John sat in his sterile office pod and listened to Wagner.

It was Saturday Night and every other cubicle in the sprawling office was righteously empty and dimmed. Only his desktop lamp shone out into the gloom.

He had ‘Live From the Met’ on the radio and, although the bulk of the music washed past him, it still seemed to give him a sense of his own intelligence as he listened to it. 

This week it was ‘Tristan and Isolde’. His favourite part was always the applause that came right at the end. On and on it thundered, like some hugely expensive release in a hugely expensive brothel.

Of course he should have been at home with his family but this was the third Saturday night in a row that he had perched here, alone in his computer-buzzing office space. The documents had to arrive on the other side of the world at this particular time and automation simply could not be trusted. There was no other way acceptable to that terse little man who resided in the end-room during normal office hours. John simply had to come in and get it done.

The pdf files were being generated now so there was really nothing else that he had to do. He sat back and tried to focus on the music. He tried to guess if the applause was coming any time soon. It felt like there was still quite a way to go.

He shivered involuntarily and reached for his long-cold coffee. As with the other two Saturday nights he had sat here, he could not shake the feeling that he was being watched. There was nobody else in the building but still his spine was telling him that he was being scrutinised. Not just by a single person either but rather by a group, a cohort, a team.

He effected another shiver to try to revive himself. There was nobody watching. Late evening, self pity, paranoia, that was all. This would hopefully be the last Saturday he would have to come in and do this. He could live without any more Wagner at The Met, even the applause.

There it was again though. The feeling. Someone was watching him, he was sure of it.

His attention fell on the ceiling-mounted security camera at the far end of the room. There was a small unwavering red light on top of it and it was pointed straight at him, like an eye. That was it, wasn't it? It was the security camera that was watching him. He had investigated it last week, found the cupboard where the footage from the camera was recorded onto a loop tape. Nobody ever monitored it, nobody ever looked at it, it was just a souvenir from a more buoyant time when people seemed to care about such things. It might be capturing him, recording him even, but nobody was watching it. Nobody cared.

Still a small worm-thought wriggled and turned in the recesses of his mind. Something he had read once. Something about security cameras being secretly accessed by people via the Internet. Weren’t the images of certain cameras being unwittingly beamed onto the web and couldn’t people log into them simply by chasing them down in Google?

The pdfs were still cooking, he had some time to kill. He went onto Google and entered ‘network camera’ and hit the search button. There wasn’t much there but there was a link to a link to another link and, suddenly, he was watching an office scene via some monochrome webcam. An office not unlike his own. Except this one was vacant, the occupant doubtless out on some Saturday Night Spree or sitting at home by the fire watching some fine old movie. 

He looked up at his own camera.

Could someone be watching him over the Internet?

How would he ever know?

Over in the corner, beside the water cooler, there was a flipchart with some spare sheets of large white paper still clipped to it. There were some permanent markers too. He dragged it over to where he thought the camera might see it. What to write? After a moment, he figured it out. Open a line of communication.

His email address. He wrote it clearly so that anyone could see it.


He slid his chair back over to his desk and logged into his email account. There was nothing there. Nothing new.


One, two, three, four, five emails clicked into his inbox. Six,  seven, eight, the number steady ticking upward like a metronome.

He opened the first of the emails.

“Hallo.” That’s all it said. Monotone, misspelled. “Hallo.”

The second said, “Hello dear.” The third said nothing at all. 

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen…

All of the emails offered either some bland non-committal greeting or else pure blank silence. All from different addresses made up of random numbers and letters. On and on, the number ticked upwards. They didn't stop.

“Who are you?” John said aloud but that was no use. They couldn’t hear, these watchers, they could only see. He flipped the paper sheet over and wrote his thought down. “Who are you?”

The next email he clicked on gave him an answer.

“We Are Legion.” It said. 

The next email said exactly the same thing and the next and the next and the next.

Another sheet and another sweatily-scrawled query.

“What do you want?”

The emails stopped. At seventy two, they stopped. It was as if the faceless correspondents had paused to consider the request.

Wagner was drawing to a close, he could sense it, behind all the dread.

“What do you want?” He wrote, a second time.

The emails started again. Click, click, click. Seventy three, seventy four, seventy five… they all said the same thing.

“We want you to dance.”




John sat back and stared at the screen.




He would not dance. It was too wrong, it was far too wrong.

Wagner’s music ended. The radio audience rose in united, colossal, thunderous applause.

He rose too.

The five hundredth email clicked in.

And, mindlessly, he danced. 


I haven’t been in a fight in several decades and I hope this remains the case for the rest of my life. I’m not a fighter. I’m about as far away from a fighter as you can possible get.

But there has been fights in my life.

We all have them, I think, or most of us anyway. Moments of conflict which escalate, often without much warning, into something highly physical.

My own fighting career can be summed up fairly easily. If the fight was my idea, I was pretty good but if it wasn’t, I was bloody awful.

I think there were some scraps in the earliest years of school but I can’t really remember anything about them beyond the faint knowledge that they happened. I do remember that I had an ‘arch-enemy’ in the schoolyard and I could name him for you but I won’t because I still see him from time to time and he is quite a nice family man and not really much of an arch enemy at all.

The fight that colours my view of such things happened in primary school and I’m guessing I was about ten or eleven at the time. I was out on my street with some pals and everything was cool. I got this silly idea of swapping the guy’s initials around to see if it made their names funnier. Nothing changes much, really, does it? You know the idea, Michael Kelly would become Kichael Melly. It was silly childish stuff.

One member of the cohort had a name which initial-swapped to a rather funny result and, when I landed on it, I laughed out loud. Then everybody else laughed too. Everybody except the initial-swap kid.

“What did you call me?”

I repeated it and laughed again. I didn’t know much about fights and how they gestated.

The initial-swap kid turned puce around the gills.

“Right. Nobody… Nobody talks to me like that. Fight! Seven O’clock this evening, at the hedge.”

Then he was gone. I didn’t have any say in it. I was booked in for a fight at seven that evening. The afternoon dragged. I sat at my bedroom window and wondered what I would do in an actual pre-booked fight. I had no idea. My introspection was punctuated by my opponent cycling up and down on the street outside and pointing menacingly at my window.

I could have just not turned up at seven but I did. Perhaps I was curious as to what might happen. There was quite a lot of kids there. They formed an organic circle which enclosed the initial-swap kid and me and they egged us into action, as kids tend to do.

I decided I would talk to my opponent, explain that no taunt had been intended. Yes, that was a good plan. I opened my mouth to start the parley but no word ever escaped.

Apparently I was kicked, I’ve never had any true recollection of that. I was kicked in the upper stomach, up under the bottom of the ribcage where we have some kind of diaphragm, I think. All I know is that I was wearing a kiddy string vest and, for days afterwards, the bloody imprint of the strings of my vest were carved in relief on my torso.

The effect of this kick was that I was winded but I didn’t know what winded meant, I had never before had the air forcibly kicked out of me. When I tried to draw my next breath, there was no breath to be had. I heaved and pulled at the atmosphere but there was no air anywhere. The kick had banished it all to some faraway unattainable place. I fell to my knees and, from there, on to the ground and I lay there for some time, flopping and wheezing like a small fish out of water.

The crowd dispersed. The fight was over.

I haven’t seen the initial-swap kid in years and I hope he’s okay and happy. We were good friends in the years subsequent to the kicking and ran into each other on many social occasions. It was all good between us. Well, almost all-good. The truth is that he had 'Alpha Male'-ed me on that day as nobody else has ever managed to do, before or after. It can remind me that we are basically animals when I sometimes look at a defeated lion after a battle, on some TV show. and how he behaves towards the victor. Nice as it all was, in the subsequent years, between the initial-swap kid and me, there was always a lingering taste of that 'defeated lion' relationship.

That was an example of a fight which wasn't my idea. As I said at the start, they had inevitably poor outcomes. Where I used to do better was when I got ‘riled’ by something. If I got ‘riled’, I could manage surprisingly well.

Not to make myself sound like some kind of Hulk character but I only really tended to get fighting-riled when I perceived that someone close to me was being threatened.  On two fairly spectacular occasions, that happened to be Trish. It’s no surprise really, we've been mooching around together for one hell of a long time, there were bound to be moments.

One such moment happened on a boat down the Thames, at a Christmas party. A fellow employee got blisteringly drunk and started being belligerent to everyone. I remember I was sitting, rather confined, behind a large table which was heavy with drink. Trish was beside me. I saw it coming, the belligerent guy got bored with the pint he was drinking and threw it at the wall of the cabin we were in, it literally smashed inches from Trish’s head and covered her in the remnants of beer from the glass.

That made me mad and I rarely get mad but, when I do, I am capable of rather going off the deep end. The table was in my way so it had to be moved so I moved it. Glasses, bottles, food, whatever was on there went flying along with the table. I needed a clear route to my fellow employee and boy did I make one…

On another occasion we were at a house party and we were sitting near the top step. Some unknown person kicked my girl in the head as he rolled up the stairs. I pointed this out to him and he expressed the opinion that she shouldn’t have got in his way. I still remember the expression on his face as I threw him down the stairs. Bewilderment, really. 

Like I said, I haven’t had a ‘Barney’ in decades and I don’t think I ever will again. So don’t worry.

One thing united these rare moments of fighting dominance. My reaction afterwards. Within seconds of these eruptions happening I would be consumed with regret and self-abomination. I would be convinced that a posse of outraged enemies were about to descend on me and, my rage now spent, would find me easy meat for their abdominal kicks.

In short, I turned into a big pussy. 

I spoiled it there right at the end, didn’t I? That’s the trouble with the truth. It’s rather like an unexpected kick in the solar plexus.

It hurts. 

Grannies and Granddads

I was in Sligo the other day so I paid a quiet visit to Mum and Dad’s grave. Everything was very nice and tidy so there wasn’t much I could do. I moved a few ornaments around and watered a plant that patently didn’t need watering and then I looked around from the vantage point of the grave.

It’s a nice cemetery, with wonderful views of the mountains which surround the town of Sligo. In the distance, I could just make out the grave of one of Dad’s friends who had died some years before him. We used to walk around here, Dad and I, and go and visit this friend’s plot and admire the little fisherman statue on there. Standing over Dad’s own place, with him now having joined his friend in repose, was perhaps the saddest aspect of the little visit.

Feeling the need to divert myself, I turned from Mum and Dad’s grave to the much older one behind me. My paternal grandfather and grandmother’s place of rest. I had been visiting that plot, perhaps annually, since I was a little guy. These were the two grandparents I never knew. They were both gone before I was born, having died young. I can’t really write about them on account of this. I know things about them, interesting, intriguing things but everything I know is hearsay and second-hand at best. I would do them no service to write of such things here.

My mind then turned to my other Granny and Granddad, my Mum’s parents, the ones I had known so well. So I took a stroll down the graveyard to visit with them too.

I have written about Mum before and how, try as I might, I can’t conjure her as anything other than 'Mum' and everything that meant to me. I can’t deal with her memory as a strong woman in her own right. She was my Mum and that was too important to allow herself to be anything else to me.

I have much the same problem with Granny and Granddad. I remember them well but my memories are of the roles they played for me rather than the lives they had for themselves. It’s a taint on any reporting I can do about them but it’s an affectionate and perhaps a forgivable one.

Granny and Granddad were my Godparents as well as everything else and they were a daily presence in my life. I got my middle name, Felix, after him although he was never known by his given name. He was always Sammy. He worked all his life, as far as I can tell, on Sligo Docks as a stevedore, unloading the coal and timber and cattle boats that came in there on a weekly basis. He was still engaged in his working life when I was young and I remember him coming up from the docks in the afternoons in his flat cap and his leather-shouldered jacket. My older brother remembered when he used to go for a drink after his work but he had stopped by the time I came along. He still smoked though, Woodbine after Woodbine, and his fingers and thumbs were stained deep brown from holding the cigarettes and smoking them until there was nothing at all left except a flesh-scarring ember.

I was a book lover, even when I was little, and I used to love to be allowed to go to the library to seek out cowboy books for Granddad. If I could find a new Louis L’amour or Zane Grey then I was the hero of the day. I was the hero of the day even if I didn’t find one, I always felt that.

My main memory of Granddad is a very subtle one, a feeling rather than an event. It is a knowledge, a certainty, really, of his great fondness of me. A man of few-enough words, he would walk me around the flagging-point, when I was a kid, and show me the big boats that had come in overnight. He would let me walk along the old stone wall and hold my hand tight. It’s as good a memory as one could possibly have.

Granny would come down to our house every day and help Mum out with things. To me, she was perfect. Never angry or upset, always willing to come up with a sweet or a biscuit or ever a coin or two if required. For a period, Granny would take me to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon. It feels like we did that a lot but I can’t be sure. We saw things like ‘Carry on Again Doctor’ and ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ so that was 1969 when I would have been six.

One day, when I was about ten, I’m not sure exactly, I was walking home from school for my lunch when a neighbour stopped me and she said, “I’m so sorry about your Granny." Sorry? Why? Shocked that she had told me something I didn’t know, she allowed me to run home without offering any further explanation.

Our house was full.

I have to be careful here because this is not fiction and people died on that day and my memories are only the unreliable ones that a child may retain. In essence, there had been a fire in the house next door to Granny’s. Granddad was down town at the time. She had been alerted to the fire and had run into the burning building to try to get some of the people out. As I say, lives were lost that day through nobody’s fault. It was, in fact, a terrible tragedy and as I write this, my thoughts are with the people who must still suffer as a result of that day so many years ago. 

Granny came out of that house alive but she had been burned, terribly burned. Granddad came to live with us and Granny spent a long time in a Dublin hospital being skin-grafted and healed. For me, these months involved many trips to Dublin and sitting on the low wall outside of the hospital while the adults visited. I was never allowed inside, her injuries having been too severe for me to see. 

Eventually Granny was moved back to our local hospital and I was taken to see her. I remember the fear and trepidation emanating from Mum as she brought me in. The reduced husk in the white bed was nothing like my Granny had been. She was bald and had huge scabs all over her scalp. Her face was livid with tracts of skin which had been harvested from elsewhere on her body and her mouth was small and tight and lipless.

“He doesn’t know me,” I remember her saying.

“I do, Granny, I do.” I said and, after the initial shock, I did. After all the burning and all the surgery, it was still my same Granny who always had a sweet hidden away and who always loved to see me come in.

Granny lived for many years after that. She recovered to lead an active mobile live though her scars could never be ignored. Years later, I still think of her as the bravest person I ever knew. Not because she ran into the fire that day but because of how she bore the impossible load that was put on her the moment she came back out.

Granny and Granddad ended up back in their own house, growing old together. I remember the pride in bringing my wife-to-be to meet them in their house and how well she fitted in there in that little sitting room with the pair of them and Blessed Martin looking down from the mantle. 

Let’s not dwell on their passing, Granny and Granddad’s. It was no worse and no better than many other people’s deaths but it is not the period of time to remember the best. 

I can picture them so well now as I write this and I have a tear in my eye regardless of the fact that they are so long gone. I hope I am doing them some service by remembering them in words, with much love, as I do, and I hope that I may be remembered by somebody in this way fifty years from now.

The Value of Jim Murdoch's Comments

I’ve been writing on my blog, pretty much every week, for the last five years or so. There are 446 posts here now which, at a highly conservative estimate of 600 words per post, is, well, quite a lot of words. 

On almost all of these posts, there is one constant. One very welcome constant. It’s that man at the end of the post who comes and offers a comment, usually his thoughts as evoked by the post. This man is Jim Murdoch and this post is about his comments on my blog.

Jim and I are friends, although we’ve never actually met or even spoken aloud to each other. We are friends through Social Media, primarily through our blog comments and a couple of other related external dealings. 

Jim doesn’t have to come and plant his thoughts on my blog posts every week. He has many better things he could be doing. 

He is, to my mind, an exceptional poet and writer. He is many things; stalwart, intelligent, funny, and consistent and, when he reviews a book, it stays reviewed. His own blog ‘The Truth About Lies’ is a testament to his depth, his perception and his depth-perception.

I am also a fan of his writing. Here’s a tiny poem, one of thousands which he has crafted. This one was written after the death of his father and it stays with me constantly:


Yes, even granite men
melt in the rain in time.

20 January 1996

Jim has written and published novels, short stories, poetry collections. I reviewed his first published novel ‘Living With the Truth’ here some years ago. A subsequent novel, ‘Milligan and Murphy’ is perhaps my favourite. It evokes Jim’s much-admired Samuel Beckett in a striking way whilst also retaining the humour and aptness which invariably colours his own work.

I find it rather hard to pin Jim’s writing down. If I had to, I think I would refer to it as ‘refreshingly old school’. Jim’s writing evokes, for me at least, a more solid time. A time of Alan Sillitoe, Morecambe and Wise, Keith Waterhouse, Samuel Beckett. Jim does ‘funny’, ‘real’, light and dark in equal measure but what he does most is hinted at in the title of his blog. He does Truth. When reading Jim’s stuff, I so-often find myself saying things like ‘I’ve felt that’, ‘He’s right there’, ‘That is so true’. Jim does truth in spades and it’s a great trick to be able to pull off.

He has a new collection of short stories out and I would recommend it to you. It’s called ‘Making Sense’ and you can get a copy by clicking here if you like. The pieces in it are quite short and many of them punch above their weight. I think it’s an excellent guide into the urban pathways and wooded trails which Jim explores.

I value Jim’s comments on my posts very highly indeed. His insights frequently compliment or counterpoint whatever I am trying to express in a particular post. Often he succeeds striking the very note which I had been striving for. I also believe that, by taking the trouble to turn up, he is subtly encouraging me to continue, that he is expressing a little faith in whatever level of talent I might have. I think he believes in my a wee bit.

But there is another value to Jim’s comments.

More than anything, Jim’s comments make me feel like a curator of something quite valuable. On his own blog, Jim concerns himself with higher issues of poetry and literary review and such. Elements of himself seem only to creep in by osmosis. Here on my own blog, where I try to write as openly as I can about whatever trivia is currently exercising my brain, Jim seems to pay me the compliment of doing the same thing. His replies to my posts are often in-depth, personal, self-revelatory and unerringly consistent and honest. 

Increasingly, I feel that these comments which Jim leaves me have a value which is quite beyond the value of a regular comment or series of comments. Taken together, I think that Jim’s comments build to a picture of the man which might surprise even himself.

It is possible that the time he has spent in giving his subtle encouragement to me has, quite subconsciously, created an episodic piece of writing work which has an intrinsic value all of its own. Over the years, these comments have ranged widely over some of the bigger subjects as well as the small. 

It’s something I must do. I must carefully collate all these comments, if only in a simply word document, and email it back to Jim. I hadn’t thought to do this before I started writing this post but now I reckon it’s very well worth doing and, indeed, quite important.

None of this is intended to put pressure on Jim, to be continuing to come here commenting all the time. If he stopped tomorrow and never came back, I would understand and would still appreciate all the visits he has made and the care he had taken. 

So thanks for all the time and energy you've given me, Jim. It's always appreciated and never taken for granted. One of these days, I'm going to give all those comments back to you in a wee bundle and you can see then how much of yourself you might have left lurking around here.

I’ll get on it.