A Sip Too Far

I am married, have been for many years, and you can tick the boxes on all manner of shared activities from shopping to watching foreign box sets on television and the occasional holiday at an unfashionable coastal resort. My wife cooks delicious food and we both have figures which bare testament to her abilities: in short to the average gaze we are the essence of a stable and harmonious couple but there is an area where “No comment “ may be the politest thing to say and that is within the bedroom or any other area where an active imagination might encourage you to express yourself.

As time passed it seemed as if I was harbouring an untamed wolf somewhere on the borders between raw instinct and my wish to be civilised. I suffered the lack of closeness as best I could without revealing my inner torment to my wife, friend or any passing stranger: that is what the polite man does I understand. All well and good until …

I work for the customs and excise department as a VAT inspector and try and carry out my work in a professional and impersonal manner as far as possible: always have.

Pine Furnishings made bespoke items which, it boasted, could add lustre to any room and the boss, Helen Patterson was on hand when I came to inspect her books. It being a small company I worked in the same office as her and as I worked my way through the ledgers I caught her smiling at me regularly and crossing her legs in, can I say, a less guarded manner than is customary.

I discovered an irregularity in one month followed by another, and the possible inclusion of invoices which were not associated with the company. I made a note of these so I could discuss them with her at the end of my visit. After a while she leaned over to offer me a cup of tea and, you’ve guessed it, her blouse was not as buttoned up as you would expect in a work environment.

I did my best not to look but I could not resist taking one peek and then another and I saw her smirking softly to herself, but still I couldn’t detach myself from that longing which was threatening to overwhelm me.

When she returned from the kitchen area with the tea she said “Why don’t you come over here?” pointing at the sofa and, of course, I know I shouldn’t have but I did. Once seated beside her she placed her hand on my chest and then the back of my neck saying “You’re such a nice man” and before I could stop myself I was leaning in and kissing her, almost pushing her into the sofa.

Immediately she sprang up and said, “What you have just done has been recorded on video and if anything untoward is entered in your report that film will be emailed to your head of department. Can you sign the certificate to show all is good and then you can go.” Her change in manner was remarkable!

When I got home, a little earlier than expected my wife greeted me with her habitual warm indifference, and I tried to pretend that I was returning from another uneventful day, but we know differently don’t we!?

If I did nothing all might be fine for a year, I hoped, but in the following year some new auditor, who might well be immune to her charms, might spot the errors I had ignored and pass the query up to my superiors: in the meantime I lacked the courage to own up to my conduct. I discovered that secrets can become the prison you pretend to others does not exist; and becoming exiled from your home the price of your escape!

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Courting In Seven Pints

My club was actually I pub I visited three times a week in the afternoons when only the lost are drinking. I bought my pint and glanced at my non-existent watch as though time was in short supply before retreating to a corner table and reading the news on my mobile phone as if it might affect my life. Three visits a week only because I’ve got £20 to spend a day and that doesn’t go far, even for a man who just wants to lose himself.

Day after day in this northern town which is my new home and where I know nobody, I walked the streets as if I had a purpose and then retreated to my single room, free of pictures or romance, to reflect on ruin and friendship’s ebbing glance: poverty enjoys a limited social life..

Week after week I sat there, often alone but sometimes in the company of other souls, spaced out across the bar through embarrassment and drinking what they could afford. The barmaid, Nuala, don’t ask me where that name came from, always smiled at people as if they’d made her day and in between serving the occasional customer walked round the bar polishing the pumps and then tables: it was the same each time I saw her.

“That’s a lot of cleaning for one girl with a whole pub  to attend to as well” I said, and she replied “You’ve got that right!” Her face was pretty, engaging you might say, though she was over-large below the neck in the opinion of those fashion magazines my wife read when I still knew her, before she divorced me, took most of my money, the children and moved to the house of my ex-boss shortly after I was sacked.

I am not a bitter man, that takes too much energy but I am lost if you can understand that: alcohol is my holiday and strangers provide my only solace: “The Falcon” was club where I went to gain a sense of company. Nuala had that friendliness which says “This is just brochure” in case you tried to take her literally, but I took her literally anyway.

One day, driven by madness, I spent part of my twenty pounds on a cloth and general polisher and half way through my drink, rose from my table and began cleaning the surfaces near me. “What are you doing she said?” and she sounded more puzzled than angry which I liked: “I stopped asking that years ago” I said while moving to clean the next table. “You’re mad” she said and I replied “I’ve just discovered that” but somehow, despite the clumsiness and the sense this was the last card I had to play she smiled and added “Crazy mad” and I smiled because she had it in one.

Each week I returned, ordered my drink and then cleaned some tables, watched in bewilderment by her and that scattering of undirected souls who inhabited the bar in mid-afternoon.

One day I said, “I cannot buy you a meal or do anything grand but we could get some fish and chips when you get off” and she said “We could” and so we did.

Through her I also got a job at the same bar, working in the evening when they are busier and my income is now £35 a day. Between us we are rich if you don’t want foreign holidays and sometimes, on an evening off we can afford a meal: contentment has visited me and Nuala is the angel who holds the door open to that blessing. I love her and she accepts me willingly.

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Bunter Macingtosh Discusses His Ancestry

Those who know me recognise “Curiosity” is my middle name: I might have startled the odd cat in my search for knowledge but never killed one, I hope, while discovering the magic of dipping apple slices into chocolate sauce, an experience which adds luxury to my television viewing. This drive to learn “What is round the next corner” recently found me reading old letters sent between a deceased aunt, and my late grandmother.

It seems, in Victorian times, some distant ancestor, Bathsheba Splattersby by name, who worked behind the scenes at Windsor Castle, spent some time sharing the wonders of horizontal gymnastics with a resident Prince while hiding in a laundry room, resulting in the birth of my great ,great–grandmother: that’s the story anyway, according to my family and, let’s faces it, it adds glamour to an otherwise lustre-free life spent exploring various careers from taxi-driver through to my current occupation as an undertaker’s assistant. “Keep it glum, and lay off the chewing gum,” as my boss says, “And the job is yours for life.”

All well and good, sorted and ducks politely in a row until, oh joy of joys, his eminence, a royal prince is paying us a visit during a tour of our area.

I line up with other staff members, all dressed in somberest black, but now wearing grins of splendid welcome as befits the occasion: no gum obviously!  At last the prince reaches me and says, “Enjoy your job do you?” and with an eye on the boss I say “Oh yes Prince@@@” or may I call you cousin @@@. Eyebrows are wiggled so to save the time it would take them to ask me additional questions I add, “My great grandmother,  Beth Spattersby and Prince xxxxxx enjoyed a spot of bedroom pilates up at Windsor and I’m one of the results.”

Just to show that I was not awkward when dealing with relatives, I told him I was holding a “Cousins Party” back at 24 Lynchmore Crescent on Saturday and he was more than welcome to join us.

“That’s enough now” said my boss, not enjoying the revelation as much as I expected so I just tapped his Royalness on the lapel and said “Always nice to keep in touch with relatives. How’s the Queen by the way?”

Oddly, the Prince moved on without offering a reply leaving my boss to glance backwards at me in a manner which suggests promotions may not be forthcoming in the near future.

Is it time to seek out new career I ask myself!

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The Anniversary Dinner

Now in their early forties Freddie and Carol Tusker sat across from each other surveying the menu at a local restaurant, more “select,” if that is the term, than the ones they usually visited, but merited by the day.

Carol and Freddie met when she was a “Fresher” at university and he was starting on his PhD, something to do with Victorian romantic poets or some other subject which predicted deep lined pockets in his later years, or so she liked to hope. Already he had won an award for a short story published in a magazine and was something of a star in campus circles.

Carol, from a humbler background than his, and deeply aware of the burden her student fees posed to herself and her parents was still in awe of his social ease and glittering achievements. Her attributes seemed more workaday than his, and grounded in the everyday yet they were drawn together by, the shallow said, his need to be admired and her wish to be among the brighter set.

That was years ago and Carol, now unromantic as a matter of policy, was a partner with an international firm of accountants, and respected in professional circles for her sound judgement and appetite for work which made the continuance of Freddie by her side, who clung to dreams of being a writer as if it were a life raft, all the more surprising.

His habit of the easing the encroaching burdens of life with a drink or two at lunchtime was a source of tension in their marriage, along with his failure to do anything practical with his life apart from musing about those psychological tectonic plates which threaten social order in the modern world.

“Your such a clever, able man” she said to him quite recently but it was no longer said with warmth, but with the exasperation she felt when she came home to find him slightly leery and struggling with his masterpiece. He had his plus points, kind of course, and faithful as far as she knew, but not in the real world, or her world anyway.

She was earnest, and anxious and pedestrian of thought, though  loyal as a matter of policy. or that was his opinion. They knew each other backwards and in every way you can, although the physical expression of their union was largely a matter of memory.

She drank very little but he made up for that and she watched with disguised distaste as he filled his glass again. Finally, drunk-brave he asked openly “Do you think we still love each other” and she said “Only habitually” which, to be fair, was quite literary and a phrase he would like to have thought of himself, but then all couples can surprise each other, even after many years. “Shall we skip dessert?” she said, “There seems to be no point in extending the celebration,” and he agreed.

Later, as he watched his wife’s sleeping face on the adjacent pillow he recognised the growing disappointment he represented in her life. “If you love someone it doesn’t mean you know them” she once said and he had lacked the will to argue. In the pocket of his trousers was a note which had been attached to a memo at the office where he worked part-time. “You are kind” was all it said apart from the addition of a name, “Sandra”

“Was he kind” he wondered; it was nice to be thought of as such,  but then his thoughts did not always make him so!”


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A Matter Of Perspective

You know the situation. You’re standing there drinking a cocktail you couldn’t afford in a month of Sundays, because you’ve been shoe-horned into some corporate hospitality “Shindig” by a friend who happens to know your are “Always in need”, of cocktails at least, if not a square meal, when some dude in a suit so expensive you could have bought a small apartment for the price of it, comes up and sucks you into a conversation.

“What’s your  reason for being” he asks, which is odd given this is a party full of  Bankers, although your friend says another word but beginning with “W” if you catch my drift.

Should you tell him, “I play the harmonica in a one man street band outside  London’s premier tube station,” or would that be too odd you wonder. Clearly it would be, so you decide to lie, the fall-back strategy of the socially uneasy, and say “Administrator” and smile, hoping he won’t ask you another question.

That hope is crushed, because, unknown to you, he has designs on the girl who invited you, and so seeks to ridicule you while he can. “Almost interesting” he says, with just the right amount of dismissal implying “You just don’t cut the mustard.” Then, as your “friend” turns to notice him, he asks you, “And who is your favourite artist” and you are about to say “Van Gogh” which sounds quite near “Van Golf” when you recall some over-dressed presenter on the television referring to him as “Van Go” as though he knew something  which you didn’t. Our cocky Banker is almost sneering at your lack of wealth and knowledge now, and Sandra, the friend of whom I speak, is beginning to be interested in your reaction to this being, who is the very picture of superiority.

“I don’t have one” you finally reply, because that just seems safer, and Mr Smug does nothing but raise an eyebrow before turning to your companion, the lovely Sandra, and saying “You do have interesting friends,” in a tone which suggests the opposite, before sliding from your company leaving her looking blank, and then she says, “They really are all tossers aren’t they. That’s why I had to bring you. At least you don’t talk garbage.”

To say you feel happy is really not to nail it, but you are grinning in a mad way when she says, “Stuff them all.  Lets get out of here” and you say, “Just a minute” and you walk up to the Smug One, tap him on the shoulder and say, as he is turning, “Van Golf, or Van Go for the pretentious, which I presume you are” before spilling your red drink by deliberate accident down the front of his shirt and saying, “I only apologise when I mean it” before walking off with Sandra.

This was her leaving party, and that was back in 2007. By 2009, your  life has moved on a bit, and you are now playing in a band with a growing reputation, and still doing “requests” outside that tube station on occasion for old times sake.  Sandra, who now works in PR, plays the banjo with you on some evenings, and you enjoy what politer society calls, “a deepening relationship.”

So there you are one evening, playing on your harmonica, and “lost in the music,” when a faintly familiar face turns up, but much more scruffily dressed and with longer hair and without delay he says, “I wanted to apologise for being a prat when we last met”  “Not a problem,” you say, but both Sandra and you are amazed at the change in his looks and manner. Turns out he got made redundant in 2008 after the financial crash, fell into a depression and then re-invented himself as a graphic artist: crazy I know. Just goes to show we are more than our circumstances and sometimes less than our appearence, although we are so often defined by them. He’s learning the guitar now.

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Entertaining A Guest Speaker

Frank Creasley was waiting at platform ten, Euston station, for his ‘charge,’ as it were, to arrive from Nottingham. Tomorrow, Mike Bellow was giving a key note speech at the company’s annual conference on “Cross-cultural implications – Trading with Eastern Europe and Beyond.”  The “beyond” bit had been added to the title to give a bit of spin, but really, they were just talking about selling product to Hungary. Frank was not looking forward to the speech so it’s fair to say he was dreading the evening: he would far rather be at home relaxing with his wife, living the contented life, but work was work, and the mortgage must be paid; never mind his daughter’s university fees but he knew when his boss asked for a” favour,” it was really a command.

Both he and ‘Honoured Guest’ were in their mid-fifties and it was important not to embarrass the firm: he was determined to rise to the challenge. At last a surprisingly fit gentleman, with a dash of grey above each ear, strode towards him, attracted by the sign he was holding, and introduced himself. “Where’s the party eh” he said indicating that a night of celebration was required. “There is a nice Greek restaurant near here said Frank uneasily, which has some quite interesting fish-based dishes”. “Stuff that,” said our learned consultant, “Let’s go where the music plays. Get me to Funsville!” He stretched out the last word to show he was a guy who still liked to walk on the wild side.

Soon our two party-goers, one somewhat happier than the other, entered the vaults of the “Pavilion” nightclub and seated themselves at a table before ordering some bland meal at prices set without reference to quality. “Tacky” was the word which came to Frank’s mind, but Mike Bellow seemed strangely “At home” in these surroundings, and was soon leering at the young waitress who came to take their order.

Luck was on Frank’s side, it seemed, and Bellow, true to his name, appeared happy to talk all night while Frank listened, which should not be too challenging. “Oh yes,” said Bellow, “I had the night of nights yesterday. I was at some club, trying to look at a girl’s tits, you know what it’s like, and she came up to me and said, “You a pervert or something”, and I said, “You bet your life I am. How’s about some champagne?”

I think the girl was already a bit pissed: ‘In your face,’ is what I call it.  Anyway, she matched me glass for glass. The more pervy I became, the more she laughed. It was brilliant: I love drunk tarts”

Frank had been to Nottingham on more than one occasion but knew little of the place. “Well, I can tell you this,” continued Bellow, “She was a goer. That girl could ‘ave taught Cleopatra a few tricks,” he said, taking a decent swallow and winking over his glass. “Oh yes sir, she ‘drained the bottle’ and then some if you follow me.”

“Sounds like fun”, said Frank, wishing the clock would get a move on, and allow him to part with his sordid companion. “She had a trick or two, “Carline” her name was, beautiful girl, curvy and with soft brown hair you could stroke all night” said Bellow and a chill went through Frank as he heard the name. Before he could say anything, Bellow handed over his phone to show a photograph of said Carline walking out of the bathroom: it was an unusual photograph of his daughter and showed a new side to her character.

“You sick bastard” said Frank, before leaning over and smacking his guest in the eye. The sacking the following morning was not unexpected, but the call from his daughter to her mother three weeks later was. Sitting in a bar near his home Frank reflected that “Life isn’t always what you make it. Sometimes other people make it for you”

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On The Passing Of A Friend

Over the Years I have connected with quite a number of people among whom I have made good friends  either through my blog or my writing activities. A stand-out example of this was Stacey Haggard Brewer who edited Living Life Backwards and who was working with me recently on a new collection of short stories.

She was the gentlest, most supportive and encouraging person you could imagine and to have her on your side was to be rich indeed. You can imagine my sadness, then, when I heard through a mutual friend that she and her husband had been killed in a road accident while out on their motor bike, albeit doing something they loved.

The outpouring of grief and admiration this cruel event has sparked amongst those who knew her and her husband says so much about their characters and I for one will miss her gentle encouraging presence in my life. One of her favourite posts of mine, and the one which inspired “Living Life Backwards” was “Sunshine That Colours The Mist,” and I am re-posting it here as a tribute to her memory. May you and your husband sleep peacefully Stacey.


Sunshine That Colours The Mist

Sunshine That Colours The Mist Margaret Potts looked down at the passport application form and frowned: her first name which I shall repeat for the incredulous was ‘Sunshine That Colours The Mist’. A name full of resonance and possible meanings, but which takes quite a long time to get off the tongue, even when sober.

Those reckless free-spirited folk at the passport form design department, hidden deep within government offices, where baldness is encouraged and tans are frowned upon, had thought of many things but never how to cram the first name of someone whose father was a breeze sipping hippie into a box designed for individuals touched by some aspects of the normal.

“OK guys” they had said. “Chuck it at us. Don’t spare your punches.” Names of every faith, culture, colony and sect were inserted in a trial run which often involved working through the night and took some weeks to complete: jackets were removed. Finally, its authors were confident their design was fit to tackle the wildest variations thrown up by an exotic and multi-cultural world and to date this had proved to be the case.

What these ‘Form Freaks’ had not taken account of was some odd hippy-like figure, now in his sixties, who earned an uncertain living selling rare vegetables on a hillside in a county unspoiled by prosperity or a sense of common purpose. ‘Misty’ or ‘Sunny’ or even ‘Colours’ as she was sometime called, realised that getting her full name in the required box would require very small writing, and a note pinned to the form advising those who read it to employ the services of a magnifying glass! What to do?

I can hear voices muttering with various levels of bewilderment, “Why didn’t she just change her name?” Good question, I should have thought of it myself. The short answer is that she loved her father, and could never do anything which might distress him. He loved her name, which encapsulated his attitude to life. No, I don’t know what his attitude to life was either! His appetite for subtlety had left him isolated and living dangerously beyond the frontiers of common sense.

You are talking about a guy who obtained his electricity from a number of small windmill generators scattered over his fields, with each generator being painted a different colour. Who dyed the strands of pasta in his  spaghetti bolognese in different colours, because it “renews our perception of the dish”. Who was clearly obsessed with ‘colour.’ (Try saying the word several times in various accents. OK, nothing happened here either, but it was worth a try.) Who thought that in some unspecified decade of his life, a rainbow would settle magically on his land and reveal the secrets of life in several languages. Other than that he was a dab hand at chess and a bit of an amateur cross dresser.

I could talk more about ‘Misty’, ‘Sunny’ or whatever, but suffice it to say she had recently dived into the world of online dating. Among other whimsical requirements this only suggests you add your real name, false name or a short recipe for biscuits. In other words, the world is your oyster. ‘Fry me in Lemon Grass’, a lover of all things Thai, who lived a couple of continents away had spoken to her soul, chatted to her heart and whispered in her ear. She had to meet him. She must meet him. He was the beacon on her magic hilltop, but he was stuck in his home town by the needs of a sick grandmother and various other flights of fancy.

Who to confront? Her father, currently involved in a heated but mystically charged correspondence with some algae in the pond at the bottom of his garden, or the Passport Office. She thought about it for some time and decided to write to the Passport Office. “They love a challenge” she thought. “Dear Sirs or Madams, I have a problem you might be able to help me with”. With them, she thought, I can at least appeal to reason. She had had very little to do with government departments.

Posted in creative writing, living life backwards, Peter Wells, Relationships, Stacey Haggard Brewer, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 22 Comments