Malcolm the mushroom

Malcolm’s wife was worried about him. He hadn’t been the same since he’d had his Equality and Diversity training at the council last year. She wouldn’t have minded so much if he’d come out as gay or bisexual. She was very open-minded and the physical part of their marriage had faded a long time ago, so she wouldn’t have begrudged him a new pastime if it made him happy. Homosexuality might actually get him out of the house a bit more and it’s far less dangerous than hang gliding, which his brother had recently taken up. She could have even handled him going transsexual. Maybe it would raise a few eyebrows amongst the neighbours but at least it would stop him leaving the toilet seat up all the time. But Malcolm’s new found identity was…well, quite odd.

Malcolm identified as a mushroom…

“You just don’t understand, Dear,” protested Malcolm.

“What is there to understand? You’ve lost your mind. That’s all there is to it,” Malcolm’s wife said.

Her harsh words were belying her deep felt concern for her husband of thirty years. She had read “The man who mistook his wife for a hat” by Oliver Sacks and so she was acutely aware of how a neurological disorder could confuse the human brain. If a man could mistake his wife for a hat then what is to stop him mistaking himself for a mushroom?

“It wouldn’t hurt you to have a brain scan just to be on the safe side,” Malcolm’s wife continued.

“That’s just the kind of narrow minded viewpoint that the Equality and Diversity training warned us about!” retorted Malcolm angrily. “Fortunately the LGBTQIA+ movement exists to protect minorities from those old fashioned and bigoted ideas,” Malcolm retorted angrily.

“LGBTQIA+? Since when has LGBTQIA+ represented people who want to be mushrooms?”

“It’s what the ‘plus’ stands for.”

“The plus stands for mushrooms? You’re clearly off your head!”

“Not mushrooms specifically – just other identities.”

“Other sexual identities! Mushrooms do not have a sex life.”

“It’s not just about sex. Most trans people aren’t sexually active anyway.”

“Somehow that doesn’t surprise me.”

“You just don’t understand! I may have the body of a man but I feel like a mushroom inside.”

“You’ve certainly got the brain of a mushroom.”

“There you go again – trying to ridicule me for how I feel about myself.”

“Even if mushrooms had feelings, which clearly they don’t, how on earth could you know how they feel?”

“I know because I am a mushroom.”

Malcolm’s circular reasoning could not be argued with and his wife was completely losing patience. She stormed out of the room in disgust.

To be fair, Malcolm was beginning to look a little like a mushroom. He had been spending several hours a day down in the cellar and the lack of sunlight was making his skin turn a kind of whitish-grey. He felt more at home in the dark, breathing in that musty air that can only be experienced in damp buildings and basements. His hair was quite grey too but it was still very thick for a man of fifty-five and he had recently had a perm, much to his wife’s horror. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help when he explained to her that it was to make his head seem bigger so he looked more like a mushroom.

Malcolm opened the cellar door and trundled dejectedly down the steps to stand in his favourite corner. He would have sat down but he had given up sitting as he felt it was an inappropriate thing for a mushroom to do. This had caused quite a kerfuffle with regards to his desk job at the council. He had brought up the issue with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion officer who took it to the Personnel In Safe Spaces (PISS) team and they in turn collaborated with the Transitioning Action Knowledge and Education (TAKE) team. PISS-TAKE decided to hire an expert in species dysphoria who, at the end of her two month contract, came up with the brilliant idea of raising Malcolm’s desk a few inches. Standing for such long hours was beginning to take its toll though. Malcolm’s varicose veins were worsening and his legs seemed to permanently ache. It wasn’t easy being a mushroom.

Malcolm had always felt like an outsider but in joining the LGBTQIA+ community he thought he had finally found a place where he belonged. No-one had waved their rainbow flag with more pride and vigour than Malcolm had but now there were little doubts beginning to creep into his head. There was indeed something he found very uplifting about a community of misfits clubbing together to change people’s perception about things but as a mushroom he wasn’t sure if the rest of the community took him seriously. He was the misfit amongst misfits. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so out on a limb if he had become a homosexual instead of a mushroom but that just wasn’t Malcolm’s cup of tea. In fact, even though Malcolm could recite all of the one hundred and seven different genders he wasn’t particularly interested in having sex with any of them. As for becoming a trans-woman, although very supportive of it in principle, he felt dressing up as a woman to be a little too glamorous and showbizzy for him personally. Becoming a furry was another option he considered but he just wasn’t physical enough to be running around like a dog all day or leaping on top of things like a cat. But being a mushroom seemed to suit his personality. It was the obvious choice for him. What if his wife was right though? What if he was just deluded?

Malcolm’s cognitive dissonance was completely tearing him apart. His self esteem had reached its lowest ebb and he crumbled to the floor in a state of existential angst as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’m pathetic!” He angrily spat the words out at himself. “I’m a failed mushroom!” He lay in a heap on the floor of the damp cellar for what seemed like an eternity considering whether to slit his wrists with a Stanley knife that he had grabbed from his toolbox.

In his state of nervous exhaustion Malcolm momentarily lost consciousness and then, in what can only be described as a religious experience, he opened his eyes to see the most beautiful rainbow forming before them. It only lasted for a brief moment (maybe it was the light playing tricks) but it was the glimmer of hope he needed. “It’s a sign!” he thought to himself. What did it matter whether he was a mushroom or not? As long as he could see those magical rainbow colours everywhere he walked – at work, in the supermarket, in the banks, on the television, on buses and on trains – then he could rest assured that it’s okay to be an individual.

He went upstairs to talk to his wife.

“You’re right, Dear. I’m not a mushroom,” he said to her, smiling serenely.

Malcolm’s wife was filled with immense relief and joy as she gave him an enormous hug. Malcolm felt a closeness to his wife that he hadn’t felt for years and he was ready to be himself. He was ready to be brave and tell the truth.

“I’m an adult baby,” he said proudly.

My garden shed is institutionally racist!

It was early spring and so time to give the lawn its first cut of the season. As a typical suburban Englishman in his fifties I look forward to these simple pleasures. Maybe I’m over romanticising it but I like to think that when William Blake wrote about this ‘green and pleasant land’ he was inspired not only by the undulating landscapes of the English countryside but also by the much loved institution of the English garden. Partly due to the British climate and our long growing season our gardens are the envy of the world and one of the few things we Brits can still be proud of. Perhaps I will never win any prizes for my humble contribution to this age old tradition but nevertheless I still feel part of something that is so intrinsic to our national identity.

It would be the first time that I stepped inside my garden shed for months and I was almost falling over myself to reach the end of the path. I think of the shed as the heart and soul of the garden itself. It’s my Aladdin’s cave where I keep everything I need to tend the garden and nurture all that grows in it from petunias to passion flowers. So it was with great joy and excitement that I undid the padlock to the shed door. But sadly as I opened the door a strange sensation struck me almost immediately and my heart sank. My joy almost instantly turned to pain.

My garden shed was institutionally racist.

The labelling on my propagators said it all. Naturally, the Queen Victoria Lobelia was there. Next to it was the Queen Mum Agapanthus and the Sweet Williams so named after the Duke of Cumberland, William Augustus. But where were the African Lilies, the Asiatic Dayflower or even the Arabian Jasmine? Surely it was possible to grow some more exotic plants in my garden.

That wasn’t the worst of it though. My garden tools were so old that many of them still had the ‘Made in Sheffield’ mark printed on them. Only now did it occur to me that the British iron industries boomed on the back of slavery.

And of course I’d convinced myself that I painted the shed brilliant white to make the colours of my chrysanthemums stand out but realistically there must have been some level of unconscious bias at play. I could have painted it a lovely dark oak, like Mr. Patel’s next door…or even a shocking pink, like Mr. Batting on the other side.

Clearly my shed and garden were not inclusive environments and were being perceived as white only spaces. For all those years I had paid scant regard to the structures and processes that had created the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities in my shed and indeed in the garden itself. Of course, some might argue that an Englishman’s shed is his own private affair and no-one else has any business there, regardless of skin colour. But this is really no excuse. Even if strangers technically have no right to visit my shed they still have the right to not feel excluded from it on racial grounds.

I knew what I had to do but I couldn’t do it alone; I needed the help of an expert. I went back indoors and logged onto the website of my local paper to insert an ad in the jobs section. The ad cost me £300 but it was money well spent. I thought very carefully about the wording:

“Academic wanted for fixed term, freelance contract to produce an equality impact assessment for garden shed in Essex. High level of education needed on issues surrounding British colonialism, institutional racism and hate studies, particularly with regards to garden sheds. Expertise in the lived realities of ethnic minorities required. Knowledge of gardening desirable but not essential. Salary – £1,000 for 3 month contract.”

It was a lot of money but I wanted the best.

I had to wait a week for the ad to go live but after that I was pleasantly surprised by the positive response. Another five days and I had fifty CVs and covering letters to sift through. Short listing was easy, as most of the applicants had very English sounding names and could be immediately rejected. I was left with two: A Mrs. Adebowale and a Mr. Pushpakumara. I Googled these names and discovered that one was African and the other was Sri Lankan – an excellent cross section!

It was the day of the interview. My first applicant Mrs. Adebowale was scheduled for two o’clock and I eagerly recited my interview questions as I waited for her. At three o’clock the possibility that she might not show began to sink in. It’s always possible she had a better offer I suppose. Never mind, Mr. Pushpakumara’s CV was also very impressive and I was optimistic that we would hit it off.

I was taken aback as I opened the door to Mr. Pushpakumara, as he did not look Sri Lankan at all. His skin was as white as mine but more leathery in appearance and he had long greasy hair combed back behind his ears. He had a hoop earring in one ear and as he grinned at me he revealed two gold front teeth. He put me in mind of one of those gentlemen who swing the waltzer cars round at the fairground. I thought about asking him to put his cigarette out before entering my house but decided that this might seem a little uninclusive.

I offered him a seat at my dining room table to conduct the interview.

“Would you like a tea or coffee?” I asked.

“Never mind all that, mate. Let’s ’ave a look at yer shed. That’s what you want sorted aht innit?” said Mr. Pushpakumara, rather abruptly.

I found his manner somewhat brash but at the same time I was impressed with his confidence and he did seem to have a genuine interest in sheds.

“Just leave it wiv me, mate. I’ve seen dozens before like this one,” said Mr. Pushpakumara, assessing the contents of my shed.

I did have one or two doubts about Mr. Pushpakumara’s academic credentials. He just didn’t strike me as a Cambridge graduate but it is very difficult to tell these days. In any case he was really my only hope now and he did seem very proactive, so I decided to offer him the job. He insisted on being paid cash a month in advance, which he said was standard practice with this sort of work. I gave him a set of keys to the back gate and the shed so he could come and go freely to do his work.

The following morning I went to the shed to look for my secateurs. To my surprise the shed was completely empty. Mr. Pushpakumara had done a very thorough job indeed. He had obviously decided a completely fresh start was needed to create a more inclusive environment in my shed. I called him on the number he left to see what he had planned for the next stage of the project but he didn’t pick up, so I left a message. I am very much looking forward to hearing back from him.


Emergency! The weather is too average.

It was July 2023 and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had produced a special emergency report. The Prime Minister knew it was serious as it was the first time that Sir Walter Rising, the UK representative of the IPCC, had asked to see him in person. Sir Walter urgently wanted to discuss the findings of the report with the Prime Minister. What on earth could it be? The Prime Minister nervously fiddled with his tie as he waited for his visitor.

Sir Walter was ushered into the Prime Minister’s parliamentary office and the PM welcomed him with a broad smile and a handshake, trying hard to disguise his sense of apprehension.

PRIME MINISTER: Wonderful to see you, Sir Walter. So what on earth is this urgent news about the climate? The last few months seem to have been fairly uneventful to me.

SIR WALTER: Well yes, that’s the problem Prime Minister. The climate stats for the last quarter are far too average.

PRIME MINISTER: That’s preposterous! How on earth could they be too average?

SIR WALTER: Well, we’ve never seen figures like this before. It really is highly improbable for them to be quite so average.

PRIME MINISTER: Are you trying to tell me that the figures are remarkably unremarkable?

SIR WALTER: Yes, startlingly so. If we take the mean temperatures, wind speeds and rainfall for the last hundred years and compare them to the figures for the last three months then we can see they are almost identical. Here take a look for yourself.

PRIME MINISTER: Well what’s wrong with that?

SIR WALTER: It’s completely unprecedented. We would expect to see fluctuations from the average figures for any particular time of year. There is simply no extreme weather being recorded anywhere in the world currently. It really is quite extraordinary.

PRIME MINISTER: So what might it indicate?

SIR WALTER: Well, it’s a very clear indication of manmade climate change.

PRIME MINISTER: Now hang on just a minute. I understand that the exceptionally warm weather we experienced last year was due to manmade climate change. I’m even prepared to accept the theory that our recent cold spells were an indirect result of it too. But average weather? Is there any kind of weather that the IPCC would actually welcome?

SIR WALTER: Well a moderate amount of averageness would be fine but this extreme level of averageness is quite alarming. It is almost certainly an indication that something isn’t right. The quiet before the storm so to speak. The last time this level of averageness was recorded was just before the ice age.

PRIME MINISTER: The ice age? How could you possibly have anything on record two million years before records began?

SIR WALTER: Computer modelling of course.

PRIME MINISTER: You mean computer modelling can accurately record weather conditions on a daily basis from two million years ago?

SIR WALTER: No of course we don’t do it day by day. We average it out.

PRIME MINISTER: So you averaged out the figures and then found them to be remarkably average…hmm, who would have thought?…okay then, so assuming your calculations are all correct then am I to take it that we should prepare for a period of cooling rather than global warming?

SIR WALTER: Global warming is a very outdated term. We stopped using it because there were too many conspiracy theorists pointing out that this or that part of the world was actually cooling down. It was very unhelpful. That’s why we prefer to use “climate change” now. Following this average period we are now experiencing we are likely to see even more extreme conditions – heavy storms, flooding, blizzards, sub-zero temperatures and heat-waves.

PRIME MINISTER: Why not just more averageness?

SIR WALTER: Very unlikely. Extreme averageness like this is unsustainable. This level of averageness going on indefinitely is completely against the law of averages.

PRIME MINISTER: So what should we do?

SIR WALTER: Well this is an emergency situation. If we are going to stand any chance of saving the planet then we need to achieve net zero by the end of this year.

PRIME MINISTER: By the end of the year? That’s impossible! The country would grind to a halt. Surely it can’t all be down to co2 emissions in any case. You said this is what happened two million years ago before we started using oil and gas.

SIR WALTER: As you know very well, oil and gas are not the only things that cause co2 emissions. Cows are also a very big problem.

PRIME MINISTER: Cows? There weren’t any cows on the planet two million years ago. Now I know for sure that you’re pulling my leg!

SIR WALTER: Maybe there weren’t any cows but there were dinosaurs. If the digestive system of a cow can produce enough methane gas to be an environmental hazard then imagine what a hundred-and-thirty feet Argentinosaurus would produce.

PRIME MINISTER: Now you’re trying to tell me that the ice age was caused by farting dinosaurs. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!

SIR WALTER: Science can seem improbable at times. I’ll leave the report with you for you to peruse in your own time. I do urge you not to take too long though. Time is running out.

The Emperor’s New Pronouns

Many years ago there lived an emperor who used to like dressing up in women’s clothes. It was a very well kept secret within the Palace, as the Emperor felt somewhat embarrassed about it but he just could not help himself. There was something about the softness and the sensuality of those silk and lace garments that he found irresistible. He would shut himself in his room and parade up and down in front of his long mirror, trying his best to move like a woman. At times he even managed to convince himself that he was a woman but these moments never lasted for long. He would look again in the mirror and the stark reality would be staring back at him. “Yes, alas, I am a man and an ugly, overweight man at that,” he would solemnly admit to himself. Perhaps the beard didn’t help. If only his dreams would come true and he could just wake up one morning as a beautiful empress.

One week there came to town two rotten scoundrels, Eddie and Freddie. These conmen made it their business to find out all the private affairs of the rich and powerful and thus they knew all about the Emperor’s little secret. They were well connected and managed to make an appointment to see the Emperor.

“I am honoured to meet you, Your Highness,” said Freddie.

“I understand you have some very important business to discuss,” said the Emperor.

“Indeed, Your Highness. You see, well…how can I put this…we know about your little secret and we have a proposition for you that I’m sure will be of interest.”

“Blackmailers!” hollered the Emperor, red faced with both embarrassment and anger, as he made for the door to call his guards.

“No, no Your Highness, you misunderstand me,” said Freddie.” Please hear me out because we have a very full understanding of this matter. In fact you might say we are experts. I am a man of the world and there is not much I have not seen in my travels. Moreover, my colleague here is one of the world’s finest sorcerers. Together we can make you become the thing which you desire to be.”

“You mean…you can m-m-make me become…” the Emperor was stuttering with excitement and could not quite get his words out.

“Yes, indeed Sir,” said the scoundrel. “We can help you to become a woman.”

“I don’t believe you! How could such a thing be possible?” asked the Emperor, clearly curious about what he had to say. “Prove to me that you can do this thing at once or I will have my guards seize you!”

“Indeed, I intend to do that,” said the scoundrel. “Or at least my colleague Eddie does. A wonder in wizardry…a superstar in sorcery…allow me to introduce to you the Great Eddie Wizard!”

“Thank you Freddie,” said Eddie, as he pulled out a small hip flask from his pocket. “You see before you one of the most magical potions I have ever created. Just one tiny sip of this elixir and my magic words is all it will take to transform anyone from a ‘he’ to a ‘she’ or a ‘she’ to a ‘he’ in a matter of minutes. And now, just to reassure you, I will demonstrate this miracle of nature on myself.”

Eddie took a sip from his hip flask and you could have heard a pin drop as he started to sway and tremble slightly.

“Please excuse me,” said Eddie. “The magic is making me rather light headed. I shall need to leave the room for some fresh air but I will be back very shortly.”

There was an awkward silence for one or two minutes and then suddenly Eddie swung the door open dramatically and strutted into the room. He was clearly still a middle aged man with the same big nose and square jaw but he was now dressed up as a young woman. He had pale white foundation on his face, bright red lipstick and was wearing a pink ball gown dress. He seemed almost oblivious to the other men in the room and made straight for the Emperor’s long mirror, where he cavorted around, admiring his reflection. Freddie continued his sales patter:

“A miracle indeed! Eddie is the finest Wizard in the land and has the power to turn anything into anything else. Bronze into gold, a frog into a prince and even a man into a woman. It is hard to believe that just five minutes ago Eddie was a man…and now as you can see he is a beautiful young princess that would make any man proud.”

The Emperor was stunned into silence. He looked both perplexed and horrified at the same time.

“So why are you still calling him ‘he’?” asked the Emperor.

Freddie cleared his throat.

“Oh, did I say ‘he’? Silly me! Slip of the tongue. Anyway, before we continue I must warn you of this: Only the intelligent and the honourable will see Eddie as a woman. Those who see Eddie as a man are stupid conspiracy theorists and they are unfit for office.”

The conman was so convincing. He had an aura about him that was almost hypnotic and the Emperor found it difficult to disagree. He certainly didn’t want to be thought of as a stupid conspiracy theorist, unfit for office.

“My word! What a gorgeous creature she is!” exclaimed the Emperor.

The scoundrel took out a long document from his satchel.

“Now all you have to do to make your dreams come true is to sign here,” he said, handing his quill to the Emperor.

The Emperor felt he had no choice. Besides which, grotesque as the sight of Eddie Wizard was, there was still part of the Emperor that actually wanted to believe it all. He didn’t even bother to read the small print on the document stating that the scoundrels would forthwith be the legal owners of all his gold.

“An excellent decision, Your Highness,” said Freddie. “I can assure you, you won’t regret it. Now take a sip of the potion and Eddie will cast his…err, I mean her spell on you.”

The Emperor took a sip from the hip flask and with a wave of his wand, Eddie said the magic words:


He continued, “From today people will use the words ‘she’ and ‘her’ when referring to you and you will be known as the Empress. Now take a look at your beautiful female figure in the mirror.”

“Oh, I look positively gorgeous!” said the Emperor in the campest of tones. “Thank you so much, gentlemen! What a wonderful gift you have given me today!”

The conmen reiterated their story to every member of the Palace and so they all went along with it for fear of being labelled a stupid conspiracy theorist.

Soon it was time for the first official ceremony that the Emperor would host as the Empress. He was so excited to finally introduce himself as a ‘she’ to the outside world and had spent hours making himself beautiful for the occasion. The crowd were all onboard with the pretence, as none of them wanted to admit they were a stupid conspiracy theorist. They cheered and roared and chatted with one another about how beautiful the Empress looked.

But then a little boy at the front of the crowd shouted out, “The Empress is a man!”

“Shhh, be quiet!” said the little boy’s father. “It’s not a man, it’s the Empress.

“What did he say?” asked someone behind.

“He said the Empress is a man!” another person said.

“That little boy said the Empress is a man!” someone else said.

Soon the whole crowd were laughing and repeating the little boy’s words. The Emperor was furious. “Damned conspiracy theorists!” he shouted at the crowd.

Meanwhile, the scoundrels were busy counting their gold. “You do realise there is no reason for you to be wearing that pink ball gown dress anymore, don’t you?” Freddie asked Eddie.


The mask of shame

King Ernest was frustrated. He was beginning to feel like he was losing control of his people. It’s not that he was facing anarchy in any real sense. Admittedly crime rates were slightly up but a certain amount of rape, murder and robbery was to be expected. These were the middle ages after all. What was not acceptable, however, was free speech. Unfortunately this subversive trend seemed to be creeping into everyday life. Just the other day the King was travelling through the market in his carriage when he overheard someone say that the Crusades were all about the West trying to gain political and economic advantage. King Ernest was so shocked by this treacherous viewpoint that his aides had to get the smelling salts out to revive him. The week prior to that, he heard one of the speakers in the town square telling everybody that the earth was round. “That kind of misinformation could actually put people’s lives at risk, especially seafaring folk, who might be lulled into a false sense of security and sail off the edge of the world,” the King thought to himself.

Unlike some of his brutish predecessors King Ernest was a very refined and sophisticated King. He was extremely well educated and had a passion for some of the more modern sociological ideas. He found the ignorance of the masses almost unbearable and the language and manner of the peasants was particularly worrisome to him. It’s not so much that the peasants were revolting; it’s just that they were…well…revolting. Using non-inclusive language, displaying homophobic and transphobic attitudes and refusing to acknowledge their white privilege were just a few of the hateful practices amongst those troublesome roughknecks. Free speech would have to be stamped out altogether if King Ernest was going to protect the ideals of tolerance, diversity and respect.

There was only one thing for it: King Ernest would have to start cancelling anyone who publicly displayed inappropriate views or used non-inclusive language. He had the ideal tools at his disposal and now it was time to get them out of the torture chamber and start utilising them for the sake of community cohesion. “I think the mask of shame could be just the thing to teach people to be kind and tolerant to each other,” he told his chief torturer. These instruments of punishment were muzzles in an iron framework that enclosed the head of the perpetrator so they were immediately recognisable. Also referred to as stigmas, some masks of shame were quite plain in design whilst others were grotesque depictions of demons and animals like dogs or pigs.

The King needed a scapegoat to get the ball rolling and the ideal place to catch someone out was the town square where speakers would gather to preach on their soap boxes about anything from religion to politics. It didn’t take the King and his guards long to find their man.

“Leeches are not safe and they are not effective!” The speaker roared out to his captive audience. “They will poison your blood and you will die young! They offer no protection whatsoever from the Black Death. It is all a big scam to make money for the leech farming industry and the plague doctors are in on it. Do not fall for it. Do not book up your leeching appointment and if you have already had one do not get your booster!”

“Seize that man!” the King instructed his guards, excitedly.

The anti-leecher was thrown into the back of the prison cart and taken to the dungeons to have his mask of shame fitted. He never uttered a bad word about leeches in public again.

For the next few weeks the King continued to focus his efforts on the speakers and philosophers of the town square. Although this small group of intellectuals were far more refined and intelligent than the peasants they were equally as annoying as they seemed to have their own ideas and opinions about things. Many of them were elderly, so they were easy to manhandle and rounding them all up was a doddle.

Next were the drunken slobs, who were also an easy target particularly just after pub closing time. Muzzling them was popular with members of the public, as many of them had been on the receiving end of their rude comments and offensive behaviour. But to get everyone on board the King had to go much further. Large numbers of ordinary people now had to be punished for their wrongthink. For this the King relied heavily on people snitching on their neighbours. Hate crimes such as intolerance, severe impatience and heavy sarcasm were all reported with great fervour by some of the more puritanical villagers.

King Ernest’s programme of social change was now in full force. He ordered his Royal artisans to construct five hundred thousand masks of shame and before long nearly half of the local population were wearing them. The only problem was that the sheer numbers meant there was no longer a stigma attached to the stigma. The King needed to find a way of taking things to the next level. He couldn’t just throw half the population in jail; there weren’t enough jails or prison guards. Then out of the blue the answer struck him. He could take people’s freedom away completely by taking away their right to use cash. Simple! He wasted no time in decreeing that anyone in a mask of shame would be barred from giving or receiving cash. “Hooray!” King Ernest shouted out. At last he had found a way of fostering the inclusive and caring society that he so passionately longed for.

Soon, half the people in the town were unable to buy food or clothes and they could not even get paid for their work. Sadly, some of them starved but the cleverer ones found ways of surviving through bartering and dealing on the black market. So much so that bartering began to take over as the preferred way to buy and sell goods. The black market thrived and the value of the sovereign started to drop as people demanded to be paid in bronze, clay or other goods they could put to practical use.

As time passed the value of the sovereign sunk so low that it was almost worthless. The Royal guards’ pay packets were therefore also worthless and they deserted the King in their droves. The King looked out from the top of his castle as he reluctantly admitted to himself that things weren’t going to plan. He knew fostering a free and caring society was never going to be easy but this really was a setback.  “I was only doing it all for their own good,” he muttered to himself. It all seemed so unfair to him. He was King after all and as such had the divine right to rule in whichever way he saw fit. “Oh well,” he said to himself. “At least I still own all the land and every creature that lives upon it.” He looked up to the clouds as a beautiful white dove flew overhead. A fraction of a second later, a large, slimey projectile that the dove had ejected from her rear-end hit King Ernest between the eyes.

Are they taking us for a ride?

TAXI DRIVER: Where to guv?

PASSENGER: Piccadilly Circus please.

(A few seconds pause)

TAXI DRIVER: This energy crisis is a turn up for the books isn’t it?

PASSENGER: Indeed, no-one saw it coming did they?

TAXI DRIVER: No, it completely caught the government off-guard. No-one could have predicted it…apart from Ofgem of course. They predicted it a couple of years ago.

PASSENGER:  Ah yes, but no-one could have predicted the severity of it. That’s all down to Putin and his sudden invasion of Ukraine.

TAXI DRIVER: Yeah, well that was a surprise. Very out of character wasn’t it? Very unpredictable. That’s what I said when he invaded Georgia in 2008…and when he invaded Ukraine the first time in 2014. Who would have thought it, eh?

PASSENGER: He invaded Ukraine in 2014? I don’t remember that.

TAXI DRIVER: Funnily enough the government don’t seem to remember it either.

PASSENGER: So why didn’t we impose sanctions on him back then?

TAXI DRIVER: Well obviously at the time we realised that would be an extremely harmful and self-destructive thing for us to do. Cutting off our nose to spite our face – so to speak. But to be fair our response to the invasion in 2014 was very robust.

PASSENGER: What did we do?

TAXI DRIVER: Well, William Hague was the foreign secretary back then and he didn’t mess about at all. He was very quick to retaliate with severe moral outrage and condemnation.

PASSENGER: Was that it?

TAXI DRIVER: Yeah, of course it was. After all, Putin might be an evil dictator but he’s never attempted to kill anyone on British soil has he?

PASSENGER: Well he attempted to kill the Skripals back in 2018 didn’t he?

TAXI DRIVER: Yeah…but he never actually killed them though did he?

PASSENGER: No but he killed someone else by accident – that Dawn whats-her-name…

TAXI DRIVER: True…but he’s never deliberately killed anyone on British soil though has he?

PASSENGER: Well he killed Alexander Litvinenko didn’t he?

TAXI DRIVER: Well okay, fair point but that was all just a bit of spy games wasn’t it? You know a bit of John le Carré jiggery pokery. The British public weren’t under any direct threat so the most appropriate reaction to all of those things was moral outrage and condemnation.

PASSENGER: So why isn’t the government just doing a bit of moral outrage and condemnation this time round?

TAXI DRIVER: Well I suppose we’re all in the right frame of mind for some more turbulence and personal hardship at the moment. Since Covid we’ve got used to the idea of being in a state of emergency all the time. Being all in it together for whatever the current thing is. Anyway, the country’s finished now we’re in the aftermath of lockdown, so what have we got to lose? In for a penny in for a pound.

PASSENGER: That’s ridiculous! There must be more to it than that!

TAXI DRIVER: Well who knows? Conspiracy theorists would tell you it’s a deliberate attempt to crash the economy so that they can bring in a digital currency but I’m not a conspiracy theorist. In fact I don’t even like being controversial – it’s not good for business, so I’m happy to blame Putin for the energy crisis. It’s nothing to do with our lack of self-sufficiency, our dependency on hostile nations, our 12% inflation due to shutting the country down for two years, our obsession with net zero, our dilly dallying on nuclear energy and fracking or Ofgem’s reluctance to regulate the money-grabbing monopoly companies which run the gas and electricity networks. It’s all Putin’s fault and now we have to do our bit again. Just a little bit more of that Dunkirk spirit, that’s all we need, to help our friends in Ukraine.

PASSENGER: Well that’s all very well but I’ve got a wife and family to support. You’re beginning to make me wonder if moral outrage and condemnation would have been a better policy for us all.

TAXI DRIVER: That’s not the right attitude, old chum. We can do this if we all work together. Just go without a holiday this year…sell your car…get some thermal underwear… At least we’re not having bombs dropped on us. Not yet anyway.

PASSENGER: You’re not really selling it to me. There must be some way out of this. What I don’t get is how we ever became so reliant on buying our energy from a hostile nation like Russia.

TAXI DRIVER: Well actually we didn’t. We were only getting four percent of our gas supply from Russia. We get most of our gas from Norway, you see. However, the wholesalers are putting their prices up because the sanctions have reduced supply and increased demand which means they can charge pretty much what they like for it. Meanwhile Russia is selling their gas to India and China, who then markup the price and sell it onto various European countries who then markup the price and sell it to the UK. At the same time the UK is selling gas to Europe at bargain basement prices as we currently have a glut of it.

PASSENGER: Whoa there! Slow down! Did you just say we have a glut of it?

TAXI DRIVER: Yes that’s right.

PASSENGER: Why can’t we use what we’ve already got then?

TAXI DRIVER: Well we are using it but there’s too much of it for us to store so we have to pipe it over to mainland Europe.

PASSENGER: This is all quite implausible! You must be making it up now. How did we end up with so much of it when we don’t even produce it?

TAXI DRIVER: Well I s’pose we must have bought a bit too much of it not realising we wouldn’t need it when the country was shut down for two years.

PASSENGER: So let me get this straight. We’re both buying it from Europe and selling it to Europe at the same time?

TAXI DRIVER: That’s right. It all gets cooled down to liquidise it and then it’s sent over to Europe through one pipe and they send another load back to us through another pipe. That way it all goes round in a big circle and we don’t have to worry about storage. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering when you think about it.

PASSENGER: I give up! You’ve lost me now. It’s the most unintelligible load of gobbledygook I think I’ve ever heard. I say the sooner we produce our own energy the better. Fracking, nuclear, coal, solar, wind…I don’t care let’s just get out of this mess and get the prices back to a realistic level.

TAXI DRIVER: Too right mate! It’s always the fat cats that make all the money and the likes of you and me just get ripped off. Anyway, here we are Piccadilly Circus.

PASSENGER: Thanks very much. How much do I owe you?

TAXI DRIVER: That’ll be £273 please, guv.

The president’s T-shirts are missing!

Vlodymyr Zelensky opened the left hand door to his wardrobe. It was the side which he reserved for his work clothes; the right hand side contained leisure clothes and clothes for social occasions. It was all work and no play for Zelensky these days and so he seldom opened the right hand side. He blinked twice, scratched his head and then grabbed some empty hangers, as if some clothes might magically appear between his fingers. He looked on the floor of the wardrobe but nothing was there. He was already running late for what was possibly the most important appointment of his presidency and this inexplicable mystery was vexing him.

Zelensky’s green T-shirts had all disappeared.

You could be forgiven for believing that Zelensky has only one green T-shirt. They are, admittedly, all very similar but the more observant will have noticed subtle little nuances. Some have a small cross on one side, some are a slightly different pigment of green and some have a cheeky little zip on the left arm. In actual fact he has forty-nine of them: Seven different styles and seven for each day of the week – just in case he wants the same style for the whole week. His maids wash and iron the T-shirts everyday but they are never all in the wash at the same time. So how could this be? Not one single green T-shirt was to be seen in the wardrobe.


His bellow seemed to rattle the entire presidential palace. Anichka, however, was not so easily rattled and she walked into the room rather nonchalantly for what sounded like a life and death situation. Anichka had been a maid to the great and the good for almost forty years and it was not the first time she had seen a president in his underpants. She had seen it all.

“Yes Sir,” she answered calmly.

“Where are all my green T-shirts?”

“In the wardrobe.”

“No, they are not. See for yourself.”

Zelensky gestured to the empty hangers in the wardrobe.

“I don’t know then,” said Anichka, rather indifferently as she shrugged her shoulders.

Anichka had only been working at the palace for two days and Zelensky had already had enough of her. She didn’t seem to have the same respect as the other maids from the agency had and he was sure from her accent and her abrupt manner that she was of Russian descent. He was deeply suspicious of her.

“Please realise the urgency of this,” replied Zelensky. “I am meeting with Bruce Willis this morning! Do you know who Bruce Willis is?”

“Of course. He used to be an actor but now he’s gone senile,” said Anichka, matter-of-factly.

“Have some respect!” shouted Zelensky, angrily. “Bruce Willis is a living legend! He is a genius of the big screen. His transition from the wise-cracking private detective in the T.V. series Moonlighting to the macho action-man in the Die Hard movies was inspirational. Just like me, he can be both a comedian and a hero.”

There was a silent pause for a few seconds and then Zelensky suddenly switched into character and fixed a surly Bruce Willis frown at Anichka.

“Does it sound like I’m ordering a Pizza?” he growled.

Anichka was unaware that the line was from the first Die Hard movie and she looked slightly bewildered. Zelensky chuckled as his performance momentarily allowed him to escape from the urgency of the matter in hand. “…but it’s not only action and comedy that he does,” he added. “Some of the best scenes in Pulp Fiction are close ups of him just looking into the camera….thinking…”

Zelensky seemed to go into a trance as he said the words. Anichka was uncertain whether it was another impersonation of Bruce Willis or if he was mesmerised at the mere thought of his hero. Anichka cleared her throat.

“Yes, he was quite good, wasn’t he?” she replied, damning the Hollywood legend with faint praise. She walked over to the wardrobe and opened a small drawer inside it which was packed with white vests. “How about you wear one of these? They are just like the one he wore in the Die Hard movies. It would be a very fitting way to honour your hero,” she said, in what seemed to be a sardonic tone.

Zelensky went red in the face. He really wasn’t sure whether Anichka was taking the mickey or whether she was just stupid.

“Don’t be ridiculous! A white vest would be completely inappropriate. The green T-shirt is more than just a showbiz gimmick. It is a symbol of my solidarity with the ordinary people of Ukraine and our brave soldiers. It is a sign I share their hardship. It is the image I choose to deliver my political message to the world. The green T-shirt is a metaphor…for freedom.”

There was a pause of silence again as Zelensky imagined a close up shot of his own ‘thinking’ face.

“I’ve got it!” exclaimed Anichka. She was now getting into the spirit of things a little more and seemed like she was genuinely trying to resolve what was clearly a national emergency. “Organise your booster vaccination for this morning and wear a button-up shirt, just like you did for the last one. That way you can remove the shirt for the nurse to inject you while Mr. Willis is there and you can show the world your manly bare chest again.”

Anichka was appealing to Zelensky’s vanity and she was beginning to win him over. It wasn’t as daft as it sounded. The publicity stunt she was referring to was a huge success when he did it last time and his vaccination video was shared on social media thousands of times. No-one thought to ask why he was not wearing his regular T-shirt or for that matter why he didn’t simply roll up his sleeve. They were just happy to see their hero show off his bare chest. It would actually work even better if Bruce Willis was present – in fact it would be a brilliant way to promote the vaccines and the two tough guys could laugh and chat with each other while the medical procedure was taking place.

“You don’t think it will look a little contrived?” he asked Anichka, somewhat naively.

“Of course not – the people will love it. And I’m sure Bruce Willis will understand, as he is a macho actor too. Practically every action film he’s been in there has been some silly excuse for him to take his top off.”

She was beginning to sound very convincing and Zelensky was quite impressed with her problem solving abilities. She was now acting more like a shrewd political advisor rather than a silly maid who had lost all his T-shirts.

“But what about after the vaccination?” asked Zelensky. “I’d have to put the shirt back on again and the cameras would still be rolling. The formal look is really not the right image for me, especially when I’m entertaining Bruce Willis.”

“Leave it off then. That’s what they would do in the movies. It doesn’t have to make sense – it’s just show business. Perhaps you could even invite him to go bare back horse riding with you afterwards.”

Anichka kicked herself for blurting out that last sentence. She knew a Putin reference would not go down well with Zelensky, even if it was said in good jest. Sometimes her dry sense of humour got the better of her. Zelensky’s suspicions about Anichka returned immediately. He was now convinced that she was mocking him rather than trying to help. She was probably working for the Russians and had hidden all his T-shirts to spoil his image and sabotage his relationship with the Ukrainian people.

“How dare you compare me to that disgusting Russian ape?” Zelensky spat out his words as though he had just been fed poison. “I never should have trusted you. I’m sure you know exactly where my T-shirts are and I will get the truth out of you…”

What ensued was not exactly an evenly balanced contest, even if the two of them were about the same height. The slightly built, fifty-five year old Anichka was a tough old cookie but she knew that she was overpowered by the lean and muscular Zelensky. Nevertheless, forcing a grown woman down two flights of stairs, out into the street and then gaffer taping her to a lamppost can be a messy business even for a reasonably strong man. Anichka was now at Zelensky’s mercy but the bruised and mauled president could not help wondering if Bruce Willis would have done a tidier job.

Zelensky was holding a piece of corrugated cardboard with the words “RUSSIAN SPY” written on it in black marker pen. “Okay,” he said, coldly. “I’ll give you just one chance to tell me where my T-shirts are and if you refuse then I will tape this sign to the lamppost and leave you here for the wolves.”

“Try the right hand side of the wardrobe,” the defeated Anichka whispered breathlessly.

Knowing your singular ‘theys’

There was a time when you knew where you were with a ‘they’. It was quite simply more than one person or thing. Okay, there was the exception of that strange anomaly, the pair noun, which often makes very little sense at all. I still call the thing I draw circles with a ‘compass’ rather than a ‘pair of compasses’. It has a pencil one side and a metal spike the other – how is that a pair? Even more perplexing is the question of why knickers are a pair but a bra is not. Generally speaking though, ‘theys’ used to be unarguably plural.

In these confusing times, however, we find ourselves having to adjust to the singular ‘they’. These ‘theys’ are usually people who would rather not commit to being a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ and prefer their gender to be a thing of mystery. Some ‘theys’ may have beards; some may have skirts and some may have both beards and skirts. Some ‘theys’ might be perfectly ordinary looking, perhaps even attractive and other ‘theys’ might look like Eddie Izzard. Of course, Eddie Izzard, herself is not a ‘they’, he is a ‘she’…or at least he was a ‘she’ last time she was in the news but this could quite possibly change if and when they/he/she decides to change their/his/her pronouns in order to get in the news again.

So all this confusion leads to a very important question: Is a ‘they’ just someone whose gender you are unsure about or should the pronoun be reserved exclusively for those who have specifically expressed a desire to be a ‘they’? Personally, I wouldn’t be offended as such if someone referred to me as ‘they’ but I might start to feel slightly insecure. Are these new shoes making me walk a bit funny? Did I put my wife’s glasses on by mistake this morning? Is the stress of adjusting to the New Normal making my voice a little high pitched? I may not be a he-man but I would not want people to think of me as a ‘they-man’. My guess is that most of us are the same i.e. we want to be easily recognised as either a ‘he’ or a ‘she’. But the problem is there is no way of being one hundred percent sure of what anyone’s pronoun preferences are unless they’ve made it known in some way. Perhaps in the name of equality we should all become ‘theys’ for the time being until we can sort it out.

It’s early days yet but hopefully in the future, when we are all wearing identity badges with ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ written on them, things will be much easier. Perhaps one day we will even have an app on our smartphones that informs us of one another’s preferred pronouns. Some companies, like Halifax, are showing us the way forward by instructing all their employees to show their pronouns on staff badges. Previously you may have been wrong footed by your cashier having a strawberry blonde bob, red lipstick and a walrus moustache but now all you have to do is look at the cashier’s identity badge and you need not worry about any embarrassing faux pas. However, if they do indeed turn out to be a ‘they’ then you still need to consider how you intend to conjugate their verbs. ‘Theys’ rarely stipulate how they would like their verbs conjugated but the best thing to do is to correctly follow the rules of grammar. What we need to consider is that we are referring to the ‘they’ as ‘they’ not because there is more than one of them but because the ‘they’ does not want to be a ‘he’, a ‘she’ or an ‘it.’ In other words the third person singular conjugation of the verb should always be used. i.e. They is, they drives, they walks, they says etc.  Most people overlook this simple grammatical principle and conjugate the ‘they’s’ verbs in the plural form but if the Halifax cashier tries to correct you on this then stick to your guns because they is definitely wrong.

Even if you are sure someone is a ‘they’ it can become confusing when they is with a group of other people. For instance, if you are standing at the bar and there is a particularly stunning ‘they’ that you want to impress, don’t just tell the bartender you want to buy ‘them’ a drink. You may end up buying the whole group a drink and it could be very costly, so try to be specific. Say “the pregnant ‘they’ with the beard,” or “the ‘they’ wearing the gold medal for the female shot put.”

Let’s hope that moving forward we can interact in a more caring and inclusive way with ‘theys’ or suspected ‘theys’. Perhaps technology may come to our rescue in the future like it has done with so many other things. The last thing any of us want to do is to offend anyone from the LGBTQQIP2SAI82QB4IP community and so we all need to keep our fingers on the pulse of our ever changing language. Consideration is really the key to this. Every one of us has the right to live freely as a ‘they’ rather than a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ and so we need to ensure we are using language correctly and respect what they wants.

A day at the seaside with Grandad Schwab

Heidi and Jürgen were so excited they could hardly contain themselves. It was the first day of the school holidays and Grandad Schwab was coming round to take them to the seaside. The children couldn’t remember much about Grandad Schwab, as they had not seen him for at least four years. He lived a long way away and he was always very busy working on important things like the New World Order. But they assumed he would be just as funny and entertaining as their other Grandad who they regularly saw every month.

There was a knock at the front door and Heidi and Jürgen jumped for joy as they followed Daddy Schwab to answer it. “Grandad Schwab, Grandad Schwab!” the children sung out with sheer delight.

“Goot Morning children,” said Grandad Schwab in a sombre tone.

Grandad Schmidt, the children’s other Grandad, often used to bring them little gifts, which he would playfully hide under his floppy fishing hat. However, there was no hat on Grandad Schwab’s shiny bald head and the children looked up at him inquisitively wondering if he was hiding any gifts somewhere about his person. Their suspense grew as he put his hand into his inside pocket.

“You vill both need to vear vun of zees,” said Grandad Schwab as he took a pink GPS tracking bracelet out of his inside pocket and fastened it to Heidi’s wrist. Heidi loved bracelets and she was delighted with Grandad Schwab’s choice of gift, even if he did pull it a little too tight.

“Oh, thank you so much, Grandad Schwab,” exclaimed Heidi, as she went to kiss him on the cheek. But Grandad Schwab flinched and he moved his head away.

“Ve have to be very careful, young child,” he said. “I vill need to see proof of your vaccination status before we can indulge in such displays of affection.” He put his hand back in his pocket and turned to her elder brother as he pulled a blue bracelet out.

“I don’t wear bracelets!” Jürgen spat out in disgust. “I’m a boy and bracelets are for girls!”

Grandad Schwab grabbed the boy’s arm and forced the bracelet onto his wrist.

“Remember young man – the fourth industrial revolution vill lead to a fusion of our physical, our digital, and our biological identities,” he said with the coldest of stares.

Grandad Schwab wasn’t like Grandad Schmidt. The children’s excitement had turned to trepidation at the thought of spending a whole day with this strange old man.

Soon they went outside and Daddy Schwab belted the children into the car seats in the back of Grandad Schwab’s electric SUV. He pulled out some coins to give to his children for spending money.

“Zat vill not be necessary,” said Grandad Schwab. “I vill pay for everything using my i-phone. Zey vill have no money but zey vill be happy.”

“What about the amusement arcades?” asked Daddy Schwab.

“Vee vill not be visiting them,” replied Grandad Schwab. “Our brains become mesmerised by zese noisy arcade games and ve risk becoming a perpetual-motion machine ourselves vitch puts us in an unremitting frenzy…vee need to work together and shape a future that works for all by putting people first and steering us away from such crude technology and more towards advanced robotics so vee can blur the lines between ze physical, digital, and biological vorlds.”

Grandad Schwab was hard to follow sometimes.

So far the morning had not gone at all how the children had expected and they felt both sad and anxious as they set off. However, the motion of the car and Grandad Schwab’s monotonous tone soon sent them both off to sleep. They slept for the entire journey as their Grandad waffled on about entering an augmented social reality and the importance of the WEF program for young global leaders in helping to achieve this.

When they arrived at the seaside, the first stop was the funfair and Heidi and Jürgen were practically falling over themselves to get through the entrance gates. Grandad Schwab took out his i-phone to pay for the ride tokens and looked quite perplexed when the rugged looking traveller in the kiosk laughed at him.

“Cash payments only, Grandad!” he said with a toothless smile.

“Don’t you have any proper money, Grandad?” the children asked in disbelief.

Fortunately Jürgen had saved his week’s pocket money and just had enough for four tokens. Two rides each for both of them. He handed over the money to the man in the kiosk.

“Good job someone’s got some money,” said the cheeky kiosk man. “How about buying a cuppa for poor old Grandad? ”

“Zat vill not be necessary,” said Grandad Schwab, clearly unamused.

With their tokens at the ready Jürgen and Heidi made a beeline for the Chair-o-plane ride which was a particular favourite of theirs. In a flash, they were beyond the twenty metre range that Grandad Schwab had set up on his tracking app and the annoying high pitched alarm started to sound. He walked as briskly as his old bones would carry him towards the Chair-o-plane and the alarm stopped. However, once the ride started it had the effect of sending the tracking app into overdrive. Loud bleeps, bells, buzzes and sirens emanated from his i-phone and people stared curiously as he desperately tried to re-programme it. “Ficken technology!” he muttered under his breath.

It was one o’clock in the afternoon and time for fish and chips. Although many of the vendors on the promenade took contactless payments, embarrassingly, for Grandad Schwab the two fish and chip outlets did not. The ten minute walk to the fish and chip restaurant in the town centre would have been fine if it had not been accompanied by the two children repeatedly singing, “Grandad’s got no money!”

They settled down in the restaurant and the old man actually seemed to be mellowing out a little, as he tucked into his battered cod and chips. However, as they waited for their ice cream, he could not resist boasting to the children about how his organisation had infiltrated governments all over the world.

“Wow!” said Jürgen, clearly impressed with his Grandad at last. “Grandad Schwab is head of the Mafia! Have you ever beaten someone to death with a baseball bat? Or given them concrete shoes?”

“You have completely misunderstood me, you young dummkopf!” Grandad Schwab retorted haughtily. “The WEF adheres to the principles of independence, impartiality, moral integrity and intellectual integrity. These principles are of utmost importance to the safeguarding of the Forum’s mission, reputation and status.”

“Oh, he’s off again…BORING!” Jürgen sneered, whilst putting on a fake yawn.

It was too much for Grandad Schwab. The normally ice-cool intellectual was furious at such brazen disrespect. “You insolent little scheiße!” he shouted out in sheer frustration as he threw one of his left-over chips at Jürgen.

Unfortunately for Grandad Schwab, at precisely the same moment the waitress arrived with the ice cream. Jürgen carefully dug his spoon into his chocolate sundae, took aim and catapulted the contents towards Grandad Schwab’s face. It was the perfect shot. It landed just below Grandad Schwab’s nose, creating a little Hitler moustache out of the chocolate sauce.

“Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” Jürgen joyfully shouted out whilst stamping his foot and doing a Nazi salute.

Grandad Schwab took his paper serviette and wiped the moustache off his face. He was not used to this kind of insubordination and he was consumed by an uncontrollable fury. He picked up his entire dessert, including the plastic dish and hurled it towards Jürgen. Jürgen ducked and it landed on the head of a rather plump, middle aged woman sitting opposite her husband. The thin but energetic husband leapt to her defence. He ran over to Grandad Schwab, positioned Heidi’s dessert in front of him and rammed his face into the ice cream. Grandad Schwab sat back up with the dessert and dish still stuck to his face. Heidi started to cry as she watched her delicious ice cream being wasted in such a pointless act of aggression. Next, a tattooed and muscle bound biker to the left of them got out of his chair and walked threateningly over to the table, shouting, “You’re brave, picking on a little girl and an old man – let’s see how hard you really are!”

“You leave him alone!” retorted the plump lady, who still had the dessert on her head and she ran over to the biker hitting him round the face with her hand bag. Before long there was a full blown riot in the restaurant. Food was flying, windmill punches were being thrown and tables were being turned over.

Five minutes later the police arrived and made several arrests, including Grandad Schwab. Heidi and Jürgen managed to make an escape but not before grabbing Grandad’s i-phone, which he had left on the table.

They ran to the sea front where they felt much safer and Jürgen called Daddy Schwab from Grandad’s i-phone.

“Can you come and pick us up, Daddy?” said Jürgen.

“What’s happened to Grandad?” asked their worried father.

“He’s in jail,” said Jürgen, nonchalantly.