Friday, 28 October 2016

Oh LOOK! It’s J R Hartley

Oh LOOK! It’s J R Hartley

Well, the rain drums upon slumbering dreams.
While you’re searching for a plumber.
It’s the dripping mists of the summer.
Wishing you had used that telephone book,
And it’s taking you bloody ages to look.
When someone, somewhere, suddenly screams:
‘Oh LOOK! It’s J R Hartley!’

Traffic snarls to a screaming halt
People gaze in shock and awe.
Three wheeled baby buggies smack the kerb,
cell phones buffer, that pin is heard.
Not just there for the nasty things in life,
Like a dripping tap or a moaning wife:
‘Oh LOOK! It’s J R Hartley!’

Your sodden carpet quickly forgotten,
they thrust their fingers in his direction.
The whispers start, it’s really him!
Fly Fishing, bookshops, the rueful grin,
The dialled phone, the temper, the rages,
The silly old duffer from Yellow Pages:
‘Oh LOOK! It’s J R Hartley!’

Wine from water, to touch his hem,
flocks of people surge as one,
with paper and pens: ‘Is it a crime
to tell us of fishing with flies, if you’ve time?
Tell us of numbers and dials and books
of fruitless searches and sorrowful looks:
Save us, Save us!  J R Hartley!’

But it’s not a fisher of men you need,
to stem the tide before the flooring is wrecked.
Shove to the front and jab his chest,
would it be crass to simply confess?
And point out the obvious ocular truth,
to something so witless and long in the tooth?

J R Hartley? Know the number of any good plumbers, then?
Thought not!’

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Little Acorns

Little Acorns

Every day, Derek watched the sun fry the desert until it was crisp and dry.

From the slit of a window in his office, he gazed on frenetic construction. Daily, men punished themselves in the heat, ripping apart the mud and clinker. Towers were taking root in the sand. Roads leading nowhere yet were birthing out of the soil into concrete cloverleaves. Traffic crawled on its belly, waiting for the next jam to open.

Within the school, however, all was cool and air conditioned. Derek came away from the window and was grateful.

It was hot out there.

On his first night away from England, he recalled, he had taken a walk without carrying any bottled water. Breathing had been like swallowing a fan assisted oven on full. Not a mistake he intended to make again.

Now, six weeks into his new role as Head of Science, Derek was starting to feel more relaxed. Leaving England to teach in the desert had not been an easy decision.

But, similarly, teaching in England had become an impossible job. The pay had worsened, year on year. The class sizes had increased. Low budgets had resulted in redundancies and decay. It had been killing him to watch schools cheat their way to good results then crash, burn and die anyway. And it was the children. The betrayal of the children. That hurt him the most.

Here however, things were different. The symbol of the school was an acorn set against an oak tree, It was everywhere – on the front of the concrete building, the interior walls, the stationery and, of course, on the uniform the children wore. Little acorns.

Derek walked from his office and into the gymnasium. There was a rousing cheer from the assembled students. An Indian girl, shrouded in an abaya, was speaking. Her face was cheerful and her smile infectious. She was pointing at her slide show and sharing. “You all love curry, right?” And there was another huge cheer.

International Day. A chance to celebrate all cultures and all countries. Derek grinned to himself, quietly happy.

“Excuse me?”

Derek felt the tap tap of fingers on his shoulders. He turned away from the children. Facing him was a woman. Her mouth was smiling but the eyes…there was something about the eyes. “Hello?”

“You don’t know me, of course, Mr Derek,” she mouthed, in a soft voice. The accent had a harsh, nasal twang to it.

“No, no, I’m sorry,” spluttered Derek, “I was just charmed. For a moment. By the children, it’s a wonderful thing, this, isn’t it? International celebration.”

“You’re new here. Can we talk? Let’s go to your office.” She adjusted her headscarf. It was an impatient gesture.

“Of course. Anything in particular?”

By now they had reached his office, a glass fronted affair that afforded no privacy. The world looked in and watched education in progress. On a daily basis.

Derek often caught himself considering moving the book shelves in front of the glass, or putting up a gigantic poster. But, in the end, he had got used to people walking past and popping in on a whim to say hello. It was rather lovely, in an odd way. It made everything quite transparent.

“Well, yes.” The woman’s eyes had not warmed, despite Derek’s enquiring smile. She seated herself, arms folded. “I am Ms Rachel. The Principal’s PA. We have not yet met.”

“Well, we have now,” grinned Derek, reaching for his notepad. It was the wrong thing to say, though. A cloud scudded across her face.

“I’m here on a personal matter. You don’t know this, but my daughter attends school here. I hope you don’t mind me mentioning this, but…” the conjunction was left hanging, waiting for the drop.

Derek stop smiling and leant forward, pen poised. “Oh, OK. What’s the problem?”

“She is not happy in her class, Mr Derek. She has come home complaining. She is very upset.”

Derek mentally slapped himself around the chops for his optimism. Did he teach her? Who was she? He took a mental register and looked inwards at all the faces. No. Nobody looking distressed or shedding tears. Just rows of cheerful, smiling faces. “Is she in my class, Ms Rachel?”


“Oh, good. I don’t like to think of children being in any way unhappy.”

“Well she is, Mr Derek. I wonder if you can do something about it?”

“Of course. If I can help, I will.”

Ms Rachel’s face softened slightly and she leant forward to take him into her confidence. “You have placed her is Set 3. You don’t know my daughter. She should be in the top set.”


“No, it is wrong. Every night she comes home complaining that the work is too easy for her. She does not feel in any way challenged. It is affecting her. She will not eat her food. She will not sleep at night. She no longer finds Science interesting. Where, last year, Science was her favourite subject.”

Flicking his computer on and fiddling with the mouse, Derek groaned inwardly. Had this nonsense followed him from England? A file opened on his desktop and he glanced at some data, running fingertips across his sweaty forehead. He turned the screen towards Ms Rachel. “Her scores from last year seem to indicate she has been placed in the right set, Ms Rachel. The teacher, Mr Thurber, is one of our best physicists. He has been given that set because he understands his subject and has a track record of getting the best from the youngsters. I’ve seen him. He is a terrific teacher.”

“That data is wrong, Mr Derek. My daughter should be in the top set.”


“She had a bad test that day. I have explained it to the Principal. He agrees. I would, ah, like her to be moved into top set. Starting tomorrow.”

Closing the file with a click of the mouse, Derek sighed and stood. “I’ll look into it.”

Ms Rachel also raised herself and opened the office door, “I’d appreciate that, Mr Derek.”

As she walked past the celebratory assembly that was coming to its conclusion, Derek caught sight of the Principal who glanced at him, then joined Ms Rachel. They now stood together, looking over the children, applauding.

Derek opened a desk drawer and picked up his diary, emblazoned with the school’s logo. “Little acorns,” he muttered to himself. He wondered, idly, if there were any flights to Reykjavik leaving that week.

Thursday, 13 October 2016



Molly coddles eggs with nutmeg and spices,
conjures confections, all shapes and sizes.
Sugar and dishes, menthol pleasures,
and kissing, hissing cinnamon treasures.

While deep among the orchard’s paving,
With visions of sailing, squash and bathing,
The grand master contemplates tessellations,
Hums snatches of shanties from far away nations.

Where my back browned in the sun from above,
and warmed in the comfort of far gone love.
Fragrances, fragments; the dust of a dream,
malting and melting the distant Cymbeline.

 Who could have known, lying then, on that beach,
something so precious could be so far from reach?

Monday, 3 October 2016

Thrust Upon Them

Thrust Upon Them

To move mountain ranges of expertise
is by no means easy. Ask Ramesses.
The wheels of the gears need grease.

He bounded over the desk by the window ledge like a springbok.

Well not really like a springbok - more like an ancient octopus that had been mouldering in a sea cave corner for several centuries, had replaced his limbs with prosthetic tentacles, and was in need of the cephalopoda valet service.

I say this because he became tangled in the furniture and cracked his chin painfully on hardwood stools.

This, however, did not daunt him one jot. He thrust out a hand.

“Kirk, Jim Kirk.” He looked expectantly at me as the name should mean something. It didn’t.

His hand was bleeding where it had cracked the edge of the stool, so he withdrew it and wiped it on his tunic. “Sorry. I’m Captain Kirk. Ah gee, OK, so you’re not a fan, then.”

I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. “Is this the leadership course? The flyer said it was on floor 30, Horizon Heights Building.”

Jim Kirk gestured to a couple of seats. “Ah, leadership. The poisoned chalice. You have been offered a position? Uneasy rests the head that wears the crown? Come on, sit down, sit down. Rest your weary bones.” Kirk frowned as if remembering something important, then muttered. “Bones. Bones?” He shook his head as if to shake out an unpleasant thought.

“Where’s the rest of the class, then?” I sat on one of those cheap blue chairs. You know the sort? Some hefty arse has cracked the seat and your buttock flesh is frequently pinched by jagged plastic edges. Wincing, I used my feet to pull the chair nearer to the classroom table and leant forward.

Kirk remained standing. Sizing me up.

I hadn’t wanted to be any sort of leader, of course, I’d had enough of that malarkey. Middle management - the impossible job. Those above issue dictats to deliver miracles and those below whine, whinge, wail and gnash. And you know what? It’s that middle pay, too. Not quite enough to be comfortable, but slightly too much to turn down. Middle ground all the way. Bastards. No. I hadn’t wanted to be any sort of leader. What I wanted was out.


“Yes, like your advertisement said.” I adopted the tone I’d heard on the radio. A mid-western American drawl. “You’re exhausted with flaccid, middle leadership. You’re fed up with trying to please everybody and you please nobody, not even yourself. You suffer the tedium of endless meetings. You’re looking for the way out of the maze. You want to accelerate and fast? Well here at The Enterprise, we understand and we can help.”

“Ah, of course. Class.” Kirk whipped his hand down and behind to his back pocket, clutched a slim, cubed shaped object, snapped it open with a wrist flick and spoke into it. “Kirk, here. Lieutenant Sulu? Bring in some coffee.”

We waited. Some time passed and I looked at him. Boots, gaiters, tight trousers pinching together a paunch and an ill-fitting yellow tunic emblazoned with a shiny, plastic ‘A’ shaped badge. He looked like he’d escaped from the sixties and was that a wig? Surely not.

Jim Kirk shook his cube with irritation. “Sulu? Sulu!” He flung it down in front of me in disgust. “Seems not to be working,” he coughed. Which was hardly surprising – I’d seen more authentic looking communications devices down Stepney Market. “We’ll forget the coffee for now,” he continued. He sat down opposite me on a similar chair and winced as plastic teeth nipped at generous portions of backside. “What seems to be the trouble?”

“Well, Mr Kirk,” I began, “I do believe I’ve had enough of complaints, criticisms and trying to deliver the impossible.” I stopped. He wasn’t listening but was poking his cube in irritation.

“How am I expected to work under these circumstances?” he complained. “I mean; will you look at this? I don’t want to be critical of Starfleet Command, but I’ve seen better looking cell phones. They expect me to do comply with the prime directive using shit like this? Well, it’s impossible.”

“Well, exactly, Mr Kirk.” I offered.

Still he ignored me. He took the cube, flicked it open with his wrist and screamed into it. “Scotty! Scotty! Where in heck are you with my belloni sandwich? Scotty!”

“Yes, Captain?” The third voice did indeed have a Scottish burr to it, and Jim Kirk grinned at me.

“Ah!” he exclaimed, waving the cube in my face. “See? It does work!”

“Ah, no Captain, you were shouting so loud I could hear you downstairs.”

“Bollocks. Fucking tat.” Kirk flung the cube on the floor and petulantly booted it several times around the room where it smashed into furniture and splintered into a thousand plastic shards. “Sorry. Look, don’t worry, I’ve got another one somewhere.”


“So what is your line of work? Communications officer? Photon torpedo loader? Red shirt security guard? That sort of thing?”

“I’m a teacher.”

Kirk sat back down, adjusted his feet and pulled his tunic over his belly. “Teacher, huh? Of course. No wonder you want out. Your pay’s gone down, your workload is impractical, your buildings are dilapidated, all those shit meetings…and when was the last time you had a decent fist fight with a Klingon then phasered him to death?”

“I don’t want out, Mr Kirk, I want acceleration and fast. Like you promised. I’m fed up with being a middle manager.”

Jim Kirk looked at me sceptically. “Really? Have you ever dipped your chop stick in the sweet and sour sauce?”


“Let me tell you a story, my friend.” Kirk leaned forward, conspiratorially. His face creased as though he was about to impart great wisdom. His drawl softened slightly. “When I was a young man, my daddy, Poppa Kirk, took me into the gentlemen’s convenience. It was a store in downtown Brooklyn. You understand?”

I pretended too.

“Good. So this was an important occasion. For four years now I had to sit. On the john. The john?”

Again, I hadn’t a clue. My face must have betrayed me.

“My pants around my ankles, being helped to poop, the paper torn for me, being shown how to shake. But this time, Poppa Kirk said, I was ready. Ready to use the standing fixtures. I was greatly excited.”

I tried not to picture the scene but it was almost impossible.

“Picture the scene, man. Poppa Kirk on my left, a tower of a man. Wee Jimmy Kirk by his side. Our Mr Winkies popped out and ready to shoot. But, boy oh boy…” Jim Kirk shuddered and his face creased, “I lost my nerve at the last minute, missed my aim and pissed all over the stranger on my right…and I couldn’t stop it. I just couldn’t stop it.” Kirk was shaking. He rose and walked bitterly around until he was behind me. “Poppa Kirk was apologising, he’s down on his knees and using his neckerchief to clean up my mess off the guy’s trousers and shoes…”

“That must have been terrible for you, Mr Kirk,” I muttered, stifling the urge to laugh.

“It was, man, it was.”

“But what has it to do with middle management?” I asked.

“Who knows? I just thought I’d share. To unburden myself from this terrible weight I have carried all these years. Sharing is caring, you know?”

“Do you want me to share now, Mr Kirk?” I asked, searching around for a story involving myself pissing randomly on somebody’s shoes.

“Hell, no. I don’t give a hoot about that. Where you swing your cock is your business, man.” He was now by the window. He picked up a couple of cuboid communicators and threw one at me which I caught. Kirk flicked his open and gestured at me to do the same. He fiddled with a plastic button on his so I followed suit.

“So, Mister.” snapped Kirk, “You’re ready?”

I shrugged, realising I’d been wasting my time. “Sure, Mr Kirk.”

Kirk hefted his considerable weight onto the window sill. He now dangled his legs out of the window, thirty floors above concrete below, gazing downwards towards the crawling traffic of vehicles and population. It was a terrible drop.

I looked shocked, of course. Was he intending to throw himself down? But Kirk raised an ironic eyebrow at me. “I sure hope Spock is ready, Mister.” He grimaced. “Now, you follow me, right? Practise this.”

Kirk had the cube at his mouth. “Beam me up, Scotty. Beam me up,” he said, loudly. Then looked one last time. “You got that? You sure?”

I nodded but moved forwards quickly and clung on to the thin yellow tunic. “Yes, Mr Kirk, ‘beam me up, Scotty’,” I said, “but surely you don’t intend to…”

“Listen, Mister. Leadership is all about the big chair. The difficult decisions, taking risks, leaping into the unknown. It ain’t about meetings, moaning and taking courses in people skills. You want acceleration? Then try this.”

And Kirk jumped.

There was a fistful of yellow tunic in my hand where it ripped.

A screaming cry of, “beam me up, Scotty.”

Then nothing.

For a moment I stared below -  thirty floors from the top of Horizon Heights Buildings. Thirty floors into the past. Behind me, the room was empty. Just some cheap plastic chairs, a few dilapidated desks and the opened door to the stairwell sat in mocking silence.

I raised the cuboid to my lips.