dolores grabbed my arm.' Let Ravel go, Joseph. He's....'

There was no time for argument. Already Curly was in some advanced stage of his 'experiment' - talking manically to himself whilst pouring what appeared to be dry ice over his upturned face. I turned to my wife and cupped her face in my hands, smiled, kissed her lips in mid sentence, kissed the head of my screaming infant, patted Ravel on the shoulder, and exited by the front door. Moments later I had pulled open the back door of the lab and was face to face with the near-naked American. He was startled to see me suddenly beside him, and reacted by throwing what was left of his cannister of dry ice in my face.

'Hey McCrumble!', he shouted as he lept away. 'Good to see you again. Sorry I stole your bike but I had to go buy the tin bath and they didn't have one in the village. I brought the bike back - it's up by your exhibition shed.'

'Er, fine. Good.', I said slowly, unsure how to react to his apology.

'I was going to finish this experiment on my own, but seeing as you are here, you can be my assistant. Hey, how about that - the great McCrumble becomes my assistant!'

I wasn't sure where this was coming from. So far as I was aware, Curly had no prior knowledge of either myself or the Institute. Our previous meeting had been entirely opportunistic and engineered by the police.

Or so I thought. Curly was clearly in the mood for engaging in conversation, and it wasn't long before the truth came out...

'OK, so before we go any further here...', he said, 'I should let you know that my background story -you remember, the one about searching for my ancestors - well, that was a load of bullshit. I really came looking for you.'

'You did?'

'Sure. Your Uncle Jake sent me.'

'Huh?', I cried, surprised to hear the name of the Institute's benefactor coming from Curly's mouth. 'What? How?'

'Well, OK, if you put me on the spot I have to admit he didn't actually send me. He kind of fired me, on account of some genuine mistake I made in his lab and sort of accidentally blew it up. But I needed to continue with my experiments, and he told me all about you Dr McCrumble, and I knew I had to find you. But I didn't know where you were, on account of the fact that you live anonymously - why is that, by the way?'

I was listening intently to his story, but at the same time aware that there was still an unauthorised fire in my laboratory. Whilst I was prepared to explain myself, it seeemed more appropriate to attempt a resolution to the current threat, so I said, 'It's a long story. I'll, er, tell you later. You want to put out the fire now?'

'Nah. The fire is an essential part of the experiment. You see, if I don't have the fire, the bathwater won't get any hotter, and the hedgehog won't cook properly.'

'You are cooking what?' I said, a uncomfortable image suddenly flashing through my mind's eye. 'A hedgehog? Why? What hedgehog?'

'I dunno. Just a hedgehog. He was in that cage over there.'

I didn't need to look. The only cage in the laboratory containing a hedgehog belonged to Timothy. It was now, finally, clear to me what was in the pot.

'Timothy! Are you in there?' I cried, stepping forward to make absolutely sure. Curly moved to block my path.

'No time to waste Dr McCrumble. The experiment is reaching a critical stage. We, er, need some more dry ice. You get some whilst I take measurements.

I had to think fast. If Timothy really was in the tin bath, he was either already dead, or in the process of being boiled alive (somewhat oddly perhaps, I was reminded at this moment of the classic experiment involving Shroedinger's cat, whose state of being was unknown prior to observation). Whichever was the truth, I had to persuade Curly to put out the fire, for should there be any altercation, it was possible that a nasty accident would ensue. 'It's OK, Curly', I said quietly. 'I can take charge now I'm here. You've done a great job so-far, and I'll make sure I mention you in the lab book.'

'Hey Doc, that's what your Uncle Jake used to say. Like Uncle like Nephew! But it's OK, really. I can handle it. You need to trust me more. I spent six years as a trainee technician because I was, you know, a bit slow at getting things right. So you can probably see that I'm a bit proud of my acheivement that I finally got a job at your Uncle Jake's. And I really appreciate you taking me on here, but you gotta trust me or I'm going to be worried that all that training was for nothing. You trust me, don't you Dr McCrumble.'

'Er, of course, Curly. So, in your training you would have learnt about inter-observer measurement error, yes?'

'Sure, Doc. It happens because one person always measures things slightly differently to another. I get it. So you think we both need to take measurements, huh?'

'Exactly!' I shouted, clapping my hands with relief at this breakthrough.

'Yeah, well, I never did believe the textbooks. That's why it took me so long to train. I kept questioning things. I think I can take pretty accurate measurements. I've got 20-20 vision and rock-steady hands. Now you get the dry ice will ya like I asked, or the experiment is going to be ruined, and it will be your fault, and I may have to fire you for incompetence.'

Damn, I thought to myself. He was clearly irrrational, and therefore unlikely to respond to negotiation. The time had come for physical intervention. Ravel was peering in from the door, and I knew that he was waiting for my signal. But I was afraid that Ravel's entry into the lab would precipate a brawl, with potentially dire consequences. My first priority had to be to put out the fire, so instead of collecting dry ice, I poured some distilled water into the pot, making sure that my back was turned. Once back at the scene of the 'experiment' I waited until Curly was writing something in his notepad and threw the water over the flames from a safe distance. Unfortunately, my aim was poor, and most of the water landed on Curly's feet.

Now, most people would be a little annoyed at finding their shoes suddenly wet whilst indoors, but I had clearly struck a nerve. Curly's face took on a purple shade as he glared at me with what I can only describe as a look of absolute hatred. His fists were tightly closed as he spoke, his speech suddenly peppered with expletives. He told me in no uncertain terms that I had ruined the experiment, that I was no longer his employee, and that I should leave immediately. I shouted back that I would do no such thing, and squared up to him. I reminded him, also in no uncertain terms, that this was my laboratory, my equipment, and that he was not actually employed.

'That's enough McCrumble!' he shouted. 'You just clear up this fucking mess right now then get your sorry ass out of here, you piss-faced limey.'

'What mess?'

'This!', he shouted emphatically, raising his left leg and kicking the 'equipment' on the bench beside him. He struck three times to dislodge first the bunsen burners, then the steel bath, and finally the charcoal platform. The whole assemblage looked very unstable for a moment, before a fourth kick brought it crashing down. The bunsen burners continued to spew flame as they dangled off the bench, whilst the hot charcoal scattered and the bath disgorged its contents.

Timothy was not inside. Neither was there any water. Instead, he had filled the bath with almost my entire collection of preserved rodent specimens. Each rodent was still in it's jar when the bath tipped over, but as they hit the ground they burst open. The preservative was formaldehyde - a highly inflammable chemical. One of the bunsen burners had fallen on the floor whilst still attached to its line, and just a few moments after the first jar hit the ground, I was facing an almighty conflagration, not to mention the sight of Curly picking up burning rodent carcasses and throwing them around the laboratory. There was, I surmised at this point, nothing to do but run.

'Run!' I shouted, and headed for the back door. Ravel met me, extinguisher in hand. We turned round to minster the extinguisher, but in doing so received two or three flaming rats in our faces, one of which set light to Ravel's hair.

'Retreat!' , I shouted, and we left the laboratory. 'Phone the emergency services!' I yelled to Dolores, who told me she had phoned them as soon as I had entered the lab. They turned up a few minutes later, by which time the lab was in a poor state. Most of the benches were on fire, and the cupboards had been emptied. The thick smoke had turned acrid, and was leaking through the main door. Curly was no longer visible, but I forbid anyone from going to look for him. Laboratories are notoriously unsafe places when on fire, a sentiment re-inforced when the fire chief told me they would operate in 'defensive mode' until a risk assessment had been made. This meant the fire was not going to be put out in hurry. We were told to evacuate the building, and promptly obeyed. Fortunately, both Ravel and Dolores had managed to remove most of our valuables and sentimental items before the order was given, and all we had to do was retreat to a safe distance whilst we watched the Institure burn.

Perhaps it could have been saved if the lab hadn't actually exploded. The fire-doors would have prevented the fire from spreading, but in the end they were useless. The explosion sent burning material onto the roof of the living area, and within minutes the whole place was ablaze, despite the brave attempts of the fire brigade. Hours later, only a smouldering wreck remained. Curly must have made good his escape (he is still at large), and, as I have already mentioned, Timothy hedgehog is missing.

So what about us? Well, this all happened a few weeks ago. Since then we have moved out of the area, and are now living in England. I'm not prepared to say where, just in case Curly comes looking for us. For the time being, at least, I'm going to have to remain anonymous. I'll keep up the blogging as we start our new life. Whether I will carry on my valuable scientific work depends on many things, and I won't know for a while. Until such time, dear reader, please be patient as we try and adjust to our new lives.


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

gone but not forgotten

Hello all

Sorry for not yet completing the tragic tale of the demise of the Insitute, or being around much to answer comments / visit other blogs. I'm trying to piece things back together and keep everyone else going. We are moving into new accomodation soon, and hopefully once there I will be in a better position to consolidate and bring closure to the events of previous weeks.



P.S. Anyone who thinks they have seen Timothy Hedgehog (who was certainly not kidnapped, as some may believe) - could you please contact me. He is somewhat distinctive in appearance, and is also noticeable for the fact that he can converse in fluent english.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Burning down the house

It is with great regret that I have to announce the end of the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology. My heart is heavy, and the tears are welling up as I type. I never thought I would see the end of a place I have called home in such a dramatic and unnerving way. What happened can only be described as a tragedy, both in terms of bringing an end to a great Institute, and the loss of Timothy Hedgehog. He has not been seen since the events of a few days ago, and is presumed to have lost his life in the inferno.

Yes, dear reader. The Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology has been burned to the ground. The picture above shows a fireman trying to douse the flames, but it was to no avail. Within three hours, the place was nothing but a carbonised shell of its former self. Only the Art Institute escaped the flames - it now stands as probably the loneliest portacabin in the world.

You must be keen to now how such a bastion of scientific integrity was brought down. I can tell you that it was no accident. I feel not a small amount of guilt, but I was in no way responsible for the actual events that took place. The responsibility for the fire that destroyed my Institute instead rests with two parties with whom I have differing degrees of association.

It is a sad day when a father has to implicate his own sons in a tragedy of this nature. But I must adhere to my principles of honesty and integrity, even if it means sacrificing the reputations of my nearest and dearest. You see, it was the twins who produced the experimental protocol that involved bunsen burners heating a bath of water containing a baby. They denied they would ever actually put their protocol into practice. The irony is that they didn't need to - someone else tried it on their behalf.

I first knew something was wrong when the smoke alarm sounded. We were all asleep. I got up and followed the sound. It was coming from Laboratory 1. Peering through the glass part of the door I first saw only the red light of the beeping smoke alarm. Intrigued, I peered closer into the gloom. What caught my attention was a row of bunsen burners arranged on top of one of the lab benches. On top of the burners was a barbecue grill covered in charcoal, and on top of the charcoal was a steel bowl, contents hidden from view. The smoke from the charcoal had obviously triggered the alarm.

It took me a couple of seconds to work out what was going on. Please remember that I had been awoken from a deep slumber, and the arrangement was so unfamiliar that at first I couldn't quite place things in my mind. When the realisation eventually hit, I was almost frozen to the spot with fear. My mind raced back to the moment I saw the twins' drawing of their planned experiment on the baby. Here, right in front of me, was the physical manifestation of that repulsive idea. The absolute horror and confusion of the situation made me feel physically sick. My son, in that bath! Why was it happening now? Who was responsible?

I pushed on the door, expecting it to open. But someone had locked it. I shouted for Ravel and Dolores to come quickly, before using my shoulder in a futile attempt to get past the fire-doors (new ones, installed not 2 weeks ago with re-inforced glass). A few seconds later Ravel was by my side, battering away at the glass with a boxing-gloved hand. It was hopeless. I started to hyperventilate, smacking at the glass, crying my son's name as if it would force him to awake. There was no response - just the regular beeping of the smoke alarm to drive me into a twisted state of blind panic.

'What's going on?', asked Dolores. Her voice was calm, reasonable, utterly inappropriate.

'What do you mean?' I shouted hysterically, tears in my eyes, my words barely forming in the maelstrom of my disordered mind. 'Our son is being cooked alive in there! Twins! bunsen burners! Phone the fire brigade! Ravel, smash down that door! Now!'

'Look, right in front of you Joseph. What is this?'

'No time!' I shouted, running past her to fetch the nearest fire extinguisher, figuring that, if I could just smash the glass in the door, I could jump through the gap and save my boy.

Dolores was in my way as I approached the lab door, extinguisher in hand.'Out of my way!' I shouted, raising the extinguisher in readiness.

'Joseph!', she shouted.

'Boss..!', shouted Ravel.

'Waaaaa!', wailed No.3.

Am I hearing things? I briefly wondered, as I brought the extinguisher down on the glass door. It hit the strengthened glass and bounced off, forcing me to lose balance. I tripped over, falling half backwards, half sideways, the extinguisher still in my hand. The fall winded me, leaving me helpless on the floor for just long enough to draw my companions' attention away from trying to bash down the door. Ravel peered down at me, his face expressing nothing more than mild concern. My wife, clad in dressing gown and carrying something in a blanket, looked at me with nothing more than slight scorn. 'You alright?', she asked pointedly.

'Don't just stand there!', I yelled whilst grabbing Ravels outstretched arm. Back on my feet I was about to swing the extinguisher once again when I heard the distinctive cry of my son. Oddly, like the last time, the sound appeared to be coming from behind. I had become inflicted, I thought, by some bizarre form of tinnitus.


'I'm coming son!', I shouted, my arm poised for what I knew had to be the definitive strike. 'Stand back everyone!'

'JOSEPH! HE IS RIGHT HERE, IN MY ARMS! Will you please calm down and look!' My wife's urgent voice cut through my panicked brain like a laser through jelly. Such was the force in her words that I was interrupted in mid-lunge, and my eyes reflexively obeyed her command. They turned towards the blanket in her arms, where, to their surprise, they happened upon the screwed up face of none other than No.3, my new born son, who, just moments before, had been boiling alive in a tin can on top of a row of bunsen burners.

'He's alive!', I cried, as if that was the last thing I expected.

'Of course,' replied my wife. 'He's been here the whole time. Your red mist was so thick you just couldn't see him. He was never in any danger. Honestly, Joseph. Sometimes you really should try and keep a grip.'

'Son!', I cried, the tears streaming down my face as I realised my error and approached my wife. 'I thought you...oh dear...I'm sorry, I just...'.

'Er, Boss,' said Ravel, as I stroked the infants face and hugged my wife.

'Not now Ravel', I said quietly, as I felt the welcoming wave of calm and relief sweeping through my recently tortured mind. And with the tears of relief came an absolute mandate. This was the last time. Never again would I panic unnecessarily. No longer would the name of McCrumble be syonymous with misplaced hysteria. If this episode had taught me just one thing, it was that I should never lose sight of the facts.

'Boss, I think you should stop making hugs and look at this', said Ravel, his voice slightly more urgent.

'Can you please deal with it Ravel. I'm trying to mend something here', I countered, still embracing my wife and child, my tears of joy dripping onto the infant's angry face. Let him be angry, I thought. He could be the angriest baby in the world and I would still love him.

'I can, but you won't be happy if I do it my way.' It was Ravel again, persistent as ever.

'Alright Ravel, what is it?' I sighed, my attention still firmly on wife and child.

'There is someone in the lab boss. I see them just now.'

I'm sure you will agree, dear reader, that such a revelation would cause many people to experience a loosening of their grip on the situation. But not I, Dr Joseph McCrumble, scientist, guardian of my family, leader of men. Something approaching an epiphany had just occurred, and nothing was going to upset my karma. Not even if I was facing the biggest ever threat to my life and livelihood. A typically melodramatic sentiment to some, perhaps, but this time entirely appropriate. For as I peered into the gloom beyond the still-intact firedoors, I saw first the body and then the face of the man who was trying to destroy my Institute...

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Sad news

He came back.

The Institute is no more.

Timothy Hedgehog is missing, presumed dead. Everyone else OK.

I am blogging under emergency conditions.

Will tell full story when I have got my head around what happened.

Sadly yours

Joseph McCrumble

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Jailhouse McCrumble part II

The story so far...

The local police inspector requested me to host a suspected thief for the night in my supposedly secure Art Institute (in truth, a portacabin). You can find part one of the story below this post. I pick things up at the point where the suspect arrives at the Institute, accompanied by an officer of the law.

'The inspector sends his apologies for any inconvenience caused, Dr McCrumble', said the constable as he promted the suspect to leave the car. The man emerged rubbing his eyes, which were quite red. Hayfever? I wondered.

He was a large chap, dressed in short-sleeved shirt and shorts, head almost completely shaven apart from what looked like goatee stubble. He looked American, a hunch confirmed when he opened his mouth and said 'So you're McCrumble then, huh?'

'Dr Joseph McCrumble, yes. I'm the director of this Institute - the Cumbernauld Inst...'

'Sure', interrupted the man, stretching his rather hairy arms. 'I need to pee like a racehorse. Where's the john?'

'I've put a bucket in your, er, room', I said.

'Huh?', growled the American. 'Look sir, I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not pissing in a bucket. When I go, I really go. You want splash back on your nice floor?'

He had a point, so I asked the officer if it would be ok for the man to use the toilet inside the main building. The constable didn't make any objections - indeed he seemed rather keen to hand the suspect over to me and get back to the station, citing a very busy charge sheet as his excuse (I found out the next day that the cells were full of scantily-clad female partygoers who'd decided to put on an impromtu 'show-and-tell' at the local May Ball. The policemen spent the evening trying to find out what the 'show and tell' involved.)

'What if he makes a run for it?', I asked as we walked towards the Institute bathroom.

'That's very unlikely Dr McCrumble. We have his passport and wallet back at the station.'

'Can I ask what he's in custody for?'

The American answered, 'they think I stole the priest's barbecue. It's a pile of bull. I was putting it back. We already used it. The priest gave us permission before he left on holiday. These clowns couldn't work it out so they arrested me.'

We walked the rest of the way to the toilet in silence. Once there, I was minded to ask if the suspect should be accompanied, as I knew the window was open. But a quick mental reckoning made me realise that the barrel-shaped torso of our new house guest would be unable to fit through the small square window.

'We'll be back at 7:30 or thereabouts to pick him up', said the constable as we waited. 'I suggest you keep an eye on him using your cctv. If he does cause any trouble, just give us a call. Though if it's after 3am we might not be able to send anyone in a hurry, or at all.'

'Great,' I sighed, looking at my watch. It was now 12:30 am. Everyone else was asleep, and they would not appreciate being told that they had to take turns guarding a suspected barbecue thief. It would have to be me, I decided, my heart sinking further at the thought of another sleepless night.

Once the American had emerged, we took him over to the Art Institute. He was polite enough not to make any disparaging remarks, and even complimented me on the abstract design of the duvet cover. At this point the policeman made his excuses and departed, jogging to his car.

'Are you likely to need the toilet again?', I asked of the American as he lay down.

'I sometimes get loose bowels in the early hours - it's not for certain, but if I need to take a crap I'll wave at the cameras. You'll be watching me to make sure I don't push through one of these walls and run for the hills, won't you?'

My resolve to do my duty was already thinning. The American did not give an air of a persistent offender, and his story was plausible - the priest often took pity on visitors to the area in need of facilities. I as also feeling very tired, and knew I would not be able to keep my eyes open all the time, waiting for the sign of the impending poo.

'Look', I said at length, 'As far I see it, I'm not actually bound by any law to keep you in here all night. If you promise not to make a run for it, I can't see any reason why I should lock you up in here.'

'Hand on heart, sir.', said the suspect, a broad grin on his face, offering his hand.

'OK, let's go. You can sleep in the boy's bedroom. They are at boarding school.'

I led the American (his name was Donald, but he said everyone since college called him Curly, on account of penis having a slight bend when erect) to the main building. En route, he told me his story. It turned out he was in the UK researching his family history, and was visiting the village to find the grave of his great-great grandfather. The priest was about to leave the village to see visit a friend in Cornwall, but had met the American in the churchyard. Curly had told the priest that he wanted to cook up a big steak for his dinner, but didn't have access to the kitchen at the bed and breakfast he was staying. The priest had said he could borrow the church barbecue, and even threw in some charcoal and lighting briquettes. Having cooked the steak, Curly had been walking back to the vicarage when he was spotted by the police, who thought he was a vagrant, and arrested him on suspicion of theft, pending contact with the priest to confirm his story.

'Typical', I said in response to his tale. 'They wouldn't spot a real criminal if he walked into the station carrying the head of their latest victim, but they seem very keen to arrest innocent people like you and me for no reason at all.'

Standing at the entrance to the boy's room, we shook hands once more and bade each other goodnight. I told Curly that Ravel would bring him a cup of tea at 7:00am, so that he would be better prepared for the police when they came to pick him up at 7:30am. I went straight to bed, and listened only for the clicking sound of the boys's bedroom door to indicate it had been closed.

My dreams that night were extremely vivid. Curly made a brief appearance, trying to persuade me to measure the curvature of his spine, before turning into a football and bouncing into a nearby lake. The baby slept soundly, and I did not wake until Ravel brought tea at 6:30am. I told him of our house guest, and instructed that tea should be given. Two minutes later, I heard a gentle knock at the boy's bedroom door. There was no answer, so Ravel knocked again. 'Go in,' I whispered loudly, and I heard Ravel open the door. A few seconds later, my research assistant was at my bedside, holding not only an un-delivered cup of tea, but a note. It read:

'Dear Joe

Thanks for putting me up last night. I gotta skiddadle as I'm meeting an old friend and I need to catch a train. I'll go to the police station myself - hope you don't mind but I'll use your bike to speed me along. regards Curly.

'Phone the police!' I shouted.

To cut a long story short, Curly did not go back to the police station. He took my bike, cycled to the nearest train station, and is now somewhere unknown. The police suspect his passport is a forgery, and his wallet belonged to someone else entirely. Why they didn't check that when they arrested him, I have no idea.

He doesn't appear to have taken anything from the Institute, at least, probably on account of my good acting as a good samaritan. So as far as I'm concerned, it's case closed.