"Cheese has always been good to me."
Jim Friteuse

Friday, October 26, 2012


“You’re in room six, Mr Sternhammer,” said Mrs Smedley, the landlady of the Hollybank Guest House, as she handed over the key to his room.

“Thank you,” said Wulf Sternhammer.

Mrs Smedley was stood at the reception desk, behind which an open door led to a small sitting room, decorated with fleur-de-lis wallpaper. A locked metal gate barred its entrance and on a rug in the middle of the room sat the biggest, ugliest, most ferocious dog Sternhammer had ever seen. It was staring straight at him and emitting a low growl.

“That’s a big scary dog,” he said. “What breed is it?”

“To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure.” Mrs Smedley replied. “He’s a big softy actually, but he does tend to keep the burglars away.”

“I’m sure he does.”   

“I think I can detect a slight accent in your voice. Are you from Australia?” she asked

“Australia?” replied Sternhammer indignantly, “Australia. No I’m not from bloody Australia. I’m from bloody New Zealand. Can’t you tell by the way I don’t pronounce any my vowels properly?”

“I’m terribly sorry Mr Sternhammer,” said Mrs Smedley, “I’m just showing my geographical ignorance.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m sorry for snapping at you; I’m just a bit tired. It was a long flight.”

“I can imagine. Is this your first time in Braintree?”

Wulf Sternhammer smiled at Mrs Smedley. “It is,” he replied.

“I’ve not been long here myself,” said the landlady. “Until my husband disappeared a few months ago I used to live in a beautiful cottage in the country. Fortunately he left me with enough money to sell the cottage and buy this place. It’s quite good really; I have enough money to live comfortably even if I don’t have any guests.”

“And do you have many guests?”

“Not really. In fact, you’re the first in about six months. It’s a bit out of the way for most tourists – not that we get many tourists in Braintree – most people want to leave as soon as they get here. It’s not exactly Bournemouth or Torquay is it?” she said, laughing to herself.

Mrs Irene Smedley was a voluptuous woman in her mid-forties, whose liberal use of scarlet lipstick on her full, pouting lips made her irresistible to those of the opposite sex who were into that kind of thing. She looked Sternhammer up and down and guessed, correctly, that he was in his mid-to-late sixties. He was quite handsome and physically fit for a man of his age and, judging by the clothes he was wearing, fairly wealthy. With his deep tan and healthy appearance he had the look of someone who had spent a considerable amount of time either on or by the sea.

Mrs Smedley was an expert at summing people up. She was also ruthlessly efficient and extremely capable of covering up her tracks, as her late husband had discovered in his final hours.

“While I remember, Mr Sternhammer,” said Mrs Smedley as Wulf was about to pick up his suitcase, “I have a letter that arrived for you today.”

She handed him a white A5 envelope which bore his name and the address of the Guest House in carefully written black italics.

“That’s funny,” he said, “no one knows my . . .” his voice trailed off.

“Yes?” enquired Mrs Smedley.

“Oh . . . err . . . nothing,” he said quickly and then stuffed the envelope into the inside pocket of his coat.

“Goodnight . . . Mrs . . . err . . .”

“Smedley; but all my guests call me Irene.”

“Oh, right. Goodnight Irene.”

“My friends call me Rene,” she said, winking at him, “but my lovers, well, they just call me over.”

If there was a word in the English language that described a sensation that was more uncomfortable than uncomfortable, then that was the sensation that Wulf Sternhammer felt at that moment. “Goodnight, Mrs Smedley,” he said as he climbed up the stairs in search of his room.

Once he was out of sight and out of earshot, Mrs Smedley picked up the telephone receiver and dialled a number. After a few moments she said “He’s here.”

In his room and with the door firmly locked, Sternhammer opened the envelope Mrs Smedley had handed to him. It contained a white embossed card with gold trim inviting him on an exclusive tour around the Frontiere factory in Braintree, followed by a private lunch with the operations manager, Mr John Smith. The card also stated that transport had already been arranged with a pick-up time of 8am outside the Hollybank Guest House.

He propped the card against the empty glass on the bedside cabinet, got undressed and went to sleep.

As he stepped out of the Guest House the next morning Peter Perkins was already waiting for him. On the way to the Frontiere factory they passed a number of huge billboards advertising different professional occupations and Sternhammer listened with interest as Peter talked about his pretentiousness issues.
“Have you ever thought about going into psychotherapy yourself?” he asked Peter when he eventually stopped talking about himself.

Another of the billboards Peter and Sternhammer passed along the way
Peter thought about this for a moment before saying, "I have argued in my mind and read of numerous experiments in support of the arguments for the continued existence of my psychotherapist, and every time I have found little evidence for the practical efficacy of her field of expertise.”

Yet another billboard Peter and Sternhammer passed along the way
“Which is exactly why you should think about becoming one; you would be able to channel all your pretentiousness issues onto your patients, thereby curing yourself, whilst at the same time deepening their anxieties resulting in them wanting to come back to see you time and time again.”

The last billboard Peter and Sternhammer passed along the way

“But my psychotherapist has qualifications in . . .” began Peter.

“Bullshit, bamboozlement and obfuscation,” Sternhammer interrupted.

Mr Smith was waiting outside the factory doors as Peter slowed the car down and came to a halt. “I’ll give some serious thought to what you said, Mr Sternhammer,” said Peter as he stepped out of the vehicle and opened the door for Frontiere’s special guest.

“You do that son.”

Mr Smith shook Sternhammer’s hand and asked, “What was all that about?”

“Oh, nothing really,” replied Sternhammer, “I was just giving that young man a bit of advice.”

Mr Smith visibly flinched and clenched his teeth. “I hear that you’re good at that sort of thing.”

“And where did you hear that?”


“Around where?”

“Just around. You know how it is.”

“I don’t actually. Why don’t you tell me how it is?”

Mr Smith thought quickly. “Ermm, you are Mr Wilf Sternhammer, are you not?”

“No, I’m afraid not. My name’s Wulf Sternhammer.”

“Oh, well there you are, then. The invitation was for Wilf Sternhammer. Mrs Smedley must have given you his invitation by mistake.”

“You know Mrs Smedley?”

“Let’s face it Wulf, you can hardly miss her – you don’t mind if I call you Wulf, do you?”

“Not at all. It’s all very odd though; someone with a name as unusual as mine staying in the same Guest House. That sort of thing can’t happen all that often.”

“It does in Braintree, Wilf.”



“Who is this Wilf Sternhammer anyway?”

“Oh he’s very well known in this area. He’s the . . . err . . . world famous cheese  . . . sculptor.”

“Cheese sculptor?”

“Oh yes, I’m surprised you’ve never heard of him; he’s had exhibitions all over the world, even New Zealand. He’s not like your average everyday sculptor – oh no – he sculpts almost entirely in cheese, generally extra strong cheddar or Danish Blue.”

“That’s amazing. Would I be able to see any of his work?”

“His last exhibition was over three months ago and his art is, you must understand, more ephemeral that sculpting in bronze or marble as it tends to get eaten by mice or smell really bad after a few weeks.”

“So it all gets thrown away?”

“Oh no, he transports it by cargo ship to Egypt to feed the starving children in the streets. He’s very charitable.”

Mr Smith was amazed that he still had the ability to lie so convincingly about something that was only half true – there was a Wilf Sternhammer in Braintree and he was a sculptor, but he worked exclusively with butter.

“Tell you what, Wulf – Wilf will never get wind of this, so why don’t you be our guest of honour today?”

“I’d be glad to,” said Sternhammer.

“Good,” said Mr Smith leading his guest into the building. Follow me.”

A few hours later, Jim followed Miss Yip out of the Cheese-Sniffing room, after spending a pleasant morning exercising his olfactory senses.

“We should go for a spot of lunch,” she said as they walked briskly down the corridor. “I know Mr Smith has a guest for lunch in his office today, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind us popping in and saying hello.”

“Sounds good to me,” agreed Jim.

They chatted idly as they walked to Mr Smith’s office, but as they drew nearer Miss Yip said, “That’s funny.”

“What is?”

“He has the blinds pulled down. He never has the blinds pulled down. He shouldn’t pull the blinds down. I’ve specifically told him never to pull the blinds down.”

Jim was about to say something to Miss Yip about points being laboured when they heard a violent argument break out from within the office, followed by the sound of furniture crashing about.

They sprinted to the door and Jim tried to open it, but he found that it was firmly locked.

“Stand back,” said Miss Yip, and with one leaping twirl she kicked the door from off its hinges.

There was a broken chair lying on the floor as they entered the office and the paperwork that had been in the In-Tray on the ornate wooden desk was scattered about the floor. Mr Smith was over in the corner, holding a knife to the throat of Wulf Sterhammer.

“Mr Smith!” snapped Miss Yip. “What on earth do you think you are doing?”

Mr Smith turned his head around and looked at the woman who had saved him from the clutches of the Late Afternoon Goudaistc Church of the Seven Hard Cheeses.

“Don’t judge me, Emily,” he said with a trace of madness in his voice.

“I’m not,” she replied, “but you need to calm down and tell me exactly what’s going on.”

“I will,” he snarled, “right after I’ve killed Elroy Hubble.”

“Elroy Hubble? But why are you holding a knife to Wilf Sternhammer’s throat.”

“It’s Wulf,” said Sternhammer.

“It’s neither,” growled Mr Smith. “This is Elroy Hubble. This is the man whose ideas almost got me killed. This is the man whose crap science-fiction books inspired normal people in South Island to turn into raving nutcases!” He began to laugh like a maniac. “This is the man I need to silence! This is man whose death will be only thing that will give me any peace of mind! This is . . .”

“All right, all right,” interrupted Sternhammer, “I think they’ve got the point.”

All through this exchange Jim was stood motionless in the doorway with his mouth open. When he saw the man Mr Smith had pinned against the wall his face had turned white with shock. It took him several minutes for him to collect his thoughts, during which time he was utterly speechless, and when he did regain control of his vocal chords he was only able to say one word.

“Dad?” he said.

“Hello, son,” replied George Friteuse. “Long time no see.”



Friday, October 19, 2012


“Morning, G,” said Agent John Smith.

Sir Crispen Fotherington-Smythe smiled cheerfully as he saw his favourite operative enter G Division through the double doors at the end of the corridor.

The year was 1983 and John Smith was Frontiere’s top agent, the one chosen for the most hazardous missions, usually in the most exotic places. He had recently returned from Canada where he had busted a major cheese-smuggling ring that were illicitly bringing large quantities of cheese over the border from the USA and into southern Ontario, where it was sold to restaurants at greatly inflated prices. The leader of the operation, a Canadian police officer, was arrested, along with two others after Agent Smith had followed them to a warehouse containing over C$200,000 of American cheese and other dairy products. A pizzeria owner in Toronto was also being questioned by police after a quantity of contraband dairy was discovered on his premises.

A poster issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Cheese Police in 1982

“Agent Smith,” said Sir Crispen, “what a pleasant surprise. I take it you’ve been briefed by Big C.”

“Just come down from his office, G. What have you got for me this time?”

“Before we get down to business, I’ve got something I want to run by you.”

“Oh, yes. What is it this time?”

“It’s an idea for a new book.”

Agent Smith rolled his eyes and smiled. “Go on,” he said.

“It’s about a female Soviet agent who eliminates her opponents by passing sexually transmitted diseases onto them. I’m thinking of calling it From Thrusher With Love. What do you think?”

“Forget it.”

“Really? I thought it was a rather good idea.”

“Trust me, G, it’s not.”

“Oh well, back to the drawing board,” said Sir Crispen before taking Agent Smith through the gadgets he would be requiring for his latest assignment.

Agent Smith had been ordered to infiltrate the Late Afternoon Goudalistic Church of the Seven Hard Cheeses on South Island and to send back regular reports to Big C. The Goudi movement was becoming increasingly influential on South Island and Big C needed to know whether or not they posed a threat. Part of his assignment was to attempt to uncover Elroy Hubble’s actual identity, which was going to be no easy task as virtually nothing was known about the man.

“Be careful with that lot,” said Sir Crispen. “They might claim to be peace-loving religious types, but in my experience of that sort of thing they usually turn out to be bunch of lunatics.”

“I hear you loud and clear, G,” said Agent Smith, “but really, there’s no need to worry.”

Three months later there was every reason for Sir Crispen to worry. After successfully infiltrating the Late Afternoon Goudalistic Church of the Seven Hard Cheeses, Agent John Smith’s cover had been blown when GBH received an anonymous tip-off from a double agent calling himself Cheesefinger.

Smith was called into GBH’s office under the pretence of swearing him in as a fully paid up member of the Goudis. When he entered the office, however, he was jumped upon by two large men hiding behind the door. A bag was forced over Smith’s head and he struggled manfully as his hands and feet were being bound, but a sharp blow to the head sent him spinning into a dark tunnel of unconsciousness.

When he regained his senses he found himself bound to a chair in a darkened room. There was a large screen in front of him that was constantly showing old episodes of the Australian TV soap Neighbours and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, the show was punctuated with random slogans that flashed briefly up on the screen at one minute intervals in black words in large capital letters on a white background. ‘JOIN US! ELROY HUBBLE IS YOUR SAVIOUR! BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS!’ ‘ONE OF US!’ and ‘SHOP AT FOODTOWN FOR ALL YOUR CHEESY COMESTIBLES!

Smith wasn’t entirely sure why that last slogan was included, but he was pretty certain that he was being brainwashed. And just to complete the torture two large men dressed in black suits and wearing ski-masks would enter the room at intervals of fifteen minutes and, without saying a word, one would hold Smith’s mouth open while the other force-fed him Jar Cheese from a spoon and liquefied Australian Bitey through a funnel.

Nothing in his training had prepared him for what he was being subjected to. This level of sophisticated torture had not been seen since the dark days of the Spanish Inquisition, when, in an attempt to convert the radical extra-strong Cheddar cheese-eaters into accepting the new milder and creamier varieties, the Inquisitors would smear their victim’s bodies with Jar Queso and then let hungry cats lick it all off with their rough tongues. Driven to the brink of insanity by this inhumane treatment, almost all of those tortured by this method would confess to anything and everything in order to have their names put on the waiting list to be hung, drawn and quartered, which was felt by many to be a more befitting punishment for the average medieval cheese connoisseur and heretic.

The Spanish Inquisition smearing 'Jar Queso' on one of their victims moments before the cats are released

Agent John Smith couldn’t remember how long he had suffered this terrible ordeal – it seemed like days – and just when he felt like he was beginning to crack under the pressure of it all, the timely intervention of Miss Emily Yip broke the cycle of torture and brainwashing.

Miss Yip’s parents were an odd couple. Her father, Jock Forshaw, was a wealthy six foot tall Scotsman from Campbeltown, a place so weather-beaten that it was often said that if the wind suddenly stopped blowing everyone would fall over. Her mother, Zhi Yip, was four foot nothing and extremely beautiful and, like thousands of others, had fled China along with her family after the Cultural Revolution and settled in New Zealand, where they prospered in the marionette business. The couple had met in Wellington when Jock was on one of his many important overseas business trips and they fell instantly in love with each other. After a short long-distance relationship Jock sold his glove puppet business and moved to New Zealand where they were married.

The marriage was blissful at first – Jock would put on impromptu Punch and Judy Shows for her and she would entertain him with Chinese adaptations of classic Fireball XL5 episodes – but alas, it was not to last. Shortly after the birth of Emily, Zhi returned home one evening to find Jock playing with their next door neighbour, Derek. She was so shocked by what she discovered about her husband that she could barely utter a word to him for a week. When she finally spoke it was to ask for a divorce. “I’m a broad-minded woman,” she told her solicitor, “but I draw the line at Wargaming.”

Jock promised to attend regular Wargamers Anonymous meetings, but the damage was irreversible and Zhi left home with young Emily, never to return.

Emily Yip grew up in a warm and loving relationship with her mother and grandparents. Her grandfather was particularly influential in her development, teaching her the Eastern arts of Tai Kwon Do, Karate, Judo, Feng Shui and Origami and at the age of eighteen she was approached by Liam Schiffrin, who recruited her into the Big Top.

Once her training was completed she was taken under the wing of Agent John Smith who, although ten years her senior, had taken a bit of a shine to her. They worked as a team on a number of missions and their relationship, as fellow agents at least, became almost symbiotic.

Rescuing him from the clutches of the Late Afternoon Goudaistic Church of the Seven Hard Cheeses was her way of saying thank you.

The two men who had been torturing Agent Smith never knew what hit them. They were both killed instantly by well-aimed blows to the neck and, after leaving two perfectly folded paper swans on their bodies and rearranging the furniture for maximum Chi, Miss Yip helped her groggy mentor out of the building and to the safety of her waiting car.

A few minutes after Miss Yip drove Agent Smith away, a squad of heavily armed and trigger-happy policemen from Orangatanga, who were following an anonymous tip-off, arrived. After piling out of their armoured vehicle and securing the area, the police realised that the place was in the middle of nowhere and therefore devoid of any possible witnesses, at which point they immediately opened fire on anything that moved within a hundred yard radius, and before leaving they burned the place to the ground with flaming torches. Driving along the coast road on the way back to Orangatanga they drank beer and sang songs. “And the hairs on her dicky-di-do hung down to her knees,” they bellowed cheerfully, until an accidental discharge from one of the high-powered rifles in the back shot the driver through the head, whereupon the armoured vehicle careered off the road and over the edge of a cliff, killing everyone inside.

The Goudi Headquarters in flames

In a headline article the next day, The Orangatanga Times reported that “the operation the Orangatanga police undertook at the South Island Late Afternoon Goudaistic Church of the Seven Hard Cheeses was so thoroughly executed that they left no witnesses, not even themselves.”

Agent John Smith was given a week to recover before he was called in to see Big C, along with Agent Yip.

“Good to see you again, John,” began Everard Hinchcliffe. “You seem to be fully recovered from your ordeal, but, as far as everyone is aware, you are a completely broken man. I want to maintain that illusion in order for you to complete your mission.”

John Smith sat back in his chair and nodded.

“I’ll be sending you and Agent Yip to Braintree in England. We have a Frontiere Cheese Factory there and you will set yourself up as the new manager. You must be indecisive and a total moron at all times. If you can pull this off it will be your best performance to date. Are you up for it, John?”

“Of course, sir; but what about Agent Yip?”

“She’ll be going with you, posing as your personal secretary. She’ll effectively be in charge of the factory and watching your back at the same time. That will give you the time and space to gather whatever information you can get your hands on.”


“There are rumours that Elroy Hubble has not been found because he doesn’t live on dry land.”

“What, you mean he lives on a boat?

“Exactly. The reason I’m sending you to Braintree is because no one has ever heard of it – in fact everyone here thinks it’s a made-up name. I want you carry on with your investigations into Hubble where there are no distractions and, believe me, you won’t find any distractions in Braintree.”

“Then what?”

“Report back to me. Do you have any questions, John?”

“Only one, sir – when do we leave?”

“Tomorrow – you’ll be picked up in London by a guy called Peter Perkins, who will take you to Braintree. He’s a bit soft in the head, but he’s OK.”

Agent John Smith played the part of burnt-out moronic manager to perfection. All the staff at the factory thought he was an idiot. They scoffed at him behind his back, regarding him as childish for insisting on his weekly copy of 2000AD. What no one knew, apart from Miss Yip and Peter Perkins, was that (apart from being a first-rate periodical brimming with sophisticated and humorous storylines – he particularly liked Strontium Dog – aimed squarely at adults) The Mighty Tharg’s editorial column contained coded messages pertaining to the whereabouts of Elroy Hubble.

The day Jim Friteuse arrived at the factory Agent Smith had received one such message, informing him that Hubble. travelling under the name of Wulf Sternhammer, was one of the passengers in the very aircraft that Jim had arrived in England on.

Mr Sternhammer was staying at a Guest House in Braintree and had already received the personal invitation to visit the local Frontiere Factory that afternoon.

It would not be long before he arrived and then, contrary to Big Cs orders, Smith was going to kill him for what he and his lunatic supporters had subjected him to.

He closed the door of his office, sat down on his swivel chair, picked up his copy of 2000AD and held the magazine open in front of his face, before letting out a long maniacal, pantomime baddy laugh.

If the Big Top’s psychiatric evaluator had been sat in the office at that same moment in time he would have concluded that Agent John Smith was an awfully long way away from being recovered.