New Year’s Eve 1973

Image: sjdents0 Pixabay

‘Lesley Howard?’ Patricia pulled on her cigarillo, puffed a cloud of blue grey smoke into the air. ‘Is that the Brief Encounter chap?’

‘No, that’s Trevor Howard. Leslie Howard was Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.’

Patricia selected a card from the hand she was playing and slapped it on the green baize table. ‘So in answer to the question, “which film actor would you want to be”, you choose the one who loses the girl.’

Bobby rubbed his stocking feet against the flank of a dozing Labrador. Firelight flickered around the living room, casting picturesque shadows over the threadbare rug, the stacks of mouldering newspapers. ‘Always seemed like a decent sort,’ he said. ‘Shot down over the Bay of Biscay, 1943.’

‘A dead war hero? So decent, so proper, such a good egg.’

He recognised the hard chink in her voice. ‘You and Scotch do not make happy companions.’

She raised a hand. ‘I’m just saying you sound very alike, you and your dead actor.’

‘Oh, yes?’

‘Always doing the right thing. Fighting for King and country. So noble. So very, very bland.’

Bobby reached for his own glass. New Year’s Eve and she was as impossible as always. Well, this year he refused to bite. ‘Who would you be then? Greta Garbo, I suppose, wanting to be alone?’

Patricia’s teeth chinked against her glass tumbler as she threw her head back, laughing hoarsely. ‘No, not Garbo. Too sulky. Perhaps Marlene Dietrich in Morocco. Remember that scene? Her in a top hat and tails?’

‘Huh. Very, very you.’

She raised her glass. ‘I always was the butch one, dear.’ She drained the last of her Scotch, rolled the glass between the palms of her hands. ‘Ideally, I would have been Gable.’

‘Clark Gable?’

Patricia nodded. ‘That sharp moustache, the oiled hair, stamping around the Deep South, shooting Yankees.’ Then with a watery smile, she added, ‘Not giving a damn.’


I’m currently planning a new novel and these are two of the main characters. Their spiky relationship keeps drawing me back and Patricia talks to me, even when I don’t necessarily want her to.

For reference, the novel is set in the early 1970s and they’re both in their 70s, hence the selection of old film stars.

NB For those too young to know…

To learn more about Leslie Howard, Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter, Gone with the Wind, Clark Gable, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo, follow the links.


What Pegman Saw: Ironwood

Image: Google Street View

The Compound was as I’d imagined – clipped lawns, blocky redbrick buildings, rows of undernourished Ironwood trees lining cobbled paths. Everything beautifully neat and clean, conscientiously scrubbed of personality.

It was hard to imagine Fiona teaching there. Her rooms at Oxford had been a cave of crumbling books on every subject from alchemy to growing bonsai trees, archaic scientific instruments, fossils – there had even been a stuffed alligator suspended from the ceiling until the porters put in a complaint to the college chancellor.

How could the jigsaw of her personality – the pot smoking, Scotch drinking, jazz playing academic – possibly slot into that sterile institution?

“Hi-ho, stranger!” She pulled me into a bear hug, at once uncomfortable and comforting. “How you doing?” She held me at arms length, examining my face. “Let’s retire to my snug,” she said, threading her arm through mine. “Jim Beam is waiting.”


Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that uses Google Street View. This week we visit Singapore. See here to join the fun.


The Ironwood tree (Eusideroxylon zwageri) is a rare hardwood tree native to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines known for its resistance to fungus, insects and bacteria. It’s a tough old devil, in other words and I thought it made a good analogy for Fiona – resistant to change, very much a survivor!

What Pegman Saw: The only honest soul

Image : Google Street View

Maria was the town’s scarlet woman, though she didn’t help herself.

Well into middle age her hair changed with the seasons – auburn, black, white blond, gold – while the wives of the village turned a respectable steel grey. And while the Mamas went to market in buttoned up dresses and skirts to their thick calves, Maria’s cleavage was always golden in the sun, a camelia nestled in the chasm.

Her neighbour Dorothea would tut over shared cups of black sweet tea and hand rolled cigarettes. ‘Got to play the game, girl. Whole town’s built on lies – why’d you have to be the only honest soul?’

When Maria died her memorial was there among the others, jostling with the Mamas who’d feared her, the Papas who’d loved her. And though she had no family and Dorothea had already passed, there was always a freshly picked camelia tucked by her smiling image.


Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we are in Patagonia, Chile.

As it’s Mother’s Day here in the UK this weekend, I have a very busy week ahead, so please forgive me if it takes a few days for me to reply to your comments. Normal-ish service will be resumed soon.

Friday Fictioneers: Magda’s Triumph


We’d hear the phut-phut of the old Triumph motor bike minutes before seeing it. As it drew nearer, other sounds – the twin rattles of the sidecar’s loose wheel and the cage strapped to the pillion with cable ties.

The din snaked along cobbled lanes, in through open windows, drowned out the excited yabber of playing kids, of old time tunes on the radio.

Then Magda would appear in scratched goggles and a flying helmet, squint-eyed cat pressed to the floor of the cage, claws locked round the wires.

Magda chose to be alone, mum said, but I never learned why.


Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See the pic and write a tale and don’t forget to read and comment on others, found here.

Three Line Tales: Artist unknown

three line tales, week 153: a lot of paintings

photo by Beata Ratuszniak via Unsplash

All day he crouched, limbs folded tight as a disused easel, eyes on the cobbles, on scuffed work boots and tightly tied Oxfords with leather slick and shiny as glass.

I never saw him look up, never saw him sell a painting or the configuration of brightly coloured canvases change.

He’s gone but the canvases remain, peeled and paled, the gallery of an unknown, unknowable artist.


Written for Three Line Tales. See the pic and write a tale. See here to join in.

All fur coat and no knickers : The Daily Prompt : Facade

Glamorous female model smoking

Image: Pixabay


Your facade reminds me of a country house – grand but stony. I wonder if there are other similarities.

Does your beautiful exterior hide decrepitude, hidden portions of yourself you’d rather others did not peek at? No doubting you are presentable when you’ve had fair warning of visitors, but if we look a little deeper, are there places – hidden behind a red silk rope – unavailable to the public? With an air of dusty neglect and just a whiff of rodent?

If I pulled aside the curtain of your respectablilty, would I find rotting waste, a thousand dirty, hidden little secrets swept out of sight of prying eyes?

Just tell me – are you all fur coat and no knickers?


Written for The Daily Post’s Daily Prompt – FACADE. Write a post to accompany the word and why not pop along here to read the other posts.

A man always walking in shadow

Scruffy tie and shirt

Image : Pixabay

Does he look in the mirror before he leaves the house?

At the shirt, discoloured from over washing, dimpled fabric that never sees an iron. A sheen of sweat coats him even on the coolest days and dirt driven into pores makes his skin grey – a man always walking in shadow. A broad, flat smile – mouth stretched wide – is his permanent expression, revealing chipped teeth stained ivory by early morning nicotine and late night coffee. A furred tongue licks feathered lips.

He tries hard to be someone, but he can’t hide the truth. It’s there in his eyes.

He’s afraid. Of failure. Of being seen to fail. He works hard achieving nothing and knows one day the facade of competence he’s built to fool himself and the world will be shattered by a misplaced word or a slip on a keyboard, taking job and money, family – his sense of self – with it.

That day will come but not today. Today, he survives.






Miss Honeysuckle Cottage


Her name is Dina but we call her ‘Miss Honeysuckle Cottage’ between ourselves as that’s the name of her house- crumbling, golden stone and a gate that needs oiling. There’s no honeysuckle in the garden, but bedding plants so neatly spaced they could have been measure by a ruler.

I see her coming along the street before she sees me. Her back’s bowed, her neck fixed at an angle as if she’s constantly fascinated by something just in front of her feet. Her gait is determined, her stick whacks the ground with each step as if to show she’s not ready to slip beneath it yet.

Her basket- the weave baggy, stitching coming loose on the handle- hangs from knotted knuckles and when she enters the shop, she bangs it on the counter. The bottom of the basket’s lined with newspaper, ready to receive the day’s plants.

‘Hello, Lynn, dear. I wonder if you have any more of the polyanthus? I have a gap.’

Her voice is pure Celia Johnson- clipped, rather formal. The skin on her forearms is lightly tanned and papery, but her muscles are still taut with not an ounce of spare flesh. I imagine her as a girl, playing in the hockey team, whispered conversations in the dorm after lights out. Her speech is peppered with ‘awfully kind’, ‘terribly good’. She never lets you call her ‘Miss’, only ever Dina.

I try to ask how she’s been, if she recovered from her fall, but she doesn’t hear a word. She tells me she’s deaf, but I know that- I’ve been shouting at her since he walked through the door.

She shuffles out to look over the plants, hand curling around the doorframe for support, each step carefully placed as she crosses the threshold.

‘No, no, yellow won’t do. And I can’t have white- never have white.’ She chooses three pink polys and I put them carefully in the basket for her.

‘Don’t get old, dear, never get old,’ she says.

I know her eyes water constantly and she has a paper hanky tucked up her sleeve so she can wipe them. Her opalescent cataracts reflect light like grey mirrors.

‘It’s hard work being old.’

She was a singer. An alto. She toured the region, filling concert halls. I imagine her taller, back straight, wrinkle-free, chin tilted high.

‘No microphones back then, dear.’

I imagine her wearing a satin gown, sheer fabric falling slick over her boyish frame, hair in pin curls or coiled into a bun at the nape of her neck. What did she sing- arias or something more current? But my question falls away unheard, unanswered.

She holds out her open purse and I take a neatly folded fiver. I make a point of holding up the note for her to see, counting the change back in. She gets anxious if she loses track of her money.

‘I must go. I need to mow the lawn before the girl comes to do my hair.’

I smile and nod and she waves her stick in farewell.

Day Six of Writing 101- write a character study of the most interesting person you’ve met this year.

Here she is. Possibly one of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life. Still determined, still winning the war, though the daily battles grind her down sometimes.