All stories


I was once a nothing man in work. A nobody. The kind of man who drove a battered old Ford Focus while all around me turned up in their shiny black German beasts of the Autobahn. I wore my shirt and tie while they dressed in their fresh pressed three-piece suits. But here’s the thing. In the end, we’re all the same. We all take a crap, and I have the evidence to prove it.

Ian Jenkins was a big ol’ genial kind of a fella. He had a puffy round face with hair cropped short to mask its disappearance, and he had a tubby round torso that really called into doubt the very concept of gravity, topping out as it did this pair of spindly legs beneath. Ian Jenkins was a big cheese, and I don’t mean in the contents of his lunchbox. He was the number two guy in the whole of the plastics department. It would take a mathematician of great genius to work out my ranking number in the IT department.

This was the reason that I sat on the guest chair on the other side of his desk with my meeting notes balanced precariously on my knee as he regaled two of his buddies from purchasing all about his trip up the Norwegian fjords. Apparently, that was more important than our meeting that had to happen in office and had to happen today before the Christmas break and had to happen right now even though it meant me sitting bumper to bumper in an endless queue of corporate Ford sporty saloons fighting through rush hour traffic.

At twenty minutes past five the tale of the Kraut whose attempts to elbow into the breakfast queue had become the next chapter in the glorious Battle of Britain was over and I found myself having to come back to life and gather my meeting notes as Ian walked his buddies past me and over to the door. This wasn’t the politeness I had supposed. Ian opened the door for his buddy, he ushered him through and then grinned down at me.

‘Right, lad. You sit yourself tight there. I’m off for a shit.’

I stared up at his grinning face, my brain trying to compute. Out in the corridor, his buddies were grinning too. I was left sitting alone in the man’s office, sitting there whilst he was sitting someplace else. Sitting there with my pathetic notes on my right knee that was somehow, despite all evidence to the contrary, connected to a man with a spine.

Here’s the thing. Like I said, I was once a nothing man in work. But I’m not a nobody. Instead, here I am at home, and here on my right knee is Baby Amelia, and she smiles at me.


The wind grazed my cheeks with icy fingertips as I stood alone on deck, the last of the Arctic sunlight bleeding slowly from the sky. Sleet blew sideways into my face and I pulled my coat around me more firmly. I was chilled to my core but the clear water stretched ahead of me, into the infinite distance and, for the first time in six days I could finally hear myself think, here in the freezing, glacial stillness.

The old woman had been a fright from the start; nothing had been good enough for her, nothing could be done right. Here on deck I could still hear the echo of her dry, nasal complaints:

“Ameila, where are the bags? What do I bring you for - you’re supposed to be making things better, not worse you stupid girl. Honestly, I may as well see to them myself for all the good you’ve been. Why on earth did I hire you? For goodness sake -”

“Please Mrs Ford, the bags are in the cabin already - I’ve taken them and I’ve seen that everything is arranged just as you like it.”

I ducked my head demurely, my insides frothing with rage. The truth was that she had not hired me to be her aide, or her companion or any of the other titles she gave me in company. She had not hired me at all. The truth was that Mr Ford had promised me a substantial sum to ‘keep an eye’ on his wife. That is, to make sure she stayed off the sauce as much as possible.

“It can’t be helped at dinner or in company of course, but you’re to see that she doesn’t go off the rails - roaming the corridors half cut and all that. And she’s crafty, you’ll have to check her bags, her bedding, her cupboards, everything. But be discreet about it, there’s a good girl.”

And I had been. I had been the model companion making sure everything was arranged and organised so her trip went as well as it possibly could. It was, as she told anyone who would listen, what I was for.

But today was my birthday. Mrs Ford certainly hadn’t remembered or cared, but I had managed to squeeze a few moments of blissful quiet out here on deck as a present to myself while the old lady snored in our shared cabin below. If she woke up to find me missing there would be hell to pay, but, I decided, it had all been worth it. For this.

With a last look at the smooth water fanning out behind the ship as we steamed ahead, I went back inside and up the stairs to our cabin. The old woman was stretched out asleep on the bed, mouth gaping as she sucked and choked on the dry, overheated air in our small cabin. Beside her on the nightstand the bottle of brandy I had left tucked neatly just inside my unzipped suitcase was two thirds empty and uncorked. The cabin reeked of booze. I had been gone less than ten minutes.

I sat down beside her on the bed and watched as her chest struggled and failed to rise, as the air clogged her lungs, as the skin of her face slowly turned mauve, then grey, slackening quickly. As her head lolled on her neck and I was certain that nothing could be done I ran into the hall screaming for a doctor.

This trip seemed as if it were about to improve significantly.

Take 3

Jane and Keith Ford had planned their trip to Norway 3 times. Trip 1 had been cancelled when Jane’s mum Mary had fallen and knocked her head on a coffee table. Mary had said she was fine but two days later had died in her sleep of a blood clot. Jane's father had woken early and seeing her lying peacefully in bed had made eggs and salmon and two cups of tea. The food would never be eaten. The tea stayed on the counter for 2 days until Keith found them and tipped them down the sink before gripping the counter tightly for support. Jane cried for 2 weeks.

Trip 2 was planned for 3 months later. It was a much needed break. Keith had struggled as Jane sank deeper into herself. Where conversation had always flowed between them it was now drip fed, monosyllabic responses to questions. He remembered the constant chatter of their early years, late nights and pointless car rides just to talk. Now he wondered all the time if he had missed something. It couldn’t just be her mum. “I’m fine Keith, just tired.”

“You’re not fine though, anyone can see that.”

“Don’t tell me what I am and am not. You don’t know what I am. You think you do. So if I say I’m fine. I am.”

Variations on the theme were repeated every few days, in between bouts of ‘normal’.

With two weeks to go, Jane had walked into the kitchen whilst he cooked and told him she was 8 weeks pregnant. She was sorry she hadn’t told him earlier but she wasn’t sure if she wanted it. It had been a shock and she didn’t know how deal with it. She knew how much he wanted to go on this trip but she just couldn’t face it. She spoke quietly and directly to his back then left. Keith kept washing up. It was his birthday.

Once the morning sickness is gone it will get easier.

Things will get better when the baby is born.

She will sleep through the night soon that will make a difference.

There was always another step.

Keith watched Jane watch baby Mary. The way she switched between constant holding her tight to her chest to her not seeming to even hear her cry. He didn’t know what to do. How to help.

They looked out at the Fjords glistening. The quiet putter of the engine as they glided through the silver sea. Jane held Mary gently rocking slightly to match the rhythm of the boat. Trip 3 was 6 months later; unexpectedly one morning Jane had said to him, i'm ready to go now. So they did.

Keith knew then things were changing. He could feel it in the warmth of her voice. In the way she google places to go. In the way she laughed with her daughter. And now he could feel it in the setting sun. In the way the snow and the trees seem to sparkle. Jane turned to him and looked at him. It felt like the first time time she had truly looked at him in over a year.

She smiled and said simply. “Thank you.”

The grapes of broth

It was the day of the Souperchef finals. It was traditional that the final took place in an exotic location and this year it was "Live from Norway". The three finalists were working away. Filliting a combination of haddock and wolf fish for the Scandinavian fish soup challenge that the judges had set.

Phil A Gumbo was the head judge, known as Britain's finest soup chef, he was a housewife's choice with a rep as a bit of a lothario. "Embattled tv chef, Phil" the Sun had called him.

Why embattled?

It was a storm in a soup plate really.. His original wife , Sandra, had been discarded like a parsley stem or the lumpy end bit of a carrot when Phil had been caught inflagrante with the winner of series two of celebrity Souperchef, Kelly mulligatawny, a former Holioaks actress. He'd been as red handed as a man trying to recover his wedding ring from a tin of Heinz tomato.

And now the paparazzi were back,

The accusation was that in this year's competition he was showing favouritism to a young, attractive female contestant..who was flirting with him outrageously. Kelly was not talking to him because he was "too interested chasing in that cow's oxtail to remember my birthday!!!!!"

In leek and potato week, this contestant had exhorted him to " lick her spoon and experience her creamy broth" and only yesterday she had told him that her vegetable farikal would transport him on a wonderful journey through her fjords". The gutter press speculated that he had been playing "cock a leekie once again"

The producers had told him in no uncertain terms there was no way he could allow her to win.

However it wasn't his fault this time, this bloody woman was an absolute soup making genius. If anything, the other judges were marking her higher than him. Her minestrone had been a masterpiece worthy of Michelangelo and her Mexican bean a fiery fiesta of peppery perfection.

In short since she had turned up in a battered ford fiesta she had shown Phil that his own soupmaking talents were prosiaic and mundane in comparison.

Phil wanted to say that he was not having having a midlife crisis but one of self confidence in his own soup making abilities.

He was awakened from his worries by the shows ultra-annoying comedian/ presenter Richie Ramen shrieking in a falsetto that the contestants only had one minute left.

The signature soups were presented to the judges by the three contestants, two had back stories that would certainly jerk some tears with the general public. Welsh contestant, Catrin Cawl, had been blind from birth and yet could cut vegetables like a pro and Pierre Potage, had overcome horiffic injuries sustained in a kitchen mandolin incident to make the final.

Phil tasted the soups, Pierre's was pronounced a "triumph" and Catrin's "quite delicious" but there was no doubt in any of the judges mind that the soup cooked by the third contestant, the flirtatious Amelia Pho was the best soup anyone had ever tasted .

"Phil you might like to blow on it gently, like this" she said contorting her mouth in a way that suggested her creation could only be cooled by fellatio.

Phil wanted to keep his job, he wanted to keep his new girlfriend, he wanted to give the public a heartwarming story, the last thing he needed was a pushy soupmaking rival who was better than him, but he also wanted to stay true to the rules of judging impartiality and reward the best effort. Not to mention that the fact he fancied her something rotten.

His colleagues had both given 10s to ms Pho and 9s to the other contestants. Phil himself had given an 9 to m. potage and a 8 to Catrin Cawl.

And so, with only an 8 needed to deliver toureen making temptress a famous yet potentially dangerous victory, Phil prepared to deliver his Amelia rating.........