Mia’s Story: The Piano Lessons

I was only about 5. What the hell were they thinking?

What I mean by ‘they’ is my parents: mum, dad, step-mum…oh, and my Aunty. They were all in on it.

Every Saturday at 8am without fail, come rain or snow, my sister and I would be schlepped from our house in North London all the way down to the City of London. When you’re little it feels like a mission, but in reality it’s probably only about 5 miles. It wasn’t helped by the fact that none of them had a car. They could all drive, but “a car isn’t really required when living in a city like London”. Well, that’s what they told us, but it didn’t feel like that to me, when clambering on the bus at stupid o’clock.

You see, they’d got me all wrong. I was only interested in playing football, and one came with me everywhere. My dad knew this and, if he was taking us, would try and persuade me into the lesson with the promise of as much football as I wanted. He always kept his word.

I remember the bus journey really clearly. There’d be a fight to get to the bus stop. There’d be a fight when we were on the bus, particularly if someone had already taken the front upstairs seat. We’d sit there watching the same houses as we drove past, the same parks, shops and cafes. The journey was never great because there was no treat at the end of it, just the doom of the lesson. And I was terrified of the teacher. Jeez, she was scary.

We’d arrive at the building where she lived, and if my dad had brought us we would always get told off by the security guard for playing football in the drive way. My dad would apologise in the same way every week, and then he’d wait for the guard to do his rounds before saying “Come on, let’s get some kicks in before he comes back.” We’d get caught again, but by then it was time for me to go in.

My sister would have a separate violin lesson before our joint piano lesson, and she loved it. She’s always been good at things like that, and she genuinely love it. She plays the clarinet and saxophone now.

So the guard would come back, and my dad would wink at me, and then we’d get in the lift and shoot up about 10 floors to get to her apartment. We’d stand outside listening to my sister scrape at her violin strings. Dad and I would roll the football back on forth to one another trying not to let it hit any of the tenants’ doors. We’d ring the door bell at the allotted time and she, the scary teacher, would answer looking cautiously at us and at the football. She knew.

In I’d go, dreeeeeeaaaaading it. The door would close behind me, leaving mum, dad or whoever had brought us outside. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life. Problem was, I didn’t really practice during the week, and she knew. Oh yes, she knew it alright. To be honest you wouldn’t have to be a genius to work it out let’s face it. And my punishment…..well, yes, my punishment:

Every week, I’d walk in and see the most beautiful grand piano. You see I have an eye for beautiful things: a sparkly crystal, a stylish pair of Vans, the beauty that is the latest iPhone, not to mention the Nike football boots, the Mac Air, and a certain football player called Neymar. Yes, I have an eye for beautiful things. So my punishment for not practising….

my lovely sister got to sit at and play the grand piano, and I got to sit out I the hall with the keyboard.

Yep folks, no wonder I never wanted to practice.



Julie’s Story: The Hen Weekend

I didn’t want to go in the first place. I mean, really? Stags, Hens, aren’t they a thing of the past yet. Haven’t we found something more sophisticated yet? We have of course, but most people tend to go for the traditional ‘let’s get pissed up and wear stupid clothes’ idea. Personally, I like the idea of the bride having dinner with the grooms’ friends and the groom having dinner with the brides’ friends. That’s not to say this is a more civilised option, just a bit different. But I’ve only ever known of that happening once within my circle of friends and acquaintances.

So, I received my invitation email, correctly sent by the Maid of Honour, but clearly under strict instructions from my friend Ashleigh, the Bride, a control freak. We were booked into a hotel in Amsterdam, which had a Spa, and our Easyjet flights were also booked, for midday on the Friday. We were going for two nights. Great. As I read through the email it became abundantly clear that this weekend away was going to cost a truck load of money, and from the copied in names on the email, I could see that there was only one other person, apart from the Bride of course, that I’d ever met, let alone knew. Jesus. AND we were required to dress up. Happy days. I had a month to prepare for this.

So, there I was euros in purse, bright yellow tights on ready to adorn my fancy dress chicken costume that was hidden in my hand luggage – I’d gone for funny rather than the usually sexy French maid look that I was sure most people would opt for – waiting outside Boots at Stansted Airport where we’d agreed to congregate. I wasn’t sure whether to check-in before meeting them, or if we were all doing it together, so I’d opted for the latter, you know Team Spirit and all that….

‘Hiya, you must be here for the hen weekend? Ashleigh’s?’, she said, looking at my bright yellow legs. ‘Funny…’. Well at least she got the joke. She was, as predicted, in the tiniest of mini skirts with a tight white blouse that buttoned up the front, high stilettos.

‘Ha, yes, I can see you’ve gone for the saucy maid look. I’m Julie, nice to meet you.’

She stared blankly at me, then half smiled.

‘Actually, I haven’t changed yet. I didn’t realise we were meant to come dressed up already.’

Fuck. Foot in it, right from the off. I really had no idea how to get myself out of this so gave a weak smile and sort of apologised. Fortunately, Ashleigh arrived as I was doing it and gave both myself and my newly peeved companion a hug. Ashleigh was good at jabbering, so the focus was deflected away from my mahoosive faux pas and onto some nonsense about fake tan. Eventually everyone arrived, and before long we were jetting off for our weekend of forced fun.

We arrived at our Amsterdam hotel after much fussing about with bags and taxis, some headed straight for the Spa, some relaxed in their rooms phoning babies and boyfriends, but I headed straight for the bar. There was no way that I was getting through this without a suitable amount of Dutch courage, and as we were in the right country for that, I figured that I was justified in finding plenty of it. My boyfriend could wait, we weren’t that reliant on one another, and as he was in Benidorm on the stag weekend, I figured he’d prefer to be left alone focussing on trying not to be the one to get drunkaroo’d or shaved inappropriately. Ha, it made me laugh just thinking about it. Poor bastards. The stag weekend always seem so much more filthy than its female counterpart.

I wasn’t sure how long I’d been in the bar before a few of the others joined me. Each one in turn found my chicken costume hilarious, and the fact that I was sat at the bar alone with it on seemed to garner even more hilarity. We were undecided about whether to start a tab, or have a pot. Both had their problems apparently, as someone was going to have to look after the pot or a tab would mean that all that divvying up nonsense would have to occur.

‘Why can’t we just split the tab evenly between all fifteen of us?’, I suggested, ‘Easy. Sorted.’

‘Oh no, we can’t do that’, some skinflint said, ‘I’m not planning on drinking too much, and I don’t think it’s fair for those of us who don’t drink much to pay the same as those who do.’

Here we go I thought. The temptation to say ‘why did you come then? It’s a fucking hen weekend!’ was enormous, but of course I didn’t, I just crossed my yellow legs, ruffled my chicken feathers and took another sip. In fact, this seemed to be my stance for most of the weekend, as more and more nonsense seemed to expose itself.

Before long I’d latched on to one of Ashleigh’s bridesmaids, Tina. I could see her rolling her eyes at pretty much the same things as me and decided that if I was going to stand any chance of making a buddy then she seemed the obvious choice. I have to say, it was a good choice. We laughed raucously at the same things, and spent absolutely no time at all discussing boyfriends, husband or babies. Marvellous.

We all entered out into the city, stopping off at various bars along the way. The usual chat-ups occurred, as well as the usual dodgy dancing, someone brought out a vibrator and dropped it into Ashleigh’s beer which caused a right hoo-ha. Much later I bumped into her in the loo at a bar near the Rossebuurt, and she seemed ecstatically happy.

‘Juuuuuuu, Ju Ju Ju…..I’m having the best time. Everyone is. Watch Tina though. Ha ha. Ju Ju Ju, watch that Tina.’ And she was gone: L plates on, tutu tucked in her knickers, arms raised above her head like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, gone out into the bar grabbing at whatever glass seemed full and available. What did she mean: ‘watch that Tina’? Some drunken bollocks which I, of course, ignored.

Ever had a blackout? I’m sure you’ve heard about them. I had. And now I’ve had one.

My boyfriend was as smug as smug could be. All he did was laugh, laugh raucously as I stood in front of our bathroom mirror trying to pencil on my right eyebrow. The remnants of the temporary tattoo moustache was still slightly visible, below the redness of my scrubbing, and the memories – not to mention the photographs – of me riding high that bucking bronco before rolling around in the mud wrestling circle, will be forever imbedded in my psyche.

Never again will I go on a hen weekend. Never. I’d rather go with the boys.

Oh, and the humiliation of appearing at the wedding, and encountering its guests……well, that was yet to come.


Joey’s Story: The Life of an Actress #1

I put the phone down ecstatically happy. I couldn’t believe it. Did that just happen…seriously, did that just happen. Who could I call, who could I tell, I needed to shout it from the roof tops. I’d made it.

‘Hiya’, I said excitedly. I could hardly contain myself. I was bubbling over like a bottle of pop.

‘Yeah, good thanks. Oh my god, you’re never gonna believe it….’

‘What?’ said my friend, ‘What Joey, what?’

‘I can hardly spit it out…oh god I can’t believe it…

‘What, what for Christ’s sake?’

‘I’ve got the job in Romeo and Juliet, mate, I got it.’

‘Darlin’ that’s amazing. Woo wooooo. Amazing. Who you playing?’

‘Well, exactly……Juliet! Bloody hell. Bloody Juliet. Can you believe it. I mean, I’m hardly a Juliet am I, hardly your traditional Juliet casting, am I. I’m over the frigging moon mate.’

I wasn’t being down on myself. It’s just that after years of endless auditions that have seen me cocking my leg up against an imaginary fence whilst crawling around on the floor barking like a dirty dog; where I have searched deeply for my inner tree certain that those on the panel have savoured in a sneaky chuckle at my expense; and where I have eagerly sight read from a script seemingly thrown together but ten minutes before. Oh yes, I have been to castings where my agent has pitched me alongside five foot eight willowy models (I barely touch five foot three and am rather fond of my sometimes slight but sometimes slightly zaftig stature) with flawless skin and legs that remind me of an adult giraffe. Reality checks are part and parcel of the game when you’re a jobbing actor. The performance world is a crazy one.

But this time was my time, and I’d finally earned my reward. I was delighted. Little ole me was about to take on the role of the gorgeously iconic heroine in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. 

My pal and I made a quick arrangement to meet for coffee the next day, and I flitted off into the sunshine, floating on cloud nine. I spent the day lying in the park making lists and starting to work through them; the usual things you need to do when you’re about to head off on a job:

1. Digs for the duration of the job. Did I know anyone near by that I could cadge a bed from for a few months, or do I need to contact the theatre about local land ladies?

2. Check bank account to see what I could afford.

3. Advertise my room in our flat to see if someone needs a London base for the duration I’m away. This will mean that I’ll only have to fork out for rent while I’m away. That’d be handy!

4. Give notice on yet another waitressing job that I won’t be able to go back to!

5. Dig out a copy of the play from my garage full of boxes, or simply buy a new copy.

6. Go through the play with a highlighter pen (my absolute favourite bit of the job) and mark up my lines.

7. Anything else that I might have forgotten.

The time between securing the job and starting it always flies by, as I end up with tonnes of things to do. There are always friends to see, cases to pack, bills to pay, work prep to do, and bits and bobs to do for pals that I’d committed to, never quite believing that a job would be around the corner! I love my friends and would do anything for them, so always manage to fulfil my promises no matter how much I compromise myself.

Anyway, as usual, I got it all done and finally collapsed into my airline seat on the train heading north to my perfect new job. Journey times were always an opportunity for me to catch up on the bits that I hadn’t quite got round to before leaving, but this time I had made sure that the single and only thing I was going to be doing was familiarising myself with my new character: Little Miss Capulet. My plan was to nail her, as best I could, before rehearsals began – but what would come out in the rehearsal room could never be predicted – and arrive at my destination with only a bath to have and a good nights’ sleep. For once, I managed it. I was relaxed and prepared for my first day of rehearsals.

As always seems the way, we sat in a circle, actors mixed with techies, techies mixed with production staff, ASMs, DSMs, lighting designers, costume people etc etc. The director starts by introducing himself and around we go introducing ourselves to everyone and informing one another of the role we are going to be playing. For me, this was going to be a joy, a real departure from ‘Hi, I’m Joey, playing second moomin from the left. No, this time I could proudly announce, in my newly-rehearsed, deep, actressy voice: ‘Hi, Joanna, playing Juliet’. Proud proud proud. Woo.

By the time all the pleasantries were done and coffee had been had, the DSM announced that our first read-through would begin immediately after lunch. Couldn’t wait. I’d practised my lines a little bit, and had made sure that my understanding of iambic pentameter was up to scratch, as it had been a while!

All went well in the read-through. We all went for a drink after. Tomorrow was to be our first ‘on our feet day’.

Tomorrow came. What can I say.

I phoned my friend, yes the very same friend from earlier.

‘You are not gonna fucking believe this mate.’

‘How’s it going darlin’? What d’you mean? Everything ok?’

‘Bloody hell mate, get this: I’ve spent all morning in the rehearsal room running around with my duffle coat on back to front and a paper bag on my head. They’ve only gone and set it in a mental asylum. My bloody Juliet is in a mental asylum.’

The acting world is never quite as it seems. But the Juliet that I produced, mad or not, received rave reviews, and my telephone friend cried when she saw her. I was indeed proud proud proud, and will never ever forget her.


Maureen’s Story: Falling In Love Again?

Fifty-one and going out on a date! Who’d have thought it.

He pulled up outside the house – some would say, in today’s dating world, that letting someone know where you live is a risky strategy – but I’m old school and trusting, I’m not sure I buy into all that nannying! He seemed like a nice enough man on the phone, and that’s good enough for me.

I peeped through the Venetians and hoped he hadn’t seen me. That’s fair enough isn’t it, wanting to check out if he looked as good as he sounded? Nothing wrong with that. Anyway, he did…I think. I like a man who looks after himself, and even though I could just make out a slight stretching of his shirt over the tummy area, everything else looked dandy. He still had hair, polished his shoes, and had obviously pressed his trousers and shirt. Good job he wasn’t wearing jeans, because if I’d seen any evidence of pressed jeans it would have been a no no, and my best mate come wing-woman Sandra, would have been sent a text immediately, informing her that an emergency phone call was required within the hour. That’s what mates are for, and I have played that role many a time.

Anyway, Paul sauntered up the path, pressing that key fob thing without looking (smooth) so that his car doors locked – yes, I was still nosing – adjusting his shirt and fiddling with his hair as he came and knocked on the door. I left it for a minute or so while I descended the stairs, always good to keep them waiting, and opened the door with a big smile and a sort of ‘I’m not quite ready’ (but of course I was) air about me.

‘Come on in, I’ll just be a minute, running slightly late’, I said. Poor thing.

‘Oh god, am I early? Sorry….’, he said, anxiously. Poor thing.

‘No no, it’s me, I’m a bit of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda girl. Come on in. Make yourself at home. I’ll be 2 mins.’ And I was gone. Poor thing.

Of course, this was all a pack of lies as I’m one of the most organised people I know, anally so. So, I was reduced to sitting on my bed waiting til I thought the time was right to reappear. I couldn’t really down a glass of Dutch-courage wine as our date was a day date. Yes, you heard right, a day date…..what’s that all about, I mean, what’s the world coming to? What’s happened to going to bar, all dolled up and getting royally slewed together. Doesn’t happen nowadays apparently, it’s all about ‘the conversation’. Anyway, I’d agreed to it, so that was that.

just as an aside, talking of getting all dolled up….trying to decide on something to wear on a ‘day date’ nearly finished me off. I mean really, how do you know what to wear? Smart casual is always safe, but it sort of reminds me of work. Anyway, I did it, and we sort of seemed to match. Weird that.

After what I considered to be the right amount of time, I breezed down the stairs and into the lounge. Paul was stood by the mantlepiece looking at some photos.

‘Nice pictures. That looks like Thailand to me. Been there then?’

‘Yes, a few years ago now,’ I said. More like twenty, I thought to myself.

‘You still look exactly the same’, he said. Flatterer, I thought.

‘Ha. Well that’s very nice of you to say so.’

I offered him a coffee, which he politely declined saying something about a reservation for lunch. Impressive, I thought, I’ve clearly got myself an operator here. That’s fine with me, nice to be spoiled. So off we went, in his nice blue car, to God knows where.

The drive was about twenty minutes. I didn’t think we’d arrived at a restaurant when he pulled up.

‘Here we are’, said Paul, and out he jumped. I looked around me, slightly bewildered, and jumped out too. My date was rummaging around in the boot, he slammed it shut and appeared with a wicker basket.


‘Uh, yes, yes, indeed, ready for anything me, ready for anything.’ I’d been totally thrown off guard. The man had prepared a picnic: ground rug, shawl, umbrella, the lot.

We talked and laughed for what seemed like five minutes, in fact, it was three hours. He’d kept a safe distance, but I could tell that he was into me. We packed up the basket and headed back toward the car. We stopped close by to the little cafe and sat on a park bench. We watched the birds, listened to the brass band playing in the band stand, and he sidled up to me getting gradually closer and closer. I played at being cool. He didn’t. I was aware that people were looking at us. Maybe it was because of our age. He rested his head on my shoulder. I stared straight ahead. He looked up at me with puppy dog eyes. I felt sick. And left. Date over as quickly as that.

All that effort, all that patience, but I couldn’t help myself, he’d made his move – and a sickly one at that –  too soon.

Poor stupid thing.


A Fiction: Life Changer

Do you ever just get in the car and drive? I mean drive without thinking about it, autopilot some might say. You can sometimes get from A to B without remembering the journey at all. Well, that will never happen to me again, never, because I will never get in a car again.

I remember the day well. It is etched in my memory until the day I die. It altered my life, irrevocable.

The sun was shining, but the day was cold. You know, one of those fiercely cold days that make you smile because you feel alive. I’d been duped by the sunshine so left the house in jeans and just a thin jumper. I turned round and went straight back in to grab my coat. Graham followed me back, as usual, but letting out an excited bark which warned me that his promised turn on The Heath was a definite goer! I wrapped my coat around me and opened the rear door for Graham to jump in, and then settled myself into the drivers side, belting up as usual.

I’ve done this journey many many times. It’s a pleasant one, one that most people would love to do, but one that I’ve now realised I take for granted. The roads are narrow and tree-lined, they border The Heath which is pretty visible no matter which angle you approach it from. I love my area, but you know how it goes when you’ve lived there for a while…….

I was working to a deadline, plus my sister’s baby had been quite ill. I was due at a party that evening, and I was thinking about the possibility of taking the next belt in my quest to dominate the Judo world. Should I eat at home before the party, or should I arrange to meet people for dinner before? My thoughts were erratic today, all over the place, and Graham was groaning in the back as he always does when journeying toward his place of freedom.

And then it appeared. From nowhere. A pushchair. I braked. It flew up in the air, or so it seemed. It flew straight ahead….or so it seemed. And also to the right and to the left. It seemed to go everywhere, and in slow motion. Why do things like this go in slow motion, why couldn’t the seconds before be in slow motion, then I’d have seen it. I know that this is an irrational request, but what the hell…..

The noise was immense, like nothing I’d ever heard. Cars were screeching to a halt. Doors were slamming. Horns were blowing. There were screams, screams like I’d never heard before, but screams that I hear all the time now.

I pulled on the handbrake and just sat, staring ahead, I simply couldn’t move. Every face that I looked at seemed to morph into what could only be described as a gargoyle, or worse, like a something from a painting by Francis Bacon that haunted me as a teen.

I came back into reality, unbuckling my seat belt as it happened, undoing the door before my belt was fully off. I was confused, stunned, incapable of saying anything even remotely coherent.

‘What happened?’ I managed. It seemed like such an inane thing to say, but nothing else would come out. I was utterly bewildered. People were staring at me, some were swearing at me. My god, what had I done? Hell was opening up in front of me. I knew that I’d run into a pushchair, and I knew that my head was full of every other kind of thought but driving. I could see a group of people kneeling on the ground, huddled around something. Time stopped. Graham barked somewhere in the background. And then she appeared. My Guardian Angel.

‘Don’t look over there dear. Stay here. Don’t go over there. I saw everything.’ Her voice was calm, as calming as aloe vera on a burn, and I immediately wanted my mother, my soothing taken-before-her-time mother. She was like my mother.

I remember being back in my car surrounded by dog noises. And then I remember being at a police station.

I was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, but surely the mother should have been prosecuted too. I had to pay a hefty fine and my license was revoked for 6 months, at the judge’s discretion. The child died. But I had been deemed not wholly culpable because I was driving within the speed limit and my Guardian Angel had not only confirmed that, but had drawn attention to the fact that the mother had pushed the child out ahead of her so that she could check the traffic. The absurdity of that. She had come from between two parked cars, chatting to her friend, straight out into the road leaning forward to check for oncoming cars, but it was too late, I was there, killing her child.

My life would never be the same again, my life sentence had begun.

And Graham now had to walk everywhere.


Frank’s Story: The Things We Do For Love

‘Did you do it? Did ya?’ I listened while she told me what she’d done. We laughed. We flirted, moderately. ‘You’re a star,’ I said, ‘Thanks darlin’.’

My Sergeant Major had told me he’d do, and he had. I knew he would, he was a tough bastard, Robeson.

‘Axl, you little shit. You’d better not be winding me up. Give me her number? NOW!’

Christmas leave was coming up and I’d been told it was a week. The love of my life was half way round the world. She’d been travelling for a year, and we’d hardly seen one another. We tried to speak as much as possible, but it was hard, what with my patrol duties and her island hopping. I needed to see her. And besides, Aldershot was doing my head in.

As I said, I had a weeks’ leave but needed to fly to Australia. I concocted a plan.

I’d often walk past the local travel agent in the town and was aware of the girls sat at the desks inside. My mates and I would stop and look at the latest deals, managing a cheeky peak at the totty, who were always willing to flash their pearly whites at us. Sometimes they’d wave and we’d cock our heads at them and walk on by. And then one day, I went in.

‘Alright ladies’, I said, and planted myself at the desk of the one who always blushed whenever she saw me.  What I needed was a one to one with one of them, and fortunately for me some other customers came into the office which meant that there’d be no eavesdropping.

‘So, I need to book a return flight to Perth leaving on the 23rd of December, coming back about 4 weeks later. And I need a receipt saying that I’m coming back a week from the 23rd.’

‘Soldier are you?, she said.

‘Yup, parachute regiment.’

‘Mmmm, yes. Lovely. Really? Parachuting, brave. I could never do that. Don’t you get scared? So, 23rd of Decccccember. It’s just loading. Um, sorry, what did you say? Coming back a month later, right? Ok, what have we got here then. 23rd of December, coming back a month later. Flexible by two or three days? Um, what did you say before? Coming back about a month later, but a receipt for….’

‘Yeah, a receipt saying I was coming back a week later.’

Our eyes locked. I smiled at her. She blushed, then quickly smiled and looked me square in the eye.

‘What are you up to?’

I laughed, and began to tell her my story.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Sandy, what’s yours?’

‘Frank. So, Sandy. This is what’s going on…..’

The truth was that this could have gone either way. She’d either resent me for flirting with her and tell me to F-off or she’d buy into the romance of it and fall hook, line, and sinker.

‘I’m gonna be honest with you, right. My girlfriend is backpacking around Australia and I haven’t seen her for a year. All I’ve got is one weeks’ leave coming up and I need to find a way of extending that into a month without getting into trouble. I’ll be AWOL, but can’t be. I’m desperate to see her, to make sure she’s ok, but have no way of knowing when I’ll be getting time off again. Can you help me? Please? Any chance? I’ll take you for a drink?’

She smiled at me.

‘God, you’re sooooo romantic.’ She twiddled her hair, and looked at me again. ‘Ok, yes, I’ll do it.’

‘You’re fantastic darlin’. Thanks. Um, there’s one more thing though. Sorry. You see, my sergeant major is a right bastard and he might call you, well I mean, he will call you. Would you be able to tell him that there was a flight delay problem?’

For some reason, she bought it and agreed to everything. I paid for my flight, got my dodgy receipt, and her phone number, and headed out into the cold December afternoon as smug as you like.

A few days later I landed in Perth and immediately made the call to my COS. I told him that someone had made a mistake and the dates on my ticket were for a month later. I was desperately searching for a flight home, but none were available and I was stuck. Job done.

Suffice to say, my holiday in Aus was amazing: a month of sun, sea and sand. And my love of course. Also, suffice to say…..upon my return he made the call.

Sandy was an absolute star. Not only did she remember our deal. She performed it to absolute perfection….and more. Apparently, according to Sergeant Robeson, my carrier had got the dates wrong on the ticket. Sandy had explained to him that it wasn’t their mistake so how could he blame them. The airline I’d travelled with had royally messed up the flight times, and they were the ones to blame.

Had I been found out I’d have done two days in jail for every day I was away. At the very least. This was what I was willing to do for love. Oh, and some serious sunshine.


Mark’s Story: The Bike

I heard the knock on the front door.

‘I’m outta here. See you later.’

I knew it was him as he never lets me down. He’s my best mate, Mark, someone I’ve known for all of my life and will know for all of my life. I’ve had some of the funniest times with Mark. Proper side-splitting times. You hear people say that, but no truly, I mean it, piss yourself funny times. My mate Mark is a diamond.

I flung open the front door.

‘What the fuck are you wearing? Where d’you get that?’, I asked. Mark had on a cream coloured matching Adidas track suit: top and bottoms. There’s no way that was his, he just didn’t have things like that.

‘It’s Paul’s, fucking kill me if he knows I’ve worn it. Anyway, fuck ‘im, how’s he gonna know eh?’

Paul is Mark’s older brother, and yeah, he’d be pissed off.

‘It’s quite smart mate.’

We headed off down my road and turned into Windermere. We were going to the river bank where everyone always gathered on a Friday night; it was either that or causing chaos down the seafront. It was a light, warm evening and we could hear the screaming and shouting from our mates. We were a gobby lot, but harmless.

We got to the end of the road and through the cutting, jabbering about this and that, some bird or other.

‘I thought I could hear a fucking bike’, said Mark, ‘whose is that? Look at that bunch of fucking twats. They’ve never driven a bike in their lives. Haaaaa, it’s only a fucking 50cc. Haaaaa. Look at ’em.’

We upped our pace as we walked along the river bank. Mark was determined to get to the other side and show them how to ride a bike properly. They were taking it in turns to burn up and down the bank, and Mark was getting more and more animated about how shit they were.

‘Oi, oi,’ he shouted, ‘oi, Finch, hold on hold on, I’ll fucking show you how to ride it. Been riding them for years me.’

We reached the other side of the river and watched for a minute as yet another rider messed up their turn.

‘Right, bugger off, get off the fucking thing. Where’d you get it from Finch? How much was it? I’ll show you how to ride it.’

‘£50 quid mate. Yeah ok, ‘ave a go’, said Finch.

I’d never seen Mark ride a moped before, but he seemed to know what he was doing. We watched as he turned the handle, revving the engine, and then he was off. We turned to watch him, he was going at some speed, well, as much of a speed as a 50cc could do, and then…….

‘Fuck, where’s he gone. Fuck.’

He’d disappeared. We all ran toward where he was last seen. There’s a kink in the river edge, close to where the bushes are, so we scrambled through them hoping that our friend was ok. And there he was. Well, I haven’t laughed so much in all my life. I swear to god, I wasn’t able to control myself. Mark was stood in the river, Adidas track suit filthy and soaked through, moped upright on its back wheel, in a wheeley position, and his face stunned in a state of shock.

‘Fuck sake, Paul’s gonna kill me. Get me out for fuck sake. What the fuck happened there.’

That was the day I properly pissed myself. My mate Mark had done it again. None of the other ‘twats’ had ended up in the water, only my mate Mark. He’d added another story to the hundreds that I already had of him, and I love him for it.


Amelia’s Story: Fish

I woke at my usual time. Thought about my day, my week. The sunshine was coming in through the gap between the blind and the window. Yeah, summer’s coming.

Up I got, tied my hair back, looked around for my dressing gown and pulled on the cosy socks that I’d kicked off during the night. What for breakfast? Had mum been shopping yesterday? Of course she had, she’s always up at the supermarket. For a moment I wondered why, but then the answer was easy: we eat everything she buys pretty much as soon as she buys it.

The house was quiet. Everyone was out, just me in, biding my time, preparing to go back to college. I’m happy pootling about the house, making a cuppa, picking up and putting down my book as and when it suits me, chatting to this pal and that if the mood takes me, and flicking on the TV and watching whatever I want for as long as I want without any opposition. The house is my domain during the day, and nobody, unless by prior arrangement, penetrates that. Yes, I liked it that way. I had a routine.

I flicked on the kettle as I walked past it, making my way to the pantry. I’d already decided on muesli this morning, maybe with some toast, but that would depend on what bread was left. I hate that white stuff that the men around here like, and besides a malted Danish is better for you. Well, I say ‘the white stuff that the men like’, but funny how that was always what was left over.

Yes, as predicted, just the white stuff left. Jeez. I picked up the muesli and gave it a shake: full box. Nice one. Out of the pantry I pootled, found a bowl, a mug, a spoon, made my tea, added milk to my muesli and sat in my favourite chair at the kitchen table. My favourite seat looked out onto the garden. In the summer we have the French doors open and the sound of chirping birds and garden mowers is always lovely. I was lost in my thoughts when my phone rang.

‘Holy guacamole, who the hell….hiya. Yeah, I’m good thanks. How’re you?’ I listened. I had to think on my feet. ‘Awww I can’t today, my nan is coming over.’ Lie, white lie. You see, I’d already decided that I was going to have an undisturbed day today, just me and my Tom Ford palettes. Well, the Tom Ford palettes that I was going to be getting in New York next month. I needed to do some research into them. Huuuugely important.

‘Yeah, sorry, yeah, another day for sure. Soon. This week sometime. Byyyye.’

Phew. Just managed to swerve that one. I went back to my thoughts, but goodbye thoughts of summer, and hello thoughts of NYC, 5th Avenue, and shopping. I was straight on my IPad. Tap tap tap. Google. Tap tap tap. Tom Ford. Tap tap tap. Shopping New York. Tap tap tap. Make up New York. Oh there they are. Luuuuuvely. A better choice in New York. Barneys. Saks. Bloomingdales. Bergdorfs, what are these places. Ah yes, ok, department stores. Tap….


You what. No, can’t be. Ignore.


‘Holy guacamole. Are you kidding me.’



I grumped toward the front door.


I swung the door open. I knew the look on my face.

‘D’you want any fish?’

I just stared at him.

‘No mate. Do I look like I want any fish?’


I knew. He knew. The door slammed shut.