Dennis. Yep, that’s my name. Dennis; beagle-hound extraordinaire and proud warrior of the road, at your service. That’s me, right up front with the wind tossing my ears, stalwartly leading the way as usual. Of course my hat and scarf are more a muddy grey-brown these days rather than their original vivid colours, but such are the signs of a true road warrior. My being lashed up here in all weathers is bound to have an effect. My job is vital, however. Without me cable-tied to the front of their dustcart the team’s morale would soon plummet, and they’d be constantly dropping rubbish all over the road. I’m the essential glue that holds them together, really. So essential that the bin lorry even has my name in huge silver letters across the front. Quite how the team coped before they found me I just can’t imagine. Of course, before they managed to free me and adopted me I wasn’t called Dennis. Back then I was called …
Please No Duvets. Yes, yes, I know. It was a ridiculous name. You see, I’ve always tried to conduct myself according to what Mr. Kaczmarek said all those years ago, and that sign stuck to the side of the recycling skip was the only thing nearby that had words on it. So ‘Please No Duvets’ I became. I wasn’t there long, luckily, for it was a place of endless tedium and discomfort. It stank, for one thing. Inside the skip flies and other unseen crawly things moved over my bottom, and outside my face gazed out over a tedious dirt car park. The worst part was when people said bad words at me for blocking the opening and they had to throw their unwanted detritus onto an ever-growing pile on the ground. Some folk tried to pull me out, but Gwynedd, as angry as a thunder sky, had jammed me in there as tightly as the stuffing in my paws. In her incandescent rage, she had lost any love that she once had for her cuddly …
Bythie. Apparently Gwynedd’s name for me was short for ‘bytheiad’, which she had told Huw meant ‘hound’. This had been the second time that a human had named me, and I rather liked it. Life with Gwynedd and Huw was joyful. They loved and laughed together constantly in their little house on the hill, or at least they had until that last day when Huw had loved and laughed with Mrs. Probert from the corner shop instead. When Gwynedd found them together in the narrow bed everything cracked apart. I was devastated. I had held such a special place in their now-shattered hearts, having been part of their first evening together when they met at the fair. Huw had won despite all of Mr. Llewellyn’s sneaky tricks, such as weighting the hoops differently, and when he asked a delighted Gwynedd which prize she wanted she said “Can I have the ci hyll, please?” She had kissed Huw and he had kissed her back. Their future together seemed so bright when I first saw them, back when my name was …
Hoopla. In those days I dangled by my ears from a string at the back of the gaudy, flashy stall. Fairground music played every night and coloured lights dazzled my glass eyes. I looked down on an endless stream of people happy to give Mr. Llewellyn a pound for the chance to fling his oddly-weighted hoops at stubby candy-striped wooden pegs. Very few people managed to get even one hoop over a peg, still fewer two. I was a three-hoop prize, there more for decoration than for winning. The occasional person who did somehow manage to ring three pegs never wanted the ugly dog in the bright hat, and would choose a fairy or amusing hat instead. It had been just the same before Mr. Llewellyn found me, too. No-one wanted me then either, and I was stuffed into a wicker basket, half-forgotten, until that fateful day when I heard Mr. Llewellyn say “Got any cheap stuffed toys?”
“In the basket, cariad,” the shop-woman said, and I felt large hands rummaging through and around me before lifting me out into the light.
“You’ll do, boyo,” Mr. Llewelyn nodded, paying twenty pence for me and fifty for a fairy that he also pulled from the bric-a-brac in the basket. That was the moment my name changed from …
Oxfam, I’m pleased to say. Oh, I loved my life in the odd little shop full of people’s cast-away treasures. There was plenty of time for people-watching from my high shelf above the books, and on the whole the customers were kind people. My name had to be ‘Oxfam’, of course, even though to my mind it was an ugly name with its spiky ‘X’. The word was written all around me, and had even been painted in enormous letters above the door when Emily’s mum had brought me here. I had been so nervous at what to expect as she had carried me through the door. Emily’s mum had told the shop-woman that Emily had gone away to learn how to be something called a lawyer, and so she was taking the chance to have a bit of a clear out. That day was a tremendous shock to my system, I can tell you, after years of being …
Cuggly. Years of being hugged, years of being loved, years of having the bobble on my hat sucked by Emily when she was very young and very tired. Oh my, we had such a wonderful life together. We had tea-parties on the carpet in the front room. When she went off to school I was always there to welcome her home. When she cried because Danny Potts had ignored her, I was there to comfort her. I sat on her desk during exams, bringing her the luck that helped her to get into university. So many long years of friendship and love since that long-ago day that she had pointed at me in the toy shop and said “Cuggly!”
“Are you sure?” her mum asked, “There are far prettier cuddlies.”
“Cuggly!” Emily had insisted, and so I became hers, leaving behind my life as …
Ten shillings. There were four or five of us sitting above the sign that said that. We were surrounded by bright notices and shiny cellophane-wrapped boxes of vivid colour that contained new toys. The laughter of happy smiling children rang around the shop, competing with the musical box tinklings of ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’ emerging from the display on the shelf below us. This gaudy, noisy world fascinated me. Its entertainment value had been apparent immediately I had arrived, and it helped me to get over the initial shock I had felt when I was taken out of the dark, stifling box after hours of being thrown around and jostled. The happy, lively toy shop lifted my spirits, easing my transition from my previous existence as …
Wyjście pożarowe. That was my name when I was born. Those words in white letters on a green sign were my first sight as my eyes were stitched into place. I was passed from hand to gnarled hand, having my head stuffed, my paws sewn on and my tail attached. Mr. Kaczmarek spread glue liberally around my head. Ever the poet, as he stuck the gaudy hat permanently to my scalp he said the words that have stuck with me through all of my eight lives.
“It is odd to think,” he mused, “how all of these identical fabrications of cloth and glass will eventually end up with different names depending each upon their circumstance. People, and I daresay even places themselves, will name them and give them character.” He looked straight into my glass eyes.
“I wonder what your name will be?”
NOTE: In the UK and across Europe, many/most dustcarts are made by Dennis Eagle, and have DENNIS writ large across the front. See here http://www.dennis-eagle.co.uk/
A short story for @Crowmogh, who introduced me to the legend of the Owlman, & for @MrsTrevithick, for being the inspiration for, well, Mrs. Trevithick. The illustration is a drawing by someone who claimed to have seen the Owlman in 1976.
The sound was a howl of ancient evil; the despairing moan of an old, dying race.
“Th’piskies are abroad,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She frowned at the empty cup before her, as the noise rose and fell, like the ghost of a long-dead smuggler.
“It’s only that warped window,” Kirsten said. “It whistles that way when the wind is coming straight in off the sea. Pour yourself a cup of tea. I’ll just get some sticky tape and close the gap.”
“Thank ‘ee,” said Mrs. Trevithick. She poured tea from the warm pot into the floral cup on the small table at her side. “You might want to try blue tack.”
“Good idea. The tape does leave horrible marks.”
“Of course, stopping th’hole won’t keep pobol vean out. They have ways.”
“It’s not the little people I worry about.”
“You should. Kernow is special. There are secrets here that no-one can fathom. And while humans go about their little lives, so sure that this world belongs to them, shadowed creatures of legend are hiding in plain sight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Kirsten said, taking a ball of blue tack from the bureau. She moulded it between her fingers, softening it with her warmth. “Last week I went to Gwennap Pit. A troubled place, I felt. There was a whole pig’s leg left out on the stones. I’ve felt … haunted, ever since.”
“How do you mean, dear?” Mrs. Trevithick sipped from her cup and twisted her mouth.
“I don’t know – certainly I’ve had nothing but bad luck since then. It’s…” she looked at Mrs. Trevithick, who gave her a small nod of encouragement. “It’s as if an ancient malevolence was dogging me. So yes, I do believe, somewhere in the core of me, that there is true magic here – but the little people don’t concern me.”
Mrs. Trevithick allowed unswallowed tea to dribble back from her mouth into the cup. “No?” she said.
Kirsten pushed the putty into the warped window frame. Outside, the leafless oak swayed like a skeleton scratched onto the furious sky by some dark god. Behind the tree, the slate sea was veined by froth whipped up by the same wind that was making her window cry.
“No,” she said. “The thing that puts the willies up me is a much larger creature indeed.”
“Jan Tregeagle, th’howling demon?”
Kirsten shook her head as she stood up. Her efforts had made little difference to the banshee-howl from her window. Behind her Mrs. Trevithick emptied her cup into the pot-plant on the table.
“As far as I know,” Kirsten said, “Jan Tregeagle doesn’t kill folk so much as play tricks on them. No, the creature that terrifies me is said to live close by where we met today.”
“Indeed. It is a pretty village, but I’m gripped with fear whenever I pass the church. Do you know the story of the Owlman?”
“A monstrous owl-like creature, the size of a man, with clawed wings, dark and ragged. Its eyes glow red even in the golden light of a Cornish afternoon. Its legs and body are as a human’s, though swathed in feathers the colour of charcoal, and its beak is cruelly curved, as are the claws that adorn its feet. They do say as it carries people off in those mighty talons.”
“Off to where, though? And what becomes of them?” Kirsten drew in a shaky breath.
“Legend do say the Owlman carries its prey to the top of th’church tower, where it eats their faces, so it can mimic their appearance and walk amongst us.”
Kirsten shuddered and poured herself a cup of tea. “Above the church porch it says ‘Da thymi nesse the Dhu’,” she said.
“It is good to draw nigh to th’Lord,” Mrs. Trevithick said.
“Yes. Does that sound a bit like a threat to you? Sort of implying that death will find you soon, and you were a fool to go anywhere near the place?”
“Well, now, I thought ‘ee looked a little shaky, dear. No wonder, if you’ve been having those kinds of thoughts.”
“Is there any prospect so unnerving as becoming the very thing that terrifies you?” Kirsten said. “I was proper shook up today. Thank you for walking home with me. I appreciated the company.”
“Oh, the Owlman is quite the other way round, dear,” Mrs. Trevithick said. “In his case, he – th’thing that terrifies – becomes you.”
Mrs. Trevithick stood. Her body seemed to undulate and shake. Kirsten rubbed her eyes.
“You just, well, die,” Mrs. Trevithick continued. “I mean, if you’ve had your face eaten off, that’s going to happen, ent it?”
Mrs’ Trevithick lifted her arms, and they became wings, clawed, dark and ragged. Her eyes widened and glowed red. Her tweed skirt and silk blouse shifted and became instead charcoal-coloured feathers.
“Legend do not say what the Owlman does with th’corpses he collects, but I see no reason not to tell ‘ee now. I eats ’em, bones and all. I reckon you’ll last about a week.”
Mrs. Trevithick’s face was gone, the transformation complete, the beak in the now-feathered owl face was cruelly curved, as were the claws that protruded from the creature’s feet.
Kirsten finally broke out of her horrified stupor and scrambled towards the door. The Owlman descended upon her, tearing and ripping at her flesh, and gripped her in its sharp claws. It smashed through lamenting window, and rose into the grey sky towards Mawnan Smith. Kirsten’s last sight was of her life pouring from her and tumbling like red rain to the distant earth.
Disturbing yuletide tales for grown-ups. The perfect stocking filler for the reader in your life. Available on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1076599419
Pop your chestnuts on an open fire, me hearties, it’s time for #TWANTA2019 to shove another tree up another fairy’s frock and display its shiny balls for the tenth year in succession. For the uninitiated, those taking part in Twanta send a cheap but fun Christmas gift to someone that I nominate, possibly a complete stranger, and in return they receive a similar pressie from someone else. Those who send the gifts can choose to remain anonymous, hence “TWANTA” – TWitter secret sANTA, see? As usual I’ll link you here to the blog post from @davidtims which beautifully sums up the spirit of Twanta.
FOR NOW, JUST TELL ME IF YOU WANT TO TAKE PART so that I can add you to the Twantathonix19 master computer here at Twanta Towers.
I’ll give people a few weeks to join, and shortly after that (probably around the end of October) you’ll receive the name of your Twantee. Old hands of Twanta will know all the following already, but for any newcomers here’s a summary of how the whole thing works. Terms and conditions apply. Steep hills may go down as well as up.
You must have specifically asked @twanta_hohoho (or @wombat37, the puppetmaster) to take part, and I must have confirmed that you’re accepted before you can join in. I reserve the right to reject anyone that I suspect of being dodgy – this is due to a slight wobble in the past when some git refused to actually send a present once they’d received theirs. If you are unknown to me, you can still join in and be welcomed enthusiastically, but I may ask you to post a selfie of yourself raising your right hand and swearing fealty to the Twanta Code.
Make sure you follow @twanta_hohoho on Twitter. He will follow you back (it’s me really, but don’t tell the little tweeters. Let’s not spoil the magic, eh?). DM your address to him so that he can pass it on to your own Secret Twanta when everyone is linked up. I do remember some of your addresses from last year, but once #Twanta2019 is over I will delete the addresses of those who ask.
Tell me if there are any mortal enemies that you don’t want to be linked with. We don’t want to be responsible for any “incidents”. You can also make other special requests (e.g. if you’re allergic to chocolate, or perhaps you don’t want to post anything to a different country). We are a benign Twanta, and will accept all reasonable requests.
Very occasionally things go awry, and when that happens Twanta Fairies step in to send a gift at short notice. Please, therefore, also let us know if you would be happy to be a volunteer Fairy, should any be required (though that’s only rarely necessary).
Once @twanta_hohoho has everyone’s address, he’ll DM you to let you know to whom (grammar) you should send a gift, together with their address. You might want to spend a little while researching the recipient’s timeline to find out a little bit about them. Yes, that’s a bit stalkery, but you’ll be able to make your gift more personalised that way.
Buy a pressie for your twantee (as the recipients have somehow come to be known) and send it to them. Mark the envelope #TWANTA so they know what it is. Let @twanta_hohoho know that you’ve posted it (so I can keep track in case anything goes missing). It’s entirely up to you whether you remain anonymous or expose yourself *snigger*.
You should not spend a fortune. Small, fun and imaginative is the rule of thumb, but don’t send an actual thumb. That would be hideous. I recommend spending no more than a tenner, though in the end, of course, it’s up to you. The photographs accompanying this post are of some previous gifts, should you need inspiration.
When you receive your own #TWANTA pressie, again let @twanta_hohoho know. Challenge yourself to wait until Christmas Eve or Day to open the thing. Harness your willpower, young warrior.
When your willpower fails, take a photo of your gift ready to post to Twitter on Christmas Day. Post it then including the hashtag #TWANTA2019, so that we can all follow the fun, and I’ll reveal each person’s gift-giver, unless specifically asked not to.
Don’t worry – I know this seems a lot, but I’ll hold all your hands throughout. Have fun, and, if it all goes tits up, remember that it was originally all the idea of that @captain_doodle, and have a go at him. Not me, oh no, leave me alone.
New to Twanta this year? Having trouble separating your twanta from your twantee? Completed your trifecta yet? Got no bloody idea what I’m talking about? Then this section will save you from social embarrassment akin to leaving the public loos with your skirt tucked into the back of your knickers. As actually happened to me once, but that’s a tale for another time.
TWANTA – this word has two meanings. Firstly it is the all-encompassing name for the whole cosy event itself, although usually with the relevant year attached to its arse (eg #TWANTA2019). Secondly, the Twanta is the person sending a gift. It is the Twanta’s own choice whether or not to remain secret.
TWANTEE – the person receiving said gift, with a smile and a song and possibly other things beginning with ‘S’.
TWANTADOR – general term for anyone taking part, bless their little cotton reindeer socks.
TRIFECTA – the magic three milestones achieved by a TWANTADOR who has (1) sent a gift, (2) learned that it has arrived, and (3) received their own.
TWUMBUG – a dirty rapscallion who fails to send a gift as promised. Also known as a twat.
FAIRY – a good-hearted TWANTADOR who volunteers to step in and provide a gift at short notice for anyone who falls victim to a TWUMBUG.
TWANTAVERSE – every bloody thing to do with Twanta. Constantly expanding.
EPISTLETOE – a hand-written letter included with the gift to add a virtual Christmas kiss and a personal touch. Not to be confused with camel toe, which is something entirely different.
Since #BuryFC got thrown out of the league an unexpected thing has happened – I’ve lost interest in football altogether. I’d imagined that after a week or two I’d maybe pop along to Accy, or maybe Rochdale, just to watch a match – but I just don’t care any more. I used to look forward to the EFL highlights on Saturday evening, but now even Colin Murray has lost his allure.
I don’t even look at the results any longer, and I have no idea who tops any table, or languishes at the bottom. It’s as if football itself has kicked me right in the bollocks and my mind has just gone “Well fuck you, then”. I hope my love of the game returns when (if) The Shakers do, but for now it seems that I was a Bury fan more than a football fan.
What are those five stages of grief again? Oh yes, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and being kicked in the bollocks by football.
My recent heart scare gave me a worrying few days in an environment full of beeps and scurry. I’m chuffed to be back home & healthy, but still, there are a few things I miss from those few days.
1. The tea and toast trolley at 9.30pm.
2. Ticking the lunch and supper lists at breakfast.
3. Lounging about in a robe all day.
4. Seriously tasty chickpea curry.
5. The friendly professionalism of doctors and nurses.
6. Hiding from the world & seeing no news.
7. Mid-day naps.
8. A nurse applying arse ointment.
My beloved Shakers are dead, after 134 years, killed by a succession of stupid men, greedy men, and finally one downright immoral, bullying, despicable, arrogant parasite. Also culpable in the ‘murder’ is the ineffectual English Football League itself, who allowed such chancers to take over without having to undergo the EFL’s much-vaunted “Fit & Proper Person” tests. Others will examine the obscene imbalance of finances in English football that is at the root of all this. Here, I just want to put down a few words about what Bury FC have meant to me.
My first visit to Gigg Lane was in 1971, back when I was a young Rotherham fan. We stood on the Manny Road End and watched The Millers steal the points with a 1-0 victory. Years later I moved across The Pennines, saw the light and became a Shakers regular. I’ve watched the first team, youth players, and the women play at Gigg Lane. I’ve watched England Under-18s there. Over the decades I’ve watched games from every stand, but my true home was row G in the South Stand. In later years the seat next to me was home to my daughter; Gigg Lane was a refuge, a haven where for two hours we could laugh and shout and sing and connect with the community, and with each other. It was a place where we could forget the cruel vicissitudes of the outside world. I feel I should apologise to my daughter for infecting her with a love for a club that has now died after one of its finest post-war showings. In this last season the old ground has been home to the best football I’ve ever seen from a Bury side. Inspired by a charismatic manager, the spirit from players and staff was incredible, and the football a delight for the eyes and heart.
In its time of dying, Gigg Lane experienced the community of football at its absolute best. In the hope of the next game going ahead, hundreds of fans gathered at the old ground to give it a much-needed clean after a summer of neglect. Not only Bury fans turned up – supporters of other clubs came to help too in a heart-warming demonstration of the true football community coming together. Accrington, Huddersfield, Leeds, Portsmouth, Torquay, Blackpool supporters were among them, as were a number of Bolton fans, their own club also under a 5pm deadline for survival.
My Shakers memories will persist, of course. Forever in my head, with a thousand other visions, will be Efe Sodje’s mighty headers, Lowey’s late goal at Chesterfield, two nights of promotion at Tranmere, and Leon Barnett (playing for Wigan then) falling over the hoarding at Gigg. I’ll remember the crowd cheering Joe Murphy’s kids ‘scoring’ at the Manny Road end after one game. I’ll remember Schuey and Giles Coke arguing about who would take a penalty. I’ll remember Danny Mayor moving like a ghost, and I’ll remember Nicky Adams laughing his head off at Danny’s bloody nose. I’ll remember Joe Riley’s screamer at Bramhall Lane, Leon Clarke’s walk-in at Doncaster, Nicky Maynard’s overhead kick against Mansfield. I’ll remember the supporters, too – Beardy Martin, the two foul-mouthed old ladies who sat nearby, the witty lads who sat behind us, South Stand Shorts Guy, the tattooed stranger I danced with at Tranmere, and the singing section’s remarkable rendition of ‘Anarchy in the UK’.
And I’ll remember Ryan Lowe, his goals, his good humour, and the wonderfully exciting football he got us playing as manager in our final season. A Scouser who became a Bury legend – good luck to him at Plymouth, and to the remarkable players of the 2018/19 squad, wherever they find themselves. Thanks for the memories, everyone. My heart is broken.