A work in progress

Fnump Splizz Frrp!

Punch landed somewhere or other with a soft plop. The buckskin fringes on his cowboy suit were sizzling and giving out an acrid smoke. Someone threw a bucket of water smelling slightly of urine on him, which seemed to help. He didn't know who it was but he made a mental note to thank him or her later. He rather thought it would be a him, because in his experience women weren't much good at thinking of fairly spontaneous solutions to problems, unless it involved settling bills with someone else's credit cards.

He appeared to be in a desert. A signpost pointed West to a destination called `Earl's Place - Under Construction'. To the North was a city shimmering on the horizon which could have been either Newcastle or Gateshead but not both. To the South was a sign labelled 'Slough of Despair - including Croydon and Ashford, but not the one in Kent'. There was nothing to the East except a vast shimmering haze over which the neon sign 'EEC' flashed in garish colours.

A hole opened up under his feet and he fell through it. He appeared to be in a vast subterranean cavern. There was a huge lake and an island in the middle of it.

By the water's edge was a small skiff. Familiar with what adventurers in text-based adventures should do he climbed into the skiff and sculled his way to the island. He stumbled ashore on a sandy strand. Try saying that when you're drunk, he thought. There were three paths, but to hell with that, there was only one which led to a vast rambling edifice over the porch of which hanged a creaking sign with 'ITB' Painted on it.

He approached and rang the doorbell. A stout, not to say portly man, came to the door. "I'm Harry C. Graham," he said, and I run this joint. I must warn you I will tolerate no talk about Middle East politics. Which part of the bar would you like to visit? Pat is sitting over there in the Western Swing corner, keeping an eye on the privies out the back and pausing only occasionally to hawk into the spitoon. Or you could join me in thus Up North corner with cheese and pickled onions on the counter and a view of the factory chimneys through the stained glass windows."

A fat Buddhist accountant strolled up. "That will be the derelict factory chimneys, then. Personally, I prefer this rural corner over here, where the windows look out on to fields of barley with a river in the distance, and the counter has some olives in little dishes, and I can enjoy a pint with a packet of Marmite crisps, while I think deeply about things.

"That bloke over there, Mike, has decorated his corner as the bar from Star Wars, with lots of strange drinks to try, and the crackle of blasters followed by the appetising stench of scorched alien flesh. Whereas Jim, over there, sees it as being like The Railway Arms in LIFE ON MARS/ASHES TO ASHES; a fannish heaven where we have been guided from purgatory by our guardian angel, Harry. He thinks someone called Andy Porter was the devil trying to lure us into his idea of a London pub with pearly kings and queens doing the knees-up and Michael Caine serving behind the bar."

A silver haired silver surfer called Keith wandered up, slopping his creme de menthe on the floor. "I wondered why I got a funny feeling when turning from looking out of a window to look out of another," he said "there's obviously some kind of spatial distortion going on... and there was me thinking the drinks were *extra* strong (hic). What I like is whenever you lean forwards and put your elbows out they land on a (the?)bar - and the friendly barmaid is immediately there to serve you." "There are so many things to like and enjoy about this bar," Harry told Punch. "Step this way and put your feet up. That's the way to do it."

Punch pulled himself up to his full fifteen inches and strode into the bar. He had the feeling this was going to be the beginning of a whole new adventure.

Dr Pam, strolled in.

"What can I do for you Ma'am," said Harry C. Graham.

"I'm looking for a bar where nobody looks at you funny if you order a cup of tea and a buttered scone. There's a lovely view of green hills in the sun, and I think I can see a waterfall in the distance. No TV, no radio, no newspapers... but nobody minds you bringing in a book and reading it quietly while your tea goes cold."

"No problem," said Harry, "Step this way, avoiding this drunken Old Man and this leering Fat Boodhist if you will. Another cup of tea for this lady, please, barman. No rush...."

Harry C. Graham walked through to the little room behind the bar and sat down. He felt pleased with the way he'd shown the little newcomer some of the best bits of the bar. It didn't always go so well. He knew he hadn't handled the situation well when that other little fellow had come in with a spider's web of string across his back and waved his willy at the customers.

Still, life was good today. There was a blue sky and white fluffy clouds over the Bar, but he worried that it wouldn't last.

Mr Punch looked up from reading the newspaper he'd found on the seat next to him. It was an old copy of the Guardian with the legend "Lord LRAK, Poshshire" scribbled in pencil along the top. As he sucked the foam from the top of his pint of Swinging Gibbet, he noticed that the barman was peering round the corner of his cubbyhole at him. What the devil did the bloke think he was staring at? What did he want?

"There's a barman and a barmaid!" said the emaciated looking woman sitting in the Western Swing bar.

Harry C. Graham was startled by the woman's outburst. She'd been sitting in the Western Swing corner, urgently pulling on then pulling off again a pair of garden gloves and muttering under her breath, "soon, oh soon!".

"Yes, madam," he said, "but the barmaid's not here at the moment. I believe she's receiving her daily seeing-to under the Escher staircase. It's what keeps her happy."

"Must be Ian, then, 'cos I'm still trying to find the Gents" said Mike

"I'm sure this lady can direct you to the outdoor privies. She takes a keen interest in them, I understand, but I'm reluctant to ask her why." With that, Harry C. Graham sidled back into his cubbyhole and again peered round the corner at the little man in the sugarloaf hat. He was surprised to find that Mr Punch was now hiding under the table while a fat Bhoodist paced up and down yelling, "A new hero for a new world!"

"Did somebody call?" said the not quite-portly-enough stranger who had just pushed his way through the bat wing doors.

He was wearing a Confederate uniform and spoke with a strong Southern US accent. He was dripping wet, and shook himself like a dog that had just retrieved a stick from a lake."Dang!" he said. "There was a yacht out on the lake and I just couldn't resist trying to swim under it for old time's sake. It was a stupid thing to do the first time, and, Dang!, if I don't seem to have put my back out again." He sat down sorely and slowly."My name is Curt," he said.

"Some hero you are," said the Bhoodist, "with a bad back. You need to lose a few pounds, matey."

"He needs to have his ovaries removed," chirped up the emaciated-looking woman from the Western Swing bar. "That's the way to do it."

Punch stood up at that and stamped his little feet. "That's my catch phrase," he said, affrontedly, "So far it's been used twice and not by me. Anybody else messes with it and they'll feel the full weight of my truncheon."

"That's the way to do it," came a voice from the small room behind the bar. "Right!" said Punch. "Who said that!"

"Wasn't me, hinney" came a strangely accented voice from under a table. The accent reminded Mr Punch of a cross between hillbilly and Geordie and belonged to a willowy woman, down on her knees, raking through a pile of sawdust. He decided she was best left to her puzzling work, and ran towards the bar counter, intent on vaulting to the other side.

Although his pointed toes scraped the edge he surprised himself by actually clearing the counter. "THAT'S the way to do it!" he said, a self-satisfied smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. The smirk vanished as he glanced behind him and saw the fat Bhoodist lumbering towards the counter screaming, "NEW HERO! NEW HERO!"

"What's that noise," Curt asked Harry C. Graham. "Sounds like you've got a civil war re-enactment going on somewhere. I knew I should have brought my cannon with me."

"That's the builders," said Harry. "Some ex-public schoolboy is having an extension built to accommodate his British Southern Counties view of the bar, with cows and honeysuckle outside the windows, thatch on the roof, William Morris prints on the pews under the windowsill and 4x4s in the car park. And prawn cocktail starters or sticky toffee pudding out of the freezer for £5.00 a pop each. My view is that it's going to have a very limited clientele. Although it may appeal to OBE's I guess."

The fat Bhoodist stopped his lumbering and his screaming. "Sticky toffee pudding, eh? I like the sound of that. In fact, I like the sound of the new bar extension altogether. The sort of place I could wear my undertaker's suit."

Taking advantage of this distraction, Mr Punch ran out of the room and fled up the stairs.

He quickly realised his mistake when although he could hear music from above him he could never seem to reach the top and found himself passing certain places repeated. He stopped (mostly to catch his breath after that long sentence) and thought about things. This produced a headache so he started down the stairs - speeding up as he saw he was *now* not getting anywhere nearer to the bottom. Escher he sneezed...

As he went round the staircase for the third or fourth time, he realised he kept passing a Chinese restaurant, just across the landing but out of reach. "This isn't Texas, Toto" he said to himself, then wondered who the hell Toto was. As the Chinese restaurant came around again he thought he saw the figure of a large man with a man-bag ordering potstickers and dim sum. Sure enough the man seemed to recognise him and waved a book at him. It had a spaceship on the cover. Mr Punch found he was unable to stop running, such was the momentum he'd built up, so he simply waved back and sped on...

...To the music room which the builders had just finished building above the comfy Southern Counties extension. Normally it featured gigs by unknown but promising London five-piece indie-punk-songwriter outfits, experimental improv combos from the Washington, DC area, and artistic acoustic solo acts from Essex, but on this occasion, an Old Man was desperately trying to remember the words to Radiohead's Creep and extemporizing and making them us as he went along. The audience led by a slightly portly transgendered individual began a slow hand-clap.

Mike went up to the bar and ordered an obscure French beer. "The Star Wars corner got to be too much for me," he said. "That noise coming from the music bar upstairs is simply awful, by the way. I wonder if Donutsh could do the gig?

So anyway I've moved to the Edward Hopper bar for a bit of peace and quiet, not to mention angst.The flickering neon makes great reflections in the rainwater pools outside, and there's Charlie Parker on the jukebox.

"Wait a minute," said Harry C. Graham, "Is this an existing bar or one we will have to have built? I warn you my pockets are not infinitely large, despite this clown suit I am wearing.

"It's already built." This from the fat Bhoodist. "I fixed the paperwork and claimed a tax exemption. It's all down to an Inheritance Tax dodge the new Chancellor has introduced.

"What's this thing on the bar, "said the Bhoodist.

"That's a working virtual replica of our Escher Bar," said Harry C. Graham. "And this little module with flashing LEDs is the input device. You have to enter a code which is available from the bar at an attractive range of rates, and this scans your body molecules and shrinks you to a size enabling you to explore its complexities. Well, it doesn't exactly shrink you, but short circuits your hypothalamus to give you the illusion you are in fact exploring it. See that screen." He pointed a widescreen display above the bar which would have shown Setanta broadcasts if they hadn't gone bust. "That shows you who is actually using this bar at the moment. Apparent Ian and Mike and myself are the only people currently on-line. We can monitor their conversations by pressing this button. It's a bit like a U-Stream chat-room except it works,"

Mike: Today I'm going to try the M C Escher Bar again, and see if I can get the hang of drinking my pint upside down.

Ian: I might join you. Shall we meet on the staircase?

Mike: Careful on the stairs!

Ian: Which side?

" Right" said the Boodist, in a sort of distant fashion. " Have you got a copy of the FT, today? I'll have a pint of Abbots Arse and a packet of Marmite Crisps, please."

Harry: Why don't you go left, Ian, and Mike go right. See who gets to the top first?

Mike: You have to allow plenty of time for going for a pee,too.

Well, that cured my hiccups. And I said which side, not Ian. I can feel the weft of reality warping beneath our feet. Or is it just that French beer?Wait while I tie this bit of string to the handpump, so I can find my way back. With that he set off. A distinguished looking American with a goatee beard and wearing a jean jacket ambled up.

"Let me join in," he said punching the code into the machine, and reading the print out of the chat.

Ted: What's the good in tying a bit of string to the handpump?" he asked "What's to stop the barman from removing it and putting it in a drawer marked "for Bill Burns" with all the other bits of string you've left here and there throughout the years you've been coming in here? Eh?

Mike:Perhaps my use of the word "bit" was misleading. I meant to convey that I would keep hold of the other end, thus I would know instantly if it was untied. But there would be no point in doing this, because it could not be put in the drawer. Besides, I should affix it by means of a secret knot known only to me.

Ted: Well, yes, "bit" was misleading, if you intended a piece of string long enough that you could pay it out as you disappear into the maze of Escher staircases, and continue to do so all the way to the "gents." Big ball of string, more like!

But beware the pranksters in the bar. They've been known to remove the end you tied to the handpump (it's easily cut if they can't untie it, you know) and retie it somewhere else, perhaps elsewhere in the staircases. You may recall that time it took you *years* to find your way back.

I'd recommend trying a trail of breadcrumbs, but between the pigeons and rats that treat this place as home, I don't think that trail would last long. You might try dribbling a trail of pee....

Mike: Well, I still haven't found the Gents, so I'm doing that anyway. I know, I know: Too Much Information...

The head of Dr. Rob the Builder emerged from their left, followed by the rest of him. He was shaking water off his hands after completing the building job on the most recent extension to the multibar. He was not at a right-angle to everyone else, but at a left-angle. "I think another extension would improve this place further. We've got a couple of country bars, a Northern one, a rather melancholy Hopper bar - that's Edward, not Dennis - and a cantina from Tatooine. But we haven't got one for anywhere near London, and as there are a lot of Surrey Limpwrists in this bar, I think we need a mock-Tudor one, all acacias and Mercs, for the stockbroker belt. I want to call it the M.C. Esher bar. What do you think?"

A haggard old Wicked Witch of the East flew in through the cafe doors and parked her broomstick in the Elephant Foot umbrella stand which doubled as a spitoon in the Western Swing Bar. "I think I should like to visit the Up North part of the expandable bar," she said, pulling out several tax demands from her voluminous pockets and dropping them on the sawdust-covered floor. "The description of its charms reminded me of an exchange in Rising Damp. When someone asked where such and such a place was, Rigsby pointed out the window and said to the effect that see that nice Gothic building? That's the abattoir. The place you want is right next to it. It was just something about the way he delivered the lines -- and some were really clever -- that amused me no end. And still does.

People turned away, at this, sighed, heavily and continued peering into their glasses.

Back in the main room the Sentanta tv suddenly sparked back into life. Des Lynam appeared against a background of string. He was totally naked and waggling his willy "Meanwhile in the US,"he said, "someone has pitched a perfect game. But nobody knows what this means and fewer people care. And Warrington have beaten the Bradford Bulls 26/22 in the Rugby League Challenge Cup quarter finals. West Ham are attempting to buy David Beckham but talks have broken down because he is insisting they take Posh as well. Meanwhile he's a video of Neil Young singing Southern Man.

Curt leapt up. "I don't like to talk about that gentleman," he said. " I hope Neil Young will remember Southern man don't need him around." Then he clutched his back sat down again rather rapidly.

Punch scurried away as fast as his little legs could carry him. He didn't care which way he went as long as it was far away from the fat Bhoodist and his Sticky toffee pudding. In blind panic he ran and ran until sheer exhaustion made him slow. He looked around to find himself in a long dark, and plainly smelly, corridor. No doors were visible but in the distance he could just make out a small dim glow. As he neared the glow the corridor gradually filled with a reeking smell of cigarette smoke. Ahead was the outline of an ill-fitting door with the glow coming through the sides. Approaching the door Punch readied his truncheon and pushed it aside. "Welcome to the smoking room", said a husky voice through the deep fog. Punch waved his truncheon and through the swirl of smoke he could make out the figure of person, his face peering over the top of a computer screen. "Come inside and light-up."

"Cough" said Punch in reply followed by another and then a sneeze.

Coughing, choking and spluttering in the cancerous atomsphere of the dread Smoking Room in which he now found himself trapped, Mr Punch realized that his only possible exit strategy was to wave his willy in public. After all, he reasoned, it's too smoky for anyone to see....

Punch knew he was in a "a work in porgress" and hoped that progress might be something like congress, so waved his willy more furiously than he might otherwise. It was no use. There were no takers, so he thought about ordering food from the bar instead. That meant going back downstairs again, but fortunately he found a piece of string and was able to follow it although it took him two weeks.

"I'll have have banana ganoush," Punch told the barmaid.

"Is that like baba ganoush except with bananas?" the barmaid asked him, dropping the smouldering tip of her cigarette into a nearby bowl of salsify chips.

"Close enough," Punch replied, "And I'd like to follow that with a parmagiani."

"Veal or chicken?" the barmaid asked.

"I don't eat veal," Punch said.

"It's too late anyway," she replied. "The restaurant has closed. I can do you cheese and pickle sandwich."

"Fine," said Punch.

"Is that with bread and butter pickles or regular dill pickles?"

"Whatever, " said Punch wearily. "I just don't want radishes imported from Holland and Morocco."

Meanwhile the fat Boodist was tucking into his third helping of Sticky Toffee Pudding and was expounding to anyone who would hear it, his idea for a blockbuster tv series, to replace the recently concluded LOST.

A group is traveling in the Hindu Kush when their bus is blocked by a landslide across the road. All are required to get out and climb around it via a narrow trail over a gorge hundreds of feet deep. Tension occurs with smaller and larger slides continuing. Near fatal plunges occur. The passengers all have interesting and varied histories which are told in episodic flashbacks and may be contradictory. When things flag a whole new group of stranded travelers is encountered who may or may not be evil. Some Buddhist monks show up too. Occasionally the whole mountain range vibrates and momentarily seems to vanish. In the end they walk into the light and babies are shown being born.

Throw in lots of gobbledy-gook and foreshadow everything and your show will be considered profound. Having a Yeti wouldn't hurt, either.

Maybe the gorge could be a big hidden valley, where there's a monastery and by degrees it emerges that all the monks and other assorted guests staying with them are hundreds of years old. A fat bald venal person among the travellers thinks that if only he could take whatever secret the monks have to the outside world , he could be rich and rule the planet. He searches, but cannot find any secret monkey gland procedure being performed. He finally decides to ask the top Lama what the secret is, but is told that he must first spend five years in meditation. Being fat bald and venal, this guy isn't very keen on this, since he thinks he will get told that life is like a beanstalk isn't it, so instead he plots to hold the Lama hostage. Meanwhile, the other travellers in the party have either taken to the spiritual life themselves or have formed relationships with each other, shagged like crazy, and have set up home and started families. The yeti is glimpsed late at night, at the corners of their vegetable plots, but when anyone points and says "Hey! Look at the Yeti" he is gone. When the monks hear that the yeti is around there is a mighty banging of gongs and drums, because, they say, it will usher in a new era of peace and love in the world. While all this ruckus is going on, and while everybody is being happy and at peace with everybody else, the fat bald venal guy (who has recruited some dissident monks who were carried to the valley from their own monastery uncountable ages ago and are still, despite the teachings of countless Buddha's for myriads of kalpa's, attached to it) carries out his evil plan and kidnaps the Lama and makes a break for the track back up the cliff to the road. Of course, we all know that as he and his gang get up to the road, they all start to age and they are so old they are like shambling bones no longer knowing why they are walking, and of course its blowing a gale and snowing big time.

But in another episode, it turns out the Lama is only telling this story to his aide-de-monk, who sees this as a profound prophecy. So when the fat bald venal guy and his bitter and twisted monks from another place, no one offers any resistance, and the lama goes with them willingly. Once again, the winds blow, the snow falls, but they don't age and when they get to the road, Lo! It IS The Future. They can tell this because there is a snow plough on the road which is a sentient AI. It summons an air car to take them to nearest city where the party discovers that aliens have taken over the earth. Guess what the aliens look like? Yeti's, what else.

In the second season, they return to the valley, now the only place where undiluted humanity can be found and from where resistance must be organised, only................

Just then the bat-wings doors blew open as an unaccustomed gust of cold icy air filled the bar, along with a flurry of snowflakes. A shrivelled monk in a long robe entered, followed by an eight foot tall figure that could only be Yog Sogoth or a yeti.

"We seek the one they call Unc , they said in unison, although the yeti pronounced it more like 'Ernk'

"I've got another idea for a TV series" exclaimed the fat Boodist, wiping sticky toffee pudding off his chins and waving his other arm about in lieu of his willy, which no one would have noticed anyway. "A couple have a baby, but soon afterwards the father is the victim of a botched bank robbery, is shot and dies. The baby grows up , goes to school where he makes friends with a kid who the audience come to realise is the reincarnation of his father. Many sticky sweet episodes ensue where reincarnated dad saves son from many schoolboy scrapes, but finally the day comes when reincarnated dad, about 10 years old meets Mum, the love of his previous life. She doesnt believe all the spooky things that point to his true identity, but when she starts dating a bloke who he realises is one of the bank robbers, reincarnated dad knows he needs help and a convoluted story line has him meet up with a Buddhist monk. Yeah, Im already bored with it......"

Cartiledge stumbled into the bar and brushed the snow flakes from his long fine blond hair. "Hell of a night," he said. He went to the bar and ordered a pint of something light and hoppy about 3.5% alcohol by volume. Studying the bar menu he ordered Eel with Salsify from the barmaid.

"I'm actually the barman," the barman said.

"Hell of a night," Cartiledge said.

"And we don't have Eel with Salsify,"said the barman. "That?s a misprint; it's actually Eel with Samphire."

"Whatever," Cartiledge said, "I'll probably forget all about it as soon as I've eaten it. Bring it to that dark booth over there, and tell people I don't want to be disturbed. I've had a hell of a night."

On his way to the booth he passed a slight women who was sitting with her feet tucked under a wrought iron, mahogany topped table; sunlight filtered through the Victorian stained glass windows and glinted on the brass knobs on the handpumps; the hoppy scent of the ale permeated her nostrils.

"Eeeeeee, she said," I think I once had Eeeeeel with Salsify at the Free Press pub, near Parkers Piece in Cambridge, with my friends Harry, Roy and Kathleen. But I might be mistaken."

Harry C. Graham arrived to empty the ashtrays on her table.

"You were, Pet," he said. "It was Eel with Samphire."

"Do I know you?" the woman asked.

"Apparently not," said Harry shaking his head sadly. "Probably the Samphire destroyed your memory. It tends to do that, I gather. But I am Harry C. Graham, proprietor of this establishment and I am charmed to make your acquaintance, my good woman. I used, in another life, to be a wizard with a pointy hat who did a spot of painting. Perhaps you'd like to come up our Escher staircase and see my etchings sometime."

"Eeeeee!" said the woman fluttering her eyelashes coquettishly.

Mr Punch overheard all this, but thought this all rather unlikely and turning back to the barman, said, "I think I'll have one of Mrs Coad's Baked-in-the-Oven Pasties, please. Make it a Vindaloo one with a side order of sea cucumber."

Just as Mr Punch's order came across the bar there was a thunderous knocking at all of the doors of the bar. Punch sprang to a window and saw a crowd outside carrying banners and placards and yelling various things (luckily Mr Punch couldn't hear exactly what was being said).

The various people in the bar sprang to the doors, locking, bolting and barricading them - then streamed to the bar to call out their orders (for it was the most work they'd done since Corflu in some cases). Once again the magic of the bar conjured up barmen and barmaids to deal with the orders. But one order (perhaps thicker and fasster than most) eluded them and ricocheted off the large mirror behind the Western Bar (note, the Western Bar is entirely different from the Bar Weston). It crashed into the back of Mr Punch's head... he went down as if poleaxed.

Cartiledge rose from his booth... "Who let that Pole with the axe in?", he cried. "Now we've *got* to get a new hero... I told you this was a Hell of a night". He sank back down...

High in the stratosphere, a vast, reptilian spaceship bulleted towards Earth. In the control cabin, T'Rex, Chief Scientist and Leader of the Dinosaurs, knew their long journey was almost at an end. Sixty-five million years they had been gone, and now they were returning to reclaim their birthright!

Sixty-five million years! Thank goodness he had had time to invest that penny in the Pre-Cambrian Bank before he left; he should be the richest reptile in the realm by now, even with the current recession and all.

Sixty-five million years! He hadn't had sex for most of that time, and was as horny as a herd of stegosauri, which made it difficult to move around in the small cabin. He hoped the Earth females had big breats. He didn't know what breats were exactly, but the one they called Johnny thought they were important, and that was good enough for him. He was going to need a good accountant.

"Sixty-five million years! Is it really that long?" The voice beside him was that of T'Pau, his second-in-command and Chief Musician. "The answer to your rather personal non-sequitur, Number Two, is yes on both counts. Certainly it is longer than that of the one they call brian. And look at the Geological Clock." Their eyes turned to gaze at this device, standing on a nearby table, where the figure 64,999,999 was just clicking round in the yearometer window.

Suddenly the Proximity Detector sonorated deafeningly. T'Rex turned sharply towards the sound, knowing it was a mistake even as he did so. He struck the Geological Clock with his enormous feathery dong and sent it crashing to the floor. "Dang!" ejaculated T'Rex. "Ding-dung-DENG!" chimed the cheap, Chinese-made clock as it smashed to pieces on the cabin floor.

But it was too late. A huge asteroid, very similar in size, weight and trajectory to the one which had hit the earth 65 million years ago, smashed into the ship from behind, and both asteroid and ship disintegrated in a vast cloud of incandescent dust. "That's a bit of bad luck" was T'Pau's last thought. "Now I'll never achieve my ambition of sitting in with The Donutsh." T'Rex's last moments of awareness were spent in a more complex and intellectual way, as befits a Scientist. "That's a laugh", he thought. "Outside, the atmosphere is rarified, but inside, we've gone one better. We're extinctified!" There was a joke in there somewhere which he felt the one they called Bruce (or was it Bruch? Now he would never know) would have appreciated.

The appetising smell of fried chicken, which had hung in the aforementioned rarified atmosphere, quickly faded as the dust cloud cooled and dissipated.

Inthebar, the sonic boom from the impact rattled the windows. "Thunder!" exclaimed Mr Punch. "It's gonna rain!"

In the Magritte Bar, it rattled the paintings of windows, the real windows, the windows that looked like paintings, the paintings of broken windows, the real broken windows... Andre Breton and Max Ernst put down their pints of absinthe and looked at each other. "Fuck this, I'm off to somewhere realer!" said Andre. "I'm with you!" replied Max.

"Good riddance" murmured the barman. "This here bar ain't big enough for the three of us."

At last, a plot! thought Cartiledge, stirring himself from the strange lethargy that had gripped him over the past few days. He blamed the Eel & Samphire. If only one of those intelligent dinosaurs had been intelligent enough to see the asteroid coming on their Interfloculator, key in a few minutes on their Retardator, just enough to send them back in time enough for a few of their higher commanders to assemble in the escape pod and blast free from the doomed spacecraft and perhaps float gently to earth and land somewhere in the dense forest that surrounded the island, even if it was in that area of dense forest situated on top of that high cliff-edged plateau that had remained unexplored for thousands of years. If only... if only... he thought. Then perhaps some new hero could mount an expedition to try and make contact with them...

T'pau became vaguely aware he was still here. I thought we were going to be extinctified, he thought, then thought again. He shook his head. He looked up at the screen and saw the asteroid receding into the distance. That was close. Thank gopod the Interfloculator triggered the Retardifier. He looked across at the unconscious form of T'rex.

"T'rex - wake up, we're still here - but we've got to get into the escape pod before the mothership crashes and burns! We've just got time to revive two of our cryogenated shipmates. We need a botanist and herb gardener - that's T'ed, and we must have our chief chef and exercise specialist - F'rank."

T'rex groaned. "Have we got enough time to revive F'rank? To get him going he needs a lot of starters!"

The regulars ITB met for a mass debate.

"Is Mike back from the gents, yet? " asked Ted. "Can we have a quorum without Mike?"

"His string is still attached to the handpump," said the barman, or it might have been the barmaid.

"That's proves nothing. He could have cut himself adrift when he realized the futility of it all on that Escher staircase, "said Ted.

"Strange you should say that," said Mike wandering into the bar and zipping up his fly. He took his usual seat and ordered a tankard of Old Fly, average 3.5 alcohol by volume.

"You'll have to wait," said the Barman, "I've got five orders of Eel with Samphire to fill. Hell of a night since that thing vaporized in the atmosphere. Seems to have triggered everybody's taste buds."

Cartiledge knocked his head against a table to try to draw the gathering to order.

"Look," he said, in the characteristic way his elder brother always said when he was trying to draw Cartiledge's attention to something. "We have evidence, see, that a ship bearing intelligent dinosaurs from outer space has exploded above our atmosphere, but that certain key members of their ruling elite may have escaped and landed quite nearby."

"Damn Yankee dinosaurs!" said Curt, pulling his head out of a barrel of corn syrup. "We should make them feel the iron of our confederate barrels, and force them to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and possibly pretend to be young girls and take them in and force them to eat psychedelic mushrooms before killing them." He slumped inertly in a heap under the table and fortunately took no further part in the proceedings.

"I'm willing to lead an expedition," said the fat Boodist, "but not if it involves hunting and trapping and eating any innocent animals along the way. So probably I'm not the one best qualified to lead an expedition."

"I vote that Punch leads the expedition," said, Harry C. Graham, the proprietor, "because he is My Hero, I invented him, and I can tell him what to do. Yes, it is power but power with responsibility which I think I have demonstrated I can summon up, if forced to by circumstances."

"But not so far by getting rid of Catherine Crockett," said a small bespectacled technical nerd sitting in a previously undiscovered corner of the bar which had lots of clocks.

"Eeeee, I vote for Punch as manipulated by Harry," said Pat Mailer. "He can put his hand up my glove puppet any time."

Cartiledge banged his head on the table again. "Is there anyone else who wants to speak up," he said, "before we pass this motion?"

Cartiledge woke up with a sore head several hours later. He'd been dreaming about seeing a famous Science Fiction Author bouncing up and down on a trampoline in someone's back garden. He tried to remember who it had been. Certainly not Chris Priest because he had a bad back, and not that hack writer Simon Ian Childer who also had a bad back, and not that charismatic Welshman Chris Evans who had been far too busy running backwards and forwards serving people burnt sausages and cold coffee. Ah, yes, he remembered someone called Kilworth.

Where was he? Ah, yes, he looked around the familiar surrounding of the Lost Bar. Here were all the usual suspects, including Mike who had made a joke about passing a motion reminding him to visit the toilet on the Escher Staircase again. Well, at least there were no current pun threads going on.

Cartiledge climbed onto a chair and addressed the ensemble. "I'm looking for some volunteers to go out and get those dinosaur critturs," he said. "Make no mistake it will be a risky business including Gribbles, a species of flour weevil I have just invented, and which attack us through small trans-dimensional holes in the skirting boards. But you must also be prepared to abseil from tall cliffs in the final few minutes of the film... er... plot. Mr Barker over there can give you lessons if you need them, just promise not to look up his kilt. Come on guys, I know I can count on you. The expedition leaves next morning as long as the canoes are ready.

"That's pretty close to copyright infringement, isn't it?" said Mike.

"Eee, there's someone in my canoe already!" said Pat.

"You can count on me" said Mike. "Look, I'm wearing my jacket made from human hands."

"I can noo understand why you need lessons in falling down", responded the kilted figure clutching a haggis in his paint spattered hands...

"Gribbles! Shouted Mike. "Over there," he shrieked, climbing on a chair and pulling his skirts up around his thighs.

"A hole in the skirting. This means the gribbles will soon be amongst us," said Cartiledge. "I'll be in my booth, don't disturb me, unless it is to offer me sex or another pie with Eel and Samphire."

"Eeeee," what are these Gribbles?" Said Pat Mailer. "Because I think I just saw one run up my tights."

They are basically flour weevils cloned by an evil scientist whose name temporarily escapes me. If enough of them infect you they are capable of reducing your entire body and consciousness to a kind of juice which you can not only drink as a sort of vitamin supplement, but which will enable you to maintain an erection infinitely, unless you are a woman, even while watching broadcasts by David Cameron or England losing the World Cup. But when you finally come you will be reduced to a black hole and blasted through a subcontemperaneous worm hole into another dimension and timeline where you will actually remember who your great grandmother was, and why she played such an important part in the Crimean War.

"Gribbles! Shouted Mike.

Launching the canoes from the little jetty at the back of the pub had been almost a difficult operation, what with Mauler insisting the best way of embarking was to use a ladder. He was last seen drifting downstream kept afloat only by his bongos, but the gallant band hoped to catch up with him later.

Mr Punch was already regretting his decision to join the party. he was not a good sailor and would have preferred to remain in a snug corner of the Bar with his pint of Swinging Gibbet and a copy of The Telegrauniad ("Reliable News and a Good Crossword")

"Damn these drums, Carruthers! Will they never stop!?"

"Only for the breakdown, in about another thirty bars" said Carruthers, who looked remarkably like the fat Boodist, but maybe it was the light."And the breakdown is marked for only ten bars. Why, don't you like them?"

"Bars? I love 'em," said Punch, "It's the portent of the drums that concerns me. I mean, will it be a disposable portent, or contain a singing Old Man? I think we should be told."

"That's Mauler on his bloody bongos," said Mike. "I think he's calling for help."

Mike's t-shirt flapped loose for an instant, but fortunately only the Deaf Welshman was watching. Gribble infestation! Clearly visible along the unfortunate Mike's spinal column were the hideous pustules, pits, trenches and bananas that marked a far advanced gribble invasion. But how could he convey a warning to the party without alerting the perhaps already mentally subverted Mike?

Cramming his tones with desperate meaning, he cried: "Hey, Mike's back!"

"There's white water ahead," said Cartiledge, handing Pat Charnock a paddle. "We will need all hands to the...er...paddles."

"But I'm only a weak woman who has had her abdominal muscles sliced through," she protested. "I can't paddle!"

"There's no room for passengers on this expedition," said Cartiledge, hurling her over the side of the canoe where she was swept away in the frothing waters.

"Aieee!" came her dwindling cry. "And I don't even have any bongos..."

Mr Punch looked across at the other canoe where Cartiledge was paddling as if his life depended on it. Then he looked at the fat Boodist who was humming to himself.

"Who's paddling our fucking canoe!?" he shouted to anyone who might be listening.

"Dunno boss, but I'm paddling my own Canute," replied Dave Langford, dextrously manoeuvring his impromptu craft over the rapids. In hot pursuit of Langford, writs waving in the air, came the ghosts of Sellars and Yeatman, and behind them Alan Moore, shouting "You'd better not be making a film out of this! Paddling a raft made out of dead bodies is my idea and leaving it out of WATCHMEN was the one thing that movie did right!"

Sellars put on a spurt and came close enough to Langford to bite him on the foot. Being spectral, of course, Langford wasn't initially aware of the bite, but when the canoe party came to bivouac that night, the foot was swollen and throbbing. Cartiledge stared at it as if about to compare it to another body part, but he feared the female members might become inflamed if he did.

"Jesus, what's that!" said Cartiledge rather rashly standing up in the prow of his canoe, especially foolhardy since it was now somewhat lighter having jettisoned Pat. The other paddler was the strangely silent Curt, who said nothing but simply kept on paddling. But fortunately they had drawn abreat of Punch's canoe and Punch shouted across: "It's a replica of Thor Heyedahl's Kon-tiki raft, and it seems to be rapidly bearing down on us, almost as if it were going downstream while we are rather futilely attempting to paddle upstream.

They all took rapid evasive action with their paddles and the raft, which bore a pop group called The Shadows playing live to an audience of a couple of frankly bemused Polynesians swept past. From somewhere far downstream came the ever present echo of a pair of bongos being played very badly and not at all in time with The Shadows.

Mauler sat on the narrow strand on which he had been washed up, next to his ladder and his bongos. All was peaceful and quiet. There was not even the sound of cockatiels flying overhead, or squirrels stealing his nuts, so he knew he wouldn't have to get out his air rifle. He would keep that in reserve for when they met mightier creatures like alien dinosaurs. He felt at peace with the world, especially since his last fag, and since he had dropped Janice down at Tescos and then forgotten to bring her back. From upstream there came the sound of a sixties pop group playing a song called Kon-Tiki. He tried to join in on his bongos but he had to accept his co-ordination was less than perfect. Just then a woman washed up next to him, gasping "The fucker threw me overboard, just because I'd had my ovaries removed."

Ian gave her a hug, and said. "I'll just light up a fire, which will comfort us all."

"If you say so, Ian," said Pat, falling asleep in the warm musky smell of his embrace, but awaking occasionally when the smell of cigarettes got too much for her.

Back in the bar the barman polished the pump handles and the brass spittoon. A tumbleweed blew in, rolled across the floor and out the back door. The doors opened and a spry old-timer with a white goatee strolled in and slapped the dust from his chaps.

"Thanks mate," said his chaps, heading for the newly renovated gay bar.

"Kinda quiet around these parts, ain't it?" said the old-timer, hitching himself to a bar-stool and ordering a Tequila.

"They're all off looking for these bleeding dinosaurs," said the barman. "It will all end in tears if you ask me."

"I don't mind a bit of peace and quiet. It's a bit too noisy where I'm living at the moment. Say, do you think you could rustle me up a whore. Or failing that a good lasagna verde. Name's Earl, by the way, but you can call me Urlo."

"Nice to meet you, Urlo," said the barman, then called into the back room, "Madame Janice, there is someone here who would like to meet you."

Janice flounced into the bar and grabbed a stool next to Earl. She was rather attractive in her tight-fitting Lycra and smelling of her last encounter. "Haven't I seen you somewhere before?" she asked, leaning on the bar with one elbow, her left foot on the railing and her legs blatantly apart, displaying her best feature...hairless as could be. "I swear we've had a go at it a time or two in the past."

"Can't say as we have, Janice," Urlo said, flipping his long hair out of his face and sucking on half a lime. "Hmmm...tastes familiar. Do you still douche with citrus?"

"'Course I do," she said. "I love the flavor."

"Me too," Earl said. "I could have a go at it if you'd fill it up with Cuervo."

"Do you think there's enough gold label in this bar to fill the whole thing?" she asked.

"It worked for Cartiledge," Urlo said, "so give it a try and let's get it on."

The barman turned aside disgusted by all this blatant sexuality. Besides, the barmaid was busily sucking him off behind the bar.

Having survived the rapids and then the slows and then the rapids again, the expedition arrived at the site of their overnight bivouac. Sandra set up her laptop and strangely enough found a wireless hotspot, which could only have been coming from the Boodist Monastery just over the road. They all settled down to watch the World Cup, except for Mike who wandered off muttering something about an infestation on his back which was giving him gyp.

"That Fabio is a cunt, isn't he?" said Cartiledge. "Fancy bringing on Crouch in the last ten minutes, exactly like he did with the USA. As if that would ever achieve anything."

"Can you turn up the volume," said the Deaf Welshman. "I can't hear anything."

"I'm still not sure what happens if everyone draws," said Rich.

"Eeeee, shut up," said Pat Mailer. "You're a Merican. It's not surprising you don't understand anything about football."

Harry C. Graham looked about shiftily. He thought that soon he would have to issue an edict about discussing football on his group.

The escape pod floated down gracefully beneath its parachute, coming gracefully to rest in the topmost reaches of the forest canopy and then crashing downwards through the upper branches, pitching this way and that, before coming to a rest upside down on the ground with a violent thud. T'rex released his tail from his seat's safety clamps and sprung the buckle on his body harness, and fell to the ground with another violent thud. Fortunately he landed on his head, the boney ridges on his skull preventing any serious damage. T'pau followed him with a similar lack of grace, then T'ed and F'rank. T'pau triggered the pod's self-righting hydraulics and they slowly levered it upright.

"Why didn't we do that before releasing ourselves from our seats?" said F'rank, rubbing his sore ribs. He had not been so fortunate as to land on his head as the others had. He hoped he hadn't cracked a rib; no more bench presses for him for a while, if he had.

T'pau ignored him. "Give me a bio report, T'ed," he said. "Gravity feels pretty much what we are used to. How about the atmosphere?"

"Breathable," said T'ed "but very smelly. Fortunately I have some tincture of cannabis we can burn in these censors. They should ameliorate the more noxious odours."

"I'm feeling peckish," said F'rank. "Anybody fancy a meal before we start exploring? We have a variety of vegetarian pizaas in our emergency rations, and Double Meat Feast for you, T'rex."

"We don't really have time for that," said T'rex.

"Just starters then?" said F'rank. "I got dough balls."

Brian Parker was singing a song about himself and some woman he had met on a summer music course. The rest of the expeditionary party retreated up the river bank to a convenient distance were he was simply too loud instead of simply unbearably loud.

Pat sat on a rock shivering and muttering something about cockroaches under her breath when suddenly a water rat ran up the strand. Pat grabbed a hammer and despatched it with one thud.

Pat splat that drat rat with bat? Said Roy

Pat's drat rat now flat, prat. Said Graham

While cat sat on the mat, baht'at, said Bill. Is that the rat that Pat made flat?

Pat! That rat shat! Get a gat! Said Rich.

Rat Brat Twat now death stat, said Graham. Scat Rat!

Pat flat rat spat article in BLAT!? Said Bill.

Suddenly a ballon drifted overhead casting it's shadow on them.

"What's that?" said the Fat Boodhist. "Is it a reincarnation of Lester Bangs?"

"I do believe it's Harry Bell and Mary Reed in a balloon," said Cartiledge."I wonder how they managed to do that. One thing for sure, they will obviously get to explore the secret plateau before us and find any treasure that may be hidden there."

The cry of "Hoy Oot!" came from above then, and small coins rained down on them. One of them fell down Pat's cleavage which irritated her immensely, because she hadn't realized she possed a cleavage. The others bounced off Ian Maule's bongos setting up a rhythm which only provoked brian to sing even louder several hundred yards away.

From the direction of the rapidly receding balloon came another interjection from Mary, borne on the wind: "Ooo-er, that possed cleavage will need some ointment given wielding the poss stick in proper fashion involves moving it energetically up and down. Still, hoying oot did get rid of all that spare change that collected under the couch cushions."

Meanwhile up on the lofty unexplored plateau the Dinosaurs were playing the dream home game. I don't ask much, said T'ed, just a comfy cave with a 42" television screen. Maybe a small yard where I could chop logs.

I'd like a cave with a pond out front perhaps, said F'rank. I could sit out on a recliner, or aardvark as we call them, and watch the noctilucent clouds in the evening while listening to Grand Funk Railroad on my ear-pods.

Truly dinosaurs of rock, said T'ed.

"I've bought a new tent! said Graham. "For Rob's Gathering! Although I thought it might serve me well also in exploring the plateau, It's immense (the tent not the plateau, although that too is probably immense), with three seperate rooms which can sleep 7, if one of them is a child. Furthermore it deploys at the flick of a switch within seconds! I tried it out in the garden this morning. Next door's kitten was very amused or maybe bemused. And Pat gargled or maybe giggled. Now I only have to figure out how to get it back in the suitcase it came in. Boy, is brian going to be jealous! Is Graham James coming? He can share my guest room, which has an en suite bathroom. Boy, I even hope it rains so I can try out the built in windscreen wipers. Comes with undefloor electric heating too. It's soundproofed too, so I won't be bothered with brian's snoring. I'm okay. I'm sorted.

Just then residual coppers from Harry's balloon floated down and punctured Graham's tent before he could even inflate it.

Life is hard and not always aware of the lengths we go to to make it seem softer and smaller.

Cartiledge settled back in his faux leather armchair on the porch from which he could look down on the Picaninnies vandalising his car in the Kennington street below. I changed his slippers and mopped his brow, because that is what I am programmed to do. He had raised his kilt above his genitals so I also made the necessary adjustment, mostly downwards. I spoke to him in soft tones even though I knew he couldn't hear me, unless I suddenly said 'Spunk!' which I was careful not to do. I then continued: 'I believe some colleagues of ours are trapped in a long-forgotten narrative, which involves them scaling the precipices of a vast plateau or else finding a way up via a tunnel which may or may not be an old magma vent. One of them who has only recently joined out party may already have been sucked into a quicksand along with his daughter. If so, no real loss really. At least not to the development of this narrative. Then I said 'Spunk!' and Cartiledge woke up. My God, I wish Rich were back with us, Cartiledge said. He could at least write a few creative paragraphs if he was interested. Book us both berths on a P&O Steamer. We leave to join the expediton in the morning. Cartiledge lapsed back into unconsciousness and was totally unaware that the balloon carrying Harry and Mary had touched down on the plateau. F'rank sniffed the air. I smell human starters,' he said.

Harry and Mary clambered out of the balloon's basket.

"I say, Mary" said Harry. "This undergrowth is pretty dashed substantial. What d'you think I should use to clear a path? Knife, or machete?"

"Oh, don't use your... what you called it, dear" murmured Mary, blushing prettily. "You might bruise the poor thing."

"Silly girl!" snorted Harry.

Using his machete Harry cleared a path through the thick jungle undergrowth. With some trepidation He forged ahead, Mary following meekly behind him and looking out for snakes, her poss stick at the ready. Quite suddenly the vegetation thinned dramatically and they found themselves walking on a trim and well-kept lawn. Cresting a small hill they found themselves looking down at a formal garden, skirting a lake, with what looked like an imposing country house in the near distance. Two young girls sat on a bench, one reading a book and the other sketching with a pencil. They arose at Harry's and Mary's approach and went to greet them.

"I am Anabel Mearagh," said one of the girls, looking at them with keen appraisal. "We do not often have unaccounted guests," she said, "and you seem from your garb and accoutrements to have suffered a modicum of some form of tribulation in finding your way to our humble abode. Your hair is all tousled, sir, and you seem to have lathered up as fine a sweat as my father's two year old gelding at the Southcote race track. And you, madam, I can tell from the way you hold your poss stick, you are not without troubles."

"Hush, Anabel," said the second girl. "You will embarrass our guests with your talk of perspiration and hirsuite unkemptness. I am Virginia Mearagh. My younger sister lacks certain social graces, I fear, but that is hardly surprising for she was born with two clitorises..."

"Clitori," interjected Anabel.

"...which has tempered her inclinations towards a more natural and accustomed modesty. Not to put too fine a point of it she has something of a reputation locally for being quite the little strumpet, and we fully expect her one day to be buried in a Y-shaped coffin."

Just then a portly bespectacled man holding a bottle of Madeira approached.

"Father, said Virginia, come and meet some unexpected guests."

"Welcome to you both," said Mr Mearagh. "You may think our house imposing, and so it is, but we have lately fallen on straightened times, and I have had to sell several racehorses to pay the cook's wages. Nevertheless you are welcome to whatever poor hospitality we can offer. No doubt you have been informed of my daughter Anabel's remarkable anatomical anomaly. You can't stop tongues wagging, as they say. We are currently entertaining an American Cousin, Rastus Coad as well as the estimable Lord Linwood and I would urge you towards discretion in discussing such matters, since the subject has not yet been broached with them. We were hoping some romantic dalliance might ensure between His Lordship and Anabel, which might put her in the way of marrying into his substantial fortune, and we fear Lord Linwood, being a mild and modest fellow, might be deterred in any advances if Anabel's peculiarity and its effect on her libido were made any more public than it already is."

"Don't you mean any more pubic?" said Anabel with a gay laugh.

Her father frowned at her and shook his head sadly.

"But Sir, and Madam, come down to the house, and tell us your various histories and how your travels have bought you this way. My daughter may be a tart, but this Madeira is at least sweet."

"Come along, Mary," said Harry, "We must make the best of this, I suppose". He wiped the blade of his glistening machete on his now rather tattered sleeve and slipped it down the inside of his trousers, where it nestled coolly against his thigh. Although it tended to make him limp a little, he noticed the glances of the two young ladies towrds his leg were of an admiring nature and this pleased him to an unexpected degree.

"This will all end in tears," he muttered to himself.

Across the lawn, towards the rear of the house, he thought he saw several figures shuffling awkwardly, arms outstretched, but as they disappeared from view he pushed the image from his mind. Of more concern to him now was the sight through one of the long windows of the house of what seemed to be a man, in elegant clothing, pushing - what? a medicine ball perhaps - down the front of his breeches.

Not for the first time, he muttered to himself, "This will all end in tears."

He turned for a moment to consider Mary, as she skipped along behind him. He knew she would have her work cut out to alter her safari suit, bought at some expense from the mighty Burns Emporium, into something fetching with an Empire line but he had no doubt that her needlework skills were second to none. He resolved to think no more of it, but turned his attention to a curious hope which had arisen unbidden in his mind that there might be pelicans on the estate. They were after all on the highest plateau in South America where the strangest of animals might be found. Perhaps, he laughed, the lake might even have swordfish!

Mr Darcy ceased his endless pacing and strode over to the window to look out upon the gardens of Netherfield Park as they glistened in the early morning December light.

"Oh how I wish to be away from this acursed house and back in my aunt's luxuriously appointed mansion on the cliffs overlooking the sandy beaches of Brighton where I can watch the pelicans swoop and dive towards the shore and chuckle quietly as the swordfish nibble at the toes of ladies participating in the sea bathing. But no, I must stay to guide and help my friend Lord Linwood through the troubling times that lie ahead."

Darcy's gaze lifted to scan the distant tree line and there he observed small figures gradually coming into view. As they drew closer he recognised his friend Mearagh, his two daughters (his thoughts momentarily dwelling on the delights of the elder) and two others he did not recognise.

"Ah, two more guests to join our happy gathering. I do hope they play and sing and can perform charades without feeling mortified when miming position 37 from the Karma Sutra."

For what seemed like the thousandth time he adjusted his breeches, attempting vainly to get his nether regions comfortable. It was no fun having a penis eight inches long when it was also five inches wide and three inches deep. Shaped, in fact, like one of L Ron Hubbard's lesser blockbusters. And for the thousandth time, he regretted having oral sex with that amphibian. How was he to know that toads' tools were poisonous? And that wasn't the end of his troubles, he thought gloomily. There were all the other side-effects to think about as well. He earnestly hoped that none of them would flare up while the guests were here.

In the Drawing Room Rastus Coad was entertaining people with tales of his backwoods adventures.

"There are seven kinds of venomous snake in my country," he said, ejecting a wad of chocolate coloured spit into a nearby spitoon "And I have at several and some times been bitten by all of them. Lord, but some of them stung. But I sucked it up and spat it out, sir, and am still alive here to confound you all. Let me tell you of my last expediton into the outback.

I drove to the nearby parish of Bristol for lunch. Since I'd come to an accommodation about the futility of fishing on my trip, I decided to have fish & chips at Long John Silvers, an inn of some reputation in the area. It was delicious, and there were no fishhooks to worry about and no fish bones stuck in my cheek when I was finished eating either, so I considered myself indeed fortunate. I Went back home to walk my two spaniels beneath the elms of my local park and by then it was early evening so I saddled up my best chestnut mare and rode out to the place where I'd thought of camping for the night. It was up on Holston Mountain and the last time I'd been out there it was a totally untouched and deserted forest. On this day, though, it was an empty and muddy field devoid of all trees and looking decidedly snakey, not that that deterred me, for as I have already made clear, those varmints hold no fear for me.. Somebody had clear cut all the trees off it a few tears past (to judge by the secondary growth).

I was much troubled by this developement and decided I had better move on. I rode over to a place I knew on South Holston Lake. It was now the site of avery expensive looking house with a fence around it an "No Trespassing" signs posted prominently. I girdled my horse and tied her to a convenient post and considered the matter and quickly realized that most of the likely camping places I remembered from my youth were now either developed areas or otherwise unavailable to me. I rode out to a field that one of my uncles owns on the lake (where I have a standing invitation to visit, they being very gay and welcoming in every aspect) but there was so much boating and other loutish activity on the lake that afternoon that I couldn't imagine enjoying camping out there.

The prospects were becoming decidedly discouraging. So I rode my mare over across the lake (yes, on a bridge) onto US Government land and went a couple of miles into the forest looking around. By now it was getting on towards dusk and so I found a place over-looking the water to set against a tree and eat my dinner and contemplate things. I sat there a while and realized that it was hot, and that I was already sweaty and uncomfortable from the heat and hadn't found a site to unpack my bedroll as good as the ones I remembered from years ago, and then I remembered that I was carrying a handgun in my saddle-bag and that I was on Government land. This made me a criminal in the eyes of any Federal employee who might happen along that area, and so I decided to give the whole thing up as a bad idea and go home.

The ladies Anabel and Virginia sighed in unison at the result of this noble and spirited yarn, but only Virginia's slim and trembling fingers lingered on the coarse yet refined cloth of Rastus Coad's trousers, causing him to glance questionably at her with a slightly raised eyebrow and a slightly tremulous lip.

"Bravo," said Lord Linwood, choosing as usual in his diffident and unaffected way to enter the conversation with a totally inopportune remark.

Fortunately Mrs Mearagh chose this moment to enter the room and be introduced to all and sundry by her portly husband, thus distracting attention from any hiatuses in conversation.

"I have a hogshead of brawn and ten cables of pork stitchings, if anyone is intersted," she said. "I also have some swodfish if you care for them, and even some swordfish. My husband goes down to the ornamental lake every day and fishes for such things, although he is a figure of ridicule in his waders. Frequently he only comes up with ornamental Carp. There is a legend that the lake floats on the cap of an ancient lava plug which will one day errupt, or maybe not. But I think it will, unless those tremblings in the upper towers of our estate are totally attributable to one of our more retiring and reclusive guests shaking off his chains.

"Dawkins, come here," he shouted for his manservent. "My ears are burning."

"Here sir", said Dawkins as he opened the door and entered from the adjoining room. He applied a soothing balm to Darcy's ears, little realizing that Darcy was using a vernacular expression to signify he thought somebody was talking about him.

"Am I respectable to meet our new guests, is my cravat tied, are my shoes polished are my unmentionables straight?" asked a concerned Darcy.

Dawkins came closer and stood before Darcy to survey him closely from top to bottom.

"Let me see sir, I believe the cravat is a little crooked... there that is better. Fortunately the shoes are adequate as I have no time to take them down to the kitchens to have them cleaned."

He paused to look down at Darcy's nether regions.

"I believe the ladies will be satisfied, sir."

"But wait, there is a thread on your collar", he continued and he moved quickly to remove the offending article.

"Phew", said a visibily relieved Darcy. "There are far to many threads in this plot already without adding the complications of another."

Knowing he could delay the evil moment no longer, Darcy donned his best heavy-duty jockstrap and descended the stairs to meet the others.

On the way he met one of the house's many serving staff. "Ah, Bund! What's for dinner? A fellow gets jolly peckish, what?"

"My name is Bond, sir. James Bond. I understand her ladyship is offering brawn and pork stitchings, sir."

"Really? Pity. I was hoping for swordfish pate followed by a nice bit of roast pelican. No matter. Away with you, and to your duties, Bland."

Continuing down the stairs, he took a deep breath and flung wide the dining room door...

Over dinner, Darcy had contrived to seat himself next to the lovely Mary. As they tucked into their brawn, Mary's eyes were drawn again and again to the rectangular bulge in Darcy's breeches. Eventually their eyes met, but made an excuse and left as they hadn't been introduced.

"Before you ask", said Darcy brusquely, "it's an old whore wound."

Mary's eyes widened, which was okay, because they'd previously sought planning permission.

"Don't you mean... 'war' wound?" she murmured, blushing prettily again.

"I know what I mean" replied Darcy. "Some of those old whores can be pretty nasty, at least, the ones I have to use."

Darcy surveyed the assembled characters with relief. At least the staff, apart from that idiot Blunt, were doing their job, he thought. Can't stand these build-it-yourself dinner party kits. His 750pp blockbuster gained several chapters as his eyes fell on the lovely Annabel and Virginia. Fortunately, they bounced off and landed back in their sockets before anyone noticed. Curse that toad, he thought.

From the other end of the long mahogany table the flirtatious voice of Anabel could be heard above the noise of the hubbub of conversation and the slurping and subsequent retching from imbibing Mrs. Mearagh's brawn.

"Pray tell me, sir, what are you doing with that instrument beneath the table?"

All eyes turned to her in that instant.

Lord Linwood looked at the comely wench and gave out a long sigh of exasperation followed by a large fart for he too had been partaking of the brawn.

"If you really wish to know, I have more than one instrument hidden beneath this table."

Anabel gasped in excited anticipation.

Lord Linwood leaned down and lifted the first instrument and placed it on the table before him. "This is an alhidade".

Again he felt under the table, this time an "oo" emanated from Anabel's lips. Lord Linwood ignored the interruption and produced a plumb line and an astrolobe in quick succession and placed them on the table.

"But sir, what is the purpose of these instruments." said Arabel, hardly containing her sudden boredom at finding the instruments not to her pleasure.

"I am about the survey the room and its occupants so that we may know fully the extent of the plot we are temporarily inhabiting."

Thus said Lord Linwood proceeded in his task. The other participants around the table soon joined Arabel in boredom and went back to their retching, for all the brawn had by now been eaten, or more likely hidden under the table.

There was a clatter and a commotion without and the dining room doors were flung open, whereupon entered a man leading three dogs. He was dishevelled and distracted to the point where his hair, what little of it there was, appeared to stand on end.

"Squire Jackson!" exclaimed Mr Mearagh. "What has happened?"

"Terrible calamities," said the Squire. "My house has been struck by lightning. My chimney is down, my gables are wrecked and my postern has been knocked sideways. Furthermore my wife's maid, Miss Wells has had her petticoats most awfully singed. She is normally such a stout and cheerful wench and a buxom beauty to boot, but I fear the experience has set her aback, and she would feign remove herself to her parents' house in York, rather than remain with us, despite my protestations that lightning never strikes twice. May I beseech you perhaps to permit me to lodge with you for a few days, good Mr Mearagh?" He paused, and blushed. "But I am made rude by my woes not to enquire of the welfare of your own family. Miss Virginia, how are you? And Miss Anabel, how goes it with the two..."

"Harumph!" exclaimed Mr Mearagh and took Squire Jackson aside to explain the lay of the land to him.

"Poor fellow," said Rastus Coad, to the company in general. "Dashed bad luck, eh?"

Darcy smiled gently. "I venture the disturbance might be more domestic than elemental. Notice he brings his dogs but not his wife. Miss Wells and her singed petticoats indeed."

"Still," said Rastus. "he is pleasant enough company to have around for a while at least. Maybe he could explain to me exactly what lightning is, for it is a phenomenon that has oft perplexed me. Some maintain it is a sort of cosmic fire despatched from out of a storm to zig-zag down to earth in a random fashion."

Squire Jackson returned to the fold at the moment, and picked up on what he had overheard.

"Lightning consists of what I'll call (for want of the technical term) "feelers" which extend down from clouds (as well as between clouds) and *up* from the ground. These "feelers" are usually invisible, but *can* be felt, if you're standing in or close to one (your hair will stand up, if you have any). (If this happens, move!) These are positive and negative charges building up, just like the static charges you can build in the winter by walking across a carpet, only writ much larger. During a thunderstorm thousands of these "feelers" are reaching up at the same time. Whenever a ground-based "feeler" contacts a cloud-based "feeler" a circuit is completed and lightning (the static charge) is discharged.

"By the way," he continued. "I met a Postie outside and he gave me this telegram. Not bad news I hope."

Lord Linwood was prevailed upon to open the telegram and read it: "All Miss Pess Merry Xmar Folks Lims Kangaroos Yourself John"

All expressed themselves perplexed except for Darcy who turned his suddenly clouded face away as if he had received foreboding news about a dark, grim secret.

Squire Jackson joined the party at the table, sat down and settled back smugly, picking through some remains of brawn he had found on the carpet.

Darcy made his excuses, stood and turned to leave the table. The mortification of being in the same room as these people was too much to stomach. As he turned he looked down. There was Squire Jackson, on all fours, scraping yet more of Mrs Mearagh's brawn from the carpet. "He'll be sorry," thought Darcy as he strode from the room. In the hall he stopped momentariy to examine Lord Linwood's scrotum collection and then continued on down the corridor towards the library. As he entered the room he was assailed by the array of shelves but soon fought them off and they returned to their position on the walls, the books that had fallen scurrying and climbing to arrange themselves once again in the correct order.

"Aeschylus, Alighieri, Appolonia, Aristotle, Austen," mouthed Darcy as his eyes ran along the top shelf. "Langford?"

Virginia was playing the piano in the drawing room. "Do you know `Piano Fighter' by Warren Zevon," said Harry, before realizing it was an anachronistic remark. Fortunately Virginia was not one to be limited by the bounds of anachronism and launched into a spirited version of the song, which soon had Darcy and Mary kicking up their heels and collapsing into each others arms laughing and giggling upon its completion. Darcy used this subterfuge to brush his lips against Mary's ear and said, sotto voce, "I want you come down to my basement laboratory. I am working on the explication of several ontological theories, mostly involving the sexual proclivities of humans and chimpanzees, but also kangaroos, which I have learnt through my overseas contacts have the greatest sex drive of any mammal, as well as the most muscular tails. I hope you will accommodate my earnest interest in acquainting your with some of my scientific interests." "How could I not be interested in anything involving Kangaroos?" said Mary. It was a trite, offhand remark, but it caused Darcy's features yet again to cloud over with concern as he took her hand and led her down the several deep and cold steps to his basement lair.

It was late and Harry tired of the endless round of billiards played by Mearagh, Lord Linwood, Rastus and Squire Jackson. The whimpers coming from the basement were disturbing too but Harry couldn't begrudge Mary, who had led a sheltered life, a few moments of pleasure and gratification wherever she could find them. He went out into the grounds and lit up a small cheroot and then a large one. What the hell, he thought. Live dangerously. There was a full moon which cast a yellow leprous pallor on the landscape. He found it hard to believe they were on a plateau in the heart of South America and not in the Home Counties. He wondered about his companions. He was coming to miss brian's tuneless warbling and Uncle Johnny's continuous grumpy complaints and hoped there might soon be a re-union. As he walked past a thicket of shrubs something stirred within and a hideous figure lurched out of its cover and marched slowly towards him, arms outstretched, strings of drool issuing from its deformed mouth. Pausing for only the briefest of moments to assure himself that this was not, in fact, Uncle Johnny, although the resemblance was uncanny, he reached into his drawers and brought out his machete, struck at the neck of the creature and lopped off its head. The corpse collapsed in a whiff of dust, the skeleton too crumbling into the earth. Another short squat figure which appeared to be wearing a Punch suit, pranced past him and disappeared into the same thicket of shrubs. Only slightly shaken by the encounter Harry returned to the billiards room where Squire Jackson was still explicating the rules of the game to the other members of the party who were already comfortably asleep and snoring in their chairs.

"What do you know of the... male generative organ of the marsupial, Mary?" asked Darcy as they descended the ill-lit steps into the dank basement.

"Why - nothing, of course. How could I?" she stammered, blushing prettily for the third time, though in the dim light, no-one could tell.

"In many species, it is bifurcated. Bifurcated! Do you see the significance?"

"I can see hardly anything in this dim light. Perhaps you could throw another dog on the fire. That old labrador over there has plenty of tallow on him, I feel."

Darcy did as she suggested, and the flames, revitalised, shed a brighter glow, though the moans and howls were a bit off-putting.

"For many years" Darcy explicated "I have been working on this - a means whereby the unique sexual needs of my beloved Anabel could at last be satisfied. Of course, she'd shag a kangaroo like a shot if she had the chance, but where's the fun in that for me, apart from the video - whatever that is. Do you understand me, Mary? Two clitorises..."

"Clitori..." corrected Mary, gently.

"...clitori need two penises... penii... no, I was right the first time, for ultimate satisfaction. The noble kangaroo has shown me the way!"

"Mr Darcy..." Mary hesitated, then continued firmly: "I have a confession to make. I know more about kangaroo cocks and wallabies' whangers than I let on. And I have to tell you that neither the red nor the grey kangaroo has the double-pronger of which you speak. It's true. Mr Google told me."

Darcy, shocked and stunned by Mary's revelation, sank to a nearby bench, but missed in the dim light and bruised his arse on the stone floor. "Ow! Bugger!" he whined.

At that moment, a shadowy figure who had been lurking unseen at the top of the stairs, stepped out into the full glare of the dim light. "Lord Linwood!" gasped Mary.

"Indeed. Summoned by the eagle ears of my manservant, I have overheard every word of your sordid little scheme. I must request that you accompany me to the dining room, where the denouement - whatever that is - can be played out to the satisfaction of all." The dim light glinted from the barrel of the pistol he was casually holding.

"Very well, Lord Linwood. But this had better be good" said Darcy.

(Bastard! No pressure there, then, said the Author.)

Within what seemed like moments, but was actually several seconds, all the characters except one were gathered in the dining room.

"What's going on? I've only just got here, and was hoping for a bit of amorous dalliance before we got to this bit" whined Squire Jackson.

"Yes, what is going on? I've got 73 hectares of gooseberry crumble for dessert" protested Mrs Mearagh.

"Don't worry - I've already eaten that" burped Mr Punch.

"May I suggest listening to me as the preferred modus operandi" smiled Lord Linwood, wagging his pistol suggestively.

"That's better. Now I will summon my eagle-eared manservant, Curt, who it may interest you to know is distantly related to the famous native Canadian-American, Toronto. Curt!"

The door opened and Curt strode into the room, his ear close to the parquet flooring.

"Curt! Tell them, please" commanded Lord Linwood.

Curt rose to his full height, pointed at Lord Linwood, and spoke in a mellifluous baritone: "White man speak with forked tongue!"


For the first time, Lord Linwood smiled, revealing his tongue, which was indeed bifurcated.

"Linny-baby" squealed Anabel, falling into his arms.


Mr Punch kicked away the cardboard sign with the words THE END scrawled upon it and considered his position. Heretofore, he had laboured under the impression that his work as genius loci was done, yet here he was again involved in the most unlikely of adventures, high upon a South American plateau.

How he had come here he could not say, but having found himself far from his little blue and white striped house, he had tried to make the most of the situation. He had undertaken to supervise the construction of a palatial new gazebo in the grounds to accommodate the founder of the Burns Emporium. The design was the work of the architect, Henry Bell of King's Lynn, noted for his Customs House there, and the labour was being provided by what he had come to realise were the walking dead. Their wages were few - indeed non-existent - but Mr Punch had found it difficult to keep a supervisor for longer than a week at a time due to the workforce's tendency to eat the living.

The presence of new and unsuspecting visitors within Lord Linwood's house had suggested to him a possible source of distraction for the workers and so he had set out to inveigle himself into their company. This had proven easier than he had at first thought, given that no one round the dinner table seemed completely sure of what was happening.

It was the morning after and the main protagonists were relaxing in Mr Mearagh's Jacuzzi. Lord Linwood and Anabel surfaced from beneath the bubbles with smiles of mutual gratification on their faces.

"It's all very well for you, Mary," said Harry, watching Darcy tongue her nipple through the stiff fabric of her safari suit. "But all I've had is a midnight altercation with a zombie. I haven't got any area of my end away in any description, not even by sodomizing Mr Punch. I must say this is all a very unsatisfactory conclusion."

"I think so too," said Dawkins, and I didn't even get any of the scrapings from Mrs Mearagh's brawn let alone her pork stitchings."

"I had one stitching," said James Blount, "but it doesn't make up for the distinct lack of pussy action."

"And I only got to explicate about lightning and billiards," said Squire Jackson, adjusting his bikini straps.

Rastus Coad took a draw on his extremely large cigar and looked down at his groin. "May, I just ask who exactly is fellating me at this point?" he asked.

Curt's head surfaced from the water. "Certainly not me," he said.

"That would be me, then," said Virginia.

Just then a shadow appeared blotting out the sun. A huge dinosaur called F'rank gazed down at them.

"Hmm, human soup," said F'rank.

Before anyone could react to this shocking turn of events, there was a low, infrasonic rumbling and a huge shockwave raced across the surface of the jacuzzi. A scaly head emerged from the surface of the water.

"Sorry about that" said T'ed. "Gooseberries always give me the wind."

"Jes' hold it right there, yuh scaly varmints!"

The voice came from a woman on horseback. She wore a magnificent hat, and carried a matched pair of Buntline Specials. One was pointed at F'rank, the other at T'ed.

"Who are you?" came several voices at once.

"Texas Pat Virzi's the name" said the woman. "Used to be Oklahoma Pat Virzi, but ah done sold the ranch."

"Selling the ranch is better than buying the farm" joked Curt. Pat gave him a Look.

"Are you really an American?" asked an awed Anabel.

"Sure am. Check mah hat if yuh like." Holstering one of her guns, Texas Pat removed the hat and handed it down, so Anabel could read the label inside: "Capacity ten (US) gallons".

"Is that a bay horse?" asked the equally awed Virginia.

"Naw, it's an eBay horse. Sure is amazin' what y'can find on there these days. Cost me twenty dollars - plus eight hunnerd n'ninety five dollars post and packagin'."

"I would have thought" said Lord Linwood, glancing around at the surrounding jungle, "that Amazon might have been a better place to find one". Texas Pat gave him a Look too.

"Okay, that's enough chat" said Pat, putting her hat back on and drawing the second Buntline once more. "You two critters" - she jerked the pistols at F'rank and T'ed - "can git, and that right smartly. Y'hear me?"

Reluctantly, F'rank turned away and headed for the jungle. T'ed heaved his bulk out of the jacuzzi and followed. The water level in the jacuzzi fell by several feet, which demonstrates some theory by Archimedes. But he isn't in this story, so screw him.

Harry felt the length of cold steel nestling against his thigh and knew that, had he been called upon to make an end of F'rank and T'ed, he would have been up to the task.

When the jungle had closed in behind the two dinosaurs, Texas Pat holstered her guns and tipped back her hat. "If'n y'need me, jest holler" she smiled, and turned and rode off.

T’ed and F’rank trudged off into the jungle.

"You realize we just got run out of town by some hick Texas cowgirl," said F’rank. "Now I've really got my tail between my legs."

"Mighty perty one, though," said T'ed. "I'm only sorry she refused to join us in the jacuzzi. And slow down. I haven't had my back op yet. And you always have your tail between your legs. You're a dinosaur for fuck's sake."

"I just think it’s a bit demeaning, that’s all. Here we are, supposed to be a supremely powerful species and we let some little girl with an Annie Oakley complex get the drop on us."

F’rank stopped to let T’ed catch up. A woolly mammoth wandered by and F’rank snapped it up, swallowed it down, and belched. Not bad for starters, he thought.

Squire Jackson was making one of his frequent visits to the main house in order to make use of the facilities. He had thought of doing it in the jacuzzi, but decorum got the better of him. As he stood, unbuttoned, in front of the urinal, holding his member in the iron grip which comes from years of mowing the lawn, he was dismayed to find that the flow was accompanied by an intense burning sensation.

"Perhaps I'm gripping it too tight" he thought. But that wasn't it. "It's like a bum-burner, but round the front, tha noz" he mused, wincing. "That brawn I ate must have had peppers in it. I shall call this phenomenon 'Chilli Willy', or perhaps 'Mrs Mearagh's Revenge'".

Shaking off the last drops, which splashed on the wooden seat and scorched it in several places, he turned to the wash-basin and was dismayed once more to find that no hot water seemed to be available. "Dash it, I shall have to go and relight the dratted boiler" he muttered. Outside, he tried various doors in an attempt to locate the water heating apparatus. At the fourth or fifth attempt he found a flight of steps leading down. Somewhere far below, he could hear faint gurglings and other water-related noises. "This must be it!" thought the ever-inquisitive Squire, as he set off down the steps.

Down and down he went, and came at length to the bottom, and a small room lit only by the eerie glow of buttons illuminated in various colours, which were affixed to a strange apparatus mounted on the wall. A small display screen bore the legend: "ERROR 9607 - LOW PRESSURE FAILURE - PLEASE RESTART".

"What can this miraculous contraption be?" Squire Jackson mused aloud, and was astonished to receive a reply. "I am the Sprite of Geothermal Energy - whatever that is. I am imprisoned here, connected to this machine, and compelled to heat all the water for the household. I have two valves, or cocks, one red, one black. One points up, one points down...."

"Blimey, and I thought I had problems with just my one pink-coloured one" thought the Squire.

"...But however you fiddle with my cocks, I fear I can never be restarted. The wick at the centre of the earth has gone out, Henry, and we are all doomed. Doomed!"

Hearing this, the Squire was seized with fear. He turned and bolted back up the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him.

It was the next day at Netherfield. Yet again Jensen Button had failed to win a grand prix, but no one was really bothered. In truth nobody could really remember much of what had happened the previous evening because of the rohipnol Darcy had administered in the port. He had even taken a slug of the stuff himself, so was not even aware that he had shagged Mary, and later made of fool of himself playing Twister while Virginia played the spinet.

Squire Jackson cracked an egg for breakfast (editor’s note: not a euphemism) and vaguely remembered something to do with dinosaurs, but it could have been he was remembering playing his King Crimson LP.

Mrs Curmudgheonly wandered in, then realized she was in the wrong novel sequence and wandered out again. Only Harry, being abstemious by nature and preferring Newcastle Brown, had not partaken of the port, so had a clear memory of events, especially those relating to his machete which even now clung to the sweat-bedewed expanse of his ample thigh. What he would do with this knowledge remains to be seen, but right now he was off to oversee the building work on the Burns Emporium and make sure his zombies were in order. He felt confident he would report back later, although possibly not before two o 'clock in the morning.

Harry paused at the top of the grand stairs and reminded himself that he was not actually responsible for overseeing building work on the Burns Emporium, or indeed, anything to do with the zombies, about which he realised he knew nothing. Perhaps his old friend Mr Punch was somehow present on the plateau high in the jungles of South America? Mr Punch, he knew, would have the expertise necessary to accomplish the building work, especially if, perchance, he were following the plans of that great architect, Henry bell of King's Lynn.

Shaking his head at the complexity of it all, he turned back to the great hall.

Mr Punch cast aside his latex Harry mask and ambled off to check on his zombies. "How is it going?" he asked his head Zombie Overseer, Andy. Andy thought long and hard and then stooped to pick up a finger that had just dropped off. "Me wish me back in England. Jolly good cheer and all. It's so bracing. Watney's Red Barrel. Pie and mash. God save the King. The white cliffs of Dover. The News of the World." He tried to sigh wistfully, but being a zombie, only managed to expectorate a vast amount of green slime. "You bring fresh brains?"

"I'm working on it," said Mr Punch.

Meanwhile… Back on a sandy beach beside a fast-flowing river the main expeditionary force held a meeting to review their position and assess their resources.

"What ails thee, Mauler?" said the Fat Boodhist, wiping the remains of sticky toffee pudding from his ample jowls. "You seem down at heart."

"It's the fucking author," he said. "I send him stuff and he just ignores it. I might as well just go home and carry on with my war-gaming, except that the last time I logged on my old mate and fellow war-gamer Jim 'Uberlord' Linwood seemed to have disappeared."

"There there, Mauler," said Pat giving him a hearty hug that made his little man stand up.

"Oy," said brian, "I'm not his little man. I'm my own little man."

Sandra plucked a melancholy refrain on her travel guitar. "I'm afraid I won't be of much use to the expedition," she said. "Got a gig at Ryans Bar in Stoke Newington Church Street coming up, and must finish this song I've just written. "It's called `Vic Morrow's Lost His Head'. She continued plonking, as us musicians say.

"Thank goodness I'm deaf," said the Deaf Welshman. The other Welshman farted in a rich baritone and poked Sandra with his stick.

Just then a small man in a Punch suit ambled up.

"Who are you and where did you come from?" chorused several people.

"I'm Mr Punch, at your service, Ladies and Gents. I come from up there," he pointed upwards, "where some of your friends are in dire trouble. I need...er I mean... they need some brains to help them resolve their dilemma. Fortunately I know of a secret tunnel cleft in the rocks by ancient tin-miners. I would be happy to lead you to them, and I can assure you there will be a big feast awaiting you."

"Sounds good to me," said the Fat Boodhist, "As long as there is sticky toffee pudding."

Led by Mr Punch, the party set off to find the secret tunnel he had told them about. S&ra had decided to stay behind to finish her song, and another one which she had decided to call "This Will All End In Tears", though at the moment she had no idea why. The Other Welshman had decided not to risk his leg, and was staying behind too. He poked S&ra with his stick again, farted, and fell over. "Serves you right", said S&ra.

The sun had just passed its zenith, and the final chords of "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darlings" from S&ra's guitar had barely faded away, when Mr Punch suddenly stopped. They had been walking along Richard Dale for some time.

"It's around here somewhere, I'm sure", said Mr Punch, casting around in the long grass beneath the steep rocky walls.

"hey!" said brian. "i've just discovered how difficult it is to shout in lower case. but apart from that, i've just had a wild idea for a song".

"Not now, brian!" said everyone in unison.

"Here we are!" exclaimed Mr Punch, and disappeared. Hurrying after, they entered a narrow cleft and found themselves in a dank tunnel, which they followed for some time. Soon they noticed strange outcrops apparently growing from the walls.

"They look like ears" said Pat. "Well, they do say walls have ears."

"They must be tin ears" said Mauler. "This is supposed to be an old tin mine, after all." He reached out and broke one off. "Anybody want one?"

"no thanks, i've already got one" said brian.

"Not unless it tastes like sticky toffee pudding" said the Fat Boodist.

But, unseen by the others, the Deaf Welshman broke off a couple of the best-looking ones and slipped them into his pocket. "Might come in handy" he muttered to himself.

A bit further on, the party encountered a huge chunk of stone which completely obstructed the tunnel. In the glow from Mr Punch's nose, they could see that it bore numerous inscriptions on its various sides, some of which were partly crossed out by chisel marks. "What on earth is this, and how shall we get past it?" wailed Pat.

"I know what it is. I've encountered this many times" said the Deaf Welshman. "It's the dreaded Writer's Block. I'm afraid there's nothing we can do but wait until it goes away."

"Suits me" said the Fat Boodist. He reached into his knapsack. "Sticky toffee pudding, anyone? With custard of course."

The glow from Mr Punch's nose was dimming so they applied a bit of frottage. It perked him up nicely and shed a new light on things. They settled down and for want of anything else to do The Fat Boodhist brought out a pack of cards and started a round of stud poker.

"I'll raise you ten," said brian without really knowing what he was talking about, except it used the term 'raise'

"I'll see your knob and raise you twenty," said Peter Weston who had somehow found himself written into the narrative.

"What is your collateral?" asked the Deaf Welshman.

Weston turned out his pockets revealing ten Novas and some bits of oddly-shaped sinter.

"If only we could decipher the weird hieroglyphics on this stone," said Pat. "It might give us some clue as to how to remove it, like, you know, in Indiana Jones movies."

"Id be quite happy to get free beer in exchange for eating chesse," said the Fat Boodhist. "But I don't see that happening. It's more likely that zombies would eat my brain."

"Snap!" said Pat Mailer, climbing down onto the red carpet from her limousine, late to the party as usual.

The explorers had long since fallen asleep, the poker game being over, and Mr Punch’s nose having gone out completely. Then Pat C. woke up with a cry of ‘eureka’.

“I didn’t touch you,” said brian.

“I did, “said Mauler, somewhat shamefacedly.

Pat rummaged in her knapsack. “No, I have the answer to how we can remove this impediment to our progress.”

“What are those?” said Ian, “And don’t tell me they are dildos.”

“No. Sticks of Dynamite I bought at at Nic Farey’s yard sale in Las Vegas. I had forgotten I had packed them.”

She installed the dynamite under the rock and lit the fuse.

“Er, maybe we should retreat a small way,” said Mr Punch. “I’m only thinking that blowing you all up would be an awful waste of brains.”

“Eeeeee, chuck,” said Pat Mailer, “You should realize us starlets don’t really have brains. Have you seen the size of my latest cheque?”

Just then there was an enormous explosion.

when the dust had finally settled, the intrepid explorers made their way cautiously back to where the Block had been. And still was. It at there, slightly scorched but otherwise completely undamaged.

"I was going to tell you it wouldn't work" said the Deaf Welshman reproachfully, "but I couldn't get a word in. You can't get rid of Writer's Block like that".

The markings on the rock were puzzling Mr Punch. He knew he'd seen something like them before; it was the fact that they seemed to be in different fonts and some had been coloured green, some blue. When it came to him, he could barely speak:

"I ...I ... think these may be the work of Arnie Akiensen who set out years ago to find the centre of his head."

The Deaf Welshman blanched.

"It's down to me" said Mauler. "I'm one of the Writers, even if the Bloody Editor keeps missing my bits out. But no hard feelings - I've got to come up with something. Just give me a minute." He paced up and down, frowning and tapping his bongos absent-mindedly. "That's it!" he suddenly yelled. "I've got it! A terrific plot development that will really take the story forward!" As he spoke, there was a cracking noise from the Block. As they watched, huge fissures appeared in it, and it swiftly crumbled into dust.

"Well done, Mauler!" said the Fat Boodhist. "So what is this great idea, exactly?"

"Tell you later" said Mauler. "Let's just get out of here, shall we?" They quickly gathered their belongings and moved on down the tunnel.

"So what /is/ this great idea, then?" asked an excited Pat C. "Search me" smiled Mauler. "It was just a bluff. But it worked."

"Ooh Mauler, you are clever!" said Pat C, snuggling up to him. His little man stood again.

"Oi, I told you not to mention me", said brian.

The party continued on their way only to find a few hundred yards another huge boulder blocking their path.

“Oh, fuck off Langford,” they all yelled as one person

"We are doomed, doomed," said Pat C. collapsing in a heap of slobbering jelly, but flavored with blackcurrent which Ian found quite tasty.

Mr Punch appeared and kicked the rock which then collapsed into fragments. "That's the way to do it," he swozzled. "Onwards and upwards, folks."

"except," said brian, "we now seem to be going dowards. at this rate we'll end up at the centre of the earth. we might even meet the fabled Arnie Akiensen."

At this several of the party collapsed, retching, and one had to be forcibly restrained by Mr Punch from blowing his brains out.

"That would be such a waste," he said. "Just have some more of this nice sticky btoffee pudding."

If only I'd bought some string with me," said Mauler, "We could have tied some to that tree at the entrance to the tunnel and could now retrace our steps. Oh, what a dilemma. Whatever will we do?"

"Easy Peasy," said The Fat Dwarf Ian Wiliams, who had just unaccountably joined the party, despite not being invited. "We just retrace our steps until we find a junction where we will finally go uphill. It's not rocket science."

"Nice to have you on board Ian," said the editor. "It's always good to have some disposable characters we can sacrifice to the Zombies."

"Phew" said the editor, again, mopping his brown. "I wondered how many nanohours it would take somebody to come up with that, and in the end it turned out to be me."

And so, following an idiot's advice, they finally found themselves upon the surface of the plateau. Sandra and the Daft Welshman were sitting on a rock beside a babbling brook waiting for them.

"We heard a huge explosion," Sandra explained, and thought we had better come up and investigate."

"Yeah, fuck, that's right," said the Daft Weshman, except in an accent and with a gammy leg. He let rip a loud fart.

At that moment a loud crashing noise could be heard approaching through the jungle. As the sound grew closer and closer the travellers hugged each other in terror (and Mauler's little man stood again, for he was terror-rised).

"What can it be?" they all cried in Unison (Pat C. had been taking the subs in anticipation of this very event). Closer and closer came the noise until with a mighty crash the jungle was pushed aside and a large red Routmaster bus appeared.

"All aboard", shouted the conductor. "Number 25 from Nowhere via Hamm Common and Ealing Broadway for Despair."

The travellers jumped aboard, thankful to let the bus take the strain.

"And those with no sandwitches please get off the bus."

"Am I the only one flogging this dead horse?" said Graham Charnock.

"Just stop here," said Reg Varney. "I've got to shag that housewife in that house across the way. I'll be back in five minutes."

"Cooo", said Anabel, wide-eyed. "Where did you get a pair of balls that big? Can I touch them?"

Lord Linwood blushed modestly and placed one in each of her delicate hands. "I just made them by collecting the rubber bands the postie leaves on the driveway of my estate."

Anabel fondled his balls and coquettishly made as if to raise one to her lips and kiss it.

"Careful," Lord Linwood advised. “You don’t know where it’s been."

Just then from outside there came a rattling crash as of timbers collapsing .

"What was that?” Anabel asked.

"Oh,” said Lord Linwood, retrieving his balls. "That’s just the niggers in the woodpile."

"I can’t believe you just said that," said Anabel. "Don’t worry," said Lord Linwood. "Nobody is censoring this list."

Up in his room, in one of the Mansions many towering turrets, Darcy put aside his copy of MOLESWORTH LET’S ONE RIP, took up his spyglass and scanned the grounds of the estate. He watched with interest a trail of ants making its way towards the kitchen area. They looked like fire ants to him. A herd of wildebeest, or they might have been bison, swept in from the North, cut a swathe through the ornamental gardens and, disloding the peculiar statue of the humunculous with a cane, dispersed themselves to pastures in the distant south. From one the drawing rooms downstairs he imagined he heard the strident voice of some American woman beseeching people to stop Skyping. Whatever that was he was pretty sure he wasn’t doing it himself so could safely ignore the injunction. To the east the dinosaurs appeared to have set up an encampment and were constructing something involving lots of earth moving. Occasionally he glimpsed the bright reflections from some metallic structure at its heart. To the west a site had been cleared and scaffolding set up. A notice on the scaffolding read; COMING SOON, THE BURNS EMPORIUM, MANUFACTURERS OF BESPOKE SAFARI SUITS. CAUTION; THIS IS A HARD-HAT SITE’.

Pshaw, Darcy muttered under his breathe. Health and Safety was everywhere these days. Work on the site seemed to be progressing slowly; the workforce seemed to do nothing but laze or slouch about all day. Far away on the crest of a hill there appeared to be approaching a red London omnibus full of noisy revellers. Well, at least that might mean some new blood, thought Darcy. He was wandering whether he should undertake to investigate any of these developments, or else go down and shag Mary, when Lord Linwood bounced in.

"I say, I say," said Linwood, "My wife’s gone to the West Indies.”

"Good god, man!" proclaimed Darcy. "You are married and yet you continue a dalliance with the delightful double-tongued Anabel. You are a rogue and a rascal sir."

"Er... my dog’s got no nose," said Linwood.

"What sir, you persist in keeping a horribly disfigured animal which by rights should be put down. You are cruel and debased, sir!"

"Who’s on first?" said Linwood with a faint air of desperation.


Several hours later Mary reached for her flameproof scanties. She was not enjoying sex so much with Darcy these days. Oh, the sex was okay, but it was a bit tiresome that it involved him strapping her to that fearful device in the basement every time the urge came upon him. Sometimes she half hoped a bear would burst in to relieve the tedium of it all.

"How's the project going?" T'ed Asked F'rank.

"Fine," said F'rank. “Good job we found that prehistorical temple in the jungle with all those gold and silver and bronze artefacts."

"Yes, just what we needed to build a Hyper Space Transponder to signal our position to our home planet and enable them to launch a Search & Rescue Mission."

"Er… Hyper-Space Transponder? The Giant Barbecue, you mean?" said F'rank.

T'ed looked at the plans on Frank's drafting table, sighed deeply, and rotated the blueprint through 180 degrees. "Hyper-Space Transponder," he said.

T'ed indicated the line of fire ants that was crawling past them out of the jungle and heading down towards Netherfield Hall.

"Look at Them! The humans, like Them!, are individually puny but together are powerful. Don't tell me you were thinking of barbecuing the humans, F'rank, when we could have so much to learn from them?"

F’rank looked sheepish. "Only for starters," he said. "Then maybe the wildebeestes."


It had been a long day at Mr Meara's country estate where lots of disreputable characters were holed up.

Zombies were building a factory to manufacture safari suits, and dinosaurs lurked at the edge of the forest under the prevailing canopy, constructing what might have been a giant barbecue or else a device for calling down rocket-ships from space.

The housekeeper, Mrs Maule, or Madame Janice as she was otherwise known, had just taken delivery of a box of organic vegetables from a nearby farm which, unbeknownst to her, had recently been swamped by a discharge of weapons grade plutonium from the nearby power station which made this entire narrative possible. She sorted through the vegetables remarking internally to herself about the huge size of the vegetables, since there was no one to listen to her, the under-maid , Ms Mailer having being given the day off to attend choir rehearsals. The potatoes were the size of pumpkins and the pumpkins were the size of Uncle Johnny's testicles, and Uncle Johnny’s testicles, as we all know, were the size of barrage balloons. And the Carrots! They were the size of human beings and several of them had knobbly protrusions resembling those which might be found on some human beings, but not those wearing thongs.

A recent arrivealat the mansion, Lord Kettle, OBE, stirred uneasily in his bed. It might have been the gout, or he might had been dreaming of Captain Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. He awoke with a fit of itching and shambled around the room for several hours looking for relief which was not immediately forthcoming, despite his best endeavours. The smells of boiling potatoes and pumpkins drifted up to him from the area of the kitchens and he ceased his fidgetings and, smitten by a sudden sense of the munchies brought on by smoking too much dope the previous evening,went downstairs to investigate. He pushed open the kitchen door with a sense of trepidation. Huge mulching sounds were coming from within, but he thanked goodness that the colostomy reversal had been successful. Venturing inside he was brought up short by a scene of unimaginable horror. Madame Janice was straddled upon the huge refectory table and was being....Eaten by a Carrot!

Thunder rumbled across the heavens and lightning cracked the sky. The residents and guests of Mr Meara's mansion stirred in their beds, but none so more as Lord Jim Linwood and the Lady Amabel, although it was in the same bed. A banshee wailing came from without as a gale wracked the building threatening to lift the slates from the roof. A banshee wailing came from within, but that was only Madame Janice stretched out upon the kitchen table while a huge carrot laboured over her nubile body. Everyone leapt from their beds and fearing imminent death and destruction hastened to their designated assembly point in the main hall. The windows blew in and vast spumes of water sprayed up drenching the assembly. Only Squire Jackson endeavoured to offer some counsel. 'We're all doomed! 'He cried. 'I fear this tempest can presage only one thing, yes, the arrival amongst of... the mighty Fishlifters, fabled creatures of myth and legend who dwell halfway between Heaven and Hell, which is, of course, Croydon. They say they have the heads of fans, the bodies of goats and tails of fish, and fly with the aid of wings made of bananas.' At his words the entire compnay wibbled with fear and loathing and several of them with flatulence. As if on cue the doors of the main hall crashed open, and two figures clad in sou'westers and galoshes emerged from the wraith like mist and teeming rain. 'Ahoy, me hearties,' they said as if with one voice. 'I'm sorry we're a bit late for Speak Like a Pirate Day.'

Lord Linwood was in the library poring over a British Railways map and timetable. Lady Amabel flounced in, flirted coquettishly for a while and then flounced out. Once had had got his breath back and wiped the semen from his trousers Lord Linwood resumed his studies. Squire Jackson, who had been out for an early morning ride, entered dusting down his chaps, who scuttled off to obtain refreshment and a jug of poultice from Mistress Janice below stairs.

"I say, Linwood, old pal," he said "I've just been out riding down the way of that factory to manufacture safari suits they are building. Damn rum place. Don't seem to do any work during the day at all. In fact one of the workers tried to attack me but the bounder fell over and my horse trampled on his head, smashing it completely. Do you think I should report it to the Bow Street Runners?"

"Sorry, did you say something?" said Lord Linwood. "I'm a bit distracted at the moment. I have to visit another of my concubines in Hertfordshire by way of the Isle of Wight and am trying to work out the best way. This travelling compendium suggests taking the Flying Scotsman from Paddington and then changing at Staithes onto the North London Line, but if I do that I will obviously miss seeing the pelicans swooping majestically over the Humber estuary."

"You could always catch the National Express," said Squire Jackson, "And stop over at a Travelodge."

"Hmmm," said Lord Jim. "I'm almost as puzzled by this as to who actually won the British Fan Editor's award at the first FAANCON."

"Beats me," said Squire Jackson.

Punch settled back in his deck chair, warming his hands at the open brazier. A full moon was up and his zombies were hard at work with their chainsaws, claw-hammers, hydraulic staple-guns, and machetes. Punch looked across at the warm glowing lights of Netherfields Hall, imagining with distaste the debauchery and depravity that must be going on within its walls. He heard a drone approaching and a seaplane zoomed down and landed on the ornamental lake. A slight effete man wearing a safari suit disembarked with a retinue of heavy-set men in black suits. He approached Punch and tipped his fedora in greeting.

"Mr Punch," he said, "I just dropped in to see how work was progressing. It's essential that the plant is ready in time for my Spring Collection, which will of course dominate the catwalks of Europe in the forthcoming season."

He clapped his hands and one of the men in black pulled out a section of Transatlantic cable and passed it to Mr Punch.

"I offer this as an earnest of my good intentions, or else an intention of my earnestness."

"It's going well, Mr B..." Punch started before he was silenced by his visitor placing a finger upon his lips.

"There are many who know my Name, Mr Punch, but few who dare to utter it."

Punch blanched, as much as it was possible for a marionette to do so. Fortunately his zombie aide was on hand to splash some more red paint on his cheeks.

"All is well," Punch continued. "Although we seem to be losing some of our workforce through work-place related accidents involving chainsaws, claw-hammers, hydraulic staple-guns, and machetes. And one of them had his head trampled by Squire Jackson's horse the other day."

His visitor nodded sagely and seemed satisfied. "I think I will call in and introduce myself to the residents of Netherfields Hall," he said. "Who knows, I might be able to take a few pre-orders for safari suits."

Punch watched him go and looked at the piece of Transatlantic cable. He tossed it dismissively over his shoulder. It struck a nearby zombie in the eye causing him to trip and stumble into the path of a machete wielding zombie, who himself collided with a zombie carrying a chainsaw and another carrying an hydraulic staple gun. Punch shook his head sadly. The carnage was becoming all too predictable.

The slight effete man in the safari suit rang the front door-bell of Netherfields Hall. No one stirred within but it was after all only three o'clock in the morning. The slight effete man signalled his crack team of men in black to set up a comfortable bivouac with a 42 inch TV, some display cases containing tiny bits of cable, a bar, and twenty or so electric clocks. When eight o'clock came around, and the clocks all rang in harmony and tandem, he rang the doorbell again. Mr Meara answered it, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He was wearing a T-shirt which proclaimed him to be a VACUOUS TART.

"Who the fuck are you?" he said momentarily forgetting his customary politeness. It had been a long night sorting through the artefacts left behind by a deceased close relative.

"I'm he whose name should not be uttered," said the slight effete man.

"Oh very well come in. Madame Janice is preparing scrambled eggs below stairs, at least I think that is what they are, and you are welcome to whatever other hospitality we can confer, but we have no Victorian rim-locks I'm afraid. You will have to go elsewhere for those, possibly to that estate over the hill in Kimberley Gardens where the loathsome alcoholic Barry Charnock lives. With his rubber gloves and paint-stripping equipment. Would you like some monkey nuts? I only asked because we bought in a lot of monkey nuts on the apprehension that we would be visited by a lot of monkeys.

A tremor shook the ground. "Was that a 3.8 or a 2.4 or a 5.6?" Mr Meara asked. somewhat rhetorically. "It doesn't matter. That is one shit safari suit you are wearing by the way."

The slight effete man smiled enigmatically. He was beginning to feel at home.

Mr Meara tapped the rim of his wine-glass with his knife to call for silence. The glass shattered spilling wine over Lord Jim's trousers. Lady Amabel snatched up a serviette, or napkin as it is sometimes called, to give them a brisk damping down. "Oooooh," said Lord Jim, and then, "Aaaaahhhh."

"We are here," Mr Meara addressed the people gathered around the table, "to welcome into our company he who's name shall not be uttered but whom I have learnt from reading the label inside his fedora is called Mr Bill Burns. Mr Burns is building a safari suit manufacturing plant a short way away, and so I suppose we should call him a neighbour, although I understand that most of the time he prefers to live in New York, wherever that is.

Burns smiled and nodded benignly and adjusted the lapels of his safari jacket so that they were in perfect alignment. He was a man of few words unless they involved Transatlantic cables or clocks.

Madame Janice entered at this point bearing a silver salver.

"Ah, a couple of nice melons," said Squire Jackson. "And fried eggs and artfully arranged sausages, as well. Puts me in mind of that story I read in today's Gazette about that bloke in Newcastle whose girlfriend..." his voice tailed off. “Oh well, I think I'd better save that story for another day. Anyone care for a meat ball?”


Mr Meara snorted in his sleep and rolled over, accidently poking Mrs Meara in the process.

Not now, Mr Meara, she said sleepily. This isn’t Facebook and I’m not in the mood. Besides it is Christmas Day.

So it is, said Mr Meara, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and adjusting his bed socks so that they sat more snugly. I wonder what Santa has bought us? He rummaged in the huge festive sock that hung at the foot of their four-poster.

Ah, a bottle of Graham’s Fine Vintage Port. I hope Graham doesn’t miss it. And a Michelin tourist guide to Parthenay. How thoughtful of Santa.

They dressed and went downstairs to find Mistress Janice had already set the table for the fine festive meal they would enjoy later. She bought in her two enormous Christmas Puddings and flopped them down on the table.

Has anybody seen Mauler? fretted Mistress Janice. I am sore worried for he did not come to bed last night, and now is nowhere to be found.

Just then Squire Jackson appeared, thwacking his steaming danders. I say, he said. I’ve just been for a morning ride and couldn’t help see that Santa appears to be stuck on top of the chimney outside.

They rushed out into the courtyard and gazed up at the small man in a red costume perched atop one of the mansions many chimneys.

Lordy, that’s not Santa, said Mistress Janice. That’s Mauler. What on earth are you doing up there, Mauler.

My ladder broke, said Mauler, after I’d finished filling everybody’s stockings. I’ve been up here all night. I fear I may also have damaged that huge coping stone above the lintel of the main entrance while climbing up here. We should get that fixed at the first opportunity.

Far away at the edge of the forest, F’rank adjusted the eyepiece of his telescope. What’s up? said T’ed stirring from a long hibernation.

It must be Christmas said F’rank. There’s an idiot dressed as Santa sitting on top of a chimney.

Christmas, said T’ed. Bah, humbug. I am going to have a Humanist Christmas.

F’rank licked his lips. I’ll got for that, he said, You can have the legs, I’ll have the breasts.

Carefully Squire Jackson and the others extricated Mauler from his predicament and carried him inside to warm up before a large log fire.

Outside a stagecoach pulled up.

That will be Lady Sandra Dashwood and her Donutsh, said Mr Meara. I have hired them to provide the musical entertainment for our festive gathering.

How spiffing, said Lord Linwood, entering the drawing room with Lady Amabel on his arm. I hope they know the hokey cokey.

Me too, lisped Lady Amabel, I love it when you put it in and out and shake it all about, Jimmy.

Just then the sound of voices raised in song came from without. Opening the door they found Punch with a troupe of zombies wearing red hats, and gore-spattered overalls.

Deck the walls with brainz and bodies, they sang, staggering forward with their arms reaching and their limbs flailing. Tis the season to be jolly.

As they advanced, there was a rumbling sound as the coping stone that Mauler had damaged finally became dislodged and slammed down on them.

Mr Punch leapt aside with a squeal. That’s going to put back the schedule on the Burns Emporium, he thought to himself. I’m going to need to find some new zombies….

(To be continued).

At last the last parcels from Amazon had been delivered, so Christmas could begin. Mr Meara clapped his hands and the assembled company sat down to eat. Mistress Janices puddings were ignited and exploded in a display of bright sparks.

The table was straining under the weight of festive food. Mistress Janice had prepared her famous twelve bird roast: a wren within a robin within a jackdaw within a pigeon within a quail within a pheasant within a duck within a goose within a turkey within a swan within an emu within an ostrich. With crunchy bacon bits on top.

There were Christmas Crackers handmade by Squire Jackson each with a joke and its explication.

What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a chimney?
(RJ: This is because Santa is stuck in a chimney, hence claustrophobic)

Why does Santa have three gardens?
So he can 'ho ho ho'!
(RJ: This is suggesting Santa is using a garden tool)

Why did Santa's helper see the doctor?
Because he had a low "elf" esteem.
(RJ: This is a crude joke about a small person)

What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?
A Holly Davidson!
(RJ: A play on words here referring to a well-known make of motorcycle).

What do you call a cat in the desert?
Sandy Claws.
(RJ: Another play on words suggesting a cat is in the desert).

Who delivers presents to cats?
Santa Paws!
(RJ: Cats have paws, so this is suggesting they deliver presents. A bit unlikely, but what do I know?)

What do you call Father Christmas in the beach?
Sandy Clause!
(RJ: I once went to a beach but only found Coral. Hwah hwah!)

What does Santa do with fat elves?
He sends them to an Elf Farm!
(RJ: I don’t have any idea what this means.)

What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck?
A Christmas Quacker!
(RJ: We are having turkey this Christmas.)

The band struck up. Uncle Johnny, you’re so bad, sang Lady Sandra Dashwood, spanking her plank in front of her group, The Donutsh.

Everybody was dancing. Lady Amabel was attempting to limbo under Lord Linwood’s pole. Later they would do the Shag. Brain Parker, a serf from a neighbouring estate was letting it all hang out. Soon the Bow Street Runners would arrive and carry him away for a display of public indecency. Even Mauler was Getting On Down.

Meanwhile a charabanc arrived outside. It might have been from Gateshead or possibly Newcastle, but it contained a variety of stags and hens looking for a night out including lots of Pats giggling and wearing bum-huggers. Mr Meara charged them five pounds a head to join the party. Meanwhile, watching from a under a small holly bush Mr Punch rubbed his hands together. He would be waiting for them when they came to rejoin the coach for the homeward trip. Go Pats, he whispered to himself.

Punch settled down warming his hands on his brazier as Christmas snowflakes tumbled from the skies.
The new zombie Pats were working out very well, although it had been a bit of task to get then to agree to wear hard-hats. And one seemed more interested in building a corral from bits of wire than actually working on the construction site. The bumhuggers were a bit distracting too, especially when they squatted down to urinate prior to collapsing drunkenly in the gutters. He'd also managed to snag a few WAGS as well, but they would need a bit more indoctrination as all they seemed interested in, despite or perhaps because of their brain-dead state, was fucking and shopping.
He picked up the small pile of unopened Christmas Cards and set about opening them and then tossing them into the brazier. There was one from his friend Bruce with a picture of a Cat in a Santa Claus costume on it. Another from someone called Graham was rather rude and ugly. He watched it curl in the flames with a certain sense of satisfaction. There was no card from his friend Ted, and he shook his head sadly. Somehow Christmas without Ted just didn't seem like Christnas.

Lord Jim and Lady Amabel had gone to France leaving a strange thrall in their place. Janice, the under-maid, tried her best to clean it up, but it involved scrubbing, something she obviously wasn’t used to. She simply didn’t have the wardrobe of a scrubber. Some way off in the distance, Punch picked over the remains of an old argument, teasing it through the remains of his decaying teeth. Occasionally he would relapse into a coma and mutter ‘She was right, you know.’ His main client, Mr Bill Burns, was out of the country at the moment, disporting himself in a fabled paradise called Heathrow, where things called planes landed, and things called fans got caught in things called elevators. He hoped he would return soon because the plant was nearly up and operative, and the zombies drastically needed designs for new safari suits. Besides he needed a rest. He had been sitting on his butt doing sod all for at least 65 years. A fat Buddhist had come to call, following up on a complaint about stiff necks. He made copious notes in his notbook which was a special Dell version of a notebook and then went off to look for water. F’rank watched from a distance through an antique telescope, chuckling to himself because he knew there could be no water without a borehole. Still he was glad to have T’ed back even though the old dinosaur seemed to do nothing except mutter about moss these days.

F’rank fiinished off a plate of prawns pickled in wasabi, several dim sum, and Waikiki phlegm parcels, and wiped his lips on his double damask dinner napkin. T’ed appeared trailing a hosepipe disconsolately behind him.

‘Damn hose is stiff and pipe is too flexible,” he muttered.

‘Good news,” said F’rank, 'I have a message from out Intergalactic Recovery Association, contacted through our giant bar-b-que,that an Intergalactic Recovery Association fleet is on the way and is due to land imminently. They have suggested we take as take as many samples of moss as possible as they want to warp it genetically and create a Huge Moss Creature, or a G’reg as they want to call him.'

Even as F’rank spoke a huge flaming meteor, or it might have been a spaceship, zoomed across the horizon and splashed down in the ornamental lake.

Lord Jim and Lady Amabel were back from France and watched the splashdown with interest, even going so far as to interrupt coitus to do so.

There was a bubbling and fizzing from down in the basement laboratory. Mauler emerged with a faint sheen of sweat on his brow brandishing something that looked like a gimp-mask but made of metal.

“Euraka!” he cried. “I have invented a zombie muzzle. This will enable Punch’s zombies to live in peace amongst us without ripping out our throats. And the built in helmet will also prevent us from beating their brains in should we feel any vestigal desire to do so. The leather bits are suede, which also fit in well with Mr Burns’s latest line of safari suits.

F’rank and T’ed went down to meet their intergalactic compatriots. No sooner had they boarded the vast Intergalactic Space Recovery vessel, than it blasted off into outer space.

The ground around Netherfield Hall trembled. Steam rose from the ornamental lake and the water gushed and drained into a huge subterranean cavern revealed beneath it by the blast-off of the spaceship. Squire Jackson organized a party to investigate.

“There is a path down into the cavern,” he said. “And several caves branching off from it which look as if they might lead downwards to the original location of the Old Inthebar Saloon. With luck and a following wind we might all be home by sundown."

In the Old Original ITB Saloon an old man sat at a lonely table. Tumbleweed occasionally blew in and out through the swing doors. He had been there for more years than he cared to remember after moving there from Tecate. Once the Old Saloon had been a happy convivial place, if one discounted the times the Outlaw Old Man staggered in and attempted to shoot the place up. The hairs on the back of his neck suddenly prickled, which confused him since it normally only happened when he was being fellated by a Mexican whore. He turned another page of the novel he was reading, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COME...

Then, holding the last can of cold Tecate in the world, as the flames consumed everything in sight, the camera focused sharply on a child's toy and, very faintly, he mumbled, "Rosebud!"