Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Safety Clause

Ronnie kicked the door shut behind him. The old squash bag was heavy as he dragged his footsteps reluctantly towards the station. For the umpteenth time he cursed his stupidity. Having one too many was not unusual for him, but driving home after was, and although the ban was now lifted, he had lost too many gigs to afford the car.
He had taken a complicated route to the deserted station, and looked around once more to check that he was still alone. He pushed the heavy door open, and walked across the ticket hall, his black leather boots ringing on the marble-floor. The place smelled of pine disinfectant and …?

The hall was very dark. Something was not right. He stiffened as he heard the slap, slap, slap of footsteps coming towards him, and the strange smell was getting stronger.
‘You’re a difficult man to find, Mr Christmas.’ Ronnie’s button black eyes had not completely adjusted to the lack of light. ‘I’m down here.’ He lowered his gaze to waist height. There, carrying a clipboard and wearing a fluorescent jacket was a small ogre.
‘Jobsworth’, the ogre said, extending his hand.
‘Pardon?’ Ronnie’s white eyebrows shot up.
‘My name. Arthur Jobsworth. I work for Elfin Safety. We are obliged to make an annual check. New legislation. I did email you in July.’
‘I never read emails. All children do is demand a new Xbox or whatever because their old one is the wrong colour. Letters are so much better thought out. And some of them even ask for good things like for mummy to be happy and world peace. And they always reach me.’ Ronnie tapped his nose, winking. ‘Magic, you see.’
‘That’s as maybe, Mr Christmas, but I’ve still got to do my job. Now, if you could just answer a few questions, then sign the disclaimer, you can be off. Or not, as the case may be.’

On the platform, the station clock ticked its way towards midnight.

‘Is this going to take long?’ Ronnie asked. ‘I’ve got to get somewhere on time, or else…’
‘Or else what?’
‘Oh, nothing much.’
‘Sorry, Mr. C. Gotta be done, I’m afraid. Otherwise, I have the authority to ground you. Full name?’
Ronnie sighed. It was not in his nature to be obstructive, but it hadn’t been a great year for his Christmas spirit and if he was late with the presents… well, that was his credibility gone completely down the pan. And the Christmas abolitionists were baying for his blood, not to mention the more radical town councils.
The ogre tapped his clipboard impatiently.
‘Ronald Nicholas Christmas’
The ogre licked the tip of his felt pen, leaving a black stain on his tongue.
‘R-O-N-A-L-D’ He spelled out Ronnie’s name letter by letter. ‘That would be “Mr” Christmas then?’
‘Father. It’s a courtesy title.’ Ronnie had not been this irritated since that ridiculous ‘Night before Christmas’ poet had got him all wrong in 1822.
‘Righty-o then. Next section’. The ogre squinted at his board. ‘Documentation?’
‘Documentation. You know, current driving licence, first aid certificate, sleigh registration document, road tax for all 97 countries –‘
‘Hold it. I don’t use roads.’
‘Ah, my mistake. I’ll cross that out then.’ The ogre continued, ‘… import and export licences, signed declaration to say you aren’t delivering livestock, electrical safety certificates, International CAA clearance, recent MOT and current UK CRB clearance.’
‘CRB clearance?’
‘Yes, of course. We can’t have you going into sleeping children’s bedrooms to give them little presents without one, can we? Especially after all that hoo-hah about them being forced to sit on your lap to have their photos taken.’
Ronnie’s cheeks were beginning to glow red, and this was without the effect of the cold wind. He clicked his fingers and in a flash, a sheaf of documents appeared in his hand, which he handed to the ogre, who promptly scattered them on the floor.

The clock clicked away another minute.

‘Now, if that’s everything, I really have to get going.’
‘Not so fast, Ronnie. I need to check these. One by one, he picked up each piece of paper and began to peruse it slowly, sounding out the big words to himself.
‘Oh. I see you’ve got a driving disqualification. Not good. Not good.’
‘Not Got; Had. And anyway, I was only just getting into my car when the police arrived. You try doing my job without accepting a little light refreshment on the way. He looked at the clock. He needed eight minutes to get to the North Pole.
‘Could you hurry please? The elves will have got the boys ready, and they’ll be champing at their bits.
‘I’ll need to look at the sleigh.’
Ronnie hesitated. No one except the maintenance elves had ever had a close look at his vehicle.
‘Elfin Safety, you know.’ The ogre’s attitude had become slightly more threatening.
‘Anything for a quiet life. Come on’ Ronnie grabbed his bag containing his work clothes and strode along the platform to the railway shed where he kept the sleigh, with the ogre’s short legs working triple time to keep up with him.

‘Hi boys. All OK? Ready for the off?’ The reindeer blew snuffly welcomes, sending up steam and the sweet smell of partly digested reindeer moss. ‘Excuse me whilst I change for work.’ The ogre blinked as Ronnie clicked his fingers, before climbing, red-suited into the padded leather driving seat and began his launch sequence, hoping to get away quickly. ‘Now, Dash…’
‘Not so fast.’ The ogre placed a heavy hand on the edge of the sleigh as it started to tremble. ‘Registration number and identifying marks?’ He went down his list ticking off items.
‘Seat belt?
‘Life jackets? Varying sizes for elves and other on-board personnel?
‘Port and starboard designation lights? Rudolf’s nose alone will not do any more, I’m afraid. Oh, you have them. Good.
‘Shatterproof eye wear?
Ronnie rummaged around under his seat and produced a pair of World War Two flying goggles.
‘Will these do?’ Arthur Jobsworth was really beginning to annoy him.
‘Sir, reindeer excrement at 2000 miles per second can seriously impair your vision. And we can’t have that happening, can we?’ The ogre inspected the goggles. ‘Not up to British Standard 4110/1979, but I’ll let you off with a caution this year.’
Ronnie was beginning to panic now. He looked up at the station clock. He had to get there before midnight or Christmas wouldn’t happen…He smacked his forehead. Elfin Safety! What an idiot! He looked straight at the ogre.
‘Who are you?’
‘Me? Didn’t I give you my card?’ The ogre reached his three-fingered hand into the pocket of his safety jacket and handed Ronnie a ‘Wanted’ poster. Below a picture of the loathsome creature it said;

Arthur Jobsworth
Currently believed to be working for
World Wide Association for the Abolition of Christmas
Reward offered for information leading to his apprehension.
Approach with caution.

‘Put that up your chimney and smoke it!’ he yelled as he shot off, but Ronnie was too quick. With a click of his fingers, he appeared in front of the fleeing ogre and grabbed him round his scrawny neck.
‘Gerroff me. I gotta stop all those people enjoying themselves.’ The ogre was like a squirming sack of potatoes, but Ronnie was up for it. He felt a nudge in his back. Donner was holding a roll of duck tape in his mouth.
‘Good lad. Extra, extra, reindeer moss when we get back.’ If we get there in the first place, he said to himself. He threw the trussed-up ogre rather unceremoniously into the compartment that usually held the presents.
‘I’ll let the North Pole Elves deal with you. If you’re lucky, they’ll just put you to work in the Christmas toy factory with your own quality controller for the next thousand years. If not, the polar bears are always hungry at this time of year. Now Dasher. Now Dancer…’ The rest of his words were lost as the sleigh whooshed northwards.

* * * * *

Ronnie gently set the sleigh down outside the railway shed.
‘Great work boys. The London elves will be waiting to sort you out. I’ve got to go. No need to change my clothes. Got a job you see. One that pays the bills. Oh…I really shouldn’t have had that last sherry at Madonna’s place.’ He walked a little unsteadily out through the cold ticket hall of the main line station and into the quiet buzz of the tube next door, rummaging for his ticket in the fur-edged pocket of his red jacket.

Cold, wet sleet was falling as he emerged from the underground. Luckily, the house he was going to was only a few yards from Maida Vale station. Putting his mind on the forthcoming job for the first time that day, he composed his features, and ran over the act in his head as he rang the front door bell.
‘Ho ho ho. Mer-ry Christmas.’

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A new look

It's been some time since I added a posting, so I thought I'd go the whole hog and change the appearance of my blog.
The OU is taking over my life at the moment, with the two courses I'm studying. Both are fascinating, but I have to make decisions as to which one to prioritise. In the end though, it's a good pass in 'Exploring the English Language' that will make the difference to the class of degree that I get, so 'Start Writing Plays' has to take a minor role in my life. The play based on the Three Little Pigs will have to wait for a day or so.

Today's 'I wish I had time to do well' list:

1. Finish this week's course work.
2. Write a rough draft of a poem.
3. Spend 30 minutes on the cross trainer.
3. Tidy the house (yeah, right)
5. Start on assignments due in by the end of the month.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Finding Eden

LEE: ‘Make a start on the Tropical House’, says The Boss. ‘You’ll find the door a bit stiff. No one’s been there since we closed down the Eden Project.’
Well, I didn’t want to ask why it had been closed, so off I trotted.
Blimey, I thought. Bit of a jungle in here. Still, a job ain’t gonna get finished till after you starts it, as me old granddad used to say, so I got going. Clearing, chopping, hacking bits away any old how, along the old path, Creepers, vines. Stuff from above. Stuff from below. Pretty tough some of them too, and all this sap and stuff dripping on to me where I cut them.
The rustling in the undergrowth made me a bit twitchy. I kept wondering whether there’d be any snakes. Not that I mind snakes. You kind of expect them in the jungle, but then again …Eden?
Then there was the calling. Almost human, like people laughing, and a sort of ‘there-all-the-time’ roaring too.
I made good progress though. I had a job to do and I wanted to impress the Boss. I mean, being my first day and all that. So I cut a kind of tunnel. About 4 feet high. I was getting a bit curious, ‘cos this path was going downwards.
Then, all of a sudden I pulled away a vine and there it was.
A clearing, and way over, right on the edge, a waterfall. Fair took my breath away. Harry hadn’t said nothing about a waterfall. Now the roaring sound made sense. Couldn’t see the top there was so much growth overhead, mind. but I could see the cascade. Narrow it was, like a spear of water. The air changed too. Suddenly it ‘d got much colder, and the ground was covered with puddles, and I gotta tell you, the rotting vegetation didn’t smell too fresh either.
Anyway, I had to go take a look at the pool. Blooming deep it was too, and the rocks all black and shiny where the water had splashed up.
And there they were too. Lots of little people, laughing and chattering on the other side of the waterfall, and pointing at me like a bunch of Oompa Loompas. Then one of them aimed one of those blow pipe things at me and I heard a hiss and I dodged to let it miss me, and my foot slipped on the rock and the next thing I know I’m lying flat on me back with all these faces looking down at me…

HARRY: Lee, ‘ow you getting on lad? Lee? Lee? Where are you? Oh, bugger...
-Office? Get me an ambulance right away. Over.
- What’s up, Harry? Over.
- Stupid new boy’ hasn’t even started the job yet. He’s slipped on the front door step and split his head open. If the expression on his face is anything to go by there are some interesting things going on in his dreams. Over and out.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Vanishing Muse

'She' is a very elusive lady. Well, writers tend to refer to her as 'She', but I'm not so sure. I think I just have to assign an indeterminate gender - rather like something ethereal from a science fiction film. Anyway, It is never around when I need it.

In the middle of the night, ideas flow fast, when I least want them to be there, for I never have been a night owl. In the supermarket, amongst the exotic fruit and veg. I can be overcome with a storyline totally unrelated to my circumstances. Now, I do own a tiny voice recorder, but I haven't really managed to steel myself to grabbing it out of my handbag and start talking into it in a public place, and I've definitely thought of my most witty poetic lines whilst driving, when speaking into a small machine could be misconstrued as using a mobile whilst in control of a car. I can guarantee that my most inspired (and probably warped) ideas are no longer reachable after a day spent crowd-controlling small children in a classroom. All I want to do then is lie down in a darkened room with a large gin and an icepack on my head.

Like all 'real' writers, along with the rejection slips, I do have a notebook (Moleskine for preference) that I carry with me at all times, and I am not above writing a few sneaky notes on overheard conversations at airports or interesting characters I spot across Borders coffee shop. Who knows, one day, I might even use them in a story.

So, today, when I have a writing brief (from the class that I attend) and an idea about the lines along which it might develop, how come I just cannot encourage my Muse in order to write the short story that will bring me to the attention of short-fiction editors everywhere? Or even just one?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Aren't they lovely?

In view of the poem below, I just wanted to post a picture of our two fantastic Labs. They had just spent an hour splashing in a stream in the New Forest.

Sasha, on the right, will be 11 in November - she is pretty active for an old lady and will give young Wellington quite a run for his money.
The Boy-Wellington (who thinks we are incapable of bathing ourselves unaided) was 2 last May. Now there's a story for another day...

Towards a state of perfection

BATH, n. A kind of mystic ceremony substituted for religious worship, with what spiritual efficacy has not been determined
Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914), The Devil's Dictionary

poured to perfect depth,
temperature sublime
candles lit and lights doused
rising steam redolent of lavender
and ylang-ylang to soothe away the day
wine glass to hand, contents chilled
immersed in womb-like world
lying in sound-deadened semi-darkness
awaiting rebirth …
drifting mindlessly…
Nirvana close…
a gentle lapping of the water –


Monday, August 06, 2007


Venya sits alone on the beach. She rocks slowly to and fro, crooning to herself, at one with the waves, staring unblinkingly at the vast expanse of the ocean beyond her. Above, a lone kittiwake mewls as it is buffeted towards the cliff, escaping only at the last moment as it catches a welcome thermal. Blind to the high summer cumulus clouds, she has never dreamt of touching their softness, for the world she yearns to know is far below, sharp and untameable.

The first time her parents held her up to view the sea, the infant Venya opened her arms, beckoning to the waves with her plump fingers. The spray slapped the sea wall and spumed upwards, showering the young family with salty effervescence. She chuckled, wriggling in her father’s grasp, as if trying to get closer to the place that called to her soul. From the open window of their cottage, she would turn her head to listen to the pounding crump of the waves in winter, or doze to the summer-sibilance of pebbles pulled to and fro in perpetual motion.
Later, when her parents permitted the near–silent child to roam untethered in the fishing hamlet where they lived, she would be found sitting on the multicoloured shingle carpet dabbling her feet in the icy water of the Atlantic ocean, singing a strange high pitched song. Watching, always watching, she would shiver, not from cold, but with the anticipation that prefaced the inevitable arrival of the next wave. With her eyes leaving the horizon only briefly, she learned to skim pebbles expertly…six, seven, even eight bounces.

Suddenly, there is a change in the wind. Venya stiffens, her spine rigid. Her head lifts as she sniffs at the brine-filled air. Alert now, her song becomes a high keening and increases in volume.
All but invisible to the naked eye, the horizon rises and comes closer, a dark blue mountain ridge, tipped with corrugated snow-white. Ahead of the roller, the water is alive with silver sparks leaping and dancing in the turquoise inferno. The sea beneath her feet takes a gasping breath, heaves upwards and then recedes, revealing places unseen by man for millennia.
Venya stands and holds her open arms seaward as she walks into the void left by the retreating water. The kelp forest lies neatly deflated as Venya walks along a pathway of stones, carefully placed as if by a hand expertly skimming pebbles…six, seven, even eight bounces.
Her eyes never leave the onrushing wave as her song rises and falls to the rhythm of the tides. She is joined by a second voice, then a third and then more until the air is filled with the sound of sea music that will haunt forever those who hear it.
For a brief moment her song pauses.
‘I’m coming…
For the first time ever, she has spoken
‘I’m coming home.’

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Give us this day our daily bread.

(Take 2)

Measured, mechanically mixed and baked
Until yeasted fragrance pervades each aerial molecule.
Risen near-perfection provokes the taste buds
As its crusted coat cracks beneath the blade
Revealing warm and yielding crumb.

Savour the moment.
Hold it in mind against the day
We are not led into temptation.

For resistance is futile
When sweetened with gooseberry-jamminess
And conveyed in butter-dripping fingers to waiting mouth
Sensual simplicity made in heaven.

Our Father, who art already there,
Forgive us the sin of gluttony.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Life by the bridge

There has been a Grimpenpound working this bridge ever since it was built, but I’m the last. Slubby Grimpenpound, that’s me. I used to enjoy my job. Making sure the ropes were sound and the boards solid. Never got to see any of the clients properly though, even though we heard them plenty, trip-trapping across the top.
It’s not been the same since my Treegirth went though. She left our filthy little house under the bridge to go out for an evening with ‘the girls’ and never came back. She was lovely. Uneven teeth, fat as a fresh-baked bun. Even had the same curranty little eyes. And her hair … I loved those straggly green strands. Great for dragging her around by. Do you know, the council put up one of those new modern art statues and it looks just like her? Appeared overnight it did.
Since she went I can’t be bothered with the maintenance, so a few of the planks are missing and the ropes have been better. I even heard one cheeky little toad call it ‘the rickety rackety bridge’ the other day. If it hadn’t been daylight, I’d have flipped his warty brown face over the side there and then. And believe me, it’s long way down into that gorge. I know. I’ve been down.
Well, I manage to make a living. See, over there’s the town, and on that side there’s some pretty lush Grass. Don’t fancy it myself much, but there are those who do like to roll in their own. They pay me a toll to get over there. You know, throw the odd loaf of mouldy bread or half a dozen rotten eggs down the chimney. It isn’t much, but I get by. Then, last year, I had a run in with the local bully boys. “The Gruff Gang” they call themselves. Ugly-looking bunch they are. Four legs each. Curly horns and eyes like the devil himself. Father and his two sons. And all called by the same name – Billy.
Then one night I heard it. Little feet on my bridge right in the middle of “East Neighbours in the Street.” So out I leaped and faced him. They’re not supposed to go there at night, see.
‘Who’s that walking on MY bridge?’ I said. I’ve got to say that. It’s in my contract of employment.
‘It’s me. Little Billy Gruff,’ came this voice. ‘I need some Grass.’
‘Not on my watch, you don’t,’ I said, and I glared at him. Not to frighten him, you understand, just a warning. And off he trotted into the night. In I went, and I was just sitting down with a cup of tea when I heard middle–sized feet on my bridge. So out I leaped again.
Who’s that walking on MY bridge?’
‘It’s me. Middle-sized Billy Gruff. I need some Grass.’ I had to glare a bit harder to get rid of this one – make my eye glow just a bit brighter, but off he went without a word, and I was just going on in when I heard thundering footsteps coming in my direction. Mind, there were one or two choice words as he missed his footing on the broken planks, but suddenly, there he was, Big Billy Gruff, the daddy of them all.
‘Who’s that …’
‘You been stopping my boys from having a bit of recreational Grass,’ he says in that deep voice, eyeballing me with those yellow slits of his. And before I knew it, he had me up on those horns and over the side. I thought I was a goner then. Next thing I knew, I was pulling myself out of the river at the bottom of the gorge. Luckily, it had been raining a lot and the river was high. Took hours to get back to the top, but the mud was lovely. House hasn’t been so filthy since my Treegirth was here.

Posted by S. Grimpenpound

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Here is the news

Koi are swimming up the High Street.
Overwhelmed by inundation,
The river has broken through the concrete.
Koi are swimming up the High Street.
Everyone is sick of wet feet,
Or, trapped in houses, incarceration.
Koi are swimming up the High Street,
Overwhelmed by inundation.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Your Universal Mother Reads You Your Rights

…mankind owes to the child the best it has to give.
from Declaration of the Rights of the Child*

You have the right to live.
Nurtured deep within; my miracle.
Your name forever entwined with my name.
Your body, butter-fat and berry-shiny
Nursing at a full breast
Cooing in contentment at life unfolding.
But I see questions hidden behind your eyes
As insects plague your face.
You are too weak now to cry. Too small.
A numberless child in a teeming world
Today I can only dream a future for you.

You have the right to play.
Safe in your castle, my princess, all dragons slain.
Explorer, boldly seeking out new worlds.
Your imagination stirred for no purpose.
Soldier, swaggering, wooden gun held high,
Laughing as your friends fake death.
But your games have become grim reality
As together we trudge along the dusty road
Our few possessions wrapped in a bundle too heavy to hold
Fleeing the knives, the flames, the rapes.
Today I seek sanctuary for us.

You have the right to a father.
Proudly proclaiming his children to the world.
Bouncing his infant son upon his knee
Jealously guarding his precious daughter from all harm.
Unable to withstand the wasting from within,
The pressures from without.
But as I sleep alone, unloved.
I recall those undarkened days,
Entering into my emptiness where he once lived.
Deserted through disease, poverty, war
Today I have only my memories of him
Tomorrow …

*Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Geneva, Switzerland

Friday, July 20, 2007

Things to do when you don't feel like...

Above anything else, I'd like to write for a living... probably not much of a living, admittedly, but why not? My words are the same as everybody else's. Just not necessarily in the same order.

Well ..

First of all there's the daily but necessary tasks of walking the dogs,come rain or shine, (I think even the Labradors are getting fed up with water) making sure we have clean clothes, feeding us, occasional teaching... you know, general domestic chores that in themselves take no time at all!

There are the other daily essentials - like checking my email hourly (Why? No one ever sends me anything truly excting and my junk filter gets rid of the seedier ones) and seeing who else is online at the OU First Class site, playing solitaire, visiting Club Penguin ...

Then there's thousands of other would-be writers trying to do the same. Yes, we all encourage each other, get excited when they have a success, however small - and that, probably is the real reason why I and most other writers of my acquaintance don't actually write...
We all think everyone else is much better than us.
...and that may not always be the truth. How often have you got to the end of a book and thought 'Well that was a complete waste of a few hours of my life' ?
So, why do some good authors get rejection after rejection, and the bad ones still get printed? Answers, please on a postcard.
And until the right answers come along, I'll keeping writing and revising and printing stuff to send off, and then putting it in the recycling bin.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Race For Life

Way to go girls... We couldn't quite work out why Nivea were providing Factor 50 suncream that day. At the time of entry, it seemed like a great idea - a Sunday morning jog/walk between Bournemouth and Boscombe piers. Anyway, the usual good naturedness overruled and we did it, cheering on complete strangers who were on their way back soon after some of us had passed the start line.

OU A215 Survivors nationwide have run, walked and crawled to raise awareness of all types of cancer, and because it was something we could all do for one of our number. We have smiled and cried at the tributes worn on backs, and, I guess, more than one of us has promised to go again - much leaner and fitter next year. Yeah, right.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

One of my pupils has been complaining that I haven't updated my blog for some time. So, Michael, this posting is dedicated to you, and as I can't think of anything else to post right now, here is a poem 'wot I rote'.

Green is for trees.
I don’t like greens with my dinner.
They make me feel rather sick.
Mum hides them beneath my potatoes,
But I always find them real quick.

Last week, outside in the garden
I had a taste of some snails.
The texture was just a bit crunchy
But I lived on to tell you this tale.

Now earthworms are something quite different.
They’re smooth and they slip down quite fast.
I found a whole bunch in the compost;
I rather enjoyed that repast.

The chalk from my blackboard is dusty.
It turns my mouth green, pink or blue.
It’s not my favourite munchy
‘Cos it’s very hard work to chew.

Some stuff on the beach is so gritty,
It gets in my mouth and my nose
It’s difficult eating a picnic.
It’s the sand which is there, I suppose.

But I’m still not eating that green stuff.
My mum says it’s good for me.
I say, give me fish fingers or pizza
And hold back on broccoli.