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Five short stories based around one of the commonest phrases in modern English spoken Language

Composed by Dave Hambidge, previously published on this blog in 2007, reviewed and tarted up 18 September 2009.


Karen looked at the blue dot with excitement and fear. A blue dot had started their relationship, perhaps this one would finish it?

I had the sometime dubious pleasure of working with both the organisations who meet in this story.

Just how would Rob react to her early morning discovery? Telephoning him at the hospital was not the way, Karen would have to wait. At least until Rob had finished his week of night shift duty on the paediatric ward. As she showered, breakfasted and put on her own work uniform, Karen allowed her memories to recall the last two years.

Royal Air Force from 1976 – 1994 Her engineering Sergeants uniform had been brand new when

National Health Service from 1994-1999

they first met. For Karen it had been an important first welfare visit, to one of her airmen whose child had been badly injured in a car accident. For Rob they were just another terrified family keeping a

This is dedicated to those who do in either.

vigil by an intensive care bed, desperate for the increasingly unlikely good news.

Having so recently been posted to RAF Shackleford, Karen had only met the father on an officer chaperoned new broom visit to

Her attention was repeatedly drawn to the comatose child, but her professional concentration was for the life support apparatus.

each section. Fortunately, his personal dossier held the necessary details that allowed her to break the frozen formality.

Electronics, gadgets and gizzmos had always fascinated Karen and helped her to achieve in the man’s world of military aviation.

“Hello, Andrew. Stay sitting, please.” Turning to the pale faced red-eyed wreck next to him, “You must be Jade. I’m Sgt. Prince

She scanned the dials, screens and symbols, guestimating their meaning.

from the squadron. I’m sorry that we have to meet like this.” She glanced at the small, corpse like bundle on the elevated cot. Little

Andrew, desperate for some general conversation, briefly

Jana was connected by so many cables and pipes to a bank of

explained what he understood to be their function. As he did so,

machines surrounding her that Karen could only see, in her mind’s

Karen noted a triangular cluster of three blue lights where just one

eye, one of the aircraft turbofan engines on a test bed.

was flashing. She knew that vital signs would be red or yellow and routine green; blue was probably a warning of potential problems.

“How is your daughter?” Andrew tried to explain whilst his wife’s sobbing blended with the noise of the equipment to produce a dismal dirge. Soon the tense dialogue was exhausted and Karen was floundering for something to say.

Relieved to have an excuse to leave the tableau, Karen quietly excused herself and went to the nurses station.

“Sorry to bother you, can I speak to the nurse who’s looking

“Sergeant, I hope you’re not harbouring any infections?” joked

after Jana, please?” Karen’s surprise at the upturning face having

Robert as he stood up and winked at her. “Thank you. Yes, that

a full moustache was nothing to the thrill created by his steel blue

blue light shouldn’t be flashing.” He turned to the suddenly alert

eyes, tired smile and rich West Country voice.

parents. “But it is nothing to worry about though, Jade. It’s a warning that one of the three reserve batteries needs replacing.”

“That’ll be me. How can I help?”

He looked at Andrew. “They only get used if the mains and

“Er, um,” she stuttered, “I don’t wish to interfere but one of the

standby generator fail at the same time and I’ve never known that

monitors has a light flashing. Should it?” “Maybe. Let’s go have a look. Are you a relative?”

to happen. I’ll go and fetch a spare. Would you all like a tea or coffee perhaps?”

“No. I’m just his,” pointing at Andrew, “ boss at work. A routine welfare visit. Nothing much else we can do at such a time but show support.” “Well, it’s nice to see that somebody cares.”

The three adults sat in silence and attempted to sip their scalding drinks, willing Jana to wake up. After half an hour of demanding inactivity, Karen took her leave of the sad little family and carried the tray of empty cups back to the desk.

As he bent forward to examine the monitor Karen had indicated, she noted Robert Stevens on his chest badge, and

“Thanks for the brew, Robert. It tasted marginally better than

muscular buttocks thinly covered by white cotton trousers. Karen

our Naafi stuff.” Robert smiled again, apparently naive to the effect

flushed and then coughed to hide her embarrassment.

it generated.

A decent Italian coffee after work led to delightfully indecent “You’re welcome,” he glanced at her left breast jacket pocket,

sexual activity at his flat.

“Sgt. Prince. You have me at a disadvantage. Is that you first or second name?”

Jana eventually woke up, to her parents great joy, and was moved out of intensive care, to Karen’s guilty regret. Yet, her

Karen laughed out loud, attracting glances from all around the

relationship with Robert continued to flourish, assisted by their

six bedded ward of humourless suffering. “Second. Karen Prince.

frequently incompatible shift duties. Only being able to see each

Pleased to meet you Staff Nurse Robert Stevens.” They shook

other once every five to ten days certainly kept the fires of lust

hands across the desk.


“Er, mmpphh. Yes. Slight fever, cough and rapid heart beat. Are

So much so that Robert suggested that Karen move in with

you quite well?” enquired Robert. “I hope not,” replied Karen as

him. And the relationship survived the squadron’s emergency four

she walked away, “see you again, perhaps?”

month detachment to Italy as part of the NATO presence over the Balkans. Robert even took part of his holiday to join Karen there.

And they did meet, three times over the next week, as Karen apparently dutifully discharged her welfare role whilst chatting up

They talked about anything and everything, particularly the

this gorgeous man. She soon discovered that the stereotype of a

petty peculiarities of life in a uniformed service. But never about

male nurse was as inaccurate as that of a female engineer.

their long term future; commitment and children, mortgages and marriage.

Karen knew that they had to consider these matters now that the blue dot could signal the end of a perfect period in Karen’s life.

They smooched and gyrated amongst the press of couples who mouthed sweet nothings under the noise and layer of cigarette smoke.

She and Robert would not be in the flat, at the same time and both awake, until Friday evening. Then only long enough to get

Seizing the moment, and his bottom in her hands, Karen pulled

formally dressed, she in mess kit and he in DJ, ready for the

Robert towards her and shouted in his ear, “Robert, I’m pregnant.”

squadron Annual Dinner. Not the best time for a deeply meaningful

His head shot backwards and half turned away from her.

life changing discussion. But Karen could not put off the inevitable. Karen started to remove her hands, desperately saddened by The formal reception and dinner passed smoothly enough. Mercifully brief toasts and speeches allowed the 350 service

Roberts apparent reaction. Suddenly he looked back, leant forward and shouted into her ear, “What did you say?”

personnel, with roughly the same number of guests, to relax into informal chat, heavy drinking and deafening dancing. Karen and

Karen plucked up courage and went for it. “Robert Stevens, will

Robert were well known as an item and orbited numerous groups

you marry me and make our child legitimate?” His beaming,

before landing on the dimly lit disc floor.

whooping bear hug was quite sufficient reply.


Ms. Charmaine Smith, FRCS, recently qualified surgeon and newly appointed Senior Registrar was anxiously confident about

This tale interweaves three figures who had a significant effect in the early years on my clinical practice.

1972... A very short recently qualified lady doctor when I was a voluntary ward help. 1978... A certain professor of surgery;

her days work. She had survived her first week at St. Edmund's Teaching Hospital in London. As the first ever woman to be recruited to this prestigious post, Charmaine knew that her career, and the future for women generally in medicine, was at stake. Today’s operating list, the first in her own name, was all relatively trivial and routine. Ostensibly she would be supervised by her consultant, Sir Hector Dean. In reality, he would be occupied in a major operation, amputating the cancerous leg of a young boy.

those who need to know will know! 1980... Sir Douglas himself, a hero...

Sir Hector loved being at the centre of the drama in “his theatre”. He would play to the audience and actually expect a round of applause at the end. Rather, the audience would have to play to his rules.

Sir Hector was a tyrannical bully, a fearsome mix of misogynist

Prospects for female doctors in 1970 were still bleak, but much

male chauvinism. Hospital staff of all ages and sexes would open

better then 25 years before when her mother, academically

and close doors for him; nobody, apart from the patient, was

brilliant, was refused by every medical school because men

allowed to sit down in his presence. He would throw notes across

returning from the war took priority. Despite the fact that mother

the ward during rounds and instruments at the wall whilst

had served with the VAD in North West Europe after D-Day, and


seen more than anybodies fair share of blood and guts.

Hectoring students gave him the greatest pleasure, particularly if his victim became distressed or distraught.

Charmaine knew that her own willpower to succeed was partly driven by the righteous injustice her mother still harboured. So, there would inevitably be confrontations with her boss, more

Nobody liked him and behind his back Sir Hector Dean was despised and tolerated with hate. Yet, he was a brilliant practical

boxing than Shakespearian drama, but not until she had established herself in this new post.

surgeon, “a good cutter�, which was why Charmaine had applied to be his most senior apprentice. If she could survive, against all the

Charmaine deliberately arrived early at the hospital to check on

odds, for four years under his tutelage then she would become

all the firms patients, and ensure that those to be operated upon

only the third female consultant surgeon in the whole of the NHS.

were ready. She utilized her private mnemonic for the latter, CRAP.

Consent form signed; records and X-rays all together; annotate

Partly it was done for dramatic effect and partly to remind the

operation site by drawing on the skin over it; prescribe relevant

hospital how much it relied on him alone. Sometimes, as today, it


was because an early morning private case had over-run, leaving Sir Hector Dean even more irritating and touchy than usual.

The poor child due to go under the Knight's knife was terrified and whimpering despite the best efforts of its mother. Charmaine

Charmaine peered into the main surgical theatre from the

deftly injected the child with some more sedative that, temporarily,

central scrub room to observe the full entourage of unlucky

put him to sleep for the skin to be marked.

students, three nurses and two anaesthetists. Surrounded by the elevated and enclosed gallery that was crowded with disinterested

As she hurried to the operating suite to scrub for her first procedure, Ms. Smith made a mental note to talk with the firms

observers only present to avoid Sir Hector’s censure for not having been in attendance for this fully staged set piece.

most junior doctor about the need for extra pre-op medication in children about to have biggies.

Halfway through her final case she heard him bellowing, “Ask Miss Charming to join me, when she can spare a moment. Oh, and

Despite giving all her concentration to each of her own cases,

find her some steps.” Pulling herself up to her full height of 4 feet

Charmaine was vaguely aware that Sir Hector was late in starting

10 ¾ inches, Charmaine smiled at her solitary nurse assistant and

his. Her predecessor had briefed Charmaine about the bosses

their trainee anaesthetist.

poor time keeping.

The latter made the sign of a cross towards her, quietly

She was standing on the wrong side of the child to be assisting.

muttering, “In the name of the father etcetera- go and show the silly

Either Sir Hector was going to test her out by letting her do the

old bastard how to do it. Amen. And you’ve never heard of me,

cutting, or the great surgeon was preparing to amputate the wrong


leg. Charmaine looked around then uncovered the partly cleansed limb. No annotation mark that she herself had made barely three

She found the atmosphere in the larger suite to be too tense for

hours before. Had Sir Hector rubbed it off? It would be highly

comfort. Manoeuvring to the place opposite him indicated by Sir

irresponsible and unprofessional behaviour, but anything was

Horace, Charmaine could clearly see that one of the nurses had

possible with him.

been crying, presumably after a bawling out. The “old MCP” was rutting and she would have to be careful to not be gored.

Carefully, whilst everyone else was attending to the learned discourse flowing forth at the X-ray viewing screen, Charmaine

Sir Horace again left the table to, quite unnecessarily,


lifted the protective covering from the leg nearest to her. The large

examine the X-rays and fire irrelevant anatomical questions at

black arrow was clearly visible to her and the horrified scrub nurse.

some of the cowering students following in his wake.

Silently she replaced the drape and considered her options. If she openly drew her superiors attention to this apparent error, the

Charmaine half listened as she counted the clean swabs with the still sniffling staff nurse. And then an enormous revelation hit her like a ton weight.

public loss of face and ridicule of him would be devastating. But, to do nothing was inconceivable.

Looking up, Sir Hector had returned and was staring at her.

Playing the trouper to the very end, Sir Hector suddenly

Taking a deep breath, Charmaine spoke. “Have you ever met Sir

stumbled forward, gasping and clutching at his chest. As he

Douglas Bader?”

controlled his graceful collapse, he deliberately dragged the instrument tray off its stand and clattered its contents over the

Sir Hector leaned forward and hissed through his surgical

patient and floor.

mask. “What, did you say? You speak when I say so, woman!” Leaving the prone surgeon to be cared for by some of the Charmaine flushed, also leaned forward and muttered into his

startled onlookers, Charmaine and the scrub nurse swiftly re-

ear. “Bader had both legs amputated and so will this child. You’re

arranged the sterile drapes, exposing the correct limb for

about to remove the wrong leg, Sir!”


Sir Hector Dean went very pale, coughed twice and stood

Only one of the anaesthetists spotted their slight of hand and

upright. His head remained quite still as his eyes scanned all

himself went pale with fright. He swallowed hard then spoke up.

around him. How would he get out of this? Amputating the wrong

“Ready whenever you are Ms Smith. I assume that Sir Hector

leg! A surgeon's worst nightmare.

knew Sir Douglas?

Angela awoke with a start, bathed in sweat, disorientated and

TIMING IS EVERYTHING I took-up rowing for just a couple of years when I first went to medical school. I do wish that I had tried the sport earlier,

alone in her Queen sized bed. As the nightmare cleared, an almost worse reality fought into her consciousness. Being single second time around, and not by your own choice, was not the pleasant liberation that the “chik lit” portrayed. Put back on the shelf at thirty-something was a crushing blow that made teenage fears of being left up there trivial girlish concerns.

much safer than rugby football. Exchanged for a younger, sleeker model, literally, had left Angela feeling like a scrap yard wreck, too many miles on the clock


despite only one fairly careful driver. And “The Bastard”, previously known as Gerry, had done it all,

Timing is everything to get the show going !

moved out 3 months ago and left a pathetically brief note, rather than face her when she got back from the annual conference in Edinburgh.

At least he’d left some cash, all the plastic cards and house

Angela eat her usual pre-exercise breakfast of orange juice and

keys, and not emptied the bank accounts. Still, what a bastard

two bananas as she loaded the washing machine with the few

way to do it after the classic seven years together.

items one person creates in a week of office based activity. At least Angela could travel away to the factory and customers every

His friends avoided her, as did most of their previous acquaintances. How long had they all known about Tracey, 38 DD

so often. Poor old Laura was stuck at her desk, unless she got promoted.

and the same IQ? Angela stopped looking for dirty clothes and sat down with her Fortunately some of Angela’s work and rowing colleagues had

drink. Was that why Laura had been so pleasant and helpful the

remained loyal to her, so this week-end, her twelfth since

last few weeks? Was she angling after a good reference from

abandonment, didn’t seem too bleak.

Angela? Could that be for the post as PA to head of Finance?

A morning rowing session with Graham of two miles rigorous

The permanent obviously wasn’t coming back from maternity

race rehearsal; domestic chores then a girl’s night in with Laura

leave and temps cost a fortune and were useless in that sort of job.

from the company. Red wine, pizza and garlic bread, more red

A helping hand from Angela, as complaints manager, could ease

wine, crappy old black and white video with plenty of tissues and

Laura’s rise from the admin pool.

finish the red wine, hopefully, before passing out.

She certainly knew her computing and the company’s way of

Whatever, today she and Graham had one extra practice

doing things after, what, nearly two years. Yes, if asked, Angela

session before the mixed pair race at next weekends club regatta.

would be pleased to give Laura a good reference.

That would be her thirteenth without Gerry, a lucky number?

Angela was jolted back to mundane Saturday morning by her

She was tying her trainers as the front door bell rang.

alarm clock ringing. Graham should be here in ten minutes. Time to change clothes and concentrate. Ever since university days when she had discovered the joys of

That was odd. Graham normally waited in his car having tooted the air horn on

rowing, Angela had taken her participation in the sport seriously.

his souped up Mini. He was a good rower, but not a Redgrave or a

The few medals on the living room wall symbolised the

Pinsent in the personality department. Charm was the gold object

commitment, distraction, relaxation and simple fun that rowing

on a thick chain round his neck.

provided. Angela hopped to the door and opened it as the bell rang again, Gerry, before he became the bastard, had got a bit tired of her

to confront Laura. Not just Laura but a big bunch of flowers and a

regular gym training and practising. Perhaps he had come to

bulging supermarket carrier. “Morning dearey! Hope I’m not too

prefer Tracey’s bust to her own biceps and brain?

early. Can I come in?”

“Well, yes, if you want. But I’m due to go out rowing any moment. In fact I thought it was Graham calling.” She paused, “No, dammit, we’ll start early. Come in, come in” A transient puzzlement passed across Laura’s face but was

“Good,” replied a relieved Laura, “would you fancy fresh croissants and real coffee when you get back?” “Yes, that would be delicious. I’ll show you around”. The tour of the house took a surprisingly long time as Laura

covered by the door’s shadow. Laura was sure that the e-mail had

commented on the decorations and asked questions of the few

said 0830 hours on Saturday. Perhaps Angela had forgotten with

remaining photos on display.

all the aggravations going on. Suddenly Angela jumped up from the sofa. “Nine o’clock “How long will you be gone for?” asked Laura as he pulled the door closed.

already. Where is he? He’s only ever been late when pissed from last night. I’ll try his phone.”

“Couple of hours at the most. Fifteen minute drive each way, hour on the water, rest for warm up and cool down.”

She returned to Laura in the lounge after using the handset by the bedside. “Graham has never totally forgotten. But there’s no

“Shall I make brunch for the three of us then?” Laura said in what Angela later recalled as a hesitant voice. “Graham Jenkins in my house! Not a chance. He looks decorative but has the manners of a gorilla. No!”

answer from his home or his mobile. And the rowing club say he isn’t there either. Dammit!”

“Never mind. How’s about breakfast now and then hit the shops?” Angela smiled, “I haven’t been proper shopping for, yes, 85 days. Bugger all men! Let’s go for it.”

“Are you having one?” Angela looked up from the worktop to see Laura enter in a beautiful blue Chinese silk dressing gown. “Wine or shower?” “Which one first?”

Angela changed as Laura prepared the food and then they

“Too late, I’ve started the bottle. Give me a minute.”

chatted, laughed, giggled and cried for the next ten hours of shopping, manicure, lunch, shopping, hairdressing and yet more shopping. They arrived home by taxi at 6.30 pm, laden with bags

Angela dashed through her shower, minding her new hair style, before putting on some new lingerie and night dress.

and pleasant memories. “Power dressing for women.” She said, returning to the lounge “Is it OK if I have a quick shower?” asked Laura as Angela unpacked.

where Laura had dimmed the lights and put on some relaxing music.

“Of course. Towels are in the landing cupboard. Help yourself.” “But for whom?” was the ambiguous reply. “Come and sit here Laura was gone for some time, so Angela prepared the garlic bread and salad, put the pizza in the oven and uncorked the first bottle.

and I’ll give you a pedicure,” invited Laura.

Angela reclined on the armchair as Laura very expertly massaged her feet, ankles and calves, with a mixture of firm and gentle strokes, before trimming, filing and painting her toe nails. Eventually Laura sat back, “And how was that for you?”

With the third bottle of plonk dulling her senses, Angela took some minutes to realise that Laura was caressing her breast. She sat bolt upright, “Laura, what are you doing?” “Don’t pretend to me that you aren’t interested?”

“Marvellous. Thank you. Time for food perhaps?”

“I’m certainly off men, I grant you. But not onto females”

Laura gave a pained glance at Angela’s retreating back, “I

“Come on! What’s today been all about then?”

suppose so.”

“Two women behaving like girls, for fun and friendship. Nothing else.”

They enjoyed the salad and garlic bread as the pizza cooked, behaving as they had earlier in the day, then even more loudly as the second bottle of wine washed the thin crust cheese, tomato and pepperoni down.

Laura stood in front of Angela and let her dressing gown slide to the floor. “Aren’t I even worth a try? You’d like me, I know.” “Laura, I am sure that somebody, somewhere, finds you devastatingly attractive, but not me. “ Through her increasingly drunken stupor Angela struggled to

Leaving Laura to clear the table, Angela loaded the video cassette and settled onto the sofa. Laura switched off the lights and sat next to her and soon Fred and Ginger were high stepping and tap dancing across the television screen.

her feet, avoiding Laura’s comparably intoxicated advances, to answer the incessantly ringing doorbell.

“Graham! What do you want? What time is it? God I’m pissed”

“About 1 ½ bottles each. Why?”

“Well, hello. Your e-mail said 8.30 pm. Shall I start with you?”

“Your sober enough but Angela is completely smashed. Did you add anything to hers? Date rape maybe?”

Graham caught Angela as she collapsed down the door and carried her back into the lounge. “Laura? What the bloody hell are you doing here? This isn’t a dykes convention is it?”

Laura rushed from the room, dressed hurriedly and stormed out of the house. Graham placed Angela in the recovery position on the floor and covered her with the duvet.

“You foul mouthed hulk. Just because I refused you doesn’t mean anything.” “Everyone knows you are! Have you been trying it on with Angela?” “She invited me to be a pair on Saturday morning. What else did she mean?” “Well, she invited me to make a pair on Saturday evening. How much booze have you two had?”

Many hours later, Angela stirred to hear Graham snoring on the sofa. Her puddled panic was reassured by feeling her intact underwear. “Graham,” she croaked, “what happened?” Rapidly awake he quickly made strong black coffee to speed recovery and recited what he had discovered. Angela shook her head in drugged unawareness. “How? Why?” “Angela, what did you say in those e-mails?” ”I can’t remember. Perhaps, for once, two wrongs did make a right!”


Chas the coffee bar manager didn’t have to look at his watch to tell the time. On the first Friday of every month, for the last three years, since the Shopping Mall opened, at 10.30 am precisely,

I have long been perplexed by the whole subject of financial sharing in relationships.

three women of that certain age would arrive for late breakfast. Always 2 cafetieres and one decaffeinated coffee latte, sometimes toast and other times panninis. They each paid for themselves and then talked, incessantly, for over an hour,

Why does it happen,

occasionally as long as two. But never after 12.30 pm when they went their separate ways.

or more interestingly, why not? Chas knew that some of their children went to the same school, but did they meet up other than at his cafĂŠ? Probably not by the way that they chatted, but with some women, well, you could never be sure.

She knew that her lovers were rejected by her tempers and From across the small lounge the three ladies waved at Chas

sulks and was trying to find other ways of coping. So far there had

and returned to their conversation. Their children’s progress over

been some success and Lorraine was going to persist with this

the last month hadn’t occupied too much time, but the rumoured

therapist, the first one of five who had produced some change in

shenanigans amongst the school staff was dominating discussion.


Melanie looked at Lorraine. “So, what do you reckon? Is the deputy head being unfaithful to the Head of PE ?” “Not with me he isn’t!” All three women laughed.

“But why would Mr. Challenger do that to his wife?” asked Tracey, “they seem such a happy couple. Why risk all that by playing away from home in a moment of mad passion?” “Ah, well,” replied Melanie, “but have you seen the alleged

As a divorcee for seven years, Lorraine was known to be well

other woman? Au pair to the Cranford family apparently. Nordic

provided for by both ex-husbands. She had many male friends

Amazonian type. Makes you sick, with jealousy and regret, to look

and infrequent, temporary and discrete affairs, whom she

at her!”

subsequently verbally castrated with her two Friday Friends.

“Umph,” interjected Lorraine, “we’ve all been there. But maturity and experience can have advantages over youth and

What Lorraine had not told the others was that after their meeting she attended a private anger management therapist.

enthusiasm.” “Quite! And all the upset and distress that it causes,” persisted Tracey.

“Yes. Quite,” said Lorraine, “change of subject I think. I saw both of your husbands in town last week. Early afternoon on Wednesday. Do they know each other?

It could only be her worst fear coming true; Peter was seeing another woman.

“Only by sight, school gate meetings, that sort of thing. Are you OK Tracey, you’ve gone very pale?” “Fine, thanks. Are you sure it was Wednesday that you saw him, Lorraine?”

Ever since he’d swept Tracey off her feet, onto her back and then to the altar she had known that such joy and contentment would never last.

“Yes. Definitely. About 1.45 pm, near the Central Library. In a suit and a bit of a rush?”

Sometime he would tire of her, or worse still discover her secret and abandon her in disgrace.

Tracey said very little until the trio broke up, agreeing to meet again next month. She hurried through the pedestrianised roads,

Having left school at fifteen with no qualifications, and not much

her thoughts in a whirl, bumping into two people in her rush to get

hope for the future, Tracey had taken the first job offered, cleaner

to the Building Society.

in a nursing home then becoming one of the care assistants.

Lorraine must have been mistaken about seeing Peter last Wednesday. He was in Shrewsbury, or was it Sunderland, at a dairy farmers meeting. But if Lorraine was correct then Peter had lied to her. About what?

She loved the job, the people and the long hours; anything to be away from her chaotic parents and their dismal terrace house.

After 3 years she had saved enough to take her first ever

So, for all those years she had salted away all the left over

seaside holiday, a long weekend in Skegness. Unfortunately she

house-keeping money to be sure of some security when, not if, it

returned home pregnant from a five minute drunken fumble. Her

happened. Today the balances on her four savings accounts

parents tolerated no discussion; abortion was out and adoption

totalled £6,738.62p, excluding TESSA and ISA bonuses. Not

was in.

enough, but not bad for a girl who only earned £14 a week when she first left school.

Tracey refused to see the new born baby before it was taken away, but seemed to think it had been a girl. Despite bad post-


natal depression, medication, agoraphobia and electric shock treatment, not necessarily in that order, Tracey had returned to her precious job within 4 months as her only link with sanity.

Chas could tell that there was a problem with one of the ladies when she arrived early the next Friday and ordered cappuccino and bacon bap. Barely had the other two placed their order’s than

She recovered, after a fashion, enough to enjoy the banter with

Tracey spilled her coffee and her news.

the new milkman, Pete. One thing led to another and nineteen years later he was manager of the regional dairy, they had three children and she had daily terrors that he would leave her.

“Lorraine, you remember saying that you’d seen Peter in town just before we met last? Well, I asked him and he denied it. Told me not to worry.” “What did you say?” asked Melanie.

“I didn’t say anything. But, I’ve been following him, and, well,

Melanie remained at the table, playing with her drink and

he is seeing another woman. I’ve seen them together, four times,

mentally ruminating. Duncan had not denied that he was having

same day each week.”

an affair, when she asked him. He just logically accounted for his actions and carried on with his life as a freelance financial

Melanie looked aghast whilst Lorraine sat quite impassively.


“I’ve been expecting it for years really, so it’s no great surprise to me. But I won’t have the children hurt by all this. I can’t stop long

Yet Melanie’s experience of life in her concealed and colourful

today as I’m going to see a solicitor for one of those free advice

past left her unimpressed by his reassurance. She was, she knew,

sessions on what to do,” concluded Janet.

not stupid, far from it. Getting an economics degree from Cambridge in 1985, when a degree meant something, took a lot of

An unusual silence persisted between them long enough for

hard work.

even Chas to note, then Janet left. “Poor old Janet,” muttered Melanie, “but she seems to be coping with the news.” “Indeed, “ replied Lorraine, “I’d better go to. See you next time?” “Yes, no problem. ‘Bye.”

So she had taken a year out, travelled the world, and discovered the joy of cannabis. The tranquil contented state created by this magical substance was far better than that induced by alcohol. Somehow time passed into years and Melanie drifted around Australasia, always able to get a job to provide all the sustenance’s she needed.

Even now, 14 years later, she could not explain why she came home after her father was killed in a car accident. Had it been a wise decision?

Chas noticed that the next ladie's coffee circle was different, one less and one new member. The lady who had left first last time was with a different friend and they arrived after the one who

Mum was fine without the old bugger around. Melanie had experienced a similar sequence to Tracy when she met Duncan,

stayed on last time. Melanie stood to greet Tracey with a kiss and a hug.

her father's accountant. Now she had two kids, a perfect house and an enviable life style filled with total brain numbing boredom.

“Have I got news for you!” they both said together.

So she had, for the last few years, found excitement and success by secretly investing the residue of her fair, but not over-generous

“You go first,” said Tracey, “mine can wait. Oh, this is Crystal.”

monthly allowance. As of last evenings end of month accounts her fun nest egg was worth some £45,000, give or take.

“Hello, Crystal. Tracey, guess who my bloody husband was having an affair with? No? I’ll tell you. I was very suspicious after

But, in doing the family and Duncan’s business financial

our last coffee, so followed him and found him actually doing it with

statements, those two transactions kept appearing, same day,

her, Lorraine, in a hotel room. They’ve been at it for months and

every week. Hotel business suite hire for two hours, preceded by

I’ve been filing the invoice as a business receipt!”

lunch for two in different pub restaurants. **********************

“Oh, Melanie, I’m so sorry. Lorraine! What did you say?”

They’d been meeting for weeks, with a social worker advising, considering how to introduce us without it being too much of a

“A very great deal that I don’t recall. Then I went home and

shock for me!”

took all his clothes to the charity shop. Everything, socks the lot. Then I dumped his golf clubs at the recycling tip! He’s moved out, and in with her I believe. I’ve signed up for a crash course in computing and then I’m going to get a job. The kids have barely

“What did you say, when you met up?” asked Melanie with a grin. “Nothing, I just cried huge tears of relief. But now I’m so happy,

noticed any changes, but I feel bloody marvellous! Sorry to bang

and I’m going to be a grandmother to boot. My other kids have

on, Tracey. What was your news?”

noticed the changes and seem fine, actually enjoying it all. We’re going to spend some of my savings on kiddie things, and convert

Tracey looked at Crystal, smiled and then held her hand. “Well,

the loft so Crystal can move in.”

you obviously remember what I said last time we were here. I did confront Pete about his behaviour and lies. He took me to meet

Chas saw the three women sit talking for ages before they split

his lady friend, Crystal here, who is my eldest daughter and first

up, and somehow knew that the first Friday of each month would


be a little quiet, until another coffee circle formed.

I never saw her when she was born. Pete had known all about my little secret all along, from my father at the wedding I think, and started trying to trace my adopted child.

Dr. Alice, Consultant psychiatrist to the women’s mental health team at Boston, South Lincolnshire, was bored. Bored to tears; damn nearly bored to death. The experimental weekly afternoon


clinic for chronic patients was always hard work. The same 15 women, each week, 10 minutes a time, three hours of consultant time, for two years. All this to test whether brief regular meetings with a consultant was more effective than

A lesson that all psychiatrists have to learn in their career is that not everything a psychotic subject says is based in their illness.

standard out-patient care. Although it was her brainchild, and would enhance her academic standing whatever the outcome, Alice had not appreciated how emotionally demanding the process would be. Sixteen months in and she knew more about “her ladies” than they knew about themselves.

Their hopes and regrets; desires and guilts; children’s school performances and partners sexual preferences. But today’s session seemed interminable, and Janet had arrived early. Which

Would Janet have cut herself again, or taken an overdose, perhaps smashed up her flat or thumped a neighbour?

could only be bad news. If so, ten minutes of talk wasn’t going to change much. Alice As wide as she was tall and plagued with medication induced facial twitches and limb shakes, Janet’s paranoid psychosis had

sighed. A failure for her study would be nothing compared to the progressive and possibly irreversible decay in Janet’s personality.

ravaged her existence since she was just seventeen. In the intervening eight years she had been admitted to mental hospital only five times, but for a total of 6 years and 10 months, to be precise.

“Hello, Janet. Sit down, please. Thank you for coming today. How are you?” “OK, thank you Dr. Alice. But I have to tell you about what happened last evening.”

Since joining the experimental group, Janet had relapsed once but not needed inpatient care. Yet, over the last three weeks her contact with reality had been increasingly transient. Arriving early could only mean further deterioration into bizarre hallucinations and horrifying delusions.

“Of course you must. But, firstly. Have you taken all your tablets this week?” “Yes, Dr. Alice. I had a telephone call to my flat last evening.”

“Did you, Janet? Can I have your tablet pack to check please?”

“How could you tell?”

“Here it is, doctor. The man’s voice sounded very strange,

“Because my telephone rang, I answered it and the man spoke”

foreign like.”

“Was it a special message just for you?” “Of course not, I don’t live in a hotel, I live in a flat in a tower

Alice gave Janet a professional smile of forced tolerance as she


handed back the pack containing four different medications. Alice finished transcribing Janet’s experiences and again “Indeed. When is your next depot injection due, Janet?”

looked up.

“I had one last week so, yes, three weeks time Dr. Alice. The man said that a bomb would go off!”

“How have your other voices been this last week?” “Doctor Alice. Please listen to me. It wasn’t one of my regular

The psychiatrist stopped taking notes and looked up. This was

voices. I know the difference, I promise you.”

not Janet’s usual auditory hallucination; therefore, she really must

“OK, Janet. You tell me what’s happened.”

be getting worse.

“It’s like I said, doctor. The ‘phone rang about 10.30 pm. I wasn’t expecting anyone so I let it ring a while but it wouldn’t stop.

“Really. Have you heard this man’s voice before?” “No. It was different. And it was a telephone call.”

I picked it up and the man started talking straight away.”

“And what exactly did he say?” asked the doctor without looking up as she continued writing. “I wrote it down, like you told me to do,” replied Janet, handing over a sheet of paper.

So in the end I took one of those little blue tablets you gave me and felt much better after five or ten minutes.” “How long did you attempt the breathing control for?” “Must have been half an hour. I know you don’t like me to rely

Dr. Alice read aloud, “Listen very carefully, I will say this only once. The Peoples Freedom Army gives due and fair warning that your hotel has been attacked and will be destroyed within the next 12 hours. You have entertained the very worst of capitalist pigs and in the name of democracy we have revenge.” She put the paper down.

on the tablets.” “Aah, well, yes. Thirty minutes. Well done, Janet. And then what?” “I wrote down what the man said. I tried to ‘phone my mental health crisis liaison number but their number was busy every time.” Dr. Alice smiled as she wrote. That part of Janet’s delusion sounded very real.

“Umph. So what did you do, Janet?” “So why didn’t you telephone the police?” “What I did first was panic. Proper panic attack like you

“You know why not doctor! They know my name. Their

explained to me. Panting, dizzy, heart racing, sick, horrid feeling. I

equipment could tell it was me telephoning. Inside an hour and the

tried to take the slow deep breaths as you taught me, but the panic

Looney SWAT squad would be breaking down my flat door again.


I’d be sectioned and locked up in that place again. I’m better

“Janet, you did right not to panic and over-react to your illness.

now. And I don’t want to let you and the experiment down, Dr.

You and I both know that your voices and ideas have pushed you


to do many damaging and unnecessary things in the past. Well done to you for applying all the techniques we’ve taught you.

The older woman did not smile this time. Sometimes Janet’s

Really, I mean it, very well done.”

insight into her condition was painfully perfect. Just as she finished, the desk buzzer sounded. “Sorry, Janet, “I’ve stayed awake all night, watching the tele news, but nothing has happened. Yet I feel so guilty, what if a hotel is bombed? I

time’s up for today. Will you come again next week?” asked the doctor as they both walked back into the reception area.

knew and did nothing. I’m frightened and ashamed.” Her reply was lost in the babble of the television where BBC The psychiatrist put her pen down and looked squarely at her patient.

News 24 was breaking the story of a terrorist blast at a hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. Dr. Alice grabbed Janet's arm. “What did you say?”

What did you say?  

Five short stories based on one of the commonest phrases in spoken English.