Friday, September 27, 2013


" I think I can speak for my colleagues, Miss Lampeter, when I say how impressed we have been with your CV and your experience in magazine publishing and banking in New York. The position we want to fill requires an unusual degree of management skill in addition to the technical knowledge which you have demonstrated in the excellent way you have answered our questions so far. Upon the successful development of international digital publishing depends the future of our company. Universal Letters has been a leader in business and leisure communications for more than 100 years. We need now to take steps to ensure our dominance in the next 100 years..."

The person speaking is Sir Roland Forsyth, chairman of Universal Letters. On one side of him sits Helen  Rampling,  international director of marketing, and on the other Mark Stone, finance director. Across from the three of them in the centre of the long boardroom table sits Mary Lampeter, composed, quietly confident in a tailored light grey suit. She is most people would agree rather stunning.

Though only 27 her first class engineering degree at Cambridge, coupled with a diploma from The Harvard Business School in addition to internships with a small and still respectable American bank and Grandage Inc, pioneer in electronic publishing, explains her popularity with head hunters and why she has already turned down several job offers. The interview is taking place  on the fortieth floor of one of the new steel and glass skyscrapers high above City of London.

"... You have told us," says Sir Roland, " how you see publishing completely transformed in the digital age. How precisely would a largely traditional business like Universal fit in without compromising its reputation.?"

"I hope I covered that adequately in the paper I submitted with my application, but if it is a question of scale, of reach,  I believe that there are few limits for a company with Universal's resources." Her succinct answer modestly presented clearly meets with the approval of The Chairman and of Helen Rampling, who smiles benignly, the smile of one successful woman to another. Only from Mark Stone does Mary sense if not direct hostility a need to challenge.

"How hungry are you , Miss Lampeter?" She knows the mode of thought and of speech, and resists even the shadow of a frivolous response.

"I have found that the challenge of a task is enough to motivate me fully. Am I ambitious.? Yes. Quite simply to do a job well."

"And no more..."

"Is there more?"

" I would suggest a lot more, Miss Lampeter. This job is sought after across the world by the toughest and most accomplished candidates. You are one of a short list of six.  This is a race in a violently competitive business. I would expect the winner to possess nerves of steel and backbone, yes backbone. I am not sure that you have demonstrated that you have those qualities. what do you say?"

"None of us can know, Mr Stone, until we are tested. You are I suspect testing me now and I can only respond  by confirming my continued interest in the job" She spoke with the same measured calm but    was that a hint of sharpness mingled with the lilt in her voice which the Chairman had found so charming.

"First of all Miss Lampeter" says Sir Roland, " I would like to thank you for your application and to say what a pleasuret has been to meet you. A most stimulating and enlightening interview. Before bringing it to a conclusion are there any questions that you would like to ask us?

Mary looks calmly at the faces opposite. At the patrician Sir Roland, red face, white moustache, shrewd blue eyes. Helen Rampling, understated, lightly made up, immaculate hair, not obviously dyed. Mark Stone, glinting spectacles, severe drawn features. He looks away when for a moment her gaze crosses  his.  Her mind is made up.

"Just one question, " she says. " I am 27. Of child bearing age, a fact that none of you ventured to raise. Should I say thank you?  Or simply acknowledge the power of political correctness? So  I will raise it myself. I am not married and have no specific plans in that direction. But I often think that I would like one or two children before I am thirty. I wonder whether this thought would in any way affect your decision to offer me the job?"

In the silence that follows, she gathers the papers in front of her and makes for the door, scarcely leaving time for Sir Roland, ever the gent, to rise unsteadily to his feet.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Extended comment and responses in the appropriate place seem to be difficult. So I am doing it here.

To respond to Robbie's search for a definition of the short story I can only plea that in my view there is no need for one. It can be what you choose it to be. My brother Ken aka Lucas kicked off with his idea of very short stories. I picked up the ball.   Lucy called them "flash fictions". Borges, the great Argentinian writer and English scholar, meanwhile, had already coined the term ficciones, fictions, to describe his pieces, almost stories if not stories. It seems to me that there is no reason not to push back frontiers. Meanwhile I am looking forward to Robbie's thoughts as promised. Only good can come of dialogue. I guess War and Peace is not a short story. Nor is Ulysses. But Borges might respond in one of his ficciones that in a different universe both might be.

Watch out for a new story in pipeline.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Catching on

"Flange", he says.
She looks at him surprised. What's he talking about? But she responds in kind. "Flange," she says.
"Flange," he says con affetto
"Flange," con spirito.
"Flange.." con dolore.
"Flange." com  molto  espressione
The word remains the same but variations come like pistol shots in a western.
"Flange. "
Together they walk down the street arm in arm. "Flange,   Flange., Flange, " in unison.
Soon they are joined by other students. They proceed towards the square, a vast army of young people. Some have already improvised banners which bear the word Flange.
There is no stopping them. They clamber up statues and lampposts, onto the ledges of buildings. They mount vehicles and each other's shoulders. They chant louder and louder with an in intense and deafening rhythm: "Flange, Flange, Flange..."
The sound spreads through the town, through the country.  It is quickly transmitted via Twitter and Facebook and U Tube into every corner of the world.  "Flange, Flange, Flange, Flange.. . " chant the people. And the sound rises up to where the atmosphere is very thin. It hangs there like the echo of a prayer.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


If there's was one thing that he liked about the iPad it was that it allowed him to take photographs of himself. He could compose his face on the screen, touch the screen and there were his fine features displayed for anyone to see. Anyone that is who had access to his photo file or to whom another couple of taps would ensure an email. Not that there were  many on his contacts list whom he deemed worthy of receiving the images of himself that he seldom grew tired of producing. Sometimes he sent himself an email which relieved his boredom when not engaged in photography.

One day in search of further relief he thought that would attempt to fly and to capture himself soaring among the clouds.  He had often been compared to an angel and if angels could fly so could he. With the remarkable agility that accompanied his beauty, early one morning, his iPad strapped to his stomach, he climbed the new steel and glass building known as The Shard on the south bank of the River Thames in London. Balanced  for a moment on a projection outside the viewing platform and looking eastward towards the river estuary, he admired the sunrise and imagined himself, his arms spread wide like eagle wings against the brightening sky. Why waste time? He unfettered his tablet, touched the camera icon and holding it above his head launched himself gracefully into the air. What a blissful sight! He clicked away before he realised that he was falling.

Not much time. Go to photographs. There he was, clouds and blue sky behind him, the sun imparting a special glitter to his eyes and lending a sheen to his chestnut hair streaming behind him. He almost forgot. Two taps only as he tumbled through the air... narc... he began touching the screen with difficulty as the momentum of his fall increased., believed that he had completed the address and tapped  "send" but he never knew whether the email had been sent and  neither he nor anyone else whether it had arrived.