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.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Jailhouse McCrumble

'You must be joking!', I cried down the phone, interrupting the police Inspector at the other end before he could finish his, admittedly rather ridiculous, suggestion.

'Not at all Dr McCrumble', countered the policeman. 'Your facility will meet our needs very well. Not only is it secured to a high standard, but you also have CCTV. We will be in touch on a regular basis, and it will only be for a night or two. I understand this is most irregular, but the situation here is simply too much for us to handle on our own. Think of it, if you will, as an example of community policing. And you owe us a favour. And we'll compensate you for your inconvenience, of course.'

'I do? You will?'

'Yes. Let's not get into details just now, shall we? I'll send him round now. You might like to check your window locks and such like. And hide any valuables you might be keeping there. We've also run out of bedding, so you might like to find a spare mattress and duvet. Well, I must go now as our guests are demanding some dessert wine. He'll be with you in thirty minutes.'

I placed the receiver and rubbed my eyes. It was close to midnight. I had been in bed for nearly an hour before the police called, dreaming that I was pulling No.3 out of a crater - the result of the twins tying the poor baby to a home-made rocket. It was one of those calls in the middle of the night that makes you wonder who's just died. Mrs McHaggarty (the mother of Dolores), has not been well lately - she claims she has deep vein thrombosis, so she was the first person on my list.

Anyways, to cut a long story short, it was the local police Inspector. He was having a dinner party, and had been alerted by the duty sergeant regarding an acute shortage of cells at the local station, on account of the village May Ball having turned riotous and several revellers having been arrested for lewd behaviour. The Inspector then called me, to discuss what he called 'a matter of local security'. The ridiculous suggestion he made was that I should host a suspected thief in the Cumbernauld Art Insitute on account of the police cells being full. Such was my surprise, and so brief was the conversastion, that I didn't have time to suggest I house one of the revellers instead. What was the inspector thinking? A thief, in my Art Institute? What if he took a liking to one my works of art?

This question was one of many racing through my mind as I awoke Dolores. She was even more annoyed than me, and told me to tell the police Inspector to choke on his After Eights (actually, she swore rather badly, but I know the local police read this blog, so I've censored her comments). 'What are you going to do?', she finally asked.

'I suppose I'll have to go along with it. The Art Institute is secure, I suppose...'

'Its a portacabin with single glazing and flimsy window locks! If he stamps his foot hard enough the floor will give way. Has the Inspector ever actually visited?'

'He came to the opening ceremony a couple of years ago. I'm a bit surprised actually, now you mention it. Well, mmm, actually, now I think about it - maybe I did exagarate the level of security to him a little bit.'

'You idiot. Trying to impress were you?'

'Not so much impress as....well, you know how it is...'

Dolores turned over at that point and switched off the light. I tried to rouse her, but she refused to become more involved, citing my own buffoonery as reason for her recalcitrance. In the end I was made to search out the spare mattress and duvet on my own. I dragged them down to the Art Institute and opened up the door. The exhibition space was empty, as I've not had time to produce any new art work this year. The door to the office was ajar, so I closed and locked it before checking all the window locks. I briefly wondered about toilet facilities, as the only one for the Art Insitute is a portaloo outdoors, about 10 metres behind the cabin, before spying the bucket I had filled with sand for putting out small fires / stubbing out cigarettes. On emptying the bucket I felt a small surge of pride in my ingenuity. So long as he wasn't prone to sudden bowel movements, the bright-red receptacle would easily suffice for the night.

I'd barely finished locking up when I saw the police car pull up to door of the main building. I recognised the officer as one who had previously arrested me, and we exchanged brief smiles before he opened the rear door of his car and motioned for the inhabitant to emerge....

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