Archive for July, 2021

Brother, can you spare a half-crown?

July 23, 2021

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July 18, 2021

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‘The Tell-Tale Nipple’

July 18, 2021

Chapter 2

I was having a very unproductive day in Kew. I wasn’t gawping at the pansies, you understand, but having a rummage at the Records Office.

An idiot nephew of mine lived in the neighbourhood and I’d originally asked him to check some files for me, but his confused babbling soon convinced me that I’d be better off doing the leg work myself. 

But answers found I none. Either the de Scornly lineage had ceased at Wipers as previously believed, or else no one had ‘fessed up to de Scornly parentage on birth certificates. Whichever was true, proving the veracity of the ghostly Sir Jasper’s claim was turning out to be a thorny pickle .  

I hadn’t mentioned nipples to my wretched son-in-law, Darren Frognall. Chaps don’t admit they’ve been staring at another chap’s chest; besides, I felt I needed to absorb the gen that Frognall was in possession of a superfluous boob and work out how it might fit into this perplexing jigsaw. I was surprised that my daughter hadn’t mentioned that her husband had this anatomical discrepancy – or even that it wasn’t used during the wedding when the vicar asked if anyone had any just cause why the marriage should not go ahead. I would have thought that while a third knocker may be a positive boon for a wife, it would be a definite black mark for a cove, particularly when the existing two are already rather pointless. 

My mind was a whirlpool of hypotheses and suspicions as I left the leafy suburb. I have the cerebrum of a master storyteller and I was shuffling my ideas into a coherent shape, much like when I am assembling one of my best-selling novels. I was so distracted by the labyrinthine possibilities in my vast brain that I found I had automatically driven to chez Frognall. This struck me as particularly serendipitous. Salut, subconscious!

I found Frognall at home, sitting in front of his ‘word processor’ which is an electronic typewriter for those who can’t afford secretaries. I didn’t allow him to get a word in edgeways. I told him nothing of my theories; I just suggested – firmly, with no room for manoeuvre – that he spend that night with me in the Haunted Room.

He unsurprisingly didn’t look too thrilled at the idea, but I was adamant. I claimed that I needed a witness to whatever might happen there when I next confronted the ghost of Sir Jasper, and I pandered to his ridiculously bloated ego by saying that everyone would believe a writer of his calibre (the straight face I managed to maintain was one my great achievements). He said that he doubted that Sir Jasper would even show up if there was a third party present. I secretly agreed with that, but for reasons I kept to myself.

Later that night, once I’d infiltrated his throat with a couple of stiff ones, we had settled ourselves back in the Haunted Room at the top of my club, Abbadon’s. I’d managed to sneak Frognall in by thrusting a wad of crisp oncers in the Night Porter’s outstretched paw. 

Frognall looked around the Haunted Box Room with distaste. For a man who waxed lyrical about the ‘grittiness’ and ‘truth’ of the council estate, he was remarkably prissy about his surroundings. Those of us who’ve been to war can find comfort in anywhere that doesn’t have snipers trying to get in. Unnoticed by him, I quietly locked the door behind us and pocketed the key.

Nothing had changed since I’d left the room. But why should it? It was only the previous night that I’d had my spooky encounter there, although it seemed as though a year had passed. I hadn’t slept much in the past 48 hours and my weariness was threatening to catch up with me.

But I had plans for this evening. And it had to wait until midnight…

Frognall was uncharacteristically silent. Usually one can’t shut him up. He’s either boasting about his awards or films deals, or else he’s banging on about how ‘awfully’ some poor billionaire has behaved. I rarely listen when anyone else is talking as my own thoughts are quite good enough for me, but this evening Frognall’s nonsense would’ve passed the time. Rather than enduring the silence and Frognall’s shallow breaths, I filled the gaps myself, regaling us with amusing anecdotes about the war or past sexual conquests. Several Tit-Bits columns worth of material, but none of of it raised even a titter from the Bolshy Bard. Not even when I bemoaned the loss of Rhodesia from the Commonwealth did it provoke one of his communistic tirades. What could be troubling him?

At last the clock began to strike midnight. Frognall seemed to wake from his torpor and said, ‘It’s looks like a no-show from your ghost so we might as well call it a night.’

I said nothing. He went to the door and turned the handle. It didn’t open of course. Irked – dare I say panicky – he demanded I open the door. But I wasn’t letting him away that easily. 

‘You must think me a pretty feeble fellow, young Frognall,’ I told him. ‘A 24 carat semolina-headed dolt. I saw right through you from the start of this business. This is just your clumsy and, frankly, inexpertly-plotted way of getting yourself a knighthood. So much for the being the Trotsky of Terror. Typical lefty, you rail against the Establishment while being desperate to be part of it. Look at that painting!’ I pointed at the portrait above the mantlepiece. ‘I thought it looked familiar. Couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but of course it does, it’s you!  And the ghost last night… that was you too, wasn’t it? Don’t bother denying it.  A quick visit to Bermans, some frills, a flouncy wig and improbable crepe hair – lo and behold! Darren Frognall, the Castro of Creepiness, becomes the mythical Sir Jasper de Scornly.’

He denied nothing, but neither did he admit it. 

‘I will admit there was some remarkable sleight of hand. That son et lumiere, for example. How did you manage that? Mickey Finn in my drink? Hypnosis? And then there was the nipple. Very ingenious. But too rubbery to be convincing.’  

I ripped open his shirt, grabbed the extraneous nipple and tugged. His eye crossed in pain.

‘Oh that was real, was it?’ I continued blithely, quickly removing my hand from his chest lest he get any ideas. ‘But I’ll admit, I’m impressed at the lengths you went to. The back story, the costume, the conjuring… just a shame you don’t put so much effort into your ghastly books.’

Oh, I was enjoying this!

But why wasn’t he responding? I expected rebuttals or outrage or at the very least some sort of bluster. The cove wasn’t even looking at me while I was ridiculing him. He eyes were open very wide – almost with terror – and he seemed to be staring at something behind me…

I whirled around. 

The ghost of Sir Jasper de Scornly stood there, eyes blazing, his sword raised as though to strike!

Ah, bang went that theory. Bugger!

My brain raced nineteen to the dozen as I processed this latest development. I had been quite convinced that Frognall was behind this whole charade, but here we both were faced with the spook himself. I glanced back at Frognall. He’d gone quite white, and while his eyes were fixed on Sir Jasper his hand was clawing uselessly at the door handle.

The ghost stared at me. ‘What news, Sir Desmond Stirling? Have ye found me spawn?’

I pointed back at Frognall. ‘Yes, he’s here.’

I heard a loud gulp from behind me.

Sir Jasper stared at Frognall. ‘This lily-livered whelp?’

‘That’s not my fault,’ I spluttered. ‘I just found him. Don’t blame me, he’s from your gene pool.’

‘And what makes ye think this bowl of cold broth is of me bloodline?’2

I turned to Frognall. ‘Show him your nipple?’

He stared at me, wide-eyed. ‘What?’

‘Open your shirt and flash him your extra boob,’ I hissed, irate at his dim-wittedness, unsurprising as it was.

When he didn’t respond, I impatiently began to undo his buttons. He pushed my hands away and opened up his shirt half way down. He held his shirt open and turned his head away, like a virgin awaiting a vampire’s bite. 

‘Don’t be coy, lad,’ the phantom growled. ‘The de Scornly pap is an appendage of pride.’

The ectoplasmic lout peered hard at Frognall’s chest. With the tip of his sword, he poked the third nipple. Frognall winced, the big Jessie. 

‘That’s the de Scornly tit, all right,’ the ghost uttered. 

‘So what now?’ I asked, seeing as how Frognall was still speechless with terror.

Sir Jasper returned his sword to its sheath. ‘I can give ye proof of your lineage. It will regain ye the family title.’

‘Any land?’ asked Frognall, perking up, the greedy shit. ‘Or treasure?’

‘The de Scornly lands were carved up and scavenged a long time since,’ Sir Jasper replied, ‘Along with the family wealth.’

Frognall tried not to look too disappointed. 

‘So what proof, exactly?’ I asked.

Sir Jasper smirked. ‘Belay ye,’ he said. ‘First ye have to prove ye’re worthy?’

‘Wasn’t the family udder sufficient?’ I asked.

The ghost shrugged. ‘That proved the bloodline. But I’ve yet to see any evidence of the pedigree, I need to believe he has me me fire in his veins!’

Hmm, he’s on a hiding to nothing there, I thought, knowing my son-in-law as I do. All underpants and no clockweights that one. Not the foggiest what my daughter saw in him, but after years in a nunnery, anyone with the merest whiff of the Y chromosome will suffice, I presume.

But the wretch was family, one supposed, so I felt I should show some support, however dishonest.

‘Whatever you want him to do, he’ll do,’ I claimed, ‘even if he hasn’t given me grandchildren yet.’

Sir Jasper’s considered. ‘All me trouble started when some scoundrel grassed me up to me pater.’

I gasped. What utter rotter would do that?

Sir Jasper continued. ‘Me father was such an old fool I could have had me way with the maid right under his nose and he wouldn’t have noticed. But but someone told him everything… about me debts, me whoring, me being banned from court for initiating the Prince of Wales to Brethren of Lucifer himself.’

You know, in other circumstances Sir Jasper and Your Truly could’ve been the best of chums.

‘But what bounder blabbed?’ I asked. ‘Was it one of your brothers?’

Sir Jasper blew a contemptuous raspberry. ‘Those frilly-pantied mollies would never have dared. Ye know why? Because I would’ve slit their buttocks asunder with me epee and they knew it.’

‘Well, who then.’ I inquired.

The phantom snarled. ‘Me oldest enemy, a foppish knave who cheats at games and tattles about ye behind yer back. I challenged him to a duel after I caught him knee-trembling me valet. The cur didn’t show up. Instead he rode to me father and blabbed it all. That I was a gambling, whoring dastard who was blackening the family name.’

He had a point though.

‘I should’ve introduced the insolent puppy to the point of me sword before leaving the country but he’d scurried into hiding.’

‘So who was this appalling blabbermouth?’ I asked.

Sir Jasper spat out the name. ‘Lord Herbert Pilchard!’ He pointed his bones finger at Frognall. ‘And ye must kill his descendant.’

Frognall looked appalled, but not as much as I felt. The Pilchards were an old if undistinguished family, whose aristocratic standing had diminished over the years, descending into the middle class and trade, albeit as founders of the old Pilchard’s of Luton chain of shops.

And how do I know this, darling reader? My late mother was a Pilchard.

And Frognall had just been charged with killing Yours Truly!

*****************

Well, this was an utter dog’s breakfast and no mistake!

My brain computed the next move. First thing we had to do was get the hell away from this blasted spook. Once I’d explained the situation to Frognall he would realise that there was no way he could kill yours truly, his father-in-law and national treasure. 

Or could he? 

The grasping toad had the whiff of aristocracy in his scent and I doubted that anything would deter him from a title. 

Perhaps I ought to kill him first?

No, my daughter would never forgive me and besides, I’m too old to get banged up in chokey, particularly for offing a weed such as Frognall. Plus, I wouldn’t want anyone thinking it was professional jealousy. The only writer who brought out the green eye in old Stirling was darling Sven Hassel even though I soon realised I could never scale the literary heights on which he’d planted a flag.

It was at this point that I heard my mouth – which, I confess, has been known to act somewhat ahead of my brain – open and the following words fall out of it.

‘Actually, I think you’ll find I’m the last of the Pilchard line.’

Hmm, not the course of action that I would have chosen. Thank you very much, mouth. Let’s just hope you have something frightfully clever up your sleeve.

‘Of course,’ I continued blithely, and I’ll admit I was fascinated to know what I would come up with. ‘Seeing as how Frognall here is married to my daughter, any child he spawns will actually be continuing the Pilchard line, then by rights he should do away with himself too – just to be sure.’

Yes, that might work. Let’s hope that Frognall wasn’t daft enough to point out that Alison is actually my stepdaughter by one of my previous wives, can’t recall which one.

‘But surely…’ began Frognall before I clamped my hand over his Bolshie cakehole.

The ghost of Sir Jasper looked at the pair of us, his shark-like eyes revealing nothing. Then he proffered Frognall his sword. 

‘Here, prove ye’re a de Scornley. Smite the blaggard!’

Oh well, I’d had a good innings, and if it were true that one’s life flashes before one’s eyes prior to  one’s demise then I was about to enjoy it all over again and this time without any unpleasant consequences – apart from the inevitable death. I opened my shirt revealing my still manly chest – so unlike Frognall’s feeble and overcrowded torso – closed my eyes, and prepared myself to relive all the many roaring parties and equally roaring legovers. 

I’ll admit that I was fascinated to see if Frognall could actually go through with it. For all his fiery left-wing blabbering, I’d long marked him down as a jelly-kneed wimp when it came to action, a Trattoria Trot who rails against the establishment mainly because he’s not invited to be part of it. Would he have the orchestras to actually do me in? 

Frognall gingerly accepted the tendered sword. He felt the tip of the weapon, flinching slightly at its sharpness. He licked his finger which I thought was frightfully unhygenic. He practiced a couple of feeble swipes in the air. Any hopes for a quick clean death soon evaporated. This was going to be messy. 

Frognall was avoiding my eyes all the while. I wondered how he was going to explain my slaughter, not just to Plod, but to his wife. I think she’s quite fond of me in her own stony-faced way.

‘Do it!’ urged the phantom, his face made even ghastlier with blood lust. ‘Dispatch the swine!’

Frognall took a deep breath and raised the sword above his head. I closed my eyes, and prepared to meet my Maker with whom I intended to have more than a few sharp words about the poor design of the Prostate.

I heard the swoosh of the sword as it sliced the air…

‘Ow!’ came a loud cry. ‘Bloody hell!’

I opened my eyes. Frognall’s swipe of the sword had missed yours truly and sliced open the ghost’s shirt, perforating the chest below. It was a superficial scratch, but blood trickled down…

A ghost… bleeding?

Suspicions that had been coalescing in my mind coagulated into one almighty clot of an idea. I leapt forward and grabbed the spook by the shoulders. He was too, too solid flesh! I ripped off his wig, his hat and then the beard… only to reveal…

‘Snotty’ Gove!

‘Snotty!’ I exclaimed, resisting the quite natural urge to slap the little tick. ‘What on earth are you playing at?’

Frognall stared at Snotty. ‘But that’s my fan,’ he yelped, ‘the one who gave me the pamphlet with the history of this Club.’

I turned to Frognall. ‘And don’t think you’ve got away with nearly offing me either, young man.’

‘I guessed it was all a sham,’ spluttered Frognall. ‘That’s why I deliberately aimed the sword at him and not you, Dad.’

Dad! Dad! Talk about adding insult to nearly an injury. But I’d deal with my ratty little son-in-law later. ‘Snotty’ was the centre of my attention now. Clutching his scratch as though he’d lost a pound of flesh, the little twerp squealed like a baby pig. That he’d planned the whole plot for ages, that he wanted revenge for how I allegedly maltreated his father at school, particularly the whole ‘losing a leg’ thing – which was emphatically not my fault, Gove Major was quite within his rights to refuse to climb up on the school roof to plant the Schoolboys for Mosley flag, but how else could he be punished for burning my toast? And how was I supposed to know that the tiles on a 300 year old roof were loose? 

I must admit I was grudgingly impressed with Snotty’s scheme. The story, the research, the special effects, the hypnosis… that he knew all about Frognall’s third man-boob and pathetic yearning for a title. I asked how he accomplished the vision I saw of de Scornley’s story. A Mickey Finn he slipped into my whisky flask and some reasonably accomplished hypnotic suggestion as I had accurately summised. 

An extra flicker of suspicion occurred to me. ‘Were you in on all this?’ I demanded of Frognall. He shook his head, and I could see from the bewildered – nay, shell-shocked – expression on his eminently punchable face that he was telling the truth. 

‘That pamphlet about the history of the Club,’ Frognall asked, ‘Did you make all that up too?’

Snotty shook his head. ‘No, it’s in the official history of the Club. Sir Jasper was a real person.’

‘What about Scunthorpe? Was he in on your little scheme?’ I demanded of Snotty who replied in the negative. Apparently, the toothless retainer believes fervently in the Ghost of the Box Room. Snotty got the whole story out him him one quiet evening, and it was his genuine terror that triggered off the whole wheeze in Snotty’s devious little mind.

‘We’ll say no more about these shenanigans, Snotty,’ I declared. ‘I won’t press charges against either of you, as long as I get to write the whole sorry saga up. You hear that, Frognall? This is my story!’

I was already mapping the book out in my head. I had contemplated making it the next in the Derek Playfair Mysteries, but perhaps it was finally time to put yours truly at the heart of the story. The Flabbergasting Exploits of Sir Desmond Stirling! Hmm, no, sounds too much like a diet book.

Although I wouldn’t have admitted it to this dismal pair, my nerves were somewhat frazzled and I felt in need of medication. 

‘Right,’ I clapped my hands. ‘ I deserve a drink or three and it’s your rounds. Let’s wake up the bar staff and get blotto.’

Frognall scurried to the door, eager to be the first one out. Snotty scooped up his wig and sword and seemed to be about to say something…

A clap of thunder roared overhead, so loud the room seemed to shake. The portrait of Sir Jasper de Scornly fell from the wall and a sharp gust of icy wind blew out all the candles. Then there was silence, broken only by Frognall’s panicked shallow breathing.

I retrieved the torch I had brought along as back-up from my pocket and switched it on. 

‘Very clever, Snotty, but the joke is over now,’ I said, shining the beam onto his face. His pop- eyes stared wildly, a greasy sheen of sweat reflecting my torchlight back at me.

‘That wasn’t me,’ he squeaked. 

A bloodcurdling chuckle filled the room, seeming to emanate from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I was staring at Snotty at the time and unless he was a master ventriloquist as well as his other conjuring talents, then it definitely didn’t issue from him.

Before I could comment, Frognall and Snotty had hoisted their skirts and scarpered like the big girls’ blouses they were! I gave a wry chuckle.

‘Good night, Sir Jasper,’ I said. ‘We’ll leave you in peace now.’

I left the room and closed the door. As I walked away, I thought I heard… something.

‘Ye’ve not heard the last of me, Sir Desmond Stirling…’