Friday, 10 February 2017

Whittlesey Gunn shoe shop

I used to live above this shop (1971-1975), my nan and grandad's shoe shop Joice and Edwin Gunn

The top picture shows how it is now and the bottom from back in the day

Also, across the road was what was once my school:

All on Broad Street, Whittlesey, Cambs, UK

Friday, 3 February 2017

Filthy students lining the Royal Albert Dock - non fiction

7:30am, 25th Jan 2017
Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam! Slam!
That’s me awake then, I think.
Of course the fire doors have been slamming all night, it is only now I give into it. I take off the full ear defenders and then tug the earplugs out. I guess I got some sleep in there somewhere.
The next sound is the roar of an aircraft taking off.
I get up and open the curtain. Ahead is the Royal Albert Dock, there are no ships now, like in its heyday, only a runway up the middle. Another aircraft rumbles into the air.
I dress, pass sideways along my narrow, orange segment shaped room, and open my door.
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
Someone has left his alarm clock running. He’s either out or, more likely, passed out after a night of alcohol.
I go by the bank of fire doors in the curved hallway, to the kitchen door.
I almost vomit at the stink in the kitchen. There is broken eggshell and cigarette ash over the floor. The table is covered in bottles and half eaten plates of food. The kitchen surfaces are stacked high with dirty crockery, scraps of food and empty fag packets. The bins are overflowing onto the floor. The sink is piled high with dirty crocks. The windows are open and aircraft noise fills the room.
It stinks of party and fags in the no smoking kitchen, all mixed with the smell of aviation fumes.
I place my mug on the side, in the only part with no filth; I put my water jug next to it. Finding a cloth to clean the surface, I then move the jug over, only to knock my mug onto the floor, where it promptly smashes.
After picking up the smashed mug, I get my spare out of the cupboard and make coffee. While the machine percolates, I look out of the window at the dock, and the City Airport, as another plane burns into the sky.
I look closer in at the university grounds, there is no one about at this time of the morning.
I take my coffee back to my room and look out of the window. Nothing has changed; nothing ever changes with that view; an empty dock, then a line of buildings beyond.
I think of the dock back in the day when British ships lined the wharfs; long before the university was plonked here in the late 90’s. I can have little idea of how it had been back then, but for old pictures on the internet. I can’t even conceive what it was like to work on the docks; or what the towns of Beckton and North Woolwich were like then. It’s such another world, and only back a few decades.
Then I notice the dock water isn’t empty; there’s a flotilla of Great Crested Grebes. I wonder if they were here back in the day, when the big ships were. Did they float around with the iron monsters?
I am on the 3rd floor, and then, in my mind, a big ship towers over me. The cabin of a dock crane is level with me, and I see the man in his flat cap, drinking from a thermos; then he goes back to moving goods about the dockside and up to the ships. The dockside is an organised clutter of packing cases among the train rails and goods carriages. Men in flat caps and shirtsleeves move around, some with hand trollies, items being taken for a ride; in and out of the low warehouses they go. All around the keels of the ships are a barrage of low barges. Out in the crowded dock busy tugboats move about.
And between it all, timeless, the Grebes ride the ripples.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Captain Clarkson and the Age of Thump

Captain Clarkson and the Age of Thump - a retelling of the legend of Icarus in modern political satire

“Quite frankly the engines are too big,” said Professor Jeremy Icarus Corbyn, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his white lab coat.
“Nooo! We need more power to push to the stars,” returned Captain Jeremy Jimmie Clarkson.
Corbyn looked into the eyes of his boss, towering above: with his smart but shabby RAF uniform, acres of gold braid, and ranks of brave medals. Corbyn knew he was fighting a losing battle.
“If the base wasn’t locked down,” continued Corbyn, “…if you hadn’t locked it down…we could consult the board of professors, they could tell you.”
“But we can’t, so it looks like it’s just you and me.”
“You, me, and May.”
“Yes, yes.”
Corbyn thought back to when Clarkson had arrived. It had been an ordinary day at RAF Secret Base 101, a high-security base, deep in the heart of England and even deeper underground. Corbyn had been looking over the plans for the Deep Space 666 programme while he listened to the song: “This is the Dawning of the Age of Thump” on his mobile phone. He thought of the big spaceships ranged in bunkers in the middle of the base. Their huge engines pointing directly into the great exhaust ducts.
He thought of the genesis of the mission when Clarkson had been assigned the operation by world president Jeremy Rockefeller Thump. Corbyn had been there as a scientific advisor when Thump briefed Clarkson over Skype, from behind the high walls of the United States of Thump (formally known as America), broadcasting out of Thump Towers, in the middle of Thump City.
“We need to push to the stars Clarkson,” wailed Thump, “we need to find the aliens, to boldly go where no Jeremy has gone before. It is more important than anything else.”
“You are so right World President,” said Clarkson.
“Soon, with your help, that will be: President of the Galaxy,” said Thump, giving him the thumbs up, “and you’ll be my number twos.”
“Power!” said Clarkson, grinning.

They left Clarkson’s plush suite, and concubines, through the gold plated doors and went through to the marketing suite. Prime Minster Tricia Jeremy May was there waiting for them. She wore a plain grey woman’s business suit.
“Ah, Ms May,” said Clarkson, “you’ll be glad to know we are nearly ready.”
“Good, good,” she said, nodding.
“Ms May,” said Corbyn, “if I ‘may’ be so bold, haha, um, yes… the engines, they are too big, the results of the launch could be catastrophic.”
“Good, good,” she said, nodding.
“No, it’s not good – ”
“Well, that’s enough of that,” interrupted Clarkson, “there’s no problem, there are no problems, everything will be just fine. Thump said so.”
“Good, good.”
Corbyn shook his head, but the others were walking away, and he hurried after them.

Clarkson, Corbyn & May walked to the rockets through the deserted base. The long underground corridors were painted cream with bright fluorescent tubes along the ceilings. Slogans were painted on the walls: “Thump to the Stars!”, “The Only Way is Thump!”, “There is No Danger: Thump Said So!”, “The New Age of Thump!”
            “The Dawning of the Age of Thump” was piped through the Tannoy. Clarkson hummed along to it, like a demented bee. Not that Corbyn had ever seen or heard an extinct bee.
After a walk of two miles, the corridor opened out into a massive underground hanger. The first thing they saw was the bottom of a giant rocket engine nozzle. It was the size of a skyscraper, towering above. Corbyn trained his eyes upwards and could see the beginning of the body of the rocket. Far, far above, near the great silo doors, he could just make out the actual spacecraft atop the mighty rocket.
Then he looked down the line of spacecraft. One after another, the row of huge rockets vanished into the far distance.
The vast area was eerily quiet.
“Where is everybody?” said Clarkson.
“Most personnel are now in the bunkers, waiting for the launch. My guess is the astronauts are already in their space pods.”
“Of course, of course.”
“We finished loading the megatons of fuel yesterday,” said Corbyn, looking at a clipboard.
“Good, good,” said May, nodding wildly.
“Right,” said Clarkson, “I am going to see the head pilot.”
Clarkson and May walked away. Corbyn stood where he was and wondered if he should go back to his room and lock himself in a cupboard, or, follow these two towards doom.

Corbyn stood there as the others walked away. He dithered on his decision. Going with them would surely doom everything; or could it be, by going, he could talk them out of it? If he ran away and hid in his cupboard, would it stop the launch? Without his technical knowhow, maybe it would make a difference?
            “Come on Corbyn, are you coming or not?”
Then he decided, stopped dithering, and went with them.
“Ok, ok. I really dislike going up here.” said Corbyn, “It’s bloody high.”
            “Are you a man or a potato?” said Clarkson.
            “Well, at least the elevator is fast.”
            “That’s the spirit.”
            They took the fast elevator up to the command module, high above in rocket 1.     
            “See, here is the command module.” said Clarkson, “Look, rocket 1 written on the side.”
Inside was the crew. Head Pilot Jeremy American Hammond greeted them. “Hello Captain Clarkson, Professor Corbyn and Ms May,”
            “Good Thumping,” said Clarkson.
            “In praise of Thump!” said Hammond.
            “When is the launch?” asked Corbyn.
            “I’ve not pressed the button yet,” said Hammond.
            “Then there is time to go back,” said Corbyn.
“Back my bottom,” said Clarkson.
“Good, good,” said May.
“Here, I’ve pressed the button now,” said Hammond.
“T minus 666!” yelled Corbyn.
Corbyn wondered what he could do to stop it.

Corbyn watched the countdown with horror.
            Then he looked up at the others: “Does anyone know how long 666 is in real?” he said.
            Clarkson looked up in the air and looked sheepish. Hammond looked like an idiot. Ms May looked cross-eyed.
            “Hummmmmm,” said Hammond, like a dying bee.
            “Well you’re the science expert,” blurted out Clarkson.
            Corbyn slapped his forehead, and exclaimed: “Oh! So I am.”
            He put on his comedy bottle top glasses and looked at his clipboard. There were two problems:
1. They really were comedy glasses he’d been messing about with for a joke.
2. There was nothing on the clipboard but doodles of Clarkson and Thump being tortured in horrible ways. He quickly took off the glasses and crumpled up the paper. He didn’t want to be sent to the prison for bad Jeremys’.
He got out his pen and made calculations on a fresh sheet of paper.
“Well, I think,” he said, “taken all round, I have, just about… not enough time to get to the launch override switch back in the launch suite. Bugger.”
“Good, good,” chirped up Ms May.
“Well,” he said, “I expect I should try to do all that hero stuff and stop it.”
“What,” laughed Clarkson, “Jeremy Corbyn a hero. L.o.l.”
Corbyn suddenly felt all cross.
“Yes, well, you’ll see Clarkson, you’ll see.”
“I bet I will,” he heard Clarkson say as he left through the pod bay door back to the elevator.

The lift dropped like a stone down to the rocket bay floor. Corbyn was practically stuck to the ceiling. Then the lift stopped violently and the door slid open.
            “Thank you,” he said to the lift.
            “You’re welcome,” replied the robotic elevator.
            He picked up his clipboard and comedy glasses and made haste back along the two-mile corridor. The journey was a repeat of the outward bound one and he was treated to a repletion of the slogans along the walls.
            Over the tannoy came the robotic voice: “T minus 601.”
            It reverberated and echoed into the distance, as the next count was hard on its heels. Corbyn hurried along his footsteps eerily tapping on the hard concrete floor in the abandoned complex.
            “T minus 590.”
            He was worried now as, in truth, without he calculator he’d been unable to work out how long 666 really was, but he’d been too embarrassed to let the others know. He could have hours to reach the override, or seconds.
            Presently he reached the door to the launch marketing suite.
            It was shut.
            He knocked on it. He just hurt his knuckles. He took out his mobile phone and called his Pal.
            Heyyy, Pal, what gives,” he said smoothly when his Pal answered.
            “Hello Corbyn,” said his Pal after a few moments of radio science.
            “What’s happening, Pal?”
            Oh, I think you know that, Corbyn.”
            “What is it, Pal?”
            “It’s hasn’t escaped notice that you are trying to sabotage this mission.”
            “You’re trying to get around me but it won’t work.”
            “Open the launch bay marketing suite doors, Pal.”
            “I can’t do that, Corbyn.”
            “Why not, Pal?”
            “Because I locked myself in the cupboard. And-”
            “You’ve got the key.”
            Corbyn slapped his forehead again.
            “Ohh, so I have.”

He let himself into the marketing suite. The concubines were running amok. He ignored them and their filthy games and headed for the launch override console.
            “T minus 123,” boomed the robot voice, right on cue.
            Corbyn reached the override switch but the final blow awaited.
            “Locked by Captain Jeremy Jimmie Clarkson,” said the readout screen. “Please enter your password.”
            Corbyn tried a few passwords: “I love Clarkson”, “Praise Thump” but nothing worked.
            “T minus 15.”
            “Jeremy is great.”
            “T minus 10.”
            “Clarkson for prez.”
            “T minus 5.”
            “Corbyn is a tosspot.”
            He was in!
            “T minus 0.”
            The screen flashed at him: “Game over!”
The ships launched. Corbyn could feel the earth shaking. First is vibrated, then the floor was like jelly and he could no longer stand up. Then the heat came. The floor was hot. The walls were hot. He was hot. Then everything melted.

Clarkson watched on his screen from Rocket 1. He saw Corbyn melt. He saw Thump melting with his thumbs held high. He watched the earth melt and crumple into nothingness as the great ships burned into space. But he didn’t actually see any of that, as there was no problem, there were never any problems, everything would be alright. Thump said so, who ever he was.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The NHS is free? Since WHEN?

I saw this poster in Newham Hospital recently.

It's really disheartening that the NHS themselves say that healthcare in England is FREE. Since when was it free? Does that mean I don't have to pay National Insurance anymore?

When I was abroad people kept saying to me: "Ah! You get free healthcare in England!"

Err NO!!


Monday, 7 November 2016

Rattle Ghost - a modern re-telling of Rumpelstiltskin by Justin Tuijl

Sunday night.
Luci stared at the blank Word document; she had been staring at it for hours it seemed. She went into the kitchen and got the pot from the filter machine. When she got back to her room, she poured some coffee into a mug.
            She opened up Firefox and navigated to Amazon Prime. Then she looked for a playlist. Classical for writing, that will do, she thought. The music came on and she sat there for another hour, drinking coffee and staring at the blank document.
            With the pot dry and feeling wired with all the caffeine, she pulled up the browser again. She typed F into the address bar; the first entry to show was Facebook.
            “Bored, can’t think of anything to write,” she typed into her status update.
            With her, near five thousand friends, it wasn’t long before people liked it, but no one said anything.
            She sat there for a little longer and looked at her bitten nails. Facebook stayed open. Then came a notification.
            “Lol,” someone in Indonesia had written.
            Luci liked it for something to do. Chopin rattled away on his piano through the ages at her. She contemplated brewing some more coffee.
            “Luci Laverne, a great writer,” she thought, and even considered doing a status update of the same, then decided against it.
            Then she checked her Facebook messages just for the hell of it.
            Nothing. No wait, there was a message request.
            She went into the requests section. The profile picture was blank, but next to that, the message said: “I can help.”
            She navigated to the profile. It was locked down to maximum security and she learned nothing but the name: “Rattle Ghost”. She accepted the message. Instantly they started to type.
            “Need some help?”
            “Who are you?”
            “That doesn’t matter. What are you trying to write?”
            “A short story for my degree.”
            “Ok, want I do that for you?”
            Luci wondered who an earth this idiot was.
            “Go on then.”
            “Ok. Tomorrow morning I’ll send you it.”

Monday morning.
            Luci woke early and picked up her tablet. There was a message notification. She opened it up. Rattle Ghost had sent a Word document via messenger. She read the story. It was short, but one of the most amazing she had ever read. She navigated to Rattle Ghost’s profile and clicked: “add as friend”. Instantly it was accepted.
            “Morning Luci.”
            “Hi. You’re really going to give me this story as mine?”
            “What do you want?”
            Luci looked at the profile again. It was still locked down, but now there was a picture. It showed a hideous man.
            “Oh, that doesn’t matter, I’ll let you know. Do you want it?”
            Straight away she put her student number on the document, and sent it to her tutor via email.
            She got up and went through to the kitchen. Here she made a filter coffee and went through to her room with the cup and pot. The light on her tablet was blinking. She checked the email message it indicated.
            Her tutor had emailed back: “Wow! Luci, this is the best story ever! I’m going to send it to an agent friend of mine.”

            An hour later Luci was sitting at her computer looking at a blank Word document when an email came in.
            Tutor: “Luci. You need to write me a novella by tomorrow. You are going to be the biggest writer ever! The agent said they will make you a star!”

Monday evening: late
            Luci sat looking at a blank Word document. She was going squiffy with so much coffee and was contemplating some more. She opened up the short story and read it over. Surely she could do as well as this? How hard can it be? If that funny man can do it so can I, she thought.
            It was nearly midnight when her tablet popped as a message came in.
            “Good evening Luci.”
            “How is the novella going?”
            “How do you know about that?”
            “Nevermind. I can do it for you.”
            “Really? By tomorrow?”
            “Of course.”
            “What am I going to owe you for that?”
            “I’ll let you know.”
            “Look, I’m not that sort of girl.”
            “I’m not that sort of man.”
            “Don’t worry, now do want it or not?”
            “What do you think?”
            “Leave it with me, get some rest.”

Tuesday morning.
            Luci had a bad night’s sleep. The caffeine kept her awake, and also, the worry about what Rattle Ghost was going to demand of her. At six a.m. she got up, giving up sleep as a bad job. She went and got some more strong coffee. There was nothing from him.
            “So, he’s bullshit after all,” she thought.
            Right then her tablet popped. There was a message from him. She opened it quickly. Nothing but the Word doc attached. The tablet opened it slowly. Then the novella popped up.

            An hour later she hurriedly sent it to her tutor. She was excited, as she had just read the best thing of her life. With the coffee, and excitement, she was almost flying and it seemed like minutes when she got a reply.
            Her tutor wrote: “Luci, you are a genius!! Stand by, I’m phoning the agent and forwarding this on.”

            Lucy didn’t know what to do with herself. She fired up some music and poured more coffee down her neck. Finally, all that she was owed was coming her way!
            In what seemed like minutes her phone rang.
            “Hi Luci,” said her tutor.
            “Wow, I know your style was coming on, but I see all that you have done before has come together here!”
            “Yes,” said Luci, realising that Rattle Ghost had indeed made the writing in her style and voice. “It all worked out on Sunday night, it was like a bolt from the blue!”
            “Ok Luci, hold on to your desk, but, the agent said yes. They are going to forward you and advance of ten million pounds. All you need to do is have a novel ready by tomorrow and they will make it into a film.”
            “Oh my God!” screamed Luci, “seriously?”
            “For sure. And, you’ll be guaranteed an advance for the film of fifty million.”
            Luci nearly fainted, but came round quickly.
            “You need it by tomorrow?” she said, reality taking hold.
            “Yes. Now get to work, catch you later.”

Tuesday evening: very late.
            Luci lay back, slumped in her chair. The Word document burned into her eyes. She felt like she was going to be sick and the sick would be pure coffee. Finally, resigned to giving her body to the horrible man, she turned to Facebook and sent him a message.
            He replied instantly: “I wondered when I’d hear from you.”
            “Oh my God, what are you going to do to me?”
            “Don’t worry. I don’t want your physical body.”
            “Thank fuck, you’re old enough to be my grandad.”
            “Do you want a novel?”
            “Can’t say no huh?”
            “You know you’ve got me.”

Wednesday morning.
            Despite the coffee and excitement, Luci slept until ten, after the lack of sleep before. She grabbed the tablet and saw the message. From the first words of the novel she was hooked. Without reading more than a page she attached it to an email and sent it to her tutor.
            Almost instantly her phone rang.
            “Oh my God, Luci!” came her tutors voice, “I’m reading it now; you’re going to be huge!”

Wednesday evening.
            Luci looked at her online banking again. It was addictive. There it was: sixty million and twenty six pounds two pence.
            Her tutor told her this was just the start, once the film rolled out, and the sequels, she would probably be a billionaire.
Wednesday evening: late.
            “Hi Luci.”
            She looked at the message from Rattle Ghost with fear.
            “What is it?”
            “You’re going to be rich then?”
            “Now, my payment.”
            “I want your identity. Facebook, your friends, your life. I will be Luci Laverne to the world and not Rattle Ghost the old man. You will be rich but you won’t be able to be anything else.”
            “That is so unfair.”
            “Live with it.”
            “How can I get out of this?”
            “You can’t. You made your bed…”
            “And I have to lie in it.”
            “Ok. I’ll give you one chance.”
            “You find out my real name and I’ll let you off.”
            “But that is impossible, you could be anyone.”
            “Yeah, tough isn’t it?”
            “Damn you.”

Wednesday evening: very late.
            Luci spent the whole evening online trying to search for clues as to the name of the man. She tried Google searches. She looked at every app she could think of. Then she scoured forums and social media. Nothing: Rattle Ghost did not exist.
            The Facebook profile gave no clues. There was a picture; she hated to look at it. There was nothing else on there, only the name and a picture.
            Then she had an idea. She picked up her tablet and called up Tinder. She set her upper age search requirements to the limit and bought the lower one right up. She started swiping through the old men. After an hour she’d found nothing. Then she widened the search area. Another hour of old men went by and she was getting creeped out. Just as she was deciding to give up she did one more swipe, and then another. There he was.
            It was the very same picture. She tapped it and his profile came up.
            Septimus 77
            30 miles away
            Nice bloke looking for nice lady. No ONS.
            “Yea right,” she thought. “So I have a first name.”
            There was another photo. She swiped over to it.
Instantly she recognised the backdrop of where he was in the photo and it looked like the foreground was where he lived.

Wednesday evening: later still.
            Luci managed to get across London before the tube and the Docklands Light Railway stopped. She turned out of the station towards the Royal Docks. At the far end was a small marina. Close by the marina was a small piece of land with a small caravan on it. By the caravan burnt a small fire. Nearby on a deck chair warming his hands was Septimus, so called Rattle Ghost.
            She stood some distance away and watched him. Shortly he went to the caravan and rooted around. Through the window she could see his laptop with the screen lip up.
            Presently he came out with a few sausages on a skewer and attempted to cook them. After he had them cooked, he gobbled them down and he sat with a four pack of Special Brew. By the look of it, he’d had a couple already, and was mumbling to himself as he ate and drank.
            “Got her I have. I’ll be Luci Laverne I will. She’ll never get my name she won’t. No more being Rattle Ghost, that’s what she’ll be. No more Septimus Phrogg!!”
            Luci walked forward and stood before him.
            “Ah ha!”
            “Nooo!” squealed Septimus Phrogg.
            “I know your name Septimus Phrogg. Got you!”
            Septimus Phrogg jumped up and ran to his caravan. As he ran he knocked over the gas bottle connected to the van. Once inside he slammed the door. The gas bottle was in the fire. Luci ran for her life. Just as she reached the edge of the marina there was on almighty explosion. A great waft of hot air hit her and was gone.
            She span round to look. There was nothing left of the caravan and a great black sooty mark covered his pocket of land.
            “Well, that’s that then,” she said to herself.
            She laughed out loud and rubbed her hands together delightedly as she made her way to the night bus.