Prime Minister Johnson


(Matt Brown [CC / Flickr])

“I have the briefing on the North Korea situation here, Prime Minister,” said Janet to the back of his head.

The Prime Minister didn’t look around. “Not now, Beth. Can’t you see I’m having my hair done?”

“Yes, Prime Minister, but I thought you’d want to look it over before you meet President Trump.”

Janet wondered how many sentences she’d started with that construction.

Yes, Mr Member of Parliament for the bottom left corner of Nowhereshire, but…

Yes, Minister, but…

Yes, Prime Minister, but…

It must be in the tens of thousands.

The hell with it, she had her retirement date now so her pension was safe. “And it’s Janet. Beth’s on maternity leave.”

“Ah yes, of course she is. Hope it’s not one of mine.”

The hairdresser joined the Prime Minister’s chuckle, but he didn’t look up. He was picking his way through the Prime Minister’s yellow hair in a way that reminded Janet of a documentary of chimpanzees grooming each other for lice.

“Well look here, Jane, it took me more than nine months to get Beth’s priorities straight. I know you civil servants gestate your babies faster than you take my hints, but perhaps you can be the exception.”

“Prime Minister?”

The Prime Minister sighed. “Apparently not. That was a hint, you see. Well, I’ll explain. Air Force One is landing in two hours, at which point I’ll be shaking hands with the best coiffed president in American history. I’ll be broadcast from Birmingham to Beijing, and what people need to see is Good Old Boris. Not a tangle of greying roots blithering on about North Korea. That’s what foreign secretaries are for.”

“You’ll look fabulous, dearie,” said the hairdresser. “There won’t be a heart in Birmingham that isn’t a-flutter. Or Beijing.”

Janet glared at him. He winked, letting her know that among the concentric circles surrounding the Prime Minister, a private hairdresser inhabited zone one while a private secretary’s priorities had to commute in from zone four or five.

“As you’re here, Jilly, make yourself useful and tell me something useful about the president. Do MI6 know anything I don’t, or do they get their information from Twitter like the rest of us?”

Janet kept her face carefully neutral. The Prime Minister might not be looking at her, but the hairdresser would love a chance to slip the knife in when she wasn’t in the room. “Yes Prime Minister, but you didn’t request a report.”

“Didn’t I? Oh well, you’re all civil servants, aren’t you? I’m sure you all gossip together. From where I’m sitting, the whole civil service looks like an extended version of Brasenose College. They were always the first to hear what was up. What they know, I’m sure you know.”

“That’s because you’re looking in a mirror. As usual.” Janet spoke under her breath.

Not far enough under her breath. The hairdresser glared.

“What’s that? Speak up,” said the Prime Minister.

“I said I don’t know what MI6 know about the president, Prime Minister.”

“Well what do you think? The civil service always likes to be seen as omniscient. Now’s your chance to prove it. What’s your opinion?”

“Yes Prime Minister, but knowing something is different to having an opinion on it. Civil Servants don’t have those. Not after the first five years or so, anyway.”

The hairdresser tutted.

“Tell you what, Jean,” said the Prime Minister. “You tell me your opinion and I’ll read the briefing on North Korea. Deal?”

Oh what the hell, thought Janet. It wasn’t as if civil service gossip was exactly classified. It was just dangerous to give ministers any information until you’d satisfied yourself it wouldn’t inspire any ideas. “We know he’s a man who felt the need to build a skyscraper and write his name on it, and that he felt the need to bring up the size of his opponent’s hands during the Primaries. I have no opinion on that, but others may draw their own conclusions.”

“They may?” asked the Prime Minister.

“Oh believe me, we do. Take it from a connoisseur.” The hairdresser wiggled his pinkie. “Plenty have before.”

The Prime Minister snorted with laughter. It took Janet a moment to realise the ‘plenty have’ referred to who had taken it. It was like being in conversation with Kenneth Williams. She wouldn’t have blamed Beth if she’d got herself pregnant just to get away from it.

“So that’s what the civil service talks about in the ladies’ loos,” said the Prime Minister.

Janet tried to force a smile. Perhaps she managed to lift one corner of her mouth, but she wouldn’t have put money on it.

“It’s not bad, but I don’t see that it helps,” said the Prime Minister. “I wasn’t going to invite him to compare. Though now you bring it up -” The Prime Minister bit off what he was about to say. Janet doubted he cared about the propriety of it, so he must have realised what conclusions the hairdresser would draw if he continued down that route. “Well if he asks for a companion, make sure she’s briefed not to laugh.”

The hairdresser wagged his eyebrows at Janet. She managed not to roll her eyes.

“Are you going to say it or shall I?” He asked her.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She put all the authority of her decades in the civil service into her tone.

All four of them bounced off the hairdresser. “Come along, don’t be coy. You say a little more than that about him in the ladies’ loos, don’t you? Don’t keep us in suspense. Leak it, dearie, leak it.”

The Prime Minister guffawed, once again alerting Janet to the double-entendre that had passed her by.

She said nothing, leaving the floor to the hairdresser. He seized it like a veteran understudy hearing Hamlet had sprained a vocal chord. “What the lovely lady is too delicate to say is that a string of very public relationships with tall blonde models invites the same delicious conclusions in the ladies’ loos as it does in my favourite nightclub.”

Janet bit her lip. She’d already said too much for a seasoned civil servant. “I really think you should look at the briefing on North Korea, Prime Minister.”

“Sod North Korea, that’s what we’re renewing Trident for. I want to know what you two are saying about the president. Sometime before Air Force One lands, if it’s not too much to ask.”

Janet wondered how a man who saw double-entendres everywhere could be so slow on the uptake. To her relief, the hairdresser was enjoying the role of amateur intelligence analyst too much to want to relinquish it. “It’s what we call trying too hard. Oh my dears, I can’t see a man like that without wanting to give him what he really wants. Generous to a fault, that’s me.”

“Well bugger me!”

“I wouldn’t put it past him to try.”

“Well that’s marvellous. We’ve got him! Janice, get on the phone to MI5 quick smart. I want pictures and sound.”

“I’m sorry, Prime Minister, are you suggesting…”

“No I’m not suggesting, I’m ordering. And you know perfectly well what I’m ordering. It’s hardly as if no one’s ever done it before. How d’you think I passed my A-levels?”

“I knew it, dearie,” said the hairdresser. “You’re a brilliant man.”

The Prime Minister swelled with the praise. “I’m a devious sort, I’ve never denied it. Except in public, of course. Now I know we didn’t have to deal with the Secret Service at Eton, but that’s what we pay MI5 for. He’s not going to want his minders to know, is he? So he can be persuaded to give them the slip. On the phone, Jasmine, on the phone.”

“Yes, Prime Minister, but -”

“How’s the hair?” the Prime Minister asked the hairdresser.

“Perfect, dearie. Prime Ministerial and sexy all in one package.”

“Let us to it pell mell, then. And be clear with the spooks, Jackie. Pictures and sound. I want him in the palm of my hand.”

“It’s Janet, Prime Minister.”

He left without taking the briefing.



I don’t usually duplicate my hooptedoodles, but this one seems strangely apposite this week. I wrote it a little over two years ago, and I suppose I should be grateful that only half of it has come to pass. Yet.

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Life Sentence


(Barney Moss [CC / Flickr])

The young man drank off another cup of wine.

The man with the grey beard gave him a look that the younger man had known his whole life. The look that said indulgence could be allowed to go so far, and so far it had now gone.

The young man poured another cup in reply.

“Three more and you’ll be drunk,” said the grey bearded man.

The young man fingered the cup but did not raise it. “How precise.”

“I’ve known you since you sucked your wet nurse dry. And you give me all the practice I need in estimating how much wine is needed to get you drunk.”

“Three more?” The younger man closed his hand around the cup. “Then I shall need at least four.”

The grey bearded man gave the flagon to the servant. “Be a good fellow and lock this away. We’ll be in need of it later.” He turned back to the younger man. “Drink that off as a farewell to the freedom of your youth and let us be gone.”

The young man’s eyes were on the flagon being carried out of the room. When the door closed, he raised the cup but replaced it on the table without drinking it. He stood and walked to the other door, placing one foot in line with the other and holding his arms outstretched. “You see I go to my prison freely. And sober.”

He spoke the word ‘sober’ as if it were a curse.

“Then you make a good start,” said the grey bearded man. “Many have killed to sit where you will sit in a few minutes, only to go so drunk that they needed a man on either side to keep them from falling down on the way.”

“And I wish they sat there still while I remained a free man.”

The streets were deserted, so none but the younger man heard the grey bearded man’s reply. “Then you are the right man to take their place.”

The young man grunted. “Well, we shall see if you still say that in a few years, when you have foiled a half dozen plots to replace me and must decide whether you will do right to stop another half dozen.”

The grey bearded man replied with a gravity he rarely used when they were alone. “I have no doubt at all that I will still be saying it on my death bed.”

“You make a good jailer.” They stopped at the cathedral door. “Well, the men who wear the cross keys must turn the key and I shall be yours.”

The two men shook hands.

The grey bearded man took a step back and bowed. “Your Majesty.”

The door swung open and the young man turned to look down the aisle toward the throne. He focused his eyes on the velvet cushion in front of it and the crown that lay on it. “Behold the key to the jail where must live the rest of my life.”

The grey bearded man waited for him to take the first two paces toward it and fell into step.

Behind him.

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Filtered Alice


(DualD FlipFlop [CC / Flickr])

Nigel knew he’d regret coming before Alice opened the door to her flat. She let him in without a word and led him into her kitchen.

“It’s in the bin,” she said.

“What is?” asked Nigel.


Nigel looked at Alice, who stood with her back to the countertop. It was as far as she could get from the bin without leaving the kitchen and standing in her living room.

Nigel opened the lid to the pedal bin, wishing she hadn’t got him so well trained that he was fishing things out of her bin at two in the morning without her even having to ask. He picked a scrunched up ball of paper off the pile of Chinese takeaway packaging.

He unwrapped the paper to reveal a printout of a picture of a woman who he recognised as Alice, but with skin that was so smooth it made her look like a mannequin. Her throat had been pulled so tight that her chin was sharpened to a point. Her eyes were enormous with irises of electric blue in place of the brown eyes regarding him from across the kitchen.

“I need Photoshop to find the real me,” said Alice.

“Last time I was here, it was because you needed me to crop your last boyfriend out of a selfie so you could use it for your Tinder profile,” said Nigel. “When did you learn how to use Photoshop? You did this with an Instagram filter.”

“I didn’t ask you here to be pedantic.”

“You didn’t ask me here at all. You just called me up and said you were here with dim sum and noodles. I thought you needed to talk and you were offering me a late dinner.”

“I was offering you a late dinner.” Alice sounded defensive. Bad sign. “But I ate it while I was waiting for you to get here.”

Nigel took a deep breath. “All right. Why is your Insta… your Photoshop of Dorian Gray in the rubbish? And why does it look like an elf from Middle Earth that’s overdone the Botox?”

Alice’s face hardened. “I do not look like an elf. That’s the real me you’re holding there. Me. Alice. The woman. And stop showing off about how many books you’ve read.”

Nigel caught himself before he told her the real Alice was the one living, breathing and glowering right in front of him. “All right. Why is this Alice in the bin?”

“Because she’s too good to be me. I’m telling you this because you’re the only one who will understand. Even if you are the most irritating person I know.”

“I don’t understand,” said Nigel, even though it was beginning to make more sense than he wanted it to.

Alice said nothing.

Don’t let her draw you in, Nigel told himself.

“You’re seeing this as the real, good, beautiful Alice.” Nigel wanted to kick himself for saying it. “You put it – or her or you or whatever – in the bin because it reminds you of who you would like to be and who you think you are not.”

“Exactly,” said Alice. “You do understand. That’s why you’re the most irritating person I know.”

Nigel put the kettle on. He was going to be here all night.

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Ian Chooses a Train


(Smabs Sputzer [CC / Flickr])

Ian ran down the stairs to the platform so fast he nearly fell on his face. The indicators on the concourse had told him he had two minutes to go before the train departed from platform… damn. Was it platform six or platform seven? A train stood on either side of him. One of them would take him to Basingstoke. Which meant the other one might take him anywhere that lay in the opposite direction.

There must be something down here to tell him which one. He located the dot matrix indicator hanging from the ceiling, impartially between the two trains. ‘Information currently unavailable. No smoking’.

“Of course it’s not available,” Ian muttered, wishing he was a smoker so he could show the thing what he thought of its orders.

At least one of his two minutes had ticked away while he was glaring at the dot matrix indicator, leaving him without enough time to dash back up the stairs to the concourse, check the boards there and dash down again.

“Fifty-fifty,” he told the dot matrix indicator.

He entered the train on his right. The carriage looked empty, which seemed promisingly likely in a train going to Basingstoke. And he could have the luxury of not only a double seat but a whole table to himself.

Perhaps his luck was in.

At the other end of the carriage, someone stood up from behind the row of seats. The carriage hadn’t been empty after all. The thought crossed Ian’s mind a split second before he registered that the figure was so tall that its Freddy Kruger mask brushed the ceiling and so wide that it filled the aisle it was now standing in with its leather jacket, jeans and DMs.

“Hi there,” said Ian. “Do you know if this train goes to Basingstoke?”

No answer. Ian found himself staring at the Freddy Kruger mask. It was only now that he was beginning to register that his mind ought to be at least as concerned about that mask as by whether he was on the right train or not.

“It’s not Halloween today, is it?” Ian asked the masked figure.

“No.” The figure lumbered down the aisle toward Ian.

Some instinct made Ian look behind him. A similarly masked and leathered figure was shambling down the aisle from the other end of the carriage.

A babble of bleeps announced that the doors were about to close.

“D’you know what?” asked Ian. “I think I’m on the wrong train. Silly me.”

He shot through the doors. A roar of laughter chased him on to the platform, drowning out the alarm. He turned back to see both the masked figures doubled over with mirth.

“Mental banter,” shouted one of them just before the doors rumbled shut.

Ian gave them the finger, which caused one of them to laugh so hard he fell over.

“Still fifty-fifty,” muttered Ian and got on the other train.

He looked down the carriage. No morons in masks, which was a good start. Just a woman sitting at one of the tables.

A rather beautiful woman, now he looked again, with high cheekbones and dark hair tumbling over the shoulders of her white blouse. She looked up, locking her hazel eyes on his.

Ian dropped his gaze. He started to turn to find a seat in the opposite direction but she waved. “Hi there.”

He looked back to her. She was beckoning him over.

“Look, I’m sorry to ask this, but could you help me?” Her Scottish accent matched her looks. “I’ve been handing out free samples of my brewery’s beer at a sales conference and I’ve come away with rather more than I expected.”

She raised a bottle to Ian.

Ian blinked. “You’re offering me a beer?”

“Sure. I’m sick of lumping it about and the more we drink, the less I’ll have to carry.”

Ian sat opposite her and took the beer. He took a sip. He took another. He looked up to see the woman smiling, which made her look even more beautiful.

“That’s incredible.” Ian wasn’t sure if he meant the beer or her smile.

“Plenty more where that came from,” said the woman.

“Well… thank you. Not to change the subject, but do you know if this train goes to Basingstoke?”

“Basingstoke? No, that’s the other side.” The woman waved to where the train Ian had tried first was gathering speed. “This one’s non-stop to Inverness.”

Ian took another sip, which tasted even better than the first two. He glanced at the woman’s left hand. No wedding ring.

“No. I’m quite sure I’m on the right train.”

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Planning Permission


(srv007 [CC / Flickr])

Mr Harrison welcomed Tim into his house and had him sat down with a cup of tea and a custard cream before Tim could get his recorder out, let alone ask a question.

“I’m really glad your paper decided to run this,” said Mr Harrison. “I’m just a normal person against the establishment, so it’s important that my story gets told.”

Told on page seven under the half-page Specsavers advert, thought Tim, if it’s a slow news day. The paper wouldn’t be sending their newest reporter if they thought it was important.  “So tell me what happened.”

“Like I said, I’m a normal bloke. Retired last year. Got some time on my hands so I thought I’d add a bit of space to my house. No big deal. But the amount of fuss about it, you’d think I was building Buckingham Palace on my driveway.”

Tim nodded encouragement.

“I got a letter from the council saying I needed planning permission. Load of red tape. I was building on top of what’s already here. I wasn’t increasing the footprint. I was a builder before I retired, so I know about these things.”

“You’ve dealt with planning permission before, then?” asked Tim.

“Well, not exactly. The management dealt with the paperwork, I just did the building. But it stands to reason, doesn’t it?”

Tim was careful not to look as if he agreed or disagreed. “So they stopped you?”

“The tried.” Mr Harrison tapped his nose. “Those tossers next door complained about the noise. Well, you can’t build much without power tools, can you? I like to get started early and weekends don’t mean a lot when you’re retired. What I do at half past seven on a Sunday morning’s my own business if it’s on my own property, isn’t it?”

“So they tried to stop you?”

“Tried is the word, my boy. But we worked it out.”

“No more work on a Sunday morning?” asked Tim.

Mr Harrison snorted. “Nah, I started work at six o’clock. Soon as it got light. I showed them, I did.”

“Right.” Tim was having to make an effort to keep his tone neutral. “Did anyone else complain?”

“Oh yeah. No one wants to leave a normal bloke alone anymore. They’re tossers on the other side as well. Soon as I’d got the walls up, they were moaning that I was blocking the light to their garden. Like they own the sunlight! ‘Course the council took their side and brought up the planning permission again. See what I mean about red tape? This whole country’s drowning in it.”

“Hm.” It was the only thing Tim could trust himself to say that would sound non-committal.

“So the council are taking me to court if I don’t pull it down, and now I’ve got an ASBO that says I’m not even allowed to do that before ten in the morning. They’re all a bunch of little Hitlers and these tossers,” he waved his arms, indicating his neighbours on both sides, “they’re Quislings, which is even worse. An Englishman’s home is his castle, am I right?”

“I’m sure,” said Tim.

Mr Harrison frowned, telling Tim his answer hadn’t met the required level of enthusiasm.

“I’ll be in court next week and I’ll expect to see you in the gallery,” said Mr Harrison. “I’ll tell the whole Stasi lot of them where to shove it. I’m just a normal person against the establishment. You tell your readers what I tell them. Are you with me?”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” This time, Tim meant it. If Mr Harrison got himself removed from the courtroom, Tim might get his first page four.

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Fiction Review: The Reopened Cask by Richard Zwicker

TheReopenedCaskMy quest to read more of the type of short stories I write continues with Rich Zwicker’s latest collection, The Reopened Cask. The cask in question is the cask that was, at least at the beginning of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic story, filled only with the finest amontillado wine and sets the theme that runs through most of the stories of this collection: an extension of a classic tale. Hence Other Wishes tells that tale of a detective investigating the case of The Monkey’s Paw and The Robot of Dorian Graham picks up on the themes of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, while the reluctant detective Phokus has a couple of outings investigating some of the stranger goings on of the Greek myths and Riddle Me attempts to give a more satisfactory answer than is customary to the age-old question of why the chicken crossed the road.

All of these stories have been published in magazines and anthologies in the past, so they’ve been edited or passed muster with an editor before they were self-published. Most of them use the high quality of the prose to carry Zwicker’s trademark wry humour and while they were easy to understand knowing the stories they were based around, the note of familiarity added a certain something when I did.

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A Shilling for a Copper


(Spanish Coches [CC / Flickr])

Graham was supposed to walk beside Bill, but somehow he was always half a pace behind. A brand new copper was ranked far behind a constable with twelve years on the job in his actions, so it felt right even if it wasn’t regulation.

Bill stopped dead and pointed to a Ford Cortina parked by the kerbside. “There we go.”

Graham raised an eyebrow, but didn’t ask. If Bill chose to explain, he would. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t.

“First time for everything,” said Bill.

Graham had no idea what he meant, but every day was a string of first times having no idea was nothing new. Thinking about it had left him two full paces behind so he hurried to catch up as Bill crossed the road.

Bill walked round the back of the car and knocked on the passenger side window.

Graham saw a head bob into sight above the back of the seat. Its owner must have been crouched on the floor.

As he caught up, Graham saw the broken-toothed grin on the man’s face as he wound down the window.

“Hullo George,” said Bill.

“Awight Bill.” George sounded delighted to be looking up at the two coppers. “Just looking for me glasses. I think I dropped ’em down here.”

“You’re wearing them,” said Bill.

“Am I?” asked George. “I mean, I know. Found ’em, didn’t I?”

Bill reached past him to open the glove compartment. He whistled.

Graham leaned closer. What he saw sent a thrill coursing through his whole body. “Is that…?”

Bill turned a glare on Graham. It shut him up as efficiently as a smack in the mouth.

“Oh, that.” George still sounded delighted, if a little less than before. “That’s my nephew’s water pistol, that is. He must’ve forgotten it in there.”

“Are you sure?” Bill pivoted at the hips, looming closer to the car. “Because that looks an Enfield thirty-eight revolver with a sawn-off barrel to me.”

George shrugged, his grin back in place. “You know how kids are. They like ’em to look real.”

Bill said nothing.

George reached into his pocket. Graham’s fingers tightened on his truncheon. This was everything he’d been warned about at college, but something about Bill’s relaxed manner suppressed every instruction he’d ever given and kept him from drawing the truncheon.

George’s hand appeared, clutching not a weapon but a fistful of notes, which he handed to Bill. Bill flicked through them and nodded to George.

“They really shouldn’t make water pistols look so realistic,” said Bill. “Someone might get the wrong idea.”

He peeled off five twenty-pound notes, added a couple of tenners and handed them to Graham.

“Don’t you think so, young Graham?”

Bill’s eyes locked on Graham’s. It was being able to say so much without speaking a word that made Bill such a good copper.

“Yes, Bill.” Graham took the money and slipped it into his pocket. “It’s a scandal that they’re allowed to make them like that.”

“Good lad,” said Bill.

George looked at Graham for the first time. “He your new pair of wings is he, Bill?”

Bill grunted in acknowledgment.

“I see.” George nodded to Graham. “First time for everything, right?”Saturday Hooptedoodle: A Shilling for a Copper #FlashFic #flashfiction

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Informing the Customers


(freeimage4life [CC / Flickr])

Stanley knew it wasn’t going to go well when he was summoned to George’s office without being offered tea. George grunted, which Stanley took as an instruction to sit down, lowering his eyes to the level of George’s glare. Stanley tried a winning smile, but the glass behind George’s desk reflected the rictus of a man watching a stonemason carving the last letter of his name on to a slab of marble.

“I’m sure you know why we are having this conversation, Stanley.” George used names rarely enough that when he did, he sounded like a judge passing a sentence.

“Is it about the block email I drafted?” asked Stanley?

“It is indeed. Stanley. What on earth were you thinking?”

“Is there a problem?” asked Stanley. “I drafted it according to the brief?”

George harrumphed. Stanley had never heard anyone harrumph before. He’d always thought it was a figure of speech.

“Is there a problem, he asks.” George rattled a sheet of A4 that Stanley presumed was a printout of the draft he’d circulated. Stanley knew that if he’d printed it, it was because he’d planned to wave it around for theatrical effect. Knowing it did nothing to dilute the effect. “Well let’s look at it. Let’s start with this sentence here:

“‘We are committed to complying with all data protection regulations regarding our comprehensive collection of all personal data which you enter into our website or concluded from our analysis of your use of it, and we will only sell it on to third party companies that express a similar commitment although we cannot be responsible for their adherence to that commitment and they may be in jurisdictions where European Union regulations do not apply, in order to fund your ongoing free access to our website.”

George slammed the paper on to the desk under the palm of his hand. Even as he flinched, Stanley had to acknowledge the hours of practice that must have gone into slamming down a sheet of A4 without the paper flying out from under the hand.

“Do you think the sentence is too long?” Stanley didn’t want to speak, but George’s glower carried a demand that was impossible to deny. “I could break it up?”

George threw up his hands. “He thinks the sentence is too long! Stanley, have you even read your predecessor’s customer service emails?”

Stanley bobbed his head.

“And do you think I, or anyone else in this company, give a damn about the grammar?” George demanded. “Do you think our customer service emails are the stuff of deathless prose? Have you not noticed that in a customer service email, that sentence would be considered a marvel of brevity? No, Stanley, the problem with that sentence is not the length of it but the content.”

Stanley gathered his courage. “I was told to make our customers informed of our business model to comply with the new regulations. I thought that was what that sentence did.”

“Precisely. You have hit the nail squarely on the head.”

“I have?”

“You have,” said George. “Hence the problem with the content of that sentence. There is far too much of it. You were told to make our customers informed. If we were as suicidally inclined as to send a mail with that sentence in it, we would make them aware, which our business model depends on their not being.”

“Oh,” said Stanley.

“Oh. Oh indeed. Has the penny dropped?”

“You mean…” Stanley was afraid he was about to cry. “You mean I should draft a simple mail saying they’ll stay with us unless they use an opt-out option that will be hidden at the bottom of the mail, and will lead them through at least a couple of pages requesting information before they actually unsubscribe.”

“Go on.”

“And… and there will be another link that will take them to a page that – that we can arrange to load very slowly – that will describe our business model.”

George’s expression darkened, so Stanley spoke faster. “But the page won’t have that sentence. It will split the content of that sentence over ten thousand words of, of long, of very long sentences.”

George grunted. Last time he’d grunted, it had foreshadowed the harrumph, so Stanley dared to hope this was an aftershock and the worst had passed.

“The penny has dropped indeed,” said George. “Now it falls to you to open the door to the lavatory. Do you follow me?”

“In your footsteps,” said Stanley.

“Good. There lies the wisest path. I may not fire you after all. Now get on with it, man.”

“Right ho.”

As Stanley left George’s office, he found he was actually looking forward to the task.

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Look Past Me


(Jamie Henderson [CC / Flickr])

Look at me.

No, look at me. Not past me. Focus your eyes on my face. See me instead of what you think you know about me.

Just for one moment, forget the voice in your head that’s telling you what I am. It will take courage. If you allow your gaze to linger on me for a mere moment more, I’ll be an individual to you. Not part of some amorphous mass that you sneer at with others like you. I won’t be the what that you assume me to be. I’ll be the who that I am.

I’ll be a person.

Are you afraid yet?

You should be. Because you need me to be a what, not a who.

Oh yes, that frightens you. You’re looking away already. You’re closing your mind to what I’m saying and filling it with what you think you know about me. What it’s comforting to know about me. What you need to know about me instead of what you’re in danger of learning about me.

Walk away now. Don’t look back. Take a few moments to purge your mind of any thoughts I may have infected your certainty with. Make sure that when you come back, you’re filled with the courage of conviction.

You always come back.

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle

Granddad’s Dreams


(Stefan Barna [CC / Flickr])

“When I grow up, I want to design spaceships,” said Melanie.

“Really?” Granddad arched an eyebrow. “That’s a nice idea.”

Melanie was sure there was something missing from his answer but couldn’t quite see what it was. “What did you want to be when you were a child, granddad?”

Granddad frowned. “Well let me see, that was a long time ago now. I remember wanting to be a lot of things. I wanted to be an actor, you know. Like Alec Guinness.”

That made sense to Melanie. “You wanted to be Obi Wan Kenobi?”

“Who? I’ve know idea what you’re talking about. I remember seeing Kind Hearts and Coronets in the cinema and I thought it was wonderful. Sir Alec was nine different people in one film. That was how I wanted to be.”

Melanie frowned. “But you weren’t an actor, were you granddad?”

“No,” said granddad. “I wasn’t. Never even trod the boards as an amateur, now I think about it. Not long after that, I saw a Hawker Hunter flying past and I thought, up there’s where I want to be. A fighter pilot looking handsome in light blue and breaking the sound barrier.”

“But you weren’t a fighter pilot, were you granddad?”

“No,” said granddad. “I wasn’t. I never did learn to fly. Not long after that, I got appendicitis. Ended up in hospital. The doctors in there looked like they knew everything. Could solve any problem that came their way. That was who I wanted to be.”

“But you never were a doctor, were you granddad?”

“No,” said granddad. “You’ll find life’s like that, Melanie. Dreams are all very well at your age, but then you have to grow up. That’s when you find you have to be realistic. I got a job as an accountant, which was rather dull but I worked hard for forty-five years to get a decent pension to retire on. You see, Melanie, when you grow up, that’s what life’s really all about.”

“Are you sure?” asked Melanie.

“Yes, I’m afraid it is. Of course you should dream your dreams while you’re a child. Real life will be along soon enough. You’ll see.”

Melanie thought about that. “I think so. I think you mean that if I really want to design spaceships instead of being an accountant, I mustn’t keep changing my mind.”

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Posted in Saturday Hooptedoodle
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