Friday, 28 September 2018

OFSTED squared

OFSTED Squared

Raymond was sitting on the toilet wondering what would happen if he stuck his knob in the top of his bottle of Listerine Cool Blast.

Probably it would freshen it up. Or sting. Or both.

He had once, in his younger days, slapped Old Spice all over his balls. Not something he would do twice. But Listerine Cool Blast? Well…

Standing up, he rambled across to the shower and switched it on.

Through the slits of grimy blinds, the sun stroked the floor tiles. Hot. It was always hot. Hot enough the fry his breakfast on the pavement beneath his apartment if he fancied some grit in it. And cat shit. Due to the fact that a family of strays lived in the scrubby, thorny bushes that arose there. They would come out tails stiff and hopeful if you made that clucking, clicking, sucking noise.

Raymond often thought he should have some food for them but then, more often than not, forgot that he had thought it.

The bus to work was, as usual, quiet, because it was half past five in the morning. It was occupied by a variety of races – South African, British, Filipino to name but three.

And they all, all of them, stared across the gravel desert, missing the colour green and watching as distant grey shapes coalesced into solid block buildings from within the misted heat haze. The bus was getting closer, weaving the lanes of the expressway, wefting vast four wheeled drives, warping its occupants up and down as it hit potholes and bumps.

Raymond was amongst them, having an internal grumble, two voices arguing inside his head.

“Why can’t you get Mentadent P, anyway?”

“Colgate is fine.”

“I hate bloody Colgate. It’s minty.”

“Mentadent P” was minty, too”

“But it was a better sort of minty, more minty in its mintiness.”

“Oh, shut up, fuckwit.”

“No, you shut up. I LIKE Mentadent P.” And the last bit came out horribly loudly and rolled around the bus like a ricochet.

The girl in front turned her head in concern. “You need to pee?” she declaimed, in her Portuguese accent, which resembled the autotuned falsetto of one of those ubiquitously dreary modern urban stylee singers, “Can we stop the bus? Raymond needs to pee.”

The driver indicated and pulled onto the hard shoulder as the traffic whistled past. Raymond reddened up. “No, no,” he explained, in vain, “I meant toothpaste.” But the girl stared blankly, and the bus looked interested, so he shambled to the door, dismounted and fumbled with flies in a mime of urination. “Oh, that’s much better,” he declared gaily as he mounted the steps, making a mental note to get revenge at some point. See how she would like squatting in front of the morning’s commuter drek.

It was a relief when the bus finally pulled up at Gallileo British Academy. Nevertheless, Raymond headed straight for the toilets.

“My name is Jack and I live in the back of the Greta Garbo home for wayward boys and girls,” hummed Raymond to himself as he stood at the rear of assembly. The students were seated in front of him, Year 7 at the front, Year 13 nearest to his polished black slip-ons. 

Filing the tune under ‘good’ in his mental juke box, he strained to focus. His tinnitus was swooming in the ears though, as it always did when bombarded by the peripheral noise of perpetual air conditioning.

“blurgh, blurgh, blurgh, grades, proud of the way you, blurgh, blurgh, blurgh, celebrate your success, blurgh, blurgh…an outstanding school with exceptional results...blurgh, blurgh.” Shit, it was dull and, worse, long, long, long. He was swaying, due to having stood in one place for too long and his feet were thrumbing. He shifted his weight from left to right, right to left, noting that younger colleagues were having no such problems. Bastards. Full of juice and, no doubt, alcohol, having partied and screwed each other all weekend. His teeth throbbed in time to his pulse.

The head of secondary, Adela, was also young; mid-thirties and extraordinarily beautiful. The rhythm of her talk; the way her hands conducted her words caused her body to shimmy; all teeth, blue eyes and hair. It was hard not to be caught by her undulating sweater as the indistinct, high pitched, hypnotic ululations caused his eyes to close in dream and yearn for long, forgotten movements below.

“So, now, I’d like to introduce you to our OFSTED inspection team.”

He snapped back to attention.

The kids applauded. They always applauded. A packet of cheese and onion crisps could walk on stage and they would whoop and holler like Jack probably would from backwards of his wayward home. Given the chance.

And there they were, the execution squad, all the way from England, strolling on, totally shit and giggles, waving at the faces in front of them, scoping the girls on the left, boys on the right, occupying the space between.

For a minute, Raymond screwed up his eyes.

Why, man, it looked as though the bloke he assumed was the lead inspector was going to raise both hands and wave like some legendary rock star who’d returned from a hiatus and was about to announce a new album and tour. But no, he seized the microphone from Adela.

“Oh yay! Oh yay! Oh yay!” he yelled, reminding Raymond of the time Neil Kinnock had made a prat of himself at some conference or other by whipping his audience up into a cream of excitement then losing the election convincingly. “Thank you! It’s a real thrill to be in your country!”

Well of course it was. They’d been put up in the Radisson with its luxury pool, ten restaurants and seven bars. No doubt they’d milk this for everything they could, the bastards. Raymond scowled at the thought, shuddering at the contemptible sight.

“I am Lead Inspector Boyles! And I’m the one who toils! May I introduce my team? Misters Turvey, Flange and Stirrup? Now, you’ll be seeing a lot of us over this next fortnight…”

Fortnight? Normal inspections took three days. Even the Kwatari one, which had labeled the Academy outstanding, had only taken five. Fortnight?

“Which is, as I’m sure you’ll know, being an outstanding academy, English for two weeks. And we will be looking to bestow upon you, as an international school, the British seal of excellence!”

More ecstasy from the audience and one or two were even slinging books and folders into the air as though it was graduation day. Adela was beaming, grinning from ear to ear, but Raymond could only feel his soul sinking, sinking. Boyles paused, hands stretched forward above the assembled like some vile pastor bestowing blessings from the motherland.

But then: A disturbance in the force and a collective shiver of apprehension.

Obviously sensing a big change in the weather Boyles turned his head to Raymond’s right. His mouth no longer smiling. His eyes cold, observing, darkening. “You.” he spoke, after a pause, “How? What are you doing here?”

For silently, approaching the stage, were four more besuited people. As they ascended, one extended his hand to Adela. “Good morning. My name is Lead Inspector Mockman. We are your OFSTED team.”

Well, you could have spiked Raymond’s hair and called him a toothbrush.

At that afternoon’s English Faculty meeting, there was uncertainty.

The head of the department, Julie Scringe, scanned the eyes of her team, which were mostly projecting a veneer of nonchalance. And then there were other eyes, belonging to those who were not English but taught it anyway, either bored or confused. “Well,” she conjectured, “two teams, half the time.” And she focused on Raymond.

“Don’t you ever think it,” he spluttered, “those bastards are like the spinach that gets caught in your teeth, where no matter how hard you try, no matter how rigorously you get that string stuff and rub…er...rub between them…your teeth look…well…er…green, if you smile. And you’d better not…smile, I mean…um…what is that string stuff called?”

“Floss?” asked Ciaran.

“Yes, sorry, feeling somewhat flostered right now.”

Someone snorted; then, looking at Julie, thought again and ceased.

“Raymond, please watch your language.”

“You can’t watch language, can you?” Raymond, normally quiet and not one for shouting for fear of spraying spittle, now raised his voice in fury. “How many are they? Eight? That’s double the observations, double the meetings, double the admin…they’ve squared themselves, that’s what they’ve done. Squared themselves and they will multiply and fuck with us until their lies stretch out until the crack of doom.”


“Oh, what do you know, child? I came here to escape from these bastards and they’ve followed us, followed me…what do they here? What possible gain can there be for our school? Judgement by the same cretins who screwed everything up over there and who now want to do the same here.”

“Enough, please. They’re inspectors, not creatures from the dark side of a forgotten Marlowe tragedy. Are you scared?”

“Scared? No, of course I’m not scared. Why this is hell, nor are we out of it. Scared? Scarred, yes. Scared? Pah. But, I know these types. They say that people who can’t; teach. I say that people who can’t teach become OFSTED Inspectors. They are the worst kind of human being. Incompetent, corrupt and completely intolerant scumbags.”


“Yes, really. Eight of them. Eight complete pricks. Eight fucking limpid knobs to unzip, extract from flies and thrust in a large vat of Listerine Cool Blast before we boot them off campus. No. Cool Blast would be too kind. Original. The brown one that tastes like TCP. Anything less would be too good for them, I say.” And he smashed his fist on the table.

Their surprised silence stunned the room.

Then a hand was raised. “Julie? What’s TCP?”

So it was that, two days later after the morning break, Raymond left Adela’s office.

He wished that she wore one of those hygienic mouth masks, the type that barbers or dentists wore, for he was drenched with the spittle of her bile.

Still, like some Mother Clennam, dormant for years, he felt provoked and ready to spontaneously combust. Well, possibly. In the back of his mind, George Martin’s orchestra had struck up something from the backside of the original Yellow Submarine LP.

So he marched in time to the Blue Meanies, remembering John. He reflected that he’d been reasonably lucky this far: three days in and untouched by them. They were obviously disinterested and had decided there were bigger fish to fry. Raymond grinned to himself. Maybe the news of his outburst had put them off and they weren’t going to tangle with him. He reached his classroom almost cheerful.

To his annoyance, Lead Inspector Boyles had arrived before him. He had made a dugout in the corner and boxed filed himself behind a desk. He looked fearful.

Raymond nodded. To let him know he knew. As it were. Then he scanned the classroom. “Morning, lads.”

“Morning, Mr Raymond. Look there’s one of those inspector men in here. Why do we always get these inspector men lately?”

“Eh! Tameem. Shut it, yesterday it was inspector lady.”

“Inspector lady. Inspect–a lady. Hur, hur, hur.”

Pursing his lips, Raymond shuddered. “I see him, Abdulla. You’re late. Where’s Flange?”

“Flange? I don’t know, sir. He’s probably coming.”

Huge Year 11 boys, wrestling for position, throwing books on desks, sweating from football in forty degree heat. Healthy, bearded burned faces grinned teeth and cheer, glad to be in the English classroom, talking in throaty Arabic. The spiced scent of oud drifted and caught the zeitgeist. Conspicuously white and wan, Boyles looked a long way from home. “I think they require improvement.”

“Excuse me?”

“These boys.” Boyles was scribbling on some sort of overcomplicated pale tissue paper British form.

Raymond scowled.

“Mr Raymond!” Muhammed shouted across the classroom. “Hey. Ghanim is late. I’ll give him slap. It’s disrespectful. Here, catch this.” He slung a football at Raymond, who, a player in his day, took it on his chest then caught it.

“Sit down, lads.”

The boys ignored him.

A few more shambled in, throwing bags around in a pantomime of disruption.

Deep within his paper box, Boyles' pen was busy - scribble, scribble, scribble.

Well, OK.

Scanning his classroom, Raymond took up his books as he had for countless years and now here they were, the boys, too big for the desks, slumped, looking bored, but the eyes, well those brown eyes; telling a deeply different story, if you could read it. And he always could. Even back then.

Because now, Ahmed, in studied carelessness, chucked Steinbeck on the desk, a battered edition, well thumbed. “Eh. Mr Raymond? This thing. Explain it to me. What is cat house where men are going?”

Someone sluiced a torrent of Arabic from the second row, then switched fluidly to English: “It’s a place for cats, idiot.”

“The stray ones that live in the trash?”

“Chub. Of course the stray trash ones: like you.”

“Ahmed, stop shouting, open your book, and write down the lesson objective. And the three differentiated outcomes.”

Raymond, looking at the board, wished he actually had some differentiated outcomes or a plan for the lesson, but he didn’t, because they were complete bollocks. He had planned to do what he always did, which, basically, was to get the boys to read, talk a bit, then do some writing. He glanced at Boyles, who ignored him and scribbled some more.

“What are these outcomes, Mr Raymond?” asked Muhammed - a fair enough question.

“Ah…er…um…I’ll write them on the blackboard.” Raymond started to sweat as the boys waited, languid legs stretched out.

“EH! Sir! It’s white! Like you!” yelled Tameem, then sniggered, thumping his neighbour’s head affectionately.

“Yes, yes, I know, the whiteboard.” Raymond pulled open the desk drawer and looked for a board marker and inspiration, sweating slightly. He rummaged around, found his marker, but all that remained, to his complete lack of surprise for it was, after all, his desk, were two or three unopened boxes of toothpaste, bottles of various flavours of mouthwash and some tooth picks. He pulled these out and piled them on an empty desk in front of the boys.

Boyles watched him, pen poised.

Raymond cleared his throat. “Now, lads, are we ready? So…er…write this into your exercise books…ah…today we will practise descriptive writing and…um…our bronze outcome, as it were, is…you will be able to describe a toothpaste tower; silver…you will describe the toothpaste tower pretty well…and, gold, you will use describing words to describe in detail a tower made entirely from toothpaste in a mighty damn good way. Mighty damn good.”


“Just write it down, Abdulrahman, just write it down.”

The boys scratched paper slowly with pens, copying from the board. It was now ten minutes since the lesson had started. Once done, most slung these down and waited patiently for something to happen, filling time with cuffing each other or pulling phones half out of pockets to check for messages under the tables.

“Now, then, now then,” boomed Raymond, with a confidence he didn’t feel. “Volunteer, please. Who can build a tower using…”

“Mr Raymond! You’ve spelt it wrong. Toothpaste has a T. You’ve put Boothbaste.”

“Well spotted, Thani, Excellent. Ah…dictionary chase, boys, first to get a dictionary, look it up, slap the board with a fly swatter and write it gets the star prize.”

They needed no further orders. 15 huge blokes shoved chairs back, thrust tables forward, piling over each other; a thrashing, flailing fist of arms and legs in a 100 metre dash for the bookshelf.

Too late, Raymond remembered they were in the same corner where Boyles was now cowering.

“Found it! Where’s the fly swat, sir?”

“Fly swat? Er…we don’t have them. Sorry. I read this activity in a paper. 100 great OFSTED lesson starters.”

Lead Inspector Boyles, who had somehow survived serious injury, grimaced quietly, dusted down his jacket and scribbled further notes as the boys reluctantly returned. Raymond shook with unknown, strange feelings. “Now lads, that volunteer...who can build me a boothbaste, I mean toothpaste tower?”

15 hands shot up.

“Now, lads…it’ll take skill. Plenty of skill. We call this a kinaesthetic task, you see?”

Scribble, scribble, scribble.

Ghanim pushed himself to the front and began balancing boxes on top of bottles with some dexterity until it had reached an impressive height, watched by fourteen other pairs of eyes, Raymond and a sceptical Boyles.

As he balanced a final tube of toothpicks on top in triumph, the classroom door was kicked open, causing the whole tower to crumble violently to the floor. Ghanim whipped around in rage to confront the miscreant. “Flange! You cause my tower to destroy!”

Flange, studiedly late, slung his bag across the classroom and picked his way to an empty desk, hooked a seat back with his foot and deposited himself there. He leant back slightly and put his feet on the table. If he could have found one, he’d have taken a match and struck it on one of the bristly cheeks of his classmates, like a pasty Lee Van Cleef. Instead, he reached in his pockets, pulled out a packet of fags with one hand, a lighter with the other, lit a cigarette, sucked then exhaled with a hiss.

“Flange! What the bloody hell do you think you are doing?” Raymond cursed then bit his lip.

“Want one, sir?”

“What? Want one? Want one! What do you mean, want one?”

“A fag, sir. I got plenty from the airport. You can pass me one back tomorrow, normal place, if you want, sir. Behind the bike sheds. I expect you’ll want one after the usual servicing, sir.”

 “I don’t know what he means, Inspector. I’ve never even been behind the bike sheds with him. Do we even have bike sheds?” Raymond turned to Boyles, arms outstretched.

“Do you?”

“No, Mr Boyles, honestly. He’s new. He only joined this week from England, Inspector. He’s a special needs boy. Probably.”

“Special needs?”

“Yes, Mr Boyles. I think he might have ADHD, sir. Or autism. One of those things on the special spectrum. I’ll have him tested.”

Boyles rose from his seat. “Tested? Do you know what you’re saying Raymond?” He drew himself up to full height. “Put that cigarette out, Flange. Get your feet off the table. Now, Raymond, I think I’ve seen all I need to see, don’t you?”

“Wait, wait. You haven’t seen my main activity, yet, Inspector…”

“And what would that be, exactly? Draw and label a toothpaste box? Describe the taste of mouthwash? Role play a visit to the dentist where you and he discuss oral hygiene?”

“No…well…er, I quite like the role play one, Inspector…”

But Boyles shuffled papers together and took his briefcase from the classroom floor, intent on packing and leaving. “You’ve no lesson plan, no data, nothing. You’re making it up as you go along aren’t you, Raymond.”

Flange sniggered.

“Well, you’ll definitely like my plenary. It’s well worth the wait.”

“Plenary? Don’t bother. I’ll be seeing you later,” snapped Boyles, grimly. However, as he spoke, a soft click broke the suspended silent seconds and yet again the door opened; this time more smoothly. Another figure stood framed in the opening.

“Pray continue with your lesson, Mr Raymond.”

It was Lead Inspector Mockman.

It was now Day 5 of the Inspections.

Well given the circumstance, he had to pluralise, didn’t he?

Raymond had given himself a day to think about it and he was taking no more. He had brushed his teeth until his gums complained and his lungs were icy enough to freeze his exhaling breath and now he waited impatiently, coiled like a spring, in the short corridor that led to Adela’s office.

Voices rumbled ominously from within.

Upon the door itself, Adela’s nameplate had been covered with an A4 printout in comic sans ms proclaiming the owner to be Lead Inspector Boyles. Childishly, however, someone else had scribbled out the word Boyles with crayon and written Mockman next it.

An atrocity.

And Raymond saw with fixed certainty that hue and cry had blown here from across the seas, traversing the desert to shake the school these five days, with no centre to the storms; instead only two event horizons, multiplying with each other and bludgeoning any hope of progress, any sort of exit, any kind of learning – just lending still birth to the next generation. As it was, so it will be, thy kingdom come.

The door clicked open. Adela herself strode out. She gave Raymond a contemptuous glance, pushed past him and made for the bathroom.

It hadn’t always been like this. When he had arrived, middle aged, heartbroken and destroyed after a 25 year career in England, he had been her darling, the ‘English’ English teacher. Intervening years had made him older and had seen her promoted. He had lost his bite. His gums itched where teeth used to be.

Having left the door slightly open, however, those rumbles were now more audible, and words could be picked clean from the carcass of the turkeys within. Exasperated and bickering gobbets spat forth.

“It did not require improvement. It was outstanding.”

“Outstanding? You blind fool. We’re recommending special measures.”

“Special measures? Pah. The closest you came to special measures was the last time you used a ruler to measure your dick, Mockman.”

“Measure my dick? Pah. At least my dick requires such a measure, Boyles.”

“I didn’t come all the way from England to bandy words with you, Mockman. I didn’t have to come at all. I’m a pastor.”

“Pastor? Pah. The nearest you come to being a pastor is when you boil spaghetti, Boyles.”

Raymond had heard enough. Now, to be sure, he was meek, his teeth were now few and far between, certainly, but he had sufficient boxes of toothpaste to build and defend one final castle. He pushed open the door, without even waiting for permission; he just walked right into the chicken coop like some kind of toothless, aged silver fox. With a box of sharpened toothpicks in his breast pocket for good measure.

It didn’t bother the two lead inspectors one jot. They were eyeball to eyeball, clenching their pale papers in aged almost fists but the veneer of manners were just keeping them this side of the black hole.

His cojones twitched, just slightly, but Raymond registered it on the Richter scale. Surprised? I should say so. It was the first time for quite a while.

“You lot,” he cried. “You lot.”

Mockman swivelled in Adela’s chair. Boyles would have done the same, but he’d drawn the short straw of the cheap, non swivelling variety, so he was limited to moving his neck. Given his age, this caused his face to convulse in pain for an instant.

“Ah, Mr Raymond, isn’t it?”

One of them spoke, Raymond wasn’t sure which. He had to screw his eyes tightly to tell them apart. “I’d like to congratulate you on a first class lesson. Outstanding.  The way you had the boys chasing after the toothpaste boxes in a relay race; quite brilliant. That’s cutting edge English teaching that is. It’s the sort of innovative approach sadly missing in England these days.”

“Well, I have to disagree with Inspector Mockman’s appraisal. I felt that your starter was good, but your plenary required improvement. The fact is, Mr Raymond, in assessing your lesson, I thought that there were areas of it that dipped into special measures. But, then again, there were some bits that were good.”

“I couldn’t give a fuck what either of you thought.”

“What?” One of them spoke. Boyles, possibly.

“No need for that, is there?”

“I think there is.” Raymond spoke quietly enough, but he knew he was shaking. Why was he shaking? But he looked at them. Yes. All shook up. “You’re nothing to me now. You just haven’t earned it.” And in his head he could hear Johnny Marr. Perhaps Johnny Rotten? Who knew. “Everybody you ever betrayed, that’s for sure,” he said. “And the children. I’ve been here for years now. But back there; they’re crying. They don’t forget what you…cunts…did. When? They ask. When? When will you come back? You lot. Fuck off back to England”

“Punts? Where? We’re not in Cambridge now, Raymond.”

“Not enough mouthwash in the world. Not enough,” Raymond continued, still quiet, unsure of even the next word, not really knowing. But he could see a world crashing and burning, crashing and burning and there was no way to articulate everything he knew, everything he had seen. “Fuck off back to England. Back to your wreck and ruin. Leave us here in peace, here in the desert.”

The words bounced off them like hailstones on cobbles. Boyles smirked. He tried to cover his mouth with his hand, but Raymond saw it and, teeth clenched, he moved forward aggressively.

Fortunately, at that point, Adela, strode back into her office, clutching something bunched in her left hand and a flimsy file in her right. She ignored Raymond; well he’d expected that. But the next move was quite astonishing, even by her standards. She walked behind her desk. She tipped over the chair containing Boyles, the cheap one, and then swiveled Mockman around and pulled it out from under him. That done, she sat down and shouted. “Flange! Get in here, now!”

Prostrate upon the floor, blinking and flapping like two landed trout, the Inspectors looked shocked. Adella scowled and viciously threw the something in her left hand in their direction and it bounced off Mockman’s forehead. Now Raymond could see it was the A4 paper that had covered her office nameplate.

“That hurt,” protested Mockman, pulling himself up. Similarly, Boyles raised himself, flapping at the dust on his suit with his hands. They stood next to Raymond, in front of the desk.

Flange shuffled in through the door, eyes downcast; cockiness having quite deserted him. He joined the three other men in front of the bench.

“Stand there, Flange,” Adela snapped. Then threw herself down behind her desk and her eyes scrutinised those in front of her, judge, jury and executioner and they, standing like guilty schoolboys, avoided the piercing blue gaze. “Now, gentlemen. Which of you knows this boy?” She spoke with soft fury.

Raymond spoke first. “Er…well, obviously me, Adela, but I swear I have never, ever even been behind the bike sheds…”

“Not you, Raymond. I mean which of these two. These Inspectors.”

Neither spoke. Mockman looked the shiftiest but Boyles was colouring fast.

Placing the file deliberately on her desk, Adela's voice was such that it might freeze the Caribbean. “This was found lying around in a classroom.” She opened it and extracted a paper from the A4 flimsies within. She looked at it and read aloud, skimming quickly over it. “Hmm, let’s see. ‘The Flange Gambit…ah…memo to team…it would be quite…er… splendid if we could inveigle Inspector Flange’s son…ah…Master Flange into the school…. free to cause mayhem and malice in as many classes as possible…ensure he has a catapult…cigarettes…pea shooter…bottle of ink’.” She stopped and looked up. “Is this some kind of joke? The Flange gambit? What on earth has been going on?”

But now it was Mockman’s turn. He broke rank and took a pace towards the desk. He seized the paper from Adela’s fist and spun on his heel. It was quite impressive for a man of his age. “Excellent. Just the evidence we have been looking for! Well done, Ms Adela. Now we have them.” He paused. “You see I have not been entirely straight and truthful with you these past days.”

“Really?” Adela’s voice was dripping with sarcasm. “You shock me.”

“Yes, really.” Mockman’s eyes were triumphant, stripping and dissecting the quaking Boyles. “You see we’re not just any OFSTED team. Oh no. We’re the OFSTED team that inspects OFSTED teams.”

“Oh my god,” Boyles quavered, looking quite faint.

“You might well say that,” growled Mockman, “you might well. Yes, my friend, little did you suspect that during your inspecting, you too were being inspected by us. Hah! We’ve been on to your lot for quite some time. Quite some time. You, you, with your extended foreign junkets, your hotels with seven bars and ten restaurants, with your hand picked team of cronies. Yes, my friend. The inspectors have been inspected and their inspections have been found to be wanting.”

“Oh, God, no!”

“Oh, God, yes. Hah. Well, my friend, your inspecting days are over. Never fear, Ms Adela, never fear. I will have this lot cuffed and on the next plane bound for Blighty.”

With that declaration, Mockman reached inside his pocket and pulled out a policeman’s tin whistle. This he placed to his lips and with a mighty blow summoned his colleagues who truncheoned the feebly protesting gentlemen out, leaving only the three of them; Raymond, Adela and Mockman to contemplate the silence for a while.

“Well, that explains a few things, I suppose.” Raymond spoke, his voice soft.

“Yes,” hissed Adela.

“My words to you earlier…ah...” added Raymond, looking at Mockman.

“Think nothing of it my boy, nothing of it, heat of the moment…quite understandable.”

“No. I meant every one of them. Fuck off back to England. You contemptible, incompetent bastards.”

Mockman looked contemplative for a moment, then sighed. “I can’t do that I am afraid, Mr Raymond.”


“Well now, you see, the current inspection is now null and void, isn’t it, as you might…er…inspect? A hah-hah. So, we’ll have to start it all over again next week. Nothing else for it, I’m afraid.”

“You have to be joking.” Adela’s voice was venomous.

“No, afraid so, we go again next week. After all, the school does want the kitemark British seal of quality, doesn’t it?

“Well, I’m not so sure anymore.”

“Well, of course it does.You’ll arrange with the CEO to extend our stay at The Hilton by another week?”

Before she could answer, there was an urgent, sharp rapping at the office door. “Come in.” Adela rose resignedly and walked to open it. Upon extending her hand for the handle, however, it was thrust back imperiously to reveal another suited greybeard, clipboard in one hand and the twisted ear of a snivelling boy from Year 8 in the other. Adela clenched her teeth in an icy white grimace. “And just who might you two be?” she snarled.

“Chief Inspector Sodsmith, ma’am. And this wretched child is called Pockman. I lead the OFSTED team that inspects the OFSTED teams that inspect OFSTED teams. It’s a snap inspection, ma’am.”

Mockman fainted.

That night, after he had returned to his apartment, Raymond blankly walked to the local shop and bought some cat food which he then placed in the bushes beneath. Later he walked into his bathroom, took his knob out and stuck it into his bottle of Listerine Cool Blast.

Maybe it was due to the excruciating, torturous stinging; he couldn’t be sure. But for whatever reason, he started to cry.

Thursday, 13 September 2018



Somewhere, somewhere, there’s a gritty tasting day:
when teeth were sandpapered by sandwich paste
that bitter-lippped the tongue.
A beach made less of sand
and more of clay
where the promised castles
stick tight in the muddy bucket.
 Horizoning sea far too long away,
somewhere between
a sullen humdrum Humber
and a sky tinted ash grey:
well, because we’re both ghosts now.
Still, you take my hand,
a boy aged seven
(or there and thereabouts)
with long, gone, forgotten, innocent brow
and you, yourself, unfurrowed and
still, as yet, unploughed.
Thick, boot-black crested hair
that falls in a hopeful comma upon kind eyes.
More an exclamation mark than a question:
A pause amid this and that,
between unconditional and conditions
across the void of vision and decision.
We stride towards the thin blue line,
my reluctant hand in yours,
for, Dad, it is surely too far away?
Small legs and unsandaled sole
struggle to measure up
alongside long strides towards the blue,
like your gaze,
rolling, thundering, silent screaming:
to your scattered futures go.
And Cleethorpes’ clay is cast with worms,
abandoned until the tide returns;
silent sharp razor shells’ bladed teeth
hiding deep beneath the grief.
Strewn seabirds cyclone; backpedaling skies
with futile swoops and whirlpooling cries,
they warn against attempts to fly.
With a childish grin, you shrug, then shoulder
the feckless complaining boy,
for what will be, will be,
and this is the sea.
Sweeping ocean winds urchin our hair,
and just this once, we dream and dare.