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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A festive story

Here's a festive story written for today's Leeds Savage writers group meeting. Unfortunately I won't be there in person as I'm not risking leaving the house again after the four mile journey home this afternoon took three and a half hours - damn you snow!!!

Speaking of which, here's the view from our front door....


Jim had never enjoyed Christmas - even as a child the forced jollity and feigned festivity had grated on him, and as an adult he had adopted a distinctly Scrooge like attitude to the season. Why should he be expected to waste his energy on spreading love and goodwill to all men given that in any of the other 11 months of the year most of them would not give him so much as a smile when he served them their fries? He had not, mind you, taken on the job at Happy Burger due to a love of customer service; to be honest he hated it when a pimply beef lover tried to engage him in an inane conversation about the weather or enquired into his plans for the weekend. If he had his own way there would be a large sign on the counter instructing customers to place their order, pay up and shut up. No small talk, no problem.

It was an entire month before the start of advent when the ‘C’ word was first uttered in the Craven Road branch shift managers’ meeting. The guilty party was the store manager Gemma who was, with her unfailing love of towing the corporate line, the diametric opposite of Jim, whose sole objective was to get through each day without giving in to the urge to swear at the customers or pummel the numbskulls that he supervised.

“Great news guys!” Gemma announced with her usual irritating enthusiasm. “This year Happy Burger are going to put last year’s politically correct ‘Winterval’ disaster behind them and let us celebrate Christmas properly! There’s going to be a special festive menu on offer and head office are going to award a special prize to the restaurant that they think has best embodied the Christmas spirit! I’m sure you’ll all agree that it’s going to be brilliant.”
Jim rolled his eyes and turned to the colleague at the side of him. “Bah humbug! If she thinks she’s going to get me flipping quarter pounders in an elf outfit whilst singing Silent flipping Night she’s got another thing coming.”

“What’s that Jim?” Gemma replied with a straight face. “You’re volunteering to dress up for us? What a wonderful idea! And speaking of wonderful ideas, I would recommend that you all get your thinking caps on as I’m going to be offering an extra day of paid holiday for the employee who comes up with the best festive idea by the twelfth of December. Let’s show head office what Craven Road is made of!”

At these words Jim suddenly shook off his usual indifference. “An extra day of holiday you say? Let’s get this festive show on the road then!”

That evening Jim set about brainstorming ideas that could win him a priceless day away from the greasy stench and oppressive heat of the Happy Burger kitchen. Certain things he immediately discounted as being off limits, notably dressing up in any kind of fancy dress or putting on any kind of public performance. Working in Happy Burger was by itself demeaning enough without the need to stoop to such a level. What else then could he do to give Craven Road a Christmas that it would never forget?

Santa, Rudolph, Elves – in Jim’s opinion a load of gubbins, twee nonsense for children and others of the same mental age.

Turkey, Crackers, Mince Pies and Pud - festive perhaps, but all a bit clichéd and nothing that you wouldn’t find in some shape or form at every eating establishment from Kebab City upwards at this time of year. What Jim needed to do to bag that holiday was something different, something that hadn’t been done before. Then it hit him. Sprouts – what could be more Christmassy than sprouts? After all, Jim couldn’t recall any member of his family who would eat them on any other day of the year, something that couldn’t be said for turkey, spuds and all the other accoutrements. Everything from pizza to pasta was given the turkey and cranberry spin come December, yet he’d never seen a sprout seasoned bag of crisps or sprout stuffed sandwich. Underrated and unloved compared to the other goodies on the Christmas dinner table, why not make sprouts the star attraction for a change?

Obtaining the required volume of sprouts to bring Jim’s plan to life proved to be no easy task. Every supermarket in the vicinity had its supplies exhausted as he loaded case after case into the back of his clapped out car. Eventually, after six round trips and a few odd looks Jim had sourced enough of the vegetables to construct his masterpiece. The next challenge was to peel all ten thousand sprouts; the late shift workers who usually wiled away the hours with a copy of the Sun and a lot of lengthy cigarette breaks being forced to participate by the cracking whip of their usually indifferent and ineffective supervisor. Come the end of the shift Jim would hide the work in progress at the back of the industrial fridge safely away from Gemma’s prying eyes; the likelihood of the boss ever actually lugging around the boxes of frozen buns and processed meat being a longer shot than a white Christmas.

The eleventh of December came round and rather than locking up with his usual haste at the end of the night, Jim retreated into the warehouse to set about building a burger unlike any that he had ever served before. Given that peeling and boiling the sprouts had taken a good week some of them were now frankly past their best, but as this was a meal designed for viewing rather than eating he didn’t foresee that as being a problem. Rolling up his sleeves he pounded the vegetables and fashioned them with the help of sticky egg into something akin to a giant green cow pat almost 6 feet in diameter. The internet had informed him that the world’s biggest burger of the carnivorous variety had weighed in at a whopping 15 stone, but nowhere had he found any stats for the biggest veggie pattie. His fellow workers may have made Gemma smile with their cutesy angel outfits and homemade mince pies, but had they put in Craven Road in the Guinness Book of Records? No sirree. Jim was confident that his efforts would not go unrewarded and that that extra day of holiday was as good as his. The irony of the fact that he had put in a good twenty hours of overtime was not lost on him, but the look on Gemma’s usually patronising face when she begrudgingly declared him winner would surely make it all worthwhile. The official from the book of records was due to arrive at 8am, the same time that Gemma and the morning shift would be rocking up to get the happy hash browns sizzling for the commuter crowd. At 3am, finally satisfied with his handiwork, he sellotaped a printed sign beneath the counter where the creation sat which read 'The world's biggest veggie burger'. As an afterthought he scribbled 'Merry Christmas Boss' underneath in Biro. If immortalising the Craven Road branch in print was not enough to win over Gemma then, much as it pained him, maybe a bit of uncharacteristic ass kissing would seal the deal....

Before locking up and heading home for a couple of hours sleep he took a photo of the gigantoburger on his phone. A true work of sprout based art.

As he approached work Jim was surprised by the massive crowd hanging around. He had expected the news of a world record having been set on Craven road to pull in plenty of customers and locals keen to have a nose, but had not anticipated it spreading so fast. He pushed past not one but several tv crews and journalists, eager to find Gemma and made her concede that his effort was undeniably the best. Her Young Manager of the Year award may have made a tiny column on page 23 of the Winfordshire Evening News, but today he, Jim Gordon, was going to make the headlines.

At last he saw Gemma heading towards him through the chattering crowd. As their eyes met the look on her face was certainly memorable, but not in the manner in which he had expected. She was covered in what appeared to be soot, and her usually pristine cream Happy Burger tunic was black. Jim was taken aback when she threw herself into his arms; he'd thought that the burger might raise a wry smile from his boss, but physical contact was something he had neither expected nor desired.

"Oh Jim, Jim, it's awful!" she sobbed into his chest. "Its completely destroyed, totally gutted!"

It was only at that point that Jim noticed through a gap in the crowd that where his place of reluctant employment had once stood was now a smoking mass of bricks, mortar and Formica.
"What the?" he exclaimed.

"It was a gas explosion" Gemma replied. "An abnormally high build up of methane apparently. I flicked on the light switch and the whole place went up in an instant. Thank goodness there were no customers around or who knows what could have happened!"

"Very lucky indeed" Jim replied solemnly . As Gemma continued to weep onto his shirt he was surprised to find that her hair smelt strangely nice; granted the explosion had given the air a fragrance reminiscent of farts or, dare he admit, sprouts, but at this unfamiliarly close proximity Gemma seemed a little less like a whiny dictator and a bit more like - shock horror - a reasonably attractive girl. He was just contemplating this turn of events and taking another sniff of Gemma's locks when he noticed a familiar looking piece of paper floating towards him on the wind. In a smooth move that would have impressed James Bond he grabbed the note with one hand and pulled Gemma into a tight embrace with the other. Fair enough ass kissing wasn't usually his style, but in the spirit of the season maybe this time he would make an exception. His culinary creation may not have had quite the desired effect, but as it was this was far better than he could ever have planned - not just one day off but no more flipping burgers for the foreseeable future. He screwed the paper up in his hand and tossed it in the gutter before whispering in Gemma's ear 'Merry Christmas Boss. I know we’ve had our differences and all, but given that it looks like we’re going to have a fair bit of time to kill over the Christmas season, do you fancy going sprout some time?'

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Poem - 'A Tragicomedy'

This poem was written for a Leeds Savages writing group task with the theme 'Alcohol'.
Always fun to bring out the rhyming couplets....

A Tragicomedy

Chardonnay, Shiraz, WKD Blue,
Pint of Stella, Jagermeister, Lemonade and Taboo
She isn’t fussed by the taste, just chasing the sensation
Leaving responsibility behind for a night of libation
When she slaps on the warpaint, fake lashes, high heels
It’s not about the look but the way that she feels
She warms up with vodka so she won’t feel the cold
As she waits at the bus stop for the night to unfold

She likes a Malibu, Southern Comfort, that schnapps made of peach
A Woo Woo, a Cosmo, then Sex on the Beach
She knows no better way to forget all her troubles
Than a bright pink concoction with a cherry and bubbles
Dancing shoes buckled on and she’s ready to move
Hit the floor, wild abandon whatever the groove
She won’t give a damn what anyone thinks
As long as the barman keeps pouring the drinks

Closing time brings an exodus to the nearest cab rank
Girls competitively analysing how much they drank
She sidles up to him wide-eyed in the endless queue
“I love you” she says, “I really, really do”
“My feet hurt like hell and I barely can walk
Just let me hold you for a while, there’s no need to talk”
Yet this tall strong beau is immune to her charms
For you won’t get many kisses with a lamppost in your arms...

Friday, 27 August 2010

'The Letter' #fridayflash

Something quite different to my usual contributions, an ultra-short piece of writing inspired by a Leeds Savages ( writers group task.

As she recoiled at the acrid taste of the glue, she reflected on how the letter, in its physical form, was a sadly dying breed. A generation of young lovers were now exchanging ‘billet doux’ instantly through the air, the romance historically borne of distance and separation lost now that constant, instant communication was available to all. In this digital age poetic expression had been replaced with acronyms unintelligible to anyone over the age of 30, and the missive was sealed not with a kiss but with a smiley emoticon.

She folded over the flap and ran her finger along it firmly. The words within this envelope were not for sharing on a blog or tweeting to the world. They were not words to be read on a screen in impersonal Times new roman, size 12 print, but thoughts brought to life on paper, their meaning conveyed not just through the juxtaposition of characters and spaces but through the smudged imperfection of a manuscript speckled with tears.

She carefully placed the envelope in the middle of the open hearth. For a few seconds it sat there untouched, flames dancing around it but making no mark. Then the crackling tongues of fire wrapped themselves around the corner of the envelope, consuming the paper with ravenous hunger. She watched as the name that she had lovingly inscribed disappeared, sucked up the chimney with the other fragments, a memory to be carried on the wind.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Holy Cow! - #fridayflash

A whimsical story written for a Leeds Savages writers group task on the rather challenging theme of 'Heavenly Cows'. Hope you enjoy it!


Ever since he’d got his pensioners bus pass Frank had continued to bore and distress his family in equal measure with constant talk of his own mortality. After all their protestations that he was as fit as a fiddle and would without a doubt be winding them up for another twenty years yet, he was smugly pleased to have proved them wrong. Frank couldn’t recall what he had been doing when he died, only that everything went dark and he was overwhelmed by a sensation of weightlessness, as if floating away from his body on the gentlest of breezes. It was quite a pleasant experience really, the nearest comparison he could make from his mortal experience being the bliss he’d felt whilst having a full body massage performed at the skilful hands of a young woman on holiday in Turkey back in 2003, but on this occasion without the inappropriate erotic thoughts.

Although he may have once or twice in his seventy years of existence uttered the expression ‘Holy Cow’, Frank had never for a minute considered there to be anything divine about the bovine kind. Cows were useful, granted, in terms of their capacity to provide the creamy gold top in which he liked to bathe his rice crispies of a morning and the occasional Big Mac, but he had never had any interest in the hooved milk-bars beyond consuming their by-products. It came as a surprise, therefore, when he found himself staring straight into the big expressionless eyes of a Friesian, its black and white head surrounded by a halo of light In the back of his mind he seemed to recall hearing that certain religions believed cows to be sacred, but he certainly didn’t remember the sermons he’d experienced during forty years of weekly attendance at St David’s (or at least the ten percent which he’d managed to stay awake through) ever touching on the subject of being welcomed into the afterlife by a farm animal.

“Moo-oooo-oooooooo-ooooooooo” said the cow dolefully. “Mooo-ooooo-ooooo-ooooooooooooo.”

“Yes, I get it, you’re a cow;” replied Frank. “Mooooooooooo to you too. So what’s going on? Don’t tell me that those fellows wearing dresses and banging on tambourines outside Sainsburys were right all along with that reincarnation mumbo-jumbo and I’m now a mouse or something. I really have wasted a lot of Sundays if that’s the case.”

“Moooooooooooooooooooooo.” The cow broke its eye contact with Frank and pointed its damp pink nose down his body.

“Oh, what a relief, all four limbs appear to be present and correct. You got me worried for a minute there! So what happens next, girl? Is St Peter out at lunch or something? I’ve thought there’d be angels playing sweet ‘moo-sic’ on harps or something – ‘moo’sic, you get it? No, of course you don’t, I’m being ‘udderly’ stupid trying to crack jokes to a cow. I’m going to milk this for all its worth though, haha!”

With another languid moo the cow stepped back and Frank was bathed in the blinding light which had previously been casting an ethereal glow around the heifer.

“Oh lord, I’m sorry if it looks like I’ve not been taking the situation seriously, it’s just that I’ve always brought out the puns when I get nervous. Take me now, lord, I’m ready;” Frank prayed out loud, closing his eyes. “Ready for what I’m not quite sure, as this really isn’t what I was expecting, but I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” The last thing Frank felt was a big wet tongue licking his face, and then darkness swallowed him once more.

“Mum, mum, I think he’s waking up!”

Frank slowly prised open a lead heavy eyelid to see his wife, daughter and grandson all stood looking over him like some kind of museum exhibit.

“What the? What the?” Frank stuttered, the forming of each single syllable requiring an inordinate level of effort.

“Hush, Dad, you need to rest;” his daughter said. “You’ve given us all a scare, but you’re going to be ok.”

“The cow? Where’s the cow?”

“He remembers the cow, Mum!” his grandson said excitedly. “I thought the doctor said he probably wouldn’t remember anything?”

“Keep your voice down darling, I’m sure Grandad doesn’t want to hear you shouting.”

Unable to move his head having been wedged between a barricade of pillows on either side, Frank rolled his eyes from left to right, taking in a variety of tubes and beeping machines which all appeared to be attached to his body.

“I’m in hospital;” he stated, looking to his wife who nodded in confirmation. “I’m not dead at all. But what about the angel cow? I was dead, I’m sure of it.”

“I’m not sure if it was of the heavenly variety, but it’s probably thanks to that cow that you’re alive. You were walking through the field berry picking when you collapsed in some kind of fit – the doctors think you probably ate something poisonous whilst you were foraging, never could wait until you got home, could you? The cow kept nudging you which they reckon may have stopped you falling into a coma or even worse; and apparently it was making such a racket that it caught the attention of some walkers who went over to the animal thinking it was in some kind of distress only to find you prostrate on the grass with berries smeared all round your face.”

“I’m so sorry for giving you a scare;” Frank replied. “I may have joked with you before that I was on my last legs but I reckon that there’s actually plenty of life in this dog yet, and I want to spend as many years as God is willing to give me with all of you. Can you all forgive me for being a foolish old man?”

“Nothing to apologise for, Dad, you weren’t to know, although from now on you’re getting all of your fruit from the grocers!” his daughter replied. “So is it safe to say we’re going to see a more serious side to you after your near-death experience?”

Frank paused for several seconds with an expressionless face before bursting into a massive grin.

“You’d butter believe it!”

Saturday, 7 August 2010

An opening chapter....

Been a little while since I posted anything on here but aim to change that from now on!

This is an opening chapter (untitled as of yet) that I wrote for a recent Leeds Savages writers group meet. Not sure whether to continue with it or not, but see it as being packed with twists and turns as the protagonist uncovers dramatic family secrets....


It was a damp, unremarkable Friday night and Kate was toasting the end of yet another unremarkable working week with a white wine spritzer in local watering hole The Black Bull. The prim cardigan that had been buttoned up to the neck all day had been shrugged off to reveal a slinky salmon pink camisole which nicely showed off the remnants of the tan she had recently acquired on holiday with her husband. Although marriage meant she was a firmly one guy girl these days, it was nonetheless satisfying to know that the wedding ring hadn’t rendered her completely invisible to the opposite sex, even if the only admiring glances she received came from a cluster of elderly locals who looked like they had been propping up the bar since long before she was born. Mike had never really minded her flirty ways; if anything he was worse, a real charmer once he had a few beers inside of him.

“Excuse me miss, are you Kate Scott?”

Kate looked up from her drink to face a tall, broad shouldered man with an unkempt beard; a bit scruffy looking for her tastes but probably nothing that couldn’t be sorted with a good haircut and shave. Kate’s initial thought was that her plunging neckline had finally worked its magic and caught the attention of someone under forty, but then it suddenly dawned on her that he had addressed her by name, strange given that she was sure that she’d never met him in her life.

“Do I know you?”

“I’m afraid not, but I’ve been asked to give you this package.” He placed a brown envelope on the table next to Kate’s drink. “I was just stopped outside by a woman who said that she needed to get this to you. She wouldn’t give me her name but she was probably eighteen, twenty at the most, short blonde hair, nice fitted red coat, good figure.”

“Whatever;” Kate replied, more interested in finding out the contents of the envelope than the method of its delivery. “So what is it?”

“Its a disc, a DVD I guess? She said to tell you to make sure that you’re sitting down when you look at it as it will change your life completely. She looked really on edge, as if she was desperate to get away as quickly as she could. Seemed a bit mental to me.”

“What the???” Kate snatched the envelope off the table and pulled out the contents; a clear plastic case containing an unlabelled silver disc. “I need to go find her. I don’t get it, who is she, what’s this big life changing message?”

Kate leapt to her feet and grabbed her cardigan, not bothering to bid farewell to the colleagues who were engrossed in their own conversations about the latest office gossip and oblivious to the drama unfolding beside them.

“I wouldn’t bother if I were you;” replied the bearded stranger. “As soon as she’d given it to me she leapt in her car and drove off. A silver hatchback it was, not sure what make. Anyway Kate Scott, do you fancy a drink?”

Without replying Kate pushed past him and ran out onto the street. November rain was hammering down and there was no sign of anyone, let alone the girl in the red coat. She glanced back through the door of the pub and could see that the man who had handed me the envelope was now imposing his questionable charms on her line manager. Holding the envelope above her head she ran around the corner to the taxi rank where she was fortunately able to leap straight into the dry comfort of a cab.

As the taxi wound through the town centre the words of the man in the pub spun around Kate’s head – ‘Make sure you’re sitting down when you look at it, it will change your life completely’. Thinking about this statement made her feel very nervous indeed; who was this woman to turn up and rock her previously comfortable world? Her thoughts quickly turned to Mike, Mike who worked in a trendy advertising agency surrounded by young, attractive girls, the kind of pert figured girls who could effortlessly rock an edgy blonde haircut and red coat, girls a world away from a thirty something wife kidding herself that she’s still got it just because she can wear a low cut top in public. She’d met some of the women that Mike worked with and imagined that they would grab male attention even if they were trussed up in a hessian sack. What if the red coat girl had been spurned by Mike and was now determined to make his life a misery somehow? Or maybe, even worse, he hadn’t spurned her at all and the disc contained evidence of an affair? Kate imagined sliding the disc into her laptop and being greeted with images of Mike and the mysterious woman in compromising positions. He’d cheated on her before, almost a decade ago, but at the time they had only been going out for a few months and she’d managed to bring herself to forgive him when he confessed the truth in a sobbing declaration that the guilt had been tearing him apart, that he’d never loved a woman before but had come to realise that she was the one he wanted to spend his life with – oh, and by the way would she marry him? She’d believed him at the time but now, in the face of the unknown, wondered whether she’d been right to put my trust in him given his chequered history. Amazing how thoughts of gowns and veils and fairy tales could warp the most rational of minds...

“Here you go love, that’ll be nine pounds twenty.”

Out of the window of the taxi Kate could see the light on in the living room; Mike was home and probably curled on the sofa next to the dog with a bottle of wine chilling in anticipation of her arrival. She looked down at the envelope on the seat beside her, then up again at the house, before slipping the envelope onto the floor of the taxi. As she stepped out of the cab she made sure that she speared the envelope with the heel of her stiletto, breathing a deep sigh of relief as she felt the satisfying crack of the CD. She didn’t want her life to be changed at all; she was perfectly happy with things as they were, thank you very much.


Thursday, 1 July 2010

'Judgement Day' #fridayflash

This is an edited version of a story that I wrote for a Leeds Savages writers meet with the theme of 'winning', and the second story that I've based in the imaginary English village of Winfordshire.


It started with a marrow. With the girth of a tree and weight of a child, Teddy Ward’s pride and joy was certainly not the bog-standard squash you might pick up at your local greengrocer. This beast was far beyond the capacity of a shopping-basket, with two sweating flat-capped gentlemen and a large metal wheelbarrow employed in order to transport it to Winfordshire village green for judging. Young Eric Marmaduke had never seen such a thing before, but from the moment he first laid eyes on Teddy’s glorious green triumph he knew that he wanted in. Over the next few years he learned from the master everything there was to know about cultivating giant vegetables. When Teddy passed away everyone, Eric included, assumed that the lad would step into his shoes and win a clean sweep of rosettes at the next village fete. It was therefore a huge disappointment when he failed to cultivate anything greater than a distinctly average 18 incher the following summer, and saw the honour he had always dreamed of being his bestowed on smugly grinning Frank Porter.

As the years passed Eric became a husband and father but never faltered in his devotion to the giant veg cause. Mrs Marmaduke always said size isn’t everything, to which Eric would scoff “What? Of course bigger is better!” She would also tell the girls that winning isn’t important as it’s taking part that counts; this provoked indignant huffing from her husband who would respond that only losers could speak and believe such ridiculous sentiments. At the time Eric had accused Maureen of not taking his passion seriously, but looking back he realised she had only said these things in the hope that she could protect him from the disappointment that would inevitably hang over him like a dark, thunderous cloud for the months between judging and planting season. Now that she was gone, Eric decided to have one more stab at glory in her honour before hanging up his gardening gloves forever.

The spring weather had provided perfect growing conditions and Eric was optimistic that after fifty years of failure this would be the summer that he would steal the Vegetable crown from Frank’s bald head. He had always wondered what was the secret of Frank’s success but would never stoop as low as to actually ask his advice. There were countless rumours circulating including speculation that he watered his marrows with single malt whiskey and would play the mandolin to his tomatoes for hours on end. Eric had tested these methods, albeit on a slightly tighter budget with Best-Buy Brandy and a cassette recording of Cher, but to no avail. Eric’s vegetables were larger than most, but nothing compared to Frank’s progeny. With only a week to go before the Fete, Eric surveyed the allotment with tears in his eyes. Since Maureen had died he had kept himself going by imagining ascending the podium and dedicating a prize to his wife, but it was becoming clear that that was never going to happen - he would be lucky to scrape a bronze, let alone the coveted best in show. Frustrated, he kicked the marrows, tore down the creeping runner bean vines and threw handful after handful of tomatoes and strawberries at the greenhouse.

When Eric’s youngest daughter turned up at the allotment intending to catch the sun for a few hours along-side her Dad she was shocked to find him sat on the ground surrounded by a scene of vegetable carnage. Initially she thought that it must have been the work of vandals, but as she moved closer the stains all over his clothes and skin revealed the truth. Claire took his hand and gently helped him to his feet. “Let’s get you home. I think what you need is a nice cup of tea. Don’t worry, I’ll tidy up later.”

A week passed and Eric did not return to the allotment. As far as he was concerned, his life’s work was over - he’d had enough, and after years of labour his knees were knackered anyhow. It was time to put horticulture behind him and spend some quality time with his family. It was what Maureen would have wanted.

The day of the fete came around and Eric had no intention of leaving the house let alone going to watch Frank Porter gloat once again. It came as a surprise therefore when all three daughters turned up on his doorstep along with his four grandchildren demanding that he accompany them to the village green.

“Come on Dad, you’ll enjoy it;” Claire pleaded.

Reluctantly Eric pulled on socks and shoes. “Can’t we just go down by the river instead? You were never interested in the fete before, why the sudden change?”

“You’ll see;” Claire replied.

As the family strolled across the green a loudspeaker crackled to life.

“Great, sounds like we’re just in time for the judging;” his eldest, Susan, squealed enthusiastically.

“Brilliant” he mumbled in sullen reply as they took their place in front of the stage where the Mayor stood in full regalia.

“Today is a very special day for Winfordshire;” the Mayor began. “As you’ll know there is always a very high standard of entries here, but this is the first year that a villager has won seven gold medals in a single year, crushing the record of five previously held by Frank Porter. Mr Eric Marmaduke has for many years been growing fruit and vegetables, but little did we know just how wonderful they tasted. I am delighted to present Mr Marmaduke with the Best in Show award for his Marrow Cake – so moist, I’ll certainly be asking for the recipe! Mr Marmaduke has also won gold medals for his chutney, jam, carrot scones, tomato juice and berry pie, along with the photography prize for a most unusual image entitled Allotment Massacre at Sunset. Please put your hands together as Mr Marmaduke makes his way to the stage.”

Eric looked around at the smiling, appreciative faces of his family and felt on top of the world, ascending to an even higher state of nirvana when he saw Frank Porter’s ruddy face scowling at him.

“Go Grandad” urged his grandson. “Get your prize.”

As Eric ascended the steps he imagined this must have been how Bobby Moore felt when he lifted the World Cup back in 66. Having spent his entire adult life trying to grow obscenely large vegetables, it had never once crossed his mind to actually taste the things – he’d always been more a meat and potatoes man.

“Thanks, thanks;” he stuttered. “I’d like to dedicate my awards to the memory of my wife Maureen, the most wonderful woman in the world. And to three equally wonderful ladies, my beautiful daughters who I’m proud to have with me today.” He looked from one beaming smile to the next before winking at Claire.

“Thank you girls. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

Thursday, 24 June 2010


I haven't had time to write much over the past couple of weeks - have had numerous musical rehearsals and performances, been to the theatre to see Hairspray (great fun!) and been generally busy, though am promising myself that i'll get pen to paper for a few hours this weekend....

Here's a poem I wrote for the most recent Leeds Savages ( writing group; the task was to write something about or inspired by Elvis, and I decided to write a light poem featuring the titles of twenty of 'The King's' singles....


'I wish' she cried, 'you were more like Elvis
With those twinkly eyes and that exquisite pelvis
The way he moved got me 'all shook up', from my heart down to my thighs,
As I’d sigh and swoon to each sex soaked tune, Ma called him the 'devil in disguise'

I wonder if she knew that when I kissed my 'teddy bear'
I was dreaming of stroking those skin-tight jeans and running my fingers through his hair
But darling, those muddy trainers, well they’re hardly ‘blue suede shoes’
And that sorry attempt at a goatee beard I find quite hard to excuse

That awful shirt that you somehow adore I’d like to ‘return to sender’
You used to have taste, where did it all go wrong? And you used to be so slender....
I miss that hunk of ‘burning love’, I don’t want us to go our ‘separate ways’
But sometimes I wonder if you’re still that boy whose heart I set ablaze.

So if you really ‘love me’, if you want us to stay together,
Then baby show me a ‘good rockin’ tonight’, I swear ‘its now or never’.
He looked at her and gave a smile
‘I’m sorry I can’t compete with Mr Presley’s style

But from the first day that I met you, you were ‘always on my mind’
You set alight my ‘wooden heart’, put my lonesome days behind
I followed you round like a ‘hound dog’, all panting tongue and wagging tail
And at night would pen you ‘love letters’ that I would never ever mail

I hoped for a ‘little less conversation’ when we went on our first date
But you were always a ‘hard headed woman’ and you made this ‘poor boy’ wait
There was 'crying in the chapel' on the day that we were wed
All I could think of was the 'wonder of you' and how I couldn't wait to get you to bed.

But if you no longer 'love me tender', if I fail to give you thrills,
Then I'll put on a sparkly jumpsuit, knock back some pies and prescription pills
I'll be surrounded by girls less than half my age, they'd sell their souls just to hear me sing
But have no fear, for you, my dear, are the only one who’ll ever rock this King.’

Thursday, 10 June 2010

The Final Whistle #fridayflash

This is a quick little story / sketch that I wrote in front of one of the very very many tenuously football related programmes currently clogging up the television schedules (A footballers wives edition of Come Dine With Me to be precise!) in honour of the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off today.


Come on come on come on come on, that's more like it, yes! NO!
You idiot, what the hell was that? Come on lad, get the ball, come on,
that's more like it, YES! What? Call that a foul, you blind fool?
Get your eyes tested mate! Oh no oh no oh no I can't bear to watch oh no no

Darling, I think we need to talk....

What, now? Can't you see I'm watching the game?
Now be a love a fetch me a beer....
Oh christ these Argies are going to be the death of me,
one nil, ten minutes down and already one nil,
Come on boys come on you can turn this around; that's better,
a bit of aggression lads, give them a taste of their own medicine.
Yes, yes, that's it, that's it, push it, push, COME ON!

I'm seeing someone else.

What? Don't be stupid.
It'll all be over by 9.30 and then you can watch your soaps.
OH FOR GOD'S SAKE! How did he miss that?
My nan could have scored there, you overpaid waste of space.
Come on now, come on, that's it, that's it, I've got a good feeling here,
this is it, this is it, yes, yes, yes, YES,


What a beauty, oh yes, get in!

His name's Edward. I met him at Pilates.

Yeah right, as if any straight man would be seen dead at pilates.
Did you see that goal? An absolute beauty, here , watch the replay,
d'you see that? ENG-ER-LAND!!!!!

Yes I saw. Great.
A load of millionaires running around like overgrown schoolboys.
Somehow I doubt those big busted models are with them for their admirable ball skills.
Now, do you want to see something?
Look at this picture, yes, that one on my facebook profile.
You didn't know I was on facebook?
You really don't know that much about me at all, do you.

Stop with the attention seeking, look it's almost half time,
we can have a chat at half time,
I'll even get you a cuppa.


We'll talk at half time, you say?
Well i'm sorry, but I'm not putting up with this anymore.
As far as we're concerned it's full time.
We're over.

What? Oh my god, my god look at this, can they, can they, oh my god,
yes, yes, yes they can! Two one to EN-GER-LAND!

Right that's it I'm off, I'm going to Edward’s.
Don't bother calling me, I'll be too busy having hot, sweaty sex to answer.

Ok, right, be seeing you then. Two one, my god, we really might do this.

She had been all well and good when it came to cooking, cleaning and bedroom services, but there were no doubt other women out there who'd be able to fill that void when takeaways, squalor and porn became too much. The world cup final though - this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. He knew without a doubt that when that final whistle blew he would be experiencing either the greatest ecstasy or loss of his life.
His wedding really had been pale in comparison.
Up against the true love he felt for those eleven men, that white shirt and St George's proudly flying flag, Frank’s wife of ten years was never going to compete. Women can come and go but football – ah, football!

Football is forever.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

'On the Town' - #fridayflash


There came a point in my late twenties when staying out until the small hours of the morning in some sticky floored dive lost its appeal. Who, after all, would subject themselves to that once they’d discovered the joys of imbibing a nice pint of ale in an establishment where the barman knows you by name, where you can hear yourself speak and where you can stay until closing time yet still be tucked up in bed by 11.30? Not me. Yet there I was, pushing forty and queuing outside Aladdin’s, the best and only club in town, surrounded by teenage girls who could legitimately have been my daughter. With the young guys dressed casually in trainers, jeans and t-shirts, we, in pressed shirts and shiny shoes, felt hopelessly out of place.

The fish-out-of-water sensation continued further inside. The last time I had been to a club the playlist had consisted of cheesy pop concluding with a failsafe bit of Bryan Adams just in case you hadn’t yet managed to pull, but from the second we entered it was safe to say that Bryan would not be featuring in DJ Hacksaw’s set. I couldn’t see the appeal of the supposed ‘music’ that had substituted a recognisable melody with a looped sample of what sounded like nails being dragged down a chalkboard. The screeching noise seemed however to fit perfectly with the mood of my fellow revellers who were writhing ecstatically as if possessed by the dissonant sounds.

“Hey mate, having a good time?” Barry from accounts shouted over the racket. I nodded politely, though in reality was questioning why he had chosen here of all places to spend his last night before leaving the country. I hoped for Barry’s sake that Sydney would provide a better class of women than the scrawny chavs he was currently working the Barry magic on. We'd never really been friends but given that all of the other lads had agreed to attend his leaving do I’d figured it would have been a bit lame to say no. I got the impression that most of them had come because they wanted an excuse for a night on the tiles away from the wife and kids rather than through any sense of loyalty towards the colleague we’d always referred to as Fat Barry.

Barry pulled me aside and fished from his pocket a couple of tiny white tablets. “Fancy some?”

Surprised at the offer, I shook my head. “No thanks. I don't do drugs.”

“Lighten up, these are herbal, they’ll give you a rush but they’re completely legal. Everyone else has had some already”. He gestured to the rest of the group who were attempting to ‘throw some shapes’ much to the amusement of a group of giggling girls. Given the pounding bass I couldn’t make out whether the words the women were shouting were encouragement, verbal abuse or a combination of the both.

Barry pressed two pills printed with the image of a leaf to my palm. “Come on mate, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s not like I’m offering you crack, it’s all natural.”

Aware that Barry was not going to let me rest until I’d consumed his offering, I reluctantly put the pills onto my tongue and took a big swig of lager.

“Thanks;” I said in what was intended to be a sarcastic tone, the nuances of which were lost on Barry entirely.

“No problem. You can buy my next drink though; they cost a fiver each.”

“A fiver?” I spluttered in disbelief, lager dribbling down my chin. “They’d better be worth it. I could have bought three pints and a kebab for the price of whatever I’ve just washed down my gullet.”

Barry laughed.“Its top drawer stuff. The girls take it all the time.”

“The girls?” Barry pointed in the direction of the women circling my colleagues like hyenas, no doubt attracted by their propensity to buy a cocktail for any female willing to give them the slightest attention rather than their polyester outfits, receding hairlines or the scent of desperation oozing from their pores.

“We’re lucky that Rose was prepared to sell me these. She’s got plenty of regulars who’re going to go without tonight thanks to us.”

“Very lucky indeed;” I mumbled through a mouthful of beer.

I was about to get the next round in when two women grabbed our arms and forcefully dragged us towards the centre of the room.

“Your friends told us to fetch you for a dance.”

This was it, the moment I’d been dreading all night - I was going to have combat years of fear and dance in a public place. I suddenly felt a sense of gratitude for Barry’s pharmaceutical gift; hopefully the promised rush would kick in and I’d experience a magical metamorphosis into Sussex’s equivalent to Travolta.

Awkwardness gave way to a strangely pleasurable sensation as the bass-line vibrated through my body. The screeching music no longer seemed quite as offensive to my ears and I found myself nodding in time.

“Feeling good, mate?” Barry asked. “Told you it was first-rate.”

Barry and I were working on our best robot moves when the rest of the group interrupted our gyrations.

“Some of us aren’t feeling great, we’re going to go for some fresh air;” my colleague Jim announced.

“My guts are all over the place;” another of the guys muttered through clenched teeth.

We made our way to the smoking area and I too started to feel an uncomfortable stirring in my stomach.

“What the hell have you given us?” I asked Barry angrily. “It must be the pills, why else would we all be feeling rough?”

“Not quite all;” he said with a smile. “I feel fine. Mind you, I didn’t take any.”

“What?” the rest of us shouted in unison.

“Think of it as a leaving gift,” he replied. “A little something to remember me by. Do you know what I’ll remember about you guys? I’ll remember all those times that you went for a drink after work without inviting me, all those snide comments behind my back that you thought I couldn’t hear. Don’t act like you’re surprised; I knew all along what you thought of me. Anyway, in return for all those times that you treated me like crap, I thought I’d treat you to a truly crap night out.” He paused and laughed.

“I’d say ‘crap’s a given’ after a double dose of prescription strength laxatives...”

Thursday, 20 May 2010

'Condemned' - short story


When it first sprung from the earth like some monstrous concrete giant back in 1963, Regan House was perceived to be a veritable temple of social housing with every contemporary convenience available to those lucky enough to be selected as tenants. By the time five long years later that the council had put the finishing touches on the neighbouring Goneril House, the initial shine had long worn off and the local community had taken to referring to the buildings as ‘The Ugly Sisters’. Almost fifty years down the line The Ugly Sisters were still towering over the town with decrepit menace and the estate that once been envied for its modernity was now considered by many to be a no-go area. The narrow litter-strewn alley between the two blocks was notorious for being the preferred hangout of drug dealers, alcoholics and criminals. Many of these individuals had had unblemished records before they moved into the estate; it was as if the wind that constantly rushed between the buildings mixed the grime of the earth into any soul unfortunate enough to have wandered there.

It was Housing Officer Juliet Kennedy’s first day on the job and as she parked her car against a wall adorned with some creatively scatological graffiti she was already questioning whether she was cut out for this. She’d been delighted when she was told that her application for the post had been successful – having spent three years studying hard at university it had felt like a huge anti-climax when as result of the crippled job market her first post-grad position turned out to be behind the counter at McDonalds. On the day that she shrugged off the polyester uniform and washed the stench of chip fat from her hair for the final time she felt like she was on top of the world; goodbye fast food nightmares, hello world of proper grown-up employment. When she’d been assigned her first task this morning however she had instantly got the feeling that she was being given this responsibility not because her new employers had great faith in her abilities but because no one else wanted to do it. As she walked between the buildings she kept her head down, trying to avoid making eye contact with any of the unsavoury-looking characters loitering there who were staring intently at her, making no efforts whatsoever to mask their collective suspicion for any outsider who dared to venture onto their patch, let alone one carrying a clipboard.

Upon entering the building Juliet could hear the sound of children’s laughter coming from the stairwell which made her feel a little less nervous – surely if the place really was as bad as its reputation no one would let their children out to play? At the first three flats Juliet’s knocks were not answered. She’d been advised by her line manager to not even bothering to try and ring the doorbells as 99% of them would have stopped working years ago. She’d also been told not to be surprised if residents who were clearly at home completely ignored her; the only suited visitors around these parts usually tended to be debt collectors or loan sharks. At the fourth flat Juliet rapped on the door with increasing impatience and was about to move on to the next one when she heard the sound of movement coming from inside. The door slowly creaked open and a frail elderly woman with a heavily lined face and thin grey hair shuffled out.

“Hello love, how can I help you?” she said in a raspy low voice that suggested a heavy long term smoking habit.

“Hello Mrs, um;” Juliet quickly glanced at her clipboard; “Mrs Tybalt. I’m here on behalf of Purfoot Housing Association. You may have noticed over the past few weeks that there have been some men here at Regan House and also over the way at Goneril House who have been performing some checks on the buildings. Unfortunately the results of these checks have come back and we have been informed that the towers do not comply with European health and safety regulations and can no longer be deemed fit for human habitation. As a result we will begin re-housing all residents with immediate effect.”

Much to Juliet’s surprise, the old woman burst out laughing.

“Oh my dear, I could have told you that forty five years ago. After the fire back in ’69 we all knew that this place was a death trap, but having spent so much building the Ugly Sisters they turned a blind eye to it, gave us all a nice new television and told us to keep quiet. I won’t be sad to go, no not at all. But mark my words there are some folks here who really won’t like it. Those girls – well this is the only home that they’ve ever known. They won’t go without a fight.”

“I’m afraid we really do have no other option, Mrs Tybalt;” Juliet replied. “These buildings are scheduled to be demolished by the end of the year. Everyone will be re-housed in the very best property that we have available; I’m sure once they see what we have to offer the residents will all be very happy with the arrangement.”

Mrs Tybalt said nothing but shook her head in disagreement.

“Well, thank you for talking to me today Mrs Tybalt;” Juliet continued. “You should expect to receive a letter through the post within the next two weeks which will provide details of when and where you will be moving to. If in the meantime you have any questions then please feel free to call me on this number.” Juliet rummaged in her pocket and pulled out a business card. “Goodbye”.

“Goodbye dear;” Mrs Tybalt replied. As she stepped back over the threshold of her flat and went to close the door she paused for a second and shouted at Juliet, who was by now on her way to the next flat, “Be careful how you go.”

As Juliet climbed the staircase to the next floor she again heard children’s voices. She couldn’t quite figure out where the noise was coming from but the shouting and screaming made it sound as if they were playing a riotous game. She smiled as she remembered the games that she had enjoyed as a child with her older sister. It was a pity that they had grown apart – when they were young they had been as thick as thieves.

After several hours Juliet had ascended 22 floors and knocked on the doors of all 138 flats in Regan House. Feeling somewhat tired from climbing so many flights of stairs and contending with many confrontational residents, she decided that she would get the lift back down, jump in her car and drive to a nearby cafe to grab a strong coffee and a bite to eat before returning to repeat the same exercise in Goneril House. She pressed the lift button and waited patiently at the top of the stairwell whilst the lift mechanics creakily came to life. As the lift moved up the shaft towards her she could again hear children; two young girls by the sound of things, getting nearer and nearer. When the lift ground to a halt she realised that the girls were inside the lift; so in anticipation of them running out she stepped back.

The doors opened and Juliet was confronted with the shadowy figures of a single girl aged roughly ten years old stood at the back of the badly lit lift. The girl appeared to be wearing what looked like an old fashioned school pinafore and had her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail. As the girl stepped forward Juliet suddenly realised that something was very wrong. As the sunlight coming through the window hit the shadow girl’s face Juliet could see that her skin was completely charred and her eyes red with blood. Screaming, Juliet turned to run down the stairs but was confronted by a second, identical girl blocking her path.

“We heard that you are trying to take away our home;” the girl on the stairs said. “We don’t want that, do we Emily?”

The girl from the lift stepped down to stand beside her.

“No we don’t, Mary. My sister and I have been living here for forty years now and we don’t want to leave. They tried to take us away from our home before, back after the fire, but we wouldn’t let them. Do you know what we did?”

Terrified, Juliet shook her head.

“Come on Mary, tell the lady what we did;” Emily continued.

“We pushed her down the stairs;” Mary laughed. “She bounced down there like a ball until she reached the bottom. By then she had stopped bouncing.”

Juliet gasped, remembering the story she had been told about how a council worker had once had a tragic accident in this very building. The woman had apparently slipped on a wet floor, fell down the stairs and broke her neck.

“You’re not real. You can’t be. You must be in my imagination.”

“Oh, we’re real enough;” Emily replied. “Outsiders think that when people talk about the Ugly Sisters they are talking about these two buildings, but the truth is that that name came about because of us. We loved our new home in Regan House so much that when the fire broke out we did not want to leave. Our mother had hated the place so when the flames got her she willingly gave up her soul and moved on to another realm. We didn’t want to go though, which is why we’re still here today. And we still don’t want to leave.”

Juliet could feel her heart beating at breakneck speed and could not calm her shaking.

“Ok then, I’m sorry, I will go now.”

The girls crossed their arms defiantly.

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. We know why you’re here. We know you want to knock down our home; we’ve been listening to you all morning. And we don’t like it one bit.”

Plucking up all her strength, Juliet ran towards the girls as quickly as she could manage, swinging her handbag at one and thrusting her clipboard into the face of the other. The girls laughed as Juliet’s flailing limbs went right through their ghostly bodies as she tumbled down the staircase.

From where she lay at the bottom of the stairs, Juliet looked up to see the real Ugly Sisters gliding down towards her.

“We might not be in your imagination, but we’re also not mortal, you dummy. We’re sorry we have to do this, but the council seem to have forgotten what we told them last time they tried to evict us. They need to get the message that we don’t care what those men with hard hats and nasty ideas say. Regan House is going to stand here for another forty years.”

The girls drew nearer until they were stood directly over Juliet’s crumpled body.

“Today, we’re afraid, it’s you that’s condemned.”

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A Very Savage Affair

Today is an exciting day as it marks the publication of the first Leeds Savages e-book, 'A Very Savage Affair'. The Leeds Savages are a modern day reincarnation of a group of writers, artists, musicians and 'kindred Bohemian spirits' first formed in 1898 and since their re-launch in early 2010 have been coming together to produce and share all kinds of creative works.

The e-book contains....

55 Pages
59 Fabulous pictures
17 Great stories
6 Stupendous Poems
1 Fiendishly hard crossword

and is completely free of charge! I urge anyone and everyone to download it and check out the diverse and original works by some very talented people (plus a couple that I threw together).
Download the e-book NOW at - you won't regret it!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Home #fridayflash

An attempt at something a bit different from me - a story of love and loss...


Although the sign outside the entrance read ‘Sunningvale Retirement Home’, there was, in my opinion, nothing homely about the place. Home, to me, is a place where you feel comfortable and welcome; where you lay down roots, where history is written. Sunningvale on the other hand seemed not so much a home as a waiting room for those awaiting a vacancy in that eternal abode in the sky. The residents seemed happy enough, content with the sub-school dinner meals and seemingly oblivious to the pervasive smell – an unpalatable combination of over-cooked vegetables, industrial cleaning products and decay. Fellow visitors on the other hand seemed to share my agitation. Although I feel bad for admitting as much, every second I was there was usually spent thinking about how much I wanted to leave.

Some days she would just lie in bed, not even acknowledging I was there. On this day however she was sat upright, chatting animatedly with one of the carers. Although the carer turned and greeted me, she did not stop talking – probably recounting some random story to the poor girl for the thousandth time. If I had a pound for each time I had heard the one about the time she met the Duke of Edinburgh then I’d be able to take early retirement. Not that I’d want to if, as the tagline says, Sunningvale is the best that retirement living has to offer.

I took a seat and started to mentally prepare a shopping list for my weekly shop. Beef, pasta...

"I remember it as if it were yesterday, although these wrinkled hands tell me that it must have been long ago as I was just a girl then.”

....eggs, milk, bread. My train of thought broke as I realised that this wasn’t one of the usual yarns.

“The boy in the graveyard - oh, he was the most perfect thing I had ever seen in my seventeen years! I had noticed boys before, of course, but I'd never experienced such a sensation. When he nodded to me it was as if I was frozen to the spot; I wanted so much to speak to him but I had been struck dumb. I wanted to give myself to him; I had never felt more certain of anything, but before we had the chance to meet again the war came and that boy and the rest of his generation went away. All the time he was gone I thought about him and wondered if he had a girl back home. I wrote dozen of letters that were never mailed; I didn't even know his name, just that he had the most wonderful blue eyes and dark hair, and had been placing lilies on the grave of Mrs Lucille Portman, devoted wife and mother, 1887-1938.

The war ended and the village threw a huge celebration for the lads returning, all bunting, singing and tears. There were tears of joy for the men who had returned, though I dare say that on the inside many of them were very different to the boys they had been when they left. Tears of sorrow too, for those who had not come back and never would. I however didn’t cry at all - how could I possibly explain mourning someone to whom I had never spoken?

Months passed and life continued as usual. Although I was not a regular churchgoer, at Christmas my mother begged me to accompany her to mass. Afterwards, whilst mother was milling around with friends in the congregation, I slipped outside for some air. It was then that I noticed a new marble headstone next to Mrs Lucille Portman, devoted wife and mother, 1887-1938. I moved closer until I could trace with my fingertips the engraved text that read ‘Samuel Portman, beloved son of Edward and Lucille Portman, 1922-1944’. In that instant the dreams that had occupied my every thought for the past five years died. I was a woman now, and had to put my girlish fantasies behind me and get on with my life in much the same way as the thousands of grieving war widows. In a way it was even worse for me though - at least they had known the love of their men; I was left with nothing except the memory of him here, in my heart.”

She leaned closer towards the carer, as if to impart a secret.

“But do you know what? I carry him with me to this day.”

Choked, I rose from the chair. She looked at me with confusion.

“Who are you?”

She hadn’t recognised me for months but the clarity with which she had recounted the story she had kept locked inside for over sixty years had made me hope that today would somehow be different. As tears flooded from me the carer gently took my shaking hand and steered me back to the seat. The old memories, so I’m told, last the longest; it was time to accept that the fifty years that we had shared was probably irretrievably erased from her mind.

“Now, Emily, this is Lucy. Your daughter.”

Her face showed nothing, not a flicker of recognition. I continued regardless.

“Mum, its me. Lucy. I was just thinking, would you like to come home with me tonight? The bed is made up ready.”

She shook her head.

“But it must be lonely, here by yourself;" I persisted. "If you come with me I’ll be there to keep you company, and your grandchildren might even pop by?”

“I’m not by myself, love.” She paused and touched her chest. “Did you not hear me? I’ve got Samuel here. “

At the time I had no inkling that that would be the final time that I would see my mother alive, yet in retrospect its seems as if, having spent her entire life teaching and guiding me, the story she shared that day was actually meant as a final lesson. Before then I’d always dismissed the expression ‘Home is where the heart is’ as nothing more than a mawkish sentiment reserved for tea towels or cushion covers. But home, I now understand, is not four walls, a garden, a picket fence, but the destination towards which my mother’s whole life was headed, when her heart would finally be fulfilled. Under the sycamore tree barely one hundred yards from where Samuel Portman has waited for her for all these years, my mother now sleeps in peace, and I myself find peace knowing that she is home at last.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

iSociety #fridayflash


Not that long ago it had been overpopulation that had roused the passions of the worlds environmentalists, sociologists and thinkers. With an ageing population hungrily consuming the earth's limited resources and Government funded education programmes and free contraception doing little to halt the spiralling birth rate, many agreed that the future looked bleak.

The 2015 Global Internet Initiative was lauded as the greatest development project of the 21st century; the opportunity to close the divide between the riches of the west and those nations formerly known as third world. It would create entrepreneurial opportunities in communities that had historically been isolated from the global marketplace. It would beam world-class educational materials direct into the homes of children who had never set foot in a school. It would, in short, be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and perhaps most importantly would enable the countless politicians, businessmen and shady oligarchs who had supported and funded the initiative to pat themselves on the back and say what a great job they'd done in bringing ebay and facebook to all those poor people.

Whilst the joys of social networking and skype no doubt enhanced many third world lives, it was the pornography industry which reaped some of the greatest rewards. By appealing to the most basic of instincts many smut peddling billionaires were born. It was however the worldwide launch of the synaesthesia chip in 2020 which heralded the next major step in the evolution of the 'Adult' market.

The Synaesthesia chip, implanted into consumers at a bargain price thanks to huge subsidies from advertisers delighted at the opportunity to beam their messages straight into their targets skulls, enabled individuals to become fully immersed in the Internet. What had previously been a purely visual and aural experience could now stimulate every single sense; a coffee advert would beam the smell of the freshly ground beans into consumers noses, whilst numerous health spas found themselves going out of business now that a pampering massage could be experienced without anyone having to lay a finger on your physical flesh. The border between the virtual and 'real' worlds began to blur and come the launch in 2115 of the sixth generation chip the ability to virtually 'eat' any meal of your choosing on demand even put the food industry out of business, with liquid 'food' (pumped straight into their homes through the system that historically provided that now passé substance 'water') containing the perfect mix of nutrients required without the need for a single minute of preparation the new fuel of choice for the Virtually Human population.

Every new technology from the cave painting onwards has been put to intimate use by some individuals but until the Synaesthesia Chip was launched none had really been considered a preferable alternative to the experience of an actual physical coupling. Although the Daily Mail had initially hailed it to be a greater danger than crack cocaine, before long the online 'romance' experience had moved from seedy to mainstream, millions delighting in the joys of an experience tailored to your own personal needs without any of the risks or emotional hang ups associated with real life. It wasn't even all about sex; many subscribed religiously to the software which would give the consumers a permanent sensation of being in the first flushes of love.

And so it was that the world came to reach a dire state of crisis. As humanity retreated into its virtual shell the act of actual reproduction became a niche activity. Those who felt the primal urge to become a parent could do so in the Virtual world without having any of the agonies of childbirth. There was no need to ever fear for the safety and health virtual offspring due to their immortality - unless, of course, you'd had enough of the digi-child in which case you could simply uninstall the software and get on as if they had never existed (which, strictly speaking, was true). If current trends continued then within 50 years the average age of the population would be over 80, a situation that would clearly be unsustainable given that the vast majority of the rapidly shrinking younger population had no interest at all in a 'real world' profession such as nursing or care, and had even less interest in providing support for their own forbears. Life 'offline' held no appeal anymore; what was the point of accepting anything less than your very own idea of perfection when it was available to you simply with a blink of your eye?

Whilst most scientists agreed that it was a giant meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, it was something considerably more mundane that thinned to human herd. On April 23rd 2125 a small earthquake - quite inconsequential in richter scale terms - erupted beneath Japan and cut the power to the Synaesthesia Lifestyle Systems servers that nestled at the base of Mount Fuji. With the power cut, the whole world suddenly found itself plunged back into reality, a place most citizens had not visited within the past decade. Hearts that had over time slowed to fewer than 30 beats a second could not cope with the sudden shock and at least 30% of the population dropped dead in an instant. Many more sent themselves to a grisly end within minutes of the awakening as they hacked away at their own skulls in an effort to bring their short circuited chips back to life. Their bodies weak and malnourished, the citizens of iSociety were no longer fit for life in the physical world, and given the underdeveloped - neigh, nonexistent - immune systems that they possessed as a result of their lack of exposure to anything other than a sterile home environment, an outbreak of influenza quickly killed most of them within weeks of them having tentatively ventured into the outside world.

In a perfect realisation of Darwin’s principals, by 2126 only 144,000 humans remained, all but the very fittest having perished. Many had mocked their ways over the past century but it was the TechnoPuritans who truly had the last laugh.

iSociety had had its day - it was time to return to a life of honest labour and embrace the realities of human nature and the infinite joys and disappointments of messy, complicated, population growing human love.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Disappearing Act #fridayflash

This is an edited version of a longer story written for Leeds Writers Group.......

Disappearing Act

Excited at the prospect of attending her first school dance, Ruth Hennessy spent all her pocket money on cheap make up which she caked on with the subtlety of a clown. Seeing her little girl preening and pouting precociously in front of the mirror, Ruth’s mother decided that she could delay the inevitable no longer; the time had come to teach her the facts of life. Mrs Hennessy’s intentions were good, but when it came down to it she couldn’t bring herself to go into any level of biological detail and as a result Ruth spent most of the dance with horror on her face as she observed her classmates slow dancing and sharing awkward kisses, both activities she had been led to believe could make a baby if the participants weren’t taking what her mother obliquely referred to as ’precautions’.

A couple of weeks of secondary school were all it took for Ruth to realise she’d been duped; the contraband copies of Seventeen magazine pored over behind the bike sheds set her straight as far as sex was concerned, even if some of the practices referred to in the problem pages did leave her feeling repulsed. Although she was somewhat grateful that her Mum had spared her the embarrassment of a conversation complete with all the anatomical in and outs, she was livid that she’d been spun a lie which, had she had been unfortunate enough to repeat it, would have made her look like an idiot in front of her friends.

Several years previously Ruth had visited a magic show which culminated in the magician wowing the audience by making his assistant disappear. At the time Ruth was distraught, convinced that the girl had experienced some terrible fate and refusing to be consoled no matter how many times her grandfather explained that she hadn’t really been transported through time as The Great Magnifico had led her to believe. A disappearing act would, Ruth decided, be the perfect way to get revenge on her parents.

On Friday morning, Ruth ripped a page out of an exercise book and wrote a note which she left under her pillow. In her schoolbag alongside her usual books and pencilcase she packed her toothbrush, Gameboy and teddybear. Spending the night on the streets didn’t, she reasoned, mean that she had to live like a tramp – a few home comforts would make the night go a lot quicker. She wished that she could bring her duvet but there was no way she would be able to smuggle that to school without arousing any suspicion. Anyhow, she would be back in her bed tomorrow, with her parents so grateful to have her home that they would never dare to deceive her again.

When the school bell rang at 3.30pm Ruth made her way to the station and caught a train to the next town. Back home, her Mum sat watching the clock and wondering where Ruth had got to - she would usually have called if she was going to be delayed for any reason. By 6pm Mrs Hennessy was beginning to panic, and when her husband returned from work an hour later she was in a state of hysteria. At 7.15pm they found the scribbled note which struck fear into both their hearts;

‘Don’t look for me. I’m not coming back’.

For the first few hours Ruth kept herself entertained browsing the shops, but before long the only place open was a small supermarket and the suspicious looks that the security guard gave her as she traversed the aisles for the tenth time told her it was time to move on. She looked young for her age so even with make up on there was no chance of her being able to pass the evening in a pub, so the only remaining option was a fastfood joint. Ruth sat drinking a milkshake as slowly as possible whilst playing on her GameBoy until the batteries ran out. At 11pm the pizza-faced burger vendor apologetically told her that it was time to close, so Ruth reluctantly headed out onto the streets. It was freezing cold but she was adamant that she was going to stick it out; running away would be nowhere near as dramatic if she were to return home, tail between legs, before the night was through. Ruth sat on a bench and hugged her knees under her chin in an effort to keep warm.

“You should be careful around here, you know.”

Ruth turned to see a man looking at her out the window of a black car.

“Young girls on the street, well, sometimes they disappear. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll give you a lift home?”

“I’m waiting for someone” she replied, wishing that he would leave her alone. The way that he was staring, eyes wandering up and down her school uniform, was making her feel uncomfortable.

'Pretend what you like but it's true. Girls on the street disappear and never come back. Sure you don't want a ride?

Ruth shook her head.

'Your loss;' the man in the car muttered as he pulled away. Long after he was gone from sight the driver's words continued to echo around Ruth's head.


Disappear and never come back.

In that instant Ruth realised how flawed her plan had been. The magician on the pier, that had all been smoke and mirrors, and although the audience had marvelled at the fact that the girl had apparently vanished into thin air, they would not have been applauding if they had any doubt that she would live to perform the same act the next day. Out here however, in the strange and unfamiliar world of the night, tomorrow seemed very far away.

With tears in her eyes and regret seeping from every pore Ruth turned on her mobile phone and dialled.

This vanishing act was never going to receive a standing ovation or critical acclaim. It was time to bring the curtain down.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

'Kiss Me Quick' #fridayflash


A local news programme once informed me this city is the further from the coast in the whole of the Britain. Whilst this may have some advantages in this age of freak weather and rising sea levels, on the rare occasion that I find the sun blazing down and a commitment free weekend ahead I find myself pining for the nostalgic pleasure of the seaside; ice creams, sticks of rock, stripey deckchairs et al. I can't quite recollect if this image stems from an actual childhood memory or from years of Sunday sitcoms and carry on movies, but just imagining lungs filled with salty air and the cacophonous squawking of circling gulls transports me to a happy place far from the concerns of everyday life.

I was walking through the park on my way to the supermarket, iPod blasting at full volume in an attempt to let Bill ‘Lovely Day’ Withers transport me away from the graffiti and dog crap reality of my journey. This was a route that I'd taken many times before, and the fact that we were experiencing freakishly good weather for April did little to detract from the fact that the Nobby Herring Memorial Park was a grim place, preferred hangout of drug dealers and local disaffected youths and not somewhere you would wish to linger for any longer than strictly necessary. I was, as usual, trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone else unfortunate enough to be in the locale, when out the corner of my eye I saw a flash of brilliant blue. Taken aback by something so colourful against this dismal backdrop, I broke with my usual rule and looked up to see a barefooted girl wearing a billowing blue dress dancing on the dead grass, rucksack at her side.

'She sells seashells on the seashore. She sells seashells on the seashore.'

I'd had a relatively heavy night on the town but I was pretty sure that I wasn't seeing things.

'Hasn't anyone told you it's rude to stare?'

The girl stopped dancing and was now stood still, hands on hips and head tilted coquettishly.

'I'm sorry, it's just that I was daydreaming that I was walking along the beach rather than negotiating the litter in this dump, and then there you were, singing about seashells. Weird.'

'Yeah, whatever.'

I was about to walk on but she was staring at me intently in a way that suggested she was waiting for me to speak.

'Er, I've not seen you here before. Are you local?'

'Maybe you just haven't been looking properly. Aurora.'

'Steve. Pleased to meet you'.

Aurora sat down, dress spread in a circle, and patted the ground, beckoning me to join her. Kicking aside a crumpled coke can, I accepted the offer.

'So, you were saying that you were dreaming of the sea?’ she said. ‘I love the sea. So romantic.’

'Me too, though to be honest I was thinking about the funfairs, donkeys and kiss me quick hats side of things rather than waves crashing on the shore.'

‘Kiss me quick hats?’ she repeated quizzically. ‘What’s a kiss me quick hat?’

‘Surely you must have heard of them;’ I replied. ‘When I was a kid my granddad used to always wear one when we went to the seaside. I found it mortifying, of course.’

Aurora laughed.

‘And did he get many kisses?’

‘Well, given that my grandma was always at his side ready to fend off any admirers with her walking stick, unfortunately not.’

‘And do you have one of these famous hats in your wardrobe?’ she said with a grin on her face. ‘Because you know what, if you were wearing one right now, I might just have to...’

I blushed.

‘You might just have to what?’

‘Might just have to kiss you. Maybe quickly, or maybe like this’

She leaned over and lifted my chin with her hand until we were staring into each other’s eyes, then firmly pressed her lips to mine. In an instant I saw the Nobby Herring Memorial Park in a whole new light; in my nineteen uneventful years of existence there had been maybe half a dozen girls prepared to swap saliva with me and yet here I was with this beautiful stranger kissing me passionately and running her hands all over my body in broad daylight. It was like all my adolescent dreams came true all at once, and far more exciting than anything that the internet could provide.

The kiss must have gone on for a full minute before she pulled away, bringing me reluctantly back down to earth from what had felt like a truly divine experience.

‘I’m sorry, Steve’ she said apologetically. ‘I don’t normally do that kind of thing, I’ve no idea what came over me.’ She grabbed her bag and leapt to her feet.

‘Wait!’ I called out as she frantically brushed grass from her dress. ‘There’s no need to apologise, that was amazing. Want to grab a coffee or something?’

She shook her head.

‘No, I really have to go, I’ve got to get to a lecture. Maybe see you around?’

‘Yes, that would be great;’ I replied. ‘Can I give you my number?’

She shook her head again.

‘No, I don’t think so. But it was nice meeting you.’

With that curt reply she turned and walked away, leaving me dazed and confused. Had I really just shared the best kiss of my life with a random girl in the middle of the park?

Bemused, I rose to my feet. I wasn't really in the mood for grocery shopping anymore, but aware of the bare cupboards in my flat I begrudgingly decided to continue on my original mission. I reached into my jacket to retrieve my iPod; for once Bill Withers had been right, this had turned out to be a lovely day indeed. It was then that I sadly realised that if something seems too good to be true, chances are that it is. No wonder she had been keen to kiss me quick and squeeze me slowly; the spontaneous seduction had actually been the perfect cover for a thorough excavation of my pockets. No regrets though; in that instant I would have signed over my soul if only she had asked, so a £150 mp3 player and £16 in change were a comparatively small price to pay.

Friday, 2 April 2010

'Ova' my dead body #fridayflash

A light-hearted story for Easter weekend, a slice of English village life.


The cancellation of the 97th annual Winfordshire egg rolling contest was considered by many to be an outrage. Generations of Winfordshire folk had grown up with the contest as important a date in the family calendar as their birthday, Christmas or the last day of term, and the prospect of Easter passing by without the competitive thrill of rushing down the hill, typically whilst being pounded by the wind and rain characteristic of English springtime, was enough to bring tears to the eyes of local residents young and old.

“Health and safety?!” scoffed Edna Burridge, 89 years of age and a lifelong Winfordshire lass. “There was no such thing back in my day. A few knocks and scrapes never did anyone any harm. It certainly wasn’t health and safety that won us the war, you mark my words.”

The local council did not however pay any attention to Edna’s words, or indeed those of any of the other 63 angry citizens who bombarded them with letters, phone calls and mildly veiled threats. In this increasingly litigious age they could simply not afford to bear the risk associated with an event which had recorded in the annals of its glorious history countless cases of concussion, eighteen broken limbs and at least a dozen arrests. In spite of Edna’s declaration that ‘you’ll stop that contest over my dead body!’, the cancellation remained in place and Edna remained in the same rude health as ever.

Regardless of the council’s decree that the event had been outlawed, the citizens of Winfordshire carried on regardless with the task of painstakingly decorating their eggs. Those ignorant enough to question the point of spending hours painting a detailed design on an egg only to throw it down a muddy hill were treated with derision and pointed in the direction of the local museum where a lovingly assembled scrapbook would greet them with photographs of their parents, grandparents and even great grandparents performing the very same task, and the proprietor Brian would solemnly inform them that tradition is tradition, no questions asked.

Word spread that the killjoy council would be locking the gates to the park on Easter Sunday morning in order to prevent any illegal egg rolling activity from taking place, so the self appointed people’s committee of maths teacher Peter Fletcher, ferret fancier Allen Monroe and lifelong Winfordshire lass Edna Burridge, 89, decided that an alternative approach was required. Although tradition decreed that the egg rolling would always take place immediately after the 10am easter morning service at St Barnabus’, they agreed that breaking with a small element of tradition would be preferable to bowing to the bureaucrats and cancelling the event completely. Word quickly spread of the new arrangements and the self appointed committee were confident that there would be a good turn out at the inaugural Winfordshire midnight egg rolling contest.

At approximately quarter to twelve on the night of April 3rd, at least one hundred members of the Winfordshire population crept from their houses into the cold dark street, wrapped up warm in gloves and scarves and grasping a precious egg-shaped cargo. Rogue council worker (and grandson of Edna) Richard Burridge had misappropriated the spare set of park keys, an abnormally deviant act for the straight-laced accountant and one that made him somewhat fearful for his job and final salary pension. Into the park streamed men, women and children, some rolling virgins but the majority faithful disciples of the great school of Egg. Like sheep they flocked towards the top of the hill where they stood in silence, waiting for the sign.

Arthritis and hips that had seen better days meant that Edna had, twelve months ago, had to sadly announce her retirement from egg rolling. Her unbroken record for the most consecutive wins – six back in the early 1970s – afforded her a VIP status that made her the natural choice for taking charge of the event in the absence of the usual council officials. At the bottom of the hill, as instructed, she flashed her torch three times in a row before bellowing ‘Go!’. In an instant eggs were furiously launched down the slope, their trajectory followed in quick succession by a flurry of flailing limbs and screaming mouths. Within thirty seconds the first egg reached the finish line and Edna declared its young owner the winner, taking a photo on her grandson’s fancy digital camera of the boy holding the red and white striped egg aloft which would take pride of place in the Winfordshire museum scrapbook alongside the images of the previous seventy victors. In the background of the photo could be made out dozens of shadowy figures, some sat on the ground holding grazed knees or aching heads, others bent over struggling to catch a breath after their brief annual stint of physical activity. Everyone, no matter how bloodied or bruised, shared in the elation of the winner. This was a victory for everyone, a victory over those cursed words health and safety, a victory over the man.

Whilst the good citizens of Winfordshire were celebrating easter at St Barnabus’ church, or, in the case of the more secularly mind, with a chocolate egg shaped breakfast in bed, local councillor and park keeper Eric Marmaduke rigidly stood guard at the park gate like one of the Queens’ beefeaters, although with a slightly less impressive hat. He was quite surprised by how quiet it was this morning – after the mountain of complaint letters that had landed on his mat he would not have been surprised to have been greeted by angry protesters with signs and threats of violence. To be honest it was even quiet by the standards of a usual Sunday, as if everyone had simultaneously decided to spend an extra hour in bed rather than going about their usual routines. When the clock struck midday without the slightest hint of trouble having occurred, Mr Marmaduke decided that he no longer needed to stand sentry; the good citizens of Winfordshire had clearly come to realise that by calling an end to the preposterous act of carnage that they like to call tradition he had only had their best interests at heart. He had been wrong to doubt them.

At 12.01 Eric Marmaduke opened the park gates and was greeted by a carpet of rainbow egg shells.

At 12.01 and ten seconds Eric Marmaduke greeted the carpet of rainbow egg shells with a very rude word.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Beware Geeks Bearing Gifts... #fridayflash

'The paramedics found it strange that before they had even arrived on the scene someone had left a bunch of flowers next to the tragic accident...'

It had been a tiring week and Laura wasn’t looking forward to the drive home. Whilst consultancy work was well rewarded, she was fed up with living out of a suitcase and could barely remember when she’d last spent seven days in her own bed.

At 5pm on Friday Laura shook hands with the finance director and thanked him and his staff for their hospitality, a false expression of gratitude given the icy reception that she had received over the past five days from all but one employee, a lanky IT technician who had taken it upon himself to interrupt her every two minutes asking if she wanted yet another cup of weak, unpleasant tea. It was pouring with rain and the winter sky was already black so she ran to her car, coat over head. She threw her bags into the boot and was just about to climb in when she realised that she had left her scarf inside. She was tempted to leave it, every minute she delayed setting off adding another minute to the time until she would be back in her flat with the bottle of chardonnay that had been chilling all week in anticipation of her return. The scarf however had been a gift from her mother and would no doubt be expected to be paraded in front of her at their next meeting, so reluctantly she ran back inside, leaving the engine running in an effort to shift some of the ice glazing the windscreen.

Within two minutes Laura was back in the car and the ice had cleared sufficiently for her to set off. Eyes heavy from too much work and not enough sleep, Laura cranked up the radio in an attempt to keep herself alert. As the DJ played an eighties classic she started to sing along, head bobbing in time to the music. She would never sing in front of an audience, the thought of karaoke mortifying, but nothing could beat belting out a cheesy song safe in the knowledge that no one could hear.

As her route snaked into the country, Laura turned her headlights to full beam. In such treacherous conditions she hated this kind of road; windy, unlit and full of potholes.
Fortunately she only had a couple of miles to go before the motorway that would carry her all the way home. The rain seemed to be getting even stronger, and Laura turned the radio up further in an effort to drown out its hammering rhythm.

Coming around a bend at considerably more than the speed limit Laura was suddenly faced with a red traffic light on a crossroads immediately in front of her. Slamming on the brakes she managed more by luck than judgement to screech to a halt parallel to the light, the lack of traffic that she subsequently noted in every direction making her wish that she hadn’t bothered.

There was a loud thud from the back of the car which she assumed was her suitcase in the boot careering forward. This assumption was however quickly proved wrong as she heard an expletive come from behind her seat, and felt a hand grab at her knee. Screaming, Laura looked up into her rear view mirror to see a shadowy figure peering at her. Her first instinct was to get out and run, however it had been at least a mile since she had last passed a house and other road users seemed to be few and far between, so she decided that running away from a would-be murderer was not the wisest idea. On the passenger seat was her handbag; a huge leather contraption which held not just keys, wallet and phone but also a spare shoes, a litre of water and a fat novel. Recalling how her boyfriend had always said how she would do herself damage lugging around that vast weight all day, she decided the best course of action was to test its to potential to do damage to someone else. Laura grabbed the bag and swung it with all her strength at the unwelcome passenger, hitting him squarely in the nose, which started bleeding all over her upholstery.

“Ouch!” squealed the would-be murderer in a frankly unfrightening manner. As he looked up, blood continuing to spill everywhere, Laura suddenly recognised him and felt her feeling of terror give way to immense anger.

“You? What the hell are you doing in my car? I could have crashed and killed us both!”

The IT guy looked somewhat pathetic as he tried to stem the flow of blood with his sleeve.

“I’m so sorry, I never meant for this to happen! I followed you out as I wanted to give you my number – and these”

He bent down and pulled out from underneath Laura’s seat the most bedraggled bunch of flowers that she had ever seen.

“It was raining so hard that when I saw you run inside I thought I’d sit in the car until you got back – to protect the flowers, you see. Then when I saw you coming back I got nervous, and for some stupid reason decided to hide. I hoped you’d go to the boot or something so that I would get a chance to sneak out without you noticing, but that never happened. I was planning on making my getaway as soon as you stopped; I never meant to scare you, I promise!”

With fury in her eyes Laura swung the bag at him again.

“You weirdo, I wouldn’t have wanted your flowers before and I certainly don’t want them now. Get out, now! Before I call the police...”

As the IT guy clambered out the car Laura pushed her foot to the floor, desperate to get to somewhere well lit and where she could compose herself. As tears flooded her eyes she saw nothing other than the road ahead, the road that would lead her to civilisation and away from the creep who had scared her half to death. By the time headlights illuminated her face and the bellowing horn filled her ears however it was too late – he may have scared her half to death, but it was the ten tonne articulated vehicle speeding towards her would take her all the way.