Books and Language

I’m so excited.

The first batch of set texts for my OU course have just arrived.

Of course, getting excited about the arrival of (plucks a book off the pile) ‘Medea and Other Plays‘ by Euripides isn’t the same as getting excited about reading the said work.

Actually, it’s being a very literary day.

I’m trying to finish a short for publication. Yay.

I’m working on a book review. Yay (again).

It’s Book Group tonight. Yay.

And, as mentioned, some set texts have arrived. Double Yay.

Unfortunately I’m struggling with Billy Bragg’s polemic on the meaning of national identity in modern Britain – ‘The Progressive Patriot‘. Boo.

In simple terms Billy – a guy I’ve admired for a couple of decades – has lost the plot.

He demonstrably fails to understand what it is to be English let alone British.

Billy doesn’t even consider what being English or British means within the context of being Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Mancunian or Liverpudlian.

But he does have an excellent grasp of what it is to be a middle-aged white male from the south-east of England.

Ho hum; Billy Bragg seems to have become the typical Guardian reader.

Meanwhile over on the other side of the Atlantic…

A group of people called The Simplified Spelling Society have launched a campaign to cull the English Language of all those confusing words and phrases in an attempt to make things easier.

I’m not altogether who they’re trying to make things easier for.

But as The Simplified Spelling Society are a US organisation (they would say ‘organization’ and therein, I suspect, lies the rub) it’ll be interesting to see if they have any impact on society – British, Candian, New Zeland, Australian or even American.


Best Served Cold

a short…

Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.

When I was a boy my father used to say it to me.

He meant ‘don’t be impulsive, play the long game’.

Decades later I used the phrase in combat.

Mount Tumbledown.

My troop – all three of us – were the point force for 2 Para south of Darwin when Colonel ‘H’ (who clearly hadn’t heard the phrase) picked up an SMG and stormed a well-dug-in-and-fortified Argentine position.

While H was getting himself killed on the Ajax side of the Mount we picked off the Argies from their own left flank.

Executed them under the clear, cold, black south Atlantic night sky.

Shot them as their silhouettes, strobed by the fire-fight with the main force, highlighted every moment.

It was like shooting big, stupid, slow-witted bears.

By the time the three of us had downed 80 – who previously thought they were so securely dug-in they were invulnerable – the rest realised they were being slaughtered like animals.

So they surrendered.

The media made much of H’s sacrifice and that 1,200 Argentines surrendered to such a small British force.

But the truth was that three specialist snipers played the long game and then expended our entire stock of ammunition in thirty-five minutes.

Twenty-seven years since the Falklands and I’m still playing the long game.

My target walked across the pedestrian precinct.

Same time every Friday.

Same routine.

It’ll be his downfall.

I smiled through the window as I sat on a stool in the cafe window.


Playing the long game.

Three years I’ve been watching.

I’m going to teach you a lesson, friend.

You don’t screw with me.

As he walked up the steps to the building I entered the date, time and event in my notebook.

For the last time I checked back to the previous week’s entry.

Nothing different.

He was met at the door with a handshake.

I imagined the conversation.

Come in.

His host waved his hand in front as if to part the air for the Great and Worthy Bastard.

How’re your children?

And your wife?

Did they catch the attacker yet?

Be patient, I’m sure they will soon.

He went inside.

I finished my cup of tea.

The irony is that I could have stopped the attack on his wife.

But it would have caused ripples.

I might have left a profile – an image on a CCTV or a security camera or in someone’s head – as I decked the adolescent mugger.

I’d been following her for an hour as she threaded her way through the shops, streets and markets.

The boy came out of the alleyway.

I saw him look her up and down, guessing her ability to fight back.

He ran down the pavement, threaded his arm through the loops on her bag, smashed hard in to her and ran off.

I was eighteen feet away, could have stopped him with a rabbit punch to the larynx.

Let him pass, said my head.

I obeyed.

She hit the pavement with a dull thud like a sack of potatoes.

Fractured her skull.

I could have stopped it.

Could have taken him out before he got to her.

I had the range, had the pace and had the ability.

But protecting her wasn’t my role; I was on surveillance.

He ran past me not knowing how near to death he’d just come.

Slowly, slowly catchee monkey.

This time, another form of assassination.

I’m going to assassinate the character of someone who loves to be at the centre of his community.

Three nights ago my target’s wife and children spent the night away; the first time in a year.

A family party; they went last year.

And the year before.

Coincidentally, three nights ago the Essex Constabulary had photographed my target’s car as it kerb-crawled around two notorious red-light areas of the county.

At noon yesterday photographs of the vehicle, its registration number and description were posted on one of those ‘goody-goody’ neighbourhood watch-type internet websites.

At 3pm yesterday The Daily Mail knew about it.

At midnight last night two undercover reporters jumped out of a Ford Transit, loaded up the target’s rubbish bins from outside his house and drove off.

I can imagine their shrieks of laughter as the Mail‘s reporters undid the rubbish bags that contained – amongst the usual household rubbish – the vilest, most horribly graphic images of child pornography.

They probably rubbed their hands with glee as they discovered the torn-up-but-easily-reassembled stories of child rape and violent incest.

As I waited for the next stage of the plan to occur I turned the car keys over in my pocket.

Keys to a duplicate car, identical to his, the same registration details, same colour and even the same slightly fractured number plate on the rear.

This evening I’ll remove the identifying marks and then torch it.

In the glove compartment will be the mobile phone I used to call The Daily Mail.

And a computer hard-disk, a clone of the PC in my target’s office.

Just like his reputation and professional career, everything will go up in flames.

That’s right my friend.

When I’m done, you won’t be able to get a job selling shirts on a market stall.

In an hour and a half, when you go to your office, the police will be there, waiting.

And they’ll find more pornography.

As well as evidence that you’ve been spying on the occupants of the ladies toilet.

And a sign-on for an on-line bookmaker’s account.

In three years – or two, whenever it is they’re going to let you out – I’ll still be here.



Playing the long game.

And I’ll get you again.

And again.

Don’t screw with me.

Softly, softly catchee monkey.


Mewn pleidlais hanesyddol ym Mhontrhydfendigaid ddydd Sadwrn, mae Plaid Cymru wedi penderfynu rhannu grym â Llafur ym Mae Caerdydd.

Penderfynodd cyngor cenedlaethol Plaid Cymru gefnogi’r ddogfen “Cymru’n Un,” y cytundeb rhwng arweinwyr y ddwy blaid, gyda 225 o blaid ac 18 yn erbyn.

Bydd aelodau Plaid Cymru yn cael lle yn y cabinet am y tro cyntaf erioed, a bydd Rhodri Morgan yn parhau’n Brif Weinidog.


Rhodri Morgan?


Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Yesterday was a very equine day.

Beech is bearing up fairly well to his enforced ‘imprisonment’.

But he looks mighty fed up.

And bored.

His coat’s suffering from the lack of wind (and rain!) and I’m sure he’d love to feel the sunshine on his back.


He’s due for his next set of X-rays in a few days.

Fingers crossed.

I got a progress report from the vet on Wednesday evening.

In a nutshell his prognosis is good to excellent, providing that the initial stage of healing – the reason he’s on box rest now – has gone as well as we hope.

If everything knits well the leg will actually be stronger than his other three.

Something to do with the strengthening process that goes with calcification of a fracture.

After I’d shoved a couple of sliced apples in to Beech, skipped out his box and groomed him I went to find Vin.

And it started raining.

So I detoured to the kitchen, put the kettle on and got the saddles and bridles out of the tack room.

Spent the next few hours up to my elbows in saddle soap, leather oil, and warm soapy water.

Routine, repetitive tasks; how therapeutic are they?

With the sparkly clean, dressed tack hanging up back in the tack room, I shifted the lorry so that it was front-facing-out in its bay.

I had parked it rear-facing-out so that the signwriters could get at the tail.

Then I picked up his head collar and went to get Big Vin.

Who took one look at me walking down the track and melted my heart.

He started walking towards me then picked himself up and trotted right up to me.


Unconditional love, that’s why animals win out over people every time.

While I’d been engaged on my tack-cleaning marathon Karen had started schooling Arthur over a small course of show jumps.

I asked for the fences to be left up, then put Vin in the washdown bay, removed his rug and set to grooming the dried mud off his legs, neck, head and bum.

Don’t ask me how he manages to get mud up his bum when he’s wearing a rug all day, he’s obviously just a talented boy!

We had a bit of a kerfuffle when a soaking bin that he was standing next to was emptied of water; being a typical Thoroughbred he went in to orbit and pulled back hard.

Unfortunately the safety string didn’t break; the thing that did give out was the tie-point. Oops.

With Vin tacked up and me gloved, booted and hatted we set off for the arena and mounted up.

First we schooled flatwork to establish rhythm, build on balance and threw in lots of transitions to get his back-end actively engaged.

After 20 minutes it was time for the jumps; the first fence was a horizontal cross.

Which he attacked.

It felt way too quick.

I mean way, way, way too fast.

One of those occasions when I could have done with a ground-based observer; was my perception correct or was I just being scared?

As soon as he landed he was on his forehand so we came again and I was ready for him taking off and rebalanced him properly.

He reacted brilliantly.

We jumped the course six times – alternating clockwise/anti-clockwise each time – concentrating on being consistent with straightness and rhythm for every step of the track.

We pulled our work to a close, I loosened the saddle and dismounted.

Big Vin is a bit of a star; such a lot of potential if I can harness his abilities.

With Vin untacked, groomed, rugged up and back in his field with a couple of sliced applies in his belly I broke up the course of jumps and put everything away.

Then had another mug of hot chocolate.




To report them, or not report them?

That really is the question.

My publisher says one thing…

But I think another – my professionalism winning out.

I guess the answer is to do that thing – be professional.

And see what decisions are made.



Snapped a fingernail.

It’s James Brown’s fault.

And Mark and Lard Radcliffe and Maconie on Radio 2.

At 21.45 they played ‘This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world‘ by James Brown.

One of the greatest, softest, bluesiest, soulest records ever.

So I jumped out of bed, grabbed my guitar and joined in.

Got the arpeggio section perfect – that’s the bit that goes:
Dum di dum di dum, dum di dum di dum, dum di dum di dum, dum di dum di dum…

Except I tore off a fingernail going for an open chord.


Bloody James Brown.

Decisions, indecisions

flash fiction

Sometimes it’s a problem.

Maintaining a focussed train of thought while you’re in a long, tedious…



Where was I?

Oh yeah.


Not Te Deum, that’s entirely different.

Chuckles to self.

Ho hu…

Did she just say what I thought she said?

Must concentrate more.

Ah, no.

No-one else has edged forward on to their chairs, no-one sniggering behind their notepads.

Must have misheard.

Bit tired.

Last night’s 18.00 meeting didn’t end until 19.10.

Got out of the building at 19.15 (just in time to rescue my car from the Cheap’n’Cheerfulâ„¢ vehicle-leaving-place before it closed at 19.30. ‘£25 fee for after-hours services‘, as the notice on the wall says).

Pauses briefly to wonder what services the Cheap’n’Cheerful vehicle-leaving-place Old Lady might provide, in an ‘after-hours’ kind of way.


Beginning to feel ill.

Move on.

Ummm, sorry.

What was it?

Oh yeah, inability to concentrate on…

God I feel sick in a hollow kind of way; haven’t eaten enough today.

Looks out of the window and thinks some very rude thoughts.

Can’t help it.

It’s in my genes.

Or jeans, maybe.

I used to know a girl called Jean.

I think I went out with her.


I was at that awkward stage (virgin) and she couldn’t really be bothered anyway.

I was 20.

Yeah, I know; late starter.


Oh yes, entirely, Mike.

And if we concentrate more on the process mapping whilst looking for quick wins in the corporate banking application arena, whilst concentrating on the foreign exchange division…

That’s pretty bloody annoying.

The way she flicks her hair back over her shoulder like that.

Every 24 seconds.

Does she know I’m counting?


20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and…


For God’s sake, leave it alone.

Wonder if you’re like that at home?

Have you got a certificate in OCD?

Pauses whilst pondering whether it actually is possible to get qualifications in OCD.

Oh, I only got an intermediate because of a lack of imagination in behavioural repetition.

Chuckles quietly again.

Briefly wonder what the girl from the international currency division looks like with no clothes on.

Just out of curiosity, honest!

Genes again.

Prefer 501s.

See what I did there?


This is interminable.

International Corporate Banking on a Thursday lunchtime.

Are the people who schedule these meetings mad?

Come to think of it, how could they be sane?

International Corporate Banking?

Wherever sanity ends I know which side of the line ICB sits!


What did she say?

Really, what did she say then?

Foreign Exchange interest rate swaps with which currency?

Last time I missed the point in an ICB meeting I went out and swapped £500 million with IKR.

We had to buy a fish processing factory in Reykjavik because swapping that much money back would have cost us more in commission than the purchase price of the factory.

Felt a bit foolish for weeks after that one.


That’s what she said.

Break for food.

Must learn to concentrate harder.

Icelandic herring, anyone?

Yes, the Icelandic Sushi is going down really well. In all senses of the phrase.

Ha ha ha ha.


Really must learn to pay attention.


An email flutters in.

Arthur Roberts, a US publisher who has a track record of being kind to me.

Based on synopsis only…

Would like to buy my two most recent short stories, Spelling Mistake and Transport.


But there’s a problem.

I’m part-way through rewriting the former (like, again).

And I can’t say I’m happy with the latter yet.

He’s prepared to hold off on Spelling Mistake as he, like me, would be happy to see it published in the first quarter 2008.

But he’d like to have Transport now for a November publication.

Better get it finished then!


A slightly damp and dusty memory

I detoured this evening.

Spur of the moment, probably brought on by the hailstones.

Partway en-route to Brixton I turned left on a whim.

In to Vassal Road, SW.

And pulled up outside the church I used to attend.

Saint John the Divine, Kennington.

SJDK is a large, red-brick structure topped with an imposing spire that stretches upwards to almost pencil-thinness.

My head began playing tricks.

I believed I could smell the dusty/clean scent; the perfume that the wood polish gave off, but with a hint of dustiness from the vaulted places that no cleaner could ever reach.

The smell was a powerful jog to my memory.

My brain revelled in its memory focus, my mental view shifted from the knave to the vestry which brought a new smell; freshly washed and ironed robes.

In those days I was less ‘not religious’ than I am now; I used to go to church for the booze and the singing.

We had an excellent choir.

The organist/choirmaster Floss (his nickname lies in an unflattering story involving the wickedly barbed wit of Fr Geoffrey Kirk); the Divine Helen and her lovely sister Mary, the saintly-voiced Caroline Lenton Ward, Laura McGeary and her husband Peter, Andy Stribley, Roy Truscott.

Not many, no; but what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in ability and aspiration.

Pauses for thought…

I got back in the car and continued down Vassal Road, then turned right and threaded my way through the one-way system to Calais Street where I lived for a while, and then turned right in to Cormont Road, also where I lived – but briefly.

And then on to Brixton, where I currently stay during the week.

The earlier hailstorm seems to have wreaked massive damage on south London; a couple of stores in the High Street have been flooded; staff sweep floodwater out as I drive past.

Pete and Shane’s house is untouched though.

Except for a small area in my bedroom.

Because I left the window open this morning.



Settle down

Sit down somewhere quiet.

Plug in your earphones – isolate yourself from the rest of the world.

Take a deep, calming breath.


And listen to…


(n.b. large file, over 3mb)