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Frankie squatted down with his back against the redbrick wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, his fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind his neck, his eyes screwed tightly shut.  The noise around him was deafening even through the barrier of toilet paper he had managed to cram into his ears before playtime, but he wasn’t actually as aware of that as the voice inside his head yelling at the children to quieten down, even though he knew they never would.  He didn’t really need them to.  He didn’t even want them to.  He just needed to step back from it.  If he faded far enough away into the background, then the noise would no longer exist.  Frankie could make that happen.  That was Frankie’s superpower.

With the noise turned down, Frankie was able to think much more clearly.  With his eyes and ears shut tight and his back to the wall, he could join in all of the playground games: the push and the shove, the running, the climbing, the tag and the chase – he was the virtual schoolboy.  When played behind his silent wall, he loved football, he was good at it.  He was Messi.  It was as if the threadbare old tennis ball was tied to his boot and none of the other kids could push him away from it.  Except for Maureen Jackson who was bigger than him – much bigger – and super-keen on inveigling him into a game of kiss chase that was both diminutive in the size of its teams and liberal in its interpretation of the rules.  Once engulfed in Maureen’s over-zealous embrace it was entirely possible that they would never make it into school dinners again.

Not that that was a great concern.  Even on his ‘quiet table’, tucked away in the corner of the hall, down by the wallbars, surrounded by the smell of socks and baked beans, he was engulfed by a discordant riot of sights and sounds that he found it impossible to process.  Not even the foreknowledge of Spam fitter, lumpy mashed potato and tinned tomato, chocolate sponge and pink custard could calm his mind.  Not even his superpowers could shield him on a pilchard day.  That was the day of the headteacher’s study, a glass of weak orange squash and a biscuit that looked like a sheet of cardboard filled with flies.  He didn’t mind flies.  At least they didn’t try to kiss him.

Frankie enjoyed lessons at school, even if they often meant sitting alone.  He was really good at spelling, and at maths he was second-to-none, but he wasn’t quite so good at sitting round the table and building with straws.  He wasn’t good with scissors.

Mrs Cook, his teacher, often sat with him whilst Mrs Cass spoke with the rest of the class.  She smiled a lot, Mrs Cook, and Frankie loved her.  She helped him to understand the words he did not know and when he didn’t want to drink the warm, playtime milk, she didn’t force him, but she always left it there in case he changed his mind.  He never changed his mind.  Superheroes don’t drink milk.  They drink acid or something like that.  They eat girders.  They can turn down the noise with the blink of an eye.

If he’d had the choice, he would have been Spider Man.  Spiders can hear through their legs.  If he was a spider, he would wear thick trousers.  Jimmy told him about the spiders.  He said they also have loads of eyes.  Dozens, he said.  A thousand, he said, like the night.  Frankie didn’t understand that.  The night doesn’t have eyes at all.  The night is pitch-black, isn’t it?  If it had eyes, it still wouldn’t be able to see.  In the dark.  Frankie liked the night.  It was like the world was wrapped in cotton-wool; soft and mute like a swan, but without the capacity to break your arm with a flap of its wings.  Sometimes Jimmy told Frankie that the two of them were put together because they were the same, but sometimes he said it was because they were different.  Frankie wasn’t always sure that Jimmy really meant everything he said.  Sometimes he made him mad and sometimes he made him laugh.  He told jokes that Frankie didn’t understand – his favourite was ‘What’s the difference between a frog?  One leg’s the same.’ – but it never really mattered because Jimmy didn’t understand them either.  His jokes were their little secret.  Nobody else got them.  Nobody else even heared them.  He never said them out aloud: that was Jimmy’s superpower.

The boy who never spoke and the boy who didn’t want to hear, two wise monkeys, faced playtime together, squatted down with their backs against the redbrick wall, their knees pulled up to their chests, their fingers entwined and white at the knuckle behind their necks, their eyes screwed tightly shut.  The school bell rang and the two boys rose as one, for once welcoming the clanging cacophony.  Side by side they joined the ragged ‘snake’ of children meandering its way back into class.  It was afternoon, and ‘quiet play’.  The two superheroes took their places at the big table in the centre of the class, alongside all of the other children.  The voice inside of Frankie’s head was unusually still.  With a wink, Jimmy told him a silent joke and together they laughed.  Frankie smiled at Maureen and, hesitantly, together they began to build a house of bricks, whilst Jimmy, clearly happy, faded slowly away…

Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

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Of one thing it is certain, John Keats, to whom the title of this piece belongs, may well have been many things – great Romantic poet, prolific letter writer and consumptive – but he was most definitely not a gardener.  Had he needed to tend my own humble little patch of England’s Sward, his ‘Ode to Autumn’ would have had a very different feel…

My Dearest Fanny

I have spent the entire morning gently perspiring over my latest ode on account of having to wear thirteen layers of clothing due to the fact that three solid weeks of rain have ensured that I cannot set fire to the kindling in the grate without first dosing it in brandy which, of course, I cannot afford as I am a poor, impoverished poet etc etc and so forth. I am sick of this weather, my shortness of breath and the constant hunger that grips at my very soul. I would sally forth and collect some of the abundance of mother Earth’s autumnal bounty – apples, pears and other assorted seasonal fruits – but due to this incessant bloody fog I keep walking into trees.

Next door’s cat hath not been put off its daily business by the seasonal deluge and has, indeed, left remarkably weather-resistant parcels of the stuff wherever I happen to put my fingers in the flower beds.  Mine fingers are designed for the purposes of creating great art and I should not need to keep scraping under the nails each time I settle to write.  I do not know what they are feeding the bloody thing, but I note that the mangy dog they used to keep chained by the door has disappeared of late.  It is sad, for I oft felt at one with the animal which seemed to be increasingly wearied by its lack of fur, its diet of rat and the fact that it couldn’t raise a paw without wheezing.  Had I, myself, owned more than the clothes I cough up in, I would have offered him some solace.  As it was, I was instead forced to give him a sharp kick every now and then due to his ceaseless night-time barking and his tendency to seep into neighbouring properties..

Unwell as I am, I have been drawn into the garden owing to the fact that the lawn hath taken on the proportions of pampas plains during this month of rain and may well be harbouring herds of large game animals, or moles of similar size.  I tried to mow it but one of the titchy wheels on the mower has seized, so I just went round and round in circles for twenty minutes before falling to the ground, spent and hungry.  I was sorely tempted by some of the berries that hang full, ripe and juicy from the bush near the cess-pit, but I remembered the last time I tried them when I woke up naked in a Mexican barber’s chair, next to a man with half a moustache and decided, instead, to avail myself of the mushrooms that grow so readily around the old oak tree stump.  In the five days that have since disappeared, the lawn has grown longer and something has eaten my trousers.

Around me, everything that was once green and vibrant is now brown and limp – except for the bits that are spiky.  I do not recall it being a feature of my planting scheme that everything within this garden should have such potential to cause harm.  There is nothing I must prune that does not have the capacity to pierce me from at least three feet away.  Besides, the secateurs are rusted solid, having been left under hedgerow last September, and I have been forced to trim such foliage as I am able with the nail scissors.  The rest of it I have taken to battering back with a spade, during the course of which I think I might have located next door’s dog.

My spirits were greatly lifted by a short time spent dead-heading the plants that grow along my garden borders.  The colours – a million luscious shades of dead – are so inspiring.  I will try to write something about it, as soon as I have thought of a rhyme for mildew.  I have attempted to lift a number of precious bulbs and rhizomes that they may be stored safely over the winter, but as most of them have already taken on the appearance and odour of one of the cat’s little piles, I am not holding my breath.  (Not with my chest, I’m not!)  Besides, the shed in which I would normally over-winter them appears to have been partly digested by a rat colony of such size that I was forced to try and drive it out with sulphur candles.  The man next door was most understanding about the consequent conflagration involving his own shed, pig-pen and bedroom and stopped punching me as soon as exhaustion set in.  The rats have now taken up residence in the compost heap which, since the rains, occupies approximately four acres and twenty six kitchens.

As usual at this time of year, my gutters have become blocked with falling leaves and as the woodworm have taken out all but three of the rungs on my ladder I have been forced to stand on an upturned bucket and push the foliage out with a broom handle.  I am sure that, given the state of it, it will soon decompose and stop blocking the downpipe where it is currently stuck.  Mind you, it is at least currently holding the roof tiles up.  I will attempt to mend the wall as soon as I get the splint off my leg.

As I compose this letter the sun has started to set over the bright western horizon and my autumnal garden looks truly wonderful.  The colours are quite staggering – the bright red stain where my head connected with the window sill being particularly vivid – and the smells issuing forth from the flora that surrounds me produces a lump in my throat – which is just as well, because it keeps the content of my stomach down.  I cannot wait for the pitch blackness of autumn night when my garden looks just as good as everybody else’s.

I am yours, as ever


The Writer’s Circle #32 – Sex, Greed and Revenge

“Sex,” said Frankie, to the consternation of some of those around the circle, many of whom had not yet had time to let their dinner’s settle.  “Sex, greed and revenge are the only true motives for murder.”
“And love,” suggested Deidre.  “Surely love is the strongest motive of all.”
“Love, sex, what’s the difference?” said Billy.
“Surely love is a deeper, more passionate emotion,” said Deidre who, by her own admission, wouldn’t know.  “Who would consider killing for sex?”
“There are plenty of men right throughout history who’ve killed for sex,” said Vanessa.  “Surely sex is the biggest motive of all.”
“I don’t think that’s quite the case,” said Tom.  “Sex is just the weapon.  Power is the motive.  Men don’t kill for sex, they kill for the power over women…”
“Or other men,” said Jeff.
“…Or other men,” said Tom with a nod of acknowledgement.  “Whatever, power is the real motive.”
“And jealousy,” suggested Elizabeth.  “Surely jealousy has to be in there somewhere.  Unrequited love.”
“Jealousy always sounds rather more like uninvited love to me,” said Vanessa.  “More like unrequited lust than love.”
“Well, a little lust can go a long way,” said Louise.
“And there’s infatuation,” added Penny.  “Unrequited love becomes infatuation, and infatuation is certainly a motive for murder.”
“She’s right,” said Elizabeth.  “I remember being infatuated with a boy at school.  Followed him around like a little dog I did.  Held his books while he played football, gave him half my meat balls at school lunches.  I’d have done anything for him.”
“And what about lust?” asked Louise.
“Hardly.  I was seven and he was eight so I’m taking about anything within reason.  Anyway, he broke my heart when he paid a penny to see Wendy Patterson’s knickers.  I could have killed him!”
“There!” said Frankie.  “Right there; sex as a motive for murder.”
“Not really.  I was most annoyed because it was my penny.  I’d been saving it for a Bazouka Joe and he blew it on Patterson’s scabby knickers.  He could have seen mine for free if he’d wanted – or anybody’s really – we all did PE in the bloody things.  Navy blue serge.  They were like the Mary Whitehouse of sex appeal.  We changed them once a week, less if the weather was wet and they didn’t smell too bad of wee…”
“Why if the weather was wet?”
“They weighed half a ton when they were washed, they took forever to dry, even on a sunny day.”
“Perhaps,” suggested Phil, “we just need to open out our definition of sex to encompass lust, love, infatuation, jealousy… all the affairs of the heart.”
“Is lust really an affair of the heart?” asked Elizabeth.  “I think, perhaps, you are setting your sights a little too high.”
“Always been my problem,” grinned Phil.  “Too high and generally just wide of the mark.”
“Yes well, putting Philips slight paucity of aim to one side for now,” said Elizabeth with a barely concealed, theatrical wink, “surely lust is the last thing you would kill for.”
“Unless it was unfulfilled,” suggested Jane.  “Or if it was for someone else.”
“Someone else?”
“Someone it wasn’t wise to lust over.”
“Ah, I get it,” said Phil.  “A woman scorned.”
“Or man,” said Jeff.
“Or man…” said Phil.

“Sex it is,” said Frankie.  “Lust, infatuation, jealousy, even love; they’re all sex at the end of the day.”
“Only the end of the day darling?” drawled Louise.  “How terribly Puritan.”
Frankie grinned.  “Point is,” he continued, “you can call it what you like, but it’s still the same thing.”
“Oh dear,” she said.  “What a quiet life you must have led.”
“I mean,” he persisted, “it all boils down to the same thing, doesn’t it.  Boys and girls…”  He looked at Jeff.  “…and boys.”
Jeff smiled broadly.  “Love has no boundaries does it?” he said.  “Nobody chooses who to love.  Nobody chooses to have their heart broken, but people do choose how to respond to it.  Some go under, some bounce back up and some… some fulfil Frankie’s criteria and look for somebody to pay the price, but the thing is, if you’re going to write it, can you put yourself in their shoes?  Can you understand their rage?”
“Rage.  That’s the thing, isn’t it?  Rage is about sex, lust, infatuation, jealousy even, but not love; there’s no rage in love.  That’s all hearts and flowers, birds and bees, and ‘I will if you will’, not at all the kind of thing to kill over.”
“Surely in war,” suggested Deidre, “all those young men sent out to kill, they died for love: love of their country.”
“Love of not getting shot as a traitor, most of them,” muttered Frankie.  “How many of them would ever have shot another man, except in abject fear.  Fear never leads to a neat murder, does it?  Too messy, too easy to solve.  Besides, that’s quite a different kind of love, isn’t it?”
“Different from the kind that leads to murder?”
“Different to the kind that leads to sex.”
“What about the love of one’s family; one’s children, one’s parents.  Surely a man (and let’s face facts here, murder is almost exclusively a male failing) could be driven to kill for the love of those towards whom he has no sexual desire.”
“Well, as you put it like that, Deidre…”  Frankie mimicked rising from his seat and approaching Deidre with his arms outstretched and his hands clawed.
“Frankie!” whispered Louise.  “Be careful.”  They were all pleased to have Deidre back in the fold and while she was clearly more than happy to join in the cut and thrust of the standard inconsequential argument, it was generally acknowledged that she was not yet quite ready to accept humorous affronts.
“Right,” said Elizabeth, with a certain finality in her voice, “so I think by now that we’ve probably established that love – in all of its manifold forms – is the very worst of human emotions.  So what do we think about greed and revenge?…”

The Writer’s Circle #31 – Dinah and Shaw (Slight Return)

“I’ve been toying with these two characters for months,” said Phil.  “I would like to give them a story of their own, a book perhaps, but I still don’t quite know where they’re going…”  The gathered members of the Circle, including the prodigal Deidre, shuffled themselves comfortable on the hard, moulded plastic chairs, and Phil retrieved a sheaf of papers from his pocket…

“…Shaw laid his knife and fork down neatly on his plate.  It was clean, except for a small, tidy pile of sweetcorn kernels and two slowly leaching slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot which were actively turning the corn a florid hue of gentian violet as he looked on.  ‘Serves them right,’ he thought.  ‘Who puts sweetcorn in a pork pie salad anyway?’  A motorway service centre was the answer and, if he’d bothered to ask the hair-netted man behind the counter, he would have also discovered that it wasn’t actually pork pie in the first place, it was Gala Pie: hadn’t he even noticed the boiled egg in it?  To which Shaw would have answered, ‘No, I bloody well did not.  The pastry was like a rock.  As soon as I tried to cut it with the cheap plastic utensils you gave me, the inside shot out like a bullet and landed under the table near the ‘gents’.  It could have had a golden snitch in it for all I knew.  I wasn’t crawling around under the tables to find out.’  He contemplated the beetroot with a shudder, it reminded him of school dinners.  No sweetcorn for it to leach into when he was at school of course – far too decadent – just a lukewarm mound of half-mashed potato, half a dozen shrivelled-up peas that always brought to mind a leprechaun’s testicles, and something that may once have been some manner of dead fish.  He shuddered again at the memory.  It was at school that he had first developed the habit of eating only when he felt that he really had to.  Dinah was just the latest in a long line of women who tried to impress upon him the need to put a little meat on his bones and he had to admit that, on the rare occasions he considered his reflection in the mirror, he did look rather like a skeleton wrapped in Clingfilm – only by and large, he was forced to concede, less healthy.

Mind you, Dinah was, he was happy to admit, rather different to the other women in his life.  She wasn’t a blood relative for a start.  Shaw’s whole life had been shaped by female relatives.  His mother, his ‘real’ aunties, his ‘assumed’ aunties and, it always seemed to him, any ancient woman who happened to sit next to him on the bus.  They all had a view on what he should be doing.  They all knew that he didn’t eat enough.  Dinah, to be fair, never actually pestered him to eat.  She just let him know that he was not comfortable to be around.  ‘Angular and pointy,’ she said.  ‘Devoid of all padding.’  And, if he was honest, that was why he’d ordered the apple crumble and custard that was now congealing on the plate in front of him.  He wanted to eat it, but it would have taken far more strength than he could ever have mustered to drag the skin off it.  So, instead, he just stared at it, hoping that he could absorb some calories by osmosis.

He was, he knew, in the process of being thoroughly beaten down by his current ‘case’.  He was growing tired of looking for someone for whom he had no name and no photograph.  He was growing evermore weary of the constant trudge of trying to find somewhere to search.  He stared hard at the scrap of paper on which he had written down the details of the case and the client’s name but, as on each of the previous occasions on which he had attempted to make head or tails of it, he could not.  He had started off confident enough, he hung around the places where enlightenment usually found him, believing that, sooner or later, he would discover what he was meant to be doing.  But he hadn’t.  And he was running out of places.  Why, in God’s name, had he sent Dinah off to find somebody’s cat again: she’d have known his client’s name, who he was searching for, why…  And she hated the cat cases.

He must never let her know that he was out of his depth, of course, that his usual methods were not getting results.  He was getting distracted.  He needed to focus.  Perhaps if he just stared at the paper for a little while longer… 

Dinah regarded herself critically in the mirror.  She wanted to see a detective looking back at her.  She wanted to sense a steely intellect and a clear understanding shining through from her reflection.  What she actually saw was a mad woman who couldn’t find a bloody lost cat.  She had done the normal stuff: schlepped around the neighbourhood with a fuzzy, out of focus photograph; called in at all the police stations, vets and strange spinster’s bungalows she could find; stood on a thousand street corners shouting the bloody thing’s name.  Who calls a cat Pickles anyway?  Perhaps what she really needed to do was to reappraise her current situation.  She had a job that wasn’t a job and which, by and large, involved the search for ‘lost’ felines, most of whom she sensed really did not want to go back from whence they came.  She sensed that she was becoming a little closer to Shaw than was healthy for either of them, but exactly which of them was most reliant upon the other, she had no idea.  It was like a symbiosis: she was the apple tree, Shaw was the mistletoe – even if the most unromantic parasite she had ever encountered.  She was tied to him because he relied on her.  Sometimes, she thought, he would struggle to get dressed without her.  (Actually, when she stopped to give that a little thought, she knew that he would struggle to get dressed without her.)  But he had gentle – albeit perennially confused – eyes, and he made her laugh, although seldom when he meant to…

Dinah left the ‘ladies’ with one last glance in the mirror – ‘It’s not much, but it’ll do’ she thought – and returned to her seat at the table.  She smiled at the man sitting beside her.  ‘You’re not leaving that beetroot are you?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll have it…’”

I’d quite forgotten how much I like writing these two.  At first I thought that it must tell me something about myself that I had chosen to give them to Phil, but of course it doesn’t.  I could have given them to any other member of the Circle: they are all me, they all wish that they were not…

Dinah and Shaw have appeared in this blog a number of times before – although this is their first outing as part of The Writer’s Circle.  If you should wish to find out more about them, you will find their previous appearances listed below:
Episode 1 – Excerpt from Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 2 – Return to Another Unfinished Novel
Episode 3 – Another Return
Episode 4 – Morning is Broken
Episode 5 – Train of Thought
Episode 6 – The Morning After
Episode 7 – Green Ink on the Back of a Pizza Delivery Receipt
Episode 8 – Searching for the Spirit of Christmas

The Writer’s Circle # – Lingua In Maxillam

An open letter from the absent Deidre to the members of The Writer’s Circle.

Dear Everyone

Just a short note to apologise for my absence from this week’s meeting.  I had truly intended to return to the fold this evening if it were not for the receipt of a far better offer.  I am certain that you are all, by now, aware of the circumstances pertaining to my recent nonattendances – why I have not been there – as I swore Francis to secrecy and, after a week in his company, I know how untrustworthy he really is.  (On a side note, I would say to any of you, that if you are ever in trouble Francis is the man to call – a true rock, a steady head and an unwavering guardian – although you might find it wise to fill the biscuit barrel first.)  I am sure that you all have a certain vision of me: a lonely, ageing spinster – and I cannot deny that, the facts are there.  I have learned a great deal about myself over the past few weeks; most importantly that I do not need to be lonely – I just need to be less picky about the friends I choose.  I would be proud to call any of you ‘friend’ – although I would be grateful if you did not bandy that around in the kind of circles within which I tend to circulate.  (If we’re honest, that’s not entirely likely, is it?)  I must endeavour not to crave the friends that I deserve, but to accept the ones that I have.  Class strictures are not what they once were and I believe that mixing with those from a lower stratum is now probably viewed as a virtue.  (A special nod to Billy: I won’t tell if you don’t!)  I look forward to broadening my horizons in this effect within the next few weeks, although I will draw the line at tripe and cockles, and I refuse to wear any clothing that has not been starched and ironed to within an inch of its life – and yes, Phillip, that does include my underwear.
I know that Francis has given you all my new telephone number and it was a joy to hear from you all – especially since I now know how easy it will be to change the number again in the future.
As you will all be aware, I am not a great one for hiding my light under a bushel – my thanks to Vanessa for enlightening me on the nature of my bushel and for furnishing me with the phone number for Weight Watchers – but my darkest hour has, in fact, been accompanied by a gratifying degree of bushel-illumination, in that this week sees the release of my latest novel – I will allow myself the use of that word, and not the one that Terry suggested as I am sure that they are never released in hardback – and I have made the shortlist for Richard and Judy’s Book of the Month.  Consequently I am currently ensconced within a very swish London hotel awaiting the private car that will whisk me away to my interview at Television Centre and therefore unable to bother myself with you lot.  I have, of course, already loaded my handbag with shower gels, shampoos and conditioners – all, allegedly, smelling of hyacinth – as well as sachets of cheap instant coffee and bags of what PG claims to be tea, as nobody in their right mind ever uses a hotel kettle.  I have not packed the Rich Tea biscuits as not even Francis will eat those.  Nor have I put the complimentary shower cap in my ‘swag-bag’ as it is currently covering the TV remote, so that I don’t have to touch it.  I do not know whether I will be interviewed by Mr Madeley himself, but I have made it quite clear that I will not be examining him for lumps regardless of the circumstances.  I mention this, of course, not only by way of an explanation for my absence from this evening’s meeting, but also to remind you all of how successful I actually am.  Whilst I know that in the future, many of you will achieve similar success, I would like it noted that I was the first!
I would love to read you all a chapter or two of my new book at next week’s meeting, but I am sure that you will have all read it yourselves by then – especially since it is on Special Offer at W H Smiths.  (Although not – yet – in the bargain bin.)  I will return next week, when I will accept your praise and congratulations with my usual degree of grace and humility – as long as nobody overloads with empathy – and I will be happy to autograph anything that is not flesh.  Hopefully, thereafter, following a week of understandable adulation and fawning, we can return to the normal routine of petty squabbling and back-biting, of which we have all grown so fond.  Most importantly, we can once again agree that I am in charge.
I am, yours truly
Lingua in maxillamdo what I did, look it up. 

P.S.  If I have learned just one thing from these past few weeks – and only time will tell just how much I have learned – it is that life in general, and I in particular (like the grammar in this sentence) is not to be taken too seriously…


N.B. Richard Madeley is a daytime TV ‘star’ in the UK who once famously chaired the first live ‘testicular cancer’ check on UK television – although I should point out that it was not in fact he himself who had his old danglers massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor.  Books chosen to appear on Richard and Judy’s (his wife and co-presenter – it was also not her old danglers that were massaged by the rubber-gloved TV doctor) Book Club traditionally benefit from a huge surge in sales and almost automatically become ‘best sellers’.

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
The Writer’s Circle episode 29 ‘The Missing Deidre’ is here.

The Writer’s Circle #29 – The Missing Deidre

It was unusual for Deidre to be late and it was unheard of for her to be this late.  Gradually, as the evening wore on and the group attempted to conduct normal business without her, distraction set in and all talk within the Circle revolved around her absence.
“Maybe her bus was late,” said Penny.
“She drives in normally,” said Vanessa.  “She’s picked me up occasionally.”
“Well maybe the car has broken down.”
“She’d have rung.”
“Could she have lost her phone?”
Despite all appearances, everyone involved in the group was quietly fond of Deidre and starting to worry.  A number of attempts were made to call her, but her phone was turned off and, despite the determination of the group to carry on as normal, the meeting petered out after the mid-session break and Frankie agreed that, as he lived the closest, he would call round to her house on his way home and speak to her.  After much confusion – during which Phil ‘took charge’ of installing the App onto most of their phones – a WhatsApp group was created so that Frankie could contact them all with ‘the news’ as soon as he had it.  It was doubtful that some of them would know how to open it, but at least it was there.  Deidre, for one, would not approve, but she probably never needed to know.

In the event, Frankie’s message popped up on the group at eleven o’clock that evening.  It was short, only moderately assuring and, for the rest of the group, deeply intriguing: “She’s OK” it said.  “Back next week.”  But as it turned out, she was not, and it was Frankie who took control of the meeting.
“She’s been cuckolded,” he said.
“Cuckolded?” asked Terry.  “What’s that?”
“I think,” said Jane, “that a cuckold is a man whose wife has been unfaithful.”
“OK, not exactly cuckolded,” said Frankie.  “Although I’d argue that in the twenty-first century she could have been.  She’s been scammed, I’m afraid; conned by an online ‘boyfriend’.  She’s mortified.  She can’t face you yet even though, as far as she’s concerned, you don’t know what has happened.  It has really knocked the stuffing out of her – and, as most of you know, she was always choc-full of it.”
“Scammed how?” asked Billy.
“Part romance, part vanity.  She’s just ashamed of herself.”  Frankie dropped his head slightly.  “None of us, and I most certainly include myself in this, gives much thought to Deidre outside of Circle nights.  None of us ever contact her.  She’s lonely…  She was duped by a Romance Scammer who slowly managed to weedle enough information out of her to know how he could really hurt her.  He told her he was involved in a TV production company and he persuaded her that, with just a little capital to ‘grease the wheels’ he would be able to convince them that her first novel would be ideal material for a full-scale series.”
“How much?” asked Vanessa, who like everybody else was beginning to feel increasingly uncomfortable.
“Twenty grand,” said Frankie.
“Oh God, she didn’t…”
Frankie shook his head.  “She didn’t have it – at least not immediately to hand, which of course was what he wanted.”
An audible sigh of relief crossed the Circle.
“She did have five though…  She sent it to him by money transfer and then, almost immediately realised what she’d done, but she didn’t feel that she had anybody she could tell, so she just turned off her phone, ate cake and sat in the dark feeling stupid.”
“Well, it sounds to me that she’s five thousand pounds wiser now,” said Elizabeth.  “Is there any way that she can get it back?”
“I don’t think so,” said Frankie.  “But at least she hasn’t given him any bank accounts or anything.  I’ve spent the last few days helping her change all of her bank details, her phone number, her email, everything…  The cyber Deidre Desmond of last week no longer exists.”
“So, when is she coming back to the group?”
“Why don’t you ask her?” said Frankie.  “I’ve got her new number here, and I persuaded her to let me put WhatsApp on her new phone.  If you look, you’ll see that she’s been part of the group for a few days now…”
They all looked.  None of them had looked before.
“So, is she ok?”
“She’s still Deidre; your guess is as good as mine.  Her new book is published next week so, if we can manage to get her back, I’m sure she’ll be just as insufferable as ever.”
“Insufferable is a little harsh,” said Penny.  Frankie smiled at her and raised an eyebrow – a trick he had learned from Roger Moore in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – and Penny blushed slightly.
“Alright,” she said to a general murmur of approval around the group.  “I’ll give you slightly insufferable, but I miss her.” 
“Well hopefully you’ll be all be able to persuade her to come back next week then.”
“I don’t know.  Tell her you want her to.  Promise never to bother her on WhatsApp again and swear that you’ll never be late to the meetings… but don’t mention that you know about the scam.  She asked me not to tell you.  She’ll know that I have of course, but as long as we never mention it, I think we’ll all survive…”
Penny scanned the phone in her hand.  “Is WhatsApp the blue one, or the green one?” she said…

Episode 1 of The Writer’s Circle ‘Penny’s Poem’ is here.
Episode 28 ‘Jeff Reads to the Room’ is here.


Another excuse to use Hunt Emerson’s glorious cartoon from the long-ago radio comedy ‘The Globe-Trotting Adventures of Nigel Tritt’

PRESENTER                    The modern world is a dangerous place.  Enemies crowd in upon us from every angle and we are individually defenceless against them, so we entrust our safety to those of superior powers.  America has given the world ‘The Avengers’ and here, in the UK, we have Mr. Alfred Wonderman, the world’s first Welfare State Superhero, who has today – in our greatest hour of need – stunned the country by announcing his retirement from all… superdoings… and we are very fortunate to have him here in the studio with us today to discuss his reasons. 


PRESENTER                    Erm, so Mr. Wonderman, why have you decided to call it a day?


PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman?


PRESENTER                    Mr. Wonderman!


PRESENTER                    (SHOUTS.)  Mr Wonderman!!!


WONDERMAN                Yes?

PRESENTER                    Would you like to tell our viewers why you have decided to quit?


WONDERMAN                Well?

PRESENTER                    You were about to explain to our audience why you have decided to quit.

WONDERMAN                Ah yes, of course, I was…  Was I?  Well, I wanted to quit whilst I was at the peak of my powers, Terry.  I feel that if I stay on much longer they may start to wane.


PRESENTER                    But this is an increasingly dangerous world.  Don’t you feel that it will be a more dangerous place without you?

WONDERMAN                No David, and the reason for this is that I have carefully selected and trained my replacement – May I introduce my apprentice…..


WONDERMAN                …Wonderyouth!


WONDERMAN                Come on.

WONDERYOUTH            Excuse me.

WONDERMAN                Come on, come on.



WONDERMAN                Where are you?


WONDERMAN                Oh, nice ploy.  You see, Trevor, he has already developed the skill of entering a room undetected.

PRESENTER                    Very impressive.  It can’t have been easy to choose a suitable replacement.  Where did you find him?

WONDERMAN                The Job Centre, Philip.

PRESENTER                    And he immediately struck you as the right person for this unique position?

WONDERMAN                No, he immediately struck me for trying to jump the queue.

PRESENTER                    I see, so how has his training progressed?

WONDERMAN                A little slowly, Mike.  We’re building up his strength opening tomato ketchup bottles; sharpening his reflexes by filling his leotard with itching powder and we’re improving his hearing with the regular application of cotton-buds.  His flying is still a little dodgy and when we persuade him to try out his x-ray vision, all he manages to see is the back of his own skull, but he is improving…  You will notice that he has been standing there, totally unaided, for several seconds now and has not yet fallen over.

PRESENTER                    That’s hardly exceptional, is it?

WONDERMAN                It’s not bad for a man with a wooden leg.

PRESENTER                    He’s got a wooden leg?

WONDERMAN                No, but I was just making the point; he does have potential.

PRESENTER                    I see, so can you tell us exactly where this potential is being realised?

WONDERMAN                Certainly.  He is beginning to master the art of levitation, Barry.

PRESENTER                    Can we see?

WONDERMAN                Of course.


WONDERMAN                Of course, there’s still room for improvement.

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                Pardon?

PRESENTER                    He jumped!

WONDERMAN                When?

PRESENTER                    Just then, he jumped.

WONDERMAN                Did he?

PRESENTER                    Yes, he did and you said he was going to levitate.

WONDERMAN                Did I?

PRESENTER                    Yes, you did.

WONDERMAN                Well, there you are then.

PRESENTER                    What?

WONDERMAN                Well, it’s a start isn’t it?

PRESENTER                    A start?  The world is hardly going to be safe in his hands is it?  The only thing he’s got to recommend him is that he hasn’t got a wooden leg.

WONDERMAN                (AFTER A PAUSE FOR THOUGHT)  He has got a pushbike.

PRESENTER                    Oh fine, fine.  Well as long as the world’s master criminals all plan cycle-borne getaways we’ll know exactly who to call then, won’t we?

WONDERMAN                Yes, we will… We will?  Will we?

PRESENTER                    Oh yes, I’m sure we’ll all sleep soundly in our beds tonight…..


PRESENTER                    Yes, well, thank you very much for coming along today.  Mr Alfred Wonderman….


The Writer’s Circle #28 – Jeff Reads to the Room

“…You know the sensation, it’s a spark of light; barely perceptible, like a camera flash from behind you: sharp, sudden, no afterglow, just the sensation that for a split-second there has been a crack in the darkness and time has frozen just for you.  Nothing more than a nano-second, but you’re aware that something – you can never quite put your finger on what thing – but something is not exactly as you left it. And you find yourself wondering what could have happened?  Where you could have been?  What you could have done?  Still not entirely sure, really not at all certain, that anything has actually happened at all…  Well, that’s what happened.

As usual, I took a circuit of the house, checked the doors and windows, peered out into the street, that kind of thing.  I don’t need to turn on the lights; the vestigial glow of stand-by lamps is always enough to guide me.  My attention was caught by everything and by nothing.  The everyday contents of the house introduced itself to me piece-by-piece; imprinted itself onto my memory, slightly adrift of its normal position, but somehow unmoved.  My home was speaking to me, article by article, trinket by trinket, memory by memory, telling me “Take a good look around you.  Not one thing in here is yours.  You own it all, but none of it is yours.  You live here, but you don’t inhabit an inch of the fabric.  When you go, there’ll be no sign that you ever lived here.”

This revelation, of course, was not instant.  There was no thunder flash, no sudden awareness, no insight; my brain just doesn’t work like that.  It can just about cope with a slow, oozing seepage of relevant information and that is what it does; it just about copes.  Regardless of the pace at which facts are thrown at me, my head allows them to enter only at its own pace: when it has had enough, it shuts down.  Anything mid-process is disregarded until it wakes me up in the middle of the night, with the kind of nagging urgency that is associated only with the need for food, sex or urination.

I remembered a story I had read once, one of those comic-book things I think, about a man for whom time stood still whilst the world carried on, unaffected, around him.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t actually remember what had happened, why it had happened or how it had ended.  I was fairly certain that there was some sort of moral attached to it, but I had no idea what that might be.  I couldn’t focus.  My brain had decided to do the shutting-down thing.  It was telling me, in no uncertain terms, ‘Ok, I’ll hold everything together here, just long enough for you to get back to bed.  But don’t take long mind or you’ll wake up with a very sore neck again, pins and needles in your legs, the pattern of the cat-flap embossed upon your forehead…’

Keeping a person awake for long enough to get to their bed is, you would think, a relatively mundane task for a brain.  Linking forward motion to ocular input should be a piece of cake to the average lump of grey matter. Thirty billion neurons working as a team should surely be able to get a person to the bedroom without skinning the full length of their shin on a doorframe that hasn’t moved from the day that the house was built.  The knowledge that your own brain hates you, is willing to do you harm, does not sit easily in the darkness hours.  It can lead to worry.  It can lead to neurosis.  It can lead to just one small glass of whisky to help you sleep – if only any number of certain death traps did not lie between the fragile flesh and bone and the water of life.  I took my shattered limb back to my bachelor bed.

I had moved from the marital bed and into the single bed in the spare bedroom as soon as it became clear to me that my wife was never coming home.  I found it easier to sleep without space.  There is something cocoon-like about a single bed.  The early morning spaces that I stare into are not infinite in this tiny room.  The walls and ceilings are always visible; even with my eyes closed I can see them.  When I move, I can feel them.  They are solid and dependable the walls of my little womb.  Even when I dream, they do not move.  They hold my little world and cradle it securely within its box-room universe.

The final stretch of my journey to sleep was illuminated by the mega-watt output of my bedside alarm, which was set, as always, ten minutes fast.  The alarm itself set ten minutes early to allow for one cycle under the snooze button and a further ten minutes early just in case something went wrong with the snooze button and it decided to let me nap on for a full eighteen minutes.  It was pointing as always towards the wall so that I couldn’t see the flashing green figures that illuminated its front, which meant that it was useless for time-keeping purposes, but absolutely ideal for strobe lighting the whole room metronomically from midnight to mid-day.  I climbed between the sheets and looked over to the corner of the room with the small pile of books and cd’s which, outside of my clothes, and despite the three years that had elapsed since my wife’s departure, were the only things that were truly mine.  They pulsed with the light, seeming to move forward and backwards like flotsam on the ebb and flow of radiance – looming out at me before scuttling back into the shadows like a… like a… well, like a really sinister pile of books and CD’s… I made a mental note to move them in the morning.  I filed the mental note in the special compartment of my brain, along with all the other mental notes that were never acted upon; the reminders to cut my toe nails, trim my nasal hairs and pay the milkman.  I wondered for a moment why I had not removed any of the things that I so despised: the furniture that I loathed; the pictures that made me cringe; the wallpaper that made my head spin.  Was I hoping she would return?  I don’t think so.  The sexual pleasure that I had got from burning all of her underwear in the bath was far greater than any I remember whilst she was there. 

Laziness, that was the truth.  Inertia.  The inability to do anything that required an actual decision outside of whether to microwave my curry from the tin or from the freezer; whether to drink my beer at the pub or in front of the TV; whether I could stretch another day out of these socks.  I was surrounded by all these things I loathed simply because moving them would require me to take positive action of some kind – and the only thing I was positive about was that I was still not up to that.

I closed my eyes, decided what I wanted to dream about – a trick I perfected as a child – and allowed my body to become heavy, to sink into the mattress as my mind drifted away into… into…  Why do my legs always do that?  What makes them twitch like that?  Another night and yet again the trick I learned as an adult – lying awake, counting the ripples in the artex ceiling and worrying about my aching, twitching legs…”

The Writer’s Circle began with ‘Penny’s Poem’ here.
Episode 27 ‘The Games Night’ is here.

The Writer’s Circle #27 – The Games Night

As usual, the Writer’s Circle Games Night had descended into chaos, aided on this occasion by Kenny’s decision to list the evening as a charity event (‘They’re all bloody charity cases, if you ask me.’) and thus allow alcoholic beverages to be drunk, although not purchased upstairs.  (‘There’s only one of me you know and you’ll find me downstairs with the pumps and the till, not running up and down the stairs at the whim of a group of losers.’)  The search for the missing Scrabble letter ‘X’ had been a long and (by Writer’s Circle standards) uproarious one, driven on by Deidre who had ‘E’, ‘N’, ‘N’ and ‘O’ and was determined to stand a chance, at least, of banging ‘XENON’ down on a triple word score.  Her natural irritability was not exactly eased by Phil and Elizabeth who inexplicably suffered a serious attack of ‘the giggles’ when Elizabeth accidentally knocked a box of dominoes from the shelf and found, in amongst the widely distributed dominoes, a Scrabble ‘T’ which, as far as anyone could see, wasn’t actually missing in the first place.
“Here,” said Phil, holding out the tile to Deidre, ‘You might as well take this.  You could at least get ‘TENON’.”
“Or ‘NONET’ said Elizabeth.
“Is that a real word?’ asked Phil.
Elizabeth opened her mouth to reply.
“You shouldn’t have been looking at my tiles,” snapped Deidre.
“Oh come on, Deidre,” said Phil.  “I couldn’t miss them; you left them on the table.  Besides, even if we do find the ‘X’, you’ll have to get hold of it before Elizabeth, otherwise she’s going to get ‘SPANX’.”
Elizabeth took a playful swipe at Phil who ducked and, much to the amusement of both of them, dislodged the ‘X’ tile from the folds of his sweater.
Deidre stared coldly at the two of them, giggling like teenagers.  “Well, I think we’d better start all over again, don’t you?” she said, beckoning Frankie to rejoin them at the table.

Frankie had, in fact, played no part in the search for the missing ‘X’ as he had found himself at the next table, alongside Billy and Terry who were staring blankly at a chess board.  “You’re telling me that you having decided to play chess, you discover that neither of you have ever played before?”  He looked from Billy to Terry incredulously.  “… Never?” 
He sighed, took a seat between them and, after a deep breath, attempted to introduce them to the simplest rudiments of the game.  Both men nodded sagely as Frankie explained, “The game is all about protecting your King: it’s an old game – I’m surprised that both Kings are not white really – and the Queen is your most powerful piece, she can go any distance across the board, in any direction, straight or diagonally, but she can’t go through or over other pieces.  If she reaches your own piece, she stops, if she reaches your opponent’s, she takes it off the board.  The Knight is the only piece that can go over or round other pieces.  It moves like this… or this… or this… or this…”

Penny stared at her opponents – Vanessa, Tom, Louise, Jeff and Jane – across the Cluedo board and tried to decide where her main competition was going to come from.  She was, for once, pleased to find that Phil – the detective writer – was otherwise engaged, but thought that Louise and Jane could both offer stiff competition.  Vanessa appeared confident (but was actually just confused) whilst Tom and Jeff – who was laughing so heartily at something (Not even he appeared to know what.) that he was slowly dripping a puddle of gin and tonic into his crotch – simply seemed pleased to be involved.  The initial barrier to starting the game had still to be crossed: the positioning of the six ‘weapons’ on the board.  Jane was insistent that they should start in ‘appropriate’ rooms: “Knife in the Kitchen, Candlestick in the Ballroom, it’s obvious.”
“Spanner in the Garage, Pistol in the Shooting Gallery…” said Tom.
“Lead Pipe?” asked Jeff.
“Outside Toilet,” said Tom, which amused them both.
“Yes, well, I think it would make more sense if they went into rooms that actually exist on the board,” said Jane.  “Can we all agree, at least, that the Candlestick belongs in the Ballroom?”
They couldn’t.  Tom wanted it in the Library and Louise in the Lounge.  “My mother,” she said, “Always kept the best silver in the lounge… and the knife has to be in the Dining Room.”
“Maybe we could start with the rope,” said Vanessa.  “Any suggestions?”
“I don’t know,” said Louise.  “Who even has a rope in the house?  I can never even find string.  And how long is that rope, even to scale?  It would never go round somebody’s neck…”
Eventually they all agreed to pick a murder weapon each, at random, and they placed them in a room of their choice, which resulted in the Candlestick being in the ballroom ‘Because that’s where the piano is’; the Revolver in the Study ‘Because it’s always in a desk drawer on the telly’; the Lead Pipe in the Cellar where it had ‘Fallen from the old boiler when they fitted a new one’; the Dagger was in the Dining Room because Tom had drawn it and he wasn’t about to change his mind; the Rope in the Library ‘Having fallen off the bell-pull’, and the Spanner in the Billiard Room ‘In case the table’s legs needed adjustment’.
“OK, so who’s got the dice?” asked Jane. 
Accusing glances passed around the group.

Billy and Terry both grinned nervously as Frankie drove on.  “The Bishop moves diagonally, the Rook or Castle in a straight line.”  They cupped their chins and stared intently at the board, occasionally reaching out and moving the pieces along the lines of the instructions…

A thorough search of the Cluedo box revealed a single die trapped within its cardboard tomb.
“Can we play with just one?” asked Jeff.
“It will take an awful long time to get around,” said Tom.
“Perhaps we could each roll it twice,” suggested Vanessa.
“Brilliant!” said Tom, who was now in full-on ‘charm’ mode.  “So, who wants to be Colonel Mustard?”

Eventually, at the insistent beckoning of Deidre, Frankie left Billy and Terry to their game.  “Do you think you will, at least, be able to give it a bit of a go?” he asked.
Billy and Terry nodded in unison. 
Slowly they placed all of the pieces onto the board and, thrilled with their accomplishment, shook hands before commencing a simple game of draughts.
“What will we do if one of the pieces is crowned?” asked Billy.
“We’ll swap it for a King or a Queen,” said Terry.
“But they’re already crowned.”
“You’re right,” said Terry.  “We’ll promote a Knight.  A Bishop wouldn’t be ruthless enough and a Pawn would be unseemly…”
They both grinned agreement and began sliding pieces around the board in a random fashion.
“Do they go on black or white?” asked Billy.
“Yes,” said Terry.  “Black or white, definitely…”

At the Scrabble board, Deidre had once again taken control.  “Right,” she said.  “I think it is you to start, Francis.  What have you got?”
Frankie looked at his tiles: ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘F’, ‘K’, ‘L’, ‘L’ ‘U’.
“Fuck all,” he said.

…Downstairs, Kenny was playing darts with a man in a tired business suit, who was asking a lot of questions about somebody who sounded a lot like Tom.  Fortunately, as Kenny was able to assure the man, he’d never been seen in his pub.  “Sounds like a bit of a loser, anyway,” he said…

I think many of my readers will know Draughts as Checkers and Cluedo as Clue – and if you have one, I’d be pleased to know about it

The Writer’s Circle began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’
Episode 26 ‘The New Skirt’ is here.

The Writer’s Circle #26 – The New Skirt

Penny smoothed down the perceived creases in her neatly pleated skirt.  She was certain that nobody had noticed, but it was new and just a very few centimetres shorter in length than those she habitually wore.  She felt somehow empowered by it.  She had caught a sideways glimpse of herself in the mirror in the Ladies and she thought that her legs were actually nothing like as ‘stringy’ as her mother always told her.  She had seen worse, much worse, and although the skirt gave her a little difficulty in keeping her knees covered when she sat down, she was happy with the way she looked.  She felt suddenly hot and thought about opening the top button on her blouse.  Just briefly.  Steady now Penny, just one step at a time…

Shyly she looked around the Circle (all of whom had noted the new skirt) and almost sat straight down, but she caught sight of Deidre who was clearly ready to speak, and decided to press on.  “I drew,” she said, “Family Saga, and I would be lying if I said that I really knew what that meant.  First I thought ‘Gone with the Wind’ and then I thought of ‘The Waltons’, but I knew that I was only going to write a few hundred words, and ‘Saga’ didn’t really seem to apply.  So, I hope that nobody minds, but I intend to take a bit of a liberty and take myself even further out of my comfort zone…”
“Oh God,” muttered Deidre, “What is it, a poem about cats?”
“…by writing this.  I think you will all agree that it is not what I’m used to doing, but I listened to Frankie and he said that I needed to ‘lighten up’.”  She looked to Frankie for support and he smiled warmly and nodded his approval.  “I know what everybody thinks of me and, frankly, you’re not really wrong, so I tried to remember how I used to be; what I used to like and, somehow, for some reason, I came up with this and… well, Phil has agreed to help me ‘act’ it.  I hope nobody minds…”  She smiled at Phil who took his cue to stand, grasping a sheaf of papers in his hand.  “We grabbed a few minutes ‘rehearsal’ before you all got here.  I don’t know about Phil, but I have never acted before – not even in the school nativity – so please be patient.  I will have to set the scene.  It is an old-fashioned bookshop.  Phil is the owner and I am the customer.  I hope you will bear with me; I’m no actor and this is… well, I hope you will bear with me.”  She and Phil moved into position, each grasping their script and a book in a bag.

PHIL                            Ah good morning madam.  May I be of service?
PENNY                        Yes, it’s about this vegetarian cook book you sold me yesterday.
PHIL                            Yes madam.                       
PENNY                        It’s an ordinary cookbook with all the meat recipes torn out.
PHIL                            Your point being…?
PENNY                        Well, it’s not the same as a vegetarian cook book, is it?
PHIL                            I’m afraid you’ll have to help me there.
PENNY                        Well, a vegetarian cook book is a carefully selected and varied collection of non-meat recipes, whilst this…
PHIL                            Yes madam?
PENNY                        … this is a carnivorous jamboree with everything but the lentils ripped out of it.
PHIL                           (Under his breath)  Not unlike the average vegetarian fruitcake’s diet, I’d say.  Perhaps, madam, you could tell me exactly what it is you were expecting.
PENNY                        Well, I wanted a book of recipe ideas, especially designed for vegetarian consumption, which I could cook for my son’s non-meat eating girlfriend when she comes to stay at the weekend…
PENNY (cont)              … that doesn’t say ‘100 favourite meat recipes’ on the cover.  I don’t think I’m going to get very far with a recipe for Steak & Kidney Pie with ‘Steak & Kidney’ Tipp-Exed out and the words ‘Some Vegetarian Rubbish’ written over it in biro.  Nor, I think, will she find (SHE TURNS THE PAGE) and I quote ‘Beef Stroganoff with all the good bits picked out’ particularly to her taste.
PHIL                           Right, well, I’ll just throw this one away then shall I?
PHIL (cont)                  Another week’s profit down the drain.
PENNY                        Oh come on.  It’s not the first time you’ve tried it on with me, is it?
PHIL                           What do you mean?
PENNY                        The whodunnit you sold me last week…
PHIL                           Yes?
PENNY                        2019’s ‘Wisden’ with the last page torn out… And what about the ‘Da Vinci Code’?  Did you really think that I wouldn’t realise that it was just a remaindered travel book about Venice with half the words cut out and stuck back in at random?
PHIL                           Alright, what do you want?
PENNY                        Have you got the latest Jeffrey Archer?
PENNY                        Can you cut all the crap out for me?
PENNY                        Thanks

In the ensuing silence, both Phil and Penny retook their chairs.  Penny looked down at her exposed knees and Phil cast his eyes slowly around the Circle.  Frankie clapped.  “Bravo,” he said, and he stood.  Phil joined him, clapping loudly.  One by one the rest of the Circle stood and joined in the applause with even the reluctant Deidre belatedly joining in.  Penny, with half a smile, took a deep inward breath and slowly pulled down the hem on her skirt…

N.B. I’m sure that Crispin Underfelt has mentioned before the difficulty of getting sketches to format for WordPress.  This is the best that I can muster.  I hope that it is, at least, understandable.

The Writer’s Circle began here with ‘Penny’s Poem’.
Last week’s episode ‘Redemption (part two)’ is here.