In Search Of Employment

Somewhat later than many of my contemporaries, one of whom now sits within sniffing distance of power in the outer rooms of 10 Downing Street, while another twirls a scalpel with nonchalant skill before practising life-saving surgery on the patient before him; not all are as successful admittedly, I have spent a little more time than normal searching for that expression of ability which I dream will catapult me and mine into a life of scones, leisure and sun-kissed holidays.

For many years now, I have toiled anonymously in the warehouse of a major vegetarian food retailer sharing my insights with pallet-loads of haricot beans, or caramelised artichokes, and maintaining my morale by sending off voice tapes to the larger mainline railway stations advising them that I was available for work as a voice artiste in the platform announcement industry, an ambition sparked by childhood memories of the rapt attention paid to their every word by other passengers as I stood at the station beside my father en route to school.

Night after night, until very recently, you would find me in a bedsitter of note (bathroom not included) hunched over a microphone and saying, “The train on platform eight for Rickmansworth, calling at a number of stations along the way, including yours most probably, which is now standing, or should we just say loitering, taking in the view or resting between engagements, will be leaving in two minutes, or at eight thirty two for those of you who struggle with maths.”

Such “Announcement tapes” as they are called in the business are key, I was told by some gent who claimed to understand these things, to obtaining a position at one of London’s noted stations, or even in a provincial capital for those not subsequently seeking to express their talents as an announcer in some theatre in the West End.

That reminds me that, in a moment of reckless euphoria when young, I had sent an announcement tape directly to a theatre in London which said something along the lines of “You there, clinging to your gin and topic and boring the man opposite you with stories of your courting triumphs, and all other persons engaged in earnest but meaningless conversations. The curtain will rise in five minutes and the actors look forward to giving of their best in a crisp and phone-free environment.”

Both these, and all other tapes, had elicited no response whatsoever in any shape or form, at any time, and now, after a delay of some decades, I am forced to look at myself in the shaving mirror and ask if I am barking at the wrong microphone. Have I mislaid my vocation under a pile of anxieties, diversions and life-draining marriages? In short, it is time to take stock of my life, get serious, and approach the coming weeks with a new realism.

To this end I have started to write a play called “A New Suit for Satan” which explores the themes of makeup and tailoring in the dissolute world of the provincial drawing room. Will this new endeavour finally propel me into the limelight I consider to be my destiny? Only time will tell: in the meantime, as they say in the surgical industry, “May the forceps be with you.”

Posted in character, creative writing, employment, Fiction, humour, Peter Wells, skils, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

A Favour Too Far!

Malcolm Vexley, or, as he liked to remind those careless of rank, Sir Malcolm Vexley, was a business tycoon of standing who enjoyed what he modestly described as “A position of note in the city.”

I had no immediate knowledge of the man, I was an office junior in the department which existed for no other purpose than to organise his diary, and mediate between those competing for his time. “The modest exercise of power is more telling than a crude demonstration of strength” he used to say and I can vouch for that. He was one of those people who could make an entire district shake merely by moving his little finger so when his eyes fell on me in passing and he said I needed to go to his tailor and obtain a replacement tie, something to do with accidents and coffee, I just nodded and walked off as if I knew where his tailor was.

Once he was out of sight, I asked my department senior for the address and set out to obtain the required item; presenting it to him about forty five minutes after his request. That marked the beginning of a relationship where I became his errand runner of choice, and thus to the occasion when I was told to “Obtain some truffle chocolates “and take them to his wife: apparently it was her birthday, or another day of note.

His wife was about twenty-five years younger than him and had enjoyed a successful career in modelling, some of it involving clothing, until Sir Malcolm rescued her from a life of pitiless self-promotion and settled her in his town house sited in the better half of Mayfair.

An hour later I was at her door, chocolates in hand and a card carefully written by myself, wishing her the very best of days. She answered the door nearly dressed in some silk robe styled with a Chinese print, and a glass of something inspiring in her hand. “Come in, come in” she said, and her look invited no disagreement. I was young and inexperienced so a woman of her background, age and connections was difficult to argue with. Another hour later there I was, but now slightly tiddly, lost in her admiring gaze and with a departing sense of life’s imperatives.

“I am so bored Alfie. Boooored I tell you. Entertain me please” she said and I endeavoured to do so, sure that diverting his wife for an hour would only gain me credit with my employer.

Two glasses later and suddenly she moved over and settled on my lap saying, “Do you know what love is Alfie” and, if I did not, she seemed determined to demonstrate the subtleties of emotion by moving her lips to mine in a moving display of physical generosity. Panic filled me, only partly dimmed by the fact that her gown now opened to reveal a body which had been the subject of a million daydreams, albeit some years ago, and after a short period of kissing she led me without pity up the stairs and into the marital bed.

“Please me” she whimpered in a tone of menacing surrender, and I considered it reckless to refuse. I moved to kiss her once again: struggling with the awkwardness of foreplay with a lady now clearly uncoupled from sanity and unaware of a disturbance until a familiar voice said, “What is the meaning of this?” As I turned round I saw Sir Malcolm looking notably unsettled and in danger, I thought, of moving more than his little finger. “She loved the chocolates” I said, hoping to curry late favour with this man of note, but something in his manner suggested he had other things in mind.

Posted in Affair, character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Peter Wells, Relationships, Romance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

An Outing With The Wraxley Running Club

A couple of months ago I’m wheezing down the towpath in search of a light breakfast at my local café when I’m passed by some impressive jogger, and then another and then another but jogging in the opposite direction.

All was revealed when I got to the point where the towpath meets the road and at that junction was a stall with the words “Turning Point” printed on it. Two cheerful fellows were manning this station and offering bottled water to any passing runner: I did not qualify!

I was not running, obviously, but I asked them what it was all about and was told the following. “They run up and down the river four times, from the Wraxley Arms to here, and at the end of it they all get a free cooked breakfast, courtesy of the pub: something to do with fund raising.” I nodded at them before carrying on with my walk. As I moved nearer the café a plan formed and I smiled at the pleasures ahead.

Once home I checked up the Wraxley running club and saw the event was to be repeated in six weeks’ time. Moving forward to that date and on a street behind the pub, having parked my car to avoid unnecessary exertions, yours truly could be seen loitering with intent, but now sporting the impressive Wraxley T-shirt with the number 248 proudly displayed on its back. I had joined the club, free of course, and put myself down for the run, but otherwise had not bothered them with my interest or presence.

Once the pub was near full, I did a bit of emergency jogging on the road and then walked into the pub, sporting the required shirt and red face. No newsworthy gluttony welcome here so I helped myself to a modest plate of three sausages, two fried eggs, beans, mushrooms and a couple of slices of toast. As an afterthought I popped a small jar of marmalade on the plate because to breakfast aficionados, a mouthful of T&M, (toast and marmalade) is almost “de rigueur” if you seek to reach food Camelot.

Once seated among the sporting elite I quickly slide a piece of toast into the middle of the plate followed by the required number of beans. Those “In the know” recognise that ratios are everything in the breakfast community and the correct proportion of beans to toast is vital if the full experience is to be enjoyed: too few beans and the toast can dull the flavour of the beans, and too many beans tends to make the toast soft thus robbing you of that delightful crunch which is key to experiencing breakfast heaven. Beans added, I slid a friend egg on top and punctured the yolk allowing the subtle flavours of the egg to seep down amongst the beans: “Mmmmmmmm, Oh yes, heaven indeed.”

As I raised my loaded fork a voice said. “I don’t recognise your face?” “Nor do I” I said hurriedly and then quickly filled my waiting mouth with a well-prepared supply of paradise. Food training kicked in and soon chomping and fork-filling consumed every fibre of my being until another voice asked, “So when did you join then?” and I could see that my original inquisitor and a couple of other noble runners were looking at me with growing suspicion.

I pointed my food filled fork, (or “FFF” in gluttony circles), at my chomping mouth and raised my eyebrows apologetically in the classic semaphorical signal for “Can’t speak now” before cramming more breakfast heaven inside my jaws.

Some rude chap reached forward and pulled my plate away from me and another rose from the far end of the table, possibly to discuss my presence in a non-verbal language: his eyebrows were gathering with alarming intensity.

“Toilet” I said, attempting not to splutter food particles among my new friends, and scuttled off towards that facility which luckily was sited near the exit, A small wave of regret passed through me as I realised that, apart from the two sausages I had picked up on my way out of the building, I was now in a food-free zone, but still a pretty good morning’s adventure don’t you think? Already I am looking for other sporting clubs which might require my presence. Tips please to an address of your choice or in the comments section below J

Posted in character, cooking, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Peter Wells, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

A Difference Of Outlook

One afternoon my Grandad said to me, “Son, to men, women always remain a mysterious entity while to women, men become a flawed utility.” He made the comment with a chuckle and it made me smile because I remember Grandma telling grandad time and again that “You never load the dishwasher correctly,” or saying to any one present “He never puts things back in the right place,” which was possibly a little harsh. There were other observations of a similar nature but the irony was, if anyone else but her was forward enough to criticise him, she would launch herself at them with one or two of those pithy observations for which she was famous.

Of course, from a woman’s point of view I can see that my grandfather could be exasperating. Part of him was over- detached and, I suspect, if he was watching his house burn down he might well turn to me and say, “Son, do you notice how every flame that rises is unique. Looked at selflessly, there is a miracle in everything you see” which might be true, but the need to act is sometimes more urgent than the ability to observe: a factor he could overlook.

He was a teacher of English at the local institute and his reluctance to prioritise was a source of wonder or irritation to many, but probably not central to his occupation. I once raised the subject of men who were violent or without conscience and he nodded. “There is an example for anything you want to imagine in life, sad as that is, but I am what is called a domesticated male and grinning weakly is my last retort.” He was the least self-important man I knew and somehow the most inspiring.

On the subject of my grandma most of my grandad’s remarks were made by means of eyebrow movements but even in their eighties I remember him saying of her, “When your grandma walks she is the picture of grace: do you know that” and I did because he said the same thing about her regularly. She was an ice skater of some note in her youth and that innate sense of balance and poise remained present in her movements.

He was capable of wearing out her patience with an unbroken supply of good humour until she would just shake her head and retire behind her knitting. I remember him saying on another occasion, “When God created men and women a passing angel said, “If they don’t kill each other they’ll have to learn to live together” and I agree with that.

At the end of his life, he contracted pneumonia, born with his customary good grace and she nursed him tirelessly while criticising him for going out in the rain in the first place. At the heart of their relationship, it seemed to me, was her belief that, hopeless as he was, he reminded her of the possibility of “Good” and she protected that in him every day.

As fate would have it, the strain of caring for him in those last days caused her to have a heart attack and she actually died two days before him. I remember being astonished by the news and thinking there must be some mistake, but there wasn’t.

They were buried on the same day, and lie in death, as they did for fifty-three years in life, together and in the same bed. “Life is a mystery son” he said to me, “But an engrossing one” and in all my days their marriage was the finest example of a life well lived I ever saw: their union gave a purpose to his days and my grandma the freedom to be herself.

Hidden behind her irritation was the knowledge that beyond him lay wilderness, from which his love protected her, and in her cherishing of him the world became civilised. I shall miss them dearly.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Life, Love, marriage, Peter Wells, Relationships, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

A Grave Conversation

I sat in the car with my wife and travelled up to the cemetery where I’d been buried not long before. She didn’t know I was there, of course, I was now the silent passenger; the observer, the helpless carer whose love for her continued on like an afterglow on the planet where we had both lived: my presence gradually fading as the last embers of my emotion vanished from this place.

She seemed to be disoriented and walking up the wrong path. At last she arrived at a grave. “Frank Sutherland, Father to Christopher and Cecelia. 1954-2011”. . . My name was Phillip. Pausing briefly she then knelt and laid the flowers on his grave. I had known him well; a local care free drunk and party man who had left a litter of children across the locality and died in a moment of reckless euphoria at the wheel of a borrowed car. On one famous occasion he had run for mayor.

I became aware of a presence and now here he was beside me, cheery as ever, and standing in death by his grave smiling down at my wife. “We first slept together twenty-three years ago.” he said by way of explanation “Sorry, but, bloody hell, she was a goer and half wasn’t she”. I would have raised my eyebrows if I still had any, but I could still feel surprise.

After the rare episodes of love-making with my wife, where our hands moved only as much as was necessary and without undue familiarity, there would be a pause. A feeling of shyness mixed with embarrassment and then it was always the same. I would roll off and she would say “Thank you”. Not in a cold way, but in a clear and deliberate voice, as though I’d just bought her a cup of tea. That was it, followed by slumber. The routine was unchanging. She was my one foray into intimacy: perhaps I had missed something.

I was a surveyor, on the neighbourhood watch committee, golf club member and local historian. I attended church regularly and made every effort to support my family. I’ve no idea what Frank did. He always seemed to get by on a wing and a prayer, somehow evading responsibility and defying the normal laws of economic gravity ,and the downside of reckless living, till he had one escapade too many.

Work frequently required my absence from home, but we always talked on the phone, and her reliable calmness was a constant source of pride to me during my journey through life. “She could dance”, continued Frank, “as if there was no space or time, you know: urgent, wild”. There is no anger in death, only love and regret so regret it was: waves of it. “Didn’t you feel any shame” I said,         ”Destroying the bonds of another family”. “Life’s too short for regrets. At least mine was” he said, visibly, or invisibly amused, depending on your circumstances

The object of our affections was now kneeling in an act of fruitless prayer for his soul as we stood beside the grave. I, feeling more and more like a guest in her life, rather than a part of it, turned to him in sorrow and said,” At least I have my child. She goes on”

“Have you ever studied your daughter’s eyes?” he said, “They are my colour” and as he spoke his frame rocked in silent laughter. He seemed to be finding death as amusing as life. I stared down at the woman I called my wife and said “Does the truth set you free?” but when I looked for him there was no one left to answer.

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A Glance In Passing

Between strangers briefly met came a touching of unrecorded lives. In that place behind our eyes where privacies seek out moments of nourishment:  in that unmapped jungle deep within our thoughts where primal energies and doubts enjoy freedom of movement, and unchained dreams shout their longings heavenward,

All you said was “Hello” and I was lost, unable to reply: you the wife of a passing dignitary and me some junior staff member of the charity where your husband had arrived to share the glories of our documented kindness. He, it seemed, was the man of the hour, a celebrated figure and pleased to be so. You his gentle wife and “gentle” is the word I use when I think of you because you touched my heart as you walked through my life.

We were both prisoners of expectations formed by others than ourselves, fulfilling duties without regard to harboured dreams or the need for self-expression, or at least I think so. You had become the sum of your duties and social expectations as had I, or at least I think so.

Maybe I was wrong, possibly I was wrong, but in your glance I sensed a recognition not felt by me in recent adulthood. I will progress alone, filling the roles I can afford to fill. I have no power apart from the ability to please. I have become the sum of general expectations but for one glance, I did not feel alone.

I hug this thought in solitude, and your kindness is like the autumn sun. Wherever I may be, and however far I drift from tenderness, I treasure that moment of another’s understanding. The beauty of a life can remain unspoken, dreams kept secret, but in that brief instant, to a man living in quiet desperation, you gave a sense of harmony.



Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, Humanity, Love, Peter Wells, Romance, writing | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

The Bravest Man I Knew And A Beer

“Was he the last man alive,” I asked myself. He who’d walked another life than mine; climbed mountains I would never see but whose eyes lit up with understanding when I talked. You do not have to be young to be lost, and living on the edge of approval, sited somewhere near exile, was a fate we had in common. I was twenty four and he “just over eighty” as he’d said for several years.

He was difficult by all accounts, and refusing to be wrapped in his obituary: we shared a horror of the commonplace as seen from Chaos Road. His morals were doubtful, his career had been patchy, but he was exuberant and a celebrator of the smallest episode.

He was there by force of circumstances and I, because I lacked vocation, but our bond was to “Grab the moment and let the morrow damn you if it can. “

“Drink and smoke forever, and dance till your legs betray you, and never let the buggers see you beg for a reprieve.” Such was his advice to me, barely comprehensible, but his defiance of the fates was born on every breath. His eyes were full of mischief and his hands were never disciplined but he still knew the urgency of wanting “a good night out.” His mind was free to travel, his memories were infinite and in our wish to be “free of it,” we shared a common bond.

“Take me away with you. Let me see the moors once more, sit in a bar and share a smoke with friends” he pleaded, and so one night I stole him from his old peoples home, sneaking out during a shift change, and climbed into my wreck of a car, “Nearly as old as me” he said, smiling at the thought.

For one night only, we sat and smoked and drank where no one would know us, as if we’d discovered home. I was not and never have been, “Romantically gifted” but he told me, “If you find a woman who’ll love you, discover her every day. Eighteen or eighty, or somewhere in between, will not matter in the slightest. Their eyes will be the pool in which you swim and their happiness the point of every day,” and as he said it, I felt him shut down for a moment.

His Annie was seventy-two when she died, he told me, and chided him each and every day for all that she celebrated him, and in the central well of values he loved her without question, and missed her presence always. “She’s a corker ain’t she” he said holding up her photograph, taken on their fiftieth wedding anniversary outside some city pub, and she was smiling up at him and her look was saying, “What will I do with you?” but she’d made an odd man happy which is a hard thing to do.

I got sacked the next day and barred from seeing him because common sense will stand no reckless acts but I will raise a glass to him forever: the bravest man I knew.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, Life, Love, old age, Peter Wells, Relationships, Romance, values | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments