Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Monthly Archives: November 2011

Famous cases in English Law 1: R v Collins (1973)

This is true.  This is an actual case taught to undergraduates who take criminal law.  It is an essential ingredient in understanding the way the courts treat the definition of burglary. 

I wonder, if this case were heard now, whether the outcome would be the same. 

It is the bit about the socks that most law students remember most vividly.

Case report

The defendant was charged with burglary. He had climbed a ladder to an open window where a young woman was sleeping naked in her bed. He descended the ladder, stripped down to his socks and then climbed up again. The woman awoke and saw him at the window. She thought it was her boyfriend and so invited him in. It was not clear, and neither party could recall whether he was inside or outside the window when she invited him in. They proceeded to have sexual intercourse. She then realised it was not her boyfriend and screamed for him to get off. He ran off. The following day he was questioned by the police and charged with burglary under s.9(1)(a) on the grounds that he entered as a trespasser with the intent to commit rape. (He could not be charged with rape as the woman had consented to sexual intercourse). The jury convicted. The defendant appealed on the grounds of a misdirection as the jury had not been asked to consider if he was a trespasser at the time of entry.


His conviction was quashed. It was held that there must be an effective and substantial entry with knowledge or being reckless as to being a trespasser. Consent of the home owner (the girl’s parents) was not required: it was sufficient that the girl had invited him in.

Lord Justice Edmund Davies:

“Unless the jury were entirely satisfied that the Appellant made an effective and substantial entry into the bedroom without the complainant doing or saying anything to cause him to believe that she was consenting to his entering it, he ought not to be convicted of the offence charged.”

WT-G at open mic event in Leeds 05/12/2011

I will be attending ‘Fictions of Every Kind: The Haunting’ at the Victoria Family and Commercial Hotel at 7:30 on Monday 5 December.

This has an open mic event with slots up to 7 minutes duration.  ‘The Haunting’ is not the theme I would have picked, but I should be able to produce something.

‘Amelia and the Virgin’ by Nicky Harlow

The launch of Nicky Harlow’s novel, Amelia and the Virgin is tomorrow (Tuesday 29 November) in Manchester.  If anybody is interested in attending, click on the link to Nicky’s website (on the right-hand sidebar of this page) and then look up Amelia and the Virgin to find the details.

My obituary for Gary Speed

What follows is entirely my own, personal, unresearched reflections. 

I have decided to say something about the death of Gary Speed because, although I never met him, I did see him play many times at Elland Road.  I have considerable experience of bereavement, and that has taught me that dealing with bereavement requires effort.  Everybody is different, but there are right ways and wrong ways of going about it, and the worst thing of all is to pretend that everything will be all right on its own and do nothing. 

I am not going to speculate about why (according to the reports) Gary took his own life.  I don’t have any data and so there is no point in saying anything.  Gary Speed was born 2 years after me. 

I had started to watch Leeds United at Elland Road just as Speed’s first team career was beginning.  He was a player who was left-sided, athletic, and very good at heading.  It used to amuse me that so many of the young supporters in the crowd had the same gelled hair-style as Gary.  It even became known at a GSHC (Gary Speed Haircut) and there was consternation and head-scratching among the barbers of central, south and east Leeds when he adopted a different style. 

Speed was good at a number of important footballing skills and one of them was avoiding injury.  He set records for number of appearances for Leeds and for the Premiership.  He was the left-side component of the midfield of Leeds’s Championship-winning team of 1991-92. 

I missed him when he left Leeds to join Everton. 

He is one part of one of the most abstruse football trivia questions that I know: which former Wales and Everton midfielder as a boy used to deliver newspapers to which former Wales and Everton goalkeeper? (Answer: Gary Speed used to be Neville Southall’s paperboy).   I won a signed football in a raffle at Elland Road in about 1993.  Speed’s signature is on it (and is just about the only one which is decipherable). 

Football is a strangely feminine activity.  It is one of the few endeavours in which men openly express emotion and talk of things like “support” (both for individuals as well as clubs).   At this traumatic and tragic time, I am relieved to see hard men such as Robbie Savage and Craig Bellamy openly expressing their grief.  I hope that everybody who was touched by Gary’s celebrity and playing career will concentrate on his or her own sense of loss, and not attempt to encroach on the private feelings of his family and close friends.  Those who knew him as a person rather than a man who kicked or headed an inflated air-sac around a field have a different and much harder task to overcome.

Ribena or apple juice cartons

Real life intervened yesterday and prevented me from entering the write-invite.com competition, for the second week running.  This means that I cannot post last week’s story this week (and neither will I be able to post this week’s story next week). 

As I said in ‘Burglar’s Letter’, I always intended this to be a literary blog, and not a stream of consciousness or a catalogue of the vicissitudes of everyday life.  However, I am led to believe that building up a decent following is all about making regular contributions, and so what follows is something of a stream of consciousness, influenced by the vicissitudes of everyday life.

In July 2011, I wrote an article for my friend Claire Jone’s website, entitled ‘Getting the most from your small notebook’.  You can find it here:


I take my small notebook everywhere.  I deliberately make no division between literary entries (many of which are just fragmentary phrases to describe things like customers in pubs or restaurants) and intrusions from real life, such as shopping lists.  What you end up with, of necessity, is a kind of textual soup, which needs a lot of later filtering and blending before it is intellectually edible.  The idea is to make the soup as concentrated and nourishing as possible. 

Here is a brief and complete summary of what my current notebook contains for the month of November.

3rd: 1 page of WiP (work-in-progress) lyrics for a pastiche of a popular song in which I attempt to personify the English language.

4th: 1 page of listing of what alcohol I had drunk that day.  2 pages of doodling that Jane and I drew while we were in an old-fashioned pub in Leeds called The Templar (and no, we did not meet Dan Brown, I am glad to say).  1 blank page.  A page which bears the words, written in large letters, “And I Miss You”, Everything But The Girl, which I had intended to use as a message to a man at the controls of a karaoke session in Wakefield, but we left before I had had time to do this. 

5th: 1 page showing a sketch of part of the wall of my bathroom, including the dimensions of the cabinet that I intend to fix there.  1 page listing the names of some race horses I put bets on at a meeting at Doncaster.  None of them won.  1 page of shopping list.

7th: The receipt code for a story I sent to The Fiction Desk. 

8th: Some jottings which were the beginning of the piece I wrote for this blog  entitled ‘Christmas cake’.

11th: Some jottings I wrote for the piece entitled ‘Armistice Day 11/11/2011’.  Some jottings I wrote while I was eating a meal in Pizza Express in Leeds.  A few words to do with my last Open University assignment, which is a piece of life-writing about my mother, father, and me.  Details of an appointment with my  doctor.

16th: 1 page of proceedings of the book club that I attend at my place of work.  Half a page of an idea for a stage-play prompted by thoughts about my late mother’s wine cellar.  The ISBN numbers for ‘Outside the Asylum’.

18th: The signatures that Jane and I set down when we had the idea for a literature festival in Horbury.

20th: A list of items to be bought from an Asian takeaway called ‘Abdul’s’.  The name of a radio play by Michael Stewart (one of the those that I parodied in ‘Pills by Michael Stewart’).  The phone number of the agency which was coming to repair my dishwasher.

22nd: (the day of the ‘Grist’ launch party) a drinks order written in block capital letters because the members of  ‘Sambalifax’ were playing so loudly that it seemed easier to write the order down rather than shout above the noise.  A few reflections I wanted to retain that arose from a conversation with the poets David Gill and Gaia Holmes.  The name of some-one I had never met before who wanted me to add her as a friend on Facebook.

25th: a shopping list.  A few scribblings from when I was in an Italian restaurant in Ossett with The Jays*.

It is too early to say whether I will be able to make any of this into a piece of writing.  My philosophy is that the main difference between writers and those who merely want to be writers is that writers write (something – anything – it doesn’t matter – just get it down) whereas TWMWTBW just think about writing things down.  Because they never write anything down, the vital stage of the maturation process never begins, and so they never produce any finished product.  What TWMWTBW do (or don’t do) with pen, paper and word processor is logically equivalent to trying to make wine by merely thinking about growing grapes.

*My collective name for Jane and Jared.

The forty-one words

I have just finished compiling my ad for the personal column in Private Eye. It reads like this.

Renaissance man,  27,  5′ 10″, clean-shaven, financially solvent, seeks Renaissance woman.  Good body (any size) desirable.  Good intellect essential.  Non-smoker preferred.  No Christians.

Burglar’s letter

When I started this blog, it was definitely not my intention to use it to discuss politics or current affairs.  This is a literary blog, not a rant about the state of things.  No matter what political colour it starts off as, a polemic like that has an alarming tendency to end up by sounding like Jeremy Clarkson or the Daily Mail or some-one or something else that I loathe.  If you don’t believe me, watch Ade Edmondson’s new programme.

However, I am making an exception in the case of today’s story about the letter written by a youth offender to a family whose house he or, as I suspect from the handwriting in this case, she, had burgled. 

The reasons for this are (1) the letter makes specific mention of a set of streets in north Leeds called the Stainburns, where I used to live and (2) while I lived in the Stainburns, my house was burgled, twice. 

I will briefly describe Burglary 1, Burglary 2, and my reaction to the recent letter story.

Burglary 1

My then wife and I had just returned from a weekend away.  It was evening and we were too tired to cook.  We ordered a pizza from Pizza Hut, which was then (and still is, for all I know) owned by Whitbread.  We had used this service, from this particular shop (the one on Chapeltown Road) dozens of times, without mishap. 

The pizza delivery man knocked on the door.  When I opened the door, though I attached no significance to it at the time, I noticed that he was leaning over, looking through the stained-glass window next to the front door.  I paid for the pizza.  I gave the young man a tip: two pounds.  I closed the door.  The delivery man started to walk back up the drive.

Subsequent revelations show that he was only pretending.  After I had shut the door, he returned, tried the door, tip-toed inside, and took my ex-wife’s car keys, which he had seen on the window-sill.  When we awoke the next morning, we found that her car had gone.

The car was recovered a few days later after being chased by the police.  The driver was out on licence and was sent straight back to prison.  The pizza delivery man was already facing a charge of something else, and another passenger was tried in a magistrate’s court for being knowingly carried in a stolen vehicle.  He had been tracked to his door by a police dog called Stan who followed him by scent.  He and his mother (who worked for Leeds social services) constructed a long and elaborate lie to account for his movements that evening, which the magistrates (as I had firmly expected) dismissed in an instant.  He was found guilty.  When he was talking to his lawyer while the court was considering sentence, he gave vent to a sudden outburst and shouted, “Yeah, but it were them what took it!”  The truth will out.

My ex and I wrote to Whitbread’s head office asking for compensation for the distress the incident caused, plus the expense and inconvenience of having to replace the ex’s car, which was now the worse for wear and absolutely stank of cigarettes and lager.  We tried to argue that Whitbread was vicariously liable because the crime had been committed by one of their employees.  They (very predictably) returned with the argument that the employee had been “on a frolic of his own” (a well-known phrase in civil law).  They offered us £500 but refused to admit liability, and, before handing over the money, they wanted us to sign a confidentiality agreement.  We wanted them to admit liability, but we had not the resources to go to court, and so we politely but firmly refused the £500 and did not sign the confidentiality agreement, which accounts for  why I am writing this now.

Burglary 2

I awoke at about 3am to hear gentle footsteps on the wooden floor in the hall.  I listened carefully, because my ex had four cats whose claws sometimes tapped on the wood almost like a human footfall.  The footsteps remained unidentifiable, but then I heard whispering.  I could not tell what was being said, but it was definitely human speech, almost certainly in English, probably one man and one woman. 

I slowly got out of bed.  I picked up a hammer.  Don’t ask me why I had a claw-hammer by the bed, but I did.  I took two careful steps onto the upstairs landing, and then I charged.  WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?  FUCK OFF!  FUCK OFF!  FUCK OFF!  I was stark bollock naked. 

At the bottom of the stairs, I could see the power supply for my computer.  It was being held by a man in black trousers, donkey jacket, black woolly hat, boots, and with a very stubbly face and dark hair.  He looked at me for a quarter of a second and then took to his heels.  I followed him as far as the open patio door where they had got in, but he had gone.  He dropped the power supply.  All that they took was my ex’s Mulberry handbag.  It had £300 in cash in it, plus about £300 worth of Monsoon vouchers, which Monsoon very disagreeably refused to replace.  The bag (which was worth more than both these items combined) was found in a bin in south Leeds a few weeks later.

A few months later, a drug-addicted burglar was arrested for another crime and confessed to this one.  I don’t know what became of the accomplice. 

My reaction to the letter story

Some of my work colleagues were discussing this today.  Most of them had read it in a thing you get free in the railway station called ‘Metro’, which I make a point of never reading.  I don’t know what the article said, but it left them with the impression that the family who had been burgled received the offensive letter.  According to the BBC, the letter was intercepted and never sent. 

If the letter is genuine, then the person who wrote it clearly has a lot to learn.  The part of it that I find most offensive is the bit about being “dumb” to live in the Stainburns.

The Stainburns are an excellent place to live.  There are lots of shops nearby, including Marks & Spencer.  They are next to a major bus route, which gets you into the centre of Leeds in 20 minutes, with buses going every 10 minutes for most of the day.  There is an arts centre, some really nice pubs, bars and restaurants, and a library.  And so on, and so forth.

The area is increasing in diversity and prosperity, which means there is stuff there worth nicking.  It also has a lot of couples or other sharing arrangements in which everybody is in full-time work.  Hence, there are a lot of properties which are empty during the day or at the weekend. 

I have 8 ‘O’ levels, five at grade A, and 4 ‘A’ levels.  I have an honours degree in chemistry from the University of Liverpool, a PhD from the University of Leeds, a Certificate of Higher Education in Computing Studies (with distinction) from Leeds Metropolitan University and am currently studying for a BA in Humanities with Creative Writing with the Open University.  My average assignment mark over the course so far is 88 per cent.  Next month I appear on a recording of Radio 4’s ‘Brain of Britain’.  We may deduce, therefore, that I am not dumb. 

I am not going to pontificate about social exclusion, or morality, or human nature, or the politics of policing or the penal system.  Instead I will simply say that, if being educated and earning more than the national average is an offence in the moral code of the letter-writing burglar, then I am guilty.   I have been affected by burglary in my life, and the first time I succeed in laying hands on some-one who invades the dignity and security of my home, I will – I admit, arbitrarily – hold that person accountable for all the previous invasions, everything that was stolen, and all the wastage, inconvenience and anxiety that went with these incidents.

Pictures from ‘Grist’ launch party

Michael Stewart has posted a 6-minute video of some highlights of the ‘Grist’ launch.  I come on at 3:26.   The URL for this is:


or just go to YouTube and search for Outside the Asylum. 

We had a cake.  Many of the photographs taken feature the cake, which had been decorated to look like two copies of the book. 

Outside the Asylum


Cutting the cake

I am the blurb

The ‘Grist’ launch party at Rhubarb in Huddersfield was a roaring success and I hope to be posting some photographs from it soon. 

I delivered my excerpt, all forty-one words of it, from memory.  As I said in my introduction, this was ironic considering that there were a hundred copies of the book on hand should I have needed one. 

‘Slow Dance With A Skeleton’ is a story about  a man who meets a nutter in a railway station, but with a twist. 

It did not start to sink in until I held the book in my hands that it was real, and that my work was in it.  I checked the table of contents.  I checked my story’s title page.  I checked the mini-biography at the back.  In all cases, they had spelt my name correctly (it had been wrong in the proofs). 

Very uncharacteristically for me, I did not finish examining the book until I got home.  It was only then that I looked at the back of it. 

I am the blurb

There are three paragraphs, printed in white on red, the top and bottom ones in bold and the middle one in normal type.  The middle one is by the editor (Michael Stewart).  The bottom one is a quotation from Edgar Allan Poe.  The top one is my forty-one words.  That is the advertisement I wrote at the age of 26 and placed in the personal column of Private Eye for what seemed like an inordinately large amount of money.   When I wrote ‘Slow Dance With A Skeleton’, I placed it into a fictional story, but the advert itself is biographical. 

The piece that I chose to recite at the launch party is the same one, out of 170 pages of text, that Michael Stewart chose to summarise the whole volume.  That’s me on the back cover of the book.  I am the blurb.

Jeremy Hardy on tour 2011

Jeremy Hardy’s next three performances are in Maidstone, Skipton and Berwick-upon-Tweed.  I hope he likes travelling, because the one after that, the last in 2011, is in Wimborne, which is near Bournemouth. 


I have seen Jeremy live at the City Varieties in Leeds (before it was refurbished) and he was excellent.  He is left-wing, but not party-political, and he keeps the focus of his humour on observations of everyday life rather than abstract politics.  And he has a really good go at the BNP whenever appropriate, which I heartily approve of.