Monday 31 May 2021

The Crispin Chronicles 6 Just Desserts


by Dawn Knox



Previously: Having managed to hang up his law enforcement officer’s badge, Crispin is hoping for a quiet life. However, Bartrum the Head Gnome wants to throw an impressive dinner party. And who else would be able to ensure its success, than sensible Crispin?


Why does he always pick me?

“I expect you’re wondering why I always pick you, Crispin,” Bartrum said with alarming perception, “it’s because I can rely on you.”

Crispin sighed and took the list Bartrum held out. He considered volunteering for cesspit duty instead of accepting this assignment but there were glooping sounds coming from the putrid water, and Gusty Bob, who was currently on duty, had complained about the stench and the enormous bubbles that rose to the surface with alarming frequency. If Gusty Bob complained about a smell–well, it didn’t bear thinking about.

Crispin sighed again. He knew he was beaten.

“Good, that’s settled then,” said Bartrum, smiling delightedly. “The French Chef arrives today, so you only need kitchen helpers, waiters, security and a band for tomorrow.”


“Indeed,” said Bartrum dismissing Crispin with a wave of his hand.

“It’s imperative Lord and Lady Arscott, Sir Edmond Fairweather and the Honourable Mrs Shaydser-Grey enjoy themselves. Nothing must go wrong. Do you understand? Nothing! You’ll be held personally responsible should any of our esteemed guests have cause for complaint.”


“Band?” No, I don’t know any bands,” said Sylvester, “but if you like, I’ll DJ for you. I’m wicked at mixing and scratching–”

“Thank you, but no. Somehow, I don’t think Bartrum’s guests are into Hippedy Hoppity or whatever it is you call that music. But I’d appreciate it if you could wait at the table.”

Sylvester got up and stood next to the table. “What am I waiting for?”

“I haven’t got time for this!” snapped Crispin, “I’ve got the dinner of the century to organise.”

“Dinner? Why didn’t you say? I’ll round up a few of the chaps to be waiters, Gusty Bob can play any tune you like. If we put him in the begonias and are mindful of prevailing winds, the guests should be safe. And that new Troll pulls some pretty scary faces. He’ll make a good bouncer.”

Crispin collapsed backwards into a chair, his mouth open.

“Sometimes Sylvester, you amaze me. That’s brilliant–”

“But if you change your mind about the DJ,” Sylvester said, swivelling his hat round so it was back to front, “I’m your Elf.”


Against all odds, everything was going smoothly. Sylvester’s friends appeared, suitably attired in black, and once Crispin demonstrated that cutlery needed to be carefully positioned and not dumped in a heap, things started to pick up. Nina the Ninja, insisted on wearing the French maid’s outfit she’d worn to a fancy-dress party. It was similar, although admittedly shorter, skimpier and altogether racier than a waitress’s uniform but she was so keen and she arranged the flowers so beautifully, Crispin said she could stay, hoping he could restrict her to the kitchen once the guests arrived.


There was a deafening crash from the kitchen, rapidly followed by a stream of French invective. Crispin didn’t speak French but judging by the tone and volume, the language had nothing to do with culinary arts and a lot to do with temper.

When he arrived in the kitchen, the chef was standing on a chair, brandishing a meat cleaver.

“Monsieur!” he shouted when he spotted Crispin, “I cannot work in conditions such as zeeze, I need ‘elp zat is ‘elpful. Not zeeze numpties. Zay are not ‘elpful at all.” he waved the cleaver at the startled kitchen aids.

A large Gnome rolled up his sleeves. “I’ll give you ‘numpty’! You jumped up little–"

“See! You are a numpty” the irate chef shouted, leaping from the chair, “I am not jumped up, I am jumped down. And I queet!” He flounced out of the kitchen, thumbing his nose in a Gallic insult that was lost on the kitchen aids.

“Oooh–" said Sylvester.

“Stop!” said Crispin “If you’re thinking of adding “La La” to that “Oooh”, it won’t be funny,”

Several of the younger Gnomes tittered.

Crispin wailed and held his fists to his temples.

“Don’t worry,” said Sylvester, “we’ve got another cook.”

“We have?”

“Frank used to be a cook.”

“Frank?” asked Crispin weakly, wanting Sylvester’s solution to be a real solution and not the craziness he suspected it might be.

“Yes, Frank Fowle, the Troll. He used to be a cook.”

Having seen the unsavoury character guarding the door, Crispin didn’t doubt Frank Fowle knew how to use a knife, but could he handle a fork or spoon?

Fortunately, before the French Chef had flounced, he’d left lobster bisque gently bubbling on the Aga, a peacock that was browning nicely and a splendid chocolate gateau, decorated with enormous whirls of cream which were still wobbling gently after the flamboyant and vigorous exit of the chef.


“What you gawpin’ at?” Frank Fowle asked the kitchen aids with a sniff. He wiped his nose up his sleeve–the entire length of his sleeve.

The kitchen aids were mesmerised.

“What yer bleedin’ waitin’ for? C’mon, we got work to do,” he said and seized a wooden spoon by the bowl.


Crispin couldn’t decide which was most excruciating, watching Frank stir the bisque with the handle of the wooden spoon, the bowl clutched tightly in his ham-sized fist, or Bartrum fawning over the guests. The self-appointed Head Gnome was sporting a rather fine pair of red, velvet trousers and a lacy shirt. Mrs Bartrum was resplendent in orange satin, her hair piled high on her head and she’d even shaved her face for the prestigious occasion.

The guests were equally as colourful and grand, and were happily scoring points, establishing their position in the social pecking order. The Gazebo which had been set up as the dining room sparkled with fairy lights and from somewhere in the begonias, music drifted on the breeze–thankfully, away from the Gazebo. A satisfied Crispin headed back to the kitchen. To his surprise, waiters were loading trays with steaming lobster bisque, ready to take into the dining room. Against all odds, it was all going perfectly. There was only one thing that bothered him. He wished Frank would stop putting his finger up his nose.


Crispin checked his watch. Everything seemed to be going surprisingly well and when he realised he was getting in the way, he hid in the pantry watching the coming and going of the waiters and of Nina, the French maid-waitress, as plates charged high with food left the kitchen and empty dishes returned. It was amazing how fast Frank could organise the courses and staff. Crispin wasn’t sure he actually knew what he was serving, especially when he told the waiters the “lobster beaks” were ready but it all went to the table in the right order and from the laughter in the Gazebo, a good time was being had by all.

It was difficult to see the furthest end of the kitchen from his hiding place in the pantry, but as that was where Frank was working, Crispin was happy with his restricted view. The sight of the Troll with his finger up his nose whilst dolloping food onto plates was more than Crispin could bear. He could, however, see the pile of dirty dishes grow ever taller and he suspected that later, it would be his job to wash them. Frank didn’t seem too concerned about cleanliness. Still, mused Crispin, Frank had saved the dinner.

It was going brilliantly although Crispin couldn’t imagine why Mrs Bartrum was shouting so loudly but since the other guests were laughing and cheering, it was all right. Wasn’t it?

Apparently, it wasn’t. Well, not from Nina’s point of view. She burst into the kitchen hotly pursued by Bartrum wielding a feather duster. The same French maid’s feather duster that Crispin had banned from the dinner. Luckily for Nina, whose stiletto shoes were hampering her escape, Frank was a messy cook. If Bartrum hadn’t been so intent on tickling Nina, he might have avoided the blob of chocolate cake on the floor and he wouldn’t have aquaplaned across the flagstones on a thin film of cream. Crispin watched aghast as Bartrum collided with the Aga, collapsing in a red velvet and lace heap.

“Blimey! Just like a sack o’ spuds,” remarked Frank as he kicked the rest of the cake under the table, “there, that’s better, can’t have people slipping over, can we?”

Crispin rushed to Bartrum’s aid but just as he was wondering at the wisdom of slapping him, there was a piercing scream from the Gazebo. Mrs Bartrum ran into the kitchen, “Murder!” she screamed, “Murder most foul!”

“Fowle? That’s me an’ I ain’t done no murder! It’s all a frogging lie!” said Frank.

“Sylvester, look after Bartrum,” Crispin said, “I’ll find out what’s happened.”

The Honourable Mrs Shaydser-Grey was lying spread-eagled on the floor, her fuchsia pink evening gown smeared with chocolate cake. Lady Arscott crawled out from under the table, fanning herself with a table-mat, Lord Arscott was snoring, his head on the table and Sir Edmond was staggering about the room. “Ah, Crispy, my dear fellow, Mrs Shaydser-Grey seems to be dead. Either that or she’s still in character from Charades.” He stumbled against the table, waking Lord Arscott.

“Fore!” shouted Lord Arscott before slumping into his dessert.

“What happened?” Crispin whispered, not really sure he wanted to know.

“She went down like a sack of Maris Pipers. Or possibly King Edwards. Crispy, dear chap, is there any more of that divine chocolate cake? I’d kill for a slice...” said tiny Sir Edmond, as his knees buckled. Crispin rushed forward just in time to catch his diminutive body.

Just like a sack of Jersey Royals, thought Crispin.


At first light, the Garden was unnaturally quiet. However, Crispin, who’d been up all night, had sorted everything, and everyone out.

Mrs Bartrum’s cries of “Leave my husband alone, you hussy!” had drawn Crispin to the edge of the cesspit and he’d patiently explained to the Head Lady Gnome, who fortunately had only gone in as far as her knees, the glooping sounds were coming from goodness knew where under the surface of the cesspit–and not Nina and Bartrum enjoying a passionate fling. He led her back to her husband, who’d finally regained consciousness and with one hand holding a pack of frozen peas to his forehead and the other pinching his nose, he shepherded his stinking wife home.

When Lord Arscott’s driver arrived, he stoically tucked his employer under one arm, Lady Arscott under the other and carried them to the coach.

“Over-exuberance,” Crispin said, by way of explanation for their dishevelled appearance. I hope, he thought, fearing Frank Fowle had inadvertently poisoned everyone.

“Whatever,” said the driver.

Tiny Sir Edmond had wandered off and was later found half a mile away in the graveyard, by his driver, who took him home.

And to Crispin’s relief, the guest who’d given most cause for concern, Mrs Shaydser-Grey wasn’t dead, just dead drunk and he’d gratefully handed her over to her driver, to take home.

Although everyone had survived and had eventually made it home, the evening had been an unmitigated disaster. It wasn’t his fault Frank had poisoned everyone but Crispin doubted that even Bartrum would dare put Frank on cesspit duty, so Crispin would bear the brunt of the punishment and it would probably involve soap, a toothbrush and the cesspit.

He hurried the black sack to the bins and was surprised how much rubbish was already there. Mrs Bartrum’s orange gown was stained brown, possibly with chocolate cake or possibly not, but obviously now unwearable. A French maid’s outfit and feather duster had also been discarded and to Crispin’s amazement, a mountain of empty drink bottles, six of which he noted, had once contained finest French cognac.

It was Sylvester who explained what had happened, once he’d woken up and had two paracetamol tablets. Frank had apparently added a bottle of cognac to the “lobster beaks” and all the guests had asked for seconds and then thirds. The roast peacock had been served with a delicious cognac sauce which took a further two bottles and the chocolate gateau had been liberally laced with…

“Cognac,” said Crispin sighing, “And I suppose you and the other staff ate the leftovers.”

Sylvester nodded and then winced.


Bartrum summoned a dejected Crispin to his office.

“Excellent evening, Crispin, my dear chap. An absolute triumph,” he said to Crispin’s amazement, “everyone had a wonderful time and have asked when the next dinner will be, so, I’d like to book you for next Tuesday...”




About the author

Dawn’s two previous books in the 'Chronicles Chronicles’ series are The Basilwade Chronicles and The Macaroon Chronicles both published by Chapeltown Publishing.

You can follow her here on
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The Crispin Chronicles

Links to the previous chapters:

Chapter 1 – Her Ladyship’s Garden -

Chapter 2 – The Letter from OFSGAR -

Chapter 3 -The Sweet Smell of Success -

Chapter 4 – A Visit from Peggy the Pram -


Chapter 5 – Nightly Disturbances -




Sunday 30 May 2021

An Unexpected Visitor


by Michelle Adams

breakfast tea from a chipped china tea-cup


The anniversary was always hard. Despite the word conjuring images of joy and celebration, this anniversary was one of sorrow for Emma. Blowing gently to cool the hot tea, Emma took a hesitant sip of her drink, the thin edge of the old china smooth against her lip.   Cradling the cup, she closed her eyes and tilted her head upwards towards the warm May sun that made her cheeks feel rosy. The light breeze caressed her skin, carrying with it the promise of summer. Grief wasn’t for summer and sunny days. Grief was for winter; for the bitter cold, for harsh grey skies and temperatures that turned your bones to ice; for days when the clouds cried with you and the wind howled its grief too.  Five years hadn’t eased the pain she felt at losing her mother, though she was learning to live with the constant ache of missing her. 


                Emma didn’t spend much time outdoors; gardening had never been her thing, and the garden was her mother’s domain. She had loved the spring, the new growth, the air alive with the sound of nature waking up and new life bursting into being wherever you looked. It had become something of a tradition for Emma to take her morning tea outside on the patio, from her mother’s favourite cup. It seemed fitting, the perfect way to remember her.  She forced herself to focus on the good times, the happy times, the days of her childhood, the time before her mother became ill. ‘No good will come of dwelling on the sad times,’ her mother used to say. 


                As she sat in the warm garden, Emma found herself remembering the last time that she’d been outside with her mother.  They’d sat together on a bench where they could appreciate the late spring blooms and the neatly clipped lawns and hedges.  The sweet scent of honeysuckle carried to them across the lawn and mingled with the soft aroma of her mother’s lavender perfume.


                ‘What do you think comes next?’ her mother had asked tentatively, for they’d avoided the subject that loomed imminently. Her mother waited quietly, giving Emma a moment to compose her answer.


                ‘I don’t know,’ she replied honestly. ‘Something, I hope. Something,’ she paused, ‘like this. Peaceful.’  The question had surprised Emma as her mother had always been sceptical about the afterlife, scoffing at notions of heaven and hell. She’d supposed that her mother must finally have been questioning the idea as she came to terms with her mortality.  Emma let her gaze sweep across the landscape, the peaceful and picturesque vista perfect for this type of quiet contemplation, for this place.  She felt her mother’s hand settle across her own,  the older woman’s skin cool and dry, in contrast to her own soft warmth.


                ‘I’ll come back and let you know,’ she suggested, amusement in the idea evident in her tone and in the crinkles that lined her eyes and mouth.


                ‘And have you scare me silly, seeing your ghost pop out of nowhere!’ Emma joined in the joke.


                ‘Don’t be daft, love,’ her mother had replied, suddenly serious, ‘I’ll give you a sign, something only we’d know about.’  They’d lapsed into silence for a  while then, though the air around them filled with birdsong and the distant sound of braying cattle.  Movement at the bird table caught Emma’s eye, and she gently drew her mother’s attention to the new occupant helping itself to the bounty of nuts and seeds. A small red squirrel sat shyly enjoying its breakfast, the evicted blue-tits chattering loudly at its cheek. ‘That’s it!’ she’d declared, ‘I’ll visit you as a red squirrel!’ Emma laughed at her mother’s delight.


                ‘Well, you’ll certainly stand out,’ she said, ‘We don’t see many of them in our village.’


                ‘Exactly,’ her mother had replied, pleased at the idea.


                Emma smiled at the memory, so clear even now.  As she finished her tea, she became aware of a change in the atmosphere of her garden,  an unfamiliar stillness that made her shiver despite the warm day. She looked out across the small space, her gaze settling on the untidy lawn. She gasped, immediate tears welled in her eyes, and her breath caught on the lump that had formed in her throat. Sat calmly on its hind-legs, watching her with its little head tilted to the side inquisitively, was a small red squirrel, its bushy tail standing up behind it like an exclamation mark. Emma froze, not even daring to breathe too deeply. The squirrel took a few cautious steps towards her—one step, then two more. Time seemed to stop as Emma watched, waiting to see what the little creature did next.  A car door slammed in the distance, and the collie at No.2 barked furiously. In an instant, the magic that held them both in place vanished. Emma started and the squirrel, quick and nimble, scurried away through the garden hedge.


                Emma took a steadying breath and forced her shaking hands to still. Did she dare believe what she had seen? Could it be? A soothing blanket of calm enveloped her, and she suddenly felt a lightness she hadn’t realised had been missing. She inhaled deeply and caught the scent of honeysuckle and then lavender, fading quickly. Maybe, she thought. Just maybe.



Saturday 29 May 2021

New Boots


New Boots

By Jenny Falloon

a glass of  white wine


The waiter pours a little white wine into the glass and stands back while Bob takes a sip. He looks too old to be waiting on tables, his apron so long he seems to have no ankles and feet. He winks at her.


The minute Delia looked up from her computer on a cold January morning and saw Bob striding toward her, she knew she was going to sleep with him. Tall, fit, with a shock of brown hair and a Tom Jones smile, he was the finely made male of the species. And with a J.D. from Hastings College of Law, a venerable San Francisco institution – we are told. Delia likes a good mind in a man.


She has a few years on him, and she watches him nod to the waiter with a mixture of lust and maternal affection. She would have skipped dinner out, her Cannelloni. Sex is better on an empty stomach. They could be on the road now in his Porsche, racing across the Golden Gate. It’s been a while.



Hours later, she wakes in the dark in a strange bed. Where am I? she wonders for a moment, thinking of the girl in the Mavis Gallant story, whose parents are inveterate wanderers, and who wakes up every day wondering this.


The window is open slightly. Moonlight penetrates the room.There is a large tree outside, an oak perhaps, dark against the sky. Bob is snoring quietly.


Her skirt and cashmere sweater lie on the floor by her boots – Ferragamo – standing like soldiers at attention. Soundlessly she opens the jar of Nivea on the nightstand and inhales. Summer. Dorset. Bare feet on a wet lawn. Her mother’s voice.


‘I’ve lost an earring.’ She is dressed, everything but the boots. There is a smell of coffee. Hazelnut. She was sure she’d put them on the nightstand. How much wine did she have last night? It will turn up. She fumbles around the pillows. Two glasses? Three? And Drambuie? She is not good with liqueurs.


You’ve lost an earring?’ He stares across the marital bed in disbelief, young and hunky in T-shirt and jeans – she´s never seen him in anything but a suit and tie – his hair damp from the shower. He expects her to be the seasoned adulteress. And she has bee . Till now.


‘It’ll turn up,’ she says, as though this happens routinely. ‘It has to be here somewhere.’ She wiggles an earlobe. ‘It’s silver, like this.’


She pulls back the duvet, looks inside the pink cover, on the floor, under the nightstand. Yes, they’d made love – they’d had sex – but it had all taken place right here. It can’t be far.


Fuck! We’ve got to find it.’ He is panicking now, the brown eyes jittery. He picks up a pillow and shakes it angrily. Then another. A tiny feather floats down. Then he thumps them back against the headboard and gets down on all fours.


Delia does the same with her pillows, gently. She looks on the nightstand again, behind the Nivea, the digital clock. She gets onto her knees. It must be somewhere.


And there it is! What a relief! Wedged up against the skirting board. How did it get there?


‘Thank God!’ He puts his hand to his forehead, shaken. ‘I’ll pour you some coffee.’ He heads into the kitchen. ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’


Every day now, in the office, they will be reminded of this.


She brushes her hair and looks out at the tree. What a mess. Last night had been lighthearted, reckless, a one-night stand, and they both knew it. Now, all he wants is to get her out of here. If he could fire her from a cannon, and she were to float like a projectile from Marin to Berkeley, he would. Then into the garden, clipping the box hedge when Rose pulls up in the Subaru, Josh in the carseat, banging his pudgy little legs, anxious to see Papa.


Let’s get this show on the road. It was something her father used to say. That  hectoring male voice. She was a dreamy child, always mulling things over in a vast grey interior, never quite ready when doors needed shutting, bags packed, sandwiches made.


He brings her coffee in a small mug with a floral pattern. Once again, she has missed the point somehow, not been paying attention. She feels an old bitterness, something she cannot name. She pulls on her boots, the smell of new leather comforting.


The sun slants across the duvet. She pictures Rose unpacking in this room, hanging up a dress, arranging her brush and comb on the dresser.


She walks over to his side of the bed. She removes an earring, pulls the duvet back, and places it on his pillow, where he will not miss it. Then she walks into the living room, her boots resounding on the shiny wooden floor, grabs her coat and bag off the couch, and follows him out to the car.


‘You’re not wearing them!’ He says, as they drive off. ‘After all that!’


‘I only wear those earrings at night.’ She smiles. ‘On special occasions.’ He laughs and pats her on the knee.



At work on Monday, Lorraine looks at her over her espresso, stunning in a cream silk blouse that sets off her dark skin, the thick black hair.


‘How did you and Bob get on last Friday? Did you work late?


‘Yes.’She pauses. ‘He took me out to dinner. Adolph’s. In North Beach.’

Hmmm.’ Raised eyebrows. ‘Pretty nice.’


‘I spent the night with him.’


‘Oh well. I could see that coming. He’s been eyeing you since he got here. Where was the wife?’ A pause. ‘Or was she part of this event?’


‘In San Jose, with the son and the mother.’


‘I see.’ She glances around the office. ‘This could get mucky.’ A hint of reprimand.


‘Don’t worry,’ Delia says. ‘It won’t happen again.’


About the author

Jenny Falloon has lived in Canada, the US, The West Indies, England and Spain. Since retirement, she has won prizes for short stories in the U3A Javea and Xabia Book Circle and been published in The Writing Disorder and Belle Ombre. She writes political satires, flash fiction, and short stories.