He’s Only Half Way There

“I think,” I said to Amy, “that I have got that Mr Putin half way up my chimney. Or as he would regard it, half way down.”

I couldn’t help regretting that there was no way to share my predicament instead with Augustus Sly, but he is in Vienna following up my neighbour Maria’s bottom. He would probably have had something sensible to offer whereas Amy was always more likely to shout.

“You got in your chimney how? I saw him at G20, on television.”

I started to tell her about my night terror and my fateful and clumsy use of the yulification ‘app’, which had had the effect of making a bad situation much worse.

“I know. I read this. But how you know it’s Putin?”

“I don’t, of course, and of course I saw him at the G20 too. That may have been a double. He wouldn’t have wanted to have a full and frank exchange of views with Angela Merkel himself – who would? – or with our own Mr Cameron, bless him, so he may have sent a stooge. Lenin would do that, expose someone else instead when there was any risk to his personal safety. It’s certainly someone Russian. I twisted the Cossack foot. From the depths of the chimney breast I heard a faint cry. They said, ‘Horse potty!’.”

“’Horse potty’?”

“It’s a mild but characteristic Russian ejaculation. Like ‘Goodness!’.”

“Did it sound like a little dictator, to judge by the vocal quality?”

“It was too faint to tell.”

“What say the better half? Her bedroom too.”

“She’s keen to put it to political advantage. She shouted up the chimney – and she has a penetrating voice. She said, ‘Withdraw your troops from Ukraine and we’ll let you out!’.”

“What he say?”

“He said ‘Chto?’.”


“What? It means ‘What?’. He was indicating that he couldn’t hear.”

“Cunning bastard.”

“Being a cunning bastard is one cornerstone of his successful career.”

Amy thought about this.

“I wouldn’t just say leave Ukraine. I’d say: free press, free elections, no more murders, no more lies and a substantial contribution to your extraction expenses taken from the budget for his enormous new dacha near Sochi.”

“It’s hard to ask for anything complicated if all he says is ‘Chto?’. The better half thought that if we did something unpleasant to a toe it might make him hear better.”

“Or,” said Amy with the subtlety for which the Chinese are famous, “you could tickle his sole.”

“I thought of that – but I don’t think I could bear to touch him. Also, I’m not sure that I want to descend to his level, even to help the people of Ukraine.”

There’s an issue,” said Amy. “Ends and means. We can debate this.”

“My friend Theo says,” I said, “that he is a strong leader holding his country together and that without him Russia would become dangerously balkanised.”

“Bollocks,” said Amy. “They said that about Chairman Mao and the Gang of Four. Anyway, he is not holding anything together now. He’s in your chimney. Maybe we leave him there and see if Russia balkanised.”

“I wish it was that simple, Amy. Unfortunately he’s started to leak. He’s dribbling into the grate. It smells bad. The better half doesn’t like it. Even Bella turns her nose up, after some initial interest. We could go to the spare bedroom until either he empties or Russia balkanises itself, but that’s only a temporary solution.”

What would you have done? We decided to think it over.

Half an hour later Amy sent me a text:


It was a pertinent question but one for which I had no answer. I couldn’t see and I couldn’t ask.

A few days went by. Russia didn’t get noticeably balkanised. Someone who looked like Putin continued to appear on state television and point out the hypocrisy of the West. They accuse Russia of political murder, he said, but what about the Northern Line? Who are you to point the finger? The leakage eventually fell away but the smell became appalling. The better half said, “You’ve got to do something.”

“What about independent Ukraine?” I said.

“Geopolitics is immensely complex,” she said, “and I want my bedroom back.”

I put a handkerchief round my hands and tugged at the leg. Nothing moved. There was another cry of ‘Horse Potty!’, but far weaker this time. Whoever was up there, Putin or not, ensacked or not, they were alive: but this was a condition whose continuation indefinitely could not be relied on.

I called round to see Aubergine Small. Strength and resourcefulness seemed to be called for. It crossed my mind to find out if The Jibjab Woman would help, but I didn’t know where she stood on a resurgent Russia and I didn’t want to offend her. Aubergine Small assessed the situation. He also twisted the leg, but could get no purchase. All he got was another weak cry of ‘Horse potty!’. Muttering to himself (or what would be muttering if he had the wherewithal; Aubergine Small is dumb and converses by the use of pre-printed cards), he took himself off and the next thing was that I heard him on the roof. He was prodding a bit of wire into the chimney from above. This time there was silence. He returned to the bedroom.

He produced a card:


“What does that tell you?”

He demanded paper. This was a circumstance without a well-known phrase or saying.


Without his cards he can be quite prolix.

“You mean…”


Aubergine Small threw himself at Mr Putin’s leg with a passion. For thirty minutes he tugged, but to no avail. Sweat on his brow, he faced me.




He seized the pad.



The Stocks

A few days later I received a letter on AERSIP notepaper. I knew before I opened the envelope. On the back there is a stylised representation of a Labrador gazing kindly at a little girl. Because it is one of those cartoon likenesses that have to stand for all races and none it is a very stylised representation, though the Labrador is more lifelike than the girl. Inside, they couldn’t bring themselves to refer to Bella by name and used her tagging number instead, after which they call her ‘the dog under investigation’.

The dog under investigation was subject to an assessment under the Race Relations (Racism and Sexism Issues Around Pets) Regulations 2013 dated so and so and held at so and so, Facilitator the fierce woman, presumably and has been determined non-compliant having regards to the said Regulations. Accordingly it is required that the dog under investigation and its owner attend at so and so for remedial action taken and a determination having regards to the disposal of the dog under investigation.

So I telephoned the number on the letter.

‘AERSIP here,’ said a cheerful if recorded voice. ‘Working together against racism and sexism around pets,’ and there followed a series of options, one of which I took.

‘Dogs,’ he barked.

He didn’t ask how he could help me but I went ahead anyway. I told him about the letter. He said that he was ‘retrieving’ it, but as far as I could see I still had it in my hand.

‘What is all this nonsense?’ I said.

‘It’s a very serious matter. I suggest that you take it very seriously.’

‘What are we talking about?’

‘I,’ he said, ‘am talking about the reprocessing of the dog under investigation. I don’t know what you’re talking about. And if he/she fails, the dog under investigation, I’m talking about an ASBO or in the last resort AERSIP has delegated powers to adapt or terminate non-compliant pets.’

‘An ASBO…’

‘Not to proceed within fifty metres of any member of a designated faith or ethnic community.’

‘That would be difficult in Plaistow. What about Jews? Are they to be protected from Bella too? She has some good Jewish friends.’

‘Say again.’


‘Bear with me,’ said the man. ‘I’m retrieving the Regs.

‘No,’ he said eventually, ‘nothing about Jews. Not a designated faith or ethnic community.’

‘I’ll make it my citizen’s duty to preserve her from anti-Semitism,’ I said. ‘Rest assured.’

‘Say again.’

And so we found ourselves in another municipal office, Bella and I. There were some depressed dogs with their owners.

‘I hope this is good,’ I said to one of them. ‘I didn’t realise till we got here that we have to pay for this circus.’

Indeed, they had presented me with a bill. He cast a fishy glance at me but said nothing. He was probably afraid that I might be an informer.

On the wall was a banner announcing that the University of East Anglia was proud to be partnering with AERSIP in this important initiative, and indeed the man who then bounded into the room wore a sweater bearing the insignia of that academic institution.

He was anxious to gain our trust. He assured us that we were all, humans and canines both, dedicated to the elimination of racism and sexism around pets. It was just, he said, that sometimes clouds got in the way. It was our job today to burn away those clouds. He wrote this on a flip chart, making a sun-like gesture as he did so. Then he tore off his University of East Anglia woolly and rolled up his sleeves.

‘Now how,’ he demanded, ‘do we eliminate racism and sexism around our pets?’

And on his flip chart he wrote two things: Top Down and then Bottom Up.

That was a silly question. When so posed the answer is always Bottom Up.

I put up my hand. He pointed at me forcefully.

‘What if you don’t burn them away?’ I said.

‘Is that Top Down or Bottom Up?’ said the man.

‘Never mind that. Let’s cut to the chase. What are you threatening us with?’

‘It’s Bottom Up,’ he cried. ‘There are certain penalties. ASBOs,’ he said with a sigh. ‘Electric shock treatment. The stocks. Ultimately termination.’

‘You put our dogs into the stocks and then you kill them?’

‘Only if they remain noncompliant.’

‘God almighty! And how do the stocks work?’

His eyes lit up.

‘We tie their front paws, humanely, to a length of wood in a public place. Over their head is a banner saying ‘This Dog is Racist’ and people are encouraged to throw things at them and to reprimand them, calling, ‘Bad Dog!’ and ‘Racist Dog!’ It can be transformative.’

‘And who decides all this? The University of East Anglia? AERSIP?’

‘In consultation, yes.’

I was struck dumb. Fortunately at that moment there was a commotion. The sash windows into the street were thrust up and a figure, female, clad entirely in black and covered as to her face, leapt into the room. It was the Jibjab Woman. I’d know those eyes anywhere.

‘JJ!’ I said.

‘Bella!’ she said.

Bella had met the Jibjab Woman a week or so back at Great Secret Miss, and was overjoyed to see her again. She rushed over, jumping up, licking her and leaving, I am afraid, paw marks on her spotless jibjab.

‘Oh, Bella,’ said the Jibjab Woman, I love you too.’

Giving her a gentle fondle to the ears she turned to the man from the University of East Anglia.

‘And what is this shit?’ she said.

He was stuck for words, so I answered.

‘Bella avoided some women at a bus stop and then didn’t avoid some schoolboys in a park. And now we are in a kangaroo court with her accused of racism and sexism around pets.’

I didn’t mention the medieval punishment in case the Jibjab Woman approved of that sort of thing.


‘Dog. Sorry.’

‘Have you no shame?’ she said to the man from the University of East Anglia. I thought how much more scornful she would have been if she had seen his woolly. ‘Is this a racist dog?’ Bella was attempting to climb into her arms. ‘Is this a sexist dog? Come with me’ – this was to Bella and me – ‘we’ll leave them to their wanking’.

Being a modest Moslem woman she refrained from the gesture that usually accompanies that remark.

‘You’re a star, JJ,’ I said when we got outside.

‘You won’t hear any more from them.’

And off she went – about her work, as always. She turned.

‘Shall I fix the teacher for you?’

‘The teacher?’

‘The informer.’

‘Oh, no, thanks,’ I said. ‘It’s a hard life, being a teacher.’

The Link-Boy’s Tale

I walked back to meet the procession, having inspected the shopping centre. Unfortunately, with Cardinal V-‘s pernicketiness about his dress, it was now late in the afternoon and people were leaving. Also the entrance was lower than I had remembered. Neither bothered me unduly.

The procession was a fine sight coming slowly along the road into central Stratford. It had increased in size. Local Catholics, energised by parish magazines or some more contemporary means of communication, were tagging along and there seemed to be far more nuns.

I took a closer look at these. The newcomers turned out not to be nuns, however, but modestly dressed Moslem women, also in black. I noticed one staring at me.

I’d recognise those eyes anywhere.

The Jibjab Woman!

Hello, Al.

Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah, I said.

Et cum spiritu tuo, said the Jibjab Woman.

Why are you here?

She narrowed her eyes.

The cause, she said.

I caught the almost inaudible sound of her grin against the cloth covering her mouth.

I am always pleased to see the Jibjab Woman and I feel safer when she is around. So, foolishly, I did not ask her whose cause.

By this time we had arrived at the entrance to the shopping centre. Cardinal V- was flinging blessings around as if they were free, but there was indecision. The cross could not go in upright; the doorway was simply too low. The bell-toller ceased tolling and awaited developments.

I assumed that they would pass the cross in with Our Lord on his back, but apparently that would be wrong. Many creatures in nature – notably sharks – lose consciousness when laid on their backs and it was felt that the same logic (if ‘logic’ is the right word) might apply to Him. The cross was lowered so that He was face down and manhandled through the doorway.

Halfway through this manoeuvre there was a nasty crack. Christ’s bottom half came adrift. He continued to hang by His hands, metal-alloy feet dragging noisily on the floor, but the nails in His wrists were now subject to greater stress than had ever been intended. Mongo, now rather hot and dishevelled, got the cross upright again.

At this point a further problem revealed itself. The ceiling would accommodate the cross held upright in some places but not others, where, because of ducting for example, it was much lower. Mongo indicated that it would be easier to compromise on a semi-upright position that he could maintain. He held the cross at about forty-five degrees. It must have been an immense strain on his shoulders and arms. From the top Our Lord hung forwards, at the same angle. The procession struggled back into life.

My mobile rang. I have, I should explain, a network of young people, crossing-sweepers, link-boys and the like, whom I pay small sums of money to keep their eyes and ears open for me. I had told them all of my urgent desire to see the Angel of Paddington Station again.

So my mobile rang. It was a text from one of them:

What price the Angel of Stratford International? Sighted! Come at once!

I had to make a quick decision. The procession with gorgeous robes seemed to be stable. It could manage without me. But I called a local member of my network and told him to keep an eye on things. He is my source for what happened then. I hurried off to Stratford International.

Hassan is a link-boy, aged about twelve. I have no idea why link-boys have a dubious reputation, unless it is because of that salacious painting by Joshua Reynolds. Whatever may be the case with other link-boys Hassan is an entirely wholesome lad and if he attracts attention it is because of his natural and unaffected good looks. He joined the crowd soon after I left. Almost at once, he told me later, two things happened, followed by a third, and the third brought the proceedings to an abrupt close.

As Hassan scanned the procession his eye lit on Cardinal V-. The latter chose to take this as contact directed at him personally. He deserted his place at the head of the procession and pushed through the crowd (‘like rat up drainpipe’) towards Hassan. He was, Hassan told me, gabbling in an unknown tongue. Whether this was Latin, Italian or the simple incoherent vocalisations of lust we will never know.

As I say, the shopping day was drawing to a close and the shops were shutting. When that happens the area is given over to skate-boarding. The youth had already started to gather, waiting for shoppers, processors and all to depart so that they could describe their arabesques on the marble-effect floor in peace, subject only to the appraisal of their peers. As they waited they spun their boards in and out of their hands, using minimal gestures with their feet.

How Mongo managed to intercept one we shall, again, never know. He was very hot, exhausted and stupid, and he could not see his feet on account of his robing. There is no reason to suspect some malign intervention on the part of the Jibjab Woman. I will leave it at that.

Suddenly, Hassan was to tell me later, he hurtled forward on the skateboard, the cross now held straight in front of him like a lance.

‘That metal man, he was hanging, first two hands then one, feet making a terrible sound on the floor. Then a woman, she was big, big like the man holding the wooden thing, she was Caribbean I think, she seize the metal man and pull him off.

‘She shouts, “My Lord! My Lord!”

‘The man with the red hat, he’s just arrived where I’m standing and he’s put his arm on me. He hears this and turns round. He shouts, “No! My Lord!”

‘Then he turns back as he is more interested in me.

‘The wooden thing is going like clappers. I don’t know how that lady got the metal man out from under it. Anyway it sticks in a shop and can’t be got out.’

And what, I said, did Mongo say?

‘He said, “Aaargh!”’

And after the first two things came the third: the arrival of two policemen.

‘Unfortunately for the man with the red hat he has his hand on my trousers when the policemen feel his shoulder.

‘”We have warrant for your arrest,” they say. “Blah, blah, blah sexual offence…blah, blah, blah minors…blah, blah, blah thieving… blah, blah, blah European arrest warrant…”

I thought that European arrest warrants didn’t apply with the Vatican, I said.

Hassan beamed.

‘The man with the red hat say that too! Police say, “Let’s discuss that down at the Station, shall we, sonny?”’

And that was the end of the procession with gorgeous robes.

The Angel? What a waste of time. Some old whore with red knickers. Late middle-aged, I’d say. What is it about the red knickers that blinds people to everything else?

French too.

Thumping Unnecessary

Of course, said Amy, thumping The Culture quite unnecessary. Cultures already thumped. Thumping necessary later when milk added.

True, I said, but it helped Kurd Maverick. It was an excuse for him to have the Valkyrie on board and later thumping helped him ease the guilt at losing The Culture overboard. You shouldn’t overlook the human angle. What happened to Kurd Maverick by the way?

I had paid him the agreed fee for the voyage. The son had agreed a tidy sum with the insurance company for the salvage and had been good enough to promise me a 10% introducer’s commission. He had also secured the long-term services of the elder Valkyrie. She was the only non-philosopher in the crew but she had turned out to be a navigational genius, including dead reckoning when that became necessary. The son told me tales of luxury motor yachts, owned or chartered by the sleazier type of investment bankers, emerging from a spot of sea mist to find the Scintilla or The Jolly Thought right alongside, the crew armed and implacable.

The other Valkyrie had slipped away – to Europe, or somewhere.

Kurd Maverick had been back in Germany, said Amy. But he return. He want sample Parrot. Pieces of eight, and so on.

Sample Parrot for his music?

Yes. One problem. Kurd Maverick passion for dairy product. More than music. He want credit Parrot as Rick Otter. Dairy product theme pun. Daughter two say no, he no Rick Otter, he Parrot.

I’d never thought of that, I said. I’m sure they can sort the credit out.

Amy persisted.

Pun good in German too. Otter same word.


Fischotter better for sea otter like Parrot but otter OK. Still good joke.


Otter mean snake too, in German.

That’s not funny though.

One more problem. Grant authority demand grant back unless Parrot finish language course. So son send linguistic philosopher ashore to Southampton.

Parrot’s a busy otter, what with creating musical masterpieces and learning to talk English. He’s also treasure-hunting on dives with daughter two. She says he has a real nose for an artefact. And of course they have become close friends. He’s moved in with her. I’m not sure what her boyfriend thinks about it.

Maybe, I thought, if Kurd Maverick samples Parrot that will be just the sort of evidence the grant authority would be impressed by. There’s a word for it that the son told me.

Your face funny, said Amy, changing the subject.

I’d just come from the dentist.

I had a root canal operation, I said, but an hour in he found that the tooth was far worse than he thought. I can save it, the dentist said, but not without risking the life of the host.

The host? I had said to him. Me? Save the host. Bugger the tooth.

He had winced. I had injured his professional pride.

Thank God he wasn’t a Catholic, I said.

We will thank Allah when there are no Catholics at all any more.

It was The Jibjab Woman, sitting in the corner. I hadn’t noticed her.

Hello, Jibjab Woman.


I heard her smile disturbing the cloth of the jibjab where it covered her mouth.

You can call me Jib, she said.

And You Can Call Me Al.

Amy sniggered. Once again I was amazed by what she knows of Western culture and what she doesn’t. She’d looked absolutely blank, for instance, when I mentioned Apa’tman, the great Golden Age Montenegrin warlord, to her. The Jibjab Woman would not of course be familiar, for many reasons, with the songs of Paul Simon.

Does it hurt? Amy said.

I used a coarse expression indicating assent.

She disappeared into a back room and returned with some dark liquid in a glass.

Drink up – but don’t go cycling after.

I thanked her and took the glass, with two hands, bowing slightly, in accordance with good manners. I said that I had always regarded Lance Armstrong as in a league of his own as regards chemical relief from this life’s challenges and hurts.

But back to The Culture, I said. Is it what you hoped for?

At first salty. Not surprising. Still salty, a little. Not too salty now. Very powerful. Very good dreams. Much better than the other kefir in London. Much better than Mr Lee’s tired old opium. Up yours for Mr Lee’s stakeholders.

Are you selling it yet?

Not yet. Soon. We have launch party. With celebrities. No more hiding. Great Secret Miss Slumber Party.

Impact, it’s called, I said, what the grant authorities like. It means cross-disciplinary; not narrow focus. And nothing’s as cross-disciplinary as our Parrot.

Sorry, I said, for interrupting.

Are you interested in Great Secret Miss Slumber Party or not?

Of course. I’ll be there.

With celebrity?

Dame Jenni™ Murray?

trouble in threes

I told the better half that I had met our dear friend P’s double, except that she was black.

Horse potty, said the better half. She sometimes says this. I don’t know what it means but it usually suggests that she feels under attack in some way, which on this occasion she needn’t have felt, so I told her again slower.

Is the double a paranoid half-wit too?

Our dear friend P is a very sensitive woman, I said admonishingly. Don’t you remember when you were on the phone with her half the night when her father fell down a manhole and she was terribly and caringly concerned that it would reflect badly on her own reputation for reliability in the pavement space?

Having got that far I had to tell her about P2 and her message, which was not easy. The better half looks askance on my zombie-hunting in the 1930s. She hopes that if she ignores it it might go away

Who did win the 1934 Derby, she said, going straight to the point.

Windsor Lad. Can’t you read?

And what are you going to do about it?

What I did was to write ‘Windsor Lad‘ in soap on my shaving mirror and await events.

And so after a day or two I went to Amy’s, partly to check on the availability of Aubergine Small if the call were to come. Aubergine Small apparently was at sea with my son on The Jolly Thought. Skype is sometimes possible out there, but the more reliable mobile connection is no good of course since he cannot speak. I decided to leave it. If he was needed a way could be found.

Amy is having trouble again. Her supplier of kefir has decided to go into competition with her. This is absurd as no one could reproduce the atmosphere of Amy’s place, but that’s accountants for you. The supplier is being particularly aggressive. First a delivery was missed; the next was borderline off. Amy has typically taken things into her own control. She has made a deal with a sheep-farmer in Cumbria for the supply of his sheep’s unwanted intestinal flora and she has converted a couple of the back rooms. They are now hung with sheepskins full of the makings of the kefir. It’s like nothing so much as the climactic scenes of The Long Good Friday. Diminutive Chinese girls thump the skins regularly to assist the fomentation process.

I wondered idly how their job description would have been described in the girls’ work permit applications – had such been made.

More trouble: as we sat there a power cut occurred. The lights went off, but there are plentiful candles. The CD player also abruptly ceased its all-purpose oriental musak: a relief for some. Amy, however, who prides herself on offering her clients a total experience, sighed – and began to sing. She has a high clear voice, the music was profoundly alien and beautiful and everyone else in the room fell silent. I was very much moved. Then the power came back on, the CD player resumed its warbling and the moment passed.

I decided to finish my tea and be on my way. The bottom of the bowl was covered with fine leaves. They seemed to be moving in a way undirected by me. As I watched, they formed themselves into words:


Amy discourages the use of mobiles on the premises so I went into the street. The Inbox indicated an unread email from ‘P2’. I clicked on it. It wasn’t an email, it was a summoning. With a flash, there I was in 1934, next to my uncle. This time he was battling not one but a hundred zombies.

Aaargh, I shouted.

Aaargh, shouted the zombies, who still had a healthy respect for ghosts.

We were hopelessly outnumbered, but at least this time Uncle Edgerton has his trouser-leg firmly secured and both hands free to fight with. I sallied into the melée.

Then with a flash, Aubergine Small also arrived, so we won.

My son later told me that this was fortunate, as when the summoning came Aubergine Small had been about to be shot at point blank by a Somali with a musket. The latter did not take the disappearance in his stride and was still shouting ‘Aaargh!’ when my son cut him down with his sabre. My son used to take sabre classes in the evenings at St Paul’s School and this has stood him in good stead as a privateer.

Uncle Edgerton eyed Aubergine Small.

You’re a big lad, he said. I don’t I have the psychic energy to keep you here long.

Aubergine Small thrust one hand into his satchel. As he disappeared, a card remained for a moment, suspended in empty air like the Cheshire Cat’s grin:


Uncle Edgerton and I surveyed the noisome scene.

Cleaned up on Windsor Lad, he said.

I had nothing to say on that front.


I have something for you.

It was an afterthought from the Jibjab Woman, which I had been carrying around with me. I handed it to my uncle.

It’s meant for keeping your sleeves free while fighting, but it’ll do just as well on your trousering.

It was of course a set of the Islamic bicycle clips.

My uncle considered the decoration.

Powerful magic, he said.

Allah. The best.

I realised that I’d have to leave in a moment. Something was bothering me.

Here you are in 1934, I said, cleaning up zombies everywhere. In 2012, not a sign of them.

There you are, said my uncle, not without quiet pride.

And there I suddenly wasn’t. I found myself on Amy’s divan, dishevelled and smelling unmistakably of ex-zombies.

May I have more green tea, please, Amy?

This once, she said, not pleased.

I could tell that, for her, trouble was coming in threes and I was the third.

windsor lad predicted and recalled

We have a very dear friend. Her name is P. She is not the brightest person in the world but she is constantly engaged with it. Everything she comes across arouses her curiosity and she has a theory for everything. Usually her theory is that things are conspiring against her. Spending time with her is an adventure, because her ideas are so unexpected; they challenge accepted beliefs at every turn, such as for instance the conventional meanings of the red, amber and green traffic lights, or the identity of the ruling party in Parliament.

Anyway, I was on the Tube the other day. I was ruminating on Uncle Edgerton and wondering if I would see him again. I’d read the Handbook all the way through. There was a certain amount about summoning but nothing about being summoned. Moreover, the stuff about summoning was highly technical and assumed on the part of the intending summoner a familiarity, which I do not have, with basic Masonic practice.

Expecting to find it straightforward, I’d spoken with both Aubergine Small and the Jibjab Woman to see if they would be interested in a spot of zombie-killing in the 1930s. I’d certainly got a taste for it myself. Aubergine Small was up for it. He fished in the satchel in which he keeps the pre-printed cards with which he answers frequently answered questions. As he did so I could not help thinking that an enquiry whether one wants to engage in zombie-killing in the 1930s could not be that frequently asked. Nevertheless he had a suitable response handy, one no doubt appropriate to other questions as well:


The cards may have been designed, like Professor Stephen Hawking’s voicebox, with the American market in mind.

The Jibjab Woman on the other hand declined. She had, she said, nothing against zombies. Golems, yes, she spat, but not zombies. You forget, she said, possibly because of my affection and support for Amy, that I am a woman on a mission – to beat the shit out of the enemies of Islam – and my mission comes first.

Missions tend to, I murmured. That is sometimes a good thing but usually not.

Anyway, unsummoned, Aubergine Small and I were stuck in the Twenty-first Century, where unless I was looking the wrong way zombies were thin on the ground.

But to return to our dear friend P, as I glanced across the carriage on the Underground, ruminating, as I say, on Uncle Edgerton, there she was. Her beady little eyes were darting around the carriage and she was muttering to herself. With an affectionate exclamation I bounded across.

P, I said – in her own native language, out of politeness, rather than the English with which she struggles. How nice to see you, how unexpected!

As I did so, I noticed something strange. Our dear friend P comes of obscure stock, a matter on which she is sometimes regrettably less than frank, but she is more white than anything else. This woman however was undeniably black.

You’re not P!

Not so loud, she said. We may be overheard. Call me P2. And follow me at the next stop.

So I followed her into a branch of Pret, or possibly Eat but not The Fresh Kitchen, Sainsbury’s excellent fast-food chain, because I would have remembered that, particularly if we’d shared one of their tasty ham and cheddar baguettes, so much more flavourful than the blander sandwiches at Pret and Eat. No, it was Pret and we each had a bottle of water tinged with the juice of some fashionably healthy fruit or vegetable.

When you were on the Tube were you thinking of your Uncle Edgerton, P2 asked unexpectedly.

I admitted so.

That’s how I got through.

I gasped.

Are you a Mason too?

With my name! said P2. Is the Pope an anti-Christ?

But why, I persisted, do you look so like our dear friend P? (I didn’t mention her being black.)

So that you’d trust me, P2 explained, cunningly. I fixed onto your thought waves as you stood on the Tube thinking about your Uncle Edgerton, and then I intuited your feelings of affection and trust for your dear friend P. I might have impersonated your friend Amy instead – I read that you like her too – but P’s face is easier.

Read where?

In your psychic emanations, said P2.

You certainly don’t talk like our dear friend P, I said. She talks a lot of nonsense.

Enough! This is costing your Uncle Edgerton a fortune in psychic energy. I have a message, and then I must depart.

This was exciting. It sounded as if zombie-killing in the 1930s might be on again after all.

Tell me!

P2 consulted a small piece of paper.

Who won the Derby in 1934?

It was as if I’d been struck with a sand bag. This was Uncle Edgerton’s less attractive side. No doubt in his universe the 1934 Derby was still to take place and bookmakers were still accepting bets.

I have absolutely no idea, I said huffily.

Well Google it, said P2. He can’t.

Well you Google it.

I wish I could, said P2, but I am but a spirit of the air given by powerful magic a temporary form in time and space, and hopeless with computers.

Judge not that ye be not judged, I mused, which was convenient for me as I really did not want to antagonise my uncle, venal as he undoubtedly was.

I tell you what, I said. I’ll find the 1934 Derby winner. In return I want to come back, and this time I want to bring Aubergine Small with me.

Make sure you do. A messenger will be provided, said P2, and promptly disappeared.

I consigned two nearly full bottles of tinged water to the rubbish bin. I hope that Pret weren’t hurt.

With much to think about I returned underground and resumed my journey.

flora for the judge

Amy’s place is different every time I go there. It started as an opium den without opium – or at any rate a place where opium was only for those for whom kefir didn’t altogether do the trick. Then it became a place of more general resort. There was a bar – after a fashion. There were divans with cushions. Then food became available. When you enter through the very discrete front door you are greeted by the aroma of green tea and of Chinese and Japanese delicacies. There is nothing however so vulgar as a menu. In the front room, you can usually depend on meeting people you know and spending an agreeable half hour with them, and then there are the back rooms for more recondite pleasures, like the private rooms of a New Orleans brothel or the library of a Pall Mall club.

There is no name over the door. In one window, facing the street, there is a portrait of Amy’s provisional head of state against a red, white and blue background. It will remain there at least until the Olympics are over. Inside is a rather bigger photographic portrait of His Highness Sultan Qaboos of Oman, benevolently fingering his khanjar. That was a gift from me.

You can get anything you want, at Amy’s restaurant.

Excepting Amy, quoted the dog, showing off.

After a rocky start, things were looking up. Late one night, however, she telephoned me. I was to go straight round. It concerned the Court of Appeal judge, and Amy, who is never entirely unsettled, was clearly far from settled.

This, as will be seen shortly, is probably the man’s last appearance in these chronicles, and he deserves more than the generic description – ‘the Court of Appeal judge’ – that he has received to date. Unfortunately however the circumstances are far too delicate to admit of his being named. Professionally he would be described as ‘Lord Justice’ – followed by his surname. He was not acting professionally at the time though, so he would properly be known in this context as Sir J- K- (as it might be), having been knighted when he became a High Court judge and not yet made (indeed, as we shall see shortly, never to be made) a life peer, as would normally be appropriate on his acceding in the fullness of time to the Supreme Court. I shall call him Sir J-, like a provincial town in the stories of Chekhov.

Anyway, he was dead. Amy tried to prepare me with ineffective circumlocutions but I went straight through to the private room and the position was beyond doubt.

A stroke?

He choke on he own kefir.

That much could be seen. The man’s face was such as I hope never to see again, his slight body distorted with horror, his tweeds awry. The intestinal flora had got him in the end.

He can’t be found here, I said. Not just for your sake, Amy, but his family’s. We have to get him away.

How? she said. Who can help us? Aubergine Small he at sea. On Jolly Thought.

I hadn’t, I admit, thought of Aubergine Small. Brute strength was not required, but we had to get the man unseen through the streets of London to a place suitable to leave him. I had a brainwave. I called the Jibjab Woman on her mobile and fortunately she picked up.

Come at once. Amy needs you. Bring spare jibjabs.

What a star she is! She soon arrived, took in the scene with a shudder and got straight to work: off with the tweeds and on with the jibjab.

You too, Amy, I directed.

There being a fourth jibjab, I also put it on, and there we were, although mine was a little small for me, to all appearances four modest Moslem women about to go shopping; one of us increasingly less pliant than the others.

We were convincing enough, but no likely match for a London cabbie. It was then that I had my second brainwave. Our friend M, it may be recalled, does not trust public transport, and always uses a contract driver. This man – let us call him Igor – speaks no English, lacks basic familiarity with the geography of London and is of unparalleled venality. So I called him.

He’ll never tell about us. He probably won’t even notice.

There was of course a delay while Igor found us and another as he manoeuvred the Bentley down the street, which had been designed only to take two lanes of traffic. I think that he found my accent confusing – probably it was the falsetto – but I’m confident that he never guessed that I was English. I directed him, in Russian, to take us to Sir J-‘s country place, the address of which, in Hampshire, I had located, using Google.

Sir J- would be discovered, re-tweeded, among his familiar shrubs and gazebos, having passed away unexpectedly but peacefully.

We fairly bowled along. Once we hit the main roads out of London it was a smooth ride. I was very tired and I confess that I dropped off. So I believe did Amy, for whom it had been a trying day, and the Jibjab Woman must have slept as well.

I awoke too late. We were not at Sir J-‘s country seat, we were at Farnborough Airport.

Gompshire! Gompshire! shouted Igor.

Too late I realised that ‘Hampshire’ meant only one thing to him: the private airport that delivered his clients to him and bore them away again.

Across the field a Lear Jet was taking off.

She very stiff; she go at Novosibirsk, said Igor, lapsing unexpectedly into English.

It wasn’t at all what I had intended, but perhaps it was for the best. There would be puzzlement in England about Sir J-‘s disappearance but the arrival in Novosibirsk of a dead English judge dressed as a modest Moslem woman would probably go unremarked. A contract killing, they would no doubt conclude, and leave it at that.

Anyway there was no more that we could do.

The stress lifted, Amy, the Jibjab Woman and I were suddenly attacked by giggles.

I thought, These jibjabs are too good to waste.

Harrods, my man, I said to Igor in my most authoritative falsetto voice. And step on it.

I was confident that although shaky on central London and fundamentally confused as regards Hampshire, Igor would know how to find Harrods.