Thought for the Day
Download my short story, “Thought for the Day” here.
White Sofa, Red wine.
He tightened his grip on both wrists, leaned forward and smiled at her.
“Sorry Darling, you can shout at me all you like, the next door neighbours are Leavers.”
Zero Tolerance by The Old Grey Owl
My new novel, “Zero Tolerance”, is set in a fictional London Secondary school. It’s a tragi-comedy and tells the story of what happens when the school is taken over by a Multi-Academy Trust. To whet your appetite, and to give you a flavour of the book, I’m publishing the blurb and Chapter one below.
Rick Westfield, Deputy Head of Fairfield High School, ignores the bullying, corruption and cheating of the new Academy Trust regime , but the brutal racist attack on Karim, a newly arrived Syrian refugee, leaves him having to make the biggest decision of his career. Rick prepares to deliver a make or break speech at the conference of POCSE, an organisation dedicated to “doing whatever it takes” to improve schools’ exam results. The conference is also attended by the key players: Marcus Grovelle, cynically ambitious Secretary of State for Education, Camilla Everson, Poster Girl Superhead, Barry Pugh, hapless OSTED Inspector, Alastair Goodall, super smooth MAT Chief Executive and Andrew Harrison, old school Local Authority Supremo, reduced to counting the paper clips in the shell of his once mighty empire. When the police arrive at the conference, one of them is arrested as the chickens well and truly come home to roost.
The boy poked his head around the flap of the tent. Amidst the jumble of carrier bags, bin liners and sleeping bags, in the shady gloom, another figure could be seen, lying propped up against a rucksack.
“Hey, you wanna play football? We’re all playing.”
The figure on the ground said nothing and stared ahead of him.
The question was repeated, this time in Arabic. The boy looked up at him and slowly shook his head. From outside the tent other voices could be heard.
“Leave him. Come on let’s play.”
He withdrew his head and closed the flap. Outside a group of boys had gathered.
“But, what about him?”
“You tried. He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t do anything.”
The speaker, a scrawny thirteen year old in a stained Ronaldo T shirt that was too big for him, made a gesture with his finger, tapping his temple with it and turning it around.
They ran off towards the scrubby patch of land they had found behind the latrines. The first boy looked back at the tent, shrugged his shoulders, and then ran to join the others.
Inside the tent, the boy lay back down on his sleeping bag, and closed his eyes.
That afternoon, after he had eaten some rice and vegetables doled out to those that had stood in the midday sun to queue, he did his regular walk around the camp. He had nearly covered every inch of it and soon he would start again at the beginning. He walked slowly and methodically, not making eye contact with anyone, listening out for the sound of young girls’ voices. He passed the remains of burnt out fires, passed terrifying groups of older men, sitting around whittling wood with knives and smoking, shouting out blood curdling curses about what they would do to anyone they got hold of.
Some days he caught a glimpse of a girl and his heart would begin to pound and his breath would come in shallow gasps. He would follow them until he could get a better view and then, always, when they turned, his face would fall and he would walk the other way to try a different trail. Once, he had been so convinced that he ran up to the girl in a crowd, shouting “Evana! Evana!” He grabbed her by the shoulder and the girl turned around, her face a picture of fear. It wasn’t her, of course.
He had put his hands up in apology but had to flee from the snarling of a suspicious mob. It had been the only time he had spoken since arriving. He ran straight back to his tent, and waited, his heart racing, listening to the sounds outside. When he had thought the danger had passed, he carefully pulled out the photograph from the pocket of his rucksack, and lay back on the ground, studying it. He would find her, wherever she was.
The next day he found himself in a queue at the main administrative tent in the Jungle. When he got to the front, a tired looking man asked, “Name?” without looking up.
He was silent.
The man stopped writing on his form and looked up at him.
“What’s your name?”
Again, there was silence. The man repeated the question, but this time as if he were talking to a simpleton.
He gave up and moved on to his next standard question.
“Your passport, please.”
It was handed over in silence. The official pored over it, filling in details on his form
Later, in a smaller, more private room, the Syrian translator went through the whole story. Several times he left the room to talk to other officials. The final time, he came back, a broad smile on his face.
“I have good news for you, my friend. You are eligible for Asylum in the United Kingdom. You are very lucky. A change of policy, you see. You will be transferred to a holding centre and then over the channel.”
“When? When will this be?”
“Oh, probably in about three days’ time. It’s all over for you my friend, you’ve made it.”
The boy stared at him.
“No, I can’t go.”
The official stared back, his face quizzical.
“What do you mean, you can’t go? That is why you are here, surely? Everyone out there,” he jabbed a finger in the direction of the wall of the tent, “would give anything to be in your position. They risk their lives every night trying to get across illegally.”
He shook his head again.
“I can’t go. I can’t leave my sister.”
His mouth began to tremble and he crumbled, the months of fear and exhaustion and grief that he had suppressed to enable him to survive, could not be held back any longer. He wept uncontrollably, his wiry body shaking and heaving.
Outside, the queue got longer and longer.