The Idiot Wind – by John Philips

The Idiot Wind

‘It’s a hard rain’s a gonna fa-a-a-all’

Dominic kicked the door shut and tossed the bundle of papers onto the table.

Michael looked up and smiled.

‘You’re sounding a bit chippa today Dom.’

‘Too damn right I am,’ Dominic smirked. ‘Two more of those civil service bastards have resigned. I tell you Mike I’m going to have the lot of them out before I’m done.’

‘Well done Dom,’ Michael nodded. ‘Yes the times they are a changing.’

Dominic chuckled ‘You’re down in the groove, Mikey baby. They’re gonna be ‘knockin’ on Heaven’s door.’ He glanced at his watch. ‘Where’s fatso? He said ten and it’s nearly ten past.’

Michael sniggered.

‘Something about a phone call, but I reckon he’s called in at number eleven. He’s got the hots for the new aide.’

‘You reckon? I’ll be your baby tonight eh? Figures. He’s never been able to keep it in his pants.’ He shook his head. ‘Anyway, when’s Pompeo’s bitch due back?’

‘Sometime tomorrow I think,’ Michael winced. ‘You want to be careful with all this name-calling Dom. You know what a temper our esteemed Foreign Secretary has.’

Dominic grinned. ‘If you think I’m scared of the Karate Kid you can think again. I know where the bodies are buried.’ He winked at Michael. ‘All of them.’

For a moment a shadow crossed Michael’s face but as he went to reply the door opened to reveal a familiar bulky figure who entered, ran his hand through his wild, blond hair and smiled.

‘What ho, how goes it chaps? Sorry I’m a bit late, but you know how it is; things to do, people to see.’

Dominic smirked ‘Honey just allow me one more chance to get along with you,’ he chanted.

Boris shook his head. ‘Still on with the Dylan theme, eh?’

‘But of course. It’ll be thunder on the mountain tonight, you hope?’

‘Of course not and anyway you ought to pack this Dylan lark up. ‘I’ve just seen Matt. It’s really freaking him out.’

Michael nodded. ‘He’s right Dom. Last night’s offering of ‘Only a Pawn in their Game’ really hit home. I thought he was going to cry. He’s sure he’s being set up to take the blame for the way the pandemic’s been mishandled.

Boris grinned. ‘First time he’s been right since I gave him the job.’ A look of self-satisfaction crossed his face. ‘His legacy is going to be…’ he paused for effect….. ‘Corona Corona.’

Dominic clapped his hands. ‘Nice one Boris. I’ll give you that one.’

Boris smirked. ‘Yes that’s the way it will be.’ He paused again. ‘When the deal goes down.’

Dominic sighed. ‘OK, OK, don’t milk it. Anyway, what are we doing here? Why have you called this meeting?’

Boris fiddled with his hair. ‘Well you see, there’s a couple of things have come up and I’m a bit worried about my ratings. I mean the pandemic and all this dying and stuff. It’s dropped me right down in the polls. I’m way behind Starmer at the moment.’

Dominic laughed. ‘Oh come on Boris. You’ve an eighty seat majority and people have short memories. Once this lot’s over, as far as the punters are concerned it will just be a case of ‘OK, so bad things happen but it could have been worse. Could have been me,’ and then they will move on. Plenty of other things for them to think about. Brexit. Immigration. That’s what it’s all about. Don’t forget – this is good old racist Britain – we’re on a winner there!’

‘Of course I’m right.’ Dominic leaned forward in his chair. ‘By the time ‘Malice in Wonderland’ has done her bit, you’ll be quids in.’ He smirked. ‘I Priti the poor immigrant,’ you know what I mean?’

Boris looked baffled. ‘Never heard that one before. Have you Mike?’

‘Can’t say that I have.’

Dominic grinned triumphantly. ‘John Wesley Harding’ 1967 or thereabouts. A classic.’

Boris beamed. ‘You know, I think you’re right Dom. I just wish this other problem was as simple.’

‘What other problem?’

‘Foreign Sec on the blower just now, reckons Trump’s going for it.’

‘Going for what?’

‘It’s this Chinese business Mike. Looks like it could be military action.’

‘You what? Against the Chinese?’

Boris nodded. ‘Raab reckons so; says the trade deal depends on it and we’ll be expected to send some troops.’

‘Sounds like Talkin’ World War III Blues.’

‘It’s not funny Dom.’

Dominic laughed. ‘All this even after we’ve flogged them the N.H.S.?’

‘Yes that’s what the Masters of War say.’ Boris scowled. ‘Look you’ve got me doing it now.’

Dominic sighed.

‘Calm down the pair of you. You’re worrying about nothing – Don’t think twice, it’s alright, so we lose a few hundred squaddies, so what?’

‘Oh c’mon Dom,’ Boris interrupted, ‘I don’t give a toss about the squaddies, but it’ll play havoc with my ratings.’

‘No way,’ Dom shook his head. ‘Listen and learn. Joe Public loves a good war, assuming he’s not personally involved of course. Look at Maggie and the Falklands. Best election manifesto ever, bar none.’ He turned to Michael. ‘I’m right aren’t I?’

Michael nodded thoughtfully.

‘You know Boris, I reckon Dom’s spot on.’

‘But what if we lose? I mean, it’s the Chinese. Even the Yanks can’t guarantee winning. The answer’s Blowing in the Wind.’

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Dominic thumped the table. ‘So we lose? So what? We lie. For goodness sake man, it’s what you’re good at. You claim victory. The press will back you up, well most of them anyway.’

Michael, face flushed with excitement, jumped to his feet. ‘Yes, and when it’s all over we have a nice big remembrance service. Bring in the Royal Family. God On Our Side, and all that.’ He smirked with inspiration. ‘Get Charlie on the job, bit of multifaith, Gods and so forth. The people will love it! It’s a winner Boris! Yes, definitely!’

Boris beamed and rose to his feet. ‘You know, I think you’re right. I feel lots better now. OK, I’m off, things to do. You know what I mean.’

Michael sneered – he was good at it. ‘Are you off to play hide the snake?’

Boris opened the door. ‘That’s for me to know and you to ponder, but don’t forget the motto.’ He grinned evilly. ‘It Ain’t Me Babe. See you Thursday morning. Nine o clock meeting. Cioa.’

Dominic stared after the rapidly retreating figure. ‘The Drifter’s Escape,’ he muttered, and turning to Michael. ‘What a prat!’

‘I know what you mean.’ Michael nodded. ‘Thinks he can get away with anything.’

Dominic grinned, ‘That’s what he thinks, but me and you know different, don’t we, Mikey baby? I’m off. Catch you later.’

He swaggered off down the corridor accompanied by a surprisingly tuneful rendition of ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.’

Sleepy John Miller – a little story I woke up with this morning.

Sleepy John Miller

Sleepy John Miller was an itinerant Blues busker who played for dimes on the corner of Michigan and East 43rd in Chicago, outside the diner, during the height of the depression in the early thirties. Most days he made enough to enable him to eat. He needed nothing more. His home was the park bench in Jackson Park. Sleepy John was unusual because he only played his own material, autobiographical songs of poverty, hard times tinged with hope for better times to come.

The Chesk brothers were Polish immigrants who ran a hardware store on Wabash Ave. Above the store they had a small recording studio. It was very primitive, not really a studio at all, just a bare room with a portable recording machine. They ran a little side-line recording the local talent and selling the old 78 records to the black population who lived in that part of town.

On a summer evening the sound of those records could be heard leaking into the sweltering streets. Sleepy John would smile to himself when he heard one of his own songs being played. He took great pleasure in knowing it was being listened to.

Sleepy was a regular at the Chesk store. He’d come in, record his new songs, accept a pittance, along with a promise of royalties that never seemed to materialise, and leave. He never asked for much and seemed content just to know that his songs had been recorded.

In 1933 the Chesk brothers were sitting together in the back room with a glass of brandy holding what they called their business meeting, a meeting that usually went on into the early hours and involved cards.

‘You know that guy Sleepy Joe we’ve been recording?’ Len Cask remarked. Phil and Henry looked expectantly at him. ‘His records are selling like hot cakes. I can’t press them up fast enough. His sad old songs seem to be hitting the spot during this depression.’

The brothers divided up the work. Phil was the one who usually carried out the recordings. Len ran the shop and Henry oversaw the ordering and saw to the business side of things. It worked well. Even in the hard times of depression they were making a good living.

‘Yeah, I noticed that,’ Phil said, thinking back to the recording sessions. ‘He’s got something about him.’

‘I’ve sold hundreds in the last year. Literally hundreds. We owe him a fortune in royalties.’

‘Does he ever ask?’ Henry said abruptly, placing his glass purposefully on the table.

Phil and Len looked at each other. ‘No, never.’

Henry nodded and picked up his glass.

‘Probably enough to get a nice place,’ Len remarked whimsically, swirling the amber liquid in his glass.

No more was said about Sleepy Joe.

In the winter of 1933 a blizzard blew in off the lakes. The temperature dived to -27 degrees. The next day, under a pile of newspapers on a park bench in Jackson Park, Sleepy Joe Miller was found to have taken his last sleep – frozen stiff, his arms cradling his battered guitar.

As there were no next of kin the city hurriedly buried the frozen body in an unmarked municipal grave.

‘At least he’s left us another eight sides,’ Henry remarked to his brothers.

A Blue Moon for Boris

A Blue Moon for Boris

‘Hhhhrrrmmmph, by gad, gadzzoooks. We’re gonna bash that Marxist Corbyn back into his commie politburo.’ Johnson spluttered, piggy eyes screwed up, shoulders hunched in his characteristic Churchillian slouch.

‘Yes, but that might prove harder than you think,’ Dominic Cummings deliberated, easing himself back into his armchair and sipping his single malt. ‘What Corbyn is putting forward makes sense and what we are pushing is a bunch of lies, fake news and promises that we have no intention of keeping.’

‘Hmmm, gosh, since when has truth got anything to do with it?’ Johnson blustered. ‘All they care about is Brexit. Brexit. We can do anything we want.’

‘Just as long as we keep it focussed on Brexit,’ Cummings murmured. ‘That’s where we’ll win.’

‘Yes, by gad, hmmmppphh, snort, snort, get the job done. It’s all sealed – like an oven ready chicken, what. Prick it, slap it in the microwave on gas mark 4 and baaamo. There’s your baby. Die in a ditch and over my dead body.’

‘Yes,’ Cummings muttered. He was studying Johnson with a critical eye. The man was a loose cannon. Could he be trusted to deliver and not go off on one? Unsure. But he was all they had – an Eton toff, bumbling Billy Bunter on amphetamine. For some reason the public seemed to love him. ‘Just keep it on Brexit.’

‘Wilco, hrrmmpphhh’ Johnson said with a flourish. ‘te potest numerare in me!’ (You can count on me)

Cummings raised his eyebrows, took a sip of his whisky and sighed deeply. At least they stood a good chance of getting Brexit done, crashing out and sending the whole country flying. That might just make it worth it.’

‘Cripes, I mean blimey, I’m putting blooming billions into the NHS, police and, and, and bally education! Won’t that bally well please the blighters!’

Cummings shook his head. ‘No, no, no.’ He sighed again. ‘You keep off of that. Brexit is it. Stick to Brexit’

Johnson nodded like a dopey-eyed hound eager to please his master.

Cummings fixed him with his sternest look. ‘Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. Alright?’

‘Yes, by Jove, I know, but well, well cripes, it’s like wasting all that loot,’ Johnson protested.

‘We’re not wasting any loot,’ Cummings reminded him. ‘We’ll never spend it. They are just election promises. After the election nobody will remember. Once you’re in, they can’t do anything about it can they? They expect it. Nobody keeps election promises, do they? Not even Labour.’

‘But, but, but bloody hell, blithering bilgehooks, bloody Corbyn might,’ Johnson blustered. ‘He means it! The man’s a, a, a, a blinking real socialist. He’d give all the bloody loot to the oiks, to every Tom, Dick and Harry! He’s a bloody commie through and through.’

‘Yes he might,’ Cummings agreed, sipping the single malt, which now seemed to have lost its appeal. ‘That’s precisely why we’ve set the media running at full steam painting him as a dangerous extremist who would break the country. But we don’t want him deflecting us onto the NHS, Education or the crime wave do we? That would be a mistake, wouldn’t it? You’ve been shafting them for the past ten years, haven’t you?’ He rolled his eyes. It was like training cats to chase and fetch.

‘Well, well, cripes,’ Johnson spluttered. ‘What have they contributed to the bally country? Bunch of parasites.’

‘Yes,’ Cummings sighed with more than a hint of exasperation. ‘Precisely. But if you want to get elected you have to pander to the common people. One Nation Toryism and all that. Make them feel you are on their side and they’re getting something out of it. You don’t remind them that you’ve spent ten years screwing them to give more to your chums, do you?’ He peered hopefully at Johnson but remained unconvinced by what he saw. ‘Brexit. Brexit. Brexit. Alright?’ He continued to pound the message home more in hope than expectation. ‘And while you’re at it don’t ever say anything that leads into plugging tax loopholes, food banks, homelessness, more doctors, knife crime, Windrush, hostile environment, climate change, Trump and the NHS, fiddling expenses, Russian donors, May’s husband making a killing from bombing Syria, Tax cuts for the wealthy, tax cuts for corporations, doctoring Kier Starmer, housing, letter boxes, bank robbers, battle bus promises, Hunt’s backhanders, fake news, chlorinated chicken, social benefits, universal credit, student fees, potholes, councils, nurses, firms fleeing abroad or anything other than Brexit, Brexit, Brexit! Those are all things we’ve lied about, failed to deliver, messed up, or stink of corruption. Got it??’

‘Cor blimey Dom, er, er, I mean, cripes. That’s quite a list, quite a list I tell you. How the bloody hell am I meant to remember all that?’

‘Just remember Brexit, Brexit, Brexit,’ Dominic Cummings said wearily, ‘And be glad the elections only come around once in a blue moon.’

Perspectives – a true story

Perspectives

 

Billy and I were ten years old and standing in front of a display cabinet at the Natural History Museum in Kensington. This was a favourite place for us. Regularly we would make the journey on the train and underground to visit the museum. We were only ten years old but we were au fait with trains. Our parents thought we were competent and afforded us plenty of freedom. We lived twenty miles from London.

Billy was interested in geology. I was more into natural history and animals. So we alternated. Each week one of us would choose a section of the museum and we would both study it in detail. Billy nearly always chose minerals and I chose the displays of animals or evolution. We enjoyed ourselves and would jabber excitedly about the exhibits.

On this particular day we had found ourselves peering at a wall-display of the contents of a penguin’s gullet. It was full of stones, shells, bones and assorted debris. We were engaged in deep discussion as to why the various objects had ended up in this bird’s digestive system.

A gentleman was standing behind us. He seemed ancient, all of fifty, in a tweed suit with waistcoat, neat, tidy and respectable. Initially we paid him no heed. He was listening in to what we were discussing and then began asking questions.

We explained to him all the theories we had come up with for the presence of the stones and bones, from buoyancy, to breaking up the fish they ate, or providing calcium for egg shells. He seemed really interested. He smiled a lot and seemed very kindly – a pleasant, friendly gentleman. We talked and we told him all about ourselves. He took us to the canteen and bought us sticky buns and lemonade, sitting back, smiling benignly, smoking and watching us excitedly gulp it all down while incessantly gabbing. It seemed to amuse him. He asked us many questions and seemed to enjoy our company.

We made our farewells and clubbed together to buy him a packet of cigarettes for his kindness.

We arranged to meet up the following Saturday.

 

I saw the two young boys standing in front of the display cabinet. They were very vivacious and were precociously discussing the exhibit. I was smitten by their liveliness and enthusiasm.

I sidled up close so that I could listen in. Their excitement was contagious. Just the type of lads I liked.

I began asking questions and they were eager to respond. Their innocence was delightful. I was enjoying myself.

I tentatively invited them down to the canteen for buns and lemonade. They continued to excitedly discuss the exhibits as I sat back and observed. Their energy and enthusiasm was exhilarating. It amused and thrilled me. I was enjoying myself immensely.

When they had finished their food they declared that it was time to go. They unexpectedly bought me a packet of cigarettes. I arranged to meet up with them the next Saturday.

It was something I would look forward to.

 

‘So what did this gentleman look like?’ my Mum asked suspiciously. My Dad was listening in as I recanted the story of our encounter. I explained how we had met and how he had kindly taken us for lemonade and buns and how nice he was. I described what he looked like.

My Mum gave my Dad a serious look. I could see that they were not at all happy with this development.

They were even unhappier when I explained how Billy and I had arranged to meet up with the man next Saturday. I could see the worried glances exchanged. I did my best to explain how kind and pleasant he was but that did not seem to make an impression.

‘They’re too young to know about those types of people,’ my Mum said to my Dad.

‘What people?’ I asked, completely baffled.

Apparently I was too young to understand. They had a short discussion which I found hard to follow.

‘You’re not going,’ my Dad pronounced. My Mum nodded approval. I was extremely upset. I kept thinking about that kindly gentleman left waiting, expecting to see us. How disappointed he would be.

Billy and I never resumed those visits. That phase of our life was cut short.

 

In later life I often wonder about that time. If we had have met up that Saturday would it have been a day that would have radically altered our lives? Was that respectable looking gentleman a member of the Royal Society who might have taken us under his wing and helped transform our future? Or was he not as he appeared – someone who might have altered our lives in a different way?

 

I shall never know.

It’s not easy being Green – a short story

It’s not easy being Green

 

Lisa was fifteen years old, fair haired and freckly, bright and full of life, with a ready smile, and a great love of nature. She fanatically watched the Richard Attenborough Blue Planet programmes and took it all to heart. The world was a beautiful place and it was under threat. Lisa felt she had to do something.

That is when Lisa began her campaign. It started with her joining her local environment group to pick up litter on the beach. They were a dedicated bunch, mainly young, but with a smattering of older people. There was such a sense of camaraderie. They made saving the planet fun.

It went on from there. The more Lisa found out the more alarming it became. She progressed to saving hedgehogs, lobbying for gaps in fences for the creatures to move around gardens. She was dismayed to find the collapse of insect populations. Then there were the frogs, toads, newts, swifts, swallows, grass snakes and slowworms. Lisa began lobbying MPs, writing to newspapers and highlighting the grubbing up of hedges, the filling in of ponds, the culverting of ditches and the pollution that was killing the things she loved. For Lisa it was as if she felt each example of nature being battered as a personal tragedy.

Lisa’s parents were impressed with her passion and encouraged it. She’d formed an environmental group at school and, despite her young age, begun taking an active leadership role with the local greens. The environmentalists seemed a nice friendly, intelligent crowd. The type they approved of. They liked the idea of her using her time so positively, in a good cause. They thought that it kept her out of trouble and away from some of the pitfalls of teenage life; that she was developing useful skills, scanning the internet, writing letters, standing up and talking to groups, preparing dossiers. They were proud of their daughter and thought these skills would all come in useful when it came to future careers.

They were happy to support her, drive her around to various meetings and environmental activities. They were impressed with her enthusiasm and the way she’d thrown herself into her campaigns. Lisa’s spare time was spent petitioning, writing letters, investigating and meeting with her similarly minded friends. Even her older brother was impressed with his little sister and gave her grudging respect.

Her concerns widened. There were campaigns to save the rhinos and elephants from poachers, to protect the rainforest from the creeping encroachment of palm oil and coffee, to create a sustainable world. She was opposed to trophy hunting and for the protection of the dwindling numbers of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans.

Then there were the issues of Global Warming and Species Extinction, the massive overpopulation problem, the madness of Trump and Bolsonaro, and they watched as Lisa became more political.

At school Lisa’s environment group, mainly due to Lisa’s drive and vitality, had become huge. Fortunately her Headteacher was supportive and gave her every encouragement, she too thought that Lisa’s passion was healthy and liked the blossoming of her personality and qualities. Lisa was becoming a leader. She allowed her to run assemblies for the whole school, where she argued for chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and whales to be afforded the same rights as people – asserting that their intelligence demanded that they be recognised as sentient beings.

Lisa had joined Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. In school the group was active organising recycling schemes, cycle racks, and arranging litter picking in the community – which went down very nicely with the school’s neighbours.

Lisa’s parents were not quite so enamoured when Lisa’s ardency started to impact on their meals. Lisa declared she was now vegan and, for the sake of the environment and in support of opposition to the inhumane treatment of animals and their cruel transport and slaughter, she was forsaking meat and wanted the family to do the same.

Well that created quite a ruction. Her older brother was not amused and was having none of it. He liked his bacon butties and Sunday roasts, in fact he did not consider it a proper meal without meat and, to be truthful, her parents felt the same. After many fiery encounters a compromise was reached. Lisa would have her vegan meals and the family would try their hardest to cut down on their meat consumption. It left her brother brooding with resentment but it provided a way forward.

Shopping had also become a bit of a nightmare. Mum and Dad’s weekly trip to the supermarket had a whole new range of products that they were under strict instructions not to purchase. There were the things that were apparently destructive to the environment, the things with unrecyclable packaging and the brands who were supporting rainforest destruction, using palm oil or anything that was unsustainable. At first it was extremely difficult, limiting and more expensive, but they settled into the new shopping regime and life settled back into a pattern.

Lisa had moved on to energy now and was campaigning for solar panels, windfarms and zero carbon. Being run around in the car was a definite no. She now used public transport or cycled. Cycling was healthy and did not pollute. Lisa’s parents worried about her safety on the roads but there were cycle paths and Lisa assured them that she and her friends were responsible and careful, so they tried not to worry.

A whole group from school, with the Head’s blessing, took the day off to protest and petition the government over global warming and species extinction. They went up to the big rally in London to hear Greta Thunberg speak. They excitedly had prepared their placards and discussed the event round at Lisa’s house. She had become the focus and Greta was a huge inspiration.

Then came the week of protest from Extinction Rebellion.

Lisa felt like the rest of the young protestors. They had written their letters, petitioned and protested, but nobody was listening. The politicians all paid lip-service to environmental concerns. It seemed that all they were interested in was the economy and getting elected. All they cared about was power. Nobody was really worrying about the looming catastrophe of global warming. They were quite happy to kick that can down the road and let future generations pick up the bill. Nobody really cared about the plight of the poor animals whose habitats were being ripped down or polluted, who were being hunted and slaughtered in droves. Nobody cared.

But Lisa cared. She cared with all her heart.

During that week Lisa and her friends were at the forefront. They sat on the bridges and blocked the traffic, bringing London to a standstill. Lisa and her friends superglued themselves to the underground trains and brought the transport system to a halt.

With more than a little alarm Lisa’s parents found themselves picking up Lisa from police stations along with threats of court action and prosecution. Things had taken a turn, much argument and fury was spent as her parents harangued her, but Lisa remained unrepentant, defiant even. They had to make people listen, she explained. Things had to change. They were fighting for the planet. But still nobody was listening!

That was when Lisa realised that she had to do something more. Protest was simply not enough. She had to do something that would make everyone take notice – would force them to do something about it – something to wake everybody up to the pressing need.

 

Sacrifice was required.

 

It’s not easy being Green.

Sod It!! A short story.

Sod it!!

 

She woke and wondered if there was any way she could avoid the goodbye, short of running away.

Nothing came to mind.

A huge sinking feeling gnawed at her stomach, her heart was thumping and sweat stood out on her brow. She glanced at the clock. It was 5.00 o clock. In an hour’s time she would have to get up to face it all over again, except this was the end of it. She’d been listening to the church bells ringing. She’d only managed two hours at most. It wasn’t enough. She was too strung out. She needed more but there was no chance of that. Her mind was already churning with questions and answers. They were chasing their tails in an endless cyclone of fears. There was nothing she could do.

Slowly, so as not to disturb her partner who was sleeping so peacefully, she rolled over on to her back and stared at the ceiling, desperately trying to slow everything down. She was jealous of his lack of worries.

She had not wanted the goodbye in the first place. But she’d gone along with it. She’d thought that she could control it, be in charge. But instead of her riding it, it was now riding her. Things were out of control. It was no longer in her hands. She felt like a puppet being blown here and there by circumstances beyond her control. There were no good outcomes for any of them.

She stared up at the ceiling as the patches of darkness swirled in front of her eyes dissolving into phosphine patterns.

All the doubts and fears bubbled away in her head. Whichever way she looked, all she could see was catastrophe.

It had all come to this. Today she was saying goodbye, finito, over. Today was the culmination of it all. Today was when it all came to a head.

Today was the day when she would tell them how it was, defy them to do their worst and walk away with a final wave, a brave face and the acid of defeat.

Today was the end of all her dreams. She knew that. Try as she could there was no good outcome to be found for any of them. She was skewered and she knew it. But it wasn’t all her fault.

She reached over, pressed out a beta-blocker and swigged it down with a gulp of water.

She lay there searching for an alternative. There was none to be found. All her instincts told her to simply stay in bed, plead illness and avoid the confrontation. She could just walk away without having to face her protagonists. But she knew that wouldn’t wash.

She lay in the darkness waiting for the drug to kick in and control her heart-rate. It would take a few minutes. Meanwhile she tried to control her breathing.

She played what was going to happen in her mind, allowing her thoughts to run through every instant of the events that were shortly going to take place.

She felt the drug begin to work and started to regain control over her chaotic thoughts. It was like trying to close the lid on a hopelessly overfilled suitcase. She managed to get it closed but knew that the pressure was threatening to bust the catches and send the contents exploding out.

Dignity. That’s what she told herself, taking a deep breath. Dignity. She would say goodbye and walk away with her head held high. That’s all that mattered. She would not break down. She refused to allow her emotions to better her. Dignity and control.

She allowed her mind to go through every detail, to explore the inevitable. She knew exactly what she was going to do, what she was going to say, and how she was going to hold herself. She rehearsed it in her head.

The alarm went. Her partner stirred. She slipped out of bed to prepare herself for the grand farewell. Some things you cannot run away from. This was one of them.

She showered, dressed and donned the persona she had chosen to fit the occasion. Everything was done with precision. She followed the routine. The routine gave her strength.

She made the tea, boiled an egg and put the toast in the toaster. She took a cup of tea in and placed it on the bedside cabinet for when he came round. He groaned a thank you. It was just another day for him.

Mechanically she drank her tea, ate her egg and crunched her toast, chewing and swallowing like an automaton.

It all went exactly as she had known it would. She faced hostility from all sides. Defiantly she fought. She lost. She walked out exactly as she had visualised in her head.

Stepping into the light she faced the tigerish mob.

‘How does it feel to have betrayed your country?’

‘The people want to know why you have thrown us all into chaos and let us all down so badly?’

‘Haven’t you pitched us into a disastrous Brexit?’

‘Mrs May why are you running away?’

Keep your mouth shut and your ears open – a tale of cliches.

Keep your mouth shut and ears open – A tale of cliches.

 

They say everything comes to those who wait and I guess that is true with me. I finally got my chance. They invited me on to the board.

It took me by surprise. I never thought it would happen. I knew I was good. They knew that too. They knew they needed my expertise but they could not stomach what I stood for. I wasn’t like them. They were all part of the same club and it wasn’t a club I wanted to be part of. I don’t do golf, the Masons or Rotary. I did not play that game.

But I knew I could bring about changes from the inside. You had to have power to bring about change. I wanted that. But I had never thought it would happen. I was too much of a maverick. But now it had happened. They had finally decided that I just might be worth the risk.

Maggie advised me to take things easy, to sit on my hands, keep my mouth shut and my ears open – at least until I had established myself.

I knew I was going to find that hard. I’d heard all the tales. There’s no smoke without fire. They had a callous, uncaring side to them that I was going to find difficult to deal with.

I had grave doubts about joining that board. I very nearly turned it down. I knew that if you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas. I didn’t want to get infected. I didn’t want their damn fleas.

Mixed in with my misapprehension was my self-doubt. When faced with it I wasn’t sure I was capable.

It was Maggie who calmed me down. She not only assured me that I could do it but that I could make a real difference to peoples’ lives. She told me that I owed it to them, the ordinary people.

When she spoke like that it fired me up. She made me feel that I could do it. I wasn’t selling out by joining that damn board.

‘Hey,’ she said, with a chuckle, ‘if it all goes wrong you can always leave, step down and walk away.’

‘But what if I make a complete fool of myself? I could lose everything?’ I argued.

‘So what?’ Maggie chuckled again. ‘If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We’d get by. It’s not the end of the world.’ She grinned at me with such a look that communicated to me that she had absolute faith in what I could do. ‘It could be even better. At least you’d know that you’d given it your best shot. You’d have no regrets on that score.’

So here I was – at my first board meeting. ‘Shut your mouth and keep your ears open’ still ringing in my head.

Well I did that for most of the time. I kept my input to a minimum and watched and listened, weighing everything up. I kept my counsel. At least, right up until they started the discussion on how to go about maximising profits. My ears opened wide. They were after pushing people harder, cutting pay, laying people off, creating a fear of redundancy, slashing pensions, reducing holiday rights, cutting costs, increasing productivity.

I clamped my teeth together and sat on my hands.

They wanted people to work longer hours and to work harder for less pay. They wanted to generate an ethos of fear. Then they started laughing – all those old grey-headed guys, talking about stripping out the dead wood. The older staff were more expensive. They could get rid of them and bring in cheap young kids.

I was feeling like I might explode. These were people like my friends Max and Geraldine they were talking about. Real people. They were to be thrown on the scrapheap without a qualm, without a thought for them or their families. They were considered old and expendable. Thirty years of loyalty counted for nothing, was not even worthy of consideration. To them people like Geraldine and Max were just names in a list, numbers in a balance sheet.

How could I keep my mouth shut? But I did. I managed it.

The profits were already high. There was really no need for anything as drastic as this. Why were they talking like this?

I sat on my hands.

The smoke was acrid in my nostrils. The lemon was acid in my mouth. My skin crawled with fleas.

It was when they laughed about the impact of their proposals on the size of their bonuses that I shut my ears, got off my hands, rose to my feet and opened my mouth.

Almost Armageddon – a short story

Almost Armageddon

 

My name is Spud, better known as Rating John Densmore, one of the back-afters on the Conk – HMS Conqueror – a key nuclear sub in our fleet. We were the ones who sunk the Belgrano. I was there for that. I remember it well. They played us the tapes of those poor devils screaming as they were scalded to death when the boilers blew. Our whole crew were all drinking a toast and laughing their heads off. I wasn’t. It horrified me; nearly sent me wibbly. I still have nightmares about torpedoes chasing me through the boat or the big kettle melting down and scalding us to death, just like those Argies.

That’s why I did it.

They call me Spud because I eat a lot of chips. They reckoned I’d grow into a potato. But I don’t get too much time to eat chips these days. Our diet is carefully controlled. With 136 men on board it can get pretty whiffy back aft. They carefully manage what gasses we exude by feeding us the right things. Life on the boat does get to you. Being at sea for three weeks at a time sends you loopy. There are things you get used to. You don’t go to the loo when the ship dives deep. The bulkheads bend and the door doesn’t open. You could be in there until the ship comes back up. You learn fast. You can feel the metal bend and sense the pressure. It presses on you. It presses on your mind.

I’m a hero. At least that’s how I see it, though you’d never hear about it. They hush it up. It never happened, and, at the court-martial, they believed me that it was an accident.

It was Thatcher that did it for me. She knew that Belgrano was heading away but she still gave the order. Captain Cranse was up for it. They all were. They couldn’t wait to press the button. They murdered 323 of the poor bleeders. Not that they saw it as murder. You’d think we’d won the world cup! Talk about triumphalism.

Thatcher was so full of it. All the way back she was egging us on. That’s when I think it changed her. She thought she could take on anyone. We even flew the Jolly Roger when we got back to port.

I think that’s when she went mad. I’m sure of that. She was a complete megalomaniac.

The Conqueror had been upgraded with 16 ballistic missile tubes but we only ever had 8 tubes loaded at any time.

That changed.

I remember thinking back then in port that something was up when we took the extra Trident missiles on board. All sixteen tubes were loaded up.

I’m sure Cranse and the exec officers knew, but I reckon they were as hypered up as much as Thatcher. They wanted it as much as she did. There was madness at work.

We were ordered to sail the boat deep and silent. I watched the charts because I was on the command deck. My job was serving the cocoa. We were heading for Russia.

I lay on my bunk in the missile room. I always slept there. There was more space to breathe. It all got clausto back aft. It was too hot and there was no room. They allowed those who wanted to bunk up with the missiles. It was a mixed blessing. There was plenty of time to think and those missiles certainly got your mind turning.

I was serving up the cocoa when we hit battle stations. I was frozen as they smoothly went through the procedures just as if it was another exercise. We were seconds away from a launch. We were going to blow all the tubes. But I knew those sixteen missiles each with their eight warheads were aimed at Russian cites and nuclear sites.

It did not take me too long to realise that Thatcher thought she could get away with a preemptive strike. She really thought she could take Russia out.

My mind was whirring. The Generals obviously thought they could also take out all the Russian subs. They imagined we had a window. They believed we could sneak in under the radar. Perhaps she’d made a deal with Reagan? He’d jump in too as soon as we started.

We were really going to launch. Seemingly we were the lead boat. The others would follow us and loose off their missiles. They really believed they could take Russia out.

The procedures were followed. The countdown was going. That’s when Thatcher chortled and brought me out of my trance. The Belgrano was bad enough but this could be millions, whole cities. I could see it – millions of screaming people – women and children. And Russia would react. We’d never knock out all their silos. British cities and American cities would burn.

But those fools did not seem to care.

That’s when I tripped and accidentally dumped the whole tray of cocoa into the computer works and blew the system.

World War Three never happened.

It was Thatcher who saved the world.

 

Opher 4.6.2018

Humanity in the toilet bowl.

A little colony of bacteria lives in the toilet bowl. Their lives are short. All they require is moisture and nutrient. They prosper and multiply for the conditions are ideal.

These microscopic creatures have consciousness and though they measure their lives in mere minutes they discuss the wonders around them and attempt to understand the world in which they dwell. They have their theories on the creation of their world, they have their philosophy of how to live and prosper. They believe they have an understanding of their environment.

At regular intervals a great darkness descends upon them and a gigantic shape blots out the heavens, nutrients are dispensed and all give praise. They believe it is their praise and ritual that is responsible for these gifts.

There is much conjecture as to the nature of this phenomenon. There are different factions who each claim to have the only answer. Some assert themselves to be ‘chosen’, some to have had personal instruction and some converse regularly.

I can’t help thinking that humanity is like that colony of bacteria. In relation to our size and lifetime the universe, with its infinite scope, is as mysterious as the porcelain and posteriors; our lives are brief flashes in the aeons.

We are microscopic scum on the surface of a minor planet orbiting a mediocre sun in an unexceptional galaxy. There are more galaxies than grains of sand. Yet we dare to extrapolate and understand.

I fear the domestos!