Thursday, 28 December 2017

Janus, Frances and the Sock Basket

Janus, Frances and the Sock Basket

Oh my life…it’s you! Come in, come in.

It’s nice of you to drop by. I thought you might; well, I wasn’t sure but I hoped you would, you know. Hey, you’re looking great, fantastic to see you.

Come to wish me happy new year, is that it?

You’ve caught me doing the bloody ironing. I know, never ending, I mean look at this lot. It’s got to be done, though - returning to the sandpit on Monday.

Yes, I guess so. I’ll sign on for another year or two. Well, nothing to come back for any more, is there? I did think I might. Give it another try back here, I mean, but, there’s no point now. I mean, can you ever really come back? I don’t think so.

I didn’t realise that then. You get caught in the moment. On that day, my last day, it was like the past and the future collided in a leaving present. No, it doesn’t make any sense, does it? Sorry.

I think what I mean is that on that day I walked back through the corridors and classrooms; my old office, touching our memories, breathing in the scent of our past, remembering the day I was shown round the place for the very first time. So many people to kiss goodbye; some dead, some living. But, as I walked, I was touching the future too; terrified of the unknown.

I got in the car and I didn’t glance back.

I couldn’t look you in the face that day. If I had, I might not have gone through with it. And I had to go through that door.

Shit, but look at this pile. What am I going to do with all these odd socks?

I had to keep it low key, because you know what makes me cry? Those lost people and their grandiloquent announcements. Yes? The: ‘Goodbye to that bad year’, ‘This is the year everything changes’, ‘This is the year I burn it all’, ‘No more pain for me’ Then: ‘like… like…like’.

Yet we still end up staring at a basket full of odd socks.

Look at them. It’s a sad pile, isn’t it? A sad pile on the shag pile, eh? There’s a poem in there somewhere, if we can find it - well you always did inspire me. No, you’re right, quite right - I’ll not use that one, it would be silly.

Yes, still writing, I’m afraid. You’re right, I still owe you that novel about the silk scarves, don’t I? But, I think that this bit, here and now, should be at the beginning of the first book. Begin with the conclusion, you agree? Because the end of something is always the start of something else.

Some of these socks have seen some action, though, haven’t they? Here, look at that. I’m sure it’s desert sand. And this one has grass on it. Probably from some hay field or other. Indolent hours on backs gazing up at English skies and summer sunshine. Maybe that’s where the other one went missing. Foolish laughter, running through the rye, hand in hand with careless fate.

If we laid them side by side, the colours would run from light to dark, like the merging of memories. A rainbow. From one life to the next. Looking back, looking forward.

Where did it start? The beginning of the end that led to the door?

It’s hard to piece it all together now. The death, was that it? The way everything fell apart at school? The long, long descent into the abyss of depression?

I know now that the only good was the love and friendship that came from it, though.

I mean you, of course. Well you know I do. It was always you. You gave me enough to start it all over again, didn’t you? But the start of something is always…well, you know now. You know how hard it is. Because you’ve walked through that door too.

I can’t come back, can I?

But what stories, eh? What futures lie ahead here at the end of this year and the start of the next?

You’re going now, then? A kiss to the past. Just a flying visit, I understand that. Strange. Flying visit were exactly the words I used when I walked through that door for the last time.

Here, now don’t forget me, will you? Pop back from time to time.

No, I don’t really think either of us can forget; we will always be haunted by the spells the music cast. They’re strong, those ones. There are some doors that lead to the past, and you can’t go back through them, but you can always open up the ones that lead to the future. I’m sorry too. I love you, you know.

Well I must get packing. Flight to make that leads to the future. Leave the socks behind, eh? Hang on. Hang on. I’m sure I can hear the bin men outside. Taking away the trash. Before you log off maybe you can give them these old socks.

No, no don’t do that. It’s foolish, I know, but where most people throw an odd sock away, I always think that sometimes, if you’re very, very lucky, after some time and some searching, the other one might turn up again.

Then you’d have a pair.


and be happy

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The End of Something Old... is the Start of Something New.

The End of Something Old...

is the Start of Something New.

At the very start of something new
we looked forward to its ending.
Our hearts that fluttered once so fast,
count downbeats to our rending.

The Christmas tree we deck today,
which glitters now so bright,
will wither all too soon in soft decay 
to shed sharp needles through our night.

And even as we taste the first falling flakes of love
to roll them around our tongues,
we’ll spread the rumours of its death
and despair, as  curtained days draw long.

This spring our pounding love is a playlist,
a silver disc, burning deep.
It will become back catalogued tunes,
that make us sigh and weep.

The summer loving fun we now are making,
ripple ripe wheat in the field.
The wolf will howl and shred our breasts
with wounds we must conceal.

Our autumn eyes and throbbing throats
promise spells that can’t be broken.
Transform the season into dust,
poor gifts and shoddy tokens.

Our winter’s angel blows kiss upon kiss
in bliss so harsh and unaware.
She hides the knife that cuts the bond,
darkens what were once our faces fair.

At the very end of something old
We’ll frown backwards at the parting.
Our regrets will be unspoken and unheard 
just the sound of something starting.

Saturday, 25 November 2017



“I wish to offer my resignation.”

“Do you.”

The Japanese fighting fish, in the large, open tropical pool flittered towards the hand of the second speaker as he sprinkled food from above. “Observe, my friend.” his voice continued, as the fish brawled for food, “see them fight over these tasty morsels. Yes, they fight. Except for that clever fellow over there. He waits. He waits until the others are weakened through their exertion. And then, like G.R.I.M.A.C.E. , he strikes.”

“I still wish to offer my resignation.”

The second speaker waved him towards a deep, padded leather chair. “Sit down Buffings,” he said, and then frowned as Buffings hesitated. “Ah, don’t worry. We phased out the electric chairs some time ago. Inefficient.”

Buffings slid himself into the upholstery. “Comfy.”

The other man nodded and sat down behind his large mahogany desk. “Yes. Now, what’s all this about resignation? You’re one of our finest laser engineers. Your record since starting with us, here at G.R.I.M.A.C.E. has been exemplary. Barely a blemish on your record.”

“There was that incident with the cyanide blades in my brogues and the Russian agent, Number Two.”

“Nonsense, nonsense, forgiven and forgotten, water under the bridge, Buffings. dear fellow.” Number Two smiled affably. He slowly, with deliberation, reached beneath his desk, hands moving almost imperceptibly.

Buffings flinched.

“Parma violet?” Number Two opened the small tin he had by now retrieved and pushed it across the huge desk. “I always think you should sweeten your breath before saying anything unpleasant.”

“Well, what about that time I tripped over that canister of uranium and pushed you into the shark pool?”

“Complete accident. Could have happened to anyone, dear fellow. The scars have almost healed. Fortuitous too. It made me recall I was going to replace the sharks with Japanese fighting fish.”

“Nice of you to see it that way, sir. Nevertheless, I still think I have to resign.” Buffings looked a little tearful and his bottom lip began to quiver.

“I see. Awkward, given that we’re about to extort one billion pounds from the world’s governments by threatening them with a gigantic laser. A laser which you designed, Buffings, and only you know how to operate. That would leave is in a bit of a pickle.” Number Two sighed. “And here at G.R.I.M.A.C.E. we hate pickle.”

“Do we, sir?” Buffings sniffed, “Even Branston?”

Number Two pushed the box of Kleenex to Buffings. He leant back, laced the fingers of his two hands together and steepled his forefingers, resting them on his lips thoughtfully. His eyes narrowed. “Take your time, Buffings.”

“Well, Number Two, I have committed an indiscretion.”

“An indiscretion?”

“Yes, Number Two. One that could bring disgrace upon our organisation.”

“I see. What indiscretion?”

“I deliberately touched someone’s knee, sir.”

“Their knee?”

“Yes, sir. And their thigh, sir.”

“Knee and thigh, eh? When was this?”

“Back in 1971, sir.”

“Knee and thigh in 1971.” Number Two moved his fingers from his lips and used them to do some quick counting. He stood up. “Wait a minute, Buffings, that was 46 years ago. 46 years? You weren’t even a member of G.R.I.M.A.C.E. 46 years ago. How the devil do you think that would matter the day before Operation Ballsthunder? You’re being stupid, man.”

“I don’t think so, sir.” Buffings also stood up and unfolded a grubby newspaper front page that had been stuffed in his trouser pocket. “Look.” He passed the crumpled paper across.

Number Two squinted, using his one good eye to scan the text. Satisfied, he looked up and tossed it disdainfully onto the desk. “Utter nonsense.”

Buffings sniffed then yanked a second Kleenex from the box on the desk. “I don’t think so, sir. Papers are full of it. People resigning for touching knees, sir.”

“And thighs.”

“Yes, sir. Particularly television celebrities, sporting stars and members of Her Majesty’s government. Historical knee touching is a capital offence these days. I don’t think there’s any alternative. I’ll have to bite the bullet. Will obviously accept any punishment G.R.I.M.A.C.E. sees fit to mete out, Number Two.”

“Now see here, Buffings,” Number Two, spoke pleasantly as he plonked himself back in the seat, “See here. You’ve never been a member of the British Government, have you? I don’t remember you excelling at any sport - quite the opposite given your aversion to exercise and hygiene. And I don’t recall seeing you on the telly. Mrs Number Two and I often watch of an evening, you know. And I honestly haven’t noticed you.”

“What are you trying to say, sir?”

“Well, not to put to fine a point on it, I’m not sure you’re important enough for the press to even bother reporting any misdemeanour you might have committed.”

“Not important, sir?” Buffings stressed the syllables of important, between sniffles.

“Well, important to us, Buffings, obviously. Important to us; goes without saying, that.” soothed Number Two, hastily. “You are sure this resignation isn’t an attempt to avoid destroying London with your giant laser, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir. I definitely touched someone’s knee, sir.”

Number Two sighed again and helped himself to another sweet from the tin of cachous. “Well, give me the details, old chap, and I’ll pass it on to Number One. Shame it wasn’t some boobs, really. I say, it wasn’t boobs, was it? You didn’t cup a gigantic handful of firm boobs, now, did you?”

“Boobs, sir? I should jolly well think not, sir. How rude would that be? Knees are bad enough, sir. If it was boobs I’d throw myself right into the pool now, sir.”

“Yes, I suppose so, Buffings.” Number Two unscrewed his pen, and pulled a pad of creamy white paper towards him wistfully. “Well?”

“It was after a game of rounders, sir. Jean told me I had poo streaks in my pants.”

“Poo streaks?”

“We had to do gym in our underpants.”

Number Two glanced up from his writing irritably. “Gym? Underpants? Well how old were you, Buffings, for heaven’s sake?”

“Seven, sir. It was at Abbey Junior Primary, sir. That’s what made me do the knee touching. With my fingers, sir.” Buffings hesitated, sensing that his superior was getting frustrated.

“You did what with your fingers?”

Buffings shuddered, his brow knitted in revulsion. “I wiped poo streak on Jean’s knee, sir.”

Number Two threw his pen down where it bounced off the paper and onto the floor. “Oh really, Buffings, is that all? We all did foolish things at Primary School. Now get out of my office, stop wasting time and prepare for Operation Ballsthunder. We’re at zero minus thirty. I’m expecting the President to call any second now with a grovelling apology.”

“There may have been a bottom involved, sir.”

“Bottom?” Number Two was close to snapping, “Bottom? I don’t care about bottoms, Buffings. This is a complete waste of time. Get to your position!  Unless Jean presents herself here, at my desk, and puts in a formal complaint against you I’m taking no more notice of this nonsense. Honestly, Buffings,” he said, more calmly, “After 46 years, I’m reasonably certain we’ll never hear from her.”

“Him, sir.”


“Yes. Jean was French. Abbey Junior Primary was a boys’ school, sir.”

Thunderstruck, Number Two slowly rose. He towered over the cringing Buffings and raised his hand as if to strike. Then lowered it. “I see. Well that puts an entirely different complexion on things, doesn’t it? Boys’ bottoms and knees are not allowed here at G.R.I.M.A.C.E. Touching such things is deemed failure. And this organisation does not tolerate failure, Buffings.

“I know, sir. Shall I throw myself in the tank, sir? Or do you want to push me?”

Number Two lips formed a sad expression. “No Buffings, you’d better chuck yourself in, my boy. I don’t think I can bring myself to do it.”

“Quite right, sir. I wouldn’t want you accidentally touching my bottom or knees, sir, in the struggle.”

“Very considerate of you, Buffings.”

And with that, Buffings walked over to the pool and jumped in amongst the fighting fish. They surrounded him, beginning to tear at flesh and shred clothes whilst Buffings bobbed stoically up and down.

Numbrer Two strode over, dabbing his eye with a tissue. “I say, Buffings?” he asked.

“What, sir?”

“If Jean was French, why didn’t you use a French accent? You know. Zzzjorn. Something like that?”

“Not very good at French accents, sir.” And with a sudden scream, Buffings was dragged under the surface and was gone.

Sometime later, Number Two, still clutching a Kleenex, tapped on a large, forbidding steel door that was across the corridor; opposite his own office. His hesitant knocking getting no response, he pressed a button in the panelling around the entrance.

“Come!” The intercom boomed, after a pause. The voice crackled harshly and the door slid sideways. Number Two entered.

At the far end, across a metal bridge that spanned a large tank of sharks, a white suited man was seated behind a bulky marble conference table. He had an aura of harsh power, but upon seeing his visitor, he rose in friendly greeting.

“Number Two! Come in my boy, come in! It’s been too long!”

Number two walked across the bridge until he stood in front of his superior. He dabbed his eyes. “I wish to offer my resignation.”

“You do?”

“Yes, sir. I think I’m homophobic, sir.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Stopping by Railway Tracks on a Snowy Evening in Charlton

Stopping by Railway Tracks on a Snowy Evening in Charlton

Whose mind this was I thought I knew.
Whose mind this was I thought I knew.
It had always been built for two: then me, without you.
The game had been awful, one, then two
and snow flecked the air, unassuming, ice bit and chewed,
at the face. All for nought in return.

You hadn’t even asked for permission to speak
of leaving me on earth, never mind take a leak,
because nothing will come of nothing,
falling fully formed as your selfish afterthought,
like hot ice scoring the face when all flesh is glass.

And the railway gates looming. Red lights.
The barriers looming, unassuming. Flashing, in tandem,
blinking red, red, red, red, nothing random.
Bitter winds freeze the cheeks with tears and cut at the crust,
our dream is over, the dumb and idle plot mistrust.

Some rotten lies made by the state, where once there were lives,
summer becomes winter with the slashing of the scythe.
Canker in the ears, a cancer, but we had built it so strong,
so how could we possibly have been so wrong?

Yes Iago, I hear you. I hear you.

Your bunkered voice. Buried. Hidden deep in my soul’s cellar.
Come forth. Shatter my practised impression of a decent fellow.

Let’s step onto the tracks, looking forwards never back.
Oh, Iago, if it be that, if it be that.
A scrap of flesh born before you ever died, Iago,
before you ever died, is not reason enough
to ever assume we deserve to stay alive.

Step on the track. The barriers are coming down now.
Whispers in the staff room. The dream is a reckless lover,
so face the train, fuck tomorrow’s hangover, cross over.
Talk of bloody smears, rather than settle scores, face it with a grin,
our undiscovered country, our bitter state, now kiss some sense of sin,

Iago, step on the track, and even if we don’t, I’ll never come back,
because they possess the kind of stupidity we lack.
Despair Iago, fuck them, for all the wrong I ever did was drink
and trust to love. Michael Cassio we put a thief in their brains
my friend, we loved too much, we needs must face the train.

Face the train, Desdemona, sing some song of willow
and weep for the children. Now all it takes is a step,
until the light from Woolwich is nearer and nearer yet.
We have done the state some service and they know it.
I will not be saved by some scrap of flesh that God beget.

Ah. Well. Avon.
So still here, and so it goes.

And I guess I’ll be telling this story, ages and ages hence.
Snow flecked thoughts written in present perfect sense.
How I stood beside a railway track in Charlton, straddling the fence.
To always wonder did it make any difference?

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Extreme Homework!!

Messy Learning

If you were alert today, you’d have noticed that it was one of those sulky, sullen do-nothing four o clock afternoons at 36 Lumpslap Close.  

Three o clock had turned up, ambled about and left. School had chucked out thousands of cranky children onto the streets across town. They had grumbled home, hunched backed with books, and slammed metal gates behind them. Meandering indoors like a thick, sludgy river.  And why were they so grumpy?

Well, you probably know that already. Their teachers had glared at them all day, sending them off to sleep during lessons that they had spent long evenings making deliberately dull. They had soured the lunchtime milk by giving out random detentions. Then, after filling their bellies with whatever they had boxed up for dinner that morning, had slopped back in, smelling of cigarettes, fiddled with mobile phones whilst Rome burned down text books and stared at their computers whilst tasking the children with chores.

And, if that weren’t bad enough, given them landfills of rubbish homework. “Finish this worksheet off tonight and if you don’t, you’ll be in detention tomorrow.”

Hardly any of the teachers smiled or ruffled your hair kindly these days because they’d be up until bedtime marking tatty books covered in inkblots and doodles. It was a shared secret that they hated teaching as much as the children despised being taught.

In the living room of number 36, Morgan was first in, slinging his bag across the floor, followed by Patience still shovelling the last of her lunchtime crisps into her gob and last of all, Faith, who looked under the settee for her favourite cuddly toy.

“Where’s Ma?” asked Morgan, belligerently – which means he was being insolent and not at all pleasant. And I’m afraid he farted quite loudly, then smirked, as if he’d been clever.

The two girls looked at each other and then Patience glowered at Morgan , monster that he is, daring him, just daring him. Faith giggled until Patience scowled at her to stop. “You know very well that Ma is at work, Morgan. She has to work more now that Pa’s gone to war.”

“Well I want my tea. I’m hungry.”

“We all have to make sacrifices.”

“Crap. I don’t see how not having my tea is making sacrifices just cos there’s a bloody war on.”

There was one of those awkward little sorry silences for a minute. Well, because, Morgan sort of said something they all were thinking but he probably shouldn’t have said it. But that’s what he’s like, being the eldest. With dad gone, he liked to pretend he was the boss. Patience had to sometimes stop him from being rude to Ma.

Faith’s tummy rumbled.

Anyway, the silence didn’t last long. There was a distant coughing and grunting. Some thudding from the upstairs’ landing.

Morgan might have said a very rude word indeed, being fifteen and all. But even if he did, I’m certainly not writing it down.

Even if there is a war on.

And very, very slowly, each stair thudded, one after the other. What does the sound of a wooden stair make, when a heavy foot treads on it? Maybe I should invent a word. A bit like: 'Duh -doosh. Duh - doosh'. But not regularly, like a heartbeat, oh no, because every so often there would be a pause, before more monstrous thumping.

Morgan started to cabbage his bag. Normally you do that to somebody you don’t like, or for a joke, but Morgan was doing it to his own school stuff. Books were flying everywhere – History over there, Maths in the plant pot and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the tropical fish tank.

Well at least the angel fish perked up and looked interested.

But Morgan took the now empty bag and, showily, with malice aforethought, put it over his head and scuttled behind the curtain, sitting like a strange new breed of teenage hobgoblin.

Just as Grandad Patches entered.

Now, Grandad was wearing one of his worst combinations. He’d been in his sixties chest and found a truly dreadful tie -dye smock and shoved it over torn, patched-up lime green jeans. His body was a shock of fluorescent colours. Pink, purple and maroon were all scrapping for space across his rib cage. He looked as though a camel that had eaten nothing but trifle all day had been sick all over his chest.

He stood at the door, smiling kindly, with a twinkle in his eye. Then he sniffed the air distastefully. “Somebody needs to open their bowels,” he remarked at the two children he could see, who blinked back at him, because they didn’t understand. Then he smiled again, patted his smock pockets and pulled out his pipe for smoking herbal briar patch mixture.

“Grandad!” shrieked Faith. She ran over to him and jumped up, like the dog would have done before she died of old age. Which makes you think, doesn’t it?

“Hello, Faith, my dear,” chirped Grandad, “Did you have a good day at school?” And he sat down on the floor, against the sofa whilst Faith scrambled all over him as though he was a jungle gym before he detached her, plonking her down beside him on the rug.

“Morgan’s put a bag on his head, Grandad.”

“Pom, pom, pom,” hummed Grandad, “Did he? By jingo, now then, why do you suppose he did that?”

“He’s behind the curtains, isn’t he silly?”

A muffled snarl came from the furthest corner away from Grandad. Patience walked across the small living room and swung her leg at the bulging curtain as hard as she could. The only reply was, “I’m not coming out!”

“You’re being very rude, Morgan. I’ll tell Ma,” Patience hissed, snake-like.

“I’m not coming out!”

“Why not?”

“Not till that silly old fart has gone.”

Now Grandad, as you know, is sometimes a bit deaf. Or ‘hard of hearing’ as he would put it. He snargled a bit at Faith and Patience, then baffled over at the bulging drapes in the corner. “Silly cold tart? What does he want cold tart for?” His face creased into a smile. “Ah, quiche! He wants some quiche. And I’m not surprised, Patience. You shouldn’t kick your brother for that. It was very popular when I was younger, back in the sixties.”

“Was it?” Patience thought it better not to explain any further. Instead she too came and sat next to him, although she did wince a bit at his smock, it’s true.

“Yes. The sixties was a golden time for quiche. I used to be a chef back then, as you know. I was always whipping up a quiche.”

A snort was audible from the corner. “Throwing up quiche, he means.”

But Grandad didn’t hear. His bearded face was a crease of memories. “Rolling out the pastry, beating the eggs, whipping the cream. You would ask what they wanted added – a dash of salt, some spinach, perhaps mung beans…then, slam! Into the oven.”

Faith frowned, listening carefully whilst trying to bury her head into Grandad’s side. “Whipping? Like Grandad Biggert does?”

“Now, I’m sure Grandad Biggert does not do any whipping.”

“He does. Yesterday I saw him with a piece of rope. He said he was off out to whip the mangy mongrel that had stolen his pork chop. Grandad? What’s a crappy cringing cur?”

Patience had heard enough. She stood up, hands on hips, imitating her mother. “That’s enough, Faith. You’ve been told not to annoy Grandad Biggert before. It’s time to do your homework before Ma gets home.”

“I wasn’t annoying him. He was in our back garden trying to pull some meat off Mrs Dander’s dog. It kept biting him.”

“Homework,” repeated Patience. She kicked the curtains again until Morgan, still bagged, was beaten into revealing himself. “And you.”

“Stuff that.” Morgan yanked the bag off and chucked his body at the sofa. “I’m watching television. I’m not wasting my life doing two hours of worksheets. Those teachers make it up as they go along.”

“Homework, eh?” said Grandad, standing up quickly, because Morgan had only just missed catching him in the eye with his trainers.  “Well there’s an odd thing. Look what came in the post today!” He patted his pockets and pulled out a leaflet, holding it above his head.  

“Junk mail?” Morgan fumbled for the remote. Wrestling was always on at four o clock and everyone knows that it’s the most brilliant thing on telly these days.

Faith hopped up and down, trying to snatch it from Grandad because she knew that it was bound to be something exciting. Everything always was.

Patience swotted Faith aside and took the paper with her left hand, scanning it, whilst her right snatched the remote from Morgan.

“Grandad, you always, always say that junk mail is a crime against nature? That every leaflet represents a leaf falling to mother earth from a slowly dying tree?”

“Hmm. Did I say that? Pom pom pom. Well, now I wonder? Back in the sixties, I was, for a time, the editor of a revolutionary rag called ‘Madlurk’. We would hand them out on the street. Later, we would find them all over the gutter, pick them up and hand them out again. We were banned by Woolworths.”

“Woolworths? What’s that?”

Grandad looked confused. Well, he often does, doesn’t he? “I think they were capitalists. But later I found out they did a nice selection of sweeties for a very reasonable price. Once, many years ago, I saw a Bruce Forsyth television programme; he was singing, dancing and saying it was going to be a Woolworth’s Christmas…well, never mind that, children, look at this! It’s very exciting! It’s a homework competition!”

Morgan groaned. There was a cushion on the sofa and he put his head right underneath it.  “Oh, please. This sounds just like the time you tried to make us go Scottish Country Dancing by claiming we’d get free kilts and membership to the clan McDougal. We ended up running for two hours around a muddy field.

Patience snapped at him: “That wasn’t Grandad’s fault. He mixed up Country Dancing Competition with Cross Country Race. Anybody could make that mistake.”

“Anybody who was a prize turnip.”

Ignoring him, Patience looked at the flyer in her hand more closely and her face crumpled into a jigsaw puzzle. Grandad smiled cheerfully and picked up Faith who had restarted her puppy jumps. She also looked at the paper. Eventually, after inspection, she returned it to him. “Doesn’t look much like junk mail,” she said, “It’s written in crayons.”

“Did you draw that, Grandad?” asked Faith, in innocence. “It’s ever so colourful. What does it say?”

“It says: ‘Extreme Homeworking! Do you love to do homework in unusual places? So do we! Take a picture of yourself cutting your neighbour’s lawn and win the star prize!”

And there was a badly drawn picture of a stick man, smiling, waving casually, pushing a lawn mower and water-skiing whilst solving a Maths puzzle. He was being stalked by a pack of savage sharks. Purple sharks.

“Extreme homeworking?” Morgan pulled his head from under the cushion. He tried to look like he wasn’t interested, but boys of that age tend to love anything with the word extreme attached to it.

“So,” said Grandad. “What’s the plan of attack? Let’s see everyone’s homework. Come on, come on, pile it onto the floor!” The three children scrummaged through bags, pulling papers out, and gradually a heap of discoloured, torn and distressed worksheets formed an apology before them. None of it looked particularly exciting, let alone extreme. The foursome sat in a circle around the mound, contemplating it suspiciously, perhaps wondering if it was extreme enough to grow legs and make a bit for freedom down the hall.

“Pom, pom, pom,” mused Grandad, stirring the pile like a pot of soup. “What fun. I wonder which is the most extreme? What exciting tasks lay before us?”

Morgan rudely snatched away the one that Grandad was going for. It was headed ‘Math’s Challenge’. He read it aloud. “A man has two tins of baked beans. In each tin are 250 beans, not counting the bean sauce. How many beans does he have if he cooks a tin and a half of beans?”

“I don’t like beans, Grandad,” moaned, Faith.

“Not Grandad’s beans,” snapped Morgan, who had a compulsive loathing of the mung variety that Grandad served for tea, when Ma was late home, “proper beans.” He scuttled to the kitchen. There were sounds of thrashing through fridges, cupboards and drawers until he returned with plastic tub. “Look!” he exclaimed, “a fridge pack!” He unscrewed the top and dumped the contents on the carpet, where they made a slimy mess.

“Grandad! He’s done it again!” screeched Faith, “Ma told him off, last time he did it.”

“I was being extreme,” shouted Morgan, crossly. “If Grandad takes a photo, we’re sure to win.”

Grandad pursed his lips and sucked his cheeks in until they made a popping noise. “No, no, no.” he concluded, “not nearly extreme enough. We need to go outside.” He snatched Morgan’s baseball cap from the teenager’s head, rolled up a worksheet or two into a spoon shape and began scooping the beans into it. When nearly all the beans were safely inside, he hurried outside. “Yes!” he exclaimed, “why don’t we do it in the road?” And then, as you will know, he momentarily paused, mid hurry, as his face assumed a faraway look as it nearly always did when something reminded him of the sixties. But he soon snapped out of it. “No time for that now! Come on!”

“But Grandad,” said Faith, trying to keep up, “I’m not allowed in the road.” Patience and Morgan followed behind. “Grandad! Grandad!”

“Nonsense,” said Grandad, “You’re not allowed in the road without adult supervision.” And he placed emphasis on the last two words as though they were EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.

I think Morgan snorted again.

Lumpslack Close wasn’t very busy. Well it seldom was, but today even less so. It had been noisy, however. Some workwomen, on a government programme, had been digging up the road.

Earlier, this had infuriated Grandad Biggert. “You!” he had screamed, from his window. “You! Woman wearing the red high-vis jacket! Yes! You! Don’t try to hide, I know very well you can hear me! Stop digging up the road! I’m trying to sleep!” But the woman, wearing ear defenders, had singularly failed to notice his red face, even after he had thrown a heap of junk mail at her from his vantage point.

Now, however, the women were gone, and traffic had started to crawl in and out of the close.

Grandad Patches looked left and right. “Remember Tufty.” He held up his hands to prevent his grandchildren from piling under a mini metro and walked in front of it as it ground to a halt. The woman behind the wheel looked confused as he tipped a hatful of baked beans onto the tarmac in front of her vehicle. She looked even more so when he and the three children sat down, cross legged in front of them. She rolled down the window. “’Ere, what gives?”

“Extreme homework, madam,” smiled Grandad.

“Eh? Well this won’t do, will it?”

Grandad scratched his head, then he stood up. “Quite right, it won’t.” He scratched his lower lip against his upper teeth in thought and waved her back. “We can’t have cars coming up here willy-nilly during extreme homework. Can we? There could be a frightful RTA involving my three learners here.”

“And they might run the beans over,” added Morgan.

“Indeed. Tell you what, why don’t you back up and I’ll try a temporary solution? You can do that, can’t you? Back up, I mean? After all this is a cul de sac.” Grandad grinned.

The woman didn’t look sure. Her mouth opened up, then shut, like a venus fly trap. But eventually she agreed and put the car into reverse. Slowly. Grandad followed her, flapping his arms like a gigantic flaccid albatross that had forgotten to take its stiffening medicine that day. She applied the brakes. “Is this far enough?”

“No,” answered Grandad, “I rather hoped you’d reverse out of the close and go another way altogether.”

“But I want to go into the close,” she pointed out, reasonably. Nevertheless, she did an almost perfect reverse-round-a-corner, only catching the kerb once, then pulling the handbrake up. She opened the door. “Now what’s all this about?”

“I need you to help me move these.” Grandad gestured towards the three or four red and white striped safety barriers that the workwomen had left behind after they’d knocked off. They were around a rather deep hole and were emblazoned with words like ‘danger’, ‘deep excavation’, ‘beware the yeti’, that sort of thing. Well, the last is a lie, but you get the point.

Now, you know moving safety barriers that prevent accidents is not a thing I’d advise, but Grandad Patches sometimes doesn’t see the bigger picture? Well, I hope he’s not going to move them, don’t you?

“Come on! If we put these in front of the entrance to Lumpslap Close, nobody will interrupt our extreme homeworking!”

Oh dear.

The woman grumpily agreed and, because she was considerably stronger than Grandad, took the three of the four and created an impenetrable barrier. No car could possibly pass. But, not content with this, Grandad found a piece of card adjacent to the pit and scrawled a large black arrow on it and wrote ‘diversion’ underneath.

Finished, he stood back and admired his handiwork.

“Can I come in now?” asked the woman, but secretly knowing that she was the mistress of her own disaster.

“No. There’s a diversion.”

Grandad hurried back to the three children, who, all this time, had been enjoying themselves by pushing beans around on the tarmac until they had made a sticky mess.  “Hmmm”, he said, “Pom, pom, pom, pom, well, now, how are we going to add these beans to those beans? Look at this. Where once there were beans, now there is a splat.”

Suddenly, a rude, loud and gruff voice interrupted the conference. “What’s going on here? Why aren’t you cutting my lawn? You, child! Yes, you! What are you doing loitering in the road?”

“Grandad Biggert!” screamed Faith, jumping up to greet him.

But he pushed her away and swiped Morgan around the head with a rolled up newspaper.


“Patches? Patches! What the blazes are you doing? Didn’t you get that junk mail this morning? I expected these children so be sorting out my garden by now!”

Grandad Patches scratched his chin. “Why?” He stood up, bristling like a shaving brush and gave Biggert one of his glares. “Now see here, Grandad Biggert, we’re doing extreme homework and this is educational. Do you wish to interfere with their education? Don’t you think that’s more important than weeding and raking your back garden?”

“Pah!” Biggert threw a gaily coloured packet at Patches’ feet. “I’m returning these,” he snapped.

“My colouring crayons! Thank you, Grandad Biggert.” laughed Faith, happily. “I was looking for them this morning.”

“Think nothing of it. I don’t want crayons cluttering up my kitchen. I broke most of them. They weren’t very strong. And I don’t have a sharpener anyway.” Grandad Biggert glowered. “And even if I did have a sharpener, I wouldn’t have bothered. Now see here.” He jabbered Patches in the chest. “See here. I’m going to the shop for fags. And when I get back, I expect them kids to be doing my garden. I didn’t go to all this trouble for nothing, did I?” He snatched the extreme homework letter and waved it in Patches’ face. Then he swiped Morgan round the head a second time and stumped off.

Grandad Biggert was probably still grumpy because of the noisy workwomen, I expect. As he grouched down the close, he aimed a kick at the swirling pile of junk mail he had chucked out of his window earlier that day. Then he noticed Grandad Patches’ diversion barrier. “Of all the blooming check,” he growled. He aimed a mighty kick at the one nearest to the hole.

In the meantime, Grandad Patches was examining the Extreme Homework flyer. “Pom, pom, pom,” he muttered. “Look! I suspect this is a fake!” And he passed it to Patience, who nodded.

“It looks as though it was drawn…with Faith’s crayons!”

Morgan was still rubbing his smarting forehead. “By Grandad Biggert!”

“Grandad Biggert is very clever.” said Faith, happily. Because she was young.

“No,” said  Patches, rubbing his face, “He’s very naughty. See here. It says: ‘Extra star prize for any children weeding my garden and cutting my lawn’. He’s crossed out ‘my’ and written in ‘your neighbour’. The scoundrel.”

But at that point, there was a terrible scream.

It quite clotted the blood. The scream began very loudly and gradually faded, as though it was becoming more and more distant. It sounded just like somebody had fallen down a very large hole.

“Help! Help!”

“What was that?” puzzled Grandad Patches. He rushed over to the diversion barrier, as fast as his age would permit, followed by his three charges. Examining the scene, he noted a large boot mark on the barrier nearest to the hole. It had been slightly displaced. There were also scuff marks in the dust which lead to the gaping maw in the ground.

“What happened, Grandad?” asked Patience, the next to arrive.

“Hmmm. Back in the sixties when I was an actor, I was asked to play the role of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Now he once famously remarked: ‘when you have eliminated the inevitable, the remains you find must be the truth’. Well, I think it was that. But how to test my theory?” Patches now knelt by the hole and shouted down into the hidden depths. “Hello!” His voice echoed most magnificently, too.

“Help! Help!” Even though it was distant, the voice was certainly that of Grandad Biggert.

Morgan grinned. “He’s fallen down the hole! Too good for him, I say.”

“Yes, Morgan. See this boot mark here? And the scuffs in the dust? Well, I deduce he kicked the barrier, tripped and tumbled backwards into the deadly depths. Now I wish we hadn’t moved those barriers.”

“Patches! Patches! Are you up there? Get help immediately!” Grandad Biggert’s voice sounded very far way and the hole reverberated at the edges where four faces peered into it.

“Are you hurt, Grandad Biggert?”

“No. I landed in something soft and soggy, up to my knees. I can’t see what it is. There’s no light down here. It smells horrible. Now stop standing around up there and get some help!”

“Don’t worry, Grandad Biggert. Help is on the way.” Patches frowned and looked at his barrier. “Come away from the hole, children. I think we should move these barriers back in case somebody else falls in.”

“Yes,” agreed Morgan, “We wouldn’t want anybody to land on him, would we? Although he’s soft and soggy too, so it wouldn’t matter too much.”

“That’s enough, Morgan,” Patience snapped, “He’s your Grandad.”

“Well he didn’t swipe you round the head with a rolled up copy of The Sun, did he?”

They sweated the barriers back around the hole, ignoring the ever more loud subterranean protests from beneath, which I cannot write here because some of them were extremely rude.
“What are we going to do now, Grandad?” asked Faith, skipping up and down.

“I don’t know. When we decided to do extreme homework, I hadn’t really considered this outcome.” admitted Grandad Patches. “I thought we’d have a gay old time counting beans. Not wondering how we were going to get an extremely large man out of a very deep hole. Any suggestions?”

The four looked back down, from the safety of the barriers.

Morgan was first. “I heard somewhere in school that some dogs are trained to go down holes and retrieve things,” he frowned. “Perhaps we could chuck Mrs Dander’s down there.”

“Has it been trained, though?”

“I don’t know. We could always throw a pork chop in first. As bait.”

There was a horrible wail from below. “Patches! Patches! I heard that! You are not putting that mangy cur in a hole with me, it bites Think of something else. Hurry, this soggy stuff is rising. It’s up to my belt now. Seems to be loads of damp tissue paper in it.”

“What if we went down to the shopping mall and bought dozens of helium balloons, tie them to Grandad Biggert’s belt and then he would rise to the surface?” offered Patience.

“Yes, yes, balloons!” clapped Faith, joyfully.

Patches patted his smock pockets for his briar pipe. “A good suggestion, Patience, my dear. Very good. But how would we prevent him from taking off into the sky? He might become a hazard to aviators, you know?”

Just then there was a loud, female harrumph from behind them. “What’s going on, Grandad Patches? Why are the children out here and not doing their homework.”

“Ma!” Faith jumped up at her, “Grandad Biggert’s fallen down a hole, look!”

Ma stood in front of them, solid, wearing her work clothes. She didn’t look happy, I’m afraid, but she did have a large back of fish and chips, which smelled gorgeous, all salt, vinegar and fried fat. Faith’s tummy rumbled and she remembered she was hungry. “Fallen down a hole? How did that happen? I’d better call the police.”

Grandad Patches looked a little awkward and shifty. “Police, no, no, dear, no need for that, surely. I’m sure, with some thinking, we’ll have him out in a jiffy. I say,” he said, changing the subject, “is that our tea? By jove, fish and chips. Is there curry sauce?”

“Police. Now,” snapped, Ma. “That hole leads directly to the main sewer.” And she busied herself with her mobile phone, barking orders into it.

Grandad Patches took his grease proofed packet of fish and chips, passed others to the children and they chewed thoughtfully around the hole. “I say! Grandad Biggert! Are you hungry?”

“Of course I’m hungry!” bellowed Biggert from below, like some beast. “How dare you eat fish and chips while I stand up to my neck in tissue paper and filth!”

Faith frowned, sadly. “It’s not fair. Maybe we could give some chips to Grandad Biggert.”

Morgan, having had enough, I think, stood up. “Oh, I’ll give some chips to him all right.” And he threw the rest of his packet down the hole. Along with the carton of curry sauce.

There was a slight pause then a muffled howl. “Ow! Are you trying to be funny, Patches? That curry burnt my eye!”

At this point, though, the policewomen arrived, which was probably just as well. It took some time, a tow truck, effort and a lot of bad language, but half an hour later, a very filthy Grandad was winched to safety and stood before them. He smelt horrible.  Oh, certainly there had been glitches in the operation. At one point he had become stuck underneath a concrete piton as he was winched skywards.  But, by and large, there was no need for his reaction, once he was safe. Threatening to sue this, offering to punch that and being, for the most part, extremely ungrateful.

“Poo. You smell like the toilet,” offered Faith.

The policewoman in charge was not smiling and she tapped her truncheon. Tap, tap, tap. “Now then, sir, calm down. Compose yourself. So, what has been happening here, then?”

“What’s been happening here?” exploded Grandad Biggert, “What’s been happening here? I’ll tell you what’s been happening here.” He pointed a quivering finger at Grandad Patches. “This…moron moved these safety barriers and deliberately pushed me down this hole. For. No. Reason. Then he purposely poured curry sauce right in my bleeding eye, that’s what!”

“Well, that would be an offense.”

Morgan tittered and pointed at the barrier nearest to him. “No, that would be a fence,” he snorted, as though he’d been very clever.

But the policewoman ignored him, licked her pencil, fluttered her notebook and spoke to Grandad Patches. “I see. Is this true?”

Before he could answer, a WPC came hurrying over, looking worried. She held some paper in her hand. “Another one of these, Sarge.”

 “I see. Where did you find this?”

“Over there.” The WPC gestured towards 35 Lumpslap Close.

The Sergeant held the flyer up. “We’ve been getting complaints about these ‘Extreme Homework’ flyers all day and all from this area of town. They’re a fake attempt by someone to get their gardening done for free. Are you lot responsible?”

They all shook their heads, Ma included, but looked over at the smelly heap that was Grandad Biggert. “It wasn’t me, damn you!” he blustered, rubbing himself down to remove soiled tissues, “I don’t even have a garden.”

The Sergeant didn’t believe him. “I see sir. Well I’m afraid I am going to have to ask you to accompany me down to the station. But first we’ll have to hose you down.”

“HOSE me down?”

“Yes, sir. Like that you are a public health hazard. And I don’t want that smell in my police station, either.”

Grandad Patches spoke up, in a helpful tone. “I think we can find a hose if that will help, officer.” And, I’m afraid, all three children started to snigger. Even Ma looked as though she was trying not to giggle. Which is very unsporting isn’t it?

“Blast you, Patches!”

Suddenly, however, there was the most terrible noise. A squeal of breaks. The crunch of metal into metal. A shriek of car horn. It quite shook the close and the ground trembled beneath the acrid fumes and smell of burning rubber. One car had smacked itself into another that was parked outside 35.

“My car!” wailed Grandad Biggert, in horror.

Ma was first to get there. She helped the trembling woman out of the driver’s seat. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, just a bit shaken. I don’t know how I could have lost control and skidded so badly!”

The Sergeant, having quickly realised that the only damage done was to the cars, peered carefully at the road. “I think I do,” she announced, grimly. “Somebody has left a mountain of baked beans all over the highway. Absolute menace. Slippery as a skating rink. No wonder.”

Now Grandad Patches looked uncomfortable. “Well it was me. We were doing Extreme Homework.”

“I see, sir. Extreme homework? So you were in on this as well, were you?”

“No, certainly not…well…er the beans…but it was homework. Educational purposes.”

“I’m afraid you’d better come along too, sir.” Now it was Grandad Biggert that was chortling.

“I say, that’s not fair.”

The Sergeant looked at both of them in an extremely cross manner. “Fair?” she replied, “Well, I don’t know about that gentlemen.”

She looked at the ground, then at the grubby ‘Extreme Homework’ flyer and then back in their faces.

She coughed. “But since you both like homework so much and have both failed to complete it…then perhaps I ought to give you detention.

And with that, she marched them up the close.