Saturday, 30 May 2020

Last Summer

Last Summer

Oh, hello and look it’s you:
you were that one. That man.
Blowing kisses last summer,
looking hungry at my curves
undressing with your sex eyes,
inches and plunges, sly looks,
tip of your tongue to say it,
mouth it. I could tell the way
you didn’t stare, looked away
unquickly, following wire traces,
the bitten straps under skimpy
dresses as I turned my back
on you, to serve you daily.
Checked with expert skill,
peeled me slowly, silver birch,
all quivery as I was stripped
of bark, with my dirty looks,
taking your silky cigarettes,
sucking sticky satin smoke
through damp-white teeth,
leaning forward for just you.
Fold my arms here, beneath,
pushing them just very upwards
slightly, yes quite far enough,
peek at dark valley between
unspoken vows of much more.
Open lips. Pale pink blusher,
unshaven twists of gusset wisps,
had I any secret treats, thrills
to fill those long wet nights,
slip anything open mouthed,
thick and hot upon my tongue
to tickle watering taste buds,
sipped it, felt squeezing hands
tease open clasps, unzip, grip
tight legs within dripping thighs
bend over, scream quiet cries?
I have a partner now, creative
in work, making small figurines
from pure plastic. He cools
hot liquid, fills tiny moulds.
It sets, hardens into folds.
He’s such a catch, I’m hooked.
Bagged up in his fishing nets,
last summer went like cigarettes.

Friday, 22 May 2020



Today I will take your bitten hand and, I think,

probe grey eyes, once flavoured ocean blue,

saccharine scented with lost love’s cloves,

hold your oven-gloved fingers, lying loosely,

limp in my palm, huddled black upon a stage

set with a vile biting day of cast-iron hearts.

Today was always your intention, mine too,

planned for, rehearsed over so many years,

learned lines under spreading chestnut tree

where I drink the gin that you sold me.

That scar you hide crosses your forehead,

prays on your temple, it speaks lost litanies

through silent lips pressed into tight lines,

so white and thin, all red is now banished.

Today a little thicker about the hips, the few

small words you speak betray the words

you lack; clichés like you never can go back,

look forwards, live only for this moment,

forget we read books of dangerous things

together, for it clips your wings, fly free.

Hollow chestnut trees make hollow libraries,

and I see this stencilled scar lives on you.

We could even do that, if we wanted too,

right here and now. You stopped looking

so long ago, stripped yourself of every idea

we dressed ourselves in, every vested vow

like Angel dust vanished into drifting mist

with every ragged line you had ever kissed.

Never was there such a perfect conversion

from this to this. Rebel from the waist down.

Mutter that sometimes once I loved you,

saw we didn’t belong; all that making love

uses energy and sustaining love uses more.

Better by far we march up and down

with whistles, bang gongs, right wrongs,

cheer, wave white flags; they hate all that,

so resettle your spectacles upon your nose.

Today threatens terror so great, you swear

do it to him, someone else. Deny real woman

in a real woman’s frock, stockings, high heels

plunging red bra, valley tight on the bust.

But your scar will speak what it knows:

I will take your bitten hand, limp in mine,

for we could even do that, if we still wished,

recast old spells, smelted in gold this time,

wake memories, what we did was no crime.

Still years to sail against the wind, run swift,

heal imprinted scars with old lovers’ gifts.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Another Examination Day

Another Examination Day

By my head here come the Capulets, by my heel I care not: “Blah, blah, blah, bleurgh, blah.” And then, he goes underneath some water and puts knickers on his head.

Mercutio. He’s in a stone bath. Why? Who knows. It exists as a fantasy in some director’s head, long dead, I imagine. I could look it up. Won’t, though, because maybe the virus took him.

I’m old. I think it’s not unlikely I have dementia. Not unlikely, not uncommon, not unbecoming. What syntactical construction IS this? I kept reading these in a short story last night. Fussy. Frilly knicker-lace wet panty words, old fashioned and carved in melty bath soap.

My laptop is also old. Four years ago, it wasn’t, but the bleeder keeps freezing now if I use Word. Like, I think - and this is just me - but I think that the programme is fused to the internet, like unto those tangles of rotting, sea choking plastic micro-fibres and not unlike the ones that keep your bowels open, either.

Tangled like the snakes that writhe on Medusa’s head, tangled up in blue, tangled more than ever Harmony Hair Spray – she is, you know – could ever hope to untangle, no matter how hard you spray, how hard you comb, however many strokes you administer with that wooden paddled hairbrush.

Tangled into cables.

Tangled leeches twisting on virtual skin, vile engines that suck blood from your written page into ethernets. Oh, it’s not by chance they named it the ethernet, you know.

And the upshot is, it freezes, it freezes good and I become transfixed.

Click on this, click on that, click on the other and a circle circles endlessly, gyres around and around, never ending, never beginning, until the end becomes where everything starts all over again, and…well, you get the point. And here’s me, grinding what are left of my teeth in rage and frustration.

And you know, you just know…and they know it and couldn’t give a toss that you know it: infecting us with their saucy spyware. It’s getting so that you can’t even be a naughty girl and pull your knickers down, lie back and spread without some bureaucrat somewhere adding what’s left of your life to their spreadsheets. All of humanity pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed and numbered.

I should ditch the laptop. I should take a mallet to it. I should smash it five parsecs into this side of oblivion.

Five parsecs? Where did that come from? That’s right, out of the 70s, somewhere between EE ‘Doc’ Smith and Asimov and All X. That’s like calling Earth ‘Sol 3’ when it should more properly be called doomed.

And is it actually the laptop’s fault?

It was born four years ago. A pensioner. Send it to a care home for laptops with dementia. This might be a not unsympathetic thing to do. Maybe it also has the virus. Perhaps it should be wheelchaired, tartaned rugged and made to play real life ‘hungry hippos’, pushed to and fro by manic eyed care-home nurses who scream “charge, you warrior, charge” while urging it, all the while, to strike out with a giant laundry basket attached to a pole;  attacking multi coloured, plastic balls.

Why care homes? Well, because when the laptop finally stopped it’s spinning activities, dizzy from all its exertions, it untangled itself and spewed up the following, sobering data: the R rate in care homes is above 1 again.

And therefore, it must now be obvious to you that we’re under resurgency measures and lockdown. Everybody out, again.

In my day, the unions called strikes: “Everybody Out!”. Well, they did it in ‘Carry on at Your Convenience’, anyway, so there’s no reason to assume it’s not true.

“Everybody out!”


“Another virus.”


“Exactly, More virtual teaching. Power up the Xoom rooms.” Now, let me tell you, it’s not the virtual teaching, it’s the virtual beatings she don’t need, because it’s very cool for cats.

You know ‘R’? Over here in the desert, we don’t pay too much attention to it. The roads are still choked but they do slap down stickers on the floor in shops where you’re supposed to stand, queuing like counters in a game of snakes and ladders waiting for an omnipotent hand to throw the dice. We wear masks. Bleat about herd immunity.

But actually, life continues much as normal. The roads are choked, the streets packed, the Filipinos sit outside shops on the ceramic steps smoking fags, chatting and waving cheerily as you pass.

They close all schools, of course.

Over there in the True-Blue part of the world, they muffed it up, didn’t they? Initially treating it as a joke, the virus was the only one laughing by the time it was over. Except it never was over. Like a malignant tide, it comes regularly, in waves. And when ‘R’ goes above 1, it’s everybody out. Locked in while the idiots chant mantras: stay home, save the NHS, save lives.

They come on the telly every night to answer questions while the rest of the world points and laughs at the inept display witnessed. “Er…flatten the curve…yah…unprecedented…um…deeply grateful…ah…invisible killer…mmm…ramp it up…er, yes.”

I think the worst briefing I listened to over here was the one where the blonde idiot himself took the podium: “Now…ah…if we can say it is a mountain…then we’re in the tunnel under the peak…but, here’s the thing…we don’t want to drive into another, bigger, mountain.”

“Excuse me, Prime Minister?”


“Have we got our headlights on?”

“Indeed we have and we…ah…musn’t dazzle…yah…remember to double down and dip.”

In the meantime, Durex reports that sex is going down under lockdown. The bottom has fallen out.

They deserve a degree in cheating, that lot. Over there in the true-blue part of the world. Where they set the examinations.

But I’m over here, aren’t I? Had a good virus, the first time round, cheating death, despite my age, having got out a few years before all this kicked off. Saw the way things were going after that austerity programme. A good virus indeed - except for having to learn virtual teaching, with a shitty tangled up laptop as my only companion.

The ‘R’ rate is over 1 in care homes, so that’s a knock on for the rest of the world doing their English examinations, as you’ll realise. And, here’s me, once more, alone in my office.

Everybody out on examination day. Everybody out except Mercutio in his stone bath. He’s better off in there with his wet panties on his head in case Tybalt gives him what for with a sharp fiddlestick that’ll make him dance the punto reverso.

Did you ever read that story I used to teach?

‘Examination Day’. In it, some 12 year old kid called Dickie…stop sniggering at the back, Year 10, I know who it is. What’s funny about the name ‘Dickie’?

Anyway, this kid, Dickie had a father who rustled his government sheets, ate his government sprouts, thought the sun was 5000 miles away and didn’t know why the grass was green. Or did he know? There’s the rub. They took him away and killed him.

Dickie, not the father. Too good for him, I say.

But it goes to show that you never know your grade until the paper’s marked, doesn’t it?

Never mind about that now, I’m booting up the laptop and it’s taking ages with that circle thing going round and round like joggers in the park; they love a bit of it and I’m thinking – when I started there was blackboard and chalk, then a flirtation with overhead projectors and photocopying flimsies until finally PowerPoint slouched into view, it’s hour come round and round at last.

I miss blackboards.

I particularly liked those massive jobs that were on rollers and you could pull them down with a satisfying juddering noise, revealing that some cunning boy had slipped in and drawn a giant penis all over your pre-prepared notes. Excellent. We laughed a lot in those days, had a crafty fag in the Head of English’s office at break, and on a Friday lunchtime went down the pub for a couple of pints and a pie, snoozing the afternoon away until 4pm.

It was gradually banned and replaced by virtue signalling and quotas.

And no chance of that here. Well, you know, they don’t even have pubs.

I’m old. I too circumlocute, with this hunch that while students’ lives get easier, our jobs become more difficult and here’s me, a glorified administrator who sometimes teaches the classics when Word is playing fair, missing his typewriter but now…now the laptop finally acquiesces and on the desktop I click on the coloured symbol that will launch Xoom. Everybody out and it’s examination day. On Xoom. Switch on those cameras, lads.

There’s a waiting room to trap the unwary. I toggled it to ‘mute all conversations’ and ‘no one may use chat room’ and silently the boys arrive. 25 of them, bless their tiny beards. Names pop like bubbles, one, then the next and next, until the trickle becomes a foamy flood. While it does, I check my examination paper with a silent swarthy chuckle. An inward ‘Heh, heh, heh.’ Oh, my dear Doctor, you have been naïve.

Ah yes, Mercutio. Obviously one of the most difficult, benighted characters in the whole canon with his impenetrable, ‘ah, I see that Queen Mab has been with you’, ‘prick love for pricking’ and the beauty of it? I deliberately told then they’d be writing about Malvolio. Ha, ha, hah.

“Malvolio? No, no, my dear Ahmad, you have it wrong, you must have misheard. It was always Mercutio, my dear. Yellow stockings, indeed. As if we could even consider writing about such ladyboy wolves in sheep’s clothing. Now, can I help it if you were not listening? What do you mean, my boy, when you say we haven’t even studied Mercutio? It was there in the fine print. On a poster, attached to the toilet door underneath a sign saying ‘beware of the leopard’.

My moment of silent inner triumph was torn asunder with a loud noise from the direction of my speakers and I swear I could almost smell it, too. Rebellious flatulence, the unmistakeable sound of breaking wind. Now I may be an old fart, but I know the difference between comedy and feedback.

“Right,” I said, “who was responsible for that ill-mannered and unseemly start to this Cambridge examination series?”

In return, I heard nothing but silence. A silence born of guilt, because the culprit would be fingered and exposed in front of his peers for being the purveyor of fetid, meaty air. At least he was the only one to suffer, silent in his bedroom, while his air conditioning blew it round and round in a series of diminishing returns.

Tear down the wall.

“Who done that fart?” I shouted, enraged that no one had the guts to own up that they had dropped their guts.

Still no answer.

“If you do not confess to your culpability, boy…” (Good word. Very good word.) …”I will do unto you what…” My voice tailed off.

Actually, there isn’t much you CAN do, is there? I mean, why don’t they wire up these Xoom-rooms to administer very short, sharp electric shocks or something? It never did me much harm when Mr Donald, Head of Physics used the Van Der Graaff Generator on me, did it?

Well, not true, to be fair, as I’ve still got the scar from where he smacked my head into its metal sphere. But, even so, how we chuckled afterwards.

“Come now, boys, this is your very last chance.” I spluttered, hopelessly.

In front of me, a tableaux of matchbox sized pictures gurned at me in mute pantomime. Of course. I’d switched their speakers off. Still, that begged the question…didn’t it? Can you see it, yet?

I shrugged. My watery eyes struggled to focus on the 25 rectangular miniature portraits in front of me; this would be a devil of a job. It would be not unproblematic.

I smiled at the boys, remembering Mr Donald. He had been against cheating too, and I had been a frequent recipient of his three thong leather tawse; beloved of all Scottish educationalists. Oh how our hands smarted.

Hah. But not as smart as me today, though. Smarter than the average bear, me.

“Welcome to your examination…” I droned, having read the script a dozen times, but still failing to have it lodge in my memory like beavers do. “no search engines, no reference books, no hand signals, no talking, obey the rules, obey the daleks, obey without question, obey…”

I looked up from my tatty sheet of tedium and glared at the screen. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that somebody, probably Hussein, had a yellow post-it note and had drawn a cock on it. He was surreptitiously holding it up to his camera – but he didn’t outwit me, no sir. “Boy!” I yelled, like Mr McKinnon, my long dead Latin teacher, “step away from that post-it and let it drop from your hands.”

His mouth twisted in mute supplication, but it was no use. “You’re removed from this examination” I said, firmly. I clicked on his matchbox and he was gone in a quick flicker. One down, 24 to go. Better luck, next time, kiddo.

One of those yellow hands raised in the minute corner of an equally minute screen. I scrunched up my eyes and tried to source the name. Faisal. Well, possibly. Difficult to be sure. I clicked on unmute. “Yes?”

“I wish to raise an objection.”

“Now, see here, Faisal…”

“It’s Fahad, sir.”

I grunted in irritation and reached for a well-haramed mug of coffee beside me, on my imitation wood IKEA desk which had not taken hours to assemble from a flatpack due to my asking the delivery man to do it and bunging him a few riyals. “Well? What is it, boy? I warn you, that Hussein had it coming. He’s an expert at rude daubings. Well this time he was bang to rights. His feet didn’t touch.”

“No, no, sir. I just wanted to ask if the examination had started.”

“Why do you want to know that?” I enquired, cunningly, “are you looking it up on Google?”

“No, sir, I just wanted to know if…”

“Wanted to know, eh? Asking the examiner leading questions like that is breaking every rubric in the book, lad.”

“Sir, I protest, sir, I only wanted to know if I was…”

“Removed.” I snorted. 23 to go. Child’s play, this, Heh, heh, heh. And so did you, Casper, crawled out from under a stone, lad and I’m looking forward to an early finish today, drive home across the city and an extra hour on my couch, flicking through my Penguin Book of the Short Story, sipping some rum, if this is the best they can muster. But first, a stern announcement, thus:

“Now, then boys, I will read your question and then I want to see nothing but hard work and application. I will see that, won’t I?” I glared at the flickering squares in front of me on the monitor and was pleased to see 22 nod back at me.

22? Wait, wait. What’s wrong with this bingo card, eh?

Card. Yes…that could be it. Damn me, if that isn’t Abdulrahman himself. Doctor’s son or not you have to get up early to catch this kitty out, my friend. Oh, I’m going to eat you little fishy, I’m going to eat you little fishy…

“Fish!” I yelled, in triumph. Then, when no trout a la crème was dispensed, realised my mistake. “Abdulrahman! You boy. Come in, Abdulrahman!” There was no movement and we all know very well why don’t we? He’d posted a lifelike portrait photograph in front of the camera. I didn’t bother to wait. 22 to go. And those matchboxes reconfigured themselves as if by magic to become ever so slightly bigger. The odds were stacking up in my favour.

I deleted another boy, out of spite, to even them still further on the pretext that if he wasn’t cheating now, he would be later due to the fact that he was dressed, unnecessarily, in full school uniform instead of a hoody like the rest.

“Now, boys, before I read your starter for ten,” I continued to the remaining 21, “lets remove all hoods for an ear inspection.” Hug a hoody, my arse.

I observed a silent groan of disappointment, couldn’t hear anything, naturally, but one or two guilty looks, for sure. Reluctantly the hoods came down and revealed unkempt hair – all barbers are closed – scruffy beards and, not unspeedily, two blue-tooth headsets. 19.

Again, the celebrity squares did a little dance and expanded still further. “Turn your ears to face the camera,” I droned, glad they didn’t have cups of white liquid that only tasted vaguely of the promised peppermint and watched as each boy did a left-and-a-right. It was repellent. Well, you know boys’ ears. They are not unwashed.  

I signalled a reluctant ‘all clear’ for most of them, which was a lie of sorts, given the vision that assaulted my weeping eye, but two were particularly repugnant.

Wishing I had some sort of magnifying glass or deerstalker, I sighed theatrically, that I might be heard across the ether. “Numbers 7 and 16, place your ears nearer to your camera, if you please.” Both blinked but, other than that, remained static. “Mohammed Faisal and Asser, kindly orientate and proximate your aural orifices towards the lens in such a way as to favour my vision.” I snapped, like that voice from the telescreen in 1984, “Now!”

This loud imperative, barked into my microphone caused both to jump out of their skin and soon I was examining (hah), in extreme close up, two extremely waxy holes. Incredibly waxy. One looked as though someone had tipped mud in it, whilst the other looked as though Bruce Forsyth himself had scooped a dollop of Stork SB from its container and pasted it in there himself. Are you a Stork SB supermum?

Well, they weren’t putting nothing over on me. I gave commands then all smiles stopped together and watched, repulsed as each boy dug around in their respective honey pots. Sure enough, all was revealed and two microscopic earpieces found their way from within to without. “And flush those down the lavatory, boys.” I was talking about the space between us all and the dripping viscous liquid that dribbled from digits onto keyboards. 17.

“What were you thinking, boys?” I asked, outraged. “Just what on earth has got into you? These amateur attempts at cheating do us no credit at all. None whatsoever. There had better be no more of it. Look…” I continued, in a tone of imperious reason, “…these are English examinations. British Empire. Cornerstones of democracy and civilisation. Now, consider your ways and others. Set by those great institutions of Oxford and Cambridge, then how do you even hope to enter sacred halls of such establishments with this pitiful and contemptuous behaviour? Why, possibly places like Loughborough or Norwich might very well turn their noses up at you. Even Wolverhampton might think twice. No more of this.”

Heads nodded in shame. Eyes were meekly downcast.

I cleared my throat. “Now, hear this. Here is your question, your starter for ten. Scribble it down and on my mark you may begin.”

I read from the typed sheets in front of me. ‘The way Mercutio responds to the line ‘why then is my pump well flowered’ reveals a duality to his character previously only hinted at to a contemporaneous audience. Write at length on this topic and indicate whether you agree or disagree with this contention.’

More silent groans from the 17 remaining portraits on screen. A raised hand.

“Yes, Timothy?”

He held a cue card to his camera with some inky scrawl on it that read ‘who is Mehqueuesheowe’. The question mark was missing of course, the blithering idiot. I could see other faces tittering quietly to themselves. I don’t know why, though, given it was probable they had no clue either. Unfortunately, he had given me no grounds for deletion.


I unmuted him with a kiss me quick click.

“Timothy. I do not understand the text you have held in front of me.”

“It says Mercutio.”

“Is that how you spell Mercutio, Timothy?”

“Not sure, sir.”

“Check in your beginner’s guide to Shakespearean characters, boy.” Hesitantly, Timothy reached off screen, presumably to a desk beside him. Some movement followed and then a book was brought within view and pages were thumbed. 16 other boys either shook their heads, face palmed or snorted silently. Schoolboy error.

“You are not allowed any sort of reference text in this examination,” I snapped and with a swift deletion he was gone. 16. We were at four by four now. The squares increased in size again, clarity improved further and more of the background action coalesced into a pleasing blend, a triumph of Gareth Hunt fisted bean-maraca proportions, I promise you.

There was less and less room to hide in now, and almost immediately I was onto more infringements under candlewicks green.

“Talal!” I growled. “Yes, you boy!”

More exaggerated silent mouth stretching. I practised my lip-reading skills.

“What is that under your bed?”

To his credit, Talal attempted some sort of sign language. It might have been in Arabic, but nevertheless an attempt was made. It reminded me of semaphore without flags. Or semaphore. “Under my bed, sir?”

“Yes, under your bed.” Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, this one. “Those wheels. I can see them clearly.”

He might have windmilled ‘my skateboard, sir’ but I was having none of it anyway. “Well, in that case, bring your skateboard to the camera so that I can check there are no revision notes taped to its underside, boy.”

Reluctantly, Talal rose from his seat with a swivel, padded over and knelt down. With a huge wrench of the wrist he tugged mightily and slowly, and a running board glided from beneath the bed with a smooth motion. I nodded smugly. For, on top of the running board, akin to a mechanic sliding out from beneath the chassis of a motor vehicle, was a bearded gentleman in overalls, possibly 40 to 50 years old, fully kitted out with a junior spymaster audio-visual kit, headphones and a boom microphone.

“Is that your dad?” I asked.

Talal nodded. As I deleted him from the examination, I had the satisfaction of seeing both slink out of the bedroom, sheepishly. I leaned forward into my microphone. “Any more dads out there? Mothers? Aunts? The Man from Uncle?”

At first, there was no discernible movement but within seconds, perhaps in the background of half a dozen rectangles, (now of respectable drink coaster size of course), cupboard doors opened, quilt covers were thrown back and adults shuffled shamefaced towards doors, the most contemptible of which was an elderly Grandfather who had tossed a lime green sheet over his head, stood in a laundry basket and tried to pass himself off as a pot plant.


I caught his eyes as he beat a retreat and slowly shook my head as he scuttled for the exit.

There were 9 left, and Xoom reconfigured the rectangles into glorious technicoloured clarity. Nothing could escape even my ancient eyes now and I sat back in my leather imitation chair and took a measured sip from my mug. “You may begin.”

Outside my office window, the sun had passed its midday apogee and was beginning its slow descent towards the desert sands. I looked into the nine windows in front of me, windows that opened across the city and rested my chin on my palm, sucking the pen I had on standby. I could see that, similarly, sun-cast shadows were playing across the faces of my frowning students as their pens scribbled busily. Amusingly, Zaki’s resembled a giant four-legged spider with it’s twitching legs forming a sort of cage about him and it’s shadowy thorax looking much like a bulbous microphone.

I chortled silently, as you do, struck by the metaphor of the moment.

Then my silent chuckling stopped.

Almost imperceptibly, the spider shadows seem to have moved upwards and contracted in size. Surely, my imagination? But no. Now I could see their size was increasing again, very slightly. And two pinprick drips of moisture fell distinctly from above and hit Zaki’s keyboard, almost in freeze frame.

This was quickly followed by a black, bulbous microphone smacking Zaki sharply on the bonce. “OO – YAH,” he mouthed silently, glaring above with irritation, “Watch what you doing with that, idiot!” Then, he looked in my direction in the vain hope I had missed it.

I hadn’t. Drawing my forefinger across my throat, I then pointed in an upwards direction. The camera adjusted, I could now see the macabre sight of a woman, in a full length black abaya that hung downwards like some grotesque tar waterfall.

Suspended from the ceiling by a web of winches, pulleys and kirby wires, she glowered, clutching a portable receiver , the lights of which pulsated like small, red eyes. With a quick flick of the wrist, she was drawn quickly upwards to the sanctuary of the bedroom corner where she attempted unsuccessfully to blend back into the shadows – like some oversized black widow. Your mission, should you choose to accept it.

As Zaki vanished from the screen, my telephone rang shrilly from where it sat on my desk beside the laptop. Strictly against the rubric, of course, but yes, lockdown and it’s examination day. Reception. I picked it up.

“Oh, hey, Mr Daniel,” sang the shrill voice at the other end, “your pizza has arrived.”

Glancing away from the screen, as you do, I snapped, “pizza? I didn’t order pizza. How can I order pizza? It’s examination day.”

“Shall I send it away, then?”

“What flavour is it?” I heard some low muttering in the background and shook my phone irritably. “Speak up, Dolly, I can’t hear a word you’re saying, can I?”

“Oh, hey, Mr Daniel, I’ve just had a slice and I can confirm it’s a turkey ham and pineapple with added garlic and chilli.”

“What? That’s my favourite ever flavour and you had a slice. How can you have a slice when that’s my favourite ever flavour?”

“Why sorry, Mr Daniel, we figured you didn’t want it. Shall I send the rest up to your office?”

“Make it so.”

Pizza, excellent. I swivelled in my chair, placed my hands behind my head and leant backwards contemplating my growling stomach. Seconds later and the delivery man, bemasked, was tapping on the door with a steaming box that I could see had been tampered with, but still, nevertheless…I snatched it from him and looked at the debris within. At least three useable triangles left. Yum, yum. Triangles.

Geometric shapes coursed through my synapses, triangles, squares, rectangles, blue circles that circled endlessly as I munched surreptitiously, just out of the camera’s eyeline. Triangular honey, from triangular trees.

Occasionally glancing at the 8 boys on the glowing screen, all seemed well as I ran my finger around the edges of the cardboard innards, to scoop the last vestiges of garlic butter.

Salman was smirking. Possibly he had noticed. I cared less. Let them sweat it. I’d passed my examinations years ago. Another sip from my coffee and I was just Jim Dandy. Strange expression that; I wondered where it had come from.

Look at them, my final 8, my final boys, doing the best they could under these terrible circumstances and playing a straight bat, not like those other reprobates. You congratulate yourself on a job well done at times like these, don’t you? Another sip and I was beginning to feel drowsy – a warm feeling spreading through my veins.

Salman was still smirking.

No doubt pleased with the piece he was composing. I had often felt it in my youth, a sense of pleasure when grappling with drawing threads together and composing a whole from the scraps that floated the mind. When a piece was taking shape, you know? Flowing from mind to paper via pen, structuring itself from plans long drawn and…

The bloody laptop went down.

With an apologetic ‘pop’, the screen blacked out. Shit.

What should I do? I riffled through the five stages of grief simultaneously.

How could this happen? How could this happen to me on today of all days? Why pick now, you, oh why, oh woman, oh why…it’s just a glitch, a error of judgement, nothing that can’t be quick fixed, if we work at it, if you return to me, I’ll make it up, I’ll celebrate you, I’ll delete earlier paragraphs, oh, I’d do anything for you, sweet, sweet lappy…this is the end, the absolute end and now I have let the abyss gaze into me once to often…I always knew somehow, somehow it would end this way…time to pack it in, pack it up…move on.

I settled on anger. “You fucking bastard!”

I ripped the wretched oblong of plastic from the wall socket and began kicking it round my office in rage. “I’ll boot you up, you fucking swine,” I screamed, eyes popping from my head and hot flushes raging across my body like the virus, “I’ll smack you from this side of silicon valley to the next, you see if I don’t”

Miraculously, this did the trick and the machinery within fizzed like a bottle of Cresta. “Welcome Mr Daniel.”

Counting my blessings, I smacked it back on the desk and then the phone rang again. Reception.

“Oh, hey, Mr Daniel!”

“Yes?” I snarled, still breathless and angry at the same time as the circle circled endlessly and the minutes ticked down.

“We have a passing troupe of theatrical strollers in the lobby, one of whom claims to be a Mr Mercutio.”

“Mercutio? What does he want?

“He says he’d like to flower your pump.”

“Would he indeed. Tell him it’s already well flowered, thank you.”

You’d like to slam it down, put that’s impossible these days, so I stabbed its perspex face as hard as it could take with my stabbing finger, then went back to shaking the beat up laptop, willing it to give me my desktop back. At least five minutes had gone, possibly ten and it’s examination day, isn’t it?

Would they have noticed, would they have realised?

Like a teasing mistress the desktop revealed itself slowly, flirted a while, then withdrew.




On cue, more ringing from the phone. “Yes, what is it this time?” I bellowed, snatching it from the desk.

“Malvolio says there will be no more cakes and ale.”

“Does he.”

“Keeps flashing yellow stockings at me, rubbing his codpiece in a randy manner, grinning in an oily way and moaning ho, ho, ho.”

“Who does he think he is, Father Christmas? Tell him to piss off, the pervert.” As I tossed the phone up in a graceful arc, caught it with my toecap and kicked it across the bleaches, I wondered who else might have turned up. Mark Antony with some bleeding earth? Shylock in a spit drenched gaberdine? Or Cassio, pissed, and wanting to start a fight?

At last, the laptop righted its wrongs and I rejoined the Xoom meeting, literally seconds out from the end. I slicked my grey locks, took a deep breath and ghosted back into the machinery. All seemed well, 6 students still hard at it, scribbling as though their very lives depended on meeting the deadline.

Wait. Wait. There had been 8. I was sure of it. Hadn’t there been 8 the last time we looked?

“Boys. Which of you have left the meeting?” What a stupid question.

However, as my heart started to readjust to normal, and calming waters flowed through me, the answer was obvious. Salman and Hamdan had finished and submitted to the exam board in Cambridge. Not breaking the rules, Brigadier, but bending them slightly.

I looked at my illicit, siphoned off copy of Salman’s script to see how he had fared, reading a little of the copy which ran thus: ‘Mercutio embodies a dualism in that he simultaneously encapsulates, within his single character, a state of the cosmic and the earth; an alchemical overview of the course of predestined events that must unfold almost from the outset.”

I shook my head. The beast.

The clock beat its last beat and so I cleared my throat. “Time is up, gentlemen. Please put your pens down and upload to Cambridge using my prepared link.” As ever, one or two still wrote furiously.

So I reiterated: “This is the end of your Cambridge Examination 054C Advanced Level Cheating. Please put your pens down and submit.”

Now as they complied, I relaxed. I allowed myself a warm smile and spoke to my last six rectangles. “Well done lads for making it through. England will be proud. And be on time for your GCSE Lying tomorrow.”

Adeela was waiting, of course, there would be an official enquiry into the laptop shutting down and questions about whether the examination had been in any way compromised.

Here comes the chopper, to chop off your head, eh?

I sighed, and strode downstairs to her office, walking through the lobby where a crowd of Shakespearean characters were still jostling Dolly at her desk.

When they saw me, they gave a rousing cheer: “Huzzah!”

Bloody hell. Was that Derek Jacobi?

No, surely not.

But then again, as I said before, you never really know your grade until the examination’s marked, do you?