Yet another piece of “rubbish writing”.

Don’t deny it, it happens to you too. You’re sitting at your desk drinking your coffee. You put the cup down and it disappears. You turn around but the cup is just not there. Your body tells you that there was still some liquid in that cup and its disappearance increases your desire to drink it.

After what seems to be an age, the cup re-appears and it re-appears in a place that you can’t reach without leaving your seat. It reappears in a place that you just can’t remember putting it and where you wouldn’t have put it anyway.

Sometimes a similar thing happens with your half eaten sandwich or chocolate bar.

“I must be losing my marbles,” you say to yourself then forget it until the next time.

“Poltergeists,” I hear you say. Don’t even mention poltergeists. I can’t stand them. They are bad tempered and have no sense of humour. They just throw stuff for no reason.

Yes you do, don’t deny it.

Sorry about that, they butt in too when they’re not wanted.

I’m the one who moves things around.

Me? I’m the tutelary of this house. There’s another in the garden, although we’ve never met. I think she may be the one who eats all the blackcurrants just before you get to the bushes. And you thought it was the birds.

We tutelaries guard our allotted places. We don’t want thanks, but we crave recognition. Just a small sacrifice once in a while would do. That’s why we move things around. We want you to think about our needs. Why don’t you set up a little altar for us. I’d quite like a Guanyin, special for me, on the mantle shelf and the occasional biscuit, a few nuts or some chocolate. No fruit though, it gives me wind and you get those funny smells that has you cleaning out the fridge and cupboards.

“What’s in it for me?” I hear you say. Who do you think keeps your home and garden free from evil spirits?

No, you’re not an evil spirit, you’re a poltergeist. You’re not clever enough or evil enough to be an evil spirit.

Sorry, but he has to be told. He was here before the house was built and we have an agreement that he can stay, provided that he doesn’t throw things, at least not too often.

You can’t see me? Dogs and cats can. They sit and stare with their fur on end. Quite unnerving. Some children can see me, especially those who haven’t had their creativity and spontaneity stifled.

You can summon me, though. If you ever get that feeling that something untoward, an evil spirit, is about in the house then a short mantra will alert me. In fact, “Om,” will suffice. Just say “Om,” and I’ll be there.

Don’t forget that little statue, and I have a fondness for custard creams. Oops.

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Whispers from Courage

Another piece that didn’t meet the required standard for the competition.

“Jack, leave that that damned penguin alone,” shouted Cradock. He whistled and the dog abandoned the mission.

Sensing victory, the penguin waddled a few paces in pursuit, then turned and returned to the flock Jack had scattered.

“Feisty bird,”said Grant, as Cradock fondled the dog.

They looked across Stanley harbour. Glasgow was coaling from the hulk of the Great Britain and Monmouth from a collier. The rest of the ragbag squadron and their colliers lay at anchor, awaiting orders.

“You’ll be raising your flag on Good Hope then?” Grant asked.

“I’d be with you Grant, if you could make more than twelve knots, but Fisher and Churchill want us to engage Spee before he rounds the Horn.” Cradock seemed pessimistic. “You’ll have to follow with the colliers and hope you can bring your guns to bear.”

The two men walked back towards the Governor’s house with Jack in tow.

“Straubenzee tells me that Troubridge did the right thing. He says we’ll be sitting ducks too without your big guns. But damn it, I’m not retiring with a Court Martial,” said Cradock.

The two men reached the house and joined the other senior officers.

“My compliments on an excellent dinner,” said Cradock, raising his glass, as the party of officers at the Governor’s house downed their brandy. “Do you think I could have a private word, Allerdyce?”

The two men withdrew to one side.

“Could you oblige me with a small plot in your grounds and the loan of a spade?” Cradock asked.

Allerdyce cast a worried eye towards Jack, but Cradock smiled and shook his head. “Just a personal task.”

Alone and in a depressive but determined mood, Cradock carefully removed and wrapped his honours and medals in some of the waxed paper Straubenzee had obtained for him from Good Hope’s magazine. The paper smelled of oil and cordite. Having completed the first parcel, he drew his sword, raised it, lowered it then returned it to its scabbard. He wrapped the sword in the paper with equal care. He then secured both parcels with string.

With Jack at his heel and carrying a spade and his parcels, Cradock strode across the lawn to the tree Allerdyce had indicated. Not a gardener, he nevertheless stripped and reserved the turf, then dug a deep hole in the peaty soil. He placed the parcels in the hole, covered them with the soil and carefully restored the plot with the turf, casting the spare soil around the tree.

His task complete, Cradock looked up to the sky and said a short prayer. “Dear Lord, I have not the courage to face dishonour, but give me the courage to do my duty. God save the King.”

Cradock saluted the grave of an honourable officer, turned and walked smartly back to the Governor’s house. Tomorrow he would set sail for the last time.

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Earls Court

“Oh, please, you must come,” Eleanor pleaded. “Please.”

“It’s not really my sort of thing,” said Eric, hoping that would be enough.

At that age, girlfriends generally got their way and a few days later they were off on the bus to Earls Court to see Billy Graham.

The arena was tightly packed, with a choir behind the podium. There was a warm up speaker telling the audience how wise they had been to listen to God’s call. There was some community singing of familiar hymns. Arms were waved, hands were held so that everyone was “bonded in God’s love,” but, for Eric, it started to feel uncomfortable and oppressive.

It brightened up a bit when Cliff Richard was announced and, after a short speech, sang, “What a Friend we have in Jesus.” Eric got a dirty look when he tried to join in with, “When This Bloody War is Over,” so he stayed quiet.

Eleanor was bouncing up and down excitedly, joining in with everything that happened.

Finally, the great man was announced and made his way to the podium to loud cheers and applause.

Eric had seen professional con men at the race course, He’d seen professional con men at the market, he’d even met them on the doorstep selling all sorts of rubbish. Standing on the podium was the most polished and professional con man he had ever seen. His suit, his hair and his delivery told you he didn’t believe a word of it. It was all marketing.

The punters had all paid to see and hear him and Billy didn’t disappoint. He preached about the evils of drink and sex. He preached about Cain and Abel. He talked about sin and God’s love. “But,” thought Eric, “he didn’t really talk about anything. It was all spiel. Every single word of it.” Nothing new or original that you couldn’t hear in church on any Sunday.

The sermon came to an end and after a short prayer, Billy asked people to step forward to be born again. The choir began singing. Some people went forward immediately. Some needed encouragement. Eleanor tried to pull Eric forward , but he resisted. She pouted and frowned at him, then went forward alone.

All at once Eric found himself being pushed forward by two of the stewards. He was determined not to go and struggled, eventually breaking free, but losing a shoe in the process. As he left the arena he looked at Eleanor for the last time. There was no affection in her eyes. He also noticed that quite a few reticent converts were being escorted to the front by stewards.

Feeling sad at the probable loss of a girlfriend, Eric caught a bus home. The conductor looked at Eric’s feet and asked, “what’s up mate, did you lose a shoe?”

“No mate,” Eric replied, “I found one.”

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Some of the FutureLearn writers set up a writing competition, a story about a haunted computer. Feeling mischievous, I submitted this piece of doggerel. When they saw how bad it was they promptly blocked me.

They call me a troll, they do, they do,
But I’m really a ghost, whoo hoo, whoo hoo.
I regularly haunt the PSU coils,
Their screen turns blue,
And their temper boils.
They have to switch off.
And I smile as they rave,
They typed it all in
But forgot to press Save.

They say I’m a troll, oh yes, oh yes,
But I am a spirit, oh bless, oh bless.
I’m ectoplasm in the ALU slot
If I find an AND,
I make it a NOT,
The grass turns to pink,
And their faces turn green,
They blame Photoshop,
But it’s me being mean.

I am not a troll, oh no, oh no,
Only a fool who won’t go, won’t go.
The USB is my favourite port.
When they try to print,
The paper is caught.
I screw it all up,
They look and it’s flat
They can’t find the jam,
It’s me being a pr@t.

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Ramblings/Work in Progress – Please ignore

Below is the beginnings of a story about what happened to (some) children during the 1950s. I will extend it to give some clues as to how the current abuse scandal can be understood. It becomes harrowing.

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Raspberryade and Fishpaste Sandwiches

It was on top of Bardon Hill that we found lots of wild raspberries. I had never liked raspberries, but I tried a few and found them quite pleasant. It got me to thinking why I had avoided them for my entire life.
I was just seven the first time that I was taken away from home. Two women took me and pushed me and my younger brother Ted into a car and drove us away. Ted was dropped off somewhere, I never discovered where, and I was taken to a children’s home. There were no goodbyes, no explanations and no kind words. The women had a job to do and any resistance was met with more forceful handling. I was thinking of a newish and tiny sister who had disappeared and who I never saw again. I’ve always thought that her disappearance had something to do with our being taken away from home. I don’t even know her name, but overheard occasional snippets of conversation in later years suggested to me that she had died.
Why was it happening? I don’t know. Even now I don’t know. I assume that Dad was banged up for some felony or other and that Mum was unable to cope.
We got to the children’s home about seven o’clock, where I was handed over to a tall man I later discovered to be houseparent. The women and the houseparent exchanged a few words and the women left without a word to me nor even a look. It was past teatime and so, with nothing to eat so I was escorted to ‘my place’ in the dormitory. I was undressed, put into some pyjamas and put to bed.
In bed I lay sobbing. You learned to control your crying after a while but you never completely broke the habit of crying yourself to sleep.
All the other boys in the dormitory knew what was going to happen and they were watching. How do I know they were watching? I learned, as they had before me, that whenever a new boy was admitted we would probably be left alone that night, so we watched.
It was not long before another houseparent came to my bed and carried me to a room along the corridor. Some houseparents were on night duty and stayed awake. Some would sleep over and only be awakened if there was an incident to be dealt with.
The first time, you didn’t struggle, not knowing what was going to happen to you. The second time you struggled hard and put up a fight. The third and subsequent times you knew better than to struggle.
What happened that first night was painful, frightening, dehumanising, disgusting and what some men in authority believed they had the right to do with insignificant children in their charge.
The second time, you knew what was going to happen and you did what all boys did the second time. You fought and you struggled and you screamed.
The houseparents expected it and were prepared. You were quickly subdued by the application of a damp towel around your neck which was tightened until you lost consciousness. I’ve come across the same technique used in other children’s homes, the old mental hospitals and in prisons. It is effective and leaved no marks or bruises, which was essential if the victim happened to die.
On the first morning I was dragged to the bathroom and bathed, having wet the bed. Bedwetting in a children’s home was very common. I was given a toothbrush and some toothpowder, neither of which appeared to be new and brushed my teeth. We all tried to recognise and use our own toothbrushes but it was quite hit and miss
I went to breakfast in considerable pain. I was sat in ‘my place’, my nose was held and I was given a spoonful of cod liver oil. Breakfast was porridge, a boiled egg, some bread and butter and a cup of tea. One of the older boys had my egg.
Looking around, I discovered that the boys’ ages ranged from about six to thirteen. There were no girls at this home. We were all dressed shabbily in shorts, a grey shirt and a grey woollen vest.
Some of the older boys had been at the home a long time and could be quite arrogant, bullying and vindictive. At night, some of those in their early teens would share a bed. It was noticeable that the staff prefered the younger ones, especially the newer ones. Sometimes, older boys would come to the younger end of the dormitory, but a scream, a bite or having a wet bed was usually sufficient to deter them.
I was not at this particular home very long. I became extremely withdrawn and my behaviour caused concern. I developed the habit of collecting books, comics, newspapers, anything with pictures of people and would tear or cut out a specify part of the pictures. I don’t remember why I did it, but there must have been something cathartic about these symbolic acts of castration.
My notes, those that survive, asked no questions about what might have caused this bizarre behaviour but put it down to “low intelligence” and “moral deficiency.” It says a lot about the judgments of those in charge of child psychiatry at the time. I was a confident and avid reader and, as far as I know, “moral deficiency” is not something that you just catch.
My incarceration ended after a few months. I went home and resumed life and school. The children’s home became a series of memories which I wrote down when I started a diary. Nobody ever spoke of this period again.

It was about eighteen months later that my brother and I were taken together to another children’s home. This one was a large former Gentleman’s residence. It provided care for boys and girls. Outside were pleasant grounds. Inside were dormitories, some individual bedrooms, a dayroom and a dining room. The Home manager lived on site with his wife and son in a flat which the inmates were not allowed access to, although I was allowed in just once.

Visits to ‘uncles’.

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If you write and send stuff off to publishers, it bounces back after a few months with a standard rejection slip. Sometimes you get a few comments – “you’re an illiterate halfwit.” “Stop wasting your own and everyone elses’ time.” “You might find a position as a dustman.” “This is so crap.” All carefully designed and thought out so as to encourage you.

Futurelearn is different. You get feedback from other wannabe authors who are happy to tell you, immediately, that you are an illiterate halfwit.

I’ve posted my “poorly constructed and ill thought out” efforts below in the hope that someone can learn from them.

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Futurelearn week 8

That’s not Cricket

A leading Conservative Minister had been booked by one of the Politics lecturers to talk to students about Economic Liberalism and Government Policy. It was something of a coup for the Institution to get such a high profile speaker. It was an opportunity that Lenin couldn’t resist.

Lenin was an ex public schoolboy, who had attended Marlborough. He had discovered Marxism as an alternative to attending lectures or studying. He was the organiser on campus of the International Socialists(IS).

Lenin gained his nickname from a ridiculous attempt to grow a Van Dyke beard in honour of Vladimir Lenin. Such beards look pretty silly on most people at the best of times, but when you’ve barely started shaving and have thin mousy hair and acne, you cannot hope for it to be taken seriously.

Proletarians have a very specific way of dressing, at least in the minds of the vanguard of the proletariat, So filthy jeans, a donkey jacket and a ‘lumberjack’ shirt made you look like any docker, car factory worker or builder. Lenin added to this ensemble posh suede shoes and a blue peaked cap, not quite a cloth cap, not quite a military cap, probably something that Vladimir would have worn. Cigarettes, an essential accoutrement, were Gallouise, or something that smelled foul.

How could the revolution fail with the wardrobe so carefully matched?

Lenin was always escorted by two other students, or young men who looked like students. They rarely spoke and were never seen in lectures.

At the announcement of the Minister’s visit, posters went up everywhere declaring a boycott of his talk. The Student Union passed a motion at a meeting which occurred, if it occurred at all, several days after the appearance of the posters. This made it official.
Lenin and his companions toured the campus. They walked into every lecture and classroom. They never knocked or asked permission, but stood at the front to make their announcement.

“We expect one hundred percent solidarity,” Lenin declared. “Nobody, I repeat, nobody, is to attend the meeting with the class enemy. There will be a picket and demonstration on Thursday evening and we expect mass attendance. Scabs will not be tolerated.”

Lecturers just accepted that Lenin would disrupt their classes for a few minutes. It was quicker than making a fuss and meant that they didn’t find a swastika etched on the bonnet of their car with brake fluid. It happened to one lecturer who made a fuss and it didn’t happen again.

On the evening of the meeting a group of about fifty students and other protesters gathered with IS placards outside the lecture theatre. There were a few policemen, looking as if they would rather be somewhere else. The class enemy arrived with a motor-cycle escort and the chanting began, led, as might be expected, by Lenin with his loud hailer. A hail of eggs and flour spattered the Minister’s car and his jacket when he got out. He was escorted quickly into the building as the chanting intensified.

It was quickly discovered that the only audience for the meeting was the lecturer who had made the booking and Andrew, one of his students. The meeting was therefore reconvened in the lecturer’s office.

For the next few days, Andrew had to put up with being called a scab by Lenin and various IS members. He was also presented with an official IS Class Traitor badge. The badge was presented by Lenin on whom the irony of their respective backgrounds was completely lost. Andrew, as a mature student, had worked in various industries including the Docks. Lenin was straight from public school. It also reinforced the fact that the ‘Vanguard of the Proletariat’ were not of the proletariat but were a self selected group who shared the delusion that they were destined to lead the proletarian sheep. Certainly, Lenin seemed like Animal Farm’s Squealer, leading the chanting of his flock.

The following Thursday evening, Andrew was confronted by Lenin and his two companions.

“We’re here to teach you a lesson,” Lenin declared.

They were obviously not there to play cricket, despite one of Lenin’s companions having a cricket bat.

Andrew learned a lesson that evening, but it was not the lesson that Lenin was delivering. He learned that one real proletarian was more than a match for three Vanguards of the Proletariat.

If you’re going to start a street fight, there are things you need to be aware of. You need to know if your opponent is a former docker. You need to know if your opponent has been in the military. You need to know if your opponent has trained with professional boxers but, most importantly, you don’t choose a location near a wall with a loose half brick.

Lenin looked as if he intended to deliver a lecture first but Andrew didn’t wait. He banged the nearest IS thug, the one with the bat, on the nose with the half brick. The nose was broken and there was blood everywhere. The thug staggered off and was out of it.

The second thug stepped forwards with arms flailing. Andrew simply grabbed one arm, wrenched it upward and threw the thug to the floor. A dislocated shoulder is agony and takes the fight out of anyone.

Lenin turned to run. Andrew pushed him to the ground as he stumbled. It’s funny how a would be future world leader degenerates into a cowardly jelly, but that was Lenin. He lay on the ground whimpering.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t hurt me.”

Adrenaline is a funny substance that made Andrew both frightened and driven. Normally softly spoken and with a gentle manner, he found himself delivering a hard whacking to Lenin’s legs and softer anatomy with the cricket bat. Lenin just lay there in the foetal position, sobbing and making no attempt to defend himself. His companions had limped off and provided no additional support.

Andrew turned up for lectures the following day half expecting to find the police waiting. Instead there was quite a buzz at the news that Lenin and his comrades had been ambushed the previous evening by a National Front gang.

“There were about a dozen of them,” Lenin told the small gathering, “knives and chains and hammers and everything.”

He showed his bruises.
“It was a bit touch and go,” Lenin boasted but we got the better of them. We won’t be hearing from them again.”

Lenin was mobbed by a small clutch of adoring girls.

Such is the way that class heros are created.

Sometimes a course of action is inevitable. Andrew reflects on that every time he reads of a violent crime. He might easily have been the victim. His attackers would happily have killed him, that might even have been their intention, but it didn’t change the fact that he had resorted to violence himself.

Andrew still has the cricket bat. It’s not really a trophy. It just seems a shame to throw it away.

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futurelearn week 5

A Leader on the Docks

“A load of privileged buggers who’ve never done a days work in their lives,” said Cyril, “looking at the students protesting at us breaking the bus boycott. “Give them a couple of years and they’ll all be Tories and still calling us scum. We have to support our brothers on the buses.”

Cyril would have been offended if you had dared to call him a racist. He had, after all, supported all the independence movements across Africa and India. What he would not do was to allow black dockers because he saw them as a threat to the jobs of his union brothers. If the bus workers didn’t want black bus crews then solidarity demanded we supported them.

At the docks, Cyril became Uncle Joe. We all had a nickname. A lot of the blokes you only ever knew by their nickname. When Quickie died, nobody knew even though there was an announcement in the paper.

A hard man. An uncompromising man. A man you wouldn’t want to cross. Working on the docks made you tough and Cyril was as tough as they came.

“You’ll have to come round for tea, young Ladder,” said Cyril. “Meet the missus and kids.”

I accepted the invitation.

Drinking tea from a twee bone china cup was a new experience. I sat there scared that I’d drop it.

“There’s all you’ll ever need in politics,” said Cyril pointing to a bookcase full of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. “Read this,” he continued, passing me a volume that had been printed in the USSR.

On the opposite wall was a bookcase of all the best in the world’s literature, some of it bound in tooled leather.

“Music,” said Cyril, and we listened to the Red Army Choir singing Kalinka. “That’s not for relaxing, though,” he said and put on a record of Mozart piano music.”

Cyril’s daughter came in. A natural beauty and I fancied her, but I never had the nerve. What if Cyril didn’t approve.

Cyril was a man who would share his vision but he wasn’t that interested in the visions of others.

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Futurelearn week 3

French Cricket

Reading was my addiction. It was also a punishable offence. I suppose to be absolutely correct, the offence was being in possession of reading material that didn’t belong to me, but if I was reading, it was inevitably from a book, comic or paper I’d taken from a bookcase or that one of the home manager’s children or the houseparents had left lying around.

Reading was an antidote to boredom. Other children had different strategies. Some would sit rocking and staring into the distance. Some would pick or bite bits off themselves. When the resultant sores became too noticeable they would have boxing gloves put on their hands and tied in place. These didn’t stop the picking completely, but they made it more difficult. As an intermediate step, some children would be given a piece of cloth with little stitches to pick off, but they only picked at that if someone was looking.

Ted was my younger brother but we rarely spoke. His nose was a picked mess and his hands, as well as being gloved were often tied to the chair.

It was Sunday 24th June 19xx and no different from many others in the children’s home. The houseparents played cards, occasionally telling someone to shut up, and we all sat around in our institutionalised boredom.

I was reading a book of fairy stories. For the twentieth time I read how the Steadfast Tin Soldier melted down into a little lump in the shape of a heart and how there was nothing left of the little Dancer but her gilt rose, burnt as black as a cinder.
On reflection, it seems a drastic way to fulfil a dream, but I suppose that then, most of us had some notion of a happier after life.

It was a calm boredom, at least for the boys, because our carers for today were two who made no additional demands on us. It never occurred to me that the girls might have a different perspective.

The home manager came into the room.

“David, Ted, come with me,” he called urgently.

I walked over, but he had to untie Ted.

We were given clean shirts, our faces were washed with the community flannel and we were ordered to go to the toilet – are there people who still wee to order? Our hair was brushed with the communal hairbrush and we were led out onto the lawn. Ted was given a cricket bat and I was handed a ball.

“Enjoy your game,” said the home manager.

“What shall we play?” I asked.

“French cricket,” he replied as he hurried back into the house.

It was to be many years before I discovered that the French didn’t play cricket and the nature of the confidence trick being played. Here we were with the opportunity to do something different, outside with a bat and ball. But a ball was neither bowled nor struck because the home manager reappeared almost immediately.

“There they are,” he shouted with a huge grin, as he led our Aunt and Uncle to where we were about to play. “These two are always out here.”

He took the bat and ball. “Have a lovely afternoon,” he waved cheerfully as he disappeared back into the house.

Now it wasn’t as if we weren’t pleased to see Uncle Harry and Aunt Hilda, and they were loaded with sweets and chocolates, but they just didn’t pick their time very well. As a result they had to put up with the grumpy pair they had just deprived of a game.

We had a nice drive in the countryside, stopped for tea and cakes and answered awkwardly posed questions in a monotone. I can’t imagine that Aunt Hilda and Uncle Harry enjoyed the experience but they never visited again and never once mentioned it in later years.

After the visit it was back to the house. Our presents and sweets were taken, “for safe keeping.” I’ve always wondered about that phrase. Are they still safe?

Talking to my friend James later, he remarked that something similar had happened to him. It was as if visitors had the knack of choosing just the wrong time to visit.

(To add another coincidence, just as I prepared to go to the shop before posting this story I found that a toy soldier, albeit a plastic one, had fallen from the bookcase onto the floor. Is that what they mean by existentialism?)

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