Master of the Universe by Michael Keeble

A Christmas story poem from Michael

Master of the Universe

Mark’s seven figure bonus burned the pockets of his jeans
Another Aston Martin now came well within his means.
His penthouse flat deposit came from last year’s bonus pack
His options and his pension fund kept future plans on track.
“Life is good this Christmas”, thought the banker looking down
From off his lofty balcony upon the dirty town.
“Tonight I’ll worship Mammon and give thanks for all my gains
And toast the banking system in plentiful champagnes”

The night was cold and wet and grey, but Mark just didn’t care
He’d spent a fortune getting drunk and barely had the fare
To catch a taxi home to bed to sleep the night away
And dream of all the stuff to buy with his inflated pay.
The bar had closed, his friends had gone, and now he stood again
Weaving gently on the kerb of this deserted lane.
As if to make his night complete he saw with bleary sight
A taxi cab approaching him, “For Hire” sign alight.
He slumped himself into the seat and gently closed his eyes,
Opened up his eyes again and there to his surprise
Sat Jacob, friend from student days, who’d made a pile in Law
But had succumbed to early death, but now sat there before
The puzzled and bewildered Mark who couldn’t quite recall
If he had asked this ghost along, he wasn’t sure at all.
What actually was going on until the spectre spoke
And reassured his banker chum that this was not a joke
“I died” he said “before I could enjoy the fruits of wealth
“My sole concern was money; I cared not for my health
“And so it was one day as I was thinking what to buy
“The reaper came with sharpened scythe and told me I would die
“And now I am condemned to ride in this my ghostly cab
“Until I can convince one more, that life is more than grab
“Up all the money and the things that it can get.
“I sit here ev’ry Christmas but I haven’t done it yet.”
“Don’t think I’m the one to change” said Mark “what’s mine stays mine,
“And anyway I’ve set my sights upon a DB9.”

The cab came to a stop beside a place Mark didn’t know
A wasteland by the riverside where desp’rate people go.
Figures shuffled aimlessly or simply stood around
Their clothes were ragged, pride had gone; they stared upon the ground
Having seen more than enough Mark slowly turned his head
To speak to Jacob opposite but, shockingly, instead
An image of himself stared back, unwashed and dressed in rags
A bottle clutched in dirty hands, his stuff in plastic bags.
“Hi Mark” this vision said at last and took another drink
“You don’t know me yet” he said “but just in case you think
“That bankers only give it out and are themselves immune
“I’ll draw you a scenario that hums a diff’rent tune.
“Your bank collapsed from dodgy deals and you were thus deposed.
“You couldn’t pay your debts and so your creditors foreclosed
“And here you are a year ahead, you’re homeless and bereft
“You’ve taken to the bottle ‘cos there’s simply nothing left.”
He paused and stared at Mark awhile then spoke again at last
“You know they say when going up take care of those you pass
“‘cause when you’re going down you may be grateful for their aid,
“Well here I am already down and you’re already made.
“You never gave a single thought beyond your greedy self”
He winked and then ironic’lly he drank the banker’s health.
In guilt Mark closed his eyes to shut his other self away
And when he opened them again the night had turned to day
“Just a nasty dream” he thought. He was lying in his bed
But he couldn’t lose the awful feeling running through his head.
Hungover from the night before, he turned the TV on
To idly watch the news unfold but knowing all along
That Masters of the Universe like him could not be caught
By pestilence or poverty, that all things could be bought;
But then upon the screen appeared a face he’d seen before
Looking from a taxi parked before his own front door.
“I’ve come to take you back” he said “there’s very little time
“For you to make amends for greed before the church bells chime
“The blessings of the Christmastide, and peace, goodwill to all.
“Or wallow in your cosy bed and see what will befall
“You when you’re on your way to gutter land and begging in the streets
“And cardboard packing keeps you warm instead of silken sheets.”
The screen then switched to show the place the scene so desolate
That Mark had seen the night before depicting what his fate
Would be if he should not give up his greedy selfish ways;
The likelihood was that this could be how he ends his days.
What thoughts went through Mark’s mind just then will never now be known
But soon he turned the TV off and reached out for his ‘phone,
Speed-dialled the Aston Martin sales and when they came on line
“Enquiring for my order for my bright red DB9
“I’ve come to a decision and I thought I’d let you know
“That I’m cancelling the order and instead will now bestow
“My yearly bonus from the bank upon those most in need
“Christmas is a time to give and not for selfish greed.”
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SCHOOL REUNION by Barrie Purnell

SCHOOL REUNION

There we all were assembled in the hall,
Like we did at school assembly 50 years before,
There for a school reunion of the class of fifty two
Looking around we were indeed a very motley crew.

Some were there just to have a bit of fun,
Others to show us just how well they’d done.
Some came old long lost friendships to renew,
Others because they just had nothing else to do.

I looked around at all the haggard faces
And couldn’t fit any in their schoolroom places.
Everyone just looked so old, how could this be?
Then I remembered they were all as old as me.

It was quite a shock to see how we’d all changed
How all our body dimensions had been re-arranged.
Despite liberal use of expensive astringents
There was no doubt we’d all turned into our parents.

We had all changed so much since the days of our youth
And were unrecognizable, that was the truth,
So to avoid any embarrassment and any shame
They gave us badges on which to write our name.

Jones who lisped his way through elementary French
Was now a grey haired magistrate on the local bench.
Brown sent home for wearing luminous yellow socks
Was a vicar at St Jude’s consoling errant flocks.
Pat, not bright enough university to attend,
Was teaching children on whom the country would depend.
Julie Short, who for boyfriends could have taken her pick,
Was now an unmarried nurse looking after the sick.
And shy Danny Davis had done alright in the end
He had a villa in Spain he shared with his gay friend.
Roger who won the outstanding sportsman shield,
Was in a wheelchair following an injury on the rugby field.
Gillian Jones the schools best looking girl by a mile
Now a small rotund old lady but with the same flirty smile.
Dave the class joker, who knew many a rude recitation,
Had become a boring accountant with no conversation.
And sexy Sarah Smith who had quite a reputation
Had made marrying rich men a profitable vocation.

I renewed some old friendships and reminisced
About what we’d done in the years that we’d missed,
Promised to stay in touch and addresses exchanged
But knew future meetings would not be arranged.
We had little in common, apart from our education,
Which was simply determined by our childhood location.
Few people, allowing for expected exaggeration,
Had been very successful in their chosen occupation
Having settled for less, because they had to pay
For mortgages and children and foreign holidays.
Then a list of fifteen names were read
Of classmates who were already dead.
Nearly twenty five percent of the total class
Had not lived to see this reunion pass,
And for all of our privileged education
It did not seem that our generation
Had left our world a much better place,
Or left any lasting mark upon its face,
Apart from teenagers, drugs and rock and roll
We’d provided little food for the nation’s soul.
Most of our childhood dreams and expectations
Had been lost in life’s day to day frustrations,
And although we’d not achieved much, I confess,
We thought surviving for fifty years sufficient success.
Despite everything there was a sense we’d paid our due
Among most of the class of fifty two.

So when we left and all went our separate ways,
Having failed to recapture those past schooldays,
That school road we’d walked down full of hope in our teens
Was now just a sad boulevard of our broken dreams.
Having left school early at the age of sixteen
I’d often thought about what might have been.
Having seen what my classmates had achieved,
Even if their stories were to be believed,
Of real successes I had spotted very few
I had held my own with the class of fifty two.
It was interesting, and I enjoyed the music and champagne,
But I don’t think that I will be attending again.

They think it’s fun! by David R Graham

They think it’s fun! by David R Graham

Most of the villagers weren’t church goers. But Sundays were days of rest.
That Sunday was no exception.
It was a heatwave. No-one was inclined to do too much.
The village was quiet, and peaceful.
I was prepared. A ploughman’s, a jug of Sangria, and a bottle of white wine were cooling in the fridge.
I got comfortable on the swing chair in the shade of the chestnut tree.
The latest Lee Child lay to hand.
I was naked beneath my dress. That always got Ryan going: my own Jack Reacher; working on a day like this, poor soul.
I had just followed Lee Child’s Jack Reacher into the fourth chapter when it happened.
Several cars came over the humpback bridge and roared through the village.
They screeched round the war memorial and roared back to the bridge.
The air was rent by shouting and hollering and shouting.
Seething with anger, I strode to the bottom of the garden.
From the top of the compost box I had a clear view of the bridge.
My heart sank.
Seven cars blocked the street. Their engines running, their doors open. Rap music assaulted the air.
A crowd of yobs blocked the bridge.
Several of the yobs clambered onto the bridge. They whooped as they jumped into the river.
Two of the cars spun their rear wheels in a cloud of white smoke then raced passed below me.
They screeched round the memorial cross and raced back to the bridge.
They were having fun.
I was angry and frightened. I got down off the box and went and called the police.
The operator was sympathetic. She assured me that a patrol car would be along shortly.
The cars roared up and down the road: their drivers shouting, their horns blaring.
Twenty-five minutes later, I called the police again.
There had been several calls about the disturbance. As soon as officers were available they would attend.
My neighbours called.
We were afraid.
We consoled and encourage.
The wives and mothers wouldn’t to let their husbands confront the youths.
Two police officers arrived in a patrol car. They parked well away from the bridge.
I joined my neighbours gathered by the church.
The officers took statements.
Then they drove down to the bridge. They did not get out of their car.
They came back.
They had told the yobs to keep their speed down and not to obstruct the highway.
They advised us to call 101 if the youths caused any further disturbance.
Then they left.
The yobs watched from the bridge. They were laughing and joking and gesticulating. And they were waiting.
They waited until the patrol car was well out of sight. Then they started all six cars and began to spin their rear wheels.
The banshee wail of screeching rubber filled the air and the bridge was enveloped in a cloud of white smoke.
I went indoors and called the police.
Officers would attend as soon as they were available.
The cars roared back and forth.
Horns blared.
The yobs hollered and shouted.
Again we called the police. Again we were told officers would attend when they were available.
I went to get my book. I would have my lunch indoors.
Returning from the garden I heard a familiar sound.
I went to the gate and looked to my right.
The cars were back at the bridge.
I look to my left.
Jim Possey’s JCB was rumbling down the street. A muck grabber bucket was attached to its yellow snout.
Where’s Jim going?
What he’s doing?
Surely he’s not going to…?
It wasn’t Jim behind the wheel.
The driver wore a black boiler suit and balaclava.
I watched open-mouthed as the vehicle rolled by.
I closed my mouth and looked to my right.
The yobs were watching the JCB.
They were triumphant.
But they were uncertain about the JCB. Its gaping talon-like bale grabber and bucket looked predatory.
It was not slowing down.
The yobs saw the black clad driver.
They grew wary. They prevaricated.
They wanted to be obstructive. They stayed where they were.
The JCB stopped.
The bridge was blocked.
The driver got out of the cab.
He swung easily onto the bonnet, stepped lightly onto the grabber and dropped out of sight.
Then he stood up.
He reached both gloved hand behind his head and drew two long black sticks from the back of his boiler suit.
I jumped down; raced indoors, bound up the stairs, cleared the bed, and reached the window.
My jaw dropped in disbelief.
A black whirlwind was scything into the yobs crowded onto the bridge.
Like ten pins struck by a bowling ball they fell left right and centre before the blur of the whirling batons.
A hardcore of yobs rally; armed themselves with beer bottles, and charged.
In the blink of an eye it was over.
All of the yobs lay about the bridge as though felled by a gas attack.
Their black clad assailant returned the sticks to the back of his boiler suit; gripped the nearest yob by his clothes, hauled him to the far side of the bridge, and laid him on the verge.
He repeated that same manoeuvre eighteen times.
I thought he was finished.
He wasn’t.
He got back into the JCB and drove slowly over the bridge.
The bale grabber opened, the bucket skimmed the road, and scooped up a black Golf Gti.
The JCB did a three point turn; drove off-road, and tipped the car down the embankment.
I was in a trance.
The JCB performed the manoeuvre five times.
Then it stopped.
The driver got out. He walked across the narrow meadow; vaulted a fence, jogged across the adjacent pasture, and entered the trees on the far side.
The police arrived: in two squad cars.
They were joined by four ambulances.
To my great relief, Ryan showed up. He had a bruise on his left cheek: an accident at the base.
I told him everything that had happened.
Then I gave him the TLC we both needed.
The following morning we learned that the eighteen yobs had been knocked unconscious. Each of them had sustained at least one broken or fractured bone. All of them had been discharged from hospital the same day.
‘I imagine they’ll think twice about coming back here,’ Ryan murmured sleepily.

The End.

The Hat by Pete Brammer

The Hat by Pete Brammer

The cruise ship Ocean Splendour had been at sea seven days and just entered port at Cadiz.
Penny Dixon-Wright and her daughter Carla Elizabeth, disembarked, to make their way into town. On their way back, Mrs Dixon- Wright suddenly grabbed Carla’s arm. “Look at that beautiful hat. It’s the most fantastic hat I have ever seen.”
The ladies entered the establishment to be met by a tall, long legged, black shiny haired, Spanish assistant. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“You certainly can my dear.” Penny pointed to the hat on the manikin, in the window. “I would like that hat, my dear.”
The assistant reached in and removed the hat. “You like it very much? Yes?”
“Yes. Very much.”
Minutes later she skipped out of the shop, box swinging from her hand, with a beaming smile across her face.
“I think you are happy mother, you look as if you’ve lost a penny, and found a thousand pounds.”
“I’ve never paid so much for a hat in all my life, but it sure was worth it.”
“It’s my cousin Jessica’s wedding soon after we get back,” said Carla, “It should be perfect,” she grinned. “There’ll be a few bursting with jealousy mum, you can bet.”
The following day, Mrs Dixon-Wright strutted up and down the numerous decks, like a peacock showing off her new headgear.
Suddenly an unexpected gust of wind whipped the hat off her head.
“Oh God! My beautiful hat!” she screamed, running across the deck, only tosee it fly off into the ocean.
Seconds later, passengers gasped as a crew member hit the water. “Man overboard” the cry went out.
It took what seemed an age, for the ship to eventually turn round and head back in the direction of the unfortunate seaman.
When they eventually rescued him, he was holding aloft the hat, with passengers cheering loudly.
As they hauled him back on board, the captain slapped him on the back. “Woodall, you should not have put your life at risk like that, especially, not for a bloody stupid hat. But after saying that; is there anything I can do for you?”
In reply, the crewman said. “Yes captain, you can tell me who on earth pushed me in!”

Dove sei? by Angela O’Connor

Dove sei? by Angela O’Connor

Sunday morning, at least it was not pouring down. The miserable wetness of this time of year was magnified by the slate timbre tone of those around me. To crack a smile would literally crack their faces. The dourness they embraced was in stark contrast to our shared workplace. I had given up trying to make light of weather, badgers, Corbyn, Brexit or climate change.

Moving the perennials into the new display area, I held a Verbena leaf in my hand. Not long now before these hardy purple beauties would be saving that empty patch in many gardens. Bees would sail through the air targeting their cylindrical head and drink from the fruitful flower.

Hopefully by then I wouldn’t be here, escaping the maddening spring and summer planting clubs. At the bottom of the pallet lay some rubbish, the usual crap – Wispa wrapper, squashed Coke can, two ciggie butts and a Greggs bag. In the Greggs bag, poking out like a stamen, was a dirty A5 piece of paper.

I turned it over. It was his. Definitely his, the handwriting was unmistakable. The quirky ‘w’ that only Italians do. Although stained with water, dirt and snail marks it was legible. A list of necessities; passata, onions, garbage bags, dishwashing liquid, toothpaste, sensitive foam (gilette), milk, crema e gusto café and a goodbye card.

Even with a list you always forget one thing. Four months had passed since we last saw each other. I don’t drink prosecco anymore.

ELVIS IN MY LIFE by Pete Brammer

Try this with your favourite star

ELVIS IN MY LIFE by Pete Brammer

I was ALL SHOOK UP when my wife, A HARDHEADED WOMAN: ONE NIGHT, gave A BIG HUNK O’LOVE to my one-time mate, Mick Shepherd. Or OLD SHEP. as we called him. As you can imagine, I felt I GOT STUNG. Apparently he had boasted that she was indeed, HIS LATEST FLAME.

Their love exploits had been quite, WILD IN THE COUNTRY. His explanation was; you CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE, and had just presented her with a GOOD LUCK CHARM.

I became so angry that I yelled at her; ‘YOU’RE THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE.IT IS NO SECRET that it has also upset our son’s, FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. The youngest, Johnny looked up at me and said “DON’T CRY DADDY.”

All I could say was, THERE GOES MY EVERYTHING. I don’t think there has ever been, such A FOOL SUCH AS I. I always knew she was like her mother, A HARD HEADED WOMAN. Who was always guilty of TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS.

So now I have the MOODY BLUES, and realised I had to SURRENDER.

In the LOVE LETTERS I found from her lover. He said.

“IT’S NOW OR NEVER – YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY YOU LOVE ME. We’ve GOT A LOT O’LOVIN’ TO DO – JUST PRETEND you love him – UNTIL IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO GO. -1 know he’ll have a BLUE CHRISTMAS, but LOVING YOU means everything to me. – YOU ARE ALWAYS ON MY MINDI WAN’T YOU. I NEED YOU. I LOVE YOU – your husband will always have his MEMORIES – while we are enjoying a WONDERFUL WORLD – I’ll always give you my BURNING LOVE, and I left the wife telling her SHE’S NOT YOU – she sent me a letter begging me to take her back, so I sent it back, after writing on the envelope; RETURN TO SENDER– I’m so STUCK ON YOU with such a FEVER that I NEED YOUR LOVE TONIGHT – Looking forward to when you SURRENDER yourself again to me….

lots of love,

HOT DOG

I JUST CAN’T HELP BELIEVING she has left me. I keep recalling our honeymoon when we had so much FUN IN ACAPULCO.

Before little Frankie went to bed with his favourite TEDDY BEAR. He asked me, “Daddy, ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? This really hurt me, feeling I had a WOODEN HEART – so hurt and without any feelings.

GIRLS. GIRLS, GIRLS! I’ve had my belly-full! All I wanted was for her to LOVE ME TENDER. Even my HOUND DOGROUSTABOUT – seemed to sense my hurt, and ended up chewing my favourite BLUE SUEDE SHOES.

The house will never be the same again without her. It will be more like a HEARTBREAK HOTEL than a loving home.

Several times I’ve ended up CRYING IN THE CHAPEL after praying she’ll come back to me. I always thought we’d grow old together. Now I’ll never be able to FOLLOW THAT DREAM.

NURSING by Fay Marie Morris

Fay’s response to the June Trigger ‘nurse’

NURSING

Nursing! Nursing is one of my worst nightmares, so I decided to start this piece by stating what a rubbish nurse I am. I simply hate needy, ill people and have very little sympathy, mainly because when I’m ill, sympathy is the last thing I want. What I do want is seclusion and normality. Normal normality not abnormal, cliched, pretentious normality and I don’t like the usual trite, rubbishy, well-rehearsed, overly compassionate stuff that some people love to trot out. I am not unfeeling, in fact I feel things quite strongly and I know how hard it is to say something original when you are facing someone in pain. Pain is a massive leveler with the ability to turn even the bravest, most tenacious person into a babbling, physical wreck although some people seem to get off on being ill, they can ramp it up, turn it off or back on, almost at will…but seriously, I don’t have time for illness.

I remember when my son Danny was about 10 and he’d had to write about what it was like when he was ill and these were his very words. “I try not to be ill because It’s better to be well at our house. My mum’s horrible when you’re ill, even my dad says so. All she says is get your shoulders back and stop whinging.”

I was at a parent/teacher evening when his form teacher felt she had to show me his essay. I should have been horrified, tried to defend my actions or at least have a go at dignifying myself…but I didn’t. Instead I told her that I agreed with every word and as far as I was concerned illness is a state of mind, for wimps only.

I have never been any good at pandering to or pampering and I simply hate feeling pressurised into indulging someone through their insecurities. My French sister in law with her permanently silver lined, soft edged, mushy romanticism says I’m hard and that’s fine by me because I know I am. The thought of me trying to be a tender-hearted, nurturing, caring soul makes me want to throw up…but… I can be if I want to be, although I admit it isn’t pretty.

Anyway, after I’d had my brush with the big C, I felt I needed to give something back and decided that a spot of volunteer work might just do the trick, so I checked some of my options.
1/ collecting money for charity… so not me.
2/ Helping the elderly or housebound with housework or gardening, but I hate cleaning and reckon people who like it spoil it for those of us who don’t.
3/ Hospital visitor or serving in the shop or tea trolley or news trolley or driving people to hospital appointments but hospitals leave me cold so they were all out.
4/ Looking after or walking pet dogs for the elderly…A massive, colossal NO!
My husband, who had been driving people to Royal Perth Hospital for a couple of years told me how desperate Swan Caring were for volunteers to help in the daycare centre, so, I went, just for a look and two days later found myself knocking on the locked doors of the Dementia/Alzheimer wing, where I was welcomed like some kind of Samaritan or saviour, when I knew I was neither.

With wide eyes and hunched shoulders I listened to all Bridget, the care co-coordinator said, but the health and safety stuff made it really heavy going and I wasn’t sure if it was for me. Veronica, the care-centre manager, could see how I felt and told me not to worry as I was there to aid the staff, chat and help with the clients and nothing more. So, for a while I would lay the lunch tables then clear them, load the dishwasher, then unload it, be a Bingo caller and a general dogsbody every Tuesday and sometimes Thursdays too. I quickly learnt the daily routine and the clients all seemed comfortable with me around. [They were always referred to as clients, never patients.]

I wrote an awful lot of poetry at this time, probably my most productive period and one day I told Veronica about it and she said maybe I could read one to the clients. I said I didn’t think they’d understand what I was on about, most people don’t, but maybe, after lunch, during their quiet afternoon time, as they sat snoozing in their chairs, it might be OK. It was something I could do to help, but in my own way and…it would allow me to give my creative juices a bit of an air.

One of my favourite clients was Daisy. Daisy was born in London and her Cockney accent was unmistakable even though she had lived in Australia all of her adult life. But, as her Alzheimers grew steadily worse, her accent seemed to get stronger and she became withdrawn and morose. She was a teenager during the blitz and sometimes it was like she was reliving every second of the horror she had lived through, especially when the International flights from nearby Perth airport were taking off. She’d rush outside and freak out, screaming to her mother that the planes were coming over again but she wasn’t going down the air raid shelter.

One of the best ways to calm things down before the other clients became too upset, was to try and take their minds off whatever troubled them and I clearly remember the day Veronica asked if they would like Fay to read one of her poems.

They immediately sat down and waited, eager for me to start, which threw me slightly as I wasn’t sure which one to actually do. I decided on my earliest poem and while I was reciting it, Daisy went quiet, listened intently and started to smile. When I had finished she asked if I would read it again because she really liked the bit about soft cool spring days and could remember when the woods were full of bluebells and cowslips. Veronica said it was OK because by now all the others were fast asleep.

PIONEER WOMEN WROTE.

Whenever I feel low, my thoughts seem to stray
back, several decades, to a flawless spring day.
Where bluebells sway gently, a carpet of blue
and pale yellow cowslips all dripping with dew.

But that was before I made a new home
in this country of contrasts where kangaroos roam.
So why am I often beset with the fears
of loss and homesickness which bring on the tears?

For I love Australia, and all her moods
from the withering droughts to the ‘wet’ when it floods
and wide open spaces that choke up my throat
with emotion and longing.

Pioneer women wrote-

of hardship and toil in the heat and the dust.
Of living on hope and existing on trust.
So, how did they manage to get through each day
while longing for England’s soft cool spring days?

That was my very first public poetry recital and I must say I enjoyed it enormously. It became a regular afternoon session, requested by the clients themselves. I think it was my voice droning on that lulled them to sleep, although they clearly looked forward to it, because straight after lunch they eagerly placed their chairs in a semi-circle around mine. Luckily, by then I had plenty of poems in my portfolio and although I am still under no illusions about my nursing prowess, I was valued by the staff and clients at Swan Caring because I enjoyed putting people to sleep… but in a nice way.

So, is that snoring I can hear…?