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The Young Folk (a poem)

I wrote this for a poetry competition that sadly didn’t receive enough entries to be judged properly.  All the same, it came out naturally since it’s a problem I have not only read about, but encountered first hand.  Good times make weak men, so they say.

If you stroll through suburbia, you’re likely to smile;
There’s comfort and opulence, mile after mile.
There are fine cars in driveways, the lawns are so neat
And there’s kids playing ball in the near-silent street.
The houses are flawless, as grand as great ships,
The windows are gleaming, the frames free of chips…
But hang on! Don’t be fooled. If you just look inside,
You’ll see some young folk don’t share the neighbourhood’s pride…
First there’s Todd, sat upstairs, on his vaunted Xbox,
The wrong side of a door that he frequently locks.
He’s unfit, overweight, doesn’t bother to shave,
All he gets is temp jobs, so he can’t really save,
And as you might imagine, his love life is bare.
Todd’s grandparents grumble he’s going nowhere,
But although his Mum does think he isn’t much use,
She won’t dare turn him out, ‘cos that feels like abuse.

Charlotte isn’t like Todd; she has drive and ambition,
But although she’s a fighter, she’s failed in her mission.
She went off to read physics, came back with a First;
Now her life’s greatest days have segued to her worst.
You see, without experience, degrees seem blasé
And there’s no labs or colleges round Charlotte’s way.
Far from being the Marie Curie of her age,
Charlotte now works at Aldi, on minimum wage.

Roger’s empty and lost. He works day after day
In barrister’s chambers, but can’t move away.
Housing costs stay too high, both for him and his friends,
And Dad rather resents his son… “prefers the men.”

I could go on like this, but I think you’ll agree
We must all strive to stand by young folk like these three.
Set them free from this morass! We must work together
To ensure Britain’s youth don’t stay children forever.


Character Case; Rumpole of the Bailey

My writer’s group recently ran a competition called Clash Of The Characters, where members put forward a case for why a literary character they know is the best example of a believable, well-crafted character.  I chose John Mortimer’s famed barrister, Horace Rumpole, giving a speech that the circle thought was the best put forward.  They did, however, suggest that another member chose the best character, by putting a case for Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice fame.  I’ve omitted a quote from the original books in case of copyright clash, but the rest is the full transcript of the speech I made.

Ladies and gentlemen of the circle, m’learnéd friends have presented their cases for their characters with admirable gusto, acumen and autonomy. For this, I commend them. However, their cases will all be lacking for the simple reason that they neglect to mention one man whose charm, perspicacity, resourcefulness and roundness of personality charts a course that all authors who wish to create a believable character should follow. That man is the redoubtable veteran barrister Horace Rumpole, known almost ubiquitously as simply “Rumpole”.
Rumpole, in case you were unaware, is one of the star disputants of London’s highest and most esteemed court, The Old Bailey. His many cases, starting with the Penge Bungalow Murders shortly after World War 2, then bolstered by the Great Brighton Benefit Club Forgery, make him a legend both within and outside those hallowed walls. With depths to his soul that only one who grew up before the advent of television could possess, Rumpole is a fount of wit and knowledge that can impress even the most casual reader. He goes to court and through life securely armed the with the insight of age, and wisdom drawn from a passion for the great literary works of this Green & Pleasant Land.
To call Rumpole’s first person accounts of his exploits in court “adventures” doesn’t quite feel appropriate. He certainly never becomes involved in gunfights, fisticuffs, expeditions in uncharted wildernesses or wrestling matches with wild beasts. Although he sometimes exposes criminals much as a sleuth might, his dealings with even dangerous felons rarely go beyond consultations and cross-examinations. Yet partly thanks to Rumpole, the narrative of his stories never fails to excite and always keeps readers guessing what will come next. They find themselves willing Rumpole on, compelling him to win against all odds, all the while knowing that he will not disappoint even if he happens to lose.
Rumpole is the creation of the late Sir John Mortimer; in life a multi-talented writer of both books and screenplays, as well as a noted barrister himself, with a highly successful law practice. No doubt Sir John’s life experience is the reason Rumpole is so believable he fairly leaps out of the pages.
Those of you who know of Rumpole purely from the television adaptations of Sir John’s books in the 1980’s need not feel self-conscious. Leo McKern’s portrayal of the blustering yet likeable Rumpole is one of the best encapsulations of a literary character in the history of television, rivalling even David Suchet’s portrayal of Hercule Poirot. Read the books and you will see how finely rendered Rumpole is in McKern’s performance.
Rumpole doesn’t always win his cases.  In the short story Rumpole and the Alternative Society, a young lady from a hippy commune seems set to walk free from a charge of drug dealing, when she rashly reveals that she committed the offence as a means to raise funds to free her brother from custody in Turkey.  This, unfortunately, means that Rumpole can no longer be her barrister.  Yet he shows much more than stoical professionalism during this tragic turn of events. He deeply regrets his obligation to withdraw from the case and cannot face his client’s commune friends again, knowing that she must now plead guilty.
Rumpole certainly has flaws. The more health conscious among the circle would no doubt cry “shame!” at his frequent consumption of small cigars and wine. Male readers may well despair at Rumpole being counted among the henpecked, given his frequent references to his wife Hilda as “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. However, even flaws such as these simply add to the richness of Rumpole’s character, which otherwise would seem unrealistically infallible.
Ladies and gentlemen of the circle, if you have even the slightest belief in the value of a solidly constructed literary character, your only choice must be Rumpole. It’s hard to believe that even among the greatest works of literature there is any character as well-rounded, believable, multi-faceted and quintessentially likeable.
Defence rests.


Odd Sock Sam

The completed version of a story I started on flash fiction night.  This one was meant to be written based on two concepts that were chosen from a list.  I chose and island and an odd sock!

Y’ wanna know why they call me Odd Sock Sam?

Well, it goes all the way back to ’25, back when oi were quartermaster on board the HMS St Anthony.  We was sailin’ the South Pacific we were, a few days out o’ Panama, headin’ south for the ‘Orn, loaded wi’ tobacco.  Now, on’t fifth night, a storm comes up.  No’ the worst oi’ve seen, but Cap’n Briggs were worried ‘cos it were gettin’ worse an’ we was nowhere near the mainland.

Now, just as the waves starts gettin’ big, the Cap’n, ‘e spots a few li’l islands threw ‘is telescope, an’ there’s one wi’ a nice round cove we might shelter in t’ ride out the storm.

“Set a course for those islands, Mr. Green!” ‘e tells the ‘elmsman, an’ Mister Green turns the wheel, fightin’ ‘ard against those waves.  ‘E knows ‘e’s got t’ follow orders, but whether or not the St Anthony rides out the storm, ‘e doubts we can ever make them islands.

All the same, we gets close t’ the cove, just as the waves is gettin’ ‘uge.  Oi’m pitchin’ about on deck tryin’ t’ ‘elp the ‘ands secure the sheets proper when…


The biggest wave you ever saw ‘its the St Anthony starboard side an’ knocks me overboard!  Into the sea oi go, an’ oi’m thinkin’ this is the end as oi go under one wave, up out o’ another, gettin’ further an’ further from the St Anthony, an’ try as oi might t’ swim oi might as well be a cork in a river!

“Sam!  Sam!  We lost Sam Swallow!” oi hear ’em yellin’ on deck, but it’s no use.  The Cap’n can’t alter course now; ‘e’ll just have t’ ‘ead fer shelter an’ ‘ope ‘e doesn’t lose another man.

Oi lose sight an’ sound o’ the ship afore long, ‘cos the rain were comin’ down ‘ard in sheets, an’ the wind’s screamin’ like a damned soul.  Just as oi’m thinkin’ oi’m off t’ join me old Mam in ‘eaven, I see one o’ the islands comin’ out o’ the fog be’ind me!  The waves is shovin’ me t’wards it!  Oi might just land there!

Oi kicked an’ pulled an’ ‘eaved in the water like oi’ve never done afore.  Some’ow oi get myself onto the beach.  Some o’ the debris from the ship’s washed up next t’ me, an’ oi think that might be useful, but first things first.  Oi run into the shelter o’ the nearest tree an’ oi wait fer the storm t’ pass.

Well, it passes, an’ dawn’s just breakin’, an’ oi’m thinkin’; maybe things ain’t so bad as they look.  Maybe Cap’n Briggs ‘as still got the ship tied up in that there cove, an’ ‘e’s close enough that oi can send ‘im  a message some’ow.

Now, in the hollow o’ that tree, there’s a little pile o’ sticks, still quite dry.  Another bit o’ luck too; someone’s tinder box got washed ashore, an’ the tinder’s dried out.  So, oi lights a beacon fire on the beach an’ oi keeps feedin’ it while I look what else oi can use.  Moi clothes are wet through, so oi looks around fer some dry ones.  Luckily, oi found some fresh clothes, an’ a few scraps o’ food t’ keep me goin’.

Now, fer four fine days without sight o’ storm nor rain, oi’ve got that fire burnin’ on the beach.  Oi’m just about thinkin’ the St Anthony‘s moved on, an’ maybe oi should think o’ settlin’ down like Mr Robinson Crusoe did, when oi see a ship comin’ from the north.  Oi recognise ‘er in a moment.

“Ahoy, ahoy the sail!” I shouts as it comes nearer.  “It’s me, Sam!”

An’ sure enough, it’s the St Anthony.  Mister Green steers ‘er close offshore an’ they send the launch t’ pick me up.  Cap’n Briggs is aboard, an’ ‘e’s smilin’.

“Good work, Sam,” ‘e says.  “We saw the smoke from your fire leaving the cove.  Sorry we didn’t come sooner, but some of the boys were badly injured below decks and we had to make repairs.  How did you do?”

“Well, oi managed, Sir,” oi says, “Thanks to these boxes an’ stuff that washed ashore wi’ me.  Oi ‘ad everything oi needed fer a few days, though not quite in the proper way o’ things, Sir.”

“Meaning what, Mr. Swallow?” asks the Cap’n.

“Well, while oi got a change o’ clothes, Cap’n,” oi explained, “Oi ‘ad t’ make do wi’ odd socks, Sir.”

“Odd socks?” says the Cap’n, raisin’ a brow.

“Aye, Sir,” oi says, pointin’ downwards.  “Oi got seven socks washed up wi’ me ‘ere, but not one o’ them matched the other, Cap’n Briggs, Sir!”

An’ at that, the Cap’n roars wi’ laughter, an’ all the men at the oars beside him laugh together, an’ then oi starts laughin’ at moi own joke.  An’ from then on, on the St Anthony, on every port oi came into, an’ on every ship oi sailed on until moi ‘ealth didn’t allow it, oi was Odd Sock Sam.

Buy me another tot o’ rum, an’ oi’ll tell you another one.

A Scream (Flash Fiction)

Another creation from that flash fiction night earlier this year.  I read out this one performing like a diva!  You’ll soon see why.  PS, any art historians reading this, please forgive any facts I might have missed or perverted.  This was written for fun and I have gaps in my knowledge about the creation of the painting in question.


The Voices!  They’re calling at me again!

They won’t leave me alone.  Not now, not even now!

I drove all my friends away because of the Voices.  Even my family are afraid to come near me, at least unsupervised.  The Voices drove me into this miserable asylum, where lost souls are confined to mete out their madness, clinging to the slim hope of release…


Stop, please stop!  I can’t bear it!  I hear the blood pounding in my ears, crimson like the sunset sky above, resounding as the voices shriek and cry, driving me deeper into myself, further away from aid and redemption…

They’re quiet now, at last.  And night has fallen over the fjord.  The stars twinkle within the firmament.  Distant waves lap cathartically.

A few months later, Dr. Ulf tells me I’ve made great progress.  I believe him, too.  The Voices don’t come nearly so often now.  Perhaps they’ll consider me safe enough to release soon.

And there’s some better news.  Apparently, an artist has been inspired by my plight and painted me at a time when the Voices were screaming at me.  I hope I do get out and get to see his painting.  It might be famous one day.

Beat the Clock (flash fiction)

Another story from the flash fiction night.  The chosen theme on this occasion was; “time is running out”.

Oh no, the adverts are over!  I can tell; the last one held on longer than the rest.

Better fill up a bowl with crisps.

Now the screen’s showing promos for next week’s war documentary…

Where’s that bottle opener?!?!?  Oh, it’s in my hand.

Now the network logo and the announcement sequence.  Phew!  It’s taking longer than usual.

OK, I’ve got the beer open…   AAAH!  Too warm!

The title sequence is starting!  I’ll never make it!

Grab a glass from the kitchen…

Squeeze a few ice cubes into it…  GET IN THERE YOU…!

Fill it up, rush to the sofa…


I can’t stand missing even one second of Beat the Clock.

I’ve Made My Choice (flash fiction)

My writer’s group recently held a flash fiction writing evening, where we wrote stories based on quotes, or scenarios.  This one I based on a witticism by Mark Twain; “Familiarity breeds contempt… and children.”

I’ve made my choice; that’s the main thing.

But it’s not always easy.

Anne’s not interested in what I like and doesn’t make a secret of it.  I just forget about her when I attend singing practice or tinker in the shed.  I can’t stand Anne’s friends, so she doesn’t bring them round any more.  They just snipe at me when they meet at the mall.

We don’t excite each other in bed.  Anne criticises my washing up.  I grumble because she usually leaves food too tough, or too limp, when she boils it.

So why do I stay?

Because I made my choice.  No, I made a promise.

And because of the family.

We scarcely raise our voices in front of Aaron and Emily.  They’re healthy and content.  We’re proud of each other.  There’s Jake and Carol, of course.  Who’d have thought, eh?  They’re my wife’s parents and they love their son-in-law!  Family gatherings are cosy fun all the way through.  Our neighbours, Greg and William, are dear friends.  Another miracle!  Work’s not usually fun, but it pays, and the team like me.

Sometimes I wonder if a separation might do Anne and I some good.  It need not be forever; we’d just see how things turned out.  But I’ve never had the heart to bring it up with Anne.

Perhaps it’s not such a good idea.  Or perhaps my choice wasn’t so bad after all.


Like my Day At The Zoo entries, this came from a moment’s inspiration when touching pen to paper.  I do, however, feel the sentiments written here wholeheartedly.


Tremendous companions; affectionate, responsive, hearts like an ocean… and such cheeky rascals when they want to be!

What a chore they can be; so much to feed and house, you need to tack them up properly, clean up after them, learn to ride them… the list goes on.  They can misbehave too.  They turn off the route you want them to follow, or just remain stationary where they are.  Riding them is an art form too; commands, motions, maintaining balance and subtle changes of the hands and legs.

But what a reward it is just to be with them!  The beautiful lines of their bodies, soft and powerful, are a testament to what stirring passions nature can produce.  Their eyes glow like warm, dark, welcoming beads of topaz and jet.  The curve of their nostrils and skewed line of their mouths, like a mark made by a lazily wandering stylus, completes a noble, finely proportioned head.  Their coats and manes are pleasantly rough beneath your fingers.  What a joy to see it mirroring the golden rays of the sun.  To see them in full, unfettered motion, one cannot help but imagine that they could fly.

Yet just as awesome as their beauty are their souls.  Many are affectionate and appreciate a kind hand stroking them.  When in the saddle, one truly feels a special, sacred bond with the horse, like your hearts are joined by a tiny silver thread.  Send out good feelings and they will reciprocate.  In many ways, they are the truest friends imaginable.