On The Passing Of My Aunt

In every family and in every community there will always be iconic figures and in my family “Missie” or Aunt Sylvia, to use her formal name, gave us a towering example of how to navigate the oceans of life regardless of the weather. I asked myself recently, “Was she happy?” and the answer must be that, whether she was or not happy in any particular moment, she never complained or muttered about life or her situation. She had no breath saved for complaining but always sought some reason to be positive or forward thinking regardless of her current circumstances. This was the heart of her inspirational standing in my family.

Towards the end of her life, she died at one hundred years of age, she was in hospital suffering from an infection. When I rang her she said, “Entertainment is low, but there are seagulls dancing, Dancing on the grass” and then she chuckled at the wonder of it all. She was not really interested in a conversation about her health but only in the view going forward, and that is her lesson to us all.

She was just over one hundred years old when she died. At the age of twenty three she was in Vienna when Hitler’s troops moved into the city near the start of the war in which her loved then fiancé died in a submarine. She was a more than gifted pianist, trained at the Royal College of Music but most of all she was a gutsy, uncrushable walker of life, mother of four children by my Uncle, a much-loved character himself, and always she was armed by a deep faith in her god and the beauty of awareness. I shall miss her dearly: she brought music to all that knew her.

Posted in character, faith, Humanity, Life, old age, Peter Wells, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

That Forgotten Face

The only thing which proved that life was bearable was that he was still living it. Given any choice but suicide he would have changed his circumstances to anything but this; his current situation. Of course that thought had been with him many times, and in previous positions, following a string of impulsive actions, each one leaving him worse off than before, till finally his only possession of note was an air of noble and apologetic regret.

Now working as a kitchen porter and being bullied by an unloved harridan, herself at the wrong end of an unhappy marriage, and easing her sense of bitterness by taking out her life on others, he knew that to be long-suffering was his last resource if the rent was to be paid.

In former times, after university, when life seemed to offer him a thousand choices he had been careless of strategy and practicalities. He was more interested, always had been, in noting how buds formed so beautifully in early spring, or dwelling on an act of kindness involving helping someone across the road or anything which did not incorporate a strategy for his personal advancement, protection or forging a career, whatever that mysterious word might mean.

Talented without a doubt, yet his whole life had involved a debate within himself on the nature of consciousness, and he used his observations always and only to enrich that conversation. Girls had come and gone and each one had concluded soundlessly that he had no moving parts as far as ordinary life was concerned. In earlier times he had seemed impervious to changing circumstances till, after some decades, he found himself trapped in drudgery and living in cellars among the forgotten and far beneath the world of love and celebration.

“What do you want?” a friend had asked some decades before and, as always, he had stared into space before finally saying “Nothing” which was fine and noble in its way but of no use to him or anyone else who thought to build a life with him. Now he smiled at his naiveté, or was it merely arrogance, which presumed the gods would protect him with their magic and keep him from harm by others or himself.

Walking along Oxford Street in central London his attention had been caught by a huddle of people and some booms and microphones indicating a film or modelling shoot: on impulse he wandered over to see what was going on. As luck would have it, the crowd parted briefly enabling him to stand quite near the front and see an actress deep in conversation with a man: he recognised her immediately.

Sandra Cartwright had briefly been his date many years ago while still at university; a noted beauty and someone with the air of a promising future about her even then. “You see things others miss” she’d said to him, and smiled at him as if he were important. He’d taken her out on his birthday during their second year, and shared his sense of celebration with her, as yet undimmed by facts. They’d kissed and enjoyed a brief intimacy but soon her natural canniness became evident and she gently removed herself from his embrace and then his life.

In later years as fame rewarded her carefully managed talents, he had followed her career in the newspapers, and had seen her in the company of acting royalty celebrating her sense of having “Arrived.” Now here she was, lost in her work and filming a scene, no doubt, to add to her successes. As if by instinct, feeling his gaze on her back she turned around to look and her eyes widened in surprise because she recognised him immediately. He raised an arm in friendly greeting and then walked on. To impose himself on her at this late stage, given his circumstances, would be less than fair, he understood, and understanding was all he had to offer.


Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, Humanity, Life, Peter Wells, Relationships, Talent, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

One For The Books

Predictability in all things is my idea of heaven, starting with my wife Helen obviously, and closely followed by a cup of tea enjoyed while watching the sun rise above the horizon, given that the hour of its appearance is not unsociable. I am recently retired, having spent my working years in pleasing obscurity as what we used to call, a “Bought Ledger clerk” and later as head of that department.

I grow tulips for a hobby, and exhibit them each year at the local agricultural show, failing to win any prizes on an annual basis but allowing my dear wife to help with supplying and serving afternoon tea: an area of expertise at which she excels as my figure will attest.

That’s me pretty much dealt with, and you can extrapolate from that almost anything you want about my life including always going to the same English resort for our annual holiday, and wearing my favourite sweater as often as possible.

Every life needs a bit of variation and mine comes in the shape of Ronnie, my brother in law and old school friend. He has always been a favoured habitué of the local pub, whenever funds allowed it, and good hearted to a fault though wisdom often eludes him. His wife Carol was Helen’s sister and, through thick and quite a lot of thin, she has stuck by his side with a display of character and pride which is not always a pleasure to witness. The unkind among us might say “To make a mistake is one thing but to admit it quite another” and a number of people spend their life chewing over that particular insight don’t you find?

Carol was the elder sister, and the fact that her younger sister lived in greater comfort and stability was a source of irritation to her I suspect; but we all know those undercurrents which flow between siblings do we not? In any social situation Ronnie was the shining light and I his largely mute companion, or so it had been in our youth; so ironically, when we met the sisters at a party it was Carol who made a bee line for the “Star of the hour” while myself and Helen, as registered side-kicks, consoled each other for the evening and then our entire lives, and lovely it has been. I must admit that Ronnie’s presences at our Sunday lunches, or Uncle Ronnie as he is known to our kids, is not a highlight of her day

Anyway, getting to the point without further delay, Ronnie, in a last and desperate chat with the fates, purchased a lottery ticket and karma being what it is, found himself on the right side of £23 million pounds by the following morning. He rang me, of course, after he’s spoken to the claims people, confirming he was happy to go public.  He thrives on all  attention so was more than happy to be asked to stand with some half-dressed celebrity while holding an outsized cheque. I’d suggested privacy might be the wiser option but, as always when he was excited, my advice had been brushed aside in the customary manner.

Dust settled and he was looking to buy himself a decent runabout for no more than £100,000 and a house in the smarter part of town, but near enough to our local to “Spread the cheer” and boast to one and all about his good fortune. His doorbell rang quite often as charities sought his support, or the local paper requested an update on his spending plans, and he had lots of those as you can imagine: all good and cheerful and best of luck to him.

About a fortnight after his win, while I was round his house listening to him lording it over the fates, the doorbell rang again and when he answered it there was a young man on the steps who looked remarkably like him, together with a reporter from the local paper. “I’m your son” he said. “I’ve been trying to trace you for about five years and when your face turned up in the papers I knew it was you immediately.” At that moment Carol, who had been in the kitchen preparing some canape’s for a party( She’s a dab hand in the kitchen ) came out to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t have to tell you that the conversation took an interesting turn at that point, but perhaps we’ll leave that to another occasion!

Posted in character, community, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Life, marriage, Peter Wells, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 23 Comments

Lunch Quite Near The Top Table

Party Pete’s’ the name and keeping people happy is “My raison du jour”: a joke here, drink there; you get the picture. Anyway, to cut a long story short, my friend Eric, a master chef who knows his onions from his shallots, was asked to cook for an event starring some Cabinet Minister. Eric wangled me a ticket so I could share the moment with him: can’t be bad.

Come the night and Eric’s done his cooking and is going for the traditional wander round the room soaking up praise and feeling the love. I go with him, an unexplained presence, but as a friend of Eric’s people let it go. The cabinet minister with his mate: some Earl with the remains of an estate in Devon and a debt or two, if the gossip columns are right, walks up to congratulate Eric on his food.

You know these really successful blokes: he was about my age but unlike me had made a decent pile, got the knighthood, country house and a wife who spoke more than one language, and that understated smug look about him which says “I don’t have to boast about my success because I know you are going to praise and fawn over me anyway.”

Putting my hand up here, if unsteadily I admit, I’d slide outside a glass or three of wine and the need to speak wisdoms in famous company was almost overpowering. You know; make some telling remark or utter that killer phrase which makes these top-table types look at you and say, “This talent should be walking along the corridors of power by my side?”

I decided to take the “Man to man” approach and throw one of my life tips across the bows of his eminence, the cabinet minister and humble lord of all he surveys. As he drew level with me, wife in tow, I leaned in towards him, confidential like, and suggested with a face like that, his wife could do with wearing her dress with a lower neckline if she was to grab the attention of any passing notables. I winked at him then to demonstrate my insight was strictly between him and me and spoken in my capacity as a fellow celebrant in the hall of greatness. Eric stopped and looked at me, and seemed less happy than normal and the cabinet minister’s face was going red although the earl, bless him, started wheezing with laughter until he stifled it with his handkerchief.

“And who are you sir. WHO ARE YOU??” boomed the Cabinet minister in a tone of voice which suggested no social invitations would be forthcoming from certain government departments. “Just trying to be helpful” I said, “It’s the little things isn’t it, or it certainly they are in your wife’s case” I added, chuckling in my best conspiratorial manner, before some security man grabbed me by the arm and propelled me towards the exit. As I left I heard his wife ask “Who is that vile man?”

It was some days before I saw Eric again, and his manner was warmer than I expected. He said, “When the Minister moved on, the Earl came back and invited me down to cook at his place, and said, “Make sure you bring that rude fellow with you.” They may have locked the main entrance but perhaps I’ve discovered the side door into Greatness Villas: only time will tell.


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Brussels, Lahore TV Dramas and Current Events

I have a hobby, or is it a compulsion, to do with watching box sets on television. Recently I have been both engrossed and then appalled by a docu-drama based on the life of Pablo Escobar. As the episodes progress I watched him and the henchmen he employs morph from comprehensible if disturbing human beings into something entirely disconnected from those cares and values which bind humanity together, however varied our cultures. In the script there is a professional killer who carries his bible with him everywhere and always finds a quote from it to justify the next homicide, but without any sense of irony. This world is full of people who admit to no value other than a perverted sense of honour: It’s all about the strategy and pride.

“Chilling” is the word that comes to mind, and as I reflected upon this ISIS committed another horrific and barbarous act; this time in Brussels, a barbarism echoed by the Taliban in Lahore. I can almost hear Escobar saying “We need to make these people take us seriously. If they kill one of ours we will destroy a thousand of theirs,” and so on.

The sheer disconnected barbarity and rationalised inhumanity central to the outlook of the terrorist was made more real to me by watching the series which explained their mind-set in a way nothing else has done. Each of Escobar’s killers prayed before going on his latest “job” in a perverted mimicry of catholic faith.

The expanding cycle of terrorism, and the use of a religion, be it Christianity or Islam, to justify acts which are profoundly uncivilised is a sickening and frightening modern phenomenon which I have struggled to comprehend. Watching that thuggery on the screen, carried out by people who still saw themselves as humans with moral values made this modern horror story more comprehensible to me: that’s what a good drama gives you: it illuminates your perceptions with experiences outside your own. It makes the world more comprehensible, however disturbing that vision may be.

Posted in community, Humanity, Life, Middle East, Peter Wells, society, Syria, writing | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

One Last Drink

Looking back it was like our last hurrah. A record of my “Heyday,” as I like to call it: marking our charge toward hoped for fame and glory with a photograph or two: me, Sarah, Sir Nigel as he became, and the rest; sitting like victors round some table in Windsor with a bottle of wine or six, careless of the world around us.

I was there by default; the inexplicable choice of Nigel’s sister as her boyfriend, smiling out of the photograph as if I were a chosen member of the company: I was not. Nigel and the rest, friends from school, had gathered round for a picture and I just happened to be there, but I don’t emphasise that bit.

His sister, Sarah, dropped me soon afterwards, but I still treasure the photograph as if I were a central member of the company: I show it to whoever might be interested and some that clearly are not. “There’s me with Sir Nigel Horrocks, I was dating his sister at the time,” I say, and then I pause as if I might be asked a question but seldom am. To be honest everyone has heard the story many times, and the sight of that photograph acts like a fire alarm, emptying the space around me of any company.

I am a van driver now, with well controlled aspirations but still pointing out my brush with fame. Balding I may be, and my family are tired beyond weariness of the whole anecdote, but I still like to share my “Moment with the famous.”

Apart from Sir Nigel and his glamorous entourage, I only have one other interest, excluding the wife and my two adult daughters of course, and that is model railways. Like other nutters, similarly engrossed, I have a train line set up in my attic, complete with two stations, fields, and some model sheep, and any other object I can cram into the space. I read about steam engines a lot and write articles for “Model Railway Layout Quarterly,” who’s editor I know quite well: a vicar by trade but he keeps that to himself when not working.

It’s been my hobby for years, learnt off my favourite uncle, long since dead who, in his time, bored all around him except me. I seem to have inherited his social profile but such is life. In truth that’s why Sarah, Nigel’s sister, ended our romance, I like to call it that, but not when the wife’s around. Sarah was into jazz and painting and model railways didn’t light her fire.

“I sort of love you Wayne” she said to me, “But you’re so boring: I’ve had enough” which is the last thing she said to me. No one in her group seemed sad at the parting and I never heard another word from any of them.

The reason I’m telling you this is last Saturday, as I was in the hallway with the wife, the post dropped through the door, and one of the envelopes was blue in colour, handwritten and addressed to me. I could see my wife was curious, as was I, so I opened it and we both read the following lines,

Lovely Wayne,

I traced you through that railway magazine and the editor kindly gave me your address. Of all the men I’ve known, you are the nicest and most special, and I realise how stupid I was to let you go. You are kind and I didn’t know how rare that was back then. Nigel is having his fiftieth at the Grosvenor Hotel and I want you to come to it. It would be lovely to spend some time with you again.

Love Sarah xxx

I looked up at my wife to see what she made of it and I can’t say she was looking pleased. “You’re too busy for that” was all she said, and that’s the nearest to jealous I’ve ever seen her. “Best let sleeping dogs lie, especially the wife” some wise man said, and I’m sure he’s right, but perhaps a quick word back to say hello won’t do us any harm. What do you think?

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, marriage, Peter Wells, Relationships, Uncategorized, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 30 Comments

The Point Of Living

 After eighteen months spent working in a call centre among people who were sometimes exuberant, but looking at a different version of ambition to my own, I went off to university or my life’s idea of sanctuary. About two terms into my journey some student said, “It’s so boring here” and I looked at him with amazement and said “Come with me.”

I took him to the library and, pointing in the direction of the books, whispered, “Here, on every shelf, you can connect with the finest minds published throughout the history of man. You can discuss any subject you choose and those most nuanced and aware in their field will share their insights with you, and you have all the time you want to enjoy that conversation: is that not a wonder and a privilege?”

My voice, no doubt, was earnest and engaged, but my friend looked at me as if I was an undiscovered fanatic, clearly deranged, who should be avoided as politely as possible and with a nod he left the building. My purpose then was to “Understand life,” and eating, clothing and careers came a poor second to that obsession. No lecture or seminar was missed, and I became a favourite with my tutor; the one student in my year who confirmed the purpose of his calling: I had discovered my home and this was my element.

In that first year I was a person of note, but by the second and then third years, when other students attached themselves to ambitions, or became more vocal in expressing goals already understood, I drifted from being a noted celebrator of knowledge to a curio: a man whose euphoria was removed from his circumstance.

Half way through my second year, still celebrated by those among the staff, and through a series of misunderstandings, I ended up alone but for my tutor’s wife: a lady about twelve years older than myself. She was a sculptor with dreams that did not match her reputation but she had expressed the desire to make a carving of my head “If I would sit with her.” I looked towards her husband who nodded his assent but even at that moment there was a cadence to his agreement too subtle for me to understand: possibly, in hindsight, “resignation” is the word I seek.

Sure enough, I sat for her and she, dressed in some flowing gown of sorts, marked with stains and tears giving testament to its age, started chopping, chiselling and then sanding at a block of wood with frenetic energy. At last she said, “I must get something to drink” and when she returned she was holding a large glass of wine and had cast aside her gown to reveal a figure free of garments, “Too hot” was all she said, taking a second slurp from the glass and then returning to her sculpturing as if it were a normal interview.

Finally, when the session was over, and she had “refreshed her glass” on a number of occasions, I said goodbye somewhat awkwardly, managing, as I later realised, to insult her by rejecting her advances, and thus not allowing her to demean the husband she despised. Still, I became too embroiled in the undertones of my tutor’s marriage to remain his friend.

I was still celibate at the time, more by lack of strategy than intent, and without the clarity to either accept or reject her offer and preserve her dignity. Needless to say, she soon disliked me, and rumours came to my ears that I had attempted to behave inappropriately in her company.

Finally, released from my studies, and with a sadness I still cannot contemplate, I took those jobs which paid the rent but, as my life progressed, became increasingly at variance with my interests, reputed intelligence and some aspects of awareness.

At one point I became a married man: bound to a woman who spoke with wonder of my kindness but, over time, became impatient with my lack of urgency. She returned home one day to find me deliberating on the concept of “Obsolescence.” Interrupting my thoughts with minimal preamble, she told me she had met someone else and would I leave? The men I admire always act without self-interest and so I determined to do the same.

Walking out of her life, free of possessions, because how could I claim with any honesty, what she had earned, I saw a sadness in her eyes, but then I lived with a manner of un-strategic curiosity she could no longer accommodate. Somehow she wished herself to be more gentle than she was, I like to think, as she left me to enjoy her certainties with a man better grounded than myself: we are not all travellers, someone told me, or willing to suffer in the attempt to be so.

I became that polite oddity: a seeker of obscure profundities, obsessed with illuminating observations which had no practical usage until I am arrived at my current destination: still filled with wonder and that desire to understand which has dogged me throughout my life but now asking, “Did I miss the point?”

Posted in character, creative writing, Fiction, humour, Life, Peter Wells, Reputation, Romance, Talent, values, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 23 Comments