Wednesday, December 24, 2014

When A Child Is Born

It all started a couple of weeks ago when my niece gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. “I think we should send them a present,” said my wife. “Good idea,” I replied, going into autodrive, since everything my wife says is, by definition, “a good idea”. “I’m sure you’ll find something on Amazon,” I added, little suspecting that my wife had no intention of using my sole shopping supplier.

Seven shopping days, one hundred hours and two thousand websites later, my wife finally announced that she had found a lovely toddler’s outfit on, and that I could take over from here. It was at this point that we discovered you have to be a UK resident in order to buy stuff on Had we considered moving to a proper country? their website wondered. They suggested that we try, so I clicked on the link, located the very same outfit in less than a minute, and proceeded to register, carefully sidestepping the invitation to be inundated with irresistible “Buy twenty anoraks, get one free!” offers for the rest of my life. Now we were in business! Or so I thought. Back came the reply that could only deliver to Spain, and perhaps we’d like to consider having another bash on their UK website?

My wife had long since retired to bed, having given up all hope of getting the toddler suit to her grand-nephew before his own retirement. Meanwhile, I dropped my sister a line to let her know that, despite our best intentions, her newly born grandson would not be getting his toddler’s suit until Next got their act together. It was at this stage that Deb, my brilliant sister, offered to order the goods herself. And we further agreed that I would give her an Amazon voucher to cover her costs.

Thank goodness for Amazon and sisters, eh? Merry Christmas!


It had all started over the road in Sorrisons, where Colin used to do his weekly non-shop: ‘Got any milk left?’ ‘Sorry, son.’ ‘How about eggs?’ ‘Sorry, son.’ … There was something therapeutic about aimlessly pushing an empty trolley up and down the aisles in a semi-hypnotic trance, accompanied by I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For on the panpipes, Irish though this might sound. A lot of Sorrisons’ first-time customers ended up in Looniversal Learning, having been misled by the promising “This way!” sign that Slapper had put up outside the front entrance. Their latest manager had complained bitterly to Slapper that she was confusing their customers, but his complaints fell on deaf ears. He didn’t last long at Sorrisons, and ended up enrolling for a Conspiring to Con the Consumers course. At least Slapper had the decency to give him a five-pound discount by way of compensation for ruining his career.

On this particular occasion, Colin was happily browsing the rubbers when he chanced upon an eye-catching blue biro. It was just like any other biro, only it was exactly half the size and perfect, therefore, for slipping into his trouser pocket alongside his stick and rubber. Two hours later, having finally managed to convince the Sorrisons store detective that he was not actually intending to steal the bloody biro and that, had he wanted to take up shoplifting for a hobby, he would have chosen something rather more exotic than a sodding ballpoint, Colin eventually made it to the checkout, together with his salt ’n’ vinegar crisps, carton of orange juice, and assorted stationery; though not before pointing out to the lady on the delicatessen counter that she should have put an apostrophe in “todays specials” and, for a bonus point, did she have any idea where?

As the cashier rang his items up on the till, Colin noticed that the standard biro cost 30p whereas the pocket biro cost 45p. In other words, you were paying 50% more for 50% less, just for the novelty value of being able to put a pen in your pocket without enduring “the pen is in your pocket” wisecracks from colleagues. And then it struck him that if small was beautiful, it followed therefore that minute was divine, and that if otherwise bright people were happy to buy half-size pens for one and a half times the normal price, what was to stop him selling quarter-size pens at twice the price, half-quarter pens at two and a half times the price, or quarter-quarter pens at three times the price? Perhaps he could even sell just plain old pen caps at five pounds a throw and fob them off as “nanoscopic biros”?

            dayrealing, Chapter 29, “Carry On”

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Get It Right Next Time

I spend most of my working day correcting my students. It is perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that I like to unwind at the end of the day by correcting the first poor soul who crosses my path, whether that be on Facebook, Kindle or Google. Indeed, I am seriously considering setting up my own business: “MOKIA – Correcting People”.

Whilst I give my poor students hell – it’s in my contract –, I rarely correct my friends, family or fellow writers; among other reasons, because it’s not as if I have many friends left to lose. So, to quote my rock heroes Lynyrd Skynyrd, all I can do is write about it. And where better than on my invisible blog? OK, here goes …

Below you’ll find 20 sentences, all of which contain, in my opinion, mistakes of one kind or another (misspellings, poor punctuation, incorrect grammar, inappropriate words …). Can you correct them? I’m sure you can, so, for an additional 20 points, can you identify which sentences were produced by my non-native English students (whose mother tongue is Basque or Spanish), and which sentences were produced by native English speakers?

1.    You must to help us.
2.    They think your mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number?
11. It’s been a large day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us?
14. You should of told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible.
16. Thank’s for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday?

Finished? I’ve included the corrected sentences at the end of this post just in case, though I doubt that you’ll need them. Anyway, never mind that, what really interests me is, Were you able to identify my students’ mistakes as opposed to native English speakers’ mistakes? Again, I’m sure you spotted the pattern immediately, didn’t you? The odd-numbered sentences (1, 3, 5 …) sound distinctly odd to a native speaker’s ears. By the same token, none of my students would even consider producing any of the even-numbered sentences (2, 4, 6 …).

So, what’s going on here? Before sharing my conclusions with you, I’d like to simplify matters by putting names to these speakers, so let’s introduce Peter, my fictional friend from Manchester; and María, my fictional student from Bilbao ...

Peter has been surrounded by English all his life. He speaks and understands  the language perfectly, so he knows instinctively that “before starting work” sounds better than “before to start work”, in much the same way that he knows that the logical place to keep his papers is “in a folder” rather than “in a carpet”. When it comes to writing, he manages pretty well on the whole, although he does struggle somewhat with those damned apostrophe’s  apostrophes, not to mention all those silly little word’s  words like “your” and “you’re”, who’s  whose spelling is rather different despite there  their being pronounced the same. His teacher’s  teachers should of  have warned him about all these things, but its  it’s too late now.

María has been studying English all her life. She’ll never speak the language as well as Peter, but at least she knows how to use apostrophes correctly, thanks to her teacher who told them, “Never use apostrophes to form plurals unless you need to express possession”. Phrases such as “Your mad” and “There stupid” make no sense whatsoever to her; and every student in her class knows that you have to put a verb, not a preposition, after “should”. Often she  She often puts her leg  foot in it, but that’s inevitable when you’re learning a foreign language, no?  isn’t it?

Well, by now, I’m sure you’ll have gathered where my sympathies lie. [Clue: not with Peter.] But is it such a crime to forget the odd apostrophe or misspell word’s ocassionally  words occasionally? Definately  Definitely not – unless your  you’re a deluded sole  soul like yours truly who still dreams of writing that bestseller one day.

Talking of bestsellers, it’s reassuring to see that even the best writers are capable of horrendous howlers when they drop their guard. Here are three gems that I spotted in Robert Harris’ otherwise wonderful tale, An Officer And A Spy:

Disgraceful proofreading, I’m sure you’ll agree, but sadly these days, I get the feeling it’s more the norm than the exception.

Thank’s for reading ;)


“There's nothing sillier in the world than a teacher telling you don't do it after you already did it.” (Frank McCourt)
Solutions. (mistakes underlined; corrections in bold)
1.    You must to help us. -> You must help us.
2.    They think your mad. -> They think you’re mad.
3.    I need a carpet for these papers. -> I need a folder for these papers.
4.    It’s plot is complex. -> Its plot is complex.
5.    People thinks it’s easy. -> People think it’s easy.
6.    There wrong of course. -> They’re wrong of course.
7.    Did you introduce your password? -> Did you enter your password?
8.    So who’s fault is it? -> So whose fault is it?
9.    It’s a good advice, isn’t it? -> It’s good advice, isn’t it?
10. Have you got there number? -> Have you got their number?
11. It’s been a large day today. -> It’s been a long day today.
12. What were the disk’s made of? -> What were the disks made of?
13. Do you fancy to join us? -> Do you fancy joining us?
14. You should of told me. -> You should have told me.
15. He started crying. He’s too sensible. -> He started crying. He’s too sensitive.
16. Thank’s for your help. -> Thanks for your help.
17. Before to start, I have a coffee. -> Before starting, I have a coffee.
18. They compliment each other nicely. -> They complement each other nicely.
19. I think I did a mistake. -> I think I made a mistake.
20. When’s your fathers’ birthday? -> When’s your father’s birthday?

Non-native speaker mistakes: 1, 3, 5, etc.
Native speaker mistakes: 2, 4, 6, etc.


‘So, what did you have for lunch, Dani?’
‘A salad and chicken. And chips. And peas. And bread. And ket—’
‘Yes, OK, very good, Dani. And did you have a dessert?’
‘Yes. A yoga.’
‘Yoghourt, Dani. With a T.’
‘No, tea no. Coffee. With milk.’
‘A white coffee, Dani. And what flavour was your yoghourt?’
‘Lemon? Chocolate? Kiwi? Mango and papaya? Cheese and onion?’
‘STRAWberry, Dani.’
‘Yes. Estramberry.’
‘OK, thank you, Dani. Alright, then, let’s move on ... I wonder, How many of you saw that documentary last night about those poor people living in the desert? How about you, Angel?’
‘Ice cream.’
‘Ice cream?’
‘Yes, ice cream is my favourite desert.’
‘Where's that, Angel?’
‘Yes, where?’
‘Yes, where's the Ice Cream Desert?’
‘I don't understand.’
‘Well, the documentary last night was about the Sahara Desert. That’s in Africa, isn't it?’
‘Is the Ice Cream Desert in Africa, too?’
‘The Ice Cream Desert?’
‘DesSERT, Angel. Ice cream is your favourite desSERT; not DEsert. “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”. Can you say that?’
‘Let’s hear you, then.’
‘ “Ice cream is my favourite desSERT”.’
‘Is mine too’ ...
            fifty shades of Spain, Chapter 41, “Ice Cream Man”

They were finally getting to the only worthwhile points on the agenda; as far as Colin was concerned, that is. Slapper always left Colin’s questions for the end, evidently hoping that they would run out of time before reaching them.
‘Sorry, Miss Slapper, I was bloody miles away! What was the question again?’
‘The toilet signs, Colin.’
‘Ah yes, that’s right. Don’t you think it would be a good idea to label our toilets intelligently?’
‘Smart signs for small minds. Good idea, Craphead!’
‘Thank you, Jack. Let’s hear Colin out first. Colin, what are you proposing exactly?’
‘Well, Miss Slapper, I was thinking of something simple like, “MEN” for the men’s toilet; and “LADIES” for the ladies’ loo.’
‘Don’t you think that’s a bit risky, Colin?’
‘How do you mean, Miss Slapper?’
‘Well, as you’ll recall, Simon’s superb State of the Studies Survey suggested that sixty-seven point six per cent of our students are still illiterate,’ said Slapper semi-alliteratively.
And a hundred per cent of our directors of studies. Simon’s latest report had been compulsory reading for the staff of Looniversal Learning, Colin’s favourite line being, “Many studnets jumped staright from Section A to Suction C of the questionnaire, pissing on Section B completely”. In all fairness to Simon, at least he had finally learnt how to spell “questionnaire” correctly.
            dayrealing, Chapter 17, “Live Forever”

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Returning from England earlier this week, my wife’s trolley case set alarm bells ringing at the security check in Heathrow. The officer politely explained that they had detected “traces of explosives” in her case and, Would she mind detonating opening it, please? Closer inspection of one jersey, two pairs of tights and three packets of Marks and Spencer chunky white chocolate cookies failed to reveal the source of the problem. While my wife fumed silently – Did these people have any idea how long it had taken her to pack the blasted case? –, I bit my lip and resisted the urge to make any wisecracks along the lines of, “Come on, darling, tell us where you hid it”.

The officer was very apologetic and asked us to bear with him while he went over to consult with his superior. ‘Run!’ I shouted to my wife. But it was too late, and so the interrogation continued. Our new friend informed us that his colleague was “swabbing the case”, and that we would be able to continue our expedition once he had filled in the form that he was holding in his hand. I guess that’s the usual place to hold forms …

‘What was the nature of your visit, Madam?’

I explained to my wife that they were not asking whether she was into mountains and country walks, but simply wanted to know why we had gone to England. In retrospect, this was probably a bad move on my part as we spent the next three minutes arguing in Spanish before finally opting for, “To visit my husband’s family”. This answer seemed to go down well, and so we moved on to Section Two (“Length of stay”), breezed through Section Three (“Suspect’s profession”) and, just as we were entering into the spirit of the thing, we were both terribly disappointed to discover that it would not be necessary to do Sections Four, Five and Six.

Just as well they didn’t ask me to open my case, come to think of it, as I might have been hard pressed to explain why I had packed a girl’s blouse and matching skirt. Oh, and in case you're wondering, it’s none of your business!
‘May I have your attention, please. Gittish Airways flight three two one to Zurich is now ready for boarding. Please proceed to gate fifty.’

‘Hurry up, Amanda! We’ll miss our flight if we don’t get a move on.’
‘Relax, Colin. We’ve got plenty of time.’
‘So how come they’re telling us to get on the plane?’
‘They always do that. Don’t worry. Do you like these earrings? One word, no hyphen.’
‘They’re alright, I suppose. Yes, I know.’
‘OK, what about these?’

‘They’re alright.’ Idiot! It was a classic blunder which Colin put down to his lack of shopping expertise with the opposite sex. Before dropping them off at the airport, Jack had handed Colin a piece of paper on which he had scribbled some heartfelt advice …

Jack’s Top Ten Tips for Surviving Shopping Expeditions

1.     Never say, ‘It’s alright’, ‘They’re OK’, etc. This is only asking for trouble.
2.     Always say, ‘It looks great on you’, ‘You look lovely’, etc. Just trust me on this.
3.   Never question the price unless you want to be branded a cheapskate. Besides, she’ll be taking everything back for a full refund the following Saturday, so it’s really not worth getting worked up about.
4.     If she says it’s a “bargain”, it is a bargain.
5.    Avoid any references to time, being late, etc. Shopping is stressful enough as it is without being told to get a move on.
6.     Avoid references to being hungry, thirsty, etc. Skipping lunch and/or dinner won’t kill you.
7.     Remember to smile at all times. Nobody wants to be seen with a misery guts.
8.    Create distractions to pass the time e.g. try to work out in your head what the final bill is going to come to. This should be right up your street, Craphead.
9.    Take your mobile with you and pretend to be using it at all times. This gives the impression that you are a busy man with a purpose in life, rather than some sad git wishing he had the guts to go down the pub with his mates to see the football.
10.  Offer to carry her bags. That’s why you’re there, remember.

‘They look great on you,’ said Colin, quite unable to discern any tangible difference between this latest pair and the previous seven that Amanda had tried on since entering this delightful little boutique.
‘Excuse me, how much are these, please?’ asked Amanda.
‘Eighty-five pounds, love. They’re on special offer.’
Eighty-five pounds?! For a pair of safety pins!
‘They normally cost ninety.’
Five pounds off? Now that’s what I call a bargain.
‘And do you have a necklace to go with them?’
Bloody hell, Amanda!
‘Won’t be a minute, Colin,’ said Amanda, smiling.

Colin smiled back – what else could he do? – and returned to his mobile. He’d already sent his SMS to the Samaritans; now he was experimenting with screensavers ...

                dayrealing, Chapter 50, “Don’t Stop Me Now”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Always On My Mind

“For the heart, life is simple: it beats for as long as it can. Then it stops.” 

- Karl Ove Knausgård -

Dad’s heart stopped beating six months ago today. I miss him terribly, and I can’t wait the full year’s mourning to say so … even if I virtually ignored my poor father for the last 30 years of his life. Not deliberately, of course. But you’ll agree that two visits a year and one monthly phone call from me was a far from impressive performance. Pat, my oldest sister, fared even worse: one visit every two or three years if I could struggle all the way up to Coventry, plus a phone call on her birthday. Both Pat and Dad were always in my thoughts, of course. And now that it’s too late to tell them, even more so. 

All of which leaves us with just photographs and memories. Personally, I don't remember much about our family holiday in August 1962, but Dad's memoirs, My Life So Far (1999), never fail to entertain me ...

1962 – MARGATE  (Kent) – Boarding house near station – Weather: mixed
August (1 week) with  Pat, Debbie and Mike – by Keith Bryant’s car

Keith took ages because of traffic jams and getting lost. The boarding house was close to Margate Station and the racket kept us awake the first night. This was the cheapest board ever (£4 per week each for us; less for the children). The food was good! 

Classic Dad! He persuades a friend to give us a lift to the coast, and then slags him off in his diary for his poor driving skills and lousy sense of direction! 

Margate, August 1962: Mum, Mike, Deb, Pat, Dad

Dad continues:

Sitting on the beach on Sunday afternoon, we lost Pat. I got frantic, looking for her. (Myrtle had to feed Mike who was four months old.) People brought Pat back (she’d been playing on the sand and went to the wrong hut) but Deb got sun-stroke and I had to take her to the doctor next day. 

So all's well that end's well. And I'm pleased to see that Mum had her priorities right: "Stop fretting, David. First, I'm going to give Mike his lunch. Then, I'll help you look for Pat. OK? Oh, where did Debbie go?"

Talking of Mum, perhaps I''ll give her a quick call before I forget ...

Wycombe, April 2014: Deb, Sue, Mum, Brian, Mike

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Riding The Waves (For Virginia Woolf)

Please click here for audio.

13 >>

The ___ ___ _____ ___ ___ ___ ___ ______ burning
We ___ ___ _______ __ ______ ___ waves

‘OK, hands up those of you who did your homework.’

A sea of arms fell to the floor.

Homework. The dreaded h- word … or o-word, depending ’ow you pronounce it. Soldiers cling to their rifles; preachers to their Bibles; and teachers to their trifles. Except they call it “homework”. And whoever invented it has a lot to answer for.

As any experienced teacher will tell you, “homework” is short for “anywhere but home work”. In the street, on the bus, at work; in the yard, on the tube, at school; in the library, in the canteen, in the playground; in the corridor, in the toilet; in class. Especially in class.

And, as any home owner will tell you, the little “homework” that actually gets done at home is short for “poor sods at home work” …

‘How are you getting on with those Basque verbs, Dad?’
‘I’m stuck on number ninety-seven, Sam. Does “Aditzak gustatzen zaizkit” sound right to you?’
‘No. You need to use past verbs, remember. How many times do I have to tell you, Dad? Try, “Aditzak gustatzen zitzaizkidan”.’
‘OK, thanks …’
‘Can I interrupt you a moment, Jason?’
‘Not now, Mum. Can’t you see I’m watching The Simpsons?’
‘But I need your help, darling.’
‘Well, quickly, then.’
‘It says here, “Discuss the implementation of The Marshall Plan and its immediate effects on post-war Europe”.’
‘So what’s the problem?’
‘I haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.’
‘Why don’t you ask Dad? He’s always banging on about the War.’
‘Dad’s busy doing Sam’s Basque verbs.’
‘Have you tried Wikipedia?’
‘Vicky who?’
‘Ha ha ha … When will dinner be ready, Mum? …’

As if deciphering the true meaning of “homework” isn’t hard enough in itself, getting to grips with the word in the context of a full-blown sentence often proves to be a formidable challenge, particularly for the more inexperienced student. So, for example, when a teacher says, “OK, do exercises nine, ten, eleven and twelve for homework”, what they really mean is, “Next class, we’ll be doing exercises nine, ten, eleven and twelve, but I’m pretending to set these for homework in order to cover my back”. 

By the same token, when a teacher begins their next class with, “Hands up those of you who have done your homework”, the last thing they want to see is an enthusiastic show of hands, as this means they will most likely have to move on to exercises thirteen, fourteen and fifteen, which the teacher hasn’t prepared properly or even looked at yet. Worldly-wise students – or “learners”, as optimistic pedagogues would have us call them – are more than willing to play along with their teacher, given that this happy arrangement means less work for all concerned; a win-win situation if ever there were one. 

Unfortunately, there are always one or two students who take their teacher’s words at face value, with the result that the poor teacher has no choice but to pick up from exercise thirteen, as it is hard to justify making these “good” students do exercises nine, ten, eleven and twelve again. In brief, the reality is always far messier than the theory, and never is this more so than in the classroom; especially in Colin’s classroom …

Two people raised their hands enthusiastically. One of these was Miss Tedley, simply because she always raised her hand enthusiastically. But Colin had never seen the other person in his life. Or in anybody else’s life for that matter …

‘Who are you?’ asked Colin, discernibly displeased.
‘I’m Miss Tedley, dear. Don’t you remember?’
‘No, I meant him,’ said Colin, pointing pointedly.
‘I’m Scott.’
‘Well, you sound Irish to me.’
‘No, my name’s Scott. Actually, I’m from Saint Paul.’

Colin had always been hopeless at accents. And at geography too. He knew Minnesota was in America somewhere, and he had a rough idea where America was. But whoever said that ignorance is bliss was even more of a fool than he was. And that was saying something.

‘Well, wherever. Why did you raise your hand, Scott?’
‘Because I did the homework.’
‘But you didn’t even come to my last class.’
‘Oh yes he did!’ said Swotty Scott’s supporters supportively.

Not only was Colin useless at spotting accents and locating places; he was also notoriously bad at remembering faces and taking the register. In rare moments of peace and quiet, he would take the class sheet out of his briefcase and decorate it with a few random ticks. Nobody had ever complained about his attendance records – probably because he never handed them in – so why rock the boat by taking them seriously?

What was the homework? Colin cast his mind back, then forward, from side to side, and back again; but it was no good. He was beginning to regret having raised the topic in the first place. Unfortunately, “Hands up those of you who did your homework” was one of Colin’s stock phrases for beginning a class; in much the same way that we ask, “How are you?” to begin a conversation. And just as “How are you?” is not a serious question – only a crushing bore will reply, “Well, actually …” – this was no less true of Colin’s homework enquiry: the last thing he expected was a serious answer. Scott The Swot, however, had yet to learn the fundamentals of classroom etiquette.

Colin had no intention of admitting he couldn’t remember what the homework was. He was on the ropes again, and he loved nothing more than a good challenge. It was time to fight back …

‘So why didn’t you do your homework, Jack?’
‘Couldn’t see the point. You always forget what you set us.’
‘Don’t be so bloody cheeky, Jack. OK, how about you, Cow, er, Nicola? Sorry.’
‘They didn’t have it.’

At last! A clue!

‘They didn’t have what, Nicola?’
‘The book, of course. Looks like Scott beat me to it.’
‘Sorry, Nicola.’
‘That’s OK, Scott, I wasn’t going to read it, anyway. I just wanted to make sure nobody else did, either. At least I know where the library is now.’
‘Sorry again,’ said Scott, already half wishing he’d stayed in Minnesota; or three quarters wishing, to be accurate.
‘So what did you make of The Whales, Scott?’ Colin didn’t need any more clues; he was back on everyone’s wavelength.
‘You mean The Waves?’
‘That’s what I said, Swot … Er, what are you doing, Miss Tedley?’
‘My Computational Fluid Dynamics homework, dear. You don’t mind, do you?’
‘Aren’t you interested in Virginia Woolf?’
‘Virginia who?’
‘Virginia Woolf. You read her book for homework.’
‘Did I?’
‘Never mind, Miss Tedley. Scott, tell us something about Virginia Fox.’

Seizing his opportunity, Scott cleared his throat – not that he needed to – and addressed his audience …
‘Born in London in eighteen eighty-two, Adeline Virginia Stephen is considered to be one of the finest writers of the twentieth century. In nineteen twelve, she married fellow writer Leonard Woolf, with whom she remained until her death at the age of fifty-nine. Suffering from severe depression and nervous breakdowns throughout her life, Virginia ended up taking her own life in nineteen forty-one. Noted for her fine innovative and lyrical prose, Virginia Woolf produced, among other works, Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Between the Acts and, of course, The Waves.’

‘Great Scott! You’re a walking Dikipedia!’
This was just the signing Raphead’s Rappers needed: a student who studied.

‘OK, does anyone have any questions for Scott?’
‘Where’s Minnesota, dear?’
‘It’s somewhere in America, Miss Tedley, but I meant, Does anyone have any questions about Virginia Woolf? … Nicola?’
‘Why’s it called The Waves?’

Not having read the book, Colin had no idea how to answer this question. Fortunately, he no longer needed to know the answers to questions. That was Scott’s job now.

‘Good question, Nicola. Tell her, Scott.’
‘Well, on one level, The Waves is an obvious title, set as it is on the south coast of England. On a more figurative level, however, The Waves refers to the protagonists’ flow of thoughts – their so-called “stream of consciousness” – as they interact and interweave with one another throughout their lives.’
‘Thank you, Scott. Yes, that sounds about right. OK, anybody else want to ask Scott a question?’
‘This one’s for you, Craphead: Why?’
‘Why what, Jack?’
‘Why should we read The Waves if you yourself can’t even be bothered?’
‘Er, tell him, Scott.’
‘Well, …’
‘Shut it, Scott. I want to hear Craphead’s version.’
‘An appreciation of great literature is essential, Jack, if we are going to perform well in the Storytelling Championship.’
‘Bollocks it is. So, anyway, what’s the last great literary work you read?’
‘Apart from The Waves?’
‘I said, “read”, Craphead. Lifting summaries off Wikipedia doesn’t count.’
‘Doesn’t it? In that case, I suppose it would have to be Papillon.’

There was a deadly, deathly, deafly silence. Or something like that, anyway. Well, let’s just say it was very silent. You could have heard a papillon drop. Papillon was possibly the only book Colin had ever read from cover to cover in his life – back in the days when he still had time to read and hadn’t yet sold his soul to Looniversal Learning. It was therefore, by definition, the greatest work of literature that Colin had ever read.

‘It’s a milestone in French literature, Jack. You ought to read it. I expect they’ve got a translation in the library. Nicola could show you where the library is. Kill two birds with one stone.’
‘Easier said than done.’
‘I’m sorry, Miss Tedley?’
‘Killing two birds with one stone. I find I need at least four or five stones these days just to kill one bird.’
‘Stone the crows! Is that the time?’ asked Colin, pointing to the clock by the door.
‘No, it’s twelve minutes fast, we’ve got plenty of time,’ said Nicola helpfully.

But Colin was already in shutdown mode …

‘OK, everyone, for homework, read The Waves – if you haven’t done so already – and then write a short story about boats, the sea or something like that. Basically, anything water-related.’
‘How many words?’
‘Two to three hundred, Nicola … Jack, if you can make fifty, I’ll be more than happy, but remember that compound nouns like “birdbrain” and “bonehead” count as one word, not two.’

- zzz -

It had been another narrow escape for Colin. As Colin stuffed his stuff into his briefcase, he noticed that Jack was looking none too pleased. The silly lad only had himself to blame: when was he going to learn once and for all that you just don’t mess with Papillon Raphead? Nevertheless, Jack seemed to cheer up no end when Nicola showed him her mp3 player.

‘What, Nicola?’
‘Do you like Steve Harley?’
‘Love him. Why?’
‘Knocking on a bit, isn’t he?’
‘The older, the better. Look at Miss Tedley.’
‘Have you ever heard her sing?’
‘Well, no, Jack, but that’s not my point.’

As the two giggling lovebirds fled the nest, Colin was left pondering, Why can’t you ever find a stone that is big enough when you genuinely need one?

dayrealing, chapter 13, "Riding The Waves"