My Classical Education

wooden water tower

Taking The Iron Writer elements and incorporating them into a story is a great way to flex one’s writing muscles. Those of you familiar with the Iron Writer Challenge remember there are four elements to be incorporated into a 500 word story and there are only four days in which to do so. Four writers are officially part of the challenge each week, but there’s nothing to stop you (or me) using the site as a writing prompt.

I entered the first Challenge (my winning entry is in the post before this one) but I’ve also written several as an exercise using the same restrictions. If you are curious how I handled the elements, read on. I’ll be posting other exercises now and again. To read the official entries, go to and enjoy!

The following story is faithful to the instuctions for Challenge 15, incorporating a Theramin (which is an electronic musical instrument ‘played’ by waving one’s hands in the electric field), a single super power, an elegy and a wooden water tower. My Classical Education is 517 words which is within the absolute limit of 525 words.

 My Classical Education

I’ve just performed at St Patrick’s where I go to school. To great acclaim, I must say. They asked me how I came to write the song. I mumbled something but it wasn’t the whole story. I’ll write it here and hide it away. Maybe I’ll give it to my son, if I ever have a son, when he’s fourteen. He’ll understand.

When I first saw the YouTube of Leon Theremin playing his instrument I was captivated. The sound was weird, ethereal, yet deliciously whining, simultaneously. Hey, if the electronics underlying a Theremin were simple enough, I figured I could build one. The results, as it turned out, were extraordinary.

The electronics kit had arrived on a Friday and by the Saturday, I was already practicing. By Sunday, Mum had banished me to the old wooden water tower. Actually, if I had thought of it myself, I would have set up in the water tower in the first place. From there, you can see forever and the wind blows the sound around like it was produced by the dancing leaves of the tree-tops themselves, an instrument tuned by the gods, maybe by a single super power. Yes, I was making God’s own music.

Except words were needed to go with such a celestial sound. Finally, a use for my dog-eared copy of Ovid’s elegies.

Have you read Ovid? If you’re a fourteen year old boy playing heavenly music in the treetops, Ovid is the last source of words you’d think of. But a few months ago, I’d had a school assignment to do a piece on somebody from Rome – eveybody was onto Julius Caesar or Pompey or Nero but I chanced upon this poet who wrote about stuff I was very interested in. Well, any fourteen year old boy is interested in, to be truthful. Listen to this (okay, this is an English translation; he wrote in Latin), but a snippet is:

“What shoulders, what arms it was my privilege to behold and to touch. What bliss to press a bosom shaped so perfectly…”

Okay, I’d better stop. Actually, it’s on the internet for anybody, but who would think that some Roman guy…hmmm.

It took me a while, but an elegy has certain syllables, short and long, in a specific sequence. That means it’s easy to set to music, which also has specific sequences, of course. Translations are a bit clunky, so I reverted to the Latin. Besides, then nobody would know what I was singing about.

By the time I was ready for an audience, my voice had finished breaking, my Theremin was mastered and I’d memorised the Latin. And nobody but nobody knew what I was singing about…it was all God’s music, as I said.

Afterwards, I was congratulated by everybody. I was a pious little musical saint for the day. The trouble came when my teacher asked about the words. I muttered something about Ovid. He patted my shoulder and turned to speak to my mother. Over her shoulder, he met my eyes and winked.


He must have known the Latin for ‘bosom’.

 The End

If you enjoyed this one, skip over to Challenge 15 and read the official entries in the archive section:

If you really enjoyed this one and want to read more of my writing, check out my books: Bye Baby Bunting (a novel with some nice reviews on Amazon) and Full Stop: eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight (an accessible popular science book about what scientists really say about what’s good for us to eat).

(Thanks to for the use of a great photo of a water tower.)




The Iron Writer Challenges – 500 words that are fun to write

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have picked up my affinity and support for The Iron Writer Challenge:

The Iron Writer Challenge

Essentially, it’s four writers who are given four ‘elements’ they must incorporate into an original piece of up to 500 words within a four day period. I entered the first ever challenge. Here’s my entry:

 Hey Diddle Daddley


Tannis Laidlaw

(toilet bowl cleaner, a meteor, an empty ATM and a talking tree; 337 words, well under the 500 word limit)

Hey diddle diddle
Life’s just a big riddle
For Drew who ran for his life,
A meteor streaking
Across the yard seeking
To hide, disappear from the strife.

Hey diddle droy
‘Daddy’s mad,’ said the boy,
‘He’s ranting and raving at Mum.
‘He gave her a beaner
‘With toilet bowl cleaner.’
The thought of it made him go numb.

‘Hey diddle dree,’
Said the tree he called Leigh,
‘Hide here right under my care,
‘When someone is mad
‘And the other is sad
‘Then you’d better be out of their hair.’

Hey diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The dad was hitting the mum,
The boy stopped his ears
(But never his fears)
And his mouth became filled with his thumb.

Hey diddle delling
The mother was yelling,
‘Please stop – you’ll frighten the boy!’
The little dog laughed
To see such craft
For the dad knew her plea was a ploy.

Hey diddle dill
The air it went still
The dad came out searching for Drew,
He wanted his son
Before he was done,
Then Leigh, to the boy, whispered, ‘Shoo!’

Off the boy shot
Before he was caught
He knew what his father could do,
For a very long time
They’d planned this quick climb
Leigh’s branches would hide him from view.

Hey diddle daddley
The dad drove off madly
The cow jumped over the moon…
‘Coast’s clear, my dear,’
Mum cried with false cheer,
‘But hurry; he could return soon.’

Hey diddle dack
They needed to pack
As quickly as poss – just in case –
Still on the attack
The father came back…
Must flee, not leaving a trace.

Hey diddle dage
Of the father’s great rage –
The mum told the boy she found out –
Seems the ATM there
On the edge of the square
Was empty, held zilch, was a drought.

Hey diddle dax
With packs on their backs
They watched for the shade of the moon,
Then Mum and the boy
Stepped forward with joy
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

The End

 This verse won the inaugural Iron Writers’ Challenge. For the seriously curious (but without the requisite formatting), it can be seen at