Category Archives: Fiction

Nina and the lost dog

Nina was walking along one day when she heard a dog barking and ran over to see what was going on. She saw a dog walking along and barking with it’s lead trailing behind it.

“Hello,” said Nina.
“Hello,” said the dog.
“Why are you barking?” asked Nina.
“Because I’ve lost my owner,” said the dog.
“Oh dear,” said Nina, “I’ll have to help you find them, my name is Nina by the way, what’s yours?”
“My name is Patch,” said the dog.

Nina and Patch went walking along looking everywhere for Patch’s owner.

“What is the name of your owner?” asked Nina.
“Her name is Lucy,” said Patch.
“Well let’s shout it out…”

“Lucy, Lucy, hello, we’ve got Patch”

But who should turn up but Nina’s cousin Oliver.

“Hello, Oliver,” said Nina.
“Hello, Nina,” said Oliver.
“Can you help us find Patch’s owner?”
“Yes,” said Oliver, “you haven’t got lost again have you Patch.”
Patch had to say that he had, and he looked quite upset about it.
“Don’t worry,” said Nina, “we’ll find Lucy”.

“Lucy, Lucy, hello, we’ve got Patch” they all shouted.

This time Lucy actually did turn up and she said, “Patch, Patch, I’ve been looking everywhere for you. I didn’t come here before because I was looking somewhere else.

“Don’t worry,” said Nina, “we’ve been looking after Patch for you”.
“Thank you for doing that,” said Lucy.
“And thank you for finding me,” said Patch.

And then it was time for everyone to go home.

The end.

Fisica – Part 1

*Sping-Spong*

Mike’s head turned to his computer. He had spent the last nine months hoping that he would have dealt with this issue before it came to this. He hadn’t, he had left it for Simon to raise.

—-
To: Mike

From: Simon

Date: 29/10/15 22:03

Subject: Fisica’s next product

Mike,

After our last conversation, I have been wondering if perhaps you aren’t as finished with my services as you implied. If, for example, Fisica’s next product is actually based on my encryption technology rather than it being a side feature, as originally described, perhaps we should discuss next steps?

Simon.

—-

To: Simon

From: Mike

Date: 29/10/15 22:14

Subject: RE: Fisica’s next product

Simon,
Unfortunately I can’t discuss future product direction for Fisica with those outside the company.
Mike.

—-

He stood up as he pressed send. Simon had worked for Fisica. He had written the encryption tech when he was a contractor. He had been too expensive to keep on, but Fisica’s new product relied on his work. But he can’t know that. He simply can’t.

Mike knew that the right thing was to ask him to be an employee. That was the best thing to do, but the problem was that Simon was just as much of a nightmare as one would imagine. Once he was an employee there was a good chance he’d just want to screw everything up for Mike. Mike knew that this whole thing was a nightmare, but maybe, he hoped, there would be a way to get this product launched without having to deal with Simon. Poor Simon, Mike thought, could a company basically decide that you were annoying, albeit super smart, and therefore decide to use your best ideas, but not deal with you anymore?

Legally he was in the clear, Simon had signed away what he had done. But would the board want the smart guy who invented the tech outside the company and available for hire or inside working for them?

Mike knew that it was time to talk to Jerry. Jerry was Mike’s therapist, and Mike had been avoiding seeing Jerry almost as much as he’d been avoiding talking to Simon.

He went back to the computer and to Jerry’s website, booked the first appointment for tomorrow morning, then he sent an email asking for an emergency meeting with his investors. After that he popped a sedative, drank a glass of red and went to bed. This meant he had a really confused four hours during which his brain was fighting sleep, but then he fell asleep so completely and soundly that when his alarm went off, he couldn’t remember for a clear three minutes who he was or why he was awake at six thirty.

He had a cool shower. (Who actually wants a cold shower? Cold showers are ridiculous.) He dressed carefully. He wanted to be able to maintain the sartorial high ground. Jerry was a poor dresser. He had a thrown together look, one day Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts, another day a ripped blue denim shirt and jeans. The problem was that in between these crazy combinations, Jerry’s throwaway style could end up looking like very carefully put together non-style. Mike didn’t know why he cared. He certainly wasn’t fashionable himself in the conventional sense. But he liked to feel the best dressed. Working with developers meant he could win most of the time.

Mike pushed open the door of Jerry’s office. On the ground floor was a toilet and a staircase down to the consulting rooms. A sign had been hanging on the door to the toilets ever since Mike had been coming here saying “Beware of the vom”.

Mike walked down the stairs and into the waiting room. The receptionist was mixing a Bloody Mary.

“Is Jerry in?” asked Mike.

“Not until 8am, never before that. Just getting things ready.”

“I’m his first appointment.”

“What you having?”

“Just a water please.”

“Suit yourself.”

Mike sat with his water and waited. At 8am the door swung open, Jerry walked up to the bar, gave an evil look to the receptionist, walked around behind the bar and looked back to Mike. He gestured Mike to come over to the bar. Jerry went into the fridge and pulled out two bottles of beer. He passed one to Mike.

Mike said, “I’m fine thanks”.

“It’s not for you,” said Jerry, “I don’t have enough hands to carry everything”.

“Ok.”

“I mean,” said Jerry, “if you are on some kind of health kick have some celery, we always have celery”.

“I’m fine,” said Mike.

“Ok let’s go.”

Jerry carried a beer and the Bloody Mary through to his office and Mike followed with the other beer.

Jerry quickly arranged himself on his bean bag in the middle of the room. He had placed the drinks on a small mat and he gestured to Mike that he should approach and put the other beer by the side.

“Careful,” said Jerry, “the raffia is sitting on carpet so it can all go over at any minute.”

Mike went and picked up another bean bag from the pile in the corner of the room and placed it in front of Jerry.

“So what’s up?” asked Jerry.

“I have a problem.”

“Tell me about it,” said Jerry, “you are seeing your drunk of a therapist at short notice after a gap of six months. You don’t need to tell me you have a problem.”

“Ok.”

“So tell me.”

“I have a meeting in two hours with my investors.”

“And?”

“They think I am the reason my company is successful, but actually the technology behind the flagship new product was written by somebody else. This software is the reason most of the investors came in. And I sacked the person who wrote it because… Well I told him it was because we didn’t have enough money, but actually it was because I was threatened by him.”

“And now he’s upset?”

“No, yes, I mean he’s obviously upset, but I think… I think he may have realised that nobody else knows that he’s the one that invented code Fisica relies on.”

“But surely that happens all the time? People invent things when they work places and they pass the rights over to people,” said Jerry.

“Yes they do, and he did. But I work in an ideas business, and my investors think I was the man with the ideas, when actually it was him, I sacked the guy they actually wanted.”

“Is that really true, or do you just think it’s true?”

“How would I know the difference?”

“Good question,” said Jerry, “that’s supposed to be my job, I’m not so sure I like you asking the interesting questions.”

Jerry finished his first beer. Then held his nose and drained the second half of his Bloody Mary.

“This is tough this morning,” Jerry said.

“Some people would say it’s a bad idea to seek advice from a drunk shrink”.

“At least I’ll give you advice,” Jerry said, “most of these guys will ask ‘how does that make you feel?’ and tell you nothing”.

“So tell me something,” Mike said.

“Well if this guy is so important to you, hire him back.”

“But that won’t work, he’s a complete disaster to work with and… Then he’ll know…”

“Surely he already knows that he invented this thing?” asked Jerry.

“Yeah, of course! He knows that, but… but… he doesn’t know that… He doesn’t know that what he invented is what the whole company is focusing on, although he will soon when we put out a press release, and he doesn’t know that the investors don’t know that he was the one who invented it. They think it was me, he thinks they sacked him even though they knew it was him.”

“And if you hired him back?”

“Hey! I thought you didn’t do self-reflective questions.”

“Fine,” said Jerry, “I’m telling you to hire him back, tell me why you aren’t going to?”

“Because he’ll ruin everything. He’ll twist everything around to him.”

“Ok,” said Jerry, “I say you ruined anything that was going to be ruined when you sacked him and tried to get the glory for something you didn’t do. If you aren’t the inventor the only reason you could conceivably be valuable is as a leader not a scaredy cat who won’t face up to the world he actually finds himself in.”

“You’re wrong,” said Mike, “Simon is toxic and it was only my leadership that got that wart out of the firm.”

“Ok, if you’re sure. Time’s up.”

“That’s nowhere near time.”

“I have to take a crap, you can follow me in or not. But that’s where the rest of this session is taking place, I promise you that.”

Mike stood up.

“Thanks for your time, Jerry.”

“Come and see me next week Mike, book it on your way out, you’re going to want to see me next week.”

“Ok, I will.”

“Hey Mike, what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to tell the investors to press ahead without Simon.”

“Ok,” said Jerry, “I’ll see you next week.”

The Prince and the friend

Once upon a time, there was a prince who was very annoying. His servants were always trying to find ways to make the other servants have to go and deal with him.

Ring-Ring-Ring goes his bell, and everyone tries to hide or look busy or tries to busily hide.

One servant, a very clever servant, called Joan, never seemed to make herself scarce in time. She was very smart, and was always trying to invent things, but she was so busy thinking of all kinds of super smart things that when the bell went she didn’t always hear it straight away. By the time the bell rang the second time, she would suddenly realise what was happening, think about hiding, and realise that everyone else had beaten her to it.

One time, when our story starts, Joan walked into the room and the prince was screaming, “What’s taken you so long?”
“Sorry,” she said, “what can I help you with?”
“I want a tree house that I can live in.”
“With one lump or two?” Joan asked automatically, she had assumed he was going to ask for a cup of tea, that’s what he usually asked for at this time of day, but what was he asking for now? A tree house – woweee that sounds like a big thing, but maybe a fun thing to make? Maybe, Joan thought, she would actually enjoy making a tree house for the Prince.

Despite the fact that the Prince was now shouting at her for talking about putting sugar into his treehouse, Joan wasn’t really listening, she was already thinking about the heights and benefits of the different trees in the Royal gardens. She was thinking about which kind of wood should be used for the construction, and she was wondering if there was a way to make some kind of pulley system to engineer a special kind of lift up into the treehouse.

“Sorry, Your Majesty,” Joan said, “I didn’t mean to say one lump or two, I meant to say, of course you can have a treehouse. Would you like a cup of tea to drink while you are waiting for the treehouse?”
“Yes I would,” the Prince said without even saying please, “and mind you don’t make me wait too long because I want this treehouse RIGHT NOW!”

Joan hurried out of the room with plans bursting out of her big brain. And within just three days Joan had built a treehouse so amazing even the Prince was impressed, though he didn’t say thank you.

If you thought the Prince having a treehouse would make things easier for the servants then you would be totally and completely wrong. The prince was now further away, and they had to go a long way to find out what he wanted and then come all the way back to get whatever it was and then he would usually complain that everything had taken a long time to get to him.

Joan didn’t like to see everyone suffering, especially as it was her treehouse that was causing the problem. One day, she woke up with an idea. What if she invented a long distance speaking thing / telephone? Then when the Prince wanted something he could call the servants and then they could just run out with whatever it was.

The prince was really impressed with this, although he didn’t say thank you, and he started calling up all the time.

But the servants still weren’t happy, the prince still never said please or thank you, and even though they didn’t have to go to the treehouse to find out what the prince wanted anymore, it still was a long way to bring everything he asked for. And when that took a long time, the prince was ever so cross.

One morning, Joan woke up with another idea. What about a super cool train set that the servants could load up with whatever needed to go to the prince which would take everything much faster than the servants could carry it.

The prince was really impressed with this, although he didn’t say thank you, and the servants started sending everything to him on the train.

After a bit of time the servants realised that they were really happy with this latest invention. They only had to take the prince’s phone calls and send whatever he wanted by train and they never had to see him. He still didn’t say please or thank you, but as they never had to see him in person it all made things much easier for them.

One day when the phone rang, the prince had a special kind of request, one that couldn’t be answered with the train. He phoned up and said, “Can’t one of you come and see me? I’m lonely.”

And who do you think happened to have answered the phone? It was Joan. So Joan decided to go to the treehouse and see the prince.

“Hello,” said Joan.
“Hello,” said the Prince.
“Was there something you wanted?” asked Joan.
“Yes, I want a friend,” said the Prince.
“Oh,” said Joan, “I’m not sure it’s going to be easy to find one of those.”
“Why not? Why can’t you be my friend?”, asked the Prince.
“Because you aren’t very nice.”
“BE MY FRIEND!”, the Prince shouted, “I ORDER YOU TO BE MY FRIEND”.
“No,” said Joan, “it doesn’t work like that.”
“Why not?” asked the Prince.
“Because if I’m going to be your friend, you have to try and be my friend first. I’ve done nothing but be nice to you, and you have done nothing but been horrible to me and my friends.”
“NO I HAVEN’T.”
“And,” Joan said, “my friends aren’t allowed to shout at me.”
“Oh,” said the Prince, “that doesn’t sound very good.”
“No,” said Joan, “being my friend is really good, and if you want to be my friend you will have to decide to be nice to me. I’m going to sit quietly now and wait for you to say something nice.”

Joan waited quite a long time, while the Prince tried to think of something nice to say.

Eventually he said, “I do quite like this treehouse, and I do quite like the train you made, and I do like the telephone you made as well.”

Joan waited a bit longer.

“That was nice, what just I said,” said the Prince.
“It was,” said Joan, “but you still haven’t said thank you.”
“Oh yes, thank you for everything that you have done. Can we be friends now?”
“Yes,” said Joan, “we can, as long as you really mean it.”
“Yes I do, I’m glad we can be friends,” said the Prince, “would you like a cup of tea?”
“As long as you make it yourself,” Joan said.
“I will…”, the prince paused, “please will you show me how?”
“I will,” said Joan.

And the Prince and Joan lived politely ever after.

Monkey to the rescue

Once upon a time Monkey was walking along in the treetops when he heard a little noise going “help help”.

‘Who could that be?’ thought Monkey.

Monkey walked towards where the help sound was coming from and he called out “who is it?”.
“It’s me porcupine, I’m completely stuck up here in this high tree, which is as tall as Daddy and I’m only a teeny tiny baby porcupine so I don’t know what to do.”

When monkey got close he saw the porcupine, and the porcupine suddenly showed monkey all of its spines – which are a kind of spike that the porcupine has on its body.

Once monkey saw the spines he said, “oh dear, I would like to help you, but I don’t think I can pick you up if you are that spiky”.

The porcupine said, “Don’t worry, you can pick me up on the bottom where it’s soft.”
“Oh,” said Monkey, “I didn’t know you had any bit where you weren’t spiky.”
“Well,” said the porcupine, “let me show you,” and she rolled up into a ball and showed Monkey her tummy where it was nice and soft.

Then Monkey knew exactly what to do and picked her up and carried her down to the ground. As soon as they got to the ground he saw nine porcupines – the whole family. They were looking quite worried because their baby had gone missing. But luckily Monkey had found her.

Once everyone was back together, everyone was really really happy and it was time for them all to go home.

The end.

Gwen and the rocket

Gwen, Nina and Elephant decided to go on an adventure in their rocket but they didn’t know where to go.

“Why don’t we go and visit Rabbit?” asked Nina.
“Yes,” said Gwen, “we haven’t seen him for ages.”
“I wonder if he has any carrots? I quite like carrots sometimes,” said Elephant.
“Ooooh, me too,” said Nina.
“There won’t be any, I’m afraid,” said Gwen, “it’s time for planting carrots, not picking them.”
“Maybe we’ll be able to plant some,” said Nina.

They all got into the rocket and blasted off up into the sky. Whooooosh. It didn’t actually take that long to get to rabbit’s house but it had been a while since they had been in the rocket and they decided to do a couple of extra loop-the-loops so they could whooosh around a bit more. Every time the rocket went upside down they kept all laughing and giggling. It was so much fun.

Eventually they decided to land in Rabbit’s garden. Luckily he was already there because the rocket landed upside down and he had to help them turn it the right way up. The last time they had visited him, he’d been out and they had had to wait for him.

“Hello everyone,” said Rabbit.
“Hello,” said Gwen.
“Hello,” said Elephant.
“Hi,” said Nina.
“What are you up to today Rabbit?” asked Gwen.
“I’m planting carrots in the garden today,” said Rabbit.

Elephant remembered what Gwen had said earlier about it not being a time to pick carrots, but thought he’d better check anyway, just in case. “Rabbit,” Elephant started to say, but before he could get his question out, Rabbit interrupted him.

“And sorry Elephant, I don’t have any carrots, I wish I did but I don’t, that’s why I’m planting more.”
“Not to worry,” said Elephant, “I just wanted to check.”
“You can have this banana I bought at the shop if you like though,” said Rabbit.
“Oh thanks,” said Elephant.

While Elephant started eating the banana, Nina and Gwen were examining Rabbit’s tools: he had a small fork, a trowel (which is a small kind of spade) and a dibber (which is a pointy stick for making holes in the ground to put seeds in).

“Oh dear, that’s a shame,” said Nina.
“What’s a shame?” asked Gwen.
“Well,” said Nina, “the shame is that there are four of us, Elephant, one, Rabbit, two, Gwen, three, and me, four. But there are only three tools: the fork, one, the trowel, two, and the dibber, three”
“Oh dear,” said Gwen, “that is a shame.”
“Yes it is,” agreed Rabbit, “especially as I really really need one more tool. I really really need a watering can but I don’t have one, my old one broke.”
“Don’t worry,” said Elephant who had just finished his banana, “why doesn’t Rabbit use the fork to turn the soil, Nina use the dibber to put the seeds in, and Gwen use the trowel to put the new soil on top?”
“But what will you do,” asked Rabbit?
“I’ll be the watering can! My trunk can help carry the water from the waterbutt over there.”

And so they did. Rabbit used the fork to turn the soil, Nina used the dibber to put the seeds in, Gwen used the trowel to put the new soil on top, and Elephant used his trunk to help carry the water from the waterbutt and sprayed it on top.

After all the carrot seeds were planted, it was time to say goodbye and go back in the rocket and head home.

Once they got home they told Daddy about everything they had done and ate their dinner which was fish fingers, peas and carrots. And they even had carrot cake for pudding.

After pudding it was time to go straight upstairs to brush their teeth, get in to bed and fall fast asleep… Well after a few stories from Mummy.

Monkey goes to school

Monkey and his Mummy are on their way to school. It’s Monkey’s very first day at school and he’s nervous and a bit worried.

“Don’t worry,” says Mummy, “everyone will be very friendly in there, I promise”.

Monkey didn’t say anything, he really wasn’t sure about school today, maybe he’d just start school tomorrow? He was about to suggest this when they arrived at a door and Mummy opened it. In the room, there was one big desk at the end and six little desks.

Sitting at the first little desk was a cow and on the top of the desk was some grass.

Sitting at the second little desk was a rabbit and on the top of the desk was a carrot.

Sitting at the third little desk was a horse and on the top of the desk was some sugar lumps.

Sitting at the fourth little desk was a chicken and on the top of the desk was some grain.

Sitting at the fifth little desk was a dog and on the top of the desk was a sausage.

Nobody was sitting at the sixth little desk but on the top of the desk was a banana.

“That’s my desk,” said Monkey. He looked up to check with his Mummy who smiled and encouraged him.

Monkey ran over to his desk and sat down just in time for the teacher to arrive.

The end.

Elephant loses his banana

Once upon a time Elephant, Gwen and Nina were all playing when Elephant realised that he was quite hungry.

“Maybe you should eat a banana,” said Gwen.
“I thought I had one around here somewhere,” said Elephant, “but it seems to have gone missing.”
“Maybe you’ve put it in one of your pockets,” said Nina.
“I thought that,” said Elephant, “but I’ve checked and it’s gone.”
“Maybe,” said Nina, “it just walked off by itself.”
“That’s impossible, isn’t it?” said Gwen, “Bananas don’t have legs.”
“But this one does because it’s special,” said Nina.
“Was it a special banana,” asked Gwen?
“Yes it was,” said Elephant, “it was special to me, it was going to be my lunch.”
“Well then,” said Gwen, “we’ll have to look for it.”

So Gwen, Elephant and Nina decided to go and look for this special banana.
“Can you remember where you last saw it?” asked Gwen.
“It might be in the fruit bowl,” said Nina, but it wasn’t there, there were only three apples in there, and elephants don’t like
apples, at least this one doesn’t.
“Actually, the last place I saw the banana was in the shop,” said Elephant.
“What? You didn’t actually buy it?” said Nina.
“I don’t remember,” said Elephant.
“Maybe you bought it,” said Gwen, “but left it on the counter.”
“I think,” said Nina, “that he might have actually forgotten to buy it, popped it in his pocket, then it dropped out on the
pavement so it will be really mucky now. Oh, Elephant, you are so forgetful sometimes.”
“I am,” said Elephant, “but don’t worry about it being mucky if it’s on the floor, because you don’t eat banana skins, so it’s got
its own wrapper.”
“That’s true,” said Nina, “shall we go and look for it?”
“Yes,” said Elephant, “I’m still really hungry.”

Sure enough, as they were walking down the road they suddenly saw, lying on the pavement, a single banana. Elephant went running
over and was about to peel it and pop it in his mouth when Gwen said, “Stop! Didn’t Nina say you might have forgotten to buy that?
If you haven’t bought it then you shouldn’t eat it yet. Let’s go in to the shop and check, it’s only over there.”

So they went in to the shop, and the shopkeeper was very surprised to see Elephant again. “Hello, back again Elephant, you can’t
have eaten all of those bananas that you bought already, can you?”
“Oh,” said Elephant, “did I buy more than one?”
“Yes,” said the shopkeeper, “you bought a whole bunch. I saw you eating them as you left the shop. You were in such a rush I
wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t dropped some as you were peeling them so quickly.”
“Ah,” said Gwen, “that must have been how you dropped your last banana.”

And that was the whole true story. The friends all went back home really quickly, so they would be in time for lunch, and Mummy
made them a lovely lunch of tuna sandwiches for everyone, except Elephant who had another bunch of bananas!

The end.

Nice things happening to nice people

I was once asked, “so what do you write about”?
I thought about it for a while, and decided that I generally write about nice things happening to nice people. There are certainly variations, people change in stories, things hurt them, people have baggage, but generally I like triumph over adversity.

I’m going to pick a story that I wrote after my book was sent to the printers, but before it had been printed as an archetypal story of mine. It’s “nice”. I was told as a kid not to use the word “nice”. It was too common. But I like “nice”. I’m sorry.

So while I’m on this nostalgia kick, here’s my story written 5 years ago originally here in 4 parts (as so many of my stories are), but now collected together…

It’s called “Preparation”…

Last night I dreamt of mandarins again. I know I’m worrying about the meal. Why do I put myself through it? Twenty people for Christmas lunch. I used to think it was for the kids so they would grow up seeing their family. And lately I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing it for Bob. He always used to love Christmas. I wonder how many times I’ll have to say it before I can forget him making the kids put all of the presents back under the tree because they were being too noisy.

No, I might as well admit that I do it for me. We never had fun at Christmas when I was a girl and I suppose I’m making up for it. Sometimes I do wonder when this fun is supposed to happen. I mean before you’ve served up, you’re cooking like crazy. During the meal you’re worrying about pudding. During pudding you’re trying to stop Malcolm setting fire to the napkins or Uncle Paul from getting too carried away with the brandy butter. And afterwards there’s the washing up.

Paul isn’t my uncle he’s my brother. I wonder when I started calling him that as though it was his name or his title? I guess it was around the time I started talking to the kids more than I spoke to adults. Just when I thought I was about clear, I now seem to spend quite a bit of my time in the company of the grandchildren.

I do know the part of Christmas I love most. It’s not watching the kids unwrap the presents. There is too often disappointment in some of their faces. I knew we were spoiling them when they were little but I didn’t see what harm it would do. Now I know they expected bigger and better presents every year, so now probably anything less than the
keys to an actual rocket ship is a bit of a let down. So no it isn’t that. It’s sneaking about the night before helping Santa fill the stockings. See there I go again, I’ve clearly been spending too much time with the grandchildren.

Now. It’s time to get out of bed. I’ve got a busy day today. I’m having lunch with a man. God, that sounds more exciting than it probably will be.

I had Simon on the phone last night giving me dating tips. As if he knows anything about it. He’s never even had a girlfriend. Well I suppose he still dates even though he thinks he can’t tell me about it. Right, must get up.

***

I pull into the last car parking space and turn the engine off. The radio stops talking at me and suddenly everything is peaceful. Or at least everything outside my head. I try to collect my thoughts but it’s hard to focus. This was a stupid week to have a date. All of the time I’m thinking of all of the things I should be getting ready for Christmas. Simon was right, I do need to spend more time thinking about myself for a change, but I’m just not sure that this week was the best week to do it.

I tilt the rear view mirror towards me and take a look at my make up. I think about re-applying but out loud I say “it’ll have to do.” He’s picked the nice little bistro that opened recently. It’s a good choice to go somewhere new, there is less baggage – less chance that I had a previous date here. I walk in and can already tell that I’m going to like this place. There is a certain feel when you walk in, a certain light that feels warm and welcoming. I can see Brian over at a corner table. He looks up at me and smiles and I instantly remember why I’m here. That smile is a big part of it. He looks at me like he actually wants to see me. I’ve started to be able to tell the difference between that look and the one my children give me, the one where they want something from me.

As I get close to the table Brian stands to greet me. A single peck on the cheek, a slight waft of his aftershave. I give my coat to the waitress and sit. I can look at him now properly and I do. Then after a second I realise I’m almost staring and so I look down for the menu.

“Drink?” he asks.

“Yes, but I’m driving so it’ll just be the one.”

“You look lovely today.”

I’m never sure exactly what a comment like this is supposed to mean. I haven’t got time now – I’ll over-analyze it later.

“Thank you. And you’ve had your hair cut.”

“Not since you last saw me – I don’t think.”

“Ah, it must be the candlelight. You look very smart.”

“Thank you. Now how about that drink?”

I look at Brian. What do I think about him? How can I judge? He’s not quite the man I imagine when I close my eyes. But on the other hand I’m not sure that man exists. In fact I know that man doesn’t exist.

The man I see when I close my eyes is my dead husband without the inconvenient bits. Not just that he’s dead, actually him dying was one of the most self-improving things he could have done. God that sounds harsh, I don’t mean that the way you think I do. All I mean is that when he was alive I always had this lovely perfect vision of him, the feeling, the idea of him was perfect. And I have that again now. But then, when he was alive, he’d go and open his mouth or do something that would be so… so… disappointing that actually now he’s gone it’s a bit easier to preserve his perfection. The only problem for poor Brian is that now he has to live up to a completely impossible version of Bob. It seems weird because I know, and you know I know because I just wrote it, that Bob wasn’t actually like that in real life. But this is being written in the cold light of day (well I’m in bed, it’s warm and it’s night-time but that’s neither here nor there). But when I’m meeting with Brian it’s not about cold-light-of-day decisions. Somehow I’m measuring him against dead Bob and that’s not really fair. He’s all right, he’s lovely, but…

No. He’s fine. That sounds terrible. I want to say… He’s what I want, he’s what I need. That’s true actually. I need somebody who isn’t part of my family. I need somebody like that because I want to be thought of as special. I want to know that they are interested in me. I wonder how really rich people cope. I know that the only people who want me for something other than pure desire are my family who want me to provide. But if you were loaded you’d have to worry that any man would be after you just for your money. Brian’s richer than me though so I don’t have to worry about that. Why am I even thinking about it? I do find myself just whittering on sometimes.

We’ve been eating in silence. Brian decides to break it.

“So,” he asks, “what have you been thinking about?”

“You,” I say.

“What have you got to think about me?”

“Well, I’ve been evaluating you. Sort of deciding.”

“I hope…” he pauses, “I hope you don’t decide to decide too early. I’ve got a lot of interesting things to try… to show you if you’d be interested.”

“Don’t worry Brian. I was… I was just having some difficulty. I mean, I’m not used to this kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?”

“Well a date?”

“Good!”

“Good?”

“Sorry,” says Brain smirking, “it’s just that… God this is going to sound stupid. But I’ve been out with some women recen…. In the past… and none of them… not a one… has realised that they’ve been on a date. They think they are on some kind of bridge meeting. They compliment me on the choice of food, on the choice of wine, but some of them even bring a friend. They have no idea. At least you know that you’re on a date.”

“How many women?”

***

The question, “how many women?” I’d asked was hanging over the proceedings like a bad stink. Brian had frozen, he’d been freed for a second into saying something that he clearly truly felt. Something actually fucking interesting. Sorry about my language – but that’s what I feel. My contemporaries act as though it’s proper decorum to pretend you died about five years ago.

“Sorry Brian, I didn’t mean that question the way that you’re thinking that I did.”
“What does that mean?”
“I just meant…” I pause, I’m trying to decide how to phrase it. “I just meant, huh.”
“I’m sorry if I offended you.”
“Oh no, God no… I just was just thinking that I wanted to pause the date, because… While I realise I’m on a date and I’m therefore supposed to disapprove of you going out with others, I’m old enough and wise enough to realise that you must be, and that I’m not the only one. I’m not moronic. There are a lot more single women of my age than men. But what you were saying just made me feel like one of the blokes down the pub for a second. I imagined all of the twittery women I know who are so totally clueless. And for a second I just wanted to laugh at them with you. That’s all.”
“Well that’s okay then.”

Brian, I could tell, was looking at me differently. I wonder what that meant. And then suddenly I didn’t know what to do. Could I go on eating, or did I need to talk? I knew I was really waiting for him to talk again but I didn’t know where to look or what to do while I was waiting. I decided to plump for a overly large glug of my wine so I could keep looking him in the eye. He looked flustered, I was flustered too I could feel the tops of my ears starting to go red. And then I decided to help him.

“You know what Bri, lets order us up some more wine – I’ll get a taxi home.”

“Good,” he smiled that smile again. And he actually exhaled. It was so sweet. I wanted to hug him right there and then.

I smiled back at him and suddenly we were a team. We were on the same side against the rest, whoever they might be.

***

As the taxi pulled away from the bistro I thought about how I sometimes can really surprise myself. I used to think about how I was too eager to please others. It used to worry me. Over time I realised that pleasing others pleased me, and that in many ways that’s all there was to life.

Today I realised, finally, that all encounters, all conversations, are a two way street. You wouldn’t drink neat gin, you wouldn’t drink neat tonic but together they make something beautiful. They come together to create something better than either of them can be by themselves. I wanted to be nice to Brian, I suddenly realised, not because it wouldn’t help me but because it would. That’s what we’re all doing.

It’s only a problem when you stop taking part yourself. When it stops making you feel better to take part in the exchange – that’s the only time it’s a problem God! Stop thinking! And you think this sounds like crazy over-analysis? You should hear my brain in an hour.

I’m in this taxi, it’s going to my house. My house with my family in it. My family who are there for Christmas. Who are there to enjoy themselves.

.
.
.
.
.

And I’m bringing Brian to have dinner with me. How’s that for making myself feel happy?

Standing in a garden in rome

John and Katie are standing in a garden in Rome. They are standing in a part of the garden that, for some reason, has been covered with corrugated plastic. It has paths that would be fun to run along, but they can’t do that because they are pretending to be sophisticated. Shortly John will run briefly, ironically, along the path, looking square at Katie so she knows not to judge him.

But she will judge. Not him, he’s enjoying himself, maybe not enough, but there’s something there. He’s being free. What the hell is she doing? She can’t just run down the winding paths.

Some pigeons are walking on the top of the plastic corrugated roof. The racket is deafening. PECK PECK PECK.

SCRAPED FOOT, SCRAPED FOOT, PECK, SCR… PECK, PECK, PECK, SCRAPED FOOT.

“It sounds like it’s raining,” John says.
“Bloody pigeons,” Katie says, “must have followed us here all the way from London”.
“Must have taken the plane,” says John.
“Yeah,” Katie says, “do you think they flew business class?”
“Would they fly do you reckon?”
“What,” Katie asks, looking at him with a grin on her face, “rather than taking the boat?”
“Well,” says John, “I meant, regardless of what transport method they were ostensibly taking, I wondered if they would fly around on a plane? Or a boat?”
“If that floats your boat”.
“Indeed, but what would it be like for a pigeon flying around on a plane?”
“Yeah,” Katie says, “‘No I don’t want any bloody hot towels, I’m about to get the land speed record.'”
“Well it wouldn’t be the land speed record.”
“‘Well, no, the air speed record, that’s what I’m about to get’, he’d say, ‘and bloody get out of my way with the sky mall magazine, I don’t have time for that rubbish'”
“‘There is a very handy GPS device listed here’, ‘a GPS device? I’m a homing pigeon, what on earth would I do with a GPS? Use it as a paperweight?'”
“Yeah,” Katie says, “They wouldn’t be fans of distraction like that up there.”

The conversation drops and John does his run down the path. Katie thinks about sighing, but doesn’t want to discourage him. They are having a nice time. Imagine when we are grown up, Katie thinks, it will all be different, we’ll have kids and stuff, and we’ll do important grown up things. Important boring things.

John thinks about saying something, but doesn’t. It’s a nice day, he thinks, why ruin it by talking about stuff?

Katie suddenly says, “I’m not sure what the point of growing up is? I mean, yes, having kids, I suppose you need to raise them”.
“Well they need to learn to eat I suppose”.
“But what’s the point in growing up? What’s the point in choosing to be serious and not laughing each day?”
“Well I guess you have to eventually?”
“Do you?” Katie asks, she looks at him.
“Well maybe not, actually I think you’re right. Although, maybe real growing up is not being worried about being serious all the time?”
“So you think those codgers are doing it wrong?”
“Yup.”
“Me too. Although there are some cool codgers you know?”
“Oh yeah, that’s us! The light and soul of the retirement home.”
“Yeah, I guess, but maybe we need to grow up a bit?”
“I guess, I guess, but we have time for that don’t we. Or is it annoying that we haven’t?” John asks.
“I don’t know, I feel like we might be missing something, but everyone who has grown up that I know hates themselves.”
“Well that sounds like a good reason to avoid it.”
“Yeah,” Katie looks at him, “but maybe we could be a bit more grown up sometimes, maybe a bit more… well…”
“Yeah.”

Katie wonders whether that’s an actual “Yeah”, or even if they are acknowledging the same thing? The conversation drops for a bit.

“Those pigeons,” John says, “they really are incredibly loud aren’t they?”

John sat in the bar. Would she ever come?

John sat in the bar. Would she ever come?

No, he decided. Of course she wouldn’t. Why did they actually bother to arrange the date if they weren’t going to come? Because she was cheating the system, wasn’t she? If John had accepted a date on one day then he wouldn’t accept any more – no way. But John knew her way, she would ask for dates from loads of guys and then only keep the date with the best one.

“Um, Hi… Is that John?”

It was her. He couldn’t help but be pleased, he knew that what he had just been thinking about was his own ridiculous defence mechanism, but at the same time he also smiled to himself – maybe he was the best one. He didn’t even entertain the phrase that momentarily drifted in, “the best of a bunch of losers”, no way he thought. He was the best.

“Yeah,” John said, “Hi”.

They kissed on the cheek, reaching across the table. John for a second worried about her necklace draping in the candle flame. It’s her necklace, I’m sure she knows about it.

Kate sat down at the table. Was he going to be another loser? She was done with that. Or was she? She had dated some guys who had looked exciting, or had thought they were exciting, but all they wanted to talk about was themselves, and really how exciting can a chef be? For “dangerous” read “self-centered”, she had said to herself, and decided to go the other way for a while. I hope he’s not too interested in me though, those guys are so wet, and I’m bored of me, that’s the point.

A ridiculously dressed woman walked past the table, John’s head turned and Kate thought, “maybe this can work”, and she didn’t even hate herself for it. Bad expectations of Prince Charming were her problem. She kept having to remind herself – Prince Charming was a bell end.

“John?”
“Yes, Kate?”
“Hi.”
“Hi.”
“Do you actually like dating?”
“No Kate, I don’t.”
“So why do you do it?”
“Same reason you do. I want to be going out with somebody.”
“So let’s just cut the crap and be together.”
“What does that mean Kate?”
“Well you would stop bothering to use my name, I’ll just assume it’s me you at talking to. Just think about your last relationship, like that”
“Last but one, not the last one, the last one was bad all the way through.”
Kate laughs, John reciprocates.

There is a pause while they both try and find their bearings.

John speaks first, “So have we been to bed together already in this make believe world?”
“Of course,” says Kate, “it’s been lovely so far, but it’s time for something more exciting.”
“That’s some pressure, can’t we just have been going out for ages but finally be having it off for the first time, that’s exciting anyway isn’t it?”
“Do we have to be having the same fantasy?”
“No, I guess not, but if they don’t line up, how will we know if we’re both being kept happy?”
“Would we have to talk about it?” said Kate.
“Well only as long as we thought the other one was interested in listening. Right now I think that seems easy. Let’s not keep any pressure on keeping that going.”
“So you think it would be ok to talk about what we both want before it happens? And you are a man?”
“Oh yeah, the most manly kind of man in my opinion is one who isn’t insecure about asking what a woman wants.”
“That sounds like crap to me.”
“Well it’s not supposed to be. I just suddenly found you being much more direct with me than I was expecting at this stage in the date and so I kind of reciprocated to keep up. I don’t think I had time to come up with anything sly, I think that was probably my real thought on it.”
“Ok,” said Kate, “I think… I think, I think this could work.”
“Good,” said John, “it’s so crazy it might just.”