The Lost Sanctuary

I walked those gardens where we met, a lifetime or was it two ago, holding your hand mine: discovering in that gaze of yours, the source of my tranquillity I saw the tree on which our names were carved and thought of how we merged our lives: you were everything I sought: love given with sweet simplicity!

Strengthened by your blind support, I let myself discover ever new conquests, each one forgiven till, at last, your faith was gone. You discovered I was a man lost to himself: abandonment posed as bravery, avoiding purpose at all cost and living without morality.

You married someone else, I hear, and lived the life you offered me, while I walked on a thousand miles, a friend to the lost.

Man may travel without rest seeking for the Promised Land: I have not reached that place as yet and journey without peace: walking with people much like me, drifting on in search of hope.

I am as lost as man can be, I cannot call it otherwise, but somewhere in my secret place, safe from harm or casual glance, you once gave your heart to me.

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Seventy-Fifth Anniversary

Perhaps he was a footnote in history, there was no one left to ask, this veteran of a near forgotten war, now brought to life through films and sometimes books, but lived by him back when his legs still moved, and crawled without complaint through this same undergrowth.

Nearing his centenary, and the last of the old pals, he sat upon his chair with a blanket round his limbs and watched the wind play with grass and leaves: no cordite now, no friends crying out their last. His eyes, which seemed unfocused to his relatives, looked out for faces loved so long ago and torn from life by one man’s evil brilliance and those dark acolytes who gave muscle to his plans.

To those around him who waited on his thoughts, the scene was now at peace, with only a cross to excite the memory, but in his mind, were Jack and Stan still bickering over rations: alive once more and waving him to some peaceful shade where they might share a smoke and swap anecdotes.

As his patient relatives stood by his chair he heard his friends, now living in his memory, ask him with curiosity “Is it better Arnie, tell us that. Did we shove the bad guys off the map”. He shook his head and smiled, “No, we didn’t: there’s more than you can count, and not all of them come from foreign lands. They keep on pushing though we drive them back ”

“We died in vain,” his friends said in one voice, incredulous that such a chance was missed. “No,” he replied: he spoke with experience. “In time we live to see things differently, and most of us seem metaphors at best; in life we either inspire or depress as generations examine fresh horizons, but through it all lives like yours give our children the courage to seek the higher ground.”

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A View Of Improvement

Those friendships we enjoyed so casually in a life not overburdened with demands, allowed us room to celebrate with ease, a freedom we now find embalmed in photographs. There I am, grinning with a new caught fish, the harbour as it once was, when fishing was the only industry, and tourists, rare beings indeed, wandered past and viewed us as if we were actors caught up in some ongoing play.

Now, these same tourists are the staple of the town, the fleet which was its heartbeat, replaced with pleasure craft, and those huts where skilled men sat and mended nets, become cafe’s laid out to catch your eye, and tease a coin or two for absent-minded snacks.

Time and change have no sentiment, allowing man to alter, as he sees fit, the rituals and ways which, in the past, were thought to be the bed-rock of our world. In old men sitting by the harbour, I see a commentary on change, a certain melancholy not entirely wrought by age, and wonder as I watch them, how much we understand about our world, as we lay their rituals thoughtlessly to rest, obsessed as we are by the desire for what we call improvements!

With growing urgency we seek the new, and dream of a life free of germs or dirt, but these men who ploughed the oceans for their food knew, when home, that Eden was underfoot, long before we, who followed them, trampled their sacred ground while searching for a place called Camelot.

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Some Career Tips Which Might Help You More Than They Helped Me!

Owing to a natural lethargy this will be a short article, written in those small gaps I leave myself between rising from my bed, a mid-morning nap, luncheon and the afternoon snooze. Still, in the brief time available, let me slip a couple of life-tips out into the blogosphere! The question is, how does an undirected, unambitious individual of moderate ability, that is most of us, make anything of themselves in this complex and driven world?

I’ve no idea, of course, but lack of knowledge never stopped anyone giving advice so lets plunge in with two ‘low-effort goodies’ which helped get me within sight of the mountain top at my county council health and safety department ; a pinnacle of achievement unhorsed, to mix my metaphors, when a rogue hair dryer electrocuted a visiting dignitary and my head rolled in the customary manner, leaving me free to offer my advice and observations to the world: needless to say my wife was delighted with the extra company.

Breezing past my own personal tragedy, my first tip is this. As a junior in a departmental meeting, when the head honcho finishes speaking, and regardless of the content, you look round at everyone in the meeting and say “I think that point is crucial.” Chuck in a bit of head nodding and direct eye contact to add cutting-edge gravitas.

Second tip: whilst at work never walk anywhere slowly: you are a driven individual full of purpose and on the cusp of success; walk at speed, and make sure you have a file under your arm, even if you are just going to the toilet for a quick sip of vodka. Only go for smoke breaks when you notice some pretty heavy dude is also outside, and then praise him or her without mercy or accuracy.

Finally, because a smart man always gives three tips for the price of two, do something for charity, but only in a discreetly noticeable way, and if you can’t be bothered, pretend to anyway. Act a bit tired a couple of days a week, revealing during the day that you were up pretty late, doing something you’d rather not expand on for the “Less fortunate than us.” On no account refer to the TV programme you were actually watching: remember the hard truth; even Slackers have to concentrate on occasion.

That’s about all I’ve got time for now, as pillows need plumping and heads must settle down to a period of soft day-dreaming involving some beauty in a United Nations uniform asking me for the secrets of world peace.

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Another Kind Of Isolation

There I sat, pleasantly full after a late breakfast, watching the smoke from my cigarette move lazily up the window frame. In my other hand was a smallish glass of whisky, which I raised to sip before exhaling pleasantly, nodding to those around me, which in this instant meant my cat, Thomas. A good meal and a vice in each hand. “Who could better that?” I asked my loyal companion, reflecting on my previous afternoon’s adventure.

Caught in a lift with some lady who, it transpired, was a new “mature” student at the college where I taught music, I had the chance to discuss the vagaries of life before some rude engineer mended the fault and curtailed our pleasant conversation. “Is it possible” I asked her as we left, “That we could continue this discussion over lunch” “Are you married?” she asked me, which I thought a little forward, but allowing that to pass I replied, “Not currently.”

“And how about yourself?” I asked her, feeling it only fair that we should be equally informed on the topic, “Not happily?” she said, so I nodded and then suggested “A light luncheon and a brief chat on the subject of fine dining and its relationship to vice” . “Do you have any lectures this afternoon?” I continued. “Not any more” she replied, and with that we went to a small Turkish restaurant tactfully situated on a side road off the High Street, and away from the prying eyes of curious husbands or gossips looking for some scandal worth the spreading.

Once we were seated at a small but comfortable table, away from the window, we continued our lift-bound conversation. “Do you have any children?” she asked me, “Not to my knowledge” I replied, “And how about you?” I continued. and she told me she had three: two boys and a girl. “And how are they?” I asked her and she told me, “Beautiful up to the age of ten. Awkward in their teens and now distant in their twenties and living on different continents.”

“A more than usual story in the modern age” I observed and refilled her wine glass with anaesthetic merlot. Her eyes clouded over slightly, filling me with some alarm as I dislike confronting direct emotions, especially in others. Trying to comfort, her I added, “They will thank you in time” which was the most apposite platitude I could think of in an instant. “Do you really believe that?” she asked earnestly and I replied, “Not really, but we like to think our efforts will have an impact don’t we?”

“It’s a theory” she replied and we smiled despite ourselves at life’s rough lessons. As lunch progressed, and we moved discreetly towards the dessert wine, I said, “I think the polite thing to do is go to my flat for coffee and some light exercise.” She replied, “Exercise is unwise too soon after a meal, but I would enjoy a coffee and the chance to criticise your furniture, ” and we agreed to leave after I paid the bill.

Towards the late afternoon, she having forgotten her initial reserve, we lay propped up with pillows reflecting on our time together and she said, “Shall we do this again?” and I replied, “In life, I prefer to offer ‘a delightful episode’ rather than rescue or solutions.” She smiled and said, “That’s good, I dislike nothing more than false promises or fake morality.”
“Is there any other kind” I asked her, and we laughed at our mutual disconnection.

To those of us who live private lives, any thought of value is discrete and “sharing” becomes more frightening than dying: a sense of life she seemed happy to recognise.

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The Wrong Answer !

Some people seem to attract bad luck in the way others benefit from its close relative, ‘Good Luck’ for ease of identification. Nigel had been born into poor, or ‘restricted’ circumstances or whatever euphemism floats your boat on this particular day. No problem with that, except that his grandmother had been born at the tail end of a more prosperous time in the family’s history and was constantly trying to remind her grandchildren that they were ‘gentlemen’ or something else which might mean that life or the local employers would treat them more kindly: this is seldom the case, as Nigel would discover during his unfortunately long life.

Anyway, no need to dwell on his gruesome history; Nigel was highly intelligent and perceptive, but had neither the confidence nor social skills to take advantage of the fact: to be honest, the opposite was nearer the truth. Because his well-meaning but deluded grandmother gave him elocution lessons, and because his surname harked back to grander times, he stuck out like an over-manicured thumb amidst the poor and unglamorous streets where he spent his youth. He wasn’t physically bullied but he was constantly derided and made to feel apart from the normal run of life. He comforted himself, by reading, researching and reflecting on the world around him. This may or may not have improved his position.

Move on a few years and he is now a junior clerk in the office of a company selling a range of tinned fish. Needless to say, the environment was as inspiring as it sounds and filled by people who longed for the end of their working day. Nigel worked at some small desk collating sales returns, and thus had a fragile connection to the marketing department. Let’s face it, those marketing boys knew how to live a life: highlights were the afternoon ‘conferences’ where tea was not the only drink and expansive plans with little hope of fruition enjoyed a brief time in the “Limelight;” a small illumination device largely fuelled by vanity, but more of that another time.

Here he was at the back of the room, waiting to be grilled, if you can use that term carelessly in the fish environment, about tin sales in Greenland and Iceland. ( Apparently disappointingly small,) when Carl Boomberger, Head of Marketing and all-round self-confessed genius mentioned in an aside that the “world, in marketing terms, “Was really flat”. Poor old Nigel, whose mind was not as gripped by the topic as it might have been, only came alive at the end of the sentence, and without thinking responded. “Actually it’s round sir, or possibly elliptical, if you want to be pedantic”. There was a short pause while people tried to ascertain what kind of life-form was capable of natural speech so far back in the room when Carl exploded “Are you trying to teach me my job young man”.

“Is that possible” said Nigel with an ambiguity which might have saved him from the consequences of his impertinence. On this occasion it didn’t and he was left to ruminate on the relationship between power and freedom of speech as he scanned the newspaper for jobs while standing at the bus stop.

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Maurice Le Garde.

I spent my twenties, which seems like youth to me now, working as an unpolished clerical worker for a paper merchant’s. In those days they tried to define your job in terms of its function and status and “clerk” seemed correct to them and the inescapable truth to me. Nowadays, no doubt, I would be called a “Success Liaison Consultant,” or some other rubbish, but we hadn’t fully discovered the selling power of self-importance in that unpolished era.

Through lack of money, connections or social presence, my life was pretty much free of intercourse with females, though once my head lay on the pillow it filled immediately with dreams of sweet romance; and girls who identified with me as if we had a secret pact: I never played the hero, even in my dreams and my musings were not carnal but more to do with recognition, tenderness and coming home; a place with which I had little familiarity.

In the evening , sometimes and for no reason, I would attend a “Creative writing course” at the local college as a way of marking myself out as someone who sought self-improvement. There I met Maurice Le Garde, not his original name I’m sure, who eked out a living teaching ‘creative writing’ on the back of a couple of undiscovered novels. On account of his being a lecturer and a writer of sorts, he had a kind of “allure.” “mystique,” or whatever you might call it, and he was at that perfect age for creative girls, it seemed to me: somewhere in his late thirties where he could impress as the spiritually well-travelled older man but still with enough stamina to follow through on his promise, and yet not too old to unsettle, or too young and gauche to disturb that subtle beautiful women with presence and sensibility who was my obsession.

No names because I will admit none, but in my day-dream I could describe her to the final hair.

He talked a lot about “defining the moment” and could look towards the window and say, in his slow drawl with a hint of foreign accent, “Life is just a moment, and the colour of it changes with our understanding and experience” and then he would turn from the window and look towards us, or more particularly Helen who was an artistic truth-seeker in her early twenties. She had played a guest role in my dreams, I admit, but there was a sense that she played a larger role in the ennobling life of Maurice Le Garde.

On those grounds alone I developed an anger towards him which I lacked the character to express until one day, when he was going on about “Moments” and “Inner sensibility” I said, “What do you think about social progress and responsibility. That is more than a ‘moment’ surely?” I noticed with inner satisfaction that Helen turned to look at me, and I had drifted towards becoming a “Person of note” in this class at least.

As I began to celebrate this brief elevation, that disturbing sub-foreign accent cut across my thoughts saying, “After dark, when your thoughts are free of inspection, there is no social responsibility.” and Helen moved her gaze from me back to our noble teacher. It was the nearest I got to gaining her attention, and the last time I attended his class

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Adapting To Isolation

Currently as an ill-mannered virus makes its presence felt in every corner of the globe many of us are being asked to live on our own, or with a spouse we occasionally discuss breakfast cereals with and this calls for an enormous adjustment.

I am a “people person,” a company seeker, and man who threatens to sing at the bar after a few sips of ale but I am being asked to remain largely within the confines of my own dwelling with no one to speak to. What to do?

After a while I decided to hold a dinner party where every aspect of my personality was invited to attend and speak through various snacks arranged on tables around the room. Once this was done I declared the proceedings open. This is what happened.

Chrisps “Isn’t it lovely not having to go out when its raining and pretending we are enjoying ourselves.”

( I then move to another chair )

Peanuts “ Oh I don’t know, I like to get out every now and then and face nature in the raw so to speak

Hummus “Are you suggesting you leave the house in a totally naked state Peanuts !!”

Peanuts, “Let’s not get too literal Hummus. I just mean there is a pleasure in experiencing every kind of weather”

Salad, “Mind you, I don’t like too much heat. It always makes me wilt”

Chrisps “I can see that Salad. No one is going to call you one of life’s great adventurers”

And so we go on with me moving from seat to seat, munching, crunching and chewing my way through our conversation giving voice to a range of opinions best kept safely within these four walls.

Tomorrow I understand Crisps is going to challenge Peanuts to game of chess which should be interesting as I’’m not sure either of them know how to play

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A Dangerous Alternative

Sometime in the distant future, about five or six years from now, Vampires have taken over the world and humans, running free and in their natural habitat, are near being a relinquished memory, although the wealthiest vampires can still afford to purchase a hunting trip to remote estates and gorge on fresh drained natural blood as their ancestors had in those heady days when the music formed by the shrieks of dying humans soothed young vampires to sleep!

Down at the Sunless Arms, a local hostelry, some old chums had gathered for a pint or two of their favourite drink, talking of love and the sporting world while nodding in appreciation of their chosen tipple: blood group “O,” supplied from a chamber behind the bar where a thousand humans living in tiny pens, were fed intravenously and drained of the sacred fluid by suitably attached tubes, enabling red nectar to be drawn on demand.

All good and dandy and everyone happy apart from young Tommy Drain who was being introduced to the adult world as part of his initiation ceremony. What was not known was that the Drain family were part of that small but growing cult who believed that cruelty to other species diminished their own and so they had become vegans, manufacturing their life nourishing liquid from batches of illegally grown spinach with a squeeze or two of onion according to taste, and iron additives of course: red dye was added for cosmetic purposes!

“I’m a bit under the weather” said Tommy, producing a large flask of the “homebrew” from his bag while requesting a glass from behind the bar. Such behaviour was unsettling to the gathered old-timers, one or two of whom were over 200 years old and facing middle-age.

“We can’t have that” said one, but young Albert, nimble of mind and foot, said his parents had only allowed him out on the basis he would promise to drink nothing but his medicine, a large measure of which he poured into his glass.

After the alcohol-enriched beverage had raised the spirits of the others to levels where singing was required, and with that inevitability Albert feared, one of the group said, “Oh go on then Albert, put a splosh in my glass and extended said vessel towards our nervous hero.

There was no escape he knew, so he poured a portion into the glass and “Bandage” as he was known to his chums, raised the container to his lips and took a cautious sip, and then another before turning round to his friends and saying, “Not bad, not bad at all. Bloody marvellous if truth be told. Tell your Mum and Dad I’ll be round later to get the recipe.”

As Albert walked home, that growing terror impending disaster brings, filled the aperture wherein his soul once dwelled and he asked the world around him if principle could be sacrificed before the altar of survival. “Always” was the dark reply!

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A Case Of Mistaken Identity

I was surprised to receive a letter from Buckingham Palace addressed to Peter Ducks informing me Her Majesty the Queen was delighted to bestow the MBE on me and could I pop along to the Palace on 3rd March to collect my award.

Modesty is my middle name , we seek no glory here, but a trip to the Palace, a brief chat with royalty and a luncheon which might well include a sausage roll or two was an invitation few men would decline.

I live modestly in north London and enjoy a life of discrete self-indulgence while living cautiously within my budget. However the Palace has saluted my passionate engagement with climate change and the cause of cleaning beaches throughout the globe. I’m not one to reject praise, justified or otherwise, so I signed the acceptance slip and prepared to go to the palace at the given time on the correct date. I possess a suit so I was more than ready for this grand adventure!

I’m a little surprised I’ve been singled out in this way but who am I to argue with the high and mighty. Obviously that time I picked up a lollipop wrapper dropped by some uncouth boy on Bournemouth beach was noticed by those in authority and recognition, as we know, always come to those who wait patiently in the right queue.

Come the day I arrive at the Palace and present my invitation to the man at the gate who is wearing a large fur hat and a red jacket with one or two medals pinned to the front. I saunter as modestly as possible towards the door he has pointed to where I am met by another posh gent but dressed in a very smart suit with tie to match who has clearly been to an exclusive collection of private schools.

He looks at me a bit uneasily but waves me through to where a third gentleman is moving through a throng of shortly to be awarded ladies and gents, ( no dogs allowed apparently.) Anyway a third gent comes up to me and asks if he can see my invitation which I show him. “Can you confirm your name please sir?” says he and I reply, Peter Wells.

“This invitation is addressed to Peter Ducks!” he says and his eyebrows seem to be doing something resembling the salsa across the bottom of his forehead. I understood and explained to him I wrote a blog called “Countingducks” and people sometimes referred to me as Mr Ducks or even Peter Ducks and I presumed the Queen’s office was doing the same thing. “Do you really think that’s likely” he replied and there was a faintly reddening quality to the skin around his shirt collar.

At that moment another man, who has clearly not been anywhere near a gym in recent months, comes and stares at me in a fairly aggressive manner and says, “My name is Peter Dufks, chief executive of Environmental Solutions Ltd and who are you sir?” As I’m trying to tell him I’m a writer of small repute, and with a few chums who frequent my local coffee shop each morning, another man, also dressed in an impressive uniform of red jacket and elongated fur hat suggests I leave the Palace.

“Quite understand, quite understand” I say and add, “Will there be a refund of my travel expenses: journeys on the Central line are not as cheap as they once were!?” I add as I’m invited, if that is the word,through a back entrance.

His look suggested otherwise!

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