In Flames…

Photo by Vlad Bagacian on

I didn’t make it as far as GCSE Woodwork.  In fact I barely graduated from unfinished pipe rack to wonky coffee table via a book rack that refused to hold books and, for some reason best known to Mr Kerr (the woodwork teacher) a single asymmetrical skittle, before I was summarily banished from the workshop forever.  I learned the difference between dovetail joints and mortise and tenons, and most particularly that I was capable of neither.  I learned that PVA glue is stronger than the wood it joins, but that it doesn’t stop it falling apart the second the clamps are taken off.  I learned that any fool can saw a straight line – except this one.  I took woodwork lessons for the mandatory three years and I think we were all agreed that we were lucky to get through it.

Of course, my ineptitude with all things ligneous, was not the only shortcoming to be highlighted during my secondary school years.  I also discovered that my propensity for getting confused by all things scientific was almost boundless.  Physics and Chemistry challenged areas of my brain that were theretofore exclusively reserved for being useless at Maths.  By and large, Chemistry tutors were very keen on keeping me away from chemicals and Physics tutors were very much more comfortable if they managed to stop me plugging anything in.  I enjoyed Biology, but as I wasn’t prepared to cut things up, I was banished to a side room where I studied ‘Human Biology’ alone, which at least meant that nobody had to take the risk of letting me loose with a scalpel.

My boredom threshold scrapes along the floor at the best of times, and three years spent ‘studying’ Latin has left me with nothing more than amo, amas, amat and the skill of using a ‘Power Ball’ to replicate the sound of someone knocking on the classroom door.  The only thing that has really stayed with me from those interminable hours of incomprehensible babble was written inside the sleeve of my textbook by whichever unfortunate soul inherited it ahead of me.  It was written, I recall, very neatly, by a hand much more skilled in the art of fountain pen usage than my own:
‘Latin is a language as dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans and now it’s killing me.’

I’m uncertain of the veracity of the statement, but I certainly applaud the spirit.  I got very used to being sent from the class during those lessons – on occasions as I innocently wandered into the room – with the words ‘I can’t be bothered with you today, McQueen.  Stand outside.’  I really didn’t mind.  Staring at the wall for three quarters of an hour was very much preferable to forty five minutes of Latin conjugation.

In truth, my interest in all lessons depended almost entirely upon the teacher’s ability to engage me in some way.  My geographical knowledge reached its apogee with the difference between glacial and river valleys.  Topographically, everything – if you will excuse me – was downhill from there.

I loved ‘Creative Writing’ and also reading – as long as I was fully engaged by whatever I was given to read.  I was even ok with ‘challenging’ as long as it was not also boring.  I am completely incapable of finishing anything that has not comprehensively grabbed my attention.  Once that has wandered, I am lost, and whatever it is that it has wandered away from, will never be visited again.

My memory tells me that I somehow scraped together six ‘O’ levels, but for the life of me, I can only name five of them and I am thus uncertain whether I have overestimated my teenage academic achievements by some percentage or another, or whether my memory has completely given up the ghost, along, as it goes, with the wonky coffee table which has just come down from the attic in three pieces, all of them bound for the garden incinerator.

Once again I watch my education going up in flames…

Back on the Bike

Photo by Cristiana Raluca on

Life is a lesson which, much like nuclear physics, it is almost impossible to learn.

I felt that I needed a break, and now I have taken it.  I have done something else and now I am back, doing what I feel – although I am pretty sure that few will agree – I I am probably best at.  When I was at school – back in the days of six of the best, free warm milk andReligious Education classes that studied nothing more exotic than Catholicism – it was called Creative Writing or, as I now prefer to call it, writing.  If I have a skill – a point, so moot that I do not think it is even open to debate – it lies in my ability to drop words onto a page in a creative way.  Not meaningful, not logical and, if I’m honest, seldom entertaining, but definitely creative.  For me, spelling is a doddle, syntax is now what syntax has always been, but oh my word, grammar gives me so much trouble.  I just love a comma.  If there is even the slightest possibility of a pause, I bung one in, I mean, how wrong can it be?  In truth, it bothers me that, although I have the warped intelligence to understand almost all of this year’s offside rules, I still can’t figure out a semi-colon.  Anyway, the first thing I have learned whilst I have been away is that it really doesn’t matter: a fairy does not die every time I wrongly use a parenthesis (which I do quite often).  It might not be right, but as long as the majority of readers can understand it, well, it’s almost fifty years since I stumbled to an almost acceptable ‘O’ level grade, and most of those who told me that I’d never amount to anything are too dead to gloat.  If you struggle with my ‘style’ – a definition so loosely applied that its trousers will almost certainly fall down – I apologise.  I do try my best.  I will try to improve, but I dare not promise. 

During the last few weeks I have also learned that nobody wants to listen to me moaning all the time.  The more I moan, the less I live, and the less I live, the more I moan.  I have grown to realise that nobody cares: they’ve all got quite enough problems of their own.  It is ok to wryly raise an eyebrow to the vagaries of life, but only if you’re happy with people pointing at you and calling you a pompous prat.  With the possible exception of Roger Moore, nothing good ever came from a raised eyebrow.  Sharing a point of view is perfectly valid, as long as you do not believe that it is necessarily the right one.  However many people agree with you, there will almost always be more who disagree.  Everybody is entitled to an opinion.  Everybody else is entitled to oppose it.  In the UK we have a specific breed of person* who believes that, as it is their legal right to air their views no matter how caustic they are, they should take every opportunity to do so.  They justify this by claiming that they are ‘merely saying what everybody else is thinking’.  If they are right, then I think I’d like to move.  Probably to another universe.

I have begun to understand that my readers (God bless you!) want absolutely nothing from me but five minutes of entertainment: I do not need to score points or change opinions.  Every time I get a comment saying that something I have written has raised a smile, I walk a little taller for the rest of the day.

In the past I have occasionally tried to bring some continuity into my writing with ‘The Writer’s Circle’ and, more recently ‘The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion’, but I realised that in this way, I can only ever lose readers: nobody ever starts to read from the middle.  I toyed with writing an ‘instant novel’ this time around – a single, one-thousand word chapter, once a week for a year and voila! the book is done  – until it struck me that at my normal rate of attrition, I would be out of readers by chapter seven, and probably being sued by WordPress for misuse of its platform by week thirteen.  Certain characters have reappeared quite successfully in the past (Dinah & Shaw, The Bearded Man, The Men in the Pub and more recently Frankie & Benny) and will continue to do so.  They are the kind of characters that I like to write, so they will be back.  These random snatches of conversation with no beginning and no end are a joy to write and fit beautifully into my newly found ethos: I like it, I’ll do it, it’s fine.

I live a life that is thankfully devoid of great drama.  I’m happy with that.  I have no desire to report from my own experience on anything that would cause Huw Edwards to further curl his lip.  I do not wish to appear, scowling, on the front page of the local newspaper.  Equally, I am more than happy to be able to report on a split fingernail, my confusion with the universe in general, or the thing that I have just found at the back of the sock drawer.  Providing I can eke out a thousand words and a joke or two, my life is ripe for the reporting.  I have no axe to grind, which is just as well as the last time I actually attempted to use one, I managed to smack myself on the forehead (fortunately with the blunt end) and catapult the piece of wood at which I was aiming, through the greenhouse roof.

Anyway, I’ve taken my break and I am about to return – like Rickets apparently – and all that I am saying, I think – although I can never be sure – is that what you are likely to get from now on, following this brief tarriance and reappraisal of my life is… well, exactly the same as you got before, If I’m honest.

I thought it only fair to warn you.

*The male of this peculiar, preening species is known as ‘Piers Morgan’ and the female as ‘Katie Hopkins’.  As I wrote this piece I found that the erstwhile Ms Hopkins’ name was eluding me.  I found it by Googling ‘obnoxious opinionated woman’.  I’m pretty certain if I tried to, I could bring up Mr Morgan’s name with a single word enquiry.  (Actually, I must admit that I have just tried it and it doesn’t work.  It does, however, pull up many images that could lead to me losing my seat in parliament.)

A Little Fiction – New Book (Title Unknown) – Introduction (Conversations with a Bearded Man part one)

blur book stack books bookshelves
Photo by Janko Ferlic on

I was going through some old files on my computer when I found this. It is just titled ‘New Book – Title Unknown’. I thought you might like it…


The first time I saw him he was peering under the bonnet of a car, pulling at wires and whistling “Blowin’ Free”.
“Wishbone Ash,” I said.
“You know them?” he asked. He neither looked my way, nor ceased his wire pulling. I took a couple of steps backwards to stand alongside him. “Every note,” I said.
He lifted his head from his work and peered at me. He had a smudge of oil across the bridge of his nose that I wanted to wipe away. He didn’t speak. I fidgeted, unnerved by the silence. I looked down at the engine. “You got a problem?” I asked.
“Just looking for something,” he said.
“Anything I might know?”
“I think there’s a sensor.”
“What kind of sensor?”
He straightened his back and looked at me properly for the first time, swatting his hand across his face, aiming for something that as far as I could see, wasn’t there. And then he leaned back under the bonnet and recommenced his wire pulling, but I noticed that he’d shifted over a little, just enough to allow me to stoop down at his side. I peered inside.
“The lights,” he said finally.
“The lights?”
“The lights. They know when I’m coming. They turn red… always.”
I stared at the engine, uncertain whether he was serious. He could have been psychotic, or neurotic, one of them, I’m never sure. He turned towards me, his face now only inches from my own. I realised he wore spectacles and it struck me as strange that I hadn’t noticed them before. Underneath his beard his face was tanned, not overly, but he had a weatherworn skin that actively defied any attempt to age him. There was something, I don’t quite know what, but there was something in his eyes. Was he mocking me? I felt uneasy and I realised that he hadn’t blinked. I don’t know why I noticed that. Why should I notice that? He turned back to the engine and pulled enthusiastically at a wire that might just have been very important.
“I don’t know too much about cars,” I said, “but I don’t think you want to go pulling too many of those.”
He grinned, suddenly and fleetingly and I wondered whether I had imagined it.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “I know I’ll never find it, but it’s important that they think I’m looking.”
He shook his head in a theatrical way and eased himself upright. I followed and he closed the bonnet.
“I don’t drive as much as I used to. Don’t seem to have much of a place to go these days.” We lapsed into silence again.
“Well,” he said, wiping his hands on his trousers.
“Yes,” I said. “Well…”
He held out his hand and I shook it. “Better be going, I suppose,” he said.
“You have oil on your nose.” I pointed and he wiped across his face with his sleeve. The oil spread further, the stain became paler.
“OK?” he said.
I continued on my way and he wandered off across the road ahead, when a thought struck me.
“Your car,” I shouted after him.
“My car?”
“Your car, you haven’t locked it.”
I could see the amusement bubbling across his face as he slowly turned away. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not my car.”

© Colin McQueen 2019

Episode 2 of this little saga is here.A Little Fiction – A Further Excerpt from a Different Unfinished Novel (Conversations with a Bearded Man part two)