‘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

‘The Ditching of Dodgy Derek’

drawing of man and carBreaking in a strange vehicle (or vice versa) is for me a rather prolonged and edgy affair.  Not only are the wipers invariably positioned where the full beam headlights used to be, thereby prompting an episode of energetic windscreen washing when trying to send a message about courtesy to some oik in a beat up Cortina with speakers the size of Kent on the back shelf, but all manner of other instruments have generally been transposed to novel and entertaining locations.

Men seem able to climb into new  cars (or vans, trucks, and quite possibly tanks) and instantly blend with the systems in a kind of bio-mechanical union, whereas my process is rather more laborious and involves a great deal of sitting in the drive with the manual and a bemused expression, twiddling knobs and pulling hopefully on levers.

Anyway, with a substantial chunk of leave coming up, this looked like a good time to take the plunge so that I’d have the hang of the thing before needing to mess with morning traffic at the same time as discovering that what I took for the demister button is actually the seat height adjuster.  Advanced Motorist I may be but there’s nothing in the training that covers doing seventy on the motorway while horizontal, although I imagine it works for traffic cops hoping to scare the bejabbers out of people they don’t like the look of but can’t actually nick for anything.

A further spur is the arrival downstairs from my office of a new manager for the MOT and service centre whose approach to business practice is to ‘pack ‘em in and stack ‘em high’ – an objective generally achieved by nabbing our allocated spaces in the land fill site that passes for a car park round the back.  Dodgy Derek, shifting deftly between sucking in air through his teeth via the fag that seems permanently embedded there, and close scrutiny of an oil-stained rag for dramatic effect, is not open to negotiation about this, unless you’re prepared to accept a tirade of unsavoury language that amounts to ‘shove it’ as a reasoned discussion.

He is also numerically challenged – generally in an upward direction so that the bill I received for my old car’s annual service was unusually large – quite the biggest I’d ever seen actually.  Which is probably what Dodgy Derek believes all the girls say after an encounter with him.  So, when another Saab with a full Saab service history pops up at a nearby showroom, an escape plan formulates itself whereby I can rehearse the ear-bashing I might need to give Dodgy Derek about his parking strategies while ensuring that my brake pipes are nowhere near his pneumatic ramps.

A cunning plan indeed – aided and abetted by Dodgy Derek himself as it turns out.  He likes my new car.  He likes it a lot.  He likes it so much he’s willing to park it for me when I can’t find a space. He rasps huskily that ‘She’s a lovely girl’ and it’s very scary.  In fact it conjures up images of clandestine networks of blokes in brown pullovers gathering at pre-arranged venues to drool over tarted-up BMWs and over-blown jeeps, or having shady assignations over a dog-eared copy of What Car magazine and a floppy disc[1].


[1] Remember those? Oh, how we marvelled at the capacious storage space.


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

‘New Technology and the Problems of Public Neologising’

Something else likely to result in periods of isolation in a single room interspersed with episodes of careful questioning is Bluetooth technology.  My phone has it[1].  In addition to keeping my diary, taking pictures, downloading emails, and signalling the arrival of texts with a burst of birdsong (the first time was a shock – there seemed suddenly to be a flock of sparrows in my pocket), this thing is voice-enabled so you can give oral instructions to have it answer calls, make calls, and sustain conversations while located completely out of sight[2].  You’re advised to choose for activation an unusual word and since the device is quite often doing something else: writing its shopping list maybe, or having a fag, it can be necessary to yell this unusual word several times quite loudly, and then follow this with whatever other unusual word you’ve chosen for the particular task you have in mind.  It will not now be clear whether the person shouting neologisms into the air while negotiating a zebra crossing is engaging in a heavy internal conversation or just trying to phone home.  After a while, probably both.

[1] It was a Sony Erikson – or it could have been an iPaq – and this was seriously new. The phenomenon is widespread now, of course, and who hasn’t said hello in response to a complete stranger who then strides on oblivious, leaving you feeling a proper numpty?

[2] And you thought Siri was new. We could be just as flummoxed and frustrated long before our iThings started waking us up to tell us they couldn’t make sense of something they just heard on the radio and would we like to try again.

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


‘More Visitations and the Beginnings of Strange Utterances’

No spotlights this time, just a large orange globe hanging about somewhere east of the leylandei in the copse that screens our lane from Death Row (which I think the actual residents call sheltered accommodation). Mars is to be the nearest it has been to the earth for millennia, or possibly just decades, and both astronomers and astrologers are in a lather about it; the former more because of the frothing astrologers than anything else. I pop out to look and there it is; a large orb glowing Halloween orange and hanging just above my neighbour’s kids’ bedroom – which makes examining it through binoculars while creeping about in the shrubbery a bit of a dodgy exercise.  I am glad when it relocates to somewhere less likely to lead to several hours of interrogation and tea in a polystyrene cup.

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


‘I Don’t Like Mondays’

drawing of car on top of trainI am travelling to work as usual but I have changed my route slightly with a view to using the outdoor parking area. So, tootling gently along and preparing to turn right at the appointed moment, I am mildly irritated to find that there is an obstruction accompanied by a degree of ill-tempered inter-vehicular communication, blocking my preferred exit so I have to drive on to the next one. It’s 8.15 on a Monday morning, I already don’t need this.

Missing that turn means heading for the underground car park, a dismal affair at the best of times, but with the influx of new parties having permission to use it, it’s currently wearing an air of contained chaos along with the obligatory grunge. My car and I plunge down into the murky depths. At the bottom, there’s a narrow-ish track with, to the right, some shops and to the left, a railway line. In fact the track is a lot like a station platform with all the bustle you’d associate with that environment. Vans juggling around bikes, bikes juggling around people, and everybody rushing. The buses come down here too to discharge passengers bound for the day care services above, so wheelchairs and the occasional lurching individual unsteady on their pins but going like the clappers anyway, appear – like those targets used by the military to teach soldiers how not to shoot the good guys.  I pick my way along, keeping an eye on the drop to the left onto the rail line.


Suddenly, a van pulls in from the right and starts to move into my space. Any closer and I’m taking the 8.45 to Victoria, assuming my unorthodox boarding strategy doesn’t impede its progress. I holler. The driver ignores me so I stop. This is one situation in which discretion is probably the best approach but there’s a jam up ahead and he is stationary in it. I leap out of the car, hurl myself up the road after him, and let him have the full glare with elbows akimbo in through his open window. He winds it up and lets off a stream of invective without waiting to hear what I have to say. It looks as though he may be used to this kind of encounter, in which case he’s going to win because he’s undoubtedly better at voluble ignorance from inside his cab than I am at articulate indignation from the middle of the road.

I retreat and head back to my car to resume my journey. Well, that’s the plan anyway but there’s a flaw in that the car has vanished. I trawl the locality, up and down, in and out of road-side establishments. Eventually I come across a man at a fruit and veg stall who knows what happened and it’s not good; it’s far from good. He’s been talking to a Detective Chief Inspector and now I get to talk to him too. I explain what happened and he tells me my car has been impounded so I’ll have to apply to get it back but it might be ‘a while’ because they’re investigating a murder that has major implications and my car is one of its casualties. ‘But I’m going on leave!’ I wail, with all the naïveté of a person whose winning lottery ticket just emerged from the heavy-wash-spin cycle as a bedraggled lump of papier mache.

At this point, the fire sprinklers start up and my new T shirt becomes transparent. To say this is not turning out well is an understatement. My car has been impounded in a murder case and won’t be released for decades, I am late for work and I am essentially naked in a public place.  What to do?

Well, wake up of course[1]. They say some dreams take only seconds of real time; but this one took a life-time’s worth of anxiety metaphors and, when I’ve got them all pinned down and translated I am SO going to have words with the local chapter of Psychotherapists Anonymous. They’d better have insurance is all I can say

[1] Yes, really sorry about that but it happened and it took me most of the morning, which did not involve close encounters with trains or involuntary indecent exposure, to recover. Vivid narrative dreams that I actually remember are a rarity and normally I’m just left with a vague feeling of having fought off the screeching  hordes of Hades with nothing to show for it but a couple of detached spider legs on the pillow.


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