It was all going so well the first few weeks – but I’m really starting to slip behind. As I write this I’m halfway through week 6, despite week 7 theoretically starting today. But, then, that’s one of the liberating things about FutureLearn – you can go at your own pace. I’ll still get through the course, won’t miss anything, won’t be rushed, and will get the full benefit, but it is flexible enough to fit into a life containing a toddler, a job and a wife’s birthday.

It’s the polar opposite of studying English at university, where I’d rush-read the set texts, often not finishing them, just so I’d hopefully have something to contribute at a seminar – as a result, classic books were utterly ruined. Old education really isn’t the way to do it.

ANYWAY. Onto week 5’s various assignments, kicking off with…


Now there’s a title that has to be written in caps. This was all about challenging expectations and doing something unexpected with a stereotype. I chose a superhero, inevitably, and then did this with him:

Being Captain Dynamo isn’t easy. Trust me on that one. Let’s go through my day.

Up early for the Gratitude Ceremony. The city throws one each year in my honour, to show their appreciation for my work. The whole of downtown shuts up shop and there’s a mile long procession, banners and children – so many children – and emergency services, all out to say their thanks. I fly in once it’s all kicked off, making a grand entrance by swooping down onto the float at the front. I wave to the crowds. They cheer.

Halfway through the ceremony, just before lunch, Crab Man attacks the city, emerging from Lake Excelsior and moving in a sideways offensive towards city hall, clearly wanting to spoil my big day.

I intercept him before he gets into town, clipping his claws and dragging him back to the water. News helicopters film it. Crab Man’s yelling something about betrayal and deception. His profile mentions crippling paranoia.

The city safe once more, I make a speech in front of thousands in the steps of city hall. The mayor gives me another medal. “There a few certainties in life,” I say, voice projecting effortlessly across the plaza, “few except this: I will always be here when you need me.” I lean forwards a little and wink. “Trust me on that one.”

They roar approval.


That night the festivities are still going on but I’ve retired already. Captain Dynamo doesn’t operate at night. Everybody needs a rest at some point.

I walk down the dingy streets of one of the housing projects on the outskirts. The street lighting is poor, garbage collection is rare. Shots are fired off in the distance somewhere.

There’s a municipal park here. I make my way over, pulling my cap low. Some kids, early teens, are hanging out by a park bench, laughing and pushing each other about. They don’t look like trouble; but there’s not much else to do in this part of town after dark.

They look up as I approach, asserting their ownership of the place, body language shifting, like a cat trying to make itself look big. There’s nobody else about.

“What you want, grandpa?” one of them says, looking like the alpha of this pack.

“You,” I say, reaching out with a hand and tearing his soul out. It tastes delicious.

The others run but I’m already regaining my strength, the energy spreading through my body. Chasing them down is easy. They’ll be enough.


As I return to my base I run through everything planned out for the next day.

It’s not easy being Captain Dynamo. But at least I know I’m ready to defend this glorious city once again. The people know their city is safe with me around.

Trust me on that one.

Man, I loved writing that.


Next up was a character sketch, in which you had to pick a particular approach. I went for ‘autobiographical’, basing the character on myself but then adding a twist (in this case, a humorously huge one). Due to time/length limits the story ends just before I really get into Frank’s character, so that’s a bit of a failing in terms of the specific brief. However, I really like the general setting and will probably come back to it at some point.

Frank was born with eight arms and compound eyes. This surprised many people, not least his parents and the delivery nurse, who claimed, with only a slight tone of alarm, that “she hasn’t seen anything quite like it before”. As was pointed out to her at a later date, it was an almost entirely superfluous sentence.

When asked by the tabloids, Frank’s parents noted that changing an eight-armed baby was only slightly more difficult than an ordinary baby. “It just makes the wriggly octopus analogy a little more apparent,” said his mother, Sarah, with a shrug and a smile. “He hasn’t got eight of anything else,” his father, Donald, would mutter quietly, but just loud enough to be heard, before being reprimanded by his wife.

Frank found crawling expectedly easy but soon shifted over to walking on his two legs, simply because that’s what everybody else was doing. There were some stares, some gasps and shrieks, depending on what part of the country you were in, but largely others were tolerant of the unusually appendaged infant. The arms had the benefit of being arranged exactly as one might expect six additional arms to be, nice and symmetrical and normal looking. Other than there being a few too many.

As Frank got older he found the stares of others to get a little meaner, especially people he’d pass on the street. The other kids at school were generally fine with it, as young children always are, until swayed in another direction by well-meaning but ignorant parents. Frank was a great juggler, which was all the other pupils cared about.

Clothing was a bit of an issue.

Secondary school is where matters became trickier, as Frank encountered the next group of young people, suddenly all masters of the art of meanness. He won some over through his accomplishments at basketball, or goalkeeping. A few befriended him out of curiosity, then found him to be a pleasant and intelligent young boy. All-in-all, life for the eight-armed, multi-facet-eyed boy was easier than one might expect, given how these things normally go.

Frank first watched Star Wars when he was six. From that day forwards he’d known one singular truth: when he grew up, he wanted to be a movie director. He was practically custom-built for the job.

That’s it for week 5. Week 6 will appear as soon as I’ve finished it. Gulp.




fuzzyrants · June 17, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Hello Simon.

Good to see you here. I think I read your story “Frank” on one of the discussion pages of the course. I absolutely loved re-reading it over here. An eight-legged kid, whose parents are not vilified by it! I love the reaction of his parents. And this sentence “soon shifted over to walking on his two legs, simply because that’s what everybody else was doing” is just remarkable. Simple but very moving. And how he carried his six extra arms just like one carries two arms – excellent stuff! I could imagine Frank in my head – reminds me of the movie Big Fish for some odd reason. And Frank himself seems like a character out of a fantastical movie, the likes of Tim Burton perhaps.

Simon Jones · June 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm

Thanks, fuzzyrants! Glad you liked ‘Frank’. It was a throwaway, silly idea that seemed to resonate with people, judging from the feedback I received. I should probably go and expand it a bit at some point.

Definitely agree about the whimsical Burtonesque feel.

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