The Devil Run’s Out Of Coal

You wouldn’t have thought it was possible but here’s the cosmic news. One day people turned over a whole new forest of leaves, and the fact of the matter is there are no more bad people alive; or dead for that matter.

Over time, after the world got sick of wars and tyrannies: people looked destiny in the eye, or in the mirror, or in something anyway, and saw the bad boys or girls they could become and said, “No madam, no sir, no to that future,” and before you could say “Mashed potatoes with a touch of garlic in a parsley and butter dressing” they had turned their back on the dark side and gone out to mow some old ladies lawn before settling down to their homework or job and telling their new partner that, “Sorry, I have no wish to disappoint but I couldn’t even consider kissing you until at least three years into our marriage, that is if you accept me, and a good person never applies pressure:” You get the picture.

The world was now a blessèd place, and everyone was having one hell of a good time except for the Devil of course. OK, he’d got some of the remaining worst offenders skulking round the boiler room but, by and large, no one went there anymore, and the eternal fires for which his place of work was famous had pretty much gone out because there was nothing left worth burning.

“Anything left to drink?” said Stalin, and a lesser known figure who had been a mass murderer sometime in the Middle Ages just shook his head. Fact was, the thing which had made Hell buzz was the initiation ceremonies: the “Welcome to your worst by nightmare” parties, when souls freshly through the death frenzy could be traumatised so badly that the veteran inmates fell about laughing. In the end, if you keep trying the same tricks and tortures over an eternity on those already exposed to them the magic goes out of the ceremony. Even the Devil was at a loss and just sat by what was now a pile of embers pocking at his diminishing supply of coals.

“Where’s the fun gone Devoloskovitch” said Stalin, tugging at his eternal moustache and sucking on his alcohol-free bottle of vodka. Everyone just smiles at everyone, and loves their neighbour regardless of their orientation, sex, creed, race or background”
“Sssh” said the devil, and there was a strange quality of depression about him; a listlessness possibly, and he turned to look at his acolyte and said, “Even the Hell’s angels use peddle bikes now and make sandwiches for old people.”

They hugged each other and then pulled away. Perhaps it was old school, but sympathy had no place in Hell. Even their craggy pitted faces were starting to look less disturbing and, staring at this most infamous of tyrants, the devil felt his nature crumbling as emotions stirred inside him. “A friendship blossoming in Hell” he thought, “This is worse than I realised.”

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The Cruel Isolation

I’m an “In between engagements” kind of guy: a man who has taken many jobs to keep the wolf from taking too much interest in his lack of circumstance. Still seeking my calling, my destiny, the true expression of myself, I have passed the time by becoming friends with many occupations which some describe as “An insult to your abilities” without truly defining what those abilities might be.

A turn of phrase perhaps, one or two observations about the frailty of the ego and a collection of aphorisms which draw occasional interest from people who have led a more directed life than I; someone higher up the food chain, and with a closer relationship to money than any I have ever enjoyed. So it was with Jane, a noted business guru who I met while I was cleaning her room as part of my job as a staff member at a conference hotel in Switzerland.

I am not Swiss myself, but the country is a good place to hide from your creditors, of whom I was never in short supply, so I had gone to this retreat where my ability to speak both French and English and fold sheets neatly regardless of the time of day obtained me employment, if not social standing. When in a room one afternoon, tidying up the surprising quantity of mess for someone so prominent in her field, the lady guest surprised me by coming in herself when, I presumed, professional duties would have demanded her attention.

She seemed somewhat on edge and anxious to engage someone, anyone, me it seemed, in conversation and we got to talking, crazily, intimately, as if we were equals, and I had no idea what was in her mind but in this room, alone in this space, your last phrase or observation was all you were judged by and, somehow in that sphere I garnered her respect. “When you end your shift come back to me” she implored, and I said I could not, but she said, if I wanted to I would find a way and to look at her, competent and fragile, strong yet full of doubts, I found myself too weak to refuse. Perhaps this was the start of something; some preordained connection touched by angels. At the very least my head was turned so, three hours later, there I was at her door, and she was opening it dressed in very little and already offering up a glass of wine.

We kissed of course, crazily, as if some force larger than ourselves had made puppets of us both and briefly I felt swept up in some new magical existence. Later, exhausted from our physical activities we faced each other across the bed, and now she was naked in that careless way which says “We have no secrets” but of course we always do. I remember my father, a wiser man than his son ever became, saying to me, “If a women is good at sex she’s often bad at life, approach with caution” and his words came back to haunt me as I raised my eyes to hers and saw that almost drunk sense of euphoria found in those who think “Moments” will be worth any indiscretion.

Having paid for my attention with herself and a glass or four of wine she told me of her life: her controlling parents who wanted her always to excel, her husband, “That useless lump,” who worked as a “Life coach” on some disregarded magazine and then the woes and regrets with which she’d packed her life until she seemed almost sobbing with anguish and regret. “You are so wise” she said, “Why do you live like this?” and sadly she was not the first to make that observation, but I nodded and said, “Every life is perplexing when you get too close to it” and so we talked on and she shared her private chaos until, scared at last, I said I’d better be off or my wife would wonder where I was. Perhaps that was a reckless thing to say.

In an instant she became another women: one who looked at me with arrogant distaste. “Another married player are we, another cheat.” Suddenly her voice was full of venom, perhaps forgetting that she herself was married. I dressed as quickly as I could and hurried down the corridor and then the staff back-stairways but still there was Jennifer, the senior house keeper, smirking in her unsettling manner and saying, “The manager wants to see you,” and I knew that once again I had been my own undoing.

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The Young Dictator,

I can remember Adolf Hitler or “Dolphi” as we called him, when I was “Alive” in the mortal sense; we were in the same class at school. We were about twelve I think: He was already a nutter, who used to stand on desks before lesson saying things like, “Success is the only measurement of right or wrong,” which sounds very mature for that age and sort of laughable at the same time, except most people still believe it. We moved shortly after my fourteenth birthday and I never met him again, which is something to smile about I suppose.

Anyway, we know what happened to “Dolphi” don’t we? During the First World War, when half the world went mad, and turned on itself with primal brutality, Dolphi had a great time. He found himself in a place where the enemy was easily identified, and being a good man just meant pointing your gun in the right direction. It influenced the entire way he approached his life

All that is history now, to me certainly, who’s been in Eternity these fifty years. Up here everything is different. Wealth is measured wherever you are, but up here you cannot earn anything. You have to live off the good deeds and thoughts you exhibited whilst on earth. Me, I’m just an ordinary man. I gave half my sandwich to some beggar I saw in the street quite regularly and “kechang” my moral bank account got a nice wedge of credit. He was my brother fallen on hard times, as it happens, but for some reason that biological coincidence got overlooked. The algorithms used at the gates of Eternity are far too complicated for the average soul to understand, so quite why you end up with the worth you do, is often beyond our understanding, but then that’s the same on Earth isn’t it.

Mind you I spent a lot of time having that affair with Erika, my neighbour, whose husband I pretended was my friend. Well, I had to, to get near her, didn’t I? You couldn’t miss out on the fun and anyway he was one of those music teachers who lacks every sensibility and tortures the ears and morale of pupils in his charge, which was lucky for me because that meant my afternoon trysts with Sandy didn’t cost me what they might have done if “Mr Pallid,” that’s what I called him, had been anything like a generously hearted husband or teacher.

Anyway, “Dolphi” or Adolf, as you know him, had so much fun in the first war, he spent his life trying to organise another party, and, credit where credit’s due, he pulled it off and with bells on. Not that it’s done him any good. He lives in one of the most wretched areas known to spirits and is practically bankrupt.

Here’s the rub; when you’ve finally spent your goodwill, and even Hitler got some because he was nice to his secretary, loved dogs and was a vegetarian, you are sent back again to see if you “Can do any better this time.” Apparently they are sending him to the Middle East. That might be interesting!

Posted in character, creative writing, faith, Fiction, humour, morals, Peter Wells | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

The Benefits Of Wisdom

With the passing of years vigour gets bored and leaves your body. Fatigue, your newest and closest friend says “Hello” nearly every afternoon, and suggests it join you for a nap. Your eyes, with regard to the opposite sex and food, tend to be much larger than your ability to quench any remaining appetites, and you are left with nothing to offer the world but your wisdoms, garnered over seventy-four years of possibly sober and reflective living.

However sober and reflective living are not the factors which brought me to my current “Glory-hole” or small bed-sitting room, complete with tired furniture and a bed, which would creak if I had anyone to creak it with: I have lived largely without the company of prudence. I have been married twice, arrived at through a surfeit of manners and guilt, but managed to avoid love on both occasions, so that wondrous belief in the gentle acceptance of a person’s eccentricities, other than your own, has been denied me. It is while under the influence of a much slandered liquid that I’ve gathered many of my best experiences, but that insight is no longer welcome in an age where longevity is more valued than fun

I did experience love once, with my closest friend of the time’s wife, somewhere during my second marriage, and thought magic had overtaken my life. It turned out, as it happens, to have been more a case of the northern lights: beautiful, transfixing certainly, but ultimately without the warmth which gives the heart cause to beat again. I have her photograph, smiling at the photographer, not me, and I look at it sometimes when I feel the need for company. I provided her, I like to think, with a sense of the wealth present in the intangible, which awareness he lacked, while he supplied her material comforts, but finally comfort won over artistic sensibility robbing me of my one true love and my best friend in a single scandal.

I am not a repository of wisdom but more a warning sign to those who seek to follow a path like mine, full of raucous laughter, dancing, a lexicon of careers and a failure to keep an address book so that all those faces which become dearer over time live only in my memory. I am an example of how not to live a life if you want to retire in comfort admired by your peers. I am a barely living example of what might happen if you do not approach each decade with a battle plan. I am a burdensome responsibility to my local council who scan my health chart for longed-for signs of failing health, but there, again, I continue to disappoint. The good die young, apparently, while we more careless beings, hang on: the grim residue of a feckless existence.

I have little sense of moral or material responsibility, except for a feeling of guilt, and no means of paying for anything apart from my state pension, but I have a sense of fun. If some adventure-rich breeze would flow under my door, and pull me toward one last unlikely tryst, or bout of singing badly out of tune while under the influence of that precious liquid, I would grab it.

My only advice is not to heed advice: to burn the candle at both ends and somewhere in the middle; to cause scandal at any opportunity, but most of all, not to relapse into pious stagnation. While there is drink there is the apparition of hope, and if a girl smiles at me, almost regardless of age, I will return the favour. Not to do so would be rude, and a man without means can seldom afford to act without manners.

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Candour And The Search For Married Bliss, Or An Address Quite Near It

As a writer of no repute, whose investigative techniques were found wanting during a recent experiment outside the local railway station, it may not surprise you to know that my courting history has enjoyed a certain level of difficulty and now requires an element of tweaking: let me elucidate.

In my youth I saw a girl in a bar, nicely figured if that can convey a sense of her beauty without being unnecessarily invasive, and I walked up to her and said, “Alright, given that we don’t know each other, I only speak one language and have a career which is poorly paid and offers no prospect of promotion, are you willing to cast aside all common sense and agree to marry me, accept life in the slow lane, and learn to peel vegetables without the aid of modern appliances.”

There may have been a pause for reflection before the girl said “No” but it was not discernible. No problem with that. At the “Biro and Stationary Sales Technique Conference” I was taught that every “No” takes you nearer to a “Yes,” so, unbowed, I moved on in my search for a bride.

In a coffee shop I saw a girl who had clearly been assembled with some care, and seemed to have a similar sense of values to mine acquired, in my case, by staring out of the window for long hours without agenda or urgency. She had the vacancy about her which suggested she used the same self-development programme.

Pausing briefly to straighten my non-existent tie, I walk up to her and say, “Alright, given that we don’t know each other, I only speak one language and have a career which is poorly paid and offers no prospect of promotion, I wondered if you were willing to cast aside all common sense and agree to marry me, accept life in the slow lane, and learn to peel vegetables without the aid of modern appliances.”

This time there was an even less discernible pause between my hope for her blind and total devotion and the irritated rejection of my offer. That is just life, or purgatory, depending on your point of view. Things moved on and I accepted a sentence of bachelorhood, sausage rolls, and a diet of less than challenging romantic comedies, all crammed in between sleep and a job which didn’t begin to disclose to me, or anyone else for that matter, what my “Core” abilities might have been, apart from being able to say “Sorry” a lot, which is a skill I have polished over time.

A number of decades pass; although there is some disagreement between my doctor and the internet dating site I have now joined over how many that is exactly, in the hope of sharing an old age full of arguments, remote control wars and the eternal battle between laziness and the need to clean the fridge. Once more I have reached out to the opposite sex. Here is the blurb in my profile.

“Accepting that we don’t know each other and the above photograph is not a recent likeness or any likeness at all if truth be told, I speak only one language and have a career which is poorly paid, unblemished by promotion and light on achievements, I wondered if any lady on this, or any other planet capable of supporting the human species where English is the spoken language and sport may be either played or watched from armchairs, would be willing to cast aside all common sense and marry me, accept life in the slow lane, and learn to peel vegetables without the aid of modern appliances.”

To date I have had no replies, which just goes to show the internet can mirror real life. Tomorrow I am going to update my profile and enlist the help of one, Ernest Shackleton, in the photograph department, which I’m told is a key appointment in the internet dating industry. He knew a thing or two about getting out of tricky situations and looked quite dashing in an “Afternoon-tea” kind of way. Apparently, he was also resourceful in all circumstances, especially if experienced in sub-zero temperatures, which I’ve “enjoyed” a lot of myself, socially speaking. Let’s see if “Shackers” can help me get out of Bachelor Alley and into a nice apartment on Marriage Avenue. I’ll keep you posted.

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Peter Wells, Romance, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Annual Meeting Of The Destitute Golfers Club

At this impoverished institution, by-line, “Not a club between us” members from the whole of London gathered annually to sponge drinks off sympathetic passers-by and bore each other with tales of the finest shots they had ever played. There was that curious atmosphere which develops when the person you are talking to is not so much listening to your story as bursting to recount, in extended detail, the glowing tale of when, a mere thirty years ago, his seven iron shot sailed over the trees and landed within two feet of the hole on the fifteenth.

Topics of conversation where limited to well-played shots, clubs we had played, and our “Caddies,” which in this case normally meant the wives. Naturally there were female members of the club, but women generally being more sensible in the longer term than men, had not reduced themselves to boasting before a bored audience in the same quantities as the misguided sex.

Brian Parks was the treasurer, whose duties were confined to saying “I’m the treasurer,” there being no actual funds to manage. Correspondence was conducted largely by email, with only Christmas cards being sent by traditional means on account of cost. Brian was treasurer because, as well as being a bankrupt who lived with his daughter and her diminishing patience, he was also a man with a constant stream of ideas all guaranteed to place him among the wealthy within a matter of days.

As tales of balls sailing over trees, against the wind, round obstacles, all revealing the forgotten talents of the story tellers began to die down, Brian announced his latest plan. “I’ve applied to be the golfing professional at St Andrews” he said, which course, many of us know, enjoys a world-wide reputation. Heads shook in disbelief, and the ability of a man to distance himself from his circumstances by applying delusion, conceit or a poor grasp of realities came home again to his bewildered fellow members.

“Many of the new and younger members at top clubs are scared to apply for coaching from the normal professionals and I realise they need the help of a more accessible talent to help them get to the first base without being intimidated,” he informed his bewildered chums. “What talent is that?” said Fred Ramsey, who may have held a grudge against the treasurer on account of being trounced at the polls by Brian earlier in the year when the post became vacant. The previous treasurer had inherited some funds from an uncle in America and thus become ineligible for membership. He was missed, of course, but still attended on occasion to buy a round of drinks and flaunt his good fortune in front of his former comrades.

“I never mastered the five iron” admitted Brian, “But my putting was pretty good if I say so myself” “No one else would” said Fred Ramsey. There was a sourness about him which might well give a clue as to why he didn’t win the treasurer’s position. If we were to advise him, we might tell him not to apply for the job as junior-professional at St Andrews Golf Club, either because his tired ego might not be able to handle any further rejection or, at eighty-four, his swinging days were well behind him.


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The Missed Connection

There was a natural beauty about her: the kind a girl might unconsciously enjoy if social unease does not make her ask herself whether her hair is too long or short, or chin pronounced or eyes too close together or anything which unsettles us in relation to our peers so that we make those initially subtle alterations which take us further from ourselves and so the unsettling voyage begins. Her manner was unguarded and strangely moving if I’m honest, and I wished for some excuse to go over and speak with her.

She was the daughter of my English lecturer at university, the one who specialised in Victorian literature, a kindly man who had invited his tutorial group to spend the night with him and enjoy a day’s walking on the fells. Now it was the evening, and we were back in his house and about to enjoy a meal cooked by his lovely wife. They were a picture of the perfect family, and the daughter was the angel you would expect in such a setting.

As I writhed within myself, and wondered what light and casual remark I could use to introduce myself to her, “Mr Glib” or Andrew Cummings to use his real name, another of the students and one who later went on to enjoy a quite prominent career in broadcasting, slide in her direction and asked her in the tone of one used to dealing with life and its varied nuances, “So are you at university yourself” and she smiled at him and revealed she was at the same university as us, but studying medicine. “That’s very clever” said Mr Glib and soon he was oozing himself inside her life and suggesting they might meet for coffee in the student union.

I am confident that I was one of my professor’s favourite students because I actually had a passion for the subject he taught, but outside the world of tutorials and precisely worded essays I was socially awkward and with a wardrobe to match. Once more I had to pretend that nothing touched me and “real-life” was a subject of research rather than experience. “How do you put the fun into your day?” I heard Mr Glib ask the unspoilt beauty and soon they were sharing their passion for vintage films, which surprised me, as I had been exposed for extended periods to Andrew’s languid discussion of his interests and “vintage films” had never featured in them.

I ate my meal, and managed to bore everyone but the professor with my discussion on “Fors Clavigera” an interesting text written by the Victorian social thinker, John Ruskin. Finally Mr Glib said “This is not a tutorial Nigel” and smiled at me as if he was being kind, and then at the group with his “Where do we find them?” tolerance: I was never much good at dinner parties.

To make matters worse, Cummings went on to marry her, and enjoy his career success; no doubt revered by his listeners and fellow broadcasters. I met him and his wife years later at a reunion dinner where my job as an English teacher drew few gasps of admiration from the group, most of whom were gathered round Mr Cummings, apart from his wife who stood some distance away, staring at a watercolour. On impulse I went up to her and said, “You know, when we were students, and we had that dinner at your father’s, I wanted to come over and speak to you but Andrew got there first, and the rest is history.”

“I wish you had” she said, and gently touched my arm and I wondered if she might still be my unopened gift from destiny. “How is your father?” I asked, but before she could answer Andrew came over with that smile of his which speaks a thousand languages. “How is life in the classroom?” he asked, cutting across our conversation, “Still banging on about John Ruskin?” and his manner was curiously replete and satisfied. She looked at me, like a conspirator and said to her husband with something of an edge, “The last word isn’t everything you know” and he replied, “What do you mean?” but I think I understood her. I hope I did.

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