Saturday, 30 June 2012

61: It’s Like Being

Josie first noticed she was different at about the age of 7.  She wanted to play with her sister’s dolls and there were some in the toy box under the stairs.  So she did.  She took out a big baby doll and a smaller fashion doll, and sat them on the sofa next to her.  They were visiting, she thought, from out of town sharing exciting stories of their glamorous travels.  They sipped tea from a bone china tea set, delicate pinkies raised, like ladies.

Josie played happily for a while, and then her Dad arrived home.  He thundered into the room, face contorting as he said “What the hell are you doing?  Those are girls’ toys, not for you.  Just because your sister left them out doesn’t mean you can touch them.”  He swept the dolls onto the floor then cuffed Josie across the head.  “Up to your room.  Now.”

That was the first time Josie had any idea she wasn’t like other boys.  She didn’t mind playing with a train set or building blocks but she was useless at sports and hated football.  Her Dad wanted her to play for the school and then maybe the town, but Josie spent more time falling over than she did kicking the ball.  She could see the disappointment in his eyes when he watched her play.

By senior school, Josie knew she was very different.  She learnt how to hide what she thought and disguise the way she wanted to behave.  Fitting in was hard enough for a teenage boy anyway, where the wrong hairstyle or accent could spell social isolation.  Admitting to the wrong set of genitals would probably lead to regular, severe beatings.

Josie left school as soon as she could and moved to London within weeks.  Via chatrooms she had found there were some other people like her.  People trapped in the wrong body, although Josie preferred to think of it in more gentle terms.  She’d chosen the wrong birthday suit, she would say.

By her mid-twenties Josie lived openly as a woman and never used the name Wayne except on the form applying for a sex change.  By 30 she had completed her operations and had a boyfriend who loved her exactly as she was.  By 40 she missed her family and took a visit home.

“Try to help me understand,” said her Dad.

“It was like playing football with a medicine ball, wearing ballet shoes and nobody explaining the rules,” said Josie.

“And after?”

“It’s like being really alive for the very first time.”

Inspired by “It’s like being switched off”

Friday, 29 June 2012

60: Sir Jonathan Reaffirms

The Rt Hon Sir Jonathan Murgatroyd today made this statement:

“I regret having to take this step but in light of the continuing unfounded allegations against me, I feel I have no option but make a public statement at this time.

“I have never met Mr Gillard Ruddygore.  I have never had a relationship with Mr Gillard Ruddygore.  I have never borrowed money from Mr Gillard Ruddygore.  Although I have previously conversed with Mr Ruddygore electronically, ours has always been a strictly business relationship.  Until Sunday’s newspaper report, I believed Mr Ruddygore to be a financial adviser from Runcorn.

“With hindsight, I should not have requested photographic confirmation from Mr Ruddygore that he was as muscular as a bullock, nor should I have suggested any form of attire he might wear in such a photograph.  It was inappropriate and had no bearing on any business venture we may have planned together.

“Nor should I have requested details of financial schemes that have been wilfully misinterpreted by the gutter press as ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes.  I merely hoped Mr Ruddygore, in his role as a financial advisor, might be able to help me invest a small windfall I had received from a family passing in a way that maximized my short term gains.  I certainly did not press Mr Ruddygore for financial incentives in return for a business advantage associated with my public duties.

“I would like to apologize if I have caused any misunderstanding and in particular, to my beloved wife Doreen.  Arranging to meet Mr Ruddygore in our holiday home for a weekend was perhaps an error of judgement, even though it provided a perfect location for a long business meeting where we would not be overlooked or interrupted.

“I would like to reassure my constituents and the party that I fully intend to put this unfortunate matter behind me and will resume my portfolio of duties later today.

“That is all I have to say on the matter.”

Inspired by “Sir Jonathan Reaffirms Apple Role”

Thursday, 28 June 2012

59: A Gathering

Nobody knew quite what we were waiting for, truth be told.  The genesis of the crowd turned out to be a queue of people waiting to be served, which mingled with a group of teenagers, ambling along with nowhere special to go.  After that, people just seemed to join the crowd to see what everyone else was there for.

The enterprising and opportunists made good money.  There were hot food stands, jugglers and buskers, people selling watches only available at Harrods and at what a price.  Soon there was a carnival feeling to the whole place and people chatted to others near them that they'd never even met before.  Some shared their food and friendships we made that day endured for a long time.

The police attended before long but there were few arrests despite the growing numbers and the lack of anything actually happening.  As always, a few tried to take advantage of the good-natured, somewhat inattentive crowd and wallets and purses were stolen.  Isn’t that almost what people are expecting now?  The police moved about the crowd a little more often, reassuring revellers that we were as safe as they could be.

Impromptu singing began in the middle of the afternoon.  As the sun showed itself for the first time that day, a cheer went up and a medley of chart hits began.  Nobody knew who was leading the singing but it was so well coordinated those too far back to see for certain thought this must be what the gathering was for.

Closer to tea time, the crowd began to thin.  The singing wound down until just small pockets were still going on, by then no longer coordinated and each group singing their own choices instead.  The food sellers packed up and left, sensing there soon wouldn’t be any trade left.  Shoppers heading for car parks were no longer caught up in the throng, proceeding homeward unimpeded.

Despite nothing really happening nobody complained, not that there would have been anyone to complain to.  We had a sense of wellbeing and happiness, as if we had been part of something special.  And perhaps we had.

Inspired by “Crowds gather for funeral of Bee Gee Robin Gibb”

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

58: Lonely Hearts

Once upon a time there was a man who had a tiny heart.  He could never love a girl properly because there wasn't enough room in his heart for his love to grow.  He would start well but although he knew what love was, he couldn't show his love or find the words to express his love. 

So every girl he loved eventually tired of being unsure how important to him she was.  The man was mostly happy but sometimes he would feel lonely and wish he had a girl to share his life with.  He had friends and tried to be content with sharing their company instead.

One day the man met a new girl at the market.  She was beautiful and confident, kind and funny.  She showed compassion to the poor of the town and impressed the town's elders with her intelligence and good sense.  The man knew at once the girl was the perfect girl for him.  But his history made him frightened that he would never be able to love a girl so wonderful, so he said nothing.

For weeks many other men from the town tried to woo the new girl, whilst the man looked on.  He wished he had a bigger heart, so he could tell the girl that he loved her and if she loved him too, to make her happy forever.

The man went to see the town's doctors and asked for their help.  He explained his problem and how he wanted a larger heart so he could love the new girl if she would have him.  None of the doctors could help him and none had any idea how to make a tiny heart bigger.  He left, despondent, and walked and walked.

He found himself at the edge of the town and tired out, he sat on a tree stump, resting his head in his hands.  After a while the man became aware of someone watching him and he looked up, to see the girl standing close by.  She smiled at him, walked over and sat down.  She took his hand is hers, lacing her fingers between his.  She rested her head on his shoulder and he in turn rested his head on hers.

The man felt warmth and calm come over him, felt a soft popping in his chest.

“I can help you,” she said.  “Our hearts will grow larger together.”

Inspired by “Lab grows heart muscle from skin”

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

57: Scene of the Crime

Martha looked at her reflection, hardly recognizing the old woman who looked back.  The eyes were hers, but they were hooded, crumpled at the corners and had a weariness she resented.  All those potions and pots of miracle cream hadn't worked, not as she'd hoped anyway.  Most people said she looked fabulous for 56 years but not in her own eyes.

Her cheeks were still smooth and barely drawn down by gravity at all.  Her neck was slim, showing no sign of an extra chin.  Martha hated the phrase ‘double chin’ and had been determined never to have one.  The skin was a little sun-worn, particularly closer to her chest.  She rued not discovered SPF-infused moisturizer years sooner.

Martha raised her hands to her face, placing one near each eye.  Her hands showed her age more than her face, creped and spotted.   She hated them, hid them from view whenever she could.  Now she pulled at the skin around her eyes, lifting it outwards, tightening the wrinkles and altering the shape of her eyelids.

Some of her friends were proud of their lines and lumps, attributing them to a life well lived and charting the progress they had made in raising a family.  Tomorrow Martha would book into a clinic in an anonymous London street and submit to the knife that would remove proof of what she had lived through, leaving hardly any evidence at all.

Inspired by “Plans to remove ‘Granny Flat’ council tax”

Monday, 25 June 2012

56: The Slow Decline

A time was that almost all the men folk in the town were employed by the mine in some way.  Most worked underground but some worked up top, engineers and supervisors and such.  The managers all lived in big houses outside of town where the leaves were still green not coated in black, so they didn't count.

Men folk meant something different then too.  Now a boy is a man at 18, 16 if his family needs it, but back then a boy started man’s work at 12.  Sons followed fathers down into the dark and too often followed gentle into that good night, whole families wiped out in one collapse.

After the war, the decline quickened.  More mechanization meant fewer men.  Not just in this Valley but all over the country, men lost their work and families lost their income.  Morale was lower than it had been during the war even, but nothing could be done.  Then the pits started to close as the profit to be made from mining fell.  That was all the owners cared about in the end.

It was oil as well.  Oil became the fuel of choice more and more often.  It could be used for all kinds of things see, things you could never use coal for, so it wasn’t a surprise really.  More and more pits closed.  But nothing compared to the determination of one woman to smash the mining tradition.

Thatcher.  She started what did for us once and for all, drove the final nails in the coffin.  We tried to hang on and we did, for so long.  She turned communities in on themselves, made enemies of brothers and neighbours, played individuals against authorities.  Even after it was over, things never recovered.  Before long it was all but over completely.

At least that meant no more collapses and families rushing to the pit for news of survivors.  Mostly there is nothing to rush here for at all.

Inspired by “The slow decline of the porn industry

Sunday, 24 June 2012

55: Real Temptation

Wanted: men and women for all new reality show.  Nudity may be required at times.  Must be willing to follow rules without question.  Would suit couples but individuals also considered.  Experience of outdoor pursuits an advantage.

“Do you think we’ll get many applicants?”

“There’ll be plenty.  The question will be how many want to take part when they realize what we have planned.  It’s not the sort of show to springboard you into celebrity as so many youngsters seem to dream of these days.”

“Will we run with just one pair then?  And a backup pair I guess.”

“I thought we could have several couples, each in a different garden.  They won’t know about each other and whoever last the longest, wins.”

“So will they have tasks to do each week and be voted off by the public then?”

“There will be just one task for the entire duration, identical for each couple.  Resist temptation.  Simple as that.”

“Will the pressure mount every so often then?  Or do the public vote on what new temptations to add in?  
Maybe when a couple fails, the temptation for all of those left could be increased.  How about that?”

“I think it would be more effective just to have one temptation and see how long they can hold out for, don’t you?”

“I can’t really see it as a money-spinner to be really honest.  If we want a big audience, we need a reason for them to tune in.  They want to be part of things, feel like they are having a say in what happens.  Without that we won’t get sponsorship and then we can’t afford to air the show at all.”

“This isn’t about money, it’s about increasing followers.  Our slot on the channel has been assured and we won’t be expected to generate money, although that may happen too of course.  Some of our followers give very generously every week.  I’ve also arranged a special advertising strategy.  Every Sunday and in every parish newsletter, the word about our show will be spread.  From there I expect word of mouth to carry the message much further.  Our audience will be bigger than any traditional reality show.”

“Ok, ok you’ve obviously thought this through but can I plead for some audience involvement?  Please?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Let them vote for when we release the serpent.”

Inspired by “Man and woman killed in Walsall shooting

Saturday, 23 June 2012

54 Creative Solutions

Some in government argue leaks are the new black.  Not so much in government, perhaps.  Maybe more around and about government, those seeking to influence government.  If you want to make something happen, draw attention to something happening or halt something planned, a well-timed leak could be your best weapon.

There is a hierarchy of leaking, based on a combination of how effective they are, how difficult they are to pull off and what kind of information is best leaked in that way.  Now I could tell you more about the hierarchy but that is my area of expertise and I can’t give away my secrets.  But I will give you my sales pitch, how about that?

My name is Bella Lee and I set up Creative Solutions 3 years ago.  I offer unique, bespoke solutions for organizations and individuals who seek to influence this country’s most senior decision makers.  I have access to many of the locations where decision making is really made, both personally and via a network of fully-vetted, discrete representatives.  Your concerns become my concerns and I will select the most effective strategy for securing your desired outcomes.  If I do not currently have a representative in your area of expertise, I will source one for you.

All of the risk will be assumed by Creative Solutions and our client list is never revealed – unless that is what you want and is part of our mutually agreed solution.  You will never be asked to undertake actions yourself, again unless this is the most appropriate solution.  Any information you provide to me to help formulate your particular solution will be treated in total confidentiality and all paperwork returned to you after completion of your project.

So what might I do for you?  I am able to source invitations to meetings, dinners and social gatherings.  I organize sponsors for nominations into influential positions.  I can facilitate access to information, both preferentially and in advance of public release.  I can arrange information to be released publically, in a variety of ways.  Importantly, I will organize publicity to ensure maximum benefit for any course of action deemed necessary.  After all, what use is a plan left on a photocopier if it is then found and filed again correctly, before anyone ever finds out?

I do not provide testimonials from previous clients, just as will not I disclose your details to others if we work together.  My satisfaction rate is extremely high and many of my clients return to me for repeat business.  Others refer direct to me, and I believe this to be the highest form of compliment in a business such as mine.

I cannot guarantee final decision making will go in your favour but I do guarantee you will play an influencing role you could otherwise miss out on.  However, if you choose not to use my services, I may be asked to arrange such a role for your competitors and adversaries.  I may even arrange a leak that affects you.  Can you take that risk?

Inspired by “Leaks and power plays in Vatican City”

Friday, 22 June 2012

53: Jubilee Tiles

Most people watched the celebrations on TV or went to parties, but not me.  You know what I used my extra day for?  Grouting.  Grouting bathroom tiles.  And not even my own bathroom tiles, but my Granddad’s girlfriend’s bathroom tiles.

Just because I’ve been doing a BTEC in building studies, the whole family think I’m George Wimpy or something.  I’m not even a year in yet and most of the fiddly stuff comes much later in the course.  So far we’ve mixed cement, laid foundations, made a hut-thingy out of breeze blocks (then knocked it down again) and learnt about different types of pipes.  None of those things teaches you how to stick thin lines of white goo between 1970s tiles in an old dear’s bathroom.

Granddad met her at the Legion one Friday night.  Alice her name is.  A bit of a posh name for the Legion I think, but they seem to get on well.  She calls Granddad “Leonard” and sometimes he forgets she means him as she isn’t saying Len like everyone else does.  They’ve been stepping out for almost 2 years now.  I said what did stepping out mean and he said it’s like dating but more sedate.

He comes round one night and says to me “Danny, any chance you can come and have a look at Alice’s bathroom?  The grouting is a bit black and I’d do it myself, but I can’t with these hands.”  And I says, “Granddad, I’ve only been at it a little while.  What if I make a mess of it?”  And he says, “You won’t lad, you won’t.”  Then he offers me £10 to do it.  When he’s gone my Dad offers me £20 if I do it and don’t take Granddad’s money.  So I say yes.

So Granddad wants to impress Alice if he can and ‘Len from the docks’ doesn’t get much chance to look good.  Least that’s what he says, but I’m not so sure.  I saw her watching him when they didn’t see me and she seems pretty keen on him, even just making her a cup of tea.  Her face had that funny look you saw in black and white films but don’t see so much these days, like a kind of a glow to it.

Granddad came in and out whilst I was working and it was quite useful to have him keep an eye on me.  Turns out he used to be quite handy too but now he’s got knotted knuckles so he can’t grip anything for long.  He showed me how to do the scraping and then the filing in and wiping down.  Lucky the tiles were on firmly.  I think redoing the whole lot might have been beyond us.

After Alice made us tea in her best china and told us about when she’d been young and wanted to study but had to take a job instead.  She said how lucky us young ‘uns are these days, having all the chances we have.  Some of my mates wouldn’t see it like that, no job prospects and no money, but guess she has a point.
Turns out college were impressed I’d be doing level 2 stuff and I they think I’m a keen student now.  It got written up in my report.  So I’m going round Alice’s with Granddad again later to see if there is anything else I can get some practice on.

Inspired by “Extra day for Iran nuclear talks”

Thursday, 21 June 2012

52: The International Elvis Presley Museum and Hotel

The Wiltshire village of Tadlington is to be the unlikely home of the new International Elvis Presley Museum and Hotel complex, the brainchild of local businessman Kenneth Memphis.  Kenneth has been an avid fan of Elvis for many years and decided to mark the 35th anniversary of his hero’s death with the official opening of his new venture.  We asked Kenneth to tell us more.

“I was brought up on a diet of Elvis films and music,” says Kenneth, “my Mother being his biggest fan.  I was only 7 when he died, so all I ever knew about Elvis came from Mother.  Summer holidays were the best, when a different film was showing every morning on TV.  I knew all the songs and perfected my lip curl.”  Kenneth breaks off from his tale to demonstrate that very lip curl for our photographer.

“We had all the albums and music from the films and Mother listened to them pretty much constantly.  I think I knew the words better than I did my timetables at school.  I used to entertain the other kids in the yard with my Elvis impressions, and the teachers too.  Most of them adored Elvis too.

“When I was 18 we made our first trip to Graceland and I was hooked.  We bought lots of little memorabilia to bring home, and our Elvis fan friends all admired them.  So I had the idea of importing Elvis collectables into the UK and my business took off from there.”

By the age of 30, Memphis (not his real name – Kenneth changed it from Dawson) had a business with an annual turnover of almost £1million.  It seemed as though other people loved The King as much as he and his Mother did.  He was travelling to Graceland several times a year, sourcing new suppliers and designing stock himself.  “My proudest achievement is the bone china plate collection I designed of Elvis through the decades.  The limited run of 5,000 sold out in 2 days.”

“By then I’d started collected genuine Elvis items and displaying them at home.  At a convention someone asked if I would be willing to put some of the best pieces on display and the idea for the museum was born.  From there it was a small step to adding on a themed hotel and conference centre.  I’m thrilled that we will be open at the end of July, with a huge celebration week planned for the anniversary of his passing.”

The deluxe hotel will have everything a traveller could want, Elvis fan or not.  There will be themed bedrooms, specialist menu items based on Elvis’ own creations and regular events for hardcore fans.  The museum will host lectures, kicking off with a month of ‘Elvis – the Truth’ including a unique lecture from Memphis himself.  There are plans to establish an annual UK Elvis convention which Memphis hopes will become the biggest in the world.

“And I can proudly announce here in your newspaper the very latest news about our complex.”  Kenneth Memphis beams, eyes bright as he explains.  “By Autumn we will have our very own Vegas-style wedding chapel on-site, where couples can tie the knot in an Elvis wedding and walk down the aisle to Love Me Tender.  We even hope to have an Elvis-style registrar and vicar available to officiate at ceremonies.”

As we leave Kenneth happily planning his grand opening event, bookings are rolling in.  Rocking and rolling in of course.  Book now to avoid Hotel Heartbreak!

Inspire by “Elvis to be digitally recreated”

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

51: Iconic Imagery

Images of destruction, blood and pain filled the walls of the gallery.  The photos were all black and white but that couldn’t disguise the horror of the wounds.  In some, colour had been overlaid, one small area per image, to emphasise the effect.  Mostly it wasn’t the red of blood that had been added, as the observer might expect.  It was the rust of the spike protruding from a leg, the blue of an eyeball laid out on a cheek.

The crowd viewed the images in a hushed awe.  The scale of how man can hurt his friends, and enemies, was breathtaking.  The level of stupidity displayed almost inconceivable.  Proof of what we can sink to silenced comment.

In one group were 9 photos taken together.  All of the injuries were on one single body.  No part of the body escaped unscathed.  Both arms, both legs, the chest, the back, the head were all represented.  No explanation was provided so it wasn’t clear how they had been caused, but it was clear it had been severe, unrelenting and totally one-sided.

The artist moved between the images, dressed in camouflage and carrying a battered rifle with a bayonet attached to the end.  He tripped and skipped from photo to photo, pointing to incisions with his bayonet, miming how the injuries may have been caused.

A single wall space remained covered in a velvet curtain, a golden tasselled cord waiting to be pulled.  A gong sounded and the crowd were called to assemble in front of the curtain.  As they waited for it to swish open, a low murmur of expectation began.  Behind it was imagined to be the most horrific images of all.

Instead, small versions of the worst images were shown, this time in full colour and in wide view.  Rather than a battlefield, the location was an inner city.  Not a field hospital, but an NHS A&E department.  Not a war between nations, but a war between neighbours.  The artist not a participant, but the surgeon called upon to stitch the wounds back together.

A white card was inscribed with the title of the show.  “The atrocities of war are not so far away.”

Inspired by “A medic's pictures of the Falklands war”

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

50: Pink Warning Lights

Jenny was convinced her baby would be a girl by the way her bump was carrying, the direction a ring on a thread span and because her left boob was bigger than the right one.  She wasn’t sure whether it might always have been so, but it definitely was now and that meant a girl according to her husband’s grandmother.

At first she’d managed to resist the urge to buy only pink clothes and stuck to white and lemon, but now there were just a couple of weeks left she had bought dresses, skirts and tights covered in pink flowers of all shades.  Tom tried to warn her but she wouldn’t listen, convinced that she was right.

One evening he tried again.  “Jen, we need to talk about the baby.”

“Do we darling?  Have you chosen your names from that list I left you,” Jen asked.

“No, not yet.  I like Martha and maybe Lily.”  He paused.  “What about Daniel?  That was my grandfather’s name so maybe we could think about using that for a boy.”

Jen said nothing for a few minutes.  “Daniel is a lovely name, but we’re having a girl, Tom.  Maybe we should keep Daniel for next time.”

“How can you be so sure?” Tom said.  “At the scan they said they couldn’t tell because of how the baby was lying that day.  What if it is a boy and all your predictions have got it wrong?”

“Don’t you want a girl?” said Jenny.  “You want a boy to carry on your name?”

Tom got up and walked over to Jenny, then put his arm around her.  “Sweetheart, you know I don’t mind what we have as long and he or she is healthy and so are you.  I just don’t want you to be disappointed if it does turn out to be a boy when you have your heart so set on a girl.”

“I just know it is a girl,” she said.  “I can feel it.  And she’s lying very differently than Emma’s bump and she knows from the scan that it hers is definitely a boy.”  Jenny rubbed her swollen belly gently, feeling the baby move inside her in response.

“Promise me you won’t mind if it isn’t a girl, Jen.  I hope it is, really I do.  But on the slight chance my Grandma might have got her boobs the wrong way round, will you try to keep an open mind?  Please, for me?”

Jenny sighed and smiled up at her husband.  “OK then.  Lily if she’s a girl, Daniel if she’s a boy.”  She nudged him in the ribs.  “Imagine, if it was one of each,” she said.

Inspired by “Warning over pink ecstasy drug”

Monday, 18 June 2012

49: Can You Love?

Can you love someone like me?  I might not be your first choice but I don’t think you would be disappointed.  Mostly I’m passed over but one day I’ll be noticed and given a chance to shine.

Can you love someone like me?  Others are better looking perhaps, hair not so wiry and curly and without that patch missing up top.  But don’t my deep brown eyes make up for that?  For the fact one eye is very slightly higher than the other?

Can you love someone like me?  I know I get a bit over-excited but that’s because I’m so pleased to see you.  Don’t we all get a bit like that sometimes?  Just tell me when I’m too boisterous and I’ll try to calm it down a notch.

Can you love someone like me?  I’m really clever, learn fast and I love showing what I can do.  Think of me as your own little project maybe, a work in progress.  I might forget sometimes but we’re none of us perfect.

Can you love someone like me?  No-one will ever be as loyal as I am.  No-one.  I’ll make it my number one priority to make sure you are happy and safe.  I’ll take care of you, even lay down my life for you if I have to.

Can you love someone like me?  Please take me home.

Inspired by “Can you love a fake piece of art?”

Sunday, 17 June 2012

48: Mini Appeal

The first thing Derek noticed about Maureen was her legs.  All the girls wore those new miniskirts in 1965, but when he saw her stood outside Croydon Woolworths smoking an Embassy, he knew she was something else.  He walked up and asked her for a light.  She blew her smoke in his face and he was in love.

Maureen was 17 and worked in the mattress factory with her sister and best friend.  Derek was 18 and worked as a mechanic in his father’s garage.  They began dating and were regulars in the back row of the Regal Picture House.  Their first date was to see Dr Zhivago and Maureen wore a fur hat like Julie Christie’s.  She’d saved for weeks to buy it and it took almost all of her wages once she had paid keep to her mother.

Derek proposed and they got married in June 1968.  Maureen wore a mini wedding dress and their first son was born on Valentine’s Day.  Keith was on the small side so the family thought he was early, except for Derek’s Aunt Minnie.  Mostly she kept her thoughts to herself but could get a bit sniffy after too many sherries.

With the 1970s came free love, the Common Market and twin daughters, Alison and Lara.  They had apple cheeks, Maureen’s blue eyes and white blond curls that never darkened, as Derek’s had by the age of five.  Maureen stayed at home with the children and Derek worked overtime when he could.  They bought a Mini and stayed in a static caravan in Margate for a week every summer.  Maureen still had the legs but mostly hid them behind her pinny.

As the children hit their teens, Derek and Maureen hit a rocky patch.  She thought the children were old enough for her to get a little job during the day.  He thought work was his role and was sure the house would fall to rack and ruin if empty all day.  Maureen signed up for a course instead and learnt to touch type.  A compromise was struck.  Maureen helped in the office of garage two mornings a week and Derek was allowed to sleep in the main bedroom again.  Derek’s only stipulation was no short skirts at work.  Maureen no longer chose to wear her teenage dress style anyway.

Derek took over the family business and Maureen ran the office full time.  She studied part time for a business course and between them they launched a second, then a third garage across the Croydon area.  Keith showed no interest in mechanics, preferring accountancy instead.  The girls married two brothers, not themselves twins but both similar in looks and temperament.  Within a few years Derek and Maureen had five grandchildren.  They whole family took a sentimental holiday caravanning in Margate and Maureen won runner up in the Glamorous Grandmother competition.

They saw in the new Millennium in Australia, two of the first people in the whole world to see the dawn rising.  Their family grown and settled, Maureen and Derek matured into a more companionable and rewarding relationship.  They enjoyed spending time together, kept fit and shared more interests than ever they did when they were young.  They celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows.
Maureen wore her original mini wedding dress and Derek admired her legs all over again.

Inspired by “The Enduring Appeal of the US still”

Saturday, 16 June 2012

47: More Body Parts Needed

Peter had amassed a torso, a left leg, two right legs, a right arm and a left hand, missing the thumb.  He was fairly confident he would locate a left arm soon but he had no idea where to find a head.

It had started as a dare, a challenge from the guys in the pub.  Peter thought it would be easy to build a modern-day Frankenstein's monster.  Dave and Chris thought it was unlikely whilst Andy said he was completely deluded.  Then they challenged him to build one if he could.  Three months later, nothing more had been said so it had been quietly assumed Peter had been blowing hot air.  Andy was all for asking him about it but Dave reckoned it would be best to let it blow over.

Unfortunately the various body parts didn't quite go together so Peter had to choose between finding two matching legs or a creation with a bit of a limp.  In the end he decided to saw three inches off the top of the thigh.  The legs were then more or less the same length but one knee was four inches higher than the other.  Maybe if it only ever stood up that would be less noticeable.

Peter was feeling pleased with himself after finding a lovely arm due for incineration at the hospital where he worked.  He'd taken it home and added it to the chest freezer with the other body parts.  Then he rang the lads and arranged to meet them for a drink later, planning to let them know he was almost reading for the unveiling.

When Peter arrived the other three were already halfway down their pints.  He bought a round and they chatted for hours about girls, cars and football as normal.  It wasn't until last orders were called that he raised the subject of his creation.

"I'm nearly there, guys," he said.

"Nearly where?" said Dave.  "Totally pissed-ville?"

"No with my person.  Building someone out of other body parts."

"Don't be daft, you have not," said Chris.

Andy just scowled and sunk his pint.  "Refill anyone?"

"It's true," said Peter, "I just need a head then I'm done."

"Man that's gruesome," said Dave, still not believing him.  "Where do you get the bits?  Where do you keep them?"

Peter explained about the hospital incinerator and his chest freezer at home, outlining how he planned to reanimate the body, as Andy got back with their pints.

"I don't believe a word of it," he said.  "It's not possible to make a real human out of bits of old ones and decaying bits at that.  You're mad and we must be too for even listening to you."  They drank up in uncomfortable silence, got ready to leave and said their goodbyes.

Peter fumed on his way home and decided he'd show Andy.  He'd invite him round, show him the body so far, maybe ask his advice.  Maybe if he'd not seen such a thing Peter would find it hard to believe too.  Before he could change his mind, Peter rang Andy and asked him round.  "I'd really like you to be part of it," he said and they made plans to meet.

A few days later Chris and Dave received texts inviting them to a grand unveiling, Peter's house 7.30 that evening.  "Andy and I have collaborated and we'll show you our work tonight" the message ended.

When they arrived, Peter took them straight outside and into the garden shed.  In the corner was a shape covered in a sheet, roughly the right size to be a person.  It was swaying very slightly side to side. 

"Gentlemen, I give you..." began Peter, but Chris interrupted.  "Aren't we waiting for Andy?  He'd really want to see this."

"Don't worry, he'll put in an appearance soon.  So, as I was saying.  I'd like to introduce to you my own creation of man.  I brought Andy round to meet him just a few days ago and he helped me solve the problem of what to do about a head.  Then I just had to animate him and that was the easiest part.  I think you'll agree he's a pretty handsome bugger."

With a flourish he pulled off the sheet and there, blinking, stood a jigsaw of a man, pieces sewn together at the joints and neck.  He fixed a stare at Chris and Dave and gave a low groan. 

"Is that?  Oh my God.  Is it Andy's head?"

Andy's head turned slightly and said "Yes, it's my head.  He cut it off and stuck it on this body.  He fucking managed it guys," his voice raspy and sore.

Chris and Dave ran, their screams audible all the way up the street.

"Thanks mate," said Peter.

"No worries," said Andy, wiping the painted stitches off his neck with the sheet.  “Told you it would never work though."

"Yeah but it was worth seeing their faces when I pulled off the sheet."

"I nearly lost it then," said Andy.  "So fifty quid and night of beer we agreed?  And maybe you should take all those other body parts back to work and incinerate them before somebody catches you at it."

Inspired by “More body parts found in Canada”

Friday, 15 June 2012

46: Does The Queen?

Mr Pendlebury took his seat behind the wide walnut desk, picked up his antique fountain pen and filled it from a small silver inkwell, then positioned his round glasses comfortably on his nose.  He fancied they made him look like John Lennon in a pinstripe suit.  Mr Pendlebury hadn’t shared this thought with anyone, so nobody had disabused him of it.

Each day Mr Pendlebury became Her Majesty.  That is, Mr Pendlebury was employed to open all of the mail received by the Royal Household and to decide how best to respond to each piece.  Many of the letters were requests for visits, perhaps opening a new youth centre or naming a yacht, so those went straight to Mr Dawson who holds the royal diary.  Some of the letters were from various dignitaries so Mrs Denmaster took those and issued the appropriate replies as only one with her years of ambassadorial experience can.

So the day continued, with Mr Pendlebury sorting everything until all of the royal mail was correctly allocated.  By noon he always had a small pile left, items that did not fit into any category of official correspondence, and these items were for Mr Pendlebury to deal with personally.  Some of his junior staff called them ‘kids and bids’ letters (mainly coming from schoolchildren and older ladies) but not in earshot of Mr Pendlebury.  For these were his favourite letters of all.

He took a short break for his lunch, potted meat sandwiches and two cups of weak Earl Grey, then settled down to the task.  He read through all of the letters and drew up a list of their contents.  Today’s list was this:

Does the Queen like kippers?

Can the Queen knit and does she have any patterns to recommend?

How many corgis has the Queen had and which is her favourite ever?

Does the Queen’s hand get tired when she has to wave for a long time?

What happens if the Queen’s chair gets wet when it rains suddenly?

Mr Pendlebury then checked his list to see whether he had answered those questions before and if he had, he made sure he gave the same reply.  The Queen might appear foolish if her favourite dog changed for example or if she suddenly liked kippers having professed dislike previously.
But Mr Pendlebury had never answered a question about wet chairs before, so he took up his antique fountain pen, selected a sheet of heavy watermarked paper and began to construct a reply.

Inspired by “Does the queen do fashion?”

Thursday, 14 June 2012

45: Voting Rules

I only have one vote but when everyone else is at loggerheads and decisions tied, all you really need is one vote.  At times like that I've never been so popular.

Being an independent I have no party whip to respond to.  Mostly party politics is enough to ensure the lot in power push through whatever they want.  Being in Opposition is much harder than you’d think, harder to motivate the troops to come along and stand up against introducing new laws allowing open competition in the insurance market for example.  Mid-term, when it’s raining and the bill is extremely tedious, just about anything could get through.

I never expected to win on the ‘Save our town centres’ ticket, but I stood in a constituency where all the major candidates were exposed as liars and cheats and philanderers in the run up to the vote, so the local women decided to teach them all a lesson.  Now I have a seat in Parliament, no party alliances to tie my hands and my conscience to guide me through.

Today the vote is on MP allowances.  It’s likely to be very close and I’ve had some of the biggest names in the main parties courting me for almost six hours.  Several have bought me drinks and I idly wonder if those will end up on this year’s expenses for anyone.  I’ve also managed to get a better desk and a hearing for my own town centre bill during the course of the day.

Of course, I have no doubt at all which way I will vote.  All my receipts are in two tins in the dresser cupboard and I am very particular what goes in which.  But it doesn’t hurt to keep them guessing, does it?

Inspired by “Vote due on link between village of Dull and US town of Boring”

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

44: Why Readers Love Reading

Boy meets girl, boy kisses girl, boy stops kissing girl, girl kisses different boy, boy hits different boy, different boy hits boy back harder, girl ditches hard-hitting different boy, boy kisses girl again, boy and girl live happily ever after.

What is it that we readers love so much in books, magazines and books?  Are we just passing time or does the written word mean more to us than that?

Excitement?  As Lucy Burkhampton thwarts the scheming of evil Lord Diehardt, saves the Montcliffe diamond, escapes from the foaming Yaw of Wojik and rescues her family’s honour, we feel the thrill of the chase and the danger of so many narrow misses.

A puzzle solved?  If you swear at your boss, upset your students, hit old ladies and set your curtains on fire, just what will happen?  How does a single event weave in and out of the lives of a group of people who have never met before and may never meet again?  Let’s find out.

Happiness?  A father accompanies his only daughter down the aisle after learning to walk again, when an accident at work leaves him using a wheelchair.  A musician becomes an overnight sensation, after playing clubs and bars in dingy towns for twenty years.

Romance?  How a man and woman met, and met again several years later as single parents, slowly falling in love and years later telling the tale to their small son.  The elderly couple who love and look after each other as much after fifty years together as they did on the day they married.

Hope?  After years of trying for a family, on the verge of giving up, a couple see a blue line develop after sixty seconds.  A young man spends all of his childhood moving between distant family members, wondering who his real parents are, finds a box buried in the garden and the contents promise to lead him to the answer.

Stories let us experience things we never could, do things we never will and be people we can never become.  They bring us together, move us through time and even when they don't end well, the stories continue happily ever after.

Inspired by ‘Why readers love their moustaches’

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

43: The Virus and The Mite

So, what is a ‘mite’?  To some, it’s a tiny insect that lives in the soil or in dust in a bed, often parasitic and feeding on a host.  To others, it’s a tiny child, probably quite endearing and possibly poor or needy in some way.  To yet others, it’s a small measure, a tiny amount of something.

But to The Virus?  Mite is the perfect sidekick.

First thing The Virus had him do is add ‘The’ to his name.  No self-respecting master criminal gets out of bed in the morning without appending a definite article.  Mite became The Mite.

Next The Virus had him chose an outfit, a uniform, a costume.  He was able to advise The Mite on what to avoid – no cape (risk of getting caught in something), never 2-piece (looks like pyjamas), bright colours (harder to hide and usually indicates the good guys) – and what to go for – smooth lines, dark colours and good, strong boots.  And of course he was able to make sure The Mite looked like the sidekick, not the main event.

The Virus stood tall at over 6 feet, The Mite a little over 4 feet.  Together they strode the streets of downtown LA, looking for... opportunities.  The Mite would pose as a hungry child or a sick old lady or an injured babysitter.  When the good citizens of LA came to assist, The Virus jumped out of the shadows and the pair robbed and stole everything they could.  The duo became infamous but The Mite was so cute people fell for the ruse again and again.

The cops had no idea how to stop them and looked for a hero to help them out.  They needed someone in Lycra on their side.  But who could they find?

The Police Chief had a daughter Chloe, aged 10, who adored her father and wanted to help him if she could.  When she told him her plan, he refused at once.  It was far too dangerous.

“But Pa,” she said, “It’s the only way.  We have to stop them before the rob everyone in the whole town.  Just get me a Mite suit.”  

That night, with Chloe dressed as The Mite, they drove to downtown LA.  Undercover cops hid in all the alleys, watching for the villainous pair.  They were spotted at last, and the location quickly relayed to the Police Chief.  He drove there and let Chloe out of the car right around the corner.

She crept along the street and into the alley.  Ahead of her, she saw The Virus moving into position and The Mite waiting for his next victim.  Dressed identically, she moved closer to The Mite, hunched over and started to whimper.  She turned towards the wall and collapsed into a tiny heap, shaking and crying.

Nothing happened for long minutes, and then The Mite came towards her, arm outstretched.  “Are you OK?” he asked.  From the shadows, The Virus also came forward, moving towards Chloe.  They both stopped a few feet from her.

“What is that?” said The Mite.

“It looks like you,” said The Virus.  “What should we do?”

“We have to see if it’s OK.  It’s so tiny.  And crying so hard.”

“Hello?” called out The Virus.  “Are you OK?”  The crying grew quieter.

The pair moved closer and closer, until they could touch Chloe.  She looked up, her eyes damp and large.  She said nothing, just stared up into their faces.  The pair began to relax.

Neither of them heard the advancing police officers but they heard the click of rounds being chambered into the police handguns pointed at their backs, as they fell for their own rotten trick.

Inspired by “Mite helps virus to wipe out bees”

Monday, 11 June 2012

42: World’s Oldest Fish

“Hey, Jen.  Know the number for Guinness Book of Records?”

“Why might I know something like that, Connor?  You ask some weird things but that’s got to be one of the oddest ever.”

“Well you know all kinds of stuff.  I thought you might, you know, know the number.”

“No, but I suppose it would be online somewhere.  Why do you need it anyway?”

“I want to register my fish.”

“What as?  Isn’t it just a normal fish?”

“It’s an old, old fish.  I think it’s the oldest in the world.”

“Connor, how old is your fish?  I didn’t even know you had a fish.”

“I got Flippy for my eighth birthday and he’s been with me ever since.  He’s on holiday with my Mum right now.”

“So, he’s what, fifteen?”

“Yep, at least.  Who knows how old he was when I got him.”

“Connor, I don’t think fish last that long.  Only a couple of years at best.  Are you sure it’s the same fish?”

“Of course.  I’d know him anywhere.  What a thing to say.”

“Well some parents have been known to replace a dead fish with a live one to save their children being upset.  I just meant maybe your Mum might have bought you a new Flippy over the years.”

“You’re thinking of my sister’s hamster, aren’t you?  Fluffy lived to be eight and she started white, had a couple of years of pale gold, and then went back to white but with a longer tail.  I think that was Mum but I never let on.”

“And Flippy never changed colour or shrank or anything?”

“Nope, he just sat there, looking at me, with his mouth open.”

“Well, I suppose it’s worth giving them a ring and asking.  Wow, imagine.  The oldest goldfish in the world!”

“He’s not a goldfish, Jen.”


“No, he’s a stuffed trout.”

Inspired by 'World’s Oldest Fish trap' found off coast of Sweden'

Sunday, 10 June 2012

41: Buckets?

The rain had been falling for days and days.  The land was flat so there was little chance of water running downhill.  Puddles sat everywhere, many of them growing so quickly they were joining up into small lakes.  Within a week the entire plains region was expected to be underwater.  Unless something was done.

Farmers were asked to help by digging channels in their fields so the rainwater would run away and could be diverted to other areas or into the sea.  But most of the rain didn’t fall in the farming areas, so the farmers wanted the water routing to them.

The army were asked to help by building barricades round the worst areas, to hold back the water.  But the water seeped between gaps in the planks and found its way out anyway and soon the barricades were under water too.

The government even tried to encourage the public to help with the problem by asking them to pray to whatever Gods they believed in for a halt in the rain.  Some ministers even joked maybe they should perform rain dances.  But the people of Spain didn’t like their government making jokes about religion and, as they saw it, voodoo, so they threatened to strike if nothing was done.

So the other countries around Spain came together and offered to help.  “We’ll offer you a bailout,” they said.  But the government refused and said they would handle the flooding of their plains their way.

In truth, there really isn’t much to do except wait for the weather to improve.  And now the rain has caused the Spanish plains to become very soggy indeed.

Inspired by "Spain Rejects Bailout Speculation"

Saturday, 9 June 2012

40: Signals

Straight after supper each night, Gerald headed for his garden shed carrying a warm blanket and a flask of tea.  Edna, Gerald’s wife of thirty six years, understood he was a keen astronomer, so even though she sometimes missed him when she sat watching television, knitting him a waistcoat or extra woolly, she knew he could only indulge his passion at night.

Gerald did indeed indulge his passion at night, but with Maureen at number 73, not Andromeda or the Great Bear.

Gerald sat in his folding chair, legs tucked up in the blanket, looking out of the Perspex window in his shed.  Next to him was a Stargazer 5000, purchased second hand as a cover for his dalliance.  Gerald allowed himself a cup of tea every half hour as he settled down to wait for Maureen’s signal.

Maureen’s husband worked a night shift at a local warehouse and set out for work at half past eight every night.  He’d occasionally forget his sandwiches or his paper, so Maureen always allowed thirty minutes before signalling to Gerald, just to be safe.

Gerald had proposed a rotating system of signals, so that none of the neighbours should become suspicious.  Mondays was opening and closing the back bedroom curtains, Tuesdays was switching the bedroom light on and off, Wednesdays was kitchen curtains and Thursdays was kitchen lights.  Tonight he was watching for the back porch light to turn on and off.  Saturday was club night with Edna and Sunday was, of course, church.  Maureen and Dennis sometimes attended too, adding a frisson of excitement for Gerald and Maureen, whilst poor Edna and Dennis smiled on unaware.

Whatever the medium of the signal, the content was always the same.  One flash or swish meant ‘ready’ whilst two was ‘ready in five minutes.’  Repeated flashing or swishing, or heaven forbid both, meant ‘abandon all plans’ usually because Dennis had a change of shift or a repeat of his dodgy tummy.

Gerald got through his entire flask that evening without any signal at all.  He knew better than to risk a visit without the all clear first, so he waited twenty more minutes, then packed up and went inside.  He headed straight up to bed, tiptoeing past Edna’s room so not to wake her.

It was very unusual to hear nothing at all from Edna and Gerald hoped she would be at the club or even at church so he could find an excuse to speak to her and enquire what had happened.  When she and Dennis were at neither he was rather worried and began to long for Monday evening so he could see her again.
On Monday Gerald waited for two hours without any curtain movement and on Tuesday, ninety minutes passed without any bedroom light flashes.  In desperation, Gerald flashed the shed light on and off a few times, in the hopes of catching Maureen’s attention, but there was no response.

Gerald began to fold his blanket, pack away his Stargazer 5000 and finish the last dregs of tea when he heard a gentle tap on the shed door.  Delighted with Edna’s apparent impromptu visit, he opened the door, only to be amazed at the sight of Dennis stood on the doorstep.

“Hello Gerald,” he said, eyeing the blanket Gerald was folding.  “Can I have a word?”

“Of course, Dennis.  What is it?” he said.

“It’s about Maureen.”  He swallowed and said, “I saw the light and...”

“Ah, well.  Yes Dennis, about that,” said Gerald.

“Sorry if you’re just off in to bed but I needed to talk to someone.  My Maureen’s got another man,” said Dennis.

“Are you sure?” said Gerald, not sure whether to be relieved Dennis didn’t suspect him or smug at how little the man knew.  “I’m sure you’re worrying over nothing.”

“I wish I was,” said Dennis, “but she moved out last Friday.  Took all her clothes and left me a note saying she wasn’t coming back.  Been seeing him behind my back for months apparently.  I never saw it coming, Gerald.”

“No,” replied Gerald, “the signals aren’t always very clear.”

Inspired by "No signal from targeted ET hunt"

Friday, 8 June 2012

39: Library Lost Property

You might think the lost property department of a library is likely to be a rather boring place.  Of course there are plenty of umbrellas, odd gloves, even a coat or two.  But sometimes we find things in the returned books that end up in lost property too.  People use all kinds of things of bookmarks and sometimes they come back to collect them.

There was one girl who had used her sick note to mark the page in a self-diagnosis manual.  She looked quite well when she came in to fetch it so that she could post it to work.  Then she remembered what she was supposed to have, and limped out, leaning on the wall as she went.

Then there was the elderly man who used a love letter from his late wife.  He was frantic with worry and almost in tears when he visited us.  He had been rereading the letter around the time he read his library book and somehow got the two muddled up.  He stroked the envelope, turning it over from front to back, relief and happiness dancing crinkling his eyes.

There was some discussion over what to do about the flight tickets to Cyprus found inside a travel guide to Turkey.  Checks were made on the computer to see who had borrowed the book lately, but that person said they had decided on a package holiday to Spain instead.  Before we could track any previous lenders, the date for outward travel passed.

Perhaps the most unexpected was the foil of contraceptive pills.  They were marking pages 4 and 5, so maybe the owner didn’t find the book to her taste.  Or perhaps to his taste.  For days we made up stories about who might be missing the tablets.  Did a young girl stuff her pills inside the nearest thing to hand when her mother knocked on her bedroom door?  Maybe a career woman misplaced them and spent days worrying whether she may need a maternity break?  Or even her husband, keener than she to be a parent, hid them in the hopes of engineering an accident?

We think it’s unlikely the foil will be claimed but we plan to watch out regulars very closely for the next 9 months.
Inspired by "Library Book Back After 80 Years"

Thursday, 7 June 2012

38: Chroma

Myth is littered with cities that appear periodically, cities that may or may not have existed and cities that cast strange spells on those who live in or happen upon them.  Only one city is ever rumoured to have stripped ever bit of colour from its occupants – Chroma.

Chroma was a tiny city, so small as to barely be a city at all.  Cities were much smaller in those days and Chroma was little even by past standards.  Most people lived in a few streets surrounding the church or on farms outlying the city.  There were 2,000 people living there at the height of Chroma’s success.  Numbers dwindled quickly in the years after the outside world heard.

Inside the city, life was no different from anywhere else.  People worked the land and those who didn’t or couldn’t, would struggle in winter time.  Few had a trade, fewer still were fortunate enough to apprentice to those who did.  Families shared single room dwellings between generations.  Mothers taught their daughters how best to curl their hair and redden their cheeks, to bring in precious extra pennies that might be the difference between surviving and not surviving.  Life held little happiness for most. 

At first nobody noticed how drab their clothing had become.  It was usually browns or creams or rusty reds, but colours bled into each other until everything was the colour of wattle and daub.  That faded further to a wash of daub, then no colour at all matching a paupers’ skin tone.

Those lucky enough to keep their hair past 20 found it fading to mouse, then straw and finally it looked no different than their skin.  People’s eyes paled then found they could see less well too.  Shapes and definition remained as before but colour bled from the land and the home and the family.  Everyone saw light and shade but no tone or tint or hue.

The people of Chroma believed their poor diets must be to blame and that it must be the same for people in other villages.  They rarely left Chroma and if they did, other places looked just the same.  It was only when a merchant travelled to Chroma looking to trade linens and silks that the real story became known.  As he rode towards the city edge, he noticed trees and grass fading.  His horse, whilst trotting as well as ever, became fawn then dappled then grey.  His blue velvet coat washed out more with each step.  When he arrived in the main city streets, he was as colourless as the others. 

The merchant unveiled his goods but the jewel colours of the silk and delicate hues of the linens were gone and nobody would pay his asking price for such ordinary items.  So he hurried off, keen to be out of the odd place and back into the bright shades of the outside world.

But when he arrived at the next village, he and his horse were still colourless, his silks and linens still pallid.  He never regained his original looks.

Over the months other visitors to the city arrived normal and left devoid of any colour.  Word spread across the land and Chroma became known as somewhere to avoid.  Eventually all trade with the city ceased and soldiers sent to patrol the perimeter, just the right side of the vivid greenery.

In time, the older residents of Chroma died and with dwindling food and no trade, the younger ones began to die too.  Within 10 years there was nobody left.  Within 15 years the buildings had all rotted and fallen down.  Within a generation nobody knew the real Chroma story.

Within a century the myth had more colour than the city ever did during those years.

Inspired by "The City That Loves to Grumble"

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

37: Day In Pictures

1: A young woman lies in bed, a double bed but she is alone.  The other side of the bed is crumpled, not made properly.  A coffee ring stains the bedside table furthest from her.

2: The young woman sits at a desk, black suit, crisp shirt, hair tied in a top-knot with no wisps escaping.  Files and papers are stacked on her desk.  A man, tall with greying hair, piles more papers in a tray on the edge of her desk.

3: Three men cluster around a coffee-machine, one pouring dark liquid into disposable cups.  They are sharing a joke, probably rude, and another mimes big tits for his friends.  The greying tall man looks on, paternally.  There is a woman in the background.

4: A herbal teabag tag is wrapped around the handle of a china mug on the young woman’s desk.  Her face is pink.  She looks down at her chest and checks her shirt buttons with one hand.

5: The young woman eats a homemade sandwich at her desk, a Satsuma ready for unpeeling.  Another woman, perhaps approaching middle age, eats a sandwich at her own desk in the opposite corner of the office.  Six men are pulling on jackets as they head out of the office together.

6: The young woman and the other woman have finished eating and both are shuffling through their piles of files and papers.  Their heads are turned towards each other, as if in conversation.

7: The young woman makes herbal tea for two in bright mugs.  The other woman refills the coffee pot.

8: Six men pull off jackets as they head into the office.  The greying man looks at the young woman.  She raises her hand to her chest but doesn’t look up.  One man heads towards the coffee pot with arm out-stretched.

9: Men and women pack up for the day.  The men are standing, almost ready to leave, all sharing a jovial conversation.  The young woman is putting a file and papers into a large bag.  The other woman is head down and reading.

10: The young woman is wearing a casual shirt and calf-length jeans.  She is barefoot, tucked up on a sofa, turning pages in a glossy magazine.  Her face appears anxious.  Low sun casts shadows through the room.

11: The young woman is opening a door into a hallway.  A coat stand holds only coats a woman would wear.  The tall man with greying hair is walking through the door.  His hand is reaching for the young woman’s arm.  His eyes are turned towards a door that is ajar, through which a double bed is visible.

12: The young woman lies in a double bed. She is naked, still visible in the darkening light.  The man with greying hair sits on the edge of the bed, back to the young woman.  He is dressed, pulling his shoes on.

13: The young woman lies alone in her double bed.  She looks at the moon visible through a gap in the curtains.  The other side of the bed is crumpled, not made properly.  There is no mug of coffee on either bedside table.

Inspired by "Day in Pictures" (BBC website every day)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

36: Heart Rending

Amanda needed a new heart and her doctor said she needed one quickly.  “We only have weeks to save your wife, Mr Parsons,” he said to Simon.

It wasn’t a special blood group or anything that she needed.  Just a normal, common, healthy heart.  Except Amanda wasn’t yet sick enough to be at the top of the list, so they had to wait until she was, whilst sicker people got selected over her. 

The waiting was agony.  It if felt like this for Simon, what must it be like for Amanda, he wondered?  Knowing they had to time things just right to balance sick enough to warrant a heart versus well enough to survive the operation.  For Simon there just weren’t enough hearts becoming available.  He decided to help in any way he could, whatever the personal cost to him might be.

He visited the ICU wearing a white coat as, he hoped, camouflage.  Then he unplugged four of the machines and as electronic screams filled the ward, he slunk out.

Four or five a night, vary the hospitals, maybe get a better disguise.  He’d carry on until one of these hearts finally found its way into Amanda’s chest.

Inspired by "Weeks to Save Euro, says Soros"

Monday, 4 June 2012

35: On Holiday With Donald

Kevin spent the first week scared his father would find out and the second week wishing he would.  His father had taken him and Nate abroad for the first time and it hadn’t turned out quite as he expected.

For a start he had brought Tammy with him, even though he said he would just take the boys.  She was OK but whenever she was around his Dad acted differently.  Like he was always trying to impress her and like he’d forgotten he even had children.  Kevin didn’t really want 2 weeks of being an afterthought.

Then the villa wasn’t all it was supposed to be.  Their Dad had booked it through a mate of a mate and it didn’t sleep 6 to 8 as he’d said.  There was only 1 double room not 3, so Dad and Tammy had that.  The next room had 2 beds but Nate said, “You’re not sleeping with me, shrimp,” so Kevin had to go into the little room.  It was pink.  Pink everywhere and not even a nice pink but that horrible pink so bright it’s scary.

And he missed his Mum so much more than he thought he would, alone each night in his pink room.  He hugged Donald tight and screwed his eyes up tight to stop tears from coming.  In the morning he would hide Donald back in his pants drawer so Dad didn’t find him and laugh at him.

But Tammy had been alright on the trip.  Each morning they would eat breakfast together and then head out to the pool they shared with the other villas on the complex.  Tammy would rub lotion all over her skin, stick a hat on and settle down with a book.  If his Dad tried to chat for too long, she’d smile, suggest he take Kevin swimming and start reading again.  So he at least got to spend some time in the water with Dad.

Nate met a girl the second day so Kevin hardly saw him and even when he turned up, he only wanted to talk about stuff he did with Melissa.  Most of it sounded revolting and Kevin was sure that in 5 years, when he was 17, he definitely wouldn’t want to do the things Nate said he wanted to do to Melissa. 

They usually ate at a restaurant on the complex or near the beach.  Dad and Tammy would have a few beers then walk back to the villa with Kevin.  If Nate had joined them for food, he would be off again with Melissa.  Kevin was allowed to stay up until 10.30 then he disappeared to bed whilst Dad and Tammy sat drinking wine on the terrace.  He would count off the nights until he could be back home with Mum and wish tomorrow was the last day.

One night, when he had been in bed for about 10 minutes, there was a tap on his door.  Tammy asked if she could come in.  He hid Donald under the sheet.

“You OK Kevin?  You were a bit quiet tonight.”

“I’m fine,” said Kevin.  “Just tired.”

“Really?  I thought maybe you weren’t enjoying it here.”

“No, it’s fine.  I mean, it’s good.  Great.”

Tammy reached out and untucked Donald, who was only half hidden.  “It must be a bit weird being here, with me I mean.  I hope that’s not why you aren’t having so much fun.”

“No that’s not it.  It’s just...”  Kevin looked round the room.  “I have a pink bedroom.  Nate never has time for me now he’s got Melissa.  Dad’s great.  But he’s not Mum.”  His voice had shrunk to a whisper.

From the door, his Dad said “I’m sorry mate, I didn’t think.  I thought a big boy like you would get cross if I asked whether you missed your Mum.  Why don’t we ring her now, so you can say goodnight.”  He sat on the edge of the bed.

Kevin sat up and grinned.  “Yeah, that would be good.  She’s probably missing me anyway.”

Dad mussed his hair.  “From now on, we can phone every night.  And tomorrow we can do whatever you want all day.”  He glanced round.  “Except paint the room.  I think you’re stuck with that.”

Inspired by "On Holiday With The Enemy"

Sunday, 3 June 2012

34: On the Road

He would never head back home til he’d found her again.  He’d promised, swore he’d find her, and he wasn’t going to break that promise any time soon.  He’d been gone over seven years already and he was looking as hard as that day he left Texas, snow still on the ground from the Christmas Eve flurries.  She was always gone when he got somewhere, like she knew he was tailing her and was shooting off again when he got too close.

The row had started no different to all the other rows.  They’d traded insults.  He hurled her job and her no-good daddy at her.  She called him a coward and asked why he couldn’t hold down a job.  Then their Mama had come home and heard them fighting.  She was real quiet, looked at them both and shook her head.  Did I bring you up to be like this, at each other’s throats?  What do I say about family got to stick together?  They said sorry like they almost meant it.

“When you fight with your kin, it makes God and the angels cry,” said Mama.  Her daughter laughed.  “What now Kimberly?  Spit it out.  Do you think God likes hearing you row with your brother?”

“Mama, God don’t care about us and he never did.”

“Don’t say that.  Don’t you say that.  The Lord cares about every last one of his flock.”

“So why does he make us so poor, Mama?  Why did he let us go hungry when we were growing up?  Why don’t he bring my Papa back here to provide for us?”  Then she whispered, “Why does he make me dance in that club night after night, just to put food on the table?”

Their Mama, all riled up, said “Our God don’t do them things, it‘s people do them things.  You could go to college and get a proper job, but you make good money letting men leer at your body.  That ain’t God’s fault.  It’s yours.”

And then she left.  His sister packed a few things in an overnight bag and headed out into the evening.  They thought she’d come back in a day or two, when she’d calmed down, but she never did.  So Christmas Eve their Mama sent him out after her.  “Please find my baby, son.  I need to tell her I’m sorry.  God will help you find her.”  She signed the cross and her other child left the house, leaving her alone.

God didn’t help him find her, more like helped her hide from him over the years.  He travelled after her, following leads where he could, and only came home for a few days when God set his Mama on her final journey.  He took off again right after the funeral.

Mama would never get the chance to tell Kimberly she was sorry, but one day he’d tell her for them both.

Inspired by ‘On the Road film is unveiled at Cannes