Tuesday, 31 July 2012

92: Nine

One day I was part of the gang, one of the lads and the next I was out. Oh, it was nothing I'd done and the guys said they didn't care, we'd still hang out but it all changed. I knew it might happen of course, but I hoped what we'd been through all those years might have counted for something.

Apparently I'm not big enough to be on the team any more. Imagine the indignity of having 'dwarf' added to what you are. I know there are others about and I could join in with a different group but I miss the old days.

It used to be the nine of us, round and round we'd go, shouting hi to each other as we circled by and ever so often we'd all have one big meeting. That was something to see, that was. Most of the time it's cold and dark where I live so meeting the boys was the one thing that made the sun come out. They were my world.

Being so far away doesn't help. Hubble can't even see me properly. It knows I'm there, just I'm a bit blurry. Apparently there's a mission called 'New Horizon' on its way to see me but I mustn't expect anything until 2015. Well that's all well and good but it does hurt when I can see all the attention Mars is getting. Sure it looks wonderful but Curiosity shows anything in its best light. By the time my secrets are beamed back to Earth, who'll care?

They did buy me a little present when the news of my demotion came out. There's only one more contrasty body in the whole solar system, so they got me a beautiful framed black and white print of me on holiday.

And whenever I get sad I just remember that Mickey Mouse named his beloved dog after me and it doesn't seem quite so bad.

Monday, 30 July 2012

91: Eight

Beryl woke up one morning to discover she had turned into a spider in the night. The room seemed so much brighter than usual and Beryl found, on opening her eyes, that she had eight of them when she had just the usual two when she fell asleep, giving her four times as much of a view.

It wasn't until she stumbled out of bed and found she had eight feet legs to swing off the bed and eight feet to plant on the floor that she realized something was wrong. She scuttled into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. Looking back at her was a black, hairy arachnid. She knew it was her because it was wearing the peach bed jacket Maureen had knitted for her last winter.

Beryl made her way into the lounge, exploring how it felt to walk with as many feet as both her cats added together. They saw her coming and bolted through the catflap before she could attempt a stroke. Not that she knew which of her legs to use as a hand and to stroke them with. Plus the way they looked made her feel hungry.

Beryl wondered how she would manage with things like shopping and cooking and cleaning. Maybe Gerald would have to take on more of the housework or their daughter Maisie might lend a hand until she felt normal again.

Beryl heard Gerald stir in his bedroom. Imagine if they had still shared a room like in the early years of their marriage. What a fright he would get to wake up next to a five foot high Black Widow.

The thought of Gerald made Beryl's mouth water. She listened as he slipped on his dressing gown, washed his face in the bathroom, headed for the lounge. Moving silently to a position beside the door, Beryl experimented with her spinneret, ready to welcome Gerald to his day.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

90: Seven

The girls wanted to wear matching costumes to the fancy dress ball. There were seven of them so surely they should be able to come up with something striking to wow the judges.

Even though none of them were especially tall, the beards were too itchy for them to go as Snow White's guardians.

They all liked history but building a costume made out of Chinese wall or Neolithic stones proved just too tricky (and too heavy).

Each had read Enid Blyton as a child but nobody was prepared to go as a boy named Colin.

Debbie couldn't stop rubbing her fingers al over the sumptuous red fabric of her slinky dress.

Penny wore a wipe-clean overall and helped herself to too much of everything on the buffet table.

Maria dressed in black from head to toe and slipped her hand into pockets and handbags collecting whatever of value she could find.

Tessa wore sweat pants and a t-shirt and laid her head down on the table for most of the evening.

Gemma wore a dress of violent hues and ran round shouting angrily at everyone she knew.

Becky wore a flowing green gown and stood to the side of groups as they chatted, wishing she could join in, share their food and be as beautiful as them.

Nicola wore clumpy shoes. She alternated being looking very pleased with herself, and tripping and landing on the floor.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

89: Six

Derek saw them too. They weren't as scary as that boy's but they were there nonetheless. Usually they were quite ordinary, like Mrs Johnston from his nan's street who'd wanted to say sorry she'd gone in such a hurry and that the dog was with her.

Sometimes there were useful messages, like the woman who'd wanted her daughter to know that the spare key for the jaguar was in the biscuit tin from Great Aunt Mary. Or the chap who'd forgotten to tell his wife where the insurance policy was and who would think to look in a Look-In annual from 1979 with Abba on the cover? True, it may have been the year they got married, but the poor woman needed a clue where to start looking.

Then the famous ones started. They were much more fun but Derek couldn't really help them in the same way. He could pop along to the family of Mrs Johnston and pass on her message but if the visitor was a former matinee idol or rock star gone in a haze of drugs, it was much harder.

When the Hollywood contingent realized he couldn't help pass on their messages, most of them went on to find celebrity contacts who appeared on cable shows, but Charlie Chaplin came regularly. Usually he just wanted to sit and chat, although of course he wasn't used to saying much. Derek did most of the talking whilst Charlie exaggerated his movements and lifted his hat from time to time.

Friday, 27 July 2012

88: Five

The claimant cites the following five reasons for leaving the job.

  1. Whether I do or do not take it and scream like a bitch is not suitable copy for the office newsletter
  2. Yes, I was born here and I'm not taking someone's job when I'm not entitled because Wigan is part of the UK.
  3. No, I have never found all that jiggling distracts me and no, I don't sometimes just have a quick feel.
  4. The reason I joined the club was because I was Northern Junior Swimming Champion two years running and I always join a club. It is not to keep a fucking eye on you all.
  5. Having no sense of humour is not something I've been regularly accused of. However, I will admit I prefer jokes where I am not the punchline.

That's perfect. And we'll send it to their solicitors today.”

Could we just change number 3 a bit? It's true about the jiggling bit but most guys do spend a lot of time with their hands in their pants and I don't want to lie.”

Thursday, 26 July 2012

87: Four

Experimentation on humans reeks of Nazis, but we found a way nobody would care about. Those death row chemicals? They cause a suspended animation, if you will. Provided we get the body within 90 minutes, we go ahead. After that, we'll they'd be dead without us anyway.

Almost nobody knows we do it. Bungs to guards who think our chemicals just make it a more painful death ease our way in. Our doctors administer and record death, before shuttling the body to our labs. Exceptional salaries and an unshakeable belief in our research programme buys their loyalty.

Wouldn't you rather we try out the most extreme medical treatments on people who don't matter before on people who do? How do you think we learnt transplants work. And the first time those toxic cancer drugs worked? And brain surgery?

This lab is developing expanded heart capacity and one day we will cure heart disease. Those four chambers you have in your heart? Imagine you had six or eight. We could close off the clogged ones and give you years more.

Not for you? How about for your children then?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

86: Three

The finals would be under way by now. The men would be 'in the zone' as she'd heard them say so many times. Marty never managed to get in the zone let alone stay there.

She fingered the gold, running her thumb over the engraved rings and raised cycle wheels. Three of them lay on a velvet cloth, nap all laying in the same direction.

Marty paused, then grabbed the three purple cords, holding tight. She lifted them one by one over her head, their metal chiming as they bounced against her chest. She arranged them symmetrically, so it appeared as if two of the rings from the emblem on the flags were missing.

It didn't remind Marty so much of her own failed bid for inclusion in the British team, as that she had never had a letter answered on Jim'll Fix It and never had Jim hang his badge around her neck.

But she would have asked him to fix it for her to cycle for Great Britain in an Olympics anyway, so was it really that different?

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

85: Two

Yes, Tim and Tom are twins and yes, they do look a lot alike don't they. No, I don't dress them alike on purpose. They do that.

Yes, they do sometimes finish each other's sentences, so yes it does look like they know what the other is thinking. I think they plan it, though.

Yes, some twins do feel pain when the other is hurt. No, they never have. Except for that time when they both fell over in the snow, but you probably don't mean that.

Yes, they did both fancy a pair of twin girls once. Yes, that would have been a good wedding. No, it didn't last because they both fancied the same twin.

Really, some twins pretend to be each other? No their teachers have never sent a note home from school saying they'd tried that in an exam. No, I've never got them mixed up. No, not even as naked babies.

They do sometimes pretend to be the other pretending to be themselves, though.

Monday, 23 July 2012

84: One

I'm the last of my kind. They're all gone now, my little brother just joined them.

I can see him, all smashed and broken up, lying there on the street. Nobody's helping him. But probably it's too late anyway.

No wonder I'm feeling a little bit wobbly today then, is it? I know I'm going to end up the same way. It scares me, but being alone isn't much fun either.

Each time it happened, they said it was an accident. Sure, a few might be, but 99 of them? Never.

I know they'll do it to me too. The car park is just over the hill, so they'll do it soon. Make my accidental fall happen.

I start to fall and it's not so bad. It's almost fun, feeling the wind stroke my neck. Better than all that hanging about. Looking down I can see so much smashed glass, like a choppy green sea, and I dive in to join them.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

83: Glitch

Sarah and David planned on having two children, a boy and a girl, in that order.  They would have traditional names such as Emily and Charles and would be such poppets.  A succession of au pairs and nannies would look after them, taking them to baby yoga and playgroups populated with the children of footballers and classical musicians.

David would be ready for fatherhood once he had a board position, at least a Head of Division.  He expected that by age 32 at the latest.  Sarah would be ready for motherhood once she had become a partner in the agency and had at least one successful show in her portfolio.  32 was her anticipated age of accomplishment too.

Stomach flu caused Sarah to vomit for two days.  Her pill didn’t work and she fell pregnant after a night celebrating David winning his company a big contract.  They were both at least five years too young according to their plan.

David coped admirably and his colleagues commented how perfect it would be to add a small person to his already beautiful family.  He decided he would aim for HoD by 30 instead.

Sarah smiled a lot and talked about babies with everyone who wanted her to.  She told David yes, she was thrilled now it had settled in.  Yes, it would be an adjustment and yes, she was sure she would manage looking after a baby.  Yes, going part time would probably be a good idea and yes she could always resume her career when the children were at school.

Friends suggested using a pet name for the baby, until it was born.  Bump or bean.  David settled on Pickle.  Sarah chose Glitch.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

82: Getting Up For School

“It’s time for school!”  “Do I have to go?”  “Of course you do.”  “But why, Mum?”  “Because you’re the headteacher.”

Ah, a good old joke.  The oldies are the best.  They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.  Except in fact they do, because every morning Muriel Stanhope spent at least half an hour coaxing her son Leonard out of bed and off to the school he ran.

Leonard Stanhope wanted to be all kinds of things when he was young.  A marine biologist, except he didn’t like water.  A civil engineer, except concrete gave him a rash.  An IT programmer, except prolonged VDU use gave him migraines.  A teacher, except he didn’t like kids.

Of all the options, Leonard thought teaching would probably be the one with the obstacles easiest overcome.  He was sure that, in time, he would come to love sticky hands, grubby knees and faces with little patches of green on them.  Instead, each hand and knee and bogey reinforced his original dislike, until it was a burgeoning hatred of ‘the young.’

Leonard developed a number of ways of coping with children.  He never looked them directly in the eye, for instance.  He located a spot midway between a child’s eyebrows and fixed on that instead.  Or sometimes, he would refuse to look at a child at all.  This was most effective for dealing with children who arrived saying “Miss sent me to see you” as he could talk whilst continuing to write, so making a telling off even worse.

He developed a strict policy of not touching the students, which he insisted every member of staff complied with.  Only Nurse was allowed dispensation to touch and only in medical circumstances.  Nobody got to hold teacher’s hand in the playground.  And Leonard brought nasal cleanliness to the classroom from day one of school.  Boxes of tissues were available in every class and teachers could provide wet wipes for particularly tenacious mucus.  Any child with a sniffle was asked to stay away from school until they were better.

But still Leonard hated getting up and heading to school, and Muriel battled with him every day.  She shook him.  She changed the clocks to show 30 minutes later.  She played Radio 4 loudly, in his ear.  She left his bedroom door open and cooked bacon downstairs.  Muriel even let the dog from next door jump on Leonard’s bed and shake himself.

Finally, desperate for a permanent solution, Muriel  found something that really worked.

“Leonard, time for school.  And I’m not coming up here again or cooking you bacon or even sending a muddy dog in to jump on you.  Get up now and get ready for school, or I will telephone your Deputy Head.  Janice is it?” asked Muriel.

“Yes, Janice.  And what is she going to do?  Give me lines or detention ?”

“No, Leonard.  I will tell her you have decided that it’s time to make the school a friendlier place.  That you’d like to listen to 2 or 3 children reading every single day.  That you will take on playground duties permanently and will encourage children to hold your hands.  That you are relaxing the rules on sniffles and that a few germs never hurt anyone.  Most of all that you will run an annual residential field trip for the oldest children in the school.  And this goes for any day I have your nonsense in future.”

“Alright, alright, Mum.  I’m up,” said Leonard, as he headed to the bathroom.

Friday, 20 July 2012

81: Because

Because I left it too late, I missed the train.

Because I missed the train, I didn’t make the job interview.

Because I didn’t make the interview, I didn’t get the job.

Because I didn’t get the job, I didn’t start my fabulous career.

Because I didn’t start my fabulous career, I had to work somewhere else.

Because I had to work somewhere else, I met Paul.

Because I met Paul, I found out I hated football.

Because I hated football, I had to sit in the other bar on match days.

Because I had to sit in the other bar on match days, I became friendly with the barmaid.

Because I became friendly with the barmaid, I started hanging out with her.

Because I started hanging out with her, I met her brother.

Because I met her brother, I fell in love with him.

Because we fell in love, we were happy.

Because we fell in love, we got married.

Because we fell in love, we had you.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

80: Warning

Don’t do that. 

I’ll leave you little notes to remind you and you’ll find them in your pocket and your lunchbox and your shoes.  The writing will be red and loopy and sometimes scribbled.

When you see me, check my eyes.  See how the smile doesn’t reach them?  You might not notice because if you would, I wouldn’t have to say anything at all.  It will be tight, the smile.  Quite obvious.

If you ask me questions, I will reply “Yes” and “No” and “Maybe.”  Also “Nothing.”

Your tea may have a few ice crystals in the centre as I might forget to remove it from the freezer early enough.  Or it might be black around the edges.  Are both at once possible?

I won’t compare you and your brother as lovers, unless you make me.  I may start the research already though.

I will wedge a piece of fish between the seats of your car, barely hidden so you can find it.  But you won’t find the small slivers I’ll stuff into the air vent.  You’ll smell them for a long time but you won’t find them.

I won’t repeat myself.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

79: Reading the Engravings

The fascination had started as a school project when Steven Harris was 10 years old.  Mrs Dawson had told the class about brasses in churches and how brass rubbing was a popular hobby for some people.  She showed them all how it worked with a 10p piece, think paper and a blue crayon, rubbing the wax gently over the paper until the detail of the coin was reproduced.

Steven was hooked from the start.  The project was completed in a few weeks but he developed a keen interest, visiting local churches at the weekend, hunting for brasses to rub.  Often he would come away disappointed there were none, but sometimes he would find a monumental brass in the church floor.  Then he would take out his paper and favourite crayon, always a blue one, and set to making a copy.

Each summer he would beg his parents to include visits to churches in their holiday plans, so he could build up his collection of rubbing with as many unique monuments as possible.  Sometimes there were arguments, especially if his sister wanted to go shopping instead, but when the British weather turned predictably wet, the Harris family would often find themselves searching stone floors for brasses to keep Steven happy.

His hobby spilled over into his career choices, as he studied medieval history at university and specialized in brass monuments into postgraduate studies.  By now most churches had stopped the public from rubbing brasses because the popularity of the hobby was causing some of the best and most popular to wear away.  Steven was able to visit with special dispensation because of his studies and research, but he knew each extra imprint of the centuries old monuments risked losing them for future generations.

So Steven decided his PhD topic would be to develop a method that allowed enthusiasts to continue taking rubbings whilst protecting the original brasses from wearing away.

Dr Steven Harris became famous, albeit within a select sphere, for his method of recasting replica brasses from originals and setting them in stone surrounds in both churches and heritage rubbing centres.  His work was particularly progressive because it allowed very clear reading of the engravings.

He still preferred to work in blue crayon.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

78: Trick Cyclist

When Great Aunt Eunice died, she left Malcolm a unicycle.

He hadn’t expected anything in her will and in fact barely even remembered her.  His hazy memories of her all included an Astrakhan coat smelling of mothballs and coral lipstick smudges on her teeth, bared as she loomed in for a kiss.

A battered, dusty box almost big enough for a fridge-freezer was delivered to Malcolm’s flat.  The edges were reinforced with ancient sellotape, stickiness long gone.  Malcolm opened the box and it fell apart in his hands.  Inside was a unicycle, wrapped in oiled rags.

In the bottom of packaging was a black and white photo.  It showed a unicycle – this very unicycle? – and a young woman, wearing a leotard and tights, with a feathered headdress.  She was outside a circus tent, smiling shyly into the camera.  Malcolm looked at the photo, wondering who the woman was. 

There was a knock at his door, and his mother arrived carrying a second box.  “This is for you too,” she said.  He opened it and inside was the feathered headdress.

“Eunice always wanted you to have the bike but I thought she’d really want the feathers to go with it,” said his mother.  “She loved it so much and when you used to climb on it as a boy, she decided then one day it would be yours.”

“This woman is Great Aunt Eunice?” he asked, pointing to the photo.

“Oh yes,” she said.  “She was a bit of a star in her day.  She travelled the world with that cycle, performing in front of royalty more than once.  Broke her heart when she had to stop riding after an accident.  She was never the same again, poor lamb.”

“And did I really used to ride it?  I can’t remember it.”

“Well you wobbled a bit but you could go a few pedals.  She loved seeing you on it.  Try it?” she suggested.

Malcolm took the cycle and held one arm steadying against the wall.  He tucked the seat into his groin, making him look like a human wheelbarrow, and put first one then two feet on the pedals.  Maybe he had done it before after all.  They say you don’t forget.

“Well done, love,” said his mother.  “Don’t forget this.”

She threw him the feathered headdress.  “Go on.  For Eunice.”

Monday, 16 July 2012

77: The Strange Case of Grandma’s Luggage

“Grandma, will you tell me a story while I fall asleep?”

“Of course, my dear.  Which one would you like?”

“The one about what luggage used to be like, when you were a girl.”

“Well as long as you don’t have nightmares.”

“I won’t Grandma.”

“Once upon a time, when the world was a younger and less colourful place, everybody’s luggage was the same.  Some suitcases were bigger than others, but otherwise they all looked alike.  Every suitcase in the whole world was plain black.

“When families went on holiday, everyone took the same sort of luggage.  That was fine for going on holiday in the family car, but travelling on a bus or – heaven forbid – an aeroplane, was awful.  Can you imagine 50 suitcases, all black, all the same except for size and a little handwritten label?  Sometimes it took 2 days to find the right bags and then it might be nearly time to go home.

“Even worse was having to carry the suitcase in your hand.  The handle wasn’t just for show like today, oh no.  Daddies would have one suitcase in each hand, bottoms almost scarping along the floor of the airport and if they had lots of children, they might even have another case tucked under their arms.

“One day, a clever suitcase maker decided to make a special suitcase for the holiday he was planning with his family.  Instead of black, he made a suitcase that was very dark blue.  Now to look at alone, it looked the same as any other suitcase, but when it was with a group of black suitcases?  It was so obvious that the suitcase maker would find it in 2 minutes flat.

“And then do you know what else he did?  Because he knew his family had a lot of holiday things and the case would be heavy, he added 2 little wheels on the corners of the case and a big long handle that folded away for pulling it behind him.

“Well that summer the suitcase maker’s family had a longer holiday than everyone else, everyone who was left hunting for their luggage at the airport.  So when he got home, do you know what he did?  He started to make more cases in more colours.

“First he did some brown cases, and they sold out in his shop in a week.  Next he made red cases and those sold even more quickly.  As many colours as he thought of, they all sold and still people wanted more.  Some people just came to see these magical cases, but were sad they couldn’t afford to buy them.  So the suitcase maker thought of bright strings and ties for cases, much cheaper than a whole suitcase and perfect to tie around an old black case.

“And so holiday luggage changed more and more until it was all as colourful and pretty as we have it today.  Nobody has black cases anymore and airports look like rainbows.”

“Grandma, if I bought a suitcase, I think I would buy a black one.”

“Why ever would you do that with all the flowers and stripes and circles you can get, sweetie?”

“I think it would be very easy to see a black one against all of them, don’t you?”

Sunday, 15 July 2012

76: Missing It

It was like the Olympics opening ceremony all over again. That night she'd been working because Dave had called in sick – yeah course you are Dave – and she'd been summoned at the last moment. Tonight he'd done the same so she was missing a night out with her school friends and you couldn't put that on to Sky Plus.

She couldn't deny, the money from an extra shift came in useful, but nights off were so rare she resented having to work on one of the few she had. She was used to the phone ringing when she was on-call and she could count on one hand the nights she'd left work at the time she should. The last year had been littered with missed movies, cold dinners and mumbled excuses.

It was nothing like they made it sound at uni. It was much less a noble career and much more bewildering drudgery with little pay and even less respect. The white coat sometimes made her feel like the lowest lifeform in the ward.

She picked up the chart and looked at the details of the next patient. He'd been into hospital several times the last few months and she was surprised she'd not come across him before. It was unusual to see patients more than once but this guy had been in and out almost as long as she'd been here.

As she pulled back the curtain and went in, she saw Dave lying in the bed. He was barely conscious and looked really unwell. She woke him up to take a blood test.

Hi, I just need to take some bloods. You OK with that?” she said.

Yeah, course,” he said. “Sorry you had to work instead of me.”

We'll take these samples and take some details from you.”

I'm glad it's you. You always look so in control. I can see why the patients all love you.”

She started to look after her friend, confident they could finally work out his problem

Saturday, 14 July 2012

75: Antonia

A woman called Antonia shuns meals-on-wheels, preferring instead to boil a soft egg. Antonia thinks dipping bread and butter in the yolk is vulgar, so she arranges one slice on a separate plate, in quarters with the crusts removed. She nibbles at the soft whiteness, taking care to alternate bites of egg-bread-egg-bread. Antonia listens to Radio 3, knows the correct piece of cutlery to use, reads the Bible, Shakespeare, nothing newer than Edith Wharton. She dresses each afternoon to receive visitors that may drop by for high tea. A cake stand is unused in the kitchen. Antonia’s hair is barely streaked with silver in the photos with her grandchildren. She wonders if they remember her.

A woman called Antonia never learnt to drive. What was the need when one’s driver is always available? Antonia shopped at Harrods, on account. She thinks Sir Hugh Fraser would never have sold to an Egyptian, and bought three monogrammed Louis Vuitton bags. Antonia marked twenty years since Coco Chanel passed away with a new suit. She wore it to Francis’ graduation but chose Ralph Lauren for his wedding after he warned her not to upstage his bride. The flight arrived in Johannesburg with only hours to spare before her first grandchild’s christening. The invitation for the second was lost in the post.

A woman called Antonia blossomed in pregnancy. Nanny said so each time. She regained her trim figure three times, each with a little more difficulty than the last. Antonia saw the boys each afternoon for an hour and her daughter for a little longer. She saw her husband if he wasn’t up in town. Dinner was served promptly at 7.30 but she was forbidden from planning the menu for all except the smallest gathering. Antonia wondered if seven really was old enough to start boarding. She cultivated roses and supported charities. Neither filled the hole she didn’t realize was there.

A woman called Antonia chose a chiffon coming-out gown and low heeled pumps, suitable for dancing as much as was seemly. Other girls were envious at the number of suitors paying her attention and when they smiled at her, their eyes did not. She was introduced to Charles by his mother. Antonia delighted her father with the union and wore her mother’s wedding dress, her grandmother’s pearls. They honeymooned in the South of France, returning early after Charles’ mother had a minor health scare. Antonia once attended a ball where Princess Margaret was guest of honour, but wasn’t presented to her.

A girl called Antonia dreams of being a princess, married to a handsome prince who worships her. She takes ballet classes and practises walking as if there is a book on her head. She has beautiful manners and already speaks French and a smattering of Italian. Antonia misses her brother and if her younger brother must be sent to join him, longs to go too. She looks forward to needlework with Mama each afternoon but is relieved to return to tea with Nanny at 4 o’clock. Antonia has a favourite tree and even climbed it once.

A girl called Antonia wonders what the future holds for her.

Friday, 13 July 2012

74: Ted's Café

Ted's Café made proper tea. Not the fragrant stuff in a china cup with a saucer and chintzy flowers. Ted's tea was just like he liked it – strong, plain and plentiful.

He only bought plain coloured thick china mugs. Mostly they were white but one batch were blue and white, the exact colours of the walls in his classroom at school. They reminded him of his teacher, Miss Potterton. As children they weren't surprised she wasn't married. Who would want to get married anyway? As an adult he understood how she may have been lonely sometimes and how your job could become the only really important thing in your life.

Running a café was never something Ted had planned. He worked as a builder with his brother until an accident left him unable to lift and that was that. Probably explained the origins of Ted's builder's tea though. When he was recuperating he sometimes had lunch at a local greasy spoon and he got a part time job serving, to help ease him back to work. A great aunt left him a small but unexpected inheritance, so he used it to buy a share of the business. When the owner wanted to retire, Ted bought her out, changed the name and ran the café himself.

Ted decided it might be time to find a woman he could share his life with. His brother always seemed so happy with his family, even if he did complain about the kids and his wife's nagging. Ted knew he was really proud of them all and wouldn't change anything about them, probably not even the nagging.

Ted placed a classified ad in his local paper that read “Proficient tea-maker seeks lovely lady to deliver bedside cuppas to of a morning. Would appreciate favour being returned once in a while.”

He's still sorting through the replies.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

73: Knowledge

My name is Kevin, apparently.

That’s what he told me.  It took me a long time to even remember that he had told me, but I wrote it down.  So I’m Kevin.  I’m don’t know Kevin who, though.

I don’t really know what I do.  Or even if I do anything at all.  I’m expecting he will tell me that too, so I mostly sit here watching the others.

I definitely don’t know what I like.  I think I like tea and cats and old movies.  But I might have made those up and that isn’t helpful.  Is it?

I don’t know how long I will have to be here.  He hasn’t said yet.  It might be until he has told me all the things I need to know.

I don’t know what I look like, not in the face.  My clothes are plain and rubbing thin in places.  My hair feels long, but not as long as a girl’s.

I don’t know what I feel.  Not like cold or tired, but whether I am happy or emotional or lonely.  I need to know how I am supposed to feel.  I don’t seem to develop feelings on my own.

Here he is now.  Maybe I’ll know some more soon.  He’s writing me again.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

72: About This Exhibition

Rachel's first job that morning was to finalize the wording that would be engraved on a small plaque in front of the display.  She had been struggling for days and the deadline for submission was that afternoon.

Although she had taken a module on Writing for Display at university, nothing she learnt had prepared her for a scene like this one.  Were this a display of endangered monkeys or extinct birds, she would be fine.  Even historic farming machinery or Victorian sewing needles would be manageable. 

In front of her were the items making up the exhibition “The History of Prosthetics.”  It wasn't the prosthetic limbs themselves that upset her.  They were fascinating, from the ancient wooden toe, the hand a simple extension of a suit of armour, to the more modern designs including prototypes of the carbon fibre runners' limbs badged with GB Olympics designs. 

It was the stories behind them and their owners that made her pause.  Every exhibit had been owned and worn by someone.  Every one represented pain and sorrow, struggle and prejudice, bravery and hardship.

Rachel imagined soldiers in battle fighting without question for their king, losing flesh and bone for a cause they perhaps didn't even understand.  She thought of children treading on landmines instead of playing football in safety.  Of babies, then children, then men and women born of during the 1960s morning sickness drug scandal.  Of that car crash her father was in.

She knew every single item in the exhibition was precious and told a story should could scarcely conceive of.  And she wanted to do each of them justice with her words.

Rachel looked at the wedding photo on her desk showing her and her father walking arm-in-arm down the aisle, his pride and delight and determination showing on his face.  Taking him as her inspiration, as she had so many time before, she began to write.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

71: Shades of Grey

Amanda arranged to meet her date in a wine bar and had a back-up plan with her best friend Meg, in case he was not what she was hoping for. Meg was to ring about an hour after they had met and depending on how it was going, Amanda would have a brief chat or make excuses to leave for an ill relative.

It was Andrew Grey's profile picture that attracted her, more than the city job, owning the boat or the promise of foreign travel. Of course, many of the men on the site were handsome, wealthy and eligible, but few posted a black and white photo, reminiscent of a 1940s film star. None entreated 'try your own 50 shades of grey.'

They shared a few cordial emails, finding out about each other and their likes and dislikes. Both enjoyed French cinema and good wine, but neither was fond of jazz or tabloid newspapers. Amanda didn't admit she was frightened of sailing, thinking she may never even need to explain if their first date didn't go well. And if it did, she'd worry about that later.

So she arranged to meet him, two attractive affluent young people having a drink in a popular bar. What could be more normal? Amanda arrived a few minutes late, glancing around to make sure she wasn't the first to arrive.

Then she saw him. Andrew looked just like his photo. He was very handsome, with glossy hair parted and waved perfectly. He wore a single-breasted suit, black, with a sharp white shirt and created tie. There was a definite gleam in his eye and he was in soft focus. He was also black and white in real life.

Amanda doubted she would last until Meg's phone call let alone her sailing confession when he turned to the side and she saw he was just 2 mm thick and made of Kodak paper.

Monday, 9 July 2012

70: Valley Commandos

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to join the Valley Commandos at RAF St Athan on Friday night.

Assemble at Treforest bus station, stand B, 1830 hours. The minibus might be a bit late, if the rugby team using it before need to scrub out too much blood. We suggest you bring a Tesco bag to sit on, in case the seats are still wet.

New recruits always ask about alcohol. The rule is absolute. Spirits are preferred and everyone brings their own rations. No stealing, no mixing, no throwing bottles at each other. You could try drinking before you arrive. The journey takes 30 minutes so 2 bottles of wine or a fifth of vodka should suffice.

Your kitbag should contain the following:

Lippy – bright red, down to a nub, Collection 2000 or Superdrug if you’re posh.
Perfume – you will get sweaty during the night and you may wish to cover up the evidence of this.
Breath mints – all commandos need these.
Condoms – we’re modern girls and don’t rely on the guys for these. Suggest you bring 2 boxes.
Money – chips money is enough and we will drive up Caroline Street on the way home. You wouldn’t expect to buy your own drinks.
Knickers – optional, but it can get chilly north of Pontypridd. These can be left on the minibus for later.

Music off and lights up is 0100 hours sharp, so we leave for home no later than 0300. No hostages may be taken on the minibus and if you miss departure, you will need to find your own way home or book to come home with us after Saturday’s trip – 0300 Sunday morning.

We hope you will enjoy your first sortie and we wish all new recruits safe manoeuvres.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

69: Red Button

Richard woke up to find a red button on the wall in his bedroom. It was in the top right corner of the room, in just the right place to be barely noticeable unless you looked directly at it. The button was about the size of a side plate made of plastic with a dull sheen. There was no indication where it was from or what it was for.

Richard found more buttons in his bathroom, his kitchen and his lounge, each identical to the one in the bedroom, each located in the top right corner of the wall. He counted seven in all in his flat but still had no idea what they were for.

In the kitchen, Richard made a pot of coffee then poured a mug and sat looking at the button. Maybe he'd just never noticed them all before but they had always been there. No unlikely, especially as he'd painted the bedroom a few months before and it definitely wasn't there then. Maybe he was imagining them so he tried to imagine them away. He tried blinking and squinting and turning his head quickly, as if to catch it by surprise.

Nothing made any difference. The button was still there. So if it really was there, why was it there, wondered Richard. And what did it do? That, of course, brought out the ten-year-old boy in Richard, and he knew he had to press it.

Richard listed to himself the things the button might do. It might blow up his flat. It might start something. It might end something. A message might play. Someone might appear. He might win something.

He decided that more of the list was safe than unsafe, or at least not unsafe. He decided to push the button.

Richard fetched a stool, placed it in the corner of the kitchen and stood on it. The button was just close enough if he stretched. He reached out and pressed and the story ended.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

68: Night, Then

Jenny and Tom met in a sleep clinic.

Both had electrodes attached to important points on their heads, monitoring brain activity. Neither slept well, both sought relief. They talked about REM and non-REM over weak institutional tea, veneration clear in their voices. For them, naps and zeds as precious as jewels and gold coins to others.

The research project ended and a scientist in a white coat said they would need to analyze the results before making any real progress in the subject. But he would be sure to come back to them both as soon as there was anything to report.

Tom called at Jenny's flat one night with a bottle of wine. She cooked pasta, they drank and laughed and danced and put her bed to another use.

Next morning they both woke holding hands, love and devotion having accomplished what science and medicine had failed to achieve.

Friday, 6 July 2012

67: Friends

Alicia had such a good imagination that she had an imaginary friend that everyone could see. She always dressed her in the same outfit as she wore herself and had her carry just a tiny bit more weight, most noticeable on her face. She called her Dominica and for 3 years I thought they were twins.

We both – all – sat in the back row of the classroom in Hawthorn Road school. Alicia was my best friend from year 3 until year 6, when my parents moved to Dartford after Dad got promoted. When we drove to our new home I remember trying to be brave and then sobbing all the way through the tunnel which felt like driving out of one world and into another.

Sometimes we went back to Salisbury to visit Grandma and if there was time, I was allowed to visit Alicia. Once I stayed a weekend and Alicia came over to tea. Grandma let us eat on our own so we could ‘catch up’ and I set the table for 3. I was allowed to open the door to greet her and as her mum drove off I asked, “Where’s Dominica?”

“Oh, I don’t need her anymore,” she said.

“Did you argue then?” I asked.

“No, I just stopped imagining her.”

I giggled. “Yeah like it’s that easy. I wish I could get rid of Daniel by just not thinking about him.” Daniel was 6 and my little brother, who thought everything I owned should be drawn on, blown up or stuffed under his bed.

“No, not by not thinking of her. Not imagining her. I made her up.”

“No you never,” I said. “How could you?”

“She was my imaginary friend. I invented her.”

“But we could see her. Everyone in the class could. She sat at the end, then you, then me, then funny Margaret.” All the misfits together, I thought to myself.

“Most of the class couldn’t see me, let alone her.” She looked much older than 12 for just a minute. “You could see her, and Margaret could. I think the teachers could, but they forgot about her because she wasn’t on the register. When I came to school nobody was my friend, so I made her up so I did have one. The more I imagined her, the more real she was and then other people could see her too.”

“I know we didn’t have lots of friends but you can’t do that. It’s not possible.”

“Did you ever see her without me? Or hear her speak?” Alicia smiled, spread her fingers on the table and said, “I imagined her but now I have some real friends so I don’t need her.”

“Don’t you miss her?” I said.

“Not really. If I do, I just bring her back. Takes a while but if I think hard enough she’ll be there.”

“Do it now. So I can see her again too. I miss her sometimes.”

“It doesn’t work like that. If I’m just think about her I have to remember her. To make her real again I have to have this weird feeling in here. And here. Like I’m hungry, but not for food.” She pointed to her stomach and her heart.

Driving back to Dartford I felt sad missing my friend all over again. As we approached the tunnel, I wanted to cry. It was sucking us out of the old world again and delivering us into the new one. I felt sad and empty inside and I hoped my parents didn’t notice as a tear ran down my cheek.

I felt a hand take mine and squeeze it, just once. Daniel was asleep with his head on the side window and between us sat Dominica. As we reached the end of the tunnel and it got lighter, she squeezed my hand a second time, smiled and faded away.

Dad glanced in his mirror and said “I must be going mad Megan. I thought you’d kidnapped Alicia and had her in the back with you. Just for a second.”

“No,” I said. “It’s not Alicia. Maybe it’s your imagination.”

Thursday, 5 July 2012

66: Boxing Match

When I got home, I found a note stuck to the front door. It read “Hi Claire, Took delivery of a box for you. Left it on the kitchen table. Don’t forget Saturday. Dave”

I once heard a comedian say that everyone has a friend called Dave. I don’t. Not a friend, not a relative, not a work colleague, nobody. Odds are someone is called Dave on the morning bus from time to time, but commuting doesn’t usually extend to polite introductions. Best you can expect is a nod or grunt from someone else up as early as you, wet from drizzle, trudging off into the city to work too hard for too little reward.

But there is no way any of those potential Daves would have come into my house, taken delivery of a box – which I’m not expecting by the way – and leave it on my kitchen table. There’s no room on it for a start, not unless the box is really, really small. Surely the postman would have poked it through the letterbox in that case. And how would this Dave have got in? I live alone except for a ginger tabby and the spare keys are with my mother and my best friend. Tiddles doesn’t need a key, clearly. (Yes, yes I know it’s a predictable name for a cat, but she had a series of...accidents...as a kitten and the name just stuck.)

As I open the door and go in, I can’t see anything that looks out of place. The washing up still needs doing. There’s the pile of unopened bills still waiting for me to muster enough courage to face them. Tiddles is still mewling about her empty food dish. And there on the table is...well, nothing. No sign of a box, big or small. Nothing disturbed as if a box had ever been there. Just normal. Exactly as I left it this morning.
Then Dave comes back. Not that I know it’s Dave then, but I hear a noise at the front door and turn in time to see another note slip through the letter box. I rush to the door and fling it open, in time to see the retreating back of ‘Dave’.

“Hello?” I say.

“Ah. Hello,” he says back. “You saw my note?”

“And the other one. For Claire, about her box. Why did you leave it on my table? How did you?”

“Well,” he said. “I didn’t leave Claire’s box on your table. I left it on Claire’s table. She used to have my flat before me and when this box arrived at mine I thought I’d bring it round to save her coming to fetch it. I have her key for watering her plants when she’s away. We’re friends.”

I say, “OK, that makes sense. But why did you leave a note on my door saying that? My name is Kate and I’ve never lived in a flat. I have no plants that need watering and I’m sure I’d remember giving you a key.” I add, “I don’t remember giving you a key.”

“After I left the box I drove away but suddenly thought maybe Claire would wonder what the box was and just throw it away or something. So I pulled over, wrote a note and drove back to stick it on the door. Just I must have got the street wrong. Claire lives just behind here and you both have blue doors.” He had the good grace to look shamefaced. “She texted me to say was it me had been in the house and I realized I got the wrong street. I was coming back just to take the note back and you’d never know. But when it was gone I thought I’d leave you another note explaining.”

He has a nice face and crinkly eyes, like in films. “Sorry,” he says.

“No problem,” I say. “It could happen to anyone.” Not that I really mean that bit.

“Thanks. Well, bye,” Dave says and sets off down the path to his car. He turns back and says, “Still on for Saturday though?”

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

65: Welcome Home

I'd never wanted any kind of pet. My mother always said they made the house dirty and were such a tie, so I grew up in a house with no animals. Friends had pets but even when I visited them I steered clear of cages, tanks and beds just in case I 'caught something.'

My brother kept a caterpillar once, placing it in a jam jar with a few leaves. He hid it under the bed and took it out to watch the change from crawler to spun webbing to hard chrysalis by torchlight at night. Mother hoovered just before it hatched out and threw the whole thing in the rubbish.

At uni I shared a house with someone who won a goldfish at the fair. I fed it for her when she was away one weekend, so I suppose I did have a little bit of experience although it wasn't quite proper animal husbandry.

Then one evening as I arrived home from work, I found a small cat on my front door step. I didn't call it a kitten back then because I had no idea if it was young or that was a normal size for a cat. It mewed at me as I went in and again as I closed the door.

A little while later I noticed it sat on my kitchen windowsill, watching me as I prepared my evening meal. That was the first time I was guilted into feeding an animal. You try preparing salmon with gusto when two little eyes are pleading for a share. So I shared.

Every night for a week or more this little scrap was waiting for me when I arrived home. Mews felt more of a welcome, a 'hi, how was your day?' and I felt mean closing the door behind me. The cat was usually on the sill before I reached the kitchen though. Then one day, I arrived home and it wasn't there.

I was worried, disappointed, hurt and a little bit lonely, all from this no-show cat. How could a cat make me feel lonely after 10 days? Just because I'd been to the fish counter and bought us fresh salmon as a treat didn't mean there was any kind of relationship between us after all. No duty on it to turn up every day.

I went inside and headed for the kitchen thinking maybe I'd open a can of soup and leave the salmon until the next day. And there was Cat, sat on the windowsill but this time inside the house. It must have slipped in through an open window during the day.

The welcome mewing was loud and long and Cat climbed onto my shoulder when it settled down and purred into my ear. I told myself Cat was waiting for me as much as I was waiting for it.

After we'd eaten and Cat was asleep on my lap, I googled how to sex a cat, then rang my brother and asked him if he knew how to install a cat-flap.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

64: Lido

Last year I was first in. In fact, first in ever. Probably some of the men who built it have had a splash about, but I was first ‘official swim’ in the lido. I was nervous, to tell the truth. Not about giving the speech to dedicate the pool and declare it open. Not even about everyone watching me swim. No, I’m a competent swimmer, if not gifted.

But I’ve never stripped off my mayoral robes in front of six thousand before.

Pride in accomplishing a goal I so passionately believed in helped me through. You know, one hundred and twenty local men without work took part in building it. One hundred and twenty men with a reason to get up in the morning. With something to feel proud of, like I did of them.

Since last year it’s been gala dinners and celebrations every week. The mayor is invited everywhere and one can’t really refuse, unless there is a double booking or some ethical reason. So I’ve eaten more puddings than usual and put on a little weight around the middle.

When the Guildford Lido opens this year, I shall be wearing a swimming costume two sizes bigger.

Monday, 2 July 2012

63: Waiting Rooms

You see all sorts in my line of work. I service those drinks machines in waiting rooms, the sort that sell you a small drink in a brown plastic cup that's too hot to hold. It's not a bad job really, I get to travel, run my own day, meet people.

Sometimes there's dozens of people there and sometimes not a soul about. It's rare I see the same people twice, although sometimes the girls on receptions might last for a few visits. There's one place where the old gal has been there as long as I've been doing my round, which is 7 years now. Nice she is too, is Doris. We usually have a chat and she'll ask about my kids and I'll ask about her grand kids. Pictures out, comparing stories and who does best at school.

Oh and there's Carl in the tyre place, he's been around a few years too. He started as an apprentice and now he's one of the best mechanics there. He does my van when it wants looking at and only ever charges me cost price. Bet he doesn't tell that boss of his, grumpy bugger that he is. Me and Carl usually talk about football or girls, although his missus is having a baby so sometimes we talk about family stuff.

The worst is when I have to go into hospital waiting rooms, especially those on serious wards. There's a lot of crying and fretting goes on in some of those. If I have time I wait until they've gone, but sometimes I'm in a rush and I have to work there with people waiting. I try to think of it as providing a service but sometimes I just feel like I'm getting in the way. Once I was arm-deep in a machine and a doctor came in for one of those dreaded conversations. I couldn't wait to get out of there. I was glad that I could, unlike the poor family.

I even got a date out of a visit once. Carl had his sister call in for a chat when I was doing a 6-monthly clean and refit. Jenny had just split up with her fella and I'd be single a while, so we went out a few times, nothing serious.

I was telling Doris all about it over a cup of tea. A proper one in a mug though, not one of those nasty ones you get from a machine.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

62: Beginnings

‘In the beginning was the word and the word was...’ what? We invited our listeners to finish this sentence and this is what they said.

For around 50%, the word was ‘girl’ and for the remaining 50%,'boy’.

‘God’ was popular amongst the religious, ‘money’ amongst the bankers.

Athletes plumped for ‘go’ and the less-athletic for ‘wait’. Or maybe ‘weight’ – it’s hard to know with a phone-in.

‘Yes’ was popular, accompanied by punching the air (footballers), shaking hands (successful job applicants) and signing dotted lines (both aforementioned and more).

Learner drivers felt it was ‘passed’ and house buyers ‘exchanged’.

Owners of new puppies and kittens invariably voted ‘awwww’, although the length of the word varied with furriness levels.

‘I do’ was discounted on the grounds of containing two words. Had it been permitted, it would have been outright winner.

‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ was popular with mums and/or dads.

A smiling ‘thanks’ surged amongst the older viewers, but too few of the younger ones chose it to make it a viable winner.

Surprisingly few chose ‘retire’, perhaps mirroring the uncertain economic times we live in.

Some chose ‘no’ but didn’t go into detail.

A third said it was ‘hello’ or ‘hi’.

Four people said it was ‘goodbye’.

One person said ‘sorry’.

Mrs Flash365 is getting married...

Some of you may know that the original Mr Flash365 and me are a really life couple and on 2nd July we will officially become Mr & Mrs Flash365.  (We've even had a wedding card addressed to us as that!)

So I have decided that I will take a short break from posting here and return in a couple of weeks.

We are getting married on Monday at 12.30 and will be in Scotland for a few days, before travelling back south again later in the week.  Then we are very lucky and will be heading off to Marrakesh for a week of relaxing and sunbathing.

During this time I still hope to be writing but must admit there may be days when I will struggle to get out a story because of, well you know.  And we don't know whether our 2 hotels will have wi-fi so I can post anyway.

My plan is to instead hand-write stories and I will type them up when we get back to normal life.  This should be mid-July so I hope to post 2 per day for the rest of July and fingers crossed will be back to where I should be for the start of the next month.

I'll try hard not to have 14 stories about weddings - maybe I should change the month's theme so I have 31 stories about weddings - but who knows what will come out.

We both hope you are having a lovely summer and we are both really grateful for everyone's good wishes, both about the wedding and about the Flash365 projects.

But our virtual child, Son of Flash365, will still be posting for the duration so I hope you will give him a look. He's great, especially if you like giants or zombies which he does very well.  He posts here http://sonofflash365.blogspot.co.uk/

So I will see you in a couple of weeks, when I truly will be Mrs Flash365.

Kath x