Monday, 24 December 2012


Here's the third and final short story, with hopes that you've now forgiven me and/or left me forever. That's right. You get to leave now. No, not now. Once you've read this.

I can't remember how I came up with this one. But it's pretty good. I hope you enjoy, and I hope you have a wonderful Christmas  and I hope that this story inspires you to give money to a charity, or visit that lonely old lady next door to see what she's doing, or forgiving someone who has wronged you, because Christmas is a time for things like that, and it can be really crappy if you're alone or have something on your conscience.

If you do find yourself in need of company on Christmas, feel free to come over here, for a complimentary Pringle and maybe some Heroes for afterwards.

Merry Christmas. I love you all. Masha'allah.

Image Courtesy of Abi Jones -
The Finsbury Place Hostel for Working and Elderly Men was, as the name suggests, a place with a purpose. Whilst the wrought iron gates and aforementioned name signposted upon them offered only a slight misinformation – working men had ceased to inhabit the building decades ago – the grey speckled walls within offered no illusions. It was no Victorian salon, fifties diner, intellectual commune, nor any place that might conjure grand images in the mind of the reader. It was simply a place where men of a certain age sat, and smoked, and sighed.
However, let me not allude to the dear reader that Finsbury Place was a particularly dull location. All this talk of iron and grey and smoke may seem like an indicator of a boring place, but those details were merely the rough and unappealing peel on the outside of a juicy orange of a location.
You see whilst the walls of Finsbury Place hardly breathed, and the heart of the building in dire need of a pacemaker barely beat, it was the inhabitants – ex-bankers, ex-builders, ex-bookies, and ex-bouncers alike – that made Finsbury Place Hostel for Working and Elderly Men such a wonderful building for persons of the people watching persuasion – like myself, a resident.

Oh if only you could turn on your television set and see – banter blowing through the thick smoke in the rec room, the click of what balls remain on the snooker table, the glug of old Pete pouring his morning glass of Guinness – a medical drink, he always says. If broadcast live I swear on my Sunday shoes that audiences would flock daily to watch the residents at play.
Allow me to give you an example – this morning, aforementioned Pete with his aforementioned Guinness was having an enthused conversation with Charlie – this toothless Irish sod that nobody can understand outside of Finsbury – about a toaster.
Now, even to look at, the pair of them are odd. Charlie, the more conventionally dressed of the two wears this big fleecy jumper thing, a bright green reminiscent of pine leaves, with little wolves printed on the chest. It’s one of those tatty ones you buy in the markets, but incredibly warm and comfortable – you can tell, because he wears it 365 days a year, come rain or shine.
Pete, however, is on another level – both literally and figuratively. He stands at 6’7” and is a skinny man whom without clothes might look like a stick insect with a gravel grey beard. He wears the garb expected of a Wild West cattle rancher, with a patchy leather waistcoat, floppy leather ten gallon hat, and props himself up on a tall stick with a hammer head at the top, the type of thing that the police might confiscate if only the man wielding it didn’t look so close to death.
Anyway – this morning, Charlie was telling Pete about how this toaster exploded. I won’t transcribe the conversation word for word, but Charlie nearly blew his hand off with ‘the damn thing’ and when he went into town to buy a new one, he tripped up whilst saying hello to the ladies on the bus, and dropped the brand new one right out into the street.
The way he told Pete all serious and goofy had everyone in tears by the time he had finished. Charlie is funny to laugh at because he gets so mad about it – he wants you to take him seriously. It was hilarious. I guess you’ll just have to trust me.

But when it comes to characters, the leading legend of Finsbury Place has to be the Count.
It says an awful lot that nobody knows his real name – he never has any visitors, and Mary, the landlady, likes to keeps us wondering, a nod of respect to how shrouded in mystery he has now become.
So instead, people have made names for him – Count, the Accountant, Count Dracula, all because of what it is that he does. You see, the Count – he counts.
He comes down in the morning and starts at one – and then carries on. He pauses to eat and drink, and presumably to sleep – although I have heard rumours. He never loses count, and never speaks a word that isn’t a number. He has, over the course of Finsbury Place history, become a legend, a piece of furniture, and an ambient noise, like the clock, or the radiator. Whether or not the radiator is meant to make a noise is a different story entirely.
Where the Count is concerned, there are a number of unwritten rules. You don’t speak to the Count, you don’t touch the Count, and most importantly, don’t make the Count lose count.
So as far as other Finsbury residents were concerned, the Count was an unimportant yet crucial element – he disturbed no one, and in return, nobody disturbed him. It fact, it was almost as if for a long time, the Count only resided within the residents collective imagination. Of course, like all things that stay the same for long enough, things were destined to change - but not until the arrival of a certain Jon Crow.

Jon Crow was a plump man who stood at 5’4”, the required height for a bad case of angry short man syndrome. The only personal details I know relating to Mr Crow were gained second hand – you see Crow had a drinking problem, as well as a nervous disposition, which made him rather awful company. He also has no patience for chess, which is how I do most of my socialising.
What I will include concerning Jim Crow are three facts. One – he was fastidiously adjusting his slicked back black hair every waking hour of his life. Two – his favourite colour was orange, and he always wore at least one item of orange clothing. Three – he hated the Count.
The Count and his perpetual counting annoyed Jon Crow to no end, and every time the Count came in he would run his fingers through his shiny black scalp and assert himself in his chair, his whole body visibly on edge whenever the Count passed.
So it was that from the day Crow arrived at Finsbury Place, the reign of the Count as chief enigma was somewhat threatened. Whenever there was a dip in the conversation and the Count was not in the room, Jon would pipe up and make countless threats that whilst countless, all concerned the Count.
People would sigh and shake their heads whenever Jon said it, but as the frequency of the threats increased, it got to the point where whenever the Count and the Crow were in the same room together, the tension became almost unbearable.

Now the Count was a very well-dressed man – he never failed to wear a shirt that was tucked into freshly ironed trousers, held up by braces, and on Sundays, would be adorned with a dark red bow tie.
Crow, on the other hand, was not so daintily arranged. He wore a bright orange t-shirt, a shirt so ill fitting that his gut protruded from the bottom like a gluttonous prisoner begging for sunlight. His jeans cut into his waistline leaving bright red marks, and a comparatively tiny pair of spectacles sat unsteadily on the end of his pock marked nose.
This contrast of characters and clothing made the whole scene all the more dramatic for the other residents, and Jon had started getting into the habit of standing up purposelessly whenever the Count entered the room, leaving everyone in a tense silence. The Count, however, never seemed to notice – until one afternoon.

It was a quiet afternoon, and as luck would have it at the time I was practicing my chess in the corner of the room. Crow was engaged in a conversation with Pete, and when he entered the Count was around 4000.
Immediately, as if on cue in a play, Crow stood up, leaving the conversation dead in its tracks. The counting stopped – and the silence started.
I feel I should add at this point that the biggest question of all surrounding the Count is why he did what he did. There were many a conspiracy theory surrounding the matter, but the truth – and something that annoyed Crow more than anything – is that no one knew why the Count counted. This is probably why at that moment, Jon yelled:
‘Count!’ The ticking clock was the only noise remaining. It occurred to me at this point that nobody has called him the Count to his face before. ‘Why do you have to keep counting like that?’
And then the Count paused. And waited. And looked pensive, as if this was a new question for him.  Suddenly, in a voice that came from his direction, but didn’t seem to come from him, he said:
‘My name is Herman. And I’m bored, god damn you. Entertain me!’

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Waiting for Jesus

As promised, here is the second short story, part of a trilogy of Christmas presents because I'm broke, and it's apparently the thought that counts.

This one is called Waiting for Jesus, and it's been read by about two other people. I wrote it one cold night after in taking the peculiar mix of gin and coffee. I don't recommend it for taste, but I do for creative writing, and if you ever need to drink something from a mug that tastes like mental breakdown. Come to think of it, the mix of coffee and gin was probably what resulted in the choice of dialect for this short.

I hope you enjoy.

Image Courtesy of Abi Jones -
It wis nine o’clock in the evening, minus four degrees outside, and my Gran and I were waiting for Jesus to arrive. It’s not like he wis late for a cocktail party or anything – in fact quite the opposite – I wis drinking a lukewarm Coke and Gran wis drinking a gin and tonic. Gran lives in this cushy wee place, a bungalow with crazy patterned curtains and cats on the mantelpiece and a milkman. It wis Christmas and so the whole place was illuminated in all the cheesy lights of the rainbow, and a crummy Santa hanging in the window. She didn’t always live there though – before she lived there ma parents made her live in this stale old folks home over on Brampton.

I can’t quite remember because I was only a wee bairn at the time, but I remember me Ma saying she couldn’t look after Gran anymore so she had to be sent this nice place where other people could look after her and feed her and that. It wasn’t a nice place – at least, that’s what Gran said. Gran did everything in her wrinkly power to get out of that place. Like I said, I can’t remember myself but I’ve heard stories of her spiking the meals with tramadol, running round in her knickers shouting obscenities, and accusing the help of being bourgeoisie pigs there to enslave her. Needless to say, she swiftly and artfully got herself out of there and negotiated a new place to live. Everyone thought she’d be safer there. Turns out she wasn’t.

About four weeks ago this guy turned up at her front door in the evening with a mug and a carrier bag full of random shite – there were stones in his cup and he shook it at her and told her he was Jesus. Now my Gran ain’t religious or nothing but for some reason or other she keeps a crucifix hung on her front door. Nobody asks her why, but I reckon this is why this mad bastard came a knocking telling her he was Jesus – either that or he genuinely thinks he’s the messiah, either of which seem plausible.

My Gran being the type of person she is she lets this Jesus fellow inside, sits him down and brews a cup and asks him about the weather and what he’s being doing recently and whatever else popped in her wee heid. I don’t think it occurred to her to ask for proof of his piety or any reason why the son of god would come to the house of a random old bird. In fact no – she probably did think of that. But it’s these sorts of things that Gran just takes as normal. When you get to that age I guess you don’t want to question anything in case it turns out to be normal and people start thinking you’re going senile. The irony of the case is that instead she let this random guy into her house to stop people thinking she’s crazy.

That wasn’t the end of it either. The next week on the same day the same guy turns up at her door, shakes his cup and announces that Jesus is back for another cup of tea. This time she asks him if he wants a dram of scotch in it and he says yes. God almighty, I feel mad just telling it back to yous. Anyway he sits down again and they shoot the shit about whatever springs to mind, carefully recounting what they’ve both done since their last meeting, a detail which Gran can’t really recall back to me when she finally tells me two weeks later about her visitor. In fact no, she tells me Ma, I just happen to be there.

So by the third week this is coming to be a regular occurrence and Gran is building up quite the rapport with Jesus. A week later she tells Ma and once she’s gone back home Ma barks at me to go and keep an eye on her. I say bark as if it was all her idea, but I was starting to get worried myself like – you see all those stories about old ladies getting murdered in their homes on the news and that and it all seems a bit mean them blokes on telly making these horror stories to keep people in their homes, but as soon as I heard about this Jesus fella I was scared for me Gran. I love her, and I don’t want to see her dead on the news.

So that evening, on the Jesus evening, I strolled over to me Gran’s place all casual like, knocked on her door and told her I was gaunnae hang around so I could meet this Jesus fella cause if I were acting all shady and protective like, she wouldnae of gone along with it. My Gran enjoys being an independent woman who doesn’t need family to protect her, which in retrospect is probably why she rebelled herself out of the home.

So I sit down and she gets me my Coke and makes herself a cup and sits down with me and we make small talk about the weather and how I’m doing finding a job and that – not very well, by the way. So eventually I steer the conversation towards Jesus and she instantly looks up at the clock on the mantelpiece. For a moment everything is silent and she’s looking up at it like a dog that just heard a loud noise. Its pure eerie, like something out of a horror flick or something. It turns out it’s almost the time he arrives.

A car pulls up outside and all my hairs stand on end and I feel like we should turn up the heating or drink more of my Coke which has now been warmed by my hands or anything to get rid of the damn hairs on end. Does he drive? I didn’t think he drove. I peer out the window. Gran is still being silent. I can see the car but I can’t see anyone, and suddenly Gran gets out of her seat. I want to stand up and say no she shouldn’t do whatever it is she’s doing but she’s carrying on and I can’t move because I feel like I’m in a horror movie and I’m petrified that I’m about to watch my Gran get bludgeoned to death by a mug full of stones.

She goes towards the door and I get up to follow her and just as I turn into the hallway she opens the door. For a moment I stare, perplexed, looking through the open door, and waiting for my eyes to adjust to whatever is there. But they don’t. It’s still black and I’m worried, because I can’t see Jesus. I lean forward, squeeze my peepers all tight like and try to focus on Jesus. I start to feel pretty stupid because I’m sure he’s not there. That’s when Gran moves her hand away from the door, welcoming in nothing.

“Y’alright there Jesus?”


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Four Hundred and Forty Miles

It's been an awfully busy year for me, in terms of off-of-blog writing projects, college work, and university applications. Regrettably, this has affected my blog output. Whilst I'm definitely not closing the blog, I feel as though I've done a disservice to all you lovely people who come back daily to see if there are any more blog posts. And so, as a Christmas gift to all of you and as a slight apology for my lack of activity recently, over the next three days I'm going to be posting a short story a day, which saves me writing Christmas cards to everyone around the world who has supported me this year. As a little team up, my fabulous girlfriend Abi has provided a yummy graphic for each of the stories, to help promote her blog, which you can find a link to below.

The first one is Four Hundred and Forty Miles, a quite personal story which a few weeks ago won me a Runner Up prize for the Richard Compton Creative Writing Award. I know that 'Runner Up' sounds a bit second-rate, but I got a big piece of glass with my name on it and a nice round figure of dough, so I'm more than happy with it. I hope you enjoy.

Image Courtesy of Abi Jones -
It’s a simple story, one you can tell with a few objects. A guidebook in a foreign language, the old smell of a military cap, a faded Polaroid with bent edges and a bier stein gathering dust on the window sill. It’s not a really sad story, nobody dies, but things have a start and an end, they open and close, like flowers. We’ll start with the guidebook.

They must have been white at first, but they’re all yellow now, and held together with frayed strings. Even the words seem old – they might have popped once, they may have sounded fresh. Now he speaks them like a language nobody speaks anymore, with awkward intonations and accents. You see, Father’s Father was a traveller. He pointed at the pictures in the book, of the Big Ben and the Buckingham Palace and the dirty river that seemed to shine under the lens. He told stories in the language the guidebook used, stories that gathered the children around the feet of his chair, stories that made my Father gather his bread one day and leave, to try and go and find the places those pictures were taken, to find somewhere that didn’t speak in an old language and merely make books about the outside world. He wanted to breathe it in.

Four hundred miles and lots of bread later, he arrived in that outside world. They didn’t wear bowler hats and drink tea like his Father had said, though. They hurried everywhere; they bought big newspapers and looked at the pavement everywhere they went. My Father needed money if he was going to survive, so he got a job. They gave him a cap – green, with a badge, and I bet it looked real fancy when he got it, but not now – now it smells old and musty. They paid him to go around the world, to fight people and see things, to do what he was told and when people asked him why he had to say ‘For the Queen!’. Then he wanted to get better at the job, and it seemed that to do that he had to change. He had to talk differently; he had to learn which way to pass the port around the dinner table - he stood in front of the mirror with a picture of Lord Kitchener, cutting his moustache with a pair of scissors to make it look just right.

Then, just as he was getting tired of going to all the places they sent him, they sent him all the way back to where he started. He knocked on my Father’s Father’s door and said ‘Hello!’ and they all looked at his clothes and his moustache, and they flinched when he spoke. He got out the guidebook – he pointed at the pictures of the Big Ben and the Buckingham Palace and the dirty river that shone under the lens, and he compared stories with his Father and they all became friends again. Then he talked about leaving, and they wanted him to stay. A light-bulb popped up over his head and he smiled. He told them to go live with him in the outside world, and they shook their heads and looked at each other. But he must have been good at talking then, my Father. Because within a year, they were able to sit back in a garden, to wear new clothes and to pose for a photograph – a faded Polaroid with bent edges, a picture of my family in a new place, in new clothes, all looking very smart and happy and together.

My Dad quit his job, and got one that didn’t need so much travelling. He met a girl and they fell in love and she met his family and laughed at how strange they all were, and they settled down and ate meals together and talked about the world. Then, one day in Summer she was sent screaming to the hospital, and she had a baby and that baby was me. I grew up in a world where people hurried everywhere, where people bought big newspapers and always looked at the pavement. I grew up in a family with new clothes and new voices, but I had my guidebook to read, the cap to smell, the picture to look at. I had memories that weren’t mine to form; I had a whole history to write that I hadn’t lived through.

My Dad talks a lot. He talks about politics and work and money and the news. But he doesn’t talk about what happened. He doesn’t talk about the bier stein. It sits up there, gathering dust, old words carved into it. It was made for drinking beer, but I don’t think anyone did – how would I know if nobody talks about it? 
It tells me about things I weren’t around to see – it tells me how my Father changed himself and that it made him feel happier, that it made him fit in. He can’t talk about it because it reminds him of what he felt before, and that makes him feel sad. He didn’t tell me all this, but I felt it flowing in him. I felt it in the stories, in the way his Kitchener moustache bristled against my forehead when he kissed me to bed at night, in the way he talks about his brothers and sisters.

A teacher once told me that a picture can say a thousand words. That may be true, but for me, a beer stein says more.