Paradise With A Guilty Secret

The world will not applaud us, that I understand, but two days ago before you left for America, emigrating with your ever-promoted husband, we snatched a last moment together: your hair on my shoulders, eyes locked with mine; finding comfort in a moment we were powerless to expand and all that was and is left for us.

You are the wife of my employer; a man defined by his successful search for glory and power while we both sought for what we could not afford and dreamt of travelling landscapes we would never see. In each other’s eyes we sought the immortal power of understanding, albeit uncertainly. Beauty is not always apparent to the man seeking the neat solution but to me you were the heart of it’s being: an unacknowledged angel trapped in expediency.

So often we pass the most important moments of our lives thinking them incidental but your gaze and the love within it showed me an understanding and kindness which gave added value to my being.Nothing moves humanity at large more than the powerless loving the powerless and in your gaze I discovered that truth to be eternal.

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That Last Chance Class

You know that practised smile, the air-hostess smile so beloved in the world of the antiseptic greeting? Miss Laura had it and could look on you and then move away before you could ask if her manner was sincere, or meant just for you, or a mere reflection of your longing, but luck was not on her side the day I joined her dancing class.

I was lonely and desperate, and for some years I had lived as a recluse, through force of circumstance rather than desire. One evening, an advert in the local newspaper caught my eye and here I was holding Miss Laura in my arms, and seeing her eyes, warm and nurturing, then wary, then alarmed as she looked up at me. I could almost hear her refined and polished instincts whirring into action as she sought a way to extricate herself from the arms of this odd creature without creating a scene.

I hung on to her a bit too long and her eyes, with that gentle seriousness I had seen before in other girls, made the unspoken suggestion that I was threatening to embarrass myself and her until, like some piece of refuse caught briefly by an overhanging branch, I was released from my hypnosis and freed her from my grasp.

As I let her go, her eyes hardened as if to say, “I do not waste my warmth on men like you” and to be honest there was a guarded, careful quality about her which was at odds with her apparently social and generalised manner.

I had been a wealthy man in my time, and used to employ a modesty of character combined with an expensive wardrobe to attract those whose company I might enjoy. Up to my mid-forties I had been considered sensible, balanced and particular, until a certain Maria Gratzia, who boasted among other things, that she was a distant descendant of Lucretia Borgia, caught my eye: which outlandish claim was given some credence by her subsequent conduct.

What she had against men, or mankind in general, or just me, I cannot truly say, but once I lost myself in her, she married me, took half my wealth, my reputation and my peace of mind before leaving me to find consolation in uneasy solitude brought on by shame and balmed by any drink I could acquire.

We all have unsavoury, grubby aspects to our character do we not, and she managed to fillet out mine and make it general knowledge to excuse her own conduct, which it did; leaving me, now a pariah, to steal into the obscure seclusion from which I had failed to free myself for close on a decade. At last, the longing to be absolved, touched and recognised gradually possessed me until I had made this unbalanced attempt to renew my social life.

I was like a man dying of thirst who stumbles into some fine restaurant and gulps and slurps from a carafe of wine without ceremony, revolting the diners with his display of unpolished appetite, as was my brief and awkward dance with Miss Laura until she saw the hunger in my eyes. After a while recognition overlayed the hauteur and she said, “Mr Longestine, please do not come back here again,” and I left as quickly as I could. Secrets laid bare can haunt us all our lives.

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The Perfect Partner

It is said that when we seek a life-partner we look for what we want or desire but later, and often after the point of no return, we realise that what we have been drawn to is the familiar wrapped in a beguiling costume. Are we always attracted to the same situation in different guises, and the same mistakes in different garb, until we find a way of confronting them or merely run out of life-battery during the attempt to do so?

When I first met her, Vanessa seemed like a party girl to me and possibly to her I seemed a kindly influence in an indifferent world. Much too late, some might say, we discovered we were strangers: who became politely intolerable to each other over the ensuing years.

That’s where manners come in: confronted by an uncomfortable truth, you offer it a cup of tea and ask it if its journey has been uneventful. The one thing you do not seek is to engage it in meaningful and personal conversation, because who knows what will happen once that dialogue begins. We found a way to sit together and exist on a diet of pleasantries and the need for space but I cannot really call it “Living.”

Living is what I did when I met Paula from work: trapped like me in a conventional straight-jacket and dreaming of the moment when she could cast aside convention. We gave each other the strength and courage to celebrate life in our way so, in a moment of reckless abandon, I told my wife I was leaving her and moved in with Paula, who divorced her husband, buoyed up by my impetuous euphoria.

Happiness was ours to drink and life to celebrate each and every day: the liberation was overwhelming and my joy complete. We were children without parents and life became our playground. Gradually we found ourselves somehow without direction, or boundaries apart from that set by exhaustion. Then the newly “free” Paula discovered an appetite for sharing her euphoria with all and anyone she met although less often with me.

That order from which I fled suddenly took on the mystique of Eden but by then Vanessa had met a man better suited to her than I ever was, leaving me free to reflect on the price of my frustrations!

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Bunter Macingtosh Flirts With An Executive Lifestyle

When a letter arrived, addressed to Mr B.J. Macintosh from L.J.Lemmings Ltd, digital security experts, who boast that even their luncheon menu is encrypted, inviting me to be interviewed for a position in their Cyber Security department I was baffled. I had not applied for a job with that enterprise, but obviously someone in that company’s HR department, with the inside track on undiscovered abilities, had discovered a seam of talent in the Macingtosh persona unknown to its owner, or anyone else for that matter.

Those of you cursed with an unnecessary familiarity with my life might know that appearance means everything to me so I set off wearing my only suit, and with a copy of the “Undercover News” folded discreetly under my arm.

Once settled in the dimly lit interview room a chap whose face was modestly hidden by a screen asked me a series of questions: here is our conversation!

“Do you hold a GCIH certificate?” he asked me. “No” I said!
“Do you hold a CISSP certificate then?” he continued. “No” I replied.

Appearing to be somewhere between unsettled and irritated he continued, “Are you familiar with the requirements for a CISSP-ISSAP qualification?”

“Always happy to rise to the challenge,” I replied, “Does it have anything to do with catering?” patting my generous waistline and adding that it was an area of expertise where no qualifications were required at the domestic level!

“No” he replied, and asked me why I was there, to which I replied that I was invited. “There has clearly been an administrative error: before you leave please be aware that all conversations in this place are subject to the Official Secrets Act.”

“Is there an Unofficial Secrets Act?” I enquired because it is the Macintosh way to search for knowledge at every turn.

“Kindly leave!” he responded and, as if to add urgency to his words, a gentleman appeared at my side whose possible love of catering was clearly combined with an unsettling interest in the local gym.

“Are there any other positions you would like me to apply for” I asked. “No” he said.

Not wishing to be rude to the department’s catering facilities, I asked if I should finish my coffee first, but a firm hand on my shoulder suggested such courtesies were not required.

Despite my wish to reach out to the passing world I could see there was little likelihood I would be invited back for lunch so with a cheery wave I said. “Onwards and downwards,” which is the Macintosh way.

“Very likely” said my host as he lowered his eyes to his paperwork!

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A Common Interest

I have spent my life’s journey looking out of the window at passing events, fascinated by the spectacle of existence rather than having any thoughts of a destination or purpose. “Clever but not present” a teacher said about me to my father on one occasion and I can agree, at least, on the “Not present” bit as that has been increasingly apparent to me during my life.

The people I work with in a retail business are among the nicest I have met, and defend a life of simple values as best they can, while working long hours on the minimum wage to sustain their families: that quietness, modesty and a certain caringness for others, are often absent in some customers, engrossed perhaps with more urgent concerns in their drive-through lives.

My landlord Richard, grumpy, invasive but kept at bay by that vague air of erudition which has made my life more civilised than I deserve, looks at me with bewilderment but is tolerant because I always pay my rent on time and make no noise, which is not so true of some of his other tenants, all of whom are younger than I.

In the midst of this, I sit in my room researching, as I often do, the lives of the pre-Raphaelites and John Ruskin who was one of their champions. It is a curious interest, perhaps, and one which does not involve a rich social life but through an internet forum, inhabited by those who enjoy all things to do with Victorian history, I have come across Anita, who shares my love of obscure topics and joined me, via the internet, in an investigation into the origins of the impressionist movement.

Gradually our interest in each other progressed beyond the intellectual but she lives in Newcastle and I in London and neither of us has the money or the freedom to visit the other. Yesterday we Skyped for the first time and it was wonderful to look on the face of someone I thought to be of value and who felt the same about me.

Can I find a way to live nearer to her, and would it be too forward to suggest such a thing? Here I am, somewhere between hope and frustration, but sensing the birth of courage and a determination which has always been foreign to me. I cannot write of what I do not know and should not form plans based on a fantasy but regardless I can still dare to hope and hope may be the pathway to my dream.

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The Unexpected Letter

Looking back it was like our last hurrah. A record of my “Heyday,” as I like to call it, marking our charge toward hope, 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 or two 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 certified accountant by trade, but with well controlled aspirations although 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. I read about steam engines a lot and write articles for “Model Railway Quarterly,” who’s editor I know quite well: a vicar by trade but he keeps that occupation to himself when not working.

It’s been my hobby for years, learn’t 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 just 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?

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For The Love Of Dogs

Ignatius Plotsky was a poet in waiting, a painter in search of a canvas and writer of some obscurity whose insights were sited somewhere beyond the land of meaning.

Following a few drinks at the bar, and spotting a young lady who, as Shakespeare might have said, “Ticked all the boxes” he wandered up to her and, pushing his fringe aside in a practised gesture of world weariness said, “Faze in to the far out” while looking as deeply into her eyes as good manners would allow.

Her mind was filled more with the image of Maserati’s than poetry so we can forgive her, or anyone else to be fair, for failing to understand what he meant. Indeed he didn’t know himself but it had a certain cadence don’t you think? It flowed with obscure confidence, a silent volume possibly, or am I allowing myself to fall into the trap of meaningless profundities set by our pre-illustrious hero.

Whatever his failings or mine, his interest in the fair maiden was sincere, and seeing that her eyes did not fill with wonder he quickly added, “Perhaps we can discuss life and the apparel of the dilettanti over a meal at “La Gala,” which was an expensive restaurant of note in central London.

Here was her problem. He clearly had the conversational magic of a route guidance system, but La Scala was a seriously exclusive eaterie available only to the “More money than taste” clique, of which young Ignatius was a proud member. Brief images of a sun drenched Maserati speeding across the Alps toward Monte Carlo, with her in the passenger seat and music playing just loud enough to drown out his voice, moved through her imagination as she replied, “That would be lovely darling.”

She called everyone “Darling” in truth, but he was not to know that, and so felt flattered by this obvious sign of interest. “Let us move with languid haste towards the chariots of yore” he said quoting a line from the poem he had been “slaving” over the previous evening. Her mind, filled with expensive cars and drawing room trinkets, hardly noticed he was talking nonsense and gave him one of her deeper smiles which looked past his soul towards his bank account.

Curiously after both had exhausted all attempts to impress the other, somewhere before the desserts had arrived, they discovered a mutual love of dogs and potted plants: successful marriages, as Ignatius might have said, “Are often based on a lesser hue.”

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Did You find It

At forty years old I secretly hankered for adventure, the promised land, peace, social standing and a secure home even if those disparate goals were always jostling for my attention. Married yes, but not loved: trapped within a barren home yet protected by social standing, I still dreamed of that perfect romance: the final escape and the search for new horizons not offered by my current domestic circumstances.

My wife loved prestige and my surroundings offered her that but more by accident than planning: a detail to which she paid no attention. All this is/ was everything and nothing until I was called to a conference at a London hotel involving a two nights stay.

You’ve already guessed it, I know: the love of my life was at the bar and ready for me to buy her drinks regardless of expense. She was elegant, aloof, vulnerable but in that defiant way which takes the breath away from certain men; I am one of them. She asked me what I did for a living and I replied “I can’t remember” which amused her for a while and led her to spending another moment with me.

Lost souls have their own connection but without centre, plan or address so as drinks were poured we shared our frustrations and misfortunes which had kept us from reaching the promised land: we discovered we had both been to the Galapagos Islands which memory we treasured. Later she joined me in my room, partly disrobed, it must be said, yet sitting in a chair at some distance from my own, don’t ask me why.

We had kissed with wild abandon in the lift, my wife and children forgotten in the heated euphoria the moment offered: I told myself she would stay with me always and make each day an adventure but. somehow, by the time I opened the door to my room she had collected herself and become the detached person I presume she normally was.

After a moment of silence she asked me“Do you love yourself?” and I replied “I’m sure I will do once we meet” and without another word she rose and left the room. She was to lost herself perhaps: a mermaid teasing drifting souls from the shores of life but she did not need me adding to her woes. Like her, I realised, I must collect myself, complete my work and return home and continue pretending I was a happy man: that is what common sense dictated.

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Charles Nuggett

“Perfection,” as my wife might observe, “Lies just beyond the next alteration to the wardrobe or figure.” Her search for the perfect husband stopped with me some years ago, and that jaundiced look around her eyes suggests that she still blames herself for ordering from the menu of life without fully weighing up the choices: I suppose it’s fair to say she is not alone with that feeling.

Anyway, I am straying from my point, if I can remember what it is. Ah yes, it centres on memories of my old friend Charlie Nuggett who did the “Mystic Shuffle” last month and who enjoyed the send-off only a man of his character and social standing could achieve I’m afraid: no one turned up for the service apart from myself and some guy who was seeking shelter from the rain. My good lady refused to attend, citing a backlog of ironing, but I suspect, among other things, she did not wish to be seen in the company of morally worthless individuals, including her husband, whether in or outside of the box:no thinking required inside the box apparently, but that’s another topic: I must not get distracted.

Thinking outside the box is my forte, My “Spécialité de Maison,” which actually means I often lose the thread of my conversations, wardrobe or anything else which is not firmly attached to my person. Still, where was I.

Oh yes.Charlie was a man of colourful character who managed to offend the vast majority of people in our community without regard to race, sex, age, weight or fashion sense. However, he had two friends, myself and Sid, who missed the funeral because he broke his leg when going down to his cellar recently. Sid and I used to hang around him like those small fish who sit on the backs of sharks enjoying the odd morsel which escapes their host’s attention.

In our cases it was Charlie’s indiscretions which added spice to our day, and I will miss the drive and sense of purpose he brought to achieving his social ruin although the lack of attendance at his funeral suggests he got as near as anyone to achieving his life’s goal.

Indeed, there was a certain edge to the vicar’s brief eulogy, possibly resulting from that time when our Charlie got a bit “fresh” with his wife at some fund-raising gig to do with the church roof. On that note, I suspect my wife’s irritation is compounded by the fact she was one of the few women he never attempted to get fresh with, which I think she took as a back-handed insult: there really is no pleasing some people !!

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A Lockdown Social Life

 I could do with a larger social life. I could do with any social life at the moment, but now I have come up with a solution which has ultimately left me with little peace: let me explain.

Each morning I start the day by making myself tea, pour water in the kettle and assemble cup and tea bag before retrieving the milk from the fridge in readiness for that moment when the kettle starts singing and arms whirr into action to create the perfect morning cuppa, drunk while sitting in my favourite (only) chair.

Suddenly, well not suddenly, an idea seeped into that winelogged area called my brain and I decided to give everything a name and thereby a personality. With this in mind, we will return to our tea making exercise and see what a difference a day makes when you are in company.

I walk into the kitchen and shout out “Morning Geoff,” (the kettle)  “I’ll just put a splosh of water in you and then you can sing me your favourite tune when it’s ready!” Geoff doesn’t say anything at first but we all know he can really let rip when the mood takes him, or if he gets a bit hot around the elements.

That settled, I go to the cupboard (Sid) and take out Karl, my favourite mug which (who) has a picture of a duck on it (him) because everyone in my house loves ducks naturally. “Don’t worry mate,” I say, “I’ll put the milk in first so you don’t get scalded” and Karl makes a sort of clacking noise when he lands on the kitchen table to say thank you: he likes a bit of noise does Karl.  Anyway, once Marion Milk has done her bit and returned to the fridge, ( she’s an attractive girl but rather frigid once she gets in my house sad to say ) I take Karl, now filled with precious liquid, and go and settle in Frieda, my favourite chair to talk about life and the coming day.

Credit where credits due, all my chums are tolerant and allow me to say anything you like without interrupting me if you ignore Geoff’s piercing singing voice and Karl’s insistent clacking, but then lads can be restless can’t they?

Now for the big stuff! Araminta Shirt, one of my favourites, has volunteered to clothe me today because she knows it’s a teaching day and smartness is required even though I currently teach online! Other items of clothing, all with different names and outlooks join her in the task of clothing me, varied in many ways but with a shared loyalty to meeee. 

I think I overheard them saying once that clothing me was a chore and not a privilege, and how they loved to be left in the closet where they could gossip with friends and relax in soothing darkness but I’m sure they still enjoy the odd adventure out on the trail: I like to think so anyway! I could be offended by their reluctance but, let’s be honest, we all love a snooze don’t we!

At a safe hour I venture into town, now in good company and immune to the pain of being unknown or ignored by the public at large. Just to let you know, I’ve become pretty close to the post box at the end of the street who asks me constantly if I’ve had a letter yet which is not a bill. “One day Frank, one day” I say because optimism in the face of facts is my “modus operandi” a term they used in the online-college  where I work.

 It seems almost impossible to get a moment to yourself these days!!



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