The Wrong Answer !


Some people seem to attract bad luck in the way others benefit from its close relative, ‘Good Luck’ for ease of identification. Nigel had been born into poor, or ‘restricted’ circumstances or whatever euphemism floats your boat on this particular day. No problem with that, except that his grandmother had been born at the tail end of a more prosperous time in the family’s history and was constantly trying to remind her grandchildren that they were ‘gentlemen’ or something else which might mean that life or the local employers would treat them more kindly: this is seldom the case, as Nigel would discover during his unfortunately long life.

Anyway, no need to dwell on his gruesome history; Nigel was highly intelligent and perceptive, but had neither the confidence nor social skills to take advantage of the fact: to be honest, the opposite was nearer the truth. Because his well-meaning but deluded grandmother gave him elocution lessons, and because his surname harked back to grander times, he stuck out like an over-manicured thumb amidst the poor and unglamorous streets where he spent his youth. He wasn’t physically bullied but he was constantly derided and made to feel apart from the normal run of life. He comforted himself, by reading, researching and reflecting on the world around him. This may or may not have improved his position.

Move on a few years and he is now a junior clerk in the office of a company selling a range of tinned fish. Needless to say, the environment was as inspiring as it sounds and filled by people who longed for the end of their working day. Nigel worked at some small desk collating sales returns, and thus had a fragile connection to the marketing department. Let’s face it, those marketing boys knew how to live a life: highlights were the afternoon ‘conferences’ where tea was not the only drink and expansive plans with little hope of fruition enjoyed a brief time in the “Limelight;” a small illumination device largely fuelled by vanity, but more of that another time.

Here he was at the back of the room, waiting to be grilled, if you can use that term carelessly in the fish environment, about tin sales in Greenland and Iceland. ( Apparently disappointingly small,) when Carl Boomberger, Head of Marketing and all-round self-confessed genius mentioned in an aside that the “world, in marketing terms, “Was really flat”. Poor old Nigel, whose mind was not as gripped by the topic as it might have been, only came alive at the end of the sentence, and without thinking responded. “Actually it’s round sir, or possibly elliptical, if you want to be pedantic”. There was a short pause while people tried to ascertain what kind of life-form was capable of natural speech so far back in the room when Carl exploded “Are you trying to teach me my job young man”.

“Is that possible” said Nigel with an ambiguity which might have saved him from the consequences of his impertinence. On this occasion it didn’t and he was left to ruminate on the relationship between power and freedom of speech as he scanned the newspaper for jobs while standing at the bus stop.

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Maurice Le Garde.


I spent my twenties, which seems like youth to me now, working as an unpolished clerical worker for a paper merchant’s. In those days they tried to define your job in terms of its function and status and “clerk” seemed correct to them and the inescapable truth to me. Nowadays, no doubt, I would be called a “Success Liaison Consultant,” or some other rubbish, but we hadn’t fully discovered the selling power of self-importance in that unpolished era.

Through lack of money, connections or social presence, my life was pretty much free of intercourse with females, though once my head lay on the pillow it filled immediately with dreams of sweet romance; and girls who identified with me as if we had a secret pact: I never played the hero, even in my dreams and my musings were not carnal but more to do with recognition, tenderness and coming home; a place with which I had little familiarity.

In the evening , sometimes and for no reason, I would attend a “Creative writing course” at the local college as a way of marking myself out as someone who sought self-improvement. There I met Maurice Le Garde, not his original name I’m sure, who eked out a living teaching ‘creative writing’ on the back of a couple of undiscovered novels. On account of his being a lecturer and a writer of sorts, he had a kind of “allure.” “mystique,” or whatever you might call it, and he was at that perfect age for creative girls, it seemed to me: somewhere in his late thirties where he could impress as the spiritually well-travelled older man but still with enough stamina to follow through on his promise, and yet not too old to unsettle, or too young and gauche to disturb that subtle beautiful women with presence and sensibility who was my obsession.

No names because I will admit none, but in my day-dream I could describe her to the final hair.

He talked a lot about “defining the moment” and could look towards the window and say, in his slow drawl with a hint of foreign accent, “Life is just a moment, and the colour of it changes with our understanding and experience” and then he would turn from the window and look towards us, or more particularly Helen who was an artistic truth-seeker in her early twenties. She had played a guest role in my dreams, I admit, but there was a sense that she played a larger role in the ennobling life of Maurice Le Garde.

On those grounds alone I developed an anger towards him which I lacked the character to express until one day, when he was going on about “Moments” and “Inner sensibility” I said, “What do you think about social progress and responsibility. That is more than a ‘moment’ surely?” I noticed with inner satisfaction that Helen turned to look at me, and I had drifted towards becoming a “Person of note” in this class at least.

As I began to celebrate this brief elevation, that disturbing sub-foreign accent cut across my thoughts saying, “After dark, when your thoughts are free of inspection, there is no social responsibility.” and Helen moved her gaze from me back to our noble teacher. It was the nearest I got to gaining her attention, and the last time I attended his class

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Adapting To Isolation


Currently as an ill-mannered virus makes its presence felt in every corner of the globe many of us are being asked to live on our own, or with a spouse we occasionally discuss breakfast cereals with and this calls for an enormous adjustment.

I am a “people person,” a company seeker, and man who threatens to sing at the bar after a few sips of ale but I am being asked to remain largely within the confines of my own dwelling with no one to speak to. What to do?

After a while I decided to hold a dinner party where every aspect of my personality was invited to attend and speak through various snacks arranged on tables around the room. Once this was done I declared the proceedings open. This is what happened.

Chrisps “Isn’t it lovely not having to go out when its raining and pretending we are enjoying ourselves.”

( I then move to another chair )

Peanuts “ Oh I don’t know, I like to get out every now and then and face nature in the raw so to speak

Hummus “Are you suggesting you leave the house in a totally naked state Peanuts !!”

Peanuts, “Let’s not get too literal Hummus. I just mean there is a pleasure in experiencing every kind of weather”

Salad, “Mind you, I don’t like too much heat. It always makes me wilt”

Chrisps “I can see that Salad. No one is going to call you one of life’s great adventurers”

And so we go on with me moving from seat to seat, munching, crunching and chewing my way through our conversation giving voice to a range of opinions best kept safely within these four walls.

Tomorrow I understand Crisps is going to challenge Peanuts to game of chess which should be interesting as I’’m not sure either of them know how to play

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A Dangerous Alternative


Sometime in the distant future, about five or six years from now, Vampires have taken over the world and humans, running free and in their natural habitat, are near being a relinquished memory, although the wealthiest vampires can still afford to purchase a hunting trip to remote estates and gorge on fresh drained natural blood as their ancestors had in those heady days when the music formed by the shrieks of dying humans soothed young vampires to sleep!

Down at the Sunless Arms, a local hostelry, some old chums had gathered for a pint or two of their favourite drink, talking of love and the sporting world while nodding in appreciation of their chosen tipple: blood group “O,” supplied from a chamber behind the bar where a thousand humans living in tiny pens, were fed intravenously and drained of the sacred fluid by suitably attached tubes, enabling red nectar to be drawn on demand.

All good and dandy and everyone happy apart from young Tommy Drain who was being introduced to the adult world as part of his initiation ceremony. What was not known was that the Drain family were part of that small but growing cult who believed that cruelty to other species diminished their own and so they had become vegans, manufacturing their life nourishing liquid from batches of illegally grown spinach with a squeeze or two of onion according to taste, and iron additives of course: red dye was added for cosmetic purposes!

“I’m a bit under the weather” said Tommy, producing a large flask of the “homebrew” from his bag while requesting a glass from behind the bar. Such behaviour was unsettling to the gathered old-timers, one or two of whom were over 200 years old and facing middle-age.

“We can’t have that” said one, but young Albert, nimble of mind and foot, said his parents had only allowed him out on the basis he would promise to drink nothing but his medicine, a large measure of which he poured into his glass.

After the alcohol-enriched beverage had raised the spirits of the others to levels where singing was required, and with that inevitability Albert feared, one of the group said, “Oh go on then Albert, put a splosh in my glass and extended said vessel towards our nervous hero.

There was no escape he knew, so he poured a portion into the glass and “Bandage” as he was known to his chums, raised the container to his lips and took a cautious sip, and then another before turning round to his friends and saying, “Not bad, not bad at all. Bloody marvellous if truth be told. Tell your Mum and Dad I’ll be round later to get the recipe.”

As Albert walked home, that growing terror impending disaster brings, filled the aperture wherein his soul once dwelled and he asked the world around him if principle could be sacrificed before the altar of survival. “Always” was the dark reply!

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A Case Of Mistaken Identity


I was surprised to receive a letter from Buckingham Palace addressed to Peter Ducks informing me Her Majesty the Queen was delighted to bestow the MBE on me and could I pop along to the Palace on 3rd March to collect my award.

Modesty is my middle name , we seek no glory here, but a trip to the Palace, a brief chat with royalty and a luncheon which might well include a sausage roll or two was an invitation few men would decline.

I live modestly in north London and enjoy a life of discrete self-indulgence while living cautiously within my budget. However the Palace has saluted my passionate engagement with climate change and the cause of cleaning beaches throughout the globe. I’m not one to reject praise, justified or otherwise, so I signed the acceptance slip and prepared to go to the palace at the given time on the correct date. I possess a suit so I was more than ready for this grand adventure!

I’m a little surprised I’ve been singled out in this way but who am I to argue with the high and mighty. Obviously that time I picked up a lollipop wrapper dropped by some uncouth boy on Bournemouth beach was noticed by those in authority and recognition, as we know, always come to those who wait patiently in the right queue.

Come the day I arrive at the Palace and present my invitation to the man at the gate who is wearing a large fur hat and a red jacket with one or two medals pinned to the front. I saunter as modestly as possible towards the door he has pointed to where I am met by another posh gent but dressed in a very smart suit with tie to match who has clearly been to an exclusive collection of private schools.

He looks at me a bit uneasily but waves me through to where a third gentleman is moving through a throng of shortly to be awarded ladies and gents, ( no dogs allowed apparently.) Anyway a third gent comes up to me and asks if he can see my invitation which I show him. “Can you confirm your name please sir?” says he and I reply, Peter Wells.

“This invitation is addressed to Peter Ducks!” he says and his eyebrows seem to be doing something resembling the salsa across the bottom of his forehead. I understood and explained to him I wrote a blog called “Countingducks” and people sometimes referred to me as Mr Ducks or even Peter Ducks and I presumed the Queen’s office was doing the same thing. “Do you really think that’s likely” he replied and there was a faintly reddening quality to the skin around his shirt collar.

At that moment another man, who has clearly not been anywhere near a gym in recent months, comes and stares at me in a fairly aggressive manner and says, “My name is Peter Dufks, chief executive of Environmental Solutions Ltd and who are you sir?” As I’m trying to tell him I’m a writer of small repute, and with a few chums who frequent my local coffee shop each morning, another man, also dressed in an impressive uniform of red jacket and elongated fur hat suggests I leave the Palace.

“Quite understand, quite understand” I say and add, “Will there be a refund of my travel expenses: journeys on the Central line are not as cheap as they once were!?” I add as I’m invited, if that is the word,through a back entrance.

His look suggested otherwise!

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Revisiting The Battle Of Hastings Etc


Those with an interest in history may know an army from Normandy arrived uninvited on the south coast of England in October 1066, led by Billy Conqueror. They were greeted by King Harald on the beach he had played on as a boy thus a “home win” was strongly expected: that was not what happened. Recent research based on papers recording court gossip revealed the secrets behind the home defeat.

Harry, as he was known to his chums, or King Harald for the more formal among us, began his day settled before a cooked breakfast made by the adorable Mrs Cummings and consisting of three sausages, two fried eggs and a modest supply of baked beans. The sausages, made from meat supplied by her uncle’s farm, always produced a beautiful symphony of flavours, the memory of which caused our Harald, regardless of the battle raging round him, to gaze briefly at the sky in a moment of sublime euphoria. It turned out to be his last moment because an arrow dropped from above, and pierced his eye thus calling time on his life, the battle and any further opportunity for catering reflection.

As we say in learned circles, “The rest is history” and the English essentially surrendered, allowed the folk from Normandy to take over the country, sweep away all idea of the perfect sausage and replace it with the croissant or “Continental” as it is now known in hotels across the globe.

Later in history, at a time when the cooked breakfast was making a bit of a comeback, Richard the third was heard to murmur, “A fork, a fork, my kingdom for a fork,” as he tried to locate something to eat his breakfast with, regardless of the battle raging round him. Local scribes changed the word to “Horse” as they feared the word “fork” lacked the gravitas required to maintain his place in history.

The reason I mention all this is I was going to ask my secret crush, Allison Jennings, out on a date as soon as I got to work and after my habitual Friday cooked breakfast. However,regardless of the nerves which consumed me, I got there late after being delayed over one of life’s great quandaries, “Two sausages or three?” A question prompted by a recent and unsettling conversation with the weighing machine.

When I got to the library, where we were both employed, she had a kind of glow about her and confided in me, as someone she thought of as one of her closest friends, that Alan, the senior librarian, had asked her out on a date. Now, for the rest of my life I will wonder if that delay caused by my absorption with catering has changed my life forever, or if I was never on her menu!. It may not be the battle of Hastings but it feels a bit like my Waterloo !!

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Wisdom By The Glass


Normally resident at 37 Bloxham Road; flat 6 for the lovers of detail, Wayne ‘Sagey’ Trollope, no relative of the author, but sharing a similar fondness for his own muse, could be found once more, at his consulting ‘ rooms’ somewhere near the public bar in the “Baffled Ferret,” recognised locally for its hosting of real ales.

One of his cohorts, a current ‘four pinter’ , which is that moment when alcohol can free your sense of humour and give it voice, just before five pints makes that humour indecipherable, and six pints a mere mumble followed by wild laughter and a trip to the toilets, said to the attentive throng, “My watch is stopped, but at least that means its split second accurate at least twice a day,” This observation was considered acute enough to merit a nod of his head and a decent gulp from his glass, necessitating a wave at the bar, and fearless progress towards the ungoverned terrain of the six pinters: there are no maps for seven pinters.

” Time” said Sagey, a current 4.75 pinter, “Is something we should chase constantly.” “Hows that” said one of his chums whose admiration for the Sage was stunted by a lack of respect. The Sage reflected on his statement, which he felt had a pleasing aura of profundity about it. Sadly the meaning of his own sentence had not yet been revealed to him, so he replied, somewhat cannily you might think, “If you don’t understand Docker” (4.1 ), his mate and inquisitor, “I can’t explain it to you: some things are a bit too deep for normal folk”

By chance ‘Noddy’ ( 4.1 ) arrived with a fresh round of drinks, and a pile of pork scratchings, whose taste and texture were sufficiently diverting to arrest serious debate for the moment. His mouth nearly empty, the Sage had another go at establishing himself as a font of bon mode, or whatever that phrase is. “Chance” he said, Is a thing you may stumble on.”

“You mean you might stumble on Chance by Chance Sagey,” said Noddy, his hands now free, and eager to join in the conversation. “”Is “stumbling the same as tripping” asked some pedant, ( 3.85 and a cautious drinker,) drawing baffled glances from those around him. “Profundity and accuracy”, thought the Sage, “do not necessarily belong in the same sentence”, and with that thought, he came up with the title of a book which was to make him celebrated in at least 1.6 continents, “The Flippant Guide to Profundity” which offered wisdom in the time taken to open a second bottle of wine.

It was an unusual item in which the reviews had as much currency as the book. In themselves, they were so confusing, that people bought the book to see what all the fuss was about, in such numbers, that ‘Sagey’ was free to reflect on his brilliance in some isolation on a sun kissed beach, but cheered by the supply of Pina Coladas. Reviews such as “He gets to the point in a split infinitive” or, “He plums a depth of misunderstanding far beyond his own comprehension”, and even ” These pithy statements reveal an imagination untroubled by common sense”

A less appreciated article entitled, “Rubbish at only £1.98″, which appeared in the Dorking Park Clarion ( readership 56o ), failed to cause the stir its jaundiced author dreamed would propel him to Newspaper Stardom, and he was left to mull on the injustices which left him in cramped attic lodgings while the object of his scorn soaked up the benefits of unmerited success. As Sagey might say, ” Life is a fruit of many colours”

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