Archive for March, 2014

A few weeks later, in early February, my daughter Tabby was admitted to hospital with a bad episode of ketoacidosis of the blood.  She had had a vomiting bug, always dangerous for diabetics, which made her blood glucose shoot up to the point where she couldn’t think straight or inject right.  She had been alone in her flat in Glasgow, vomming and hallucinating.  She tried to phone the emergency people but forgot it was 999.  She was dialling 222 for the third time when Macaulay Culkein, the boy from Home Alone, popped up beside her.  ‘Oh wow,’ she said, leering at him, ‘I never thought I’d meet you in the flesh.’

‘You’ve got to phone your boyfriend,’ said Macaulay.

‘What was it like, being in all those movies?’

‘You have to phone Kieran, it’s important,’ said Macaulay.  (Jeez, thanks, Macaulay.)

Tabby phoned Kieran and slurred her story about Macaulay being there.  Kieran called an ambulance and ran like the wind. Tabby’s blood glucose was 50.3 whatever-it-is-units upon admission.  If you know about blood glucose you will know this is terrifyingly high.  In the high-dependency unit Kieran made to sit in the chair beside Tabby’s bed.  ‘Shtop it!  You can’t shit there!’ she giggled, cross-eyed, on two drips, ‘Macaulay’s shitting there!’

So anyway, three days later when she was still in hospital and eventually I twigged that she had been really quite ill, Grandalf zoomed me up there in his tiny car.  I was pleased to meet the boyfriend as Tabby says he is very very good at singing bass, and acting.  Who could be a better Mr Blood?  (Apart from, of course, I add hastily, our 2007 Mr Blood, one James Richard Reginald Oscar Rowbottom, who was really excellent and very very scary.  But he has moved to Paris, which would be tricky.  We need someone constantly on site from around now so they can be mercilessly trained, he he, so sorry Jim…but I’m sure you are happy to be spared.)

‘Oh, hi, Kieran!  Would you consider being Mr Blood in our show?’

‘Just say no,’ said Tabby.  Still out of her head, obviously.

Kieran ignored her.  ‘Of course I will be Mr Blood,’ he said.  He is a gracious, kind person.

I started telling him all about the scene where he would feed Mrs Blood aka Tabby her hot potato and peas, and the one where he would slosh about going mental in the sewer with the rats. I sang him some of the songs.  Unfortunately, Tabby had pulled a muscle in her side from hours of intense projectile vomming.  Every time she laughed she would go into an excruciating spasm.  I was told off for singing: ‘Mr Blood runs an excellent establishment…but he’s FAT….WHO SAID THAT???’  I was badly berated for crooning: ‘These children can ruin one’s life…we gave them shelter, Mr Blood and his wife….’

‘Stop it, stop it,’ screamed Tabby, in agonies.

It seemed such a shame, to lose more than we gained, so we got evil, we got wicked, we got ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-aaad.’


I sat quietly for a minute with my eyes bulging with effort.  Then I whispered to Kieran across the bed, ‘Do you mind being Pa as well?  You’d have to wear a sack and sing:  ‘Put your best foot forward and you’ll reach the top… you won’t want to stop.

Tabby had a massive spasm.  Sigh.  I had to sit there and say nothing.  We realised our entire relationship since her birth (that’s almost twenty years) has been solid jokes and laughter.  There was lits nothing to say.  Even when I was being very good sitting there absolutely shtum, my very face made her laugh, so I had to go and sit in the caff.   God, she had really lost her sense of humour.  She even complained about the text I sent her the second day she was in hospital:  ‘Are there any dishy doctors?’

‘You really didn’t understand how ill I was, did you?’ she said.

‘Look, even a person on their death-bed can surely appreciate a dishy doctor,’ was my very sane view.  I mean, let’s be honest, that’s the whole point of going to hospital, isn’t it?


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We have exciting news:  we are taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe.  You may remember that years ago, Chloe wrote a musical based on a children’s book called ‘The Jammy Dodgers go Underground.’  Many kind and helpful actors, stage-hands, props people, lighting people, producers and musicians  helped us, in 2007, to bring this show to the stage, once in our house and once at school.   Bash and I still, in the car, sometimes spontaneously launch into the harmonies of Billy’s separation song:  ‘I’ve been left…left behind….and I’m bind with all these kids who are unkind….it’s late at night… this don’t feel right… I’m alone and scared without the light....’.  Jem and Ned come in with ‘We’ve got to find Billy…stop being so silly…but he might be dying, bet he’s crying….we’ll keep trying.’  Anyway, it’s all very catchy and quite daft.  It was the best fun ever, but for the last few years we have been sadly thinking of it as really and truly in the past.

Not so!  The other day I had an email from Bowering Sivers, otherwise known as Brenda, or, lately ‘Old Ma Sivers’, the author of the Jammy Dodgers.  Much email correspondence had gone on between us in the build-up to the school show.  She loved the musical and came to two of the performances, signing the books at the back of the hall.  We have kept in touch ever since.  So this new email said that Brenda was launching the e-books of the Jammy Dodgers, and could she come back to our school and find a new set of wonderful actors to play brothers Jem, Ned and Billy for the new interactive website?  After a few emails to help her get in touch with the school, we spontaneously decided that a Fringe version of the musical was just begging to be created, to celebrate The Jammy Dodgers bursting onto the digital scene.  After all, Chloe had managed, in 2008, with a lot of effort, to shrink the two-hour script down to forty-five minutes for entry into a ‘Lost Theatre’ competition, which came to nothing but was a bit of a drastic exercise in editing.

At the end of the Christmas holidays we managed to find Chloe’s old battered laptop and with surprisingly little hassle, located this ‘Lost Theatre Jammy Dodgers’ document.  Tabby had gone back to Glasgow already but Chloe and Bashi and I lay in bed with all the dogs and cats and a cup of tea, doing a sing-through.  This was not easy, as memories of the show made us die laughing so we could hardly get through it.  Alfie put his head round the door several times.  ‘Alfie, you’re Zeke,’ Chloe told him.  Zeke is Mr and Mrs Blood’s ghastly child.

‘What?’ said Alfie.

‘We want you on your oboe.’

‘Does Zeke play oboe?’

‘He does now…’

‘Come on Alf.  You get to wear a top hat,’ I said.

Bash said she really, really wanted to do the show, but Chloe was having a moment of doubt:  ‘Isn’t this a step back though?’

See, Chloe’s ‘Plato – the Musical’, my ‘Tits – the Musical’ and ‘The World according to Shardonnay – the Musical’ have all been recent contenders for possible Fringe efforts.  I said:  ‘Hmm, yes, but…it’s like, we have a commission.  That’s kind of cool, to have a commission.  And Plato the Musical is not ready.  Tits the Musical won’t be ready til we have a cast of fifty women willing to bare their breasts.  Shardonnay could be ready whenever, as it doesn’t have that many characters, just Shardonnay, her husband and the choir of blondie boys.  But Shardonnay can wait…’

‘Plus, doing Jammy Dodgers would be more fun,’ said Bashi.  ‘And I could be Clara…’

‘We’re cutting out Clara,’ said Chloe.

‘Cutting out Clara?’ we chorused in dismay.

‘Forty-five minutes!’ said Chloe.  ‘We can’t get the whole book in.  It’s not possible.’

She’s right.  She’s a realist regarding length.  Ooh, sounds rude, but isn’t.

‘The audience will mainly be children, remember,’ I said.  ‘And they don’t care what it’s like, so long as it’s fun.’

‘Hmm,’ mused Chloe, darkly.  ‘Children are the most demanding audience of all.’  She could be right there as well.  But the Jammy Dodgers is full of wonderful material for children.  Don’t kids love evil baddies?  Mr and Mrs Blood are absolutely brilliant nasty creations.

I said,  ‘Brenda is really excited about dressing up in Victorian garb as Old Ma Sivers and standing out on the Royal Mile, selling bunches of watercress.’

‘Really?’ said Chloe, brightening.  ‘….Oh god, all right then. We’ll do it.’

‘We could do Plato the Musical simultaneously,’ I suggested.

‘I would rather do one musical well, than two badly,’ she said.  Wise person.

So: the Tingeys are en route for the Fringe.  Whoopee.  I have decided to start blogging again, but this time not about cancer, not about gin club, but about How to Put On a Fringe Show, all aspects of.  (You will find all these posts in the ‘Tingeys go to the Fringe‘ category at the top of the home page, I hope, if Fred has done it properly.)  It’s a very interesting process and there is a lot to learn, even third time round.  Maybe it will inspire other creatives to give it a go, and they can learn from our bound-to-be catalogue of errors!  Never mind!  This is the Fringe.  People go there wanting to witness cheap and experimental barmy creations.  Tis not the Edinburgh Festival proper,  nor the Albert Hall, nor the Barbican, nor nuffin.

Come on!  We’ve only got four months to get this show on the road!

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 (Again, all-new, exclusive article for your pleasure and information.)

Tu-Gin-Su, Hav-U, F***ing Boring and I went to the Castle. You go up New Town road and take a left. It’s tucked away, but cheerily lit and welcoming.

As soon as we went in I was just delighted. Why oh why have I lived in this town for fourteen years and never been in this place? It’s ADORABLE. A tortoiseshell cat called Titch lay sprawled across two bar stools. There’s soft pinkish flowery wallpaper. The place looks like it hasn’t changed for decades. Nobody’s messed with it. There’s a bell, a brass knight, a darts board, a Martini mirror. In the next room there is a Kit-kat clock, a Finest Scotch Whisky mirror, old paintings, wooden shiny panelling and notice-boards with kids’ pictures. We asked the bar-maid if a picture of a pub was the Castle. She asked someone else, who said, ‘nah, got that from a charity shop.’ They really haven’t tried too hard (in a good way). It’s original, and secret. Til now, ha ha.

We headed to a cosy corner near a fireplace, book shelves, a pile of board games, and a chilled chap called Paul who was doing the crossword. We stood our drinks on Brigadier beer mats with ‘Bang on,’ written on them. Tu-Gin-Su nodded at the curtains: ‘1980s M’nS’. She knows about such things. We chortled over a ‘Worzel Gummidge’ annual, ‘The Commonwealth Book of Cricket No. 3’, and ‘Deborah’s Secret Quest.’

F***ing Boring went to the hole in the wall cubbyhole thingy to get more gins and kit-kats. She wants to set Hav-U up with her cousin. He’s popping over from some far-flung place. ‘You’ll only have a day and a half to make it work,’ she said.

Hav-U, in her normal, sceptical mode, looked singularly unimpressed with the plan.

Fucking Boring told us about her first wedding, in France. The priest ranted on in French for ages: ‘blurgh, blurgh, blurgh, blurgh.’ The interpreter waited several minutes for a little pause, looked at the congregation, said, ‘Firstly…’ and looked back at the interpreter expectantly. It was apparently very funny/you kind of had to be there.

‘Are we walking the ponies Sunday morning?’ asked Tu-Gin-Su.

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘of course.’

‘Or is it…hmm, weather-dependent?’ she asked.

I realised she meant, ‘You-not-being-hungover-dependent’. The last Sunday she met me at the ponies I was in recovery from Maura-next-door’s killer cocktails. Tu-Gin-Su took off rugs and picked up poos on her ownio while I lay on the grass puking quietly into the thistles. Not good. I should follow Fucking Boring’s lead and give up drink. My body has identified it as a poison.

I loved this pub so much though that when the others got up to leave, I borrowed two quid from the kitty and stayed for another half. The bar-maid didn’t realise I only had two quid til she’d poured most of a pint so I got the biggest half you’ve ever seen. I rang Fred who was on the train and asked if he would come home via the Castle. Got chatting to Paul in the interim. He said there used to be a great pub called the Fox, opposite the vet in Rye Street. ‘Pokey, three bars, proper olde worlde,’ he said wistfully. I told him I’d fallen instantly in love with this pub and he said, ‘yeah, it’s because nobody knows about it, we’ve got it to ourselves.’ Oops. Don’t say I told you.

Fred turned up and got a pint of Doombar in.

We rummaged amidst the board-games and came across: ‘Mid-Life Crisis.’ We couldn’t resist and started rolling the dice, hopping through our thirties, forties, fifties, and zapping each other with divorce and stress points.

Crisis after crisis drove us to drink: I had another Guinness, Fred tried a pint of Seafarer’s.

The game made us die laughing. ‘You discover your child’s nursery teacher is on drugs. Add 100 stress points.’ ‘Your spouse has been leading a double life. Take a CRISIS card.’ ‘You discover what a proctologist does for a living. Take a CRISIS card.’ ‘You haven’t been feeling well, so you see a psychiatrist who tells you you haven’t been feeling well. Pay £1000.’ I need to have this game for Christmas. Sign up anyone who wants to join in: we’ll be playing round the clock.

We said goodbye to purring black and white Oreo, and Titch. The bar-maid told us they are part of a great clan. It reads like Genesis: Mittens begat Alfie, Oreo, and Sprite, who begat Ella and Bisto, who begat Titch and Zorro…

‘Litrally’ what have I been doing all my life? *strikes head* I should have been taking a daily stroll with all and sundry through the grave-yard to the Castle.

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(Another World Premiere for this ALL-NEW never-before-published episode of The Gin Club, which was written in October 2013.)

My son Alfie has a lovely girlfriend called Sophie. She asked me if the Gin Club would be going to the pub she works in, The Nag’s Head.

Ooh, nothing we like more than an invite. Just Boring picked me up in her Mini. She’s doing Sober October, so she’s F***ing Boring now.

The Nag’s Head is a lot bigger inside than it looks outside. Very art deco. Packed with post-work spill-out making themselves heard at the bar.

Sophie was being a brilliant waitress. F***ing Boring ordered a coke. I should’ve told her coke is evil and kills worse than alcohol but am I really bovvered? You can bang on about things all you like but people never listen.

Our friend and culture vulture Poppy (not her real name!) joined us for gin as she lives nearby, and was holding one of her many book groups there later. We talked about Pippa Middleton calling our new headmaster ‘undeniably fanciable’. Was this a slur on his reputation, in the very week he started at the school? It did lower the tone a bit, we agreed. ‘Well, it did…and it didn’t,’ said Poppy, ‘because it was a member of the Royal Family.’ Yes, anyone else in the whole world and it would have lowered the tone. ‘Even Nelson Mandela?’

‘Well, he wouldn’t have said it…’ said Mad Lucy, rather reasonably, for her.

Conversation moved on to the Stortford Threader, a fearsome woman who lurks in Jackson Square. ‘She plucks hairs out of their roots viciously and quickly,’ declared Mad Lucy.

‘Ooh, go on, tell us about when she looked at your chin,’ I said.

‘Oh alright…’ We all leaned forward, clutching our gins. We’d heard the story many times before. ‘She’d finished my eyebrows. I got up to go but then…’ we held our breath, ‘….she looked at my chin, up close, very close. She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Chin?’ I shook my head, terrified. ‘But you have very hairy chin!’ she exclaimed, her words booming around Jackson Square. ‘Very hairy chin, very hairy upper lip, very hairy sides of face, VERY HAIRY FOREHEAD!’ ‘

We howled with laughter. Mad Lucy does it so well. She ended up with a stripped face. F***ing Boring said she likes to tidy up her minge, but does not want a nude minge. Poppy said absolutely no nude minges because they result from the dictates of the porn industry. We talked about Movember, and Caitlin Moran’s Hairy Muff chapter. It is sad that the youf feel obliged to be hair-free, and suffer in-growing hairs, cystitis, irritation. Poppy maintained this pressure is culture-led.

I said, ‘well, when we had Alfie in a New York birthing centre, they wanted to whisk him off to hack off his foreskin. I had to hang on to him for dear life.’

Mad Lucy, who has spent time in Iran, muttered ‘Read the Koran….Sand under the foreskin, not good.’

‘We didn’t live in a very sandy place,’ I pointed out.

‘Well, no, but if you lived in the desert in a yurt you might want to get it done.’

Tu-Gin-Su mentioned Tracy Emin’s image of a plucked chicken ‘on her bits’. Did Tracy do this to make us hate the nude minge? Probably, because it’s a horrible image. We talked about how sometimes men are forced to be waxed too, even on their tender bollocks.

Ooh, that gave me an idea. I could volunteer my dear husband to have his bollocks waxed for charity. He would raise tons of money! So, if you meet him in town, please congratulate him on his philanthropy. He’ll have no idea what you’re on about, as he never reads anything I write. This means he’ll only find out once his Justgiving page reaches five grand, we start the camera for Youtube rolling and tell him it’s time. ‘Time for what?’ he’ll say.

‘Time to get your bollocks waxed, of course,’ we will say. ‘A thousand people have donated a fiver for this to happen. You can’t pull out now.’

Sigh. What a wondrous image: I feel a short story brewing. Anyway, back to our conversation: ‘I like to stay hairy,’ I said, ‘because I like being an animal.’

‘Now that could be interpreted in several ways,’ said Mad Lucy.

F***ing Boring said primly, (remember she’s Sober for October), ‘well, I prefer being neatly trimmed.’

Poppy said, ‘The real problem is that the need for smoothness is so embedded in our culture that people don’t realise they have a choice.’

‘Hairy is ugly though,’ said F***ing Boring.

Poppy said, ‘Why should something entirely natural be ugly?’ She then ruined her point by confessing that her highly principled tufty pits made her so self-conscious at her aqua-aerobics class that she had to stop going.

Sophie approached to take glasses away. ‘Let’s ask the youf what they think,’ I said. ‘Sophie, do your mates feel obliged to wax or shave all over?’

Sophie laughed but wisely did not enlighten us as to the hairiness of her mates. She did bring us another Guinness or three though.

Tu-Gin-Su said, ‘we don’t want hairy bits popping out of our tights though, do we?’

Mad Lucy told us how she wore the hijab in Iran and wafted around in the heat of the desert. She said underneath there’s a surprising amount of glamour going on.

I told them all about the big Russian mamas in the waxing parlour in NYC where they used to give people accidental orgasms. Oh alright, by people, I mean me. Look, it was completely unintentional! Not my fault! BTW I bet it happens all the time, but no one ever fesses up. Seriously not easy grappling with small-talk while in unexpected throes though.

Shit. Should have gone Sober for October. Then these embarrassing things would never come out.

F***ing Boring said to Poppy, ‘Just because you’re hairy doesn’t mean you can’t be my friend.’

Poppy said, ‘Equally, just because you’re smooth’ (and fucking boring, she should have added) ‘it doesn’t mean you can’t be my friend.’

I decided to hang around for Poppy’s ‘book’ group. They had apparently prophesied: ‘By the time we turn up you’ll be proper mashed.’

They turned up, and true to form, we was already proper mashed.

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(Ha ha, we have now progressed to the first of:  the new, never-before-published episodes of the Gin Club – World Premiere!)

So, groovy groovy, Bishop’s Stortford has its very own record shop, in our local, the Half Moon, no less. This is an absolute stroke of genius. You can just see the blokes dragged down town of a Saturday afternoon doing a swift u-ie on the way into M’n’S saying, ‘Look, darling, just remembered, gotta pop to the ‘record shop’. Meet you in there in an hour, yeah?’ If they’re clever they will remember to support their case with a couple of warped LPs under their arm to ‘sell’, ha ha. The girls on the other hand will get their bloke safely into Coopers and say with an airy wave, ‘Just gonna scoot up the ‘record shop’ for a bit, OK, love.’ She’ll do a runner, leaving him forlorn and palely loitering with the runner bean seeds, buggy, baby and toddler. ‘Record shop’, you see, is synonymous with ‘Break From Your Life.’

Records and old framed posters of bands who have played at the Half Moon bestrew the walls. The round tables are painted a glossy black, with one of those teensy records stuck in the middle…what did we used to call them? Singles? 45s? This is just it, the shop is so delightfully retro you can feel your brain shunting back into a seventies, eighties mode. You need your flares and Grateful Dead t-shirt on really or at the very least a perm.

Oh my God, it’s only gone and triggered a flashback to my very first single! It was by Soul Asylum and was my brother Pete’s, but I nicked it. It was called ‘Put The Bone In‘. Yeah, sounds rude! And probably was rude, thinking about it… It went ‘Put the bone in/ She begged him/ Once more/ My doggie’s been hit by/ A car/ And I do want to bring,/ Him home something/ Put the bone in/ She yelled out once more.’ Honestly in those days, people made songs out of the weirdest scenarios. And Lord only knows what was on the B side! Or maybe ‘Put The Bone In’ was the B side. Now that would make sense. In which case, I wonder what the hell was on the A side?

Can you remember sliding the record out of its sleeve, lowering the needle, watching a speck of dust go round and round? Can you still hear the crackle before the song started? Staring at the rhythmically undulating surface (if yours were warped like mine), you really got the word Groove.

We turned up for the grand opening and to find good records for Mad Lucy’s upcoming vinyl night. A DJ was strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. Not really: he was chilled. The doors were open to the garden. Warm winds blew through the crowds flipping through records. The bar at the back of the room had become a counter. Still with handles for pulling beers though. Ooh, look! Merchandise! Badges, T-shirts, picks.

I’ll let you in on a secret. Remember that gorjuss Popstar who was behind the bar in the Star? Well, *whisper* he runs the ‘record shop’. He can’t leave if you arrive. He’s got to stay there, lol, it’s his job and he’s a sitting duck. Feel free. Gaze in awe as much as you like. Just don’t say any of the things in this video I came across on facebook: ‘shit people say in record stores.’

Top Tip: don’t turn up before midday. This shop only opens at midday. People who run record shops are obviously way too cool to be awake at any point during the morning due to the fact they are up all night listening to records or gigging in far-flung raves.

Another Top Tip: make sure you know what your favourite record is and make sure it’s a cool choice, otherwise you will never ever get a job there. My favourite record is not Put the Bone In, surprisingly enough, but is Captain Beefheart’s Blue Jeans and Moonbeams, with the track Party of Special Things to Do. In 1990, as Mill Road housemates, Fred and I, our friend Wozzie and the improbably named Abigail Rainbird Tripp held our very own Party of Special Things to Do. I can highly recommend it. It’s always good to provide things for your guests to do, keep em busy. There was table football in the bathroom, hacky sac, jamming, tree climbing, cocktail-shaking, throat-singing (this involved a bong and ended badly, I remember), backgammon, chess and probably some less benign things wot I have forgotten due to the nature of the event…but I DO remember learning that hallucinogens and big brown slug invasion do not go at all well together.  We live and learn.  This is a good thing.

After rummaging the Janis Joplin we sat out in the pub stable yard with our pints of Hobgoblin. Top Tip: don’t sit in the shorter squarish wicker seats. They are vicious and dig into your back. Go for the high-backed chairs and from there admire the rampant sunflowers, old stable doors, higgledy-piggledy mossy rooftops and chimney pots. Old England at its best.

Anyway, so! Fabulous hangout to meet up with friends, the ‘record shop.’ I told my Chloe about it, using ‘the fingers’. She got the wrong end of the stick entirely, gasped and exclaimed, ‘Oh wow! Is it a brothel?’

Ha ha, no, we don’t think so. One thing we are sure of: it’s a great excuse for a pint.

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People have been messaging me and stopping me in the street to tell me all about the Grey Lady of the Tunnels. I’m sure the Tunnel starts up at St Mary’s school‘ said one mysterious Tunnel Authority, who also ‘works’ at the ‘record shop’…’from the days when it was a convent and the nuns had to hide from all the randy priests (or something like that). The old caretaker at the school told us that the Grey Lady was a nun who committed suicide by throwing herself from the top window.’


Bit harsh, I say: couldn’t she just have hoiked up her habit and kicked the randy priest in the bollocks? Or, *gasp*, what if she didn’t jump: what if she was pushed? From all her spying out of cubbyholes had she maybe witnessed something untoward?


The Tunnel Authority continued: ‘On another occasion the caretaker told us she hanged herself from the roof beams and showed us the marks in the wood. I’m trying to work out in which order she committed this double suicide. Maybe she survived the fall and ran back upstairs to try something else? I’m also intrigued as to why she’s the Grey Lady…surely all female ghosts are Grey Ladies….or do ghosts come in a variety of hues?’


I think most towns have a Grey Lady. Our poor lass probably just wants that rotter priest’s gravestone defiled, then she’ll rest in peace.


I bumped into landlord Pete et al outside the Whore’s Bed (yes, if you want a social life, just hang around on them front steps during the day) and he told me he had started excavating the tunnel. Because of our interest, he’s getting some real ghost-busters in, electronic equipment and all, from half-ten on a Sunday night in the near future, til three in the morning. Another chap, Mel, out on them steps assured me (‘if my Missus were around, she would tell you’) the tunnel does go down via the George and the Star all the way to the castle.


‘So they say,’ chipped in Pete, lighting up another ciggie. He really should give up.


‘So they say…’ agreed Mel….’so they say.’


He insisted though that he and the Missus had seen both the Grey Lady and some fellow who died four hundred years ago. Phyllis-next-door later told me that some visitors saw a chap quite clearly standing at the window in one of her upstairs bedrooms, looking out into the garden.


I found lots of detailed stories of spirits at the Star, the High Street, the Boar’s, Coopers, and many more Bishop’s Stortford locations on the Luton Paranormal website. At the quiz night I also found out about this Ghosts of Stortford lecture coming up at the Rhodes. The description of the evening mentions not only the Grey Lady but also the Duelling Cavalier – blimey, who’s he? It’s on the 30th of October, practically Hallowe’en. I’m going with Phyllis-next-door. I’ve been interested ever since about forty years ago when my Granny Peggy told me she was slapped on the back with a wet flannel whilst having a bath.


Fred says it’s more likely that the spooks are aliens having us on than spirits of dead people. Come on, ghosts! I hereby invoke you to float about a bit and give cynic Fred a fright one night!

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Mad Lucy turned up at the Whore’s Bed saying that Dubai Luke wanted to come to Gin. ‘How old is he?’ we asked. ‘About eighteen,’ she replied. Hmm, no, he can’t come. Oh, well, maybe once he can, just for lols.

Just Boring looked at my hair, held firmly down with a knitted band. ‘Take it off,’ she ordered. I took it off. The hair sprung to attention like a massive light-bulb. ‘You need a hairdresser who will RELAX your hair,’ she advised. Mad Lucy agreed. ‘Yes, you really need RELAXED hair,’ she said. Oh bloody hell! The pressure.

We had our usual: Guinness, vodka, gin. The barmaid, Naomi, looks just like Tank Girl. She also has the most fantastic collection of tattoos, some even on her neck and scalp. She’s not got much space left. She’s had nearly 100 hours done and recommends the local parlour on South Street.

We were sitting by the window, next to a wood-burner, at a long, warped table. The view is all battlements, turrets and flint of St Michael’s. This pub must do well out of weddings, funerals, christenings. A papier-mache boar’s head grins out of the window with an apple in its mouth.

We discussed the Radio 4 Ethical Debates. They are tricky, as both or multiple sides are compelling. Then we got onto Jimmy Savile. We were kids when ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ was on telly. I wanted a pony but so did everyone else so I knew there was no point asking Jim. Just Boring desperately wanted to escape from Alcatraz, as you do, but, having well-developed Perv Radar, found Jim too creepy to apply.

Oh, the karaoke started up. The landlord, Pete, who used to be the mayor of Stortford, did a rendition of ‘You Are Always On My Mind,’ quite well really, must be said. He then brought us a plate of spicy Caribbean chicken and introduced us to Adi, his new chef. ‘Ooh, this is so good,’ we told Adi. ‘How do you make it?’

‘I can’t tell you that,’ he smiled.

‘Please! Garlic?…chilli? Maybe paprika?’

‘The last person who got that secret out of me owns KFC,’ he said.

Fred turned up and we got talking about the tunnel we’ve always been told runs from our house via this pub to Waytemore Castle. We asked Naomi if she knew anything about it. ‘Oh yes,’ she said. ‘Down in the cellar there’s an archway with a couple of steps heading up that way,’ she gestured up Windhill, ‘but it’s bricked up.’

‘Ooh,’ we breathed, feeling like we were in an Enid Blyton adventure. When we first moved into our house, we squeezed through a trap-door into a cavernous dusty expanse under the floor, and spent ages looking for the tunnel, but it’s murky down there.

That first year we held a halloween party. Fred hung severed hands and staring china dolls on nooses down in that spooky space and trailed a parade of spiders and a lost valley of dinosaurs, arranged according to their correct geological epochs, through the dust. He put the girls’ My-Size Dancing Barbie Doll, bleeding from her eyes, under a ghostly green light…you get the idea. He made a sign: ‘Fred’s Secret Passage,’ and, dressed in dark robes with a gory mask and scythe, stood by the trapdoor.

Thirteen years later, people in the town are still talking about Fred’s Secret Passage. He still says ‘If I had a pound for every person who went down there….’

Mad Lucy’s Nigel arrived. He reminisced upon his youf, thoroughly misspent in the Boar’s, local lad that he is. Ahh Bleeess, we could just imagine him in 1980 at the age of 17. ‘I had my first snakebite in here,’ he said, all wistful.

‘What is a snakebite?’ I asked.

‘Something foul I think,’ whispered Mad Lucy.

‘It’s half cider, half lager, blackcurrant and pernod,’ said Nigel.

‘Ugh,’ we went.

‘No, a snakebite’s just scrumpy and lager,’ said Fred.

‘Maybe you’re right,’ said Nigel. ‘Mine was more a Black Adder, I think.’

‘Sounds disgusting, whichever way you had it,’ we said.

‘This was the only pub that would serve you,’ said Nigel. ‘Tchuh! Next to the Police Station as well!’

‘Ha ha, right!’ said Fred.

Mad Lucy said we should ask Naomi to yank a brick out of the blocked tunnel and shout ‘hallooooooo!’ down it, and some of us lot should go home and get down Fred’s Secret Passage to have a listen. ‘Go on!’ she urged. ‘I’m sure Naomi will get her trowel out.’ The landlord promised us he would go down there next week and unblock it.

Imagine the joint Halloween Party we and the Boar’s could hold down in the tunnel! Mmm, we’ll need lashings of ginger beer! Will report back on excavational progress: stay tuned.

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