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

Refining My Courting Skills


Things went slightly wrong at the wake for Geoff Weasley, and there are rumours I may have had something to do with it. His wife, or should we now be saying widow, Catherine, is a more than attractive women with a sympathetic and normally sunny outlook on life although, following her husband’s death in a car accident she’s seems a little out of sorts.

Well, putting my cards on the table, I am happy to state that I’ve got quite a “thing” for Catherine, always have had, and it affected me to see her “Off her game” if you follow me so I decided to pitch in and see if I could do something to raise her morale by offering her a future with promise in it. I walked up to her and said, “How many days have you scheduled in for the mourning process.”

To be fair, she looked a bit startled and said in her turn, “What’s it to you?” and I said, “I am going to propose to you as soon as the mourning period is over, and I was just wondering how long that would be.” People can be a little unpredictable but taking that into account I was still surprised when she burst into tears and then her brother, who was standing by her side when I started the conversation, went a bit red in the face and said, “You stupid B^&*^&d” and grabbed my arm in a manner bordering on aggressive.

Of course, with Catherine crying, people came over and someone asked, “What’s upset her” and my possible future brother-in-law said, “This stupid P%^$k just asked my sister to marry him” which in turn was heard by most of the room on account of the fact that he saw the need to shout rather than speak, which I thought was unnecessary.

Catherine seemed even more upset by his remark and her behaviour was becoming hysterical which made everyone in the room gather round us.

I’m one of those pedantic sorts who likes to keep his facts polished and in the right order so, in order to clarify the matter, I said, “I did not propose to her. I merely asked how long she would be in mourning so I could schedule in my marriage proposal at the correct time.”

Frank, who runs the pub where the event was held, came over and his face had also gone red. “That’s it. You’re banned.” He said, “I don’t want to see you in here again” which I thought a bit extreme unless, of course, he also has a bit of a thing for Catherine and didn’t like to see a rival coming up on the fence within yards of the finishing line so to speak.

Just to emphasise that I was the front-runner, I told him, “We’d be quite likely to hold our reception here as long as you manage to mind your P’s and Q’s” which I thought pretty conciliatory in the circumstances, because we all like a bit of extra business, but suddenly there was a lot of jostling and I found myself outside the pub door, which was firmly shut in my face leaving me unable to continue the conversation.

Perhaps I’ll have to start going to church again now, because I know she is a regular attendee and the vicar is already married which cuts back the serious opposition, although there is a time and place for everything and I’m not sure proposing to her in church would be the right thing. What do you think?

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A Sinking Reputation

My uncle, Sir Simon Gutterage lived his whole life seeking that phrase or comment which might  guarantee his immortality. Despite a title, gained by an ancestor for turning a blind eye to the rampant affairs of a long dead and unlamented Viceroy of India, he lived free of the means such an title would suggest, and thus sought entrance to the salons of the notable through turning an unforgettable phrase. Rebuffed, he turned to railway stations, then bus queues, and finally odd gatherings in the park before acknowledging, at last, that the planet would still turn, and people live and die on it, without his name being uttered in any context whatsoever, at any time, anywhere.

That was his sombre reflection as the last of his youthful looks vanished between plump and unimpressive cheeks and his eyes became rheumy and unfocused after decades seeking a pre-dawn nip of whisky to steady his approach to unavoidable responsibilities: a habit which had done things to his body which doctors were too polite to acquaint him with.

He was a teacher at a private school and taught geography to teenage boys who soon learnt that by asking their focused teacher, “Did Sir Horatio Nelson really pack his own case before venturing to do battle with the French?” they would avoid any further need to concentrate as Gutterage took respite from his lesson plan to reflect at length on the characteristics of his hero.

He was, in many respects, a familiar tragedy in human history, with an ancestry he lacked the means to glorify, and a public image that was unfocussed at best. Marriage eluded him, despite a number of proposals made, and his “Rooms” might more accurately be described as a bed-sitter in a poorer area of the town in which he lived.

Finally, after a night spent tossing and turning on the edge of despair, he determined to take no more of this humiliating obscurity and emigrate to the United States where his title might open those doors securely closed to him in his own land. The very next morning he purchased a steerage ticket on the Titanic with the last of his savings and it is no news to you, dear reader, to learn that that proud ship failed to complete it’s voyage.He found  himself, at some unholy hour, in freezing water and with all sense of his limbs lost to him, swimming beside a young couple who were on their way to Washington to share their honeymoon with relatives.  He looked at them with unfocused gaze, presented his card, and said, before finally slipping beneath the uninterested sea, “Never permit a lady to go to a cocktail party in a striped dress” which became his final words.

By chance, just after he vanished from view, a lifeboat appeared and rescued the lucky, and later celebrated couple, who thus completed their voyage to America, albeit with diminished wardrobe, and so became people of note in that exalted city on account of their adventures. They were asked constantly about their experience and every time they spoke of them they told of that strange and portly gentleman beside them in the water who exalted the lady, at all cost, to avoid wearing stripped frocks at cocktail parties just before he drowned.

His advice became legendary to such an extent that the mere allusion to “The Gutterage remark” would draw a smile on any a face. Thus it was, he might have discovered, that immortality is often obtained more by accident than design.

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Sole Mates

You know the girl: a wonder for a weekend, nightmare in a week. “I was her rock, centre and ballast” was what she called me,  within the first hour of meeting, lying in her bedroom, surrounded by a party, shortly after sex. Talk about the jackpot, had I won it? You bet your life I had because she was so beautiful, strong and yet fragile: something out of films, or maybe an explorer, but certainly something special: unique you know.

And then she started shouting; screaming because I dropped the kettle. Life as we know it was over and it was all my fault. And then she said “Sorry, I cannot help myself sometimes” and I was young, and thought I could fix things, so of course I put my arms around her and said, “I’ll love you always” which is not good because I’m slightly north of crazy myself: well “out there,” if you want to know, and being someone’s “rock” sounded pretty scary.

And then there were the tablets I took so we could share together and she would not be lonely, tripping over boundaries, living in a kaleidoscope: discovering “Real” together.  Turns out to be a kind of hell, “Real” I mean: didn’t say that in the brochure! Wish someone else had told me, but we knew too much by then. Knew everything in truth, except the need to listen.

I was in my twenties, on the road to nowhere, leads us beyond comfort, or normal or average conversations, and now I swear by nothing, because the face I see in the mirror is me turned into Stranger. And you might help me if you’ve got a minute. Tell me where I lost myself. Could you do that?

Am I making sense this time, it’s just the way it sounds right, but we see what we wish to see, and then it all goes pear shape. The truth is all I know for now, but I’ll forget that in a minute.


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