Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Noises Off

Noises Off

Seventy seven and unlucky for some,

here sired no seventh son of seventh son,

when one is caught out and he’s in at ten.

Donating thanks and promises to steal,

with sleight of hand, his deal or no deal

of a stacked deck contain nothing much real;

this Mr Kipper. But we’ll all buy on trust,

walk our roads of dust, riding rails of rust

pitched at silly mid on far futures thrust.

Intangible noises off, play the green,

sounding daunted at such great wisdom seen,

witless, wondering quite what has been done

in freedom’s name or what’s to come.

Pivot history’s slide into Eton’s mess,

unite; sod one, sod all and sod the rest

shall be our chanted mantra. Acronyms

acrimonious, loud spittle-spat hymns,

praise him, this giant, with empty grin

save us, deliver us from self-doubting scum

and, with a shout, come new Jerusalem.

Fly, Angel fly: comes the hour, comes your man,

shit over this land where fuck as fuck can,

carouse foul fingers through his thick fair locks,

detonate blonde bombshell in awe and shock.

Glorious the rape of you stones and blocks.

Monday, 22 July 2019

Not At All in a Good Cause

Not At All in a Good Cause

“Help! Help!”

A high pitched and shouty voice sang like an emergency phone across otherwise calm streets. Not quite a scream…but it was getting there. And beneath? Two frantic, bicycling, dangling legs and a collapsed ladder.

“Mayday! Mayday!”


Well, of course. Spring had sprung in Purridgeton, deep in the green acres of Devon, England, which means, as you know, weather that can change from this to that and back again, although some will insist to you that Spring days are always balmy.

Balmy? No, not that.

You know, balmy: mild, warm, clement. That’s what they’d tell you. However, be warned – there are unreliable storytellers who tell massive fibs and make-things-up.

Still, you can believe me when I say that today was, as it happens, quite warm.

It was also the morning of a school day, possibly Thursday, but I can’t be sure - so the town centre was quite still. No children rollicking around, they were all safely locked up in their classrooms, 35 at a time, suffering miserably while teachers put their feet up, ate doughnuts and did the crossword crossly. Elsewhere, there was a delivery truck here, a post van there and, of course (it being early), heaps of ladders and hoses; council workers soaping down the glass frontages of shops, prior to the arrival of the day’s shoppers.

“Mayday! Oh, I say, Mayday!”

Do you know? I think the voice had a slight edge of panic now.

“Mayday! This pole won’t stay still!”

Another sound was becoming more distinct, over and above the slooshing of water, the brushes and the rubbing of cloths. The sound of a squeaky wheel.

‘Squeak.’ ‘Squeak.’ Ever increasing in volume, it approached the dangling legs and crumpled aluminium step ladder below them.

The shrill noise belonged to a motorised wheelchair. It was on the small side, a bit battered, but two customised stickers brightened up its panels, proudly proclaiming ‘MobilityShopWagon!’ A pennant fluttered gaily from two handles sticking up from the back of the chair in maroon and white and the words ‘Willie Wheels’ were stencilled diagonally across the flapping flag as the chair sped on its way.

Its occupant now manoeuvred his transport beneath the flailing limbs. He rubbed his eyes and looked up - as you do, when you see two legs flapping above you on a warm spring day. “Hey up there! What’s the problem?”

“Willie!” called a voice, familiar to the driver. “Is that you, Willie Wheels?”

“Grandad Patches? Now, how the dash-dangly-doo did you get up there?”

Po, po, po, po, never mind that, Willie, never mind that, just get me down, will you? I don’t think I can hold on to this barber’s pole much longer. It’s slippery and the blighter keeps twisting around. See if you can reach the step ladder.”

“Revolving, is it?”

“Yes. Well, you know, I said I wanted a revolution, but this wasn’t what I had in mind…”

“Hang on, Patches. I’ll be up there in a jiffy.”

Willie could see the ladder doing the splits in front of his chair, however one problem remained. “Er…Grandad Patches? There’s a pork chop of a difficulty, though.”

“What’s that?”

“Well…er…I’m stuck in this wheelchair, isn’t it? How can I get the ladder back up?”

“I see. That is a poser.”

“Look, Patches, just let go of the pole and I’ll catch you.”

“Catch me? I’m ten feet up. However will you be able to catch me?”

“Don’t worry, Patches, these deluxe MobilityShopWagons are fitted with extendable mandible safety nets. I just press this button and it forms a strong canopy overhead; big enough to see you securely down.”

From somewhere above, Grandad Patches sounded relieved. “Do they? I say. The marvels of modern technology. Let me know when it’s safe to drop, then!”

Willie Wheels fiddled with a couple of buttons on his control panel. “Now!” he yelled.

But even if he hadn’t, Grandad Patches was plummeting anyway, holding half a barber’s pole in his hand and, with a shriek of pain, he smashed straight into the wheelchair, accompanied by grisly sounds of splitting wood and twisting metals.

Willie Wheels expended a quite ghastly scream, too: “Aye-yah! That hurt!”

Brushing himself down, Grandad Patches extracted the maroon pennant from his boot and stood up. “Sorry, Willie. Is this yours?”

“Yes it is. I say, you’ve snapped it off, Grandad Patches. How will I be able to tell which way the wind is blowing now?”


“Of course, wind. Knowing wind resistance factors can be vital when you’re in a supermarket trolley dash.”

“I see. Well, why don’t you hold it as a temporary measure and we’ll see if I can repair it later?”

Willie didn’t look completely convinced, but before he had time to reply, both detected an oncoming commotion from the top of the street; it was that sixth sense that only Grandads possess, a feeling of impending armageddon.

Willie was already shifting the gear stick into ‘drive’. “Is that P.C. Muff over there?” he muttered, anxiously, looking at the debris that surrounded his chair.

“It could be. Indeed, yes. Po, po, po. Shall we…er...go for coffee?”

“That might be best,” agreed Willie. “Let’s scarper.” And he was off like a whippet after a rabbit.


Once safely inside a coffee shop, one of those American ones, Willie eyed the coffees that Grandad Patches had brought over and placed on the table in front of them before easing his sore back into the armchair.

Both kept glancing at the door. Willie had, in the meantime, secreted the half-a-barber-pole underneath the table. He took the mug and tasted the contents cautiously. “Urgh!” he screeched, squirting the hot mouthful all over the table. “Are you trying to poison as well as maim me, Patches?”

“No, indeed.” Patches tasted his own coffee. “You’re right, this is as vile as a cobbler’s tongue,” he agreed. And do you know what? He spat his back into the mug. Which you must never, ever do, because it isn’t polite.

“It doesn’t taste like coffee to me. Not even close.”

“No; shortages again. This is extract of boiled broccoli with sprout flakes.”

“What are the lumpy bits?”

“I think they’re croutons.”

“Whoa! You’re not supposed to call them that anymore, Patches. French word.”

“Well, what do I call them, then?”

Willie Wheels frowned and looked into the murky depths of his mug, while an elderly male waiter with a walking stick mopped up the spitterage all over his table. “What are these?” he asked him, in a rude tone.

“Crumbly Tossy-Toasts.”

“What a stupid name.” He glanced at the lampshade in the corner of the shop. “If we can’t call them croutons, then how about crunchtons or something?”

The waiter glowered, squeezing his cloth into a slop bucket. “Sorry, Willie, government policy.”

Grandad Patches wasn’t listening anyway; instead he was rubbing his extremely sore back, knees and ankles. “Po, po, po,” he said, finally, “what happened to your extendable mandible net anyway, Willie?”

“I don’t know.” admitted Willie, “I pushed the right buttons and everything. It just didn’t extend like the man said it would.”

“Which man?”

“The man who sold the chair to me. I didn’t like him. As villainous as tinned corned beef for Wednesday tea time.”

“Goodness me. What did he look like?”

“I can’t remember now. Er…an eye patch, dark glasses, a pork pie hat and a mask over his mouth. The sort that surgeons wear. He was on the street corner. Selling magazines.”

“I see. Did he carry a bag with ‘swag’ written on it?”

“No, but those magazines were for homeless war veterans. You know. ‘The Large Question.”

“‘The Large Question’, eh? Well, I’d say he owes us an apology. Was he standing or sitting in the chair?”

“Standing, Patches. He was using the chair to transport his huge pile of unsold magazines.”

As Grandad Patches rubbed his bristling chin (which he does when pondering a big issue), his thoughts were rudely interrupted by some overloud noises off. “Pon my soul, what is that racket?”

From a darkened corner of the coffee shop, a mobile phone was screeching like chickens cornered by a fox. Now both Willie and Grandad could see a shady looking elderly gentleman, wearing a hat, hunched over a battered laptop stabbing keys eagerly with his stubby fingers. Beside him was a huge stack of tatty magazines.

Willie Wheels trembled and pointed a shaking finger in his direction.

“Is that him?” asked Grandad Patches, in a most grave tone.

“No. Definitely not him.”

Oblivious to the fact he was being pointed at, the man, who was wearing headphones with one of those microphone attachments pressed against his thin, wrinkly lips, was shouting very loudly into cyberspace, almost as though he was deaf. “Yes! Yes!” he kept screaming, “I’ll talk to my Totterton connection. Connection! Totterton! I have enough units. Send your attaché down here.”

Grandad Patches was not usually one to get grumpy, as you know, but he did object to having his broccoli coffee spoiled by what he reasoned was sound pollution and not at all environmentally friendly. He glanced at Willie Wheels, who seemed similarly irritated. “What a rude fellow. Leave this to me.” He got up and limped over in a purposeful way.

Upon reaching the noise, he snapped the laptop shut – without even asking for permission. “That’s enough of that,” he said, firmly, “when I ran coffee shops, back in the sixties, they were places for quiet debate and discussion.”

The snap-topped laptop man protested. “What about my connection in Totterton?”

“Snotterton?” You can talk to Snotterton when you back to the office,” replied Grandad Patches. “Snotterton will still be there. Now leave us to…er…enjoy our coffee in peace.”

The laptop owner scratched his head, “Well, you see, that’s the problem. I don’t actually have an office. It was taken off me by the council. It was vital, they said. Something hush-hush. Need to know and none of us needed to.”

“Us? Who do you mean? The Snottertons?”

“No… office workers. We sell whatever the country needs. I’m the leading supplier of extendable dustpan and brush combination sets. Top notch quality.” He gestured at a pile of crumbling plastic items behind his table. “Now we’ve been told to hunker down in coffee shops and make free with their wifi. Our offices have been snatched.”

“Hunker down by office snatchers? Po, po, po, po. I think you’d better join me and Willie Wheels. I detect the cruel hand of bureaucratic botherers at work here.”

Nodding solemnly, and abandoning his clutter, the laptop man followed Grandad Patches across the coffee shop.

As they approached, Willie looked up from his mug, which he had, in the meantime, been poking miserably with one of those cheap wooden stirring twigs that pass for spoons these days. “Did you tell that rude fellow to shut up?” he demanded, upon seeing them approach.

“I’ve asked him to join us, Willie Wheels. It turns out there’s more to this than meets the eye. Much more.”

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know. What’s your name, good fellow?”

“That’s right.”


“Goodfellow. That’s my name.”

“Pom, pom, tiddly pom, well that is a coincidence,” gasped Grandad Patches. “Hear that, Willie Wheels? I knew his name without even being told it! Paranormal, that’s what it is. It doesn’t come as a complete surprise, though. Back in the sixties, when I used to work as a medium for the recently bereaved in Tarminster, I once possessed an enchanted tarpaulin which….I say, what are you doing?”

Willie Wheels wasn’t listening; instead he has jabbing Mr Goodfellow with the broken barber’s pole. “I’ve cornered him, Patches. In case he cuts up rough. Leave it to me.”

“Cuts up rough? Goodness gracious, he’s well over 70 years old. Put that down, Willie Wheels, in case you draw attention to us. Mr Goodfellow, can we get you a coffee?”

“No, thank you, Grandad Patches, the coffee here is foul. I’ll take a Thai chicken soup.”

While Grandad Patches placed the order and watched the elderly waiter stir some gravy granules into a mug of hot water, Mr Goodfellow was admiring Willie’s wheelchair with an expert eye. “I say, that’s a beauty.”

“Is it?”

“Yes, quite magnificent. Clearly a mark 1; not one of those flashy mark 2 jobs. I must say, I haven’t seen one of these in working order for quite some time, don’t you know?”

“Well it doesn’t work that well,” grumbled Willie Wheels, “its extendable mandible safety net is broken. That’s why Grandad Patches is limping around this horrible coffee shop avoiding P.C. Muff.”

As Grandad Patches returned with a steaming mug of instant gravy, Mr Goodfellow was snorting in a most amused fashion. “Safety net? These don’t come with safety nets, Willie. Whoever heard of a wheelchair with safety nets?”

Scowling, Willie Wheels retorted somewhat rudely, I’m afraid. “Well, of course they do, stupid. The man who sold it to me said it used to belong to a circus trapeze artist, didn’t it? In any case, what are these buttons supposed to be for? Tell me that, then!”

“Those buttons?” Mr Goodfellow examined them with an expert eye.  “I think they’re just decorative. Probably included for pressing in times of boredom. When you are waiting for a bus, perhaps. Haven’t you ever felt like pressing them in the coach station?”

“No I haven’t,” lied Willie Wheels, remembering times when he had done just that, lights had flashed and they’d played a twinkly tune.

“Never mind, never mind,” grunted Grandad Patches, “We’ll catch the blaggard responsible later, see if we don’t. In the meantime, we have a campaign to mount. We want our coffee shops back and you want your offices. Back in the sixties, when I was group coordinator for ‘plant a tree in 73’ we would audit all our resources before engaging in battle. It was terrific fun. Now, cards on the table – what assets do we have between us?”

Eagerly, the three men began speaking: “Er…a broken barber’s pole…a huge stack of ‘The Large Question’….a pile of plastic dustpans and brushes that extend…a motorised wheel chair that doesn’t…”

Beaming, Grandad Patches finished scribbling his list. “Excellent! Now what do they have?”

“Ah…the army…tear gas…batons…riot shields…megaphones, electric and manual…surveillance…MI5 and 6…Special Branch…Police Constable Muff…”

Crestfallen, the three elderly men stared gloomily at their three mugs. Do you know what? They just left the shop. They didn’t even drink what remained of their beverages. Which was quite a lot, actually.


Well now, it was a few hours later at number 36 Lumpslap Close and I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that schools had eagerly booted out their students onto the streets. Across the town, the teachers had backslapped each other at crossing the line with the minimum of fuss and were comparing answers to crosswords and suduko puzzles over cups of government coffee with real milk powder.

As the heavy, scented aroma of mung bean stew poured out of the kitchen, the door to the house was flung open. First in was Patience, closely followed by Faith. Morgan slouched in behind them, slinging his bag on the floor and, without removing his boots, stomped up the stairs to his bedroom.

“Grandad! Grandad!” Faith’s shrill voice called happily throughout the small house. “Grandad? Where are you?”

Stumping in from the garden where he’d been tending bamboo canes, Grandad Patches beamed proudly at Faith (who was his favourite, even though you must never tell) and ruffled her hair. “Here I am, my dear. How was your day at school?”

“It was brilliant! We had ‘Cleaning for Victory’ day.”

Po, po, po. Did you? What was that about, Faith, my dear?”

“Mrs Gridney gave us all Victory cloths and Victory buckets. It was great! We had to count how many classroom floor tiles we could clean for our Maths challenge.”

“My, my, that does sound exciting. Much more exciting than when I was at school back in the sixties. Do you know…”

“Yes, Grandad. Then we had door knob orienteering. I was in the ‘door knob south’ team. We nearly won.”

“Goodness me. Door knob orienteering, eh? Pom, pom, pom. What was the prize?”

“I don’t know, Grandad. Mrs Gridney said we could all polish door knobs east tomorrow, though. How long is it till tea? I’m starving.”

Grandad Patches began to answer but he was interrupted by the most blood curdling scream from upstairs. Patience, Faith and Grandad scuttled to the foot of the stairs (which didn’t take long) and stared upwards anxiously. It was Patience who spoke first. “Morgan? What’s wrong? Is everything OK?”

“That old fart has tidied my bedroom again! And why is there a broken barber’s pole shoved under my bed?”

Grimly, Patience looked at Grandad Patches squarely and levelly. “Did you? Did you tidy his bedroom?”

“What’s an old fart, Grandad?”

Po, po, po, Faith, pon my soul, I’m not sure what he can mean. It sounds like something Grandad Biggert would say.”

When she put her hands on her hips, Patience looked quite threatening, a bit like Ma after a tough day at the factory. “Now, both Ma and I have told you not to clean Morgan’s room, Grandad. You know he likes his privacy.”

“But I thought it was ‘Cleaning for Victory’ day,” mumbled Grandad.

“It was, Grandad!” laughed Faith.

“I think the hoover is blocked. I’ll need to get in there with one of those excellent extendable dustpan and brush combination sets.”

Before there could be any further argument or dissent, the door knocker spoke a rat-a-tat and Grandad Patches gratefully answered it. He swung open the door to be greeted by Willie Wheels and Mr Goodfellow.

“Evening, Grandad Patches.” Willie was first to speak. “I say. Manoeuvring my wagon up your crazy paving was a mixed grill of a task. Are we in time for tea?”

“Yes, you are,” said Grandad, ignoring the groaning and stage whispers behind him, “I’ve just set the table.”

“Good. Is it mixed grill?”

“Indeed, no, Willie Wheels, mixed meats are difficult to come by these days and, even if they were not, this household is vegan. Why, back in the sixties, I co-founded ‘vegetable lovers’ with my friend and mentor…”

Morgan snorted. “Vegan? If Ma was cooking, he’d be tucking into sausage, same as the rest of us.”

“No, I wouldn’t, I never touch my sausage.”

Patience had heard enough of Morgan’s rudeness. “Go and sit at the table,” she snapped, “and stop giggling, Faith. Honestly, I sometimes wonder what this family is coming to.”

Negotiating their way carefully through the house, Grandad’s guests and the rest of the family carefully sat down – well, you know, there were the usual polite comments about where would be best to sit and what lovely paper napkins – but, by the time Grandad had smuggled the pot of stew to the table, all were in attendance.

As it was ladled into bowls, along with hunks of gritty brown bread, Willie Wheels spoke first. “I say, that smells lovely, Grandad Patches.”

“No, it smells like puke,” Morgan corrected him, “why can’t we have a proper tea?”

Po, po, po, when I was your age, all we had were jam sandwiches and ginger cake.”

“Oh, jam sandwiches, that’d be a dream come true. I love jam sandwiches…ouch!”

Patience had kicked him under the table. Before there was any more awkwardness, Mr Goodfellow, in between the rapid spooning of stew to mouth, waved a piece of paper at his fellow diners. “Look, Grandad Patches. I found this on your doormat. You’ve won the lottery…you lucky fellow.”

Faith flung her spoon stew-wards in excitement, splashing both Morgan and Patience. “Grandad! We’ve won the lottery, we’ve won!”

“Well, goodness me, have we, my dear? Well, what a stroke of fortune.”

“I say, Patches, that’s a huge, wobbly chicken liver pate portion of good luck, that is! Think what all that dosh could do for our campaign!”

Morgan and Patience were not sharing the glee spreading across the table. “That makes the fourth time this week,” grunted Morgan, “let me see that.” He snatched the ticket from Mr Goodfellow. “Thought so. I’ll put it with the others, shall I?”

“That’d be best,” agreed Patience. “Stop jumping up and down, Faith. I’ve explained it to you three times already.”

“Not to me, you haven’t” grumbled Willie Wheels, “what seems to be the problem? Grandad Patches and I need those winnings if we are to mount a full frontal assault against the pitiless forces of uncaring bureaucracy.”

Sniggering, Morgan waved the ticket at Willie. “Look at the prizes,” he smirked. “Number one is a ten week lawn mowing course supervised by Grandad Biggert.”

“You mean to say this is a fraudulent ticket?”

“Of course. Grandad Biggert makes them while we’re at school. Only an idiot would fall for it.”

His face reddening, Grandad Patches coughed loudly. “Well, I only spent two weeks cleaning his kitchen.”

Willie patted his friend on the back. “It’s a pretty decent mock up, though. Anyone might have done the same.”

“No it isn’t. He’s used tracing paper and crayons.”

Patience sighed then looked at Grandad Patches who squirmed a little uncomfortably in his seat. “Does Ma know about this, Grandad?”


“Your plan to attack council offices?”

“Attack? Dear me no, child, we’re not going to attack. Not by any measure. No, no, no. We’re going to march with placards, waving our bunches of wild flowers, singing protest songs. Then we’ll stage a sit in until Mr Goodfellow and his chums get their offices back.”

Looking at the three elderly men nodding vigorously around the table, I think Patience might have felt a little sympathy when Morgan sniggered. “All three of you? There will be some knocking of terrified council knees when they learn of your plans, Grandad.” He stressed the word ‘will’ to show he was being terribly sarcastic, too.

“Yes!” agreed Willie, “especially when we implement stage two. Ha-ha! They’ll have to take us seriously then, won’t they, Grandad Patches?”

“Shut up, Willie! Don’t mention stage two,” hissed Mr Goodfellow, “we agreed never to speak of it.”

“Stage two?” Patience’s voice was like a judge’s gavel. Even Morgan’s grin lost some sparkle. As Grandad made to clear away some of the finished plates, her voice cracked like a whip, “Grandad. Stay where you are. What is stage two?”

“Po, pom, tiddly, po,” spluttered Grandad Patches, “nothing much, my dear, nothing whatsoever to concern you…we thought we might erect a gigantic tent to accommodate our poor, downtrodden and displaced workforce on the grass outside the council building, just until they return our offices. What’s the problem with that?”

I’m afraid to report that Morgan had started to howl with laughter at Grandad’s words and was pointing a shaking finger at the three men who were visibly starting to deflate. “Gigantic tent?” he shrieked, “where do you hope to get one of those?”

“I’ll phone my friend, Robert Brothers. He has one to put his circus in. It’s the off-season for circuses. Probably.”

But Patience had heard enough. “Stop laughing, Morgan; get in the kitchen and sort the dishes. Faith, do your homework and you three…” she pointed, with her finger, “sit over there so I can I talk some sense into you. Gigantic tent indeed.”

“You have a nagging tongue like your mother. We will do no such thing.” Grandad Patches blustered, without much confidence. “To think that I nursed two such vipers to my bosom. Why, during the sixties, when I worked at ‘MacFisheries Nurseries’ as a ward supervisor, I was often pressed into service to nurture halibut…”

Willie Wheels coughed, “I say, Patches. Shall we make a dash for it? If we all pile onto my wagon, I can use the ‘turbo-power’ button to get us safely away until she’s simmered down.”

Po, po, po, turbo power button, eh? Does it work?”

“I can’t be sure. The man who sold the wagon to me said it was only to be pressed in emergencies.”

“Oh, him again. Let’s not gamble, Willie Wheels. I say, what’s that frightful noise?”

A terrible, amplified howl was booming in through the front windows. It really was quite fearsome, I promise you, loud but at the same time quite spooky. Temporarily abandoning any thoughts of talking sternly to Grandad Patches, Patience ran to the front door, closely followed by Mr Goodfellow and Grandad himself. What they saw there quite made them start with shock.

“Patches! You feeble, has-been, mung bean muncher! Patches, I say! Yes, you there!”

Poking above the tall, green hedge between numbers 36 and 34 was a periscope and a large, tin loudhailer. Both were wobbling rather unsteadily as though whoever owned them was having difficulty juggling both at the same time, but persevering nevertheless. “Patches. I know you can hear me. You have won the lottery. It’s you,” the voice continued, “send the lucky winner round here this instance.”

“No!” retorted Grandad Patches, “we’re not falling for your villainous chicanery ever again. Cut your own grass.”

“Cut my own grass? Send someone over or I’ll be round to slap you with my newspaper.”

“No. I will not spend even one more minute cultivating your malignant idleness. Why, back in the sixties…”

“Shut up, Patches! Idle? How dare you? I’ve been out all day doing charity work, raising money for the homeless. Now send the small one round or it will be the worse for you, believe me.”

Willie Wheel’s face poked nervously from behind the front door. “Grandad Patches,” he called in a reedy voice, “I could hurl the mung bean stew pot over the hedge. That’d take the wind out his sails.”

The loudhailer swivelled unerringly towards the direction of Willie’s voice. “Yes!” it boomed, “throw the stew over the hedge. I’m hungry.”

But before any such thing could occur – fortunately, you might think - Patience intervened. “You say you want to help office workers? Well, Grandad Biggert has just given me an excellent idea.”

“I have?” boomed the loudhailer, “darn and blast!”

“You have,” repeated Patience, firmly. “No more of this marching nonsense – the three of you can organise a charity event. Now what could possibly go wrong with that?”


On the far side of Purridgeton, on those occasional days when the sun agrees to shine kindly, the sapphire skies above the river look rather lovely. You’ll know that it gently twists and tangles its way around the edges of some splendid green wooded parkland and, in those far away better off days, the council had decided that this land should be given over for families to have picnics, play football and fly kites. Thoughtfully they had provided benches, a few huts, some toilets for those caught short and a rather grand bandstand – which was seldom used these days. On a Saturday afternoon such as this, families would take the air, walk dogs and generally relax after their stressful week.

Not today, however. Today three elderly figures owned the bandstand.

The first was busy with a microphone linked by old fashioned wiring to a ring of loudspeakers that had been pressed into service.

The second was sitting in his electric wagon, before a trestle table which had a huge pile of magazines on it.

The third was proudly strutting amongst a selection of plastic cleaning implements. Even now he was extending and folding a cheaply made dustpan and brush combination set.

And I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you just who these three men were, do you? You’ll have deduced by now.

And in front of them? Sitting on a large and possibly magical tarpaulin (well, that’s what was written on it) were quite a few elderly gentlemen, some children and one or two bored looking mothers. On the outskirts of the cloth, a few other interested parties were sauntering nonchalantly.

“Bums on seats! Bums on seats!” Grandad Patches was shouting, as we join him towards the climax of his charity show. Well honestly, you didn’t miss much, I promise. Highlights included Mrs Gruppler attempting some plate spinning, Mrs Dander’s dog in a pork chop eating race, the Leroy Williams Beatbox Combo performing Beethoven’s Fifth for paper and comb…and all in the name of charity to a smattering of polite applause and some heckling from Grandad Biggert, who’d decided to turn up for his own reasons.

And I don’t think we should examine those too closely, should we?

“There aren’t any seats, you foul smelling broccoli boiler!” he was screaming, from somewhere at the back.

Grandad Patches scowled from his platform. “We know who you are!”

“Don’t sink to his level, ignore him,” muttered Willie Wheels, “he’s just jealous he didn’t come up with the plan.”

“No, I’m not,” shouted Grandad Biggert, “if I’d wanted too, I could have hosted a much bigger event than this. Pah. Call this a charity gala? I raised more money than you standing on street corners, anyway.”

Wisely heeding Willie’s advice, Grandad Patches puffed out his chest like a mighty bullfrog ready to make what he hoped would be a climactic croak. “Bums on seats!” Placing his hand over the microphone, he turned conspiratorially to his two comrades. “Po, po, po. This will raise enough money for the cause.”

Willie Wheels prodded Grandad Patches with the half-a-barber’s-pole from where he was seated and smirked in a way that was not entirely pleasant. “Yes, Grandad Patches. I’d say you’ve outfoxed them all this time - like a fox strips a hen house of hens.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Willie,” muttered Grandad Patches, turning back to those seated in front of him, preparing another puff of the chest.

“Excuse me,” interrupted Mr Goodfellow, “may I take the microphone? I have an important announcement to make to the multitude before we proceed.”

“It’s more like a minitude,” scoffed Morgan, who had reluctantly agreed to help carry heavier items and, unknown to Grandad Patches, been instructed to keep an eye on things by Patience. Still, he snatched the microphone anyway and passed it across.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen. I must draw your attention to these fine, high quality extendable dustpan and brush combination sets, retailing at a low, low, price and available from me to you directly after the final…event. Don’t be shy, buy and try. I’ll now pass you back to our host…a warm hand for your own, your very own…Grandad Patches!”

Grandad Patches glowered at both Morgan and Mr Goodfellow before snatching the microphone back. “Po, po, po…this is not a commercial venture, Mr Goodfellow.”

“All proceeds to the fund, dear boy, all proceeds to the fund.”

“Thank you, Mr Goodfellow,” boomed Grandad Patches, across the park, “we come now to the highlight of our afternoon. Magazine bingo! In order to play this exciting game, please proceed to Willie Wheel’s table and purchase your copy of ‘The Large Question’.

In next to no time, those previously seated on the tarpaulin were pushing forwards and squabbling amongst themselves around Willie Wheels’ trestle table. “That’s right,” he was gabbling, passing out magazines hand over fist and snatching notes, “five pounds only. Not only the chance of today’s star prize, you can keep the magazine to read later…all in a good cause…chock full of interesting articles and tasty titbits…don’t be shy, win and buy…” And when the purchasing throng became over feisty, he prodded them away with the barber’s pole.

“Give me that,” snapped Grandad Biggert, snatching the pole and swiping Willie around his head with a rolled up ‘Large Question’ which he’d grabbed in something of a suspicious flurry, “If there’s any prodding to be done, I’ll do it.”

“Give it back!”

“I most certainly will not.” Grandad Biggert was off and away, chuckling, with the pole, a magazine and a pen. And I didn’t like his conquering look either, did you?

As soon as the crowd had retired back to the tarpaulin, Grandad Patches looked serious. “Let’s begin!” he announced importantly, “the game is very simple. All you have to do is guess which of the interesting articles from ‘The Large Question’ I’m reading and shout out the page number.”

Placing the microphone down, Grandad Patches closed his eyes and flipped open his copy of the magazine. When he opened them he quickly read the headline at the top of the page and the page number. ‘Winter Warmer Library Visiting Hours’, he read, in his head, ‘page 43’. “Po, po, po,” he declared, “who’d like to guess?”

Immediately, the restless crowd started shouting in a terribly unruly manner.

“’My Friend Cocoa’, page 27!”

“’Timmy’s Week in a Bird Cage’, page 53!”

“’Down and Out in Norwich’, page 72!”

As Willie Wheels trundled amongst the gathered, shaking his head and Grandad Patches called out, “No…not correct…dear me, I’m afraid that’s quite wrong,” there was a triumphant holler from the very, very back.

“Page 43,” a familiar voice called, “some rubbish about keeping warm in libraries by mislaying your Thomas Hardy book.”

“That’s correct,” announced Grandad Patches, “we have a winner.”

“Give me the prize, then, you beetroot pickler.”

Grandad Patches stiffened and the hairs on the nape of his neck prickled.

“It’s Grandad Biggert,” Morgan remarked, unnecessarily, “If the crowd find out, they’ll suspect that you cheated, in order to share the winnings.”

“Where’s my prize? I want my fiver!” yelled Grandad Biggert, rushing the bandstand.

Horribly, whispers started to circulate – from one to the next, to the next…ugly words, nasty rumours. Willie Wheels zapped over to the bandstand, as quickly as his wagon would permit. “You’d better do something, Grandad Patches. They think there’s been some sort of…cheating.”

“Cheating? Po, po, po, how can anybody cheat?” Grandad Patches waved his arms above his head. “Ladies, gentlemen…please remain seated while we have a steward’s enquiry.”

But there was no time for that. Grandad Biggert was hobbling at high speed towards the trestle table, like a runaway wheelbarrow, using the barber’s pole to clear away any of the angry crowd who dared get in his way.

And, in any case, people were massing like threatening thunder clouds, and some of them were even tearing their magazines up and chucking handfuls of pages at Willie Wheels, Grandad and Mr Goodfellow. It was all a bit of a mess, I’m afraid.

Po, po, po, don’t do that, wait, steward’s enquiry underway…”

“Don’t worry, Grandad Patches,” squawked Willie, “I can use Mr Goodfellow’s extendable dustpan and brush combination sets to fend them off.”

“Ha, ha!” yelled Grandad Biggert, triumphantly snatching a fistful of coins from the table and swotting Grandad Patches with a magazine. He waved the pole as if it were some magic wand or other at the rumbling people in front of him, “I’ll have these, thank you very much. What’s more, I couldn’t care less if you get your offices back or not, you pallid poltroons. Take that!” And he took the nearest copy of ‘The Large Question’ he could find and tore it into smithereens.

“You cheated.”

“Prove it.” Grandad Biggert smirked from the bandstand as the hostile crowd continued tearing magazines and began chanting ominously, pointing accusingly at our three heroes.

“Wait, wait,” shouted Morgan, “I think I can!”

“Can what?” snorted Grandad Biggert, still enjoying his moment of victory.

“Prove you cheated, of course, you old duffer. These pages…” and Grandad Biggert’s smile began to slip, ever so slightly as he started to edge away from the bandstand, step by step…”these pages are glued together! Glued so they would open at page 43. Look everyone…” Morgan waved the magazine Grandad Patches had used for the bingo at the crowd.

There was a gasp of astonishment. Fingers were now pointing at Grandad Biggert.

“The villain must have switched copies when he snatched the pole.” said Willie Wheels, angrily.

“You cheating cheater,” cried Grandad Patches, “you… swindling swine. Give me those coins back!”

“Never!” Grandad Biggert grasped the barber’s pole firmly, as if he meant to vault over the gathered crowd, but did no such thing. Instead he darted to the nearest hut and slammed the door with a menacing chuckle. “Heh, heh, heh.”

Grandad Patches scratched his head. “Po, po, tiddly tum. Now why did he go in there? There’s no way out. Let’s go and have a look, shall we?”

Beckoning the crowd with his finger, Grandad Patches tiptoed over, until he was by the door. He tapped on it. “Come out, Grandad Biggert,” he called, “We know you’re in there.” But there was no answer. Pursing his lips, he turned to the people behind him. “Does anybody want to look?” he asked. Not that he was scared to open it himself, you understand, but even so.

Finally one of the mothers pushed forwards. “Oh, get out of the way,” she muttered, “honestly, you men. Grandad Biggert? I’m opening the door. Don’t you dare try anything.” She flexed her muscles and pushed it open. She looked inside and gasped. “He’s not in there.”

“Not in there? How can he not be there?”

But the mother only frowned then nodded in confusion. “He’s gone. The only person here is a gloomy looking, feeble war veteran.”

Sure enough, an elderly man, limping slightly and coughing from ill health, exited the hut. He was a sad and pathetic sight to see. A pork pie hat covered what remained of his greying hair. He wore dark glasses over an eye patch and a surgeon’s mask concealed his nose and mouth. He was supporting his frail body with a walking cane that might have resembled half a barber’s pole. “’Large Question’!” he was shouting, “’Large Question’!”

Willie Wheels gasped in surprise. “I don’t believe it. That’s him, Grandad Patches. The man that sold me my wagon and lied about the extendable mandible safety net.”

“Is it, indeed?” said Morgan, grinning. “Well, I think I can solve this mystery for you.” He strode over to the frail man.

“Back, back, young fellow,” croaked the veteran, “if you touch me you might catch my terrible diseases.”

But Morgan did no such thing. Instead, with a flourish, he seized the hat, glasses, mask and eye patch with one hand and whipped them off.

“Grandad Biggert!” All moved towards him as one and even Mrs Dander’s dog looked up from his pork chop, hairs bristling on the nape of his neck. But before anything unpleasant might have occurred, there was a stern clearing of the throat from behind Grandad Patches, Willie Wheels and Mr Goodfellow accompanied by a familiar tap, tap, tap.

“I’m glad you’ve arrived, Officer Muff,” rapped Grandad Biggert, seeing an opportunity and pointing with the barber’s pole. “Move this crowd of riff raff on and seize these criminals at once. I’ve been looking after them until you arrived. Citizen’s arrest. Villainous scum.”

“Indeed?” P.C. Muff was expertly sizing up the situation and she tapped her truncheon lightly with her fingertips. “What is this appalling mess? Which of you is responsible for tearing up all these magazines and littering the park?” She did not need to raise her voice, of course. “I suggest that you respectable citizens get off home now before I decide to make enquiries.”

Then she turned to the three gentlemen behind her. “Grandad Patches, I might have known. And you, Willie Wheels…why are you mixed up with this revolutionary nitwit?”

“Revolutionary nitwit?” spluttered Grandad Patches, “Po, po, po, back in the sixties, when I was the Beatles floor manager…”

“Shut up.”

“Quite right, Officer Muff,” gloated Grandad Biggert, “they’re up to no good as usual. First they organise a charity event to overthrow the council without a license, if you please. Then they accuse me of fixing their pathetic magazine bingo. Me. And they were just about to throw me to the crowd - have me savaged by Mrs Dander’s dog. Arrest them at once. I’ll press charges.”

“What have you to say for yourselves?”

All three looked a little shamefaced and Willie fiddled with the controls on his chair before blurting, “he told me my wagon had an extendable mandible safety net.”

“Yes. I nearly broke my back!”

“And I have to supply quality goods from coffee shops where they pretend gravy is an exotic drink.”

P.C. Muff looked like a primary school Headteacher about to cane three children – well, back when that was allowed – it isn’t nowadays, of course. “It’s all a bit pathetic, isn’t it?” she said, cuttingly.

The three of them nodded.

“I’ll tell you what. If you promise never to do this again and clear up all the mess by teatime, I’ll overlook your criminal activities…just this once.” She stressed her final three words very carefully indeed.

“Clear all this up? How the dash-dangly-doo are we supposed to do that?”

“Well, I’d say Mr Goodfellow has the perfect solution,” snapped P.C. Muff, pointing at the pile of unsold dustpan and brush combination sets, grimly.

“Right, you are, officer,” agreed Mr Goodfellow.

“Well, I’m not helping, anyway, none of this was my fault,” sniggered Grandad Biggert, turning to leave. “See, Patches? Look what I have here.” He tauntingly jingled the coins he’d snatched earlier, which were now in his pocket. “Enjoy your…ahem…brush with the law. Heh, heh, heh.”

“Just a minute, Grandad Biggert. What’s that in your hand?” P.C. Muff’s voice had a cold, spine tingling tone to it, and Grandad Biggert’s smile faded away like the sun in winter.

“My hand?”

“Yes. It looks very much like half a barber’s pole. For two days now, I’ve been investigating a serious act of vandalism on the high street. Several hundreds of pounds worth of damage. And that disguise you were wearing. It fits the description of a homeless war veteran that several people have complained to me about - someone who’s been pestering innocent shoppers by forcing them to purchase overpriced, out of date copies of ‘The Large Question’.

“That’s wasn’t me,” blustered Grandad Biggert, “I don’t even know where the high street is.”

“I’m sorry, Grandad Biggert, I’m afraid you’re going to have to help after all, if you’d like to come with me.” she replied.

And with that, she marched him all the way to the police station.

Oh, do you know what? Something that might surprise you all. I was told later that Willie Wheels was wrong, you know. Grandad Biggert did have a bag with ‘swag’ written on it. I’m not sure what it was for, though.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Sparring Partners

Sparring Partners

She says he smells gorgeous, so fresh,

breathes in his dark scented neck

in lungfuls, for she’s never tasted Arabic;

or wound it around her tongue,

feels fever-spangled shivers shoot

from eyes to thighs; oh, but she’s cute,

leans crammed chest cross-counter,

now presenting flashed red lace,

flush faced, plunge necked arousal,

hushabye pinked pledges,

deep clasped shadowed delights;

premiering a fuller showing,

a late all-nighter private screening,

flashlight, expert guide him through dusk

to her shared cushioned seat

some gluey hot and stifling night.

His greedy gaze strip searches, slowly:

open lips, moist, milky-white breasts,

lingering long over all the rest,

which he knows she knows all knowing,

spots his throbbing blood fast flowing,

some stiffening resistance, growing

conflicts against his tight zipped denim there.

Not quite avoiding the other’s stare,

or catching either, unwilling yet to part,

but it will come, yes, full throated.

Chancers they are, both practised in the art

of shallow swimming in small talk,

feelings gummed up, left unquoted.

Each further day something quickens more,

sends him reeling through slow opening door,

stroking, touch testing, petal-proving,

until certain she’s sure to open curtains:

quipping you wouldn’t like to see me naked;

his thickening shooken beast is half awaked.

Mocking with breaths so secret in blisses,

the air between them writhes in kisses

untasted, tangled tassel fingers

stroking soft rounded fertile belly,

teasing the hooks and eyes, tight elastic,

eager soon, to unclasp her fettered flesh

soaked in wet tangy sticky-fingered sweats,

his eyes uncup, rip through scanty cloth,

now each can smell the other’s urgent need

to swallow glorious salted caramel seed.

Soon looking won’t be enough,

patient wait for coming intermission

when both will kneel to taste sweet submission.