Ante Establishment

Randomly flicking through the TV channels I happened upon a show called Child Genius, a programme whose aim is to discover which children in Britain have never been allowed to climb a tree, drink Fanta and make friends their own age. Contestants range in age from 8 – 12 in Earth years and from what I gather there are only two eligibility requirements: they must dress like Puritans and manage their own hedge fund. As for the parents, alas, there are no rules otherwise these same kids would be attending birthday parties and dancing to K-pop.

One distinctive family comprised Calliope (the child genius), Octavia (her overbearing mother), Peregrine (her hipster father) and 4 year-old twin brothers, as yet unnamed.

“We’re waiting for a Labour government first because then the whole ordeal will be less traumatic for them,” Peregrine explained.

“Watch out for the fat one – he’s a biter. He ate three of the gerbils in my control group,” Calliope warned. “Octavia, it’s 3 o’clock.”

Interviewer: What happens at 3 o’clock?

“I give Calliope her feed.”

Interviewer: Her what?

“She’s still on breast milk,” Octavia stated matter-of-factly, now fumbling underneath her burka. “Excuse me for a minute. I’m afraid these are more form over function.”

Interviewer: I was going to ask you about that, actually. Isn’t that a Peperami in your bag?

“Oh, I’m not Muslim,” she grimaced. “I don’t even believe in God. It’s more of a statement.”

Interviewer: Got it, but getting back to the feed: are you telling us that Calliope has lived on nothing but breast milk since she was born?

“Oh, no. I add my own juices to it as well.”

[viewers stopped eating at this point]

Interviewer: Please, God, tell me we’re talking about lemon grass.

“I have a juicer for vegetables and fruit,” Octavia confirmed, “but I also have all their placentas in the freez-“”

It was a shame really because Calliope seemed like a nice kid who wasn’t bothered whether or not she won Child Genius. Octavia, however, was on a mission. After years of subjecting her first born to stem cell shakes and hyperbaric chambers, this TV programme would vindicate her once and for all. After all, it wasn’t about the children; she was the true genius and, by her own calculations, Calliope only needed to make it to Week 4 before TV producers and the viewing public realized this. After that it would be book deals, speaking tours and Oprah.

Interviewer: Calliope, do you have any regrets about coming onto the progreamme? Did you ask to come on it?

“To be honest, I’d rather be doing something else,” she wrinkled her nose.

Interviewer: Playing with your gerbils?

“Gambling online. Every minute I’m in this stupid studio I’m losing money.”

Interviewer: I beg your pardon?

“My game’s Poker. Last night I was about to beat the bubble until my Aces got cracked. I ended up folding faster than Superman on wash day. I looked like a total fish,” she rolled her eyes.

Interviewer: Uh, okay. So you won’t be going to Oxford then?

“Oh, I’ll be going to Oxford,” she arched an eyebrow, “but it won’t be Flash Cards I’ll be playing with, if you catch my drift.”

Interviewer: How will you balance gambling with your studies? And is it even legal? You’re too young to gamble, aren’t you?

Calliope discreetly opened her Frozen II pencil case to reveal a wad of crisp one-hundred dollar bills. Drawing one out, she folded it expertly with one hand until she’d fashioned a small fish, which she handed to me.

“Why don’t you go buy yourself something pretty and leave the legal stuff to me? After all, who’s the genius here?” she asked, morphing from Girl Guide to Al Capone before my eyes.

Interviewer: What about your mother’s plans for you?

“Octavia’s seeking validation but it can’t come through me. Her insecurities stem from a lifetime’s inability to rise above her own mediocrity. The whole breastfeeding thing’s a manifestation of it: she believes she’s passing on matriarchal wisdom when she pumps that junk which, for the record, I pour straight down the drain. I prefer a single malt – it keeps me clear-headed.”

Interviewer: Won’t she be disappointed though?

“When isn’t she? Look, do you want me to wrap this up nice and neatly for your viewers at home? Give them my take on life?”

Interviewer: Please, do.

“Okay, here we go… in life, you need to play the hand you’re dealt. If you don’t like the dealer, switch tables and if you don’t like the odds, switch games. Then again…” she said coyly, throwing a piece of popcorn into the air and catching it in her mouth, “I’m just a kid, so what do I know?”

It Started When You Farted

It Started When You Farted: Witty Rhymes For Playful Minds by [John Ormsby, Andrea Benko]

It’s taken a lifetime to get here but it’s been worth it; I’ve just published my first book of poems.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

You can find It Started When You Farted: Witty Rhymes for Playful Minds on Amazon.

Proceeds from the sale of this book will go to support Teenage Cancer Trust UK.

Thank you for your support.

Maximum Overload

Stay-at-home moms and working mothers equally stressed out at home ...

My mother was a medical professional who worked long hours. When she came home in the evenings her day didn’t end there because she would then make supper, help us with our homework, do laundry, iron, wait up for my father to return home from work, etc. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised just how tired and rushed she must have felt every time she walked through our front door.

One evening in particular when my twin brother and I were still quite young, my mother put us to bed and then changed out of her hospital whites into a pair of navy blue slacks and an old, floppy blouse. She next washed her hair and wrapped it in a towel before heading back downstairs to see to our older siblings and a waiting pile of dirty dishes. Paul and I, however, had no plans to go to sleep as we whooped and hollered while swinging from our bunk beds like a pair of baby chimps. My mother, up to her elbows in suds, issued a few verbal warnings from the kitchen but we took no notice.

This proved a fatal error on our part.

Tired, hungry and now angry, Mum had had enough. Storming upstairs she banged open the door to our bedroom and let us have it with both barrels, issuing threat after threat until the blood drained from our faces. Convinced the message had finally gotten through, she turned to leave and as she did she overheard a small voice tentatively ask, “Who was that?”

Carmen Miranda and Her Incredible Tropical Hats | Ellie & Co

Unaware our mother had transformed herself from Florence Nightingale to Carmen Miranda since putting us to bed, my brother and I thought a mad woman had broken into our home and killed everyone before coming upstairs to wrap up any loose ends. Now realising the situation, Mum wasn’t struggling to contain her anger but her laughter. After a couple of deep breaths to stop the giggles she re-entered our bedroom, flicked on the light and removed the towel to reveal her true identity.

I still smile every time I picture her sitting on the bottom bunk, unravelling the sequence of events to two traumatised toddlers.

And I have to admire her for that.

Because I would have kept walking, then explained over breakfast that the mad intruder actually lived in our cellar and only came upstairs when wakened…

Lockdown Knockdown

Easter shoppers stuck in 'insane' queues for 3 hours due to ...

“Why are you in school?”

“What do you mean?

“I mean, why are you in school? Shouldn’t you be distance learning like everyone else? I’m in school because my parents are key workers.”

“Then I guess mine must be as well.”

“My father’s a Member of Parliament and my mother’s a doctor. What do yours do?”

“My dad stacks supermarket shelves and my mom works in a toilet paper factory.”

“Awesome!”

“Yup.”

“Come and eat lunch at our table.”

“I’ll get back to you.”

Egg Head

Image result for ostrich face

While teaching a class of 12 year olds, one student asked about the origins of life.

[For the record, she was supposed to be conjugating the present tense of avoir]

“Can you narrow it down a bit for me?”

“Well, something had to start something so what started everything?” Lucy wondered.

“It’s a kind of Chicken & Egg Theory question, that one.”

“What do you mean, sir?” she persisted.

“Whenever we contemplate the origin of anything we often ask Which came first: the chicken or the egg? Some questions we just can’t answer. Well, not yet anyway but I think we’re getting closer.”

Lucy stared at nothing in particular but I could see her wheels were turning.

“And now I’ve confused you,” I laughed.

“Only because you’re confused, sir,” she stated, as respectfully as possible. “The answer to the Chicken & Egg Theory is easy. Chickens are birds. Birds are descendants of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs didn’t give birth to live young but laid eggs, therefore the eggs some dinosaurs laid eventually evolved into chickens through a process called speciation.

Wow.

A colleague once told me, “The best thing about being a teacher is that we are, indeed, the smartest people in the room.”

Some days I’m not so sure.

Suture Self

Image result for Mary Pat Gleason Friends

Last month I received a letter from my doctor reminding me it was time for my annual health check. The fact it was addressed Dear Sir/Madam did ring a few alarm bells, given he’s taken at least three selfies with my prostate, but with no offence taken I followed doctor’s orders and booked an appointment at my local Code Blue Health Centre.

“That’s quite a number of steps,” I told the receptionist, stooping to catch my breath. “What happened to the ramp?”

“Gone,” I was informed. “Health & Safety.”

“Aren’t ramps for Health & Safety?”

“Too many Four-by-Fours were slamming into cars when they reached the bottom. When I made a claim my car insurance went up because they had to invent a new category.”

Four-by-Fours?” I wasn’t following.

“Wheelchair users.”

“Are we allowed to call them that?”

“I am, you’re not,” her reproval hung in the air, while a bejewelled talon gestured lazily towards a certificate propped up against a pink thermos. “I’ve had training.”

“What do people in wheelchairs do now?”

“They have to go around the back and enter through the…” she stopped texting then casually pulled her hair across her name badge. “Uh, you’re not a reporter, are you?”

“No, I’m checking-in for my appointment with Dr Shapiro.”

“Check-in is by touchscreen on the wall opposite,” I was duly despatched, as if telling me where to find the straws and napkins.

Throughout the check-in process, the Automated National User Service referred to me more than once as a customer without offering any form of cashback facility. This was not only misleading but highly inconvenient as I had an extortion payment due at noon and knew only too well that the Yakuza didn’t accept cheques. Even more worryingly, I was unable to recall exactly when the UK Government had reduced my role from citizen to that of ‘customer’. In my previous school the Head Teacher had once tried referring to the students as customers, explaining that we were delivering a service to them and, if they weren’t satisfied, they could file a complaint.

“There’s only one problem with that,” I spoke up.

“Go ahead, Mr Ormsby,” she readied herself.

“If the customer is always right then why do I have two hours of marking every night?”

“To support learning,” came the stock reply.

“So am I now Customer Support?”

“Well… in a way, yes,” she was on shaky ground and she knew it.

“Which would make you Sales.”

“Uh…”

“I just want to get this straight: Sales sells the dream and Customer Support services the nightmare,” I articulated for her benefit. “And will we be running any kind of customer loyalty scheme because I’ve just thought of one: students could redeem their SAT scores for Pot Noodles and spray paints.”

They were back to being students by lunchtime.

Having successfully checked in, I then retired to The Wellness Hub (that’s a Waiting Room to you and me) where I was faced with that age-old dilemma: where to sit so that no one would disturb or infect me while I tried to guess their affliction. We all play it, if not in a doctor’s office, then certainly in car parks whenever we observe what appear to be able-bodied drivers emerging from vehicles displaying a Disabled Parking Permit. My friend, Laverne, is ace at it.

“What do we think of this one?” she asked me last week.

“COPD?” I ventured.

“No, walking too fast.”

“Arthritis?”

“Carrying too many bags.”

“The Big C?”

“Too much hair.”

“Some disabilities are invisible,” Alison reminded us.

“I wish yours was,” Laverne scowled at her in the rear-view mirror. “Definitely upper respiratory… I’ve got it!” she smacked the dashboard in triumph. ”’Pneumothorax!”

“Oh, I loved her in Pulp Fiction,” Alison brightened, before frowning again. “I didn’t know she was disabled though.”

I negotiated my way towards the far corner of the seating area, avoiding eye contact all the way until I reached a cluster of empty seats. Surprised no one else had retreated to this refuge, I was just about to sit down when I noticed what appeared to be a small turn on one seat. Appalled that a Wellness Hubful of humans had watched me make my way towards an open latrine without so much as a warning left me cold inside.

“I tried Tangerine Dew on it but that’s not what they make it for,” one old dear explained, retrieving a bottle of Febreze from her shopping bag. “The one for pets maybe…”

My heart melted.

“No harm done,” I said, taking the seat next to her.

“It was an elderly gentleman,” she explained. “His daughter brought him in. We could all see the back of his trousers when he got up to go see the nurse. I told the receptionist.”

“Which receptionist?” my hackles were now up again.

“The sturdy girl… her, with the wig.”

(I love the way the older generation speaks)

“How do you know it’s a wig?” I suppressed a laugh.

“Because it looks like a bale of hay. I also told her it’s crooked.”

“And what did she say?”

“She told me check-in was behind me on the far wall. I thought it was a cash machine when I came in because I need to buy some stamps. Which doctor are you here to see? I’m here to see Dr Haslam.”

“Dr Shapiro,” I replied.

“Oh, Dr Shapiro’s not in today. It’s another, a Dr Fatwa.”

“Right,” I nodded, trying to guess the man’s actual name.

“I’ve seen him going back and forth. He’ll be better than Dr Raymond; I wouldn’t let him cut my toenails.”

I wanted to play the diagnostic game but I knew it would be a lot more fun talking with-

“-Enid,” she suddenly remembered. “Let me see if I can guess your name. I sometimes get it right… is it John?”

I almost fell off my chair.

“How did you know that?” I was stunned.

“You look like a John,” she patted my hand.

“I had you for a Keith,” a lad to the right of me said. “And I had you as a Lola,” he winked at Enid.

“No, Mary. You look like a Mary,” a woman with two toddlers chimed in. “And you’re probably a Jaden or a Tyler,” she said to him.

“And who are these two?” Enid asked, waving to her children.

“This one’s Thomas and this is little sister, Gracie. We’re here today because her liver’s acting up again.”

Everyone went quiet.

“It’s okay, we’re experts now. She’s missing an enzyme so it needs topping up,” she explained. “Thomas is just along for the ride. I’m Julie, by the way.”

“Robert,” the young man gave a slight wave to everyone. “How is she with it?”

“Sometimes she gets tired which frustrates her to no end. There’s no stopping her though,” Julie gave her daughter a hug. “My father’s a Robert.”

“What are we going to do if a Courteney and a Madison walk in?” I asked.

“Ring Child Services,” Robert replied.

“I went to school with a boy called Enzo and our Science teacher nicknamed him Enzyme,” I suddenly remembered. “And we had another kid called Nigel Sheepwash.”

“No way,” Robert sat up.

“I was at school with a girl called Mary Hammoth and the boys used to call her Hairy Mammoth,” Enid mused.

“I knew a Bobby Bibby,” Julie joined in. “No word of a lie: Bobby Bibby.”

“Did he have a sister Libby?” Robert asked.

“And I once went to the dancing with a boy called Ronald McDonald,” she rolled her eyes at Enid.

“No small feat,” I said.

“Oh my god,” Robert groaned aloud.

“Sorry,” I apologised, but not really.

“No, but funny thing: when I saw him the next week he was with another girl and I knew they were made for each other.”

“Why funny?” Enid asked.

“Because they came straight over and he said, “Meet Patty!”

Call it nervous tension. Call it peer contagion. Call it what you will but I’ll tell you something for nothing: people know a good punchline when they hear it and that one was so corny it was still on the cob. Everyone burst out laughing and when the receptionist told us off we laughed even harder.

After that, I don’t remember much else.

I can’t tell you which doctor I saw or what I told him or what he told me or where I went after that or how I got there because none of that mattered. What did matter was that for a few moments Julie was able to forget about liver enzymes, I forgot I was one year older, Robert forgot about the rod in his left arm and Enid forgot that she now spends most days on her own.

And you can’t get that on prescription.

Helluva Twist

To the Finder

Should you happen upon these pages, Dear Reader, you will acquaint yourself with the final remembrances of a life – my life – which is no longer of any consequence to those who mattered most to me. For the record, I was christened Anne, branding me with the same scarlet stain borne by my mother, who died in childbirth. My father’s name I know not, nor was it ever a matter of record, which resulted in my being spirited away under a veil of shame to an orphanage on the very day I first drew breath. I am told I have a sister three years my elder, but Providence has never guided her along the path I have travelled, which, I suppose, has spared her the shame of having to acknowledge our kinship. Yet, I should have liked to look upon her face just the once, if only to discern even the slightest resemblance to the beloved sibling who appears every night in my dreams. But dreams are not to be trusted, for they ease the torment of not knowing with trickery, filling in gaps where there ought to be knowledge, lending convenient falsehoods which soothe the conscience, unperturbed, until morning.


I am Anne, not yet twelve years of age; this is all I can confirm to you.


My life as an orphan could not have been more wretched, even if I had been sent to the colonies where men feed upon the flesh of other men and fail to know their Maker. It is not the lark which wakes us each morning, but the birch across our faces in cold darkness, accompanied by the dull ache of hunger. Our tormentors squeal with delight at our sufferings as they watch us wince and stumble with fatigue, a weariness which pushes downward with such force that some are unable to straighten and walk upright until mid-day.


Today – my final outing on this Earth – I was not permitted even to see the sun, let alone feel its radiance. When I climbed up to the only window within reach, I discovered that it had been smeared with grease, so as to blur the comings and goings of those on the other side. I cried, but without tears, for they too have abandoned me, reducing my anguish to a whisper and little else, as even my breath fails to serve.
For you see, I am these days, breathless, due to incessant coughing which knocks at my chest with the force of a blacksmith’s hammer. I know what it is that has come for me – I know. From the look of panic among those who cannot hide their horror, to the countenance of quiet resignation which stares back at me from the darkened window. Without mercy, a malady burrows deeper and deeper into the soft, delicious flesh of my lungs; its hunger insatiable, its progress relentless.


So now, Dear Reader, as my spent candle’s tiny light beckons me to follow it into darkness, I must to bed for the final sleep. I lay me down with a heavy heart for it is without friends, without family and without having told my sister how much I love her. I can see her now… Esther (for I have named her) is trying to find me as I write this, but the race is now over without the prize being claimed.


To my sister, I offer my heart.
To this life, I offer myself.
To My Maker, I offer my soul.
Remember me – I am Anne.


And now to dream.

I Noah Guy…

Image result for hipster nativity

In the spirit of the season, I drove an elderly neighbour to mass this morning after she knocked on my door claiming to need a lift due to the icy weather. The Church of St Mary Magdalene (didn’t get that memo) is a local Catholic landmark conspicuously situated between the Women’s Health Centre and Darth Vaper’s E-Cig Emporium about a mile from where I live. As we pulled up to the entrance Mrs Malarkey gently enquired, “Are you coming in? You can send a calendar back home to your mother. I’m sure she’d love hearing what’s been going in the parish.”

The old clam had me. At 85 she didn’t miss a trick and knew I hadn’t been to mass since my parents’ last visit.

“Of course,” I stated coolly, looking her straight in the eye. “It’s Christmas, isn’t it? Now, are you going to be alright managing those steps while I park the car?”

“I’ll just wait for you here,” she parried, then thrust, “and it’s not Christmas. It’s only the Fourth Sunday of Advent.”

“I know it’s still Advent. Hey, it looks like they’ve put down some salt,” I pressed on. “Try the steps and see how you go.”

“No, I’ll wait for you, then we can go in together.”

Game on.

Entering the church brought back a load of memories. I’d been an altar boy right through high school and was much more sanguine about the role the Church might play in later life. Uncompromising and unafraid to challenge the moral turpitude swirling all about me, from an early age I had developed a low tolerance to riff raff. After all, I’d been named after Pope John XXIII and unlike a lot of 12 year olds, had written my own Encyclical:

  1. When you overhear your parents choosing your high school, ask them to aim higher than one simply called St Richard’s or St Agatha’s, guiding them instead towards spiritual heavyweights like Our Lady of the Blessed Annunciation or St Anthony and the Holy Infant. This will disarm any cynics questioning the fact your parents stopped attending mass years ago.
  2. When adults catch the name of your school across your hockey jacket and ask what a Blessed Annunciation is, let out an audible sigh and look upon their children with pity. As you walk away rolling your eyes, ponder the fact they can read at all.
  3. Wonder why all the nuns at school have names beginning with Mary and ending with a male name, such as Sister Mary Edward. Believe your older sister when she tells you they all used to be men until God changed them into nuns as punishment for a crime only the Pope knows about.
  4. Think it a shame that priests can only wear black because it shows up dandruff and means they can never shop at The Gap.
  5. When a pretty young nun starts teaching at your school, tell your mother that if you were older and she lived next door, you’d become a priest and marry her.
  6. When a cool young priest starts teaching at your school, agree with your friends that if he grew his hair longer and learned how to play the electric guitar he’d be the most famous priest ever.
  7. When your father informs you that he saw your parish priest swimming lengths at his health club, ask yourself if priests are permitted such indulgences, then check if his bathing suit was black.
  8. When your teacher warns that thinking impure thoughts during mass will get you an extra year in purgatory, decide it’s worth it.
  9. Ask your RE teacher if Eve really looked like the woman in the Pantene Shampoo commercial.
  10. Ask if Jonah crawled out of the whale’s spout or got pooped out.
  11. Ask if, after turning water into wine at the wedding in Canaan, Jesus then made chocolate milk for the children.
  12. Ask your parents a million times if you can go to midnight mass this year because you’re now an adult. Reassure them that you no longer believe in Santa, elves and reindeer, explaining that you only wish to fulfill a religious obligation. Don’t tell them your older sister reliably informed you that this is the mass in which God appears.
  13. Tell all your friends you were allowed to go to midnight mass. When you’re sure none of them attended the service, lower your voice and inform them that God appeared. When they inevitably ask you what He looked like, whisper that you’re not allowed to tell.
  14. Turn to your Dad during midnight mass and insist you just heard sleigh bells outside. When he chides you, wonder how he can seriously expect an 8 year old to think about God and not presents on Christmas Eve. Hope that Rudolph drops a big steamy one on his new Ford Bronco.
  15. Point out your neighbours during mass and say out loud, “Hey, Mom… you’re right! The Espositos only DO go to mass at Christmas and Easter!” Then report back each time they sit down when they’re supposed to kneel.