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A Spooky Short Story

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No Such Thing as Ghosts

It was one of those nights when you curse yourself for not staying at home. Rain had been lashing against the window of the pub for the past two hours. The wind raged, blowing tattered clouds rapidly across an almost full moon, whilst leaves and branches were tossed around, landing in gutters and on car roofs. Now it was nearly time for the pub to close, and the thought of walking home was not a pleasant one. It had been a journey me and my loved one had completed on many occasions, however, this was not going to be one of those slow strolls home, hand in hand whilst whispering sweet nothings to each other.

By the time we stepped outside, it had thankfully stopped raining, nevertheless, the wind was still powerful enough to make walking difficult, and coats were buttoned up to the collar.

“Let’s take the shortcut through the churchyard.” I said to my girlfriend as she clutched the sleeve of my jacket, which was either for warmth or stability or both.

“Must we?” she gripped tighter.

“It’ll knock ten minutes off our journey.” It doesn’t sound like much, but at the time it seemed like an age.

“Okay then, but let’s not hang about eh?” she said. In this weather, hanging about was the last thing on my mind.

We joked nervously as we entered the churchyard, whilst at the same time, ducking to avoid some of the lower branches of the trees that were being buffeted by the wind. I took a glance around. The other people still left in the pub were gradually filing their way out, battling both the strength of the wind and their own alcohol fuelled unsteadiness. None of them were heading in the same direction as us. I turned around in order to find the path in the intermittent moonlight, whilst my girlfriend’s grip on my arm never loosened.

“I bet you wouldn’t walk over one of those graves?” she whispered. Her question took me somewhat by surprise by I thought I would play along.

“I bet I would!”

“Go on then!” she said, calling my bluff. “But don’t let the spooks get you.” she beamed.

“Don’t tell me you believe in ghosts?” I asked, stepping off the path towards the nearest headstone.

“Bet you couldn’t stay here all night?” she quipped. I had to admit that she was right, and it wouldn’t be because of the stormy weather either, the place gave me the creeps, even during daylight hours. I felt the odd spot of rain on my cheek and decided that this little game of dare should come to an end.

“It’s trying to rain again, come on let’s get back into the warm, I’ll make us some cocoa.” and with that I stepped back onto the path, and waited for her to grab hold of my arm once more.

A few steps on, and I took a look at the church, all foreboding and creepy in this monochrome setting. It was then that a break in the cloud cover shone some light onto the main door to the church. Standing there was a family. A man, a woman and two children, although the light faded again and I couldn’t say for sure what age or sex the children were.

“I wonder who those people are.” I said, nudging my girlfriend to look towards the church.

“What people?” she replied looking about her.

“Don’t be funny, that family over there.”

“What are you on about, I can’t see anyone?” she replied

“By the church door.” I replied, now visibly pointing in the right direction.

We had stopped now, and she had let go of my arm. Looking all around her she still protested that she was unable to see what I was seeing. Then she was ahead of me, striding down the path towards the wrought iron gate that led out onto the street. I followed; quickening my step until it almost became a jog. Before I caught her up I took a glance over my shoulder, the family were still stood there, their clothes strangely unflustered by the howling gale. Then they just vanished, like a flame being snuffed out in the wind. I stopped with my mouth agape, legs barely able to hold up my body let alone propel me forwards. It was then that I felt a hand grab the sleeve of my coat, as my girlfriend unceremoniously dragged me out of the churchyard and onto the street. We ran the rest of the way home.

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The Radio Times said that the storyline of the new BBC1 mystery drama, Mayday, was “pleasingly fresh”. I don’t know who wrote that particular line, but whoever it was, clearly has not seen much television or movies from the past 30 years or so.

The story is anchored around the sudden disappearance of a 14 year old girl who vanishes while en-route to the local Mayday festivities. She leaves behind her bicycle in a lane that cuts through some menacing looking woods and suddenly every male character comes under suspicion. It is here that the show spends the next 10 to 15 minutes, trying to cram in as many weird and suspiciously acting male characters as it can. I haven’t seen such a collection of clichéd characters in one television program since I last watched an episode of Scooby Doo. The writers must have watched every whodunit from the past 20 years and cherry picked their most stereotypical characters. We have (in no particular order) the hen-pecked middle aged, borderline alcoholic husband. The horny teenage boy, the feckless and abusive father and no thriller would be complete without the weirdo who seemingly lives in the woods. All of these characters have something to hide and we are led to believe that everyone is a suspect, and it is not long before the uncle of the missing girl is leading a restless lynch mob through the woods in search of his niece, before storming the home of the local old man who is accused of liking to watch courting couples in the woods, in another cliché.

The local constabulary seem a bit distant so far in this first episode too, with only a few long shots of a few parked police cars and officers standing around, not really doing much of anything at all. Oh and no DI Burnside from The Bill, type character here, oh no, at least not yet anyway, which you would surely expect to see when a child has gone missing. No, it is all down to the locals, and I was surprised that they weren’t carrying pitchforks and flaming torches whilst marching through the streets to be honest.

The acting is wooden and over the top, apart from the always excellent Peter Firth, who must have agreed to be in this whilst a bit non compos mentis at the Spooks end of show party last year!

The script is trying hard to be dark and mysterious and is desperately wanting to be a 21st century British version of Twin Peaks, however, on this opening showing it is taking on the appearance of a poor imitation of the 1970’s horror classic, The Wicker Man.

 10. Patrick Jane – The Mentalist

Jane is a former psychic and medium who now uses his talents to help the fictional California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to capture criminals, whilst at the same time hunting down the serial killer “Red John”, who murdered Jane’s wife and daughter.

9. Jonathan Creek

Another crime fighter who uses his skills and expertise to help solve crimes, Jonathan Creek lives in a windmill and works as a creative consultant to magician Adam Klaus, thinking up new magic routines for his shows. Jonathan uses his ability at lateral thinking to help solve crimes and correct miscarriages of justice.

 8. Sledge Hammer

Inspired by the no-nonsense approach of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, Sledge Hammer is the San Francisco cop who gets the job done by blowing up buildings and using is .44 Magnum for everything from catching criminals to opening beer bottles.

7. Luther

Luther (played brilliantly by Idris Elba) is a brilliant detective who has a troubled personal life that often clashes with his job. When he finds out that his estranged wife has been seeing someone else he ends up being arrested after smashing up her home. However, his analytical mind often compensates for his lack of subtlety and helps him to bring criminals to justice.

 6. Stuart McCall – The Equalizer

This former CIA operative uses all his expertise and experience to help the most vulnerable of New York’s society when he sets himself up as a freelance trouble-shooter. Often working for free to help those being stalked or victimised by individuals, crime lords and big corporations alike. He is still in contact with his former boss (known only as “control”) and some of his ex-CIA colleagues who he often enlists for surveillance or “baby-sitting” duties.

5. Fox Mulder & Dana Scully – The X-Files

The FBI’s official paranormal investigators, Mulder and Scully were brought together by the bureau’s hierarchy, Mulder had been working on the X-Files for sometime and Scully was paired with him to monitor his actions, before succumbing to the intricacies of the cases being investigated.

 4. Tommy Murphy – Murphy’s Law

Another of those cops who’s difficult personal life often affects their work, but like Luther (see above) his brilliance at his job means that he is a valuable crime fighting assets. A former officer in Northern Ireland, Murphy’s daughter was killed by the IRA in retaliation to his failure to drive a car bomb into a local army barracks. This memory often comes back to haunt him and in one episode (The Group) he comes face to face with the man who is supposed to have killed his daughter, but given the chance to pull the trigger he has a crisis of conscience. Murphy’s brilliance is his ability to work undercover in a variety of roles and he has the talent and the personality to get himself out of some tricky situations.

3. Gene Hunt – Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes

The “Gene genie” is one of the best cops on television in recent years and is played to perfection by Philip Glenister. DCI Gene Hunt is the stereotypical 1970’s hard-nosed, hard-drinking, womanising policeman based on such characters as Jack Regan from the Sweeney.

He thinks nothing of using brute force and rule breaking in order to gain a confession out of the criminals he catches.

 2. Dr. Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald – Cracker

The brilliant psychologist Dr. Fitzgerald helps the Police to “crack” difficult criminal cases by getting inside the minds of the criminals and breaking their wall of silence. The epitome of the anti-hero, Fitz is addicted to gambling, drinks too much, smokes too much and is unfaithful to his wife. Yet he is at his best when working with the Police and this helps him to focus his mind for good rather than falling back into his hard-drinking and gambling ways.

1. Columbo

Peter Falk’s dishevelled detective, Lieutenant Columbo often comes across as a bumbling chaotic character but this is just a veil for his brilliant analytical mind. He often knows who the murderer is early on and then spends the time following them around, hassling them and making them feel uncomfortable. This helps them to make a fatal mistake or lapse in concentration that incriminates themselves, he also gives the impression that he is not too bright, allowing the murderer to think that their superior intellect will help them to escape justice.

  5. Colin Weatherby – The Brittas Empire

The walking disaster area of Whitbury New Town leisure centre is played by the now rarely seen Mike Burns. If there is an accident waiting to happen you can rest assured that it will usually happen to the hapless Colin or to someone else of which he is the cause. Colin usually starts his working day sporting a brand new illness or ailment that will affect his ability to fulfil his daily duties and he must be the least healthy person to ever work in a leisure centre. A hand shake with Colin usually ends up with the other person pealing off a sticky piece of dirty looking bandage from a hand that has been festering away from day one.

4. Mrs Warboys – One Foot in the Grave

Jean
Warboys (played by Doreen Mantle) is a friend of the Meldrews from when she
lived in the same street as them, after the Meldrews house is destroyed by fire
and they move away she remains a friend, although more with Margaret than
Victor who see’s her as a nuisance. She is one of those tedious people who end
up showing you every one of their countless holiday photographs and retell
their holiday experience in extreme detail. She often gets things wrong and
this leads to many hilarious situations and problems for the beleaguered Victor
Meldrew, such as the time when she eventually persuades Victor to take on a
deceased neighbour’s dog. Despite not being keen at first he ends up agreeing
to take the dog and spends a small fortune building a kennel and buying food,
but it turns out that the dog is stuffed and Mrs. Warboys assumed that the
Meldrews new this as everybody else did.

  3. Father Jack Hackett – Father Ted

The crass, drunken priest from Channel Four’s religious sitcom Father Ted (played by Frank Kelly) often steals the scene away from Dermot Morgan who played the eponymous title character with usually a single word. Those words are usually taken from a list that includes: Drink, feck, arse, and girls although he does occasionally manage to string a small sentence together. Known to get violent if someone comes between him and his booze he has learnt to make do when no proper alcohol is available, and it is often eluded to that he has a taste for Toilet Duck™ and other bathroom supplies. Jack likes the ladies unless they are dressed as nuns of which he seems to have a mortal fear. Jack’s years of alcohol abuse has meant that his personal hygiene habits have suffered and he is usually seen with spots and scabs, matted hair and dirty clothes.

2. Lord Flashheart – Blackadder

Loud, brash and one hell of a ladies man, the character of Flashheart appears in two episodes of the popular BBC sitcom Blackadder and is played brilliantly by Rik Mayall. His first appearance was a brief one in Blackadder 2 where he rides in as Blackadder’s best man for his impending wedding to a woman called Kate, who he originally thought was a boy named Bob. He arrives tardily for the nuptials and is shocked when he learns that the pusillanimous Lord Percy has taken his place, wasting no time he grabs his replacement by the tunic and throws him through the doors. He then proceeds to flirt outrageously with the Queen, Nursie and even Baldrick (who is the bridesmaid and is dressed thus) leading him to utter the enduring line “thanks bridesmaid. Like the beard. Gives me something to hold onto.” He then proceeds to steal the bride away from Blackadder and they disappear leaving Lord Melchet to ask Blackadder if he would like to continue the tradition of the jilted groom marrying the bridesmaid.

Flashheart appears once more in Blackadder Goes Forth but this time he is involved more
substantially with the storyline. Appearing in the episode entitled “Private
Plane”, Flashheart is a World War One flying ace, one of the Royal Flying
Corp’s top men in both, flying and “top level shagging”. He crashes his
bi-plane on top of the trench occupied by Captain Blackadder, Baldrick and
Lieutenant George, Blackadder is less than impressed by Flashheart’s vanity and
sense of self-importance and takes an instant dislike of him, telling him that
all the other soldiers despise him and they would rather meet the man who
cleans the public lavatories in Aberdeen. In retaliation Flashheart punches
Blackadder to the ground and from then on names him, “Captain slackbladder”,
however when Blackadder and Baldrick later join the Flying Corp and are taken
prisoner after being downed behind enemy lines he mounts a rescue mission with
Lieutenant George.

  1. Super Hans – Peep Show

This character is probably one of the most underrated supporting characters of any British sitcom of the past 30 years, was written with Russell Brand in mind but is played with startling brilliance by Matt King. Peep Show the award winning Channel Four sitcom that allows us to hear the inner monologues of its two main characters Mark and Jeremy, features a number of recurring supporting characters of which Super Hans is often the scene stealer. Super Hans is Jeremy’s friend and he does not get on very well with Mark who he see’s as being stuffy and uptight, however, he is not a very good friend to Jeremy either and their opinions often differ causing clashes. He is morally corrupt and is a heavy drug user who will try anything in order to get high when there are no recreational drugs available. He becomes addicted to crack cocaine after trying it once which leads him to utter the immortal line “that crack is really Moorish!” One episode see’s Super Hans trying to kick the whole drug taking habit by giving up everything “from the PCP’s to the Latte’s” but his cold turkey method fails and he is soon back on the drugs.

If there is a twilight zone for football shirts, then this is it, a place where colours clash, sponsors logo’s cause mirth and patterns come straight from Satan’s design team.

 I guess I should start with my own team, in 1993 Southampton teamed up with American Sports brand Pony, who were more famous for their American Football equipment than Association football. Looking to gain a foothold in the lucrative English football shirt market, Pony released this monstrosity onto the unsuspecting Southampton public. This was the away shirt that went with the red and white striped home kit, Saints had played in turquoise and blue in the early eighties, it didn’t work then and it still doesn’t now. The only redeeming thing about this kit is that Matthew Le Tissier once scored a cracking goal whilst wearing it, in a 4-2 defeat to Liverpool. Mind you it did make his bum look big!

There really was a lot wrong with football shirts in the early 1990’s and this one is REALLY wrong! It took a few months before anyone noticed the swastika’s in Italian club Fiorentina’s away shirt from 1992. If you look closely at the pattern of the violet part of the kit you will see them. Needless to say Fiorentina immediately withdrew the kit and never played in it again, but honestly how could someone have missed that?

Another “what the hell where they thinking?” away shirt from the early 90’s and this time it is Chelsea with their “fuzzy TV reception” shirt, a grey mess with garish orange thrown in (yeah like those colours go together) and the body language of Mark Hughes in that photo, is screaming, “Let’s get this game over with so I can get out of this kit and burn it!”

Still at least Chelsea didn’t use their hideous grey kit as an excuse like Manchester Untied did in 1996 when this kit apparently made their players invisible to each other.  3-0 down to my beloved Southampton at half-time, old man Ferguson made them change kits. They still lost!  

 

A double horror feature up next from Brighton (actually a triple horror if you include the name of the sponsor) as here we see Brighton going through their Chewits sweet wrapper phase! Compounded by having the legend “NOBO” written across the front!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking of triple horrors it’s nice to see that it’s not just English clubs leading the way in the crap football shirt stakes. Here our Teutonic cousins steal a march with their combined football shirt/beach towel combo, from German club FC Bochum. No doubt this was draped over a few pool side sun loungers at hotels across the Mediterranean. Really it just looks like they have got someone to stitch three kits together!

 

My life in books

Growing up I was always encouraged by my parents to read as much as possible, and I still find it difficult to accept when my own children, particularly my daughter, tell me that reading is boring. I think the first book that I loved and read over and over again was, The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden with lovely drawings by Garth Williams. The story is about a Cricket named Chester from Connecticut, who ends up on a New York bound train, and then ends up on the subway and finds himself lost in Times Square station. He then goes on to make friends with a cat called Harry and a mouse called Tucker, after being discovered by a boy called Mario, whose parents run a financially failing newstand. After a couple of mishaps, Mario’s mother wants Chester gone but he saves himself by chirping her favourite song, and it turns out that Chester has a perfect ear for music and can chirp any piece of music or opera after hearing it once. It is a charming story with a fairly sad ending which I won’t go into here.

In my teenage years I did tend to drift away from reading for a bit, distracted as I was by girls and football, and although I did read I tended to stick with non-fiction books on football. So although my next book is a non-fiction book that is about football, it also went on to be made in to a film and a stage play. Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby is the story of one man’s life told in a series of football matches (mostly Arsenal) and we follow Mr. Hornby on his journey through his parents divorce, his first love, work and career etc, all tied in with the effect that being an obsessive football fan has on all of his relationships and friendships and his career. A riveting read and one that I read in little more than a day, plus it led me back into reading fiction when Nick brought out his next books, High fidelity and About A Boy.

In 2002 I began an English Literature A-level course run in the evenings by my local college, and the first set book we had to read was, Regeneration written in 1991 by Pat Barker. It tells the harrowing stories of injured British officers of World War I, being treated  for shell-shock at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland. It is based on true accounts and some of the more famous inmates included the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen although the story is fiction, it is fiction based on fact which is the kind of story I like as it adds authenticity. The book deals with many themes, such as madness, masculinity, homosexuality and the futility of war. The book is the first in a trilogy and it was followed by The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road, which won the Booker Prize in 1995.

Now that my love of works of fiction based on fact had begun I had to wait a couple more years to read another one that had an effect on me. That book was The Damned United, by David Peace and tells the story of football manager and self-proclaimed big head, Brian Clough and his brief 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United. As manager of Derby County, Cloughie was one of the most vocal of all of Leeds United’s critics, and he was never far away from giving out a controversial quote or ten on the subject of Leeds United and their then manager Don Revie. When Revie left to take over the England managers job, the surprise choice of the Leeds United board for their new manager was Brian Clough. This book is fiction and is written totally from the point of view of Brian Clough, it later spawned a film adaptation that was not particularly true to the book and was slated by Clough’s widow, and family.

My last choice is the book that got me interested in a whole new genre, and that is travel writing, The book, Three Men in a Float, tells the story of three guys who one day decide to buy an old second-hand milk float off Ebay and travel across England from Lowestoft to Lands End and the people they meet on the way. The chapters are told from two of the travellers so each chapter is fresh and has a different prospective.

5 great mens T-shirts

 1. Animal (£28 Debenhams)

This classic camper van design is simple but effective, great to wear with jeans or shorts, and just right for the forthcoming summer music festival season.

2. Ralph Lauren (£75 House of Fraser)

Timeless, simple and stylish, this polo shirt by Ralph Lauren looks good anywhere and goes great with stone coloured Chino’s.

   3. St. George by Duffer

(£20 Debenhams)

Get ready for the European championships this summer with this inventive design where the map of Great Britain and Ireland is made up entirely of British football club names!

4. Joe Browns (£10.95 Play.com)

Fun and retro in style, this tee will look great worn at the beach or at a barbecue, maybe team it up with a light coloured, plain overshirt and blue jeans.

5. Burton’s (£16)

“One’s company, two’s a crowd, and three’s a party!” says this t-shirt from burton’s menswear, sure to get you noticed at parties, match it with black jeans!