“I killed my wife,” said the man sitting opposite me in the cable car.

“Excuse me?” I answered, bemused, thinking I’d misheard him.

“She was sitting where you’re sitting now, and we were passing over the valley, just as we are at the moment. What a splendid view, isn’t it?

“I’m not quite with you.” I tried to make sense of what he was saying.

“Perfectly simple. I killed her. The thing is we’d been arguing all day, and she was going on about how much money she’d screw out of me in a divorce settlement. So I couldn’t stop myself. Just looked at her smug self-satisfied face as she went whining on and on, opened the door and pushed her out.”

“Really?” I was barely listening to this madman. I was terrified of travelling to the top of the mountains in this cable car and had been dreading making the trip. Now we were halfway up, getting higher and higher, and I’d kept my eyes tight shut so as not to have to look out of the window. I just longed to reach the mountain peak and get out and sit down on firm land, and not to have to look down to a view thousands of feet below me.

Nor did I want to have to talk to this maniac, who was sitting opposite me.

“Yes, it wasn’t that hard really, She was so surprised she hardly realised what was happening. And when she went, she fell through the air just like a sky diver, quite extraordinary. It was quite beautiful to watch her fall really. I had my binoculars and was able to see what happened. She crashed through a greenhouse roof and landed headfirst in a crop of tomatoes.” He paused. “Funny that. She always liked tomatoes.”

I didn’t reply.

“So young man,” he went on. “Are you scared of heights?”

“Yes, terrified.”

“So why are you travelling in a glass-sided cable car above a valley that’s 2,000 feet below us?”

I flinched at the thought. “I write for a travel magazine and I have to describe the view and this cable-car experience for an article I’m writing.”

I looked at him properly for the first time. He didn’t look mad at all. He appeared to be perfectly ordinary: a man in his late sixties, chubby, mostly bald with some white hair, wearing a light coloured suit. Beside him was a thin, bored looking man of about my own age, who was absorbed in looking out of the window at the view below us, and taking no part in our conversation.

“Have you always been afraid of heights?” the ‘murderer’ persevered.

“Yes. Ever since I was small.”

“Well, what I’d suggest you need to do now is bite the bullet. Step over to the door and lean out over the drop. If you can do that you’ll have faced your fear. Then you’ll never be afraid of heights again.”

“No, I couldn’t do that,” I replied. “It’s bad enough just being here.”

“One step at a time, eh? Well there’s no need to worry. This car is as safe as houses. I should know – been using it for years, ever since we retired to this area. It’s perfectly safe. And it really is a beautiful view down there.”

He was behaving so matter-of-factly that I wondered if I’d misheard what he’d been saying earlier on.

“Excuse me,” I began hesitantly, “but didn’t you just tell me that you had recently murdered your wife?”

“Yes I did,” he replied equably. “And now my problem is what to do next. Do I go to the police? We were alone in this cable car, no witnesses, so I could pretend she just jumped. But it’s a risk. If they don’t believe me I’d face years in prison.”


“Alternatively I could go on the run, but I really don’t fancy that at my age. Or I could kill myself. Hmm. Quite a range of options really. What would you do?”

“Well, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’d have murdered my wife in the first place.”

“Point taken. At the time it seemed such a good idea. But now I really am in rather a fix.”

The journey continued, and when we arrived at our destination, it was such an incredible relief to step out onto land. I wondered if there was any other way to get back to the town I’d just left, so as not to have to go in the cable car again? I really didn’t want to face a return journey in the wretched horrible claustrophobic cable car.

My new friend bustled off quickly and strode away out of sight.

As I began my walk into town, the man who’d been sitting opposite me, and beside the murderer, was staring at me, frowning to himself.

“Absolutely astonishing,” he said, coming closer and staring at my face. “I really can’t see a thing. They can do miracles these days, can’t they?”

“What do you mean?” I asked him.

“Well, the earpiece and the mic for your phone. It’s so tiny I can’t even see it. All through our journey just now you were chatting away to yourself, obviously talking to someone on the phone, and yet your microphone and your earpiece must be so tiny as to be virtually invisible.”

“Wait a minute,” I told him. “I haven’t been talking on the phone. I was talking to the man beside you. The old man who was sitting opposite me.”

“What old man?” he said in surprise, smiling at me. “We were alone in that cable car. There was no one else there but the two of us.” He ignored my amazed expression.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry into your business, clearly your phone call was private, I promise you I wasn’t listening.” He moved closer to me, talking in a quieter voice. “Hope you didn’t mind me chatting to you, but between you and me I’m a bit nervous, as I’ve got a pretty grim job in front of me. I’m a reporter for the local paper, for the Brits who live out here. A fortnight ago some English bloke who’d retired out here apparently went mad, pushed his wife out of the cable car, then went home and shot himself. It’s up to muggins here to find out the facts. I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything about it, have you?”



Acting up


Working as an ‘extra’ on films can be fun, and years ago I tried my hand at it.

It was an unusual film, and the director was an unusual person. He was an over-the-top American, and it was a story about a Scottish village that was taken over by lunatics. Walter J. Harrison insisted on authenticity to such a degree that he was filming it in the Scottish Highlands in a tiny village, where he’d paid locals to have the use of local beauty spots and the pub and church.

Also, not content with having actors portraying the parts of mentally deranged people, he had done a deal with a psychiatric hospital in Inverness, and arranged for any of their patients who wanted to be in the film to do so. There were problems with Equity, I think, but he managed to sort it all out. The idea was for the psychiatric people to ‘behave naturally’ and act out the kind of outlandish behaviour that came naturally to them, something he was sure that ‘normal’ people wouldn’t be able to do authentically.

The psychiatric hospital was in Inverness, and this was where we, and most of the actors were staying, that town being the closest to our location, the village of Haggisburn (yes that really was its name). The logistics person had organised coaches to take us (few) extras, plus all the actors to the village every morning and return us back every night. It was a bit unnerving on the morning of the third day when we knew that, for the first time, the mentally-ill people would be making the same journey as we were. Extra coaches had been laid on, and we were late arriving at the despatch post, and there was a certain amount of confusion about who was to go in which coach.

Which was why my fellow extra Derek and I ended up on a different coach from our usual one that morning. This was probably because with the extra influx of patients from the psychiatric hospital, things were even more chaotic than usual, and we knew that at least two extra coaches were due to be going in the convoy to Haggisburn, and everything was at sixes and sevens.

My first feeling of unease was when I saw the man sitting in front of us – a distinctly odd looking character with a completely bald head – put a pipe into his mouth, with the bowl facing downwards. He sucked and pulled at the thing as if it was the right way up and full of burning tobacco, occasionally taking it out of his mouth to prod at the bowl’s imaginary contents with a stick as he stared out of the window, simultaneously sticking his tongue out and making his eyes bulge dramatically.

Behind me I could see a woman who was taking her clothes off. Aside from the fact that the weather was freezing cold, this behaviour was made even more bizarre when she proceeded to remove her top and began to unfasten her bra, to finally release its extremely large contents. All the while she was muttering to no one in particular, a mumbled angry diatribe of indecipherable words.

A man nearby was singing to himself in a peculiar falsetto tone, his voice rising up to a crescendo as he closed his eyes, because he was obviously so moved by his emotions. He couldn’t sing at all, but clearly thought he had the talent of Alfie Bow, and the sound was absolutely embarrassing and quite dreadful. Two women nearby were having a blazing row, shouting at each other so loudly that I wondered if they’d come to blows. One of them had a wild maniacal gleam in her eyes as she glared at the other woman, and I was glad she was several feet away from us.

Derek and I looked at each other in surprise when we noticed that a man and a woman were half undressed and had begun to copulate on the rear seats. The ‘pretend pipe smoker’ in front of us noticed our surprise and told us:

“Don’t worry. Eric and Jean can get a bit carried away sometimes. You see they’re both married to other people, and they don’t often get the chance to be together. Live and let live, eh? I find it’s best just to turn a blind eye.”

Derek and I nodded grimly, wondering what else was going to happen.

“I’m forever blowing bubbles,” sang out another, quite beautiful, male voice from somewhere near the back of the coach. “Pretty bubbles in the air. . .”

He finished his rendition, then produced a child’s bubble-blowing kit from his pocket and proceeded to produce clouds of lovely bubbles that filled the coach. As one of them hit a lady nearby she started screaming and batting at her hair angrily. She went on screaming and shouting for a long time.

Derek was deep in conversation with a woman in the seat behind him. She was telling him that a man had proposed marriage to her the previous day but that she’d warned him off, telling him that it would be unwise, since “madness runs in my family – if we had children they might be idiots.”

I was certainly glad to reach Haggisburn, wondering what other insane things were going to happen. Derek and I staggered off the coach, relieved to see our nice ‘organiser in chief’, resourceful bespectacled Alison, who was cuddly and kind and always did a grand job. She was busily checking our names against the list.

“It makes no odds now, but you two took the wrong coach,” she said, smiling. “Didn’t you realise that?”

“Of course we realised it!” Derek told her, appearing to be shell-shocked. “My goodness, what a surreal experience! Blimey, I wouldn’t want to go through that again.”

“Oh well, no harm done.” Alison looked down her list and up at the coach that was fast approaching behind ours. “Things could have been a lot worse for you. After all you might have had the bad luck to have found yourselves travelling with the psychiatric patients. Luckily you landed up in the coach with the doctors and nurses who are looking after them for the day.”

No Worries


A chainsaw is a marvellous tool – or as my adopted Australian friends would call it ‘A bonza bit of gear’. It can slice through huge tree trunks like butter, and let me tell you you won’t want to grab an axe ever again once you’ve used one of those little beauties.

See, I was planning to use a chainsaw to help out my dear old pals Jane and Chris, my parents’ oldest friends whom I’d always known as my aunt and uncle. I was on a visit back to England from my home in Australia, and I wanted to see how the elderly couple were getting along.

And I’m sorry to tell you, Jack, that things were not looking good. Jane and Chris, both retired solicitors, had taken on ‘Journey’s End’, six years ago. It’s a lovely little old cottage with a small area of land in Wiltshire. They’d established a donkey sanctuary there, and the landowner whose huge property surrounded their home, had become a good mate, who thoroughly approved of the couple and their elderly animals.

However, three years after they arrived, the old landowner died and his relatives sold the estate to a Chinese businessman, Mr Lee. Mr Lee told Jane and Chris that he wanted to buy their cottage and land. They refused to sell. But he kept on nagging, and then shortly afterwards, as a way of pressuring them, he had then planted one hundred fast-growing leylandii trees in a square so that they completely surrounded their cottage and land. When I arrived I saw that they had grown to twenty feet in height and had totally blocked out all the light, so that midday seemed like midnight.

The house had fallen into rack and ruin, with plumbing problems, building defects, filth and grime and poor Jane had lost weight with the stress of it all: they’d simply lost the will to go on with the struggle. The donkeys mooched about unhappily in the gloom, and poor old Chris, who was now in his eighties, had lost that magnificent smile that I’d always remembered from my childhood. I’m a practical kind of guy, I like to get things done, and when I saw their miserable plight, and how the fact they weren’t allowed to cut down the wretched trees was ruining their lives, I decided on a plan of action.

“No arguments,” I told them. “You’re booked on the flight to Paris, then on to Nice, for a fortnight’s stay in a luxury hotel, and I’m paying all the bills. Meanwhile I’ll stay on here, look after the donkeys and try to talk some sense into Mr Lee. I’m a self-made property millionaire – I know how to deal with unscrupulous businessmen like that. Leave it to me.”

The dear old couple were so upset and beaten down by life that they hadn’t got the strength to disagree with my plan, and as I drove them to the airport they shed a few tears about the way their retirement had turned out, and how they could see no alternative to selling to Mr Lee, and selling the donkeys to whoever might buy them, and ending their days in a small flat in town.

Next I lost no time in visiting Mr Lee. He was an recalcitrant old bastard, and I disliked him on sight. However, during my handling of lots of construction projects in Australia I’ve found that sometimes you have to talk tough to get what you want, you have to really make things crystal clear, and sometimes even use a bit of gentle persuasion. What a shit of a man, eh? Harassing a harmless old couple like that, how dare he? In the end I’m glad to say that he finally saw things my way.

Then on the second day, after feeding the three donkeys, Alice, Laurence and Fred, whom I’d already fallen in love with, I went into town, hired myself a chainsaw and also a truck with a shredder, or wood chipper, that is a large machine attached to the truck that shreds up the timber and branches, reducing them to woodchips in seconds.  We call them ‘Big Bessies’ In Australia, on account of their size and prodigious appetite.

Next, I made enquiries and found some nice people in the village who agreed to come back and help me: Norman, a plumber, Jack, a general builder, and Louise, Jack’s wife, who had a rip-roaring business cleaning houses. The three of them proceeded to fix the place up, while I made a start cutting down the trees and shredding them.

By the end of a fortnight, we had fixed up the place real good, and we’d all had a great time together, having some laughs and going out for meals and having a few beers in the evenings. I’d cut down the last of the damned trees and a local factory had agreed to take the wood chippings, and I’d duly delivered the loads as the tipper lorry I’d hired filled up. I was pleased: the cottage was once more standing proud, with sunlight filling its windows.  And now also, thanks to my new mates, everything was fixed up properly, and, thanks to Louise, the place was spruced up shiny as a new pin. The donkeys were nosing into my bag of goodies as I fed them. I could tell they were much happier, they were frisking around the fields, loving to feel the sunlight on their backs.

When Jane and Chris returned they couldn’t believe what I had achieved.

“We can’t thank you enough for giving us back our lives,” Jane told me, smiling with genuine happiness. “All the work on the cottage. But most of all for getting rid of those terrible trees. How on earth did you get Mr Lee to agree?”

I tapped the side of my nose. “Trade secret. But you got no worries now, believe me. Mr Lee is well and truly sorted. You won’t be hearing from him any more, scouts honour!” I made the silly salute with two fingers and we all burst out laughing.

“I never asked you, Bill, what exactly is the nature of your business in Australia,” Chris asked me that evening, as we discussed the next stage of my travels, a visit to Uncle Ralph in Ireland the following day.

“Oh you, know, it’s complicated,” I said. “This and that. Property mostly. People come to me and I help them solve problems.”

“You’re not working with criminals, are you?” He looked worried. “People like the mafia? Gangsters?”

“People get called lots of names,” I evaded. “At the end of the day everyone’s in business and if it helps to get along with a guy who’s a bit on the wild side, who am I to argue? We’ve all got to make a buck.”

As I got into the taxi next day I pondered on the many uses of a wood chipper. In my early days in Oz, in my wild times as a roustabout willing to do any job for a few bucks, I’d learnt lots of building and farming skills. I remembered the big shredders we’d use and how, along with the tree branches and hunks of lumber we’d occasionally toss in a dead Roo or a bit of old meat to see what happened to it. The shreds of wood chip would come out dyed a bit red sometimes, and we’d have a laugh, you know? Figuring how the blood and the bone fragments must have mixed in with the woodchips.

I smiled to myself. I knew beyond any doubt that Jane and Chris would never again hear sight nor sound of Mr Lee.

Gone Forever


When my wife died I was lost. We’d been married for thirty years, and when I retired we spent most of our time together.

Over the past few years we hadn’t bothered with friends much, just did our own thing, went away for weekends, pottered around the house and the garden. She was so much a part of my life that when she died unexpectedly, after a very short illness, I felt more alone that I’ve ever felt in my life.

We never had children, so I didn’t really have any kind of family support.

You read all this stuff about a loved one’s spirit coming back to give you comfort, to say they’re in a happy place and not to worry about them, but nothing like that had happened to me. I even went to church for the first time in years, I prayed over and over, asking for some kind of message from Linda, just to know that she was still somewhere around, that she wasn’t gone forever. But there was nothing. Not a vestige of anything in the house, in the bedroom, even in her beloved garden, where she spent so many happy hours.

Reluctantly I had to face the fact that all that stuff about an afterlife was so much hogwash.

Depression is as bad as you’ve been told, and worse. It drains away your life and leaves you hollow. I used to like messing about doing up old cars, but I just couldn’t be bothered anymore. I used to play golf, but now my clubs just gathered dust. I was no longer interested in watching football or anything else on the telly, I couldn’t be enthusiastic about food, in fact I had hardly any appetite. I couldn’t sleep for longer than a couple of hours, and the more tired I got, the worse my insomnia became. And one morning I woke up and thought what’s the point of any of it? Why force myself on? Who would care if I wasn’t here?

So I drove out to the motorway and I parked nearby. Got out of the car, and walked over towards the barrier. I began to climb over, planning to run out in front of the biggest, fastest truck. But just as I was about to jump down I thought about the poor truck driver. How would he feel, having my death on his conscience? Regretfully, I trudged back to my car.

Out of sheer desperation I went down to the doctors’ surgery. Surely someone there could help me? Maybe they could give me some pills to help me to sleep. Or what was that stuff, Prozac, that cured depression? Neither Linda or I had had much to do with doctors – we’d luckily both been pretty healthy up until her final illness.

The receptionist was very nice, but she explained that there was no chance of seeing anyone. But as I walked away, I think she must have somehow sensed how I was feeling, so she said, “Look Mr Henderson, no promises, but if you’d like to wait, I’ll try and have a word with one of the doctors and see if they can fit you in.”

“Thank you,” I told her. “I’m sorry, it’s just I don’t know where else to turn.”

For a couple of hours I watched the miserable procession of people getting up and striding off to the different rooms. I was tempted just to give up and go home. But something stopped me – maybe I just couldn’t face going back to that empty lonely house. Or maybe I was afraid of being tempted back to the motorway for my appointment with a speeding truck.

“Mr Henderson?” A woman doctor came out of one of the rooms and walked across to me. “I’m Dr Rogers, please come through.”

She had a lovely face. I don’t mean I fancied her, nothing like that. Truth to tell it was months since I’d even noticed women in that way. No, I mean she had one of those smiles that cheers you up deep inside, and you don’t quite know why.

In her room, I told her everything: how I was feeling, how I was afraid I might do something silly, how I didn’t know what to do.

“You say you want to believe that Linda is still surviving somehow,” she said at last, “that her spirit lives on?”

“Yes. It’s ridiculous of course.”

“It’s not ridiculous at all,” she told me seriously. “And why are you so convinced that your Linda has gone forever?”

“Because it’s true,” I said to her. “I tried and tried to contact her. I’d have given the world to have some kind of sign or message from Linda’s soul, her spirit or whatever, but nothing ever happened. When I looked down at her in the coffin, I remember thinking that all this belief in life after death, is nothing but wishful thinking. I could see that her body was just a shell. That Linda had gone. Gone forever.”

“Well, Mr Henderson, you’re right, her body was a shell, but that was because her spirit had left it. Personally I passionately believe that there is an afterlife. I believe that your Linda is probably with you right now, even though you don’t realise it.”

“Life after death?” I couldn’t believe my ears. “You really believe in such a thing?”

She nodded. “Believe me, Mr Henderson, I believe in life after death as much as I believe that you’re sitting there in front of me. Oh yes, just because you can’t communicate with Linda doesn’t mean to say she’s not trying to communicate with you. It’s like a TV tuned to the wrong channel.”

“Really?” I was bemused at her serious expression. “But you’re a doctor! How can you believe something that isn’t proved scientifically?”

“A great many doctors are religious. We see a lot of miracle cures that can’t be explained scientifically. And we see so many people die, many of us believe that the earthly life isn’t the end. I’m certain of it myself. Absolutely certain.”

“Thank you doctor. You’ve been very kind. I appreciate your help.”

While I’d been talking to her I’d felt fine. But when I got out of the room, away from her kind face and sympathetic words, my legs went to jelly, and my depression came back with a vengeance. Dr Rogers had undoubtedly been a very special person, so nice and kind, and she’d offered me comforting platitudes. But she hadn’t given me any pills.

In reality, it had been an utter waste of time.

Believing in an afterlife? Admittedly she had been infinitely kind and well meaning, and she had obviously chosen her words to try and bamboozle me into some kind of contentment, in an attempt to lift my depression.

But you know what?

It hadn’t worked.

Life after death? What nonsense.

She must have taken me for some simple minded moron, an idiot, someone who’d readily fall for her fairy tales.

The disappointment of everything, and the sheer tidal wave of misery, came over me all at once, so that I had to sit down in the waiting room again, and suddenly I found I just couldn’t stop myself crying. Not wanting to draw attention to myself I fought against it, struggling to regain control, hoping no one had noticed me.

No such luck. The receptionist I’d spoken to earlier came across with a box of tissues and sat beside me, putting a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“I am so sorry, Mr Henderson,” she told me. “I’ve tried and tried to help you, but none of the doctors have had a second to spare and surgery’s closing in ten minutes. I know you lost your wife, but the fact is we’ve had a terrible tragedy here too. One of our doctors died yesterday, suddenly, with no warning, and everyone’s had to rally round and cover her appointments. Frankly we’re all stunned, we can’t take it in.” Her voice became hoarse and a tear appeared at the corner of her eye. She pointed towards the room I’d just come out of, with the name ‘Dr Marian Rogers’ on the door. “We haven’t even been able to bear to clear her drawers or even lock up her room. You see we all really loved Dr Rogers. She was the most popular doctor here. I’ve had patients say they only had to look at her face and feel her kindness and warmth and they’d feel better immediately.”

The Dating Game


“Why are you sending him home?” said the gushing lady TV presenter.

“He’s got this dodgy looking penis. I just don’t like the look of it.”

“You’re chucking him off the show just because he’s got a wonky willy?”

“Yeah, sorry.”

And so, thus humiliated, I walked around the screen and appeared on the stage of the TV show completely naked, clasped the fully-clothed Alison briefly, and did my exiting walk of shame, knowing that my jiggling buttocks would be centre screen, and my nickname at work for the next few weeks was going to be Wonky Willy.

I realised what a mistake I had made by appearing on Get Your Kit Off, the TV dating show where contestants are exposed in carious stages of nakedness for a person of the opposite sex to choose who they fancy least until they’re only left with one. I was the first one of the six of us hopeful lads to be booted off the show.

Okay, I admit it was humiliating, but I had got the bug. So when I applied for Grab a Date, Mate I realised that at last the odds were stacked in my favour. This is a show where about twenty-five attractive thirtyish girls stand behind a long desk and in front of each of them is a lightbulb that’s switched on. One man is presented to them and whichever of the girls don’t fancy him, they switch off their lights. When just a few lights remain alight, the man himself is allowed to switch off the lights of the girls he doesn’t fancy, until the choice is whittled down to one, with whom he goes out on a date.

I couldn’t fail with this, I thought. I appeared on the stage in front of the girls, and I knew that I was dressed to kill. I’m actually colour blind, but my friend assured me that a bright canary yellow shirt with luminous green trousers was a winning combination, so I could rest assured on that score – I know that girls always notice men’s clothes.

Which made it so strange that five lights went out as soon as I set foot on the stage.

I had to do some kind of party piece to show off my skills, so I decided to do a Scottish Highlands sword dance, that my grandfather had taught me. Since health and safety regulations in the studio wouldn’t allow us to lay real swords on the floor, dancing in between crossed broom handles whilst singing Scotland the Brave, might have looked a bit silly, but at least I was showing that I was a good sport.

Unfortunately a good many more lights went out after that.

Then came the video that I had recorded earlier on, which was screened on the wall behind me. My friend told everyone about my hobby, which is collecting old railway tickets, and how I give lectures on the history of the railways to historical organisations, and have a collection of over 8000 used railway tickets in my garden shed, each of them carefully labelled with a date and place. Whichever lucky girl I chose to go on a date with would be given a long guided tour of my ticket collection.

More lights went out.

Then my audience were told of my other achievements: that I had been tiddlywinks champion for Leighton Buzzard for three years running.

More lights went out.

I had explained that my career was in the travel industry. I decided it was best to be honest, and so when I told them, that I was actually a member of the team who clean the toilets at Newport Pagnell Motorway Services, to my dismay, all but on one light went out.

I looked across at the only remaining girl. Rosemary was well over six feet tall, had a huge nose, a squint and the beginnings of a moustache. Returning my gaze, making her squint even more apparent as she stared into my eyes, she deliberately switched off her light.

My final foray into the world of TV dating was Love is Blind. Again, I thought the odds were in my favour, since three girls were behind a screen, so we couldn’t see each other. I had to ask the girls various questions and, according to their answers, the girls were whittled down to just one, with whom I would go out on a date.

Everything went well. Sharon, the girl I had chosen, appeared to me as the screen went down. She was gorgeous! Spectacularly beautiful, with long blonde hair and an angelic smile. I realised that at long last I had cracked it.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the venue for our date, a nearby nightclub, Sharon never turned up. Apparently she had told the producer that she’d rather lose her fee for appearing on the show than spend an evening with ‘That pillock’.

But all was not lost, as I found out a year later, when I got a phone call out of the blue.

“Hello Gordon, this is Alison – do you remember me from the Get Your Kit Off show?”

“Oh yes,” I replied. “You rejected me.”

“That was before I saw your face,” she went on. “You’ve got a lovely face, which of course I hadn’t been able to see when I rejected you. I really regretted not choosing you, but it was too late to change my mind. The guy I ended up going out with, Alan, well he was okay, we had a thing for a while but it’s over now. So, Gordon, well, I wondered if you’d like to meet up?”

“Yes,” I said eagerly. “Terrific.”

“There just one little thing,” she went on. “Do you remember me saying on the show that I had a bit of a bad temper?”

“Yes, you said you sometimes flew into uncontrollable rages. Don’t tell me—you had a huge row with Alan.”

“Yes, I did. But I’m afraid that in the heat of the moment I somehow ended up picking up this hammer and smashing it into his face. I’m in what’s called a hospital for the criminally insane at the minute. So how about if I fill in a visiting order for you?”



I fell in love for the first time when I was ninety-three years old.

Ridiculous as it may sound, it’s true. I met the woman I fell in love with, Molly, in hospital, in the cardiac critical care ward, where we were both being held after undergoing heart attacks, which we’d successfully, putatively recovered from.

At visiting time it was always like a circus, with Molly’s huge jolly family crowding around her bed, having to be cajoled away when it was over, and not a single visitor for me. Although we were of similar ages, we were very different people: Molly’s husband had died twenty years ago, and during their long happy marriage they’d had six sons, and now she had grandchildren, great grandchildren, even great great grandchildren galore, and her huge, nice, boisterous family was the bedrock of her life..

I had been an only child, never married and didn’t have a single relative in the world, and my life had stagnated into that of a lonely curmudgeonly bachelor.

But in the hours we’d been beside each other we’d talked and talked and talked. Shared all kinds of amazing secrets, so that even though I’d only ever managed to touch her hand occasionally, and had never had any physical interaction with her at all, our minds chimed in tandem. We seemed to know each other inside out, as if we’d known each other forever. We talked about how our lives might have been different if we’d met when we were younger and had been able to be a loving couple, how happy we might have been. She told me that when we got out of hospital that she was determined that we’d find a way of being together, of spending our last years together. She promised she’d find a way, and I agreed enthusiastically, wondering if she’d agree to move into my cottage and pondering on the changes I could make there.

My ninety-four years on earth? I’ve been a schoolmaster at the same all-boys school all my working life, and during retirement all I’ve ever done is play golf occasionally, go on lonely walking holidays, read classical texts in Greek and Latin and watch TV. When I was younger I had had girlfriends but nothing ever led anywhere. Nor did I have inclinations towards my own sex, I’ve always been keen on women, it’s just that I’ve never had any luck, or maybe I always lacked the confidence to take the initiative with girls, and then, all of a sudden, it was too late for me, and I became ‘the old schoolmaster who had never married’, an object of pity.

But in talking to Molly, and learning about her experiences of being brought up on a farm in a village outside Dublin and then travelling to London with her family, I felt as if I’d entered into her life, was even, in a strange way, almost part of it. We entered into daydreams, scenarios where we were young together, had met and fallen in love and been happily married for years and years. She’d confided that although her husband, Richard, had been a good man and a decent husband they had never really been in love, it was more a marriage of friendship and practicalities.

But now my tentative foray into normal human happiness was over. Molly had died yesterday, and paradoxically, I had recovered enough to be sent home when it was the last place in the world I wanted to go. To my lonely little cottage in the countryside, where I had initially been so glad to find peace and quiet away from the city, but discovered too late that it was not unlike the peace and quiet of the grave.

As I sat down on the sofa in my scruffy living room, I envisaged Molly’s funeral—the huge family event, the eulogies, the words of the priest, and how utterly lonely I would be, the funny looking little old stooping man at the back of the church that nobody knew, who occasional kind young men and women might smile at, or offer a hand to shake out of pity. While the people who really knew and loved Molly would be an intrinsic part of the service, taking centre stage. They wouldn’t know that inside that little old man was another man, a man with a heart like a lion who could roar, but whom no one would ever hear.

I wept for a long time, feeling more utterly bereft that I’ve felt in my life. And I think I slept. What else was there for me to do?

The ring on the doorbell woke me up.

Still feeling bleary and confused from sleep, I was surprised to see a beautiful young dark-haired woman on my doorstep. Her lovely bright eyes were what I noticed most. And I could smell freshly-mown grass, fields and trees, that wafted around her.

“Hello Michael,” she said urgently, in her lovely Irish accent. “How are you?”

I stared back at her, confused.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“You know who I am!” she said forcefully. “Of course you know who I am!”

“But I don’t ­–—

And then she pulled me into her arms and kissed me, and I was lost in that amazing kiss, and I felt as if I was going mad.

I had to be going mad.

Eventually she pulled away.

“Sorry Michael.” She was crying now, tears falling down her cheeks. “But I have to go. I don’t want to, but They tell me I have to leave now. But I promise you that we’ll meet again. I promise you Michael that we’ll be together again very soon.”

“I don’t understand. . .” My heart was racing, obviously doing it no good at all after my recent heart attack, but I didn’t care.

“Sorry Michael, I love you,” she shouted to me, as she walked backwards away from me. “They tell me I have to go now. But I promise. . .”

And then she was gone.

Still feeling shaken and disturbed by the experience I tottered back into my hallway in a daze. On the wall I happened to glance at the Scrying mirror – a silly old black-surfaced mirror that had no reflection. I’d bought it in an antique shop on holiday years ago, and the shop owner had told me some nonsense about it being used by clairvoyants, about it having supernatural qualities. And in the mirror’s surface I saw myself. Only I wasn’t me, I was someone else—the man I had been in my twenties whom I’d almost forgotten. The clean-shaven man with lots of black hair, no spectacles or raggedy white beard, no paunch, but taller, handsome, upstanding, with broad shoulders. The image was there for an instant and then it was gone.

I came back into the living room, realising that this must have been some kind of dream.

Yet I knew it wasn’t a dream.

“I promise that we’ll meet up again very soon,” the amazing woman in my waking dream had told me.

I’ve managed to dictate this memoir into my phone as I’m waiting for the ambulance to arrive, and I am hoping someone will write it up for me. Because, you see, I’ve got those chest pains again that I had before my last heart attack and it’s getting hard to breathe.

I’ve left the front door open. I can hear footsteps coming towards me, the reassuring voices of paramedics, but it’s getting even harder to breathe now.

And yet I’m not afraid of what’s going to happen.

I’m not afraid at all.

For the first time in years I feel happy. . .