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. 

Friday, August 23, 2013


"Let's pretend," she says.

"Pretend what?" he says

"Let's pretend,  just for a bit of fun, that we're deeply, deeply in love, that it's hard for us to be apart even for a few days. That we are in tune with each other's thoughts and feelings, That  it's as easy for us  to be silent together as it is to talk.  That sort of thing.   Nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy from time to time?

On a terrace beside the lake candlelight from the restaurant table flickers on their faces. Stars float above the line of  the far shore.  From close to, a waiter sees anger in their eyes. Or is it hatred?"

Let's pretend that we've just met," she says. "Do you remember? Try to remember."

"You're asking a lot. You bamboozled me. I had no idea what you were really like. I thought ..."

"What did you think? How did you see me then? Tell me."

" I thought you were beautiful. Your beauty overwhelmed me. It was magnificent, self-sufficient, inevitable. It was remote.  It  called for no comment.  Yet it  shone with an intelligence that touched everything around it...And everyone. Or so I thought. A beautiful mind in a beautiful body..."

She is at a loss for words for  a moment, a little stunned.  "And how do you see me now?"

"I see you as corrupt, dishonest, deluded..."

"Is that the best you can do?" she says.

"You lie to yourself. You lie to me. You are living lie."

All this is delivered in conversational tones though an occasional high note suggests steam building pressure.

They fall silent. They stare about them. People at adjoining tables notice them. Waiters and commis with trays appear. A ballet begins at their table. Wine is poured, food served. Spotlights illuminate plates and glasses. But their faces remain candlelit and seem to threaten. They become self-conscious. The silence between them is oppressive. Neither likes to be the object of comment. They had wanted no row in the first place. Least of all do they want  it to continue now in public.

They can  go no further. They look at each other. They look away across the lake.

She says, "people are watching us. Let's pretend,,,"

"Not again, not again ... for fuck's sake, not again."

"I'll tell you what, " she says: "Look at me and count aloud to ten. "When you have finished, I' ll  start counting."

He stares at her bewildered.

She stares back: "Whatever happens you  must look as though you  mean it."

He shrugs his shoulders, begins: "One, two three..."  and continues to ten.

"Ten, nine, eight..." she responds with feeling.

"Un, deux, trois..."

A nervous giggle erupts in her voice as she enunciates, "Uno, dos, tres ... "  It ripples on as she reaches, "ocho, nueve, diez."

He picks up the reflex of laughter  with a choking sound, "Eins, zwei, drie ..."

People are staring at them. They are laughing.   They can't stop  laughing. And they don't want to stop for fear of the emptiness to come.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The eye

A hole had appeared in the wall. It was a about three inches wide. The wall disappeared over the horizon behind him and  beyond the horizon in front of him. It rose so high  that he could not see its top. It was made of  black granite. He looked through the hole which reached  to the other side of the wall, a matter of four feet. Staring back at him was an eye. It was the eye of a living creature. Its iris expanded as his own eye greeted it. A mammal's eye, he thought. Or perhaps even a human eye. He watched it and it watched him. In the silence he heard a sound as though the owner of the eye was trying to sniff at the hole.

His eye to the hole he waited until without warning the eye vanished completely. In its place remained only a circle of sky.  He hoped that the eye would return. He listened for a sniff. He sniffed at the hole himself.  But soon  he realised that he would have to wait a long time, if ever, to see the eye again. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Shattered Part 3 of A Cat's Tale

Part 3

I cannot be sure how long I slept. Voices came and went in my dreams. And I could not know for certain whether those which  eventually awoke me were real. "Trophe, Trophe..." they were saying. A male voice unnaturally wheedling, Kangaroo doubtless; and in her normal voice, Cheetah. My first thought was one of relief. The pun  in Catastrophe was no longer operative. The name, though  it had probably been clever was too long to be practical.  Trophe would do.  My next  thought was that I was now likely to be released from the laundry basket. As I have said I detest the "miaow" sound and refuse on principle to employ it. But escape was imperative. So I managed a sort of growl, a locution which in a lion would have been a roar.

Within a minute the basket was upright, the lid removed and I felt myself lifted up  by the soft hands of Cheetah. "There, there ," she said as she put me gently on the floor. I think she liked me. If I liked any human I suppose I liked her.  Kangaroo meanwhile looked down with a puzzled expression. I couldn't make up my mind how he felt about me and in truth I didn't care. I walked away my tail in the air.

Such was the introduction to my new home and the two people who shared it with me. In the days that followed my release from the basket, I began as I inspected my new premises to build up a picture of my companions, their routines and habits. Clearly they were addicted to work. Except at the weekends they left the house early and returned late in the evening. Even when at home they sat in different rooms in front of whispering keyboards and fluttering screens. Around them rubbish of one sort of another expanded like something organic. They even snacked separately at their computers. It was only in their large untidy bed under a soft duvet that they met for any length of time. When  they were not sleeping  there side by side I was aware of them  heaving and rolling under the covers.

The  lack of order in the house, which I have already described, was now the least agreeable aspect of my life.  That's to put it politely. I hate mess. And they lived in chaos. Might it, I thought, be in my power to change things? It may seem vein to say this but I am a fine looking animal, sleek and  well proportioned. I  possess a pair of eyes that make people think of emeralds and  my silken ears are pointed like the buds of an exotic flower. My black, shiny coat reflects light like a mirror of polished granite, my nose is velvety, my mouth small and discriminating, my whiskers fine and of a delicate blond colour.  A figure such as mine, to be seen at its best, requires a spacious and elegant backcloth - a need seldom out of my thoughts whenever I am going to sit or lie down.

The piles of junk that filled the  house were a gross abuse of my beauty. Even Cheetah and Kangaroo, I thought, should in time come to recognise that I deserved  better surroundings.  As I have said the only two places in the house where there was any evidence of order were the tables where they worked. So, taking his work-place and hers in turn, I would sit down  and choose a position which showed my profile at its most superb and  where the space around me did credit to my proportions. I wanted to make it clear that I expected order and harmony. Did I demand too much ? I think not. I have astonishing powers of silent communication which are  supported by an iron will. As a rule I get my way.

One fine day it seemed that my project had succeeded.  A skip appeared on the road outside the house. A cleaning lady arrived and she and Cheetah began to clear up the mess room by room. Decorators next painted the walls and built shelves for the books. Kangaroo even brought flowers for Cheetah who put them in a vase on a newly cleared table. Curtains were hung and I was able to spend days choosing good places to sit and to snooze. An embarras de richesse.

A cat flap had appeared earlier allowing me to come and go as I pleased.  But it was the other improvements to the house  of which I was most proud. It had been moulded to my every wish and whim. Space in plenty. Colour where it was needed but plenty of white to set off my jet black profile.

Only in one respect did I feel let down: kippers. My favourite food of all never appeared in the house again since I had  demolished a couple of them at a sitting on the first day of my arrival. I never ceased to think about that blissful experience.  I had achieved so much  with my thought control yet  in this small respect, I had to admit, the system was failing.

For  all  that I was not going to complain. Gratitude does not come easily to me but  even I managed a small purr when I next saw Cheetah.

Unfortunately she scarcely seemed aware of me, as she opened my tin of food and refilled my water bowl.. My purr went unnoticed.  It was then, as I looked up at her,  that I saw that she had changed. Her face had become rounder.  She smelt different. She was less tense, slower in her movements. And then... then I noticed the bump. Her belly had swollen. And I knew what  had happened. I was stunned, horrified.

If there is one thing I hate it is smelly, human babies. And as for the changes which had taken place in my house, it was  painfully clear that that they had nothing to do with me or my efforts. Whatever happiness I had flew straight out of the window.  Have you ever heard a cat laugh?

                                                   The end