Air, so thick, you could eat it

Air, so thick, you could eat it

Chiang Mai businessman opens world’s first ‘air restaurant’ in famous city of smog

A humorous look at the serious topic of Thailand’s poor air quailty

By Makin Melungsurt (Special News Correspondent)

With the eyes, ears and noses of the world focused firmly on the news that the picturesque town of Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, officially has the worst air pollution in the world, local businessman, Hee Choo-Air-Alot, has found a silver lining, hidden in the clouds of smog pouring into the city.

In what is believed to be a global first, Choo-Air-Alot has opened a restaurant giving customers access to what he says, is: “a soup of delicious, naturally occurring nutrients, not available anywhere else on the planet.”

For only five hundred baht — about fifteen dollars — for five minutes exposure, customers can enjoy access to a range of specially selected, smog-laden airs, sourced from various parts of the city, delivered through modified oxygen masks, in the comfort of his air-conditioned restaurant, situated on the edge of Chiang Mai’s sleepy Loi Kroh road.

Golden Gate bridge in smog - Rob Gregory Author

View this morning from Nawarat Bridge, Chiang Mai.

“During the day, we are only able to serve brown air, referring to the grading system used by the International Air Quality Index system. However, for those who choose to dine with us during the evening hours, we are pleased to be able to offer a wider selection, including purple, red and orange air,” said Choo-Air-Alot, somewhat surprisingly speaking through a full-face respirator, of the type normally worn by soldiers during gas attacks. “We have had some interest from customers wanting to try green air, but frankly, there’s nothing at all in that, so I can’t see it really taking off,” he added, offering our intrepid on-site intern, Carcy Nogen, a free sample of what appeared to be pale-grey air, trapped in a glass jar.

When challenged that the air he was selling was, in fact, loaded with a mixture of highly toxic micro-particles, laced with unhealthy levels of carbon dioxide, Choo-Air-Alot was quick to offer an alternative view.

“This happens every year in Chiang Mai, so I think that you have to look at it as being a natural phenomenon. And we know for a fact, that people love natural products, so how can this possibly be harmful to them? Also, carbon is an essential component of the human body, so having access to it in the form of teeny-tiny particles, surely means that it is quicker and easier for people to digest and that’s got to be a good thing, for today’s sophisticated diner in a hurry.”

Chiang Mai street, showing smog in the air - Rob Gregory Author

Typical steet scene in Chiang Mai today. Believe it or not, there are hills in the distance!

Thailand’s Pollution Control Department, which is charged with controlling pollution, is believed to be blaming the poor air quality on a massive influx of cigarette and pipe smokers into the region, rather than farmers burning off stubble in preparation for next year’s harvest, or rural fire crews allegedly starting forest fires, in order to justify their continued existence, dismissing the latter claims as ‘ludicrous and without any basis in fact’.

Not that it matters to Choo-Air-Alot. “As far as I’m concerned, bad air equals good business. And after all, the health of the local economy has to be worth more than the health of its citizens. Here’s to the next two months. Cheers!”


BREAKING NEWS: Unfortunately, just after this story went to press, Hee Choo-Air-Alot’s pioneering establishment was closed down by Thai Restaurant Inspectors, when they found an unacceptably low number of cockroaches in his kitchen. We’ll keep you updated on developments, as they unfold…


PS. If you enjoyed this story, then why not check out more of my blogs here and have a look at my books, now including The Lucius Chronicles and Drynwideon, the world’s first anti-fantasy novel.

Fotherington-Tomas and The Ashes Affair

Fotherington-Tomas and The Ashes Affair

Fotherington-Tomas and the Ashes Affair

… Ice cream, leather on willow and a mysterious moving bush. There’s no game quite like cricket…

“Why are we here, FT?” asked Maxwell, giving his Mister Whippy a quick lick and leaving a fine trace of melted ice cream along the bottom of his freshly trimmed moustache.

“Well, from a biological perspective, it’s to ensure the widest possible spread of our genes, thus maximising the success of our line through the next generation. However, from a philosophical point of view, I always tend towards the teachings of Nietzsche, who said…” replied Fotherington-Tomas, his granite jaw making short work of the bubble gum treat nestling at the bottom of his Two Ball Screwball.

“No, I mean why are we here, at The Oval?” interrupted Maxwell, sweeping his hand in a wide arc, emphasising the huge stadium, packed to capacity with avid cricket fans on a rare and beautiful English summer’s day.

“Ah, I see what you mean,” said Fotherington-Tomas awkwardly, the splinters from the little plastic spoon that he’d mistaken for the second bubble gum in his ice-cream, making it difficult to talk as they scraped painfully down his throat. “Tip-off from MI5. Apparently, they’ve received information that Yorkshire based villain, Aldo-Passlington, is planning to steal The Ashes and from under the very nose of the Prince Regent too.”

“The Cad!” exclaimed Maxwell in disbelief.

“Indeed, which is why we’ve got to be extra vigilant and make sure that the nefarious, whippet loving ne’er-do-well doesn’t get the chance to bring shame on the Empire and on one of the greatest traditions in the noblest sporting game in the world,” said Fotherington-Tomas, his bushy eyebrows furrowing in anger at the thought of his beloved cricket being sullied by such a base deed.

“So, how are we going to apprehend Passlington? There are thousands of people here. He’s going to be almost impossible to spot. He is a master of disguise, as well you know. He could be dressed as anybody, even me, and you’d be hard pressed to know,” said Maxwell, scanning the Pavilion, as if half-expecting to spot the evil fiend right there and then.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about that,” replied Fotherington-Tomas, stroking his beard, which he’d been training into a fine-looking replica of that worn by his hero, W.G. Grace. “You’re going to provide close support to the Prince Regent, so that you can pounce on Passlington, should he try to snatch The Ashes during the presentation ceremony, while I shall maintain a lookout from the pitch itself,” he continued, a slightly smug tone entering his bull-like voice.

Maxwell looked sideways at his great friend and then slowly said: “And of course, it has always been one of your dreams to play for England during a Test Match, hasn’t it, FT?”

“Well, if one gets the chance during the course of one’s duty, then one would be a fool to refuse the honour,” answered Fotherington-Tomas with uncharacteristic embarrassment, doing his best to avoid Maxwell’s knowing stare.

“But how are we going to maintain communication over such a great distance, FT? What do you propose: semaphore, a series of bird calls, like we used that time in Marrakesh, or possibly Venezuelan throat singing? I’ve been practising, you know,” said Maxwell, allowing his windpipe to relax, in the hope of being allowed to give a short demonstration.

“No!” interjected Fotherington-Tomas, before Maxwell could begin warbling like a foetid leper. “Throat singing won’t carry far enough over the noise of the crowd. Bird calls are a possibility, but then I’d look like a bit of a buffoon if I go tweeting and cawing my way around the boundary. And the way that I swing a bat, semaphore would just be too confusing. No, I’m afraid we’ll have to rely on these new-fangled radio communication devices, which MI5 gave me,” he continued, handing Maxwell a tiny, flesh coloured earpiece and shoving its partner unceremoniously down his own vacuous lughole.

“Great idea, FT, I can hear you perfectly!” ejaculated Maxwell, as he inserted the earpiece into his own freshly plucked ear.

“Well that’s because you’re standing right next to me, you foolish young duffer! Honestly, sometimes I despair of you. I really do. Now, go and take your place, quickly. Play will be starting soon and I’ve still got to change into my cricket whites,” said Fotherington-Tomas, giving Maxwell a withering stare, as he turned on his heel and strode off towards the changing rooms.

“Right-O, FT,” replied a suitably chastened Maxwell, as he began shuffling his way past the gathering mass of spectators, towards the executive luxury of the Pavilion building.

The sun was blazing high in the clear blue sky, when England, having won the toss, began batting against the Australians. Malinga was up first, opening with a mighty six that sent the ball cannoning into the delighted audience, before being caught out by Ullabong, just three runs later. Dickwella was up next, working with Chameera, beginning a splendid batting partnership that saw almost a century being put on the massive digital scoreboard, before Loogaborooga’s long bowl-spin knocked the bails from the stumps and sent Dickwella off the pitch.

Throughout the excitement, Maxwell remained vigilant, taking up a position just behind and to the left of the Prince Regent, who was thoroughly enjoying himself, knocking the tops off glass after glass of iced sherbet with gay abandon and cheering just as loudly as the rest of the spectators, as England continued to pile pressure on their ancient rivals with a series of stunning fours from Udawatte. However, no matter how hard Maxwell strained his eyes, he could see nothing out of the ordinary. Everything was just as a well-run, top-level game of cricket should be. Sipping rather more reservedly on his own glass of sherbet, he continued to monitor both the match, which was indeed turning out to be a superb start to the Test and the surrounding landscape, wondering exactly when Aldo-Passlington would inadvertently reveal himself.

For his part, Fotherington-Tomas was sitting with the rest of the team, patiently waiting for his turn to bat. As a fine amateur spin bowler, he would rather have had England open by fielding so that he could have demoralised the Australians early on, bowling a few of them out before they had any chance to set up a decent lead. As it was, he was quietly impressed with the lead that England had made and was looking forward to doing his best to add to it when his turn came. Looking around at the other players, he was fairly certain that he’d be paired with either Weerakoddy or Munaweera, both of them formidable sportsmen in their own right. The only thing that he was worried about, apart from the threat of Passlington’s planned assault on The Ashes, was the fact that he’d chosen to play with his trusty ‘Zuru X-Shot bat’, which he’d got from Argos twenty years earlier and wear his antique Bexhill Cricket Club cap for protection. Looking at the Australian bowlers, especially Todger, who was hurling the ball as if it were a live hand grenade, he was slowly realising that the game had got a lot faster and a lot more dangerous than the last time he’d played at this level.

With the morning fast coming to an end, the umpire called a halt for lunch and the players, slicked with sweat from their exertions, proceeded into the welcome shelter of the rest area for a round of cucumber sandwiches and a refreshing glass or two of home-made lemonade, kindly provided by Fotherington-Tomas’ lovely wife, Sarah.

Back in the Pavilion, the Prince Regent was settling down to a fine repast of cold salmon mousse, French truffles and chocolate ice-cream, while Maxwell and the rest of the crowd were treated to highlights from previous Test matches, displayed on the side of the Goodyear blimp, floating languidly above the famous cricket ground. As the Prince and associated dignitaries noisily gorged themselves on the feast, Maxwell continued to watch the pitch, straining for any sign that something was amiss.

And then he spotted it. Right on the edge of the boundary line. A small bush, where a small bush had no right to be. Certainly not on the crisply mown baize of a cricket pitch, that was for sure. How he had missed it earlier was beyond him, but there it was, as large as life and twice as annoying. Maxwell stared at the bush, wishing that Fotherington-Tomas had given him X-ray glasses instead of the tiny earpiece that was starting to irritate his eardrum. Straining his eyes to the point where they began to water, he shot bolt upright as the bush suddenly gave a little shudder. Someone was in there and Maxwell was in no doubt that it was Aldo-Passlington.

What an amazing disguise, thought Maxwell admiringly. Passlington was known to be a master of altering his appearance, but up until now, he had tended towards impersonating little old ladies, Heads of State and Swedish poultry chefs, rather than topiary. As the bush gave another minute wobble, its man-handled branches trying to emulate the light summer breeze floating through the air around it, Maxwell remembered the earpiece and pressing his finger to his ear, made contact with Fotherington-Tomas.

“FT. Are you there? I think that I’ve found Passlington,” whispered Maxwell excitedly.

The sound of someone munching a cucumber sandwich and then swallowing it hastily erupted into his cerebellum, followed by Fotherington-Tomas’ rich bass tones. “I’m here, Maxwell. Now, where do you think Passlington is hiding?”

“Far end of the field, disguised as a small bush, FT. I’m sure that it’s him. What are we going to do? Do you want me to call security?” replied Maxwell, never tearing his hawk-like gaze away from the artificial shrub sitting, quivering gently, at the edge of the pitch.

“No, leave it to me. I’ve got a better idea. We’ll be back on in a minute. I’ll have a word with the captain and get the batting order changed,” said Fotherington-Tomas grimly, as the line between them went dead.

Maxwell absentmindedly scooped up a truffle from the table, earning himself an angry stare from the head of the Prince’s bodyguard and then wiped his waxed moustache with the back of his hand, as he waited for the Oval Bell to announce the start of the afternoon session.

As one, the two teams marched back onto the field and resumed their positions, eager to resume the encounter. Both were revitalised from Sarah’s cool lemonade and as Todger loosed the ball, it slammed past Chameera’s defences, coming to rest in the red-hot gloves of Nullonga’s trusty wicket-keeping hands.

As the roar of the crowd died down and Chameera began his despondent walk back to his team, Fotherington-Tomas took to the grass. Pulling his cap down low over his eyes, he strode up to the crease and took his position opposite Udawatte. With a curt nod towards his batting partner, he tapped his Zuru X-Shot on the ground a couple of times and waited for Todger to begin his run-up.

Fotherington-Tomas remained motionless as Todger thundered down the pitch, arm twisted around as if he was going to bowl a googly and strangely reminding him of the time that he’d once faced down a charging African bull elephant in Somalia. Then, with barely a sound, Todger released the ball. As it sliced through the air, Fotherington-Tomas realised that it was, in fact, just a normal leg-break and swung his bat around in a mighty arc, sending the ball right back over Todger’s glistening head, where it came to a rest just at the edge of the boundary.

The crowd went wild, as Fotherington-Tomas and Udawatte charged down the twenty-two-yard strip, twice and twice more, before coming to rest back where they had begun. Then it was all on.

Over the next hour and a half, Fotherington-Tomas played the game of his life, revelling in the crack of willow on leather, first equalling and then surpassing Dickwella’s performance, racking up his first century with ease and then starting on his second, all the time with one eye on the innocuous looking bush at the far end of the field.

With the sun scorching his eyes and his arms only just beginning to ache from the continual swinging of the bat, Fotherington-Tomas fixed Todger with a determined stare, as the exhausted outback bowler began once more to try and thwart the grizzly old bear of a man that had, so far, resisted everything he’d thrown at him. Floating almost gracefully down the turf, Todger released the ball in an unexpected flipper, which caused Fotherington-Tomas to bend forwards to meet it, scooping the wildly spinning orb way up into the air, where it clipped the side of the Goodyear blimp and bounced off it at high speed, landing in the small bush at the end of the pitch, where it made a very un-shrub-like thunk.

Fotherington-Tomas held his hands up to quell the cheering at such a magnificent shot and then walked over to the umpire, asking him if he would be prepared to suspend the match for a moment or two, while he investigated a serious crime in progress. The umpire, himself amazed at seeing such astounding cricket in play, agreed and with a bemused look on his face, followed Fotherington-Tomas, as he casually strode towards the boundary, seemingly to retrieve his lost ball.

When he got there, much to the continued amazement of both the crowd and umpire, he yanked the bush hard, pulling it up and over the limp form of Aldo-Passlington, who was sporting a nice, egg-sized lump on the crown of his otherwise baby-bald head.

“Arrest that man!” shouted Fotherington-Tomas, his foghorn voice echoing around The Oval. “This is Aldo-Passlington and I have it on good authority that he was going to steal The Ashes at the end of the match, from under the very nose of the Prince Regent himself!”

The crowd booed their disapproval of Passlington’s misdemeanour, as a squad of policemen, fronted by Inspector Cromwell, approached and clamped the limp body of Passlington in irons, before roughly dragging it off the pitch.

“To think that anyone would want to steal The Ashes and a Yorkshireman at that. It’s beyond me. It really is… Well done, FT. Once again, you’ve saved the nation and also put up a formidable score, which I think the Aussies will find hard to beat. In fact, I’d be surprised if it’s not still standing by the time that this yonder criminal gets out of prison, which will be a fair way in the future for such a heinous crime as this,” said Cromwell, tipping his hat towards Fotherington-Tomas in a mark of respect.

“Thank you, Cromwell, but the day’s not over yet. There’s still a few hours of light before sundown and the last time that I looked, I wasn’t out,” said Fotherington-Tomas, nodding to the umpire, who happily called for play to resume.

“What a man… what a man… what a mighty, mighty good man,” said Inspector Cromwell to himself, as he watched Fotherington-Tomas make his way back to the crease.

Three hours later, England declared for the day, leaving Fotherington-Tomas with a second century in his pocket and then some. After copious pats on the back from his ecstatic team mates and receiving the thanks of the Prince Regent in person, Fotherington-Tomas stepped out of the changing room shower, to find Maxwell waiting for him, the tell-tale traces of yet another ice-cream smearing the bottom fringe of his moustache.

“Well done, FT. What an amazing shot. I assume that you planned it?” said Maxwell admiringly.

“I did indeed, Maxwell. I’d been watching Passlington’s bush gradually make its way around The Oval and when the moment was right, I struck like a snake, using that airship as a deflector. But, if it hadn’t been for your eagle eyes in the first place, then I would never have spotted him. That bush was a fiendishly cunning disguise. His best yet, in fact. So, in no small way, today’s victory is really down to you, my friend,” said Fotherington-Tomas, making Maxwell blush fiercely in response.

“Talking of victory, you played magnificently, FT. I mean a double century and more to boot. It’s amazing. It really is,” replied Maxwell modestly.

“And it’s not over yet,” said Fotherington-Tomas, with a broad smile. “The captain was so impressed by my performance today, that he asked me to play the rest of the Test with them.”

“Really? A dream come true, eh, FT?” said Maxwell, with a happy grin plastered across his smooth visage.

“Something like that. But only if we win, of course. Now, come on, let’s go home and tell Sarah the good news!” roared Fotherington-Tomas, clapping Maxwell heartily on the shoulder and marching, as naked as a new-born, out of the changing room and into the warm evening beyond.


Amateur cricketer from Fotherington-Tomas and The Ashes Affair - Rob Gregory Author

After seeing FT play, Maxwell decides to give cricket a go!

If you enjoyed this, please feel free to share it more widely and don’t forget to check out my other blogs and the rest of the Fotherington-Tomas series!

The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas

Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis


Driven to Distraction

Driven to Distraction

Driven to Distraction

UK government launches ‘dangerous driving’ holidays, starting summer-2019

In a desperate bid to draw attention away from the howling debacle that is Brexit and free up more Police time for attending political protest rallies, the UK government today introduced the first in a series of new initiatives that will also help swell the nations’ ailing coffers.

Roger de Poledanser, Minister for Tourism, made the announcement from the back of a flatbed truck, travelling the wrong way down the notorious A254 between Margate and Ramsgate.

Lorries on a British motorway. Driven to distraction -Rob Gregory Author

The A254 has never been this much fun! Roger de Poledanser, Minister for Tourism.

“We’re putting the merriment back into motoring, both for our own ‘weekend warriors’ and those visiting the country on their annual vacation,” said Poledanser, hurling eggs and small bags of white powder, presumably flour, at passing cars, while doing the Macarena in a pair of green lurex go-go shorts at the same time.

“As a government, we are, of course, committed to safety, but that has to be balanced against the people’s right to enjoy themselves. Back in the 1950s, driving was a pleasurable pastime, but in recent years, it has grown to become a chore and something drastic has to be done about it,” he continued, while discarding a sack full of nails and half-eaten fast food containers onto the highway.

According to details of the plan, which were delivered through a sound system confiscated from a boy-racer in Lewisham, under previous draconian noise abatement rules, British nationals will be eligible to drive like maniacs, without fear of recrimination for only £60 a weekend, while foreign tourists will be charged a modest £150 a week to do the same while they are visiting the country.

Crashed white car. Driven to distraction - Rob Gregory Author

Don’t worry, be happy. It’s all part of the government’s plan!

Those participating in the scheme will be issued with ‘V’ plates, or for those who choose to pay quarterly, special ‘F-U’ number plates will be issued, featuring an attractive cartoon image of a Bulldog with enormous testicles on one side, complementing the EU flag with one star peeling off on the other.

In place of fines for highway naughtiness, those few remaining police officers that have not been reassigned to protect Nigel Forage, will instead, issue ‘funs’, which will include participating in roadside water-fights, jelly eating competitions and making paper aeroplanes out of ASBO’s.

MP’s, their spouses and rent boys will automatically be enrolled in the scheme, a decision that has drawn criticism from charities supporting low-income households.

“It’s completely unacceptable,” said Marcella Twat, spokesperson for ‘DoleQ’, an organisation that helps support the country’s long-term unemployed. “We see this time and time again. Low or no-income individuals being forced to fork out for benefits which are handed out free to those of privilege and power. I for one shan’t be supporting this and frankly, the government’s idea of what constitutes fun is in very poor taste.”

Vehicles on a country highway. Driven to distraction - Rob Gregory Author

Come drive with me. Come drive your cares away!

Despite this, the government expects the idea to be a roaring success and is preparing for a massive influx of tourists from that part of the world between India and China, keen to experience the unique pleasure of the British roading network, without fear of censure or imprisonment.

Stay tuned for more news…


Please don’t forget to sign up to the blog if you enjoyed this. That way, you’ll get notified in your inbox, whenever there’s new content available. And please do check out my books pages. Thank you!


Tales Of The Beast – Part 1

Reality shows not ‘real’ enough

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!


While you’re here, why not check out my other blogs and book pages? You never know, you might find something that you later come to treasure. And, as always, please feel free to ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ more widely. Thank you!

The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas

Why I hate Zen Buddhism

Why I hate Zen Buddhism

Why I hate Zen Buddhism

… Or ‘The Trouble with Transcendence’…

A few years ago, my life was absolute chaos. Writing, working, running a bar, raising a small child and trying to avoid an untimely death at the paws of a psychotically happy puppy, I was a stress-bunny’s poster boy. Anyone unlucky enough to have caught a glimpse inside my head at that time would have seen the early stages of Hieronymus Bosch’s famous ‘Train Crash at Tooting Broadway’ taking shape.

I’d tried everything; ‘The Sixteen Habits of Ultra-Effective People’, ‘Ten Time Saving Techniques for Bar Owning Parents with Writing Aspirations’, ‘Madame Wa’s Oriental Guide to Happiness through Knives’, but none of them had helped. Even ‘Life For Dummies’, my go-to resource for handy tips on navigating the ebb and flow of daily existence had failed me. I was in trouble. And with the lifejacket of sanity leaking badly and the inflation tube of reason unsurprisingly blocked, I was in imminent danger of going down for the third time and not re-emerging to tell this tale.

Stone steps - Rob Gregory Author

The journey of a thousand steps begins with a steep climb… it figures.

And then I saw them. Mixed in amongst the travelling evangelists with their white shirts and bicycles (like that’s going to save the world), the New-Age druids and the Hip-Hop Choristers, they swept through the crowd like two bare-headed Knights clad only in orange robes. Possessed of an almost angelic serenity, they smiled at me and in that moment, I saw only peace and hope in their eyes for my addled brain.

Two monk Parakeets coloured orange - Rob Gregory Author

Brothers Koan and Zen, in their parakeet aspect.

The taller of the two introduced himself as Leonard Koan, while the smaller one referred to himself, somewhat cryptically, as Ben Zen. They were monks travelling on a pilgrimage of enlightenment, offering their services to troubled souls, like mine, that they happened upon in the gutter of existence. So, in the same way as a fish in a bowl seeks the open space of the ocean beyond, I took their hands and began my spiritual journey towards enlightenment.

Two goldfish in orange water - Rob Gregory Author

Barry – I wonder what’s out there? Errol – Why is this water orange? Have you been..?

It was not an easy journey. My days began at five in the morning and involved a lot of running up and down mountains, cooking rice one grain at a time and cleaning the food bowls of my mentors. In between were the lessons, most of which involved me either trying to persuade people to get out of the snow without touching them, discovering the middle names of the four winds, or covering myself with sandals. I never really worked out what that last one was about, but even now, I still have an aversion to open-toed footwear.

Tree perched on the side of a mountain - Rob Gregory Author

If a tree falls off a mountainside, does anyone really care apart from the person that’s standing underneath it?

In between admonishments, which were frequent because I was not a gifted student, and which generally took the form of taunts such as ‘your original face was a chicken’s scrotum’, I would sit cross-legged on a pointed stick and discuss the why of the world with Master Koan. Then after sweeping the floor of the cave with a blade of grass and tickling Master Zen’s bottom with a pigeon’s feather (nothing spiritual about that, he just liked it), I would finish my bowl of cold rice and retire to contemplate the day’s teachings and pray for enlightenment to find me.

And then it did… One day, when I’d just about had enough of being pontificated to by Master Zen, I suddenly snapped and yelled at the pair of them: “You can shove your broken mirrors up your backsides! I’ve had enough of this! Enlightenment isn’t about sitting in a cave. It’s right back where I started!”

No sooner were the words out of my mouth than Master Koan stood up and gave me a right hook that almost knocked my teeth loose. Then, he composed himself and folding his arms in front of him, he looked at Master Zen and said: “Our work here is done. Finally, the student is the master.” And with that, they both gave me the same knowing smile that they had on the first day that I’d met them and vanished in a puff of slightly suspicious herbal smelling smoke.

White buddhist temple - Rob Gregory Author

The road to enlightenment is a long and difficult one.

And now I’m enlightened, which is why I hate Zen Buddhism. While I was studying, my mind was still in turmoil, a swirling maelstrom of conflicting thought that, somewhat ironically, gave rise to my creative talents. But with Nirvana came peace. And with peace, came silence. No more conflict, no more crazy juxtapositions, no more chaos… no more creativity.

Not that it actually matters anymore. You see, now that I’m at one with the universe, everything that I write, or could possibly ever write, will be read by everyone else in the universe at the exact moment that I put pen to paper. And if anyone actually bought anything that I’d written, then because we are all one and the same, we’d all get richer by the same amount. It’s an awful, but inescapable truth, at least when you’re as Zenned up as I am.

So now I just spend my days wandering around supermarkets, scaring unsuspecting shoppers with a smug, all-knowing smile on my face or occasionally hang around forests, listening for falling trees. All in all, it’s not a bad existence and I get by just fine. But I’ll tell you one thing, enlightened or not. If that guy with one arm doesn’t stop clapping, then I’m going to go over and give him such a kick up the arse that he won’t know what hit him!


If you enjoyed this, then please check out my other blogs and spread the word. Thank you!