Thursday 3 August 2017

Let Me Tell You A Story | (Personal) Examples of Left Leaning Political Fiction

In the period between August 2016 and July 2017, amongst other political writings, I wrote 11 fictional pieces. I am re-posting/printing them, which short descriptors, in preparation for the production of a paper-based zine:

Zine: a non-commercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to a specialised and often unconventional subject matter. In this case a political stories zine.

ONE: Sticks and Stones was the first piece of political fiction I wrote in August 2016 whilst Jeremy Corbyn was campaigning for re-election as Leader of the Labour Party. 

Once, not that long ago, in a land, not that far away, there lived a man, who worked very hard. He dedicated his life to fighting injustice and was always the first to stand with those suffering discrimination or oppression. He travelled far and wide offering support to people who needed it and challenging those who put the wants of the few before the needs of the many. Unwavering in his principles the man’s views were not always popular although his good heart and his steadfastness became legendary across the kingdom. More often than not his beliefs and predictions proved to be grounded in good sense. When not at work the man lived a simple life, his lack of interest in material things unusual for the time.  

And so the man’s life continued for many years. Quietly spoken and physically unassuming the most powerful people saw the man as little threat to their position of privilege. For a long time this was the case. Despite the man’s efforts and those of a few others like him the kingdom, and other lands around it, became dark and dangerous places to live in. More and more people were reduced to existing in sorry conditions. At its worst this meant that some had no access to adequate food and shelter, or to good education and health care. Inequality sometimes led to prejudice and often the most powerless were unfairly blamed for social evils well beyond their control. Then came an opportunity when the man put himself forward for a more powerful position amongst those responsible for governing the kingdom. Slowly, but with gathering momentum, ordinary people throughout the land began to listen more closely to what the man had to say, and to join him in his commitment to social justice for all. In short they began to hope.

Watching the growing interest in and acceptance of the man’s message the rulers and those who would be rulers began to fear. Having greater access to the kingdom’s Magic Streaming Mirror (popularly known as the MSM) than the man and his supporters they began to spread false tales about him. Aware of the people’s regard for the man and his work they began by criticising his ability; ‘he is a good person but not strong enough to lead us’. When this didn’t work they moved to an attack on his ideas; ‘he’s talking rubbish, don’t listen to him’. Then, not surprisingly given the increasing obvious acceptance of them, they began to adopt, even to claim as their own, the man’s suggestions for action. At the same time they argued; ‘nobody likes him, he can’t deliver his promises, don’t trust him, trust us instead’. The critical messages were personal as well as political; indeed the personal is always political. So the man’s long-time principles were questioned, his character besmirched, and his lifestyle, choices, appearance and general self-presentation insulted. Through it all the man stood tall and got stronger, supported by the people who believed in him: young people and older ones, workers and those unable to work, those with enough to live a good life, others much more disadvantaged. They didn’t all agree with everything the man said, just as no one should, unthinkingly, uncritically, accept what they are told by others. But what all these people shared was a respect for the man’s obvious principles and they believed, like him, that the kingdom could be a better, fairer, brighter, happier place, if everyone worked together to make it so. And hence the Magic Streaming Mirror responded branding these people as na├»ve, as stupid, as wicked and worse . . . Its magic power was strong as it twisted the words of those who spoke in support of the man and magnified the voices of those that didn’t. And yet, many were able to question the dominant and dominating bewitching messages emanating from the Magic Streaming Mirror which championed the proclamations of those who wished to dispose of the man and take power for themselves. The people who resisted took comfort in, and drew strength from, communication and comradery relationships with each other. So much so that even when they were told, repeatedly, in various different ways, that they were not ‘real’ they knew that this was a lie.


The end of this story is yet to be told. The man and the people who accept and help to promote what he stands for remain under attack. The often confused and confusing negative stories continue to fester. But the resistance of many continues also. Although the kingdom is in many ways rotten, and there is a real danger that things could get even worse, there is also much hope for a better world. Many more people believe in fighting for a more positive future. Many more people believe in the power of community and the value of people powered politics. What is clear is that whatever happens next things will never be the same again. 

TWO: I wrote Prohibition 2020 | A Horror Story of the Future in October 2016. At the time the Conservatives spoke often of JAMs (just managing families); a term they seem to have dropped for ‘ordinary working people. Jam – the fruit variety – is also a produce that the leader of the Labour Party likes to make.

Unless we are very careful.

In the summer of 2020 a law was passed which made the cooking and eating of jam illegal. Offences were punishable with large fines. Some perpetrators were even incarcerated in prisons more overcrowded than ever before because of both the rise in hate crime and the vigilant policing of anyone thought to be other from the tabloid media's definition of normal and acceptable. The popular Great British Bake Off (GBBO) had moved from the BBC to Channel 4 a couple of years previously with careful re-branding highlighting developing feelings about the status of the nation. Countrywide Rolling, Acidifying and Proving (CRAP) didn't survive for long though as the Victoria sponges and bite sized tarts just weren't the same without a generous dollop of strawberry or damson. For a while there was some bemoaning the loss of the weekly references to soggy bottoms and well roasted nuts but sorrow for a programme loved for its double entendres, as much as its baking tips, was quickly forgotten as there became much more important things to worry about. Strictly Come Dancing - another family favourite - survived, but only because it became easier for a politician to secure a credible mandate following a passable Paso Doble than through doorstep canvassing or coherent policy pronouncements.

Things had been going downhill since spring 2019 when a few folk inexplicably still felt like victoriously and joyfully proclaiming: 'we have got our country back'. Just who  'had' the country before had never been clear. In fact the rot had begun to show even earlier with the crisis in the NHS evident following cut after cut of cradle-to-grave services and a lack of dentists, nurses, paramedics and theatre staff resulting in lengthening waiting lists for the little that was still free for all. And it could only get worse given the government's inaccurate predicted rise in 'home grown' medics (required to carry their passports, in addition to their stethoscopes, to prove it) to replace those who after years of healing Britain's sick and ailing had been rudely dismissed. There were similar staff shortages in the tourist and catering industries and in farming. In one way this was fortuitous as people of all ages needed to work extra hours in extra jobs to ensure they had more than a zero hour working week.

The constant smearing of the opposition who challenged the hollow claims of those who shouted such things as - 'we can help the poor', 'we are NOT the nasty party', 'we know what we are doing' - only resulted in entrenching racism, sexism and other such bigoted and discriminatory views. The time wasted challenging the attacks and the prejudice gave those in power the space to become even more powerful. The result was longer food bank queues, greater levels of homelessness, benefit cuts and increasingly bizarre taxes which led to some elderly people having to leave the homes in which they had lived at least half a lifetime. Unsurprisingly levels of mental ill-health soared, not least amongst children whose lives lacked creative play and artistic opportunity as their timetables were packed full of tests and other measures for selection. Fewer and fewer benefited from further and higher education the costs of which were out of the reach of most. Just as well perhaps as academics, like other public sector workers, spent more time on justifying their national identity and their roles than in doing their jobs.

For the richest 1% life hadn't changed that much. The denial of the minority to accept the reality of life for the rest was evident in their 'let them eat scones' response to reports of Breadline Britain, proclaimed with no sense of irony.

Alongside all of this the ban on jam making and tasting was one example of the establishment's fear of the simple pleasures in life. First such experiences were ridiculed, soon they were outlawed. Yet, where there are rules there is resistance.  And so, over time, in all communities across the now sad and isolated small island, more and more people came together to chop and to boil fruit, to bottle produce and to savour the fruity creations. No one was left out if they didn't wish to be with sugar full and free varieties in all the glorious flavours imaginable. In this way hope was once again nurtured and shared.


THREE: Bless Us Everyone was written on the last day of Oct 2016

A story for Halloween written with apologies (and thanks for the quotes in italics) to Charles Dickens.
Last night I had the strangest dream.

It was All Hallows Eve so perhaps not surprisingly there were ghosts involved. Usually I sleep undisturbed so can only put the dreaming down to the especially tasty piece of rich Stilton that accompanied my port following my lunchtime steak pudding and treacle tart and custard. The Members Dining Room at the House does a great range of nosh and I dine there frequently. I was back in my seat just in time to vote against the latest suggested hike in disability benefits. Well the incentives to work really do need to be clear don't you think?

So anyway, I'm asleep - not just in reality but in the dream itself  - and I'm woken by a large, but somewhat translucent, bloke, standing at the foot of the bed and introducing himself as the ghost of Halloween past. I know, I know, unbelievable tosh but bear with me it's a strangely entertaining tale.

The ghost's aim, so he said, was to remind me of Halloween back in the day. I'd forgotten what fun my twin brother and I had curled up with mum under the bed sheets telling scary stories and making spooky shapes on the wall with our torches. Dad was usually at work in the pub, following his day job at the docks. The games stopped when we moved up from primary; me to the grammar and Paul to the secondary modern. Things were never the same between us after that. He still lives close to mum, who's a widow following dad's early death, which is good because I'm too busy to get down much. I offer to help financially but they both shun my generousity. Stupid, really stupid. After all I've got enough. I claim more in expenses than Paul earns in a year. There's a rumour going round that there are going to be some restrictions on what we request in future. Bah, humbug, I say. We work hard enough, surely nobody could begrudge us.

The next thing I know I'm being woken from another deep slumber by a second apparition, this time promising me an insight into the most significant events in the All Saints' Eve of the moment. It's another large one, this time with a huge orange head that looks rather like a hairy pumpkin. He seems to have come with a warning and repeats over and over: 'It doesn't matter what you do or who you do it to just be careful which email server you use'. Very odd. More than ever I'm convinced now that this experience must be diet related; may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.

The final visitor - this time a vampire type, terrifying and yet seductive - arrives some time later. I'm getting fed up now as I've another full day tomorrow including a couple of crucial business meetings and a supper date in the city. The focus of this vision is Halloweens to come and before I know it we are in the centre of my constituency. We pass the local NHS hospital although it appears derelict with boarded up windows and doors. The high street is somewhat changed too with every other property either a food or clothes bank. Spoils the look of the place rather and surely not necessary for if they want to die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. 

I'm left alone for the remainder of the night thank goodness, and my rest is peaceful. On waking I'm refreshed for all is well with my world. Bless us everyone. 

FOUR: I wrote Hold the Front Page: TIEGATE after false newspaper coverage of Jeremy Corbyn dancing his way to the remembrance day ceremony.  

'Not good enough, not good enough Frost. We need something catchier, more sensational. Our sales figures have been down recently and this is hardly going to improve them.' As he speaks the newspaper's editor in chief tosses aside the piece his junior colleague has been working on for two days. 

He continues, 'Celebrity break-ups and royal babies just don't do it anymore sadly. The great British public want more, demand more, these days. Having said that there seems to be quite a bit of attention for our latest piece on Brexit, Toberlone and Marmite. What else have you got, anything?'

'Yes, in fact I do.' Frost clears his throat nervously and continues. 'The new figures on child poverty and homelessness are out today and I've also got an idea for something about the human rights agenda and of course there's the recent NHS cuts and creeping privatisation story.' 

'No, no, too depressing and doesn't really portray the country in a good light now does it?' I know you're new Frost but I expected better. This doesn't really cut it in terms of your personal key performance indicators. Haven't you been to the company values induction session? I can get someone else to take over this assignment, if you're not up to it.'

'No chief no. I've got something else. The leader of the opposition has just made some really interesting comments about the US presidential election. I could easily put together a piece with some facts and figures to support his concerns and write something detailed on the Left's position on the similarities of some of the issues facing the UK and America and maybe something on how our 'special relationship' might be from now on.'

'For f*&k sake, are you serious? I really am losing patience now. The PM has already made a speech, everything's going to be fine, and even if it isn't our readers don't want to hear that. Surely it must be clear even to someone as stupid as you that we're not interested in what any of the opposition has to say. What do you think our job is; to educate people? Huh!' He laughs. 'If you'd got in first with a piece about the size of his poppy or his poorly tied tie. Now that would have been a little more acceptable. Look, I guess I'd better do the job for you. Just write something about the refugee issue, we haven't published anything on that for a few days. If you can't think for yourself just rework the usual. Be sure to emphasis the cost to the country and the taxpayer's purse and words such as surge, swarm and scrounger are always good for copy.' 

'But, but...' 

'No time for buts I'm busy and you've taken enough of my time. Just get on with it. It's the annual Children in Need fest next week so your next assignment can be something on that and the goodwill and generosity of the nation, blah, blah.'   

FIVE:  In December 2016 I wrote THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS | THE 2016             VERSION. This one speaks for itself I think.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a partridge in a pear tree. 
A somewhat unusual present I’m sure you’ll agree,
but apparently this was all that was left after the Black Friday rush. 

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves. 
Symbolic of peace the doves represent a concept and ideal we definitely need to focus on just now; 
both at home and further afield. 
With the ‘politics of hate’ 
seemingly dominant on the streets 
and in much of the main stream media, 
more emphasis on peace, tolerance and kindness 
as strengths rather than weaknesses 
would be especially welcome. 

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me three French hens
A valuable gift for two reasons. 
First, the hens will probably cost very much more soon given that 'Brexit means Brexit'. 
Second, at least we can be guaranteed eggs,
even if,
fish fingers,
and goodness knows what else, 
are no longer available. 

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me four calling birds.
Following his successful campaign
the present elect of the United States of America
telephoned rather more than four world leaders,
before the prime minister of the small group of islands, 
4,242 miles away, 
with whom the USA has a long standing ‘special relationship’. 
Not to worry for he remains great friends, 
and shares a desire to make his country ‘great again’, 
with a Britain (for now) based  like-minded other 
who is currently being given much more attention and air time than is sensible. 
Enough already. 

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me FIVE GOLD RINGS. 
A reminder of a summer of achievement. 
To cheer the soul during a year of disappointment,
and grief, 
many of us tuned in to the coverage of the Olympics. 
On one level a wonderful celebration of diversity, 
with huge support for all athletes irrespective of
social class, 
ethnicity and dis/ability.  
And yet there are divisions; 
(not least in that the Paralympics received less financial support and less coverage than the 'main' event a month earlier) 
and expectations; 
(woe betide anyone who doesn’t show the appropriate level of patriotic pride during their country’s national anthem) 
for those who compete. 
And as ever during such an event stark local inequality was highlighted: 

"Rio's plan, in hosting the Olympics, was to get the city on the world stage, attracting tourism and investment . . . With almost no effort, Rio stands out from most cities around the world. Who else has scenery and a percussive cultural mix like ours?

Now if we'd just managed to produce better sanitation, income distribution, housing, public safety, an integrated and efficient transportation system, public health and education ...The focus on marketing -- instead of our reality -- is why many locals aren't exactly psyched for the Olympic Games."

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me six geese a laying.  
What were they laying I wondered; 
certainly not the golden egg for anyone not a member of the 1%. 
Austerity isn't working for almost everyone - 
who needs an education, 
who gets sick on occasion, 
who wants to keep warm and dry and eat well, 
who is growing older . . . 
There is a gender difference here too,
as several reports tell us that austerity affects women twice as hard as men. 
it seems that Black and Minority Ethic (BME) women are likely to be even more disadvantaged. 
What’s good for the goose is clearly even better (if only a bit) for the gander. 
And yet the pressures on men are significant also as evidenced by frighteningly high and increasing suicide rates.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me seven swans a swimming. 
By now my home is overrun with poultry, 
and by rights my true love was a tad foolish imparting this particular present, 
given that unmarked swans by prerogative right belong to the British Crown. 
So asking for a gift note 
I returned the bevy of swans to their rightful owner. 
I hope they are able to cope with the noise of the, 
recently announced, 
refurbishment of their keeper’s (sometime) place of residence. 
The renovations will be paid for with taxpayers’ money. 
All the queen's men and women are fine with this.
If we lived in a society where benefit reduction was imposed on many in social housing who are deemed to have a 'spare' bedroom; 
if we lived in a society where child homelessness was the highest it has been for nearly a decade; 
if we lived in a society where a man sleeping rough died on the same day that the charity Shelter reached its 50th birthday;
then maybe we wouldn't be quite so supportive of this particular DIY SOS. 

On the eight day of Christmas my true love gave to me eight maids a milking. 
In the year when the Oxford Dictionaries' 'Word of the Year' is,
it is difficult to decide who deserves the prize for -
'milking it' the most. 
When a politician’s dress and shoe sense
is more important than her or his policies; 
when the facts about the value of immigration
are ignored in favour of xenophobia to deflect attention from a failing governmental agenda; 
when it's hard to tell whether the 'news' item we read or hear about is reality or satire,
I'm sure you are wondering if my reference to eight maids, 
(along with the rest of my festive booty), 
is itself a piece of 'fake' news. 

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me nine ladies dancing. 
Makes a change from cavorting ex-shadow chancellors. 
Great balls of fire indeed.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me ten lords a leaping. 
Rather excitable this lot. 
All new to The House of Lords, (along with a few others),
they have to fight for seats given the increase in numbers in recent years. 
And to think it's being suggested that the number of MPs in The House of Commons, (affecting all politics parties but the Labour Party the most),
be reduced. 
Inevitably all the jumping about led to a nasty accident or two,
necessitating a long afternoon sitting in A and E,
whilst overstretched and tired looking doctors and nurses rushed around us. 
On leaving the hospital I signed a petition,
calling on the government to give the NHS the funding it needs. 
You can find it at #CarefortheNHS

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me eleven pipers piping. 
In remembrance of those in the public eye that died this year, including: 
Alan Rickman, 
Victoria Wood, 
David Bowie,
Lennard Cohen, 
Ronnie Corbett, 
Caroline Aherne, 
Andrew Sachs, 
Carla Lane, 
Terry Wogan, 
Robert Vaughn . . .
(and more, too many more).

 On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me twelve drummers drumming.
As we listen to the beat accompanying us out of a year we would rather forget,
the very best we should hope for, 
I think, 
is that in 2017,
we will begin to appreciate, 
as the late Jo Cox MP, 
said as part of her maiden speech: 
'that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us'.

SIX: Twitter Trolls are Coming to Town was my attempt at a Christmas ditty.

You better watch out
You better take care
Prepare for a flout
I'm telling you why
Twitter Trolls are coming to town.

They’re sending their tweets
Not checking them twice
Not sure whether to be naughty or nice (NB: actually naughty usually wins out)
Twitter Trolls are coming to town.

Their rants can leave you weeping
They block your calm replies
You know they’re being bad not good
So ignore for f*** (goodness) sake! 

You better watch out
You better take care
Prepare for a flout
I'm telling you why
Twitter Trolls are coming to town


SEVEN: I posted this short poem was posted at the end of a political opinion piece I wrote on the 14th February 2017. Roses are Red was, and is, my response to living in Conservative Britain. 

Roses are red, 
Violets are blue. 
I’ve had enough, 
And I hope so have you.

EIGHT: In February 2017 I wrote The Minister's New Clothes | A completely unbelievable short story. I received some critique for this one with some readers suggesting I was encouraging a sexist focus on the prime minister's appearance. My intention was not a focus on her clothes as such but rather her attitudes, political philosophy and policies. I've re-read the story and stand by it but appreciate that not everyone will agree with me.  

There is a woman, a minister, the head of a government, well known to all of us who is extremely fond of new and expensive clothes. So much so that a considerable amount of the money she earns is spent on dresses, trouser suits, shirts and jumpers, not to mention very large necklaces and fancy shoes. Now, any woman, every woman, should be allowed to wear whatever she likes, without censure or comment, and as the men the woman works with are also well-dressed it is something of a sexist double-standard to single her out. But, given the woman’s powerful role, and the fact that many of those she supposedly represents are doing less than just about managing, that she is rarely seen in the same over-priced outfit twice seems more than a little tasteless. And yet, the woman seems oblivious to the impression she is giving, even agreeing to be featured in various publications to showcase her style and fashion sense.

Although everyone, including the woman and the ministers who work with her, pretend that the members of the government are the ones running the country in reality they and their actions are manipulated by a small number of rich and powerful others; the big business owners, the media barons and others generally referred to as the 1%. These people, many of them white, able-bodied men, have greater access to and control of, both the capitalist means of production and the right wing ideological apparatus that is the mainstream media. They are therefore, responsible not only for the continued exploitation of the many, but also the ongoing skewed political socialisation of the masses. Such is their hunger for power and money this small, unrepresentative group will do anything they can to maintain their position and influence. The women's love of garments and accessories is valuable to them, in their plan to retain their status as the privileged few, willing as she is to wear their gift of a cloak woven together with threads made up of whopping great rancid lies.   

Her responsibility for the policies of the land means that the woman has to justify her decisions to her government, the ministers that challenge and oppose her, and more generally to us, the everyday folk in society. In a time honoured tradition, one afternoon each week the woman is posed a series of questions by the opposition ministers. Serious issues are raised and flaws in her plans and practices often highlighted and as such the event should, one would think, be conducted with solemnity and judged in terms of the substance of the points that are aired and the answers that are given (or not). Sadly though over the years this encounter has become more like a pantomime than a parliamentary debate with the jeerers and smearers, jesters and charlatans attempting to drown out the sincere interrogation. 'Oh Yes It Is', and 'Oh No It Isn't', are common taunts and given that some on the opposite benches seem unclear to whom their loyalty should lie, 'S/He's Behind You', is increasingly shouted in warning to the man who asks the lion's share of the questions. The woman herself, has little respect for the questions or for those that ask them and leads her ministers in insulting and abusing the opposition. The harshest and most vitriolic comments are reserved for the key questioner, a man who cares little about his own presentation of self, little about the clothes he wears, except that is for his collection of ties in deepest red. So warped has the system become that the nastier, more aggressive, more personal, more insulting the attack, and the thicker the woman's cloak of lies becomes, the more support she is given from those that control her, reflected in the representation of her by the 1% funded media. Thus, despite the woman's obvious lack of compassion for the many, coupled with much evidence of her bad judgements in terms of present national crises and future local and global concerns, her own particular toxic charisma becomes stronger and more positive in mainstream narratives.

The cloak, unlike the woman's other clothes, is not made of luxurious cloth in vibrant colours. Rather it is a dark despicable thing, dripping in filthy falsehood, greasy from backroom bargaining and grimy deals. Yet, the cloak remains invisible to many people who are unable to see it and the woman who wears it in all their true horror. Terrifyingly this means that the woman is trusted with what she ought not to be and believed even when it should be obvious that her words are nothing but hollow spin. On the few occasions when the cloak slips and the woman and her ministers are exposed for what they truly are the woman, aided again by the forces that protect her, creates a diversion, a moral panic, in order to deflect attention away from both her words and her actions. Once again the focus is often the man who leads the opposition; his arguments for peace claimed as both unsafe and unpatriotic, his efforts for those most vulnerable and alienated defined as old fashioned and unworkable. Additionally, (and yet more evidence that the woman's claim that she is working for a shared society for all is just another meaningless sound bite) attention is also diverted towards those whose identities, experiences, life-chances and choices do not fit that of the so-called, narrowly defined ideal type. Through the use of simplistic stereotypes just about everyone is labelled as other, stigmatised as abnormal and or dangerous, defined as undeserving. Those affected include (not least): the employed who fight for their rights, the unemployed for their drain on the system, the homeless for littering the streets; the old for their outdated views and lack of sympathy for the young, the young for their weakness and lack of resilience, those at midlife for their lack of care and attention for both the old and the young; the experts for their pomposity; anyone from man or woman in the street (or online) to celebrity who dares to offer a critique. But perhaps the greatest identification and demonisation of otherhood is directed at those defined as unworthy stranger; the immigrant and the refugee. We are told again and again that these people are simultaneously taking all our jobs and using up all our resources when in actuality considerations of a day without them clearly shows their invaluable input into the healthy, safe, effective daily lives of all.  So neighbour is pitted against neighbour and the tension and fear that this encourages successfully shifts the responsibility away from those who most deserve it. It is not the woman, the government, or the 1%, who take the blame for the inequalities and injustices in society but rather similar others who are equally, if not more, oppressed, powerless and vulnerable.

There are some, thankfully, who are able to see the cloak, the woman, and her supporters, for what they are. There are some, to whom we should all be grateful, who are working hard to ensure that more of us can see this too. There are some, despite continued misrepresentation and abuse, who continue to challenge fear and hate and insist on the need for hope and love. 

There are some . . . 

NINE: The 2nd March 2017 was World Book Day and the celebrate I wrote a short blog about reading and writing. In it I included reference to the six word story concept. Like many others I was charmed and inspired by the account of Ernest Hemingway's invention of this short, short story. In response to a ten-dollar bet made at lunch with some other writers, the story goes, Hemingway wrote: 'For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn'

However, it seems that versions of the six word story appeared long before this with this example in a newspaper classified section appearing in 1906 (when Hemingway was 7 years old): 'For sale, baby carriage, never used'. 

Some of mine: 

Publicly washed political linen help none.

Climate change denier drowning, not waving.

Will of the people? Voter apathy?

Poverty ended. Inequality quashed. Fake news. 

TEN: Responding once more to some pieces in the news in  April 2017 I wrote THE PIGS HAVE FLOWN AND TAKEN ALL THE (EASTER) EGGS WITH THEM |A short tale based on unbelievable truths and, apparently, believable lies, with a moral or few to end

Dawn is breaking on Maundy Thursday (the holy day before Easter which commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and the Apostles) as the supermarket delivery van backs into the parking space at the back of 10 Downing Street, London SW1. Alongside the weekend groceries is a bumper pack of variety flavoured crisps and other holiday goodies. Somebody's Easter is going to be sumptuous. The next four days are important ones. After 40 days of abstaining from favourite foods one of the most important Christian holidays of the year – the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – will be remembered not just (or even) through prayer but also, by many, with hot-cross buns, chocolate eggs delivered by bunnies, egg hunting and rolling (followed by a meal of roasted meat with potatoes and veg). And yet, these well-known Christian activities are, if one cares to look, also variously attributed to Ostera or Eostre, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring, or to honouring of the resurrection of Tammuz, the god of an ancient Babylonian family 2,000 before Christ.

The current occupant of the residence reserved for the British Prime Minister is, so we are repeatedly told by the press and the person in question, a committed Christian. Although, given the catalogue of government practices and policies, over which she presides, many find this very hard to believe. In case we should forget she reminds us of her 'serious' commitment to her faith by informing us all of her own particular abstinence (see reference to crisps above) and her ‘outrage’ at the blasphemous suggestions of the dropping of the word Easter from any chocolate egg event.

Pete, the supermarket delivery man, is not much interested in politics for in his opinion whichever lot are in 'they're all the bloody same'. He knows of the religious beliefs of the PM only because his girlfriend Cathy told him.

'It's been in the papers, Pete. I read it in my mum's Mail. The other bloke, the one who leads Labour, he doesn’t go to Church. He doesn't believe in anything much and he doesn’t do anything much.  Spends all this time making jam. He’s old too. I saw a picture of him sleeping on a train. He’s obviously past it. About time he gave it all up. Best for everyone, best for us all. It's in all the papers, and on TV.'

Back at the depo for his break Pete flicks through the newspapers in the staff canteen. They are all a few days old and Pete is already aware of all of the sports announcements he reads. With the first delivery of the day in his mind he looks at the early pages of one of the copies from the previous week and reads:

[The Labour Leader] wants to whack 20 per cent VAT onto school fees in lefty throwback’s latest assault on the well-off
The Labour Leader will unveil plans to introduce VAT on school fees and use the cash to provide all primary school kids with free school meals. 

Frowning Pete scans the article stopping at one particularly odd statement; ‘The hapless socialist will claim ‘no child should go hungry at school’’. Quite what is wrong with that Pete can’t work out. Picking up other publications he reads that the opposition have also recently pledged, if they win the next general election, to raise the minimum wage to £10 an hour (£3 more than Pete currently earns) and also to improve the financial lot of the retired in various ways (including guaranteeing a decent annual rise and the Winter Fuel Allowance and free bus passes). Most of the papers seem critical of these policies, and others he has just read about, which is just confusing. Returning to the first rag Pete remembers that his mate Jason, who is a scouser, refuses to even touch, let alone read it; something to do with a slur after Hillsborough. But, if all the reports are so down on the guy and his suggestions it must be so. For after all when did politicians ever care for folk like him and Cathy and their children? Pigs might fly!

His break over Pete thinks of other things as he drives to the first address on his delivery sheet. This extra shift will mean that on the way home he can buy a small chocolate egg for each of the kids. It’s been especially tight this week as Cathy has only picked up a few hours work in the coffee shop. Pete’s additional few hours also means that they can pay the red gas bill and avoid a visit to the local foodbank. So this week they are just about managing. They aren't always so lucky. 

Across town the man Pete has been reading about has spent the morning doing paperwork, speaking to colleagues and tweeting information about party policies and MPs activities. Looking forward to a few hours off he’s planning a trip to the allotment and hoping to avoid any media personal who, if they catch up with him, are bound to comment on his audacity at taking some leisure time and/or on the slogan on his t-shirt or even the vegetables he tends. Going into the kitchen to make his late breakfast the man debates with himself whether to have soft or hard boiled eggs with his toast. He laughs as he imagines the 'interesting' analogy the press could make from that.

·        Never ever believe the first news report that you read or hear from the mainstream media.
·        Always question, always seek alternative accounts.
·        Always consider all possible explanations before you make up your mind.
·        Challenge the stories you know to be false.
·        Promote the ones that enlighten as far and wide as you can.
·        REPEAT. . . . 

     ELEVEN: And to complete the 12 months of writing (well this aspect of it anyway) at the end of June 2017 I wrote Soundbites and Humble Pie | The 2017 (alternative) Great British Menu Banquet

This year’s Great British Menu Banquet, in recognition of the austere times in which we live, was only two courses; a main and a pudding. On the positive side, at least as far as some were concerned, instead of a sit-down affair in a posh indoor venue, the food was served to, the many not the few, in Albert Square, Manchester. The earlier proposed site, a field of wheat in Sussex was easily rejected as too naughty a suggestion given both the likely upset to farmers and the inaccessibility to anyone other than the elite.

Given the size of the crowd and the diversity of the diners the first course, comprised a selection of bite size morsels in the hope of covering all tastes. Served on the right side of the square there was meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan pastries with gluten and nut free options available. By negotiated mutual consent, which took a while, the preparation and cooking was coordinated, by two chefs. Given the excessive cost this entailed it was especially disappointing that the results dashed all expectations. Over-confidence maybe given previous praise and popularity or perhaps a sense of entitlement as cooks with similar abilities had regularly and recently been successful, especially with older connoisseurs. In sum the compromised menu was weak and the responding national interest wobbly. The spinach and mozzarella filos proved to be anything but strong and stable and the parsnip, prune and pepper tart was overwhelmingly agreed to be a coalition of chaos, which despite the supply received little confidence. Still, at least no one suffered food poisoning. Just as well given that NHS and other public service personnel are overstretched in the city, as across the nation.     

The much anticipated dessert, which the feasters turned to the left of the square to receive, was the brainchild of a chef hailing from North Islington, the winner of the London heat who continues to attract support from all over the country. An unexpected hero this one which, pardon the cookery pun, left egg on the faces of quite a few. Although many, including some previous sceptics, ate with relish, returning for a second helping of pie others remained unbowed. The reluctantly humbled ate what was offered but clearly found swallowing difficult whilst a number who had long denied the skills of the candidate refused to try more than the smallest morsel. Believing themselves to be culinary experts beyond critique they stuck to their previous bias; ‘he won because the others were so bad’, ‘the judges only voted for him because they thought he wouldn’t win’ and such like. Some refused the treat altogether, preparing to stick to their prejudices, believing the unwarranted judgements and smears perpetuated through various media.   

Event over, organisers, judges and participants would normally give little thought, time and attention to the ingredients necessary for a win next time. Just now though there appears to be appetite for another contest, which might be sooner than we think.


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