Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five

Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five


Seven Books in Seven Weeks – Part Five

… The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser…



Welcome back to Seven Books in Seven Weeks. Last time, I left you with a taste of epic fantasy, in the form of The Lightstone by David Zindell, so what better way to resume the series than with another epic tale, this one of swashbuckling adventure and derring-do on the high seas?

The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser is a wonderful romp through pirate lore, with a comic turn that has, without a shadow of a doubt, influenced my own writing over the years. First published in 1983, it predates Pirates of the Caribbean by two decades, yet many of the scenes and situations it describes would not be out of place in that particular movie series. I have a copy of the 2003 edition, which incidentally came out around the same time as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie and I have to say that when it comes to dishonesty, scurrilousness and downright self-serving behaviour then Fraser’s Colonel Tom Blood outshines Captain Jack Sparrow in every respect.


Front cover of The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser - Rob Gregory Author

Front cover of The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser. The strange ‘scratch marks’ on the top are due to de-lamination of the protective cover!



The Pyrates is a novel in three parts, with each part building on the one before. It follows the convoluted adventures of the aforementioned rogue, Colonel Tom Blood (cashiered) and Captain Benjamin Avery, hero of the Royal Navy, as they battle their way around the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean and the Cape of Good Hope, to Madagascar and back again. Along the way, we stop off on remote desert islands, pirate ports and the lair of Don Lardo, the reptilian viceroy of the Spanish stronghold in Cartagena.

The main vehicle for the series of misadventures that befall the heroic Ben Avery and the decidedly anti-heroic Tom Blood, is a crown, fashioned with six great gems, which must be delivered from England to the African King who commissioned it. Of course, when Tom Blood gets to hear of its existence, he wants the crown for himself, as do the six great pirate lords that sail the high seas. I won’t tell you who gets there first, but the shenanigans that follow ensure that both Blood and Avery get tested to their respective limits.

Map of locations in The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

From good old Blighty to Cartagena and back again. Which way is Hollywood?


Supporting Characters

One of the things that makes The Pyrates such an enjoyable read are the supporting characters. While Ben Avery and Tom Blood are as black and white as you can get, in terms of their principal qualities, the six pirate lords add varying shades of grey to the mix, while Lady Vanity, the Admiral’s daughter and Avery’s sweetheart, is a study in bimboism and snobbishness, who would be equally at home in Sloane Square, a trendy New York cocktail bar or the back seat of a Range Rover.

Without giving too much away as far as the pirates are concerned, we have Calico Jack Rackham, immaculate in dress, less than immaculate in thought and leader of the pirate band by the simple virtue of being literate. Then there is Black Bilbo, an ex-guttersnipe, who is deadly with a rapier and harbours dreams of being a gentleman. Firebeard is a giant of a man, who ties firecrackers in his beard and sings the kind of sea-shanties that would get you kicked out of any self-respecting parish choir, while Black Sheba (the She-Wolf) is an ex-Barbados slave, with a taste for Pierre Cardin and a hatred for men that would rival even the most radical of 1960s feminists. Akbar the Terrible, hawkish, hairy and of the Islamic persuasion, runs a crew of slaves and has a penchant for gold lame trousers, while Happy Dan Pew, is a poor unfortunate, who, after suffering a blow on the head as a child, came to believe that he was a French filibuster, even though he can barely speak a word of the language beyond that in the Collins Primer!

Then there are the minor characters, such as King Charles II, Samuel Pepys and Goliath, the dwarf who accompanies Black Bilbo wherever he goes. All serve to help move the story along and make The Pyrates a far richer tale for their brief presence in the book.

Now, just for a moment, turn your thoughts to the Brethren Court in Pirates of the Caribbean. Comprised of nine pirate lords, rather than six, it is interesting to see a Frenchman (Chevalle), an ex-slave (Joacard), an Englishman with gentlemanly pretensions (Barbossa) and the terror of the Arabian Sea (Sumbahjee) among their midst. It is likely just a coincidence, however, if you have ever read The Pyrates, then it is the sort of thing that does make you raise an eyebrow in curious speculation.

Inside cover of The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

Beautiful inside cover illustration for The Pyrates.



George MacDonald Fraser is, to my mind, a master of both humour and the burlesque. Consider the following excerpt from The Pyrates:

She was not tall, but her carriage was that of a fashion model who has been to a Swiss finishing school and knows she has the equipment to stop a battalion of Rugby League players in their tracks with the flick of a false eyelash…

… Captain Avery and Colonel Blood stood together by the rail, drinking her in – one in respectful worship, the other with thoughts of black silk bedclothes and overhead mirrors.

In just a few lines, he captures the characters of both Colonel Blood and Captain Avery, while at the same time giving us a compelling image and insight into the kind of woman that Lady Vanity is.

Another area where Fraser excels, is in mixing up the old and the new. In fact, this is one of the things that I enjoy most about The Pyrates. Fraser takes the Seventeenth Century and liberally peppers it with Twentieth Century references. Purists would undoubtedly hate this molestation of history, but I love it. Consequently, we have references to Gucci, Cartier and Marvel Comics and that is just on one page! For me, this is what makes The Pyrates so special. Not only do we have an excellent historical adventure story, but we get to observe it and laugh from a modern perspective.

Then there is the pure silliness. One of my favourite examples is where Ben Avery renames a pirate ship that he has single-handedly captured. We are not told what his instructions to the pirate signwriter were, but when the name is revealed, he is horrified to read ‘The Glodden Vatiny’ on the rear of the vessel, rather than ‘The Golden Vanity’. I still laugh about that one every time I think about it!

Rear cover for The Pyrates - Rob Gregory Author

Shame about the rather plain rear cover!


Historical Accuracy

I mentioned the historical nature of The Pyrates above and this is something else that George MacDonald Fraser excels at, interweaving unique fictional characters and situations into a historically accurate background. Anyone who has read the wonderful Flashman Papers will know what I am talking about. In that series, he took a fictional figure, Harry Flashman, from the book, Tom Brown’s School Days, and placed him into history with a precision that was unnerving.

Cover of Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser - Rob Gregory Author

Flashman, another of my favourites by George MacDonald Fraser.

The same is true of The Pyrates. At the end of the book, Fraser briefly introduces the real-life individuals that inspired some of his characters and I have no doubt in believing that he more than thoroughly researched both the geography and history of seafaring and piracy in the Seventeenth Century, before setting pen to paper or finger to typewriter. As always, it is a case of knowing the rules before you break them and Fraser acknowledges this in the afterword, when he talks about some of the artistic liberties that he took when writing the novel, particularly those involving the time taken to make some of the sea journeys.


The Pyrates, by George MacDonald Fraser, is a fantastic book and one that is worthy of a place on anyone’s bookshelf, unless they have an aversion to pirates or the sea, in which case I would suggest that they leave it well alone.

As with all of the books I have covered so far, The Pyrates impact on me has been enormous. I love mixing up the old and the new in my writing and have probably done this most explicitly with my Fotherington-Tomas series of short stories. Incidentally, I freely admit that I followed Fraser’s lead with Flashman and lifted my protagonist, Fotherington-Tomas, from a pre-existing book by another author. You can check it out here if you are interested. Although some people might think that this is a little cheeky or disrespectful, in my view, I believe it is a way to breathe new life into existing fictional characters and take them in directions that their original authors would never have imagined. Call it a homage, if you will, to the brilliance of the originators that came before. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is it not?

So, in a Cartier-diamond-encrusted nutshell, thank you George MacDonald Fraser for giving the world The Pyrates. More people these days might be familiar with Pirates of the Caribbean, but you got there first and for my money, did it far, far better!


With only two more books to cover in the series, it is anyone’s guess as to what will pop up next. Pride and Prejudice? A Tale of Two Cities? 2001 – A Space Odyssey? Place your bets here and make sure that you check out the next instalment of Seven Books in Seven Weeks!

Fotherington-Tomas and the Unexpected Move

Fotherington-Tomas and the Unexpected Move

Fotherington-Tomas and the Unexpected Move

… FT makes the big jump to Amazon and Smashwords…

Fotherington-Tomas and Maxwell were sitting in the Middle Drawing Room of Haggrid’s, enjoying the fusty smell of antiquity that surrounded them and a quick glass of Chablis, before the butler announced the day’s luncheon.

While Maxwell was busy scanning the tightly-packed columns of the Financial Times, to see how his cryptocurrency portfolio was performing, Fotherington-Tomas had his sizable nose buried in a brand new ebook reader.

“You know, Maxwell. This really is the way of the future. I’ve got a dozen books on this magical thingamajig and its barely the size of my palm. I’m carrying around a library in my hand, don’t you know? It’s like having the whole of the Bodleian at your fingertips. Wonderful, when you think about it,” said Fotherington-Tomas.

Maxwell paused in his search and sipped on his wine, before answering.

“Indeed, FT. In fact, I was just reading about this Amazon doohickey. It’s big business or so the article says. A bit like Harrods, but everything on it is electronic. They’ve even got books for sale.”

“Really? I think that I’m going to have to have a look at that. I could do with getting a few more tomes on this thing. A well-read gentleman can never have too many books, isn’t that right, Maxwell?” said Fotherington-Tomas.

“Absolutely, FT. And do you know something else? Apparently, Amazon and most other ebook platforms prioritise those who release books on a regular basis, over traditional publishers, who only put out one or two books a year,” said Maxwell.

Fotherington-Tomas looked up from his e-reader and gave Maxwell a thoughtful stare.

“So, let me get this right? It’s a quantity over quality thing, yes? Which means, if I were to publish some of our daring adventures, in the form of very short stories, on this Amazon place, then I could become even more well-known than I am now?”

“That’s about the size of it,” replied Maxwell.

“Well, in that case, let’s do it!” said Fotherington-Tomas, his booming voice ringing off the thick oak panels. “No more blogging about our exploits for me! I’m going to ebook land, instead!”

And with that, he, jumped up from his seat, an avaricious glint in his eye and shot out of Haggrid’s, all thoughts of his lunch forgotten, leaving Maxwell sitting in his chair, with a most perplexed look on his face.



So, there you have it. From now on, Fotherington-Tomas will be moving to Amazon, Smashwords and all good ebook retailers. I hope that you’ll join me, as his adventures continue to grow on this new and exciting platform.

Thank you!

Fotherington-Tomas and the Mephostus Meeting

Fotherington-Tomas and the Mephostus Meeting

Fotherington-Tomas and the Mephostus Meeting

… Dark revelations abound at Haggrid’s Club for Gentleman…

Two besuited figures, one substantially larger than the other, sat in high, wing-backed, leather chairs, enjoying their glasses of brandy, as they watched the crackling flames dance in the fireplace before them.

Away to one side, squeezed rather uncomfortably into the far corner of the room, in fact, sat two other suited figures, both similarly mismatched in terms of their relative scale. The larger of the two cast a longing glance towards the two chairs and then turned to frostily regard his colleague over the top of his tumbler.

“Would’ve been nice to have sat by the fire on an evening like this,” he said, his voice rumbling like a troll gargling granite. “But someone had to go and have the last slice of apple pie, didn’t they?” he added somewhat petulantly.

“Sorry, FT,” said Maxwell, mopping up a lone droplet of cream hanging from the tip of his waxed moustache. “But you know how much I adore apple pie and it would have been a crime to have let it go to waste. And we did manage to get seats in the drawing room, unlike those poor chaps over there,” he continued, pointing to a glum group of ex-diners, huddled miserably over the Deluxe Scrabble and Cluedo boards in the Games Room.

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Far end of the dining room at Haggrid's - Rob Gregory Author

The ‘slum’ end of the informal dining room at Haggrid’s.

“I just fancied warming my bones a bit, that’s all. I’m not getting any younger, you know. And in our line of work, you’ve got to learn to take your leisure whenever you can,” said Fotherington-Tomas, snapping his fingers to summon a passing butler to bring him another brandy.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, FT,” said Maxwell, regarding his long-time friend with concern. “I mean, it’s not like it’s the depths of midwinter and we’ve been here for most of the day, bathed in centrally-heated bliss, so I can’t really see how you’ve got any reason to be chilled, let alone so miserable.”

By here, Maxwell was referring to Haggrid’s, the oldest and most exclusive gentleman’s club in all of London Town. Founded in fourteen-forty-four, by the son of a Spanish whelk-peddler, it was steeped in history and more than a little mystery to boot. Rumour had it that the Lord Chief Mason kept a private room on the top floor of the building, for his mistress and her pet chinchilla, while others said that there was a fully functional, antique S&M dungeon located in the basement. Both were absolutely true, of course, and a lot more besides, but the only things that really mattered were that the male heirs of the Fotherington-Tomas clan were granted membership in perpetuity, because of a blood-debt owed to them from way back in the early fifteen-hundreds, and that the club was so catastrophically old-fashioned that it insisted on painting its blackballs white.

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Lower drawing room at Haggrid's - Rob Gregory Author

The lesser drawing room at Haggrid’s.

“You wouldn’t understand, Maxwell. After all, you were only in your first term at Oxford, when it happened,” said Fotherington-Tomas morosely.

“When what happened, FT?” said Maxwell, his eyebrows lifting in anticipation at the thought of his beloved mentor sharing some rare and long-suppressed angst that was gnawing at his indomitable soul.

“Well, it is forty years to the very day, that I first met Doctor Mephostus, if you must know,” replied Fotherington-Tomas, with an unusually distant look about him.

“I never knew that Doctor Mephostus was at Oxford!” exclaimed Maxwell. “You never mentioned that before.”

“Like I said, you were only in your first year and studying History of Art, if I remember correctly, so there would have been little chance that your paths would have crossed,” said Fotherington-Tomas, taking a large swig of brandy from his glass, as if to gird his loins before beginning his confession.

“Ah, yes. History of Art. The noblest of all the academic pursuits,” said Maxwell fondly. “Two hours of lectures a week and a stipend that you could drown a rugby team on. I must admit that I don’t recall it too clearly these days, although I do believe that my initials are still to be found carved in a lintel above one of the cubbies in The Lamb and Flag.”

“That particular admission wouldn’t surprise me in the least, knowing what a rascally rapscallion you were back in those days,” answered Fotherington-Tomas, with a mixture of admonishment and admiration in his eyes.

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Oxford colleges and meadow - Rob Gregory Author

Oxford University, as seen from the rear.

Fotherington-Tomas drained his glass and then indicated to the steward that he should bring him yet another and one more for Maxwell besides.

As the drinks were placed delicately down on the tiny oak table that separated them, Fotherington-Tomas continued:

“Yes, Mephostus was indeed an Oxford boy. An old Mortonian, like myself, in fact. We used to knock around together quite a bit back then. Along with old Aldo Passlington, the Yorkshire Yippmaster, don’t you know? He was studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the time. Aldo, that was, not Mephostus. We were quite the inseparable threesome, until Aldo’s tastes turned a bit too militant for my liking and he started drinking in The Three Goat’s Heads.”

“Another nugget of glimmering information that I was hitherto unapprised of,” said Maxwell, settling himself into his seat, as the story began to unfold.

“Indeed, but it is Mephostus that is the subject of my woes this evening,” said Fotherington-Tomas, swirling his brandy slowly around in his glass and watching the legs of alcohol, as they dribbled down the glass towards the dark, amber meniscus below. “At that time, he was a brilliant young chemistry student, indentured at the Dyson Perrins Workhouse for Boys, on South Parks Road. And when I say brilliant, he was far ahead of anyone else in his year, and well beyond most of the seasoned Dons who were tutoring him. At one point, they were actually fighting each other in the street, for the honour of having him do his doctoral thesis under them. How wrong that went in the end, especially when that poor organ grinder and his monkey came around the corner…” his voice dropping into silence, as he lost himself in the depths of his glass.

Maxwell took a sip of his own brandy, enjoying the warm smell of the time-aged liquor, as it hit his nose and wormed its way smoothly down his throat. He remained silent, watching Fotherington-Tomas, until the great man suddenly jerked himself from his personal reminiscence and carried on.

“We were the best of friends, old Mephostus and I, at Oxford. I was just finishing my first degree in Zoology and it was he who convinced me to contemplate the study of chemistry for my D.Phil. Well, not pure chemistry, to be absolutely precise about it. Rather the biology of chemistry… and not biochemistry, before you ask. No, we were going to open up a whole new field of human endeavour, Mephostus and I. We would have been Nobel Laureates, for sure, the pair of us. Were it not for the incident.”

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Dyson Perrins Workhouse for Boys - Rob Gregory Author

The Dyson Perrins Workhouse for Boys. Allegedly modelled on a prison in the Alsace.

“Incident?” queried Maxwell, setting his empty glass down on the table as quietly as he could, so as not to disturb Fotherington-Tomas from his memories.

“Yes, the incident. And how very unfortunate it was for the both of us, upon reflection,” said Fotherington-Tomas, with uncharacteristic sadness in his voice. “We both played rugby for the College and bloody good we were, too. I was in the front row, while he was one of the most talented scrum-halves that I have ever seen on the field. You should have been there, Maxwell, we were truly something to behold. The way that he could run rings around men thrice the size of him was nothing short of amazing. He could have played for England, had his heart been in it, which for a short while, at least, I believe that it was.”

“Anyway, we were both in our final year, when the bi-annual Army versus Oxford rugby match was announced. Naturally, we were both selected for the team and never before, or since, for that matter, have two men trained so hard for an amateur sporting event.”

“So, it was an injury that did him in, was it?” asked Maxwell, daring for just a moment, to interrupt the human mammoth in his captivating monologue.

“No, nothing of the sort!” roared Fotherington-Tomas, causing several of the older members in the establishment to clutch their hands frantically to their chests, for fear of having another heart attack, and so soon after dinner too.

“No, Maxwell. We were both at the peak of physical fitness, when we took to the field that day. It was a glorious June afternoon and a sizeable portion of the University had turned out to watch us play, including, I should point out, most of the chemistry professors from Dyson Perrins. The Army team were predominantly from the Household Cavalry, with a few Royal Marines thrown in to bolster the back row, but what we didn’t know, was that there was a minor Royal, the nephew of one of the Princes or some other, playing on their side. It was a great game, with plenty of playful gouging going on, and a bit of harmless biting in the mauls, of course. Then, just after half-time, Mephostus was sent off for a high tackle on the Royal in question.”

“The rotter!” said Maxwell. “I knew that he was no good, even from the start. What a terrible thing for him to do and to a member of the Royal Family at that!”

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Rugby jersey and players on the field - Rob Gregory Author

Rugby. A game played by men with odd-shaped balls.

“Far from it,” replied Fotherington-Tomas, darkly. “It was the referee’s fault. It was never a high tackle, not even close to being one, but the foolish fellow couldn’t bear the thought of impugning the good name of the Monarchy, so he castigated Mephostus in the only way that he knew how, with a red card held stiffly aloft, for all to see.”

“Two sides to every story, eh?” said Maxwell, summoning the waiter for another glass of brandy for the pair of them.

“Yes. And we were left without our best scrum-half in the process. We ended up losing the match because of that decision and from that day on, Mephostus swore to bring down the entire Royal Family. If the referee had only made the correct decision, then I wouldn’t be left where I am today, battling a nemesis of considerable guile, who was once my very best friend in the world.

I tried to remonstrate with him in the changing rooms after the match. Mephostus, that was, not the referee, but the damage was done. I don’t mind admitting that he frightened me to the very core, such was the bitterness with which he took the referee’s decision. I have never heard such vehemence from the lips of an Englishman in all my life and that is God’s honest truth. It changed my opinion of him in an instant. You know me, Maxwell, old boy. I stand for Queen and Country, no matter what the cost. And to hear the blasphemous slander that was issuing from his lips on that day, with only an Egyptian cotton towel wrapped around his waist, turned my heart into stone. I remember slamming his bony frame against the wall of the changing room, as I left the building, and never again did I spare even the most-paltry word of acknowledgement for his existence as a man born of English parents.”

“I understand your position completely, FT. But, you did indeed make a mortal enemy of him on that day. And the problem with Doctor Mephostus, as you know only too well, is that you can never predict where he is going to strike next.”

“Indeed, Maxwell. Indeed. He’s proven to be as slippery an eel off the pitch, as he was on it,” said Fotherington-Tomas, draining his glass with a single gargantuan gulp.

“What was that, FT? I didn’t say anything,” replied Maxwell, reaching for his glass.

He was but inches away from the table, when Fotherington-Tomas’ suddenly dashed his glass onto the floor and began scrabbling at his bow tie.

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Poison box from The Prodigy - Rob Gregory Author

I’ve got the poison… I’ve got the remedy! RIP Keith Flint of The Prodigy (1969-2019).

“Poison, Maxwell! Don’t touch it!” he gasped, as his round, moon-like face began to redden, and his eyes bulged alarmingly from their sockets.

“The waiter! It must have been Doctor Mephostus in disguise!” cried Maxwell, scanning the room for any sign of the ancient, grey-haired manservant, who had delivered their drinks.

Fotherington-Tomas started to tremble, as Maxwell watched on in horror, his face as pale as his dear friend’s was red. With every passing second, the trembling grew more and more fitful, until Fotherington-Tomas was jerking around in his seat, like a condemned man riding the blue-limned lightning of the electric chair.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the shaking stopped, and Fotherington-Tomas sat bolt upright in his chair, his eyes staring fixedly ahead, as his breathing slowed almost to a stop. Maxwell watched on, transfixed, as beads of perspiration broke out on Fotherington-Tomas’ forehead and began running down his face. Very soon, a small pool of sweat appeared beneath the vast man and Maxwell became aware of an extremely unpleasant odour hanging in the air between them.

Casting his eyes around the room, to see if any of the more antiquated members had passed wind and not admitted it, he noticed that the hubbub, which had accompanied his mentor’s initial shocked outburst had died away, to be replaced by an almost reverential silence, as every pair of eyes in the room fixed themselves on the pair of them.

After what seemed like an age, Fotherington-Tomas’ glassy-eyed stare faded, and his breathing returned to something approaching normality. Rolling his shoulders in displeasure at finding his clothes soaked through with sweat, he shook himself and rose from his chair.

“Are you alright, FT?” asked Maxwell, his voice sounding like a bomb going off in the wood-damped silence of the oak-panelled drawing room.

FT and the Mephostus Meeting. Morton College, Oxford - Rob Gregory Author

Morton College, Oxford. Home to both Fotherington-Tomas and evil Doctor Mephostus.

“Had a close call there, Maxwell,” said Fotherington-Tomas, trying unsuccessfully, to mop his face dry with his sodden handkerchief. “But thankfully, I was able to force the poison out through my pores, before it could attack my nervous system.”

“Another victory for the training of Abbot Victor Falangies, eh?” said Maxwell, handing his own, unspoiled handkerchief, to the dripping form before him.

Before Fotherington-Tomas could reply, the room erupted into a cacophony of cheering and rampant applause, as the assembled members of Haggrid’s rose to their feet, to give their most celebrated brother a standing ovation, in honour of the magnificent show of mind over matter that they had just witnessed.

“Enough. Enough!” boomed Fotherington-Tomas, waving a shovel-sized hand in the air to silence the crowd. “Thank you, my dear fellows. Thank you. But it was really nothing, nothing at all. Now, if you will excuse me, Maxwell and I have a villain to apprehend.”

At that moment, there was a polite tug on his arm and Fotherington-Tomas span around to find himself face to face with a butler bearing a small silver tray. For a second, Maxwell thought that his mighty colleague was going to strike the man, but he regained his immaculate composure, when the terrified fellow managed to stammer out: “Telegram for you, Mister Fotherington-Tomas, Sir.”

“Thank you,” said Fotherington-Tomas in a perfunctory tone, as he lifted the small, yellow envelope from the tray and opened it.

Once again, the drawing room of Haggrid’s fell silent, as Fotherington-Tomas’ eyes scanned the narrow type printed on the telegram. Then, placing the missive back down on the silver tray, he turned to Maxwell and said: “My friend. I am afraid that capturing Doctor Mephostus will have to wait for another day. It would appear that we have been summoned by Her Majesty to make all haste to Paris and from there, to Mont Blanc.”

“Mont Blanc. Whatever for, FT?” asked Maxwell, still glancing around the room for any possible sign of Doctor Mephostus in amongst the servants.

“She didn’t say. But for us, my dear fellow, ‘all haste’ can mean only one thing. And that’s a trip on the Eurostar, followed by the Orient Express!”




Will Fotherington-Tomas get to the Orient Express on time, especially seeing as Network Rail has reported fresh leaves on the line? What hideous peril awaits the brave duo at Mont Blanc? And what of Doctor Mephostus? Will he ever be apprehended, and the safety of The Realm assured? Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment of, The Adventures of Fotherington-Tomas… whenever that might be!

Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis

Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis

Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis

… or how FT saved the Queen at Hamleys…

Fotherington-Tomas was drunk. Sarah had left the Harveys Bristol Cream out on the sideboard and he had been tippling away quite happily since mid-morning. Now with lunch rapidly approaching, he was starting to feel the effects of the fine Spanish libation and it was red-faced that he gulped down the last of his glass, as the door opened to admit Maxwell, still shivering from the winter chill.

“What ho, FT! Ready for the off?” exclaimed Maxwell cheerily, stamping his feet and leaving little clods of melting snow on the fine Persian rug.

“Whassat? Off what? And leave your filthy brogues in the hall when you come inside. Thass a antique carpet that is!” belched Fotherington-Tomas, fixing his companion with a woozy stare.

Maxwell regarded his friend with concern. He’s tighter than Nureyev’s underpants, he thought with alarm. And we’re on special duty protecting Her Majesty in less than two hours’ time.

“Fancy a snifter?” said Fotherington-Tomas hopefully, as Maxwell brushed past him and lifted the needle off the Perry Como Christmas Album. Before the silence between them could grow too uncomfortable, Maxwell called out through the open door: “Sarah? Could you put the kettle on, please? I think we could do with a pot of hot coffee in here, tout suite.”

“Of course, Maxwell,” came the dulcet tones of Sarah, Fotherington-Tomas’ long-suffering but dearly devoted wife. “Lunch is almost ready, so I’ll bring the whole lot in at once, if you can just wait a minute, that is.”

“That will be entirely acceptable, thank you,” replied Maxwell, turning to face Fotherington-Tomas, who hiccupped loudly and tried to hide his now refilled glass behind his back like a guilty schoolboy.

“You’ve got more onboard than the Titanic’s captain!” said Maxwell angrily, grasping Fotherington-Tomas by his broad, masculine shoulders and shaking him roughly, spilling most of the alcohol onto the carpet in the process. “And we’ve got to be at Hamleys by three! Have you forgotten?”

“Hamleys?” said Fotherington-Tomas uncertainly, as he withdrew the glass from his back and examined it sadly.

“Yes, the Royal opening. We do it every year,” replied Maxwell in exasperated tones.

Fotherington-Tomas stared into the middle distance, as if trying to recall something important and then slurred: “You don’t mean the ‘Gran Ham Slam’, do you? I thought that was next week!”

“No, it’s today, FT. It’s this afternoon, in fact!” cried Maxwell in desperation.

“Oh crap!” said Fotherington-Tomas, all the colour draining from his face. “Well, bugger me with a deck of playing cards, that one completely slipped past the old noggin, that did. Drastic action is called for. What we need is… coffee! Yes, coffee! That’ll do the trick!”

“Sarah! Fetch me some coffee at once!” he bellowed into the hallway.

“Right away, dear,” replied Sarah, wheeling a serving trolley laden with festive delicacies into the living room. “I assume you’ll be having yours black?” she queried, looking at her husband fondly.

“I’ll have the whole damned pot!” retorted Fotherington-Tomas, reaching rudely past Maxwell and grabbing the glass cafetière, downing the piping hot contents in one go.

“That’s better,” he said, dabbing his lips with a monogrammed silk handkerchief.

“And what would you like, Maxwell?” asked Sarah.

“Actually, I’d quite like a small glass of sherry. And one of those lovely mince pies, if you’d be so kind please, Sarah,” replied Maxwell, receiving a hooded stare from his now sober colleague.

“Of course,” said Sarah, handing him a delicate china plate with a hot mince pie atop it and reaching for the Bristol Cream, which she swished around a couple of times before returning it to the sideboard. “But no sherry for you I’m afraid. Someone seems to have emptied the bottle.”

“Could have sworn it was half-full a moment ago,” muttered Fotherington-Tomas under his breath.

“No matter,” replied Maxwell, brushing the last of the mince pie crumbs from his mouth onto the rug below and twirling the ends of his waxed moustache out of habit. “We should be off anyway. Duty calls and The Realm awaits, eh FT?”

“Damned right it does!” said Fotherington-Tomas, bending down and giving Sarah a peck on the cheek. “Don’t wait up, my dear. You know how these things tend to go. We could be gone for weeks.” Then without waiting for his wife to respond, he strode purposefully out of the living room and into the wood-panelled hallway, where he grabbed his winter travelling cloak and fur-lined top hat from the stand by the door and stepped out into the frigid stairwell.

“Come on, Maxwell. Time and tide wait for no man!” he shouted, as Maxwell grabbed his own cloak and hat, and hastily followed his mentor out of the flat.

“Merry Christmas, boys. Take care of yourselves,” said Sarah softly, as she too entered the rapidly cooling hallway and shut the front door behind them.

Snow lined park and houses at Christmas - Rob Gregory Author

There’s never a carriage around when you need one!

Once outside, Maxwell shivered in the icy blast of the harsh December wind and called out to Fotherington-Tomas, who was already some way ahead of him, ploughing through the snowdrifts like a Dreadnought under full steam: “I’ve got us a carriage! There’s no need to walk!”

“Well, why didn’t you say so, man?” replied Fotherington-Tomas, stopping short as a shiny black, horse-drawn carriage pulled up alongside him.

They quickly climbed aboard the gleaming hansom, glad to be out of the biting cold and set off towards Hamleys, enjoying the sound of the horses’ hooves clip-clopping on the road and completely ignoring the angry tooting of horns and frustrated shouts of the taxis, Ubers and other Christmas traffic that they were holding up behind them.

Just over an hour later, they had covered the half mile to Hamleys, lamenting the dreadful yuletide traffic and disembarked the coach, giving the driver a single gold sovereign in payment, which greatly annoyed the sallow-faced chap, until he realised that it was worth more than he normally made in a month.

After passing through the official Police cordon by showing their shiny, ‘Special Agent’ badges to the officers on duty, they entered Hamleys and took up position on the second floor. Outside, the crowds were starting to gather, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Queen, as she made her annual pilgrimage to the famous toy store to buy gifts for her grandchildren and officially declare Christmas open. All around them, the lucky few that had been granted access to a personal audience with Her Majesty were trying to busy themselves by browsing through the mountains of shelves stocked with every possible toy that China could manufacture.

Far from his previously inebriated state, Fotherington-Tomas was now on full alert, observing each group as they wandered past and tugging at his beard thoughtfully. “There’s going to be trouble here, Maxwell. Mark my words. Before the day is out, mischief most foul will have occurred,” he whispered to his sidekick, as a particularly loud gaggle of schoolchildren scooted by. “I have an idea. You go and disguise yourself as a day-boarder and I’ll pretend to be your father. That way we’ll blend in, rather than looking like a couple of desperate lollygaggers as we currently do.”

“Jolly good idea, FT,” replied Maxwell, stepping away from the great man and privately wondering how he was going to pass himself off as a public schoolboy, when he was in his mid-thirties and sporting a finely groomed piece of follicular topiary above his top lip.

Moments later, he returned, wearing a slightly ill-fitting uniform, which rather alarmingly looked as if it belonged to a girl’s school.

“Ah, I see that you’ve chosen the uniform of St Bede’s Naval Academy, in Cholsey. A very fine school indeed. I was nearly sent there as a boy, you know,” said Fotherington-Tomas, looking at his protégé with warm approval. “Now, all we have to do is wait. Her Majesty will be along shortly and that is when our troublemaker will undoubtedly reveal himself.”

“But I want to go and see the Nintendo’s and they’re on the fourth floor!” said Maxwell, stamping his foot and causing several groups of parents to stare at him in displeasure.

“Don’t be stupid, boy! Everyone knows that the Queen is a traditionalist when it comes to toys. She’ll have no truck with electronic gadgetry, especially not for the princelings in waiting. No, it’s the second floor for us. Traditional Victorian amusements and pastimes. This is where she’ll gravitate to and this is where our scoundrel will strike.”

“Aw, but Dad,” whined Maxwell petulantly. “I wanna go see the Gameboys!”

“Enough! Now, unless you want a severely smacked bottom, I suggest that you go and investigate the spinning tops and running hoops over there,” replied Fotherington-Tomas sternly, shoving Maxwell in the desired direction.

“Kids, eh? Whipping’s too good for them,” he said to the disgruntled onlookers, before hurriedly busying himself in the examination of a reproduction china doll for signs of anatomical correctness.

Suddenly, there was a regal blast of trumpetry and everyone stood to attention as Her Majesty entered the venerable store. Eschewing the first floor, laden with ‘Slime’, ‘Goo’ and Japanese squawking things that were specifically designed to drive parents to distraction, she headed straight towards the escalators, which had been gold-plated for the occasion and made her way to the second floor.

Every nerve in Fotherington-Tomas’ body was on edge as he tried to identify the heinous criminal who he was sure was lurking somewhere amongst the onlookers. And then, one particular nerve, the one connected to his bladder began to jangle in a most annoying way. Damn, thought Fotherington-Tomas. I should have gone before I left the flat. Oh well, I can hold it in for a while longer. At least I think I can.

But as he stood there, shifting awkwardly from foot to foot, the jangling grew more intense and his aching bladder began to twitch alarmingly. Damn my twerking loins, he cursed. I’m going to have to find somewhere to go, but I can’t leave my post. Not now that Her Majesty is on the floor.

No longer entirely focused on the Queen’s wellbeing, Fotherington-Tomas scanned the room for possible places to inconspicuously relieve himself, but nowhere seemed suitable. He looked longingly at the line of Coldstream Guards flanking Her Highness as she inspected the various offerings on display and especially at their bearskin helmets. Maybe I could use one of those, he thought. I do have the freedom of the Palace after all and it would probably hold enough, but no, it would cause too much of a scene and probably strain my relationship with the Monarchy beyond any hope of redemption.

With his tortured bladder at bursting point and beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead in desperation, he suddenly spotted an ornate plant pot on a Victorian stand, next to a display of wooden Jack-in-the-Boxes. Sidling slowly over to it, anxious not to let any errant drops of liquid gold run down his trouser leg, he carefully unbuttoned his fly and let rip, keeping one eye out all the time for the perpetrator to appear.

Then, to his utmost surprise and horror, the plant pot began to tremble and without warning, a figure sprang from the top, holding a miniature African blowpipe in its hand, complete with a poison dart chambered and ready for use.

“Doctor Mephostus!” shouted Fotherington-Tomas in alarm, causing all eyes to turn towards him and the guards to form up in a protective screen around the Queen.

“How could you?” screamed the outraged arch-villain in disbelief, dripping from head to toe in warm, grape-infused urine. “You peed on me! Why would you? Why would anyone in their right mind, urinate in a plant pot in Hamleys, let alone when the Queen is in attendance?” Then, a light of sickening realisation dawned on his face and he said incredulously: “How on earth did you know? How could you possibly have known where I was hiding?”

Dr Mephostus didn’t have time to get an answer from Fotherington-Tomas, because at that moment, Maxwell burst forth from the crowd and shouted to the guards: “Arrest that man! It’s none other than Doctor Mephostus, the sworn enemy of Her Majesty and all right-thinking Englishmen!”

“Curses!” cried Dr Mephostus, realising that the game was up. Then darting away from Fotherington-Tomas and the approaching guards, he jumped into a small, metal peddle-kart and scooted down the escalator, heading towards Regent Street and the Oxford Circus Tube station beyond.

With the Police and a handful of guardsmen in hot pursuit of the evil genius, the Queen approached Fotherington-Tomas, who thankfully had both relieved himself fully and buttoned up his fly, and said: “Once again, Fotherington-Tomas, one has saved oneself from the depredations of evil. For this, one thanks you, as indeed does the entire country. And as for the other thing that one saw, one shall both forgive you and envy your wife for many a long night to come. One shall, of course, see to it that you are rewarded for your gallantry in the New Year’s Honours list, but in the meantime, one must continue to find something for the kiddywinks Christmas party.”

“Your servant, as always, Your Majesty,” replied Fotherington-Tomas solemnly, with a formal bow of his head, before backing away from the Queen, to allow her to continue selecting presents for her beloved brood of anklebiters.

As they left Hamleys, with darkness descending and a light dusting of snow just starting to fall on the pavement around them, Fotherington-Tomas turned to Maxwell and said: “Well, that went rather well, don’t you think? I knew that there would be skulduggery upon this day and once again we have persevered and preserved the sanctity of the Royal Household. Now, I think that it’s time that we enjoyed ourselves a little. It is Christmas after all. What do you fancy?”

Maxwell thought carefully for a moment or two and then replied: “Well, I’d quite like a brandy after all that excitement, FT.”

“Good thinking, that man!” exclaimed Fotherington-Tomas. “It just so happens that I know a Brandy. She lives not far from here. And while you’re having fun with her, I might just pop in and see her friend Sherri, who lives next door. After all, you can never have too much Sherri at Christmas, can you, Maxwell?”

“Indeed not, FT!” replied Maxwell, with a salacious glint in his eye and together, the pair of them strode happily off towards Filbone Street, merrily chanting ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ into the wintry night sky as they went.



Christmas candles and pine cones - Rob Gregory Author

Have a wonderful festive season!


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The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas