Christian McCulloch – Cryptic Clue


‘The Glow – Or A Gin’

Note, dear Reader, the answer to the clue is ‘WOOLGATHERING’ which is what Albert is doing waiting for the pub to open. The story doesn’t go anywhere, there again neither does Albert. Eavesdropping is a special pleasure for some of us, right? (Manfred)

‘What’s the blooming word! You know, when you just sit there and let thoughts gather inside your head and you don’t bother to ask yourself why and what for… sort of cobwebs out of nowhere; gypsy words?’

Albert is sitting on a bench donated by Alderman & Mrs. Every behind St Anne’s church talking to himself. He keels to starboard like old Manfred when he wanted to fart and he takes out his notebook from his back pocket. After unbuttoning his heavy overcoat and unzipping his fleece, Albert produces a pen and writes, Gypsy Words. He likes the sound of them and thinks he’ll find a place somewhere for them in his new story when he gets to The Pelham Arms where he likes to pass his afternoons scribbling with a couple of G & T’s. He wouldn’t be sitting in the sunshine now but the pub isn’t open yet. He’s glad that he is; a pleasant change and a chance to forget the short, impersonal email telling him that his last story has been rejected and the Council are threatening to send someone round to discuss his financial affairs so they can come to a monthly payment agreement.

‘Sod them!’ If Albert can muster his imagination, there won’t be room to worry about Council Tax and rejections.

Albert scribbles the names on the memorial bench into his notebook enclosing the two names with inverted commas to make them appear to be a title; ‘Alderman And Mrs. Every’. Albert thinks Alderman would make a fine name for a protagonist, a gardener, perhaps. Mrs. Every would be the Lady of the Manor. They’ll have a torrid affair while Lord Every is away on business overseeing his business interests up North, buying and selling raw materials for the textile industry.

As Albert entertains the idea of Mrs. Every (should she be Jane? Sarah? Constance?), he looks across the cemetery with its ancient gravestones listing drunkenly to one side. Albert thinks of old Manfred and his flatulence in the Common Room.

‘Silly old fart… should have worn a thicker coat,’ he says out loud. ‘I always wondered which of us would end up in the bone yard first?’

There is a completed office block beyond the graveyard hedge. The builders have yet to strike the scaffolding and roll up the blue safety netting that looks like shrouds gently waving in the early spring breeze.

Cemetery? Such a nicer word than graveyard; more dignified, less synonymous with a Hammer House of Horror plot. Albert writes Bone yard in his notebook.

He finds himself in Dickensian times with cobblestones, a full moon and the clip-clop of a horse-drawn Hansom cab hastily fleeing from the scene and the murdered body of the ‘prossie’, Betsy – no, Virginia Every… formerly the wife of the cuckold Lord Henry of Every Hall (make tha  Manor… because he didn’t have any… manners!)… unscrupulous reprobate! Villainous rogue! Owner of a dozen Yorkshire mills! Albert is weaving his yarn.

Albert wants a cigarette. He knows he shouldn’t. ‘In the trenches we called them gaspers, didn’t we old friend?

‘…Corporal Alderman Every, Cannon-Fodder First Class, reporting for duty, Sir!’ he says aloud.

‘A lot of us got our heads blown off that day, didn’t we, Chum?’ Albert wonders if the No Smoking rules apply in the Final Resting Place Of The Dear Departed. ‘Guess not,’ he says, counting the dog-ends, butts and roaches around the bench.

‘The hypocrisy of the tobacco companies! They tell you their product will kill you, contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer, kills your unborn, makes you impotent – that is, of course, if you can get your pecker up in the first place… but they don’t stop making them, do they!’ Albert slaps his pockets for a lighter.

‘None of you lot got smoked like that mountain tribe in Papua New Guinea who preserved their ancestors with smoke, did you! They planted you to push up the daisies.’

Lady Daisy Every, Albert writes in his notebook but crosses it out. Too many of his heroines are called Daisy and not one has passed the publishers’ last post. His stories are dead in the water – joined the Great Library In The Sky… The Invisible Home of The Bibliophile… Albert derails that line of thought. He thinks he sounds like John Cleese in the Parrot Sketch.

Albert pulls out the flier from the Liberal Democrats that was pushed under his door this morning.


Philip is fighting Conservative neglect!

Philip is working to better maintain our roads!

Philip is campaigning to officially oppose the Conservatives!

‘Great! Good for Philip! The church grounds need someone to stem the neglect, fill in the holes and reduce the split infinitives!

Since Manfred became a Bone-A-Friday voter, as he called himself, he wanted to know as a LIBERAL homophobe, could he take the piss out of queers without Matron slapping him?

‘At 83, old cock, you can say what you like, darling’ says Albert. ‘Half the buggers in here didn’t make it past 40! Philip says you should be worrying about potholes, bad pavements, faulty street lights, missing street signs and dog fouling – or is it foul dogging?’

Albert wonders what Manfred would make of the inscriptions on many tombstones.


‘You’ve got to be careful about falling asleep,’ Albert says aloud and means it.

It’s not the age or the shape of the headstones that creates an imprint on Albert, it’s the size of the children’s graves that leaves an impression. Albert looks around and realises that he is standing in the Children’s Corner. He feels like Gulliver in Lilliput.

‘Jonathan Swift was a clergyman,’ he tells Robin ‘Our Little Mite’. ‘He only wrote the story, Gulliver’s Travels, to piss the world off not to change it. And the most important matter to the Council was which end of an egg a person should crack – not much change in their sense of priorities, eh kids?’

Two squirrels chase each other along a dead branch. Albert wonders which is Alderman and which is Lady Constance Every.

‘Poor old Gulliver was finally charged with treason,’ he tells the children, knowing that they will laugh when he tells them that Gulliver was charged with ‘Making Water’.

‘He was pissing on a burning building to put out the flames at the time! Grown-ups are still as strange today as they were in your times, little ‘uns!’

Albert realises that he needs the toilet after all this talk of making water. He guesses the pub must be open by now.

As Albert passes under the lychgate, he remembers the word for which he was searching. Hypothermia! No! That was what they said Manfred had died of after he’d had a skinful at The Pelham Arms and had gone into St Anne’s churchyard to sleep it off and commit treason but he’d been caught in a cold snap and fallen asleep next to one of the concrete altar tombs in the cemetery. They’d found him keeling to starboard in Lilliput Corner.

Albert misses Manfred. Ha! He was such a wool-gatherer!

‘That’s it!’ shouts Albert.

‘That’s what?’ asks the barman.

‘Wool-gathering!’ declares Albert.

‘Answer to a crossword clue, is it? Will that be a single or a double gin, Squire?’

‘You can call me, Alderman, if you like.’

‘There you go, Alderman. Will that be cash or shall I start a tab?’

It’s a good thing to know that some things never change, thinks Albert, taking out his notebook and slapping his pockets for the pen he’s left on the cemetery bench. It won’t be long until he goes back to it.

“Sometimes what almost happens but doesn’t, shapes us as much as what actually happens.” – Serena Pichou


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About the Author

Christian McCulloch is a prolific British writer with a colourful background. He’s been an International teacher in the British West Indies, Singapore (Headmaster), Japan, and Hong Kong, and also spent ten years working in Special Needs in the UK. Now a full-time writer, Christian has written ten novels, 12 novellas, and many short stories. Last year, Christian’s short stories found publication in various modest but worthy magazines (Wordgathering, Rejected Manuscripts, Hip Pocket Press, Mysterious Suspense Stories, Rainfall Records, Red Planet, Piker Press, Flash Fiction Mag., Bangalore Review, Storgy Press, Scribble, 101 words, Outlaw Magazine, Sisyphus, Dream Catcher, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Saint Augustine’s Magazine). Christian was a Runner-Up for the KIRROUGHTREE HOUSE LITERARY AWARD.