Nonunhappiness. A deadened, dulled state of existing not living, where the horror of unhappy is avoided at the cost of happy.
Two thirds of the way through every romantic comedy is the part where it’s all going wrong, where I hug a cushion and yell “No ! No ! No !” at the screen and my wife laughs at me for taking it all so seriously.
But without the cushiongrabbing moment there is no heartfilling, triumphal “Yes !”

Wrestling against the edges of emotion is pinning your life to the mat shouting “Submit !”
Through gritted teeth I shout “No ! No ! No !”


Sir Charles sat upright on the stool allowing Knipe his valet to tilt his head back and forth and side to side as the razor scratched and slid across his jaw. Knipe’s fingers tugged at his skin, stretching his face into comical clown shapes and hiding his jawbone under sheets of skin and jowl fat. The towel around his neck smelt freshly laundered, the shaving soap the same blend his father had favoured and Knipe’s father had lathered before him.
Knipe wiped off the last of the soap with a clean flannel into which he had poured cool water and a few drops of lemon oil before handing Sir Charles a fluffy towel with which to dry his face.
“Thank you Knipe. I shall take breakfast in the conservatory.”
“Very good sir”
Knipe placed the towels and flannel into his enamel basin, slotted the razor into his apron pocket along with the soap dish and drew the strop over his shoulder. He headed downstairs to let chef know Sir Charles was ready for breakfast and where it should be served.
His master walked as purposefully as he always did towards the conservatory. The sun was shining, and he felt like sitting amongst his oranges, lemons and olives. A little part of Hampshire rich with the trees of Spain and memories of dark eyes laughing.
He was fondly lost in a long time ago when Sanders came in with his tray.
Swiftly and neatly, he placed the cutlery on the table – a steak knife and a fork, the salt and pepper at nine O’Clock and a glass of water, an apple juice and a strong, black French coffee from twelve to two.
The warmed plate with poached eggs on one slice of granary toast, halved; its flattened edge parallel to the table edge and, as Sir Charles sat, the simple, heavy cotton napkin addressed to his right hand.
“Excellent Sanders. Good man”
Sanders dipped his head in confirmation and silently left the room.
Two shots of black pepper for each egg. One each of salt.
Sir Charles sliced decisively diagonally across each egg, the edge of his mouth curled upwards at the sight of the rich, golden yolk spilling into the channel cut into firm white eggflesh and across the toast. The steak knife then cut clean through the corner of the toast, capturing a neat edge of egg and as his fork pushed through the right angled triangle of toast created he registered the satisfying depth of the toast and its pleasing colour and crunch. Chef had taken care not to let poaching water sit on the egg and wet the toast.
He drank deeply. First the water, then the apple juice and, once the egg was finished, the palette cleansing coffee. He cleaned the edges of his mouth with the napkin and pulled the last bit of egg white from between his front teeth with his tongue.
Standing, he threw the napkin down across the plate and breathed in the mixed citrus oils of his indoor garden. Today was going to be a good day.
As for the rest of the unruly world, he was less sure, but the quest for perfection had started well.


Chimera (n) A grotesque product of the imagination.

Paul doesn’t do imagining. It’s not his thing. He uses tried and tested thoughts that won’t muck about in his head. Thoughts that just get on with the job in hand. Thoughts that haven’t got ideas above their station. So he was more than a little annoyed to discover imaginings crawling unwanted around his skull like ants at a cranial picnic. Bloody things.
He squeezed his eyes tight shut as if that would somehow keep the pictures out, but it was no use. They seemed to enjoy the darkness – it made them brighter, somehow more energetic.
He stuck his fingers in his ears and la la laa’d to fill his head with sound but they just bounced off the echoes and riffed a harmony. One of the little buggers went double time and beat out a scattety rhythm. The little shit.
Paul picked up the paper. Shouldn’t think the Daily Mail had much patience for imagination. It had bugger all patience for anything else, and this sort of namby pamby making-things-up-for-no-good-reason was bound to be the very sort of thing The Mail opposed vigourously. Opposed or not, at every comma, every full-stop, every pause for a fiddly word – they crept in and interrupted him.
Hmmph. It was a lot harder than it ought to have been to stop his own brain from imagining.
His own brain ! Bloody traitor. He started picturing a trial where his brain was on trial for treasonous misconduct against itself, but as the image of his own brain in the dock popped into his mind he gasped in the realisation that he was imagining being tried for the crime of imagining and it all got too much for him.
Paul took his biro out of his jacket pocket, splayed his fingers out flat on the table in front of him and started stabbing the space between his fingers at high speed. He had to focus – eliminate all extraneous thoughts from his head or the conical metal at the biro’s end would come crashing down on hot, soft flesh, piercing the skin and driving the little round ball deep into the bone …
He could still hear the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap of the pen on the table but it was far off while he saw the red and black blood and biro ink spurting from where the pen had not yet speared his finger.
Botheration. There was no way round it. He was going to have to let it imagine stuff.
Let’s be honest. He wasn’t going to let it do anything. It was just bloody well going to do it whether he let it or not.
He breathed out in resignation and settled back to see the show.
Silence. Plain reality before his eyes. Not a fucking peep.
The little bastards – they’d gone. It was as if they didn’t want to play in this big space all on their own. Paul’s brow furrowed. Crap. He missed them now they were gone.


Phil was crammed into the sidewall of the trench trying to get some sleep when the letter fluttered across the lip. A light blue airmail tissue paper butterfly striking terror deep into his very core.
In an old fashioned serif, looking for all the world like it had actually been typed by hand, the letter was as follows :

Dear Sir,

We very much hope that this letter finds you well and that your officers have kept supply lines open in these difficult circumstances.

We are settling down well in the trenches we recently captured from you. Your engineers did a magnificent job building them, they really are first class. The same however cannot be said for your cooks – one of our chaps tasted some food that had been hurriedly left behind as you retreated and the poor fellow hasn’t been quite right since !

We just wanted to drop you a quick line to let you know that our next attack is scheduled for four thirty tomorrow morning. Hope this reaches you in time for you to take appropriate evasive action.
We thought we would preface the main thrust with an artillery barrage for half an hour or so with fairly regular flares so we can all see what’s going on.
Our supply master Wilf is particularly proud of his new delayed action ground clearance wotsit – you shoot it up above the area you want to clear and it howls loudly as it falls from altitude. Not really sure why it has to do that frankly – it’s a little overly dramatic don’t you think ? When it falls into the trench it goes completely silent for a while before exploding into lots of what he calls ‘bomblets’. Little packages the size of a golf ball apparently that bounce around the place making a bit of a mess of things before coming to rest and then exploding too ! No wonder Wilf loves it – howls and hundreds of explosions – he’s just a little boy in a uniform to be honest. The louder it all is, the more he likes it. I don’t deny the little thrill you get when you set one of those things off, but it does make an unholy mess of anyone underneath it when it comes down, so without teaching Grandma how to suck eggs and so on, I would strongly recommend you’re not there when it does.

There are a number of excellent options open for you at the moment, but once we get to four thirty I’m afraid choices will become severely limited. My personal suggestion would be a nice orderly surrender at the dip in the land about five hundred yards south of your current position – or you could of course flee to the rear and fight again another day – it’s really up to you.

Looking forward to meeting you at the dip or in battle someday,


The Gentlemen of the First Brigade, Roxton Harcourt.

Phil shuddered, shook his head slowly and looked to the south where he saw a thin stream of his fellow rebels heading for the dip. He stood to join them.
He was strangely relieved it was over. He looked at his watch to check the date.
September 12th. The end of the civil war.


Shuffle sat back from his workbench and rubbed his eyes.
He had been leaning in to the same fiddly design for hours and the sheer effort of concentration was stitching a knot in the centre of his forehead.
He knew he couldn’t give up, it’s just no one had told him how hard this was going to be.
His father Chaos and his mother Lucky just did this sort of stuff at the breakfast table like it was nothing. A quick squint of the eyes, a wave of the hand and whoosh ! There it was. New matter.
Dad’s brother Entropy was the family genius though. He was the creating force behind some of the compounds that everyone just thinks have been here forever – things like water, salt and Kraft Singles.
Dad said Entropy had some sort of condition that meant he kept on growing all the time so he couldn’t do the detailed work any more, he said these days Entropy was working on whole systems of galaxies, building huge factories instead of just single atoms and molecules.
It sounded cool, but Shuffle thought it must be lonely up there weaving wormholes and juggling gravity. Kind of made you grateful for just hanging out with a friend, playing some tunes, maybe going to a party and playing at being a DJ.
“Right. This stupid matter isn’t going to invent itself”, thought Shuffle, so he cracked his knuckles, stretched his back and focused all the energy he had on the space just above the surface of the workbench.
The air grew brighter and energy spat and sizzled, trying to stop him from catching it and turning it into matter. The plasma was dripping now, little globs of white sticky stuff escaping the shape he intended for them.
“No fucking way” he thought and pushed the drops back into the shape that was so nearly forming in front of him and then all of a sudden the air popped and an object fell onto the worktop.
Shuffle looked at it in amazement. His very first creation. Right here, in his very own room.
The family business was safe. He could do it ! The sense of relief was overcome by the rush of celebration. He had to tell someone. Show someone.
“Mum ! Mum ! Come up here ! I’ve done it !”
Lucky walked into her son’s room and looked at the new thing.
“It’s lovely dear”, she said.
“What is it ?”
“It’s called an iPod Mum”
“Well whatever it is, it’s lovely dear. Well done” and she kissed him on the head.


She told all her followers I was enigmatic.
I think she means it as some sort of compliment, but she’s basically saying I’m incomprehensible.
Ineffable I could accept, if what she was saying was that I was too great to be expressed in words; but she isn’t. She’s just saying she doesn’t get me. Some compliment.

Enigma is an inherently fraudulent word.
You take a problem you have; that you do not understand someone, and you make it an attribute of theirs.
It’s like saying “You are beautiful” when what you really mean is “I am drunk.”

So, we can choose to do a few things now.
I could just carry on being common or garden, ordinary me.
She can carry on not knowing what the hell I’m talking about.
As long as she puts that down to ‘Enigmatism’, we’re alright for a while. We should however prepare ourselves for the inevitable truth that sooner or later she will get bored with not understanding me, and leave.

I could just carry on being common or garden, ordinary me.
She could work really hard to try and understand me.
This could go really well – she improves her mind, reads widely and begins to understand what the Farquhar I’m on about, and I see her new found comprehension, admire her for having worked so hard to acquire it and bond with the new, comprehending her.
That’s a pretty bloody long shot though.
Far more likely is that I will have already pigeonholed her in the ‘nice but never mind’ category, so whilst I may respect her as a person, I will never see her as an equal – and who’s to say when she’s decoded me that we will agree ? It may be that when she understands me, she hates me. Hmm. This is just not the way to go.

I could stop being me. It’s probably for the best. I can simplify what I’m saying and the thoughts that blaze through my (sorry I’ve distracted myself with the ludicrous hubris of ‘blaze’) tinder box brain. That way I will stop being quite so incomprehensible to her. That’s a lovely idea but a) No respect and (should have been a)) Bloody impossible.

She could run away. It’s a very bad idea loving someone you don’t understand. I could be anything: a conman, a serial killer, I could be keeping twelve former lovers in my basement. I’m not, but I could be (I’m not though, I don’t even have a basement.) Maybe the smart thing for her to do is to run a mile and forget she ever knew me ?

You know what ? No two beings can ever truly understand each other.
They end up having to say something like “I like the cut of your jib” and accepting the rest in the spirit of love.
She’s my priestess. I’m her common or garden, ordinary god.
She’s devoted the vast majority of her adult life to worshipping me, even though she doesn’t fully understand me. A better demonstration of enduring trust and love would be hard to find.
I like the cut of her jib.


If you’ve been here before you’ll know I write a lot of short pieces as part of writing challenges on Twitter. This week’s keyword was ‘Enigma’. My home town is Cheltenham, home of GCHQ. I couldn’t resist.


Inevitable Truth

“Truth” said Gerald “is like the inevitable fart at a funeral. If you don’t control when it escapes, it’ll come out at the worst time possible.”

Gerald was the head of London’s premiere PR Consultancy, Gerald, Gerrald and Cherrold.
“PR” said Gerald “is not about lying. It’s about knowing how to tell what proportion of which truth to whom and when.”

If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound completely honest, you’re right. Gerald’s whole approach to public relations is about making choices.

“It’s easy to catch out someone who’s lying. It’s a lot harder to call them dishonest when everything they’ve said is true.”
“A journalist is not a fact finding machine, he is generally a fact checking machine. Give him something to check and you’ll make him happy. Make that something true and you’ll make him think his job is done. Very few of them ever check what they haven’t been told.”

It was Gerald, Gerrald and Cherrold’s reputation for managing ‘little situations’ that made Charles Storrington ring their number.

“I’d like to speak to Gerald, Gerrald or Cherrold please”
“Gerald speaking.”
“I need your help.”
“Good help is bloody expensive.”
“Not a concern.”
“Come on in then. Don’t tell me your name on the phone. When you get here, ask for Primus at Reception. They’ll come and get me.”

Storrington began to explain himself to Gerald.
“It started as a matter of principle. I think I really believed that the public had a right to know if their elected officials were able to keep their most personal promises – their wedding vows. Then I got married and I got elected. When DC offered me the opportunity to write a private members bill I thought I would demonstrate my high moral principles, so I wrote a bill mandating a Register of Marital Fidelity. MPs were allowed to sleep with whoever they chose, but they had to enter their name in the register. I never really thought the MP’s would vote for it.
What I hadn’t accounted for was a high profile minister getting caught telling secrets to his Russian mistress just before the vote, and I didn’t think my girlfriend would get quite so publicly pissed off.”
“She doesn’t want her name in the Register ?”
“I am not her only indiscretion, and her husband puts her regular absence down to an obsession with her work, rather than an over-abundance of libido.
There aren’t a lot of women as senior as her in her line of work. He thinks she just over-compensates.”
“What line of business is she in ?”
“She’s a bishop.”
It didn’t take Gerald long before he knew what to do.
He picked up his phone and hit the speed dial button for the blogger journo with the fastest story turnover and largest readership. The papers and the telly would be too bothered about playing catch up to bother with the missing details.
“Jenny ? I’ve got a Conservative MP schtupping a bishop. You want to know the twist ? He’s straight.”

Indecision : Jane and the Mayor

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I am shocked to report complaints that this fine gobbledygook doesn’t make sense ! Pish and nonsense ! Try this :

I can’t decide on account of this indecision, whether this story ought to be spelt in the way it sounds, or the way you was taught to. Personally, I tend towards the ludicrous. That is why people like me are always tittering like a silly schoolgirl.

Once upon a time there was a nice little girl called Jane.
Jane lived in a little cottage on the edge of a big city.
The mayor of this city was totally bonkers. He was called Boris.
Jane grew up in the same street as the mayor’ house, so Jane knew a few little secrets Boris would have rather not be known.
Boris decided to kill poor Jane.
When the mayor got to Jane’s house he discovered there was no-one in. Furious, the mayor ordered all the police to find her and kill her.
Jane’s Mama and Papa heard about the mayor’s evil plan, so they sent her to live with a friend.
For days the mayor searched all over the streets but Jane could not be found, so he arrested her peace loving Mama and Pop.
When she heard how Boris had thrown her poor folks in the slammer Jane wrote a letter to the mayor which said :
Either you release the parents and resign your post or I tell everyone what you done sir.
The mayor realised that she wasn’t going to let him off and he set them free. He then scarpered and was never seen no more.
Jane lived happily in the city and when she grew up she became a politician.


The curved edge of the blade tugged urgently at the underside of her skin as he swept his hand across the side of her neck. If her heart had still been pumping, blood would have obscured his view, but she was just dead enough for him to cut with precision and not so long dead that her skin had lost its feeling of life.
Each line he drew formed one side of a shape. A pattern he could see while she had still been dressed and breathing. A vivid lattice of white and rose and purple and red. Human marquetry – just walking around, blithely breathing in and out, in and out, waiting for the form of the art to be discovered. Blind to its own role in the production.
He worked quickly and yet with great care. It was the early hours of Sunday morning but he did not have the advantage of darkness as his cloak – that was reserved for the hackers. He needed bright light so he could clearly see the next line, the grain of the muscle under her skin, the overall design taking form.
He needed bright light once he was gone too so that those who stumbled on his gallery could fully appreciate the majesty of his work.
The last section, the speckling of her cheek complete, he stood to consume her with his eyes for the last time.
As he cleaned his blades and placed them neatly in their roll he felt the elation reserved for a fantastically small number of artists. Painters did not have to catch their canvas, sculptors did not need to subdue their clay, even glorious cabinet makers do not kill their own trees. How many others felt as he felt now ? He knew of no-one.
The site prepared he turned away from her and walked purposefully in the direction of home. It was a long way, and now that he was no longer creating, he felt the chill of the small hours seeping in. He could not afford to be seen hurrying, just walking as if he had an absolute right to be going from one place to another, so he could not speed up to warm himself. Soon enough the chill extended to his mood. The thought of Sunday morning and trudging to church with his wife because she needed to go and feel the glow of God’s forgiveness beaming from the priest’s beatific chubby face.
A glow he knew was not his to be felt. Forgiveness was something no man could bestow upon him. No man could begin to fathom how much there was to forgive.
He quietly opened the back door and walked into the kitchen where he sat down to take off his shoes.
His dog looked up at him, got up from his bed, walked to where he sat and gently licked the back of his hand letting him ruffle the top of his head before slinking back to bed and curling up to sleep.
His dog knew he was free from blame and worthy of love. Maybe if he asked the dog nicely he’d put in a word for him with the big Dog upstairs.