The Cat Under the Stairs

He’d not long turned four when he first mentioned the cat under the stairs.  He’d taken to playing in the space, in spite of how dark it was and the fact that there always seemed to be a pile of coats that littered the floor because they wouldn’t stay on their hooks.  It was a rainy afternoon during the autumn half term, so all the children were in the house and the noise level was reaching critical mass.

I’d taken the fresh laundry from the dryer and as I stood holding the warm bundle in the kitchen, even above the childish din, I heard an almighty yell from upstairs; dropping everything, I ran!  In the room shared by the two younger girls was a horrible mess caused by what looked like paint but smelled like soap.  “He’s ruined everything!” wailed one, “On purpose!” chimed in another!  And I had to agree; quite a few things were definitely ruined!  Their carefully constructed Lego models and a beautiful lamp were now covered in purplish-blue gunk, which was running across the shelf and falling onto the books and toys on the shelves below.  He was standing in the corner of the room, still holding the dripping bucket that usually only saw the light of day during trips to the beach; his hands, T-shirt and some of his hair bearing the tell-tale signs of his guilt but his face the picture of innocence.  “The cat said I should do it!” he stated, quietly and unphased by the commotion still raging.  “We don’t have a cat!” I replied, baffled.  “We do!” he insisted!  “The cat under the stairs.”

Almost without fail, from that day, every misdemeanour, every indiscretion he committed – and there were very many – was blamed on the cat.  He never gave it a name, as many do with imaginary friends, nor could he describe it, even when pressed, yet referred to it as ‘he’ in conversation.  He refused to accept that the cat wasn’t real, although we reasoned with him, emptied the space so he could see there was no cat and did everything in our power to distract him and find him real human friends to play with.

On his eighth birthday, we bought a kitten; a tiny tabby speck with a sweet nature and soft fur.  He refused to name it or have anything to do with its care, claiming that the cat under the stairs didn’t like it and wanted it to go.  Indeed, the kitten seemed to take great pains to avoid the area under the stairs, walking a curious path whenever it neared the space.  Occasionally, she would hiss and bristle at the staircase.  It was unnerving, to say the least.  After only two months, the kitten slipped out unnoticed and, in spite of circulating posters, she was never returned to us.  We decided not to buy another pet.

As the years passed, the imaginary cat remained part of our lives, to the point that he would insist on adding ‘and the cat’ to cards and gift tags and we could see the knowing glances that would pass between relatives at gatherings.  He’d vanish under the stairs, from where we could hear low muttering and long pauses.  We took him to see a child psychologist, who suggested that being a lone boy among several sisters may be behind his wish to have a male companion to himself, even an imaginary one.  It seemed unlikely to me but with no other explanation forthcoming and no other real behavioural problems that couldn’t be accounted for by being the spoilt youngest child, we didn’t pursue the matter.  We simply waited for him to grow out of it.

When he was fourteen, we began to feel very squashed in the house that had been fine for two adults and five children but was less accommodating for seven adult-sized people.  As soon as we began to look for another house, he became almost inconsolable; he barely slept, he spent more and more time under the stairs, even doing homework in there, albeit of very poor quality.  We reassured him that we were only looking locally, that he would still go to the same school and see the same school friends, not that he had many.  He didn’t care; he just wanted to stay with the cat under the stairs.

Before too long, we managed to find somewhere bigger and within our price range so, after a couple of frantic months, we were standing in the new house, surrounded by boxes.  I saw him looking toward the door that formed a cupboard of the space under the stairs; I watched him as he tentatively opened the door, flicked on the light and looked inside.  A strange look passed over his face: relief?  “Is there space for your cat?” I joked, trying to lighten the mood.  “There never was a cat.” He said, looking very, very young, all of a sudden.  I felt my breath catch in my chest at this long-awaited admission.   “But he said you’d worry if I told you he was a goat.”



In the flap of the crow’s sleek wing,

In the drip of the ink from the nib,

In the shadow cast by the moon,

In the laughter heard in the night,

In the splash of the leaping fish,

In the dance of the marionette,

In the toll of the distant bell,

In the kiss of the wind on the trees,

In the scarlet of sultry lips,

In the purr of the stretching cat,

In the world, in all the world,

Yet not.

In the Headlight

The image flashed by so quickly, that it had gone before her brain could register it properly.  Just a flash in the headlights; a moth, perhaps, or something flung across her path by the wind.  She was already so tired her mental processes were a bit slower than they should be when driving, but it would be another half an hour, maybe forty minutes, before she would reach her home.

For months, she’d been searching for a job closer to where she lived.  It wasn’t just the long drive there and back that made it so hard to take; it was also the long hours in the bar, standing the whole time, dealing with idiots making the same jokes every night.  The young ones, convinced she wouldn’t be able to resist their predictable and usually offensive comments, the older, married-looking ones spouting crap about their problems.  And then there were the ones for whom she was invisible; a nobody who didn’t deserve a ‘please’ or a ‘thank you’; the ones who wouldn’t even put the money in her hand, but would slap it onto the bar and turn away, already disengaged from her existence.

Her bed welcomed her with a cool, soothing embrace and, in spite of a vague rumble from her empty belly, she was asleep in minutes.  When the light dragged her into wakefulness, she had no recollection of her dream, apart from a nagging suspicion that it had been about a moth or something.

Hours later, as she eased into the bend, the flash in the headlights caught her eye and a sense of déjà vu hit her.  Without much conscious input, her brain ran through a list of possibilities: a moth, a leaf, a ray of light, a reflection.  A reflection?  She didn’t even know how she’d arrived at that idea.  A reflection of what?  All the way home, she couldn’t shake the idea that she should know what it was that she’d seen lit up for an instant in the beam of her headlight.

Every night for the next four days, she saw the same flash at the same place.  On night three, she drove really slowly as she approached the bend: walking pace, almost, yet she still only saw the maddening flash as the compelling image appeared and vanished.  She found herself lying awake, staring into the darkness, trying to visualise what she’d seen in the hope of resolving the mystery.

On the fourth night, she rounded the bend and saw the flash again, but this time she only drove a short way further until she reached a passing place.  She pulled in and turned off the engine.  It seemed as though this torment would drive her mad if she didn’t find an explanation for the vision.  “Round the bend!” she heard herself say to the empty road.

The exact spot where the image was visible was really easy to find now that she’d seen it so many times, but as she stood at the side of the road, there was nothing that could explain it.  Turning slowly, she looked from the floor to the treetops, searching for anything that might project an image, allow a chink of light through from some hidden source or house a nest of flying creatures that might be taking turns to cross her path.  Nothing!  She stepped back a little.  Nothing!  A little more.  Nothing!  Bending, she tried to fix her eyeline to where she imagined it would be if she were in the car and as her hair swished forward she thought she might have caught a glimpse of something shining in the air.  She heard the car before she saw it swoop around the dark bend.  Just in time to glance towards it as it hit her.  One eye catching the light of the driver’s headlights.  Like a moth.

Jeremy Corbyn (For Michael Hogan, with apologies to The Beatles)

(To the tune of Eleanor Rigby)

Ah look at all the Labour people
Ah look at all the Labour people

Jeremy Corbyn, picks up the votes
In the race where Liz Kendall has been
Lives in a dream.
Reading the papers, then he finds out
That he’s been slagged off by Tony Blair
What does he care?

All the Labour people
Where have they all come from?
All the Labour people
Where do they all belong?

Here’s Andy Burnham, toeing the line
And pretending he didn’t wimp out,
He has no doubt!
Look at him working, selling himself
As the one that can make a breakthrough.
But is it true?

All the Labour people
Where do have all come from?
All the Labour people
Where do they all belong?

Ah look at all the Labour people
Ah look at all the Labour people

And Yvette Cooper?  Haven’t a clue what she stands for
Because she won’t say,
Out loud anyway!
Look at Liz Kendall, swearing she’s red
When it seems to the world as if she’s.
Tory instead!

All the Labour people
Where have they all come from?
All the Labour people
Where did it all go wrong?

Breakthrough in Hipster Study

Researchers at the University of Central Lancashire have published the results of a long-term study into the effects of wearing unnecessary glasses and the habitual overuse of irony.  The study was funded by the NHS because of a widespread syndrome, termed Chronic Hipster Affective Disorder (CHAD).

Beards and hats

The problem has been observed in both sexes up to the age of 72, but most commonly affects males between the ages of 17 and 30.  Symptoms include heavy beard growth (mostly males), a propensity for using archaic language forms and a strong inclination to wear hats.  The report details how researchers recognised a strong correlation between reading late 19th-century German poetry and listening to Finnish harpsichord music and the early onset of CHAD.  Initially, volunteers were persuaded to take part in the study as it was the first of its kind; however, as the study moved into its second year, only those volunteers prepared to take part in an ironic way remained and after two years, scientists were forced to carry out their observations in the sufferers’ natural environment.

The hipster environment

According to the chief researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Barker, the main problem with this new approach was the difficulty of tracking sufferers, as one of the predominant effects of CHAD is to blind the individual to their own condition.  However, the team used an ingenious approach; they set up a number of locations likely to attract suitable candidates, such as an old cinema in which they only showed films made in Sweden between 1928 and 1953, an organic vegan café and a pop-up shop selling broken pre-war typewriters, photography equipment and bicycle parts.

Tainted evidence

Although the study was able to confirm a strong connection between CHAD and an obscure taste in entertainment and wardrobe, Dr. Barker stressed that the team had been unable to ascertain whether CHAD caused these issues or whether the issues led to CHAD.   One of the UCLan team volunteered to sample some German poetry, embark on a macrobiotic diet and wear hand-distressed skinny jeans for a 6-month period, but by the time it was confirmed that he was a CHAD sufferer, he was claiming that he’d liked these things before he’d begun the trial and, in fact, before anybody else liked them.  This claim skewed the evidence, making it unsuitable for inclusion in the report.

A cure for CHAD?

While not in the remit of the study, UCLan believes it could pave the way for finding a way to control, or even cure, the syndrome, which claims millions of work hours each year, due to ennui and corduroy shortages.  In an unexpected twist, one of the subjects appeared to make a sudden recovery when he accidentally observed footage of himself explaining why he only ever buys music on vinyl.  According to Dr. Barker, the subject was heard to exclaim “What a tosser!”, before buying larger trousers and a smaller coat.  The report is available as a download from the university website and has also been published in The British Journal of Psychology.  In the hope that it may reach those in need of help, UCLan have also allowed the findings to be included in ‘Cucumber’, an arts magazine sold only in upcycling centres throughout the UK.

Why I Can’t wash the Dishes Tonight

I thought I had today mapped out. ‘Get up at 6’, ‘Quick 5-mile run’ and ‘Write some hilarious jokes that people will pay for’ were just three of the things that I was certain I wouldn’t be doing.  I did, however, expect to collect my sister and go to a meeting at our mother’s care home.

In time, I picked up my sister.   So far, so good.  We arrived at the care home in good time and went into the lounge, an area full of senior citizens, arranged in a vague oval of comfy chairs, like some sort of geriatric Roman amphitheatre but with fewer gladiators and more crocheted rugs.  I looked at the empty chair nearest to my mother’s seat and wasn’t entirely happy to sit on it.  Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against rubber cushions, per se, but this one had a suspiciously shiny look about it and I was somewhat concerned that a recent occupant may have had what is euphemistically termed ‘an accident’ and not of the ‘just fell off my skateboard’ kind.

“Okay” I thought.  “There’ll be somewhere else.” And I looked for the longed for ‘other vacant seat’ without luck.  My gaze then alighted on a foot stool and, although it’s generally a bad idea for me to attempt to sit on anything low, it seemed infinitely preferable to sitting on the ‘accident’ chair as I had by now mentally christened it.  I walked over and, holding onto a large, but occupied chair, I lowered myself to the foot stool.  It wasn’t what I’d thought.  Yes, it was a foot stool, but no, it was not a sturdy object suitable for use as a seat, because in place of the four stout legs I had assumed were part of its design, was a rudimentary frame topped with a vertically swivelling seat upon which one might rest tired feet at an optimal angle, but not a wide arse … at any angle.

I was instantly flung sideways and, realising I was about to hurtle to the floor, grabbed the (occupied) chair to halt my fall.  In fairness, this tactic worked, but only at the expense of my shoulder, which, unable to take the entire weight of my Hobnob addicted body, simply dislocated, achieving a shape hitherto only seen in shoulders that have featured heavily on programmes such as ’24 Hours in A&E’, ‘An Hour to Save Your Life’ and ‘Cirque Du Soleil: The outtakes’.  In what was probably a really short amount of time, but felt very, very long, my brain asked the question “Are you going to continue holding this chair while your shoulder’s doing … well, THAT, or are you going to just fall on the floor?”  I fell on the floor.  Well, against the chair, containing a reasonably startled old lady who probably thought the entertainment had finally arrived.  I felt my shoulder relocate; not to the country or abroad, just back to the socket.  It was not one of my favourite moments of 2015, although it wasn’t the worst either, sadly.

So, now, sitting on the floor, leaning against a chair, in a lot of pain and being watched by every resident with a clear view of my shenanigans, I quietly said to my sister (with what I feel was remarkable restraint) “I’ve just dislocated my shoulder!”  I’m expecting my ‘Certificate of the Bleedin’ Obvious’ through the post any day now.  As luck would have it, there were painkillers available, not the morphine I would have liked, unfortunately, but better than nothing.  After a brief trip to a different part of the building to load up the mother with crisps and tea, we went back in to the scene of my previous humiliation, only to be told that the meeting wouldn’t be happening.  Good stuff.  My biggest worry is that they’ll expect me to have a slapstick routine prepared for every visit.  I don’t think my joints can cope!

The ‘Didn’t Vote’ Blues

Woke up this morning

Intending to vote

But the weather was cold

And I just couldn’t find my coat.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

Right after breakfast

I meant to hit the polls,

But I thought I’d better stay in

And wash the breakfast bowls.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

Just around noontime

I decided to make my cross

But my teeth were really dirty

So I was busy with the floss.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

I would have voted

When I had eaten lunch

But I had to watch my favourite soap;

It was heading for a crunch.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

Mid-afternoon, I thought

“I’d better get it done!”

But a quiz came on the TV

And I was having too much fun.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

Dinner time crept up on me.

You know, it’s not a crime

To be late to the polling station

And I still had loads of time.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

And then, before I knew it,

There was nothing I could do.

I’d never make it round there

Before voting time was through.

I’ve got the blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

I’ve got the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.

So, listen to my story.

It’s a sad one and it’s true.

I hope you never let the same thing

Happen to you too.

You’ll have the blues.

You’ll have the ‘didn’t vote’ blues.

You’ll have the ‘didn’t make my voice heard and now I can’t bitch’ blues.


There’s a chess piece in my pocket.

There’s a tangle in my hair.

There’s a streetlamp just behind me.

There’s a shiver in the air.

There’s a glass that’s almost empty

And it’s waiting for me there,

But I’m waiting for the clouds to leave the moon.


There’s a line I can’t remember.

There’s a time to sing the song.

There’s a mist over the river.

There’s a sense that something’s wrong.

There’s a figure by that window

And it hasn’t been there long,

But I’m waiting for the clouds to leave the moon.


There’s a wheel that keeps on spinning.

There’s a hand that moves the wheel.

There’s a line that’s made for crossing.

There’s no telling how you’d feel.

There’s a rope around the gatepost

And that’s how I know it’s real,

But I’m waiting for the clouds to leave the moon.


There’s a chess piece in my pocket.

There’s no winner in this game.

There’s a cog that’s lying broken.

There’s a man who’s just the same.

There’s a rumour that he hates you

And he calls you by your name,

But I’m waiting for the clouds to leave the moon.

‘Sod off!’ to NaPoWriMo

I’m so glad April’s over soon;

I’m sick of writing rhymes.

I’m very keen to get to May

And more relaxing times.

No stressing over metre

Or assonance or scan.

With odes to write by close of day

And wond’ring if I can.

I’m so glad April’s over soon;

It will be a relief.

This constant search for topics

Has been causing me such grief.

A funny one on one day,

A sad one, the day after.

My poor emotions swinging ‘twixt

Extremes of tears and laughter.

I’m so glad April’s over soon

So I can rest my brain.

The effort of a daily post

Has caused me quite a strain.

I’m not an expert writer;

I try, but what do I know?

That’s why I’m happy I can say

“Sod off!” to NaPoWriMo!

Imperfect Sonnet

They pulled apart my childhood brick by brick.

Replaced it with an edifice of glass,

Or sometimes steel or highly polished stone.

Assured me that this new design would last.

They changed the roads until the way was lost,

And signposts that I knew meant nothing more.

The landmarks that once helped me navigate

Reduced to photographs, labelled ‘before’.

But now I see the new torn down as well,

Its modern gleam no armour, no defence,

Against the cries of “Build us more and more!”

The clamour for elaborate pretense.

Trust nothing but the pictures that you find,

Imperfectly preserved inside your mind.