“It was the best of times”

The writing group task for this week was to write 500 words including, or inspired by, the Dickens opening to “A Tale of Two Cities” – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  I took the instruction fairly loosely, choosing to write 500 words of dialogue, as follows:

It was the best of times…

Pass me the make-up remover, will you.  God, look at me, I’m a wreck: mascara everywhere.  I look like Morticia Addams.”

“Here.  I know you’re upset now, but it was the best of times, wasn’t it?”

“Hah!  For you, maybe; it was the worst of times for me.”

“That’s not fair, we had great times.”

You had great times with your fans and record deals.  I was barely hanging on, picking up the crumbs when you could be bothered to look my way, but you didn’t notice.” 

“What about that weekend in New York then?  That was a blast for both of us, I know you had a good time there.”

“Yes, a good time, pretending to be Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan up the Empire State.  The rest of that weekend I spent in the hotel suite watching TV while you did, well, whatever it was you did.  Even the bellboy took pity on me and tried it on.  Cheeky young sod.  You know, I worked it out: an hour and a half out of 48 for us.  Our ships never even got a chance to pass in the night, I was tied up in dry dock while you roamed the wild main.  Pass the moisturiser.”   

“I had no idea you were feeling that way.  You’re right.  I’m sorry.  Sorry’s a bit lame isn’t it, but I am sorry.  I suppose it’s too late to say that, anyway.”

“I think we’re way, way past sorry.  We’re in self-harming territory here.  Why do you think I got tangled up with Ricky, it’s not as if he’s really my type.  All spray tan and white teeth.  There, that’s more presentable, the mirror’s all yours.”

“Thanks.  Well, why did you?”

“It wasn’t sex, if that’s what you think.  Well, not all of it.  And it wasn’t to make you jealous, you couldn’t be made jealous because you didn’t care enough.  He just showed me some affection, that’s all; some comfort when I needed it.  You were off on another one of your promo tours, I was stuck here looking after the house and the dog.  If it hadn’t been him then it would’ve been someone else, eventually.  We were already not we any more.”

 “I was going to choose a new sofa for us today.  I tweeted about it.  You should see how many re-tweets there were.  I s’pose I’ll have to tweet about the split too now, before the press come doorstepping; they seem to hear about this sort of stuff before it’s happened.

“How can you do that?  Isn’t ‘OK’ magazine enough?  Most of our life is public property already, why tweet about this?”

“So what do you want to do, move out?  Are you moving in with him?”

“No, that’s finished.   Never started really.  I’ll pack some stuff tomorrow and move in with my mum until I can get set up with another flat.  She’ll be happy having a man about the place again, even if he is gay. 

Andrew Gold©

500 words

29 May 2014


Move to the right in threes – quick march!

Those of you, dear readers, who know anything about the British military will recognise the title of this post as an order to march off in a particular formation.

It seems, after this week’s European elections, the body politic is about to march to the right, and probably with enough unison so as to appear in formation.  In France the election was ‘won’ by the far right National Front, in Britain by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and across the other states (with the exception of Greece) similar progress, if you can call it that, was made by other nationalist groups.  It is all frighteningly familiar, reminiscent of the pre-1933 rise of the Nazi party in Germany.  Hitler, and the Nazis, rose to power in a staggeringly short time against a background of unemployment and depression, of a feeling resentment of the impotence engendered by the Treaty of Versailles.  In Germany they fed off this and blamed the jews, whereas we are less specific – blaming our economic and social ills on a generalised “immigrant” population.  I have this cartoon image in my head of the figure of UKIP Brittania, with her union flag shield, in long flowing classical robes, the hem of which is protecting the less savoury trolls of fascism, anti-semitism and xenophobia.  In UK we have just returned MEPs with only one third of the electorate actually voting: UKIP polled 28% of the 35% who voted.  I am truly worried that we may sleep walk into a situation where only 10% of the electorate democratically elect a trojan horse whose hidden cargo will not liberate, but imprison, us.  Or worse.  Look at what is happening in Ukraine just now.  Prince Charles has raised a few hackles by, allegedly, comparing the actions of V. Putin with A. Hitler.  I think he’s right, and PC isn’t the most left-wing person on the planet.  V. Putin is happy to let the so-called pro-Russian militias, separatists, destabilise Ukraine by commiting violent or murderous acts while keeping his hands clean.  If he invades (further – already having annexed Crimea) he will claim that he is acting to prevent bloodshed, to protect the ethnic Russians, in Eastern Ukraine.  Anyone remember the Sudetenland?

We had a UKIP leaflet through the door which mentioned the word “immigration” several times but was curiously silent on other issues.  You have only to hear the statements of British electors, on behalf of UKIP, saying things like ” immigration is out of control, we want our country back” to know UKIP is getting its message across by tapping into a strong undercurrent of racism.  As the weeks go by to the next UK general election I fully expect to see Clegg, Milliband and Cameron all trying to Out-UKIP UKIP and there are plenty of right-wingers in the Conservative Party who will feel emboldened and encouraged to think their time has come.  I am reminded of the following, from Rev. Martin Niemoller, speaking about the rise of Nazism in pre-war Germany:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

To that list you can add travellers, gays, lesbians and transgender persons, Indians and Pakistanis (in fact any easily identified immigrant minority), liberal thinkers, CND (who must be against the Army – Help for Heroes) anti-frackers, and so on.  Wake up and vote with your head, but above all VOTE.

“The Sound of the Siren Split the Silence”

The following two 500 word stories were responses to writing group homework set against the above title.

Siren Sound # 1

 “I’m asleep when it starts, I think.


I’m awake now, but confused like.  I can’t remember what room I’m in, even what house.


My eyes won’t focus but there’s light shining round the edges of the blinds and I see the clock.  It’s half-past three. I’ve been waiting for it to happen, dreading it.  I try to shake my wife awake, but she’s been sleeping badly so she’s had a couple of drinks; she’s snoring.  I can’t rouse her.


I try to put my slippers on but get them on the wrong feet and I fall against the chest of drawers, banging my head. I swear and that wakes my wife.

She says “What’s that siren?” Is it a fire?”

I’m really angry.  I think I say “It’s the baby, that’s what it is. I can’t take much more of this”, something like that anyway.  Maybe I just think it.  I have to get up for work in three hours but she’s sleeping through everything.  She mumbles “What baby, I haven’t got a baby”, then rolls over and snores again.

The next thing I know I’m standing over the cot holding the baby really tight and she’s not crying any more, so I put her down again and go back to bed.

Then the alarm goes off and I get up, put the kettle on and go into the bathroom, like I usually do.  Then my wife gets up and looks in on the baby.  She calls down that there’s something wrong with her and to ‘phone for the doctor.

Then I’m in the police station, and they’re saying what about the bruises and that I killed our baby.  That’s it.  But I didn’t do it did I?”

“No, you didn’t.  It’s not unusual to have such dreams, especially with a baby that’s crying a lot.  It’s just frustration.  How long has this been going on?”

“Well, let’s see.  She was very colicky as a small baby, and a difficult feeder, up three or four times a night we were.  Then there was the teething, what a nightmare that was, and then the terrible twos; I suppose nearly three years, so far.”

“That amount of sleep loss would stress anyone, but don’t worry they are just dreams: you won’t kill your baby, but you do need more rest.  I’ll give you a prescription for something to help you sleep; perhaps I should see your wife too.”


I was already awake.  I couldn’t get back to sleep.  I was annoyed, it wasn’t my turn, see, but my husband had taken a pill so he didn’t wake up.  I was at my wits end, so tired, so tired, and the neighbours were complaining too.  I only put my hand on her mouth, to shut her up a bit, you know, it was just a short while, to quieten her down.  Oh God. I didn’t mean it.


496 Words

Andrew Gold ©

06 May 2014

Siren Sound #2

Kevin and Georghe are sitting in the dark, at the foot of the rectory garden wall.  The tinkling of the van’s engine cooling down clicked off the minutes while they wait to be sure it is all clear.  Then the van’s back door creaks on a rusted hinge, sounding like the massive oak door to the sacristy adjacent, and they unload.

“Right, we’re in.  Hold the ladder, will yer Gheorghe?”

“I holding ladder already”.

“Not there, you Bulgarian berk, hold the bottom while I climb up.”

“I not Bulgarian. I told you Romanian, RO-MAY-NIAN”

“Okay, Romanian, Bulgarian, whatever, but shut up and let me get on the ladder, will yers.”

“You not very nice mans, Kevin.  I thought Irishes very nice mans.  You not nice”.

“Alright, I’m not nice, but this isn’t a popularity contest.  Now pass me up the crowbar.”

“What is crowbar?”

The crowbar, the long bit of metal with a bent end”

“Can let go of ladder?”

“What for?”

“Crowbar in bag.  Bag in van”.

“Holy Mary, mother of Jaysus. Why didn’t yer bring it over the wall with yer?”

“You not say bring bag, you say bring ladder.”

“Never mind, you Balkan eejit, I’ll get it meeself”

“Infaci au!”

“SSHHHHH.  What now?”

“You stand on my fingres”

“Well, move yer feckin fingers out of the way”.

“I can’t”.

Why not?

“You still on my hand”.

“I’ll kill him.  There, is that better?”

Tank you, yes.  Can let go of ladder now.”

There is a muffled exclamation, a thud and a resigned sigh.

“Why you fall in bush, make lot of noise? You say I not make noise.”

“Well, here’s the thing, I think you may have let go of the ladder a touch too soon.  Help me up, and mind them prickles. Oh Jaysus  Oh, look at the state of me.  Now wait here, an’ be quiet.  Don’t be touchin’ anything alright?  I’ll go over and get the bag.”

Still muttering about being landed with a linguistically, as well as criminally, challenged accomplice, Kevin re-joins Gheorghe at the foot of the ladder.

“Right.  We’ll start again.  Now, hold the ladder, an’ when I get to the top pass me up the bag. Okay?  Have yer got that?

“I take crowbar out of bag first?”

“Oh help me God!  Why did we ever let them in the feckin EU?  No, Georghe.  Leave the feckin crowbar in the feckin bag and pass it all up at the same time.  Eejit.”

But, his bulk once more perched at the top, face buried in ivy, Kevin makes another discovery.


“What matter, Kevin”

“It’s the wrong window.  This one has shutters.”

But, before they can regroup, the sound of a siren splits the silence.

“Oh jayz.  Watch out I’m comin’ down.  Hold the ladder steady for us, Gheorghe.  Gheorghe?  Are ye there Gheorghe?”   But it isn’t Georghe at the bottom.


“Good evening, sir, can I hold the ladder for you.”



Andrew Gold©

13 May 2014

497 words



The Nine Loves of Henrietta the Great (and six other stories)

This leading story is one of eight I submitted to a Reader’s Digest 100 Word Story competition.  The stories had to be EXACTLY 100 words. It was published on their website – I suppose a sort-of commendation.  If you like it, six others are added below.

The 9 Loves of Henrietta the Great

Anthony was mooning, tentative, and no match for a captain of netball: he gave her mumps. 

Hardeep, life after A levels already mapped by his parents, gave her self-determination.

At University, Viktor was exciting and dangerous: he gave her causes.

Alan, unsure of his sexuality, and Nigel (sure enough to become Nigella) gave her self-awareness, but dear Daniel (dearest, it transpired, to Mary) gave her anorexia.

Johnny, challenging – especially to his probation officer – and Pierre, charming, sophisticated, and married, gave her resilience.

But Lionel, who knew the art of compromise, just gave and, in return, Henrietta finally gave herself.

A small thing

It was just a bent coin, prized from a slot machine by a boy with his penknife.  He paid for chocolate with it. The newsagent passed it to  a commuter in too much of a hurry to check his change.  At lunchtime it helped pay for his chicken baguette and passed, again in change, to Veronica.  Homeward bound, she jammed the only ticket machine in the station: the surging crowd baulked, then backed up into the street, toppling Mr Jenner under the 49 bus.

“Good day?” Dylan’s mum asked.  “Nah, Nothing special. Found some money though. Got some cheap sweets.”

Flight of Fancy

Ellen flicked toast crumbs off her nightdress as she read the engagement notices.  Of course he had a fiancée.  “Pity,” she sighed.

The idea had taken root long before she noticed: a seed drifting through her autumn garden.  It was just a thought.  She had not encouraged it, but neither did she uproot it; she liked the way it teased.  It wasn’t a weed, just something unexpected: a bit of welcome chaos in the ordered rows.  She had never even met him.

Later, admiring earrings she pretended he had bought for her, she thought “Still, I’m not bad for fifty.”


He counted every grain the scorpion flicked against his eyelid.  It was drinking his sweat.  Moving, to check that his rifle was still concealed, startled the visitor and it scuttled away. How he hated desert training: searing days, freezing nights, flies, snakes and scorpions, but especially scorpions.  Along the wadi an engine coughed and camels growled good morning.  His target would be coming soon. Sand dribbled again; his visitor was back.  The cold hard metal pressed behind his ear signalled otherwise.  “You plonker,” he thought.  “Sorry Sarge,” he said.”  But, looking up, it was not Sarge.  “Allah hu akbar.”  Click.


 Holed by bad decisions, failed marriages, and plain bad luck, John’s life had run aground. 

He grasped the idea of disappearance with uncharacteristic energy, scanning the news for opportunities.  And then it came: a storm had sunk a ferry only 10 miles up the coast, and a suitcase containing some personal items, if found on the shore, would identify him as one of the lost.  Then he could start again.

Returning home to complete his plan he found the storm had cut the power.  He struck a match but, in his haste to disappear, he had left the gas on.

Food for thought

The birds systematically emptying the nut feeders were suddenly absent.  Speculating where they had gone Steve thought out loud, “I expect they’ve knocked off for lunch.”  Elaine laughed at the absurdity, but at two o’clock exactly back they came.  He wondered.

That evening, following the chattering chaffinches into the woods, he found thousands of them queuing by a “Global Bird Foods” van collecting, exchanging, tiny packets of seed.  In the morning they found his bloodstained clothes, shredded, pecked: nothing else.  Think about it next time you’re buying fat balls: what are they made of exactly? After all, it’s big business. 

98, 99, Coming

 “They’ll never find me here, in the dark” she thought.  She could hear them coming, giggling, scuffling.  “I’ll sit still as a statue.”  The door creaked open and two small faces peeped in.

“Ready or not, here we come.  Are you in here, mummy?” and then triumphantly “Got you!”  Soft skin pressed up against hers, smooth arms that smelled of chocolate and marzipan.  “Tell us a story.”   But she was tired. “Not now, off you go and play some more”. 

Outside, matron comforted them.  “Don’t upset yourselves.  She’s happy, but doesn’t really know you’re here: it takes some like that.”

The Best Holiday

The writing group was set the task to write 500 words, or less, on the above titled topic.  I wrote two (only presenting one).  Here they are.

The Best Holiday #1

 I am in the departure lounge, though anything less lounge-like is hard to imagine: this is no place for indolent relaxation.  I stand because, for someone of my shape and size, there is nowhere to sit.  Even room for standing is in a patchwork of spaces between flight cases, reclining figures attached to devices, discarded food wrappers and unidentifiable spills of fluid.  It is a stale ratatouille with nothing to recommend it but the transience of my part in it.

My wife and our disaffected offspring wander aimlessly through sales aisles of overpowering scent and pointless gadgetry; things that they cannot use at home, things they neither need, nor really want, but neither do they resist, as if satisfying the urge to treat themselves, to anything, is their just reward for enduring the journey. Me?  I drink.

I notice that they are noticed, we are noticed, by others.  People observe, especially when there is little else to do.  They stare casually, without actually looking.  I watch them, watching us over the tops of their screens and drinks cups, reading their curiosity, their judgement and, for some, disgust.  It is quite subtle but I can sense it, even from the back; it is something to do with their body language, nudges, nodding heads and flicking eyes.  Of course we try to blend in wherever we travel but, no matter what outward appearance we adopt, what clothes we wear, what languages we speak, people like us are easily marked as outsiders and unwelcome, even here among others who, like us, do not belong and are just passing through.

When we booked the agent had said “It’s our best summer holiday, and most popular. We send lots of people there, especially families”.  Liar.  We needn’t have come this far at all. I’m going to complain when we get back, and post on Trip Adviser.  It’s all very well sending us to a planet with two suns, but how the hell are you supposed to get a decent tan when the hotel is on the dark side? 

Andrew Gold©

343 Words

26 April 2014

The Best Holiday #2


I suppose that what defines a “Best” holiday will be different for everyone, in every place and in every time.  For those who are deprived of opportunity, like my grandparents were, any kind of holiday would have been the best: perhaps a day trip to Whitby, and a chance to wear a hat for a reason other than a wedding or funeral, would do it for them.

My parents, mostly because of better education, aspired to more ambitious holidays but, while I was growing up, even they were restricted by uncertain income. In the early part of my life the near “Continent”, as it was then called, was their available playground: Calais, Le Touquet, Paris; all places then recently ravaged by war.

In the so-called developed world, the baby-boomers, my generation, have been the first for whom holidays became synonymous with travelling. The availability of relatively cheap mass travel coincided with a notion that one should travel, it was almost an obligation.  Not to travel, or to not have a desire to, was a social impediment so even if you couldn’t afford travel, as it was the “Live now pay later” 60’s, people bought 2 weeks abroad on HP.  Eventually to have not travelled was to be regarded as indicating a certain lack of character when applying for a job or a place in University.

My experience and appreciation of independent travel, as an adult, has been built on all of those factors: increasing income, better education, aspiration, a desire to see and do because I could. What is common to the appreciation of these holiday experiences, across the generations, is how memorable they were, and remain, and with whom they were shared.  I remember, when sent to Bradford while Mum and Dad went to France for a week, sitting with my pinafored grandmother at her oil-cloth covered kitchen table and drawing with thick black crayons on white paper.  I remember, later, playing with my brother among the fortifications and discarded shell cases on beaches in Normandy, and then mackerel fishing with my Dad off the beach in Beer.  Newlywed, I hitchhiked across Europe: six weeks from Ostend to the Black Sea and three hours back on a charter flight. Post-divorce, there were imagined holiday romances; cross-generational holidays in Spain with my parents, my new wife and my children.  These remain, in their memories and mine, as good times. Cruising the Norfolk Broads, moonlight on the Bosphorus, the vastness of the Australian interior, the velvet softness of Tuscan evenings, driving the west coast of highland Scotland, sailing down the Thames as a proper, but London born, tourist: though each would probably be remembered, and judged, differently by others who were there, they are each, in their own ways, the Best Holiday to me.

Andrew Gold©

24 April 2014

463 Words