The Other Side Of Luck


Predictability in all things is my idea of heaven, starting with my wife Helen obviously, and closely followed by a cup of tea enjoyed while watching the sun rise above the horizon, given that the hour of its appearance is not unsociable. I am recently retired, having spent my working years in pleasing obscurity as what we used to call, a “Bought Ledger clerk” and later as head of that department.

I grow tulips for a hobby, and exhibit them each year at the local agricultural show, failing to win any prizes on an annual basis but allowing my dear wife to help with supplying and serving afternoon tea: an area of expertise at which she excels as my figure will attest.

That’s me pretty much dealt with, and you can extrapolate from that almost anything you want about my life including always going to the same English resort for our annual holiday, and wearing my favourite sweater as often as possible.

Every life needs a bit of variation and mine comes in the shape of Ronnie, my brother in law and old school friend. He has always been a favoured habitué of the local pub, whenever funds allowed it, and good-hearted to a fault though wisdom often eludes him. His wife Carol was Helen’s sister and, through thick and quite a lot of thin, she has stuck by his side with a display of character and pride which is not always a pleasure to witness. The unkind among us might say “To make a mistake is one thing but to admit it quite another” and a number of people spend their life chewing over that particular insight don’t you find?

Carol was the elder sister, and the fact that her younger sister lived in greater comfort and stability was a source of irritation to her I suspect; but we all know those undercurrents which flow between siblings do we not? In any social situation Ronnie was the shining light and I his largely mute companion, or so it had been in our youth; so ironically, when we met the sisters at a party it was Carol who made a bee- line for the “Star of the hour” while myself and Helen, as registered side-kicks, consoled each other for the evening and then our entire lives, and lovely it has been. I must admit that Ronnie’s presences at our Sunday lunches, or Uncle Ronnie as he is known to our kids, is not a highlight of her day

Anyway, getting to the point without further delay, Ronnie, in a last and desperate chat with the fates, purchased a lottery ticket and karma being what it is, found himself on the right side of £23 million pounds by the following morning. He rang me, of course, after he’s spoken to the claims people, confirming he was happy to go public. He thrives on attention so was more than happy to be asked to stand with some half-dressed celebrity while holding an outsized cheque. I’d suggested privacy might be the wiser option but, as always when he was excited, my advice had been brushed aside in his customary manner.

Dust settled and he was looking to buy himself a decent runabout for no more than £100,000 and a house in the smarter part of town, but near enough to our local to “Spread the cheer” and boast to one and all about his good fortune. His doorbell rang quite often as charities sought his support, or the local paper requested an update on his spending plans, and he had lots of those as you can imagine: all good and cheerful and best of luck to him.

About a fortnight after his win, while I was round his house listening to him lording it over the fates, the doorbell rang again and when he answered it there was a young man on the steps who looked remarkably like him, together with a reporter from the local paper. “I’m your son” he said. “I’ve been trying to trace you for about five years and when your face turned up in the papers I knew it was you immediately.”

At that moment Carol, who had been in the kitchen preparing some canape’s for a party( She’s a dab hand in the kitchen like her sister ) came out to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t have to tell you that the conversation took an interesting turn at that point, but perhaps we’ll leave that to another occasion!

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Note Perfect


The opening of the “Arts Centre for Disadvantaged Children” had been a great success with attendees including the Lord Mayor and several local dignitaries. Among those present, and a significant benefactor to the project, was the apparently revered Mrs Mellidrew, a widow whose husband had died of boredom some years earlier. She had offered,somewhat firmly, to round off the delightful evening with one of her noted pianoforte recitals.

After sitting down and settling the music in front of her , she played excerpts from Rachmaninov’s piano concerto No2, a powerful, emotive and evocative piece of music almost guaranteed to move the emotions of anyone exposed to it’s haunting melodies . Mrs Mellidrew operates the piano with a bravado and faultless efficiency hitting each note with accuracy, but shredding all light and shade from the piece. Her audience nod painfully, they have had this experience before.

Despite this, they warmly applaud after the recital. “Simply wonderful” exclaims an anxious relative from the back of the room, who may or may not be in her Will. “Masterful” concurs some gallant victim sited nearer the subject of their praise. “I’ve never heard it played better” pips up some old gent in a display of heroic falsehood, attracting bewildered looks from people around him: perhaps we have all been a witness at such occasions.

While those inside mingle and congratulate the good lady on her talents, a couple of friends who escaped early hide outside and enjoy a soothing whisky . “My god that was awful” exclaims one. “I’ve had a better time at the dentist” says the other, marking their common agony . Sadly it is not the first time that Mrs Mellidrew has operated the piano in public: possibly her considerable private fortune and charitable donations add weight to the applause, or am I being too cynical.

Her vulnerability to the opinion of the audience is muted by the contempt with which she views them: that they are too primitive to understand great music is something she was fully aware of. We cannot all be blessed with a great sensibility:self knowledge can be a dangerous thing and she restricts her intake of it to the bare minimum.

Finally at the end of the event, she moves towards her waiting car. She hears someone say, “Thank you again;” his voice has an undertone of relief . The event is finally over. . .. As her car is driven away from the new Arts Centre, the remaining throng act like people released from a health and safety lecture and trudge off to soothe their nerves with a mixture of abandon and relief.

Saying what you mean is important, but is it the same as meaning what you say? Perhaps we will have to ask the enlightened Mrs Mellidrew once she has finished her practise of “Air on a C string” or some note quite near it on the keyboard.j

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That Greener Grass


As she reached up to kiss me goodbye I felt my wife’s hand rest on my chest. “Look after yourself out there” she said: it was what she always said but somehow there was a sense of urgency about it today, or was my conscience talking? I was on my way to work among other things.

I’d already told her I would be late back because I was dining out with colleagues, not an unusual event, but on this occasion I was being economical with the truth. Maria, an intern spending the summer with our company had brought that edge of curiosity and interest to the day not normally seen in working circles, at least not mine. I like to think, I have a reputation for being impersonally professional at all times but that changed under her influence into something much more personal.

She was of an age where adventure is much more interesting than it’s consequences, and small details like my marriage and the photograph of my young son which she saw on my desk meant nothing to her compared to two souls melding in a moment of abandon: her interest in me was much more about my position than my person but somehow that made her company more enticing.

My wife is a loving soul and generous soul, who I met at university, From our earliest time together she always listened to me with interest and cared for my needs as though I were an undiscovered dignitary. People seeing us wondered at her devotion and counted me a lucky man to have her by my side, but I have to tell you, if you cannot escape it, such a paradise can generate a sense of claustrophobia and I was suffocating!

I did not seek her praise but gained it anyway. She was as pliable and open to ideas as a man could wish for and there was no situation in which she did not put my interests first. In the kitchen she worked constantly to create dishes that would both please and challenge my pallet: in short she was infuriating; perfectly so. What was there not to love? Who would not wish to be cherished by such a woman but I felt trapped by her attentions and found myself longing for unauthorised excitement.

My wife was waiting up for me when I got back from “work” if we can call it that, as was her habit, and she helped me off with my coat as she always did, but her eyes seemed guarded and her remark was unusual. “Is that a new aftershave you are wearing?” she asked. I thought it best not to reply!

The next morning I rose in my customary manner after drinking the tea she always made for me. I showered, dressed and went downstairs to discover a suitcase standing by the front door. “ You’ll need that wherever you plan to stay,” she said as she reached up to kiss me in her normal manner although she did not lay her hand upon my chest. When I looked down at her, her eyes were like an empty space, though touched by sadness and regret, and I was powerless to deny their accusation.

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Somewhere In The Class Of Life :


At school I was not at the front of the class: not one of the clever ones whose enthusiasm reminded the teacher this was their true vocation. I sat in the middle of the room, faintly absorbed but not engaged. After spending most of my education looking out of the window I somehow did enough to pass exams, and after school lived a life without glory or engagement until I saw someone who introduced me to myself.

In a bar where I was drinking soberly on my own, reading because my friends would join me later, I looked up to see three girls enter the room and in the middle was one, red of hair, wearing glasses and radiating that sense of mischief I always find appealing: laughing at some remark I could not hear.

I am not one for girls, or should I say I never pushed myself forward in their company. I was always half-way down the queue, friendly but not personal: romance touched my life infrequently but now I felt a call to arms, a primal urgency and stood up, walking towards her just as she reached the bar.

“This may sound mad to you, it does to me, but I need to buy you a drink. You can leave it if you want, but just to buy it for you is something is it not?”

“You are odd ?” she said and smiled before turning to her friends and saying “What a nutter!” and I responded saying, “Not normally but how do you say hello to a girl you have not met without being odd?” and she said, “Not like that!”

A wise man would have walked away but I was lost to being wise so I hung around awkwardly praying for a miracle to grant me access, and so it happened.

One of the girls beside her said “You can buy me one, I’m not particular!” and I said, “I am, but any friend of this lady will be a friend of mine one day I hope” and you could almost feel them recoiling from the smell of cheese but I think they recognised my desperation was sincere and so relented.

Needless to say as we sat at the table, with me the eccentric curio, common interests came to light: journalism was her passion as it would be mine, and confronting injustice her prime motivation: she was noble in her outlook and inspired me to be the same.

Don’t ask me how I managed it, gauche as I was, but I think she got the sincerity and at the end of the evening said, “Are you going to ask me out” and I said “Yes” and thought to myself, “Just for a lifetime!”

She taught me that being an also ran is not to live a life: that passions are to be discovered and followed fearlessly, that each day you do not treasure is a tragedy and sharing what you love is the doorway to Camelot where I dreamed we might build a home.

I married her ten years ago, her name is Adrianne, her two friends were her bridesmaids: I discovered in her company those with purpose never walk alone.

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A Question Of Priorities


Her dad is eight seven and no longer in the best of health : there is no choice, he must go to a home. His daughter is worried for him but preoccupied with work and battling through the grind of middle age. She has her own family now and always puts them first just as her dad encouraged her to do: he’s never one for demanding your attention but somehow she must find the time to order his affairs.

Her father now lives a guest in his own life, smiling at a world he cannot influence and struggles to understand. He used to dance he tells the nurse as she settles him in bed. She smiles kindly in a busy way:pleasant but unmoved: she’s heard it all before, ( These old boys do go on.) She turns away and moves towards the door. He cannot work the remote, so she moves to explain it to him and then hurries on her way.

The daughter walks into the house he called his home. Not where she grew up but still with objects she knows well: that crazy plastic parrot sitting on a branch; the cupboard filled with china from God knows when, the photographs of course, she always looks at those. Here they are , she with her mum and dad, sitting on the beach: she eating her ice cream. He always wore a hat regardless of the place.

She smiles at last and looks around the room. Just by the door is where his old desk sits. What is in there”? She opens a drawer and peers at what’s inside and sees a pile of letters, yellowed with passing time, and held together with some old ribbon, red and frayed. Not really knowing why she picks them up and takes a letter from the pile. It’s dated 1942 while he was on the front, fighting for his country somewhere far away: he’s never talked about it . She removes the letter from the envelope and reads,

“Dear Elspeth,
It’s bloody hot out here. We on the move tomorrow. Some big push. That’s all I know. God knows what will happen, but if I don’t make it through always know how much I loved you. It made me proud to have you in my life, and your photograph is always with me. Be happy and, if I don’t get back, just get on with it as you always do. Somewhere up there will be a star. It’s me twinkling and smiling down on you.

All my special love, Harold xxx”.

His daughter felt her eyelids fill with tears: her Dad always made time for others but not himself. Without knowing why she climbed into her car and drove to see him, Entering the room she sees him lying there, propped up in bed and patient with his lot. Sitting down she moves to hold his hand. “I love you dad. I’ve loved you all my life”. “I know you silly fool. ” he says and smiles.

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Hindsight


She raised her eyes to view her reflection in the mirror, studying the face before her: still young and clean of line, but with too much knowledge in her eyes: that was her belief. In music or in stories she sometimes felt the tremors of adventure, but no longer in her own her life.

When younger her image of a man was of some hero, face like rock and challenging the elements; fearless brave and short of speech: kind but in a discrete way, centered, certain and in control. She glanced over at her husband, still lying in their bed: not a captain on the ship of life or member  of the crew: more a passenger: over time mhe had become a polite and blameless disappointment. She raised her eyes to the mirror again and they spoke of endurance, smiling despite the facts: a soul marooned in a parody of contentment.

Her heart was pounding as her memory filled with images and surprise. That day when she became engaged, showing off her ring and celebrating with her colleagues. Bill, locked in his wheelchair and anchored at his desk: always kindly but impersonal;  the first person she’d asked for help and the least demanding. That look in his eyes when he saw her ring: filling with sadness, pride and a sense of loss before he drew the curtains over his feelings; so brief it left some room for doubt but still it troubled her in her sleep; her one engagement with the elements: powerful and undefined.

And in the news today she heard he was  miraculously walking after some operation and and a brand new millionaire. He’d made some website and sold it on for millions and now was off to see the world. “Life” he said,” is an adventure and I will live it till I die.”

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A Romantic Strategy


Ruth was getting ready for her date with Herman, but her heart was not singing: she recognised she had rung him to arouse the jealousy of the man she actually wanted as her lover, and not from any real desire to see Herman, or get to know him or for any reason at all, apart from stupidity.

Like many of us, she was too proud to admit her mistakes when they affected someone else so, sure enough, she smiled warmly when she answered the door saying, “Herman, come in, come in, how lovely to see you” and offered him her cheek to kiss.

He had been cheered, and emboldened by her call, and felt a romance with her was an actual possibility. In truth, he had tossed and turned restlessly at the prospect of the date and the teasing thought he might be loved at last. Iit made him smile, because if he were honest with himself, always an unsettling experience, he knew his ex-wife had married him more on the grounds of common sense than emotion. He let that thought go and focused again on Ruth and her pleasing and sophisticated manner: she seemed, as they say, ‘well out of his league,’ but then it was she who had rung him, and opened up the prospect of magic entering his heart.

Once at the restaurant they sipped their drinks and studied the menu, then Herman’s hand moved over hers as it rested on the table. That symbol of gentle connection did not settle her. She looked up at his pale face and saw the cautious and possibly clumsy agenda in his eyes. “Let’s not get carried away, Herman” she said. “Sorry,” he replied, and the hand was withdrawn.

“She could act as she wanted, but after all, it was she who had rung him, and that must mean something,” he thought. He was sure the evening and atmosphere would provide him with another chance to establish their new connection: he was famous for his patient pursuit of goals. For her part, Ruth was looking increasingly at the evening as a test of endurance. Clearly, the man, as she now thought of him, had forgotten theirs was just a friendship and was embarking on a flight of fancy which could only cause embarrassment: it was important to nip that error in the bud, so she did what most people do: nothing.

The food was delicious, the music played by the orchestra was competent and unchallenging and the atmosphere at the table tentative and unsettling: no one had the courage to say the evening was clearly based on a misunderstanding. They ploughed on through the expensively provided courses towards coffee and release or, in his imagination, a promise of some sweet union which might draw him away from his solitary life.

In the corner of the restaurant, near the band, was a small area set aside for dancing. Already, in this expensive place, Ruth observed some middle-aged guy with balding head dancing with a girl clearly young enough to be his daughter and wondered what their relationship was. Looking at him, and then back again at Herman, she felt the whole evening to be tragic, possibly even sordid. How stupid she could be?

It seemed a place to her, where men clearly used their money to gain the favour of ladies who would otherwise pay them no attention. The food, produced with diligent thoroughness and some attention to flavour did nothing for her. The love songs played by the band floated over her head unnoticed, and all she could long for was the chance to return to her own dwelling, unmolested or desired: anything she wanted in her life was not in this room or in his company.

“More wine,” he said, and his eyes shone with brilliant anticipation. For his part, he could not fail to notice her uncertainly and a discrete edginess: he could not say why, but the image excited him. He mistook her nerves for frailty and anticipation, and did not realise she was suffering from a mixture of boredom and claustrophobia. “Where would you like to go after the meal?” he said, “Home,” she replied, and seeing his eyes light up added, “On my own.”

Finally, some sense of her mood seemed to enter his consciousness, and he settled back in his chair. The expensive Merlot, now free of that undertone of celebration, tasted inconsequential in his mouth: he would not be ordering another bottle. “Have I misunderstood something?” he asked her. “Yes, I think you have. I rang you because I was angry with somebody else, and not because I especially wanted to see you. I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to give you the wrong impression either.”

No one can fault her candour, but candour of this sort is seldom admired. On this occasion, Herman sat back in his chair and looked at a woman, who now clearly wished to exit his life with a gathering urgency. He smiled and said, with a hint of iciness, “Glad to be of service. Shall I get the bill?” Ruth just nodded. The evening suddenly seemed to have become unpleasant, and she couldn’t wait to get away. “This is awkward,” she said. “I think I’ll leave you with it and get a taxi home. Thank you for a lovely meal.”

The surprise announcement and offhand use of cliché did little to settle Herman’s battered confidence, and he said nothing as she collected her bag and left the restaurant. The waiter, when he arrived, managed not to raise an eyebrow, smirk, or say anything clever, which was impressive given the fact that the first thing he did when he got to the kitchen was say, “That old codger at table 15 has been dumped. The lady just got up and left him to settle the bill. It was brilliant.” It was moments like these which added the magic to his day!

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