The mid-year writing review

The mid-year writing review

The Mid-Year Writing Review

… A lot has happened in six months…

Wow! It’s hard to believe that we’re fast approaching the middle of the year already. So much has happened in the last six months, that it feels like it was only yesterday that I was writing to you with a wrap up of everything that had happened in 2018.

Although I’ve been fairly quiet on the blogosphere since May, an awful lot has been going on here in the little prison-study that I call home. So, without further ado, let’s bring you up to speed with the Rob Gregory Mid-Year Writing Review 2019!

JANUARY. The start of 2019 saw me frantically working on the final edits to my epic revenge thriller ‘Yogol’s Gold’. Weighing in at just under 115,000 words, it was the longest piece of work that I’d produced to date and probably the one with the most difficult gestation. After scouring the Internet, looking for literary agents, I finally began sending out queries at the end of the month, in the hope of securing a traditional publishing deal. So far, the response has not been encouraging, but still, the year isn’t over yet, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Bars of gold. Yogol's Gold, mid-year writing review 2019 - Rob Gregory Author

Yogol’s Gold. Click here for a synopsis in rhyme!


FEBRUARY. This part of the mid-year writing review was dominated by all things related to The Lucius Chronicles, the compilation of the DATS Trilogy, which was my first offering to the literary world. Despite saying that I wasn’t going to bother much with self-publishing anymore, I found myself spending hours on Amazon and Smashwords, not to mention Facebook and Twitter, making sure that the book was formatted to perfection and given the best chance of making it. I even revised the front covers of the original books in the trilogy and made Death and the Schoolboy, the first instalment, FREE on Smashwords.

MARCH. The launch of The Lucius Chronicles. Despite applying just about everything that I had learned about self-publishing during the previous year, the response to the launch was more than underwhelming, despite masses of self-promotion and discounting on my part, in order to spike some interest among readers. Needless to say, I was left feeling rather deflated and began digging into the dark side of self-publishing. What I discovered there was truly appalling and has tainted my view of the industry forever. It will be the subject of a future blog, but if you’re interested, you can check out one very enlightening article about shady practices here.

The Lucius Chronicles. A book by Rob Gregory Author. Mid year writing review 2019

The Lucius Chronicles. Check it out, because it’s going to be a classic!


Despite the failure of The Lucius Chronicles to set the world alight, I did manage to begin work on a novella, set in Northern Thailand, provisionally called ‘Turning the Tide’. It was nice to get stuck into something a little different and more gritty than contemporary fantasy and it must have had some effect on me, because it was done, dusted and out for review by early April.

APRIL. At this point in the mid-year writing review, let me say that I’d reached something of a crossroads. With one novel out for query with literary agents, another doing very little on Amazon and Smashwords, and a 52,000 novella being tested by beta reviewers, what was I going to do? The answer turned out to be simple. Write another story! So, I set about creating a book of short, interlinked, fantasy tales, with a humorous twist, using some of the characters from my first novel, Drynwideon.

At the same time, I decided to make my Fotherington-Tomas series available on Amazon and Smashwords, under what is known as a rapid-release schedule, i.e. one story each month or thereabouts. For those of you who don’t know, Fotherington-Tomas is England’s greatest secret agent, super-detective, appointed by Her Majesty the Queen no less, to protect the good name of the monarchy and British Empire. A mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Harry Flashman, he’s an old school hero, dropped into the modern world, with highly amusing results.

Oh, and I also kicked off the first in my series of author interviews, focusing on the lovely Shauna McGuiness, from America.

The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas. A short story by Rob Gregory Author. Mid-year writing review 2019

The first in the Fotherington-Tomas series. Now available at Amazon and Smashwords.


May. Lovely May. With summer just around the corner, I spent a fair bit of time editing the four books that comprise The Lost Tales of Landos, for their owner, British author, Chris Whyatt. It was one of those all-consuming tasks, made all the more pleasant by the fact that I enjoyed his writing immensely. In fact, I now understand that he’s in the middle of writing the fifth novel, so watch this space for details.

June. And so, we arrive at the here and now, which is also the end of the mid-year writing review. A few days ago, I finished the first draft of the fantasy short stories I’ve been working on and will shortly begin the editing process. Then, that will go out for beta review. If anyone is interested, then drop me a line at

Following that, I’ll be finalising Turning the Tide, in readiness for another round of agent querying, before starting work on yet another book. I’m not sure at this stage, whether it will be my much-anticipated comedy Sci-Fi novel or another Thailand book, but whatever, you can bet that it’s going to be good.

So, there you have it. Not a bad effort for six months of work if I say so myself. Let’s just hope that it starts to pay off in the closing half of the year!

Thank you, as always, for your continued support and check out my books, especially the Fotherington-Tomas series, if you haven’t done so already!



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 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!

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The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas

Fotherington-Tomas and the Christmas Crisis


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

The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas

The Untimely Demise of Fotherington-Tomas

The Untimely Demise of Fotheringon-Tomas

… A short story by R.A. Gregory…

It was noon when Maxwell reached the cottage, his feet crunching noisily on the freshly raked gravel, as he hastened down the garden path. Rapping smartly on the front door, he was answered by Sarah. She looked haggard and careworn, and was holding a rake, but still managed to maintain her impeccable British composure, as she greeted her husband’s best friend.

“Maxwell. So good to see you. Please excuse the rake, but Gilley the gardener is off sick with Bloat Foot again. There’s a kettle boiling in the kitchen. Would you care for a cup of tea?”

Bugger the tea, thought Maxwell, as he bent forward and gave Sarah a perfunctory kiss on the cheek, before dropping his swordstick into the umbrella holder by the front door. Right now, there were more important things in the world than tea. For one thing, his best friend was in the other room, dying.

“How’s he doing?” asked Maxwell, the tip of his waxed moustache twitching anxiously as he waited for her answer.

“Not so well, I’m afraid. The doctor says that he’s only got a few hours left, which is why I sent you that telegram. He really does care for you, you know. Even if he doesn’t always show it,” she said, her voice dropping low, as she dabbed the corner of one eye with a dainty, yet well-used, floral handkerchief.

“I know, Sarah. I know. Which is why I got the nine-thirty express from Paddington. I could have got the ten-fifteen stopper service, but I wanted to make sure that I got here before, well, you know… the inevitable happens.”

“Well, you’d better go in and see him then. I would come with you, but I can’t. It’s just too painful for me at the moment,” she replied, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need me.”

“Thank you, Sarah. I shall be fine,” said Maxwell. Then after rolling his shoulders to stop himself slouching and repeating one of the Nepalese relaxation mantras he’d learnt during his time with the Gurkhas, he entered the living room.

There, sitting in a wicker rocking chair, with a woollen travelling blanket covering his knees and listening to the first test at Headingley, was the great man himself. Fotherington-Tomas. Double first from Oxford, Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons at twenty-two and a proud member of the Order of the Old British Empire, there were few men of his ilk left in the world, principally because Fotherington-Tomas had dedicated his life to exterminating them, especially if they posed a threat to the Empire, which, in his opinion they often did. A man of great modesty, despite his imposing appearance, he’d once won a drinking wager by knocking ten seconds off Bannister’s time for the mile, but had refused to claim the record, because it was not done under precisely the same conditions as the original.

“Come on you bastards!” Fotherington-Tomas roared at the portable radio, sitting on a dainty little table next to his rocking chair. “You should have known he was going to bowl a googly. Even I knew that, and I can’t see the bloody pitch!”

“Good afternoon, FT,” said Maxwell with false cheer in his voice. “How are you doing?”

“What?” said Fotherington-Tomas, looking at the radio with deep suspicion, before turning his head to spy Maxwell approaching. “Ah, Maxwell, dear boy. So glad you could make it. How’s London and more importantly, how’s Liz? Fully recovered from the Klipschstein incident, I hope?”

“London is fine, thank you, FT. Although it’s just not the same without you. And as for her Majesty, well, she was understandably shaken by the whole experience, but yes, she’s made a tremendous recovery and sends her sincere thanks,” replied Maxwell.

“Glad to hear that she’s on the mend, although I wish like hell the same could be said for me,” said Fotherington-Tomas with a thin smile. “I still don’t know how Dr Mephostus managed to smuggle that Death Ray into the Duke’s palace in the first place.”

“He always was a wily one, FT,” said Maxwell, looking fondly at his best friend since University.

“He was too. You’re right about that. And he finally got me. Got me good, Maxwell. A man doesn’t take a full hit from a Death Ray and just shrug it off, I can tell you. Still, it was a small price to pay, all things considered,” said Fotherington-Tomas, switching the radio off with a loud click.

“Well, you did save the Queen and I have to say that you seem to be doing remarkably well for someone who, as you just put it, took a full hit from a Death Ray,” gulped Maxwell, his emotions momentarily threatening to overwhelm him. “I mean your beard is a little ragged and you look like you haven’t slept for a day or two, but apart from that you appear entirely unscathed!”

“Saving her Majesty was just duty, Maxwell. Any Englishman worth his salt would do the same. One day you’ll understand that, I hope. As for my condition, well that’s the awful thing about Dr Mephostus’ Death Ray. It eats you from the inside out. Oh, and talking about eating, do feel free to help yourself to fruit cake. It’s over there by the fireplace. I’d have a slice, but unfortunately, I’ve got no stomach for it,” said Fotherington-Tomas, pointing to the dining table on the other side of the living room.

“But you must be in terrible pain,” said Maxwell, as he crossed the space between them and cut himself a healthy slab of cake.

“Ah, pain is all in the mind, my dear boy,” replied Fotherington-Tomas, fixing Maxwell with a disapproving stare. “I suppose for the average person, my discomfort would lie somewhere between excruciating and agonising. However, as well you know, I trained under the Abbot Victor Falangies and his Children of the D’amned Ned when I left University and as a result am able to control all aspects of my physical existence using my mind, so no, I am not in any pain, although the fact that you are eating fruit cake with your fingers and not with the proper fork is causing me a significant amount of distress at this precise moment!”

“Sorry, FT!” said Maxwell, spraying the shag-pile rug with cake crumbs, as he apologised to his slowly expiring chum.

“Don’t worry about it. Sarah will clean up the mess. Now, I haven’t much time left, so I must prepare myself before I depart this mortal coil for the next great adventure. By all means remain with me, just don’t interrupt and please, eat quietly.”

Fotherington-Tomas closed his eyes and began readying himself for his impending journey to the other side. As Maxwell watched the hypnotic rise and fall of the huge man’s chest, his thoughts turned to his own mortality. When my time finally comes, I wish that I could face it with as much dignity as FT, he thought, struggling to fight back a solitary tear, which he knew that his friend would consider ungentlemanly.

“Well, it might come a bit sooner than you expect, old boy,” boomed Fotherington-Tomas from his chair, shattering the meditative silence. “You did after all get a hefty dose of Strontium-40 from Aldo Passlington’s henchman when we went to see U2 in Hungary last month. He slipped it into your pitcher of G&T during the interval, when you were chatting up Arch-Duke Olivano’s child-bride. Just thought you might like to know, so you can put your affairs in order and all that. Oh, and I can read minds too, so thank you for the compliment and yes, crying is most unmanly!”

“What! You mean to say that I’m going to die?” spluttered Maxwell in disbelief.

“Ha, ha! Got you!” cried Fotherington-Tomas, an uncharacteristic tear of mirth leaking from his own eye, as he wrapped his arms around himself in delight. I was just joshing with you, Maxwell. Just joshing with you. After all, what’s the point in living if you can’t have a joke at your friend’s expense, especially when you yourself are dying?”

“Yes, yes. Very funny,” replied Maxwell flatly. He hated it when FT made him the brunt of a joke because he never saw it coming.

Suddenly, Fotherington-Tomas’ face grew serious and a flicker of pain crossed his eyes. “I fear that the moment is approaching, Maxwell. Be a good fellow and go fetch Sarah, please.”

“Of course. Hold on, my friend!” said Maxwell, as he dashed from the living room to the tiny kitchen at the other end of the hall.

Moments later, he returned with Sarah in tow. They both stopped in stunned surprise when they entered the room. The space where Fotherington-Tomas had been was now empty, with only a light scattering of fine dust and his old wooden pipe sitting on top of the travelling blanket, to mark where he had been.

“He must have completely disintegrated. There couldn’t have been anything left of him in the end!” wailed Sarah, turning to bury her face into Maxwell’s shoulder.

My God, the sheer amount of willpower that it must have taken to hold himself together like that, thought Maxwell, still staring at the chair with a mixture of disbelief and unashamed awe. As he watched, a small gust of warm summer air blew in through the open window of the living room and swept the dust that had been Fotherington-Tomas up into a little whirlwind, before scattering it indifferently among the crumbs of fruit cake on the floor.

Sarah sniffed heavily and pushed herself off Maxwell’s shoulder. “Well, life goes on, I suppose,” she declared, as she straightened her pinafore and left the living room to go fetch a dustpan and brush.

At least the funeral will be cheap, thought Maxwell idly, still standing dumbfounded in the middle of the room. Then the realisation hit him that Fotherington-Tomas was really gone. Defender of the Realm, clandestine agent to her Majesty, spin bowler extraordinaire and general all-round top chap; the human mammoth was no more. Who would save them now from the evil depredations of Dr Mephostus and his crazed minions? Who would battle the Mad Monks of Mont Blanc, the Iron Men of Kazrakastan and the myriad of central European dissidents that crept out of the woodwork at the most inconvenient of moments? Not him, that was for sure. No, he had a nice, cushy job back in Whitehall, with an endless supply of tea and postage stamps to look forward to. Someone else would have to take up the slack.

At that moment, there was a heavy knock at the front door.

“Could you get that?” came Sarah’s voice from the kitchen.

Maxwell walked hesitantly to the door, fearing the worst. Fotherington-Tomas had only been dead for a matter of minutes, so how could his enemies have found out so quickly?

As he flicked the latch with a trembling hand, he breathed a sigh of relief as he opened the door to a postman.

“Afternoon, Sir. I have a telegram for a Mister Fotherington-Tomas,” said the postman in bright, cheerful tones, proffering a slip of yellow paper in Maxwell’s direction.

“I’m afraid that Mister Fotherington-Tomas has gone away and I don’t think that he will be back for quite some time,” replied Maxwell, gently pushing the telegram back towards the postman.

“That’s not a problem, Mister Maxwell, Sir. I’m sure that you’ll be able to help us instead. Her Majesty is counting upon it, in fact,” countered the postman, dropping the telegram onto the doorstep between them and turning on his heel down the raked gravel path.

Bugger, thought Maxwell for the second time that day. If the Queen wanted something done, then there was really no way that he could get out of it. Duty. That’s what it was. Duty. “Well FT, it looks as if the story continues with me,” he said to no one in particular, as he picked the missive up off the floor and closed the door with a gentle thump. Then, returning to the living room, he scooped Fotherington-Tomas’ pipe from the chair, stuck it absentmindedly into the corner of his mouth and tore open the telegram to see what the glorious Empire required of him this time.


Author’s note: This could well end up becomming a series of short stories. If you’d like to see that happen, then please drop me a line at

Also, don’t forget that Drynwideon, the world’s first anti-fantasy novel, is still available as a paperback from my website and as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords. It is coming up to Christmas and I really don’t want to have to sacrifice another child for the dinner table if I can help it!