Fat Mo and the men who make stories like this necessary

book coverI had been writing Fat Mo for a while. Quite a lot of it went through the Lancaster MA critique system and became part of my portfolio. But I was never ready to publish it either as a standalone short story or as part of a collection of similar pieces. The time was not right; the collection was too hotch-potch; there was no obvious market.

Then Weinstein happened. #MeToo happened. Women were suddenly saying out loud what so very many of us knew to be true – that getting on in the world meant getting on with men and doing what they said we must. That not all of them had our best interests at heart was obvious but had to remain an unspoken feature of progression because the most likely outcome of any complaint would have been shaming at best and exclusion from our career paths at worst. Actually, not at worst. Women have died at the hands of entitled, controlling men and still do.

Gradually though, some voices began to break through – often famous ones, glamorous ones, ones belonging to people with high aspirations. Not yet the small voices of ordinary women in ordinary jobs trying to climb the ladder while seedy men stuck their hands up their skirts. It was time for Fat Mo.

So I put her story together with two ancillary stories; Merv, her boss/abuser, and Pauline, a woman who sees much but is never noticed because she is just the cleaner. Together, they offer an insight into the grooming process in a small-time 1970s north of England office. The power of carefully constructed charisma; the gossip; the isolation of the victim; the sense that everyone knows and feels free to sneer because, for the men there’s the fantasy of doing that themselves, and for the women the moral superiority of not being ‘like her’. No wonder women have not spoken up. No wonder so many have kept their experiences quiet, often for decades.

So when Dr Christine Blasey Ford spoke up; an academic, a person more used to the lecture theatre than the red carpet variety, much of the world listened. And let’s be clear, listening does not mean prejudging guilt or innocence, it means hearing someone’s side. Investigations are ongoing and it is just possible that, while she is right about the attack, she is wrong about the attacker. We will have to wait for the outcome.

The President of the United States, a man of supreme power and influence, while saying much the same thing about innocence and guilt, was not inclined to wait. He felt free to mock Dr Blasey Ford in a disgraceful display of partisan politicising of this dreadfully sensitive and difficult situation. He performed as only he can his impression of Dr Blasey Ford’s account in much the same way he parodied a journalist with cerebral palsy. A performance designed to intimidate, humiliate, and ultimately discredit her testimony. In case you have not seen it, here is the video.

In doing this, he tells every woman and every young girl – in fact anyone who speaks out about sexual assault against someone of power – that their voices are not to be heard, that the notion of ‘hearing’ their account is lip service, that humiliation is the proper outcome. At the same time, he tells every powerful man in whatever context they happen to exercise their power, and every part of the justice system that they need not take women’s complaints seriously, that this is how to behave instead.

It is hard to know what to say about a president who will so unnecessarily wield his own power in this way. I am just grateful he is not mine.

Fat Mo is on sale now. All the proceeds go to a UK charity that supports people with intellectual disabilities who have experienced sexual abuse. I hope you feel moved to buy it for that reason alone, but I hope also that you choose to read it for the voices of victims whose lives are too small for most people to notice, then maybe to be the one who notices and acts.

Not Being First Fish – second edition with illustrations and six new stories

book cover not being first fishI don’t have to launch my books, they just slip their moorings at dead of night and sneak off. This one, ostensibly by the elusive P Spencer Beck, made its escape yesterday. Described by one reader, who may or may not be a friend and who may or may not have been referring to letting it get loose at all, as ‘sheer lunacy’, this is a work of non-fiction. Little diary snippets reliant on the single perspective and grossly biased memory of the one observer so most likely of dubious veracity.  Not exactly fake news, more hake news, i.e a bit fishy and likely to go off quite quickly if you think you recognise yourself. To check whether or not you might be able to sue, assuming you’re willing to own up to whatever you think you’re described as doing, it’s here. 

These are what pass for reviews to date. Sigh.

‘Laughing so much the receptionists came over to see what was going on’. Reader in a dental surgery waiting room. Doesn’t say if they’d already had gas and air.

 

‘I’d recommend it.’ Reader doesn’t say why, which is a bit of a worry.

 

‘Why haven’t all ladies of a certain age read this?’ Reader who seems to think it’s a manual of some sort.

 

 

Products of a poetry course

FutureLearn took its reputation in its hands by letting me know about its ‘Making a Poem’ course run by Manchester Metropolitan university. It’s just three weeks and covers some basics, including sources of poetic ideas such as random text, images, and individual words, and the protocols governing feedback. For such a short course, it does its job quite well, introducing the elements of poetry and getting participants to engage in a bit of practice. Tutors are Helen Mort and Michael Symmons Roberts whose videos head each section. I’m not sure what they’d make of what I made though!


A Found poem

This reusable collapsible keychain straw will be
Cheap.
It reduced my tendency to eat unhealthy things
At lunch

These thirty minute courses can help you start developing
Games in unity
Muse measures your brainwaves in real time to give you feedback
A treat for your feet

Slip your fingers
It’s a tiny chance
Urgent. Please donate.

Drawn from Facebook ads and sponsored pages.


Picture prompt poem 

Help!
Au secours!
No more.
Stop peering
Stop piering
Go home
Leave me alone
You scare me with your eyeballs
You deafen me with your noise
Can’t you see for yourself
It’s just
Sea?

Prompt: photo of a frightened looking end-of-pier viewer by Drew Graham on Unsplash.


Word prompt – choice of one each in a left hand and right hand column 

Hammer Yesterday

Into the ground
Ya big croak-faced divvil
Ya nine inch fail.

Bang bang the sound
of your cartoon drivel
shot down in frames.

Give us a banger
Something with a jaggered edge
You too can be rock.

Or minstrel,
A balladeer of
Faraway troubles
Of – hang on

A minute, that’s Yesterday
Innit? No frogs, no toads
Just a heavy load
Bro.


Something about metre, I believe

The leak

There’s a plop and a plip, and a drip falls and lands
On my head and I’m sat indoors so what the hell?
Well, that’s flat roofs for you
Innit?

He looks at me and sucks his teeth with a hiss
Miss, he says, his hands on his hips
His lips pulling sideways, making a banana of his mouth and him
Trying not to look pleased.
It’s not cheap, he says,
That roof’s steep.
Do yer sleep under there?
I don’t as it goes, but god knows my PC does
And that ain’t cheap neither.

There’s some crashing and bashing then cash changes hands.
Not literally because duh tax, and it’s as well
Not to be lax with builders
Y’know?


I have to confess to being a little irreverent at times. It was fun and I got something out of it, but I may not have moved too far from my view that the the way poetry talks about itself is essentially bonkers!

‘Not Being First Fish’

drawing of fish and waspA wasp drops onto the pond, flails about a bit in an unequal struggle with the surface tension and, GLOMP! A fish snaps it up and disappears.  Then – Splash! Thrash! PWARGH! Wasp floats to the surface, not so lively but still kicking.  Another fish eyes it up.  GLOMP! Then PWARGH!  And back comes the wasp, this time with distinctly critical vital signs.  Fish Number Three approaches, gets a bead on its profile and GLOMP! Fish disappears. I wait.  No regurgitation; this wasp is being recycled. To recycle a wasp, it’s smart to be Third Fish.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

‘Poetry is Weird and Quite Possibly Illegal’

drawing, storage shelves with papersI have found that poetry describes itself in terms of both feet and meters, thereby flouting European Directives on measurement, which may still be a hanging offence in parts of Scotland[1]. Worse, I discovered that poets communicate using an exclusive and arcane language that looks like a hybrid of algebra and a medieval incantation. There are iambic pentameters, metonymys, tankas, and tragic flaws. There are also words I’m pretty sure have been made up and get changed, like code, so that only insiders know what they mean. I’m onto them though. These are some of the ones I think I’ve figured out:

Trochee: an operation you have when you’ve got your breathing spaces wrong in your performance poetry [cf trocheeostomy]

Enjambment: a distortion of enjambonment which is a crush at the ham counter of Sainsbury’s, or any branch of the Doggerel Bank.

Synecdoche: a form of currency used by the old East London Jewish community [cf ‘That’s a faarkin ridiculous amount of dosh!‘ in reference to the salaries of Premier League footballers.]

Quatrain: Gene Hunt’s[2] off-roader.

Squint poetry: poetry written in size 8 font.

Anapest: a type of wallpaper that obliterates tragic flaws.

Caesura: poetry needing radical surgery that ends up delivering a litter of haikus.

A Found Poem: something Network Rail Lost Property won’t let you have back even if you can prove it’s yours and no one else wants it anyway.

[1] The 2014 Scottish independence campaign wanted out of the UK but into Europe even though being in the UK meant they were also in Europe. The Conservatives, of course, were trying to get us all out of Europe and Alex Salmond was trying to get the Conservatives the hell out of Scotland. In the end, he still had both but he’s slung his hook and dumped the lot on another fish, Nicola Sturgeon.

[2] Life on Mars. The TV programme, not Bowie or anything Curiosity might have dug up and put in its pocket with its handkerchief.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

 

‘Fish and Chips’

drawing of person with large fish on leadThere are days when, having polished off your last borrowed book and even cast a worryingly enthusiastic glance over Alan Titchmarsh’s column in Radio Times, there’s no other way of avoiding the stack of unopened Scientific Americans than checking out the Parish magazine[1].  In the last issue there was an invitation to write in with a send-up of a local business.  At least I think that’s what it said.  Anyway, inspired by the floods that had paralysed the village some while back, I get cracking on a description of ‘my’ micro-chipping service for fish…

 

Fish n Chips

Fish n Chips offers a microchipping service that not only identifies missing fish but also locates them using the unique GPS software found in car navigation systems. This is easily installed on your PDA and, once loaded, you can enter the names of up to one hundred fish, each with its own animated icon.  If your fish go missing, just click on the name and follow the beeps – it couldn’t be easier!

Our business was formed just after the floods of the late 1990s when large parts of the village were cut off by standing water and the river was within inches of breaking its banks. People with ponds were alarmed to find that their fish had gone missing as gardens became swimming pools and pond life moved out with the current. Hours were spent wading the streets looking for much loved koi, shubunkins and plain old goldfish, often without success[2].

A forthcoming upgrade to the system, fishnchips.2.v3, will include an automatic return function that, once clicked, will gently control your fish and guide it back to your home (not to be used in drought conditions or during competitive angling contests).

 

Of course the feline version is already available[3] but there are reports of synchronisation problems due to cats frequently accessing other people’s houses and re-calibrating the system by peeing on the PC.  Recommended lo-tech fixes include seeding the area with KitBits and chopped herring as a distraction but the release of Mutt.4 later this year seems likely to afford a more permanent and less aromatic solution.

[1] Oh how pre-media explosion this was!

[2] This all became a reality in the Somerset floods of 2013 when all manner of exotic fish were found swimming through fields and up lanes. Not so the tracking device. Shoulda listened, shouldn’t they!

[3] This also is a near reality and, given the fish incident, I think I might start patenting my ruminations.

See also Cat Nav [Every Day Fiction September 2012] for an as yet fictional account of advanced microchip technology. Obviously, the human version developed by cats has been fully operational for many years.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

‘Trapped by a CAJE’

drawing, Yoda on checkoutAfter an unenthusiastic flurry of activity, job descriptions are submitted to a central panel for the purpose of matching them to particular pay bands.  Equal pay for equal value – a fine and admirable principle.  Well yes, just so long as your job description is not being analysed by a psychotic software package keen to wreak revenge for unspecified wrongs perpetrated on its mother – in my case a Commodore 64 upon which I once wrote a programme that scrolled bugger bugger bugger on a loop like a set of vindictive credits.

CAJE is a semantic analysis package which responds to key words and phrases, so that failure to include these in your job description leads to the now infamous report that ‘computer says no[1] and you end up with a grade equivalent to a Tesco’s checkout jockey. This is fine if that’s your expectation and it’s consistent with your actual job, but it’s not so good if you are supposed to be in charge and you find yourself on a lower grade than the students you’re supervising.

Well, as any sci fi aficionado will know, resistance is not futile, the Jedi do return and with a bit of judicious reconfiguring, revised documents deliver the goods. I’m not saying we manipulated them at all; we just made sure the key highly skilled words highly specialist could long periods of extreme discomfort not more degrees then you can shake a stick at be we’re bloody brilliant missed.

 

 

[1] From the BBC’s seminal Little Britain, should the provenance escape you.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

‘When the Borg Took Our Payslips’

cartoon drawing nurse with Borg implantsI have occasionally been accused, by the terminally unwise it has to be said, of showing a preference for the sci fi fantasy world of Star Trek over twenty-first century reality.  You know reality: that’s where the cat throws up over your foot just as you sit down to eat and the gift you ordered on line for fast delivery is sitting in a DHL depot, fifty miles further away than the shop you didn’t have time to go to in the first place, because you weren’t in when they called[1].  Neither are they when you phone them, but we can all be assured that our call is important to them if we would only hold another forty minutes or so.

Anyway, it seems I’ve been vindicated.  Some time during October/November, the Borg (having sent an advance party into the IT department and concluded that no-one noticed) mounted a major offensive on our civilisation by assimilating the NHS workforce in its entirety.  Not, you understand, by equipping us with neat little bio-electronic gadgets, although the hive mentality is strangely familiar, but by mucking about with that driving ethic of care services, our salaries, which suddenly went AWOL.

The effect of this is a bunch of refused payments for online goods and the stoppage of my bit of plastic. It is still there; its physical presence takes up space where it is supposed to take up space and, if required, I can still scrape ice off the windscreen with it. What it won’t do is mediate any transactions – no credit, no purchases and no cash so, ultimately, no food.

I become a non-person; my entire identity being bound up in the useless artefact in my wallet, now accompanied by a new useless artefact sent as replacement by my bank. I live, in fact, on fifty-three pence for a fortnight until they tell me that the new card uses the old PIN and my existence is formally reinstated by a nice man from a call centre in Mumbai. In the meantime, I have not eaten a single cat although I doubt the courtesy would have been reciprocated had we run out of Kit-bits.

 

 

[1] Around 2005 when buying online had become a proper thing but delivery had not. One item of mine was left in the wheelie bin, which must be the ultimate in recycling innovations.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018

 

‘The One About the Home Guard’

drawing of tins, biscuits, and miceThe local Parish newsletter arrived last week and there, among the notifications about malfunctioning streetlights, an incidence of malicious roundabout furniture knocking-over and the news that we came second (out of three) in the South East in Bloom (Rural Villages) competition, was the alarming revelation that we have a Disaster Committee.

In the event of a nuclear or biological attack, the Committee will immediately set off to guard our water supplies, man the village hall into which we will all be evacuated, and scoop up elderly residents in order to feed them soup and biscuits from supplies stored, it seems, in some secret location.

Given that the Committee totals no more than ten at best and that most of these are the elderly people noted above, I reckon our water supply is pretty well scuppered.  And since the village can be cut off by one three feet deep, twenty yard flood along its only outgoing road, I don’t fancy anyone’s chances of getting hold of the soup and biscuits either.

 

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018