The Prize of the Cat: Wooof’s missing pony from 1979!


A TVTA Short Story Mystery Special !! 


WHSmith Pony competition Look-In N°15 1979 UK


Our intrepid office cat Wooof reckons that in 1979 he won a pony in a W.H. Smith ‘outdoors’ competition, and that W.H. Smith cheated him out of his prize by deliberately misplacing ‘Bess’ at the Bull Ring Shopping Centre in Birmingham, England (Wooof told me he had already named the pony ‘Bess’ even before the ink had dried on his entry form, such was his confidence in winning!).

“I vote we crank up the TVTA time machine and go back to 1979 Birmingham to find out what happened,” said Wooof.

“Right now?” I replied. “I haven’t finished scanning those vintage egg-cosy knitwear patterns Mrs Coldkettle the tea lady donated.”

“Forget fashion accessories for boiled eggs,” said the cat. “We need to find Bess!”

CUT TO:


** TEN MINUTES LATER ** DIAL SET TO 1979, BIRMINGHAM BULL RING SHOPPING CENTRE ** SOUNDS OF TVTA TIME MACHINE WARP-WHOOSHING!! **


1979!!!

Crivens! Wooof and I arrived in 1979 Birmingham to absolute mayhem… flipping dinosaurs everywhere!! Funny, I don’t remember dinosaurs being around in 1979 in the West Midlands… Gah! Worse was that one of the vicious beasts, a T-Rex no less, had captured our missing nag and was about to make a pony sandwich out of her! Poor Bess!

“NOOOOOOooooooo!!!!” cried Wooof.

“It’s okay Wooof,” I said. “I don’t think that’s actually Bess in the jaws of that mad dinosaur… look closely… the poor creature is a fully-grown horse… whereas Bess is a mere pony and has WHSmith gift tags attached her!”

“Thank goodness for that!” said Wooof. “So, tell me, if the dinosaur doesn’t have Bess, who does?”

“A simple process of elimination will have us arriving at a satisfactory answer in no time at all,” I replied.

“I’m all ears,” said Wooof. “Who’s the culprit?”

Elvis Costello!”

Wooof frowned. “No way. Elvis Costello would never stoop so low as to rustle a pony!”

“Alright, fine, if not Elvis, how about the TV versions of Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk?”

“That’s just sick!” said the cat. “Superheroes are sworn to protect all ponies!”

“Even the TV superhero ones?”

“TV ones especially! There was no one else to look up to back in their day.”

“Maybe TV Hulk accidently stepped on Bess?”

“Are you serious?”

“Sometimes.”

“Next you’ll be accusing Captain Kirk!”

“Don’t be daft,” I said. “But maybe, just maybe… Spock has Bess!”

“Spock doesn’t have Bess,” sighed Wooof.

“Monkey?”

“Gahhhh! No,” said Wooof.

“Wonder Woman then?” said I.

“!!#!@!!! No!!!” cried the cat. This process of elimination is going to take ages!”


** SEVEN AND A HALF HOURS LATER **


Finally… I came up with a good solution to our dilemma…

“How about I call Spaceline?” I said.

“What in the name of holy cat biscuits is Spaceline?”

“It’s a recorded information line in 1984 that sometimes deals with time travel issues. All we have to do to access it is travel to 1984.”

“Well what are we waiting for!” said the cat, “Let’s hit 1984!”

CUT TO:


** DIAL SET FOR 1984 ** SEATBELTS FASTENED ** POWER FROCK SHOULDER PADS IN POSITION ** DURAN DURAN CASSETTES INSERTED INTO SONY WALKMANS ** SOUNDS OF TVTA TIME MACHINE WARP-WHOOSHING!! **


Wooof and I arrived in 1984 quicker than you can say ‘Big Brother is washing your Mullet.’ After several attempts we managed to locate a working red telephone box, and Wooof dropped a 10 Pence coin into the slot while I dialled the number on my print advert. We waited. Beep. Beep. Beep. ‘The time sponsored by Accurist is…’

Oops, wrong number. Try again…

We were eventually connected to a well-spoken female robot, and she said to us: “Welcome to Spaceline. You are speaking to Trinity9. How may I be of assistance?”

“We’re looking for my prize pony,” said Wooof. “Her name’s Bess…”  and he went on to explain the whole sorry story down the phoneline to Trinity9.

“I see,” said Trinity9. “So… you believe you were cheated out of a 1979 first prize pony by the competition organiser, and you suspect that this pony, who you named ‘Bess’, is currently located somewhere in a shopping centre in 1979 Birmingham, England?”

“Absotiffily!” said Wooof.”

“Liar!” said Trinity9, making Wooof jump. “There is no way you could have entered that competition in 1979… you weren’t even born!”

“I resent that undeniable fact!” said Wooof.

“He’s actually sixty-one in cat years,” I said.

“Your office cat is a big cheater!” said Trinity9.

“How dare you call me a cheetah!” exclaimed Wooof. ‘I’m a mixed breed Domestic Panther Tabby Green Nikto, if you must know!”

“He’s cross,” I said.

“I’m fuming!” said Wooof.

“We don’t appreciate these slurs,” I said.

“Too right,” agreed Wooof. “And I’ve been working hard on being appreciated!”

“Whatever,” replied Trinity9. “It doesn’t change the fact you manipulated your way into the past with the sole aim of winning a pony. This cat is a law breaker!”

“Operator, you’re crossing the line with these accusations,” I said.

“Mm.. actually, can you hold the line a moment…”

  • Please hold while you are connected to the next available agent.
  • For English press 1. Para Español presione el número 2.
  • Would you like to upgrade to our Elite Gold Viscount Emperor plan?
  • Your premium-rate call is important to us. Please continue to hold.
  • We’re sorry. All of our agents are busy. Please hang up and try again.

“Hello, Spaceline operator,” I said. “Trinity9, are you still there?”

“I’m still here.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing. I just put you on hold while I called the police.”

“Seriously? You called the police on us?”

“No. Not this time,” said Trinity9. “But think on… your cat cheated by secretly time-travelling to 1979 in order to win a pony. Just this very morning, he picked up an entry form from W.H. Smith… filled it in… posted it… then dashed back to the present time before you even had time to finish your breakfast! Cock-a-doodle-cornflakes!”

I turned to the cat. “Wooof, is this true?”

“I cannot lie,” replied Wooof. “I entered the competition this morning. I travelled back in time. I cheated. And I would have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for that pesky Spaceline operator!”

“Wooof!” I cried. “Why? Why?!? You know our New Year’s Resolution this year was to stop cheating. Pfft. Failed once again… and we made it as far as October this year!!”

“Actually,” said the cat, “didn’t we, like, fail in February when you ‘accidently’ scanned 180 euros which you tried to pay the electricity bill with, and then we ended up…”

“Shhhhh! Not now, Wooof!” I hissed. “That was just an April Fool prank.”

“In February?”

“Ahem, ahem,” coughed Trinty9.

“Yes?”

“Talking of euros… it is my duty to inform you that your call so far has cost 50 euros in charges.”

“50 flippin euros!?!!”

“It’s a premium phone line, sir!”

“Well, for 50 euros you can at least tell us if Wooof won that perishing competition or not.”

“No, I’m afraid your cat didn’t win.”

“Not even the sailing holiday prize?” Wooof asked hopefully.

“No.”

“A Binatone TV?

“Nope.”

“The runner up prize of a camera?”

“No,” said Trinity9. “You won absolutely nothing. And good… serves you right for cheating!”

“Well that sucks massively,” said Wooof. “So how do you explain disappearing ponies called ‘Bess’ in the middle of Birmingham, shopping centres, dinosaurs on the loose, and all the other crazy things we haven’t even had time to mention yet?”

“I’m afraid your time-travelling shenanigans caused multiple time paradoxes,” said Trinty9. “Your competition cheating has damaged the very fabric of time.”

“Like the Butterfly Effect?” I said.

“More like the Bull-in-a-china-shop Effect,” replied Trinity9.

“Yes,” said Wooof. “We wondered why we saw dinosaurs in 1979 Birmingham. That really was stretching credibility to its absolute limits.”

“Yes,” I said, adding, “About as likely as finding King Kong in the Bullring Shopping Centre in 1972!”

“Ha, ha,” laughed Wooof. “Imagine that!”

“Ahem, ahem,” coughed Trinity9. “Sir, may I inform you that your call charge to Spaceline is about to exceed the 100 euro mark? This call is costing you and your cat a small fortune.”

“Wooof,” I said to the cat, handing him a shiny 50 Pence coin. “Nip to the nearest newsagent for two 10p mix-ups and a couple of comics, while I chat to the nice Spaceline operator.”

“Yippee!” cheered Wooof, leaving me alone in the phone box while he made for the nearest John Menzies.

John Menzies. Look In N°15. 1979. UK.

“So, what do you suggest I do?” I said to Trinity9. “I can’t possibly take Wooof back to the present time without some kind of pony prize… the poor cat will retreat into weeks of solitude and dark reflection, like how he did when he found out SpongeBob SquarePants wasn’t real.”

“I myself was equally shattered when I discovered Bob was only a cartoon,” replied Trinity9. “Didn’t sleep properly for days… and normally I’m a out-like-a-light-kind-of-robot-gal the moment my head hits the pillow…”

“Listen, Trinity9,” I said. “I’m not here to talk pillow talk… I’m here to kick missing first prize ass and chew nicotine replacement gum… and right now I’m all out of both! Come on, Spaceline lady robot buddy, help an editor out here… We can’t disappoint the cat! Fix it so that Wooof wins the pony, hm?”

“If you are suggesting I try and help you cheat in some way…” sniffed Trinity9.

“Not cheating…” I said, “Think of it more as bending the integrity of truth into a funny shape kind of thing… like those Bend ‘Ems toys, or Stretch Armstrong.”

“Or Play-Doh?”

“Yes! Absolutely! Do it for Play-Doh… think of the children!”

The phone went silent for an agonisingly long time.

Then: “Okay, Mr TVTA editor,” said Trinity9. “I have just the idea…”

“You do?”

“Oh boy do I!”

CUT TO:


** ONBOARD TVTA TIME MACHINE ** 1970s SWEETS AND COMICS BEING ENJOYED ** VERY HAPPY OFFICE CAT AND RELIEVED EDITOR ** DIAL SET FOR PRESENT TIME ** TVTA TIME MACHINE WARP-WHOOSHING!! **


“How do you like your new pony then?” I asked Wooof.

“She’s adorable,” replied the cat. “And you’re right… doing things the honest way is far more rewarding than cheating.”

“Correct,” I said. “Wooof, you know… cheating is never good… cheating is like…

[INSERT 4th wall break – brief lecture on the virtues of honesty vs cheating to get ahead, followed by back-slapping congratulations and manic laughter]

“Oh man! You are so right when you say all that!” agreed Wooof.

“Absolutely so. Now, tell me, old cat, what are you going to call your new pony?”

“I’m going to call her New Bess… In honour of Old Bess.”

“Wooof, that’s so thoughtful of you. Old Bess would be pleased to know you cared about her so much.”

“I miss her terribly,” said Wooof, gazing off into space, a sadness coming over him.

“I know, old cat. It’s going to take days to get over something like this.”

“Good thing I have my replacement pony then,” said Wooof, perking up a little.

“I admire your courage to move forward so quickly. Especially as it’s only been thirty minutes. Say, where is New Bess?”

“She’s right here,” said Wooof. “I just finished tidying her stables, and we’re all done with her grooming. Time for sugar cubes I think. New Bess…” Wooof called out to his pony… “Come to Wooof-daddy. It’s chow time!”

Enter:

New Bess

LATER…


TVTA EDITOR AND OFFICE CAT RELAXING IN FRONT OF LOG FIRE AT TVTA TOWERS ** COMICS, SLIPPERS, WARM MILK, G&T, PELICAN BEER, PIPE, VEGGIE CAT BISCUITS, PIZZA **


“What are you reading there?” I asked the cat.

He looked up from his vintage comic. “Catwoman,” he replied. “She’s my hero. But hey, I was just browsing some of the ads… and I was thinking of entering this, erm, competition thingy…”

“Hmmm… And what competition would that be?” I asked suspiciously.

“Oh, nothing too crazy.” Wooof handed me the comic, the page open to an advert… a competition… 1985…

“Wooof, no!!” I said, horrified.

“Come on… it’s only a quick trip to 1985… that’s just like yesterday man! And you know how much I’ve always wanted my own collection of art dinosaurs…”

“Absolutely no Wooof! No, no, no!!!!”


FIN


Story: TVTA

Images: scanned from the collection of TVTA

Dinosaur eating a horse comic strip images: Eagle, UK.

King Kong Bull Ring photo: Birminghammail.co.uk

Disco-claimer: No ponies or dinosaurs were harmed in this short story. Birmingham is a fictitious city and any resemblance to second cities in the UK either alive or dead is pure hearsay. No competitions were entered into illegally. W. H. Smith please don’t sue us… the above short story you have just read has been deep faked into the electronic pages of TVTA without our permission and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Please help save TVTA immediately by donating cryptocurrency or sending hard cash in an envelope. We also accept diamonds, speedboats, Duran Duran tapes, pizza, cake, and cameo roles in indie or big budget films. Thanks.

Poem: The Broken Boat Saloon

The Broken Boat Saloon

1.

Suddenly we were confronted by God in the bar of the Broken Boat Saloon,
Our final frontier drinking den, our misty outpost for a world left behind.
We’re All In The Same Boat proclaimed the sign above the bar,
Next to a Spencer carbine rifle that the landlady swore
Was once used by Custer in an Indian war.
So full of bluster, though we dared not say – at least to her face anyway,
And instead would butter her up for her fine bosom and curly hair,
Order copious amounts of her strange beer and liquors
Before setting our weary frames at tables full of the same old faces.
The house band there never got paid – except in beer and mash –
Yet they turned up most evenings to help detach us
From the axles and wheels of a world bent to grind us.

2.

The Broken Boat Saloon, where we’d huddle together in that leaking life-boat,
Poor, overfilled, but able enough to carry us away from whatever
Sinking disaster every man, woman and child had abandoned themselves from.
And in that creaky boat, with sails turned amber-rose
From nicotine and blood, and in the comfort of other refugees
And survivors of frontiers – multi-lingual and all colours and creed,
We’d bail out our grief and plug the holes of despair.
You heard it as good as we: that unearthly rap at the door
Which opened to the landlady’s clenched paw – she wasn’t letting him in…
Not on yours or anyone else’s life.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” the landlady growled.
“I am Duende,” said the stranger. “Duende with no beginning, middle or end,
And I am here to show you God.”

3.

And in Duende came, dressed in black, cowboy boots and a Stetson hat,
Hard to tell if it was a woman or a man if truth be known, let’s say ‘he’
Went straight to the bar and said: “Give me a drink.”
“What’s your poison?” the landlady enquired.
“Whiskey, and three of your patrons to get up on that stage,
For I’m in need of both liquor and entertainment.”
“Cost ya,” said the landlady. “The whiskey ain’t cheap and neither are my patrons.”
Said Duende: “You misunderstand, I make no payment for the things I want,
But I will give you a night to remember when I show you God.”
The Saloon went silent. The landlady spat on the floor, lit a cigarette,
Before shouting across the bar for three to take the stage –
Three to entertain the stranger called Duende.

4.

Old Ginette got up first, with aid of her cane.
Her hair dyed pink, as was her custom in later years,
Some called her Lady Rose, but most just Old Ginette.
Well, she took to the stage and struck us silent as a mighty bell
Would still us to make us stare up at the heavens.
And was it poetry or song that parted her lips, as she said to us:
“Brothers and sisters, I quit going to church on Sundays
Because my legs could no longer make the steps,
Nor could my eyes bring themselves to look into the faces

Of people that bored me to godless and witless tears.
So, now, brothers and sisters, I sit in my home
All alone and pray to God, lo!
Because you don’t need to go to church to find God, right?
God was with me Sunday morning when I dyed my hair pink.
God’s in my hair, brothers and sisters, Gods in my hair!”

We hardly even noticed her exit the stage, such was our awe,
Our enchantment, open-mouthed and dumb as dead salmon.
And the house band seemed just in awe of her as we –
That ragtag trio of drifters dressed in black – banjo, fiddle and a Spanish guitar,
Skinny little dogs they were, declaring often: “The Lion Cult loves you!”

5.

Captain Luke got up next, with the aid of two friends,
Drunk beyond measure and deemed ‘round the bend’ –
Even when he was sober, which was rare.
Dandy Luke they sometimes called him – and he tried his best,
With his hair greased up on the crown of his head
Like a hillock of freshly-laid dog mess.
And ink spots on his frilly white shirt (Luke liked to write poems
When he wasn’t seeing double),
Kept a lea of black stubble on his beer-soaked face,
Which wrinkled as he parted his lips and began to sing:
“Gonna tell you ‘bout a girl called Emma-Jane McGee…”
And boy were we shocked that not only did he possess some mighty fine pipes,
But knew words other than: ‘Bartender make that the same again.’

“Emma-Jane McGee fell from a tree,
Into a grave pre-dug by her husband,
A husband whose heart was owned by another,

A woman from the south, a woman like no other.
How he’ll kiss that southerner upon her fresh lips,
Twist a ring on her finger and say ‘I do’,
While poor Emma-Jane beneath her tree,
Turns in her grave and slips to sleep.
Goodnight, goodnight, Emma-Jane McGee.
Sleep tight, sleep tight, Emma-Jane McGee.”

After, the house band had to be nudged into action to move,
Because they were standing there in just as much awe as we.
“The Lion Cult loves you!” they declared to Captain Luke,
As he stepped down from the stage, and fell flat on his face.

6.

Unaided, ha! – as if she ever needed anyone’s help!
Third and last to get onstage was Bad Girl Sally who was all the rage
Back in Madame Minou’s Whorehouse when the sun shone for days,
And we all got our money’s worth from a good decade.
Bad Girl Sally slapped her foot down on a stool and began to wail:
“Show me your face, your soul, your balls, your titties, your gold.
Show me your heart and I’ll show you mine too,
‘cept my black heart is busted in two.
Say broken mirror on the wall, who’s the sassiest of them all?
The classiest, bad-assiest, nastiest, most trashiest?
See, I want it all, and I want it now! Give me…

Diamonds and tiaras and black panthers and piranhas.
O, doctor, dear doctor, I have this disease… and the disease is myself.”

We watched Sally pick up the stool and toss it over her shoulder –
Lord, it hit the banjo player of the house band square on his head,
Though he didn’t seem to mind too much – he was in awe of Sally
Like the rest of us. Awe, red raw, bleeding all over the damn stage floor,
As Bad Girl Sally suddenly ripped off her dress
And showed us her breasts, upon which she’d scrawled in black paint:
‘Over’ on the one, ‘Rated’ on the other.

7.

And we wondered if we witnessed miracles that night
At the Broken Boat Saloon after Duende walked in.
And in the silence that followed Sally’s performance,
We heard the slow-handclapping of Duende at the bar,
Who grinned through his teeth and a dangling cigar.
“Did you see God?” he asked us. “Did you see your true creator?”
The landlady tugged her Spencer carbine from the wall
And aimed it’s business end at the head of Duende.
“Let’s call it three-hundred bucks, shall we honey?
Coz the only God we know here is the colour of money.”
And Duende stood straight and tall and took off his hat,
And his head was all shiny, and had this queer radiance, an aura
That stunned us one and all in the bar of the Broken Boat Saloon.
“You say you saw no God tonight?” Duende said evenly.
“If so, then who do you see before you now?”
“I see a man full of holes,” snarled the landlady,
And she shot Duende dead to the bar room floor,
Who did nought else but got back on his feet, dusted himself down and said:
“I’ll forgive you for that, for I’m the forgiving type. Now get to your knees
And worship your God, and pray The Lion Cult has a song left in them yet.”
And the house band, not immune to the occasional spell of metaphysics,
Began playing the Cowboy’s Lament,
And Duende nodded his head and closed his eyes,
As if dreaming of Laredo, and a young cowboy wrapped in white linen,
The same dream we had dreamed under countless starry skies,
Around campfires, or in cots, or in the arms of whores and gunslingers.
Boy, what a cheer rose up, and a rush to the bar to buy drinks for Duende
Who was deemed a God worthy of celebration that night
When the muse found us all at the Broken Boat Saloon,
And the sweetest voices sang from deep within the soul.


Words and art by the editor.

Thanks to a three-masted ship of inspiration:

Sophia Riley-Kobacker ** The History of Emotions Blog ** Everything2: Nick Cave’s Love Song Lecture **