My Mistake and the Last Chance Disco

This short story, just under 500 words, was an exercise in a writing class June last year. We were asked to write a short piece, autobiographical or fiction, about a mistake that led to significant consequences.

I remember a lecture I went to by mistake. It was at an OU Summer School, mid-afternoon after a heavy session in the student union bar with some other tutors. The lecture I had intended to go to was about contemporary political ideologies. I was told later that it had been mind-numbingly boring. The one I went to by mistake and fell asleep during was on contemporary theoretical physics. My eyes were already half closed as a young man with a hopeful beard, peering earnestly over the lectern through thick lensed glasses, was telling us that the world is mathematical. It can be discovered and described by mathematics and it can be proven mathematically that there are an infinite number of simultaneously existing universes. Therefore, he concluded (probably exceeding his brief), everything that can happen has or will happen and that we each simultaneously are living an infinite number of different lives.

As I drifted into a deep alcohol induced slumber I wondered if in some other universe any of this was making sense. In this universe I was woken up by the young woman sat next to me because of my snoring. If it hadn’t been for my mistake in going to that lecture, I wouldn’t have ended up having a very pleasant and stimulating evening with the self-same young woman at the traditional OU Summer School Last Chance Disco.

That of course turned out to be another mistake without which I would not have had such a short career with the OU and probably the whole train of events that led to me marrying her and a whole raft of other mistakes, like you, wouldn’t have happened. I can see you’re upset. Perhaps you can take some consolation from the fact that in one of the other lives you are concurrently living, I am not your father. I certainly take some comfort that somewhere else I am happy and you are not my son.

But, in a parallel universe, perhaps I’m hugging you. Yet somewhere else no doubt you are beating me to death, probably with the help of your mother. In another universe I am a rent boy or a go-go dancer with an improbable bust.

This is all, of course, what my mother would have called bollocks. It is the case that much of the world can be described mathematically. But much of it can’t. Statistical probabilities are not mathematical certainties. Many mathematical formulae and proofs are simply that – mathematical. Not all mathematical formulations have real-world correlates. The only realities that correspond to the infinite possibilities my short-sighted, sparsely bearded young physics lecturer so confidently and erroneously asserted are the realities that live in the creative minds of the artists, poets and writers. There, in the dark and dusty corners, the nooks and crannies of moist fecundity, all things are possible.  Those are the alternative worlds I inhabit.

The Aire in Flood

Pell-mell the promiscuous pregnant Aire
Surges through the spreading banks scouring
Its bed of bicycles, trolleys and the dead

Hurling them at the ancient bridge
Shaking ghosts from the cracks
Drowning the phantom clatter of race driven looms

Carrying the detritus of centuries to the
Sanctuary of the Northern Sea.

Inspired by:

The Thaw Of 1966 [Tomas Tranströmer]

Headlong headlong waters; roaring; old hypnosis.
The river swamps the car-cemetery, glitters
behind the masks.
I hold tight to the bridge railing.
The bridge: a big iron bird sailing past death.

The Punishment of The Gods

Walking past the brick arches from the station to the Midland Hotel
That monument to Victorian engineering and optimism
I saw its antithesis, a ragged human sat on a sheet of cardboard
In front of a rescued festival tent
Reading a book.

I feigned I had not seen him and hurried past
To meet my friends in the Midland for afternoon tea
Poured from a Japanese porcelain pot into near translucent cups
With quartered sandwiches and dainty iced cakes.

Warm and laughing at our easy banter
I watched the rain siling down outside the window
Now vertical, now slanting as it bent to the wind
And thought of the crouched reader sheltered in the gloomy arch.

I stood beside him, in my mind, invisible
He held the book close to his face, a narrow gap between
An upturned collar and wound scarf under a grey hood
His hands in fingerless woollen gloves.

His legs were in a sleeping bag pulled round his waist
The tent floored with cardboard
Inside a small rucksack, bundled clothing, a blanket
A dog lead and bowl but no dog.

His age was hard to tell, but not young
Or, if so, prematurely aged by life in the margins
He rocked as he read, a Quran perhaps or some
Nervous condition.

I left my companions, tea undrunk,
Sandwiches and cake wrapped in a serviette
Leaning into the wind and rain
I returned to the dark arches.

He was as before, reading, rocking
Engrossed in a world of imagination
Perhaps one with more comfort and hope.
I approached him.

I noticed for the first time, in a corner of the arched niche
A kitchen peddle bin, an incongruous emblem of another world
Of warmth, security and domesticity
Where rubbish and dirt could be discarded, order imposed.

What to say? I found myself wordless
Anything I started to say lapsed to silence
In fear of appearing patronising or patrician
I felt like a stranger, dumb in a foreign land.

“What are you reading?” I heard myself say
He started as if he had been unaware of me
His eyes met mine and looked down at the proffered food.
“I thought you could do with a bite to eat”.

I put it down on the cardboard beside him
“It’s just a couple of sandwiches and a cake”
I clumsily opened my wallet to see what cash I had
Looking for the usual tin or hat to put it in. There was none.

He raised his hand in protest. No. No thanks, no need
I should have put money in with the food.
“I’d like to give you some money” but as I spoke I realised
That’s what this is. “I’d like”. This is about me.

I dropped a ten-pound note at his feet and turned away
Bowed with guilt. Why had he done this to me?
Would thanks and gratitude been easier to bear?
Perhaps, but we both would have been dissembling.

“Metamorphoses” he said to my back. “The greatest poem ever written in Latin”
I faltered in my step and turned, confounded
He held the book up. It was in the original Latin
“I’m reading the section where the God’s punish the Mortals. Do you know it?”

I walked back and sat at his feet.

The Firing Squad

He stood stiffly in the baking sun, feeling the sweat carving rivulets in the dust on his face. The appointed hour was nearly upon him. Just a few minutes. Time enough to reflect on what had brought him to this.

He had never wanted to join the army, but he could not disappoint his father. Nonetheless, he’d taken to the life, some good friends, regular meals, interesting places. Until he’d ended up in this hell hole. Of course, that’s what it had always been about, the business of killing. He never thought he would be capable of pulling the trigger for real, with another human being in front of him, or ramming a bayonet into the stomach of another young man, much like himself. But it had been kill or be killed. Not everyone could do it. Many just accepted death to take them away from it all. Others deserted, another way of escaping through death but at the hands of their comrades. Nearly every day the firing squad could be heard going about its business.

He had become fatalistic. He had thrown himself into battle in a rage, not at the enemy but at the generals who had thrown him into this maelstrom of murder and terror. Despite his complete disregard for safety he survived the first bloody battle and came out of it as a bit of a hero. This sickened him even more. Back behind the lines he had let it all out, a bitter tirade against King and country, the generals, the evil futility of war, the godlessness of the world, the tragic waste of life, young men on both sides sent to slaughter and be slaughtered by their arrogant leaders sitting safely in the rear.

They decided they had to make an example of him and so here he was, and the moment had arrived. The squad was lined up and ordered to raise their rifles and take aim. All he could hear was the men’s heavy breathing and the pulse of blood in his ears. With eyes clenched tight shut, he barked out the order – Fire.


A 2020 lock-down poem.

You thought you were alone at home
Away from prying eyes
But everywhere indoors you roam
You feel the eyes of spies.
The biggest threat to mental health
Is reacquaintance with yourself.

Rule Britannia – The Leavers’ Lament

This was an exercise for a writing group I’m a member of. We were asked to write a poem as if we were the Poet Laureate. Their job is to mark major national events with an appropriate commemorative poem. The exercise also stipulated a maximum of 14 lines, so obviously a sonnet was called for. A sonnet consists of 14 lines, 3 stanzas of 4 and a rhyming couplet to finish. The rhyming scheme for the stanzas is abab. Traditionally there is a ‘turn’ at the commencement of the 3rd stanza which changes direction somehow, a change of mood or tone, a contradiction or different take on the message of the first two stanzas. If you want to read proper sonnets you could do worse than turn to Shakespeare.

Standing proud on the white cliffs of Dover
Brave Englishmen hold their heads high and free
No more bowed to the will of another
Now in control of their own destiny.

We’ll rule our own land and trade where we please
We hold the whip hand in all that we do
We will make our own laws, fish our own seas
Safe in the hands of an Englishman true.

But now we find in charge another man
Unvoted for and from a far-off land
We have to kiss the ring of Uncle Sam
We find our sovereignty is built on sand.

Leaving the EU should have made us great
And not America’s fifty third state.

Revolution is in the air – a pantoum

A pantoum is a poem form where the 2nd  and 3rd lines of each verse become the 1st and 3rd lines of the next verse. The exception is the last verse where 1st and 3rd lines of the first verse become the 2nd and last line of the poem. There is some licence to modify a repeat line to make more sense as I have done in the last verse. This was an exercise and I don’t think it is a form I will be taking up!

Revolution is in the air
Corrupt leaders have gone too far
No longer give in to despair
The desperate now know who they are

Corrupt leaders have gone too far
Austerity has steeled our will
The desperate now know who they are
That’s why they’ll hang from Tower Hill

Austerity has steeled our will
Nothing to lose, we’ll slash and burn
That’s why they’ll hang from Tower Hill
They’ll find they have nowhere to turn.

Nothing to lose, we’ll slash and burn
Now it’s their turn to feel despair
They’ll find they have nowhere to turn
Revolution is in the air

What are Haiku, Senryu and Tanka?

I have copied this form The site is Japanese although mainly using english. It may be closing down as it was a 10 year project now completed.

What are Haiku?

Haiku is a form of Japanese poetry, consisting of 17 morae (or on), in three metrical phrases of 5, 7 and 5 morae respectively. Haiku typically contain a kigo, or seasonal reference, and a kireji, or verbal caesura (cutting word).

English-language haiku poets think of haiku as a Japanese form of poetry generally (but not always) consisting of 17 syllables, usually within three lines, with 5, 7 and 5 syllables.

In Japanese, haiku are traditionally printed in a single vertical line, while haiku in English usually appear in three lines, to parallel the three metrical phrases of Japanese haiku. The essential element of form in English-language haiku is that each haiku is a short one-breath poem that usually contains a juxtaposition of images.

Most haiku writers prefer poems that refer to nature and social events, but some of them don’t always place an exacting seasonal word in the poem. Furthermore, a few of them write haiku composed on one or two lines in less than 17 syllables. Currently the majority of haiku are written in 11 short syllables in a 3-5-3 format.

And Senryu?

Senryu is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 or fewer morae (or on) in total. However, senryu tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryu are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Unlike haiku, senryu do not include a kireji or verbal caesura (cutting word), and do not generally include a kigo, or seasonal word.

It is often said that both haiku and senryu can be funny, but that if it’s funny, it’s probably senryu. Both haiku and senryu can be about nature, but if it’s about nature, it’s probably a haiku. In addition, both haiku and senryu can be about nature or human nature. Both haiku and senryu can be serious or humorous/satirical. A serious poem about nature is certainly a haiku. And a funny/satirical poem about human nature is certainly a senryu.

So what about Tanka?

Tanka consist of five units (often treated as separate lines when transliterated or translated), usually with the following mora pattern: 5-7-5-7-7.

The 5-7-5 is called the kami-no-ku (“upper phrase”), and the 7-7 is called the shimo-no-ku (“lower phrase”).



A wisteria branch taps on the window
A distant dog howls at the moon
A cracked church bell tolls
Below the cloud scudding skies

The sound of dragging feet on the stairs
A faint scratch of fingernails
Muffled moans and rasping breath
Black blood seeps beneath the door

A sudden crack of thunder
The room flashes with lightening
Now wide awake, your mouth dry
Your heart racing.

All is silent, the air hangs heavy
It’s just a nightmare
Thank God
You pull the sheets around you

Wrapped in a shroud, eyes wide open
Nothing but blackness and
The rhythmic thud of shovelled earth
Muffled weeping, mumbled prayers.

A sense of fading, falling
A rising wail of whispers
Mounting into a crescendo of unearthly shrieks
Malodours of the living dead.

Taloned  hands pluck at your flesh
Blank faces with gaping mouths
And coal ember eyes
Stoop over you.

Dread fear grips you by the throat
You push the skeletal hands away
A despairing scream of terror
As the fetid mouths close in

Pip, pip, pip, pip….
This is the seven o’clock news
Here are today’s headlines
And another waking nightmare begins

Fred’s Journey

Fred sitting in his canvass picnic chair, tartan blanket over his lap, glass of Zinfandel in hand, smile on  his face, looking at the evening birds swirling, twirling, diving and dining on the myriad insects hovering and shimmering in the sunlit early autumn evening air. He was thinking of fifty years before, in love with life, in love with his wife, devoted to his children and the Labour Party, the benevolent and caring foster parent of them all. Their guardian angel. Astride his Raleigh Shopper he could go anywhere. Shopping of course, the pub, the club, the quiet country lanes but never too far, and three times a week to the Labour Committee Rooms. Once a month, like almost everything else he did, a labour of love, he delivered by hand the Party newsletter to the membership. He knew all the streets, the lanes and cul de sacs, the ginnels and cut throughs, the islands of wealth and poverty in a sea of drab suburban uniformity, the class configured landscape of the 70s.

And then his world gradually unravelled. The mother of his children left him. They flew the coup, university, the big city. Two moved abroad and one remained though still lost, to Margret Thatcher and the forces of evil. But he still had his beloved Labour Party. Then, the blight of Blair, the ignominy of Iraq, university tuition fees and Private Funding Initiatives. His love of Labour lost. Alone, with no loves to keep him warm or wedded to life, he sank into the arms of a deep despondency. As the years rolled by he retreated into himself where all he could find was the contemplation of the gathering darkness and the end of his pointless futile existence. The fateful finale of a betrayed life.

Then one day an old Labour colleague, now a woman in her mid 70s, knocked on his door. He turned her away, as gently as he could, but she came back with two Costa coffees and a Sainsburys’ Battenburg. Your favourite, she said. She had won. She introduced him to Victoria, her Pendleton electrically assisted bicycle. He took it for a spin up and down the road, bent knees pumping out sideways like a lovelorn grasshopper tuning up for a romantic night. His spirit soared, his memory and imagination took flight. Could he be in love again? She was lovely. But the bike was beautiful.

He was sitting in the warm evening air of a Yorkshire Indian Summer. Still alone, but now, three times a week, he went for a ride on Jeremy, his sturdy, reliable and faithful e-bike in the company of Rita and her beautiful, elegant and constant companion, Victoria. The good life was still there to be had if you could only find it but sometimes someone needs to come along and lead you there by the hand.

7th August 2020