Tuesday 29 April 2008

Walter Mitty is Alive and Well

Our delightful grandchild Tommy is picked up by dad after a day's childminding at grandma's. "I've been in the pond" he announces triumphantly to a bemused father. Ponds and four year olds don't exactly go together. A fact of which grandma is well aware, the story is a porky of the first order. "I fell downstairs, from top to bottom" was last weeks pronouncement, again a happening only in his obviously fertile imagination.
Many years ago as a full time youth leader I had the acquaintence of Dennis, a non too bright eighteen year club member. One day he regaled me in great detail regarding an accident in which he had been involved. Riding his motorcycle he had collided with a car, a Ford Consul. The driver evidently a large distinct ginger haired individual wearing a red jacket, brogues and corduroy trousers was cooperative enough and had given him a phone number to contact in order to make arrangements to mend the damage to the motor cycle. Only the phone number was non existent. I was very concerned, for Dennis could ill afford to pay for other people's damage.
I didn't see Dennis for a while until he wandered into the club a fortnight or so later. "Hello, Dennis, and how are you?" I offered. "How did you go on concerning the accident?" Dennis looked even blanker than usual. "What accident?" he replied. "Can I book the snooker table?"
As far as I can ascertain, children tell fibs and most adults either at best deal in falsehoods or simply misrepresent the truth. And dare I say it, some including the worst politicians simply lie. An inbuilt genetic trait we all possess or is it learnt behaviour than makes life more interesting. Take your pick. I wrote the following short story to pay homage to all the con artists, romancers and down right liars I have met over the years. Incredibly I am still as gullible as ever to their stories. Some of us never learn.

“Tell a lie and find the truth.”
Spanish Proverb

The old men sat around the table, pints in hand, seemingly deep in thought. The landlord stood behind the bar in close proximity. The clock struck the hour.
“He were an unusual man, were Arthur my grandfather.” Old Ernie broke the silence.
“In fact he were an unusual child. He could tie a knot in a length of string with his toes at three. At four he were playing a penny whistle with his nose. An avid reader from the age of five, a child who delighted in attention, little Arthur devoured information the way other children devoured cream cakes.
At seven he knew butterflies were once called flutterbies; that King Charles the First were only four feet seven inches tall. He knew that camelhair-brushes were invented by a Mr Camel, and of any case weren’t made from camel hair. And he knew, although he’d never been there, that Chile had no public lavatories.
At ten years of age he pondered the great philosophical questions of his day. Why does a man’s bike have a crossbar? What’s the difference between chutney and pickle? Why are dusters yellow and where does the wind go when it’s not blowing? He were before his time, were Granddad.”
Ernie lapsed back into sombre contemplation.
Silence reigned again, but not for long.
“He were a lucky man, your grandfather.” Old Michael, known as ‘Bony M’ on account of his gaunt frame, took up the challenge.
“If he’d had the start in life my grandfather had, he’d never have bothered.
Not a pretty child, the midwife took one look, stuck him under the bed and ran out of the room screaming!
Determined to do well in life, despite social and physical disadvantages, he tried hard to succeed. But the fates seem to conspire against him.
Adolph was not the best choice of names for a sensitive child. Neither was an upbringing in a family devoid of normality.
Illegitimate, his father was reputed to be the local squire and prospective Conservative candidate in forthcoming elections. His paternal grandfather had been one of the earliest persons in the area to be sentenced to penal servitude in Australia, fourteen years for arson, churches being his speciality.
His mother was well known for favours bestowed locally on dignitaries for little or no cost, no role model for an adolescent child.
His brother Deidrie grew up sexually confused. He wore a suit and tie in his job as clerk in the local railway offices; and was beautifully turned out in a dress and bonnet at church on Sundays.
Not surprisingly Adolph grew up scarred mentally. Ashamed of his background, he vowed never to reveal his families’ secrets, particularly that his father may have been a Conservative!”
Old Michael too lapsed into silence as he contemplated his lineage.
“Unlucky, unlucky, you don’t know what bad luck is.” Old Harry took his chance with enthusiasm.
“My great uncle Jake didn’t choose to be one of life’s losers, but life chose him.
All his life he suffered from ailments, imaginary and real that meant he could never participate in those pastimes others found normal.
Frequently hospitalised, he was treated for dozens of conditions previously unknown to mankind.
Sadly typical was the time he suffered peculiar thumping sensations whilst in bed. Exhausted after days without sleep, he was subjected to every conceivable test. But even the most comprehensive X-rays and electrocardiograms failed to diagnose the cause. Not surprising, since the problem was eventually found to be the thermostat on his new electric blanket!
Regular work was a rarity. So, with an income barely above subsistence level, Jake spent his time attending establishments that offered free entertainment or education. Unfortunately his luck didn’t change.
Carrying more books than was wise he fell down the stairs of the local library and was hospitalised for two weeks.
Visiting an exhibition by RoSPA in the Town Hall, he tripped over his shoelaces and collided with a table displaying items concerned with danger in the home.
Unable to keep his balance Jake hit the floor with a resounding crash, grasping the cloth from the table in a desperate attempt to lessen his demise. This in turn brought crashing down on the unfortunate Jake the items previously displayed on the table: an iron, frying pan and a canteen of cutlery; a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, toaster and a glass fronted first aid cabinet!
This time he was hospitalised for a mere eight days.”
“Now, now, you two, your families don’t have a monopoly where bad luck is concerned. Granddad Arthur succeeded in spite of adversity.” Ernie was not one to admit defeat lightly.
“The end for Arthur’s brother alone would have destroyed lesser men than Arthur. A brewer with a Burton Brewery, he fell into a vat of beer at the height of his brewing success. Beer contains ethanol, which has a lower density than water, so not surprisingly he drowned. It is not true that he got out twice to sober up. It is true though the brewery was upset that the entire batch had to be thrown away!”
Michael seized his opportunity.
“Adolph’s brother Deidre also met an unfortunate end. Plagued by doubts concerning his sexuality, he decided to end it all. After downing a bottle of brandy he placed cushions on the floor, turned on the gas, put his head in the oven and promptly fell asleep.
Six hours later he woke with a splitting headache. Cursing the inefficiency of modern North Sea Gas, totally befuddled, he fumbled in his pockets, found what he was looking for and lit his last cigarette; in fact he lit his last anything!
The explosion destroyed Deidre’s flat, the bookies below and the chip shop next door. Deidre definitely went out with a bang.”
If these sombre observations were intended to deflect Harry from his pessimistic telling of Jake’s misfortunes it was unsuccessful. Harry continued unabashed.
“Browsing through a local antique salesroom, entrance of course free, Jake made two exciting discoveries that he hoped would change his life forever. He discovered, almost simultaneously, a violin and a painting, both so faintly signed as to be almost indecipherable.
Cunningly examined so as to avoid the attention of connoisseurs in the antiques world, he realised with mounting excitement the signatures were of immense importance. Jake had discovered a Stradivarius and a Rembrandt. His joy was boundless, for his troubles were surely over. Unfortunately not, for the painting was by Stradivarius and the violin was a Rembrandt!”
Harry shook his head at the thought of the cruel misfortunes heaped on poor Jake.
“‘All that Glitters is not Gold,’” said Ernie, “‘Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1615.’”
“‘Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched’. Aesop, 570AD” retorted Michael, determined not to be upstaged.
Ernie pondered the misfortunes of the illustrious Jake.
“Arthur could never be considered unfortunate, certainly where money was concerned. Niche markets were his speciality. He owned a small factory producing left handed cups that were a great success.
He bought a large consignment of contraceptives, seconds that is. He resold them to Roman Catholics with the promise that they had the blessing, so to speak, of the Pope.
He sold, by mail order, 78 records that purported to contain the entire work of Marcel Marceau.
He became a rich man. His innovative spirit knew no bounds. And he would undoubtedly have continued to prosper, had his fortune not become his misfortune, so to speak.
A rich young man who could afford any leisure activity of his choice, he was one of the earliest riders of a motorcycle in his district. Arthur was the proud owner of an AJS, named after the maker, Mr A J Stevens.
Before the age of sophisticated motorcycle clothing, any long coat sufficed, worn back to front to keep out the cold, and buttoned up before a journey by helpful friends, often of the female gender. A leather helmet and goggles, a scarf and long gauntlets completed the transformation.
Throwing caution to the wind, Arthur was often seen hurtling through the villages, drawing admiring gazes from love struck young maidens, and fearful curses galore from those aged and infirm. He had minor accidents, mishaps inevitable to so fearless a rider. And he would have no doubt continued in like vein, except for an unfortunate mistake by a pair of country bumkins, unaware of the ways of the world, the motorcycle world, that is.
Dashing down a country lane on a warm summer evening, Arthur encountered with both wheels a cowpat of particular lushness. In full view of two straw chewing yokels, seated on a farmyard gate, the out of control rider and machine flew through the air. Both cleared a stone wall with consummate ease.
The motorbike sailed into an uninviting duck pond and Arthur landed face down with no small impact on a grassy bank. Arthur stared into the ground, no doubt tasted the grass beneath him and was probably thankful to be alive. That is, until the helpful yokels arrived and viewed the prone figure. Helpful to the end, that is Arthur’s end, the two yokels, with great difficulty, but equal determination managed to realign his head!”
Ernie grimaced at the thought of Arthur’s unfortunate end.
Michael nodded in sympathy.
“Granddad Adoph had a funny life but at least he had a peaceful end.
A humble, inoffensive little man, he worked quietly, almost invisibly as a railway clerk for many years. His life was one of drudgery and utter boredom.
He did in fact marry, but it was not a success. A big, slovenly, idle woman, his wife bullied poor Adolph unmercifully. He used to tell himself, “My wife’s a light eater, as soon as it gets light she starts eating!” But he was afraid of course to make such an observation out loud.
His life was one of poverty, chastity and obedience.
But even a worm turns. A week before his thirtieth wedding anniversary, Adolph secreted a bag containing clothes under the stairs.
On the morning of the anniversary Adolph made his wife’s breakfast as always. She sat down to a full, very large meal and Adolph made his way unnoticed to the hall.
Eating greedily she addressed her subservient husband out of sight in the hall.
“Don’t think you are going to get away cheaply this anniversary,” she bawled down the hall, “I want to go somewhere I’ve never been before.”
“Try the kitchen!” came back Adolph’s reply.
They were the last words Adolph ever spoke to his wife. When she looked in the hall he was gone.
That night he settled into a new life in a Franciscan Monastery. Exchanging a life of poverty, chastity and obedience for a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. Only this time he was a willing participant.”
Michael and Ernie turned to Harry inviting a response. Not one to disappoint, Harry took up the challenge.
“As Lord Byron said in 1823, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’
Jake continued to find life a struggle. Finance, or rather the lack of it continued to dog his very existence.
Depressed, near suicidal, Jake received news that would undoubtedly change his life forever.
A maiden aunt summoned Jake to her presence. She had, she informed him, watched his troubled existence for many years. She had the means to help solve his problems forever. Having no children, she wished to bequeath her house and considerable fortune to Jake on her death.
She asked only one thing. Having fond memories of Skegness as a child, she wished to visit one more time. On her return she would write a will, completely in Jake’s favour, finishing, at the stroke of a pen Jake’s life of hardship and toil.
Feverishly ecstatic, Jake, after a diligent search for the right vehicle, ‘borrowed’ a limousine from a nearby showroom forecourt, intending of course to return it eventually.
On a hot summer’s morning shortly afterwards, Jake lovingly, carefully placed his elderly, frail would-be benefactor into the back of the pristine limousine he had so thoughtfully acquired.
The air conditioning was magnificent; a credit to Mr Rolls and Mr Royce and the journey was uneventful.
Great Aunt Maud thoroughly enjoyed her time on Skegness beach. The sun beat down but she was oblivious. Any discomfort experienced due to two or three layers of clothing she ignored. The constant flow of ice cream, courtesy of the ever attentive Jake nectar to the euphoric Great Aunt Maud.
As the crowds drifted away at teatime, the contented, rather pink, or rather very pink Great Aunt Maud was lifted into the back of the limousine for the last time. The very last time; definitely the very last time! For as Jake checked Great Aunt Maud prior to starting the journey homeward every conceivable emotion flooded his mind: horror, disbelief and not a little fear.
It was rather obvious that Great Aunt Maud had experienced her last visit to Skegness beach. Still, quiet, silent even, open mouthed, eyes staring, Great Aunt Maud had gone to that resort in the sky where the sun always shines and the ice creams are free. She was in fact dead, very dead!
Jake glanced furtively round the car park, seeing only families hurrying home to tea, happily reliving their day on the beach. More important, everyone was obviously unaware of Jake’s problems.
Jake’s mind was racing, but, heart pounding, he adopted an air of casual normality as he eased the limousine down Skegness High Street and on towards home.
The return journey home was as uneventful as that made only hours before. Admittedly Jake’s passenger was not much company but Jake was, of any case, preoccupied.
Approaching Nottingham he still had no idea as to his next move. A large public house on the edge of the city beckoned. Jake parked up and entered, leaving Great Aunt Maud hidden from public view behind the darkened windows of the Rolls.
Jake bought himself a glass of stout and agonised over the problem of the late, Great Aunt Maud. There seemed to be two distinct choices. Ring the police and confess all. Including of course the facts concerning the ‘borrowed’ Rolls Royce and the lack of a driving licence and insurance documents. Not to mention concealing a death, an event in its own right serious enough to probably warrant incarceration at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Alternatively, take Great Aunt Maud home, somehow get her into her own bed and await discovery of the unfortunate deceased, an event hopefully unconnected to nephew Jake.
Undecided as to which course of action to follow, Jake finished his drink and returned to the car park. At this stage a bad day got decidedly worse! The limousine and its passenger were nowhere to be seen. And, put simply, that was that!
Jake never forgot that day in Skegness. Getting home was comparatively easy. Getting over the whole traumatic episode was less so. On many a cold winter’s night Jake shivered in bed and wondered whatever happened to Great Aunt Maud; and for that matter, the Rolls.
The house and fortune eventually passed to the state, for there was of course no will. But not until many years later. For no-one seemed to know where Great Aunt Maud had got to; of any case a missing person cannot be presumed dead for all of seven years.
And Jake was hardly in a position to help, was he? Poor, poor Jake!”
The clock again struck the hour. The three old men lapsed into silence.
After what seemed an eternity they looked in unison towards the landlord, who had remained nearby during the whole discourse.
He pondered for a moment, walked from behind the bar and presented Harry with a bottle of his best malt whisky.
Michael and Ernie knew that this year’s winner of Tall Story Club was undoubtedly Harry.
“Well done, old man,” said Michael graciously.
“Definitely well done.” echoed Ernie. “And what did become of poor Jake?”
“He too died,” replied Harry, “leaving his children half a million pounds.” Harry’s audience were taken by surprise.
“Where did the money come from?”
Harry anticipated the question in everyone’s mind.
“From a life insurance. Jake decided to end it all, and, at the same time, make provision for his children. A suicide note was found in his house showing his intention of drowning in the local river. Hey presto, end of Jake’s financial problems!”
Old Michael jumped to his feet as fast as an eighty-year-old can.
“Not possible,” he shouted triumphantly. “All life insurance policies have a get out clause that excludes paying out in the event of a suicide!”
“Quite correct,” said Old Harry. “But who said Jake’s death was a suicide?”
“You did,” retorted Old Ernie. “You said a suicide note from Jake indicated he was going to the river.”
Harry too rose to his feet.
“So I did.” replied the venerable Harry. “But the river was searched to no avail. Jake’s body was found, in a ditch, half a mile from the river. He had apparently tripped over the wire fence in the dark and drowned in eight inches of water. The inquest’s verdict was accidental death, not suicide!
Good night gentlemen. See you next year, God willing.”

Sunday 27 April 2008

An OAP let loose in the 21st century

Like a weasel to a rabbit I am transfixed. Hours spent trying to master the technology, mainly unsucessfully yet the urge to continue is overpowering. What was it Albert Einstein said, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." My incomprehension is unsurprising when you consider I even find an Idiot's Guide impossible to understand. Please tell me I am not the only one, or am I uniquely stupid when it comes to modern technology. And how strange I find myself posing questions to a screen, a substitite for the real world. An unreal situation akin to making love to a blow up doll or our childhood habit of smoking rolled up walnut leaves in an oakcup pipe. Both unsatisfactory substitutes for the real thing but better than nothing. I hasten to add I am not speaking from experience on the former.
Now I reckon my problems in the main stem from three sources. One, at my age I'm a bit long in the tooth to learn new technologies but I can but try. Two, I have recently been informed I am functioning on half a brain, maybe a bit more to be honest but some missing all the same. More of this at a later date but imagine what I could do it it was all there, so to speak.
And three, I need my eyes testing.
My ninety nine pence glasses from Home Bargains are good value but hardly the result of considered professional examination. But at least you get to try them out. Which is more than can be said for the local Lidl. A fierce gentleman, Croatian I think he is patrols the isles, and can spot from over twenty yards a customer opening the goods. As their glasses are packaged you therefore buy pot luck, so to speak. Their car park is full of wrecked cars or at least it deserves to be. Any day now they'll be selling white sticks.
I've thought my eyes needed testing for some time but a family function in The Devonshire, a posh pub in Baslow, Derbyshire finally made the fact inescapable. After a pint or two, or three, or four the need for the toilet was dire. Not surprising but at least it would suggest the old prostate is still working, if nothing else. Panic over and a might bit relieved so to speak, and, educated by frequent notices exorting us to 'Now wash your hands' I did as ordered and visited the hot air hand blower. Only posh as the pub was, the machine was totally ineffective, pathetic in the extreme. No rush of air, hot or otherwise. As I pondered so useless an apparatus and contemplated my next move I noticed a young man quizzically eyeing me from the urinal. Fearing I was about to be propositioned, I hastily withdrew my still wet hands from the machines orifice. It was only then I made out the wording on the machine, blurred in my case but cringingly embarrassing. The immortal words read 'Contraceptives, all colours and shapes, two pounds for three'.

Friday 25 April 2008

Happy Days but not for Everyone

The newspaper headlines are dominated by the NUT's one day strike action yesterday. I am reminded of nearly twenty years as a teacher including a spell as a union leader, though not the NUT. Happy days in the main. But I am reminded that it is not a profession loved by all. And where else would you see a grown man in tears in his workplace, a sobering experience. The talk was all too often of early retirement. My boast if it not too strong a word was that I could get one and one only teacher out of their misery on grounds that no authority could refuse. Meant as a joke but containing the seeds of an idea that resulted in a short story entitled Early Retirement. I hope you enjoy it. As almost all of the characters are based on real people; if you recognise yourself, I won't tell anyone if you don't!

“Does the road wind up hill all the way?”
“Yes, to the very end.”
Christina Georgina Rossetti,
English poetess, 1830-1894

Early Retirement

The alarm rang incessantly. Charles pulled the sheets over his head and the blanket ends into his ears, attempting to drown out the sound.
“Charles, get up, it’s gone seven, and you’ll be late for school.”
“Mum, I don’t feel well, I don’t want to go.”
“Now, now, get up Charles, you’ll be all right.”
“Mum, mum, I don’t want to go, I hate school!”
“Now Charles, pull yourself together. Everyone has to go to school.”
“I’m not going. The kids don’t like me and the teachers don’t like me.”
“Charles darling, you have to go, you’re a senior teacher.”
The recurring nightmare ended abruptly as Charles Montegue was startled into life by the shrill sound of a genuine alarm, urging him into reluctant action yet again.
It hadn’t always been like this. All those years ago. Straight from teacher training, keen, optimistic, proud to be a teacher. The children polite, eager, receptive. Clever kids, funny kids, not so clever kids, but always, or nearly always enthusiastic.
Enthusiastic children . Enthusiastic Charles, employing all the little personal tricks to encourage and amuse.
“Remember, children, punctuation is important, if your work is to make sense. For instance, in the examination, ‘Henry, where John had had ‘had’, had had ‘had had’, ‘had had’ had the examiners approval.’ See how important punctuation is, children?”
“Ooh, isn’t sir clever!”
The joys of grammar, for Charles was a teacher of English. Comprehensions; punctuation, dictation, verbs and adverbs; adjectives, nouns and pronouns, conjunctions and prepositions; similes and metaphors, suffixes and prefixes.
Essays by the cartload. Today’s homework, children, is an essay entitled, “What I did in my holidays.” Thirty essays set, thirty essays to mark.
Vocabulary tests and spelling tests. Little Susan in 5G thinks that a pessimist is something her mother buys at the chemist. Big Wayne writes that an enigma is something you stick up your bottom.
Shakespeare and John Donne; Of Mice and Men and The Go Between; Cider With Rosie and Lord of the Flies; Seven Pillars of Wisdom and Three Men in a Boat. Dancing Daffodils and Ancient Mariners.
Essays that on occasion described in uninhibited detail sexual romps in step-mum’s caravan in Mablethorpe; or detailed critiques of the latest blue movie, evidently acquired by step-dad, but seemingly available to all offspring over five!
Fellow teachers whose antics amused, alarmed, horrified; colleagues, some admired, others pitied.
Old Mr Henshaw, a relic of the past, both hard of hearing and short sighted. Best remembered when he eulogised on a foggy November day, period one, on ‘The rising sun o’er this autumn morn.’ The object of his attention being in fact the lighted globe in the chip shop window opposite the school! Not too long afterwards Mr Henshaw was pensioned off. As was Mr Arkwright, who, in a moment of sheer frustration, held a year one boy by his legs out of a third floor window, years before Michael Jackson thought of such a possibility!
Miss Bailey, who frequently took ill or went missing when she was due to teach 4B, 4G or 5C; or 5S, 4X and 5L; or 4U and 5G; in fact any class with a pupil aged over thirteen or with an IQ less than 100.
Mr Jenson and Mrs Williams, conducting a non-too subtle romance. Whose assignations included being found in disarray in the Geography cupboard, behind the PE store and under the stage in the Drama workshop.
Mr Graham, who thought school collections from pupils were part and parcel of his salary, collected dutifully and spent on alcohol, cigarettes and the horses. No pension for Mr Graham.
Mr Slavinski, whose amorous intent went far beyond his middle aged wife, directed instead towards pubescent pupils initially unaware of his lecherous intentions. No pension either for Mr Slavinski.
Registration twice a day; registers to fill in. Assemblies for bored, half awake pupils, content loosely moralistic or vaguely, ever so vaguely Christian biased. In an era where teachers received financial reward for duties perceived to be beyond the normal call of duty, Charles’ speciality was assemblies, often humorous, sometimes obscure, but always different.
Yard duties and dinner duties. In November dodging fireworks, in January snowballs. After school detentions liable to be interrupted by irate parents striding in, uttering profanities as they removed their offspring from the room.
Lunch clubs spent throwing boomerangs and flying kites. Both hilarious and dangerous! Hilarious when boomerangs didn’t come back, damaging egos; dangerous when they did, damaging heads, arms and legs. Dangerous too when kites missed electricity cables by inches, causing palpitations in teacher and mirth in pupils.
School-phobics collected from home, locked in teacher’s car and delivered to school, only to abscond within five minutes of arrival.
Ice cream vans parked by the school gate, serving ice cream openly and cannabis surreptitiously to eager customers.
Parents Evenings enlivened by fathers sporting tattoos of ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ across their fingers, venomously arguing that no son of theirs was going to pursue a ‘puffy’ career as a ladies’ hairdresser.
Bomb scares rang in from local phone boxes. Usually timed when examinations for 5X or 5S were due to start, subject matter diverse and unconnected. The police or fire service expecting teachers to help with the searches, teachers inevitably reluctant, suggesting good sense tinged with cowardice.
Trips to Alton Towers and Drayton Manor, on one occasion 503 out, 500 return. Skegness, York, Bologne, all repel the teenage hordes, pornography confiscated on arrival home from Skegness, flick-knives from Bologne.
One year became five years, became ten years, became twenty years. Half way in a forty-year career. Forty years, thirty-nine weeks a year average, twenty-five periods a week; thirty-eight thousand teaching periods. Six classes to teach, say thirty in a class, two home works a week. Thirty-nine weeks, twelve home works a week, that’s over fourteen thousand home works a year and over half a million in a forty-year career!
And so, twenty years on, ‘sir’ is still trying to instil an empathy with punctuation to now less than enthusiastic pupils.
“Now children, remember, punctuation is important if our writing is to make sense. For instance, in the pub sign ‘The Dog and Duck’, the gap between Dog and ‘and’, and ‘and’ and Duck is six inches. See, children!”
“F*** O** you silly old sod!”
Help, stop the world, I want to get off!
Charles knew he had to get out, but how? It had to be legal. It had to be different. A copycat of someone else’s escape was doomed to failure. Remember, he also reminded himself, it had to be grounds for retirement, not dismissal. Walk away? Fine, but no pension to draw until at least sixty years of age. Sick leave meant a doctors note. A one week note becomes one month. One month becomes three, three becomes six. A six months sick note equals full pay, followed by six months half pay. Food for thought!
The spring term arrived. Mock examinations in preparation for the real thing in June. Wet breaks, dark days, darker moods. ‘Burnhem Tests’ for non-examination pupils at the bottom of the pile. Pupils do the tests, teachers collect them in and ‘burnem’. An unpopular term, summer holidays too far ahead to even contemplate.
The term brightened by Charles’ regular homily.
“Did you know, children, there was an awful accident at the Blue Peter Island this morning.” A flicker of interest amongst the captive, assembled audience. Accidents, the gorier the better, high on the list of juvenile interests.
“A brewery lorry overturned and dozens of barrels fell off. And where did they land? Right on top of a three wheeler car that happened to be alongside.” Juvenile interest increased further.
“It looked bad for the occupants of the three wheeler as bystanders ran to help. The car was uncovered and do you know what? No one was hurt. And do you know why? Because, children, the barrels were full of Light Ale!”
Half the audience tittered, half groaned at the awfulness of the joke. “So you see children, you must never judge anything, or for that matter, anyone without knowing all the facts. Things are not necessarily what they seem.” Charles sat down. His assemblies might be less than Biblical, but at least they were different!
A long, tedious, trying term, but not for Mrs Roberts! Her lessons became noisier and noisier as her delivery became quieter and quieter; and quieter; and quieter; and quieter, a whisper ultimately indescribable and indecipherable. Initially pupils strained to hear instructions, but inevitably any semblance of interest gave way to bored, unruly indifference, and ultimately shambolic uproar.
Mrs Roberts went home and stayed home. Wiley education officers rang Mrs Roberts at all times of day and night, in a variety of pretend voices, hoping to catch out Mrs Roberts, but were always answered by a whispered, inaudible voice. Psychosomatic, maybe, but for Mrs Roberts, goodbye purgatory, hello life!
The ‘wags’ in the staff room might well label Mrs Roberts’ condition ‘Silence of the Shams’ but they had to face future Monday mornings in the classroom, she didn’t!
Pupils antics never ceasing to amuse, frustrate and occasionally horrify.
Harry Thomas, Year Five that was, whose sole contribution to his last year in education was to shoot out, after school, over forty of the gymnasium windows. Who would probably never have been found out, had he not taken to firing pot shots at the cross-country runners in PE lessons, many of whom broke their personal best times whilst Thomas was honing his skills as a marksman!
Billy Williams and Keith Johnson, who, sent to retrieve musical equipment after a concert in the local church, had not returned after two hours. An anonymous, as was the norm, phone call to the school meant teachers returning to the church to investigate. Discovering, in the graveyard, prone, ill and paralytic drunk, Billy and Keith.
Having found in the church vestry bottles of communion wine, they had sampled the contents, oblivious to the capabilities of such innocuous offerings. A trip to the local hospital and a session with a stomach pump a reminder that schooldays are not necessarily the happiest days of your life!
Harry Piper, caught stealing from fellow pupil’s satchels, but only stealing food, never other personal property.
“Why do you steal other pupil’s sandwiches, Harry, when you are on free dinners?” he was asked.
“Oh, it’s not for dinner, sir, it’s for tonight. I don’t get any tea, sir unless I nick it from somewhere.”
Joseph Riley of 4X, who slept in the clothes he wore for school, often for days at a time. Who changed into other clothes at school so that sympathetic school staff could put his own clothes through a school washing machine prior to going home time.
Derek Smith, whose timekeeping, attendance and behaviour were erratic in the extreme. Not surprising when it was discovered home circumstances not conducive to school.
Mother’s boyfriend, unsympathetic to Derek’s very existence, had given mum the ultimatum, “Either he goes or I go.” Derek went, presumably with little soul searching on mother’s part.
Living rough, not the ideal preparation for a day in the classroom.
All of which may or may not have contributed to the demise of Mr Adams.
Mr Adams, the art teacher, whose slow decline into madness started innocuously enough when he lined up the pencils on his desk. Eventually he counted them by the hour and sharpened them by the minute, measuring them lest one should be a millimetre longer than the other. At the end, prior to his committal, pupils were allowed to view the pencils but not to use them.
His later years were spent in residential care at the local mental hospital, his pencil collection prized and lovingly shown to visitors; each pencil individually named and awarded its own place on the hospital’s mantelpiece. All funded by his pension.
And Mrs Leeson of PE limped out of teaching. Arthritic English teachers, no problem. Or for teachers of Maths, Science, Humanities, indeed in any other subject a perfectly acceptable disability. But games teachers, a totally different ball game if you’ll pardon the pun. Physically challenged PE teachers were as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot, more important, they were likely to sue if future mobility problems were even remotely possible.
Charles had once fleetingly pondered on maiming himself, ever so slightly, say taking an axe to a finger. The idea had been very easy to discard. Far too severe, far too traumatic, and totally unlikely to procure early retirement for an English teacher!
Ironically the personal maiming of Mr Johnson, Metalwork teacher, albeit accidentally, provided that teacher’s escape from the daily grind.
The Year One, now called Year Seven children had gathered round the milling machine. He demonstrated using the machine, as he had done so to two previous generations of school pupils. Perhaps blasé, careless from years of familiarity, he started the machine with one hand, moving the safety guard with the other, a costly mistake. In the blink of an eye the machine severed three fingers. Minus his digits Mr Johnson was eventually removed to hospital, in obvious shock, muttering over and over again, “There’s no fool like an old fool.” A sad end to an illustrious career, an early retirement exercise not to be recommended.
Easter beckoned. The Easter leavers, those aged sixteen before January 31st excited, bravado covering up anxiety.
Fights with another local school on the green, were frequent. Participants suitably tooled up with broom handles, dustbin lids, eggs, flour, sticks and stones. The general public horrified and not a little frightened. The participants on a high, adrenalin flowing, for many the highlights of their academic year, their fleeting moments of fame.
The school glad to see the back of yet another fraught term, it’s finish marked by Mr Montegue’s end of term discourse.
“A long time ago, children, when your mums and dads were young, or perhaps even your grandparents, there used to be a singer called Dickie Valentine. How many of you have heard of Dickie Valentine?”
No response whatsoever from rows of uncomprehending pupils. Mr Montegue soldiered on.
“He was very famous, just like Robbie Williams is today.” A mixed reaction from the audience, half of whom regarded Robbie Williams as Neanderthal!
“In 1954 he topped the charts with his group ‘The Stargazers’ singing, ‘The Finger of Suspicion.’

‘Someone broke into my heart and stole a beat or two,
The finger of suspicion points at you.
Someone took away my sleep and never left a clue.
The finger of suspicion points at you.’”

Mr Montegue sang the song, his singing hauntingly awful, his audience a mixture of astonishment, embarrassment and amusement. But however limited his musical prowess, his efforts once again gained the audience’s attention.
“How many times, children do we point a finger at someone? Sometimes because we think they have done something bad. Perhaps we’ve heard a bit of gossip and we can’t resist passing it on, never mind that it might not be true. We never point a finger in a kind way when you really think about it.”
Mr Montegue pointed his index finger in the general direction of his audience, making some of the pupils squirm in discomfort.
“But a strange thing is happening when you point a finger at someone. You are also pointing three fingers at yourself.”
Mr Montegue held up his hand, pointed his finger at an imaginary target, and, lo and behold, evident for all to see, his three fingers below his index finger pointed to himself. Most of the audience tried it for themselves, seeing pointed fingers in a new light.
“Next time you point a finger, remember Mr Valentine; but more important, remember, whatever the reason you point at someone, you’re also pointing at yourself.”
Mr Montegue sighed, smiled and sat down. For as well as Dickie Valentine, Mr Montegue remembered another old favourite, Andy Williams. What was it he sang, ‘Almost There’

‘We’re almost there
And soon to share
Paradise so rare
Close you’re eyes, for you’re almost there.”

How very apt thought Mr Montegue.
At long last the summer term arrived, favourite of all, though not without it’s problems.
An unfortunate term for Mr Bell the music teacher, inevitably referred to as ‘ding dong’ by the pupils, but known as ‘Jonas’ by his colleagues.
His wife left him in the autumn term for the school gardener, a virile handsome young man. Mortified, he adopted as his best friend ‘Johny Walker’. An influential companion who was all too present when a preoccupied Mr Bell, driving to school, ran into the car in front! Inevitably he failed a breath test, even at eight thirty in the morning. Banned from driving Mr Bell had to suffer the ignominy of public transport, journeys accompanied by screaming, abusive pupils who thoroughly enjoyed Mr Bell’s discomfort.
Pondering his misfortunes one morning before school, alone at his desk in an empty classroom, Mr Bell contemplated his future.
The school had three separate buildings not counting gymnasiums, containing at least two hundred classrooms; each classroom contained at least three light fittings. On the morning Mr Bell pondered his future a single light fitting crashed from the ceiling of a single classroom. Underneath sat Mr Bell, deep in thought. A prone Mr Bell was discovered when the bell rang for morning registration.
The head injury he received was not terminal. And Mr Bell could never recall a single moment of the accident. Unfortunately neither could he ever recall any incident of his life prior to the accident itself. Not a single memory of his life up to the accident remained. Including any recollection of how to earn a living as a teacher.
Mr Bell never taught again. From that day on he spent many a happy hour in local hostelries, with newfound friends happy to help him spend his teacher’s pension.
GCE examinations, long hours spent in invigilation, tediously supervising long rows of bored, clueless examinees. Daydreamers supervising daydreamers!
Reports to write, teachers striving to impress parents with their erudition. Thus little Mary, wandering round the classroom with little or no interest in the subject taught became ‘Mary at times is an apathetic peripatetic.’
Only such attempts to impress were doomed to failure. Mum’s grasp of the language included absence notes for Mary that stated ‘Mary is off school ‘cause she is under the doctor.’ On another occasion, ‘I think Mary has the flu, even her dad was hot last night.’
The last day of the academic year. The pupils excited, the staff relaxed on the verge of six weeks holiday. Thoughts of Corfu, or even Skegness. Of caravans or tents; thoughts of freedom and peace.
The final assembly of a long, taxing year. The gymnasium, the only building in the entire school capable of housing all pupils and staff simultaneously was full to overflowing.
Rows and rows of children, over two thousand in all seated on druggets. Over one hundred staff, slightly more comfortably seated, on metal and plastic chairs both sides of the gigantic gymnasium. To the side of the stage, even more comfortably seated, senior staff, including Mr Barton, headmaster. And waiting in the wings Charles Montegue, wearing an immaculate blazer, pristine silk tie, shining brogues and an enigmatic smile.
The heat from over two thousand bodies, on a hot summer’s day in an airless, windowless gymnasium jolted Mr Barton from his alcoholic haze brought about by a secret liquid lunch.
“Children, staff, welcome to this end of term celebration. I don’t want to keep any of you longer than necessary. So I would like you to give your attention to Mr Montegue’s final address this academic year.”
Mr Barton sat down and Mr Montegue emerged from off stage. Though never ever untidy, his sartorial elegance attracted quizzical looks from staff and pupils alike.
Mr Montegue smiled a mysterious smile.
“Good afternoon, children, like the famous Max Bygraves, let me tell you a story.
Many, many years ago, before you children were born there was a massive slump throughout the world. Many families were starving and fathers everywhere were desperate for money for food. Mr Pringle, a little man with a wife and four children to support in Bristol was no exception.”
Mr Montegue, perspiring in the heat created by the two thousand bodies, removed his tie as he talked.
“Finally, in his daily search for work, Mr Pringle arrived at the gates of Bristol Zoo. He approached the gateman. ‘Any jobs, mister?’ he pleaded.
‘No chance,’ said the gateman, ‘we’ve no money to feed the animals properly, never mind the staff!’
‘I’ll do anything,’ pleaded little Mr Pringle, ‘anything. Clean out the giraffes, shovel up the elephant dung, anything.’”
The audience began to show interest, dung in particular had a special interest in many adolescent minds! Mr Montegue removed his blazer.
“Just then the manager of the zoo walked past and took pity on the dejected, unhappy figure of Mr Pringle.
‘I tell you what,’ he suggested. ‘We’ve just lost one of our main attractions, the gorilla and we can’t afford another. We’ve still got the skin. You dress up in the skin and entertain what’s left of our customers and we’ll see you right. Five bob a day and all the bananas you can eat.’
Fifteen minutes later the gorilla pen had a new occupant. Guy the gorilla, alias Mr Pringle, made his debut.”
Audience interest increased, particularly as Mr Montegue had now unbuttoned his shirt.
“Guy the Gorilla warmed to his task. Back bent, arms dangling, he hopped, skipped and growled his way round the enclosure.”
The difference between Mr Montegue and Guy the Gorilla distinctly blurred. Mr Montegue, by now perspiring freely, removed his shirt, revealing his immaculate white vest.
The juvenile audience were fascinated, only Mr Barton, his deputy Miss Cook and one or two other senior members of staff showed feelings of disquiet.
“Mr Pringle was really enjoying himself. He ran to the bars at the front of the enclosure and back again.
Cries of excitement mixed with not a little fear came from the mothers, while little children clung protectively to their father’s hands.
Guy the Gorilla’s act became more audacious by the second. Up and down, up and down the enclosure he went, whooping with joy, his audience wide eyed with mounting excitement.
Running to the tree at the side of the pen, he leapt up and grasped the lowest branches. Tightening his grip, he swung higher and higher with heartfelt abandon.
Suddenly his grip loosened and Guy hurtled over the high metal fence dividing the gorilla and his neighbours, the lions. Guy, heavily winded, landed in a heap on the grassy bank in the lion’s enclosure.”
Mr Montegue, mimicking Guy, sat down on stage, smiled his enigmatic smile and removed his trousers. His bright striped red boxer shorts with their Yogi Bear motif matched perfectly his dazzling luminous red socks held up by gleaming chrome and leather suspenders.
Mr Barton stood up, sat down, stood up and sat down again.
Mr Montegue’s audience sat transfixed, mesmerised like a rabbit to a weasel.
“Guy the Gorilla ran to the bars at the front of the enclosure. A lone lion viewed his predicament.”
Mr Montegue, perspiring heavily, removed his vest, His scrawny, hairless torso added to the comic picture already presented to the entranced audience.
Mr Barton’s mouth opened and closed like a beached whale. The feeling that an event was taking place of unique importance filled the air.
“The lion viewed with interest the gorilla that had invaded his private space in his enclosure. Guy the Gorilla continued to hollow loudly to his audience the other side of the bars.
‘Let me out, get me out of here.’
The lion loped casually over to his new pen mate.
‘Help, help,’ Guy the Gorilla’s cries faded away as the lion slowly brought his mouth up to the gorilla’s ear. Mr Pringle shut his eyes and awaited his end.
And the lion whispered into the gorilla’s ear the simple message, ‘Shut up, you fool, do you want to get us all the sack!’”
The older pupils rolled their eyes at Mr Montegue’s little joke, whilst the younger members of the audience, less inhibited, giggled. Mr Barton contemplated hauling Mr Montegue off stage, but refrained from any action other than shuffling in his seat. Mr Montegue’s performance might be bizarre, tasteless even, but criminal, surely not?
Mr Montegue, enjoying his Andy Wharhol like fifteen minutes of fame, continued.
“So you see, children,” he stated, somewhat obviously, “neither Guy the Gorilla or the lion were real. And what does this story tell us?”
The audience waited expectantly for Mr Montegue’s answer to this conundrum. The little figure in boxer shorts and matching socks and suspenders cut a comic figure yet seemed to fill the stage.
Mr Montegue continued. “We are all impressed by show nowadays. Designer clothes, fancy trainers, body piercing. Very nice, I’m sure you agree, but they’re not important. Like our gorilla and our lion it’s what’s inside that counts. Try to look beyond what you see up front in people; remember, clothes and decorations are merely covering the real you.
Even if you don’t remember the many, many little talks I’ve been privileged to offer to you over the years, I’m sure you’ll remember, just for me, my message today.”
The audience clapped appreciatively, tops marks, Mr Montegue, for content and delivery. Mr Montegue bowed, smiled a last smile, turned and deftly removed his boxer trunks. To great applause from the juvenile audience Mr Montegue, using his notes to prevent the possible charge of indecent exposure walked off the back of the stage.
The message, ‘Goodbye Children’ written in black marker pen across his shiny white bottom was there for all to see.
A school bell rang in the distance. September the sixth, first day of the new term. Charles sat in the sunshine on the lawn, contentedly enjoying a cool glass of lemonade his mother had so thoughtfully brought out to him.
Life was good in retirement, mused Charles.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Anyone Out There?

I'm just coming to terms with the fact that I'm now a real live blogger. Only I have to confess that not for the first time in life I don't really know what I'm doing. Not surprising really for someone who still calls the radio a wireless and who thought a mobile phone was supplied with a couple of hundred miles of cable. And who incidentally still doesn't own one never mind knows how to work the things.
Now I reckon this aversion to modern technology is definitely genetic. My old granny lived to nearly a hundred but was never au fait with the twentieth century. The family clubbed together and bought her a television which she loved. Only she didn't think much of switches so she watched whatever it was tuned in to. Visitors were for changing channels, but as there was only a choice of two, channels that is not visitors she didn't seem to mind. Though the testcards of days long gone confused her somewhat. 'Normal Service will be Resumed as soon as Possible' appearing periodically on the screen would be received with blank incomprehesion. Plus a visit to next door and the question, "My television says its not working at present, is yours the same?" Endearing eccentricity, though not dangerous which unfortunately was not the case of some of grannies' disregard of twentieth century technology.
Her old fireplace range was a delight to behold on a cold winter's day, her cottage homely and inviting; the fire blazing, the oven awesomely hot. The smell of bread and cakes bewitching, the smell of burning tupperware less so. For granny was inclined to place in the oven any cookware that lay to hand. Believe you me, the smell of melting tupperware is disgustingly unique, its removal from oven surfaces would test the capabilities of any space age cleaners that were yet to be invented." This modern stuffs rubbish," declared granny defiantly. The alarm bells began to ring, figuratively speaking. But grannies' next trick suggested imminent alarm bells of a non figurative nature. Plastic buckets are fine for transporting general household rubbish, not so
good for hot coals. One day granny trooped obliviously through the parlour to the yard outside, oblivious of hot coals littering the lino and peg rugs in her wake; the by now empty bottomless bucket lighter by half. Which signalled the end of one black leaded range, mores the pity, but not for many more years one indefatigable old lady who never really willingly left her Victorian youth.
Now I'm sure granny would be proud of me. Fast forward over fifty years and you have an individual just as out of touch with the 21st century. Light switches, yes, I can just about cope with. Car heaters, no, if the wife is not with me I travel frozen in winter, with the windows open in summer. Washing machines, totally incomprehesible, though some would say there's method in the madness there. I'm not allowed a bank card because the card vanishes after three attempts at getting the number right or I lose the silly things anyway causing panic by everyone except me. I reckon I'm laid back. my wife calls it irresponsible. And there must be other people who have put their library books on top of the car and driven off. Modern living, too modern at times for me. The mechanic at the garage tried to explain that the engine in my car is a rail engine. The only rail engine I knew had a chimney on top and numbers on the side which we avidly collected. Which all adds up to an individual somewhat unsuited to the idea of blogging'with talk of tags and posts and html's. And in a way this is where you came in.
Do you remember in the olden days you went to the pictures, now poshly called the cinema. You saw a main film, plus a second film, plus a newsreel and some adverts. Do you remember entering the cinema half way through the main picture. And you watched the rest of the film, plus the second film, then the newsreel and the adverts. Then the main film again until you got to the bit where you came in. Groundhog Day and all that. So off you went, had some chips and five woodbines and still had change out of five bob. Or so I'm told! If you believe that you believe anything.
And the point of all this you might well ask. That is exactly the point. Is there anyone out there. Week two of my blogging career, life, experience, call it what you will. I look expectantly, hopefully for signs of life on planet blog. A friend encourages by posting the first ever comment. Thanks friend. I'm now told I need some sort of counting device to tell me whose visited planet GrumpyOldKen. The talk is of analytics and I glaze over once again. But maybe we are getting there, time will tell. At least there are worse things I could be doing; honestly?

Monday 21 April 2008

On Seeking Inspiration.

I sit at the keyboard waiting for inspiration. And I wait and I wait and I wait. Nothing. I once read Harold Robbins used to go away for a month during August if I remember right, write feverishly and, hey presto, another blockbuster. Mind you, Robbins wasn't a nonentity living a non existence on the edge of Derby.
I've probably got this blogging thing all wrong but who cares. My mind wanders to a local pub visit in the week. I was constantly waylaid, not maliciously by individuals I taught at the local school. One informed me he is now forty eight years of age, perish the thought. Same age as my wife. Only my wife is not forty eight, she was born in forty eight. I'm losing it more than I thought. Doesn't time fly when you're enjoying yourself.
We wandered across the car park to our pride and joy, a recently acquired motor home. Five teenagers are viewing it intently. A feeling of unease takes over. One of the five seeks my attention. My apprehension increases. "Nice motor" he announces appreciatively. "Is that a private number plate?" We chat, examine my wife's 0008 PAU and off we go. How quickly we judge the young and all too often look for the worst.
Perhaps this inspiration thing is all around me and I'm looking in the wrong places.

Sunday 20 April 2008

A Bee in the Bonnet

Around two years ago I self published a book of short stories entitled 'There's Nowt so Strange as Folk'. It cost me money to do so and it's far from perfect but no regrets. Its in local libraries and I'm told I get four pence every time it goes out but no one seems to know how its paid. I reckon they owe me at least eighty pence by now. Especially as I've had it out five times!
Being an ex English teacher I'm a bit pendantic, not pompously so I hope. The word 'twice' seemed to vanish out of the vocabulary. Even the television announcers say 'two times' for goodness sake. Listen out for it, I bet you you don't hear 'twice' any more. My protest I suppose was to write a short story entitled ' Two's Company'. Hope it amuses.

Horacio lay on his bed in the Royal Kingswood Psychiatric Hospital, formally the Royal Derby and District Asylum, idly contemplating the fates that had contrived to incarcerate him in so fine an institution.
There was no history of mental instability in the family, at least not massively so. True, Cousin Walter had been thought of as eccentric, with a predisposition towards silk dresses, chiffon and lipstick.
Plus Cousin Elsie was banned from the local park for nude sunbathing at eighty years of age, which amused the locals but frightened the ducks! But Horacio was the first to be an involuntary patient in the aforesaid establishment.
He smiled at the irony of being first at anything. Second, yes, he was definitely a number two person, that was the problem. Where had it all begun?
Born at two am on the second of February 1922, Horacio was the second son of George and Clara Smith.
The family lived at number two South Street, in a two up and two down cottage between two shops. His childhood was uneventful, though his mother often recalled his tantrums when negotiating the tribulations associated with children during the ‘terrible twos’.
He had a special friend, George from his days in junior school, standard two, but tended not to associate with other children besides George, believing from an early age the maxim, ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’. There were no two ways about it. Horacio and George were like two peas in a pod.
At the local secondary school he enjoyed both football, as a full back, shirt number two, and also cricket, coming in to bat at number two.
“Too right, two strings to my bow, works wonders,” thought Horacio.
Academically average, Horacio left school having gained a pass level in two minor subjects and joined Toogood the Tailors. He enjoyed the work, selling more Tootle and Double Two shirts than any other trainee.
“What a pity they don’t sell tutu’s too,” Horacio thought to himself when praised for his salesmanship.
Horacio could also be lackadaisical, though any attempt to jolly him into extra effort resulted in the muttered retort, “I can’t be in two places at once!” Nevertheless Horacio was happy at Toogoods and life was good, but not without its problems.
Though it never occurred to Horacio that there was a problem at all. True, he caught a number twenty-two bus to work when a number nineteen passed the shop doorway and ran more frequently.
Never mind the extra half-mile he had to walk to a number twenty-two bus stop. Plus the time taken waiting for a double-decker twenty-two bus.
“Too bad,” Horacio used to say to himself.
And Horacio would probably have continued his mundane, unobtrusive, happy existence had it not been for a strange inexplicable quirk on the part of the media that sent him over the top, so to speak. There’s no two ways about it!
Horacio noticed that the word twice had inexplicably disappeared from the English language. The radio announced the Wimbledon Champion as a two-time winner. The local newspaper reported that Donald Peers was appearing two times nightly at the Hippodrome. Food evidently cost two times as much as three years previously. Runners ran two times round tracks and men were apparently two times more likely to die before retirement than women.
The effect on Horacio was catastrophic. Too afraid to read the newspapers or listen to the radio, lest the deterioration of the language be too fearful even to contemplate, Horatio sank into a veritable pit of despair. It was all too much.
The ever-indefatigable George persuaded Horatio to visit his doctor. The doctor was sympathetic, prescribing antidepressants and sending Horacio for two blood-tests.
“Take two tablets twice a day and come back and see me in two weeks,” he had said.
Two days later Horacio visited his local library and spent the entire morning surreptitiously tearing out all the page twos he could find from the books in the reference section.
Ejected from the library, he made his way to the local supermarket. Two hours after his library escapade he was again apprehended, by two shop assistants. This time lining up all manner of produce in twos up and down the shop isles: two tins of beans, two loaves, two cabbages, two pumpkins, two bottles of lemonade, the pairings were endless. Only this time events took a sinister turn when the shop assistants were threatened with violence by an extremely excitable Horacio.
“I’ll fetch my shotgun and shoot you both,” Horacio announced, “dead easy to do, it’s a double barrel.”
Which is why Horacio resided in the Royal Kingswood, having been overpowered by two policemen, certified by two doctors and carted off, so to speak, by two men in white coats.
The resident psychologist at the Royal Kingswood had studied many unusual individuals. But he recognised Horacio was that little bit special, even measured amongst those who thought they were Napoleon, Jesus Christ or giant rabbits incarcerated in the confines of The Royal Kingswood.
Two days after his committal the psychologist took Horacio into room two on the second floor.
“Hi, I’m Doctor Russell. We are going to do an experiment, you and I,” he announced in his best patient friendly voice designed to put Horacio at ease. “Yours is a very interesting case.”
“Too true,” thought Horacio.
Dr Russell produced a number of cards, several, definitely more than two!
“Now I want you to look at these cards, in your own time and tell me what they suggest to you.”
The psychologist had used the cards many times in his illustrious career. Called Rorschach Cards, known to lesser mortals as the Inkblot Cards, they are meant to capture the unconscious thoughts of participating victims. The psychologist handed Horacio the first card.
“In your own time.” He invited a response. Horacio studied the inkblot thoughtfully.
“A car, my favourite car. Yes definitely a Deux Chevaux.”
He handed Horacio a second card.
“A bike. A tandem. Riding in the country with George on our tandem.” Horacio’s answer was immediately forthcoming. Dr Russell made no comment and showed no emotion.
“Food, tea, biscuits, cream cakes.”
The psychologist raised an eyebrow at Horacio’s answer to card number three. A possible change of direction, perhaps?
“Tea for two and two for tea.” Horacio destroyed the illusion almost before it had begun.
“Ireland, my favourite place.” Doctor Russell made no presumptions as to Horacio’s response to card number four. He was a fast learner.
“Visiting Twomileborris, Two Mile Bridge and Toomore with George. In a two berth caravan on a two week holiday.”
Dr Russell betrayed a nervous twitch in his left eye.
The response to card number five was instant.
“The Bible, definitely the Bible. It’s the animals in the Ark, Noah’s Ark.” Horacio needed no prompting.
“As if,” thought Dr Russell somewhat unprofessionally.
“There went in two and two unto Noah.” Horacio demonstrated his Biblical knowledge.
Dr Russell demonstrated his inability to control a tendency to sweat as well as to twitch.
“My favourite dance. The Tango.” Dr Russell’s eyes glazed as he contemplated the answer to number six.
Dr Russell steeled himself for the inevitable.
“It takes two to tango.”
The psychologist’s body language suggested someone who was decidedly unwell.
He tried one last card.
Horacio for once reacted with indecision.
“My favourite song, ‘Two coins in a fountain’.”
The psychologist broke the golden rule of Rorschach card testing. No comment and no involvement by the tester.
Dr Russell looked nervously at Horacio. “Surely it’s ‘Three coins in a fountain?’”
“Not in my fountain it’s not!” Horacio’s withering look contemptuously dismissed the psychologist’s apparent lack of musical expertise. Not that Dr Russell noticed. He had gone for a lie down in a suitably darkened room!
A panel was appointed to decide Horacio’s fate, so to speak.
The panel debated the pros and cons of two possible treatments for the enigmatic Horacio.
Both Lobotomy and Electric Shock Treatment (ECT) had supporters on the panel as well as detractors.
The former involving surgical invasion of the brain, a procedure guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes. The latter using electrodes attached to the head in order to pass electricity through the brain.
Two shocking alternatives, awesome choices indeed! The panel was in two minds but the ECT won by a short head, in this case, Horatio’s.
Two sessions took place, both at two o’clock, two days apart.
The treatment went well. Horacio had no memory whatsoever of life prior to his treatment.
George walked down the ward past the notice ‘Psychiatric Ward Rules. Strictly Only One Visitor At A Time.’ Something puzzled George but what he wasn’t sure.
Horacio was a good friend and one good turn deserved another.
Horacio saw him coming and put down the story by H G Well’s, ‘In the Country of the Blind the One Eyed Man is King.’
“How are you, my friend?” enquired George.
“Fine,” answered Horacio. “I really think my problems were a one off.”
“How’s that?” enquired the ever solicitous George
“Because I’m cured of the curse of the twos,” exclaimed Horacio.
“One knows when one’s not ones self. And one knows when one’s cured. One way and another life can only get better. And that’s one in the eye for modern medicine.
As soon as I’m out of here we’ll go riding in the country yet again.”
“But I’ve sold the tandem,” stuttered George.
“Don’t be silly,” said Horacio fondly. “What would we want a tandem for?”
“I’ve put an order in for two unicycles!”

Wednesday 16 April 2008

In the beginning

Hooray we're away. Watch this space. As the old man used to say, 'softly, softly, catchee monkey.' A saying incidentally that one of my daughters finds incredibly naff. After several attempts this blog is finally off the ground, courtesy of a good friend, Chris who has the most incredible knowledge of how computers work. Thanks Chris, I feel as if I've now fully entered the 21st century. So 'What's it all about, Alfie?'
I suppose firstly, in a way it's an ego trip, hopefully allowed at my age. Secondly having had various health problems, nothing new at my age, I need to keep what's left of the old brain going. Thirdly, I write regularly, make little out of it but need an audience (the old ego trip again). So off we go and let's see what develops. But firstly, after all the excitement I need a lie down!