The Rabbit That Jumped The Avon Gorge. Part 1.


On Christmas Day 1812 a strange incident occurred in Bristol. It was the strangest incident that had occurred in Bristol since the previous strangest incident, and it would remain the strangest incident until the next occurrence of a bizarre happening. That was how much it rated on the scale of strangeness. Unfortunately, nobody recorded, at the time, exactly what had happened so we can only speculate, or rather you can, if you so desire, as personally I can’t be arsed.

What I can do for you is provide details of an interesting story, from about that time, where facts have been preserved. It might, upon initial reading, seem a trifle frivolous, but when one examines it in greater depth a profundity is revealed that goes some way to explaining the presence of Bristol’s most iconic structure. I’ll be bush-whacked by a yorker delivered by Harold Larwood if I can see it, but if you can then more power to your elbow, and I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d contact me with an explanation. All I can do is lay the facts I have at your disposal.

Document 1

Advert From The Baltimore Comet in the Livestock Section, March, 1813:

For Sale: Young white rabbit capable of jumping the Avon Gorge if it possessed the desire so to do. Offspring of the prodigious leaper Firework Heels William winner of the Long Jump at the Maryland State Fair in 1811. Genuine reason for sale, $5 o.n.o. Apply to Grover Knox Box 79.

Document 2

Private Letter written by Genius Picton to his sister Mary Kingsholm and received by her in Trenton, New Jersey on or about March 29th, 1813 (the date cannot be definitively verified as there had been a strike by calendar manufacturers in the Eastern United States in 1812, the effects of which didn’t kick in until the following year). 

Dear Sissy,

I realise this American sojourn was intended to revive me from this state of melancholy but until now none of my experiences in the new world has raised my spirits at all, that was until a chance encounter last Saturday that has subsequently infused me with such a passion for life that I cannot wait to return to England to fulfil my destiny. I dare say sissy, when I relate this to you you will no doubt dismiss this as one of my harebrained schemes, such as selling European tourist attractions to American tourists and offering them 50% off if they thought that would make it easier for them to fit it into their luggage.

Where do I start, I suppose the beginning is as good a place as any. I happened to be perusing the streets of Baltimore when I had occasion to step into a newsvendor’s stall to avoid the gaze of someone to whom I owe a considerable sum. I wish I hadn’t agreed to help him with that complicated equation now.

Low and behold the first ‘rag’ I picked up was The Baltimore Comet and amongst the copious adverts on its front page one leapt out at me advertising the sale of a rabbit that was capable of jumping the Avon Gorge if it ever possessed the desire to do so. My heart itself leapt at mention of home pastures across the ocean and the opportunities afforded to me. Something had seized me – it was the newsvendor because I was on my way out and I hadn’t paid for The Baltimore Comet.

I managed to extricate myself from this predicament and having made contact with the talented rabbit’s owner, it was with some foreboding that I approached the abode of Grover Knox, pessimistic in spirit that this opportunity to better myself would go my way. Imagine my unqualified joy, therefore, when I approached the Knox abode and discovered that nobody else had secured the services of the rabbit. The nearest offer he had received was from about 90 feet away, and unlike the rabbit, he was unable to traverse such distances with ease owing to suffering from severe arthritis of the spine.

I offered $4 from a distance of about 6 feet away, any nearer would’ve risked contracting consumption one of the fatal diseases poor Knox evidently suffered from. This was the nearest offer he’d received by quite some margin and thus ownership of this most exceptional of long-eared creatures passed to my custodianship. As we concluded the deal he also offered the explanation that there was no point hanging on to a rabbit that can jump the Avon Gorge if one had no intention of allowing it to fulfil its destiny. And besides hanging on to it would also add extra weight and make it more likely to fall short of reaching the other side.

Sissy, I have now booked passage to Bristol upon The Moist Dependable sailing out of Baltimore this coming Friday. I am determined that this opportunity will enable me to at last make my mark on this world, failing that I will at least be responsible for making a small mark somewhere on the Portway beneath the Avon Gorge.

Your Most Obedient Brother,

Genius Picton.


Jack the Aider Part 3.

Continuing the attempts of Inspector Token-Black of the Bristol Constabulary to apprehend the nefarious serial life-saver Jack the Aider.  A miscreant with no comprehension of the appeal of death to the majority of poor sods who have to live in the austerity of late-Victorian England.

Using the recommendation of an associate I embraced new methodology in tackling crime detection by employing the services of a criminal profiler. I immediately allowed him, Professor Hank Cleveland, access to all the files on this baffling case. With them at his disposal he was able to wear down the metal locks and open the lid. He then promptly advised me to, in future, only purchase cases that weren’t so baffling to gain access to.

Having gained possession of the documents relating to Jack the Aider he studied them intently. Why he expressed a preference to examine them under canvas rather than in the office I’d set aside for him I do not know, maybe it is the artist in him. He concentrated upon the nature of Jack the Aider’s misdemeanours; the favoured locations, the times of each atrocity and other facets of the Aider’s modus operandi. This enabled Professor Cleveland to compile the following profile of Jack the Aider, to which I’ve added my initial thoughts after each point in brackets.

  1. He or she is high up in the medical profession. (I will need to check out everyone who works on the top-floor at the Bristol General Hospital.)
  2. The location of their birth features prominently in their name. (Suspect anyone called ‘Cliff’ as there’s a chance Jack the Aider’s mother went rock climbing whilst heavily pregnant.)
  3. He or she has the ear of someone in authority. (If it’s Queen Victoria’s right ear the Aider has stolen it would explain why only her left profile ever appears on coins and stamps.)
  4. He or she was plagued throughout childhood by bird sounds. (I will need to check the background of any suspect to see if they were ever hired out as freelance scarecrows in infancy.)
  5. He or she served in the Crimea. (I’ll need to visit the tennis club in Redland and add to my list of suspects anyone who has played abroad.)

All of this pointed to one person. However, within seconds it pointed at nobody at all. A minute later it pointed at three people, followed by a woman walking her dog and then two children. That’s the last time I allow a criminal profiler to write his list on a one-way sign!

Just when it seemed this list of suspects was leading me up a blind alley I was the recipient of the touch of luck anyone, like myself in the vanguard of fighting evil, is grateful for. Florence Nightingale was arrested for loitering with intent to use a bandage in Park Row. It was normal procedure to match everyone taken into custody with the criminal profile and Florence Nightingale scored a full-house.

Her temporary apartment in Cotham was searched and a large quantity of bandages, plasters, a strait-jacket and antiseptic ointment located there. Despite this we were still unsure whether this would be enough to secure a conviction. It was more than enough to secure a lunatic, especially the strait-jacket. A lawyer who called into the station upon inspecting what we’d retrieved said that something more concrete was needed. A further search located some plaster of Paris. He said that that would be fine and immediately applied it to his broken forearm.

Nightingale proved to be a rather fussy filly. Her biggest bugbear was the sleeping accommodation provided for her. One has to remember that this woman single-handedly took on the establishment to secure better conditions for British troops in the Crimea (her other hand was used to carry the lamp). She also carried a heavy limp, this was because just before she was provided with her famous lamp, a kindly French officer, who witnessed Nightingale’s toils in the wards in darkness, said, in his heavy French accent to a British officer whilst pointing at Miss Nightingale, that this lady needs a lamp. The British officer walked straight across to Florence in his reinforced boots and stamped on her toes.

It was decided to remand the famous nurse in custody so that she could assist us with our enquiries, and help us with our veruccas, aching backs, migraines and a variety of other ailments. The press had a field day and I chuckled at the headline in The Western Daily Press which read ‘FLORENCE: NIGHT IN GAOL’.

Soon after the station was deluged by injured British troops from various parts of the Empire seeking treatment. Those engaged in trying to calm conflict with the Zulus and Boers in South Africa found it so expensive and time-consuming transporting injured British troops from the tip of Africa to our police station that it was strongly mooted that the Zulu conflict might be relocated to Bristol. Indeed, I have it on good authority that Dinuzulu the King of the Zulus was looking at property in the Dundry area and was seeking to position his tribe on the slopes there. This would’ve made it a rather precarious undertaking for any schools to allow their pupils to practice the javelin in PE in any area in its path.

It was stated in Parliament that Florence Nightingale would have to be released as if the Zulu conflict was relocated for reasons of convenience it would set a dangerous precedent. Dr Alfred Carpenter, the MP for Bristol North, made his point against war relocating by cleverly using examples from history of how other wars would’ve been impacted upon by relocating for reasons of convenience. Here are some of his examples:

  1. The Battle of Marathon – relocated to the outskirts of Athens to give sprinters a better chance.
  2. The Battle of Hastings – relocated to a sauna in Stockholm to save the weavers of the Bayeux Tapestry money on thread as the armies wouldn’t have a stitch on.
  3. The Battle of Bosworth – relocated to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Bristol General Hospital so Richard III could get his hunchback checked out and thus kill two princes with one stone.
  4. The Battle of Trafalgar – relocated to a forest with plenty of mistletoe overhead so Nelson wouldn’t have to waste his dying breath having to ask for kisses.

Fortunately, fate intervened and whilst Nightingale was in custody another Jack the Aider atrocity was committed thereby proving her innocence. She was released and none of us officers had any hard feelings towards her. Although this was because she admitted later that she’d been lacing our drinks with bromide.

Bristol Armageddon.

About twenty years ago tucked near the bottom of a column of an interior page of a newspaper, I read that scientists had spotted an asteroid that had our name upon it and was on course to obliterate us at 6.35pm on October 26th, 2028. I recall speculating about what the tv page would look like that day with all the programmes going up until 6.35pm and then the rest of the page below it being totally blank. I also thought the weather forecast for that day might read ‘mild after early mist clears, sunny afternoon with risk of showers followed by record-breaking temperatures, earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes later.

The scientists did not specify where exactly the asteroid would impact upon our planet, but I guessed it wasn’t Bristol because with the amount of NIMBYs resident in this city the asteroid would be delayed from altering the landscape there for a good two decades plus and would probably give up the ghost. Any  celestial body worth its salt would surely do its homework before embarking on a journey amounting to trillions of miles.

The following day in roughly the same spot in the newspaper, it was announced that the boffins had got it wrong. They made regular print-outs of our part of the universe using the most powerful telescope on Earth and it transpired that one of the scientists was eating his packed lunch that day when he spotted the asteroid heading in our direction. He got his measuring equipment and did his calculations, but he erroneously measured from the crumb that had fallen from his sandwich rather than the speck of light that was the asteroid. A re-calculation was done from that asteroid and it was now realised that it would be a narrow squeak but it would miss us by about a million miles.

The scientists were terribly embarrassed by the whole thing and wanted to assure us that the world was safe. However, as far as I’m concerned my worries haven’t been totally allayed as it can’t be that much fun being hit by a giant crumb travelling at about 50,000 miles per hour either. On October 26th, 2028 I will be taking precautions especially as when it hits the Earth’s atmosphere it’s likely to get burnt to toast and therefore become that bit harder.

But what if the threat had been real? There would be nothing we could do to save ourselves and Bruce Willis would by then qualify for a bus pass; so it would be no good putting our eggs in his basket. Had October 26th, 2028 at 6.35pm been our date with oblivion, here are some of the things I predict would have happened in the years, months and days leading up to it:

10 years to go: Recycling collections scaled down.

9 years to go: First death day cards marketed.

8 years to go: Manchester United announce plans to quit the Premier League and the European Champions League to join a new Universe League and play all their games away from home.

7 years to go: Sunday Services at churches become all-ticket affairs and it becomes easier to get one’s offspring into Eton than it does to get them into Sunday School.

6 years: Attempts made on a radio frequency never tried before to make contact with other planets in an effort to obtain help. No luck, but picks up a message from an old Marconi set from a pilot who has been airborne for 112 years in a box kite, requesting permission  to land. The floor space in Bristol Museum is cleared to enable him to do so.

5 years: Mass redundancies amongst careers officers.

4 years: Alzheimer’s cured. Following day pleas made to reinvent it.

3 years: Fortune tellers reduce prices.

2 years: Customers can purchase items in electrical retail outlets without being pestered to take out an extended three-year warranty.

1 year to go: Babies being born with no lifelines on their palms.

8 months to go: Sudden slump in purchases of contraceptive devices.

3 months to go: First life-sentences handed out for theft and non-payment of Council Tax.

2 months to go: FA Cup Competition reduced to penalty-shootout only; so they can fit it all in.

1 month to go: Dissent increases at funerals as the deceased accused of being show-offs.

2 weeks to go: Famous people start committing suicide so that they won’t miss out on being eulogized with tributes.

1 week to go: BBC Asteroid Week begins.

5 days to go: If anyone phones an Accident Claims Company to say that they’ve had an accident in the last five years they are told, ‘tough ****, get over it’.

4 days to go: Huge waiting list on NHS for patients wishing to undergo hypnosis to send them back into a past life…and remain there.

3 days: Banks and Building Societies offer the best rates ever for savers.

Penultimate Day (Last Whole Day): Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Colston Hall, Bristol at 7.30pm performing ‘The Last Night of the Poms’.

Final Day, October 28th, 2028: Crimes of murder, serial murder, arson and treason now punished by ‘On the Spot Fines’.

– Supermarkets ‘Reduced to Clear’ shelf extended to incorporate the whole store.

– New Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary published this day no longer includes an entry for the word ‘Tomorrow’.

– Coronation Street ends with all loose-ends neatly tied-up and EastEnders terminates with everyone blissfully happy in Albert Square (although the producers had to lock-up the scriptwriters and drummer to achieve this).

– Manufacturers of socks, stockings and tights start issuing lifetime guarantees on their products.

Jack the Aider: World’s First Serial Life-Saver. Part 2.

(Continuing the notes of Inspector Token-Black of the Bristol Constabulary. Episode 1 No.21 in Hysterical Bristol Series. )

It is 1888, a time of crippling poverty and a serial life-saver is on the loose….

After a spate of incidents in September, things have settled down and so far this month there has been no reoccurrence of the despicably cruel activity of life-saving. However, I know this to be a false dawn. That’s because I am the one who organised it. I had noticed that Jack the Aider always conducted his nefarious acts under the cloak of darkness; so I cleverly set in motion a plan that artificially brought dawn forward by about eight hours. In selected Bristol streets I have deployed powerful lighting to alleviate any trace of darkness and I have instructed the Town Crier, a robust fellow with lungs like bellows called William Pathe, to introduce the news at midnight in those roads with impressions of a cockerel crowing at the break of dawn. He has done a convincing job and says that the experience has provided him with a capital idea if films are ever invented.

Unfortunately I will not be able to conduct this experiment for too much longer as it is playing havoc with the body-clocks of Bristolians living in the chosen streets; and thus having a detrimental impact upon the productivity and efficiency of the Bristol business and industrial economy. Already a new term has been coined for those whose body-clocks are at out of kilter with the majority. Due to the powerful beams of gas used to illuminate these streets, they are said to be suffering from ‘jet-lag’.

To keep readers abreast of investigations to date (October 3rd, 1888) in our attempts to track down this miscreant, we have placed all St. John’s Ambulance volunteers in the Bristol area under round the clock surveillance. This is not as costly as it might appear; because six of the twenty St. John’s Ambulance volunteers are policemen anyway; thus it has been cheaper to keep them under 24/7 observation because we have simply issued them with mirrors.

In a quite separate development, if this pun is excused, we acted upon rumours that a local photographer called Ron Hangle had captured on a photographic plate an image of the Prince of Wales loitering in the vicinity of the Clifton Suspension Bridge about the time that Jack the Aider saved his (or her) first victim there on September 1st. This could have caused great embarrassment to the monarchy if it fell into the public domain; thus I had no other alternative at my disposal than to organise a police raid on Ron Hangle’s flat in Redland and order all his plates to be destroyed. Ron Hangle has since made an official complaint to the Police Authority regarding my actions, stating that he has had to eat takeaways thereafter.

As head of the investigation into unmasking this Jack the Aider fiend I have been the recipient of many communications from the inhabitants of this shocked and concerned nation. The Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, was even moved to send a telegram. This was because he couldn’t do so from where he was sitting in 10 Downing Street. I also received this letter from a retired History Professor that makes interesting reading. It also makes a good hat or boat with a sail, if one is adept at origami. Here follows the most salient part of that letter:

‘It is my contention that history acts in a mysterious way to counterbalance events to maintain a sort of spiritual equilibrium. It is noticeable that the day after Jack the Ripper struck for the first time in London, Jack the Aider struck for the first time in Bristol. This provides  another example of what I have called The Historical Counterbalancing Theory. Here are some examples of The Historical Counterbalancing Theory that I have painstakingly discovered in my research:

1. On the day King Alfred the Great burnt the cakes, customers of Saxon Dairies noticed that their bread was very doughy.

2. Just as King Harold lost his eye at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, Mrs Muriel Lightbourne in nearby Brighton grew an extra eye in the back of her head. This greatly assisted her application to become a registered child-minder.

3. On the day the written word was invented in 1274 BC, Arnold Dyslexia was born in Watford.

4. As Robin Hood was stealing from the rich to give to the poor; the idea for an elitist school at Eton was formed which has since produced many Chancellors of the Exchequer who have reversed this process.


Next in Part 3 of Jack the Aider (to appear sometime in the 30s in the Hysterical Bristol Series). FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE BECOMES THE CHIEF SUSPECT.

Jack the Aider: The World’s First Serial Life-Saver. Part 1.

(The Notes of Inspector Token-Black of the Bristol Constabulary.)

I have been assigned my most challenging case to date. I just hope the calendar is returned to my office soon. However, what I am aware of is this. It is a case so hideous and merciless that it has struck fear into the hearts of every inhabitant of this city, and caused major concern throughout this nation. Indeed, even those who live abroad will not sleep easy in their beds whenever night falls in Bristol….mainly because for a lot of them it is still the middle of the day owing to the time-difference.

As I write this, Jack the Ripper is on the loose in London barbarously killing unfortunates. But here in Bristol we have a more cruel and vindictive bleeder engaged in the Devil’s work; for in this poverty-stricken society he is deliberately keeping unfortunates alive. For these dreadful acts of serial life-saving he has earned the chilling sobriquet Jack the Aider.

Here is a list of Jack the Aider’s saving activities this month (September, 1888):

  1.   Sept 1st. Saved Jim Meadows from jumping off of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
  2.   Sept 8th. Saved Gloria Fenwaite from drowning in the Docks.
  3.  Sept 17th. Saved Miles Smythe from the path of the Bristol to Paddington Express.
  4.  Sept 24th. Saved Terrence Kay from swallowing bleach and also took a blood sample for analysis.
  5.  Sept 28th. Saved four shillings and sixpence with the Bristol & West.

Currently we have boys as young as eight spending sixteen hours a day up chimneys. This is an outrage as it only leaves eight hours a day for the rest of us to seek this refuge from the appalling, fetid streets. The Times have been hard for many years now. I must get around to writing to the editor to request he returns to printing it on paper again, instead of the combination of bitumen and reinforced concrete that is presently favoured.

I am aware that these notes might never see the light of day. As a public servant I have signed the 1912 Official Secrets Act, which means I can be dismissed if I reveal anything that is due to happen in 1912. Seeing that is two dozen years into the future I have encountered little difficulty in keeping silent, as I have no idea what will occur then. Although, I have had to release four dodgy clairvoyants and two palm readers this very week without charge just incase they let slip anything under questioning.

It was inevitable that when this awful spate of life-saving arose that I would be selected to head the investigation. For my reputation goes before me. In my previous posting as a detective with the Scottish Highlands Police Force, I cracked a notorious case up there. For months Highlanders were terrorized by a ruthless and particularly ugly individual in the vicinity of the area’s many beauty spots, who demanded payment with menaces to stay away. This miscreant became known locally as ‘The Loch Ness Mobster’.

Working on a hunch – I had been incapacitated through a leg injury so used piggy back rides from the Highland Force’s resident campanologist – I tracked down the Loch Ness Mobster to her lair. Queen Victoria was very grateful and agreed that in the future she would stay within the confines of Balmoral on her sojourns north of the border and never to again unofficially venture out and frighten the locals. In appreciation for keeping this all hushed up, she presented the Highlands Police Force with the Royal Seal of Approval. Unfortunately, her eyesight must have been suspect, as it turned out to be a walrus. It cost the Highlands Force massively in supplies of fish to keep it fed, and I had to be released from my duties there as an economy measure.


The Sky-Skimmer

It was a fine summer’s morning in 1888 as he watched the crows that had plagued him helping themselves once again to his crops, that farmer Noah Sty of Rookery Farm muttered: ‘Well, if you can’t beat ’em….join ’em!’ And so entered the race to become the first man in flight.

It was not long before he sold several of his fields to finance the construction of the world’s first commercial air-docks and had converted an old coach lying in his barn into his Sky-Skimmer; achieved through a lick of paint and the application of his son’s kite to the roof of the conveyance. All he now required to blast himself into the annals of aviation history was the firepower.

Jeromiah Krackle, the octogenarian fireworks expert was approached and accepted the challenge by a letter safely written at arm’s length. This immediately acquired the interest of Krackle’s native American press, where he was known as a good source of copy. They speculated that Krackle was not really intending to construct a flying machine, but a new form of execution chamber called a frying machine, which because of the copious amount of fireworks involved would enable his fellow countrymen to execute the condemned and celebrate the deed in the exact same moment. Krackle had earlier worked on an invention called ‘the electric sofa’ in which three prisoners could be executed for the price of one.

Krackle was supplied with Noah Sty’s weight and that of the Sky-Skimmer and set about the task of calculating the exact amount of fireworks required for the farmer to reach his destination of the Royal Crescent in Bath. This was favoured because his sister lived there and promised to have a nice cup of tea waiting for the intrepid aviator upon his arrival.

Having made all the necessary calculations, Krackle brought the precise amount of fireworks required with him on his cart, making the journey between London and Whitchurch, Bristol in five days….though he could have accelerated his journey considerably had he elected to smoke his beloved pipe along the way.

Harrowing screams emanating from behind the locked doors of Sty’s barn well into the night indicated that things were not running as smoothly as planned. It transpired that Sty had gained two pounds in weight since initially corresponding with Krackle, blowing the latter’s meticulous calculations into orbit. Fearing the Sky-Skimmer would now land 973 yards short of its destination, and that his sister’s cup of tea would be cold by the time he had walked the shortfall, Sty had reluctantly agreed to forfeit several of his fingers to reduce his weight.

It was speculated that potential passengers would not be so accommodating. The press could not conceive of anybody, for instance, sacrificing an arm to reach Portsmouth simply because they had over indulged at Xmas. It was mooted that such amputations would be conducted in a building called ‘The Departure Suite’, and that the amputated limbs would be sent on by rail to the Sky-Skimmer passenger’s destination. This in itself would cause problems, for if the flight was delayed by rain, or the inability to find someone over 16 to buy the necessary fireworks, it would be conceivable for a passenger to find that his leg arrived in Doncaster an hour before he did.

There were, of course, other concerns mooted. For instance it was feared that if a passenger boarded a fireworks propelled flight mistakenly loaded with Catherine Wheels, he or she might never be able to walk in a straight line ever again.

On the morning of August, 22nd, 1888, Sty was strapped into the Sky-Skimmer as he attempted to make history. He posed for photographs, gave his wife a farewell kiss and then waved towards the spectators, roped-off in the far corner of the field. Unfortunately, because of the absence of several fingers, some of the crowd took offence. The touch-paper was lit by Krackle who then beat a hasty retreat along with the gentlemen of the press to the relative sanctuary provided behind the safety-rope.

A mighty explosion of colour and smoke broke the excited silence as the Sky-Skimmer was propelled across the ground at fantastic speed, without, unfortunately, leaving it. Then alarmingly, it turned and retraced its tracks. Spectators screamed and hard-bitten journalists dived behind trees for cover, knocking women and children from their path in their haste to avoid the Sky-Skimmer’s. Just as casualties seemed inevitable, the contraption stopped, pirouetted on its axis and began spinning with tremendous velocity. When it finally came to rest under an aromatic cloud of colourful smoke, Sty emerged relatively unscathed from his cockpit. He surveyed the scene of devastation for some moments, the scorched and battered earth, the flattened hedges and the dishevelled appearance of the still shockingly pale spectators.

‘Well,’ he remarked with great dignity in the circumstances, ‘at least I scared them bloody crows away!’