Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

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Review by Mike Harris of Something I Need To Tell You

I am indebted to Mike Harris for the following review, which he posted on Facebook.  He has spelt my name incorrectly, but that doesn’t matter.


On this occasion

I applied for a job on Monday.  I had to check a box that said I was eligible to work in the United Kingdom.

I applied for two jobs on Tuesday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of working with the General Data Protection Regulation, and provide a scanned copy of my driving licence.

I applied for three jobs on Wednesday.  I had to check a box that said neither I nor any member of my family was currently employed by the Civil Service, provide a scanned copy of my passport, and compose a 5-minute presentation on the life-cycle of fleas.

I applied for four jobs on Thursday.  I had to check a box that said I had experience of managing annual budgets over fifty thousand pounds in value, provide scanned copies of all my examination certificates, compose a 10-minute presentation on the South Sea Bubble, and give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Birkenhead, 5 days a week.

I applied for five jobs on Friday.  I had to check a box which said that I had no unspent criminal convictions, outstanding county court judgements, and was willing to undergo a full-disclosure search for my criminal record, provide scanned copies of my parents’ birth certificates, compose a 15-minute presentation on the life of Andy Warhol, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Folkestone, six days a week, and undergo a full medical.

I applied for six jobs on Saturday.  I had to check a box which said that I had never lied, stolen, nor made anyone cry, provide a scanned copy of everything I was thinking at that moment, compose a 20-minute presentation that would make every member of the audience enjoy every presentation they would ever experience again, as long as they lived, give an undertaking that I was willing to commute to Murmansk, seven days a week, undergo interrogation under conditions of complete sensory deprivation, and agree to go back in time and attempt to assassinate Hitler.

I slept in on Sunday, read a book, watched a film.

On Monday, I received a lecture at the Job Centre on the importance of undertaking job-seeking activities every day.

They terminated my claim.

Five dice into a teaspoon

I am an expert in metrology.  It was something that featured largely in my PhD.  Maybe this was a reaction against the stupidity of my parents, who should have known better.

When I was about ten or eleven, a discussion arose about the conversion factor between millilitres and cubic centimetres.  Even at that age, I had read several books on the subject.

‘1 millilitre equals 1 cubic centimetre,’ I stated.

To cut a long, repetitive, rambling story short, I will say that my mother had used a plastic spoon, graduated in millilitres, and had measured the capacity of the teaspoons in our cutlery drawer, and found that they were all 5 millilitres.  This, at least, was not in dispute.

I attempted to explain to my parents that “millilitre” meant “one thousandth of a litre”, and a litre was equivalent to a “cubic decimetre”, i.e. a litre was a cube 10cm × 10cm × 10cm.  Hence, 1 millilitre was a cube 1cm × 1cm × 1cm: a cubic centimetre.  That was when the trouble started.

My father presented the disintegrating element.  He protested that a 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cube was a “dice”.  You could not fit five dice into a teaspoon.  My mother agreed.

I said, and please bear in mind that I was ten or eleven at the time, that that was true as far as it went, but the assertion was irrelevant.  If you insist on an equivalence between “dice” and teaspoons, what you should do is to make five containers, 1cm × 1cm × 1cm, but open at the top, fill them with water from a pipette, and then transfer the water into a teaspoon.  You would then find that five 1cm × 1cm × 1cm cubes are equivalent to a teaspoonful.

The argument raged on.  I cannot deny that I became somewhat riled.

My father said he would check in various reference books (as if two authoritative reference books might say something different about this vexed and ambiguous question).

While he was faffing about, I exclaimed that I didn’t care what he looked up, 1 cc equalled 1 ml.  As soon as I had uttered the words, I knew I had made a mistake.  Not metrologically, but morally.

There then followed a joint lecture about keeping an open mind which went on for several years.

This was useful in one respect, because it demonstrated to me, with absolute clarity, that my parents were stupid.   They weren’t “having an off day”: they were STUPID.  They were both educated people, which proves that educated people can be stupid.  It has made me wonder about the extent of my own stupidity.  I do not claim to be able to avoid stupidity, but I do hope to know where it lies.  The First Battle of the Somme was caused by educated people who, while taking great pains, were being stupid.


Dear Mr Fascist

Dear Mr Hypothetical Fascist:

Why do you feel so vulnerable?  I get globalisation, and the constant changes in the job market, and I have to put up with all that, but it doesn’t make me hate other people.

I don’t hate gay people.  The fact that gay men exist doesn’t mean that they want to bugger you, personally.  You are probably nowhere near their league.  And, as for gay women – you might as well be building a base on one of the moons of an as-yet-to-be-discovered exo-planet.

Polish sausage in supermarkets, with the legend in Polish – this sausage is on sale AS WELL AS, not INSTEAD OF other sausage.

I have been to four universities, and I am unemployed.  But I am not trying to blame other people.  I listen to reggae and ska musik.  I cook South Asian food.  I converse using French and German quotations.  This cultural diversity has not yet secured me another job, but it has still done me a lot of good.

The concepts of Britishness/Englishness/Masculinity/Employment are all being challenged.  What else would you expect?  I would start by saying that you do not have to be British to be British.  You think that sounds like sophistry or gibberish?  The person I have in mind in Mayala Yousufzai.  She was born in Pakistan, but she is British.  And not just because she was treated at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in Birmingham.  “Shot in the head for campaigning for female education?  Kept going?  British.”

So if you want to demonstrate how British you are, you are going to have to do something more constructive than merely being bright pink and wearing a silly, St George T-shirt.

Book launch: Something I Need To Tell You, Leeds Library, 11 July 2018

The launch of my debut short fiction collection, ‘Something I Need To Tell You’, will be at the Leeds Library (not the Central Library – the one on Commercial Street) from 7-10pm on Wednesday 11 July 2018.

There will be a small number of short readings.  Short, I said.


Refreshments, including beer and wine, will be available.

You can pre-order the book:  http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/product/something-i-need-to-tell-you/

The Leeds Library happens to be celebrating its 250th anniversary, this year.

Poem: Water Molecules

Water Molecules

 Each one is a little, spiky thing,
looking like something the police 
might scatter on the road to burst the tyres
of a stolen car.  They are in the exhaust 
emitted by the car.  They are in the exhaust
emitted every time you exhale. 

They suffer from bipolarity and are 
sick beyond treatment, unable even to admit
they have a problem.
This condition makes them stick to their neighbours,
faster than leeches,
faster than Triads, the Mafia:
faster than that chap you met at the freshers’ fair
who had seemed all right at first.

Seventy per cent of him was made of them.
They were trying to stick to you then, like they 
are sticking together now, inside you, 
in your blood, your bones, your brain. 

If it weren’t for the insane grip
of these little tetrahedrons, 
there’d have been no Pyramids,
no Hitler, no Internet,  no mobile phones, 
nothing carved into the Stanza Stones.

Matthew Fisher is a hero.

It was never my intention to allow this site to become dominated by sport.


Matthew Fisher, age 20, 1st class batting average 14.33, Highest score 37, hits 24 off 8 balls to lead Yorkshire Vikings to victory. Fisher’s innings: 2 4 6 1 2 1 4 4. He scored off every ball faced, all of which were in the last 2 overs. Half of everything he faced went to the boundary.

Matthew Fisher is a hero.

Amorous mad-women

The phrase was coined by Paul, in the 3rd form, in 1981.  They were girls who would approach you and start to talk about emotional or sexual subjects, with the express purpose of making you embarrassed.  Sometimes they would hunt in packs.  They were terrifying.

The worst at my school was a girl called Christina Saul.  She was of Polish origin.  Paul and I used to refer to her as ‘the amorous mad-woman with the biblical surname’.

She was last heard of living in Spain, in a lesbian relationship.

I can’t speak for Paul.  Nobody apart from Paul can speak for Paul.  But I now converse on a daily basis with a right load of weirdoes, and it all seems to go remarkably well.

I have learnt that the embarrassment of the teenage era had two components.  The obvious one was that it was about something tense, smutty, or inappropriate.  But that was not all.

The rest was about the fact that what was being said was obviously not genuinely directed to the purported recipient.  Their basic tactic was to walk up to you, and say, “I really love you,” which might have seemed great, except for the fact that it obviously wasn’t true.

And you need to keep saying, “Thirteen.  Thirteen. Thirteen.”  There is a great deal of difference between a boy of thirteen years of age, and a boy of sixteen.

It was regular, if not systematic, emotional abuse.  Paul and I lived through it.

And now, I like to camp it up with the best of them, not because I am sublimating abuse, but because that is what I like to do.  I have learnt a lot of vocabulary since then, and a lot of manners.  My wife, Valerie, also does camp supremely well.

Howard Wilkinson turned me into a feminist.

I was conceived, born, and grew up in Leeds.

After I left university, in Liverpool, I began to identify with Leeds United Football Club.  This was in the late 1980s.  The club had then, by no means, left behind its legacy of hooliganism.

I cannot deny that there was a certain cachet to being associated with the most hated and despised club in World Football.  Unlike certain other clubs I could mention, we didn’t even bother to chant, “No-one likes us / We don’t care”.   To do so might have sounded like doing our haters’ work for them, which we didn’t want to do, because we hated them as much as they hated us.  It was just that our hatred, unlike, say, Rangers v Celtic, was a more equitable form of hatred.  Apart from Sunday League teams, there is only one team in Leeds, and so, if you support Leeds United, you hate every other team in the world, equally.

Be that as it may.

In 1993, I was living in Glasgow, and became very perturbed about the fact that the Football Association fined Leeds United and Manchester United for withdrawing their respective teams from a youth competition, on the grounds that it would over-tax young players they were expecting to break into their senior teams.  They regarded the youth competitions as a means of bringing young players on, not running them into the ground.  The actions taken by Leeds United and Manchester United seemed completely reasonable to me.

I wrote to Howard Wilkinson, the then manager of Leeds United.  I wrote to Alex Ferguson, the then manager of Manchester United.  I wrote to the Football Association.

I got no response from the Football Association.

I got a printed letter from Manchester United, which acknowledged the point I had written about, and had a US-presidential-style pro forma signature from Alex Ferguson.

I got a hand-typed letter from Leeds United, with a hand-written signature in blue biro from Howard Wilkinson.

He acknowledged my letter to the Football Association (which I had enclosed).  He said he agreed with all the points I had raised about youth football, and players potentially being required to play too many games.

The last line of his letter was, ‘Thank you for your support.’

The thing was that I hadn’t given him any support, other than emotional support.  I hadn’t intervened.  I hadn’t managed to change the situation.  But he still thanked me for my support, and this is from a chap who has never been known for being emotional.

Even though the letter was about men’s football (and don’t get me started on the patriarchially-suppressed history of women’s football, because we would be here for the next two centuries) the words, ‘Thank you for your support’, in that letter struck me at the time as feminine.  They also struck me as strong.  And when you have feminine and strong, you have feminism.

I continue to reflect on this.  If, as a man, I had to sum up my idea of what feminism has to say about the male-dominated world in one sentence, it would probably be, ‘It doesn’t have to be like this.’  That may sound trite, but I doubt I would have got this far without that letter from Howard Wilkinson, and, it is worth noting, I only got those words from him because I wrote to him in the first place.   There are few things in the world which are as important as clear, timely, and honest communication.

Announcement: Wakefield Litfest 2018

There will be no official Wakefield Litfest 2018.

There might be an unofficial writing, spoken word, and varied arts festival in Wakefield, in 2018.

If you are interested in contributing, then join our Facebook group, or post a comment on this article:


At the moment, we have no funding.  All we have is our city, its people, its performers, its venues: our own faculties.

Something is definitely going to happen, whether we get external funding, or not.

We Are Wakefield.  Refugees Are Welcome.  We Are Not Giving Up.