The Book Club

A la recherche du temps perdu

I sit in silence being new to the group before making a few points on the chosen book. I am largely ignored. Which is what happens to that novel after the first glass of wine. It is the literary boasting that takes over. The host sounds as if she and Dickens are bosom pals, ‘We go right back,’ she says. ‘I was in love with him from the age of seven, can quote chunks of his prose.’ The rest murmur approval but don’t take her up on the point. Her special buddy waxes lyrical on the Russian literary giants especially Dostoyesky, which she pronounces incorrectly, and then fails to offer even one title. ‘No, no!’ cries the woman in the kaftan. ‘American literature is the best, has much more to offer, for women especially.’ A requirement for her to endorse this statement is lost in the opening of another bottle and topping up of glasses. They carry on with a lot of twaddle about novels being far too long or too short or indigestible, whether prizes have any value. I lose track. Wonder how I can take the talk back to the reason we are here, find out who did or did not enjoy the novel of choice or the even, whether … But there is little hope of success as a further round of wine is doled out.
So I wait, tempted to say that my mother read Proust to me as a bedtime story. Something about something being lost. If only I could remember the name, I’d claim that for myself.

Tidal Surge of Global Warming

I look out of the window, third floor, overlooking the sea. Below the train rushes past, a hoot as if we ought to know. Such hideous modernity butting up to our beautiful old houses, this terrace of painted gems. A synchronicity of colours, an artist’s flair for unity. We are a commune. People who share the values of beauty and friendship. For this I’m lucky.
A enormous wave overwhelms the hideous monstrosity below, metal tubes of the utmost discomfort, whistling past. The spray engulfs, white spume drenching the beast, the sea thumbing its nose at this new need for speed. I cheer.
Ridiculous though as all our objections to the laying of the track twenty odd years ago were quashed. Flung out as if we were morons harking back to bygone days of life lived at a snail’s pace.
Today it rouses all those feelings and so much more. That tidal surge brings a memory I wish to forget; the family on the holiday of a lifetime caught out by the unpredictable twin threats, sea and wind. An island of beauty where we ran for our lives, chased by a wave pushed up from far out in the ocean, a power to destroy all human beings.
This house where I live alone, a man without wife or child, harks back to the days before the rail track, before we took that flight, before we ventured down to the summer sand and sea, where we knew the tides, the safety of our home.


I think I’m in love. It’s a real surprise for I’ve never thought that I’d go for his type, certainly haven’t in the past. But there he is sitting opposite, a computer on his lap, with his spruce grey hair, a beard and moustache to match, his glasses perched on the end of what can only be described as a Roman nose. A fetching checked shirt is visible underneath an accommodating fleece. A tasteful fleece, the sort you pull on over your head, leaving the small zip undone to allow air to circulate around your neck, his, a surprisingly unwrinkled and youthful neck.
I’m not bothered by his age. It’s his eyebrows that attract me in particular, the rise and fall as he reads messages from his iPhone, his mouth sweetly echoing amusement and pleasure. And despite the bristly visage, I think I’d like to kiss those lips.
Of course the clincher is the Apple logo. He has to be my mate, my Mac mate.

Twelfth Night

Christmas; a lacing of bulbs strung across our front door was how it began. Lovely it was, everyone said. Why wouldn’t we add more? Fashion and the prevalence of flashing coloured, white or copper lights cheap as chips, inspired us. Wound round trees and bushes, festooned in the climbing rose, tripping down the path to light the way to our house. The candy sticks were a tad vulgar perhaps, similarly the blow up snowman not in the best of taste. Our pièce de resistance though was a golden sleigh pulled by reindeer, the flashing synced to mimic the movement of a jostled red Santa and the galloping quartet. A triumph we believed. To celebrate Christmas, a window of gladness in the dark of winter. Our display the best in the town.

It wasn’t our fault that we missed the date, 6th January, 12th night. How were we to know that it would bring bad luck to the whole street, the demons of the holly and ivy trapped to create havoc. A power outage lasting seven days.

An Epiphany

Epiphany, the 6th of January, is when the wondrous was revealed to the wise men. A time I’d always hoped might be the same for me. Not a messiah as such but at least a rush of knowledge, a fact tossed down from above to enlighten my life, open up a whole new world.
In some ways you could say it has, though it’s hard to view it like that just yet. Some might think I should have seen it coming, the signs, such as they were, though easily spotted in retrospect. The little presents given for no reason and which might have accounted for the drop in our bank balance. The study of maps and stars which I thought was a great new hobby. The talk of going on a long journey which might be exciting. The restlessness which I put down to what they call a midlife crisis. Then with Christmas over it was as if he was counting the days.
Twelve days after, all was revealed. Tony was going off with the minx next door.

New Year’s Eve

Was it possible that I accept? New Year’s Eve, taxis exorbitant and unreliable. More than one glass of wine not worth the risk. Police hovering the early hours for lax unlawful drivers. Too wet to walk home.
The woman wore a deep blue velvet top, swathed at the neck, folds folding into folds. ‘Enjoy yourself,’ she said, ‘we’ll give you a lift home.’ It was tempting. The soft crevices of the garment offered multiple silken cradles, hidden nests, soothing and safe, to waft me through darkened streets.
Her husband topped up her glass; ‘Champagne, the best tipple!’ His cheeks bristled beard, his mouth and eyes in retreat amongst this prolific whiskery. To me he said; ’Drink up, we’ll be passing your door!’
For the rest of the evening water stood for wine. One wife’s cushioned niches inviting, but would her husband’s hands would be firmly on the vehicle’s wheel?


She came at us out of the sun. The weatherbeaten cheeks, a fine filigree of red and purple capillaries pulled to the surface by cold winds on rugged walks, perfectly matched the hat and scarf. Blocking our path, in full force she came upon us. Her stout coat and boots servicing her advance. She had us in her sights, a captivating smile, picking us off one by one.
We knew her, each from a different point in our lives, we had to stop. Two stroke conversations of weather and health ensued. Her squadron zooming in and out around us, leaflet delivery their urgent task. The message was in print, no need to accost, get involved in political chat.
For us, there was no escape, though I was soon vanquished, not of her constituency.
My friend, unfortunately, the prefect target. There was nowhere to duck or dive. For each shot he tried a riposte. I watched in horror. This was an unequal battle, polite rebuff, outmanoeuvred by dogmatic fortitude. Every vote counts.


Habits are not easily put aside, you have to understand that. Regularly, every Wednesday morning they, man and wife, walk into town leaving the jar of Nescafe granules, two cafetières, and the new fan-dangled expresso machine, redundant.

Costa, always Costa. The baristas know the routine, two cappuccinos, two chocolate muffins, and the complaint that ‘It’s not hot enough.’ A paper shake of Demerara sugar makes the experience complete.

A visit to London requires the same coffee franchise sought as soon as they step off the train; the order that the man knows off by heart. So his deviation is a surprise – should they share a cake? Half each. A sensible idea for lunch, prior to the theatre matinée, is booked for an hour hence.

The knife, essential for careful division, was the mistake. Plastic forks were available, would have wrought less damage. The report in the first-aid log made much of the blood loss, less of the lady’s accusations. There was no need, however, for an ambulance despite his protestations. 


I wasn’t invited to the funeral. That I saw the announcement of his death in a newspaper was as odd as that first meeting, drawn to the words, as if emboldened, on the inside pages of a publication left open on a train. Would he want me there to witness his sudden eclipse from all our lives? 

It was enchanted, one evening, twenty years ago. Our eyes met, two strangers amongst the crowd, and a spark ran from one side of the room to the other. There was no escape. As he came across to say; ‘Who are you?’, we knew. We could see straight into each others’ hearts. Caught on the spike of romance, thinking love.  

It could have been, I once thought, if he hadn’t been married. He couldn’t leave her, wouldn’t leave me, and of course, I didn’t push him hard enough, either way. What could we settle for?  Friendship?  An affair?

When she found out, there was the row, the silence, the phone call. I was to blame, the temptress. And then back he’d come. It’s such an old story, repeated over and over from time immemorial. All women know the lethal mix, understand that they will be the evil doer. And yet we fall. 

I knew that I was no different. Kept up the pretence that I would cope. Built up a barrier of cynicism, that I was big and bold enough to play second fiddle. But was I? More secrecy, further degradation to my self-esteem. It is hard to believe, in retrospect, the lengths I went to, a woman wanted when it suited them, and it was them. I’d become the puppet.

Nobody knew me, the woman at the back of the church, for none had met me nor I them. I watched from afar as he was lowered into his grave, a bag of flesh to rot, a string of bones. It was over but as I turned to look over the rows of gravestones and trees to a hedge which borders the cemetery from the sea, he was there, walking back to meet me.

Contemporary art

There are three things which mark out our local arts centre; our contemporary take on the world of art, our good relationship with the local police, and an open minded approach to taking in unusual artefacts.

The World War II grenades were brought in by an old soldier, inactive but his pride and joy; memorabilia of his wartime experience. It coincided with the anniversary of some battle or other so regarded as appropriate. To be safe the police were called in to verify his claim, health and safety being key to all businesses nowadays.

The police constable examined the objects, a fine piece of history, no longer able to do any damage, he observed. To prove his point, as a cup of tea and cake were being brought over to thank him for his help, he pulled out one of the pins.

As he was well-known to the staff it has made it extra special that his remains adorn one of the walls in the gallery. A fine memorial to an error of judgement. And it has certainly put the Centre on the map.